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Campaign Roadblog, 2/24/04

With the primary season in full swing, CBS News reporters are out on the road covering the candidates' every move. In our daily Roadblog, they share their campaign trail observations, impressions and anecdotes.


Tues. Feb. 24: While jobs and the economy were the campaign's topics du jour Tuesday as Kerry made his second swing through Ohio in a week, it was President Bush who set the agenda with some Kerry bashing on Monday night and a proposed gay marriage ban on Tuesday.

A day after Bush took a jab at Kerry, essentially accusing him of flip-flopping on NAFTA, tax cuts, the Patriot Act and Iraq, Kerry responded Tuesday, saying, "I think the president is a walking contradiction and the president of the biggest 'say one thing do another administration' in the modern history of this country."

On the gay marriage issue, Kerry repeated his stance that he's against gay marriage but supports same-sex civil unions. As for the idea of a Constitutional amendment banning gay marriages, Kerry thinks it goes too far.

"I don't think you need a constitutional amendment. States for 200 years have had the right to make this decision. And there is nothing to suggest they're not up to the ability to make the decision," Kerry told reporters in Youngstown, Ohio.

Meantime, the Kerry campaign is unveiling a new ad Wednesday that focuses on jobs and the economy and that will air in Ohio and Upstate New York, countering John Edwards' ad buy there.

The ad goes right at Bush and his record on jobs as Kerry lays out his plans for job creation and health care. "George Bush won't do it," Kerry says in the ad. "I will."

Kerry's campaign day began in the afternoon in Struthers, Ohio outside of Youngstown - several hours after a not-so-organized Secret Service security sweep at LaGuardia Airport delayed the campaign charter's departure from New York.

He toured an abandoned steel mill with local union officials and laid-off workers before touring the bustling Astro Shapes factory just yards away. Following the tour, he held a town hall meeting there where he said the Bush administration was to blame for Americans having their jobs "ripped out from under them."

Later, he spoke to a rally of about 1,000 at Cuyahoga Community College outside of Cleveland.

Not to be forgotten, three states held contests Tuesday: Hawaii, Utah and Idaho. All three were wins for Kerry, who was in Cleveland when the returns came in. "Thank you, Utah," said Kerry. "With outstanding turnout, tonight you've shown that Democrats in Utah are alive and well and ready to kick George W. Bush out of the White House."

Wednesday, Kerry visits a steel plant in Cleveland before flying to Toledo for a speech on the economy and then to St. Paul, Minn. for a rally at Macalaster College.

A few high-profile surrogates will hit the campaign trail on behalf of Kerry this week. Wesley Clark holds three events in Georgia - in Columbus, Macon and Albany. Kerry's wife Teresa is in Los Angeles and Sen. Ted Kennedy heads to upstate New York where he'll visit Albany, Syracuse and Rochester on Friday and Saturday.

Endorsement watch: Kerry received a blanket endorsement from several major Maryland lawmakers in advance of the March 2 primary there. The list includes Sens. Paul Sarbanes and Barbara Mikulski; Reps. Steny Hoyer, Ben Cardin, Dutch Ruppersberger and Chris Van Hollen; and Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley. Kerry also received the backing of New Jersey Sen. Frank Lautenberg.
--Steve Chaggaris


Tues. Feb. 24: Atlanta, Georgia may be "Home of the Braves," but today Senator Edwards (with his Southern twang) looked like he felt right at home.

At the State Capitol this afternoon, Edwards picked up the endorsement of several key Georgia legislatures. Edwards already has the endorsement of Gov. Barnes, who is serving as his state chair. Georgia is the only Southern Super Tuesday state, and the campaign has made it clear that this is a crucial state for them. On Sunday, they began airing two statewide television ads, and Edwards has already made stops in Atlanta, Savannah, Columbus and Albany.

Throughout Edwards campaign, he's consistently had harsh words for President Bush. While he's refrained from attacking his Democratic opponents, he's not shied away from criticizing the Bush administration. And while the race for the Democratic nomination is not over yet, it appears that Bush is already working on the general election.

Last night in a speech to the Republican Governor's Association, Bush made several references to Senator Kerry, his likely opponent in the fall. In response to that, Edwards said earlier in Atlanta, "Not so fast George Bush. You don't decide who our nominee is." The polls and pundits are already looking towards a Bush-Kerry race, but Edwards does not plan to be written off just yet.

As we head to Super Tuesday, it appears that Edwards is being more closely scrutinized. In recent weeks, Edwards had been riding a positive wave, especially since his decisive victory in South Carolina. He didn't do well in Tennessee and Virginia, but his strong second-place finish in Wisconsin brought his otherwise flailing campaign back to life. Since he's only won once in 17 contests, it seems like people are looking for a reason to either keep his candidacy in motion, or show why he should hand the wand over to frontrunner Kerry.

For instance, yesterday at a press conference in New York City, he was asked about the situation in Haiti. Looking at the reporter like she was from Mars, he basically said that "we are doing the right thing and we should assess the situation as we go along." Hello – maybe he should have read the newspaper or turned on his TV in the morning. It was definitely not a savvy answer from a polished attorney or a guy who undisputably lacks the foreign experience of John Kerry.

He was also confused about a question regarding the European Union. While, these are not make or break issues for voters, they definitely point out the vulnerabilities in an underdog's campaign. They also give writers something to write about and TV personalities something to talk about. Edwards certainly cannot afford for any journalistic medium to highlight his weaknesses.

Another topic that has been making news lately is gay marriage. In fact, this morning, President Bush chose it as his first campaign issue. Edwards, who opposes gay marriage said to reporters, "I don't support, I'm against the president's constitutional amendment. I don't personally support gay marriage myself. My position has always been for the states to decide, it's for the state of Georgia to decide or any other state. I think the federal government should not make those decisions."

When asked if he was surprised this was the president's first campaign issue, Edwards said, "If the president really wants to help gay couples, he should help them with their health care and economic issues, etc." Edwards obviously skirted the issue completely, and tried to talk about his own agenda instead of the real agenda for gay couples.

Finally, Edwards was asked why he's opposed to gay marriage and he said, "I don't personally support gay marriage. I don't think it's the right thing to do." Some would argue it's a little incongruent that he doesn't think it's the right thing to do, but he thinks the decision should be left to the states.

On the other hand, you could also argue that he may be opposed to it on a personal level, but still thinks it's up to each individual state to decide. All in all, this issue is definitely a thorny one for both the candidates and the American people and there is no answer that would appease everyone.

Later today, Edwards is headed to the home state of President Bush. Perhaps he'll need some "brains" and "bravery" in the Lone Star State.
--Alison Schwartz