“First Read”,  a daily memo prepared by NBC News’ political unit, for NBC News, analyzing the morning’s political news, is coming from New York City's Madison Square Garden through the end of the GOP convention. 

Check back here for First Read "Garden Party" updates throughout the day, for insights behind the scenes as well as action from the floor, the delegations and the parties in New York City.  Please let us know what you think. Drop us a note at FirstRead@MSNBC.com.

Wednesday, September 1, 2004 | 8:30 p.m. ET
Garden Party tidbits:

  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

Latino star power
-- Janet Alicea
We've taken our fair share of shots at the lack of stars here at GOP convention. But we've got to admit -- there wasn't a lack of Latino ones last night at the Gran Fiesta Hispana at the Rainbow Room. Carlos Ponce and Rachel Campos (along with hubby Carlos Duffy and baby Lucia) were just some of the big names at last night's event. And Grammy award-winning vocalist La India belted out some of her greatest hits. Don't recognize the names? Not to worry: Hispanic voters certainly do.  "Latinos bring another level to the Party," said Leonard Rodriguez, a Bush campaign adviser and an organizer of the various Latino events -- or fiestas -- here at the convention. We also spotted Bush Twins Jenna and Barbara, straight from their speaking role, at the party. And both quickly retreated to VIP area.

All in the family
-- Kathy Young
Politics is obviously a family affair in the Bush clan. In fact, we caught up with one of George W. Bush's lesser-known relatives  -- cousin Betsy Walker Field, a three-time Delaware delegate -- as she hosted a cruise for her very friendly delegation. Most families usually have big get-togethers around the holidays, but not this First Family. "We tend to get together at weddings, conventions, and inaugurations," she said. Tonight, the family will keep up a tradition that it started at earlier convention days when it has a big dinner for the entire family at a hush-hush location. Field says she never imaged that the cousin she romped around with during summer vacations Kennebunkport would one day become "President" Bush.

Wednesday, September 1, 2004 | 5:50 p.m. ET
Garden Party tidbits:

A little more than your usual bacon and eggs
-- Janet Alicea
At this morning's breakfast for Arizona and Colorado delegates, Rep. John Shadegg, R-Ariz., served up a little more with breakfast than those in attendance might have anticipated. Shadegg called Michael Moore a "crapumentary"-maker, and relayed the conversation he had with USA Today, (which gave Moore his convention credentials), telling folks at the paper that he would no longer purchase it. Shadegg didn't stop with that; he also said Kerry voters were "mentally ill." When we asked a gentleman leaving the breakfast about the speech, he simply explained, "Oh, he just got a little carried away." Reached for comment, a Shadegg spokesman said the congressman was just joking. "It was a joke. It was obviously a joke. And everyone in the room knew it was a joke."

Wednesday, September 1, 2004 | 4:00 p.m. ET
Garden Party tidbits:

The Terminator or Kindergarten Cop?
-- Jason Williams
Arnold Schwarzenegger visited PS 129 in Harlem today. And as we followed him there, we noticed that just minutes before his press briefing, he sat next to startled young boy, who was participating in the after-school program Schwarzenegger was promoting. In fact, this boy was so nervous, he didn't even look at the star -- perhaps afraid Arnold would rip him into shreds, as he's wont to do in his blockbuster movies. Later, Schwarzenegger noticed his shy, pint-sized seatmate, and decided to lighten the mood by tapping the boy on the knee with his huge hand and offering the boy a high-five.

The politics of ketchup
-- Janet Alicea
There's one piece of merchandise that's been a big hit so far at the convention: the "W" brand of ketchup. And it shouldn't be that big of a surprise why. After all, the name Heinz is probably now mud to many diehard GOPers. Since its debut 10 weeks ago, "W" chief operating officer chief Susie Oliver told us, 110,000 bottles of the brand have been sold so far. "It's won pretty much all of the taste tests," Oliver added. "We plan to keep making it as long as people buy it -- hopefully four more years," she said.

Wednesday, September 1, 2004 | 3:30 p.m. ET
Garden Party tidbits:

We swear -- this isn't a profanity
-- Kathy Young
The fashionable FCUK Rock the Vote party yesterday had a handful (literally -- one on hand) of celebrities attending. We spotted Ereka Vetrini from "The Apprentice," who was sporting her black FCUK Vote shirt. Miss USA, 24-year-old Shandi Finnessey, said she was not allowed to wear the shirt, because she didn't want to advertise or endorse any products. So she wore her sparkly sash instead. The hosts -- the husband and wife team of NFL footballer Jason Sehorn and actress Angie Harmon graced the party's red carpet fashionably late. We caught up with Harmon who says she was excited to sponsor the FCUK event, (which stands for French Connection United Kingdom) ... now that she knows what it letters stand for. Earlier, she said she was walking down the red carpet at her first FCUK event, looked at the logo, and whispered to her husband, "Uh should we move to the left a little?"

Apparently, Carrie doesn't speak for Barbara "Ganny" Bush, either
-- Nina Bradley
By now, you've probably heard Jenna Bush tell the world that her grandmother thinks "'Sex in the City' is something married people do, but never talk about." Well, at a party last night for New York Gov. Pataki at Tavern on the Green, we spotted a T-shirt that Grandma Bush might now want to purchase. The shirt reads, "Carrie doesn't speak for me" on the front -- referring to the Carrie Bradshaw character (played by Sarah Jessica Parker) in HBO's "Sex in the City." The back of the T-shirt says, "Neither does Kerry." At the Pataki party, we actually ran into the five GOP women who are behind the Carrie/Kerry shirt, which they created because they are politically active and "needed to do something." The cost of these shirts, just in case Grandma Bush wants to buy one? Thirty bucks.

Blade TV
-- Kathy Young
Former Bush OMB director Mitch Daniels -- aka "The Blade" -- interrupted his gubernatorial campaign in Indiana to attend the GOP convention. While he'll actually miss Bush here in the Big Apple, Daniels says he understands why. "He's busy and I want him to stay busy to win his election," he told us yesterday. "Like me, he only has 63 days [left]." Daniels's busy schedule includes starring in his own reality series, which chronicles his experiences as he travels across Indiana in his little RV named "RV-1."  The show is seen on local television in Indiana, and according to his staff, it has extremely high ratings. Inquiring minds want to know, though: Does he have to kick anyone off the RV if he has a bad day on the trail?

Wednesday, September 1, 2004 | 1:30 p.m. ET
Garden Party tidbits:

Anticipating and Impersonating

-- Jason Williams
At 8:00 p.m. last night, the scene at the California delegate's section on the convention floor was a little like a pre-concert crowd anticipating the arrival of their favorite band: All they could talk about was the governor, their governor, they were waiting to see. While waiting, they found "Terminator"-style sunglasses on their chairs and put them on, in addition to the "I'm with Arnold" T-shirts, which they jumped for when the shirts were thrown into their seating area. "He says what he thinks. He's not the average politician. He says what he wants. That appeals to Californians," said Stephen Puetz, co-chairman of the California College Republicans. (And Schwarzenegger certainly did speak his mind, as we all found out.)

While the delegates were quick to speak in glowing terms about the governor and what he brings to the party, they were also happy to admit one more thing -- when asked. Have you ever done an Arnold Schwarzenegger impersonation? "Of course," said Susan Ritschel, the mayor of San Clemente. "Anyone who says that they've never attempted to imitate Gov.

Schwarzenegger is telling an untruth," said State Sen. Roy Ashburn before breaking into his rendition of the governor's popular pronunciation of "Cal-ee-fornia," which many delegates admitted they like better than the traditional pronunciation.

Most of the delegates admitted to having impersonated the governor at one point or another -- even if they couldn't do it well, said Kevin McCarthy, the Assembly's GOP leader. Among the impersonations done while they waited for the governor to speak Tuesday night were lines like "I'll be back" or "Enough talk." Of all the delegates we spoke with, only Congressman Bill Thomas, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, said he hadn't: "I've never done one -- he's hard to do."

Wednesday, September 1, 2004 | 10:15 a.m. ET
Garden Party tidbits:

Party Wrap
-- Kathy Young
In Boston, the most talked-about party was the Creative Coalition soiree, which featured Ben Affleck, Leonardo DiCaprio, Alyssa Milano, and a performance by the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Like in Boston, the Creative Coalition Party here at the upscale Spirit nightclub was a hot invitation -- but the star wattage wasn't nearly as bright. The performer was Conan O'Brien's second-hand man, Max Weinberg, while the celebs in attendance included Mike Farrell (from "Providence"), George Wendt (Norm of "Cheers"), Christopher Lawford (from "General Hospital"), and shampoo magnate Paul Mitchell (with his beautifully fluffy and shiny hair). Creative Coalition co-president Joe Pantoliano made his way down the red carpet, and also made sure to emphasize that this was a non-partisan event. When asked about what he thought about Arnold Schwarzenegger's speech, he replied, "He's Republican. He's a Republican governor. It's a Republican convention. Makes sense to me." Fortunately, the party was pretty informal: The VIPs didn't hang out in the VIP section, but instead mingled with us regular folks. By far, the highlights of the night were the goody bags we got to take home, which included mints, some candles, and the mother load: Paul Mitchell shampoo and conditioner.

Cigar Smokers of the World, Unite!
-- Sophie Sohn
Who knew the guys at Roll Call, the Economist, and the Weekly Standard were that popular? The line to get into their party at the New York Yacht Club -- co-hosted by the Distilled Spirits Council -- was almost around the block. But once we got inside, the hot ticket was entrance to the fourth-floor VIP cigar lounge. The lounge was so widely discussed (and yet so laxly policed)  that there was a busy black market for VIP pins granting access to it. Being the intrepid reporters we are, it wasn't difficult to find a person to lend us a pin. And perhaps that was due to the fact that the lounge turned out to be somewhat of a letdown: There was a make-shift bar and buffet table with three different types of cigars displayed alongside one wall, but that was pretty much it for décor. The main attraction was the patio, where smokers mingled on a small wood-planked balcony. Unfortunately, we didn't spot any notable VIPs (unless you count the rumor that someone from Tom DeLay's staff was in the cigar lounge!). Apparently, Sen. Majority Leader Frist made an appearance downstairs on the party's main floor -- but we were unable to spot him.

Wednesday, September 1, 2004 | 9:30 a.m. ET
From Elizabeth Wilner, Mark Murray, Huma Zaidi and Flori Engler

First Glance (62 days until Election Day)
Theresa LePore lost yesterday and Mel Martinez won, so he can keep his Thursday speaking slot at the convention.

Outside the state of Florida today, the President does a 3:30 pm rally in Columbus, OH, then heads to his convention.  He arrives at JFK at 7:40 pm and goes to Queens for an 8:00 pm event with firefighters before retiring to the Waldorf to watch the speeches.  (Reports that Bush will watch Cheney's speech with the firefighters would seem to be incorrect based on a comparison of the convention and Bush schedules.)

On tap this evening at MSG: the completion of Bush's re-nomination for president, Lynne Cheney, the Vice President, and keynoter Zell Miller (D).

Kerry hopes to get into the story today with an 11:40 am American Legion speech heavy on criticism of Bush over Bush's recent comments about the war in Iraq and the war in terror.  Per his campaign, he will lay out his strategy for winning the war on terror (though in remarks late last night, he only made his usual comments about more allied support).  But -- Gore flashback! -- buzz about a Kerry staff shake-up (which hasn't happened) is seeping into Kerry's coverage.  And his friend McCain told the presidential press corps last night while traveling with Bush that Kerry has not been clear on Iraq, has had a "very bad August," and has been hurt by the Swift Boaters' ads.

That said, Republicans have their own issues to contend with.  With Cheney in the spotlight, so are same-sex marriage and Illinois GOP Senate candidate Alan Keyes, who in a Monday interview with a satellite station that provides programming for gays called Cheney's gay daughter a "selfish hedonist."  A Bush campaign spokesperson calls Keyes's remark "inappropriate."

On a more positive note for the GOP, we provide this flashback: In 1992, a President Bush who was criticized for being out of touch, unconcerned with the poor, and a divider (not a uniter), sought a second term.  At the Democratic convention that year, the keynoter blasted that Bush: "For 12 dark years the Republicans have dealt in cynicism and skepticism.  They've mastered the art of division and diversion, and they have robbed us of our hope."

Today, another Bush who is criticized by Democrats for being out of touch, unconcerned with the poor, and a divider (not a uniter) is seeking a second term.  And the Democratic keynoter from 1992 fills the same role -- in support of Bush. 

As we suggested yesterday, Zell Miller's criticisms of his party are viewed as old and tired in media and political circles after Miller spent the past year appearing on public affairs shows and writing op-eds lambasting the Democratic Establishment.  Thus his selection as the keynoter may strike the political press corps as a fundamentally negative choice by Republicans looking to put a stick in Kerry's eye. 

But most voters don't know Miller, giving him an opening to give as powerful a speech to this audience as he gave in 1992, provided his remarks are positive as opposed to the usual trashing of Democrats.  A negative speech would contrast starkly with Boston keynoter Barack Obama's, but as we said yesterday, we suspect the savvy GOP convention planners have thought of that.

Looking back at Miller's keynote address from the 1992 Democratic convention, it seems that some of Miller's criticisms of 41 could apply to 43:

"I made it because Lyndon Johnson showed America that people who were born poor didn't have to die poor."
The Census Bureau reported last week that the US poverty rate in 2003 rose for the third straight year, to 12.5%.

"Americans cannot understand why the rich can buy the best health care in the world, but all the rest of us get is rising costs and cuts in coverage, or no health insurance at all."

The Census Bureau also reported last week that 1.4 million Americans lost their health insurance in 2003.

"Americans have seen plants closed down, jobs shipped overseas and our hopes fade away as our economic position collapses right before our very eyes."

During Bush's first term, a net of one million jobs have been lost.

Amidst the heavy focus on the war and the broad-brush touting of the GOP as the party of opportunity, Republicans squeeze in some attention to the economy with a 10:00 am presser at MSG featuring Don Evans, Pataki and other GOP governors, and convention CEO Bill Harris.  The group will "discuss the president's stewardship of the economy."  (This takes the place of the usual convention briefing.)

Democrats in New York use their daily 10:00 am presser to hit Bush on his claims of providing opportunity; the presser includes McAuliffe, Vilsack and Spitzer.  And they roll out a new TV ad going up in some battleground states this weekend.

Lastly, in a rare breach of Bush White House loyalty, one White House correspondent reports that one White House staffer watching the Bush twins' remarks last night said, "This is just bizarre," and another said, "This is kinda stupid."

National/Homeland Security
The Wall Street Journal says the severe sniping that has overtaken the post-September 11 unity "has deeper roots, echoing longstanding and fundamental partisan divides in three areas: military action, civil liberties and government spending.  Sept. 11 temporarily papered over those differences, creating unity across the spectrum.  Both parties found common ground on all three fronts, going to war in Afghanistan, passing the USA Patriot Act and expanding homeland security.  But once the immediate threat receded, the fundamental philosophical disagreements re-emerged."

Frank Newport of Gallup writes that "Arnold Schwarzenegger's assertion in his speech at the GOP convention on Tuesday night that 'The president did not go into Iraq because the polls told him it was popular.  As a matter of fact, the polls said just the opposite' is incorrect.  A majority of Americans did support the idea of the invasion of Iraq before George W. Bush made the decision to commence military action in March 2003," per Gallup data. 

Bush and his campaign spent another day dialing back the President's comments to Matt Lauer that the war on terror can't be won.  Bush himself emphasized in his American Legion speech that the war can be won, and told Rush Limbaugh, "I should have made my point more clear about what I meant...  What I meant was that this is not a conventional war."  He said he "probably needed to be a little more articulate."  And White House spokesperson Dan Bartlett told NBC as much yesterday.

USA Today: "Vice President Cheney offered damage control as well, telling Sean Hannity's radio audience, the war on terror is 'going to be the kind of thing that requires constant, continual effort by the United States for a significant period of time.  But the president certainly never intended to convey the notion that we can't win.  We clearly can, and we will.'"

"Indicating how seriously they take the ramifications of Bush's 'Today' show statement, the Bush administration dispatched surrogates to tamp down the controversy in television interviews yesterday.  White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card said that a war on terror will not feature surrenders and treaties, and Laura Bush made similar comments in a round of interviews broadcast in advance of her convention speech last night," reports the Boston Globe

The Kerry campaign argues that Bush's comment undermines the Bush re-election strategy as well as a big theme of Bush's convention.  Too late to make it into most of the morning coverage, Kerry said last night at a late rally in Nashville, "You heard last night...  They are talking about is the war on terror which the President yesterday said he doesn't think we can win...  We can, we must and we will win the war on terror.  The way to win the war on terror is to fight a smarter war on terror... by having a president that brings other nations to our side... to share the burden, share the costs..."

Newly added Kerry spokesperson Joe Lockhart says that in addition to critiquing Bush's recent comments on the war in Iraq and the war against terror, Kerry in his American Legion speech today will talk about the kind of America members of the military will return to after serving, and will reiterate the ideas he set forth in his VFW speech about improving veterans' benefits and health care.  Per MSNBC's Becky Diamond, Lockhart said he does not expect Kerry to address the Swift Boaters' attacks in his speech, but that there are some who believe "the idea that military service can be degraded... a serious presidential candidate... will focus on the issues...not try to smear...his (Kerry's) records..."

The Kerry buzz
The AP reports, "Anxiously watching President Bush's convention, Democratic leaders are urging John Kerry to step up his attack on the Republican incumbent before eroding approval ratings become a serious political problem.  The candidate and his beleaguered staff are being flooded with advice, much of it contradictory.  Some party officials want Kerry to criticize the president for sitting out the Vietnam War in the Texas Air National Guard.  Others say that would draw unwanted attention to accusations about Kerry's combat experience."

"In the broad scheme of things, the GOP advances may be nothing more than a political adjustment - a nudge of the pendulum, rather than a big swing.  But for some Democrats, the president's momentum came as a shock, in part because Kerry's team had bragged openly that Boston had set the stage for victory."

The Wall Street Journal's Hunt says a big shake-up is possible: "The Kerry campaign, like most, ultimately reflects the candidate.  The cautious indecisiveness and occasional vacillations have become Kerry trademarks.  Leading Democrats describe a command structure often frozen -- or at least tempered -- by too many chefs, a too-heavy reliance on polls or focus groups and an aversion to risks.  As a result, the message often is muddled and the reaction to hard-hitting attacks from Republicans often is slow and unconvincing.  This has been most pronounced on national security."

McCain gave an interview to the presidential press pool while traveling with Bush last night.  On Bush: "He's got some momentum.  I don't know how much but every poll now that used to have him 3 or 4 points down has now got him 3 or 4 points up.  They're still margin of error but they're up...  I think clearly that Kerry's had a very bad August.  I think everybody knows that.  There's no doubt the swift boat things have had an effect."  Asked if those ads were dying out, McCain said: "I hope so but I just saw today that there's a new round of ads.  I just wish we worried about the war in Iraq than one that was over 30 years ago."

McCain also said, "'Kerry has not been very definitive on a number of issues, particularly Iraq, and I think that may have had some effect.  The president's strength, obviously, is that he's straight forward.  You see what you get from the president of the United States and I think people are appreciating that."  And he repeated that Kerry's anti-war protesting is fair game. 

(On the Kerry campaign plane last night, spokesperson Joe Lockhart, in criticizing the negativity of the GOP convention, took care to point out that McCain was "an oasis" away from it, MSNBC's Becky Diamond reports.)

Cheney
In advance of his speech tonight, USA Today weighs the pluses and minuses of Cheney on the ticket and notes, "The Bush campaign offered to send Cheney to a particular battleground state three times during the general election.  According to a Republican official involved in the exchange..., operatives in the state responded by asking that they send Cheney just once.  In his stead, they asked for campaigners with stronger appeal to voters in the middle: Laura Bush," Giuliani or McCain.  On the flip side, "He is both more powerful and less ambitious than any vice president in modern times.  They say that gives him the credentials to speak with authority when, say, he rips Kerry for using the word 'sensitive' in discussing the war against terrorism."

The Los Angeles Times calls Cheney "a vice president like no other:".

Cheney practiced his convention speech in a hotel room at the St. Regis yesterday, MSNBC's Priya David reports.  He used a TelePrompter and put the finishing touches on the remarks.  Lynne Cheney was there, along with members of his staff, including Mary Matalin and Scooter Libby.  His speechwriter John McConnell wrote a substantial portion of the speech, with both Cheneys contributing heavily, according to a campaign spokesperson. 

David reports that Cheney's speech has three main points: the American dream, a crossroads in history, and differences between Bush and Kerry.  On the first point, Cheney will talk about America as a country of great opportunity where anything is possible.  He'll talk about the opportunities he's known in his life; David says we may hear about the various manual labor jobs he held when he was young, which he often speaks about on the trail.  He'll also speak about the importance of a "strong public school system," a "vibrant economy," and a "health care system that puts patients first," according to campaign spokesperson Anne Womack.  On the second point, David reports that Cheney will frame this as an historical crossroads, very similar to the time after World War II when the country faced the Cold War.  And third, Cheney will launch some direct attacks against Kerry.  

Asked about Cheney's recent acknowledgement that their daughter is gay, Lynne Cheney on TODAY told Matt Lauer that her husband "was asked a public policy question" and that he answered it in the same very frank way he always does.

The Chicago Tribune reports Keyes's Monday comments on Mary Cheney in full.

In running through some US Senate races with the presidential press corps last night, McCain said, "'I think it's clear we lose Illinois.'  Informed that Alan Keyes had called Mary Cheney a 'selfish hedonist,' McCain said, 'I don't think that's appropriate, but it's not the first inappropriate remark Mr. Keyes has made."

Compassion and conservatism
The Washington Post's analysis: "When President Bush described himself as a 'compassionate conservative' in his first run for the White House, his political objective was to put an appealing face on a Republican Party whose image had suffered from the hard-edged conservatism of its rambunctious congressional wing...  On Tuesday night... Bush's advisers had another goal in mind: to put a more human face on a wartime president portrayed by opponents, including challenger John F. Kerry, as stubborn, reckless and insensitive."

"That shift speaks volumes about what has happened to Bush during his first four years in office, as both he and his presidency have been redefined by two wars, a sluggish economy, and economic and domestic policies that have left many Americans wondering whether he is the man he claimed to be when elected in 2000."

African-Americans, immigrants, swing voters -- all blocs to whom various speakers last night were hoping to appeal, says the Washington Times.

USA Today rounds up all the "compassionate conservative" rhetoric and elements, but also notes what went missing: "Many of the key planks of the convention's toughly conservative platform went unmentioned Tuesday."

The New York Times: "If Monday was a tribute to Mr. Bush's battle against terrorism, the second day of the convention focused more on the domestic issues Mr. Bush campaigned on in 2000...  But the night was not without some more passionate - and confrontational - words.  Several speakers defended Mr. Bush's decision to place limits on federal stem-cell research as a sign of the party's stance regarding human life.  Senator Elizabeth Dole of North Carolina... offered a blunt defense of the party's stance against same-sex marriage, abortion and secularism."

USA Today on Schwarzenegger: "Schwarzenegger's unbridled patriotism, muscular optimism, and pointed zingers against Democrats (even though some of them are his in-laws) made the movie-star-turned-politician the hit of the... second evening session...  The speech put a spotlight on an iconoclastic Republican who supports abortion rights and gay marriage and has admitted 'behaving badly' around women in the past. That makes him controversial with some conservatives.  But convention organizers saw Schwarzenegger's appearance as a way to harness the box-office appeal of a former Hollywood superstar... on behalf of the president."

The Wall Street Journal: "Were Mr. Schwarzenegger not a global celebrity, his booking during prime television time might have been highly unusual, since he is governor of a state that is considered certain to wind up in... Kerry's column.  Neither presidential candidate has even visited his state much, except to raise money."

Walter Shapiro opted to watch the convention from Ohio to see what actual viewers think.  "Judging from my breakfast conversations at Paul's restaurant, just over the Columbus city line in the middle-income community of Whitehall, the convention was mostly stoking the passions of stalwart Republicans."

Social conservatives say they "have not only been kept from the spotlight of prime-time speaking spots, but have been offered few official outlets at all.  The lineup of meetings where delegates spend the day before the nightly rallies have offered scant forum to those who want to discuss faith and politics," reports the Boston Globe.   "Prime-time speeches have been carefully scrubbed to present pluralistic and inclusive messages when they mention matters of faith."

Maybe the Globe isn't going to the same meetings that Washington Times is attending: "Religious ideas and figures are seldom on display during the prime-time moments of the Republican convention, but faith talk is abundant all over Manhattan," says the Times. "This morning, former Rep. J.C. Watts of Oklahoma will hold a prayer breakfast for 700 people at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center with White House Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr. as the speaker.  Tomorrow morning, the RNC is staging a 'Catholic outreach event' at the Westin Times Square featuring party Chairman Ed Gillespie and columnist Peggy Noonan.  And religion did surface pointedly during the convention last night with Sen. Elizabeth Dole's citation of Jesus in her defense of freedom of religion."

MSNBC's Tom Llamas reports that Edwards yesterday turned Rudy Giuliani's joke about "two Americas" into a riff on how "Republicans can make fun of the 'two Americas' he talks about but people in West Virginia are actually living it."  Edwards also took a shot at Republicans for going negative while promoting a compassionate message: "You watch what's happening in New York at the Republican convention.  First of all negative attacks last night, on top of that we now understand for the next few days they are going to be talking about compassion."

More Bush-Cheney v. Kerry-Edwards
The Washington Times reports there's no vetting of speeches in New York to remove potential attacks on the opponent the way there was in Boston: "The word to Republican speakers at the national convention is that bashing.. Kerry is fine...  Spokesmen for several members of Congress who have given speeches or made remarks at the Republican National Convention this week said they only were given direction on the length of the speeches."

MSNBC's Becky Diamond notes Kerry's arrival in Nashville last night marked his first visit to Tennessee in the general election.  The campaign also announced yesterday that they'll spend $45 million on TV ads during the fall campaign.

The Wilkes-Barre Citizens Voice on Edwards today: "Edwards will try... to focus on what the Democratic campaign views as the Bush administration's inattention to the plight of laid-off workers of Techneglas Inc., the Jenkins Township television tube-manufacturing plant that closed a month ago."

Florida primaries
"Polls opened on time, lines were short and voters lodged few complaints as South Florida's voting machinery -- the pariah of the 2000 presidential election and the subject of intense criticism and scrutiny in recent months -- faced its final test Tuesday before the big day in November," reports the Miami Herald.  "But observers and officials alike agree that Tuesday's apparent success does not automatically translate to success on Nov. 2, when the turnout and the stakes will be vastly higher."

Theresa LePore lost her job as elections supervisor for Palm Beach County. – Miami Herald

And Betty Castor (D) and Mel Martinez (R) now face off in one of the nation's most competitive Senate races -- a race that could impact both control of the Senate and even control of the White House.  The South Florida Sun-Sentinel: "Castor has focused her campaign on issues -- such as health care, education, high wage jobs and national security -- that appeal to Floridians across the political spectrum...  What she will have to do, Castor aides acknowledge, is boost her name identification among voters in South Florida, where at least a fifth of the general election vote resides."

"The Republican nominee doesn't go into the general election on sure footing, either.  The GOP front-runners were forced by their crowded primary to reach out to their party's most conservative voters, and Martinez now has to take quick action to make an appeal to independents and moderates who typically decide Florida's statewide races."

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