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JUDY WOODRUFF'S INSIDE POLITICS

President Bush Addresses National Guard Convention; Senator Kerry Pitches Health Care in Wisconsin; Interview With David McGinnis, Joe Repya; Debating the Debates

Aired September 14, 2004 - 15:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)
ANNOUNCER: President Bush is set to address the National Guard. Will he address questions about his Guard duty decades ago?

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We have led. Many have joined. And America and the world are safer.

ANNOUNCER: Do the latest images from Iraq suggest otherwise? Military brass from the Bush and Kerry camps join us to trade fire.

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This administration can't tell you the truth about health care.

ANNOUNCER: John Kerry takes his health care pitch to Wisconsin, defending himself against Republican claims that he's trying to bring back big government.

The debate over the debates. We have the lowdown on numbers and formats and whether it all really matters in the end.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ANNOUNCER: Now, live from Washington, JUDY WOODRUFF'S INSIDE POLITICS.

JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you for joining us at our new earlier start time, so we can bring you a full 90 minutes of INSIDE POLITICS every weekday through the election, now exactly seven weeks away.

At this hour, President Bush is in Las Vegas. He's scheduled to speak at a National Guard convention just minutes from now. His critics may find the setting and the timing ironic since Mr. Bush has been hit anew with questions about his Vietnam-era service in the Guard.

We begin with our White House correspondent Dana Bash -- Dana.

DANA BASH, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Judy, you know, it's not just the president's critics that find the timing ironic. His aides do, too. But they say this speech has been in the works for quite some time and that he's really going to focus on thanking the men and women of the National Guard for their service, particularly in Iraq, thank them for the sacrifices they have made, and their families, too, and what could be an attempt to make a headline other than the president's service in the National Guard.

We're told by a senior administration official that the president is going to try to step up his attack on Senator John Kerry a little bit. He's going to go through the various positions that Mr. Bush says Senator Kerry has had on Iraq and then question whether or not perhaps that was political and whether or not Senator Kerry has what it takes to lead given that.

Now, do not expect the president to make mention of the controversy about his National Guard service at all. He will make brief mention about how proud he is to have served. But the first lady did jump into the controversy over documents CBS says were written by then Lieutenant Bush's National Guard commander that suggest the president defied an order and got preferential treatment.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LAURA BUSH, FIRST LADY: You know, they probably are altered, and they probably are forgeries, and I think that's terrible, really. I think it's a terrible -- I mean, that's actually one of the risks you take when you run for public office or when you're in the public eye.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: Now, this is really the first time that a White House figure has come out and said that they do not think that these documents are real. Up until now, the White House has been careful to say they simply do not know. But Bush officials say the first lady was simply expressing her opinion and that they have not done their own internal investigation here.

But they're also not stepping back from Mrs. Bush's comments. Bush political aides were quick to point out that more and more news organizations are finding what they say are holes in CBS's story that these documents are in fact authentic, and Bush aides also hope that, as this continues, Democrats will actually be hurt for jumping on the story -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: Dana, very interesting. This isn't the first time they've had the first lady out there with comment on a story that everybody's watching.

All right, Dana, thank you very much.

Well, when the president does begin addressing the National Guard convention, we will go to his remarks live.

Today, some Bush opponents are pressing their charge that the president has misled Americans about his National Guard service, a charge that the Bush camp strongly denies. The Democratic National Committee unveiled a two-minute video challenging the president to answer questions about whether he received special treatment and fulfilled his obligations. DNC Chairman Terry McAuliffe defended the tactic and blamed Republicans for making this an issue.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) TERRY MCAULIFFE, DNC CHAIRMAN: Well, they have gone after this man who went and volunteered, went and served two tours of duty in Vietnam. And it's outrageous that we're even having this discussion today. But it started, as I say, with the Republicans, who started it with the swift boat ads.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WOODRUFF: The Republican National Committee invoked the disputed CBS report mentioned earlier by Dana in its response to Terry McAuliffe. And they said -- quote -- "The video the Democrats released today is as creative and accurate as the memos they gave CBS" -- end quote.

Meantime, the group behind the ads questioning Mr. Bush's National Guard record is getting its message out in a new way. The so-called Texans For Truth are offering a $50,000 reward to anyone who can prove that George W. Bush fulfilled his service requirements in the Alabama Guard.

Well, John Kerry is letting his allies press the National Guard controversy, while he talks up his health care reform plan. The senator went to the showdown state of Wisconsin today to try to persuade seniors there that George W. Bush is hiding something from them.

CNN's Frank Buckley is traveling with the Kerry campaign.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KERRY: This is the annual report...

FRANK BUCKLEY, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Using a series of charts with information from annual Medicare trustee reports, Senator John Kerry showed how, in each year of the Bush administration, according to its own figures, Medicare costs were eating into the Social Security benefits of the average senior.

KERRY: Now, that's each year up until guess what? This year, election year, 2004. Here's the chart they gave us this year to show the costs of your out-of-pocket expenses. Oh, my gosh. It's empty, a great big question mark.

BUCKLEY: Kerry accused the Bush administration of withholding the figures in the 2004 annual report because they projected a huge hit against Social Security benefits over the next three years, information released by the administration only after a request from a Democratic congressman from California.

KERRY: Once again, this administration hides the truth from the American people. And the reason that they're hiding the truth from the American people is because the out-of-pocket expenses of Medicare have now gone up to 37.2 percent by 2006.

BUCKLEY: Bush campaign officials say Kerry's own votes in Congress have contributed to higher Medicare costs, a charge Kerry staffers dispute. It was the second straight day Kerry went after President Bush on a domestic issue. On Monday, it was the expiration of the assault weapons ban. On Tuesday, it was health care costs.

KERRY: If you'll trust me with the presidency, the first thing I'm sending to Congress, day one, is health care that's affordable and accessible to all Americans. We're going to get it done.

(APPLAUSE)

BUCKLEY: Kerry's criticisms of the president designed to draw distinctions and to shake up poll numbers that show Bush leading since the Republican Convention.

(on camera): Even here in Wisconsin, where voters have gone Democrat in five of the last seven presidential elections, including in 2000, it's Bush that's ahead, a new CNN/"USA Today"/Gallup poll indicating that Bush leads Kerry here by eight points among likely voters. Kerry staffers admit they're behind here, but they still believe Wisconsin is a toss-up. And Senator Kerry will return to this state on Wednesday.

Frank Buckley, CNN, Milwaukee.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WOODRUFF: Well, since Frank Buckley filed that report, John Kerry has moved from Wisconsin on to Ohio. These are live pictures coming in from Toledo, Ohio, where Kerry is holding a town meeting with a group largely consisting of seniors. We're told he's talking up his health care plan and other domestic issues, primarily the focus today.

Well, meantime, the Kerry camp is touting a new endorsement that it hopes will underscore the senator's commitment to fighting terror. Five outspoken women who lost their husbands in the September 11 attacks went public with their support for John Kerry just minutes ago. I'll be talking with one of the widows, Kristen Breitweiser, later on INSIDE POLITICS.

President Bush is due to speak, as we've been telling you, at a National Guard office shortly. We're going to carry some of his remarks live.

Plus, military veterans on opposing sides of the presidential race, they'll join us to talk about the Vietnam shadow hanging over the campaign and more.

Also ahead, can Senator Kerry rally black voters with the battle cry of Florida?

And filling in the blanks of the presidential debates. We'll find out where the negotiations stand.

With 49 days until the election, exactly seven weeks, this is INSIDE POLITICS, the place for campaign news.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: As we've been telling you, President Bush about to speak at this hour to a group of National Guard veterans. They are gathered in Las Vegas, Nevada. You see the president there being introduced. We are planning to go to the president just as soon as he begins speaking. We're waiting for that to get under way.

The -- as you just heard from our White House correspondent Dana Bash, there's a fair amount of irony associated with today's scheduled speech by the president because of the focus of late on his own National Guard service back in the late 1960s and 1970s in Texas and in Alabama and beyond. We do know that, tomorrow, John Kerry is scheduled to speak to the same group tomorrow -- I'm sorry -- Thursday of this week. On Thursday, John Kerry will be speaking to the same group.

And let's go to Las Vegas right now.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

G. BUSH: Thank you all. Thank you all very much. Thank you all.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

G. BUSH: Thank you all. Thanks for the warm welcome. I am glad to join you here in Nevada. I'm also honored to be up here with the governor. He said to remind you of an important thing here. He said what happens in Vegas...

(LAUGHTER)

G. BUSH: ... stays in Vegas.

I hope you've enjoyed yourself in this fantastic part of our country. I'm honored to be invited to the 126th national conference. It's a pleasure to be with the brave men and women of the National Guard. As the general just said, you've had many famous Americans in your ranks, including men named Jefferson, Madison, Lincoln, and Truman. Nineteen individuals have served both in the Guard and as president of the United States. And I'm proud to be one of them.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

G. BUSH: The men and women -- the men and women of the National Guard are deployed around the world today fighting the forces of terror in Afghanistan and Iraq, helping Americans threatened with natural disasters like hurricanes here at home. I'm proud to be their commander in chief. And I respect and honor all of those who serve in the United States armed forces, active, Guard and Reserve.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

G. BUSH: I want to thank General Harding (ph) for his leadership.

I appreciate you for your invitation.

I want to thank the governor. I want to thank the lieutenant governor. I want to thank the attorney general, Brian Sandoval. I want to thank the secretary of state, Dean Heller, for joining us today. It's a pretty important group when you get that many politicians here in one room.

(LAUGHTER)

G. BUSH: Thank you, General Blum (ph), General Harrison (ph). Thank my fellow Texan, Danny James, General James.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

G. BUSH: General Schultz (ph). I want to thank the leadership and convention delegates. Most of all, thank you for inviting me today.

When I landed, by the way, at the airport, I had the honor of meeting Theresa Bunker (ph). She is a volunteer with the Las Vegas National Guard Family Support Center. I met her brave son that just came back from Iraq. I like to tell people the strength of this country's in the hearts and souls of our citizens, people like Theresa, who have taken time out of her life to volunteer, to provide support for family members, to send care packages overseas.

Now, we're going to keep our military strong, but never forget, the strength of this country are the great citizens of America who serve this country one heart and one soul at a time.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

G. BUSH: The Guard -- the Guard has been fighting for America since before America was a nation. From its birth in the 1630s, the Guard protected the early colonists and helped win the war of independence.

Today, it carries on the great tradition of those early citizen soldiers who picked up muskets to defend our freedom. The weapons have changed. And so have our enemies. But one thing remains the same. The men and women of the Guard stand ready to put on the uniform and fight for America. Our country is stronger. Our freedom is more secure because each of you has volunteered to serve.

(APPLAUSE)

G. BUSH: You've taken an oath to stand by America in times of crisis, war and emergency. You're fulfilling that oath in many ways. Across the state of Florida, I happen to know the commander in chief of the Guard there.

(LAUGHTER)

G. BUSH: Thousands of Guard members have mobilized in response to Hurricanes Charley and Frances. They're helping to control traffic, provide security, conduct search-and-rescue operations, and distribute food and water.

One resident of Punta Gorda, Florida, put it this way, "I don't know what this town would have done without the National Guard." When tragedy strikes, Americans can always count on the Guard.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

G. BUSH: When tragedy came on September the 11th, 2001, the response of the Guard was outstanding; 1,000 Guard volunteers came forward to help that day. And by sunrise on September the 12th, more than 5,000 Guard volunteers were on the job.

In the past three years, Guard units have defended the American homeland against further attack. We've taken the battle to our enemies abroad. The National Guard has played a critical role in every aspect of Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom. More than 185,000 Guard members have been called to serve on every front in the war on terror. You are a vital part of our strategy to defend America. You're fighting terrorist enemies in Iraq and Afghanistan and across the globe, so we do not have to face them here at home.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

G. BUSH: America is safer because of your service. And we are grateful.

(APPLAUSE)

G. BUSH: And we are grateful for your families, who share in your sacrifice. There are few things more difficult in life than seeing a loved one go off to war. When the call to duty comes, your families miss you and they worry about you. And by standing behind you, they also serve our country. America is grateful for the service and sacrifice of our Guard families.

(APPLAUSE)

WOODRUFF: George W. Bush speaking at the convention of the National Guard today in Las Vegas, the president praising the Guard for its service to the country, both in conflict abroad and in crises at home. And the president began his remarks by pointing out that he is one of 19 American presidents over its history who have served both in the Guard and been president. And he included in their ranks Presidents Jefferson, Lincoln, and Truman, along with himself.

As we said, John Kerry's going to be speaking to this group on Thursday. We'll be carrying a portion of his remarks as well.

Coming up, we're going to look at the debate over health care in this campaign, including the ongoing argument over Medicare and who pays for it.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: Medicare has been one of the driving issues in this year's presidential race. And with Election Day approaching, Democrats in Congress see the issue as one that could help the Kerry campaign beef up its support among seniors.

Here now, CNN congressional correspondent Ed Henry.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ED HENRY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Congressional Democrats are pouncing on news that Medicare premiums are rising sharply. To help seniors offset the escalating costs, Democrats are demanding that, before the election, Republicans allow the reimportation of cheaper drugs from Canada.

SEN. TOM DASCHLE (D-SD), MINORITY LEADER: If a senior citizen can go to another country on the Internet to acquire those drugs, why in heaven's name would we prevent them from doing so? Reimportation ought to be the law of the land today.

HENRY: But Republicans say there's not enough time in this session to deal with the drug issue and guarantee the imported drugs are safe.

SEN. BILL FRIST (R-TN), MAJORITY LEADER: We're talking about the safety of those seniors and others who depend on these life-saving drugs. I don't think we can address it in the next 17 days on the floor adequately.

HENRY: John Kerry has attacked President Bush over the fact that Medicare premiums are about to rise 17 percent. In all, the premiums for doctor visits and outpatient services have soared 56 percent on the president's watch.

SEN. EDWARD KENNEDY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: The failure of this administration to get a handle on health care costs and on prescription drugs.

HENRY: But it turns out it was then President Bill Clinton's 1997 balanced budget that set the formula for that hike. Kerry, Kennedy, and Daschle were among 42 Democrats and 43 Republicans who voted for that bill.

Democrats also seized upon Bush administration data projecting Medicare costs will eat up 37 percent of the average Social Security check in 2006. But the administration's top Medicare official stressed that seniors will find those higher Medicare premiums cushioned by savings from the program's new prescription drug benefit in two years.

SEN. GORDON SMITH (R), OREGON: New voluntary Medicare drug benefit will cover 53 percent of drug costs. For someone without coverage today, that means total spending on drugs will fall by nearly $1,300.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HENRY: Judy, an aide to Senator Kennedy told me that at the time of the 1997 budget vote, Medicare premiums were only rising at about 5 percent a year. They say, the Democrats do, that they're now exploding because President Bush has not kept health care costs under control.

But Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist today was waving around this letter, saying that as late as -- as recent as September of 2003, John Kerry signed this letter saying that he was in support of higher Medicare premiums in the context of broader Medicare reforms. The bottom line, both sides are pushing back very hard because, as you mentioned, they know the seniors' vote is critical in this election, Judy.

WOODRUFF: For sure. All right, Ed Henry at the Capitol today -- thank you very much, Ed.

It was another very deadly day in Iraq. Will the increasing violence there affect the race for the White House? We'll hear from retired military leaders on both sides of the issue.

Plus, the debate over the debates. We'll take a look at the fight between the campaigns over how many times President Bush and Senator Kerry will face each other.

(FINANCIAL UPDATE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.

Coming up at 5:00 p.m. Eastern, the United States bracing for Hurricane Ivan. Residents along the Gulf Coast begin evacuations. And the mayor of New Orleans declares a state of emergency.

Another deadly day in Iraq. Two assaults targeting Iraqi police kill at least 59 people. Many others injured. We'll tell you who's claiming responsibility.

And Vladimir Putin's plan to fight terror in Russia is raising eyebrows right here in Washington. Why top people are worried.

Those stories, much more on "WOLF BLITZER REPORTS." We'll also talk live with media critic Howard Kurtz of "The Washington Post" about CBS and the controversy over those disputed Bush National Guard documents. All that coming up 5:00 p.m. Eastern.

Now back to Judy Woodruff's INSIDE POLITICS.

JUDY WOODRUFF, HOST: Welcome back. Yes, welcome back to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm Judy Woodruff in Washington.

To better cover the campaign trail, we have expanded to 90 minutes through the November 2 election. So please tune in at our new time, 3:00 p.m. Eastern.

Earlier, we brought you some of President Bush's speech this hour to the National Guard Association convention in Las Vegas. The president used his speech to praise the estimated quarter of a million guardsmen who have been called to active duty since the September 11 attacks. He has not, however, mentioned the questions surrounding his own time in the National Guard, but he said he was proud of the time he served in the Guard.

The president's speech comes on a deadly day for the people of Iraq. A car bombing near a Baghdad market killed 47 people and wounded more than 100 others. In the Iraqi city of Baquba, 12 police officers were killed in a drive-by shooting. Also, an oil pipeline was sabotaged earlier today in northern Iraq, causing blackouts in parts of the country.

In a moment, I'll talk about the presidential campaign and the situation in Iraq with a retired Army officer who's supporting President Bush. But first, I'm joined from Las Vegas by retired Brigadier General David McGinnis. He spent 29 years in the New York State National Guard. He is a supporter of John Kerry.

General McGinnis, what do you make of this whole controversy over the National Guard and George Bush's service?

BRIG. GEN. DAVID MCGINNIS (RET.), NEW YORK NATIONAL GUARD: Well, Judy -- first of all, Judy, I spent about six years on active duty before I joined the Guard, and I served two tours in Vietnam. The controversy is -- centers around the termination of President Bush's service in the Guard.

Service in the Guard at that point in time as a fighter pilot was -- was a difficult task, and it was a dangerous task. So I don't think we can -- we can challenge the president's courage by joining the Guard to avoid Vietnam. But the manner in which he separated from the National Guard, much -- about two years before his obligation was over, and has yet to explain that to the American people, I think is still a legitimate issue in this campaign.

WOODRUFF: All right. Let me -- let me turn you to Iraq. We all know -- we just -- I just was reading the latest grim statistics out of there. Dozens of people killed over the weekend. And today we know over 1,000 Americans killed, over 7,000 wounded.

A number of Democrats are asking, with the war, the problems that still exist in Iraq, why hasn't John Kerry been able to make it an issue, turn that issue to his advantage?

MCGINNIS: That's a very good question. And I think the issue, quite frankly, is that Americans find it difficult to understand what is going on in Iraq and what is going on in the Middle East.

It's a very complex issue. And the administration went there under false pretenses, 23 different reasons. People talked about the senator waffling on different issues here and there, but there is one young lady in a master's thesis who came up with 23 different reasons why the administration's in Iraq.

So I think the American people are confused. And in those cases, they tend to look to -- they tend to look to the status quo. But the fact remains that we went to Iraq to be greeted as liberators, and we weren't. We went to Iraq, and we we're going to pay for the rehabilitation and establishment of democracy in Iraq with Iraqi oil, and we haven't.

It's costing us billions of dollars. And the total tab, military, civilian, is $200 billion and more. And we simply don't have an end in sight. It's kind of like -- I don't want to use the cliche, but it's Vietnam. We kept looking at the end of the tunnel, and right now we don't have a plan to win the peace.

WOODRUFF: Would John Kerry have a plan if he were president?

MCGINNIS: Yes, ma'am, he would have a plan to win the peace in Iraq, and by dealing with those force that are creating the problems in Iraq. Rather than jousting at windmills inside the country, there's a dynamic that needs to be addressed. But President Bush is the commander in chief, and it's his responsibility right now to have that plan and to take appropriate action to reduce the violence, reduce the deaths, especially of Americans, but of Iraqis also, and stabilize the situation.

WOODRUFF: John Kerry has said his goal -- in a general sense, he said his goal would be to get the troops home in four years. Some on the other side have said it's not smart to signal to the insurgents or anyone over there that the U.S. might leave in a specific frame -- time frame.

MCGINNIS: I think Senator Kerry's intent is to leave once the situation has been resolved. And he believes that that situation can be resolved in a reasonable amount of time. And does not -- he doesn't view it as an endless quagmire.

Those I think who say we have to stay much longer than that, I believe don't really understand the entire -- the entire demands of that -- of that situation. We won -- we won the biggest war in American history in six years. And we figured out how to do that in six years against two enemies and over two different oceans. We ought to be able to come up with a solution to end this war and get Americans home much more quickly than -- than the administration is currently talking about.

WOODRUFF: All right. We are going to have to leave it there. Retired Brigadier General David McGinnis, as he said, he served six years in active duty before he served several decades in the National Guard.

Thank you very much for being with us.

MCGINNIS: Thank you.

WOODRUFF: We appreciate it.

And now with me from Minneapolis to talk about more about Iraq, about the National Guard, and other issues, retired Lieutenant Colonel Joe Repya. He is backing President Bush in the White House.

Colonel Repya...

LT. COL. JOE REPIA (RET.), U.S. ARMY: Hi, Judy.

WOODRUFF: How are you? Thank you for being with us.

Let me just ask you about one point we just heard from General McGinnis, and that is, he said, John Kerry, if he were in office, would have a plan to stabilize Iraq. He said President Bush does not have such a plan. The point being, otherwise, why would the country be in such a mess right now?

REPYA: Well, Judy, he says that plan is secret. He can't tell us what that plan is because he's afraid we'd try to pooh-pooh it. John Kerry doesn't have a plan other than picking up the telephone and calling Jacques Chirac and begging him to come in and help in Iraq.

Listen, the president has done everything possible to confront the evil in Iraq. And I can tell that Brigadier General McGinnis has not been in Iraq recently, as I have, as recently as last year.

There are many parts of Iraq where we have been welcomed as -- as liberators, and there are many people in Iraq who every day tell our soldiers they are glad we're there and please don't desert them, help them build a democracy. We have Iraqi -- good Iraqis dying every day trying to build that country up.

WOODRUFF: And yet the reports that we are getting, that our own CNN correspondents on the ground have been sending back the last few days, is that they see an insurgency that is growing, for the most part, growing more powerful almost by the day.

REPYA: Well, you have a group of evil people over there that want their power back so bad they're willing to destroy anything that stands in their way. And that's going to continue.

You know, elections are coming up in January. It's going to get worse before it gets better. And we just need to be able to have a strong, principled leadership role in staying there and proving that America keeps -- Americans keep their word.

When we say we're going to help, we are there to help. And believe me, that's what our troops are doing. They're brave men and women, and they're doing a fabulous job.

WOODRUFF: I think everyone would certainly agree with that. Colonel Repya, let me turn you now to the National Guard question. We just heard General McGinnis say he honors President Bush for his service in the Guard, but he did go on to say that there are questions outstanding about how President Bush ended his service in the guard, how he terminated. And he went on to say he thinks the president has an obligation, or a duty to explain that.

How do you see that?

REPYA: You know, this whole thing about Vietnam, you know, "it's not the Vietnam war, stupid," it's the war on terror. Let's focus on the future and not the past.

As far as the president's service, he served honorably and he's always said that John Kerry served honorably. Nobody's questioned in the Republican Party. We gave him a standing ovation at -- in New York City when we mentioned John Kerry's name and his honorable service.

What is terribly troubling is John Kerry's record once he came home, especially his voting record in 20 years in the Senate. And that's what Americans should be focusing on, and who has the best plan to lead this nation in the future. And that's George W. Bush.

WOODRUFF: So you don't believe the president owes any explanation about how he separated from the National Guard?

REPYA: You know, I believe that those Texans for Truth that want to pay $50,000 should write that check out to the U.S. Air Force, because the Air Force gave the president an honorable discharge, just like the Navy gave John Kerry an honorable discharge. Let's put the past behind us. It's already proven not to be to John Kerry's benefit to keep dragging this out.

My goodness, I think today it's said that John Kerry's approval rating is about as high as Martha Stewart's, for crying out loud. So let's get focused on the future. We have 40 -- what, 49 or 59 days? Let's focus on who can best lead this nation in the war against terror.

WOODRUFF: I'm sure a lot of people agree with you about that.

REPYA: And also, let's...

WOODRUFF: Joe Repya...

REPYA: Let's support our troops.

WOODRUFF: ... we hear you loud and clear.

REPYA: Thank you very much.

WOODRUFF: Thank you very much. And I'm sure Americans do. Lieutenant Colonel Joe Repya, we appreciate you being with us.

Still ahead, one-time Nader supporters have a message for swing state voters: vote for Kerry. A host of prominent progressives say Bush's defeat is now tops on their agenda.

The debates over the presidential debates: the inside scoop on where the Bush and Kerry teams stand.

And later, new ads targeting black voters strike some tough blows against George W. Bush. Will the ads have an effect? Our Bruce Morton takes a look.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) WOODRUFF: Checking the headlines now in our "Campaign News Daily," Ralph Nader is back on the Florida ballot, at least for now. But some of his best-known supporters from 2000 are urging people not to vote for him. Florida's Supreme Court has agreed to hear arguments in the legal battle over Nader's attempts to get his name on the state ballot.

He is on the ballot for now, after the secretary of state appealed a judge's earlier ruling against Nader. Florida absentee ballots are supposed to be printed and mailed by this Saturday.

Dozens of famous people who served on Nader's citizens committee back in 2000 now say they want would-be Nader voters in swing states to vote for John Kerry. Phil Donahue, Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins are among those urging progressive voters in those states to remember that, "removing George W. Bush from office should be the top priority in 2004." So far, Nader is officially on the ballot in 29 states.

Former Washington, D.C., mayor, Marion Barry, is trying yet another political comeback in today's primary. Barry is running for the city council against incumbent Sandy Allen, who once served as Barry's campaign manager. Barry, you may recall, served as Washington's mayor for 16 years. He was also arrested in a high- profile drug sting and later served six months in prison.

With just seven weeks to go, as we keep telling you, until Election Day, the wrangling goes on over the presidential debates. To find out where all that stands, we're joined now by CNN's political editor, John Mercurio.

John, there's been a lot of back and forth behind the scenes. Where does it all stand right now?

JOHN MERCURIO, CNN POLITICAL EDITOR: Well, both campaigns have until Monday, we think, to sort of finalize their -- their game plan for the debates. All eyes are on this Monday deadline. It's been set by the commission. It marks 10 days before the first scheduled debate, which is September 30 in Miami.

Now, President Bush, for his part, met last Wednesday with the head of his debate negotiation team, former Secretary of State James Baker, and sort of the top item of their discussion, we understand, was Bush's personal desire to hold two and not three debates, which has been recommended by the commission and accepted by the Kerry campaign. At this point, there's been no apparent resolution on that decision, according to people close to the discussions.

We'll be watching that pretty closely. Vernon Jordan, the head of the Kerry campaign debate negotiation, and James Baker are talking frequently on the phone.

Now, in terms of preparation, apparently Bush and Dick Cheney have been working on this for several months, since late July. President Bush meeting in the White House with New Hampshire Senator Judd Gregg, who's filling in as John Kerry. He did the same thing in 2000 for Al Gore. Dick Cheney...

WOODRUFF: He doesn't look like him, but that doesn't matter.

MERCURIO: He doesn't look a thing like him. He's tall, but he doesn't look much like him.

Dick Cheney working with Ohio Congressman Rob Portman. These obviously are two elected officials from very important political states.

Now, Kerry, for his part, has been doing his own debate preparation as recently as last night at his house in Georgetown. His debate prep team looks a little different than Bush's. Bush's is full of sort of elected officials. Kerry is more of policy people.

Heading the debate prep team is Ron Klain, well known to a lot of Washington insiders. He was the senior adviser to the Gore campaign.

Playing Bush for John Kerry is a guy named Greg Craig. A lot of us know he was a White House special counsel during the White House -- during the impeachment for -- the Clinton impeachment.

Two other interesting people. Jonathan Weiner, who's a long-time Kerry policy aide, who's apparently heavily involved in the debate prep, he's expected to help Kerry prepare for these Bush attacks that Kerry's a flip-flopper. He's sort of preparing him on issues like Iraq and taxes.

And Mike McCurry, who the campaign announced last week is working on debate prep, this week, today, they told us he's going to be traveling with the president -- I'm sorry, with John Kerry on the campaign trail. So his role is expanding within the campaign.

WOODRUFF: Very quickly, John, you said did not resolve yet about two or three. What do you think? I mean, where are we going to end up?

MERCURIO: I think it's hard to say. My bet, which means very little, is that it's two.

I think that the Bush campaign sees very little political risk in trying to limit it to two. In three of the past five presidential campaigns, including two with incumbents, there were only two debates, and there was very little political outcry, public outcry.

WOODRUFF: Last question. How much do we think these debates really matter in the end?

MERCURIO: You know, I think they matter quite a bit. I think that voters pay attention during a presidential campaign to two sets of events: the summer conventions and these fall debates. And I think as these summer conventions become more and more staged, more scripted, more infomercials for the parties and their candidates, people turn to the debates as sort of the final arbiter of their choice. And there's one statistic we have that we're showing right now to back this up. In 2000, between 38 and 47 million viewers watched the Gore-Bush debates, according to the Commission on Presidential Debates. By comparison, only 24,000 or 25,000 watched the acceptance speeches.

So people tune in. People watch, and I guess they care.

WOODRUFF: It's the one place where they face each other...

MERCURIO: Right, exactly.

WOODRUFF: ... and have to answer questions that aren't scripted. They can't give those speeches that are written by somebody else.

MERCURIO: Exactly.

WOODRUFF: OK. John Mercurio, our political editor, thanks very much.

MERCURIO: Thank you.

WOODRUFF: Coming up, getting out the votes in Florida and making sure they count.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: One of the nagging political questions from the presidential election four years ago: was every vote counted? Our Bruce Morton has the latest about an effort to make sure the answer is yes this year.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BRUCE MORTON, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Lots of charges, just charges, in the 2000 election of attempts, especially in Florida, to keep black Americans from voting.

HILARY SHELTON, NAACP: One of the problems we had last time is that the people going to vote were actually almost chased away from the polls by people dressed up, in some cases, to look like election officials or even security officials.

MORTON: Donna Brazile, Al Gore's campaign manager, said of her sister in Florida, "She was asked to produce not one, not two, but three forms of I.D. in order to cast a vote for the president of the United States." This time, Democrats want to make sure blacks, who usually are Democrats, vote.

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: What they did in Florida in 2000 some say they may be planning to do this year in battleground states all across this country. Well, we're here to let them know we will fight tooth and nail to make sure that this time every vote is counted and every vote counts.

MORTON: How? The organization Media Fund is running radio and TV ads in non-battleground states, urging blacks to vote.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Bush has a plan for America. But you are not a part of it.

MORTON: Local elected officials can help.

MAYOR JOHN MARKS (D), TALLAHASSEE, FLORIDA: ... and we don't want to see that happen in the state of Florida under any circumstances. And we will be on the watch. We have people looking out for that kind of activity throughout the state of Florida.

MORTON: And there's an 800 number, 1-800-OUR-VOTE, set up by a coalition that includes the League of Women Voters, the ACLU, the NAACP. They'll have lawyers, volunteers available around the country.

SHELTON: Absolutely. Absolutely, to make sure that Americans have the opportunity to cast a vote of their own free will and indeed make sure that vote will indeed be counted.

MORTON: Will it work? Well, at least they know there's a problem, and they do have plans for how to deal with it.

Bruce Morton, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WOODRUFF: There is Republican reaction critical of the Media Fund's efforts to target African-American voters. Former Congressman J.C. Watts says, "John Kerry has no record with the black community, and his supporters in these shadow groups are launching more of the same unfounded, negative and personal attacks against George W. Bush."

Updates from the campaign trail when we return. We're going to check in with the president on the road out West and get an update on his campaign stop before a conference of National Guardsmen.

Also ahead, gauging the political impact with the questions about Bush's Guard duty and the TV ads that question Kerry's Vietnam service.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ANNOUNCER: Why is the National Guard flap damaging President Bush less than the Swift Boat controversy hurt John Kerry? Our Bill Schneider investigates.

A battle over health care on your TV.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The liberals in Congress and Kerry's plan, Washington bureaucrats in control, a government-run health care plan, $1.5 trillion price tag.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Four years ago, George Bush came to Scranton, promising quality health insurance for every senior. Four years later, five million more people without health insurance.

ANNOUNCER: So who's right?

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ANNOUNCER: Now, live from Washington, JUDY WOODRUFF'S INSIDE POLITICS

WOODRUFF: Welcome back to the final half hour of INSIDE POLITICS and our new 90-minute format for the countdown to Election Day, November 2.

Minutes ago, we heard live from President Bush speaking to a National Guard convention in Las Vegas. Our White House correspondent, Suzanne Malveaux, is traveling with the president. She filed this report on his speech and how it figures into the controversy over his own Guard duty.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: ... individuals have served both in the Guard and as president of the United States. And I'm proud to be one of them.

(APPLAUSE)

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Bush praised the National Guard for their service in Afghanistan and Iraq. But he did not make reference to the controversy over his own service in the Texas Air National Guard more than 30 years ago.

BUSH: The men and women of the National Guard are deployed around the world today, fighting the forces of terror in Afghanistan and Iraq, helping Americans threatened with national disasters, like hurricanes here at home. I'm proud to be their commander-in-chief, and I respect and honor all of those who serve in the United States armed forces, active, Guard and Reserves.

MALVEAUX: Recently discovered documents first aired on CBS News raise questions about whether Mr. Bush met his Guard requirements at the time of Vietnam. But there are also questions about the documents' authenticity. While the White House has said it does not know if they're forgeries, yesterday the first lady offered her opinion.

LAURA BUSH, FIRST LADY: You know, they are probably altered and they probably are forgeries and I think that's terrible.

MALVEAUX: While Bush critics raised the Guard service from decades ago, families of Guard members fighting overseas gathered just blocks from the president's event to protest what's happening now.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MALVEAUX (on camera): Now the big question, of course, is whether or not this Guard flap is going to resonate with voters and have an impact on the election. Senator Kerry will get a shot at making his case when he goes before this group on Thursday -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: All right. Suzanne Malveaux reporting on the president's day. Thank you very much, Suzanne.

Well just in time for the president's visit to Las Vegas, new moves for and against him are playing out in the local media. The DNC is running a new TV ad in Las Vegas through Thursday accusing Republicans of failing National Guard families by, among other things, pushing a veto of health care benefits for those families. If this video looks familiar, it's because we mistakenly ran it earlier when we meant to show you a DNC video about the president's National Guard service.

On the other side, the president has got a show of report from a Las Vegas newspaper. The "Review-Journal" published its endorsement of Bush Sunday calling him the only candidate who holds hope for a resurgent America.

Other voices from Las Vegas, a group that says it represents 1,700 military families held a news conference near the hotel where the president spoke today. They accused Bush of betraying National Guard soldiers who expected to serve at home, but were sent overseas to fight in Iraq.

And now we get a battlefield damage report as questions of military service cast long shadows over the presidential campaign. Here now our senior political analyst Bill Schneider.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST (voice-over): John Kerry's credibility is being challenged by the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. George Bush's credibility is being challenged by Texans for Truth.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you know that George served in our unit? I never saw him there.

SCHNEIDER: Which candidate has suffered more damage? Kerry made his Vietnam war record a central theme of his campaign.

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm John Kerry, and I'm reporting for duty.

SCHNEIDER: Just after the Democratic convention, 41 percent of voters said Kerry's service in Vietnam made them more likely to vote for him. Then came weeks of attacks. Polls showed voters did not believe the charges, but they had an impact. By late August, the number who said Kerry's military record made them more likely to vote for him had dropped by half. Kerry's advantage was neutralized by the controversy. Then Kerry's critics came out with an ad attacking his anti-Vietnam war activism. That had a more negative impact. A third of voters said Kerry's statements after he returned homemade them less likely to vote for him.

How about the charges about Bush's National Guard service? A much smaller impact overall. Three-quarters say the charges will not affect their vote. The charges against Bush first came out during the 2000 campaign.

WALTER ROBINSON, "BOSTON GLOBE": When we first wrote about Bush's attendance problems four years ago, we reported it in May of 2000.

SCHNEIDER: But Bush was not running on his military records. And Democrats were reluctant to bring it up because of the controversy over President Clinton's draft record. Now, Bush is president and many voters feel he has proved his credibility as commander-in-chief. Bush is a known quantity. Kerry is not. Kerry has suffered more damage.

In early August, just after the Democrat convention, Kerry had the edge over Bush as the more honest and trustworthy candidate. In late August just before the Republican convention, the advantage had tilted to Bush. Now, after the GOP convention did its work, Bush has the clear lead as the more honest and trustworthy candidate.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(on camera): Voters make allowances for failing to serve in an unpopular war like Vietnam. They did for Bill Clinton, and Dan Quayle and George W. Bush, but they have a harder time dealing with anti-war activism.

WOODRUFF: We're learning all the time. Bill Schneider, thanks very much.

Just a short time ago, John Kerry commented on the president's speech to National Guard officers today, accusing him of distorting the situation in Iraq.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KERRY: Just today the president stood up down in -- you know, talked to the National Guard, and just glosses over Iraq as if everything is just fine. But you know and I know, Americans know, and the world knows, because all you have to do is see it on the evening news or read the newspapers, that the situation in Iraq is worse, not better.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WOODRUFF: John Kerry spoke in Toledo, Ohio, where he is continuing to promote his health care reform plan, and accused the Bush administration of hiding the true out-of-pocket costs for senior citizens on Medicare.

Earlier today in Wisconsin, Kerry took aim at a new Bush campaign ad about his health care plan, rejecting the charge that he favors a big new government program. Howard Kurtz of "CNN'S RELIABLE SOURCES" looks at that ads and the claims and counterclaims about health care.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) HOWARD KURTZ, "CNN'S RELIABLE SOURCES": Ever since Harry Truman made a pitch for national health insurance, it didn't pan out. Health care has been seen as a Democratic issue.

KERRY: The problem of what's happening with health care represents a real problem with this administration and with George Bush's priorities, because his priority has been number one, the insurance companies, the HMOS, number two, the drug companies.

KURTZ: But President Bush's prescription for a November victory includes trashing Kerry's health care proposal.

AD ANNOUNCER: The liberals in Congress and Kerry's plan, Washington bureaucrats in control. A government-run health care plan. $1.5 trillion price tag, big government in charge, not you, not your doctor.

KURTZ: Hold on. Kerry isn't pushing a government-run health plan. He would use the current system of private health insurance but offer tax incentives to companies, even state governments to expand coverage, all totally voluntary. Doctors and patients wouldn't lose their say in treatment. And that $1.5 trillion price tag? More than twice as much as Kerry contends, that's a ten-year estimate by the conservative-leaning American Enterprise Institute. The same institute says Kerry's more ambitious plan would cover 27 million Americans who don't have health insurance. The Bush plan, less than 7 million, the institute yet. Bush has his own proposals.

AD ANNOUNCER: Allow small businesses to join together to get lower insurance rates big companies get. Stop frivolous lawsuits against doctors...

KURTZ: But it's not clear what impact they would have on health costs. The new spot follows this presidential attack on the same subject.

AD ANNOUNCER: John Kerry attacking the president on Medicare, but it was Senator Kerry who voted five times to raise Medicare premiums. Kerry voted to require premium increases, calling the passage of the bill a day of vindication.

KURTZ: That last line is misleading. Kerry was praising passage of President Clinton's 1997 balanced-budget law, backed by most Republicans, which included Medicare and other cutbacks, but which also wiped out the federal deficit. Kerry like most lawmakers has voted to raise Medicare premiums to keep pace with rising health costs.

This all started when the senator rolled out an ad personally blaming Bush for a 17 percent jump in Medicare premiums, but that was a stretch, because the decision was made by Medicare chief Mark McClellan as required by law, with no involvement from the White House.

(on camera): Medicare is a sensitive subject for any Republican, so the president, concerned about elderly voters, dropped his usual air waves attacks on defense and national security to bandage the wound. Bush strategists believe that if they can cut into Kerry's advantage on this traditional Democratic issue, that's a healthy development for them. Howard Kurtz, "CNN'S RELIABLE SOURCES."

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WOODRUFF: And another snapshot today of the presidential race. A new national poll that suggests Bush's convention bounce may be fading. It shows Senator Kerry leading 46 to 44 percent among registered voters. The "Investor's Business Daily" survey shows Bush and Kerry dead even with 47 percent each among likely voters.

Just ahead, taking sides in the race for the White House. I will talk with one of five women who lost their husbands in the 9/11 attacks, and today endorse a presidential candidate.

Also ahead, the vice president takes the offensive on the campaign trail. Is he stealing the spotlight from his Democratic counterpart?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: Here in Washington a short time ago, five women who lost husbands on 9/11 publicly endorsed John Kerry for president. Kristen Breitweiser of New Jersey is leading the charge, and she is with me now here in Washington.

Why do this, Ms. Breitweiser?

KRISTEN BREITWEISER, 9/11 WIDOW: I think because I spent, along with the other 9/11 family members, three years trying to get 9/11 issues addressed by this administration. And it's been a long fight, and I use the word fight because that's what it was. And I think it's disappointing to be this far removed from 9/11 and to still not feel as safe as we could be feeling.

It's been a long three years, and we tried to get failures addressed. We tried to have accountability assigned, and it's just not happening under this administration. And I have a five-year-old daughter. I want to know that I'm safer than I am right now. And President Bush has not put me in that place, and I believe Senator Kerry will.

WOODRUFF: You said that you voted for George W. Bush in 2000. What has turned you around?

BREITWEISER: I think my own personal experience in the last three years, where I'd hoped that President Bush -- someone that I voted for, that my husband voted for -- would have been my biggest ally in trying to correct the problems that occurred on the morning of September 11th and trying to make this nation safer.

And what I found out, for the last three years, is that he was our biggest adversary. And I'm very disappointed...

WOODRUFF: Specifically because he what?

BREITWEISER: With regard to the 9/11 Commission, President Bush: fought the creation of the commission; fought the legislative language to make sure the commission was set up in a bipartisan manner; fought the funding of the commission; fought an extension for the commission; fought access to individuals and documents.

This commission was very important because it was going to make sure that we learn from the mistakes that occurred in 9/11 and, in a sense, honor the lost lives by making sure that in the next attack -- which we know is going to happen -- more lives would be saved.

WOODRUFF: But in the last analysis, the president did come around on most of that, didn't he?

BREITWEISER: He came around after he was backed into a corner and after a 90-8 vote in the Senate. And it was a long year. And I wonder, what if the president had started his own commission in the days after 9/11, much like happened in Pearl Harbor. Maybe this wouldn't be a campaign issue this year. Maybe national security would be taken care of. Maybe I would feel safe. Maybe I wouldn't be so scared three years since 9/11.

And I think it's terribly sad that it is an issue in this campaign, because it's an issue -- because it hasn't been taken care of.

WOODRUFF: Are you going to get involved in his campaign? Will you campaign for him?

You were just telling me that you haven't flown in an airplane since 9/11.

BREITWEISER: I have not flown in an airplane since 9/11. When I see planes in the sky, I have flashbacks of the plane entering my husband's building.

I have committed to the campaign that I will travel. I want to get the word out. I want the people in this country to understand that national security must be a priority -- a priority in action, not just in words.

And I'm willing to get on a plane. And assuming I can do that, I will do that. And that is how committed I am, and how much I believe in Senator Kerry being our president.

WOODRUFF: Some people are going to ask, were you in any way used by this campaign? Are they in any way taking advantage of your obvious and understandable emotions in order to get you to...

BREITWEISER: And I can tell you from my heart, I reached out to the Kerry campaign. I reached out after the Republican convention that was in New York, and I felt that listening to people talk about 9/11 as incessantly as it was done during the campaign -- or the convention in New York, if you're going to use 9/11, use it to make this nation safer than it was on 9/11. And that's not being done. If you're going to use 9/11, if you're going to be impassioned about the lives lost on 9/11, then do so by making us safer. Don't use 9/11 to go to war in a country that had nothing to do with 9/11 -- not on my husband's name. The war in Iraq has increased recruitment of al Qaeda. It has increased animosity and hatred toward Americans.

I want to know that I'm safer. I lost my husband. I want to know that my daughter and I are safer. And President Bush hasn't one that. As much as we have begged and pleaded and screamed to try to get these problems fixed, to try and become safer living in this country, it just hasn't happened.

Kristen Breitweiser, who lost her husband on 9/11, we thank you very much for coming to talk with us today.

BREITWEISER: Thank you for having me.

WOODRUFF: We appreciate it.

And we want to let our viewers know that tomorrow we will be speaking with someone who also lost a family member on 9/11, someone who is supporting President Bush.

Coming up, Senator John Edwards and Vice President Dick Cheney crossing the country in search of support. We're going to look at where these two men are campaigning today.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: As Election Day draws closer, there's no letup in the frantic campaign pace for Vice President Dick Cheney and Senator John Edwards.

Cheney started his day in the south, with a rally in Blytheville, Arkansas. Right now, he's attending a rally in another battleground state -- West Virginia.

Edwards is spending the day in Oregon before flying back to the east coast, where he'll spend the night in West Virginia. He attended a town hall meeting in Oregon City this morning and then moved on to Portland for a fundraiser.

It was John Edwards' style when he was battling John Kerry for the Democratic nomination to stay positive. And as Kerry's running mate, Edwards has not deviated much from that style, despite a more aggressive approach by his opponent.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(voice-over): The lion...

DICK CHENEY (R), VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And the danger is that we'll get hit again, that we'll be hit in a way that will be devastating...

WOODRUFF: ... versus the lamb. SEN. JOHN EDWARDS (D-NC), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: George Bush gave a speech today on his healthcare plan. It was a short speech.

WOODRUFF: The contrast is stark. Comfortable on the attack.

CHENEY: A Senator can be wrong for 20 years.

I think he's been windsurfing too much.

WOODRUFF: Dick Cheney's barbs hit John Kerry's soft spots.

CHENEY: His back and forth reflects a habit of indecision and sends a message of confusion.

WOODRUFF: The traditional running mate pit bull; his comments making big waves in the campaign.

Not so with John Edwards. Granted, John Kerry's number two does hit back hard when Team Bush strikes. When Cheney implied the nation could be more vulnerable to terrorist attacks with Kerry in the Oval Office, Edwards was firm.

EDWARDS: It was calculated to divide us, and to divide us on an issue of safety and security for the American people.

WOODRUFF: Edwards does take the Bush administration to task on policy.

EDWARDS: This administration has said the outsourcing of millions of American jobs is good for the American economy. Now, let me tell you what would be good for the American economy. What would be good is to outsource this administration.

WOODRUFF: But on the attack dog scale, the Senator's bark is no match for the vice president's bite. Maybe that's the point.

EDWARDS: Are you ready for a positive, uplifting, optimistic, hopeful campaign for America?

WOODRUFF: Since the primaries, Edwards has taken pains to emphasize positive themes, claiming there's no need to further divide the nation. Now, even as he ratchets up his rhetoric, he does it with a smile. It hasn't won him national headlines, but it has gotten him lots of play in local media.

So, while Cheney plays big with bold, brash statements, Edwards uses his home-spun style to play small, hoping to pick off independent voters in key swing states, and maybe even some Republicans, too. That's one theory.

The other is that after a glowing debut, Team Kerry hasn't carved out a well-defined role for John Edwards, that they don't know exactly what to do with him. Maybe that will change when Cheney and Edwards debate one-on-one. Maybe then the lamb will roar, too.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(on camera): And straight ahead, our Paula Zahn will join me. She'll have new poll results from Michigan on a proposed statewide ban on same-sex marriage.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(STOCK MARKET UPDATE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: CNN's Paula Zahn joins me now from New York. She's been looking at the battleground states, and today you got an early look at some new poll results from Michigan.

All right. We want to hear about it.

PAULA ZAHN, HOST, "PAULA ZAHN NOW": Here it goes, Judy.

As you know, in the 2000 election, Al Gore won Michigan by five percentage points -- Gore 51, Bush 46 percent. Well, this year, Michigan -- with its 17 electoral votes -- is again a very important battleground for the campaigns. And voters in Michigan will also be voting whether to pass a Constitutional amendment to ban gay marriages.

So, we surveyed those voters in Michigan and asked them how they would vote on this controversial proposal, and here's what they said. As you can see on the screen, 45 percent of those polled say they would vote in favor of a Constitutional ban on gay marriages, 51 percent oppose it.

Now, two other battleground states are expected to have a gay marriage amendment on the ballot this fall, as well -- Oregon and Ohio. And analysts watch these ballot measures closely, as these may boost turnouts among social conservatives. And last month, voters turned out in record numbers to pass a similar ban in Missouri by overwhelming margins -- 71 percent to 29 percent. So, clearly, candidates will also be watching this referendum.

And tonight, Judy, we're also going to unveil some new numbers on the overall race and who is leading the pack. I have a hint for you: One candidate is ahead of the other by six percentage points, but you're going to have to wait for until 8:00 to find out who that he is.

WOODRUFF: Well, we can't wait to know who it is.

And I do think it's interesting: You've got over half of voters in that poll opposing the ban on gay marriage. Very interesting.

But tell us what else is on the program? We know you're all politics now.

ZAHN: We are, like your show -- except we've got 30 minutes less than you do. With 49 days left to go before the election, we're going to actually focus on President Bush's National Guard service and his address to the National Guard Conference, which you've referenced in your show, where he was in Las Vegas today.

We're also going to have an interview with a reporter who broke the Abu Ghraib scandal, Seymour Hersh, who talks about who he believes high up the change of command at the Pentagon knew about the prison abuse, and what they did or didn't do.

And then, we're going to take a look at online commentators using Web blogs and how they're playing a key role in this campaign, including an instrumental role in questioning the CBS News reports about President Bush's Guard service.

One of the year's most interesting bloggers -- a Wonkette, as she calls herself -- will be joining us live. And she has some interesting things to say about the blurring of lines between fact and fiction, and what readers want to get off these blog sites.

WOODRUFF: Well, all sorts of reasons to be watching. Paula Zahn, tonight at 8:00. Thanks very much.

ZAHN: Thanks, Judy.

WOODRUFF: It's always great to have you on.

That's it for INSIDE POLITICS this Tuesday. I'm Judy Woodruff.

"CROSSFIRE" starts right now.

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