Tuesday's must-reads

Published September 7, 2004 2:28PM (EDT)

We know that a lot can happen between now and Election Day. We know that John Kerry the candidate is historically a strong closer (ask Howard Dean). And yet, there are signs of Democratic panic that the race is all but already lost. But maybe Kerry's standing isn't as bad as it looked heading into the Labor Day weekend, when two polls from the weekly newsmagazines showed Bush with a commanding lead. A new CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll released Monday showed Bush with a lead among likely voters -- 52 to 45 percent. Among registered voters, though, the race was statistically tied, with Bush ahead 49 to 48 percent.

The New York Times looks at the state of play as the fall campaign kicks off in earnest. The verdict: It ain't over til its over. And it ain't over yet.

"With the presidential race down to a two-month stretch, Republicans and Democrats are in unison on two points: President Bush is in a more commanding position than many in his own party forecast only a month ago, while Senator John Kerry is struggling to catch up. Mr. Bush seems to have hit his political stride at the very moment that Mr. Kerry is facing fundamental questions about his candidacy."

"Yet if history is any guide, the contest is far from settled. For all of Mr. Bush's success at his convention in New York last week, the underlying dynamics that have made Republicans view him as an endangered incumbent for much of this year remain very much in place: the nation's unease about its future, the deaths in Iraq and the unsteady economy."

"Though Mr. Kerry, the Democratic challenger, has yet to come up with an overarching theme for his campaign even at this late date - an absence that came into sharp relief after Mr. Bush's disciplined convention built on a message of security - he is a politician who has always seemed to run best when he is on the verge of defeat. Even on Labor Day, the traditional start of the general election campaign, when voter opinions are beginning to set, he still has 57 days to make his case."

The Los Angeles Times looks at Congress' desperate attempt to do something before the November election after eight months of gridlock -- a recipe, some analysts say, for bad bills.

"Congress returns from its August recess today vowing to rush through a bundle of important bills before the November election. Measures to carry out recommendations from the Sept. 11 commission and to increase domestic security are on the agenda. So is legislation on transportation, energy, education, health and jobs programs and extending President Bush's tax cuts. There is also likely to be a huge omnibus spending bill laden with federal projects considered dear to the hearts of local voters."

" ... Even though Republicans and Democrats feel pressure to show voters they can be productive, many concede it will be hard to accomplish in a brief election-eve session what could not be done previously. Some analysts warn that legislating under such pressure may not yield good results  especially in high-profile but complex areas such as anti-terrorism and intelligence reform.

Another hotly-contested presidential election, another sit-out by the most popular of Democrats. The Washington Post looks at the state of Bill Clinton's health (looking good) and the likelihood that he will be out of commission for the fall campaign.

"Four years ago, then-President Bill Clinton spent much of the fall campaign season stewing in the Oval Office -- largely banished from the trail on orders from the Democratic nominee. This year, Clinton will spend at least a portion of the next eight weeks stewing from his hospital bed and living room. The difference is that this year, other Democrats are as frustrated at having Clinton on the sidelines as he is to be there."

"Clinton's heart surgery yesterday means that he will miss most or all of political trips and Democratic fundraisers in September. The former president hopes he will have recuperated sufficiently to resume a political schedule by October, including appearances on behalf of Democratic nominee John F. Kerry, but his aides and political handlers said this remains uncertain pending doctor's orders."

After more than a year of allegations against Halliburton for waste and fraud in its work to feed and house U.S. troops in Iraq, the Army plans to rebid the contract in order to achieve "greater efficiencies." The Wall Street Journal reports:

"The U.S. Army plans to move within months to break up the multibillion-dollar logistics contract that Halliburton Co. has to feed, house and look after U.S. troops in Iraq, and to put out the work for competitive bid."

"The move, laid out in an internal Army memorandum, comes after more than a year in which Halliburton's work in Iraq under the contract has been plagued by accounting turmoil and accusations of overcharging. The contract, which the memo values at as much as $13 billion, has been used since early last year to provide massive support services for U.S. troops in Iraq and Kuwait, including housing, dining halls, transportation and laundry."

"U.S. Defense Department officials said the intention to rebid the contract wasn't meant to penalize Halliburton's Kellogg Brown & Root unit that handles the work, so much as to find greater efficiencies by parceling the work out to a wider range of companies. Halliburton spokeswoman Wendy Hall said the move was expected and had occurred in a previous contract with the Pentagon. She said KBR would consider bidding for parts of the work."

U.S. Sen. and former presidential candidate Bob Graham will talk to reporters today about allegations in his new book that the Bush administration blocked an investigation into the Saudi government's support of 9/11 hijackers. The Miami Herald reported on the Graham book over the weekend.

"Two of the Sept. 11, 2001, hijackers had a support network in the United States that included agents of the Saudi government, and the Bush administration and FBI blocked a congressional investigation into that relationship, Sen. Bob Graham wrote in a book to be released Tuesday."

"The discovery of the financial backing of the two hijackers ''would draw a direct line between the terrorists and the government of Saudi Arabia, and trigger an attempted coverup by the Bush administration,'' the Florida Democrat wrote."

"And in Graham's book, Intelligence Matters, obtained by The Herald Saturday, he makes clear that some details of that financial support from Saudi Arabia were in the 27 pages of the congressional inquiry's final report that were blocked from release by the administration, despite the pleas of leaders of both parties on the House and Senate intelligence committees."

"Graham also revealed that Gen. Tommy Franks told him on Feb. 19, 2002, just four months after the invasion of Afghanistan, that many important resources -- including the Predator drone aircraft crucial to the search for Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda leaders -- were being shifted to prepare for a war against Iraq."

By Geraldine Sealey

Geraldine Sealey is senior news editor at Salon.com.

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