“First Read” is a daily memo prepared by NBC News’ political unit, for NBC News, analyzing the morning’s political news. Please let us know what you think. Drop us a note at FirstRead@MSNBC.com.

Starting today, and through the end of the GOP convention look for First Read "Garden Party" updates throughout the day of all the behind the scenes action from the floor, the delegations and the parties in New York City.

Saturday, August 28, 2004

  1. Other political news of note
    1. Animated Boehner: 'There's nothing complex about the Keystone Pipeline!'

      House Speaker John Boehner became animated Tuesday over the proposed Keystone Pipeline, castigating the Obama administration for not having approved the project yet.

    2. Budget deficits shrinking but set to grow after 2015
    3. Senate readies another volley on unemployment aid
    4. Obama faces Syria standstill
    5. Fluke files to run in California

8:00 p.m. ET

A month ago, we reported on the all the people, the parties, and the protests at the Democratic convention in Boston. And we're back for more at the GOP convention in New York. But in our short time here, we've already noticed that there are some HUGE differences between the two conventions. For starters, while the convention area in Boston seemed like a gigantic fortress isolated from the rest of the city, we're surrounded here by -- and in full contact with -- a bustling New York City. In fact, as we approached Madison Square Garden this afternoon, we almost got stampeded by people exiting the subways and trains at Penn Station. It was madness.

Second, while Boston was cool and rainy, New York right now seems about as hot as Crawford, Texas (absent the brush clearing, of course).

And while Hollywood celebrities dominated the events in Boston, we already know that sightings of stars will be quite slim here. In fact, we probably already saw perhaps the most famous non-elected celebrity -- i.e., anyone who isn't named Arnold Schwarzenegger -- we will see the entire week: Ron Silver. Yes, you heard that right, Ron Silver (formerly of the "West Wing" and "Veronica's Closet"). It doesn't get any better than that.

--Mark Murray

Those Pedaling Protestors
There's another difference between the two conventions: the protests. While we noticed just a few in Boston, it seems we're already up to our ears in protests here -- and the convention hasn't even started. On Friday night, we were having a quiet dinner in the East Village when about 100 bicycling protestors from Critical Mass pedaled by, creating havoc in the streets. Jeff, a biker from Brooklyn, told us the event was "for cyclists' rights" and always takes place the last Friday of every month. But he admitted the GOP convention inspired a much larger turnout than usual.

We didn't see too many anti-Bush signs or slogans. But some cyclists were wearing T-shirts with Bush's picture crossed out. One such biker, Rachel, said she was "protesting the fossil fuel policies of the Bush Administration." When the NYPD started to arrest the cyclists (press reports noted that more than 200 were arrested), the New Yorkers who had gathered on the sidewalks began to boo. And as the police presence grew, one cyclist sporting a hot pink wig ran up to a group of bikers on the street and told them to peacefully go home, saying, "We have a long week ahead of us." That's for sure.

--Sophie Sohn

It's Raining... George Bush and Dick Cheney
When you think of conventions, two things immediately come to mind: balloons and confetti. And in our first act of intrepid reporting in New York, we stumbled across a bag of the very confetti that will be dropped on the convention floor. And it's not your typical confetti: Each piece is a thin piece of paper about the size of a quarter and -- get this -- it contains a picture of all your favorite Republicans. There's one of George Bush striking a presidential pose. There's one of Bush and wife, Laura. There's one of Second Lady Lynne Cheney. And then there's our favorite: a smiling Dick Cheney. In fact, Cheney's cracking such a big smile on this piece of confetti that we can only conclude that he must have been attending an extra-special energy task force meeting when that photo was snapped. 

--Mark Murray and Roxanne Garcia

Saturday, August 28, 2004 | 9:35 a.m. ET
From Elizabeth Wilner, Mark Murray, Huma Zaidi
First glance (66 days until Election Day)
With a mixed bag of political news and events today, our efforts to tee up the Republican convention continue.  It's been duly noted that several of the GOP's primetime convention speakers disagree with the President on gay marriage, not believing, as he does, that a constitutional ban is necessary.  (Add Cheney to that list now, as well.)  There's also been some broader acknowledgement of how they differ with the President on social issues in general. 

But the distinctions go even a step further than that: As NBC/Wall Street Journal pollster Bill McInturff (R) points out, many of these primetime speakers, while being among the GOP's most popular national spokespeople, are also Republicans who today, because of their positions on gay marriage, abortion and/or guns, among other issues, probably wouldn't be able to win the party's presidential nomination.  As former McInturff client McCain can attest.

Per the latest NBC News/Journal poll (August 23-25, 806 RV, +/-3.5%),
-- 58% of those polled have positive feelings about Giuliani, while 11% have negative feelings and 20% are neutral
-- 51% have positive feelings about McCain, 12% have negative feelings, and 26% are neutral.
-- 49% have positive feelings about Bush, 43% have negative feelings, and 8% are neutral
-- 42% have positive feelings about Schwarzenegger, 22% have negative feelings, and 31% are neutral.
-- 38% have positive feelings about Cheney, 42% have negative feelings, and 16% are neutral

Clearly Bush is stacking the primetime deck with moderate speakers to benefit by association, hoping some of Rudy, McCain and Arnold's appeal to independents and moderates will rub off.  But up until now, the President and his campaign have spent most of their time courting the base, including stumping in Republican areas among friendly audiences, and using church directories for outreach in an arguable brush with IRS regulations.  Given Karl Rove's well-known theory that not enough evangelicals turned out in 2000, we suspect that effort won't stop even after the convention. 

So if Bush gets a bump among moderates and independents coming out of New York, how will he make it last?  And what pollster worth their salt won't be poring through all available crosstabs on independent voters after next week?

Beyond that, as Bush pads his national and homeland security credentials with yesterday's executive orders and his upcoming main event, his efforts are bracketed by awkward news on the domestic front.  At the front end: the Census data from 2003 showing more Americans living in poverty, and Fed chief Greenspan saying yesterday that the government is promising more on Social Security than it will be able to deliver.  At the back end, on the morning after Bush's acceptance speech, the August jobs report comes out.

The President campaigns in Ohio today, speaking at a rally in Troy at 9:55 am, doing an "Ask President Bush" event in Lima at 12:55 pm, and speaking at another rally in Toledo/Maumee at 4:20 pm. 

Kerry has a rally in Tacoma, WA at 3:00 pm, then he heads to Nantucket for the duration of the GOP convention with one scheduled exception: remarks at the American Legion national conference in Nashville on Wednesday.

The running mates are both in DC with no public events.

Ways in which Democrats are seeking to get into the convention story this weekend: Their "America Can Do Better" bus tour stops in Philadelphia for a 1:45 pm event where they'll charge Bush with not fulfilling commitments made in his 2000 acceptance speech in that same city.  Tomorrow, Hillary Clinton does Meet the Press and other Sunday shows, and the bus tour ends with a 2:00 pm rally at New York's Pace University.

Bush's convention build-up
Local coverage of Bush's Ohio tour today:

The Lima News: "Organizers for President Bush's visit are still waiting to learn what he'll talk about and which local residents may be highlighted during his appearance."

The Toledo Blade notes the rarity of a presidential visit: "Mr. Bush is the first president to visit Fort Meigs, although William Henry Harrison - who built the fort in 1813 - made a campaign speech there when he was running for president in 1840."  The Blade also notes that "Bush will avoid the beaten path when he travels through northwest Ohio today, sticking to state routes so he can pass through several small towns and cities."

The Ohio News Network says as many as 20,000 people are expected Bush's event in Troy today.

The Los Angeles Times anticipates Bush's acceptance speech as "a roadmap for a potential second term," and observes how "analysts now look at... passages of Bush's first acceptance speech as signals of a presidency that would be both bolder and more partisan than most had predicted."

"Partly because of that more doctrinaire style, they say, the Bush agenda outlined in the 2000 speech has met with mixed success - with the president passing the income tax cut for all Americans as he promised, failing to advance Social Security reform that had been another top priority and winning sharply divided reviews for his reforms of public schools and Medicare."

"While Bush today is a president preoccupied with national security, candidate Bush's acceptance speech scarcely mentioned foreign affairs, and then mostly to advocate a system to protect the U.S. from incoming ballistic missiles.  What has been more consistent is Bush's folksy persona - introduced to many Americans in the 2000 acceptance speech.  As the 43rd president, he still employs the clipped sentences, wry quips and no-nonsense delivery.  That style has helped push the Republican incumbent consistently ahead of [ in the polls in most measures of decisiveness and leadership.  It has also contributed to some voters' perceptions that Bush can be reckless and bullheaded."

New York
Although Hillary Clinton is already scheduled to do Meet the Press, she and Bill Clinton -- in "a rare joint appearance" -- will also head to church tomorrow, the New York Daily News reports.   "The former President is slated to speak from the pulpit at Riverside Church in upper Manhattan," which the paper says kicks off a week of the Democrats' counteroffensive to the GOP convention (though the counteroffensive has already begun).

The AP on the lobbyists, trade associations, and interest groups courting GOP officials with swanky parties and monetary and other contributions.

Mayor Bloomberg said the costs of providing security at the convention could be $60 million or more, the New York Post reports.  But he said the federal government will pick up most of the tab.

The Boston Globe previews what to expect in terms of protestors.  Among some of the potentially more interesting displays, the Globe says "[m]embers of one of the organizations involved, the War Resisters League, will walk the three miles from ground zero to the Garden, where they will "die in," or lie on the ground to symbolize the bodies of those who have died in the war on terrorism."

The New York Post covers yesterday's protests: 50 people dressed in garbage bags (representing body bags) in Central Park, "Bush-bashing mommies" who marched across the Brooklyn Bridge, and graffiti on a Bronx golf course that read "Stop the War!"  But the biggest protest yesterday, the New York Daily News says, was staged by 5,000 "Critical Mass" activists on bikes who "snarled traffic" on the streets last night.  "At least 264 riders were arrested on charges of disorderly conduct for blocking intersections near Madison Square Garden and in the East Village, police said."

Finally, the New York Times previews tomorrow's 250,000-person United for Peace and Justice march, which the paper says is "expected to be one of the city's largest political demonstrations in decades."  The big question is whether or not these protestors end up in Central Park, even though

the city has worked to steer them away from it.

Medals, ribbons, and 527s
The Boston Globe does Schachte contending there was no enemy fire on the day Kerry received his first Purple Heart.  "It was the latest attack on Kerry's war record by a string of former swift boat veterans.  The Schachte comment is likely to gain notice both because of the high rank that Schachte ultimately achieved and because Schachte had provided a much less specific account of the Dec. 2, 1968, incident in an interview with the Globe last year.  During that interview, Schachte did not challenge Kerry's Purple Heart."

"Earlier this year, during the preparation of the Globe's biography, the Kerry campaign was asked repeatedly whether Kerry believes he was hit by enemy fire or whether there was any hostile fire.  The Kerry campaign refused to respond.  Instead, it provided a medical report showing that shrapnel had been removed from Kerry's arm and a document showing he was awarded the Purple Heart.  "

Three swiftees-centric profiles:

1) The Washington Post front-pages a look at the Swift Boaters' O'Neill, Kerry's anti-war activities, and the ongoing Kerry-O'Neill debate, which started as an actual debate in 1971.  The story mentions all the oxygen getting sucked up by "a conflict that more than one eligible voter in three is too young to remember," how Nixon encouraged O'Neill to debate Kerry in 1971, and how the Swift Boaters acknowledge being motivated in part by Kerry's anti-war rhetoric.

2) The Los Angeles Times has a shorter profile of O'Neill which also leads with the 1971 debate.

3) The Washington Post also profiles Kerry biographer, presidential historian, and NBC analyst Doug Brinkley, whose "Tour Of Duty" is at the center of the swiftees controversy. 

That story notes, "The Kerry campaign has refused to release Kerry's personal Vietnam archive, including his journals and letters, saying that the senator is contractually bound to grant Brinkley exclusive access to the material.  But Brinkley said this week the papers are the property of the senator and in his full control."

MSNBC's Becky Diamond reports that on the Kerry campaign plane yesterday, aides placed David Halberstam's Vanity Fair article, "Of War and Presidents," on every press seat.  Halberstam is pro-Kerry in the piece, talking about how prominent members of the Bush Administration never served in Vietnam (i.e., Ashcroft, Cheney's multiple deferments) while Kerry served honorably.  One Kerry aide told Diamond that the campaign was surprised by the staying power of the Swift Boaters' attacks, but also gave the campaign line -- that the issue would end up hurting Bush more than Kerry.

And MSNBC's Tom Llamas reports from the trail with Edwards that for the second straight day yesterday, Edwards tried to move the debate beyond Kerry's service in Vietnam, and for the second straight day, supporters asked why Democrats aren't fighting back.  At his town hall in St Charles, MO, Edwards did not reference the Swift Boaters' ads, but was asked by one gentleman about negative advertising.  "Can't we just go after them once in a while?" the man asked.  Edwards said the campaign was concerned about getting the truth out, constant mudslinging.  And a woman asked Edwards the same question during a town hall in Golden, CO.

A speech from late May that was posted on the Internet as a web video in late June is getting attention now, in late August: The video shows Kerry supporter and former Texas House Speaker Ben Barnes (D) saying "he is ashamed he helped President Bush and the sons of other wealthy families get into the Texas Air National Guard in 1968 so they could avoid serving in Vietnam."  The story notes, "It was the first time Barnes, a Kerry supporter, has discussed his role in getting Bush into the Guard.  In 1999, he said he recommended Bush for a pilot's position at the request of a Bush family friend.  Bush has denied that family influence got him into the Guard."  A Bush spokesperson said there's nothing new here and dismissed it as a partisan attack.  - AP

National/Homeland Security
The Boston Globe on Bush's executive orders: "The moves are being made as Bush faces harsh criticism from the Kerry campaign, which contends he has not quickly embraced the commission's July calls for an intelligence overhaul."

Perhaps seeking to beef up Edwards's national security credentials, the Kerry campaign put the running mate out yesterday to respond to Bush's executive orders reorganizing intelligence operations, in advance of Edwards's big speech on national security scheduled for Monday.

In San Francisco yesterday, MSNBC's Diamond reports, Kerry sought to tap into anger Democrats feel about the war.  He told the crowd about Iraq that "...we spent over $200 billion that could have gone to education... to the economy... to health care," and said America has absorbed 90% of the costs and casualties.  Diamond asked Kerry aide David Wade if Kerry meant that the United States should not have gone to war and should have spent that money on domestic programs, which is what Kerry's statement arguably could lead one to believe.  Wade said no -- that Kerry meant the money could have gone to domestic issues and could have been better spent had the United States built alliances to share the costs.

Social Security and prescription drugs
Coverage of Kerry's criticisms of Bush over the new economic data out in recent days generally has Kerry trying to paint Bush as out of touch and the Bush campaign responding by accusing Kerry of trying to talk down the economy. 

But when it comes to Social Security, both candidates may not be speaking to the problem.

The Washington Post on Greenspan's comments yesterday: "Greenspan's remarks echoed warnings he has given many times before...  Earlier this year, he made a far more forceful statement on Capitol Hill about the need to restrain the growth in Social Security and Medicare spending by reducing benefits for future retirees.  Those remarks prompted a barrage of criticism, in large part because of the sensitivity of the topic in a presidential election year.  Greenspan's comments about the long-term economic peril of the nation's retirement system came on a day when a key short-term economic indicator also took a downturn."

In contrast with Greenspan's comments yesterday, Kerry continues to talk about tweaking it, the AP reports from Kerry's Everett, WA town hall, noting "Kerry doesn't talk much about Social Security on the campaign trail."  Yesterday, he said, "'We've made little fixes, little jots and jags here and there, that have been able to change it,'" and also said that "Social Security has survived 20 years of predictions that its demise is around the corner."

"A number of government studies have come to the conclusion that the baby boom wave will force the government to cut benefits, raise taxes or push back the retirement age to preserve the benefits.  Kerry ruled many of those options out," -- including privatization, raising the retirement age, and cutting benefits.

The Washington Times: "The looming crisis in Social Security and Medicare has received little attention in the presidential race, although the programs will likely present the next president with painful choices.  Neither President Bush nor [Kerry] has offered a detailed prescription for bringing sufficient money into the program.  Mr. Bush favors giving younger workers the option of putting part of their payroll tax into personal retirement accounts, in return for smaller Social Security benefits, or staying with the Social Security system.  Mr. Kerry opposes that plan for partial privatization.  He says the way to strengthen Social Security is to 'grow the economy, create jobs and increase revenues into the program.'"

The California legislature voted yesterday to allow drug importation from Canada, and Schwarzenegger may veto it. – LA Times

More Bush-Cheney v. Kerry-Edwards
The Tacoma News-Tribune previews Kerry's visit there today and expects nearly 20,000 people to show.

MSNBC's Diamond notes Kerry is constantly testing new themes, incorporating new lines into his stump and reacting to events as they unfold around him, as opposed to controlling his political environment.  As a result, Diamond says from the perspective of someone who has heard him speak more than once, it can be confusing to listen to him.  Before his convention, she reminds us, it was "let America be America again."  At the convention it was "help is on the way."  Today it is neither, she says -- those lines/themes have disappeared.  Per his speechwriter, they are just mixing things up and we will hear "help is on the way again," especially at rallies. 

Diamond adds that lines like "fundamental choice" and "the most important election of your lifetime" are lines the candidate used against Dean. 

Bush's request to Congress for $2 billion to help Hurricane Charley victims was the big news out of his Florida trip yesterday, but the Los Angeles Times points out how he tried to "stop erosion in his support among Cuban Americans, denouncing Cuban President Fidel Castro as a tyrant and promising to uphold the economic embargo of the communist island nation...  Bush's visit to Miami, a predominantly Democratic city, broke the campaign's usual practice of visiting Republican regions of electoral battleground states like Florida."

The New York Times looks at Edwards's emerging style as Kerry's sidekick on the campaign trail, which "is not the cutlass of Richard M. Nixon or the stiletto of Bob Dole. Instead, he excels at snatching an opportunity, weaving his own life's history into his speeches and capitalizing on endearing moments."

Making your vote count: Florida
The Washington Post reports in advance of Florida's Tuesday primaries, "hundreds of poll monitors -- a preview of the thousands expected on Nov. 2 -- are being dispatched by voter rights groups to spread out through the state Tuesday to watch for errors and to provide assistance to voters.  Some groups, such as People for the American Way, is preparing teams of lawyers to file on-the-spot legal challenges...  Labor unions are sending squads of lawyers, and the American Civil Liberties Union is handing out 'voter empowerment cards.'"

"So many activist groups have raised concerns that top election officials in the administration of Gov. Jeb Bush (R) have sometimes accused their critics of purposely trying to undermine voter confidence.  The governor's party might be accused of the same.  Earlier this summer, the state Republican Party sent out a flier, featuring a photograph of President Bush, reminding voters that the new electronic voting machines do not have a paper audit trail and urging them to vote as absentees.  The party later apologized."

"A state rule barring the 15 Florida counties with touch-screen voting from conducting manual recounts is at odds with state law, which requires hand recounts in some close elections, a judge ruled Friday.  A coalition including a labor union, government watchdogs and other interest groups sued the state, arguing that the law required provisions for hand recounts in every county, no matter what voting technology was used."  The Los Angeles Times reports, "Administrative Law Judge Susan Kirkland agreed."

The New York Times profiles Theresa LePore -- the head of Palm Beach County's election office, and the designer of the infamous "butterfly ballot" -- noting that she is up for re-election in the Florida primary on Tuesday.  Dean already campaigned with her opponent, and Lieberman campaigns with the guy tomorrow.

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