October 6, 2004 | 3:06 p.m. ET

Cheney's whopper (Joe Trippi)

My quick take on last night’s debate in Cleveland was that John Edwards won the Q&A portion of the debate on points, and that Dick Cheney won the closing argument on points. All well and good, a push of sorts.    

But is anyone going to say what really happened — and do it without giggling?

Dick Cheney was on a mission to pull the wool over voters’ eyes. Edwards “has got his facts wrong,” he claimed. “I have not suggested there‘s a connection between Iraq and 9/11.”

HELLO?

Everyone reporting on this race knew that Dick Cheney had just told a whopper . But nearly no one called him on it. Chris Mathews did not let it pass — he would not let Ben Ginsberg off the hook late last night on the Cheney whopper. But most others that brought it up on the air or in print did so with a chuckle and a “pols will be pols” attitude condoning the vice president’s incredible ability to say just about anything with a straight face.

The debate started last night with John Edwards charging that the Bush/Cheney administration had failed to tell the American people the truth. Dick Cheney last night proved John Edwards case for him, with distortions, half-truths, and finally with a bold-faced lie.

That should be the coverage. It was obvious who was playing fast and loose with the truth and it was Dick Cheney.

I call em like I see' em — I hate more than anything politics as usual and last night it was the Vice President of the United States somehow winning a debate according to a lot of the experts, experts who gave him a pass on a lie. I guess I have to go to some special “fair and balanced” school to watch John Edwards say repeatedly that Dick Cheney isn’t leveling with the American people, then watch as Dick Cheney tells a whopper of a lie on national television, and still call the debate a push or give it on points to the guy that told the best whopper and got away with it.

On points, it’s a push for Cheney, I would say.

And of course when it came to the truth, well… let’s just say that Cheney is in a league of his own.

Write me at JTrippi@MSNBC.com

October 6, 2004 | 9:44 a.m. ET

Morning after at the scorer's table (Keith Olbermann)

A major truth foul has been declared against Vice President Dick Cheney, and his narrow victory over John Edwards in last night's Light Heavyweight Debate has been overturned by the Boxing Commission scoring the bout (me).

While rounds were scored even and Edwards was ahead on points at its conclusion, Cheney had been awarded the contest on the intangibles and the overall impact— largely because of a memorable phrase that underpinned his left-right combination that nailed Edwards in the solar plexus of his inexperience and the breadbasket of his alleged prioritizing of electioneering instead of Senatorial work: "In my capacity as vice president, I am the president of Senate, the presiding officer. I'm up in the Senate most Tuesdays when they're in session. The first time I ever met you was when you walked on the stage tonight."       

But Cheney and Edwards have met at least twice, once inside the Senate. Who did the Vice President know, and when did he know him?Within an hour of the last of the 21 rounds, a "freeze frame" from a C-SPAN telecast of Senator Edwards and Vice President Cheney at a 2001 Prayer Breakfast was being circulated around the internet.       

And by morning, the Kerry-Edwards campaign had produced irrefutable evidence that when Elizabeth Dole was sworn in by Senate President Cheney as the junior senator from North Carolina just last year, it was Senator Edwards who (with her husband) escorted her to Mr. Cheney. Senator Dole was sworn in using Mrs. Edwards' bible.       

The only way Cheney could have avoided meeting Edwards was if he'd had an attack of tunnel vision, or cauliflower ear.      

"The first time I ever met you" was the cornerstone of post-fight analysis and Cheney's goal of making viewers dismiss Edwards. It's now been turned around on the vice president and accompanying spin doctors. The prospect of this outcome was forecast in last night's original scoring of this bout. This reporter expects a day of heavy piling on by Democratic spinners, with great success.      

The Boxing Commission (me) thus penalizes Fighter Cheney 10 points for untruthfulness, 10 points for forgetting his acquaintances, 2 points for snideness, and 2 points for hitting himself with his own jab. Republican spin doctors are penalized 10 points each for premature jocularity. This fight is awarded to Fighter Edwards on points.    

The Boxing Commission will reconvene here Friday night for Bush-Kerry II, the Kablooey in St. Louie.

E-mail Keith at KOlbermann@MSNBC.com

October 6, 2004 | 12:45 a.m. ET

Who won the debate? (Chris Matthews)

If you want to get into this debate, you can vote online at Hardball.MSNBC.com. It's kind of a whimsical kind of a survey— this isn't worthy of the science that we should be applying to it.  It is just to see how everybody responds to this, and then certainly how the parties have been able to mobilize their vote online for the presidential debate.  That is going to show, too, because it worked last week.

We had hundreds of people, hundreds of thousands of people last time (about 2.4 million) who voted online, 61 percent for Kerry, 39 percent for Bush.  By the way, that's not far off from the scientific results of the polls last week. 

Keep in mind that our technology prevents more than one vote from each computer. 

Here were the initial/instant reactions from the 'Hardball' panel on the VP debate.

Missed part of the debate? Read the transcript.

October 5, 2004 | 11:02 p.m. ET

Click here to read the chronological format to Keith's live blogging .

Conclusion (Keith Olbermann)

Intangibles: Cheney scored “photograph shots” with repeated reference to Edwards’ absences for key Senate votes, and the “money shot” by noting that as President of the Senate he had never previously met Senator John Edwards. But that fact is eminently spinnable, and if Democrats can prove they did meet, or that Edwards was physically in the Senate the last four years as often as Cheney, prime memory of the bout could be turned into Republican disaster.Major feel-good moment for Cheney in Round Thirteen when he pleasantly responded to Edwards’ comments about Cheney’s daughters and yielded rest of his response time to the moderator.

Cheney didn’t lose temper, but did leave questions open about why he mentioned terror or terrorists 23 times, and George Bush only a couple of times. Edwards said “Halliburton” six times but only scored with quotable line about Halliburton doing business with “sworn enemies of the United States.”

Overall impact of bout: a marginal victory, on rounds and intangibles, for Vice President Cheney, with window open on possible past Cheney-Edwards meeting.

Total Rounds: Cheney 8, Edwards 8, Drawn 5.

Total Net Points: Edwards 22.5, Cheney 11.

E-mail Keith at KOlbermann@MSNBC.com

October 5, 2004 | 10:51 p.m. ET

More round-by-round coverage (Keith Olbermann)

Round seventeen: Edwards receives on his low governmental experience, what makes him worthy of being one heartbeat away. Edwards acknowledges his own resume, trots out “a long resume does not mean good judgment.” Minus one point to Edwards. Edwards bloodied, struggles. Cheney seems playful. “Want me to discuss his qualifications?” One point to Cheney. Cheney talks about Wyoming’s electoral votes. Minus one point to Cheney, except in Cheyenne. Cites own experience: “It’s worked.” Says he has no further political aspirations. One point to Cheney. Edwards rebuts with praise of Kerry. Good speech but doesn’t talk about himself. Minus one point to Edwards for ducking. Cheney comes back to praise President. Also beyond the issue. Minus one point to Cheney.
Round - Cheney, 0 to -2.

Round eighteen: Cheney receives, asked to explain why he’s different than John Edwards without mentioning Bush or Kerry. Great question. Compares his story to Edwards’ history. Minus one point to Cheney. Muffling his microphone again. Minus one technical point to Cheney. Mentions his service “except when we’ve lost elections.” Oops. Minus one point to Cheney. Swings back to terrorism and 9/11 and lands glancing blows. Edwards stings in rebuttal, “We were attacked, but we weren’t attacked by Saddam Hussein.” One point to Edwards. Edwards uses Kerry’s name. Minus one technical point to Edwards. Does it again referring to debate. Minus one technical point to Edwards. Point lost, Edwards backs away from Cheney towards a unified terrorist watch list.
Round - Draw, -2 to -2.

Round nineteen: Edwards receives on flip-flopping question, citing both candidates. Edwards scores self-deprecatingly: “I can use his name now?” One point to Edwards. Back to Iraq and Paul Bremer’s comments. Punches with Bush-Cheney flip-flops on Commission, Homeland Security, Budget Surplus, Support for Troops and reduction in combat pay, Health Care (“they’ve done something, they’ve done it worse”), underfunding of No Child Left Behind. Edwards connecting repeatedly. Three points to Edwards, his finest moment. Cheney responds tepidly on Kerry’s record in Iraq. “I can think of a lot of words to describe it, but consistent isn’t one of them.” Ducks out of Bremer remarks by talking about Generals’ wishes. Edwards with a blow to Cheney’s head, “Yeah, but they didn’t fund No Left Child Behind.” Brings up dropouts in Cleveland. One point to Edwards. Cheney off the ropes with vague stats, hits Patriot Act. Ifill confuses Edwards on thirty-second reply. Minus point to Ifill.
Round - Edwards, 5-0.

Round twenty: Cheney receives on bridging the divide between Democrats and Republicans. Cheney says it’s a disappointment. Invokes opposition to Patriot Act by “other side,” but big punch doesn’t hit. Minus one point to Cheney. Invokes harsh administration critic Jack Murtha as an old friend. Minus one point to Cheney. Keeps muffling his microphone. Not much missed. Invokes Zell Miller as a bi-partisan example. Minus one point to Cheney. Edwards asks “have you ever seen America more divided?” says it was a direct result of Bush-Cheney policy. One point to Edwards. He veers back to health care, off topic. Minus one point to Edwards. The debate is running long - when does “After Hours” begin? Who’s looking out for “After Hours”? Cheney, tired, again says “it’s hard to know where to start.” Minus one point to Cheney.  Notes Kerry and Edwards votes against prescription drug benefits. One point to Cheney. Edwards responds strongly, “they had a choice” - says Bush made wrong choices. One point to Edwards.
Round - Edwards, 1 to -3.

Round twenty-one: Closing statements. Edwards paints picture of a beautiful childhood of watching his father learn math from television. Where the hell is this going? Ref and Cheney cautious, confused. Edwards confuses with “bright light of America is flickering.” The tv light? Minus one point to Edwards. Edwards rallies with picture of an empty seat at the table with a loved one serving in Iraq. One point to Edwards. Cheney stumbles about access to medical care. With no rebuttal, trots out “special responsibility” on voters to choose carefully on November 2nd. One point to Cheney. Cheney again uses “terror” or “terrorists” four times, 23 for entire debate.
Round - Cheney, 1-0.

October 5, 2004 | 10:26 p.m. ET

More round-by-round coverage (Keith Olbermann)

Round eleven: Edwards receives on Kerry economic plan for no tax refunds for 200K earners. Says he and Kerry have a “moral” responsibility not to leave trillions of debts. One point to Edwards. Edwards says he and Kerry can’t eliminate defecit in one term. Cheney responds with stutter, “Gwennnuh,” bobs and weaves with Kerry’s votes and philosophy. Somebody coughs. There is a crowd! Cheney leaves himself open in the head with references to “7 out of 10 jobs will be created by small businesses.” But he rebounds quoting Edwards criticizing Kerry’s plan. Point to Cheney. Edwards rebuts in same form: Kerry’s pro-economic votes and philosophy. Cheney concludes with more taxes, notes Senators’ absence at votes. Point to Cheney.
Round — Cheney, 2-1.

Round twelve: Cheney receives on same-sex opposition compared to his family experience. Cheney disagrees personally with Bush. Point to Cheney for candor. Edwards dekes back to tax policy, confusing scorers. Minus one technical point to Edwards. Edwards steers back to question. Says Cheney’s support of daughter is a wonderful thing. Point to Cheney.
Round - Cheney, 2 to -1.

Round thirteen: Edwards on Massachusetts support for same-sex, are he and Kerry “trying to have it both ways?” Edwards surprised Gwen Ifill has punched him. Minus one point to Edwards. Thank goodness I’m writing this, I’d have fallen asleep by now. Rebounds with poignant description of death of gay spouses, brands amendment “unnecessary.” No state has ever had to recognize another state’s marriage. Says it’s political, intended to divide. Point to Edwards. Cheney cordial about daughter. Simple and effective. Point to Cheney.
Round —Cheney, 1-0.

Round fourteen: Cheney receives. Trial lawyers - is Cheney saying Edwards is part of the problem? Nice banter with Ifill. Warm laughter. Point to Cheney. Cheney brings up OB-GYN’s. Oh no! Not another “practice their love”? Cheney doesn’t slip on wet spot left by Bush faux pas. Doesn’t attack lawyers, defends doctors. Point to Cheney. Edwards twists trial experience as defense of kids versus corporations. Says he too thinks there are too many trials. Point to Edwards. Explains “three strikes and you’re out” rule for lawyers who file frivolous cases. Point to Edwards. Edwards brings up past case about little girl paralyzed by chronically damaged pool covers.
Round - Draw, 2-2.

Round fifteen: Edwards receives: does he feel personally attacked by Bush-Kerry criticism of lawyers? In clinch, takes doctors’ side in issue. Swings back with statistic that Bush-Kerry plans refer to one half of one percent of all health care costs. One half point to Edwards. Cheney lost with response about Minnesota Aircraft Piston plant. Minus one point to Cheney. Blames medicare growth on a bill Kerry voted. Point to Cheney. Hits hard with Edwards’ own private corporation to avoid taxes. Point to Cheney. Edwards punches Cheney, saying he paid his taxes, Halliburton didn’t. Cheney rebuttal with drug discount card for seniors - most of the audience. Point to Cheney.
Round — Cheney, 2 to ½.

Round sixteen: Cheney receives about AIDS affecting women in America. Cheney flinches, talks globally, cites $15B for international aid. Minus one point to Cheney. Says he had not heard numbers about African-American women. Startling admission. Minus one point to Cheney. Cheney wounded badly. Edwards misses easy opening on Cheney’s unfamiliarity, goes back to Africa. Minus one point to Edwards. Opens up towards Sudan, says “here, we need to do much more.” Broadens out ineffectively to American health care coverage. Subject completely avoided. Minus one point to Edwards.
Round — Draw, -2 to -2.

Email Keith: KOlbermann@MSNBC.com

October 5, 2004 | 9:58 p.m. ET

More round-by-round coverage (Keith Olbermann)

Round seven: Edwards receives - Ifill makes a mistake (minus one point to Ifill) on how Kerry Administration would handle Iraq. Edwards runs through disparity between Bush claims and what Americans see. Turns “Shock and Awe” around on Cheney. A flurry! Turns around “everything 9/11” on Cheney. Turns around 9/11 Commission on Cheney. Cheney battered and in the corner. Two points to Edwards. Cheney’s lips tight and he skips away from the ropes with the history of Al-Zarqawi. Turns out of clinch to hit Edwards: it’s Zarqawi you see on television executing Americans. Two points to Cheney.
Round —Draw, 2-2.

Round eight: Cheney receives: should we lift sanctions against Iran. Cheney gets breathing room. Edwards shown crossing out items on notes. Minus one point to Edwards. Cheney leans forward. Scratches own microphone against collar of jacket. Minus one technical point to Cheney. Edwards scores with Al-Qaeda presence in 60 countries, not just Iraq. Blames Bush-Cheney “watch” for deterioration in Iran. Mentions Halliburton four times. Analogizes to Ken Lay. Point to Edwards. Cheney slips! Asks for more than thirty seconds to respond, smiles, Ifill denies. Minus one technical point to Cheney as crowd laughs. Edwards rebuttal: Cheney’s company does business with “sworn enemies” of U.S. Plus one point to Edwards.
Round —Edwards, 1 to -2.

Round nine: Edwards receives: how would Kerry-Edwards respond to Middle East peacemaking. Tells a personal story about visit to Israel. Minus one point for diminishing scope of conflict. Edwards strays into Saudis and Iran, somewhat off point. Cheney brings up Halliburton himself. Minus one point Cheney. Cheney head-butts Edwards with Senate attendance record: “the first time I met you was when you stepped on this stage.” Two points to Cheney. Cheney says “interlocutor.” Minus one point to Cheney. Edwards pounces on records on Cheney’s record in House, dragging in Martin Luther King Day, Release of Nelson Mandela. One point to Edwards. Cheney responds blankly with “the record speaks for itself.”
Round — Edwards, 1-0.

Round ten: Cheney receives on economics. Questions Ifill’s judgment. Minus one technical point to Cheney. Cheney tries to avoid economics by going into education. Cheney leaves himself open with “No Child Left Behind.” Will Edwards hit the unfunded mandate opening? Edwards scores by pointing out Cheney avoided education. One point to Edwards. But he skips unfunded mandate. Minus one point to Edwards. Edwards warming up for bolo punch on “Two Americas” - but swings wildly on outsourcing jobs. Cheney hits strongly with positive economic statistics. Point to Cheney. Accuses Edwards of using old data. Edwards still has “Two Americas” opportunity, but swings wildly again. Minus one point to Edwards.
Round — Cheney, 0 to -1.

October 5, 2004 | 9:40 p.m. ET

Round-by-round coverage (Keith Olbermann)

Pre-fight notes: What is it with these notes? Perhaps Cheney is writing “stare daggers at him.”


Round one: Cheney receives about the Paul Bremer and Donald Rumsfeld comments. Cheney deflects by saying thank you. Unexpected. Cheney dodges, mentions 9/11, starts to tell the entire history of terror, uses “terror” or “terrorists” eight times. Uses “Nexus” - minus one point. Edwards cordially punches Cheney right in the Baghdad, “you are not being straight with the American people.” One point to Edwards. But he repeats Kerry’s “more in August than July, more in July than June” — minus one point. Cheney opts for thirty seconds but seems too technical. Edwards scores by quoting 9/11 Commission and Colin Powell that there’s no connection between Iraq and 9/11 without giving Cheney a chance to reply. Plus one point.
Round to Edwards, 1-0.

Round two: Edwards receives about whether or not a Kerry-Edwards administration would’ve meant Saddam Hussein was still in progress. Again parrots Kerry about Bin Laden in Tora Bora. Minus one point. Starts to confuse Osama and Saddam. Minus one point. Cheney denies he’s suggested a connection between Iraq and 9/11, which is news if you’ve been living on this planet. Minus one point. Cheney twists back to Kerry’s “Global Test” quote. One point to Cheney.
Round to Cheney, 0-1.

Round three: Cheney receives about pursuit of Bin Laden. He and Edwards still seem nervous. Maybe it’s Gwen Ifill. Cheney hits Edwards for his early criticism of Afghanistan war, which Edwards praised in previous answer. One point to Cheney. Cheney gives a tourism pitch for Afghanistan. Edwards responds with a striking blow, “Somebody got it wrong, but not John Kerry and John Edwards.” Point to Edwards. Edwards rebuts Cheney zinger on “Global Test” and uses the term “pretend” to describe what President and VP do. Edwards brings up drug production in Afghanistan. Point to Edwards. Cheney’s rebuttal drags El Salvador into it, possibly the first mention of the country since Ronald Reagan’s second term. Edwards sees the El Salvador and raises him one Iran and one North Korea. Point to Edwards.
Round to Edwards, 3-1.

Round four: Edwards receives: what’s a “Global Test” if not a “Global Veto”?
Edwards’ court-room skills finally appears, harkening to old American values. Nice cadence to “it’s critical to be credible.” Point to Edwards. Compares Gulf War costs to Iraq War costs and rebuts veto. Cheney response is slow. But he zings Edwards with “you probably weren’t there to vote” for the Iraqi budgets. One point to Cheney. Cheney brings up “Wrong War, Wrong Time, Wrong Place.” Point to Cheney. Hammers home political element to Kerry. Edwards rebuts with “distortion,” scores with “the American people don’t need to be told what they saw Thursday night.” Point to Edwards. Cheney responds by repeating “30-year record” statement.
Round — draw, 2-2.

Round five: Cheney receives about his “hit again” remark. Claims he’s not challenging Kerry’s patriotism. Cites the applause he got for his acceptance speech at RNC. Minus one point to Cheney for ego. Answer on Kerry and Edwards’ voting record on body-armor etc., invokes Howard Dean. One point to Cheney. But Cheney leaves the stomach and ribs open for strong Edwards left-right. Edwards hits with “a long resume does not indicate” good judgment. Edwards now hits the stomach saying the programs Kerry voted against were the ones Cheney as Secretary of Defense suggested. Two points to Edwards. Invokes Halliburton. Cheney rebuttal is clichéd, “I think the record speaks for itself” but rebounds with “when the polls are bad.” Point to Cheney.
Round — Edwards, 2-1.

Round six: Edwards receives on naievete of international coalition for Iraq. Edwards dances with Bush’s record, but introduces an unheard-of thing: a new idea, training Iraqis outside of Iraq. Point to Edwards. Good joke line: “you need more than 35 people to hold elections in Cleveland,” nevermind Iraq. Point to Edwards. Turns around body-armor on Bush. Point to Edwards. Cheney in clinch, “It’s hard to know where to begin.” Repeats Kerry’s comments “demeaning” Prime Minister Allawi. “Not the way to win friends and allies.” Edwards rejoinds with statistics, hammers home “90 percent” of costs. Point to Edwards. Cheney gets mean, saying he’s “demeaning” Iraqis. Point to Cheney. Edwards interrupts. Minus one point to Edwards.
Round — Edwards, 3-1.

E-mail Keith at KOlbermann@MSNBC.com

Refresh for more rounds from Keith.

October 5, 2004 | 7:58 p.m. ET

Cheney's fortress of solitude... and today's surprise (Priya David, MSNBC reporter with the Cheney campaign)

It’s here. The night . Cheney’s been practicing for months— literally.  His advisors have been touting John Edwards’ virtues as a skilled, slick talker.  He’s barricaded himself in his fortress of solitude in Wyoming where he relaxed with a little fly-fishing.  Now, he goes mano y mano.

I’m not in Dick Cheney’s suite at the Ritz right now where he’s doing his final debate prep.  But I know he’s with family and advisors.  His advisors will include Mary Matalin, and his practice debate opponent, Representative Rob Portman from Ohio.  His chief of staff, Scooter Libby will be there, and probably campaign spokesperson, Anne Womack, along with a few others.  His wife, Lynne, will be nearby, and both daughters, Liz and Mary, will likely help out too.  

I can’t imagine that Dick Cheney’s feeling very many butterflies in his stomach.  He's been through this before, and remains calm under pressure.  After months of following him around the country on the campaign trail, I’ve rarely seen him stumble for an answer, and never seen him seem nervous… whether he’s asked about whether he’s going to attack North Korea or if he believes in gay marriage .

Speaking of which… a HUGE surprise today when I went to the airport to watch Cheney arrive in Cleveland.  He and Lynne walked down the steps to greet a handful of select supporters.  They were followed by his daughter, Liz.  No big deal.  She’s with them often.  I was shocked to see his other daughter, Mary, coming down the stairs behind Liz. I’d actually kept scanning to the rear of the plane, where Mary usually exits, and was wondering when she’d come out.  She’s one of the campaign’s most integral players— running operations for her dad — but she’s usually behind the scenes.  That’s partly because Mary’s openly gay, which has been played up in the news, and she resents the media intrusion into her personal life.  So, it’s truly a surprise that Mary walked out the front of the plane.  Here’s surprise number two.  She was joined by her partner, Heather Poe.  Mary Matalin and Rob Portman follow. 

Mary Cheney and Heather Poe are rarely seen together with Dick Cheney.  At the Republican convention, the pair did not join the rest of the family on stage after the VP’s address.  It will be interesting to see if this choice continues, and what the campaign has to say about it.  So far, one campaign aide told me she knew Poe was on board, but didn’t know she’d exited out front. 

Tomorrow morning, Cheney’s traveling press gather, and once again board Air Force 2.  We’re finally making a much-delayed trip to Florida, and where Cheney’s making up for time lost to hurricanes by spending several days there.  Kerry and Bush are still running about even in Florida, so Cheney’s mission is clear: It’s "go time."  Motivate the party.  Fire up the base. 

I think that will be part of his mission tonight as well: To make sure Republicans understand that the Bush-Cheney ticket is the only possible sober and safe choice in November.

E-mail Priya at PDavid@MSNBC.com

October 5, 2004 | 7:07 p.m. ET

What to watch tonight (Brian Reich, editor of Campaign Web Review)

I’m blogging from home tonight.  Yes, that’s right, I am going to be one of those pajama-clad media junkies watching the “Race at Case” from my couch.  Truth is, I’m fighting a cold and traveling to Cleveland for the big event would have been unwise.  So now, I’m trying to convince myself that not using my seat in the media center gives me a different perspective on the debate.  We’ll see how it goes.

Regardless of where I am watching from, my plan remains the same. The most interesting analysis of the debate tonight will almost surely come from the Internet.  Remember, for the 90 minutes that the two candidates are talking, the TV personalities have to be silent.  And what about the bloggers?  No such limitations (in fact some would argue we never shut up). 

I invite you to read along with me.  Here’s a little guide to some of what is out there:

Big Media: The Washington Post brings back its debate referee, as well as message boards and live discussions with chief political correspondent Terry M. Neal and Washington Post associate editor Robert G. Kaiser. Kit Seelye will offer live analysis for the New York Times. The News Hour has an interactive ballot (tune in at 9:00pm to vote).  Hardblogger will be updated continuously.  And of course, the other networks are updating their sites as well (but you have to find them on your own).

Blogs: Josh Marshall offers pre-debate analysis on TalkingPointsMemo.com.  Expect him to blog throughout.  RedState.org has an almost open pre-debate thread which asks for opinions on a) What do Edwards and Cheney NEED to do to NOT hurt their candidate, b) How much value is there in VP candidates attacking each other, and c) Will hair beat no hair?  Will smile beat no smile?  Will the empty suit beat the grizzled veteran?  They’ll answer their own questions later. 

Live Bloggers tonight include: Hugh Hewitt, Blogs for Bush, CaptainEd, Pandagon, and Command Post.  Wonkette has drinking game for watchers to play. Editors Note: If you are local, Ohio Countdown ’04 says the best place to get a beer on campus is “the Barking Spider, right behind the coffee house on Juniper.”

Campaigns: The Bush Campaign continues with its DebateFacts.com effort.  They have two dozen policy, communications and technical specialists working of a war-room in Arlington, Virginia to produce live text and video feeds that “address Kerry’s eleven different positions on Iraq and inconsistent agenda.”  Campaign Manager, Ken Mehlman, emailed today to remind supporters that “people’s perceptions are shaped as much by their conversations around the water cooler as by the debates themselves,” before urging everyone to visit online polls, chat rooms (here is a list) and discussion boards to make their post-debate voices heard.  The Kerry Campaign Blog will be updated in real time. The DNC posted questions Dick Cheney must answer and is also encouraging supporters to write letters, call radio/TV stations, and help spread the word.  The Kerry campaign surprised almost everyone last week by launching a series of online ads after the debate – rumor has it they will expand that successful effort even further tonight.  Stay tuned for that.

And, of course,  when it’s all over, you can go visit Media Channel and fill out your own Citizens Debate Scorecard.

Brian also runs the Boston office for Mindshare Interactive Campaigns.

October 5, 2004 | 7:02 p.m. ET

Hardball just started! Chris is surrounded by students and neighbors and the Case marching band, and in two hours, the 62-year-old Cheney and 51-year-old Edwards will face off. 

Click here to read e-mails you've sent Hardblogger.

October 5, 2004 | 5:56 p.m. ET

Crusin' around Case Western

MSNBC TV

Hardball-ers drive around Case Western University shortly before the debate, photographed here in front of the Newton D. Baker Memorial Building. (Left-Right: Seth Fenton, Chris Peatridge, Casey Etzel, Tina Urbanski, Executive Producer Tammy Haddad, and Host Chris Matthews).

October 5, 2004 | 4:58 p.m. ET

First and only VP debate this election (Joe Trippi)

I'm expecting tonight's vice presidential debate to be a lot “hotter” in rhetoric and form than last weeks Presidential debate in Miami.

John Kerry picked John Edwards as his running mate for many reasons— but one of the big ones had to be that he liked the match-up between Edwards and Dick Cheney in a debate.   

The Bush administration has been noted for its reliance on corporate America to influence national policy.  Cheney has bragged about the way oil companies helped to write energy policy.  And of course there are the ongoing problems with Haliburton's contracts in Iraq and the Vice President's past involvement with the company that have been the fodder for attacks against the administration.

Edwards is a trial attorney who made his millions suing corporations when they abused their power, or hurt workers, and has found himself as the target of attacks that everything wrong with America—including the skyrocketing cost of health care— is all the fault of ambulance chasing trial lawyers bringing frivolous lawsuits against well meaning corporations.

This is the match up that the Kerry team wanted. Interestingly, it also appears to be a match up that the Bush team thinks can work for them. Someone is wrong— and that's what makes tonight's debate much more interesting and perhaps just as important as last week's debate in Miami.

Hailing from the "Dean for America" campaign  (my bias should be apparent),  I think an attorney who took on corporate abusers on the side of the little guy is exactly what we need right now— particularly when the guys on the other side are bragging that when it comes to our nation's energy policy the oil companies can do no wrong.

I'll be back tonight on Hardblogger with my quick take on what happened in the debate. For now I am looking for a tough no-holds-barred discussion between two very different people  with very different ideas and views of what is wrong with the country and what needs to be done to get it back on track.

E-mail Joe at JTrippi@MSNBC.com

October 5, 2004 | 4:05 p.m. ET

Guest blog— Checking in with the blog world:

Who's coming to play the VP debate online? (Matt Stoller, Blogging of the President)

The conventional wisdom is that the Republican Party is running a better, tighter, and more disciplined campaign than the Democrats.  Perhaps so, perhaps not.  The last debate, though, the Democrats won the spin war hands down, and they did it using online activism.  Prior to the debate, the DNC sent out emails asking people to vote in online polls and send talking points as aggressively as possible to reporters and news outlets.  The Republicans simply were not as aggressive, which is unusual as the most 'vociferous' electronic activists have traditionally come from the right.

This time, the Republicans are coming to play. My sense is that the Democrats sort of have their guard down this time, basking in the glow of the Kerry victory.  Spin Alley, the place where reporters gather to compare notes and indulge in groupthinking, has now expanded to encompass the blogosphere and in a sense, the whole country.  The first debate, the Democrats took advantage of the expanded spin zone, this time, it'll probably be the Republicans. 

Meanwhile, liberal gossip-queen Wonkette will play opposite conservative Powerline  on the NBC post-debate wrap-up.  Great.  Just a note, that Powerline is partisan, Wonkette is partisan to naughty words.  How balanced! 

Still, with the spin wars in full throe, it's kind of like, whatever.  What Americans want to see, and they do want to see it this time, is Dick Cheney and John Edwards, facing each other, unspun.

October 5, 2004 | 2:59 p.m. ET

Advice to President Bush for his next debate (Joe Scarborough's Real Deal)

The latest post-debate polls show George Bush and John Kerry in a dead heat, but Americans are still saying they trust the President more to fight the war on terror.  Will that determine who they will vote for November 2? 

As you know, over the past six months, I have actually been giving advice on my show and on the blog posts to John Kerry — telling him how he can run a better campaign, and you know what, he seemed to have listened.  Whether it was bringing on street fighters like James Carville on board his campaign, or using last week‘s debate to actually reveal a more hawkish side on Tora Bora and Fallujah, Senator Kerry has followed my advice. And you know what? The results have been positive.

Now it seems to be the President who needs to hear the voice of a friend, who is not afraid to tell him the truth: Mr. President, because of who you are and the position you hold, your staff members aren‘t going to tell you what you need to hear.  But I am: Your debate performance Thursday night was lousy.  Forget what you are reading in the national polls.  They don‘t matter.  You and I both know this election is going to be about who can get their base of supporters out to the polls on November 2.  Before the first debate, Democratic leaders I talked to were despondent, and they knew that that meant that their turnout was going to be depressed, but your lack of focus and your poor performance let John Kerry back into the race by giving Democrats a reason to hope, and a reason to believe that they can win. 

You know what else is the truth?  The past is the past.  You can‘t change it.  But you can do a few things moving forward: 

First, do what all great politicians do, turn your disadvantage into an advantage.  If I were you, I would tell voters on the campaign trail and during the debate that you may not be a smooth talker, but you are a straight shooter, and in a war against terrorists who want to destroy America, that is what matters the most in a president.

Second, get off the campaign trail and practice before your next debate.  Let‘s face it, Jeb and your mother got most of your family‘s public speaking skills.  That means you have to try harder, and it means you have to practice more.  You simply can‘t afford to turn in another poor performance this week, so get to work.

Third, key in on the fact that even though this is an economic debate, there is no economic issue as important as fighting terror.  Osama bin Laden knows that, and he knows that the way to hurt America is to disrupt our economy.  Use Friday‘s debate as a chance to circle back  and hit all the points that you forgot to talk about last week—like how John Kerry voted to gut intelligence in the 1990s, how he voted to kill many of the weapons systems that made Operation Iraqi Freedom such a great success last year, and how he has switched his position on Iraq nine times in the past 12 months.

And finally, figure out how to get into the zone before you walk on stage Friday night.  In the times we have spoken one on one, I found you to be very impressive, intelligent, thoughtful leader, but that side of you did not come across last week. 

Don‘t care what your staff members are saying.  Your facial expressions and your body language were unpresidential, and your stammering only confirmed what your worst enemies have been saying about you for years.  As one who has seen you up close, I know they are wrong.  But you have to figure out a way to show your best side to the rest of the American people.  Your presidency and the future direction of this country depends on it.

Now, a message for all of you who e-mailed me to call me an idiot or a traitor for telling you the truth about the President‘s performance on Friday , I respectfully suggest that you are the idiots.  Political leaders don‘t need fans kissing up to them and telling them how great they are after they flopped. 

Believe me, I have been there.  I know in Washington there are plenty of staff members who get paid to do that.  Instead, political leaders need somebody who tells them the truth, so they can correct their mistakes and improve on their weaknesses.  Where I come from, it‘s called “constructive criticism,” and it‘s what I expect from my friends.  I know that‘s a concept that may be foreign to party hacks in Washington D.C., but in “Scarborough Country,” it‘s the “Real Deal.”

E-mail Joe: JScarborough@MSNBC.com

October 5, 2004 | 12:14 p.m. ET

'Hardball' at Case Western University

MSNBC TV

Case Western University students and volunteers hang out at the 'Hardball' set, as they prepare to watch the VP debate (and 'Hardball') tonight!

(Left to right: Local indie radio host Ian Charna, Case Observer staff reporter Robert Arons, Huazhi Chen, an unidentified student/staffer, and John George.)

October 5, 2004 | 10:30 a.m. ET

Is ignorance bliss when it comes to voting? (Dana Falvo, MSNBC Creative Story Unit)

So, this past weekend, I was at brunch with three friends, all young professionals in the city, when the topic of the election came up. The subject is everywhere.

We were discussing if the MTV "Choose or Lose" and "The Vote For Change" campaigns really work on its target audience. One of my girlfriends asked us a question: “Do you think it's better to vote unaware of what the candidates stand for, or is it better to just not vote?”

It was like a lightening bolt out of the sky for my next blog and here I am writing…

The question certainly stirred some conversation amongst the four of us. Sure to me— a young person who is in touch with current political news and politicians' stances— the simple answer is "yes, it is better to vote than not."

But then I thought about it— is ignorance bliss in the matter of our government's future, or is it more important to not exercise one of the principle rights granted to American citizens by our Founding Fathers? I suppose this question applies to every voting group, but there is no less educated voter than the 18—24 year old. 

One of the biggest reasons “kids” my age don't vote is simply because they don't know. That's not knowing who to vote for, not knowing where to register, and not knowing how good we have it here in this country.

What's the answer to this… rock concerts from The Boss ( Bruce Springsteen's webpage dedicated to his Vote For Change Campaign) or Dave Matthews Band ( DMB's Vote For Change Page) that serve their partisan opinions, or Sean— “I can't decide between P. Diddy, Puff Daddy or Puffy”— Colmes' "Vote Or Die Campaign"? (As a side note— this issue is so important to P. Diddy that he can't even find room to put it on his webpage P. Diddy's official page).

Yes, it's great that the aforementioned stars are making voting the cool thing to do, but something needs to be done to teach voters before they hit voting age that voting is not just a right, it's a privilege that we have in this country. Isn't the purpose of voting making a conscious choice of what is important to you? Whether a young voter believes in serving social issues or building a stronger economy— each vote matters. And whether the vote is made out of a good conscience or a popular trend, each vote is counted. 

So we have one month. If you're going to vote, now is the time to figure out what you're voting for and why you're voting for it.

Some articles on the topic that I came across:

Artists political stance could hurt their fan base and their candidate.

Here's a 50 year-old experienced, mature, knowledgeable man not voting (not because he doesn't care).

So, most stars targeting the youngest voters are from the left but some stars are righties too! Here's a list: Mel Gibson, Tom Selleck, Jessica Simpson, Chuck Norris, Heather Locklear, Bruce Willis, Charlton Heston, Drew Carey, James Woods, Pat Sajak (registration required but free on this link).

Bruce Springsteen's webpage dedicated to his "Vote For Change" campaign

DMB's "Vote For Change" page

E-mail: DFalvo@MSNBC.com

October 4, 2004 | 4:55 p.m. ET

Guest blog from CNBC's Ron Insana:

And now for something completely different... (Ron Insana)

So, all of a sudden the stock market starts rallying even though George Bush is slipping in the polls.

Newsweek, and Gallup/USA Today now have the presidential race as a statistical dead heat with John Kerry holding a slight lead . And yet stocks are going up despite the fact that it is presumed Wall Street always prefers an incumbent victory.

The Iowa electronic presidential futures show Bush plunging and Kerry spiking up, though not yet even... but again, even this market-based statistic is being ignored.

Maybe the market figures the Republicans will retain effective control of Congress. Over the last 150 years or so, a Democrat as president with a GOP Congress actually provides the best returns for the stock market on an annual basis.

Or maybe the market is suddenly more optimistic about the economy: oil prices are slipping, long-term interest rates are going up and commodity prices are firming—all signs that, once again, the markets have changed their mind about the immediate future.

Or maybe they're all simply hoping for President Bush to pull out an "October Surprise" that will electrify the electorate and swing the polls once again.

In any event... it's rare to see this much direction changing within a set of boundaries so tight.

October 4, 2004 | 9:44 a.m. ET

Debates And Blogs Are The Things To Do! (Dana Falvo,  Creative Story Unit, MSNBC)

Well, one debate down and three to go. From our end, things went well. The blogs have received a great response, and your e-mails are just flowing in. Even our QOD (that's " Question of the Day" in MSNBC lingo) did astonishingly well… Over 2.4 million of you have responded to “Who won the debate?” We'll be doing a live vote for the next 3 debates too.  {Log on to www.hardball.msnbc.com right after the debate to vote!}

I have to say my favorite part of the 1st debate was seeing the students of the University of Miami get right into it. You saw passion, and interest, and excitement in the eyes of the young adults that gathered behind Chris Matthews and Joe Scarborough at the MSNBC set. I'm sure each one made their parents proud with their national television appearance. We had a great response to our solicitation of guest bloggers and the best thing about it was the different types of viewpoints. Blogs were written by everyone from the first year undergrads voting in their first election adding their two bits to third years in law school filling out the older end of the voting group with their slightly more experienced knowledge. Who ever said the youngest demographic of voters doesn't care about this election? Now if only the candidates could hit all the colleges and universities in the country in the next 31 days that would be great.

So, get ready Case, Wash U, and ASU we're coming to you next!

In the mean time, here are the stories that caught my eye.

All That Negotiating For What? It Was A Frigid Evening In University of Miami's Convocation Center

Michael Moore Getting Black Listed At Universities:
George Mason University Has Withdrawn An Invitation to Filmmaker Michael Moore To Speak At The Virginia Campus Five Days Before The Election

UVSU Donor Threatens To Pull Over $1 Million In Donations As A Result Of The University's Recent Decision To Invite Michael Moore To The Campus

And Health Care Firms? Employees On Red Alert For Michael Moore

October 1, 2004 | 4:50 p.m. ET

Live... from Washington Square (John Lichman, The Hardblogger Jogger)

All right, a majority of the bloggers on this site were either at the University of Miami press room, or in Miami. I'm proud to say I sat at an empty table with my friend Brandon, as a large auditorium in NYU's Kimmel Centerwas filled with rows of politically active students—and the NYU “radical” clubs, such as the socialists, republicans, democrats, Naderites, and an “independent” newspaper talking about the evils of NYU by students who pay tuition to attend. Now that's radical.

The clubs urged people to continue to be active and search for “new voices”.  However, my favorite sign came from a quip on the tagline for “Alien vs. Predator” with a picture of Bush and Kerry: “Whoever wins, we lose.”  And yes, the Naderites held that sign.  More importantly, as the debate was fired up onto the large monitor, what channel should show up but my precious employer?  Thanks to technical difficulties, MSNBC came on as Kerry finished up his opening statement.

And what did we learn from this debate? My notes range from Kerry's quip about “outsourcing killing Osama” to Afghani warlords to Bush's constant need to remember Poland. Which is important, since I hadn't heard much about Poland recently. (A quick check of the trusty Atlas proves it does exist.)  As for the assembled kids watching the debate? Many caught outside gave the impression that Kerry was by far the more articulate of the two, repeating points as necessary against Bush. The President wasn't given any helpful critque from the kids, but rather chided for his refusal to leave the topic of toppling Iraq and Saddam Hussein. Of course, one student believed that John Kerry had been verbally “smacked down”, using the less vulgar term, for the first 30 minutes of the debate.

But what do the papers tell us today? Well, everything from “Kerry ‘lies' on lies” to Bush being tired from meeting people earlier in the day. After all, without a Presidential nap before a Presidential debate, the President is bound to be a tired camper.

Overall, the NYU students found Kerry to be superior to Bush. Many of the students supported each candidate's stance on Nuclear Armament, but became lukewarm as the candidates proposed America as helping the world—yet only caring about Americans.  I'm still trying to figure that last lukewarm point out myself.  Until then, I'm going back to the streets to get more fun opinions from these college aged kids, and a sweet loving $5 lunch special from a “hot deli bar”.  

Email me at john.lichman@gmail.com


October 1, 2004 | 1:08 p.m. ET

Where was Cheney? (Priya David, MSNBC reporter with the Cheney campaign)

Cheney spent last night watching from a suite at the Marriott in downtown Denver, Colorado.  Flanked by Pete Coors and Governor Owens and his wife Lynne, Cheney spoke to a crowd of supporters for about ten minutes prior to debate. 

He kicked off his speech by mocking John Kerry, saying, “I think the President's ready.  I noticed there was sort of a last minute flurry on the Kerry side, about the lights on the podium. You know they signed an agreement approving the lights, and then complained about them.  I guess it's sort of like John Kerry, he was for the lights before he was against the lights.”  He got big applause for that line from the crowd of about 400 or 500 people.  He also mentioned his own debate, lightheartedly calling it his “rendezvous with destiny” and then flubbing his opponent's name, calling him John Kerry instead of John Edwards.  Cheney joked that he gets the two Johns mixed up. 

Cheney watched the debate with his staff, his wife Lynne, and his two daughters Liz and Mary.  Then he heads on to Wyoming, where he'll spend the weekend continuing with his own debate prep.

E-mail PDavid@MSNBC.com

Click here to read about John Edwards' post-debate gathering from MSNBC.com's Marty Wolk. And watch VP Cheney and Sen. Edwards square-off on Tuesday, Oct. 5, at 9 p.m. ET on MSNBC.

October 1, 2004 | 9:44 a.m. ET

What does rapid response look like? (Brian Reich, editor of Campaign Web Review)

I watched the first Presidential Debate from inside the media center at the University of Miami.  I had a seat (spot #507), a high-speed internet connection, a clear view of two televisions (tuned to CNN and MSNBC respectively), and access the RNC and DNC rapid response networks.  My yellow and white pass did not afford me access to the debate site – apparently you need a purple pass to get inside the hall.  No big loss.

Come to think of it, I'm glad I was not in the hall.  First, the rules prohibited the audience from clapping.  I visited all the major league baseball stadiums in 1997 and remember not being allowed to clap while watching from the press box.  What's a baseball game without cheering?  I suppose it is kind of like a presidential debate (lots of rules, fancy uniforms, etc.).  Second, I attended the debates in 2000 while working for Vice President Gore and remember the set being very, very cold (to keep the candidates from sweating under the hot TV lights).  It was so cold in 2000 that my fine motor functions began to slow.  I don't think any permanent harm was done, but I can do without a repeat performance.

Watching from the media center, with the crowd of rabid media professionals all around me, was a new experience.  All my life I have worked on campaigns.  Now I am covering one.  For a change, I was on the receiving end of the rapid response effort.  Some observations:

The Kerry campaign distributed two documents, both on light blue paper.  The Bush campaign distributed eleven documents (though for some reason I only got eight of them), on blue, green, pink, yellow, purple, goldenrod, and grey paper.

The DNC blog had  running commentary, and distributed a pre-buttal CD-Rom called Bush vs. Reality.  The Bush campaign put out  debate facts and video responses as the evening wore on, and fed them live to bloggers who signed up.

The campaign war room and spin-brigades were a who's who of their respective parties: Tad Devine, Joe Lockhart, Mike McCurry, Rand Beers, Joel Johnson, Ambassador Holbrooke, Secretary of State Albright, Bob Shrum and Ann Lewis headlined the Democrats team.  Karl Rove, Ralph Reed, Secretary Dan Evans, Senator John McCain, Ed Gillespie, Dan Bartlett, Mathew Dowd, and Mark Racicot led the charge for the GOP.

The Kerry campaign had simple white signs with black text to identify their speakers.  Their volunteers held the signs at shoulder level, hard to see when you are looking through a sea of cameras.  The Bush campaign presented oversized signs, also with black text, but each accompanied by a colorful Bush/Cheney or VivaBush sign.  The Bush campaign volunteers were aggressive – walking with a sort of swagger and pouncing on any reporter that dared come near.

In the end, the noticeable difference between the two camps on this night may have been in their attitudes.  Karl Rove and Mathew Dowd, the uber-strategists for the Bush campaign, walked between interviews with their faces buried in their blackberries.  Sarah Bianchi, the Policy Director for the Kerry Campaign beamed and gave me a double thumbs-up.  Jamie Rubin and Susan Rice, foreign Policy Advisors to the Democratic nominee exchanged a high-five, and laughed.

One down, three to go (including the VP debate on Tuesday).  Let the spinning continue!

Comments?  Email us at Hardblogger@msnbc.com

September 30, 2004 | 11:43 p.m. ET

The tie goes to the challenger (Keith Olbermann)

If you had heard John Kerry and George Bush for the first time in this first debate, it would've been hard for you to figure out which one was the president, and which one the challenger struggling to coalesce his campaign.

That is very bad news for George Bush.

Kerry still fell periodically into the quicksand of his familiar Senatespeak, still sometimes must have blinded viewers with his ellipses, still occasionally had to have had them banging their ears to clear out his lapses back towards the unnecessary role of East Coast Distributor of Statesmanship. But for ninety minutes at the University of Miami, the Senator never once seemed off guard, never once seemed the wannabe victim of a practiced and seasoned incumbent, never seemed like he was in anything worse than a tie ballgame.

From his first bold statement, accusing Mr. Bush of a "colossal" mistake in judgment in Iraq , through his ominous pronouncement that "certainty can sometimes get you into trouble," to his last stiletto twist of quoting the poet laureate of conservatism George Will about Russian democracy's lost momentum, John Kerry never seemed to flip-flop, never seemed flustered, never seemed out of focus.

President Bush, once unfairly described as sounding like a 2nd Grade Teacher frustrated because Kindergarten students didn't intuitively understand him, at times came close to justifying that bitter evaluation. Twice at least he seemed visibly exasperated by Kerry— ready to turn on seeming softballs, but unable to connect. "Course we've done everything to protect this country," he began one reply, then petered out. Later offered another opportunity to pound Kerry after the Senator reminded the audience that Osama Bin Laden had attacked this country, not Saddam Hussein, Mr. Bush began "I know Osama Bin Laden attacked us," and then paused as if that statement had led him not towards an easy parallel between threats realized and threats pending, but rather down a dead-end alley. He took the alley.

In trying to explain his own previous use of the term "miscalculation" in regards to Iraq, the President appeared to get lost in the kind of entangled nuance which his party has so effectively criticized in Kerry. His explanation of the fact of the insurgency might've been boiled down to 'we won too fast'— and by that point, the President's breathing itself seemed labored.

By the time Mr. Bush made perhaps his most important news, in his concluding remarks— that in a second administration, the military would remain all-volunteer— the meaningfulness of the remark had lost its impact. It had been fifteen minutes since Kerry had proclaimed that a "backdoor draft" had already been instituted in this country, and that the nation's armed forces were "overextended." The President's forceful answer was so delayed as to be relegated to an afterthought, the kind of mot juste that comes to you on the way home from the party.

It is impossible to gauge, in an era recently and aptly described as the time when vast numbers of the electorate don't want to hear what they don't already believe, if Kerry's forcefulness and the president's frequent struggles will have any profound effect on the polls, or on the election itself. But it is impossible to believe that undecideds, or even Mr. Bush's supporters, could have watched this debate and thought that the president had put his opponent away, or made Senator Kerry seem unpresidential.

A personally popular, image-creating and image-employing president— man who has triumphed, rightly or wrongly, by rendering the complex issue into the simple and stalwartly-held belief—should have looked at least as in command as his challenger. And he simply did not. By Joe Scarborough's count, the president fell back no less than eleven times on the cliche "It's hard work."

Tonight, for him, it certainly seemed to be exactly that.

Comments: KOlbermann@MSNBC.com

September 30, 2004 | 11:20 p.m. ET

E-mails flying fast and furious:

I'm an independent and voted for Bush in 2004. I just watched the debates with the two candidates, and I must say, I didn't expect much from watching it. I was very disenchanted by the 32-page agreement we all heard about. But after listening intently, following point by point, I have completely made up my mind. What I saw seemed like a true statesman and patriot versus someone who had no business vying for the job. I have no question in my mind that in November I'm voting for John Kerry. -AIZ, Orlando, FL

President Bush summed it up perfectly when he said in his closing that he would not leave national security up to the leaders of other countries. A presidents primary obligation is to protect the people of the United States with or without the support of our allies. -Glen Bowen

Click here to read more viewer e-mails.

Click here to read the initial reactions from the 'Hardball' panel, including Andrea Mitchell, Joe Scarborough, Ron Reagan, and Newsweek's Jon Meacham.

September 30, 2004 | 11:22 p.m. ET

My quick take on the debate (Joe Trippi)

I had my doubts pre-debate but John Kerry surprised a lot of people tonight – including me.  Why this guy waits til the last days of a campaign to show this fighting side is beyond me— but it seems to work for him and it worked for him tonight.

The “colossal error in judgement” line of attack will be in the lead of most newspapers tomorrow if they have any news sense left.

I thought that George Bush would try to keep Kerry bogged down in the past, Gulf War I, as an example— it never happened. Instead Kerry did what he had to do: he turned the debate into “more of the same” vs “change”, and George Bush played right into it with his “we are doing everything we can” attitude vs Kerry's “We can do better”.

In my view any non-biased person would have to state that Kerry clearly won tonight.  And of course I will be accused of being biased (a fair attack on my motives),  but I really was prepared to call this for George Bush if he showed up for the debate and won it. He did not. 

Only time will tell how much this will change the terrain in the battleground states— but Kerry took a big step in the right direction tonight.

Joe
Email: JTrippi@MSNBC.com

September 30, 2004 | 10:32 p.m. ET

Who do you think won the debate? Vote now on TV.MSNBC.com.

E-mail us at Hardblogger@MSNBC.com to share your thoughts.

September 30, 2004 | 8:01 p.m. ET

Hardball's all-night coverage has started and Chris Matthews has already said on the record...

Tonight's the night (Chris Matthews)

Everything before tonight was preview.  Everything after tonight will be celebration and regret. Tonight's the night. And the scene of the action is here at the University of Miami. 

Here, we are surrounded by students and neighbors.  Take a look at this setting— we're surrounded by students, divided just like the rest of the country. With just 33 days until the election and with national polls showing the race tilting towards the president, the pressure tonight is on the challenger John Kerry, who must convince voters he has what it takes to be president.

One hour from now, George Bush and John Kerry will enter the arena for what, election after election, has been the most dramatic moment in the campaign.  The first moment during the campaign that the two candidates confront each other in the same arena.

By every assessment it is Kerry, not Bush, who has the most to gain and the most to lose.  If he cannot present himself as a credible alternative, Bush's support will remain firm, undecideds will be frustrated, and even his own political base will begin to erode. 

For the president, the task is easier.  He must display the level of resolute conviction that has rallied his supporters and made him the clear-cut winner in polls of who will best protect the country from terrorism and who will best prosecute the ongoing war in Iraq. 

Bottom line: If John Kerry has something to show us, tonight's the night.  If he has something to say, he should get ready to say it now.

E-mail Hardblogger@MSNBC.com

September 30, 2004 | 7:10 p.m. ET

Below is a guest blog from Ben Ginsburg, Republican election attorney:

Behind the scenes at the campaign

Four years ago, the political and media worlds gathered in Boston at the University of Massachusetts campus that houses the Kennedy Library. Tonight, they're 1,200 miles, about 30 degrees and 60 percent more humidity to the south in Miami (I'm particularly aware of the humidity since there are a lot of roads closed for security, this beautiful campus is spread out, MSNBC has this habit of wanting their segments to start on time and I sweat a lot).

At any rate, the hours before the first debate of the Presidential campaign are like no others.  The anticipation is acute, the candidate's preparation is for the most part done, and a lot of people stand around trying to guess what will happen (actually they're testing lines to use after the debate for news reports, television appearances, or calls to families and friends not fortunate enough to be at the debate itself).

Four years ago, I was national counsel to the Bush-Cheney campaign and part of the debate negotiating team.  Before the debate, there are still a lot of moving logistical parts.  The most important is the candidate's walk-through of the debate site.  You want to make sure the candidate has a feel for the set, knows the camera angles, knows where his family is sitting and isn't surprised by the brightness of the lights.

This afternoon here in Miami, there was a bit of a dust-up about one of the rules in the agreement signed by both campaigns.  It seems the Kerry campaign didn't like the idea of lights on the set telling the candidates and the audience when their time was up.  One high ranking Kerry aide even threatened to personally take a screw driver to the lights.  When confronted with the reality of the signed agreement and the news stories that would come from that home carpentry, the Kerry campaign changed its position (trust me, that will be a constant theme not only tonight but through November 2).

Also on the preparation list is the rapid response operation.  Both campaigns will provide real-time commentary on their candidate's bon mots and their opponents weak comments.  Small armies are hooked in, my computer prepared to send out messages at virtually every moment.  Log on to the candidate's web sites tonight to watch the back and forth.

Post-debate, the spin room is the center of the universe. Surrogates and spokespeople for both campaigns will flood the area in the media center trying to get their word out as widely as possible. You'll be able to catch the excitement on MSNBC!

All in all, the first presidential debate always feels like a potential turning point in the campaign. Certainly the armies of campaign workers will try to persuade the army of reporters gathered here that their candidate has won.  Four years ago, the Bush-Cheney campaign won that war as the polls shifted by 10 points in the days after the debates.  The veterans of that operation will be back in action tonight, and they'll be facing an equally experienced crew of Democrat veterans, many of whom trained in the Clinton campaigns.

Keep score at home, and let us know who you think wins.

E-mail Hardblogger@MSNBC.com

September 30, 2004 | 6:23 p.m. ET

Debate rules not precise enough? (David Shuster)

For tonight's debate, I've been scouring the 32 page rulebook (also known as the "memorandum of understanding") agreed upon by the Bush and Kerry campaigns.   One section raises some intriguing possibilities.   It is "Staging rule 9-B" and it involves a possible confrontation, not between the candidates, but between the debate moderator and the "commission." (Click here to download the 7 MD pdf file of the rules.)

Quote:  "The Commission shall provide for an audible cue announcing the end of time for each of the candidates responses, rebuttals, and rejoinder time periods to be used in the event the moderator(s) fail to take action to enforce the strict time limits described in this agreement.  The audible cue shall be clearly audible to both candidates, the debate audience, and television viewers.  The Commission shall commence the use of the audible cue and continue its use through the conclusion of any debate where a moderator fails to take the action described..."

In other words, despite the respected and decades-long career of tonight's moderator Jim Lehrer, once he fails to interrupt a candidate at the exact moment with the specified "sorry... your time is up," the commission is free, for the rest of the evening, to lean on the buzzer. 

Now, I don't know about you, but keeping two politicians under 90 seconds through the course of 20 questions, answers, and rebuttals seems like a challenging enough task by itself.  Threatening to activate a "buzzer heard 'round the world" doesn't seem like the way to treat Mr. Lehrer or any of the other debate moderators.

By the way, I actually don't know if the "audio cue" is a buzzer... because the rules don't say.  It's one of the few things that have been left to chance.  Perhaps the commission has an audio cue that sounds like an alarm clock, gong, dinner chime, slide whistle, fog horn, or family feud type of "strike."  Efforts to reach the commission today for a "clarification" were unsuccessful.

What do you think?  Let me know at DShuster@msnbc.com

Watch the debate coverage tonight on MSNBC beginning at 7 p.m. ET!

Check out my "Shuster Reports" for Hardball

September 30, 2004 | 4:44 p.m. ET

Is a real debate too much to expect? (Andrea Mitchell)

The most useless reporting takes place, seems to me, on the day of a debate.  Someone on Imus this morning, I think Oliphant, said it's sort of like pre-game analysis on Superbowl Sunday. 

Nothing we say today means a whole lot about what the candidates will do and how they'll react when the lights go on at 9 o'clock tonight.  I remember being on the panel for the final Bush-Dukakis debate in ‘88. Day of, we panelists met to figure out who was planning to ask what.  We were all whipped... flew out to the coast the day before because the Republicans (yes, Jim Baker negotiating for Bush ‘41, same role as this year for ‘43) stalled for so long before agreeing to a second debate that no one could plan more than two days ahead. 

Over breakfast, we compared notes. There was no point preparing the same questions, since each of us would get so few shots at the candidates. I was going to ask about budget deficits and nuclear weapons— serious stuff.  The others all had their ideas, all smart.  Then, Bernie reluctantly shared that he was going to ask Dukakis whether he' d still oppose capital punishment if Kitty Dukakis was raped and murdered... the rest is history

Nothing else mattered that night except Dukakis's wooden response to Bernie's highly charged question.  The campaign was over.  Tonight, there's less chance of that kind of decisive blow.  More likely, there will be jabs from both sides. 

But what shouldn't get lost in all the talk about style points is that this debate is about serious issues, the most serious issues facing this country and the world: Iraq, war and peace, terrorism, America's place in the world.  It isn't too much to expect that the men who want to lead the country spend ninety minutes auditioning for the job. 

With the Internet, bloggers, and cable talk, impressions may form more quickly than after past debates . But that doesn't mean the voters won't be listening for real answers to their worries.  Maybe they'll make up their minds on what they actually see and hear, instead of what we tell them to think.

E-mail AMitchell@MSNBC.com

September 30, 2004 | 2:03 p.m. ET

What matters most in debates like these (Joe Trippi)

It's eerily calm here in Miami, the wind of hurricane Jeanne has withered and in its stead, left a gaggle of national press in neon lit hotels waiting for tonight's Presidential debate between George Bush and John Kerry.

Despite the carefully agreed upon rules, which offer a safety net of sorts to both campaigns, anything can happen in a debate.  And if something happens in a debate it is usually a mistake by one of the candidates.  Pithy lines are planned and scripted, but blunders become magnified. Big time blunders, when they occur in front of millions of people, become voters spending the next morning exclaiming “What was he thinking?” to co-workers around the water cooler at work, or across the neighbor's fence at home.

I've served on debate prep teams for several Presidential candidates over the years.  And all the preparation in the world can not stop George Bush from saying something like “ We can not win the war on terror ” or John Kerry from saying something like “I voted for the $87 billion, before I voted against it .” Tonight it comes down to the two candidates, alone on a stage -- prepared, yes— but with no safety net to save them from their own words if a mistake is made.

A debate can also, on rarer occasions, be the launching pad for something energizing and positive for a campaign and the country.

In the Dean campaign we were playing a game of “pepper” just minutes before the South Carolina Primary debate last year.  “Pepper” is a sort of relaxed session where a bunch of staff throw out a mixed bag of questions to the candidate in rapid fire and the candidate has to respond without making a mistake.

It was that game of “pepper” that spawned the words spoken by Howard Dean at that debate and at every rally thereafter in his campaign:

“The great lie spoken on stages like this, by candidates like me at election time, is vote for me and I will solve all your problems— the truth is the power to change this country rests in your hands – not mine.”

Tonight, two candidates will take the stage, but what matters most is what you do.  Watch the debate: talk about it with your neighbors, family and co-workers afterwards. Become part of the active American discussion about our country's future. And vote.      

I'll be on MSNBC later tonight to join that discussion with Joe Scarborough and Ron Reagan.    And I hope you will email me what you think.

Thanks
Joe

E-mail: JTrippi@MSNBC.com

September 30, 2004 | 1:59 p.m. ET

What Bush's term lacks is exactly what the Kerry campaign lacks (Peter Tomaselli, University of Miami student)

Here at the University of Miami, the center of American politics this week, diversity does not apply only to religion or ethnicity, but to political opinion as well. In the most polarized state in the nation, there are plenty of supporters of both parties. However, as James Carville said when he spoke here, this is John Kerry's race to win or to lose, and the results will have drastic consequences for the losing party.

Even a hardcore Republican would be hard-pressed to say that George Bush has done something positive for this country; our economy and environment are both in worse shape than four years ago, and we are entangled in an extremely expensive war in Iraq, the merits of which are questionable.

Yet Bush is still in the lead in the polls. He is winning because John Kerry has made this race about character and beliefs. In this sort of battle, both sides will always be divided. By bringing out the unquestionable lack of success during the Bush administration, the Kerry campaign can convince even those whose ideologies lie to the right that he is the right candidate for them.

September 30, 2004 | 12:18 p.m. ET

Another guest blog post from a University of Miami student:

(Liz Merkle, University of Miami Junior)

The breezeway of the student union was a feeding frenzy Wednesday. The College Democrats were armed with an arsenal $5 anti-Bush T-shirts (frugality is the hallmark of the college student) and Kerry bumper stickers. The College Republicans, to my disappointment, were either woefully under-funded or just plain outdone by their liberal counterparts. They were stingy with the bumper stickers and pitifully lacking in the “free stuff” department. I really wanted a “Flush the Johns” T-shirt, too!

Everyone's been talking about how security is so strict we have to wear our student IDs around our necks this week— but I think it's appropriate. I'm kind of surprised that they haven't made backpacks illegal this week— unless the President wants to carry my books for me, I don't think that would happen. 

On another note, my usual parking areas have been reserved for the national and local media. Really, I can't complain—it's cool to see all the camera crews, producers, and set-and-lighting experts doing their jobs in the middle of my campus. And I can hardly get in trouble for being late to class if Chris Matthews is parked in my space... -Liz Merkle, University of Miami Junior, Neuroscience Major, College of Arts and Sciences


September 30, 2004 | 10:47 a.m. ET

MSNBC TV

The University of Miami showed some school spirit and made last night's 'Hardball' interesting— aside from all the political debate and discussion, of course. (Former Ambassador to the U.N. Richard Holbrooke even kidded Chris about the band and the cheerleaders, "Are those people cherring for you Chris? You just score a touchdown or something?")

Today, Hardblogger is featuring some guest student bloggers from the University of Miami. They'll be talking about the atmosphere around their school as preparations for the debate continue, and politics in the battleground state of Florida. Here's the first guest blog post:

Is there true debate in this country? (Chad Purdie, U of M School of Law)

After spending the day at a few of the big events surrounding tomorrow night's presidential debate, I have to say that I've come away with one overwhelming feeling: fear.  Not the kind of fear many feel the Bush Administration has been trying to get into the minds of Americans for the past three years, but rather fear for the future of my country....

After a brief respite from politics for a few hours (if you can call property law a break!), I just attended the live broadcast of Hardball with Chris Matthews.  As a former television reporter, I didn't spend my time getting into the excitement of the live event and being on TV like everyone else.  I knew that no matter how high we reached our arms and no matter high how we got on our tippy toes, the cameras' focus would prevent our campaign signs from ever being seen by the the American viewing public. 

So I focused on something else... the people... and more importantly, what they were saying.  What did I hear?  "John Kerry's a wimp."  "George Bush is a new-fascist."  "I'm voting for whoever bin Laden would vote against...so it's Bush for me."  I fear for the future of this democracy, a democracy where informed voters are key, if we're heading to the polls in just over a month with our votes decided like that.

I ask a simple question:  Where is the true debate in this country?  I hope we'll see one tomorrow night.  Although if it's what we've seen so far from these candidates, I'll probably be disappointed.  As Pat Buchanan said in Hardball tonight, this election will probably be over after the first 30 minutes of Thursday's debate.  I just hope President Bush will do a better job of uniting the country in his second term than he has in his first.

Comments? Send to Hardblogger@MSNBC.com

September 29, 2004 | 10:29 p.m. ET

Advice to John Kerry (Joe Scarborough's Real Deal)

The first presidential debate is less than hours away.  It's going to be a hot one.

Now, John Kerry, let me tell you how you can win this thing, or at least get a little closer to George W. Bush in the polls. 

First of all, the debate tomorrow night is going to be about foreign policy .  It's going to be about Iraq.  You have got to turn your back on what the Democratic Party has been doing wrong for the past 30 years.  You have learned the wrong lessons from Vietnam: You see everything through the specter and the spectrum of Vietnam.  Middle Americans don't.  Middle Americans think that their government failed in Vietnam because they didn't do enough to win the war. 

So this is what I am going to tell you to do, and if you follow my advice, you are going to win.  Instead of being the Howard Dean candidate, instead of being anti-war, what you do is, you go after George Bush.  You turn his advantage into his disadvantage.  And you say, Mr. President, with all due respect, when it comes to fighting wars, you are no Ronald Reagan.  Would Ronald Reagan have backed down in Tora Bora and Afghanistan in December of 2001, when he had Osama bin Laden cornered, when he had him surrounded. You had a chance, Mr. President, to kill this man who killed 3,000 Americans. You let Americans down. 

Now, Mr. President, let‘s talk about Iraq.  You claim that you are right on Iraq and I am wrong on Iraq, that you are tough on Iraq and I am weak on Iraq. 

(Senator Kerry, stay with me here, because there are going to be a lot of people that think this is radical—but say this: ) Mr. President, you had a chance to finish off the terrorists in Iraq.  You had a chance to do that in Fallujah. But what did you do? You turned Fallujah over to the terrorists.  You didn't have the willpower to go into Fallujah and finish them off.  And because you turned them over to thugs , what have we seen?  We have seen beheadings. We have seen terror attacks.  We have seen one kidnapping after another . Mr. President, if I were in your position, and when I am president of the United States, this is what I am going to do: I am going to put the terrorists and the residents of Fallujah on notice.  I am going to tell them, you have got 24 hours to get out of town, all women and children.  And after that, I am going to do to Fallujah what Assad did to a Syrian town in 1982 called Hama, where Islamic terrorists went and started a revolt.  What Assad did then is, he knocked the city down.  He bulldozed it.  He salted the earth and he made sure that nothing ever grew there again, and he sent message to Islamic terrorists: You will not take over our country. 

Well, John Kerry, you need to tell the president he is being weak in Fallujah, just like he was weak in Tora Bora. 

The Democratic Party has gotten it wrong. You have been called wimps for good reason, because you don't know how to win wars. Tomorrow night, you can forever change the dynamics of presidential politics, and you can once again make the Democratic Party the party of FDR, the party of Harry Truman, the party of strong national defense. 

We'll see if you have got the guts to do it tomorrow night.  I don't think you do, but if you want to win this election, that's the way you go, not the way of George McGovern, not the way of Howard Dean, not the way of the anti-war protesters, who will doom the Democrats to another four years in the wilderness. 

E-mail JScarborough@MSNBC.com

September 29, 2004 | 2:45 p.m. ET

Checking in with our Hardblogger jogger John Lichman who wrote about the draft last week:

Digging deeper into the draft rumor (John Lichman)

John Lichman

The sky may or may not be falling according to the Internet.

After living under halogen lamps and being told that I need to “pique”
instead of “peak,” I've dug a little deeper into this whole draft hullabaloo.  Here comes the obvious, which I didn't quite see until after that underground-halogen digging: Democrats sponsor both S.89 and H.R. 163. 

Yet the magical mystical Internet blames the Dubya, Homeland Security, and anyone else who dares use the infamous D-Word.  Are the Democrats really why hurricanes hit Florida and Joe Trippi remains in blogger power?

Of course not.  The bills are, according to Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-NY) and Sen. “Fritz” Hollings (D-SC), “designed to help create a force size appropriate to meet the nation's expanding military obligations. At the same time, we seek to address a key inadequacy of the current defense: The burden of defending our great nation has fallen disproportionately upon those with limited socioeconomic opportunities.” (10/22/03, Dallas Morning News)  The plan calls for a more “diverse” armed forced.  There are no mentions of extradition from Canada or the EU, as some versions of this “imminent draft” read.  Since January 1, 2003 both bills have been referred to and wait in the Committee on Armed Services. But how does this affect the Dubya and friends? Well, it doesn't. What about Senator Kerry and friends? Wait, it still doesn't?

If anything, you're more likely to see Michelle Malkin return to Hardball before this bill passes. Armed service and war have become topics of fear to help scare people into the voting booth. I won't say I was fearful when I first heard about it, but I'm becoming more skeptical.  While two professed veterans e-mailed me, they had some less than colorful words for my fear of wanting to serve.  Then again, the idea of a draft is frightening enough. 

The Vietnam comparison isn't that hard to superimpose on Iraq. Is it worth it? Now that's a good question.

In the mean time, the debates are starting this week. The Village is giddy with excitement. These are the times when most of the country becomes embroiled in who says what, how so-and-so looks under pressure, and who needs a reason to vote.

I'll see you kids after Thursday.


-john.lichman@gmail.com

September 29, 2004 | 12:05 p.m. ET

What the "H" is a Blog? (Dana Falvo,  Creative Story Unit, MSNBC)

In my daily research yesterday, I came across a blog from a soldier serving in Iraq. Now this particular story struck my interest seeing as though I just posted my first blog yesterday. The blog written by Spc. Colby Buzzell can be found at http://cbftw.blogspot.com/. Buzzell's blog allows family and friend's back home to read details of war that don't make it into most news reports. I thought to myself that is just amazing that this soldier is using the web to reach millions of people with his personal chronicle, but then I realized there are so many people out there that don't even realize what the “h” a blog is.

Okay- now I'm a product of the technology generation and I like to think I know how to work my cell phone pretty well, I can maneuver around the web fairly thoroughly, I even know how to record multiple shows on TiVo but the entire concept of weblogging is as new to me as it is my parents. Wait… I take that back- it's not that foreign to me. I remember when I first heard about blogging in college. Blogging was still new to the computer world but there were students using their blogs as a sort of intellectual outlet to speak out about the atrocities of college life. Since then, the word weblog has made its way into Webster's New Millennium dictionary. Webster's defines weblog as a personal Web site that provides updated headlines and news articles of other sites that are of interest to the user, also may include journal entries, commentaries and recommendations compiled by the user. Now, with the combination of the world wide web and the ever developing media, weblogs have become a medium that some consider the next generation of news sources.

The first time I came across a blog in the form of a news story came this spring. The particular blog came from an entry-level staffer in Sen. Mike DeWine's office and it sent the Hill into a frenzy with a blog that detailed her performing sexual favors for money. Eventually, the blog was brought to the attention of the Senator's office, she was identified as Jessica Cutler and dismissed from her position. After her “outing,” Cutler moved onto “bigger and better” things. She got a six-figure book deal about her escapades and now displays her talents for anybody willing to join Playboy's online club- I would say she got what she came for. (Scroll Down Mid-Page)

CBS's “60 Minutes” has even found a way into the blogs with its scandal over President Bush's service documents. This is a great example of the way blogs advance news stories. Not even 24 hours after CBS reported the story conservative bloggers were all over them. I know when I was doing my daily research this is where I first came across the possibility that the documents may have been phony.

But aside from revealing scandals, blogs have created a new forum of communication in this new age of technology. Does the future of communication and news reporting lie in the realm of weblogs? I don't think its possible to make that assessment at this time. But one thing is for sure with the internet available to people all over the world, the generation of weblogging is only in its infancy. Here's to HardBlogger for being on top of the game!

Thoughts?   Email me at DFalvo@msnbc.com

September 28, 2004 | 4:50 p.m. ET

November in the Buckeye state? (David Shuster)

Four years ago, on the morning after the 2000 presidential election, I received a 4am phone call from the assignment desk at my previous employer instructing me to get on the next flight to Tallahassee, Florida.  The sunshine state was headed towards a "recount."   I would spent the next several weeks covering Fla. Secretary of State Katherine Harris, asking questions of James Baker and Warren Christopher, reporting on court decisions, and explaining ad nauseum, the intricacies of punch card ballot counting machines and why there were different types of "chads."

As an american, the entire episode left me deeply embarassed.  We are the greatest nation on earth, a true beacon of democracy.  And yet, for more than a month, our election "irregularities" (to put it politely) prevented us from determining who won.  The US election system had become a world wide laughingstock.  And even the US Supreme Court, as it settled the matter wrote, "it is likely that legislative bodies nationwide will examine ways to improve the mechanisms and machinery for voting."

Hmmm.  Well, I suppose it was "likely" that Florida would re-examine things.  And in fact Florida outlawed the punch card ballot system and replaced it.  Congress felt the need to do something as well.  So, in 2002 lawmakers passed the "Help America Vote Act," which was supposed to prompt state legislatures to update their voting systems and get away from "chads."   But, the Act also allowed states to keep using punch cards.  And guess what?  For this coming presidential election, 19 states will use punch cards.  Ohio will use punch cards in 70 percent of the state.

Ohio scares me.  If you look at the latest polls, buckeye land is a "toss-up state."  That means the Ohio is "too close" for pollsters to predict.  Furthermore, if the electoral college vote is close again... neither candidate will likely be able to cross the 270 vote threshold without Ohio's 20 electoral votes.  Under Ohio laws, a recount is mandatory if the statewide vote is within one quarter of one percent.  So, let's say President Bush receives 48.5% of the Ohio vote... and John Kerry gets 48.3%.    Hello recount!!!  And by the way, it's not just a recount in some counties... it would be a recount across the entire state...  State officials have said privately that such a recount in Ohio would be a "total trainwreck" and would make Florida 2000 look like a walk in the park.

None of this will matter of course, unless both Ohio and the nationwide election are close.  But, watch out...

What do you think?  Let me know at DShuster@msnbc.com

Check out my "Shuster Reports" for Hardball

September 27, 2004| 4:51 p.m. ET

The Big Debate - Johnny Be Ready (Joe Trippi)

I just found out that I am going to be heading down to Florida this week to help cover the big debate between John Kerry and George Bush that will be held in the multi-hurricane hit state.

Many following the campaign, if not most, expect a debate about current and future foreign policy and defense issues, but I suspect that this debate will get mired in the past almost from the start.  And I do not mean the past of Vietnam or questions about National Guard duty.

The likely target for George Bush to launch his attack will be John Kerry's “NO” vote against Gulf War I.

In an attempt to further question Kerry's ability to lead, and to further depict Kerry as a flip-flopper, George Bush will likely ask Kerry to square his vote in opposition to Gulf War I with this vote in support of Gulf War II.

Bush will use the specter of Saddam's Army crashing through Kuwait, massing on the Saudi Arabian boarder, his willingness to launch Scud missile attacks on Israel, multinational support, and troops from Muslim countries on the frontlines and ask Kerry why when Saddam was visibly such an imminent threat at the time that even Al Gore and Howard Dean supported Gulf War I – the Senator from Massachusetts opposed it.

I have a deep respect for John Kerry's debating skills but as Frank Rich said on MSNBC's Hardball show when Chris Mathews asked him this same question “John Kerry better have a damn good answer to that question.”

Frank Rich is right – John Kerry better have a damn good answer to the question – because a lifetime of experience in politics tells me its coming on Thursday in this debate.

I'll be down in Florida to help figure out the consequences of answers to this and other questions as the debate unfolds – so I hope you'll watch Hardball and the Debate After Hours Show.   And as always tell me what you think.    What do you think Kerry's answer should be?

Thanks, Joe

E-mail me, as always: JTrippi@MSNBC.com

September 27, 2004 | 1:25 p.m. ET

"20 Somethings" (Dana Falvo,  Creative Story Unit, MSNBC)

So, here it goes- my first blog ever. First, it is necessary to point out- a sort of disclaimer on my part- by no means do I consider myself in the same league as any of the MSNBC hosts, correspondents or experts. I do, however, see this blog as a chance to represent a younger generation and to give a perspective on things from inside MSNBC.

You see, without giving any numbers, I fall into the youngest demographic of voters and I have the very unique opportunity to work with show producers as well as the “higher ups” here. My position is in what we call the Creative Stories Unit- or the CSU. I report directly to Phil Griffin- the Vice President of Primetime Programming. My days consist of providing research for the shows, helping the producers stay on top of the day's lead stories and finding the obscure stories before they hit the mainstream. Throughout the day I read approximately 15 newspapers and over 50 articles. I have to say I feel a little pressure to know as much news as possible- but at the same time I come across some pretty interesting articles and throughout this blog I plan to post some of the ones that stand out. 

One of the reasons I think I was asked to start blogging was to provide a younger perspective. While I have graduated from college and I actually voted in the previous election, I still understand what goes on inside the college student's mind. I probably still have the non-jaded and idealistic view Mr. Trippi referred to in his “College Orientation” blog. But at the same time I empathize with the “20 Somethings” concerns of economy, security and social issues. Hey- I'm just starting out my career, I pay rent and I'm trying to figure out what direction this country is heading too.

So, with this blog I hope to hit the issues that matter to this so-called young swing voter. Although I don't represent all voters in the youngest age bracket, the goal is to provide a little insight into the topics of campaigns, debates, Vietnam, Iraq, candidates' children, as well as, social issues and other stories that just strike an interest.  

Here are some stories that caught my eye today:

What does this do to the Swing State? 31 Percent Of Floridians Considering A Move After Hurricane Season

Who knew they could do this? DHS Buys Town For Terror Drills

Did they learn a lesson? "60 Minutes" Shelved Report On Rationale For The War On Terror Because It Would Be "Inappropriate"

Cause For Concern - Teacher Puts Waste In 1st Graders Backpack

Thoughts?   email me at DFalvo@msnbc.com

Discuss:

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