Thursday's must-reads

By Geraldine Sealey

Published August 26, 2004 2:23PM (EDT)

As Max Cleland learned yesterday on his deliciously dramatic missive-bearing mission to Crawford, President Bush still hasn't denounced the smear campaign of the Swift Boat veterans attacking John Kerry's war record. And a new Los Angeles Times poll gives Bush new reasons to appreciate the vets' handiwork. The poll shows Bush leading Kerry for the first time this year in the newspaper's survey. Although the lead is slight, and within the margin of error, the Times analysis says Kerry's been "nicked" by the untruthful attacks on his Vietnam service.

"For the first time this year in a Times survey, Bush led Kerry in the presidential race, drawing 49% among registered voters, compared with 46% for the Democrat. In a Times poll just before the Democratic convention last month, Kerry held a 2-percentage-point advantage over Bush. That small shift from July was within the poll's margin of error. But it fit with other findings in the Times poll showing the electorate edging toward Bush over the past month on a broad range of measures, from support for his handling of Iraq to confidence in his leadership and honesty."

"Although a solid majority of Americans say they believe Kerry served honorably in Vietnam, the poll showed that the attacks on the senator from a group of Vietnam veterans criticizing his performance in combat and his antiwar protests at home have left some marks: Kerry suffered small but consistent erosion compared with July on questions relating to his Vietnam experience, his honesty and his fitness to serve as commander in chief."

Meanwhile, yet another news story takes apart one of lies of the Swift Boat group. The AP reports that John O'Neill told Richard Nixon in a taped conversation in 1971 that he was in Cambodia during the war -- even though he has said recently that he was not there. O'Neill has charged that Kerry lied about being in Cambodia on Christmas Eve 1968 and claimed in the "Unfit for Command" book that Kerry would have been "court-martialed" had he gone there.

From the AP: "I was in Cambodia, sir. I worked along the border," said John E. O'Neill in a conversation that was taped by the former president's secret recording system. The tape is stored at the National Archives in College Park, Md.

"In an interview with The Associated Press on Wednesday, O'Neill did not dispute what he said to Nixon, but insisted he was never actually in Cambodia.

"I think I made it very clear that I was on the border, which is exactly where I was for three months. I was about 100 yards from Cambodia," O'Neill said in clarifying the June 16, 1971, conversation with Nixon.

"Chad Clanton, a spokesman for the Democratic presidential candidate, said the tape "is just the latest in a long line of lies and false statements from a group trying to smear John Kerry's military service. Again, they're being proven liars with their own words. It's time for President Bush to stand up and specifically condemn this smear."

Republicans hammered out platform language yesterday on social issues and the right-wing got its way, the Dallas Morning News reports.

"A Republican convention means a Republican platform -- and a Republican platform means arguments about abortion, same-sex marriage and other social issues. Sure enough, supporters of abortion rights and gay rights protested yesterday after a platform committee made up largely of conservative delegates approved language that calls for a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage and opposes legal recognition of any sort for gay civil unions."

"The panel also supported the call for a constitutional ban on abortion. Another group of delegates endorsed President Bush's restrictions on stem-cell research. "It's certainly not going to help bring moderates into the party," said Jennifer Blei Stockman, national co-chairwoman of Republican Majority for Choice.

"Republicans said their party is committed to protecting marriage and the unborn, but they added that all views are welcome. "It shows our diversity," said Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee, the platform committee chairman. "It's our strength."

The Pentagon's "few bad apples" argument has been blown out of the water for good by the two new reports on detainee abuse in U.S. military prisons. As the Washington Post says today: "What began several months ago with the emergence of shocking photographs showing a handful of U.S. troops abusing detainees in Iraq has led this week to a broad indictment of U.S. military leadership and acknowledgment in two official reports that mistreatment of prisoners was more widespread than previously disclosed."

"The reports have served to undercut earlier portrayals of the abuse as largely the result of criminal misconduct by a small group of individuals. As recently as last month, an assessment by the Army's inspector general concluded the incidents could not be ascribed to systemic problems, describing them as 'aberrations.'"

The presidential candidates will stump all the way until Nov. 2, but lots of voters will have already cast their ballots. The Washington Post looks at the national trend of casting ballots before Election Day. Thirty states allow early voting by mail for any and all reasons, and another 10 permit it for reasons like long commutes.

"The number of states that offer no-excuse early voting has nearly tripled in the past eight years, fueled in part by the demand for election changes that followed the deadlocked 2000 presidential race. Early voting is transforming the way campaigns do business, and because this presidential race is so closely contested, it could have a significant impact on the outcome."

"In some battleground states, voting will commence nearly six weeks before Election Day. For the Bush and Kerry campaigns, that means an earlier start to television, radio and mail advertising, adding to the campaign's overall cost. "If you wait until Election Day, you've missed the first half of the vote," said Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano (D), who credits her 2002 victory to an aggressive early vote campaign."

Geraldine Sealey

Geraldine Sealey is senior news editor at

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