Ready or not, here they come
By John Mercurio
CNN Political Unit
Work crews continue to prepare Madison Square Garden for next week's convention.
CNN's Bill Schneider on results of a newly released poll.
CNN's Kelly Wallace on the high stakes of the GOP convention.
CNN's Jeanne Moos on protesters at New York's Plaza Hotel.
NEW YORK (CNN) -- Traces of explosives found in the wreckage of one of two Russian jets that crashed this week ensure that terrorism will be on the minds of some 40,000 Republicans on this side of the world as they trek to Madison Square Garden for a pre-convention weekend dominated by threats of mass protests and violence. (A tad dramatic, sure. But hey, at least we're not talking about swift boats.)
One sanctuary from those protests will be found at the Riverside Church on the Upper West Side, where the Grind has learned that Bill and Hillary Clinton will make an appearance Sunday morning. The former president plans to address the congregation from the altar at the end of the service and, we assume, will talk about the mission, not accomplished. (Special report: America Votes 2004, the Republican convention)
Meanwhile, President Bush travels to Miami, Florida, today with Republicrat Zell Miller after acknowledging yesterday for the first time that he "miscalculated" conditions in post-war Iraq. In a round-robin series of interviews, Bush also dismissed the notion that Sen. John Kerry lied about his Vietnam record but again (say it with us now) refused to condemn the swift boat ads specifically. ''No, I don't think he lied," Bush told The New York Times. Bush told USA Today that the prospect of defeat has never crossed his mind.
Bush is also buoyed slightly by another round of Los Angeles Times polls, out today, that show him with tiny leads over Kerry in Ohio, Wisconsin and Missouri. Bush draws support from virtually all voters who back his policies, while Kerry attracts about 80 percent of voters in the three states who say they want to see the country moving in a new direction, according to the paper.
Kerry, campaigning in California, holds a town-hall meeting in the Bay area to lay out the "fundamental choice" Americans face on the economy. The senator will unveil a series of new policies, aides say, to "ensure fairness in the economy, helping families save and achieve the American Dream."
Kerry's party today opens its "Mission Not Accomplished" office a few blocks from Madison Square Garden. The operation will be run out of a nondescript office building on Seventh Avenue between 24th and 25th streets.
For those of you who are purely electronic, we should note that the Democratic National Committee also has taken out a full-page ad in The New York Times today that features quotes from different papers denouncing the swift boat ads. Midpage, taking up about half the total space, they offer up a new definition for the word smear. "Smear (smir) 1) to attempt to destroy the reputation of; to malign; to slander 2) the act or an instance of smearing or slandering someone 3) attack by Swift Boat Veterans for Truth." At the bottom of page: "It can be stopped. All it takes is leadership. Denounce the smear. Let's get back to the issues."
At the White House
CNN's Suzanne Malveaux reports that the White House has drafted executive orders to implement some of the recommendations of the independent 9/11 commission, including the establishment of a national intelligence director's post, senior administration officials said Thursday.
The orders would create the office of a national intelligence director, who would serve as the president's top adviser on terrorism; establish a national counterterrorism center that would report to the intelligence chief; give the CIA director greater powers; and encourage greater sharing of intelligence among U.S. spy agencies, senior officials said.
The orders would formally set in motion steps Bush endorsed August 2 after the independent commission investigating the 2001 al Qaeda attacks on the United States delivered its report.
Under the current draft, all of the powers of the national intelligence director -- including budgetary authority and operation of all 15 intelligence agencies -- would be transferred to the CIA director until the national intelligence director post has been established. The draft has been circulated to all of the intelligence agencies, and the president could sign the orders as early as Friday, or possibly Saturday.
Back in New York
And finally today, we offer you this unconfirmed gem of a rumor from the New York Post, our favorite newspaper in the whole wide world. Apparently the good folks at Page Six are told by their well-placed sources that GOP delegates are all abuzzagogg that Dick Cheney will resign at the convention for health reasons. That's right, he's gonna resign, sparking a prime-time floor battle that will result in a draft movement for Sen. John McCain, described by the Post as a "bigger war hero than John Kerry."
Speaking of McCain, we have our own (much more reliable) buzz on the World's Biggest War Hero. CNN's Alina Cho reports that the senator will celebrate his 68th birthday Sunday at La Goulue, a well-known French restaurant on New York's Upper East Side.
The owner tells Cho that McCain rented out the entire restaurant for the dinner, on the eve of his convention speech. Some 80 to 90 people are expected, including, we're told, Rudy Giuliani.