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Inside Politics
The Morning Grind / DayAhead

Ohio and Florida, continued

By John Mercurio
CNN Political Unit

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CNN's Joe Johns on McCain, Lieberman and the 9/11 report.

CNN's Bill Schneider on Iraq and the election.

CNN's Suzanne Malveaux on Bush and the Iraq U.S. death toll.
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Morning Grind
George W. Bush
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America Votes 2004

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush faces new questions today about how he spent the Vietnam War, while John Kerry, in a major speech and new TV ad, attacks the president's handling of the current war.

A gay Republican group makes its fight with Bush official, and the president's team prepares its effort to limit the number of times he'll debate Kerry this fall.

But really, does any of that matter when Bush is on a plane to Florida, armed with millions of dollars in hurricane aid and gallons of good will? For the second time in a month?

Bush will fly today into West Palm Beach, then tour Fort Pierce. After that he'll go to the National Hurricane Center in Miami, where, joined by brother Jeb, he'll thank the meteorologists and get an update on Hurricane Ivan. He'll return home this evening.

Earlier today, CNN's Ted Barrett reports that Bush will meet with a bipartisan, bicameral group of lawmakers to outline which 9/11 reforms he wants Congress to pass. Participants will be leadership and chairs/ranking members from relevant committees. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist and Speaker Dennis Hastert will meet privately with Bush shortly before the larger group convenes. (Bush, lawmakers to confer on intelligence overhaul)

For his part, Kerry travels to Ohio for the sixth time in seven days to launch a more calcified salvo at Bush's handling of Iraq. His 9:30 a.m. ET speech comes one day after the U.S. death toll in Iraq topped 1,000, but Kerry, who issued a statement on this sad milestone last night, is not expected to address the deaths at length, if at all, in his speech.

Kerry will speak at the Cincinnati Museum Center at Union Terminal. As Kerry is expected to note during his speech, it was from this same hall that Bush appeared on October 7, 2002, to insist that Iraq posed a major threat to the U.S. and outline his case for war.

"But then, George W. Bush made the wrong choices," Kerry will say, according to excerpts of his speech obtained by The Grind. "He himself now admits he miscalculated in Iraq. In truth, his miscalculation was ignoring the advice that was given to him, including the best advice of America's own military.

"When he didn't like what he was hearing, he even fired the Army Chief of Staff," Kerry is expected to say. "His miscalculation was going to war without taking every precaution and without giving the inspectors time. His miscalculation was going to war without planning carefully and without the allies we should have had."

Kerry will note that Bush's poor choices have resulted in America paying nearly 90 percent of the bill in Iraq. He'll contrast that with the Gulf War, where U.S. allies paid 95 percent of the costs.

The senator then will recite his latest campaign mantra: "When it comes to Iraq, it's not that I would have done one thing differently from the president, I would've done almost everything differently."

Bush-Cheney counters this morning, noting that Kerry liked the president's 2002 speech at the time. It was two days after that speech, aides note, that Kerry said he would vote to give Bush the authority to use force in Iraq to disarm Saddam Hussein "because I believe that a deadly arsenal of weapons of mass destruction in his hands is a real and grave threat to our security."

Kerry-Edwards also will launch a new TV ad today in battleground states and on national cable. The ad, called "Wrong Choices," argues that Bush's stewardship has shortchanged America on everything from jobs to health care, weakening the nation. "George Bush's wrong choices have weakened us here at home," the ad says. (Special report: America Votes 2004)

We're also hearing of new ads being run by the National Rifle Association in key battleground states.

(Speaking of battleground states, CNN/USA Today/Gallup today rolls out new polls in four of them -- Pennsylvania, Ohio, Missouri and Washington. Stay tuned today for results. Tomorrow we'll have the latest edition of our weekly Electoral Map, showing which candidate is ahead in the all-important Electoral College.)

Open records

Meanwhile, The Boston Globe's "Spotlight" investigative team reopens the debate over Bush's National Guard record, reporting today that his service fell short.

In February, when the White House made public hundreds of pages of Bush's military records, officials insisted that the records prove that Bush fulfilled his military commitment in the Texas Air National Guard during the Vietnam War.

But Bush fell well short of meeting his military obligation, a Globe reexamination of the records shows: Twice during his Guard service -- first when he joined in May 1968, and again before he transferred out of his unit in mid-1973 to attend Harvard Business School -- Bush signed documents pledging to meet training commitments or face a punitive call-up to active duty.

He didn't meet the commitments, or face the punishment, according to The Globe. The 1973 document has been overlooked in news media accounts. The 1968 document has received scant notice.

Also today, a group called "Texans for Truth" airs a new TV ad in which a former lieutenant colonel in the Alabama Air National Guard says neither he nor his friends saw Bush when he was supposed to be with their unit in 1972. In the spot, retired Lt. Col. Robert Mintz says he "heard George W. Bush get up there and say, 'I served in the 187th Air National Guard in Montgomery, Alabama.'

"I said, 'Really? That was my unit. And I don't remember seeing you there,' " Mintz says. "So I called my friends and said, 'Did you know that George Bush served in our unit?' And everyone said, 'No, I never saw him there.' It would be impossible to be unseen in a unit of that size."

The group, which plans to spend between $100,000 and $250,000 to run the ad for a week, is an arm of DriveDemocracy, an Austin-based organization that was originally funded by MoveOn.org.

One of these days, Bush and Kerry will have to appear together, at the same time, before TV cameras and a live audience, to debate these fine points.

Face time

Speaking of which, senior Bush-Cheney official tells CNN's John King their team won't put a formal debate position on the table until negotiations begin. But "it is fair to say as the incumbent we are of the position that two debates provide enough opportunity," the official said. "Whether this is the official position in the end, though, is not" locked in. The official says the assumption is that the first debate will be September 30, as called for by the commission. "Two and one sounds right, but who knows if that is where it ends up."

Bush has a set of tapes from the 1996 Kerry-Weld debates for part of his debate prep, but it's unclear whether he's reviewed them yet. The source says Bush-Cheney officials met some time ago with Weld campaign aides from that race to seek their input and observations. "The guy is a polished debater," the campaign source said. "But our guy proved last time he's not so bad, either."

(William Weld, a former Massachusetts governor, ran against Kerry in 1996 for the U.S. Senate.)

A senior administration official (separate from the campaign source) said he heard "talk of two not three" debates, but could not say if Bush had signed off on that. "It is fair to say, however, that just by saying we need to negotiate that we do not accept the commission proposal as it now stands," this official said.

No endorsement

And finally, Log Cabin Republicans won't endorse Bush. The gay GOPers, who ran a TV ad against their party's right wing during the convention last week in New York, will instead focus on backing "fair-minded" Republicans running for Congress.

"It is impossible to overstate the depth of anger and disappointment caused by the president's support for an antifamily constitutional amendment" banning same-sex marriage, said Chris Barron, the group's political director.

Patrick Guerriero, the group's executive director, acknowledged that some Republicans will accuse them of being disloyal. "However, it was actually the White House who was disloyal to the 1,000,000 gay and lesbian Americans who supported him four years ago," he said in a statement. "Log Cabin's decision was made in response to the White House's strategic political decision to pursue a reelection strategy catered to the radical right."

The group's board of directors voted 22 to 2 not to endorse the president's reelection, the first time since it opened a Washington office in 1993 that it has declined to back their party's national ticket. (They even backed Bob Dole, you'll recall, who returned their $1,000 check in 1996.)


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