Tim Russert is NBC News' Washington bureau chief and host of Meet the Press.  Each week he'll offer MSNBC.com's readers his insight and analysis into questions about politics past, present and future.

MSNBC:  Tim, several new polls show President George W. Bush leading his Democratic opponent, Massachusetts Senator John Kerry – some by a good margin.  What’s Mr. Bush doing right and what does Mr. Kerry have to do to catch up?

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Tim Russert:  Well, the president used his entire convention to make this race a referendum on the war on terrorism, post-9/11, and a referendum on his opponent, John Kerry.  What John Kerry has to do is make the presidential race of 2004 a referendum on the economy, a referendum on Iraq and therefore a referendum on George Bush’s first four years.

MSNBC:  Poll numbers fall and rise and there’s certainly time for both camps to adjust their campaigns.  What sort of strategies would you expect to see in the next few weeks?

Russert:  I think we’ve already seen some of it with John Kerry.  He has to focus his message, very, very directly, on the war – link it to the economy – and suggest that only he can make the changes necessary here in the Untied States and around the world, in order to stabilize Iraq, eventually get the troops home and fix the economy.  In order to do that, he’s going to have to give voters details.  Democrats have been asking him to do that for the past six weeks -- lay out a very clear case of why he should be president.  What is your rationale?  Give people a reason to vote for you.  They are very concerned, the Democrats I talk to, that on the “likeability quotient”, President Bush’s personality is, “More likeable” than Senator Kerry.  So he’s going to have to do it on the issues.

MSNBC:  Thursday, Vice President Dick Cheney attempted to clarify a statement he made earlier in the week – a statement, some say, associated an election of John Kerry with a new terror attack on American.

Russert:  The vice president felt obligated Thursday, in Cincinnati, to “clean up” the comments.  What the vice president said was interpreted as saying that if you voted for John Kerry you’re going to make the country less safe and more vulnerable.

Democratic vice presidential candidate John Edwards jumped on the original statement, calling Mr. Cheney’s remarks “un-American.”

In Cincinnati, the vice president said he was not suggesting the election of Kerry would mean a terrorist attack.  That what he meant to say was America was are going to be hit again by a terrorist attack and if Kerry was elected, the Kerry team would respond differently than the Bush administration.  The Bush administration will be on the offensive and treat it as an act of war.  The Kerry administration would treat it more as a law enforcement matter.

The Democrats say “nonsense.”

But, in a campaign, when you say something that vast numbers of people misinterpret, you’ve got to move quickly to clean it up.

It was important that he clarify his comments, because no one wants to suggest that either political party is going to entice or encourage a terrorist attack.  But how an administration would respond is a legitimate debate.

MSNBC:  What do you make of the recent report of documents that seem to validate the claims Mr. Bush didn’t fulfill his obligations in the Air National Guard now that there are serious questions about whether or not the documents are genuine?

Russert:  The questioning now concerns the documents’ type font, which some say was not available at the time the documents would have been written.

It’s just like a politician and the demands the media makes – if a politician makes a mistake, they must step up, admit it, correct it and move on.

It is imperative that a news organization do the same – any news organization:  CBS, NBC, ABC, CNN.  We’ve all been there.

CBS has to check this out quickly and exhaustively.

MSNBC:  It’s been a very busy news week.  What will you be talking about this Sunday on Meet the Press?

Russert:  We’re going to look at the anniversary of September 11th – a painful day for all of us.  But we’re also in the middle of a presidential campaign and an emerging debate about Iraq.  We’ll have Secretary of State Colin Powell, for the Bush administration, and former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, representing John Kerry.  They’ll square off on Iraq, and the war on terror.

We'll also be joined by investigative reporters Sy Hersh of the New Yorker and Bob Woodwad of the Washington Post.

It will be a good, robust discussion – three years after that terrible, terrible tragedy.


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