High Drama on the Campaign Trail

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Thursday, August 5, 2004; 11:30 AM

It's really quite cinematic.

Scene One: The president and his challenger campaign blocks away from each other in the heartland of America.

Scene Two: Ordinary people at a Wisconsin diner wonder if they should be scared or outraged by the latest terror alert.

Scene Three: U.S. national security officials describe the sequence of events leading up to a raid in Britain that nabs a key al Qaeda figure.

Scene Four: The president signs a defense appropriation bill in White House ceremony.

Scene Five: U.S. forces fight it out in Iraq. Helicopter down in a holy city.

This is not your ordinary August drama, even in an election year.

Dueling in Davenport

Dan Balz and Amy Goldstein write in The Washington Post from Davenport, Iowa: "President Bush and Democratic challenger John F. Kerry brought their battle for the White House to this Mississippi River town Wednesday, staging dueling campaign events within blocks of each other where they painted sharply contrasting portraits of the economy and U.S. policy in Iraq. . . .

"When he turned to Iraq and efforts to thwart terrorism, Bush added a new twist to his usual remarks. It was an allusion to the widening public disenchantment with the administration's Iraq policies -- and Kerry's criticism of Bush's response to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist strikes."

From the text of his speech at LeClaire Park: "Those who claim that America's war on terror is to blame for terror threats against the United States have a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of the enemy. See, the 9/11 Commission said something wise: Our homeland is safer, but we are not yet safe."

Ann Gerhart writes in The Washington Post that while "Kerry went for voters' brains . . . Bush went for voters' hearts. His rally featured all the spectacular stagecraft at which this White House excels. Just as Aaron Tippin's 'Where the Stars and Stripes and the Eagle Fly' reached a high point -- 'I pledge allegiance to the flag / And if that bothers you, well, that's too bad' -- Bush's motorcade came speeding dramatically into the riverfront park, all fast black cars and flashing blue and red lights. The crowd of several thousand, some of whom had lined up four hours earlier for security sweeps, erupted and waved small flags. Three Secret Service sharpshooters projected presidential power, standing atop a white trailer, their eyes trained through high-powered binoculars. Restless children inside the rally enclosure had a choice between a small carnival ride and a petting zoo featuring a dozen baby goats."

Local Coverage

Craig Cooper filed tidbits from the day for the Quad-City Times. Among them:

"9:27 a.m.: The last thing Peggy Schaefer, official greeter of the president, needed on her big day was a power failure that started during the storms Tuesday night. After pleading with MidAmerican Energy Co. to do something on Wednesday morning, she ended up going to a nearby care facility to dry and curl her hair. . . .

"11:35 a.m.: Bush says, 'the other folks talk a good game, we deliver.' The speech is pretty much the same one shown on C-SPAN earlier this week from a campaign stop in Springfield, Mo.

"12:07 p.m.: Jay Proehl, 32, of Milan, Ill., is unemployed after seven years at the warehouse of Eagle Food Centers. He wanted to hear more about job loss and how Bush will create new jobs. He is paying almost $500 per month for his single health care, dental and vision insurance.

"12:23 p.m.: Bush blows kisses to spectators and to NBC reporter David Gregory as he goes behind the bleachers in LeClaire Park."

Todd Dorman writes in the Quad-City Times: "The crowd was dominated by . . . ardent, Bush-backing Republicans who couldn't be pulled from the president's camp by a John Deere tractor. There were 'Sportsmen for Bush,' 'Veterans for Bush,' and members of the 'George Bush's Farm and Ranch Team.' They waved American flags and patriotic pompons above their heads while their children played or slept on the ground at their feet.

" 'I believe in the president and in what he's doing for the American people,' said Vicki Pearsall, 55, Moline, who owns an accounting and computer business. 'He's turning us back into a godly nation.'

" 'He has the ability to reach the silent majority, the people who don't always speak out. Their heart is with his values,' said Pearsall, who arrived at 8:15 a.m., a full three hours before Bush. . . .

"There were small pockets of anti-Bush dissent but they weren't tolerated for long. While [country music star Larry] Gatlin sang, police and Bush campaign staff escorted out a young woman wearing a shirt that said 'Fascism Welcome Here' on the front and 'Fight Terrorism. Defeat Bush.' on the back.

"At one point, while Bush spoke, a chant of 'No more war' could be heard at the back of the crowd. It was met with a deafening 'Four more years.' "

Kurt Allemeier writes in the Rock Island Argus: "President Bush made a detour as he returned to Air Force One, stopping at the farmer's market at Grant and 19th streets in Bettendorf. The market had been displaced from the John O'Donnell Stadium parking lot by his visit.

"Secret Service agents were coy about the president's stop but held vendors in their stands near closing time, promising some extra business. This is national Farmer's Market Week.

" 'You start putting two and two together that the president is coming when you hear the sirens,' Ken Thomsen, 60, of Long Grove, said."

Bush paid $3.50 in cash for a dozen ears of Thomsen's sweet corn.

"Mr. Thomsen is proud of his sweet corn. He enjoyed when the president shucked it and took a bite."

That made for a lot of pictures.

" 'I was surprised he even tried it,' Mr. Thomsen said. 'I have pretty good corn. You can eat it like a candy bar. . . . I told him that is the trickle-down effect, with some money coming from up there. . . . It was pretty neat.'"

As of this writing, a plurality of readers voting in an online poll by the Quad-City Times said they thought yesterday's visits were genuinely exciting.

Todd Ruger writes in the Quad-City times that armed robbers held up three Davenport banks during the campaign stops. "Police said the robbers might have believed traffic and crowd control at the visits would leave police shorthanded elsewhere."

Later, in Minnesota

Rachel E. Stassen-Berger and Bill Salisbury write in the St. Paul Pioneer Press: "President Bush came to southern Minnesota on Wednesday to announce his support for an expanded federal conservation program and cultivate support from voters in the hotly contested presidential race.

"This was Bush's third state visit this year and his second in the last three weeks. He began his five-hour stay in Minnesota at a 300-acre farm near Le Sueur with a pledge to continue a popular conservation program and ended it with a rousing campaign rally in a rock quarry near Mankato that attracted thousands.

"Bush's Mankato speech -- the first one by a president here since 1948 -- was all politics. 'I'm here to ask for your vote,' he told the enthusiastic crowd. . . .

"His talk in Le Sueur was more policy-oriented, but it attracted enthusiastic response from several hunting groups."

The Associated Press reports that two boys who spoke unfavorably about the president -- and the high school teacher who came to their defense -- were asked to leave the quarry rally.

"Global geography teacher Jim Walz said he wanted to stay and was told by a Bush official that he would be arrested and escorted out if he made any attempt to protest during the rally."

Terror Alert Views

Stephen Kinzer and Todd S. Purdum write in the New York Times about how inside a Kenosha, Wis., diner, "many patrons questioned whether the Bush administration was trying to manipulate the terrorist threat for political advantage. . . .

"With polls showing public doubts on topics like President Bush's veracity on the war in Iraq and whether the country is safer from terrorism as a result of that invasion, people of diverse ages, income and political persuasion interviewed in eight states expressed a wary mix of skepticism and resignation about the orange alert that has dominated headlines, newscasts and talk radio for three days. . . .

"While Mr. Bush has long benefited from his image as a straight talker, polls have shown an undercurrent of doubt about his veracity, beginning with his answers on the Enron scandal two years ago and continuing through to the Iraq war and the prisoner abuse scandal at the Abu Ghraib prison outside Baghdad."

And they add this observation: "Many voters who say they trust President Bush seem less convinced than those who mistrust him."

Caroline Drees writes for Reuters: "The Bush administration insists its terror warnings should be taken in deadly earnest, but many Americans feel political motives, faulty intelligence and the 'cry wolf' factor may be clouding their credibility."

Michael Isikoff and Mark Hosenball write in Newsweek: "Was the Bush administration justified this week in making a public show of intelligence that Al Qaeda planned to attack top American financial institutions? It's a tough call."

Vice President Cheney, speaking in Missouri yesterday, publicly joined the White House effort to quash skepticism that it exaggerated the threat. Here's the text of his comments.

"There have been some commentary from some of our critics -- Howard Dean comes immediately to mind -- saying somehow this is being hyped for political reasons, that the data that we collected here, the casing reports that provided the information on these prospective attacks is old data, i.e. four or five years old," he said. "That just tells me Howard Dean doesn't know anything about how these groups operate."

Terror Alert News

Dana Priest writes in The Washington Post: "A key al Qaeda figure who had access to the surveillance data that led authorities to increase the terror alert level was among those arrested in raids in Britain on Tuesday, according to a senior U.S. national security official."

Richard W. Stevenson and Douglas Jehl write in the New York Times: "A day after senior White House officials said the decision to raise the terror alert level on Sunday had been driven in part by new intelligence beyond the information about specific buildings in the United States, the White House press secretary, Scott McClellan, told reporters that 'there are some ongoing operations under way' to disrupt terrorist activity."

Ted Bridis writes for the Associated Press: "A U.S. counterterrorism official, also speaking on condition of anonymity, said the surveillance information last week was married with 'very recent and current activity' from al-Qaida. . . .

" 'A bunch of things came together at the same time,' Frances Townsend, the White House Homeland Security adviser, said in an interview Wednesday with National Public Radio.

Here's the NPR interview.

In the Gaggle

Here's the text of yesterday's gaggle with press secretary Scott McClellan.

And here's an excerpt:

"Q. Does the President feel sensitive about this notion that the administration may have been politicizing some of this terror information, and about the debate that seems to be circling around that idea?

"MR. McCLELLAN: Well, first of all, we hope people aren't making such an irresponsible suggestion, and we hope that people won't try to politicize something as important and serious as this threat information. This is a time for all of us to come together in America to do everything we can to protect the American people. . . .

"[T]here is another new stream of intelligence reporting that has come to our attention -- came to our attention on Friday. And I think when you connect all these streams of intelligence, it paints an alarming picture. And the President's most solemn obligation is to protect the American people. And this is a time when we must all work together to make sure we're doing everything we can to meet that responsibility. And that's what we're doing.

"I would also point out that it's because of our offensive actions abroad, that we're better able to better protect the American people here at home, as Secretary Ridge talked about on Sunday.

"Q How was that statement not politicizing a terror alert?

"MR. McCLELLAN: How was what?

"Q How was that statement not politicizing -- basically giving the administration credit for its actions in the war on terror and applying that credit to this terror alert? How is that not politicizing?

"MR. McCLELLAN: No, I think it's pointing out how -- how important it is that we continue to stay on the offensive to win the war on terrorism and to better protect the American people. That is what this war is about. It's about going on the offensive and defeating the terrorists before they can carry out their attacks on the American people."

The So-Called Rich

David Wessel writes in his column in the Wall Street Journal: "Campaigning last weekend, President Bush offered this attack on opponent John Kerry: 'He said he's only going to raise the tax on the so-called rich,' the president said in Canton, Ohio. 'But you know how the rich is: They've got accountants. That means you pay. That means your small business pays. It means the farmers and ranchers pay.'

"That's what he said. (I checked the White House transcript, which gets points for faithfully recording the president's unique grammar.) What did he mean? . . .

"Is the president courting votes from cynics who say the rich avoid taxes and the rest of us pay? Claire Buchan, a White House spokeswoman, explains: 'The president is noting that the so-called wealthy have the resources to hire accountants to find ways to reduce their tax bills. . . . ' "

Ironically, the topic sort of came up yesterday during Cheney's talk in Missouri.

"I know I couldn't possibly fill out my own income tax form. I need help," Cheney said. "And unfortunately, that's true for all too many of us."

Torture Watch

Scott Higham writes in The Washington Post: "Nearly 130 lawyers, retired judges and law school professors and a former director of the FBI yesterday condemned a series of U.S. government legal opinions holding that the torture of terrorism suspects might be legally defensible. "

Halliburton Watch

Robert O'Harrow Jr. writes in The Washington Post: "The Justice Department is expanding a probe of allegations that former Halliburton Co. employees accepted inappropriate payments relating to company projects abroad, according to company records filed with the government yesterday."

9/11 Commission Watch

Philip Shenon writes in the New York Times: "The chairman of the Sept. 11 commission said on Wednesday that voters in November's presidential election should weigh how President Bush and Senator John Kerry respond to the commission's final report in determining how they vote."

Shenon writes that the comments "carried an implicit warning to the president, who has already rejected specific recommendations in the commission's report, including its call for the establishment of a national intelligence director who would have direct control over the budgets and personnel of the C.I.A. and other intelligence agencies."

Singing for Change

Ronald Brownstein writes in the Los Angeles Times: "In one of the most ambitious efforts by entertainers to influence a presidential election, a group of marquee-level pop musicians announced Wednesday an October concert blitz aimed at mobilizing opposition to President Bush. . . .

Headliner Bruce Springsteen tells Brownstein: " 'I think it's important to speak in a measured voice. . . . We want respect for the office of the presidency. . . . We don't want to be Bush bashers. We are Bush questioners, is the way I would put it."

Springsteen has an op-ed in today's New York Times, explaining his goals.

And Springsteen was on Nightline last night, where Ted Koppel asked him: "Who the hell is Bruce Springsteen to tell anybody how to vote?"

The Calendar

Bush signed the defense appropriation bill this morning at a White House ceremony.

"Our troops are making America safer, and we're grateful for their sacrifices," Bush said. "These great achievements have come at a cost of human life and grief. America is grateful for the families of those who mourn a loved one. We will honor their memory by completing the mission and making the world a more peaceful place."

Here's the text of his remarks.

Later today, he flies to Columbus, Ohio, for an "Ask President Bush" event, and to Saginaw, Mich., for a rally.

Ken Herman writes for Cox newspapers: "Issues of importance to minorities will be front and center in Washington today when Democratic nominee John Kerry speaks at Unity, a conference of minority journalists. Bush, who speaks at the conference on Friday, knows he is fighting an uphill battle to lure minority votes."

Where's Rumsfeld?

John Hendren and Mary Curtius write in the Los Angeles Times: "Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, once so popular as an administration spokesman for the Iraq war that President Bush dubbed him a 'matinee idol,' has reduced his public profile, trimming appearances as the war has turned from a positive for the Bush campaign into a potential liability."

They note that "the White House, which coordinates which administration officials appear on the networks' news-making Sunday talk shows, has not lined up a Rumsfeld interview for months, although a senior administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity, denied that the White House did not want Rumsfeld speaking out."

Computers Call It for Bush

Bloomberg reports: "President George W. Bush, locked in a statistical tie with John Kerry in national opinion polls, will be re-elected in November, according to five computer models that use economic performance to forecast the vote."

Here, for example, is the latest from Yale economist Ray C. Fair.

Poll Watch

Bloomberg also reports: "Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry leads President George W. Bush 49 percent to 42 percent among registered voters in 17 battleground states, according to a Marist College Institute for Public Opinion poll."

Here are the results of the Marist poll.

Twins Watch

Keith Reed writes in the Boston Globe about the US Airways flight Saturday night from Boston to Washington that "made an unscheduled stop in Albany, N.Y., to pick up President Bush's twin daughters. . . .

"The fact that the Bush twins were among the passengers in Albany had nothing to do with the decision, and airline officials may not have even known they were there, said US Airways spokesman David Castelveter. . . .

"Dan Kasper, an airline analyst at LECG LLC, a Cambridge consulting firm, said it is not unprecedented for an airline to divert a flight in order to appease stranded passengers, especially if the affected flight has seats available."

But does it happen often?

Online Humor

The satirists at The Onion are "reporting" that: "In the interest of national security, President Bush has been asked to stop posting entries on his three-month-old personal web log, acting CIA director John E. McLaughlin said Monday."

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