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Inside Politics
The Morning Grind / DayAhead

Aloha, Dick Cheney

By John Mercurio
CNN Political Unit

Vice President Dick Cheney speaks during a town hall meeting in Sioux City, Iowa, Thursday.
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(CNN) -- OK, fine. We're not really in Hawaii today. We're stuck in New York, whose 15 minutes of swing-state fame ended weeks ago. But Dick Cheney, Al Gore and Alex Kerry get to go there this weekend, and we really, really think we should, too.

(Cue the luau music). Back on the mainland, we're juggling several October surprises (all of which, at this early hour, appear to benefit Sen. John Kerry), a slew of celebrity appearances and tons of new polls confirming our prediction that President Bush will both win and lose on Tuesday. You heard it here first.

The new CNN electoral map shows Bush clinging to a narrow 227-207 lead in the Electoral College, with eight states (104 votes) too close to call. Of those states, Bush is narrowly favored in Florida, New Mexico, Wisconsin and Iowa, which would give him another 49 votes. Kerry holds a slim lead in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Minnesota and New Hampshire, which would give him 55 votes.

After appearing today in New Hampshire with champion Boston Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling, Bush heads tonight in Ohio, where California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger makes his one-and-only nonconvention pitch for the prez.

Ahhh, but Bush isn't the only candidate getting a big New Hampshire nod this week. "I want you to know that when I go into the booth next Tuesday I am going to cast my vote for you," wrote former Sen. Bob Smith, a Republican-turned-independent-turned-Republican, in a letter to Kerry.

Smith lost his bid for renomination two years ago after a 2000 presidential bid that, because we're feeling charitable this morning, we'll describe as "ill-fated." So with all due respect to the former senator, we doubt this is the endorsement Kerry needs to counter the sway of a World Series champion pitcher.

Kerry would rather keep highlighting his support from Bruce Springsteen, which he'll apparently do again today in Miami, Florida. One day after the Boss drew crowds of 80,000 in the capitals of Wisconsin and Ohio, Camp Kerry hastily scheduled another event in Miami today. (Kerry aides tell CNN's Kelly Wallace that this was Bruce's idea, not theirs.)

Springsteen will perform this evening at the Bayfront Park Amphitheater. Doors open at 4:30 p.m. ET. (Speaking of Florida, a new Quinnipiac poll says that of the 16 percent of Florida voters who cast their ballots early, Kerry trounced Bush, 56 percent to 39 percent.)

Bruce will also appear with Kerry on Election Eve in Cleveland, Ohio. (We offer our sympathies these days to Jon Bon Jovi, who has been performing at Kerry rallies for months but now has been demoted to the John Edwards tour to make room for Bruce. It must be crushing. And don't even get us started on poor Carole King.)

On the defensive

Meanwhile, real news is happening that, without trying to sound overly dramatic, could have a decisive impact on this dead-heat race. Or at least, Kerry's campaign would like to think it will. Bush-Cheney starts the day playing a big game of defense, batting away new charges on Halliburton, Al-Qaqaa and a TV ad the campaign admits doctoring.

Reports surfaced late yesterday that the FBI had made a formal request to interview Bunnatine Greenhouse, the Army Corps of Engineering chief contracting officer who alleged the government gave unjustified no-bid military contracts in Iraq to Halliburton. Law enforcement sources tell CNN that the probe was in its early stages and "inferring anything at this juncture would be pointless." A senior law enforcement official also said there was no investigation of the White House or Cheney. But days before the election, disclosure of the expanded probe took on massive political implications.

Kerry didn't speak out on Halliburton last night, but he likely will today. The talking last night was left to Edwards. "Remember Dick Cheney's company?" he said in Davenport, Iowa. "Good people came forward, because they knew, just like the American people know, just like all of you know, that the special treatment of Halliburton was wrong. Here's what it boils down to: At the end of the day you cannot stand as George Bush and Dick Cheney, you cannot stand with Halliburton, big oil companies and the Saudi royal family ... and still stand up for the American people."

At the White House, there was little comment. "To ensure that the process goes forward, we wouldn't want to say anything or do anything to interfere with that process," a spokesman said. "The Justice Department is the appropriate agency to handle these questions."

Day Four of the missing explosives brought a report from KSTP, a Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota, television station. The report featured video that a news crew shot in April 2003, nine days after the liberation of Baghdad, showing barrels of marked explosives with what appeared to be seals from the International Atomic Energy Agency in an unguarded bunker there.

It was unclear if the items in the videotape may have been the missing explosives, but former chief weapons inspector David Kay told CNN's "Newsnight" that it was evidence explosives were there after U.S. forces reached the site.

"I think it is game, set and match," Kay said. "There was HMX, RDX in there. The seal was broken. And quite frankly, to me the most frightening thing is not only was the seal broken, lock broken, but the soldiers left after opening it up. I mean, to rephrase the so-called Pottery Barn rule. If you open an arms bunker, you own it. You have to provide security."

"The damning thing is the seals," Kay told The New York Times. "The Iraqis didn't use seals on anything. So I'm absolutely sure that's an IAEA seal."

Campaigning in Hawaii

Ahhh, but back to Hawaii, which has only backed a Republican for president during the GOP landslides of '84 and '72 but now finds itself back on the map.

Cheney will fly Air Force Two to the islands from New Mexico. He'll spend 13 and a half hours in the air (total round trip) and about two hours on the ground. The rally is scheduled for 11 p.m. local time. Why Hawaii? "Hawaii is a state where the president's leadership resonates," a Cheney spokeswoman said last night. "It's a very close race. We think we're competitive, and we think it's worth the trip. ... There's an opportunity out there."

Kerry's younger daughter, Alex, will speak at Farrington High School today and holds a get-out-the-vote rally with Gore. Camp Kerry also has a new ad hitting the airwaves in Hawaii this weekend.

The Bush-Cheney argument for winning Hawaii goes something like this: Hawaii has the lowest jobless rate in the nation and few of the economic problems afflicting states on the mainland. The islands are in the midst of a construction boom, and tourism is soaring. Republicans also believe that Hawaii voters, having lived every day with the memory of Pearl Harbor, have a special appreciation for 9/11. Also, 10,000 Hawaii-based U.S. troops are at war in Afghanistan and Iraq. Gov. Linda Lingle, a Republican, has been a huge Bush backer, traveling this month to Tempe, Arizona, to spin for Bush after the third presidential debate.

Still, pardon us if we're skeptical of a Bush victory in the Aloha State. Similar polls showed a similarly tight race there in 2000, when Gore carried it on Election Day by 18 points. No matter, of course. Cheney's trip still will have succeeded if it showcases a Democratic stronghold that appears to be leery of Kerry and forces some Democrats in the 48 contiguous states to ask why.

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