Trail Tales: Letterman, Leno and Dr. Phil

The election is 43 days away.

Financing Free-for-All

More than a dozen of the government's current rules on political fund raising are invalid, a judge ruled just weeks before Election Day.

U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly ordered the Federal Election Commission (search) to write new rules to govern key aspects of fund raising. The judge declined to issue an order blocking the commission from enforcing the current regulations while it writes new ones.

The law's main provisions, banning most large donations, are unaffected. But issues involving coordination must be addressed by regulators, for example.

Kollar-Kotelly ruled that FEC regulations formed to interpret the 2002 law "create an immense loophole" that allows abuses that lawmakers who wrote the law never intended.

Campaign finance reformers on Capitol Hill called the decision, which first appeared on the court's Web site on Saturday, a victory over the FEC, which had weakened some of the restrictions on big money. A campaign watchdog group hailed the ruling.

Ad Watch

John Kerry's (search) campaign unveiled a new ad on Sunday "calling attention to how George W. Bush's wrong choices in Iraq have shortchanged priorities at home," including health care, literacy programs, education and insurance for small businesses. The ad launched Monday in 13 competitive states.

Ad: 'Defend America'
Source: Kerry-Edwards Campaign

Kerry: "$200 billion. That is what we are spending in Iraq because George Bush chose to go it alone. Now the president tells us we don't have the resources to take care of health care and education here at home. That's wrong. As president, I'll stop at nothing to get the terrorists before they get us. But I'll also fight to build a stronger middle class. That's the difference in this election. I believe the next president must do both — defend America and fight for the middle class."

The $200 billion estimate reflects the campaign's calculation of funds already spent on combat and reconstruction in Iraq, and money anticipated to be spent through next summer, based on congressional reports. The war has cost about $120 billion, according to the White House Office of Budget and Management.

Kerry to Meet the Press?

Kerry, who has not had a formal press conference in 48 days, was asked by reporters again Saturday when such an event would happen. He laughed, then said "Monday or Tuesday." Kerry was leaving a restaurant in Boston, Mass., after attending his last fund-raiser in his hometown before the election.

Speaking to fund-raisers at that event about the final stages of the campaign, Kerry said: "These people got me in a fighting mood and when I get in a fighting mood in October and the end of September, I think you know what happens here in Massachusetts. I feel those October juices flowing and when those juices get flowing I feel good."

Also on Saturday, John and Teresa Heinz Kerry taped a segment with Dr. Phil McGraw, the first of three talk shows Kerry will do in the next couple of days. The Dr. Phil segment will air Oct. 6 and features Dr. Phil and his wife, Robin, and will focus on parenting. Kerry promoted the show at a Saturday fund-raiser.

"It was fun to be with a prominent Texan who tells the truth," he joked.

President Bush (search) and first lady Laura Bush have also taped a segment with Dr. Phil, set to air Sept. 29, according to the Kerry campaign.

Kerry will appear on "The Late Show with David Letterman" on Monday night and on "Regis and Kelly" Tuesday morning.

Leno's Left

"The Tonight Show" with Jay Leno has been courting Bush and Cheney to come on the show for months. But a source told The New York Daily News that White House officials are balking after reading Leno's interview with L.A. Weekly's Nikki Finke last week. Leno told Finke, "I'm not conservative. I've never voted that way in my life."

He also said Bush used terrorism "as a crutch" after the Sept. 11, 2001 (search), terror attacks.

An NBC source insisted to the Daily News that Leno's interview didn't stop Bush handlers from talking with "Tonight" bookers. "As with the Democrats, it's a scheduling and location issue. Kerry is in New York, so he's going on Letterman."

McCain to FNC: Bush Not 'Straight' Enough on Iraq

In an interview on "FOX News Sunday" with Chris Wallace, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., (search) said President Bush is "not as straight as maybe we'd like to see" on the challenges we are facing in the war in Iraq.

"Perhaps not as straight as maybe we'd like to see," said McCain, when asked about the president's response to challenges about Iraq's success. But McCain, who has been campaigning for the president, added: "Although I've been with him when he has told audiences that this is a very tough struggle that we're in and made them aware of the difficulties … I think the president is being clear. I would like to see him more clear because I believe the American people, the majority of them, know what's at stake and will support this effort."

McCain said the administration also erred in its approach to insurgents. "I would never have allowed the sanctuaries to start with," regarding the safe havens in Iraq in which fighters hid from coalition and Iraqi forces that refused to attack religious buildings. "And allowing those sanctuaries has contributed significantly to the difficulties that we're facing, which are very, very significant."

Regarding the elections projected to occur in Iraq in January, McCain said: "We're not going to have those national elections until we get rid of the sanctuaries. Or at least they're not going to be effective."

Edwards: Cheney Joins the 'Fear-Mongering Choir'

Democratic vice presidential candidate John Edwards (search) on Sunday accused House Speaker Dennis Hastert (search) of stooping "to the politics of fear" when he said Al Qaeda terrorists may launch another terrorist attack to swing the Nov. 2 election in Kerry's favor.

Edwards said Hastert had joined the "fear-mongering choir."

Hastert's remarks about the terrorist network that is blamed for the Sept. 11 attacks came just before a $150-a-plate GOP fund-raiser in De Kalb, Ill., Saturday night that featured Cheney, who recently told supporters that a danger persists that terrorists will strike again "if we make the wrong choice" and that the response will be inadequate. He clarified the remarks two days later.

Asked by reporters whether he believed Al Qaeda could operate better with Kerry in the White House, Hastert replied: "That's my opinion, yes."

Careful Who You Punch

A Florida Democrat was charged with punching a local Republican leader and a life-sized cardboard cutout of President Bush, police said.

David Philip McCally, 55, was charged with misdemeanor battery and criminal mischief for the Thursday night scuffle.

He was released on his own recognizance after his arrest and ordered to have no contact with Alachua County Republican Executive Committee chairman Travis Horn.

McCally, an instructor at Sante Fe Community College, was headed to a restaurant when he stopped inside the nearby GOP headquarters and punched the presidential cutout.

Bush: 'We'll Pray for You'

After spending some time at his family home in Kennebunkport, Maine, on Saturday, Bush toured Hurricane Ivan devastation in Alabama and Florida.

He has declared disasters in the two states, making residents eligible for grants and low-cost loans. The president has also asked Congress for more than $5 billion emergency hurricane-related money.

As he toured the damage, he told those who lost much in Ivan's wake: "Hang in there" and "we're praying for you."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.