By John Mercurio
CNN Political Unit
Sen. John Kerry speaks in Wisconsin Monday. Kerry will spend Tuesday in Wisconsin and Iowa.
CNN's Deanna Morawski on the showdown-state focus.
CNN's John King on the Bush emphasis on terrorism.
CNN's Candy Crowley on Kerry, Bill Clinton and missing explosives.
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush and John Kerry both woke up today in Wisconsin. They'll both end the day in Iowa. Same states, same voters, two very different men, who'll spend every second of Tuesday showing those heartland battlegrounders just how far apart they really can be.
Speaking of campaigning in blue states, what's up with TV ads in Hawaii? (More on this below.) And what does U.S. Chief Justice William Rehnquist's announcement that he has cancer mean for Bush v. Gore ... er, Bush v. Kerry? (Nothing on this below; it's too early to tell.) (Special report: America Votes 2004)
Meanwhile, we suspect the Al Qaqaa story will live another day. After criticizing Kerry for basing his attacks on newspaper headlines, Bush-Cheney, without batting an eyelash of irony, brandished an NBC News report last night to defend itself against those same attacks. (The irony could only have been greater, had Bush-Cheney's source been CBS.)
"John Kerry's attacks today were baseless," spokesman Steve Schmidt said last night, attributing his claims to NBC. "He said American troops did not secure the explosives, when the explosives were already missing."
NBC reported that staff embedded with the U.S. military during the Iraq invasion said the explosives had already vanished by the time troops arrived at the site. But a Pentagon spokesman said that they did not have "definitive" information on when the troops arrived and when the explosives went missing.
Camp Kerry responded to Bush-Cheney's response. "The White House is desperately flailing in an effort to escape blame," Joe Lockhart said. "Instead of distorting John Kerry's words, the Bush campaign is now falsely and deliberately twisting the reports of journalists. It is the latest pathetic excuse from an administration that never admits a mistake, no matter how disastrous."
With the polls showing a close race, Kerry will talk national security and Iraq in Wisconsin today in what we're promised is his final formal speech of the 2004 campaign. (The remaining days, aides say, will be filled with rallies, which, for Kerry, often sound like speeches.) Bush will talk economy. (Special report: The issues)
"I will never give any other nation or organization a veto over our national security," Kerry is expected to say, according to a draft of his speech. "But I will never forget what Roosevelt, Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy and Reagan all knew -- that America is stronger, our troops are safer, and success is more certain when we build and lead strong alliances, not when we go it alone."
Kerry also is expected to say that when Bush "is faced with the consequences of his own bad decisions, he doesn't confront them, he tries to hide them. The truth is, President Bush isn't leveling with the American people about why we went to war, how the war is going or what he is doing to put Iraq on track."
Through a spokesman, Bush will focus on the economy today during his fifth bus tour through Wisconsin, a three-town romp in the state's western reaches, pitched at conservative Democrats. Of the nearly 2 million new jobs added in this country over the last year, 59,200 have been in the Badger State, where the jobless rate of five percent is down almost a full point since the summer of 2003.
Bush will discuss the importance of enabling small businesses to grow, aides say, and will highlight Kerry's opposition to tort reform, "even though frivolous lawsuits cost the average family of four more than $3,200 a year."
One of the towns President Bush visits today, Cuba City, Wisconsin, has become a must-stop on the campaign trail this year and not because of its "City of Presidents" nickname. Bush's visit will be his second swing through the southwest Wisconsin town of 2,074, but his first actual stop. His motorcade drove through town May 7, but never stopped, disappointing residents who had lined the streets. The town had even closed school early in hopes of a presidential stopover.
Bush's failure to stop attracted some publicity in the region, and came to the attention of Camp Kerry. So on August 3, on a bus swing through Wisconsin and Iowa, Kerry changed routes and stopped in the small town.
Clinton still stumping
Bill Clinton rolls on for day two, still in Florida, where he speaks for Kerry at 12:30 p.m. ET at B'nai Torah Congregation in Boca Raton. Clinton flew from Philadelphia last night to Miami, where he spoke for about 20 minutes and, according to CNN's Phil Hirschkorn, "showed more stamina" than he had at his lunchtime rally in Philly. Clinton soldiers on this week, making appearances in New Mexico and suddenly competitive Arkansas.
On Florida 2000, Clinton said last night, "Remember, we won this state the last two times. They just didn't count them the last time. We can win it again. Let's go for it three in a row."
On Bush, he said, "Only a very foolish person goes all the way through life and never changes positions on anything in the face of new evidence."
Bush strategist Karl Rove weighed in yesterday, telling CNN's Dana Bash that Camp Kerry "had to roll Clinton out of the hospital room and onto the campaign trail to help Senator Kerry with his core constituencies who are so weak," he said. (Oh, is that right, Karl? And Bush is visiting with Arnold Schwarzenegger and Rudy Giuliani this week because, um, they miss each other and wanted a chance to catch up?)
Kerry ended his Monday in Macomb County, Michigan, the battleground home of the Reagan Democrats and the site of Mike Dukakis' infamous tank photo-op. Kerry dodged any such trouble, telling an evening rally that, "We need a fresh start in America, we need a fresh start in Iraq. We need a president who will look the American people in the eye always, and tell you the truth, and trust you with the truth, to make your decisions about our country."
A post-election paradise?
And finally today, we offer up the fantasy scenario that we in the political press corps will spend those grueling post-election weeks, not in Columbus or Tallahassee, or even Madison, Denver or Des Moines. But on the sunny beaches of Maui. Read on ...
A pair of polls indicating that Bush was slightly ahead of Kerry in traditionally Democratic Hawaii is prompting three independent groups that have been supporting Kerry to consider advertising in a state whose four Electoral College votes equal that of hotly contested Maine and New Hampshire, according to the Boston Globe. (Special report: Poll tracker)
The Media Fund, MoveOn.org, and possibly Americans Coming Together, could announce as early as today an array of activity, with the first likely to broadcast radio ads, the second possibly airing TV spots, and the third possibly joining in the TV ads, high-level figures at the groups tell the Globe.
Come on, Linda Lingle! (She's the Hawaii governor.) Get your voters to the polls!