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

Thursday, October 14, 2004| 9:25 p.m. ET
From Elizabeth Wilner, Mark Murray, Huma Zaidi and Aaron Inver

First glance (19 days until Election Day)
TEMPE, AZ -- We wrote yesterday that we anticipated the Tempe debate could be the last time domestic issues are discussed at length during the presidential campaign.  The Kerry campaign says they intend to talk about domestic issues between now and Election Day, but events and Bush-Cheney efforts to keep the focus on Iraq and the WOT have proved pretty successful in doing so for the past seven months. 

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Not only did the war and homeland security come up last night, but at the President's post-debate rally, per the pool report, McCain introduced Bush by saying Bush was "devoted" to winning the war on terror, and called it "the transcendent issue of our times."  One Bush adviser, asked earlier this week whether anything other than Iraq/WOT would be on the table after the debate, just shook his head.

But perhaps an even better measure of the short shrift domestic issues are being given in this race is the fact that the candidates didn't even use up their allotted response time last night.  Maybe they had more than mastered the art of the timed response -- or maybe, on some issues, they didn't have a lot to say.  As a result, more questions were asked in this debate than in the other three.  If you thought that final question about the candidates' wives and daughters seemed like a spare, well, it was. 

And now, the deluge: 19 days of what just about all involved expect will be an intensely negative campaign featuring attacks from every possible corner.  For starters, the Washington Post this morning reports that the Swift Boat Vets have joined forces with some of the POWs interviewed in the anti-Kerry documentary about to be aired on Sinclair stations (see below). 

When Ted Kennedy said last night in attempting to declare a third debate victory for Kerry, "This election cannot come soon enough," this may have been part of what he had in mind. 

Speaking of Kennedy, the "L" word didn't come up much last night, surely spoiling planned drinking games at colleges across the country, and efforts to paint the other candidate as a rigid ideologue faded as the debate wore on.  By the end, Bush was mentioning his work with Kennedy on No Child Left Behind, and Kerry referenced McCain and Mary Cheney -- the latter much to the Cheneys' displeasure (see below).

MSNBC's Becky Diamond reports that Kerry aides roll their eyes and take a breath when asked how grueling the coming 19 days will be.  Kerry spokesperson Stephanie Cutter tells Diamond to expect to travel to three media markets per day for the remainder of the race.  The Bush campaign seems set on the same regimen.

Both President Bush and Kerry proceed to Nevada this morning.  Bush has speeches in Las Vegas at 1:10 pm and Reno at 4:35 pm, then travels to Oregon for a speech in Central Point at 9:10 pm, then heads to Jacksonville, FL. 

Kerry addresses the AARP in Las Vegas at 2:30 pm.  Aides say the speech will extend beyond seniors' issues to the middle class.  Kerry then heads to Iowa for a rally in Des Moines at 9:00 pm.

Vice President Cheney attends rallies in Fort Myers, FL at 12:30 pm and Lakeland, FL at 4:10 pm, then he travels to South Bend, IN.

Edwards, in Iowa, does town halls in Sioux City at 12 noon and Council Bluffs at 4:15 pm, then heads to Des Moines for a Victory Fund reception at 7:30 pm and a rally at 9:15 pm. 

Today's stops
Bush spends most of the day in Nevada, appearing in both Las Vegas and Reno, before heading to Oregon.  Nevada's unemployment dropped from 4.4% in July, to 4.0% in August -- its lowest level since August 2000.  Meanwhile, Oregon's jobless numbers rose from 6.8% in July, to 7.4% in August.  Bush won Nevada in 2000 49.5% to 46%, while Gore took Oregon by just under 6,700 votes. 

Kerry speaks in Las Vegas to address the AARP convention -- just over an hour after Bush makes his own Vegas appearance.  Kerry then heads to Iowa to meet Edwards for a campaign rally.  Gore won Iowa in 2000 by less than 4,200 votes.  Iowa's unemployment rose from 4.4% in July, to 4.5% in August.  Although both candidates and their running mates have been making frequent stops in Iowa, the Des Moines Register notes that tonight will be the first joint Kerry-Edwards appearance in the state in general election campaign.

Nader heads to New Jersey, where he gives a speech at Princeton University.  Gore won New Jersey with 56% of the vote in 2000, but Nader did receive just under 3% -- or 94,500 votes.

The Vice President can run from the networks but he can't hide: He told NBC Des Moines affiliate WHO in a post-debate crosstalk that Kerry was wrong to mention his daughter Mary in answering a question about homosexuality being a choice.  Lynne Cheney was more visibly unhappy.  MSNBC's Priya David reports that while she did not mention Mary's name, she said of Kerry at the Cheney's post-debate event, ""This is not a good man.  This is not a good man.  This is coming from an indignant mom.  What a cheap and tawdry political trick." 

David adds that Cheney spokesperson Anne Womack said, "Senator Kerry's comments about the Vice President's family crossed the line and were inappropriate."  And NBC's O'Donnell reports that Bush campaign spokesperson Steve Schmidt called Kerry's mention of Mary Cheney "dirty pool" and said Kerry "looked terrible doing it."  The campaign said its own focus groups "reacted terribly to it."  Kerry advisor Mike McCurry told O'Donnell that Kerry "raised it appropriately and didn't try to do more than he should have with it."

Throwing the football last night on the tarmac of Phoenix's Sky Harbor airport, Kerry tried to come across as a candidate basking in victory, NBC's Carl Quintanilla says.  As one aide said, "He doesn't have the look of a man who says 'two out of three ain't bad.'"  The campaign was quick to shift into "we-won" mode.  Strategists used words like "slaughtered" and "killed" to describe Kerry's effect on the president.  Bob Shrum: "John Kerry is 3 and 0 and the American people are 0 and 4 under President Bush."

The campaign vows that they will now turn almost exclusively to domestic issues, saying their internal polling shows undecided voters have, at least, made up their minds about the war and now crave more discussion about jobs and health care.  "That doesn't mean we won't respond" to news out of the region, said one, but this aide made clear the campaign has delivered its last significant speech about Iraq.  Coming speeches will cover health care and values, Quintanilla says.

The DNC releases two new web videos about the debate at 10:30 am.

Tempe fallout: the clips
USA Today heard the candidates unveil "their strategy for the next 19 days.  Bush used language unusually slashing for an incumbent president - especially one whose 47% approval rating makes it perilous for him to do anything that might make him seem less appealing and, well, presidential.  He mocked Kerry as an out-of-the-mainstream liberal who would raise voters' taxes and turn their health care over to government bureaucrats.  Kerry depicted Bush as a tool of wealthy people and powerful corporate interests..."

The New York Times analysis on the three debates overall: "They were a rough passage for Mr. Bush, who saw his September lead over Mr. Kerry slip away...   Mr. Bush appeared in three guises: impatient, even rattled at times during the first debate, angry and aggressive in the second, sunny and optimistic last night."

The Chicago Tribune analysis: "Al Gore's biggest mistake of his presidential campaign in 2000 might well have been that he offered three different personas in his three debates with George Bush. Bush was no Gore in that respect, but he did seem to adjust his style from one debate to the next...  Kerry has used the three debates to great advantage, especially relative to the president, gaining credibility with each.  The president righted himself in the second debate in St. Louis and did little to hurt or distinguish himself in Tempe."

The Wall Street Journal offers a technical blow by blow: "Widely considered to have lost the first presidential debate on Sept. 30, and seen to have at best won a draw in the second last week, Mr. Bush was looking to recreate the aura of ridicule around Mr. Kerry that he had established through the summer.  He dismissed Mr. Kerry's attacks on his record and his claims that he could do better...  But Mr. Kerry gave as good as he got."

"Time and again, Mr. Bush, seeking to stoke his conservative base, returned to ideological arguments in an attempt to paint Mr. Kerry as so far out of the political mainstream as to represent a risk to the nation on both domestic and security issues alike.  Mr. Kerry answered by casting himself as a bipartisan problem-solver on issues such as jobs, health care and immigration, buttressing his points with personal touches designed to reassure the swing voters his strategists have targeted."

Knight Ridder: "Each man was aggressive, well versed in numbers and details of domestic programs, and at times caustic...  neither scored a rhetorical knockout that might dramatically shift the dynamics of the close contest."

Bob Novak says the debate was "a dud" and that "[o]nly an intense partisan could pick a decisive winner."

The Boston Globe: "Held just 20 days before the election, it was expected to make less of an impact than the two earlier debates.  Baseball playoffs, a saturation of political news, and a thematic shift away from national security issues conspired to diminish the hype surrounding the Tempe event.  Both the Kerry and Bush teams claimed victory in the debate, but predicted that the race would continue to be a dead heat as it headed into the final phase..."

The Los Angeles Times' Brownstein says "Bush began with an aggressive effort to paint Kerry as an ideological liberal, but he pursued that goal with steadily less energy as the debate proceeded...  Kerry delivered a steadier and more confident performance than in last week's debate...  From the outset, he sought to portray himself as a tribune of the middle class...  And after seeming uncertain and defensive on social issues last week, Kerry expressed more unambiguous support for causes important to his political base - from protecting abortion rights to defending affirmative action."

The Boston Herald notes that "Kerry didn't even try to bat down the Kennedy ties during the debate. He didn't speak after either reference as moderator Bob Schiefer turned to new questions...  The Bush campaign intends to keep up the liberal heat on Kerry in coming days, certain they can put a nail in Kerry's coffin if they can win back ground on domestic issues."

What David Broder heard: "Reprising policy battles that Republicans and Democrats have contested for decades, President Bush and challenger... Kerry sharpened their differences on social and domestic issues..., with each candidate comfortably articulating the positions his most loyal supporters wanted to hear...  Neutral observers, including some who gave Bush a narrow edge, predicted Kerry would maintain the momentum that has brought him from an underdog's position at the start of September to rough parity with the incumbent."

The Philadelphia Inquirer: "Voters will decide whether Bush was persuasive in his depiction of Kerry as a left-leaning, do-nothing politician from Capitol Hill.  They'll ultimately decide whether Bush was savvy or sarcastic when he looked at Kerry and scoffed, 'In the mainstream of politics, you sit on the far left bank.'  That was a big theme last night...  But Kerry didn't convey the impression of a man knocked off his mission.  In a debate largely hinging on domestic issues, Kerry basically made his intended arguments, depicting Bush as an ineffective steward of the economy, and an 'ideologically driven' leader..."

The Los Angeles Times notes the exchange over Social Security, including how Bush "skirted" answering the question of paying for transition costs, and how he charged that Kerry has no plan to fix the system. 

The Washington Times focuses on the exchange over immigration, Bush's assertion that his reform proposal does not include amnesty, and his charge that Kerry supports it.

USA Today offers a thorough run through with a headline focused on the discussion of faith.

Tempe fact-check
The New York Times says Bush wasn't entirely right to assert that his tax cuts have gone to poor and middle-class Americans; he hedged on how he would pay for the transition costs for his Social Security plan; and he was wrong that he never said he wasn't concerned about Osama bin Laden.  Kerry, the paper writes, was not accurate saying he had shown "'exactly how'" he would pay for all his spending proposals; he never answered what he would do to make sure Social Security has future resources for the Baby Boomers; and he was wrong to say Bush has never met with the Congressional Black Caucus. 

The Washington Post, ticking off misstatements: "Facts took a holiday in last night's final presidential debate." 

USA Today says the debate "was replete with misleading statements from both sides," and lays them out.

Knight Ridder fact-checks Bush on the flu vaccine, Kerry on Bush meeting with the CBC, Kerry on uninspected shipping containers, and Bush on Kerry's votes to raises taxes.

The AP: "The last presidential debate highlighted words President Bush forgot he had spoken, a meeting John Kerry thought never happened, but did, and a refusal on both sides to back off questionable statements that have practically become classics through repetition."

National and Homeland Security
The Washington Post reports that some of the POWs interviewed in the anti-Kerry documentary "Stolen Honor: Wounds that Never Heal," soon to be aired on Sinclair Broadcasting stations, have "teamed up" with the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth.  The group is now called Swift Vets and POWs for Truth.  The Post reminds us that the Swift Boaters have "spent more than $10 million trying to discredit Kerry's war record."

"Combined, the airing of the documentary and the efforts of the Swift Vets group amount a last-minute, multimillion-dollar air and ground campaign vilifying Kerry over the Vietnam War.  Their ominous, if highly disputed, message: Kerry dishonored the country by accusing Vietnam veterans of war crimes and atrocities in the early 1970s and therefore cannot be trusted as commander in chief today."

"The 40-minute documentary could potentially reach 24 percent of U.S. television households over Sinclair's stations.  Only a few of those stations, however, are located in states where the presidential race is close."

The Swift Boaters also have bought over $3 million in ad time in Colorado, New Mexico and Ohio, per sources.

The battleground
The Boston Globe analyzes the game plan of both campaigns for the next 19 days.  On the Kerry campaign: "Campaign manager Mary Beth Cahill said yesterday that some 13,000 volunteers will also be deployed to 21 battleground states to help mobilize voter turnout and aid the state-based staffs, and another 400 'surrogates' to speak on Kerry's behalf, including governors, senators, and, Kerry aides said, former President Clinton, who is recovering from heart surgery...  The campaign will also be broadcasting radio and television messages from Clinton and others into the swing states."

"Several Kerry advisers expressed confidence that voter surveys would crown the Democratic nominee as the overall winner of the presidential debates, giving him a surge of momentum heading into the last 19 days of the election.  They also pointed to new polls giving Kerry a slight edge in the battlegrounds of Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Ohio -- the last of which the president carried in 2000 and, several of his aides say, he almost certainly needs to retain next month to keep the White House...  Kerry is targeting those three states as well as Nevada, Iowa, Florida, and Pennsylvania, where he will deliver 'a series of speeches about the big issues that our nation confronts,' Kerry senior strategist Tad Devine said."

The Boston Globe reports the Bush campaign will charge ahead "with a breakneck pace of campaign travel that will focus heavily on Midwestern states he narrowly lost four years ago...  The Bush-Cheney campaign today is launching a nationwide tour featuring 20 Republican governors -- including Governor Mitt Romney -- and on Saturday is unleashing more than 100,000 volunteers in a door-to-door campaign aimed at registering and mobilizing voters in swing states.  It's a tune-up for the campaign's '72-hour' strategy, where activists will bring friends and neighbors to the polls in the campaign's final three days."

"With polls showing Kerry gaining ground, Bush is slated to pick up his travel pace considerably -- a president who likes to spend the night in his own bed may do so only two or three times between now and Election Day -- with particular attention to be paid to Midwestern swing states...  Campaign aides say they will focus resources on the Midwestern states of Iowa, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan, and Ohio -- states they say favor them because they are fighting on Democratic terrain.  Of those five states, all but Ohio was carried by... Gore four years ago."

The Washington Post offers its look at how September 11 and homeland security may be behind New Jersey's new apparent openness to back Bush.  "This is not to overstate Kerry's predicament in New Jersey.  Ask leaders from both parties, and they will say -- on background -- that they expect the state to remain in the Democratic column, albeit narrowly."

USA Today watched the debate with a bunch of undecided voters in Wisconsin, and writes up various signs that Kerry is gaining ground there:.

In a victory for Kerry, Nader is now off the Pennsylvania ballot.  The New York Times says nearly two-thirds of his signatures to get on the ballot were invalid or forged.  In fact, the judge said "the conduct of the Nader campaign 'shocks the conscience of the court.'  He said, 'In reviewing signatures, it became apparent that in addition to signing names such as Mickey Mouse, Fred Flintstone, John Kerry and the ubiquitous Ralph Nader, there were thousands of names that were created at random and then randomly assigned either existent or nonexistent addresses by the circulators.'"  Nader, the story adds, will appeal to the state Supreme Court.

Making your vote count
The Washington Post writes up the latest charges flying over fraudulent voter registration, suppression and intimidation.  While the recent charges have come from Democrats against Republicans, the story notes that for "months, Republicans have complained about allegations of vote fraud by Democratic-leaning interest groups registering voters."

Like Republicans in Colorado: "Colorado lawmakers yesterday sought to ease concerns about the integrity of the state election process, despite growing accusations of fraud amid an overwhelming flood of new voter registrations.  Republican Gov. Bill Owens said yesterday, 'I am extremely concerned about the widespread allegations of serious and sustained criminal activity surrounding voter registration in Colorado.'  Earlier yesterday, he told local television station KUSA-TV, the local NBC affiliate, 'Clearly, there were some people trying to cheat the system.'"  - Washington Times

The Las Vegas Sun reports on the fraud scandal involving a Republican-sponsored group paid to register voters.  The paper reports the employees were told to "register at least four Republicans an hour or they could lose their jobs" and told their salaries would be "bumped" if they registered "eight or more Republicans in a day."

Before a single vote has been counted, the New York Times notes, the state of Florida is already "teeming" with lawsuits over voter disenfranchisement.

The Washington Post runs through the high number of women candidates for office this cycle.  Example: "Ten women -- nine Democrats and one Republican -- are on the November ballot for the U.S. Senate this year, one fewer than the record of 11 set in 1992 and tied in 2002."


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