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Sept. 26, 2003 / 9:00 AM ET

From Mark Murray and Huma ZaidiWe learned some things from yesterday’s debate. Despite his lack of specifics, Wesley Clark proved that he can smartly whiff it with the best of them and belongs in the field. As several of the candidates verbally jabbed at each other, Clark calmly stayed out of the fray. As the New York Times puts it: “The decision by some of the better-known candidates to attack one other and ignore General Clark had the effect, by design or not, of allowing him to appear the way his aides have sought: a fresh face above the fray.”

The Clintons may deny they’re behind Clark, but a lot of their old team worked the spin room for Clark last night.

We also learned that, despite some past statements to the contrary, Clark ideologically is a Democrat. According to the Washington Post, Clark was quickly put on the defensive when the debate opened with a question challenging his Democratic loyalty... Clark, clearly prepared for such an inquiry, said: ‘I am pro-choice. I am pro-affirmative action. I’m pro-environment, pro-health. I believe the United States should engage with its allies. We should be a good player in the international community. And we should use force only as a last resort. That’s why I am proud to be a Democrat.’”

Moreover, we learned that, despite Clark’s fresh face, some things still stay the same: Gephardt and Kerry attacked Dean, Dean fired back, etc.

After helping to put on last night’s debate and put out a poll, we’re exhausted. Thank goodness the weekend is here.

The CNBC/Wall Street Journal Democratic Candidates DebateIn its analysis, the Washington Post has this take on the debate. “Ten Democratic presidential candidates filled the stage at Pace University this afternoon, but the spotlight fell only on two: Retired Army Gen. Wesley K. Clark was the object of curiosity, while former Vermont governor Howard Dean was the target for attack.”

“Both easily survived the two hours of back-and-forth on a host of economic issues. Clark demonstrated flashes of the persona that has made him attractive to many Democratic voters, and Dean, although occasionally annoyed at the potshots aimed his way, mostly held his ground. But the debate was a reminder for both that there are challenging days ahead, and of just how difficult it is to stand out in a field as crowded as the one the Democrats now have.”

“Kerry was more aggressive in this debate than in two earlier ones this month, reflecting his determination to blunt Dean’s rise, particularly in New Hampshire, while Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (Conn.), the aggressor toward Dean in previous debates, was more restrained. Sen. John Edwards (N.C.) pushed his economic message while offering a peacemaking message by urging the candidates to attack Bush, not each other. Gephardt, when not attacking Dean, kept an eye on his blue-collar constituency, promoting his health care and economic messages with repeated passion.”

The New York Post writes, “Democrats turned up the heat big-time yesterday in the first presidential debate since Wesley Clark jumped in - but aimed most of their fire at front-runner Howard Dean.... It was the hottest Democratic face-off yet.”

Here’s the Boston Globe’s version: “Clark, the retired Army general who had entered the race nine days earlier and vaulted to the top of national polls, stayed close to a cautious script drafted by a cadre of Clinton administration aides advising him . . . self-consciously referred to his political inexperience, saying it was the reason he would not answer hypothetical questions, and said he could not offer specifics for an economic program but could provide clarity on one big issue.”

And while Clark played it safe, the paper writes, the other candidates left him alone, saving their venom for Dean. “The series of attacks prompted Dean to complain at one point, ‘You know, to listen to Senator Lieberman, Senator Kerry, Representative Gephardt, I’m anti-Israel, I’m antitrade, I’m anti-Medicare, and I’m anti-Social Security. I wonder how I ended up in the Democratic Party.’”

A Globe editorial, meanwhile, opines that ”[y]esterday’s engagement in New York City included more honest public discussion on American economic policy than President Bush has offered in his entire term.”

Walter Shapiro reviews, “The first debate question ever posed to fledgling presidential candidate Wesley Clark was one that might have made a practiced politician squirm. CNBC moderator Brian Williams asked the retired general to explain why he had been a speaker at the 2001 Lincoln Day fundraising dinner of the Arkansas Republican Party, where he expressed admiration for Ronald Reagan and support for George W. Bush.”

Shapiro then asks, “By what standards should Clark, lionized by a Newsweek cover and high poll ratings, be judged after his initial debate?” “Bright and well-briefed by a task force of debate-prep handlers, Clark should have been expected to reach a basic level of competence on domestic issues. Standing before a space-age lectern at the debate, broadcast on CNBC, Clark probably bettered these minimal standards. But as the two-hour debate wore on, his answers grew increasingly vague...”

“Clark may have walked off the stage at Pace University confident that he survived without a direct attack from any of his rivals. But the fault lines in the Clark candidacy are becoming visible.”

The Wall Street Journal: “It wasn’t immediately clear whether Mr. Clark was able to use the appearance to assure party stalwarts that he is ready for the intense scrutiny of a presidential run. At a time when Democratic partisans express sharply negative feelings about Mr. Bush, Mr. Clark acknowledged having extolled Mr. Bush early in his term.”

And the Hartford Courant points out that “the second Democratic Party-sponsored debate among the newly expanded field of 10 Thursday will probably be best remembered for the way Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry and Missouri Rep. Dick Gephardt tried to level Dean, the man both see as their biggest threat.”

The reactions from the candidates: Clark embed Marisa Buchanan gets this comment from the general after his first debate. “Oh I loved it... I thought it was fun. And I really like being up here with these people. The two hours passed very, very quickly.” Buchanan also reports that Democratic heavy-hitters surrounded Clark at the DNC dinner. And one of them told her that Clark has had a great week on the fundraising circuit.

Lieberman embed Dionne Scott reports that the Lieberman staffers “thought their candidate did very well during yesterday’s debate.... Spokesperson Jano Cabrera said Lieberman, as always, is consistent, saying the Senator didn’t waffle and clearly stated his positions on the issues.”

Scott also gets this interesting quote from the senator. “Howard Dean, I disagree with him on the war. Dennis Kucinich, I disagree with him on the war. But they’ve been consistent. Wes Clark sounded more like John Kerry on the war last week and he’s gotta clarify.”

During and after the debate, Edwards scolded his rivals for all of their infighting, notes Edwards embed Dugald McConnell. “I think it’s perfectly normal for policy differences to be clear - there’s nothing wrong with that,” Edwards said after the debate, “but I think we ought to be focused on peoples’ lives instead of focused on each other.”

Gephardt campaign embed Priya David gets comments from the congressman on his sparring with Dean. “We have legitimate differences, and this is what happens in a debate,” he said. Gephardt spokesman Erik Smith added that Dean has yet to answer the claims in any substantive manner that he supported cuts in Medicare.

Kerry didn’t make it to the post-debate spin room, but Kerry embed Becky Diamond was still able to get some comments from the candidate after the debate. Kerry told her that he “liked the real discussion” that went on, and that the candidates “drew differences” in their policies. Yet Diamond got Kerry campaign manager Jim Jordan to talk about the verbal jabs between Dean and Kerry. “Dean said a lot of indefensible themes,” he said.

Dean campaign manager Joe Trippi tells Dean embed Felix Schein, “We got here by being aggressive and unpredictable. We won’t change that.”

Braun told embed Angela Miles that, if she had to grade herself, she would give herself only a “B.” Miles adds that Braun says she was not feeling well and had laryngitis. Moreover, Miles reports that Braun was “disappointed” she took her first question 18 minutes into the debate. “She did not complain, but made it clear she was not given equal time, even though she says she tried to ‘get in there.’”

Sharpton embed Tom Llamas reported yesterday that he expected Sharpton to be more aggressive during last night’s debate. Citing his “home field advantage, Llamas reports, Sharpton started out by saying: “I want to welcome General Clark to New York and I want to welcome him to our list of candidates. And don’t be defensive about just joining the party. Welcome to the party. It’s better to be a new Democrat that’s a real Democrat, than a lot of old Democrats up here that have been acting like Republicans all along.”

Kucinich embed Karin Caifa reports that Kucinich, used to not getting the same air time as his counterparts, says he’s just learned to keep his answers more concise and to pack a bigger punch during the debate.

CaliforniaThe winner of Wednesday’s circus-like recall debate? According to the Washington Post, it might have been the one central character who didn’t attend: Gray Davis. “In the aftermath of the nationally televised session - which was peppered with enough snippy digs and canned zingers that the frazzled moderator reminded viewers, “this is not Comedy Central” - Californians awoke this morning to a batch of headlines describing how the embattled Davis had signed bills advancing stem cell research, gun safety and environmental protections.”

“‘If anybody gained last night, it was Gray Davis,’ said Leon E. Panetta, a former California congressman and Clinton administration official. ‘The consultants and pollsters give them these one-liners and it may capture a bite on the news, but the overall impression is that there is not much substance here. It leaves a bad taste in the people’s mouth.’”

“‘For Davis to pull a rabbit out of the hat and beat the recall, he needs voters to see an increasingly negative, shrill tone among his would-be successors,’ said GOP consultant Arnold Steinberg. ‘That’s what we saw at the debate. Anything that contributes to the circus atmosphere of the recall helps Davis.’”

“But Davis faces an exceedingly difficult task, to persuade enough independents and Democrats — who really are tired of him — that he deserves one last chance. The most recent polls still show a majority of voters — about 53 percent — ready to give Davis the heave-ho.”

In other recall news, the New York Post reports that yesterday, erstwhile gubernatorial candidate Bill Simon “jumped on the Schwarzenegger bandwagon and called for Republicans to rally behind The Terminator.”

“U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa, the San Diego County Republican who bankrolled the recall petition drive, is reportedly also going to endorse the actor today.”

The Washington Times, meanwhile, sums up the increasing post-debate pressure on McClintock to get out of the race.

More 2004The AP reports on Graham’s fundraising woes “Published reports had suggested Graham would raise $4 million to $5 million in the quarter that ends Sept. 30, but he will raise less than that, said three officials close to the campaign who spoke on condition of anonymity.” Part of the problem might be that ”[h]is fund-raising coordinators for cash-rich California and New York quit the campaign in the last week, officials said. One of them has signed on with former General Wesley Clark.”

Graham embed Sophie Conover reports that Graham denies rumors of dropping out of the race soon or that his campaign is having any campaign funding issues. Graham told Conover, “Absolutely not,” Graham told Conover. “Our campaign is picking up pace, we are focused on the early primary states. We intend to do well there.”

Dean, however, doesn’t seem to be having any fundraising problems. According to Dean embed Felix Schein, campaign manager Trippi says that snail-mail contributions are coming in as fast, if not faster than internet contributions - so fast, in fact, that the campaign fears its compliance office will have a hard time reporting all the money before the October 15th filing deadline. How will that money be used? Schein says, “Some will go into ads to air in New Mexico. In particular, this new television ad features the Governor speaking Spanish and will air on Spanish language television.”

Edwards embed Dugald McConnell reports that the campaign is so pleased with its internal polling that it decided to put those numbers on its Web site. The surveys have Edwards in double-digits in Iowa, and leading with 23 percent in South Carolina - almost double his nearest rival, Wesley Clark. Says one pleased Edwards staffer, “We’ve always said, all along, we’re gonna win South Carolina, and we’re gonna win South Carolina.”

Sept. 25, 2003 / 8:50 AM ET

From Elizabeth Wilner, Mark Murray and Huma ZaidiSetting up today’s CNBC/Wall Street Journal Democratic Candidates Debate live at 4:00 pm ET on CNBC and re-broadcast at 9:00 pm ET on MSNBC:

The latest NBC/Journal poll showing serious concern about unemployment, grim news for President Bush’s tax cuts and economic policy, and a Democratic presidential trial heat suggesting, per our pollsters, remaining questions and uncertainty among the party about their field;

A Lieberman campaign poll (so there, media organizations) showing him leading the pack, with Dean and Clark tied for second;

A letter from Kerry to Dean asking him to reverse course on middle class tax cuts and Medicare, continuing the three-way fight with Gephardt;

A Washington Post report on how the leading candidates are going after each other;

A big take-out by the co-sponsoring Wall Street Journal on how the candidates are gambling that they can beat Bush by supporting higher taxes. The Democrats bet that voters are more concerned about jobs than they are about keeping the Bush tax cuts — especially for upper-income Americans.

“The 2004 Democratic presidential field... has embarked on the party’s boldest gambit on taxes in two decades,” says the Journal’s Harwood and Schlesinger. “Every candidate has called for rolling back all or part of Mr. Bush’s tax cuts, notwithstanding Republican accusations that this amounts to raising taxes. In the latest example, the first domestic initiative of retired Gen. Wesley Clark’s week-old campaign was a call for reversing tax cuts for Americans earning more than $200,000 and using the money to finance a job-creation program.”

“By a 53%-to-43% margin, Americans say Mr. Bush’s approach to jobs and the economy needs major change. In a warning sign for the White House, political independents side with Democratic voters in slamming the president’s approach.”

“The Bush-era deficits that replaced Clinton-era surpluses and the cost of waging the war on terror have squeezed prospects for new domestic spending in the absence of tax increases. And pressures of the Democratic primary campaign, in which organized labor and others are seeking higher health-care spending, have left presidential contenders with an escalating need to explain where they would get the money.”

The analysis notes the “Democratic debate, so far, hasn’t been over whether to increase taxes, but by how much.”

“Republicans see the public mood turning sour, and they figure that won’t make higher taxes popular. In the Journal/NBC poll, Americans say by a 50%-to-38% margin that the country is heading in the wrong direction... In any case, the Democrats’ positioning on taxes doesn’t appear to be hurting the party’s candidates’ competitiveness so far. Some 42% of Americans say they are likely to vote for Mr. Bush’s re-election, while 40% expect to vote for the Democratic candidate.”

The Democratic trial heat: Dean 17 percent, Clark and Lieberman 16 percent, Kerry 11 percent, Gephardt 8 percent, Edwards 4 percent, Sharpton 3 percent, Graham and Kucinich 2 percent, and Moseley Braun 1 percent. Undecided: 14 percent.

Harwood notes that with his jobs plan, “Clark sought to distinguish himself by proposing to spend $100 billion during the next two years to stimulate the economy, more than his rivals. That includes $40 billion each for state governments and homeland security, and $20 billion in tax breaks for companies that increase employment.”

CNBC/Wall Street Journal debateThe closing bell will ring and they’ll be off. The second Democratic presidential debate sanctioned by the Democratic National Committee takes place today, as noted above, from 4:00 to 6:00 pm at Pace University’s downtown campus. The debate will focus on key economic issues facing Americans.

Sponsored by CNBC and the Wall Street Journal, the event will be moderated by NBC’s Brian Williams, with CNBC’s Ron Insana, CNBC “Capital Report’s” Gloria Borger and the Journal’s Jerry Seib as panelists. There will be no opening or closing statements. We’ll see if and how the candidates work parts of their stump speeches into their responses, 60 seconds at a time.

Non-NBC and Dow Jones/Wall Street Journal outlets should please observe the following re-broadcast rules:

1. An unobstructed onscreen credit “CNBC/The Wall Street Journal” must appear during each debate excerpt and remain on screen for the entire excerpt. (Note: the abbreviation “WSJ” is not acceptable.)

2. Each excerpt must be introduced with an audio credit to CNBC and The Wall Street Journal.

3. No excerpt may air in any medium until the live debate concludes. (The debate is expected to end at 6:00 pm ET.)

4. No more than a combined total of 1 minute (60 seconds) of excerpts may be chosen for use during the period from the end of the live debate until 11:00 pm ET. After 11:00 pm ET, a total of 3 minutes may be selected (including any excerpts aired before 11:00). The selected excerpts may air as often as desired, but the total of excerpts chosen may not exceed the limits outlined.

5. No excerpts may be aired after 6:00 pm on Thursday, October 2. Excerpts may not be archived. Any further use of excerpts is by express permission of CNBC and The Wall Street Journal only.

6. All debate excerpts must be taped directly from CNBC’s cablecast or obtained directly from CNBC and may not be obtained from other sources, such as satellite or other forms of transmission. No portions of the live event not aired by CNBC may be used.

Please note that Internet use is not permitted.

NBC’s Andrea Mitchell reports Clark did not know about General Shelton’s comments to the Los Altos Town Crier — that he will note vote for Clark and that Clark has “character and integrity issues” — until Clark broke from debate prep yesterday and saw it on TV at 4:45 pm. Shelton himself told embed Marisa Buchanan that he would stand by his comments but had nothing further to elaborate. Campaign spokesperson Mark Fabiani said, “Mr. Shelton has the right to his opinion.”

Dean embed Felix Schein reports the campaign did not receive Kerry’s letter yesterday asking Dean to reverse course on his positions on Medicare and rolling back tax cuts for the middle class, but a Dean campaign official responded, “If John Kerry wants to be pen-pals that’s fine.” The slightly more official, written response from campaign manager included the following: “As a doctor and a Governor, Howard Dean’s top priority was expanding access to health care... To suggest that somehow he would desert seniors who rely on Medicare by cutting the program runs counter to everything he has stood for in his career... And let me add that as a doctor - and as a son who helped his father navigate Medicare’s bureaucracy - Governor Dean firmly believes that Medicare as a program should be more responsive to patients’ concerns. That’s why he will appoint a physician who has worked with Medicare in charge of the program.”

“...Governor Dean believes we must repeal all of the Bush tax cuts. He also believes that those seeking the presidency have a responsibility to be honest with the American people about the true agenda behind — and full consequences of — this administration’s economic policies.”

Edwards embed Dugald McConnell reports that debate talk at the campaign yesterday focused on message, rather than strategies for dealing with other candidates. As one aide said, “You only have so much time out there.” While some of the higher-profile candidates are mixing it up on issues, a lesser-known candidate like Edwards is still focused on introducing himself to voters, both in his advertising and in debates. Edwards spent much of Wednesday afternoon going over issues with aides, but according to one staffer, “It’s not like we had to spend days and days closeted away. At this point in the campaign, he has his message laid out pretty well, and he knows his issues. Early on things were different, but now he’s comfortable, and he looks forward to them. He’s ready.”

Per Gephardt campaign embed Priya David, campaign staff say there isn’t much time for debate prep. Between the Laborers’ Union endorsement yesterday and private fundraisers both yesterday and today in New York before the debate, Gephardt won’t have much time to prepare. David says he will take a few minutes to read and talk with his advisors once he’s arrived at the site.

Graham told embed Sophie Conover yesterday, “I like the debates, they are competitive and I think we did well in the last two of them. I’m looking forward to it.”

Kerry embed Becky Diamond reports some Kerry comments at the firefighters’ endorsement yesterday. On Clark: “While he voted for Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, I was fighting against both of their policies and what they did to the average working person and what they did to their hopes and dreams.” And about Dean and tax cuts: “Why on earth would you want to rub out gains for the middle class is beyond me. So I call on both Mr. Gephardt and Mr. Dean and anyone else to show reasonableness here as to how Democrats ought to help the middle class.”

Diamond also points out that Kerry lately has shifted from stressing his military background to emphasizing the depth and breadth of his experience — a new development after Clark entered the race. One new line: “I’m running on my life’s experience and all that I bring to the table in terms of leadership.”

A Kerry spokesperson says Kerry will lightly prep for the debate today. You “put your shoulder pads on the same way,” he said.

Kucinich embed Karin Caifa says the campaign staff tells her Kucinich will save his attacks for Bush and stick close to his issues: canceling NAFTA and the WTO, and renewed attention to the manufacturing sector to create a stronger middle-class.

Longtime Lieberman friend Lanny Davis tells campaign embed Dionne Scott that two themes may likely emerge during tomorrow’s debate, in terms of where Lieberman’s campaign stands. One, Lieberman “is actually a progressive Democrat with one of the most liberal records” and that may come to light. Two, Lieberman is a “John Kennedy Democrat, meaning he’s strong on national defense, fiscally responsible and progressive on social issues.”

Although Lieberman, like many candidates, claims not to pay attention to polls, his pollster put one out yesterday showing Lieberman leading and Clark and Dean tied for second place, and Lieberman within two points of Bush in the trial heat; Clark came within five. The e-mail to supporters reads, “Because of the recent public polls reflecting Wes Clark’s entry into the race, we asked our pollster Mark Penn to conduct an overnight survey of Democratic primary voters. Please help us to circulate this widely to all your friends, family, and fellow supporters. The public needs to know that Joe is in the lead.”

The e-mail to supporters also included the Washington Post story that the Clintons say they aren’t quietly backing Clark.

Per embed Angela Miles, Moseley Braun staffers say to look for the candidate to present her themes of taking the country in a new direction and making prosperity possible for all. She is likely to avoid verbal fights with the other candidates.

Embed Tom Llamas notes Sharpton may take the gloves off at a pre-debate media avail in Harlem, where he hopes “to show the other side of the island of Manhattan,” the release says. The avail takes place at Amy Ruth’s Restaurant at 1:00 pm.

CaliforniaSchwarzenegger today does a town hall hosted by KABC Radio, Fox, and the Republican Jewish Coalition at LA Center Studios at 3:00 pm ET.

Pardon us for fixating more on our own upcoming debate than on the one last night on the opposite coast (we were counting out credentials...). Debate reviews from

The Los Angeles Times.

The Sacramento Bee.

The San Francisco Chronicle.

The San Jose Mercury News.

Sept. 24, 2003 / 9:30 AM ET

From Elizabeth Wilner, Mark Murray and Huma ZaidiTo quickly dispense with necessary news: President Bush gets chilly headlines for his “cool” reception at the UN yesterday. Democrats charge him with a lack of specifics, even as they concede they’ll OK the $87 billion to look supportive of the troops. The new NBC/Wall Street Journal poll out later today measures public opinion on all of it, on Bush’s tax cuts and the deficit, on other domestic issues, and on the presidential race.

An economy-related slice of the poll will be released on CNBC’s Business Center at 5:00 pm in advance of tomorrow’s CNBC/Wall Street Journal Democratic presidential debate; poll headlines come on NBC Nightly News; and the Wall Street Journal hashes through it all tomorrow morning.

USA Today sets up tomorrow’s debate on the economy with this: “Some Republicans are saying aloud something that seemed unthinkable just a few months ago: President Bush could lose next year’s election.”

“‘If the economy is not good, we’ll have a very close race,’ says Charlie Black, a veteran Republican strategist in Washington. ‘In a very close race, you could lose.””

Thank you, Mr. Black. We have debates on the brain.

Tonight marks the first of two evenings in a row in which a nationally watched, personality-driven candidacy meets the high-stakes, substantively rigorous arena of a debate. Hosted by the California Broadcasters Association, five of the Question Two candidates, including Schwarzenegger in his sole expected debate appearance, face off for 90 minutes in Sacramento State University’s University Union Ballroom from 9:00-10:30 pm ET. No restrictions on usage, and the CBA will provide a clean feed.

The Wall Street Journal, factoring big into both debates, lets Schwarzenegger lay out his economic plan and bash Davis and Bustamante on its op-ed page.

Unlike Schwarzenegger, Clark won’t get to learn lines in advance of tomorrow’s event, but he too is expected to get specific on the economy this morning with a jobs plan rollout in New York at 9:30 am.

The Los Angeles Times says in its debate preview that more than 250 reporters are expected to cover tonight’s Sacto showdown; First Read reports over 350 members of the media are expected to attend tomorrow’s debate at Pace University.

At 7:30 pm ET at the CBA debate site, the Davis team has a group of “real Californians” — a teacher, a senior citizen, a nurse and a farm worker — challenging Schwarzenegger to take part in a “real” debate. After the debate, Schwarzenegger will appear at a debate-watching party at Cal Expo at 11:15 pm ET.

Notice how California suddenly has the strictest e-mail spam law in the country, allowing recipients to sue for up to $1 million (as the Washington Times covers a Manhattan Institute survey showing trial lawyers took in $40 billion last year), and is about to get “first in the nation” gun legislation at a 2:00 pm ET event today. The release says “Davis Administration officials and gun safety advocates will announce the governor’s signing of a package of legislation that will continues California’s reputation as the toughest gun safety state in the nation.”

Elsewhere in the recall today, Davis, who will not take part in the CBA debate, signs a stem cell research bill and talks with citizens about health care at the UC-Davis Medical Center at 3:00 pm ET.

CaliforniaThe San Francisco Chronicle says absentee ballots began pouring in after the court’s decision.

The Los Angeles Times makes this point about what’s happened with the recall: “Taking [Davis’] ouster in the first part of the recall ballot for granted, the GOP and its leading candidates have put most of their time and virtually all of their resources into the fight to replace Davis. That, in turn, has given the embattled incumbent and his Democratic allies a priceless opportunity - a chance to redefine the recall itself.”

“No longer a straight up-or-down vote on Davis and his perceived failings, the choice for many Californians has evolved into a more complex series of calculations involving fairness, ideology and the tug of partisan loyalties.”

“For all of that, Davis is still waging an uphill fight. Not a single poll has shown him beating the recall.”

The Los Angeles Times front-pages a big takeout on Schwarzenegger’s career.

CNBC/Wall Street Journal debateThe Wall Street Journal’s Harwood sets up the debate (for Clark): “Gen. Clark isn’t the Democratic front-runner any more than Sen. Joseph Lieberman was when superior name recognition placed him atop early national polls. Nor can he be until he demonstrates some command of the unfamiliar terrain of domestic policy, the natural habitat of Democratic primary voters.”

“The most obvious strategy for Gen. Clark is the outsider’s path marked in recent years by Ross Perot, John McCain, and now Howard Dean... Which is precisely where he will find a relentless array of political landmines.”

“In fact, the thin record of the general’s domestic-policy utterances suggest he is reading polls as closely as any center-left Democratic stalwart. He is ‘not particularly in favor’ of raising the Social Security retirement age. He has signaled support for rolling back the unpopular Bush tax cuts for upper-income Americans, but not the popular ones benefiting middle-class voters, though doing only the former couldn’t achieve his vaguely enunciated goal of balancing the budget ‘at some point.’ Only on government-funded vouchers for private-school tuition, which he says might be used ‘on an exceptional basis,’ has he signaled any appetite for taking on Democratic constituencies.”

And Howard Fineman, bless his heart, shrugs off accusations of being in the tank for MSNBC in touting the debate as “make or break” for Clark.

Clark campaign embed Marisa Buchanan gets press secretary Kym Spell saying Clark is walking into the debate with a “pretty big target on his back,” considering he beat everyone in the last poll, including Bush. That said, the General would like to tell his own story. and Spell argued it is a more average American story than any of the other candidates. (We know a few who would take issue with that.) She also argued, “No one knows who he is,” and this allows him to come in and explain why he is running, and why his past experiences can help turn around the economy.

He’ll have a minute at a time, max, to do this.

Despite claiming to be happy to “wait and see” what happens with Clark for now, the Dean camp, embed Felix Schein reports, is “playing to win” and is somehow confident that Clark will soon be seen for what they think he is: an insider “Washington” candidate who seemingly danced Republican up to last week. The question is whether Dean will contribute to this process.

Regarding tomorrow’s debate and the likelihood of continued attacks by Kerry, Lieberman and Gephardt, a Dean spokesperson said the campaign has not prepared a special strategy or specific attacks. Instead, the idea is to “wait and see what the others do” — both to Dean and to Clark.

Kerry campaign embed Becky Diamond says to expect more of the Kerry-Dean back-and-forth over tax cuts tomorrow. The Kerry camp’s build-up to the debate has included a string of endorsements: former Clinton campaign chair David Wilhelm, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, RFK Jr., Lt. General Claudia Kennedy, and yesterday, former Small Business Association Administrator Aida Alvarez, and former New Hampshire Gov. Jeanne Shaheen.

Former US Labor Secretary Robert Reich sent an online letter yesterday: “George W. Bush’s economic policies have been a dismal failure, with devastating consequences for America’s families. Economic opportunity is the engine that drives American social progress. John Kerry will be a great economic leader because he understands this. He knows that a president’s job isn’t to lavish tax breaks on the wealthiest Americans, but rather to create opportunity.”

Today, Kerry adds his first union endorsement, a technically small but symbolically significant one: the International Association of Firefighters, which endorses him at the St. Regis Hotel at 12:30 pm; Diamond covers. “Clark has four-star credentials, but lacks political and legislative experience, said [union chief Harold] Schaitberger, who spent a couple of hours at breakfast with the retired general several weeks ago, along with other union presidents.” — AP

Gephardt touts a union endorsement today, as well: the Laborers’ Union International gives him their nod in Chicago at 9:30 am ET. The campaign notes LIUNA represents more than 800,000 members. This will be Gephardt’s 14th union endorsement; he has a conference call with the press immediately following the event.

The Washington Post http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A54931-2003Sep23.html: “With the AFL-CIO’s prized endorsement dangling before them, several candidates are sounding a more protectionist note as they side with labor unions in criticizing the North American Free Trade Agreement, which Clinton signed into law in December 1993, and warning that they will oppose future pacts if they do not include stricter and more enforceable labor and environmental standards. Critics warn that such standards could curtail U.S. trade because some nations cannot meet them.”

“The shift away from free trade, rhetorically and substantively, reflects twin political imperatives: the candidates’ desire to win the AFL-CIO endorsement and to show the growing ranks of unemployed workers, many of whom held union jobs, that the candidates are responding to mounting job losses.”

“In the general election, anti-trade positions and rhetoric could become problematic, some party strategists say. The public is generally more supportive of trade than unionized workers, who make up about 13 percent of the U.S. workforce.”

Embed Priya David says the Gephardt campaign is keeping quiet about debate prep. When asked about strategy for Thursday, spokesperson Erik Smith replied, “Our success in the first two debates was due to the fact that Dick offered both the most articulate critique of President Bush and the boldest, most ambitious policy alternatives. This method is proven and Gephardt needs to continue doing that to break through.” David adds that a volunteer group of New Hampshire teachers are taking to the hallways to drum up support for Gephardt: they’ll meet with other supporters on Thursday for a debate-watching party.

The Lieberman campaign tells embed Dionne Scott there’s “no real mystery” to the Senator’s debate prep — no scripted one-liners, nor any behind-the-scenes plans of attack. A deputy campaign director said debate prep “isn’t hugely tactical.” When asked if Lieberman plans to attack Dean again, the aide said, “if we disagree with Dean, then we will.” If that’s the standard, Scott notes, Gephardt could also potentially be on the receiving end as well over tax cuts. As for Clark, the campaign says Lieberman has already said what he had to say — that Clark’s comments on the Iraq war resolution were “confusing and ambivalent.”

Right before a debate, on site, the campaign says Lieberman and staff sit in the green room and chat — there’s really no time at that point for any more prep. Any rituals? Yes, according to spokesperson Jano Cabrera, but “it’s really less ritual,” more logistical: the campaign staff prepares research for the rapid response documents the campaign passes out to reporters during the debate.

Edwards embed Dugald McConnell says Edwards does debate prep in DC today, and that the economic focus is a welcome topic for a candidate whose populist message has been about kitchen-table issues, and whose resume on national security is not as long as Kerry, Clark, or Lieberman’s. Edwards spends most of his time campaigning on economic issues, especially when he’s in rural areas. Spokesperson Jennifer Palmieri told McConnell the economy is “the most important topic” of the campaign. While she predicts Edwards will have strong criticism of Bush’s economic record, along the same lines as his new ad this week, she does not predict he will be the first to go after the frontrunners in his own party.

Edwards yesterday, banging that ethics drum, called for a ban on lobbyist contributions to federal campaigns.

When embed Karin Caifa asked Kucinich about his prep for Thursday’s debate, he replied with a smile, “I’m ready every moment of my life for a debate.” While waiting for his car to pick him up at the corner of 43rd Street and 6th Avenue Tuesday afternoon, he looked up and around and joked, “I thought I’d come up here a couple of days early. Come up and scope the place out.”

Per Graham embed Sophie Conover, the campaign claims their goal for this debate is to make the public aware that Graham has an economic plan, created 1.4 million jobs, and balanced budgets as governor of Florida. The campaign doesn’t think there’s much chance to break through in these debates, though.

The campaign did say you can expect to see Graham “draw distinctions” between himself and the rest of the field. How will he draw those distinctions? While the standard answer is to wait and see, staffers were quick to point out that they believe Graham has created more jobs than anyone else in this campaign. They are also fond of noting the size of the budgets he balanced, and the comprehensive nature of his economic plan.

Sharpton embed Tom Llamas says Sharpton tells him that as soon as he steps on stage at Thursday’s debate, he is going to separate himself from the rest of the pack. His campaign is not disclosing what that strategy will be. But if Sharpton uses the same kind of language he used at speech on Saturday in Louisiana, Llamas says, expect him to be very aggressive in targeting his nine Democratic rivals.

Moseley Braun campaign embed Angela Miles says the campaign won’t be doing debate prep today — just a run-through the day of. One aide tells Miles “she’s a natural in the debate format.”

More 2004 notes (D)Comparing “Hillary hysteria” to a cold sore, the Washington Post Style section raps the political establishment and the media for repeatedly buying the Hillary 2004 hype when She herself has repeatedly said no.

The AP: “Where some Democratic presidential candidates have criticized Bush’s foreign policy and postwar leadership with the benefit of hindsight, Clark can claim to have raised similar questions with foresight... Less conveniently for his political aspirations, however, Clark at times heaped praise on Bush and his team for skillfully handling the Iraqi operation - even so far as to say the president should be proud for forging ahead despite the nay-saying.”

“In this politically charged climate, America’s record in Iraq is fair game for Democrats, and Clark is attacking Bush full bore on it... Months earlier, Clark was full of admiration for the way the Bush team was conducting the military operation.”

“That’s not to say Clark agreed with the decision to attack.”

Kerry embed Becky Diamond got Kerry on the record about Clark: “I saw in the polls that both Wesley Clark and I are the only Democrats that beat Bush. The Democrats will look for someone with a record of accomplishment on issues that matter to them. I’ve been fighting for education reform for kids, for health care and to protect the environment. That is important to Democrats. It’s important that people look at the overall record.”

The Boston Globe: “Kerry, highlighting a new poll that showed he and Clark each would beat Bush in theoretical match-ups, drew an implicit contrast with his Democratic rival by noting his own longtime party membership and by making a vague reference to his past political battles with Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, both of whom Clark supported for president.”

Kerry “hammer Bush” update: so far, the hammer campaign has raised $148,000 online; they are asking 200,000 online supporters to donate $50 each.

Dean embed Felix Schein says Dean’s Copley Square speech yesterday offered more vision and more varied examples of what the Bush administration is doing wrong. Gone were the lines about “Ken Lay and the boys,” replaced by examples of Republican wrongdoings ranging from the recount to the recall. The speech also included greater historical context.

The Washington Post: “Dean’s prepared text included some of the harshest language he has used against the administration. He charged that the Bush team has ‘capitalized on domestic fears of terrorism for political gain,’ given ‘handouts’ to industries that are ‘causing irreparable harm to our environment’ and ‘shackled our children and grandchildren’ with record budget deficits to enact his ‘reckless tax cuts’” — which, he said, “are ‘bankrupting the states and starving Social Security, Medicare and our public schools’ and have gone to ‘the largest political contributors at the expense of today’s middle class.’”

Schein notes that behind the campaign’s insistence that this is still an underdog effort, there are the anticipated record-breaking fundraising numbers — numbers the campaign intends to make public as soon as the third-quarter totals are known, and numbers that may lead other campaigns to reconsider their strategies. A Dean spokesperson says Dean’s fundraising and volunteer numbers will help “prove that we can alter politics and challenge the political establishment.”

The Los Angeles Times takes the latest look at the Dean Internet phenomenon.

Kucinich embed Karin Caifa says Kucinich is getting some help from some high-profile Hollywood friends. Tuesday night, “Concerned Artists and Activists” sent an e-mail to supporters saying, “Dennis Kucinich is a unique and courageous member of Congress — the first presidential candidate to oppose Bush’s war in Iraq, and one who has never wavered in his opposition. We know Dennis. We admire him. We endorse him...” Signed: Ed Asner, James Cromwell, Elliot Gould, Ani DiFranco and others.

Sharpton embed Tom Llamas says Sharpton showed up 15 minutes late for his panel discussion with the Dalai Lama in New York yesterday. “I was trying to get through President Bush’s traffic, when I’m President I won’t stick up traffic for the Dalai Lama,” said Sharpton, referring to traffic caused by Bush’s UN address.

Sept. 23, 2003 / 9:30 AM ET

From Elizabeth Wilner, Mark Murray and Huma ZaidiThe President’s UN speech and the expected 9th Circuit ruling suck up the oxygen today; the Democratic presidentials campaign, prep for Thursday’s CNBC/Wall Street Journal debate and raise money, with the end of the third fundraising quarter one week from today.

Further shaking up once-neat assumptions about how the election will turn on national security vs. the economy, President Bush goes before the UN today for some high-stakes talk on Iraq — expected to feature the defiant tone that Republicans like and makes Democrats crazy — as new USAToday/Gallup numbers show Bush trailing Democrats’ four-star vet candidate by three points; the other veteran in the field, Kerry, also beats Bush by one point among registered voters. (What isn’t all over cable this morning: several of the other Democratic candidates also are within striking distance of Bush:.)

We’ll see what the new NBC/Wall Street Journal poll shows tomorrow night and Thursday morning. But for this news cycle, USA Today/Gallup has Bush’s job approval at 50%. “Clark, who only this month disclosed that he is a Democrat, now leads the field with 22% of Democrats who are registered to vote. Dean is second at 13%; Kerry and Missouri Rep. Richard Gephardt have 11% each; and Lieberman has 10%. Other Democrats received 4% or less.”

“For the first time, a 51% majority said they disagreed with Bush on the issues that mattered most to them. Americans also expressed the most skepticism to date about the war with Iraq, splitting 50%-48% on whether it was worth going to war.”

“Republican National Chairman Ed Gillespie told reporters he expects a close-fought race next year, whoever wins the Democratic nomination. But he said the Democratic contenders were advocating ‘weak and indecisive foreign policy reminiscent of the ’70s,’ and added, ‘Americans will reject that.’”

Why the Democratic Establishment cottons to Clark: USA Today’s Clark analysis says, “Clark showed strength in places and among groups where Democrats often don’t. He drew the support of as many men as women. The other major Democratic contenders, like the party’s recent presidential nominees, were disproportionately supported by women. Clark was stronger in the South and West than the other major contenders. He had more support from voters under 30. And Republicans and independents were more inclined to vote for him than for the other Democrats.”

Clark, who gives a paid speech at DePauw University today, may now be set up for some rough-and-tumble in Thursday’s debate. (He has also shaken up the Moby primary; see below.)

Meanwhile, Dean gives a speech today on small-d democracy in Copley Square. The AP says the Tea Party figures.

The 9th Circuit ruling today can and probably will be appealed to the US Supreme Court. As the nation waits, sharper TV ads hit the airwaves, Davis appears with Lieberman at a homeland security event in Santa Ana at 1:30 pm ET; Schwarzenegger does a town hall at the Sacramento Sheraton at 6:00 pm ET; and Maria Shriver addresses the Commonwealth Club of San Francisco at 3:30 pm ET.

Iraq is to the economy...The Washington Post hails Bush’s speech with this lead: “With lights recently blacked out in the mid-Atlantic and wetlands conservation being squeezed, President Bush wants to spend nearly $5.7 billion on Iraq’s electricity system and as much as $100 million next year to restore that nation’s drained marshlands.”

“Such comparisons... are creating a growing sense of unease among Republicans, who say the president’s war spending will no doubt be used against them in next year’s elections.”

“A study to be released today by the House Budget Committee’s Democratic staff concluded that the cost of the Iraq war and occupation could easily reach $417 billion over the next decade, more than the president is seeking for a 10-year prescription drug benefit for Medicare. Even a benign postwar scenario would cost taxpayers $308 billion, the Democrats concluded.”

“The debate has touched the presidential contest, as well. Democratic candidate Howard Dean recently noted that his health care plan would cost about $87 billion, ‘which happens to be almost exactly the amount the president . . . asked to wage war in Iraq for another year.’”

CaliforniaDavid Broder enumerates reasons why a October 7 would be more advantageous for Davis, why Schwarzenegger might not need McClintock out of the race to win, and other ways of upending all the CW that has formed about this election.

That said, recall sugar daddy Darrell Issa says he might vote “no,” and urge others to do so as well, if McClintock doesn’t quit the race. - LA Times

The AP ups the ante for Schwarzenegger for tomorrow’s debate: “‘He has elevated this debate to a higher level,’ said Bill Whalen, a research fellow at the Hoover Institution who wrote speeches for former Republican Gov. Pete Wilson. ‘But we will see now if he truly is a great performer, because he has to stand up there and give the performance of a political lifetime.’”

Meanwhile, McClintock seems ready to take on Schwarzenegger and advisor Pete Wilson, says the Sacramento Bee. McClintock called Wilson “one of the worst governors in our state’s history... Schwarzenegger has ‘surrounded himself with the team that produced the biggest tax increase in the state’s history, back in 1991, a tax increase that broke the back of our economy and turned a recession in to a near depression,’ McClintock said in a breakfast interview with The Bee Capitol Bureau.”

Schwarzenegger’s arguably negative new ads spark a fight within his operation and have the Davis team charging Schwarzenegger with going back on his word on negative campaigning. - LA Times

Meanwhile, Davis goes up today with a new TV ad spelling out for viewers how the next governor could get elected with a small percentage of the vote. “Who will finish first? Will they be qualified? Up to running the 5th largest economy in the world? Whoever takes over, the hard feelings and political chaos may get even worse. Vote no on the recall.”

California Senate GOP Leader Jim Brulte holds a conference call with reporters to discuss the recall at 1:30 pm. Brulte has not endorsed a candidate yet...

CNBC/Wall Street Journal debateDean campaign embed Felix Schein reports, gone are the bells and whistles of the last debate — no more “K Street” cameras and no more one-liners from Carville. Normalcy has returned to the Dean camp’s pre-debate routine, the Governor and his aides having adopted the “standard” pre-debate approach for Thursday. Even candidate stand-ins have been replaced for the time being by routine advice and plenty of reading material. What does remain, though, is the pre-debate adrenaline rush provided in the form of a rally with supporters and a last-minute trip to a distant location. Last time it was fundraising in Philadelphia; this time it is a meeting with AFL-CIO members in Michigan. Last time, it was a rally outside the debate hall in Albuquerque; this time it is a rally with supporters outside the debate hall in New York.

Moseley Braun embed Angela Miles says the candidate told her, “I am ready already.” Moseley Braun says she knows enough about the economy to do just fine. Her staffers, though, say she will be prepping. They are really looking forward to Thursday, Miles says, since they say she handled the last debate well.

The Kucinich camp also thinks their candidate did well in previous debates, embed Karin Caifa reports. Asked about debate prep, spokesperson Jeff Cohen said, “We believe that at the last two debates he’s turned in a stellar performance.” Don’t look for any blistering attacks from the Congressman, either. “While he’s distinguished himself from the other candidates, it wasn’t personal. It wasn’t petty,” Cohen said.

The Boston Globe puts Kerry’s manufacturing recovery plan, rolled out yesterday in Detroit, in the context of other candidates’ plans already out there, and notes a “slight stumble” in an attempted critique of Dean on trade.

More 2004 notes (D)At the Citadel yesterday, Clark told cadets “military force should never be the first choice in conflict,” The State reports. Sounding a little like Kerry, he “also said it is not unpatriotic to be critical of the war.” Clark embed Marisa Buchanan says Clark’s invite to address cadets came from visiting professor and Clinton pal Phil Lader. And The State notes the “school charged Clark’s campaign $650 to rent Summerall Field for the event.”

Buchanan also reports Moby apparently is still shopping for a candidate, despite appearing at two fundraisers with Kerry. Spotted at a New York fundraiser for Clark, Moby said he was “just curious about all the candidates,” and regarding his support for Kerry, said he is “still trying to figure out who had the best chance against George Bush is November 2004.” Is there a potential Moby fundraiser in Clark’s future? “At this point I don’t know.”

Buchanan also notes how an impressive short-term fundraising showing by Clark might siphon some attention away from Dean’s expected huge haul. Clark had three fundraisers at private homes in New York last night, and one was hosted by the head of the Democratic National Committee’s Women’s Leadership Council, though she said she won’t endorse a candidate until March.

Edwards embed Dugald McConnell says that like most of the candidates, Edwards is shaking the money tree in the final stretch of the third quarter, with stops in California, Chicago, Providence, RI, Texas, and New York. Last Thursday, he even hit up college students for cash during a visit to Princeton University, where his daughter is studying. Edwards spokesperson Jennifer Palmieri told McConnell, “This will be our lowest quarter... It’s not the priority it was in previous quarters.”

McConnell also notes that Edwards’ new ad, which went up yesterday in Iowa and shows him speaking to young listeners in a town hall format, has the Senator taking President Bush to task for underfunding priorities like education and health care. He asks rhetorically, “Well, why don’t we have the money, George Bush? He gave it away in tax cuts to the richest people in America.”

“David Axelrod , Edwards’ media consultant, said the ad tries to capture ‘the passion’ of Edwards in one of his best settings, a town hall meeting,” the Raleigh News & Observer reports. “The audience in this case, however, consists mainly of supporters and was not shot out on the campaign trail.”

McConnell also says Edwards called Jon Stewart Monday to congratulate him on the Daily Show’s two Emmys.

Graham embed Sophie Conover reports on Graham’s meeting today with the League of Conservation Voters in hopes of winning their endorsement. LCV has already met with Lieberman, Kerry, Edwards and Dean. Mark Longabaugh, LCV senior VP for political affairs, told Conover the group is looking for: a proven environmental record, a vision and willingness to make the environment a leading issue in their campaign, and the ability to win.

Conover also notes that Graham hasn’t been to New Hampshire since mid-August and doesn’t have plans, at this point in time, to go back there again until mid-October. The campaign attributed the dearth of visits to the September 30th fundraising deadline, pointing out it’s much easier to get a layover in Iowa, when traveling coast to coast, than it is to get one in Manchester.

Kerry embed Becky Diamond spoke with Alex Heckler, a lawyer who is hosting a Kerry luncheon fundraiser in Fort Lauderdale today. Heckler said “there is resistance” in Florida to Kerry’s fundraising as it’s Graham’s home state. But he says Kerry’s campaign is focusing on raising money “coming from young professionals between the ages of 25 and 45.” There will be an event at a South Beach night club to woo these possible donors, according to Heckler, who said that in the third quarter, he “got a ton of commitments once Bob Graham jumps out of the race.”

MSNBC covers Dean’s Boston rally today; Kerry spokesperson Robert Gibbs tells Diamond, “Boston is a diverse and inclusive city occasionally welcoming Yankee fans like Howard Dean.”

Dean sent a letter to the Anti-Defamation League seeking to clarify his position on the Middle East, the Boston Globe reports. In the letter, Dean states his “unequivocal support for Israel’s right to exist and be free from terror,” and says “the United States must remain committed to the special longstanding relationship we have with Israel, including providing the resources necessary to guarantee Israel’s long-term defense and security.”

New York SEIU chief Dennis Rivera hosts a fundraiser for Dean today at the SEIU Local 1199 Building at 4:30; the Dean camp says Rivera is not raising funds for any of the other candidates.

Gephardt embed Priya David asked the AFL-CIO about the October 15th endorsement meeting that’s been mentioned in the press. Turns out, that meeting isn’t a sure thing, she says — at this point, a meeting has not yet been called. The AFL-CIO spokesperson could give her no guidance on the likelihood of a meeting occurring. Some excerpts of the conversation:

Q. Why hasn’t the meeting been called yet?

A. Because union leaders are still listening to their members about their choice for endorsement. This is an intensive process, and it’s not certain that union leaders will be ready to vote on endorsement by the 15th. There’s no point in having the meeting if they’re not ready...

Q. What does SEIU and AFSCME’s decision to hold off on endorsement mean for the AFL-CIO’s potential October 15th decision?

A. It’s not clear yet what it means. There are many factors that go into this process. The decision just hasn’t been made whether there’s going to be a meeting or not.

Q. What impact will third-quarter fundraising have on making an endorsement, as October 15th is also the day those figures will be released?

A. You know, a reporter asked John Sweeney that question at a press conference and he was surprised that it was the same day. He said, “Oh really, we just looked at our calendars and picked a day.” It was accidental — busy presidents flipped through a calendar and just picked a day... Certainly people are looking at what’s happening in terms of fundraising — but don’t think it’s going to tip anyone’s hand.

Gephardt gets big and largely positive Des Moines Register lay for his ag policy speech yesterday.

Sharpton embed Tom Llamas asks, what do you get when you cross a preacher, a congressman, and the Dalai Lama? He’s not sure, though it’s definitely not war. Sharpton is scheduled to speak on a panel along with Kucinich and the Dalai Lama in New York today. Topic: “Ethics and the Politics of Peace.”

Kucinich embed Karin Caifa reports that while they may not reach their goal of $1,000 per party, the Kucinich campaign is calling Sunday’s “Peace Day House Party” effort a success. The campaign got responses from Homer, AK, to Honolulu, and is looking forward to another round next month. Preliminary totals posted on the website had the campaign at $64,333 from 161 parties as of 6:30 pm ET Monday night. The campaign is looking to boost Sunday’s total with federal matching funds.

2004 Notes (R)Republican National Committee chairman Ed Gillespie yesterday at a Sperling breakfast suggested a gay-marriage ban might make it into the 2004 convention platform, and also “accused homosexual activists of intolerance and bigotry by attempting to force the rest of the population to accept alien moral standards,” the Washington Times reports.

Bush “repealed and proposed several regulations yesterday to make it easier for religious charities to receive federal money, including allowing such groups to make hiring decisions based on job candidates’ faith,” the Washington Post reports. “White House efforts in this area are closely followed by religious conservatives, one of the Republican Party’s most important voting blocs.”

The Boston Globe’s Canellos notes how the White House’s tendency to put Bush in military settings might detract from his common-man appeal, presumed to be one of his advantages going into the 2004 election.

The Wall Street Journal uses Bush’s approach to passing his Clear Skies initiative thus far to illustrate how his governing style differs from his father’s “— and the political polarization the current president engenders.” “The first President Bush projected a more moderate image and displayed greater willingness to find common ground with Democrats on issues such as the environment and taxes. The second, mindful of the political grief his father suffered as a result, has devoted far more attention to placating the right on those same issues. And he has been more than willing to accept flak from the political left in the process.”

Sept. 22, 2003 / 9:30 AM ET

From Elizabeth Wilner, Mark Murray and Huma ZaidiJust your average week in politics. The highlights of a long list: The President (sort of) asks the United Nations to take a broader role in Iraq, and his aspiring Democratic challengers — including a political neophyte, retired four-star general — debate each other on economic issues. A new NBC/Wall Street Journal poll takes voters’ temperature on all of the above. A congressman charged with killing a motorcyclist speaks publicly for the first time since the accident. And a federal court considers whether or not to postpone California’s recall election, while Arnold Schwarzenegger debates his rivals — if they show up — and about 90 other recall candidates get their turn on The Tonight Show.

To break it down: Today, the 11-judge panel of the 9th Circuit convenes at 4:00 pm ET. The San Francisco Chronicle says a “ruling is expected quickly, perhaps by midweek.” The losing side could appeal to the Supreme Court, and recall proponent Ted Costa... has already said he would do so.” Today also marks the voter registration deadline for an October 7 election. Leno gets his “class photo,” taped at 8:30 pm ET. Janklow talks about his political future in Sioux Falls at 11:00 am ET. One more Democrat formally outlines her candidacy for president: Moseley Braun, with stops in DC, South Carolina, and Chicago. Gephardt gives a big ag policy speech in his must-win Iowa. And Bush visits a hurricane emergency ops center in Richmond.

Tuesday, the President addresses the United Nations. Dean gives a formal speech and rallies in Kerry’s hood. Lieberman campaigns with Gray Davis, and a couple other presidentials meet with the Dalai Lama.

Wednesday brings the ballyhooed, semi-revised California Broadcasters Association debate with Schwarzenegger.

Thursday brings the now two-hour, CNBC/Wall Street Journal Democratic presidential debate on the economy, with Clark, at Pace University in New York. The debate airs live at 4:00 pm ET on CNBC and re-airs at 9:00 pm ET on MSNBC. A new NBC/Wall Street Journal poll out Wednesday night curtain-raises the event.

By Friday, Texas may have new congressional district lines.

And one week from tomorrow, the third fundraising quarter ends, with all eyes on Dean’s expected massive haul; Kerry, Lieberman, Edwards and Gephardt’s intake compared to Dean’s; Clark’s Internet-boosted initial spurt; and Graham’s increasingly make-or-break total. After the 30th, the media drumbeat may start for somebody to get out.

The big purely political draws this week, the two debates, feature two candidates previously untested in such venues: Schwarzenegger and Clark. Where’s the bar for a strong or weak performance? Schwarzenegger has the “lightweight” charges to overcome. Clark’s team of former Clinton advisors isn’t engaging in expectations-setting yet, but Clark himself is. Per the Boston Globe: “‘There are prime ministers I don’t know, and there are economic facts I don’t know, and I’ll get stuff wrong,’ Clark said... ‘Everybody does.’”

California

In the recall today, as the 11 judges meet, Schwarzenegger has no public events. Maria Shriver has a 4:30 pm ET media avail following a luncheon with local businesswomen in Mountain View. Lieberman campaigns with Bustamante at an English as a second language class at San Francisco City College at 5:00 pm ET. A Lieberman advisor points out to campaign embed Dionne Scott that Lieberman was “the first to embrace the ‘no on the recall, yes on Bustamante’ strategy.” Bustamante, of course, had already endorsed Lieberman for president by then.

The Los Angeles Times looks at the make-up of the 11-judge panel.

A new Public Policy Institute of California survey, out Sunday, showed a majority of voters still favoring a recall, but the total has dipped from the last PPIC survey, as it has in other recent polls. On Question Two, Bustamante and Schwarzenegger were about tied at 28% and 26%, with McClintock taking 14%.

As noted above, today marks the voter registration deadline for an October 7 recall. “In a conference call with county registrars Friday, Secretary of State Kevin Shelley said registration, early voting and absentee ballot receipts have dropped off, presumably in response to voter confusion about the status of the election.” - LA Times

As they prepare for their class photo, the Los Angeles Times considers the influence that could be wielded as a bloc by the largely unknown recall candidates.

The Washington Times reviews the evidence for “lightweight” charges against Schwarzenegger, while the Los Angeles Times considers his campaign’s unusual defense in cases where he is charged with past questionable statements: “He made it up.”

“Schwarzenegger’s approach is notable for several reasons. The campaign’s defense seems to reflect a belief that the public accepts an old Hollywood maxim: Everybody lies. At the same time, political strategists say that Schwarzenegger’s consistent showing in polls appears to challenge the assumption that admitting dishonesty is politically disastrous.”

The AP reports on Schwarzenegger’s enviro proposal, rolled out yesterday. “The centerpiece of his proposal promotes hydrogen-powered cars... Schwarzenegger said he would sign an executive order to create a network of hydrogen fueling stations by 2010.” And he “is having one of his Hummers overhauled to run on hydrogen, hoping that the move will inspire Detroit - just as his example did 11 years ago when he paid to have a military Humvee turned into the first civilian Hummer.”

Recall fever, fueled by anger over property taxes, has spread to good-government Wisconsin. - State.com

CNBC/Wall Street Journal debateApart from anticipation over Clark’s first debate, circumstances further setting up Thursday’s face-off include: the ongoing Kerry-Dean-Gephardt three-way over middle-class benefits and who’s the “real” Democrat; Dean’s big speech in Kerry’s Boston tomorrow (no new policy, we’ve been advised); Kerry’s expected endorsement from the firefighters’ union, the first union endorsement of a candidate other than Gephardt; and the following from our campaign embeds:

Gephardt campaign manager Steve Murphy fired off an email to Gephardt supporters this weekend slugged, “It’s Time to Show Howard Dean Who’s the Real Democrat.” The main charge: that Dean (unlike Gephardt) was not with the party on key issues. As embed Priya David sums up, the e-mail pounds Dean on economic issues, on Medicare, on the Brady Bill and the assault weapons ban. It then asks supporters to “click here” and make an online donation to the Gephardt campaign, to “show Howard Dean he’s not the only candidate who can raise money on the Internet.”

Lieberman embed Dionne Scott says campaign aides claim to be looking forward to Thursday’s debate, explaining, “We feel good about it because we’ve been talking about these issues for awhile.” The campaign, which had challenged Clark to take part in the debate, says through an aide, “We’re glad to see General Clark is joining us... We’ll be able to find out more about what he thinks about things.” The campaign is holding its cards close to the vest when it comes to debate prep details. Over the last couple of weeks, six to 12 people, including an outside economic advisor, have been brainstorming with the Senator on a range of policy points. The campaign says they have the only candidate in the race who has “strength as a pro-growth Democrat” because he “talks about creating jobs in the private sector and creating a climate for that growth.” Scott says to look for Lieberman to talk about his manufacturing policies and more about trade.

Graham embed Sophie Conover says the Graham folks are feeling upbeat about the debate and its focus on the economy, citing the Senator’s economic plan, record of creating jobs, and vote against the Bush tax cuts as positives for them going into the event. He spent some time prepping over the weekend. A spokesman explained that in preparing the Senator, “Sometimes we have to get his answers just a little bit shorter... We have the pleasure of working for a candidate who knows too many facts. Unlike having a candidate who you have to give more facts to, with Bob Graham you have to whittle down the facts.” Although the spokesman cited a good night’s sleep as the best thing to do before a debate, Graham has a fundraiser in New York Wednesday night.

Sharpton embed Tom Llamas says Sharpton unleashed a verbal assault Saturday on his Democratic rivals at the Louisiana Black Publishers Association conference in Alexandria, LA: “General Clark never held office, the new flavor of the month. Well he was a general in the army, well I was a general in another army.” On Dean: “One of them said I talk race to whites, well the next question should’ve been: how long have you been doing that? Since you been a candidate?” Sharpton also attacked those candidates who voted in favor of the war, but are now criticizing the Administration for not having a proper exit strategy. Llamas says his most aggressive attacks were against “moderate” Democrats. “These DLC moderates, they’ve turned the party into pro-death penalty, pro-deregulation of business, pro-NAFTA, pro-Canada and other trade agreements. They the ones that lost the congress in ’94, ’96, ’98, 2000, 2002. They’ve lost,” said Sharpton. Llamas considers the lose-lose proposition for the other candidates in responding to or ignoring any Sharpton attacks they come under at Thursday’s debate.

More 2004 notes (D)USA Today says Clark’s first-place showing in the Newsweek poll and persisting buzz about a Hillary Clinton run “underscore the fluidity of the 10-person race at this early stage.” It also underscores a degree of dissatisfaction among the Democratic electorate.

More piling on Clark for his “clarified” position on the Iraq resolution late last week, from the Republican National Committee, which fired off a release over the weekend, and from Lieberman, who told the Des Moines Register in an interview that Clark’s position is “confusing and ambivalent.” A Clark spokesperson “said Lieberman has too often resorted to attacks. Lieberman also has criticized Missouri Rep. Dick Gephardt’s position on tax cuts and former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean’s statements on the Middle East peace process.”

The Los Angeles Times’ Brownstein says, “If Clark takes off - still a big if - he will almost certainly do so by convincing Democrats that he can express their hostility toward Bush’s national security strategy and repel Republican efforts to paint the party as weak or unpatriotic.”

“No one should underestimate how much Democrats will like hearing criticisms of the war with Iraq come from the mouth not of a politician, but a general. Imagine a liberal derided at work as a wimp for denouncing the war. It’s one thing to tell your co-workers that Howard Dean also considers the war a mistake. It’s another to say that’s the verdict of a retired four-star general with a Silver Star and Bronze Star at home.”

The Los Angeles Times takes the latest look at Clark’s “abrasive” style, and how it kept him off some Army recommendation lists for promotions.

The AP Clark raised $750,000 in his first three days out.

Gephardt embed Priya David notes the campaign continues to focus on Iowa as a state they will win, saying they also plan for a strong showing in New Hampshire. They concede that Dean and Kerry will duke it out for first place there, knocking them out of the top two slots. A recent statement from the campaign read: “After a strong performance in Iowa, we’ll be well-positioned for a third-place finish behind two favorite sons.” Gephardt aides also said it’ll be a close race in Iowa with Dean, a position they have taken for several weeks, particularly since Dean’s poll numbers have spiked.

Dean embed Felix Schein notes the Dean campaign’s new $5 million online fundraising drive for the next ten days — and that if they come close, their intake may eclipse the total third-quarter effort by a number of candidates. Schein says that, having focused on outreach the first two-thirds of September, the campaign is shifting gears and will focus almost exclusively on fundraising for the rest of this month.

The Washington Post looks at Dean’s ability, and Clark’s similar if fledgling effort, to draw disinterested voters into the process.

Graham embed Sophie Conover says the Graham campaign anticipates being on the air with TV ads in Iowa by the middle of the week. The ad buy was described as strong enough that the people of Iowa will see it, without saturating the market. Graham media consultant David Eichenbaum said two ads are in the can, one 30 seconds, the other 60. One is a bio ad; the other will question President Bush’s priorities and focus on rebuilding Iraq versus rebuilding America.

Conover also says Graham’s Senate chief of staff, HW “Buddy” Menn III is moving over to the campaign. When asked if this move should be taken as a sign that fundraising efforts were in need of some extra attention, press secretary Jamal Simmons said, “It’s an important quarter, we’re facing the Howard Dean behemoth... There’s no such thing as too much money.”

Kucinich embed Karin Caifa reports on the campaign’s largest fundraising event to date yesterday, with the goal of raising at least $1 million through house parties. It’ll be awhile before the totals are available, but as of 10:00 pm ET, the initiative had raked in $17,241 at 51 parties. Kucinich supporters could keep track of the tally at http://www.kucinichparty.us. Caifa says the total is sure to get a boost from the party Kucinich himself was attending in Studio City, CA, with actors James Cromwell and Ed Begley, Jr.

In her announcement today, per the AP, Moseley Braun will say of the Administration, “‘A woman can fix the mess they have created, because we are practical, we are not afraid of partnerships and we are committed to making the world better for our children.’”

NARAL president Kate Michelman announces today she’ll step down in April, after the DC 2004 Choice March, to devote herself over the last six months of the campaign to electing a pro-choice president. Michelman plans to travel with and for the Democratic nominee on a personal crusade to “put choice on the ballot,” per a spokesperson, and mobilize millions of women.

Edwards gets his Des Moines Register profile, but another Register story looks at how doctors and insurers in North Carolina charge Edwards with being part of the health insurance problem.

Dean’s Boston Globe profile highlights how the death of his brother propelled him into politics.

2004 Notes (R)Out of swing-state Iowa: “A new Des Moines Register poll shows that 49 percent of Iowans approve of Bush’s overall job performance, a drop of 18 percentage points from May. That’s his lowest approval rating in the Iowa Poll since taking office in 2001.”

“In mid-May, after Bush’s declaration that major combat had ended, 71 percent of Iowa adults approved of how he had dealt with the conflict that drove Saddam Hussein from power. Four months later, 47 percent applaud the president as American forces try to rebuild the war-torn country amid almost-daily guerrilla attacks... Fifty-eight percent of Iowans disapprove of his handling of the federal budget, and 56 percent are critical of his handling of the economy.”

The Washington Times looks at how Bush “has used executive orders and other means to try to make the government friendlier to religious groups... The administration is holding conferences across the country to help faith-based groups learn about applying for federal funds and has created a fund to provide technical help to small charities. The White House also offers religious groups a newsletter and a catalog of available grants.”

Also: “The White House will be announcing several ‘really important rules’ related to the faith-based initiative, said Robert Tuttle, legal director for the Roundtable on Religion and Social Welfare Policy. One such agency rule would allow religious organizations to receive grants to build multipurpose buildings, he said.”

Sept. 19, 2003 / 9:30 AM ET

From Elizabeth Wilner, Mark Murray and Huma Zaidi

Per one of DC’s finer radio stations, its National Talk Like a Pirate Day, so ahoy. But with Isabel passing, the city isn’t exactly under water. Yet the government remains shut down. (Insert New Yorkers’ jibes here.)

More importantly, we’re four months out from the Iowa caucuses, and six days out from the September 25 CNBC/Wall Street Journal Democratic presidential debate at Pace University in New York, featuring all 10 candidates. Weather permitting (and looks like it will), the Clark campaign intends to send a letter of acceptance to the Democratic National Committee today, the AP says. Wonderful.

Today, Clark gives an address — his longest to date as a candidate — on “The American Leadership Role In a Changing World” at the University of Iowa in Iowa City at 5:00 pm. He’ll hold a 10:30 am meet-and-greet at the Hamburg Inn, and one-on-one media avails before and after the speech. Reporters may ask him about his assertion yesterday that he would have voted for the Iraq resolution (see below).

In the recall today, our ongoing watch of Democratic allegations of a GOP power grab sees the stars align: none other than Al Gore hits the trail with Davis in Los Angeles, at the African American Voter Registration, Education, and Participation Project on W. Jefferson at 1:00 pm ET, while the 9th Circuit is expected to post its decision on an en banc hearing of the three-judge panel’s decision. Gore also campaigns and fundraises with Davis in San Francisco. The Los Angeles Times today says Davis has yet to win over African-Americans.

On Saturday, Davis campaigns with Edwards, the fourth Democratic presidential candidate to stump with him. Edwards embed Dugald McConnell says Edwards and Davis will appear in San Francisco to criticize the Bush administration’s handling of the economy, as well as the recall. Edwards spokesperson Jennifer Palmieri says “he thinks the recall is a bad idea. The voters of California already said what they wanted in 2002.”

Schwarzenegger has no public events scheduled. McClintock rallies in Ontario, CA at 5:30 pm ET. And Bustamante has a presser to call for community college fee rollbacks at Los Angeles City College at 2:00 pm ET and a 9:00 pm ET reception with San Diego Democrats.

Dick Grasso’s resignation is giving the populist-talking Edwards campaign a new peg to play up corporate reform; his is the only campaign focusing on Grasso’s exit. And per McConnell, in his latest ad in New Hampshire, Edwards says: “Money and lobbyists run our government, and they own this White House... I’ve never taken a dime from PACs or Washington lobbyists, and I never will.” Incidentally, Edwards changed his scheduled to be in North Carolina today

Iraq is to the economy...The Los Angeles Times reports Hill on GOP insistence that Iraq help pay for reconstruction. “Republican qualms arise from worries about the growing federal budget deficit, frustration with allies for not contributing more and the political fallout from spending billions on Iraq’s infrastructure at a time when the GOP is trying to restrain spending at home.”

“Congress is not likely to scuttle the funding request, which is part of the $87-billion package Bush wants approved... But the concerns of GOP congressmen reflect an underlying political reality as the president and his party head into the election year: Bush’s foreign policy, once his trump card with voters, is no longer seen as an unalloyed benefit to him and fellow Republicans as the costs and casualties in Iraq mount.”

CaliforniaThe Wall Street Journal looks at the Bush v. Gore overtones from a less emotional angle: “California’s recall fight suggests a new development as the 2004 presidential election nears: The prospect of lawsuits against cities, counties or states that may be out of step with the changes. The plaintiffs’ ammunition: The U.S. Supreme Court’s same Bush v. Gore ruling that gave rise to the movement itself.” The story notes how cash-strapped states are having to take “bigger roles than ever to assure some uniformity,” but “an economic downturn and post-Sept. 11, 2001, homeland-security costs have drained budgets, leaving election officials once again in a losing fight for funds against police, schools and hospitals. Many states put plans on hold, to await federal aid.”

The Los Angeles Times plays up stalled election reform efforts around the country — including with the federal commission created by Bush when he signed the election reform act. The commission, “which was supposed to be up and running seven months ago, has yet to see a single member nominated by Bush, much less confirmed by the Senate.”

“The parties sent the names of their candidates to the president only recently. White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan said that Bush intended to nominate all four members soon.”

Schwarzenegger’s top Democratic and Republican challengers teamed up yesterday to protest the California Broadcasters Association’s decision to make its September 24 debate questions available a week in advance, and jointly push for a boycott of the debate. Per the Los Angeles Times, “McClintock and Bustamante plan to send a letter today... saying they will not participate unless the format is altered, their campaigns said.”

“At the same time, Indian tribes stepped up TV advertising and direct-mail campaigns in support of both Bustamante and McClintock, moves that also have the effect of targeting Schwarzenegger.” The Morongo Band of Mission Indians go up with a TV ad for McClintock in the Los Angeles market today.

Schwarzenegger’s once-presumed-to-be-short campaign, including its current free-spending ways and its staff, may suffer some cutbacks and personnel departures if the recall is postponed. - LA Times

The Los Angeles Times also reports money’s coming in for Davis, while the recall drive is struggling.

After campaigning with Edwards on Saturday, Davis has an official event on Monday with Washington state Gov. Gary Locke, the country’s only Asian-American governor, and campaigns with Lieberman (presidential #5) on Tuesday.

2004 notes (R)The Washington Post revisits Bush’s arguably politically motivated, now politically complicated steel tariffs: “Eighteen months later, key administration officials have concluded that Bush’s order has turned into a debacle. Some economists say the tariffs may have cost more jobs than they saved, by driving up costs for automakers and other steel users. Politically, the strategy failed to produce union endorsements and appears to have hurt Bush with workers in Michigan and Tennessee — also states at the heart of his 2004 strategy.”

The story is pegged to today’s scheduled release of the US International Trade Commission’s mid-session report, which “will examine not only the tariffs’ effects on the steel industry but also on the hard-pressed manufacturers that shape steel into products.”

“White House officials said Bush will not make a decision until he has digested the ITC reports. But his top economic advisers have united to recommend that the tariffs be lifted or substantially rolled back this fall, and several administration officials said it is likely he will go along. The retreat would roil the political and economic landscape of the Rust Belt, where both parties expect the presidential election to be won and lost.”

“It also could produce a tidal wave of negative publicity in West Virginia, a traditionally Democratic state that Bush won by 6 percentage points, and Pennsylvania, which Bush lost by 5 percentage points and had targeted as one of his most promising possible pickups for 2004.”

“Republican lawmakers from steel states said Bush is considering compromises that would increase the number of exclusions from the tariffs, easing prices for steel buyers. Administration officials are careful to say they see both sides of the argument.”

“Political divisions over the tariffs remain fierce... But among Bush’s economic team, opposition to the tariffs has hardened substantially. Administration officials said Commerce Secretary Donald L. Evans, one of Bush’s closest friends, thinks the tariffs should be lifted as a way of showing that the administration has heard the pain of manufacturers, who account for 2.5 million of the more than 2.7 million jobs lost during Bush’s presidency.”

ClarkHundreds of Clark supporters are expected to converge on Iowa City today, though the state Democratic chairman said that as of yesterday, he had yet to hear from Clark or his campaign. “Iowa Clark activists are expecting supporters to come to Iowa City from across Iowa, as well as Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Montana, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska and Wisconsin.” - Des Moines Register

Clark embed Marisa Buchanan describes the campaign as a physical work in progress: they need some more space, and are hunting for properties for their national HQ in Little Rock. Every possible inch of workspace in Clark’s current offices is being used, along with an RV. Volunteers stopped by all day yesterday. Clark emerged from his office infrequently. He left for Florida with the campaign troops still introducing themselves to one another and figuring out roles and responsibilities.

Buchanan also says Cher called yesterday asking what she could do to help Clark.

The Los Angeles Times recounts the highlights of a long interview Clark gave reporters yesterday while traveling: he would have voted for the Iraq resolution; the Clintons were “encouraging” during his decision-making on a bid; “don’t ask, don’t tell” should be reevaluated; and he advocates universal health care. He “supports a waiting period for gun purchases and sees no reason for assault weapons outside of the military, but he grew up in a house full of guns and believes in the 2nd Amendment.” And, he “confessed that he has watched none of the Democratic debates nor read a newspaper this week.”

On the Iraq resolution, “Clark himself said yesterday that he believed his position was closer to Kerry, Edwards, and Gephardt than to Dean, a former governor of Vermont,” the Boston Globe says. “Clark’s comment seemed to catch his rivals by surprise, especially since his entry into the race was viewed as a challenge to Kerry, who is no longer the only veteran in the race, and to Dean, whose antiwar stance helped him rise in the polls.”

Kerry’s manager told the Globe that either “‘Clark’s previous position on the war has been badly misrepresented by the press, or this is a serious reinvention of his own position.’”

And, “Clark said he considered himself a Republican after the Vietnam War, but he didn’t remember whether he voted in 1972. ‘I hope I voted then,’ he said, ‘and I would have voted for Nixon.’ He voted for Ronald Reagan in 1980, and for Bill Clinton in the 1992 and 1996 elections.”

The New York Times: “Asked today about some of that speculation, including whether he might be a stalking horse for Senator Clinton and might wind up as her vice presidential candidate, either next year or in 2008, General Clark said he had heard the talk but dismissed it. He also said he had no interest in being vice president.”

The AP recounts signs of the Clintons’ hand in Clark’s campaign: “By action and association, Clinton has had a major impact on Clark’s first bid for elective office, causing some Democrats to wonder whether the former president’s pledge of impartiality may be giving way to his loyalty toward a fellow Arkansan.”

“There is no proof that Clinton is pulling the strings in Clark’s campaign - indeed, most Democrats say they doubt the former president would be so bold. But some party activists, particularly those lodged in rival campaigns, point to circumstantial evidence suggesting that the impressive list of political heavyweights rallying behind Clark may be a reflection of Clinton’s endearment - if not endorsement.”

“Others say the support is coincidental, a result of so many Clinton allies vowing to remain neutral in this year’s election only to get the itch late in the cycle.”

“Another theory: Clark’s is the last hope for establishment Democrats who fear the other contenders have stalled while the current front-runner, Howard Dean, would be defeated by President Bush.”

The Wall Street Journal: “Bush adviser Matthew Dowd concedes Clark’s Southern roots could help Democrats beyond Republicans’ Dixie. In West and Midwest, it would signal ‘that the nominee is more moderate or conservative,’ he says.”

Walter Shapiro on Clark’s announcement: “no speech is more emblematic of a candidate than his formal announcement. So Wednesday afternoon in Little Rock, retired general Wesley Clark ended a year of suspense about his political intentions by delivering a cliché-filled 11-minute oration that brought to mind the Peggy Lee ballad, Is That All There Is?”

“The problem was not the lack of specific policy proposals in the Clark speech. Those can come later. Rather, what was lacking was a clearly expressed rationale for his unorthodox candidacy.” Shapiro favorably contrasts Edwards’ (overshadowed) announcement speech with Clark’s.

The Washington Times reports Clark has been “embraced” by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, though the Human Rights Campaign remains a little iffy.

More 2004 notes (D)Edwards embed McConnell reports Edwards changed his schedule and returns to North Carolina today to get a briefing on the hurricane damage and visit an emergency center. Yesterday, he asked President Bush to declare parts of North Carolina a federal disaster area. Many Edwards campaign staffers left the office early yesterday, McConnell says, but not before talking about collecting donations for hurricane victims, or maybe even driving down to the coast after the storm to see if they could help.

McConnell notes that Edwards is booked for Face the Nation on Sunday, and that since his panned performance on Meet the Press in May 2002, he has done Face twice, and This Week twice, but not Meet the Press again.

Gephardt embed Priya David notes Gephardt’s (Isabel-overshadowed) attacks on rivals Graham, Kerry and Lieberman for voting for NAFTA before a group of South Carolina businesspeople in DC yesterday, as well as his new radio ad in the state attacking Dean as a “strong supporter” of NAFTA.

Dean embed Felix Schein notes Dean’s rally in Boston on Tuesday now features and official “speech” by Dean entitled “Democracy, Freedom and Action,” in which Dean is expected to lay out what’s at stake in this election and describe how he will help Democrats “take the country back.” A formal speech is a departure for Dean, who usually speaks from memory rather than from a prepared text. The reason, per longtime followers of Dean’s career, is that the Governor performs better when not delivering prepared remarks.

The expectations-setting game is underway: Kerry embed Becky Diamond has a Kerry spokesman saying the candidate’s fundraising intake for the third quarter will be “somewhere behind Dean’s $15-20 million.” Kerry picked up enviro activist Robert Kennedy, Jr.’s endorsement yesterday.

The New York Times says Kerry also is set to snag the first union endorsement not going to Gephardt — from the International Association of Fire Fighters. AFL-CIO president John Sweeney says that right now, Gephardt doesn’t have the support necessary for an AFL endorsement, but “that if three other large unions - the American Federation of Teachers, the Communications Workers of America and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers - supported a Gephardt endorsement on Oct. 14, that could put him close to the two-thirds needed.”

Lieberman embed Dionne Scott says a campaign ad is forthcoming, with footage shot in New Hampshire during “Operation: Libermania” — an all-out campaign blitz including Lieberman’s first town hall meeting in the state.

Sharpton embed Tom Llamas, previewing Sharpton’s appearance in Louisiana tomorrow, says the campaign points out that Jesse Jackson won Louisiana in the 1988 primary and says they expect Sharpton to do the same. Llamas says some of Sharpton’s campaign staff worked on Jackson’s ’84 and ’88 campaigns, and anytime they visit a state Jackson won, they are quick to note that if “Jesse” did it, so can “Al.”

Sept. 18, 2003 / 9:30 AM ET

From Elizabeth Wilner, Mark Murray and Huma ZaidiAs of 9:00 am, we’ve got wind and something short of drizzle at 4001 Nebraska Avenue, NW. With all Northeast Corridor eyes on the skies today, we’ll indulge ourselves a bit and get personal: One week out from the CNBC/Wall Street Journal Democratic presidential debate in New York, still no confirmation from Clark that he will or will not attend. The debate is about economic issues; Clark touts himself as a licensed investment banker, former economics teacher at West Point, and former Clinton Office of Management and Budget aide. Collective coverage of his speech yesterday notes it was short on policy details but long on criticism of Bush on job losses and the deficit.

So why not, General? We’d love to have you there. Until you offer up some specific positions to chew on, media organizations will resort to picking through your business background. The Wall Street Journal justifies a long look at Clark’s business dealings by arguing that his “brief business career bears examining because it represents his only domestic experience as he seeks to lead a troubled U.S. economy — and because he invokes his time, largely at little-known companies, to assert his qualifications on economic policy.”

The Miami Herald reports, though no one else seems to, that Clark visits South Florida today.

It says something about the faded potency of corporate reform as a political issue when only two Democratic presidential candidates (Lieberman and Edwards), as best we can tell, called for Dick Grasso to resign. Democrats have two power sources revving up the base and the Establishment these days: Clark and the so-called “GOP power grab.”

We noted yesterday that while Clark himself might sink or swim, his candidacy put the Democratic presidential race on the media’s front burner for at least a news cycle. At the same time, it’s lit a fire under the party Establishment, if the number of Clintonistas flocking to Clark is any indication. The Wall Street Journal editorial page has this sharp idea: “The Democratic Establishment, very much including Bill and Hillary Clinton, is pushing the retired general as its stop-Howard Dean candidate.” Even if Clark stumbles, the energy may remain.

Kerry fueled the “power grab” fire yesterday when campaigning with Davis in Los Angeles: “Don’t let the Republicans monkey with the democracy of California.” Today, Davis appears with Jesse Jackson at a no-on-recall, no-on-54 rally at Los Angeles Southwest Community College at 2:30 pm ET.

Bustamante has a 12:30 pm ET presser with the Equality PAC in West Hollywood and a 4:30 pm ET rally in Oxnard. Schwarzenegger rolls out his political reform plan at the state railroad museum (get it?) in Sacramento at 5:00 pm ET.

“The 9th Circuit is not expected to decide before Friday whether to appoint an 11-judge panel to rehear the case. While such hearings are extremely rare, they usually result in a reversal of the smaller panel’s opinion.” — State.com

Overlooked because of Isabel: “The federal government ran a monthly budget deficit of $76.48 billion in August — double its size at the same point last year. The August budget figures, released Wednesday, show the federal government’s overall deficit is firmly in record territory,” says the Wall Street Journal.

CaliforniaThe Los Angeles Times notes that “with Monday’s move to delay the Oct. 7 election, the race has suddenly been converted from a curiosity into a national rallying cry for partisans on both sides.”

“To Republicans, the decision underscores the wanton will of the activist judges they rail against, suggesting judicial appointments could become a higher-profile issue in next year’s presidential campaign. To Democrats, the mere thought of the Supreme Court stepping into yet another election fight is enough to incite outrage and, potentially, boost voter turnout next year. The result is more partisan division, a bitterness that may spill over to the 2004 contest and open a gulf even deeper than the one that produced the last 50-50 presidential election.”

“Democrats believe that a Supreme Court decision stepping into the matter and forcing a vote Oct. 7 would be a provocation not soon forgotten by partisans still infuriated by the court’s intervention in the case of Bush vs. Gore.”

“Already, Democrats have been telling voters that the recall is ‘part of an ongoing national effort to steal elections Republicans cannot win,’ as Davis said in a speech kicking off his anti-recall effort. The practice started in Florida with the 2000 presidential election, Democrats say, continued with unusual off-year redistricting efforts in Colorado and Texas, and now extends to California, with the recall attempt coming just months after Davis won reelection to a four-year term.”

“Race is back,” another Los Angeles Times story declares. “Nine years after Proposition 187 tapped a wave of anti-immigrant sentiment, the 2003 recall campaign has pivoted on a series of racially charged issues, from the driver’s license law to a ballot initiative aimed at ending the state’s collection of some racial data. The result: an electorate bristling with resentment.”

The Los Angeles County elections chief said yesterday that putting off the recall could cause even more damage at the polling place. - LA Times

The San Francisco Chronicle says nearly 400,000 absentee ballots have already been cast for an October 7 election. “That growing mountain of absentee ballots could be tossed out if the election is delayed, and waste $30 million in printing and postage costs, says Contra Costa County Clerk Stephen Weir, a spokesman for county elections officials. Or the absentees may have already helped determine the outcome of the Oct. 7 race by locking in votes that might have been changed later.”

Bob Novak says a Democratic source told him on Sunday that the 9th Circuit would postpone the election.

Schwarzenegger administration official Howard Stern: the Los Angeles Times documents Schwarzenegger’s high-profile media appearances this week, as well as his changing media strategy. “In the first weeks of his campaign, Schwarzenegger had been reticent to answer specific questions. Then, after Labor Day, he switched tactics and began subjecting himself to extensive questioning from reporters every day... By contrast, in the last four days Schwarzenegger has held a single eight-minute question-and-answer session with the reporters following his campaign, preferring to speak on talk shows and in town hall meetings with audiences carefully selected by his campaign.”

Iraq is to the economy... The Washington Post details the Administration’s plans to spend the $87 billion and Democrats’ plans to extract a political price from Bush even as the request heads toward likely passage.

USA Today says the $20.3 billion earmarked for infrastructure may be the biggest sticking point.

And the Washington Times focuses (without mentioning Kerry) on the Biden-Kerry proposal to tie the $87 billion to a one-year tax cut rollback for the wealthiest Americans.

ClarkClark spokesman Mark Fabiani tells embed Marisa Buchanan they are working with the leadership of the various draft movements to form the various parts of the campaign. A laundry list of websites associated with the movement are already clamoring to get on board, Buchanan says. The Draft Clarkers have been readily accepted within the campaign: they were included in the conference calls yesterday, and Clark cited them as one of the reasons he decided to run. Where draftwesleyclark.com focuses on endorsements and fundraising, Draftwesleyclark2004 focuses on troops on the ground.

The Washington Post analysis calls Clark a “candidate in search of a constituency.” The Los Angeles Times says “Clark must find a clear niche in a crowded race that features contenders representing the spectrum of ideological views within the party.”

Buchanan notes that yesterday, despite the flags and signs, was not smooth when journalists went looking for a campaign spokesman and coming up empty. A campaign source concedes they have a small window of time to get their act together. That said, within 24 hours an announcement event was assembled. Former Old Clinton/Gore advance people and White House aides gleefully left their jobs to travel to Little Rock for the day when, as one put it, “we got the call.” Risers were in short supply and flags were at a premium, but the troops stayed up all night Tuesday finishing off various aspects of the Wednesday event: the massive banner America for Clark was finished at 5:00 am yesterday morning.

The Washington Post: “His announcement speech was choppy and lacked rhetorical flourish. Clark also did not outline his views on any of the most pressing domestic concerns, such as health coverage for the uninsured and tax cuts, two issues about which many Democratic voters care most, according to polls. Clark promised major addresses on the economy and national security in the weeks ahead.”

“It might be several weeks before Democratic voters get a taste of Clark’s so-far undefined domestic thinking. Clark will position himself as a moderate Democrat in favor of middle-class tax cuts and a strong national defense, the advisers said... The other candidates are likely to give Clark time to lay out his ideas, but several are gearing up to hit him for his lack of domestic experience and his refusal to declare until only a few weeks ago that he is a Democrat.”

“Clark is planning early visits to Florida, South Carolina, Iowa and New Hampshire, a road map that indicates he will try to play catch-up in early testing grounds but also plans to quickly nationalize his campaign, with a heavy emphasis on the South.”

The Washington Times/AP: “If logistics fall into place, Mr. Clark’s first post announcement stop will be Florida, aides said. He wants to portray himself as a credible candidate in the South and one willing to stretch his campaign beyond the early battleground states to the site of the 2000 presidential recount.”

The more than slightly interested Des Moines Register notes Clark in an interview yesterday “refused to say how prominently Iowa would fit into what he promised will be an unconventional campaign for the 2004 Democratic nomination.” Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Times story suggests Clark may focus more on New Hampshire than Iowa because it requires less organizational effort.

And the Wall Street Journal has this aforementioned look at Clark’s business background: “In announcing his presidential campaign, Wesley K. Clark promoted himself as the candidate best qualified to prosecute the war on terror. As a businessman, he has applied his military expertise to help a handful of high-tech companies try to profit from the fight.” The story details Clark’s board memberships and other corporate advisory posts. “After the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Gen. Clark counseled clients on how to pitch commercial technologies to the government for homeland-security applications.”

“It is unclear exactly how successful Gen. Clark’s business career has been — either for his clients or for himself. Most companies contacted declined to give specific examples of contracts he helped them win. Those willing to detail his role mainly said it was too soon to see the fruits of his efforts.”

More 2004 notes (D)As noted yesterday, Edwards is not scheduled to be in North Carolina today or tomorrow. Embed Dugald McConnell reports the campaign says Edwards will be sure to return to North Carolina if he can help regarding the storm. “I’ll be there when the state of North Carolina needs me,” he said Tuesday, when asked about his travel plans. “The last time we were hit by a devastating hurricane, I spent every waking hour making sure we got the help we needed for the state of North Carolina.” McConnell says Elizabeth Edwards told a crowd on Tuesday how her husband helped out during another recent hurricane, before he was an elected official. He got hold of a pickup truck, she said, and bought a pile of chainsaws, tarps, and other supplies, drove down to the coast, asked how he could help, and eventually dropped it all off with people at a church. She said they never even knew his name. (Of course, now he’s slightly better known, and not there.)

Kucinich’s rally with Ralph Nader and Patti Smith in DC has been canceled. Embed Karin Caifa says Matt Zawisky of Democracy Rising expects the event to be rescheduled for October 7 or 10.

Lieberman embed Dionne Scott reports Lieberman quietly campaigned in northwestern Iowa yesterday while the political world buzzed about Clark. Lieberman hasn’t spent as much time in the state as most of his opponents, Scott notes, and Iowa deputy campaign manager Brian Meyer tells Scott me that’s not likely to change: “The reality of our campaign is we don’t expect to win in Iowa, but we’re trying to beat expectations.” Meyer says the Lieberman campaign doesn’t have the same amount of resources (people, offices) in Iowa as most of the other candidates: “Everybody knows we’ve got a February 3rd strategy... We’re not Howard Dean. We’re not going to the same county five times.”

Yesterday was another quiet one for Gephardt, embed Priya David says, as he headed back to DC from California, where he did some fundraising and did not meet with Gray Davis.

But it was a busy day for Kerry and Dean. Embed Becky Diamond gets this loaded quote from a Kerry spokesman about Clark’s entry: “Don’t you think that having more people with bona fide national security credentials highlights further that the Presidency is no place for on the job training.”

The State.com says the Dean-Kerry clash over taxes intensified yesterday. . First, Kerry took after Dean on the middle-class tax cut in a Union-Leader op-ed. Dean then told a college student, “There were no middle-class tax cuts.” (He also appears to have called Kerry a “budget-fudging Bush defender.” - Boston Herald

Kerry pounced, calling it “simply another extraordinary gaffe from Howard Dean... Democrats in Congress fought to give millions of American families more than half a trillion dollars in much deserved tax relief and somehow Dr. Dean seems unaware.’” The Dean camp then said in a statement that Kerry was using “Bush’s manipulated numbers to mislead them about another Democrat.”

The Union Leader reports Gephardt, also the subject of criticism in Kerry’s op-ed yesterday, enters the fray today with his own. “President Bush’s economic plan has failed because his irresponsible tax cuts have not worked... Now, if you think those misguided tax cuts have worked for you, vote for George Bush. If you want to preserve some large part of the failed Bush tax cut, vote for Senator Kerry... But, if you want to exchange the Bush tax cuts for guaranteed health care that can never be taken away, then you should vote for me.”

The Boston Globe details Kerry’s longtime friendship with Schwarzenegger the morning after the Globe reported Kerry campaigned for Gray Davis.

Dean embed Felix Schein says that along with the Boston fundraisers planned for the next week, a number of flash mobs are being organized for Dean Visibility Day on Saturday, along with other events. Flash-mobbers have argued that a true flash mob cannot be coordinated this far in advance, Schein notes, and wonders if a controversy in the works...

Kucinich embed Karin Caifa adds that now that Kucinich has become the second candidate (after Dean) to participate in the Democrats Abroad conference call through the DNC, plans are in the works for conference calls with Kerry, Edwards and Graham.

Sept. 17, 2003 / 9:30 AM ET

From Elizabeth Wilner, Mark Murray and Huma ZaidiClark makes 10 today at 1:00 pm ET at a Boys and Girls Club in Little Rock; a Draft Clark 2004 e-mail to supporters “declares victory.” Clark did more before 9:00 am than most do all day, addressing the Draft Clarkers on the web at 6:30 am, then all the morning shows. Per an advisor, he has local media interviews from 9:00 am till 12 noon ET. Campaign embed Marisa Buchanan says former Governor and Sen. David Pryor and Rep. Marion Berry will introduce him at the main event. The Washington Times says the backdrop will be “MacArthur Park, site of the old U.S. Army Arsenal, where Gen. Douglas MacArthur, a hero of World War II, was born in 1880.”

The political media and consultant elite doubts Clark can build the organization and make up ground in key early states, which may well prove true and undercut his chances — or, we could see a campaign more unconventional than Dean’s which passes over key early states and, if successful, undermines the first-in-the-nation status of Iowa and New Hampshire. That said, would the party faithful overlook his voting for Reagan? (See below.)

On Today, Clark: rejected the suggestion that it’s too late for him to get in, saying “other people have done it this late in the past;” said he has diplomatic experience to get legislation through; critiqued Bush’s approach to the war, saying the focus should be on “bin Laden and his terrorist network;” affirmed that he is pro-choice and pro affirmative action; and said “it’s probably time for the armed forces to take another look at” gays in the military, “but that’s a matter for the armed forces.” Asked which part of the Bush tax cuts he would repeal or change, he said he would take “a comprehensive look” for a “longer term balancing of budget,” but that he probably would “start at the top of the income brackets” and “give some of their tax cuts back,” and that it “might be dividends but it also might be income level.”

Asked whether he will take part in the CNBC/Wall Street Journal Democratic presidential debate on economic issues on the 25th, Clark said he’s “looking at that right now” but is making no commitment because of a scheduling conflict. Clark has a bunch of speeches scheduled in the coming days, including the Friday speech in Iowa and one early next week at DePauw University. (Once he files, presumably he’ll stop taking speaking fees...)

The New York Daily News’ Michael Kramer writes that Clark needs to attend and impress at the debate: “Many will tune in for only one reason: to see if you’re The Answer - the candidate who can both beat President Bush and serve credibly in his job. That first impression could be your only shot.”

In addition, Kramer says Clark needs to refrain from the hyperbolic attacks the other candidates are waging. “Your candidacy is possible because you’re presumed to have the kind of gravitas the other wannabes lack.... The trick now is to reinforce that perception at the expense of your rivals.”

Why yesterday wasn’t good for Edwards: beyond the town limits of Robbins, NC, the energy and enthusiasm among Democrats was for the candidate with national security credentials, if none other — not for the candidate without such credentials who was talking about jobs and the economy. (USA Today headline: “Edwards upstaged on his big day Wesley Clark shakes up race, will run for president.”)

Why it was good for Edwards: without Clark, Edwards arguably would not have made the evening newscasts at all, with Isabel looming. Overall, Clark keeps the Democratic presidential race on the front burner at a time when it otherwise would be relegated to the salt-and-pepper ledge beyond the back burner.

Clark arguably hurts most of the candidates. The somewhat telling reactions of other campaigns:

Edwards embed Dugald McConnell says that when asked about Clark on Tuesday, Edwards said “Clark is a good man” and he looks forward to his joining the race, though it won’t change what Edwards is doing.

Dean embed Felix Schein notes Dean has pointed out that the two candidates agree on a number of issues. The Washington Post says Dean canceled his economic speech in New Hampshire today, “concerned that the Clark announcement would drown it out.”

Graham’s campaign press secretary told embed Sophie Conover: “We look forward to a spirited contest. General Clark should explain how he is going to revive the economy, create jobs, and foster one America. Bob Graham has a plan to do all those things.”

Per embed Becky Diamond, a Kerry aide says “it remains to be seen what kind of impact it has,” and that “John Kerry has the widest and broadest record of strength of all the candidates and we feel very confident of the direction we’re moving in.”

Embed Karin Caifa reports Kucinich communications director Jeff Cohen says Clark won’t hurt Kucinich’s bid: “In general, it could enliven the campaign and bring attention to it... We’ve run a grass-roots, issues-oriented campaign, issues like health care and trade. Clark comes in as a personality. People who are committed to our issues aren’t going to go to Clark.”

Lieberman embed Dionne Scott says the campaign offered no response to the news.

Sharpton had this to say about Clark, per embed Tom Llamas: “I was with him Saturday night in Knoxville and he seems to be a credible candidate and a nice guy, we’ll see where it goes. He said Saturday night if I win the nomination he would work to put me in the White House and I intend to give him that opportunity.”

In the recall today, all parties must file briefs with the 9th Circuit by 5:00 pm ET. The secretary of state will ask that the October 7 date be reinstated. Legal experts expect the limbo “to last at least a week.” — LA Times

Schwarzenegger started his morning with Howard Stern (announced late last night ET) and ends it with Larry King. In between, he greets immigrants at a naturalization ceremony in Los Angeles at 2:00 pm ET. Maria Shriver lunches with businesswomen in Pacific Beach, then holds a press avail at 4:30 pm.

More Democratic “GOP power grab” rhetoric today: Davis campaigns with the Feinstein-enodrsed John Kerry at a job training facility in Los Angeles; both will meet with local vets and make remarks. A Kerry spokesperson says Kerry seeks “to defeat the right wing hijacking of California, no matter which month it’s attempted.”

CaliforniaThe Los Angeles Times: “Although there is normally a lengthy period for the judges to exchange legal memos on whether to rehear a case, court observers said the 9th Circuit could move very fast - for judges at least - in a case involving such urgency.”

“The observers said they thought the court could complete a vote by Friday on whether to rehear the case. If a majority of the judges voting decides to reconsider, a hearing could be held as soon as Monday and a ruling could be rendered by the middle of next week, the observers said. Court officials have issued no formal schedule yet.”

The Washington Post editorial page derides the 9th Circuit panel’s decision: “Just about every election in this country sees some disparity among the voting technologies deployed by different counties. This fact has not previously caused federal courts to block elections.”

And the San Francisco Chronicle wonders whether punch-card ballots and hanging chads are really that much of a problem.

The Chronicle speculates that Bill Simon might reenter the race if the election is postponed.

Bustamante’s fundraising is being scrutinized by the California Fair Political Practices Commission and the law. - LA Times

Iraq is to the economy...The Los Angeles Times notes GAO chief David Walker gives a speech today “warning that the nation’s long-term fiscal outlook is seriously out of whack. And he challenges the assumption that economic recovery will solve the problem painlessly.”

“His is a lonely voice on Capitol Hill, where deficit-expanding initiatives are growing like crabgrass, unchecked amid new budget demands for the war on terrorism and the reconstruction of Iraq.”

“Bush and lawmakers from both parties continue to press for a $400-billion, 10-year expansion of Medicare to provide prescription drug benefits. House Republicans are pushing yet another round of tax cuts - this time for big business, at a cost of more than $100 billion over 10 years. And even as Bush asks for $87 billion more for military and reconstruction efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan, there seems to be little appetite in Congress for offsetting cuts in domestic spending.”

“But the Democratic Party is deeply divided over whether or how far to raise taxes. And with their own big spending plans for Medicare, education and other domestic priorities, Democrats also lack a clear program for getting the budget back into balance.”

Prescription drugsAlso today, also noted by the Los Angeles Times: that group of House GOP conservatives threatening to block the prescription drug legislation holds a presser on the Hill. ”[A]lthough previous vote-withholding threats have underlined the differences between Republicans and Democrats and the House and Senate, today’s action by 15 House conservatives highlights deep divisions over Medicare within the Republican Party and adds new uncertainty to the legislation’s already doubtful future.”

Administration notesThe Washington Post says U2’s Bono “confronted President Bush in the Oval Office yesterday with what AIDS activists say is a vast gap between funding he promised in the State of the Union address and the actual money headed for Africa. The U2 singer said afterward that he felt ‘depressed,’ and that he and Bush had ‘a good old row’ over how much the White House was allocating to fighting the global HIV-AIDS pandemic.”

And the Post says the Justice Department will ask the SCOTUS to “hear its appeal of — and overturn — a lower court’s order that the government turn over documents and information about the members and operations of” Vice President Cheney’s energy task force. “The chances of the Supreme Court granting the petition for hearing are considered very slim.” Cheney aides yesterday backed up his Meet the Press claim that he has no financial ties to Halliburton, against Democrats’ charges to the contrary. - Washington Post

ClarkThe AP says Clark “offers Democrats one thing they crave: New hope of undercutting President Bush’s wartime popularity... But the retired general has never held political office - not even a student council election to his credit - and he has never been pressed to produce a domestic agenda.”

”[A]dvisers said they were developing an unconventional strategy that would attempt to capitalize on the Internet and Clark’s affinity for television to build momentum nationwide. He has not decided how hard to campaign in traditional early battlegrounds such as Iowa, aides said, but they quickly concluded that he can’t catch up to his competitors through traditional means; the rest of the field has been in Iowa and New Hampshire for months.”

The Des Moines Register: “Although it was not clear Tuesday whether Clark would campaign actively for the lead-off Iowa caucuses, Democratic sources in the state continued to say they had heard little from Clark supporters or advisers.”

The bio flood begins. The Boston Globe says “Clark’s opponents may focus on that NATO tenure as well — particularly his exit from the Pentagon, when he received orders to leave his term four months early to make way for a replacement favored by the Pentagon brass. The order followed months of tension between Clark and senior officials at the Pentagon, some of whom bristled at what they considered his abrasive approach.”

The Washington Post calls Clark “a highly controversial figure within the U.S. military, disliked and mistrusted by many fellow officers.” But [s]upporters and detractors agree on this much: The retired general is immensely talented.”

And the Post editorial page says Clark “told us in an interview the other day that he is new to the party — it’s not that he’d been a Democrat all along and kept his affiliation private for reasons of propriety. Asked whether he had voted for Republicans along the way, Mr. Clark said, ‘I don’t even remember.’ Had he voted for a Republican for president? ‘I imagine that I voted for Reagan at one time or another,’ he said. It will be interesting to see how that plays with Democratic Party activists.”

Last night on CNBC’s Capital Report, House Ways and Means ranking member Charlie Rangel rejected the suggestion that it’s too late for Clark, saying a vacuum exists, and reluctantly critiqued his friend Gephardt for supporting the President on the war: “I’m not even emotional about candidates as I am about Dick Gephardt. I love him, I’ve campaigned with him. The way he handled his endorsement of the president caused me more personal pain than political pain... And he is convinced he did the right thing, and I’ve told Dick Gephardt that as much as I love him, whether he won or lost, that I could not endorse somebody that endorsed this war.”

Rangel also said, when asked about Sen. Hillary Clinton’s support for Clark: “I had a long talk with Hillary Clinton and she praised to high heavens the abilities of General Clark, but reminded me over and over again — she says, ‘Charlie, I want you to make it abundantly clear that I am not endorsing General Clark.’”

Roll Call says Clark plans his first campaign stop on Capitol Hill next week, noting that seven members “threw their support” to Clark Tuesday. “Many Democrats believe Clark is the ideal candidate to offset the presumed advantage Bush will have on foreign policy issues in the 2004 election while also attacking Bush on the economy and other domestic issues. Even without fully knowing where he is on many of the issues, some Democrats were rejoicing in his candidacy Tuesday.”

New York for Clark gathers, marches and rallies in Times Square tonight with events starting at 6:30 pm (44th and Broadway, for those who care).

The Lieberman campaign may not have any reaction to Clark’s candidacy, but embed Dionne Scott reports that tonight, Saul and Fran Singer of Dobbs Ferry, NY, who say they belong to neither major party, will host a reception for Lieberman in their home at $500 a pop. Saul Singer says he, his wife and a group of other co-sponsors sent out about 600 invitations to friends, co-workers, golf buddies, business associates, fellow club members, and between 60-80 people, affiliations unknown, are expected.

More 2004 notes (D)The Wall Street Journal’s Harwood welcomes Clark and Edwards to the race by writing that in “2004, a non-Southern formula may not be merely the Democrats’ best chance of beating wartime President Bush; it may be their only chance... Today, President Bush is even stronger in Dixie, the nation’s most pro-military region. There is scant reason to think Mr. Edwards or Gen. Clark, the former with a brief political track record and the latter with none at all, would significantly threaten him there.”

Edwards embed Dugald McConnell notes Edwards used a teleprompter yesterday and was not as relaxed as usual, giving a speech that went beyond his familiar stump speech. Edwards is in Concord, NH today for a town hall while his state braces for Isabel; he spends tomorrow and Friday raising money. But he’s not running for re-election.

Dean continues his in-Kerry’s-face approach. The Boston Herald says he “is scheduled to come to the Hub tomorrow for three major fund-raisers expected to add $250,000 to his bulging campaign coffers.” And a rally is “planned for Boston’s Copley Square Tuesday... The Dean campaign hopes to draw 3,000 supporters to the lunchtime rally, featuring a speech by Dean and - if city officials approve - live music at a site less than two miles from Kerry’s Louisburg Square townhouse.”

“Kerry campaign officials reacted to news Dean’s rally with a slap. ‘Boston is a diverse and inclusive city, occasionally even welcoming Yankee fans like Howard Dean,’ Kerry spokeswoman Kelley Benander said.”

And Kerry is in the traveling Dean’s face today with a Manchester Union-Leader op-ed attacking Dean for wanting to roll back middle-class tax cuts.

Dean embed Felix Schein covers Dean’s push to raise $40 million by September 30, “the most outlandish challenge of this campaign season,” and a threshold which, if achieved, would completely alter the race for the Democratic nomination, help spur the first dropouts of this campaign, and rewrite political history. But it’s also a mark the Dean campaign seriously (99.9%) doubts it can reach, calling it more of a challenge and a call to action than a realistic or achievable ambition.

Gephardt embed Priya David also looks at fundraising, noting Gephardt has spent most of the week in private meetings, eschewing public events for some quiet fundraising. The Gephardt campaign says they have a goal of raising $20 million dollars this year, having raised $10 million in the first six months. They responded to reports that Dean is attempting to raise $40 million by saying, “Their success should be judged on how close to $40m they get.”

The Gephardt campaign yesterday launched a new website, www.deanfacts.com, focusing (for now) on Dean quotes on Medicare and Social Security.

Kucinich today takes part in a Democrats Abroad conference call at 2:00 pm with US voters at 22 call-in sites in 11 countries, embed Karin Caifa says. He is the second Democratic candidate to participate; Dean was the first.

Sept. 16, 2003 / 9:30 AM ETFrom Elizabeth Wilner, Mark Murray and Huma ZaidiCalifornia’s “under God” court and a SCOTUS still recovering from Bush v. Gore face the grave, loaded and potentially divisive question of voter disenfranchisement. At 5:00 pm ET, California’s secretary of state announces whether and how he will challenge the 9th Circuit’s decision, while the head of the recall drive plans to take his challenge to the nation’s highest court. The candidates proceed to campaign as if the election is happening on the 7th.

New since Bush v. Gore: Democratic rhetoric about a “GOP power grab” in Florida, Texas, and California that allegedly seeks to deny minorities their vote. Presidential candidate Bob Graham bangs that drum with Davis at the Westin Century Plaza Hotel in Los Angeles at 1:00 pm ET. Graham campaign embed Sophie Conover says Graham plans to charge that Republicans stole one election in Florida and that voters should not let them steal another. “He knows first-hand what voting irregularities and disenfranchisement can mean for the electoral process,” says Graham press secretary Jamal Simmons.

Davis also appears with Jesse Jackson at San Francisco’s Third Baptist Church at 5:00 pm ET to campaign against Ward Connerly’s racial privacy initiative, Proposition 54 (which, along with the other initiative on the October 7 ballot, also faces the potential delay till March 2). At 7:00 pm ET, Davis addresses the California Nurses Association’s centennial celebration at the Oakland Marriott.

Bustamante appears with three enviro groups to attack Bush’s record and discuss “their fears that a Republican takeover of the governorship could result in a rubber stamp of the administration’s policies that threaten to weaken the state’s environmental protections,” per the release. At 1:00 pm ET at the Sierra Club offices in San Francisco.

Schwarzenegger does a town hall at the Hollenbeck Youth Center in Los Angeles at 8:00 pm ET. Former GOP candidate Peter Ueberroth yesterday announced he’ll meet with Schwarzenegger and McClintock today at the Santa Monica Doubletree, presumably to consider which candidate to endorse, with a press avail at 3:00 pm ET.

On the Democratic presidential front, the looming hurricane and specter of a Clark candidacy overshadow Edwards’ formal explanation of why he is the best candidate to beat President Bush. Edwards speaks at 10:00 am in front of the shuttered Milliken Mill in Robbins, NC, which, campaign embed Dugald McConnell notes, is Exhibit A for the case Edwards makes against Bush’s handling of unemployment.

Clark, meanwhile, “finalizes his thinking” about running together with advisors in Little Rock today, per the AP. “It would be a long-shot bid. Just four months before voting begins, Clark would be competing against candidates who have had months to raise money, build organizations in key states and recruit the party’s top political talent. But the strategists assembled in Little Rock on Tuesday are among the party’s best. An Internet-fueled draft-Clark movement has developed the seeds of a campaign organization and more than $1 million in pledges.”

The Fed meets today and “officials are expected to keep interest rates at 1958 lows... and reiterate a willingness to keep rates down even in the face of stronger U.S. economic growth.” - USA Today

The Washington Post puts Bush’s 2:40 pm Clear Skies speech today in the context of conflicting views of how the Detroit Edison power plant he visited yesterday would be affected by the initiative.

CaliforniaThe thinking in this huge state’s comparably small political circles is that the 9th Circuit panel’s decision gets overturned because the court, fairly or unfairly, is seen as being out of step with the rest of the nation. Plus, delaying the contest until March would introduce a host of new consequences. But what does happen if the election is delayed? Tim Hodson of California State University (Sacramento) explains that delaying the vote would cost the cash-strapped state even more money. “There will be a significant cost impact to counties that have already been spending millions of dollars preparing for the ballot,” he said. In addition, it would prolong the political uncertainty that now exists; Senate Republicans, he said, are already refusing to work with Democrats because they’re hoping Davis will get recalled and a Republican will succeed him.

Who actually benefits from a delay is wide open to interpretation, Hodson says. The CW is that Davis would benefit because the March election would coincide with the Democratic presidential primary, bringing higher Democratic turnout, and because Davis would have more time to better his standing among voters. Yet so much could happen between now and then — the economy could tank even further, or Davis could face another unexpected natural or man-made crisis. The same is true for Schwarzenegger, Hodson says. He would have more time to show voters he’s a thoughtful candidate — or that extra time could give him more of an opportunity to stumble.

The Los Angeles Times: “Californians who already have voted - more than 100,000 statewide, including 30,000 in Los Angeles County - were left uncertain whether they would get a chance to vote again if the election were postponed. Secretary of State Kevin Shelley issued a statement saying that voters who planned to cast absentee ballots should still do so.”

“State lawyers face questions on whether a postponement would mean reopening the ballot to allow candidates to remove their names or new candidates to join the race. State law generally requires that the ballot be set within 59 days of the election.”

“And voting officials, already struggling to produce an election on a short deadline, were handed a new problem to consider: whether combining the lengthy recall ballot with the primary in March would produce a behemoth too large for the newer voting machines to handle.”

The Sacramento Bee has an election law expert saying the legal dispute could be resolved in several different ways. “The U.S. Supreme Court conceivably could decline to review the appeals court order, meaning the election will not be held until March, said Prof. Floyd Feeney at the University of California, Davis.”

“A high court justice also could extend the appeals court’s seven-day stay for a longer period of time to give the Supreme Court more time to study the case, said Feeney, who teaches election law and criminal justice.”

“Or, it could take up the matter and focus on which issue is more important: the possibility of some voters not having their vote counted or preserving the state’s constitutionally written recall procedures.”

The Washington Post lays out the decision potentially facing the SCOTUS: “If the panel ruling is not reversed by a larger 9th Circuit body, the Supreme Court justices, for whom the stress and strain — both personal and institutional — of 2000 are still a fresh memory, will face a choice. They can stay out of the California case and risk permitting what they may view as a debatable interpretation of Bush v. Gore to stand, or they can plunge in and assume the risk that they will once again be criticized for partisanship no matter what they decide.”

The Washington Post also uses the court decision as a peg to look at waning interest in election reform.

A delay could mean more time for reports on Schwarzenegger like this Los Angeles Times project: “A Times review of more than 100 examples of his interviews and writings from the past 30 years reveals that Schwarzenegger’s habit of making off-color remarks about sex and women did not end in the 1970s, despite his defenders’ claims to the contrary.”

On Oprah yesterday, the New York Post writes, Maria Shriver said her husband is nothing but respectful to women, despite the allegations. But Schwarzenegger managed to embarrass his wife: “When Winfrey pressed the actor whether the drug use and group sex really happened, the Terminator said he didn’t remember. ‘But this was the time when I was saying things like “a pump [lifting weights] is better than [sex],” all those kinds of things,’ said Schwarzenegger, sending the audience into wild laughter as a mortified Shriver playfully slapped her husband across the mouth for his use of a slang term to describe sex.” (What he actually said, however, was arguably worse than what the Post airbrushes.)

Iraq is to the economy... The Washington Post follows on Roll Call’s report yesterday of Hill GOP nervousness: “Congressional Republicans are watching warily as President Bush’s approval ratings slide on two major issues — the economy and Iraq — and wondering if voter anxiety might cost them seats in next year’s election.”

“Of the two, the question of the economy is particularly worrying GOP lawmakers, who fear they could be blamed for the hundreds of thousands of jobs that have been lost under the Bush White House and the Republican-controlled Congress.”

“Some Republican analysts, in fact, say they would welcome a debate that focuses more on Iraq — even with ongoing U.S. deaths and other problems — rather than jobs.”

“Republican lawmakers see Bush as their party’s unquestioned leader and have been reluctant to complain about his handling of domestic or international matters. But recent independent and GOP polls, coupled with extensive conversations with constituents, have some of them worried about a potential voter backlash...”

The Los Angeles Times reports under a Xenia, OH dateline: “The downturn in the economy has hammered Ohio, costing it 185,000 jobs over the last 2 1/2 years. Ninety-four of them are here at the Hooven Allison rope factory, set to shut down this month after 134 years in business. The citizens will be asked to approve three local tax increases this fall to fend off cuts in school, city and hospital services.”

“And President Bush has attached an $87-billion price tag to an Iraq mission some here believe was well-intentioned but badly conceived.”

Prescription drugsThe Wall Street Journal reports: “Proposed Medicare legislation could result in seniors’ paying substantially different premiums from one region to the next, according to an internal Bush administration assessment of Republican-backed subsidies designed to draw more elderly into private health plans... Health-care plans in some areas would be paid only modestly more than local fee-for-service rates set by Medicare; those elsewhere would be reimbursed as much as 15% more than these rates.”

“These disparities are compounded by a second set of subsidies designed to lower the premiums of private-plan enrollees. These subsidies, in the form of rebates, potentially would be richest in those regions where private plans are given the greatest latitude to operate above local fee-for-service rates. And critics fear this dynamic would let plans flock to the most profitable markets and use the rebates to sign up customers, thereby undermining enrollment in traditional Medicare there.”

“Lawmakers are considering options to smooth out the regional differences.”

2004 notes (D)A new Raleigh News & Observer poll finds “more North Carolinians now approve of his bid but that Edwards still would face an uphill battle in his home state to beat President Bush. Fifty-three percent of Tar Heel voters approve of Edwards’ decision to seek the presidency, while 40 percent disapprove... If the general election were held today , Bush would beat Edwards in North Carolina 51 percent to 40 percent.”

“The poll also found a growing interest among North Carolina Democrats in another presidential candidate, former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean... Among North Carolina Democrats, Edwards drew the support of 37 percent of those polled, followed by Dean with 23 percent and U.S. Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts with 17 percent. All other contenders were in single digits.”

The Charlotte Observer revisits Edwards’ abandoning his Senate seat to run for president: “Betting all his marbles on the White House could put a quick end to Edwards’ 5-year-old political career.”

USA Today says not only Dean but Kerry too is “actively considering bypassing the public-financing system and the spending limits it imposes during the primaries. If they follow through, it would be a first for Democrats and would divide the nine-person field into two financial tiers.”

Dean argues public financing would amount to unilateral disarmament against Bush: Kerry says he might forgo it so as not to unilaterally disarm against Dean. “Dean said no decision would be made until November. The decision will depend on how much money he is raising and spending at the time.”

Dean embed Felix Schein reports that despite heavy attacks on Dean over the past week, 20,000 more volunteers registered with the campaign, and according to manager Joe Trippi, the campaign will reach its goal of 450,000 volunteers by the end of the month. (For context, the campaign had fewer than 500 volunteers at the end of January.) That said, Schein notes, the Governor has worked to refine his message and make it more accurate. He has also become more insulated, his state staffs working hard to keep him moving and away from the press, making assessing the depth of Dean’s support a greater challenge.

Trippi dismissed the notion that the press spotlight would somehow burn his candidate. He noted, as he has time and time again, that this campaign’s support goes up when the gloves come off.

Graham attacked Dean in Phoenix yesterday. The Miami Herald says “Graham’s new message about Dean [is]: I voted against the war, he’s just against it.” Yesterday, ”[a]sked whether he has a problem with Dean’s apparent penchant to misspeak and shift positions, Graham at first said he would not be ‘induced into the type of negativism that is sometimes tempting.’” But went on to say, “’[i]f Gov. Dean had had the kind of background as governor of a large and complex state and service that would put him in direct contact with international issues, then he wouldn’t have to backtrack.”’

Embed Dionne Scott says the Lieberman campaign is noting the other Democratic candidates’ attacks on Dean “with interest,” after their candidate got the ball rolling. First, an aide said, “these guys are as mum as a church mouse, now they’re coming out... Gephardt’s fighting for his life in Iowa. Kerry’s fighting for his life in New Hampshire.” Scott also reports Lieberman supporters in New Hampshire are saying there’s anti-Dean buzz over his shifting positions, but that neutral observers say they don’t notice that so much as Lieberman himself having yet to catch fire in the state.

The Des Moines Register on Kerry’s Cedar Rapids, IA event yesterday: “In addition to attacking President Bush as a friend of the rich, Kerry faulted the former Vermont governor” — by name — “and other Democrats for proposing to repeal all tax cuts pushed by the Republican incumbent. Kerry said he would leave tax cuts benefiting middle-class families intact.”

“Kerry again chastised Dean at the end of his speech, which dealt with protecting the middle class from corporate abuses such as the WorldCom scandal... Kerry said WorldCom employees ‘did the right thing but still got the short end of the stick. What their company did to them is wrong. What George Bush has done to the middle class is wrong. And, unfortunately, what Howard Dean wants to do is wrong for our middle-class families as well.’”

Dean’s response: “‘It’s time for someone to tell the American people the truth. The truth is, we cannot provide health care for everyone and work toward balancing the budget if we do not repeal all of the president’s tax cuts. Anyone who wants to keep the Bush tax scheme, even a portion of it, is guaranteeing Americans continue to pay higher property taxes, higher education bills and other costs middle-class families face.’”

The Boston Globe’s McGrory says Kerry broke a 1996 deal with then-GOP Senate opponent Bill Weld to “limit advertising spending to $5 million apiece, and to limit the use of personal funds in the campaign to $500,000 apiece... Kerry didn’t just violate the deal, he pulverized it. Running out of money in the waning days of October, Kerry mortgaged and remortgaged the Louisburg Square house, ultimately pouring $1.7 million in personal funds into his campaign.”

“As he made a mockery of the pact, he did something else distinctly distasteful. He accused Weld of violating the agreement, a charge that seemed specious at best, an outright lie at worst.”

Gephardt embed Priya David checked in yesterday with Duane Woerth, president of the 66,000-member International Air Line Pilots Association, about the status of his association’s promised endorsement of Gephardt. “Nobody is picking up union support like Gephardt,” Woerth told the AP right after Labor Day. “There is no question Dick Gephardt will get our endorsement.” David was then told by the campaign that ALPA’s endorsement would come soon. Since some time has passed without an announcement, David called ALPA yesterday, only to be told that they have no comment on Mr. Woerth’s previous statements. Further, they have not endorsed any candidate and have no plan do so immediately. In fact, they don’t plan on endorsing anyone until well after the candidate has been nominated, or is very close to it, if they endorse at all.

Kucinich embed Karin Caifa reports the candidate’s morning speech will kick off a big lobbying effort for his Department of Peace legislation: 220 members of the Global Renaissance Alliance Annual Democracy Conference will head to Capitol Hill to lobby for HR 1643, the bill introduced by Kucinich, that would create a Cabinet-level US Department of Peace.

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