Campaigns agree: Bush was unplugged

By Tim Grieve
Published October 8, 2004 9:04PM (EDT)

The surrogates and spinners on hand for tonight's debate in St. Louis don't agree on much, but they do see eye-to-eye on this: There's virtually no chance that George W. Bush wore a listening device during the first presidential debate.

Kerry campaign spokesman Joe Lockhart told Salon that it is "virtually impossible" that Bush wore a wire last week -- and that if he did, it didn't work very well. "If he had someone talking in his ear, he should have gotten someone better to talk in his ear," Lockhart said.

Asked whether he could categorically deny that Bush wore any kind of listening device, Bush-Cheney spokesman Steve Schmidt said: "It sounds like complete and total nonsense." Sounds like, or is? "Complete and total nonsense," Schmidt said.

Was that a non-denial denial? Maybe. Or maybe it was just the Bush campaign keeping alive a trivial "bad news" story because it's better than talking about the new job numbers or the war in Iraq. Such a pre-debate diversion wouldn't be new: According to this week's Newsweek, Kerry campaign aides faked their concern over timing lights in the run-up to the first debate in order to lower expectations for their candidate.

Update: Bush-Cheney strategist Matthew Dowd just told Salon that there is "absolutely no chance" the president was wearing a listening device. So what was that bulge? "I don't know," Dowd said. "You could ask the White House for a personal discussion. I have no idea."

Bush could have been wearing a bullet-proof vest -- he has been known to wear one, and he has been looking a little thick in public appearances lately. But if that's what it was, don't count on getting confirmation from the White House. The Secret Service is, well, secretive about security for Bush, and the White House releases security information only selectively. When Bush threw out the first pitch at a Yankees' game shortly after Sept. 11, the White House raged at reporters who mentioned that the commander in chief was wearing Kevlar. Times have changed. At the Republican National Convention last month, the Bush-Cheney campaign showed a video highlighting the president's first pitch -- and used the fact that he was wearing the vest as proof of his courage in tough times.

Tim Grieve

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

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