October 15, 2004 | 5:17 p.m. ET

Best and worst (David Shuster)

I had planned to write a blog today about Bill O'Reilly.  I have some very strong feelings about the embarassing hypocrisy of Fox News and O'Reilly.  But last night, as I was thinking about the "partisan worst" in broadcast news, I flipped on a program that has always represented journalism at its best— ABC's Nightline.  There was Ted Koppel's team, along the most remote stretch of the Bay Hap River in South Vietnam... seeking out witnesses to a firefight from 35 years ago... a fight that has been called into question in our presidential election by a group called "Swift Boat Veterans for Truth."

I'll leave it to ABC's web site for the details on what Nightline found about John Kerry's war record.  But I was moved by something Ted Koppel said in his closing thoughts... and I want to repeat them here:  "We didn't know what we were going to find when our crew went into Vietnam.  You have the right to expect that we would have reported it either way.  And we would.  Because, not reporting something you know can be just as much of a political statement as reporting it...  once we've checked things as thoroughly as we can, we're in the business of reporting what we learn, not concealing it."

"Reporting what we learn, not concealing it."  For me, that declaration is the best way to end this week and think about the next two. Because despite the shallow approach in some quarters of the TV news business, there are still organizations that work tirelessly and with complete integrity to dig deep. That integrity, fairness, and dedication to letting the chips fall where they may, is what we strive for here at NBC... and it's something we honor in our colleagues across town.

DShuster@msnbc.com

October 15, 2004 | 10:52 a.m. ET

Round three blues (John Lichman, The Hardblogger Jogger)

Well, that’s it. The show’s over, and we now return to our campaign rallies, endorsement deals, and Drudge claiming a new scandal every half hour.  My panel instincts abruptly left me yesterday, forcing my roommate and I to take a gander at the debate in-between work.  Thus, I went back to the streets today for a general reaction.  And I was surprised at what I had found.

The students had evolved from the first and second debate cocoon with the “feeling out” of the candidates to the partisan fever. Responses varied with: “Kerry’s policies are better”, “George Bush wasn’t right” or my favorite, “Nader is still the best choice.”  

After each talk, I was left  scratching my head. It was hardly a week since people were stuck between the candidates.  Last night’s “I’m right, you’re wrong, so shut up!” round has destroyed any attempt for people to think outside of name-and-party politics. The traditional election season has begun again.

Instead of speaking about politics, a few students I chatted up during a fire drill remarked that now, they knew who “my candidate” was.  Even my school paper says Kerry won, while the New York Times states the great universal truth no one else is seeing: it ain’t over, kids.

The final debate did no more than give people more rumors to start, such as the “foam” the President is said to have “wiped off”, or new mudslinging. 

One student, Ian Kramer, a sophomore at NYU, saw the debate as little more than John Kerry disagreeing with George Bush and then vice versa on a separate issue.  “There was no clarity, only both men dodging issues when they didn’t have a clear answer,” he said.

Don’t think that you know everything just because the debates are over and the candidates are rallying the troops.  We have 20 days until you crazy kids vote. Go forth and ask your questions and demand responses. I don’t frankly care if I agree with you or not, but don’t just say Kerry since “he’s not Bush.”

I’m not George Bush. Vote for me.

Better yet vote Mayor Faith.

As I kept talking to Ian, he gave me a reason why people may be feeling the way they are after the last debate, “Personally, I haven’t seen that much dodging since Barry Sanders played football.”

No, me neither. And quite frankly, it’s downright frightening on the 20-day stretch.

-john.lichman@gmail.com

October 14, 2004 | 6:13 p.m. ET

Sinclair knows not what it has unleashed (Joe Trippi

)

In my book “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised,” I talk about how the bottom-up empowering nature of the Internet is going to change how many of our top-down institutions wield power or lose it in the future.

And I suspect that the top-brass at Sinclair (See David Shuster’s "Sinclair Sin's" blog entry ) are getting a taste of what I mean.

Corporations, broadcasters, government, and political parties are all top-down institutions.   Those at the top make the big calls and we at the bottom have had little power (until now) to effect their decisions.

My view for some time has been that the Internet is changing that.  That the Internet is the first medium that allows thousands (sometimes millions) of Americans to come together and combine our power to challenge top down institutions that are failing us and our country.

That is because in a society where information is power— then the Internet is not distributing information, it's distributing power. And in a top-down society, it’s distributing power to the bottom.  

Sinclair Broadcasting Inc.’s top brass does not understand this. So when they made the decision to air the anti-Kerry documentary “Stolen Honor” they made one of those top-down decisions they thought the rest of us would simply accept.  Wrong.

Instead websites and blogs are starting petition drives calling on advertisers to halt advertising on Sinclair Broadcasting owned stations. Viewer boycotts are being organized, and Sinclair is being taken to task from the bottom-up.

We are not in the Information Age— we are in the Age of Empowerment.  Sinclair Broadcasting and a lot of other institutions will learn the hard way – just exactly what that means.  

Thoughts? E-mail JTrippi@MSNBC.com

October 14, 2004 | 6:10 p.m. ET

Click here to check out a web-exclusive preview of Chris' interview with Sen. John Edwards . They talk about the presidential debates, Edwards' debate with VP Cheney, and whether or not it was fair of both Kerry and Edwards to bring up Cheney's daughter when answering debate questions about gay marriage.

Watch the full interview tonight at 7 p.m. ET on 'Hardball.'

October 14, 2004| 3:58 p.m. ET

What debate? (David Shuster)

I promised my friends and colleagues I wouldn't criticize the "so-called debates" until they were over.  And I acknowledge that anybody who watched knows more about President Bush and Senator Kerry than we did three weeks ago.  Nonetheless, it's now time for all of us to be completely honest and candid:  These were not debates...  they were a political charade perpetrated by both presidential campaigns.

Debates are supposed to be a type of "discussion" between participants.  Yet the rules forbid the candidates from asking each other "direct questions."  And even when you consider the direct questions asked by the moderator or the members of that one town-hall audience, there was no way to keep the candidate on topic.  Remember, the rules worked out by the campaigns required the microphones be shut off as soon as the audience member finished asking the question.  And notice how the moderator had to wait two minutes after asking a question simply to say it was the other guy's turn?  Please.  This was a contest over mini speeches.

It doesn't have to be this way.  More than a year ago, I covered a ground breaking "debate" during the California recall.  The top candidates asked each other questions, exchanged ideas and insults, and didn't have to wait for long to respond.  The moderator's role was to make sure all of the candidates (there were fice in the debate) had an opportunity to jump into each issue, ask a fair share of questions, and address every claim made about their own record.  The debate wasn't perfect... but it was far more revealing and interesting than anything I've ever seen.

Surely we can find something similar for the presidential debates?  Imagine a debate with direct questions, questions requiring a simple "yes/no" answer, hypothetical scenarios and "what would you do" type of questions, follow-up questions by the moderator or audience members, maybe even a device akin to a "shot clock" (If the candidate dodges something for more than thirty seconds... the rest of his/her time is cut-off and the other candidate is rewarded the microphone.)  You get my point.  We are trying to choose between two candidates for the most powerful job in the world.  Asking them to participate in a real debate shouldn't be too much to ask.  Furthermore, it's time for the networks to ask for, or even demand, a seat at the negotiating table.  If we are going to cover the "debates," the campaigns shouldn't be the only ones dictating the terms.

What do you think?  E-mail me at DShuster@MSNBC.com

October 14, 2004| 2:39 a.m. ET

Democracy in action (Chris Matthews)

It's been an amazing couple days out here in Tempe.

We've had some great debates.  I think the presidential debate tonight was one great moment for American history.  It was a great American moment— both candidates told you where they stood. 

I do think a lot of people should vote.  And we're looking at maybe a turnout, the greatest turnout in American history.  And that's a message to the world:I think, no matter who wins this election, if the whole world sees American democracy in full volume with full energy and excitement and resilience from what happened in 2001... this country is going to look very good in the world today. 

October 13, 2004| 11:02 p.m. ET

Kerry may have pulled a trifecta (Joe Trippi)

My quick take on the debate (more when I am on Hardball at 11:45 ET tonight).  I thought it was a strong performance by both candidates.   And both John Kerry and George Bush had strong moments— but I think Kerry may well have pulled the trifecta win tonight and here’s why:

One of the things that John Kerry and his campaign figured out in the final weeks of Iowa, was that there was voter fatigue in terms of the debate.  People had simply become sick and tired of the debate on the war in the primaries, and complaints about what was wrong— and were beginning to hunger for “what’s your plan, and what are you going to do.”  

Kerry and his team began talking about his plan for the first 100 days in office — and ran advertising that pulled out of the “old” debate turned to his 100 day plan. And it worked—better than they probably expected.

Tonight, I think Kerry took a page out of his Iowa play book – with American’s tired of the same criticisms leveled again by both sides against each other – Kerry stepped out of that “old” debate and instead laid out his plan and stuck, for the most part to what he is going to do.

Bush had some incredibly strong moments – Kerry had more – and while Bush showed up with his same “old” attacks – Kerry moved to his plans for the future. Both came in with a strategy, and I think Kerry’s worked better.

JTrippi@MSNBC.com

October 13, 2004| 7:44 p.m. ET

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

Historic event (Chris Matthews)

We’re reporting on this historic event live from the campus of Arizona State University, the site of tonight’s debate. In less than two hours, the two candidates for president of the United States will take the stage in their final face-off. 

Tonight, a real choice. These candidates agree on nothing. President George Bush will bring out his conservative base and convince Americans as a whole to give him another four years.  John Kerry must keep his democratic base and appeal to swing voters. 

There’s much at stake in tonight’s contest which could help decide who will lead the country.

Tune into MSNBC TV for reports from NBC news anchor Tom Brokaw and NBC news Washington bureau chief and the moderator of “Meet The Press” Tim Russert, NBC corespondents Brian Williams, Andrea Mitchell, David Gregory and Norah O’Donnell. Plus, MSNBC’s Chris Jansing from the spin room and Hardball election corespondent David Shuster in Washington.

And you can get involved in this debate by voting online after it’s over.  MSNBC is taking a survey of who you say “won.”  It gives us an indication of where voters stand and how well each party is mobilizing its online vote.  If you want to get into it, go to Hardball.MSNBC.com.  Our live vote will open at 10:30 ET following the debate.

October 13, 2004| 7:11 p.m. ET

Can John Kerry score a trifecta tonight? (Joe Trippi)

It's pretty clear that the first two presidential debates have helped John Kerry turn the momentum that George Bush and the Republicans had coming out of their convention in New York.The question tonight is whether or not Kerry can score on the president again.

The one thing I have cautioned, is that a momentum shift in presidential politics can occur in an instant or in one night.  Witness the change in the race since the first debate in Miami.   That means tonight is also a huge opportunity for George Bush to try to pull a rabbit out of his hat in a debate that is supposed to play to his weakness— domestic issues.

Joe Scarborough said something last night on Hardball that I agree with, that  so far these debates have served up the opposite of what the pundits expected.  The first debate was on foreign policy —supposedly Bush’s strength and Kerry was expected to have a tough time and be on the defensive.  Reality turned out to be the exact opposite. Joe wondered if tonight’s debate might work the same way and help Bush.

The stakes are higher in this debate than just about any debate I can recall in any presidential campaign in my lifetime.  John Kerry has proven to me that it is when the pressure is really on, that he excels.  I saw it in Iowa as Governor Dean’s campaign manager. We all saw it in that first debate in Miami.  

Tonight is more important than that snowy day in January in Iowa, and even bigger than that muggy rainy night in Miami. Will Kerry rise to the occasion to score the trifecta?   Or will Bush seize on issues that are his perceived weakness as Kerry was able to do, to win the most important debate of his career?

I am going to be on Hardball later tonight after the debate, and I can’t wait to see what happens, and help put it all in context with the rest of the MSNBC family.

Tonight we are going to provide  insight, analysis, hopefully some of your thoughts, and have some fun doing it— so send your thoughts the debate to me as soon as its over so I can report what you are thinking and add that angle to our coverage tonight!

Thanks,
Joe

JTrippi@MSNBC.com

October 13, 2004| 6:45 p.m. ET

Guest blog:

MSM, SCLM, NYTimes, and the rise of Citizen Media (Matt Stoller, Blogging of the President)

Two abbreviations coming into the blogosphere are MSM and SCLM.  SCLM stands for So-Called-Liberal-Media, the derisive term on the left for a media that most feel is corrupted by a right-wing bias.  On the other side, MSM, or 'Mainstream Media', is coming from bloggers on the right who carve a line between them and the paid media punditry.

If there's one institution that has been damaged this election cycle, it's the mainstream media.  From the New York Times and its unhappy adoption of an ombudsman (who is now in a nasty petty scuffle with a reader), to the CBS Memos, to Fox News and Carl Cameron, to Sinclair's abuse of the public airwaves, to the march to war, a lot of people have turned to the blogs and alternative media, and unless they have a really good reason, they aren't coming back.

But, the other place they are going is directly to the candidates, and their neighbors and friends.  So 60 million people watched the first debate, and as Chellie Pingree suspects, politics is now substituting for therapy and credit card purchases.  'Grasstops', the ubiquitous emailing buddies who in eras past were the inveterate village gossips and now traffic in blog links and rumor mongering are increasing in importance.  Meanwhile, the DailyKos blog at www.dailykos.com is hitting nearly a million people a day.  How many of those readers are now rejecting the brand of the newspaper of record?

I don't know, but campaign reporter Adam Nagourney has a nasty and hilarious blog on his trail, at www.adamnagourney.com, anonymously written, of course.  Blue Lemur from Raw Story, is now breaking story after story, from Republican congressional candidate Randy Kuhl's threats to shoot his wife, and Sinclair executives connections to the Bush administration.  It's becoming the left-wing Drudge, with more credibility and just as much mud.

Indeed, watching the last debate, from Instapundit on the right at www.instapundit.com to Atrios on the left at http://atrios.blogspot.com, you would think that there are simply different factual universes.  What the left saw is a bully melting down under a harsh glare, what the right saw was a spirited and passionate President.  And this will not go away on November 3rd.  Whoever is elected President (and there is plenty of voter fraud going on right now— as an Indian friend told me, the voting machines work better in India) will face a divided electorate that not only cannot agree on politics, but cannot agree on the basic facts on the ground.

Honestly, I'm worried.  I don't know if the country can survive this.  I know the mainstream media can't. 

During the debate, I'll be watching both the right and left blogs.  And we'll see if they're watching the same contest. 

E-mail: matt@bopnews.com

October 13, 2004| 5:31 p.m. ET

A guest/student blogger from Washington University in St. Louis  writes in again to share a story he's seeing all over the blogsphere.

Does your vote count? (Anthony Apicelli, MD/PhD student from Washington University in St. Louis)

I don't know if a lot of you are aware of this story from KLAS TV in Las Vegas, but it seems as if one registration company, Voter Outreach of America, has been selectively registering Republicans at the expense of Democratic registrants.  According to workers hired by the company, supervisors selectively removed Democratic registration forms and ripped them up right in front of the canvassers rather than filing them with the appropriate authorities.

Meanwhile, some great detective work over at the DailyKos website has tied this same company to registration drives in several key swing states such as West Virgina and Pennsylvania.  What's more worrisome is that America Votes is an operation of Sproul & Associates, a GOP consulting firm headed by one Nathan Sproul, a former Arizona GOP chairman and former head of Arizona's Christian Coalition.  And in advertising for canvassers on this site, the ad is paid for by the Republican National Committee.  Since both America Votes and Voter Outreach of America have both been representing themselves as non-partisan registration drive organizers, if these connections prove to be true, this very well could be construed as a felony in several of the above states and almost certainly constitutes fraud.  Stay tuned for more details on this developing story.

More information, including some great links can be found at DailyKos.

Click here to watch video of reports from KUSA on potentially fraudulent forms showing up at some county election offices in Colorado.

What do you think?

Hardblogger@MSNBC.com

October 13, 2004| 2:14 p.m. ET

Politics aside, we’re pretty “GD” lucky (Dana Falvo, Creative Story Unit)

Here we are- the morning of the last Presidential debate and we are embroiled in one hot and passionate race. But while candidates spit on each others words, campaign managers tort records and neighbors argue as if this campaign is civil war—Americans cannot forget we live in one of the- if not THE- best country in the world when it comes to civil liberties and personal rights.

Things have become quite heated in the past weeks with networks “spinning” a biased story, the vandalism of campaign offices and fistfights at campaign rallies. We all have personal convictions.  Sure, one candidate serves our economical needs more than the other. And yes, we hold certain social issues close to our heart.

But one thing we all have is a country with a Constitution that grants civil liberties and protects rights. Again this may be one of my non-jaded youngster views, but so long as the Constitution stays in place and the granted powers are not abused (and they won’t—that’s why there’s a system of checks and balances), we will have a better life than many others. Have faith that even if your candidate loses, you will still live a life so many could only wish for. 

Consider a twenty something, like myself. A young woman, has a college education, roof over my head and happily employed. Pretty “GD” lucky. In three weeks I will vote in my second election of the two I have been eligible to participate. I can even write this blog as I please and post it on the Internet. In comparison to the women in Afghanistan that just voted in their first election, we’re doing okay over here.

Yes, right now our country is divided with this election. But take a second to think about why we are divided—it is because we live in a country where we can speak our opinion. There is nothing wrong with this.

When it becomes rotten is when fellow citizens attack each other over conflicting sentiments. The least we can do is respect and accept each other. Remember that as you listen and react to this debate.

Enjoy this country for what it is and have confidence the system will protect you. I leave you with a quote from Federalist 71, “It is a just observation that the people commonly intend the Public Good. This often applies to their very errors. But their good sense would despise the adulator who should pretend they always reason right about the means of promoting it.”

Election-related stories that caught my eye:

The political bumper sticker is back— and with a vengeance

Should we let them vote one time? Woman registers 25 times, man admits to 35 times

Other news stories:

Sad- After school terrorist attack Moscow students required to wear dog tags

Remember the Alamo? These service members do- Soldiers caught having sex at the Alamo.

Kids these days- Teens plastic wrap road, cause motorcyclists to crash

Go figure- Teenager defrauds eBay

DFalvo@MSNBC.com

October 12, 2004| 9:42 p.m. ET

Sinclair's sin (David Shuster)

Imagine if the CBS television network pre-empted "60 Minutes" this Sunday and broadcast Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11."  Many of you might be thrilled.  But many of you would be disgusted and outraged, calling it a deliberate, misleading, and unfair ploy to impact the presidential election at the very end.

The Sinclair Broadcast Group, Inc. isn't CBS.  But Sinclair does own 62 television stations, including 35 affiliated with the major broadcast networks.  (20 Fox stations, 8 ABC, 4 NBC, and 3 CBS.)  And Sinclair is ordering all of its stations to pre-empt regular programming and run, as early as this weekend, a partisan documentary about John Kerry titled " Stolen Honor."

The film attacks Kerry for his anti-war activism after he returned home from Vietnam more than 35 years ago.  Mark Hyman, a spokesman for Sinclair, says "the documentary is just part of a special news event that we're putting together." Actually, it's not a news event.  The film was released, (and picked apart) at a press conference five weeks ago.

Some of my colleagues have made an issue out of Sinclair's partisan history.  97 percent of their political contributions have gone to Republicans, they sent a team to Iraq to find the "good news" the rest of the media wasn't reporting, and etc.

But my issue with Sinclair is in regards to this film... and Sinclair's intention to run the film "as is."  Without a major overhaul, this film should be rejected... and it has to do with journalism's requirement that you "get the facts right."  

"Stolen Honor" has several prominent factual errors:  First, former America POWs are quoted on camera as saying "we stayed two more years because of the demonstrators like Fonda and Kerry... I figure they owe us two years."   I have no doubt that some POW's feel that way.  But the fact is, the war stopped in 1973 when the Nixon administration negotiated an end.  History shows it was the lack of a settlement before then, not the protests, that kept the North Vietnamese fighting. 

Secondly, part of John Kerry's testimony as depicted in the film starts in mid-sentence.  "They cut off ears, limbs, heads..."  This editing makes it seem that John Kerry was making the allegations, when the sentence actually begins with Kerry saying, "They said they..."  The difference is crucial.  In reality, as opposed to this film, John Kerry always attributed those dramatic allegations to the testimony of other US soldiers.  

Thirdly, the film only features POWs who say John Kerry's name was invoked by north Vietnamese prison guards.  But we've spoken to dozens of POWs who spent years in Vietnamese prison camps and say they never heard John Kerry's name mentioned once. 

Balance requires these opposing voices be included in a "journalistic film."  But, alas, this isn't journalism that Sinclair is practicing.

Some of you might be thinking, "Well, wait a second, Michael Moore splashed his anti-Bush film in movie theaters across the country."  That's true.  But there is a huge difference between forcing voters to buy a ticket to watch a partisan film... and showing something partisan over the free television airwaves.  If Sinclair wants to sponsor "Stolen Honor" in movie theaters across the country, more power to them.  But television stations are a different matter regardless of your political leanings.  Because remember, if it is Sinclair and "Stolen Honor" this Sunday, would you be comfortable with CBS and "Fahrenheit 9/11" next Sunday? 

Thoughts?  E-mail me at DShuster@msnbc.com 

October 12, 2004 | 3:24 p.m. ET

The cellphone brigade and why the polls may be wrong (Joe Trippi)

In the last few weeks, I have been on college and high school campuses all over the country—from the University of Miami for the first Presidential debate, to the two high schools I’m visiting today in Ann Arbor, Michigan. I keep seeing the same thing— young people energized in a way that I have not seen in my entire 30 years of politics.

Yet most of the polling I have seen doe not reflect any expectation of a higher turnout than usual among these younger voters.  I suspect that cell phones are the reason for this.

Pollsters have not come up with an effective means to conduct or even contact survey respondents who only use cell phones.  But think of the explosive growth in cell phone usage (particularly among the young) over the past four years .

So if we are seeing, as I think we are, an increase in energy and commitment to vote among young people than at any other time in my lifetime — and at the same time pollsters lack the ability to reach young people and measure this rise in civic participation— then we have the ingredients for a big surprise on election day.

I can’t wait for tomorrow night’s debate and if there is any further movement in the polls afterwards—but I am becoming convinced that John Kerry is doing far better than the pollsters are findings these days.

If Kerry wins in November, and the election is not as close as it now seems, the surprise may come at the hands of young people armed with cell phones the experts could not measure.

JTrippi@MSNBC.com

October 12, 2004 | 2:19 p.m. ET

All in a day's work!

The Hardball Election team took an hour off and visited the historic sites of St. Louis and participated in a local tradition of standing at the base of the arch and looking up... a mid west kind of vertigo.

Justin Bisher  /  Moments In Time Photography
(Left to Right: VP Primetime programming Phil Griffin, Hardball Executive Producer Tammy Haddad, and Hardball Audience Coordinator Casey Etzel)

Later, the Hardball-ers and Washington University student audience were surprised by a visit by Daily Show's debate correspondent, Ed Helms.

Justin Bisher  /  Moments In Time Photography
The 'Hardball' panel watches Ed Helms ham it up. (Panelists left to right: Chris Matthews, Andrea Mitchell, and Pat Buchanan.)

Next stop: Arizona!

October 11, 2004 | 7:23 p.m. ET  

That box in Bush's suit jacket (David Shuster)

After a weekend of reading about it on the web, and hearing my very own relatives discuss it...  this afternoon I conducted a "formal investigation" into the mysterious box that appeared in the middle of President Bush's back during the first presidential debate.  "The Shuster commission" considered this story with an open mind. "The commission" (comprised of "me, myself, and I") was open to the possibility the president "was wired electronically or otherwise," but also open to the claim that the photos were "a hoax."  The Shuster commission report has three sections:  (1) Methods, (2) Results, and (3) Conclusions.

Pool television

Methods:   Armed with a cool bottle of cranberry juice, I locked myself into an NBC News edit bay for an hour with a videotape containing the entire first presidential debate from Sept. 30, 2004.  (As a pre-emptive shot against some of you... I "scrolled through" parts of the debate... thus I spent an hour and not 90 minutes.)   First, I examined every "two-shot" of President Bush and John Kerry in that debate.   (A "two-shot" or "wide shot" if you want to call it that, is one where you see the back of the person who is talking and you also see the person they are talking to— in this case it was the moderator Jim Lehrer sitting at the table.)  Secondly, I looked at every two shot in slow motion.   Third, I watched (also in slow motion and by freezing the videotape) the arrivals on stage of both President Bush and John Kerry, including a telling shot where both men had just shaken hands and had to turn their backs to the audience to get around their respective lecterns.  Fourth, I carefully examined the end of the debate where President Bush and Senator Kerry shake hands and are then greeted by their families.  (Both Sen. Kerry and President Bush turn their back at different times on this section of the videotape as wellto the audience.)

Results:  At several points on the tape, most prominently between approximately 9:30 p.m. and 10:15 p.m., there does appear to be some "mysterious object"  in the back of the president's suit jacket.  However, when the tape is slowed down, you see the object changing form depending on the president's movement and how the light hits the back of his jacket.  In addition, the object appears to be long and narrow when Mr. Bush is hunched over, but short and wide when he is standing taller a few minutes later.   As for John Kerry, at one point around 9:30 p.m., the Senator also appears to have an object in the back of his suit jacket... but to the Shuster commission, it had the shape of one of those wooden spaghetti mixing forks. (*Exclusive, must credit to MSNBC "Hardblogger"). Said "spaghetti fork" seems to disappear a short time later.  In examining the President and John Kerry at the beginning and end of the debate, no objects or "bunching up" can be seen in either men's suit jacket.

Conclusions:  The image of a "mysterious box" or "form bunching up" under the president's suit jacket was likely caused by a COMBINATION OF (1) sweat; (2) a heavily starched shirt under the suit jacket, (3) Mr. Bush's "leaning over" and "angled" posture; (4) the angle of the lighting on stage that illuminated the president's head and back; (5) the sheen of the fabric in Mr. Bush's suit jacket. 

The "Shuster commission" concludes the mysterious form on President Bush CAN NOT be some sort of electronic device because of the way it changed shape as the President leaned a few inches to either his right or left.  The mysterious form also seems to disappear at times... and is not detectable at the beginning or end of the debate.  Furthermore, a close examination of videotape showing the president's head turned to both sides revealed no hearing aid or other type of listening device in either ear.

The "Shuster commission" also concludes the mysterious form (aka "spaghetti fork") that appears briefly underneath Senator Kerry's jacket was likely caused by (1) sweat; (2) a heavily starched shirt under the suit jacket; (3) momentary bad posture by Senator Kerry; (4) the angle of the lighting on stage; (5) the sheen of the fabric in Mr. Kerry's suit jacket (which was arguably not as likely to create mysterious forms as the sheen on Mr. Bush's jacket.)

So, conspiracy theorists, take heart... you weren't entirely crazy.  You did see something that wasn't a faked picture.  But, the picture was not of a candidate who was "wired,"... just one who was sweating, wearing a starched shirt, and using bad posture.

The "Shuster commission" welcomes your thoughts and/or comments...  DShuster@msnbc.com

October 11, 2004 | 2:58 p.m. ET

The power of the Internet (Joe Trippi)    

Keith Olbermann’s round-by-round scoring of the Presidential Debate in St. Louis in real time was one of those moments that demonstrated what can happen if television and the Internet are combined for a different approach to covering an event.

Several blogs carried Keith’s round by round commentary (an RSS feed would have made the whole thing easier and faster— we are working on that) and comments and e-mails agreeing or disagreeing with the scorer’s table flew around the Net as well.

I don’t know how Keith does it— scoring one round and getting the facts of the round right, while watching and scoring the next round… my hat is off to the man.

But what was really interesting was how the blogosphere then contributed to the call in round 13.  Proving that Bush had gotten it wrong— and that Kerry was right—and altering the final scorer’s table call—John Kerry the clear winner on points.

Rick Kaplan the President of MSNBC asked me if it was possible to combine the bottom-up power of the Internet with our coverage to really engage people in a new and different way.     Hardblogger is just our first nascent step in that direction.   And Keith’s round-by-round real-time commentary was something we intend to build onThe folks at MSNBC are really committed to building new ways to bring insight and analysis your way. 

So instead of telling you who I thought won the debate, I really wanted to invite you to give us your ideas about how to move forward.   What tools would you like to see here?  What bottom-up ideas can we put to work here for you?  

Rick Kaplan asked if it was possible— and if it was— to do it.   He’s given me  and you  and amazing opportunity to build something different, and Chris and Keith and everyone else in the MSNBC family are committed to making it work.   So let the ideas start to fly -- email me at jtrippi@msnbc.comThis is only the beginning of something that may not only be interesting – but fun.

Thanks, Joe

JTrippi@MSNBC.com

October 11, 2004 | 9:40 a.m. ET

Same stuff, different week (Dana Falvo, Creative Story Unit, MSNBC)

I feel like we’ve been here before…  a couple days after a debate, no one is calling a winner, slight (if any) movement in the polls and the same post-debate rhetoric as before. Since the end of September, the presidential election has been in this hamster wheel of politics. So here’s my proposal— let’s move the election up three weeks to this Tuesday and free ourselves of the same old stuff. Maybe it’s my young “Sesame Street” attention span but something needs to change in the tactics of these campaigns.

Take the polls… each poll has a different winner with a different percentage and a different margin of error. What good does that do? It's gotten to the point were it’s not even worth looking at the polls because they don’t provide any insight into where this election is going.

Even the debates are not helping the matter. After the past two Presidential debates and the Vice Presidential debate, voters were still left questioning who won. None of the candidates left the debate floor with all their cards on the table nor did they strongly counter their opponent’s position. In the past three debates, the candidates have done nothing but sling mud in the direction of their opponent and have, in some way, wrapped this up in some way to present it as the policies of their ticket. No clear policy has been presented on either candidates’ part— this does nothing for the voter and it has left the commentators and experts calling the debates as draws. Isn’t the purpose of the debates to help the deciding voters? But, in all fairness there is one debate left, so therefore, there is one more chance for these debates to live up to its purpose.

If any voter is paying any attention to the campaigns, they just keep hearing the same message over and over again from every person involved in a campaign. Whether it’s the presidential candidate, the vice presidential candidate, the candidates' wives, the campaign manager, or the party spokesmen— every person involved repeats the same message against the other candidate and obscurely presents their ticket’s policies.

From the Bush-Cheney camp we keep hearing “John Kerry flip flops”; From the Kerry-Edwards people over and over “It’s the wrong war at the wrong time” and even Nader keeps reminding us he’s “not here to take votes away from Kerry.” It’s the same message over and over from each of the campaigns. When are these campaigns going to figure out once they start laying their policies out there and stop attacking the other camp, they’ll start to get their votes?

My solution— let’s vote tomorrow instead of November 2nd!

Just joking— I know that can’t happen. All we can do at this point is just ride out the wave and be patient. The only problem is something tells me this wave is going to go beyond election day.

Here’s some other stories that catching my eye:

Rumor of a Draft Touches a Nerve- Why is this still out there? In case you missed it- the House voted on this last week- House Voted 402-2 Against Reinstating the Draft

Painting of Nude Bush Removed From Museum- Why was this painted in the first place?

Frat Brothers Scrawled Slurs All Over CU Student's Body- Hate to tell you this… it happens on every college campus

Email at DFalvo@msnbc.com

October 10, 2004 | 10: 05 p.m. ET

From a basement in the East 20s? (John Lichman, The Hardblogger Jogger)

How Olbermann does that “live” shtick, I’ll never figure out. Unlike Mr.  Countdown, I sat in the basement of an apartment building with 20 other students watching the Dubya and Sen. Kerry trading barbs.   There were points where even the students began to chuckle, such as Bush’s casual retort of “there’s a lot to cover there, I don’t know where to start.” This was seen more on Bush’s inability to follow-up the Senator in place of cementing the Dubya’s “label” for the Senator.  Rather than just write upon the casual chuckles of students, I pulled a semi-focus group with two graduate students before and after the debate.

Matt James, a second year grad student at NYU, believed Bush would be better prepared for Kerry the second time around. Aside from that, Kerry “did better [at the first debate], he was a better speaker and appeared to be more honest.” James believed Bush would “undermine the debate by praising Kerry, but he’ll be more composed this time.” On the opposite side of the pre-debate, Quana Rochelle, studying at NYU’s school of education, was “thoroughly disappointed in Bush’s education policy, particularly in standardized testing and leaving no support for kids who don’t test well in that style. He also gives no support for teachers to help students and schools.” She expected Bush to “use the same rhetoric and repeat whatever he’d been told. He isn’t very quick on his feet.”

However, Kerry’s policies were “more comfortable” and, on stage, an “overall winner on most issues.”

After a brief intro from Charlie Gibson, the Dubya and John Kerry battled it out, leaving the President flustered on occasions such as bi-laterialism and the infamous “3 things you did wrong” question.

Checking back, Quana believed that Kerry won overall, as Bush “kept using rhetoric and labels to take away from Kerry’s points.” A throwback from the first debate came from Quana and Matt said the candidates spent a good half of the debate on the Iraq issue.  She saw Bush as “arrogant, especially during the last question as if he’s trying to say he’s above being at fault.  He seemed to say he was always right, despite the situation.” To her, Bush seemed “surprised” when Kerry could “give specific examples on the Patriot Act being inappropriately carried out. [Bush] had no response, and can’t acknowledge that the image of the US is being lowered around the world.”

Matt was surprised by the President’s style, “more aggressive and offensive than I’ve seen him.”  The candidates appeared to “skirt” the issue of how they’d pay for their policies when it comes to taxes and the economy.   Matt enjoyed the “numbers” each candidate offered, siding with Kerry’s use of percentage over Bush’s vague numbers. But he saw no overall winner, opting to give them a draw in this style of debate.

More importantly, this debate brought the economy and education issue up briefly. Will we see more of this in the coming days? I’d certainly like to think so.  The students watching seemed vehemently anti-Bush, but even that is attributed to the “group mentality” according to Matt.  “Sometimes, you can’t help but laugh at the way [Bush] responds.”

We’ll have to wait and see if this true at the third and final debate.

email me at -John.Lichman@gmail.com

October 10, 2004 | 8:45 p.m. ET

Washington University in St. Louis was the site of the 2nd Presidential Debate. Chris Matthews welcomes Wash U student bloggers for some post debate analysis! 

wustl.edu
Washington University in St. Louis

(Anthony Apicelli, MD/PhD student; Washington University in St. Louis)

Fact check— stem cells:  As many predicted, the stem cell issue did come up at Friday night's debate.  It was pretty clear from where I stand that neither candidate really had a good grasp of the science behind the discussion.

For starters, while Ms. Long's question is technically true—thousands have been cured by adult stem cells— that technology has been around for many years, it's more commonly known as a bone marrow transplant.  But transplant of human bone marrow cells won't cure diabetes or Parkinson's or other degenerative diseases because adult stem cells from the bone marrow or umbilical cord have yet to show the potential to transdifferentiate into neural cells or muscle cells.  Embryonic stem cells, however, do have that potential.

Senator Kerry's answer hit this on the mark when he said that it's embryonic stem cells that hold the promise for these diseases, not adult stem cells.  That's not to say that we won't be able to use adult stem cells in the future, but if I were a betting man, I'd invest in embryonic stem cell technologies.  Not being able to use NIH (federal) funds to do that seriously handicaps America's scientists.

While the president points out the ethical dilemma of destroying a potential life to potentially save another one, to insist that his "70 stem cell lines" are enough is dishonest, to say the least.  First of all, only about 15 are currently available as Senator Kerry pointed out.  And, they're pretty expensive to obtain ($5,000 a pop).  The other 55 or so have been deemed to be too contaminated with mouse feeder cells to be of any therapeutic use in humans.

The solution is to allow the creation of new lines with federal money and to freely disseminate these lines to researchers.  We risk losing America's reputation at the cutting edge of biomedical research if we pass up this opportunity.

Check out Wash U's student debate blog.

email Hardblogger@msnbc.com

October 9, 2004 | 12:54 p.m. ET

By the numbers (David Shuster)

One of the interesting ways you can examine a debate is to break it down "by the numbers."  And when we did that with this debate in St. Louis, I was even more impressed by just how much ground Charlie Gibson and his town hall participants forced both candidates to cover.   There were 18 questions total:   3 were about Iraq (although a 4th if you consider the "mistakes" question that turned into a discussion about Iraq,) 3 questions about economic policies, 2 questions about health care, and one question each about abortion, stem cell research, the supreme court, the patriot act, Iran, the military draft, terror, and the environment.   It meant that on many issues, both President Bush and Senator Kerry didn't get many "bites at the apple."  That is an excellent test... and it was an interesting exercize.

Anyway, the most revealing numbers about President Bush and Senator Kerry were the ones we totalled on key words or phrases.  (These are words both candidates went back to over and over.)  This was clearly a debate where John Kerry wanted to make the session a referendum on Mr. Bush.  Kerry said "the president..." 68 times.   Kerry also hammered the idea that he has his own solutions or "plans."  He mentioned plan(s) 33 times.  Kerry tried to highlight the President's economic record by mentioning "lost jobs" ten times.   As for President Bush, his top buzz word was "taxes."  He mentioned "taxes" 26 times, which is interesting because strategists in both parties say that any reference to taxes (higher or lower) is almost always good for the republican candidate and bad for the democrat.  President Bush mentioned "terrorists" 17 times and "threat" ten times.  How often did Mr. Bush refer to "Senator Kerry?"  Not very often... in fact, the president said "senator" less than 5 times... and only said "my opponent" half a dozen.

There was one word choice tonight that was a gaffe and immediately made me think of the first presidential town hall debate of the modern era 12 years ago.  (That town hall debate was also in St. Louis, by the way.)  Anyway, in that town hall, President George H.W. Bush had difficulties answering a question about how the budget deficit impacted him "personally."  The president seemed confused.  And fair or not, many viewers thought it showed he was "out of touch."  Tonight, that President's son, George W. Bush, said "internets."  I'm sure it was barely noticed by voters who are baby boomers or older.   But I've already heard about the "bushism" from several younger voters.  Their point is that if the President was trying to make inroads with college age voters or 20 somethings (two groups that polls show largely favor John Kerry,) saying "internets" didn't help the President. 

What do you think?  I look forward to reading your e-mails...  DShuster@msnbc.com

October 8, 2004

Blow-by-blow of the 'Hooey in St Looie' (Keith Olbermann)

MSNBC

1:23 a.m. ET
Timber Update:  
In the middle of its evaluation of Bush-Kerry II, the Hooey from St. Looey, the Scorer's Table warned Mr. Bush during the course of the thirteenth round that if it proved Mr. Kerry was correct in his assertion that the President derived $84 of income from part-ownership of a timber company, the President would be severely sanctioned.

The Scorer's Table, having taken two hours to let the Blogosphere complete its due diligence (and to permit the scorer to retreat to a corner of the room, don cold compresses, and moan quietly), can now quote the truth from "Factcheck.Org": "President Bush himself would have qualified as a 'small business owner' under the Republican definition, based on his 2001 federal income tax returns. He reported $84 of business income from his part ownership of a timber-growing enterprise." Brooks Jackson's marvelous site noted that the timber interest was listed under "royalties" in his 2002 and 2003 returns, indicating The Texas Thunderbolt still has an interest in said concern.

The point awarded to Mr. Bush in the thirteenth round is hereby withdrawn and awarded to Mr. Kerry, for the latter's enterprising hoisting of his opponent on said opponent's own petard.

Mr. Bush is also penalized three points for a truth foul.
Mr. Bush is further penalized two points for getting snarky while in the act of being factually incorrect.

The thirteenth round, originally scored 2-0 for Mr. Bush, now reverts to a 1-1 draw, and the rounds awarded total now changes from 12 Kerry, 4 Bush, 3 Drawn, to 12 Kerry, 3 Bush, 4 Drawn.

The final points scoring is now adjusted from Kerry 15, Bush 12, to Kerry 16, Bush 6.  The Scorer thus designates the outcome as a Kerry victory outside the margin for statistical error.

The scorer's table reproaches President Bush for not knowing when he has wood.

Good night and good luck.

11:05 p.m. ET
Intangibles: For a "town hall" meeting, the goal of each to connect with the people seemed diffused and delayed until after the debate. But as fight ends, Bush moves into crowd for pictures and handshakes. Kerry goes to Gibson, then wife, and finally into crowd. Early advantage in post-fight group hug might put more pictures of President with citizens in tomorrow's papers. Five points awarded to Bush. Kerry penalized five points for yielding the photo-op playing field.

Overall, Bush clearly rebounded from his Miami performance, and wiped out that part of the criticism that labeled him indecisive and stumbling. Five points awarded to Bush.

But, like Dick Cheney on Tuesday, President Bush left himself open for a second-day story, a minor wound if he really does have an $84 stake in a timber company. More points could be awarded or subtracted from either fighter depending on the fact-check. And you don't want to mention either Dred Scott and slavery, or the prospects of a depression.

Kerry's performance seemed unaffected by the change of format: even-tempered, clear, rarely stumbling, but also missing several opportunities to bloody his opponent. One overall point awarded to Kerry for overall impact, based mostly on the staredown into the camera on guarantee of no tax burden growth to those making less than $200,000.

Questions generally exceeded quality of the previous debate.

Final scoring:
Rounds: Kerry 12, Bush 4, Drawn 3.
Points: Bush—2 during rounds, 10 added supplementally, Total 12; Kerry—19 during rounds, five subtracted supplementally, one added for overall impact.
Score: Kerry 15, Bush 12— a statistical draw.

10:39 p.m. ET
Round nineteen:
Final statements. Gibson gives first to Kerry. Kerry seems off-guard. Focuses on Iraq, allies, training. Hits with defense of middle class and health care. Flurry to the body on schools. Uses "no child left behind." "I believe America's best days are ahead of us," evoking Reagan. Point to Kerry. Bush claims it's been enjoyable, then his face tightens. "We've been through a lot together as a country." Scores by using 1.9 million jobs numbers in his favor when Kerry did not use it to effect. Point to Bush. But his breathing is still labored and this could be a theme of criticism. Invokes 9/11, dancing cleverly between "we're safer" and "we're not safe enough." Gets pass on votes in Afghanistan and Iraq. But Bush-Kerry handshake blocks Gibson's view of teleprompter. Minus one point each to Kerry, Bush, and Gibson.
Round, Draw 0-0.

10:35 p.m. ET
Round eighteen:
Bush receives final question from Linda Grable. Please give three instances in which you made a wrong decision and how you corrected them. Bush responds with boards "to appointments to board you never heard of." Says he'll take responsibility for war mistakes but won't name them. Insists question is really about the decision to go to Iraq. Minus one point to Bush for badgering the questioner. Turns it into Saddam Hussein's torture, skids on wet spot and goes directly to tax cut. Now defending bad appointments. Bush leaves himself open for attack on Iraq and Kerry pounds him. "Gut check time. Was this really going to war as a last result?" Says simple things weren't done. Quotes Hagel and Lugar again. Retreads ammo. But brings up the body armor and limbless soldiers. Point to Kerry, but he's open to the $87 billion supplemental vote, and Bush takes advantage of the opening. Point to Bush. Kerry off the canvas: "I made a mistake in how I talked about it; he made a mistake in going into Iraq," invokes Halliburton. Point to Kerry.
Round, Kerry 2-0.

10:31 p.m. ET
Round seventeen:
Kerry receives from Sarah Degenhart about a voter who believes abortion is murder asking that their tax dollars would not go towards funding it. Kerry bobs and weaves, saying you can't legislate your own morality, you have to afford people their constitutional rights. Kerry is on ropes and Bush could pound him. Kerry broadens to international support of family planning. Bush up to say "we're not going to spend federal taxpayers' money on abortion." Point to Bush. Cites support for "reasonable ways" to protect unborn and notes Kerry opposes. Anger of earlier rounds seems to have dissipated. Kerry responds with exceptions in case of rape and health of mother, that's why he opposed. Point to Kerry. Bush says it is simple, falls on cliche of "reality."
Round, draw 1-1.

10:23 p.m. ET
Round sixteen: Bush receives from Jonathan Michaelson about who he'd appoint to Supreme Court. Bush scores with backwoods "I'm not tellin'" answer. Point to Bush. But he's using the Ali rope-a-dope. Invokes the Dred Scott case. That was in 1857, not a recent precedent. Minus one point, Bush. Answer is rambling. Kerry up with Bush quote "What we need are some good conservatives" on the bench. "I don't believe we need a good Conservative judge; I don't believe we need a good Liberal judge." Invokes Potter Stewart and insists a good decision is one written in a way you can't tell who the judge is. Point to Kerry.
Round: Kerry, 1-0.

10:21 p.m. ET
Round fifteen:
Kerry receives from Elizabeth Long about adult stem cell cures as opposed to embryonic stem cell cures. Kerry moves slowly, then pounds by invoking Nancy Reagan and Michael J. Fox. One point to Kerry. "Don't take away my hope," he quotes Fox. Invokes Christopher Reeve. May be veering into too many Hollywood references. Michael Moore seems to be looming. Says stem cells could come from frozen embryos left in fertility clinics. No embryo left behind? "I think it is respecting life" to continue research. Bush up but his answer is overshadowed by woman in last row behind him who covers her face in her hand. "To destroy life to save life is one of the real ethical dilemmas that we face." Mentions 22 lines without explaining if he's talking about lines of research, or Boston subway lines. Kerry up quickly accusing Bush of waffling, of allowing some destruction of life but not more. Point to Kerry. Bush up off stool before Kerry's answer. Minus one point for technical violation. Bush responds well with explanation. Point to Bush.
Round: Kerry, 2-1.

10:15 p.m. ET
Round fourteen:
Bush receives from Ron Fowler about dangers to citizens' rights inherent in Patriot Act and Patriot Act Two. Bush bobs and weaves to insist they won't. "I hope you don't think that." Questioner seems dyspeptic and unhappy. Minus one point to Bush. I once smiled when Richard Nixon drove through my hometown and I didn't even like him. Answer isn't deep: several "I don't think it is" replies. Minus one point on substance. Kerry up quickly to quote James Sensenbrenner and other Republicans claiming Patriot Act needs careful revision. Point to Kerry. Bush grinding his teeth. Could be the Debate Two cutaway shot equivalent of the scowl. Kerry endorses Patriot Act.
Round, Kerry, 1 to -2.

10:10 p.m. ET
Round thirteen:
Kerry receives from Jean Barrow on how America can remain competitive in manufacturing. Are we sure these are uncommitted voters? Torn from today's headlines of 18,000 jobs lost in manufacturing last month. Kerry misses Bush weak spot. Veers back into health care. Kerry in defensive mode, invokes Gibson's salary again. Misses chance to score heavily. Bush out of his corner and answers by mutual insurance and other plans for small business. Bush scores by claiming Clinton Labor Guru Robert Rubin said Kerry's plan wouldn't work. Point to Bush. A flurry from Bush on Kerry and Edwards missing votes, but confuses with references to S-Corps. Gibson extends, pushes Kerry on stopping outsourcing via tax credits. Kerry responds cleanly with confession that he can't stop outsourcing. Bush up strongly with response that he doesn't know that he owns $84 worth of a timber company. Point to Bush, pending review.
Round, Bush 2-0.

10:05 p.m. ET
Round twelve:
Bush receives from James Hubb on his record as environmentalist. Bush with a laundry list of accomplishments but it connects. Point to Bush. Gets lost in the forest. Claims he proposed the hydrogen automobile (thought Gore did that as part of founding the Internet). Kerry scratching his forehead. "I don't think the president is living in the world of reality, which is ok if you're a Red Sox fan." But the Red Sox won tonight on David Ortiz's home run in extra innings to sweep Anaheim. Minus one point to Kerry for lack of sports knowledge. Kerry savages on clean skies bills, calls it Orwellian. Brilliant cadence in answer. Bush reasserts air quality's better, opening the body for a quick Kerry flurry to the ribs. Kerry says we walked away from work of 160 nations over 10 years. Point to Kerry.
Round: Bush, 1-0.

10:01 p.m. ET
Round eleven:
Kerry receives from James Somebody, asks Kerry to swear to the camera that he won't raise tax burdens to families making less than $200,000. Kerry mugs perfectly into camera and does. Dramatic punch. Point to Kerry. Talks about his own need to cut back his own pet projects to resolve Bush defecit. "Pay as you go." And again invokes a Republican, John McCain: "The no lobbyist left behind bill." Says his new taxes to 200+ would affect only himself, Bush, and Charlie Gibson. Gets giggles. Point to Kerry. Bush off his stool to say "it's just not credible" three times, and insists Kerry will raise taxes despite pledge. Point to Bush. "Is my time up?" Minus one point. Maybe he should've borrowed his father's watch. Minus one point to every commentator who mocked the 1992 debate incident. Kerry up calmly, again invokes McCain to look into closing corporate loopholes. Slams back at Bush on "credibility" claiming his 1985 vote for balanced budget. Bush response says "look at the record" even though Kerry just hit him on record.
Round Kerry, 2-0.

9:53 p.m. ET
Round ten:
Bush receives from Matthew O'Brien. Are these names aliases? Why with a Republican majority, has he not vetoed spending plans not approved by the American people. Bush broadens to the '90s bubble and the war. He seems to be admonishing the questioner, and now goes off to homeland security and more expenditures for war. He now tries to use the tax cut punch; misses wildly. Mentions "depression" as Kerry smiles anew. Minus one point to Bush. Bush again seems out of breath. Kerry clears his throat, wanders back to health care. Pounds with turnaround from high surplus to big defecit; says it's first tax cut during a war. Point to Kerry. Kerry with a flurry of statistics making few connections. Gibson follows with great point: how do you cut the defecit without retrenchment. Bush now seems angry, claims recession was one of the shortest in history. Kerry connects with failure of Bush job growth promise. Point to Kerry, invoking Enron.
Round: Kerry 2 to -1.

9:49 p.m. ET
Round nine:
Kerry receives from Norma Jean Laurent. Why choose an anti-medical lawyer as VP if you're pro medical rights. Superb question and Kerry has a fight on his hands. Says Edwards authored the Patients' Bill of Rights. Rallies by taking Bush's turf and citing OB-GYN's. Are OB-GYN's a large part of the undecideds? Kerry dances successfully and convincing and promises a tax cut to 98 percent of Americans. Bush off his stool and falls to the mat: confuses John Kerry and Ted Kennedy. Minus one point, Bush. Bush reclaims OB-GYN's, says Kerry missed vote that would've helped them. Bush emphatic with the left hand and insists Kerry would ruin health care. Gibson extends with tort reform. "The President's just trying to scare everybody here," and connects to Bush's jaw with reference to "compassionate conservatism." Point, Kerry. Bush again steps on both Kerry and Gibson.
Round, Kerry 1, to -1.

9:44 p.m. ET
Round eight:
Bush receives from Ron Horshman: why did he block importation of cheaper drugs from Canada. Bush asserts he hasn't yet, he's making sure the drugs are safe, and not secondary imports from the Third World. Questioner seems to be smiling happily. Point to Bush. Invokes the name of a drug discount card user from "Missoura." Favored pronunciation of natives. Point to Bush. I wish we could see the timing lights again. I like looking at the lights. Sorry. Kerry off his stool to again quote Bush 2000 against him, saying he thought it was a good idea, and that Bush isn't being straight now, that he and the Senate approved importations from Canada but Bush blocked. Point to Kerry. Kerry extends to battle of big guy versus middle class. Bush again leaps off stool. Gestures at Kerry. Kerry isn't looking at him; Bush swing hits air. Kerry off the stool, "We did something you don't know how to do: balance the budget." Stinging blow. Point to Kerry.
Round: Kerry, 2-1.

9:40 p.m. ET
Round seven: Kerry receives from Anne Bronsing. Why have there been no terrorist attacks domestically since 9/11 and how will he keep it that way. Kerry stumbles on "not a question of when." Minus one point, Kerry. Kerry hits hard with lack of intelligence stemming from lack of international cooperation. Brings up bag x-rays but not cargo x-rays on airplanes. And a beautiful left-right jab asserting the weaknesses in security owing to Bush tax cut. Bush's eyes flickers. Point to Kerry. Bush still breathing hard but he stings with Kerry's 1993 vote on intelligence cutbacks. Point to Bush. Kerry smiles in wry manner. Bush connects with how can you win in Iraq if you think it was a mistake in the first place. Point to Bush. Gibson interjects in follow-ups, sounding a little Good Morning Americaish. Back to you, Diane. Kerry again hits with tax cuts instead of more defense. Bush says he's worried -- four times -- doesn't sound reassuring. Minus point, Bush.
Round, Bush 1-0.

9:34 p.m. ET
Round six: Bush receives from Robert Farley about prospects of a draft. Says he's heard rumors on the "internets." Bloggers can be heard howling over the multiple. Minus one point to Bush. Stumbles in claiming he's replacing troops with weapons and equipment and unmanned vehicles. They'll save "manpower and equipment." Veers back to say there'll be no draft. Kerry is on the ropes here, now lists the military leaders who support him. Sounds a little too much like thank yous at a Friars' Roast. Minus one point to Kerry. Now Kerry backs out of clinch and says there's already a backdoor draft and says his military policy will be like Reagan's and Eisenhower's. One point to Kerry. But Bush is off his stool before Gibson authorizes him to and he's yelling at the ref -- always a bad idea. Minus one point,. Bush. He also leaves himself open by invoking Poland as an ally when Poland is pulling out -- Kerry scores point by noting it.
Round, Kerry +1 to -2.

9:30 p.m. ET
Round five:
Kerry receives from Randi Jacobs. Good that these questioners have fairly simple names. She asks about Iran's nuclear threat. Kerry opens up himself by saying "I don't think you can just rely on U.N. sanctions," but steers out of skid to blame President for inattention to Iran, and easily explains the concept of yellow-cake. Look on Bush's face seems more like surprise but he's keeping a clamp on it. Kerry moves back to the 13-year figure for Russian nukes containment and Bush is caught winking with the left eye. Wink or cut? Is the eye closing. Bush steps up and draws laugh by saying "that answer almost makes me want to scowl." Point to Bush for self-deprecation. Now invokes the "Brits" and calls the weapons "nuclear." Bush twists Kerry charges about not involving allies by saying Kerry would reduce those involved in North Korea.
Round: Bush 2-0.

9:25 p.m. ET
Round four:
Bush receives from Nikki Washington on her family's trip abroad and anti-American feeling they experienced and if he has a remedy. Bush slips into almost saying he made decisions that contributed to it; saves himself by firing a Ronald Reagan shot. But he wanders off to Yasser Arafat and a list of decisions he made that were unpopular and necessary. Not really answering the question and the rasp is growing in his voice. I think I liked him making faces better. Kerry starts calmly and converts with a series of jabs about "more of the same." Kerry now quotes Bush from 2000 against him about only going to war if there was an exit strategy. Point to Kerry. Bush's lower lip quivers. Now his eyes dart and he chews as Kerry accuses him of "breaking his word." Bush off his feet quickly to respond and damns his general with faint praise, opening up the body to Kerry. And he hits hard: President should win the peace. Point to Kerry.
Round: Kerry 2-0.

9:20 p.m. ET
Round three: Kerry Receives from Anthony Baldi. Doesn't look follically challenged. He asks if Kerry would use same plan as Bush in Iraq. Kerry quotes King Abdullah of Jordan and— ooh, a devastating right, quotes Republicans Richard Lugar and Chuck Hagel about "dangerous" "incompetence" in the Bush handling of the country. Point to Kerry. The guy in the crowd stage right behind Kerry looks like a cousin to Ben Ginsberg. Kerry trots out Debate One answer about training. Bush turns back on Kerry and accuses him of appropriating "The Bush Plan." President seems to be verging on anger as he describes the Kerry plan for a summit. If I'm Charlie Gibson I'm thinking I may have to break them up. Thank goodness for the Red Line separating them. Kerry asks for follow-up. Kerry turns "wrong place" line around into "right place" about Afghanistan and Osama Bin Laden. Bush response: oops "We didn't find out he didn't have weapons till we got there." Bush seems winded. Minus one point Bush.
Round: Kerry 1 to -1.

9:15 p.m. ET
Round two: Bush receives Robin Dahl's question about the president's belief that war was justified even without WMD. Three invocations of "after 9/11" in first 20 seconds. Bush receives a warning from the referee. Bush's phrasing is strong. His right hand is moving freely and his microphone grip is strong and confident. Says Saddam was "gaming the Oil-for-Feud program" — clever analogy to Missouri's Riverboat Gambling industry. One point to Bush. But now he slows, and Kerry cutaway shows him smiling knowingly to himself. And Kerry roars back invoking the names of both the questioner and the previous questioner. Visceral point to Kerry. Kerry's phrasing is just as strong. They're connecting with thorough, well-constructed sentences. Refers to Clinton by last name only to avoid alienating independents. Gibson calls for the follow-up. And Bush goes into a flashback clinch to the first debate and the "Global Test" line, leaving himself vulnerable if Kerry follows through. Kerry now looks not to the audience but to Bush.
Round: Kerry, 2-1.

9:08 p.m. ET 
Round one: I've seen bigger live crowds waiting for taxis in New York. And heck, they do look undecided. I'm surprised they could commit long enough to actually go to the fight. Layout of the room looks they could only manage to borrow one desk from a classroom and Charlie Gibson, for some reason, got first dibs on it. The woman on the right of Gibson peers around him as if she's annoyed that she got an Obstructed View Seat. And here they are! Bush surprises in a light blue tie; Kerry sticks with the traditional red. The fighters go to their stools and Kerry receives Cheryl Otis's question about her friends' perception he is wishy-washy. Standard Kerry thank you and calls President "sir." And Kerry swings hard: assaulting his character is Bush's cover-up for failure to locate Weapons of Mass Destruction. But he loses focus -- wanders off into No Child Left Behind and pulling out the Jobs Created stats, earlier than expected. Minus one point to Kerry. Bush answers swiftly and strongly "I can see why people at your work place think he's wishy-washy. He is." But Bush slips! Can't remember if Kerry voted against war funding first, or against. Minus one point to Bush. Bush wanders, freedom to walk may be hurtful.
Round: draw, -1 to -1.

8 :01 p.m. ET

Boxing and presidential politics have more in common than you'd think:

It's been observed that boxing is a spectacle in which men dressed in tuxedos sit around watching two guys in their underwear fight each other.

Well, surely, a presidential debate is a spectacle in which millions dressed in their underwear sit around at home watching two guys dressed in $4,000 suits fight each other.

The concept of the running, written, round-by-round scoring of a boxing match may be foreign to the younger reader. But in the caveman days before cable and Pay-Per-View, the "big" fights were most widely covered by a select few newspapermen permitted access by the promoters.

They would pound out on their typewriters a running description of each round, making their own judgments about which contestant had won which round and why, and telegraph it back to their offices, piece-by-piece. Depending on printing deadlines, the entire account might make it into the next day's papers, or just the first eight rounds, or just the first two. Headlines—as late as the '70s— might read "Muhammad Ali Ahead On Points In 6th."

There was also the question, especially in the time before electronic media, of the garbled report. As Jonathan Yardley recounts in his great biography of the writer Ring Lardner, when Lardner was a re-write man on the sports desk of a Chicago newspaper in 1908, he had to sort out the accounts of three different reporters telegraphing their updates from a fight in Milwaukee.

Lardner didn't do it well, and the results, he later recounted with obvious hyperbole, read something like this:

"The boys were called to the center of the ring and received instructions from William Hale Thompson, Ernest Byfeld, Percy Hammond, Charles Richter, the Spring Valley Thunderbolt tore in as if he had never heard another crowd made the trip as guests of William Lydon on his yatch the Lydonia Steve cut loose with a left uppercut that nearly this makes certain another meeting between the Battling Nelson and Packey McFarland were also introduced. Steve slipped as he was about to. Seven special trains but the majority thought the round was even it was Papke's round."

In trying to present Bush-Kerry II "live" to the blogosphere, I don't have to worry about my reports getting confused—  only about me getting confused. Boxing writers at least have breaks between rounds to catch up on their blow-by-blow descriptions. There is no such luxury here. On the other hand, there is also no time to keep any running tally, either of "points" awarded or subtracted, or of "rounds" awarded. I'll call 'em as I see 'em, and be as surprised by the final "score" as you will.

Thus, the reader, no matter his or her political stripe, is asked to bear with any errors of judgment, grammar, quotation, or, especially, addition and subtraction. If it reads like Lardner's train wreck from Milwaukee, I promise— all will be corrected once the Texas Thunderbolt and Battling Kerry return to their corners.

Stay tuned and keep refreshing! ( Click here to read Keith's blow-by-blow of the VP debate .)

E-mail Keith at KOlbermann@MSNBC.com.

Keith's blog 'Bloggermann,' debuts next week. Find it at Countdown.MSNBC.com.

October 8, 2004 | 5:53 p.m. ET

What I am looking for in tonight’s debate (Joe Trippi)    

First thing, let’s understand how fast momentum can change in a Presidential campaign.  Just two months ago Kerry was riding high after the Democratic convention in Boston – then after sleeping through August, the relentless “Swiftboat” attacks, and the Republican Convention in New York it was George Bush that had the upper hand. 

Then in one night, Kerry grabbed it back in the debate in Miami.   

Regardless of who scored in the vice presidential debate, the reality is that the momentum is with the Kerry-Edwards campaign now, and tonight’s debate is an opportunity for the Kerry camp to build on that momentum—or risk George Bush turning the tide tonight in St. Louis and grabbing it back yet again.

Kerry has shown amazing grit when his back is against the wall, and a propensity to coast once he feels he’s pulled into the lead.    So I am looking for him NOT to coast tonight. 
George Bush really does have his back against the wall tonight— a replay of his performance in Miami could put him in the land of no return.  With credibility on both the economy ( see today’s jobs report ) and Iraq ( see Bremer’s recent remarks , Rumsfeld’s recent remarks , Cheney’s whopper in Cleveland , and the recent weapons inspector report ) on the rapid decline, when it comes to the President’s positive spin on all things not true— Bush must avoid any misstatement of fact, or another incident that can be labeled “misleading.” 

The Bush/Cheney campaign just does not have very much capital left in the bank when it comes to the truth. If Cheney won the vice presidential debate on points (something I disagree with) he lost it when he claimed that he had never suggested a connection between terrorists, 9/11 and Iraq.    

The American people have watched the administration for over two years now, and no amount of post-debate spin can change the fact that Cheney out-and-out lied during that debate.  That has put the president on fragile ground.  The ice, in my view is beginning to crack and  the President cannot make a similar remark tonight, or the risk of taking a plunge below the ice is too great.

I am looking for “John Kerry the prosecutor” tonight, relentlessly pinning the president against the ropes on the economy – and not letting up him get away with any misleading statements.  
The real question tonight is how the president handles Kerry’s recent move to the lead, his own declining credibility on the issues that matter most — and a former prosecutor in the ring challenging him directly on every front— including the President’s ability to recognize and speak the truth.

E-mail: JTrippi@MSNBC.com

October 8, 2004 | 5:16 p.m. ET

A couple of hardballs for Bush and Kerry  (Terry Jeffrey, Editor of Human Events)

If I could pitch one hardball and logical follow-ups at each of the candidates tonight, here is what I would throw at them.

For President Bush: Mr. President, the State Department is offering a $5 million reward for information leading to the capture of Adnan al Shukrijumah, an al Qaeda terrorist. In August, Time Magazine reported that Shukrijumah had been seen in Honduras and that our government had put a “particular alert” out for him along the Mexican border.  Do we know for certain that Shukrijumah has not already snuck across that border?  Are you confident that in the 3 years since 9/11 you have done enough to secure the Mexican border to make certain terrorists and weapons of mass destruction cannot be smuggled across it?

For Senator Kerry: Senator Kerry, in the first week of July you told the Dubuque Telegraph Herald, “ I believe life does begin at conception.”  The next week, you signed on as a co-sponsor of S.303, a bill that would legalize the creation of human embryos through cloning for purposes of embryonic stem cell research   As has been noted by your conservative critics in both the Weekly Standard and Human Events, the bill mandates that human embryos cloned for research “shall not be maintained after more than 14 days.”  In other words, they must be killed.  If human life begins at conception as you say it does, Senator, why do you want the federal government to mandate the killing of human beings who have been alive for two weeks?  How does this government-mandated killing of human beings who have committed no crimes differ from the death penalty—which you oppose for all criminals except terrorists?

E-mail: TJeffrey@MSNBC.com

October 8, 2004 | 4:50 p.m. ET

And the winner? (John Lichman, The Hardblogger Jogger)

Like an aspiring Trippi, I spend my time trolling the web for news and the occasional weird article. While some of these web rumors eventually go the way of the dinosaur, such as the draft nightmare (current status of bill— failed to pass). But then, over at BoingBoing.net, they just brought up an interesting faux-paus.

I wouldn't feel too bad if you miss the debate tomorrow, since George Bush has "won the re-election as president by a 47 percent to 43 percent margin in the popular vote nationwide."
Confused? 

An ABC affiliate put up the info, provided by AP, and made many believe we slept through November. The Associated Press claim the information is a "test", and means nothing. The current site is down, but Boing Boing is keeping a JPEG of the original image.

I wonder if this means 'Hardball' will have nothing to do now? Or is the Dubya already celebrating his future win? Ironically, the AP predicts Nader's future as being a bit dark instead of green: he failed to win nor lead in any state.

Either way, I'll be coming back later with another on-the-scene student report after Friday's debate. Until then, I'll see you kids around.

-John.lichman@gmail.com

October 8, 2004 | 12:23 p.m. ET

Washington University in St. Louis is the site of the 2nd Presidential Debate. Chris Matthews welcomes Wash U student bloggers! Read on!

wustl.edu
Washington University in St. Louis

(Michael Bortinger, Junior at Washington University in St. Louis)

If you didn’t know before, you’ll know now that Washington University is liberal land.  Is it really all that liberal? Students are sporting Kerry-Edwards signs like they’d be naked without them.  Yeah, if you don’t understand that then just turn on MSNBC TV .  Are all these students Kerry advocates or just ready for a new administration? Wash U might be liberal, but it seems like our liberalism has been extracted by cameras, which is not natural.

The bombing at the Hotel in Taba yesterday raises a question that has been absent from the campaign trail: What is the course of action in the next six months that the candidates plan to take in establishing peace in the Middle East?  Although the phrase “Free Elections in Iraq” translate into “PEACE” for the Bush administration, this is not the reality. While Sen. Edwards came out batting for Israel’s right to self-defense during the VP debate , the vagueness was obvious as well.  Cheney passed.  We need more questions about the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict and other Middle East affairs asked by the MEDIA.

Press the candidates so that each American vote will have less regrets attached.

Check out Wash U's student debate blog.Email Hardblogger@msnbc.com

October 8, 2004 | 9:38 a.m. ET

(Brandon Brown, Freshman at Washington University in St. Louis)

Well I may not be Joe Trippi, Ron Reagan, or Joe Scarborough, but I’d like to think I have an inside look at the second presidential debate that those guys don’t have.  Here at Washington University, step foot outside your dorm and BOOM … you’re absolutely bombarded with liberal propaganda.  Yesterday I saw a 30-foot long “Kerry/Edwards” sign being lugged around by a couple students who looked like they came straight from Woodstock.  While the liberals can have their giant signs, if a conservative is spotted with something as imperceptible as a pin on their shirt, they are assailed with the proverbial Wash U interrogative, “You’re a Reeeee-p-uuu-b-l-i-c-aaaaa-nnn?”  Well, I’m here today to tell all of the Chris Matthews groupies out there that “YES, I am a Republican” – and my childish speaking candidate is gonna kick your latte sipping candidate’s tail on November 2nd.

Ok, that’s enough of the emotional appeal for now.  Let’s handicap the debate.  I’m not going to sit here and pretend that my boy won the first debate – because, truthfully, he got smashed.  Millions of “undecided” voters told Zogby and Pew to mark them up in the Kerry column (Who are these undecideds anyway?  Jane Fonda surrogates?  A mysterious group indeed.).  Well, Bush’s task Friday night is to sway those undecideds back.  Cheney solidified the base on Tuesday … Bush must reach out to the middle on Friday.  Let’s face it, most people made up their mind a long, long  time ago.  Bush’s base is safe, but if he doesn’t reach out to the leaners out there, it may be time to head back to Crawford and catch up on a little fly fishing.  And Scarborough, keep those Hardball guys in check – especially that Reagan guy…he certainly is a character.

Check out Wash U's student debate blog.Email Hardblogger@msnbc.com

October 7, 2004 | 11:18 p.m. ET

(Sarah Baicker, student at Washington University in St. Louis)

I’m writing from a liberal-leaning, occasionally apathetic campus, but there’s certainly no shortage of “hot issues” being discussed around here.  Especially now that the Washington University-hosted debate is less than a day away, students are coming out of the woodwork, brandishing buttons, stickers, t-shirts, and signs, making sure that their opinions are heard— or at least seen — by the many cameras and news crews that have flooded our campus.

I’d have to say one of the issues students are most concerned with is the war in Iraq.  Mostly, it seems, the campus is against the effort, and fearful of the possibility of a draft reinstatement.  The general feeling is that our country’s money could be better spent elsewhere— to fund education, health care, and homeland security— in America first, rather than overseas.

As this is a college campus, and St. Louis is somewhat of a college town, the “Nader issue” has also been on the minds of Wash U’s student body.  There are a number of students on campus and around the city fighting for Nader’s right to have a voice, and a considerable population of the student body will probably be voting for him.  Personally, I feel that there are much better ways Nader could draw attention to himself.  Especially with the news that the "Swift Boat Veterans for Truth" have donated to his campaign— clearly, he will do little more than aid the Republicans at this point. I feel strongly that a vote for Kerry is the way to go, and it seems that the majority of this campus is like-minded in that respect.

Students are also talking about abortion rights, one of the important social issues of this election season.  Again, the majority of students on campus are pro-choice, but there is certainly a present opposing voice.  Whoever wins this election will probably end up appointing a justice to the Supreme Court, and since day one the Bush administration has been attempting to undermine Roe vs.  Wade. Many students, myself included, feel strongly about a woman’s right to choose, and the fear of turning back the clock 30 years is something many of us are very concerned about.

Hosting this debate on campus has been such a whirlwind— I’ve been working with MSNBC to make sure everything is in order for the debate coverage and live filming, and students are everywhere, hoping to catch their 15 minutes of fame on cable television.  It’s been a once in a lifetime experience, and the debate itself is still hours away.  I look forward to seeing the outcome of the debate, the school’s ultimate response as well as the nation’s, and hopefully I’ll get to post again, after Friday night!

Check out Wash U's student debate blog.

Email Hardblogger@msnbc.com

October 7, 2004 | 9:48 p.m. ET

Momentum? (David Shuster)

If you had asked me Tuesday night about the Democrats' momentum, I would have told you that it had stopped.  During the VP debate,  Dick Cheney's "gravitas" seemed far more significant than John Edwards logic or arguments.  Then came the clincher: "The first time I ever met you was when you walked on the stage tonight."

It was an absolutely devastating line from Dick Cheney.  The problem is that it wasn't true.   His line about having "never suggested" an Iraq connection to 9-11 was problematic as well.  And since the debate, the focus has not been on Edwards and whether he has the experience to be VP... but rather on Cheney's credibility problems.  That's not a winning story line for Republicans.  And it means there is now even more pressure on President Bush Friday night.

Take a look at the polls: While the president has a slim lead in Florida, he now appears to be losing in both Pennsylvania and Ohio. (No Republican has won the White House without Ohio.)  In Colorado, a state the Bush campaign considers "must win," the President and John Kerry are even.  In Tennessee, Kerry is surging and now within the poll's margin of error.  (Al Gore lost his home state of Tennessee four years ago.)

Some of you might be thinking, "wait a second," those polls came out over the weekend or at least before the VP debate.  Well, take a look at the news since then.   Never mind the intense focus on VP Cheney's credibility... now the administration is taking a beating over the Iraq WMD report delivered to Congress by the top U.S. inspector Charles Duelfer.  Duelfer concluded that Saddam destroyed his chemical and biological weapons 13 years ago and also ended his nuclear weapons program in 1991. Duelfer also said there is no evidence any programs or weapons were moved to Syria before, during, or after Gulf war 2.  Earlier this week, the president's former administrator in Iraq, Paul Bremer, said too few troops had been to Iraq to keep control.  Last week, the CIA cast doubt Iraq ever helped Al-Qaeda, despite repeated administration assertions to the contrary.

It all adds up to a campaign that is fast moving against the President. John Kerry's formal style may not work very well in Friday night's town hall format.  And the president comes across as far more genuine and relaxed in these kinds of situations.  But that's another reason why the pressure is on Pres. Bush.

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

Check out my "Shuster Reports" for Hardball.

October 7, 2004 | 12:08 p.m. ET

Will Catholic voters defeat one of their own? (Terry Jeffrey, Editor of Human Events)

So far in this campaign—except for the brief exchange on gay marriage in the vice presidential debate—the key issues driving this year’s most significant swing vote into the President’s camp have hardly been debated.

This swing vote—Midwest Catholics—and two of the key issues moving them—marriage and abortion—defy the conventional analysis that the Republican Party needs to move left on social issues to expand its base.

These swing voters are not Arnold Schwarzenegger or Rudy Giuliani Catholics--who think just like the Catholic John Kerry on social issues.  They are Catholics who agree with the teachings of their own church and, generally, with the positions of George Bush—a southern Christian—in these areas.

The large concentration of this socially conservative Catholic vote in Midwest states, and the determinative impact it could have on the outcome of this very close presidential race, could change the dynamics of American presidential campaigns for many election cycles to come.
In the late 1960s, Nixon strategist Kevin Phillips correctly argued that demographic changes in America were lining up to give Republicans a built-in “Sunbelt” Electoral College advantage: a solid South married to a solid West.  Now, with California lost to the national GOP, the party needs a post-Sunbelt Electoral College strategy that does not break faith with its own conservative base.  They may be finding it in the Heartland Majority: a solid South married to all of the mountain states and all of the Midwest minus Illinois. (Pennsylvania might also work its way in to this GOP majority coalition.)

Central to this strategy is that many southern Christians and Midwest Catholics--whether they are Republicans or Democrats--share the same views on social and cultural issues. They agree with Bush and the Republican platform; they disagree with Kerry and the Democratic platform.  And they care about these issues deeply.
Two recent polls reveal a Catholic trend toward Bush.  A poll completed September 24 by the Ventura, Calif.-based Barna Group put Bush ahead of Kerry by 17 points among likely Catholic voters.

“One of the big stories in the campaign is the seismic shift in preference among Catholics voters,” says the Barna Group’s analysis. “Almost one out of every four likely voters (23%) is Catholic.  In May, John Kerry held a small lead over President Bush, 48% to 43%.  In the ensuing four months, however, a myriad of events have stimulated a reversal among Catholics.  Currently, President Bush holds a commanding 53% to 36% lead over the Massachusetts Senator among Catholics who are likely to vote.  That represents a 22-point shift in preference in just four months.”

A Pew Research Center poll completed on October 3, after the first presidential debate, put Bush ahead of Kerry 49% to 33% among white Catholics.

How is Bush’s growing support among Catholics playing out on the Electoral College map?  In 2000, Gore took 53% of the Catholic vote nationwide, while narrowly beating Bush in New Mexico (36.9% Catholic population), Wisconsin (31.6% Catholic population) and Iowa (19.1% Catholic population).  Bush now leads in all three states.  Gore also won Pennsylvania (31.0% Catholic population).  A Gallup poll completed there on September 28 showed Bush up among likely voters and Kerry up among registered voters.  In 2000, Gore won Michigan (20.3% Catholic population).  But a Detroit Free Press poll completed September 28 similarly had Bush leading among likely voters and Kerry among registered voters.

In Ohio (19.7% Catholic population), Bush has maintained his lead.  Ditto for Missouri (15.3% Catholic population), the state that will host this Friday’s town-hall presidential debate.
Speaking of Missouri: In August, 71% of voters there approved a state constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.  Bad news for Kerry: Both Michigan and Ohio have similar amendments on the ballot November 2.  (As does Oregon, another state that Gore won narrowly.)

Ironically, in Tuesday’s vice presidential debate, the marriage issue was the one place where Vice President Cheney was forced to concede some disagreement with the President he serves.  But Cheney’s quiet dissent is unlikely to cause socially conservative voters to abandon Bush.

Of more interest is how Kerry and Bush themselves handle issues like marriage and abortion in their two remaining debates.  So far, the Bush campaign has gone largely “under the radar” on these social issues.  Kerry might be tempted to push Bush into a confrontation in these areas—playing to the conventional understanding that swing voters do not like these issues in the hope of painting Bush as lacking in compassion and out of the mainstream.  But if Kerry does that, he may be playing right into Bush’s hands—by driving socially conservative Catholic voters in states Kerry needs to win still deeper into the President’s camp.

E-mail TJeffrey@MSNBC.com.

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