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Inside Politics
The Morning Grind / DayAhead

The vet vote

By John Mercurio
CNN Political Unit

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Morning Grind
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- We head into Memorial Day weekend today with thoughts of summer barbecues, swimming pools, global warming, gas prices, new Kerry ads in Virginia and the veterans who dominate this campaign. Not necessarily in that order.

First, to the vets. John Kerry will continue his 11-day focus on national security today in Green Bay, Wisconsin, beginning by meeting at 11 a.m. ET with Wisconsin veterans who recently served in Iraq and Afghanistan. He then heads back to Capitol Hill to meet with African-American vets tonight.

Bush/Cheney aides hope one of the veterans will ask Kerry about his decision to vote against $87 billion in funding for troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. It was at a similar town hall meeting in West Virginia that Kerry said he voted for the $87 billion before he voted against it. "Maybe [Friday] Kerry will make an equally equivocal comment about the additional $25 billion supplemental he said he'd support," one Bush/Cheney aide said in a memo distributed to reporters.

Pre-attacking Kerry on that and other veterans issues will be the Ray Boland, the chairman of the Bush-Cheney Wisconsin veterans committee. Bush/Cheney releases a paper statement from Boland this morning.

Other Bush/Cheney happenings today: campaign chairman Marc Racicot addresses the Washington state GOP convention in Bellevue, Washington, and White House Director of Intergovernmental Affairs Ruben Barrales speaks at the Arkansas Bush-Cheney '04 Hispanic Announcement and LULAC Dinner in Little Rock.

The mystery memo

Sensing an opportunity, however, Democrats want to keep the focus on veterans issues and will consequently continue to highlight a budget memo The Washington Post found that says administration officials may reduce spending for several federal agencies next fiscal year. (Full story)

The White House has played down the memo, but Sen. Bob Graham said in a conference call yesterday that the memo showed the funding "isn't able to cover the tax cuts, isn't able to reduce the national debt and isn't able to meet our urgent priorities

Going into Memorial Day weekend, Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe today will focus on possible veterans' cuts highlighted in the memo. McAuliffe holds a 10:30 a.m. news conference at DNC headquarters saying the president plans "to slash veterans' benefits with a significant cut to the Department of Veterans' Affairs."

Yesterday, Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle also hit on the veterans issue, saying "as we approach Memorial Day and the dedication of a new memorial to America's greatest generation, it is especially alarming that the administration would plan to cut funding for veterans."

This holiday weekend, organizers have prepared for 800,000 people to visit the city for the dedication of the new 7.4 acre memorial to World War II veterans, with the heaviest traffic on Saturday for the dedication ceremony and for Sunday's events on the Mall. (Interactive: The memorial)

Bush, whose dad was a Navy pilot during WWII, is scheduled to formally accept the memorial tomorrow. Former Sen. Bob Dole, who headed the memorial's fund-raising campaign, and actor Tom Hanks, who also raised money for the privately funded memorial, will speak. Kerry, along with former presidents Bush and Bill Clinton, are expected to attend the two-hour ceremony, which begins at 1 p.m.

Also today, Camp Kerry plans to spend $17 million on TV spots in June and, perhaps more notably, will add Virginia to the states where it's making buys. On cable, it will also run ads on BET and Spanish-language networks. Kerry's party hasn't carried Virginia since 1964, but some party strategists believe that the growing population in Dem-leaning D.C. suburbs, and the centrist views of Gov. Mark Warner give Kerry a shot. In an interview with The Associated Press, Kerry campaign manager Mary Beth Cahill calls it "a gesture of strength," saying, "We are not going on the air any place we do not think we have a chance to win. "

There were no big headlines out of Kerry's rally in Green Bay last night, held across the street from Lambeau Field. But there was this nugget, from CNN's nugget-meister, Mike Roselli -- Kerry told the crowd that in the last 18 presidential elections, if the Washington Redskins win the last game before the election, the incumbent wins. It happens the Redskins play Green Bay two days before this election.

"No matter what it means to the New England Patriots, no matter what it means to the future of the NFL, anything on October 31st , when the Redskins play against the Pack ... you're looking at the biggest cheesehead in America right here! Here I am! Go Pack."

V.P. tea leaves

Appearing last night on "The Late Show with Conan O'Brien," Sen. John McCain found a new way to deny interest in being Kerry's running mate.

McCain: "I spent several years in a North Vietnamese prison camp, in the dark, fed with scraps. Do you think I want to do that all over again as vice president of the United States? ... The vice president has two duties: One is to break a tie in case of a tie vote in the United States Senate .. the other is to inquire daily as to the health of the president. Neither one of those are very challenging as compared with living a good part of time in the state of Arizona."


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