First presidential debate tonight

Tonight President George W. Bush and Democratic challenger Sen. John Kerry will have a chance to exchange jabs face-to-face, in the first of three nationally televised debates.

The first debate will be televised on all major networks in Portland from 6 to 8 p.m. tonight.

The debate will take place at the University of Miami in Coral Gables, Fla., and will focus on foreign policy and homeland security. The debate will be moderated by PBS anchor Jim Lehrer.

A second debate, taking place October 8 in Saint Louis, will have a town hall format. A third October 13 in Tempe, Ariz., will have focus on the economy.

Both Bush and Kerry deliberated extensively over the terms of the debates over the past few weeks, which specify everything from acceptable camera angles to how far apart the two candidates will stand.

Both candidates say they hope to capitalize on the debates to woo voters. However, fewer and fewer people have been tuning in since the first televised debate in 1960. That year, over 66 million people watched the first debate, but only 46.6 million watched in 2000.

Both candidates have spent much of the week practicing for the debate, Kerry in Wisconsin and Bush in Texas, taking an occasional break to exchange volleys of criticism through the media.

Democratic vice-presidential nominee John Edwards told reporters yesterday that Kerry was in a “fighting mood” leading into the debate and that he is eager to use the debates to show his strength to voters.

On the Republican side, Cheney described Kerry Tuesday as indecisive and not ready to lead the “war on terror.”

Where they stand …

Sen. John Kerry

Acknowledges an ‘inarticulate moment’
Sen. John Kerry said in an interview that his explanation of why he voted in favor of additional funding for the war in Iraq before voting against it was “one of those inarticulate moments” in the campaign.Kerry ultimately voted against providing $87 billion for military operations and aid in Iraq and Afghanistan. Although he initially supported the appropriation when it was to be funded at least in part by rolling back tax cuts for those with the highest incomes, Kerry said he ended up voting against the final version of the bill as a protest of its funding, which included no-bid contracts. Bush has made a campaign issue of the statement.

Says Bush broke oil promise
Kerry said Wednesday the $50 per barrel price of oil reflects a broken promise of President Bush that will hurt people in the United States.Bush said that Iraqi oil “would pay for the war, but we know that those oil pipes are being blown up,” Kerry said. “We know that $50 a barrel isn’t as bad as it might get because analysts are now telling us that the price may go up to $60.”Crude oil surpassed $50 a barrel for the first time this week. Analysts said prices could keep rising because of rising demand, tight supplies and output threats in nations such as Iraq and Nigeria.

Bringing the funny
“Heavens to Betsy,” it’s hard to believe that the John Kerry of senate stiff-speak is out there on the campaign trail tossing off homespun phrases, and even a joke or two.
Not only is the sometimes aloof senator from Massachusetts dropping an occasional laugh-line into his stump speech, his audiences are chuckling. This heartens campaign aides who think his message is extraordinary but worry that the delivery is often ordinary.

Midwest on the mind
Wisconsin is of vital importance to Kerry. Democrat Al Gore won the state in 2000, but state polls now show a tie or a slight Bush lead. Democrats agree it would be difficult for Kerry to win without Wisconsin’s 10 electoral votes.
Campaigning in the heart of dairy country, Kerry claimed Bush wants to end a federal price support program that helps dairy farmers when milk prices drop. The program expires in October 2005, but Kerry said Bush would do nothing before the election to avoid antagonizing voters in swing dairy states. Kerry said he would maintain the program.

President George W. Bush

Comforting, campaigning in Florida
Bush comforted residents in hurricane-battered Florida for the fifth time in six weeks on Wednesday, delivering sympathy and promises of aid to hard-hit citrus growers in a crucial part of the politically vital state.
Bush’s stop, en route to Thursday night’s debate, put him in a fast-growing swing area in the center of the state, which ranks fourth in the nation in electoral votes with 27. On Thursday, before the debate, Bush was to visit another site of hurricane damage, heading for the town of Stuart on Florida’s east coast where Hurricane Jeanne made landfall on Saturday night and where Hurricane Frances blew through three weeks before.

Calls Kerry “opportunist”
Bush on Monday labeled rival Sen. John Kerry a political opportunist whose ever-changing positions undercut the Democrat’s aspirations to be the nation’s leader.”He probably could spend 90 minutes debating himself,” Bush said with a chuckle as he addressed supporters inside a cavernous structure typically used for agriculture shows

New attack ads
The Bush campaign rolled out a new television ad Monday highlighting Democratic Sen. John Kerry’s statements on the Iraq war.”How can John Kerry protect us when he doesn’t even know where he stands,” the ad asks.It shows quick snippets of the Democrat’s comments on the war, including “the winning of the war was brilliant,” and “It’s the wrong war, in the wrong place, at the wrong time.”

Renewed firm stance on Iran
Bush insisted Monday that Iran will not develop a nuclear weapon on his watch.Pressed on whether he would allow Iran to build a bomb on Fox News Channel’s “The O’Reilly Factor,” Bush said, “No, we’ve made it clear, our position is that they won’t have a nuclear weapon.”Bush’s comments did not mark new policy. In June 2003, Bush said that “the international community must come together to make it very clear to Iran that we will not tolerate the construction of a nuclear weapon.”But Bush has not spoken out so forcefully on the matter since signs emerged recently that Iran could be on the path toward developing a bomb.