Mr. Vice President, meet Sen. Patrick Leahy

By Tim Grieve
Published October 5, 2004 8:31PM (EDT)

The pre-debate mind games have begun.

The Kerry-Edwards camp announced its list of surrogates and spinners for tonight's debate earlier today. Among them: Sen. Patrick Leahy. Now, Leahy hasn't played a central role in the Kerry campaign to date, but he'll be front and center tonight -- well, in the second row of the debate hall, at least -- to serve as a visual reminder of the injudicious language the vice president used in June on the Senate floor. You may remember the event: Cheney and Leahy got to talking, Leahy mentioned a company called Halliburton, and Cheney told Leahy to "fuck himself."

Sources in the Kerry-Edwards campaign told us that the Republicans have lodged a complaint. It wasn't immediately clear whether the complaint was lodged with the Commission on Presidential Debates or just with Kerry's debate negotiators. Either way, what is clear is that the Leahy appearance has gotten under somebody's skin. And the Democrats aren't done yet. Just a few minutes ago, the Democratic National Committee distributed Halliburton hospitality bags to the press corps. The contents included a small box of Tide -- a reminder of how a Halliburton subsidiary charged the military $100 for a 15-pound bag of laundry -- and "your very own no-bid contract."

We couldn't track down anybody from the Bush-Cheney campaign to comment, but we did find Republican National Committee chairman Ed Gillespie roaming the press center just outside the debate hall. He didn't have the talking points, at least not yet. Asked about Leahy's appearance, he said: "I don't know what the rules are, but aren't senators allowed to come?"

Tim Grieve

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

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