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Inside Politics

Politics back on track after Reagan truce

From Judy Woodruff

• The Candidates: Bush | Kerry
George W. Bush
Democratic Party
John F. Kerry

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Just one week ago, the Bush and Kerry campaign trails fell silent to honor the memory of former President Reagan. Despite nonstop tributes to the "Great Communicator's" ability to bridge political divides, this week has evidently marked a quick return to politics as usual.

Noting a couple of recent party-line-crossing overtures by the White House and by Sen. John Kerry, I asked the leaders of the two major political parties if this meant bipartisanship was breaking out in Washington. I got a laughing response: "We're going put an end to that right now," Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe told me as his GOP counterpart, Ed Gillespie, nodded. Both were guests Monday on CNN's "Inside Politics."

They were joking, but only in part.

After last week's commentary praising Reagan's leadership qualities and sunny optimism, the race for the White House 2004 is resuming in earnest.

Following a one-day pause in its ad traffic last week, the Bush-Cheney campaign started running its "Pessimism" ad again, doubling its frequency on national cable and on local affiliates in battleground states.

Bush-Cheney campaign manager Ken Mehlman and Gillespie also plan to meet with Republican members of Congress this week to discuss Kerry's campaign activity and President Bush's progress on the war on terror.

The Kerry campaign began this week trying not to let the issue of the economy slip away after last week's strong job creation numbers, which most assumed would help the president.

Kerry will spotlight what he calls the "middle-class squeeze," focusing on economic hardships, rising debt and health-care costs.

On the foreign policy front, Diplomats and Military Commanders for Change, a group of 26 former senior diplomats and military officials, will issue a statement this week arguing that Bush has damaged America's national security and should be defeated in November. (Full story)

The group argues that the way the Bush administration waged the war in Iraq and other international initiatives have contributed to the political isolation of the United States.

The statement clearly calls for Bush's defeat, said one of the signers, former State Department official Phyllis Oakley, although it does not endorse any candidate.

The Los Angeles Times also reported Monday that Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff was informed that Cheney's former company, Halliburton Inc., would win a $7 billion no-bid contract to rebuild Iraq. Rep. Henry Waxman, D-California, faxed a letter to Cheney's office seeking full disclosure of the selection process for the contract. Waxman told the Times that Pentagon officials confirmed that a political appointee recommended the Halliburton contract.

On "Inside Politics," Gillespie responded to the article. "I don't think that the report is accurate," he said. "In fact, the vice president's office said again today ... they were not involved in any way relative to this."

But perhaps hope for more benign politics is not lost altogether. Breaking with convention, Kerry reportedly reached across the aisle to ask Sen. John McCain to consider serving as his running mate, and Bush praised and welcomed "home" former President Clinton and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton as he unveiled their portraits Monday at the White House.

With 139 days remaining until Election Day, the partisan rancor will undoubtedly return with a vengeance.

But at Monday's portrait unveiling, former President Clinton reminded his audience that there is something in the bitterest rivalry to value: "The president, by his generous words to Hillary and me today, has proved once again that in the end, we are held together by this grand system of ours that permits us to debate and struggle and fight for what we believe is right." (Full story)

Judy Woodruff is CNN's prime anchor and senior correspondent. She also anchors "Judy Woodruff's Inside Politics," weekdays at 3:30 pm ET.

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