Friday's Must Reads

By Tim Grieve
Published August 13, 2004 7:09AM (EDT)

All of the focus on Jim McGreevey's sex life might be a little more depressing if the presidential race weren't so uninspiring at the moment. As the Washington Post reports today, the candidates and their campaigns continue their nasty sniping and tit-for-tat about terrorism and Iraq.

On Thursday, Dick Cheney twisted a prior statement from John Kerry -- one in which Kerry suggested the United States should be more sensitive in building alliances in the fight on terror -- to suggest that Kerry wanted to get touchy-feely with al Qaida.

The Post says that Cheney's remarks "marked the continuation of an assault on the Massachusetts senator that was initiated by President Bush on Tuesday. With some polls showing that after his national convention, Kerry gained ground against Bush on who is better able to wage a war on terrorism and serve as commander in chief, Bush and Cheney have seized on several recent Kerry statements to question his fitness to lead the nation during wartime."

The Post said Kerry advisers "quickly fired back at Cheney and the president, seeking to prevent the Republicans from keeping the Democratic nominee on the defensive. Retired Army Gen. Wesley K. Clark, speaking for the campaign, called Cheney's comments 'outrageous' and said the Republican ticket was attempting to divert attention from what he said was a record of incompetence and ineffectiveness in the war on terrorism. 'As they've seen polls and seen the rising respect people have for John Kerry, they're more determined than ever to run a personal attack campaign,' Clark said in a telephone interview. 'They don't have a good record to defend, and so they've fallen back on personal attacks. It's the lowest form of politics.'"

The Los Angeles Times has evidence that the attacks aren't working: swing-state polls showing Kerry pulling ahead.

"The Bush campaign's focus on the war comes as new polls suggest the president is sliding a bit in election battleground states while Kerry may be riding a delayed bounce from his nominating convention  putting added pressure on Bush to perform well at the Republican National Convention from Aug. 30 to Sept. 2.

"A new Quinnipiac University poll of Florida voters released Thursday gave Kerry a 47%-41% lead over Bush, with independent Ralph Nader netting 4% in the state. Without Nader, Kerry leads 49% to 41%. The poll, conducted Aug. 5-10, surveyed 1,094 registered voters in the state with a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points. The same poll in late June found a dead heat.

"Another survey, conducted Aug. 4-10 in Michigan by EPIC-MRA, gave Kerry a 7-percentage-point lead, 49% to 42%.

"New polls released this week by American Research Group showed the Democrat with leads in Ohio and New Hampshire  two battleground states won by Bush in 2000.

"Democratic strategists pointed to the poll numbers to explain the escalating words from their opponents. 'There's no need to go that hard, that negative, this early  unless you're in panic mode,' a senior Kerry strategist said. "

To underscore the negativity of the Republican efforts, the Times offers up a nugget of nastiness from the Bush-Cheney camp. On a conference call with reporters arranged by the campaign, Oregon Sen. Gordon Smith said this week: "It's not John Kerry's fault that he looks French. But it is his fault that he wants to pursue policies that have us act like the French. He advocates all kinds of additional socialism at home, appeasement abroad, and what that means is weakness for the future."

While Dick Cheney has been front-and-center this week as the Bush campaign amps ups its attacks on Kerry, John Edwards has played a quieter role for the Democratic ticket. The Boston Globe checks in with Edwards and finds him making a play for an odd group of swing voters: doctors.

"Since first running for the US Senate in 1998, John Edwards has been the politician many doctors dislike most -- a trial lawyer who amassed an eight-figure fortune from personal injury lawsuits and became a symbol of the soaring medical malpractice insurance premiums physicians must pay.

"But there is another John Edwards that the Kerry-Edwards campaign is taking pains to introduce: a man whose past legal advocacy for patients stemmed from a passion for quality health care, for allowing doctors to make medical decisions instead of insurance companies, and for unfettered medical research.

"This John Edwards says doctor-friendly things, as in a conference call with reporters this week: 'Where might we be today if we'd supported efforts of scientists and doctors to explore . . . stem cell lines? Imagine if there were no limits in place, and they'd been allowed to do their jobs.'

"This Edwards also includes in his stump speech emotional pushes for expanding access to health insurance, providing cheaper prescription drugs to the elderly, and passing a patients' bill of rights. He even has a plan for cutting doctors' malpractice insurance costs.

"Behind the campaign's effort to recast Edwards lies a fear that doctors' anger over his trial-lawyer image could deprive the Democratic ticket of support from a medical constituency that is very much in play in this election. Polling data from recent elections show that doctors, who traditionally vote Republican, are moving toward Democrats because of concerns over health-care issues, including a patient bill of rights."

The Globe says Edwards' pro-doctor pitch may be a hard sell. Most doctors know him as a personal-injury lawyer -- a guy who sues doctors -- and convincing them that he has other, more attractive attributes won't be easy.

Finally, in a headline so obvious it must have been plucked straight from the Onion, the New York Times has this: "Report Finds Tax Cuts Heavily Favor the Wealthy."

Citing a report due out today from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, the Times says that "fully one one-third of President Bush's tax cuts in the last three years have gone to people with the top 1 percent of income, people who have earned an average of $1.2 million annually."

According to the Times, the report concludes that that "households with incomes in that top 1 percent were receiving an average tax cut of $78,460 this year, while households in the middle 20 percent of earnings - averaging about $57,000 a year - were getting an average cut of only $1,090."

Yes, the report supports Bush's contention that the tax cuts brought "some benefit" -- but not much of one -- "to people in almost all income categories." Folks who rank in the bottom fifth in annual income -- those averaging earnings of $16,620 -- enjoyed an average tax rate of exactly $250. "It's not just that lower-income people are getting smaller benefits,'' William G. Gale, a Brookings Institution tax analyst told the Times. "It's also that these tax cuts will eventually have to be paid for with either spending cuts or tax increases, and those are likely to be less progressive than the taxes they are paying now.''

Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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