Don't Look for the Zinger

The election is 35 days away. The first of three presidential debates is Thursday evening.

Hutchison: Debates Won't Give Us a 'Gotcha!'

Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, on Tuesday talked about the upcoming presidential debates with FOX News' '"Fox and Friends" host E.D. Hill. The senator said it wasn't likely that the televised face-offs would make or break the election.

"Honestly, I think most people have made up their minds," Hutchison said. "I don't think people are going to be looking for the 'gotcha' thing — which is the thing that always seems to be coming out of the debates ... the big mistake or the zinger everyone talks about for the rest of the campaign."

"I think they're [American voters] going to be looking for how each candidate would lead," she added, "but I don't think the debates are going to be the big decisive factor that they have been in some years."

No Simpler Election Than This

This year's election comes down to one simple issue for voters, according to FOX News' Bill O'Reilly: You either believe President Bush (search) when he says things will get better, or you don't.

O'Reilly interviewed Bush for a three-part series that is airing on FOX News Channel's "The O'Reilly Factor" this week. The first installment aired Monday night, while the second will air Tuesday night at 8 p.m. EDT.

Appearing on "Fox and Friends" Tuesday morning, O'Reilly repeated Bush's sentiments from the Monday session, in which the commander in chief said he wouldn't think twice about again flying a plane onto a U.S. aircraft carrier in a flight suit to relay the "mission accomplished" message to troops. "Mission accomplished" referred to the end of major combat operations in Iraq.

Democrats, including Bush rival Sen. John Kerry (search), have slammed Bush for that Kodak moment, noting that since then, over 900 U.S. soldiers have died in Iraq.

"President Bush says he did it to raise the morale of the troops and to compliment them for a very fine job in deposing Saddam [Hussein]. Hard to argue with that," O'Reilly said. "You could [look at the] propaganda value of 'mission accomplished,' [say] that it wasn't accomplished, it's certainly debatable; you know, look, all of this comes down to one very simple thing for you voters out there: You either believe President Bush when he says things will get better, or you don't."

While Kerry says he would get other nations to help the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq, O'Reilly said, "he doesn't know whether that's going to happen … no one knows."

"That's why Bush is basically saying in the first part of the interview that, 'I believe it is going to work out, that we are on the right track. It is tough. We are going to win.' Then what does Kerry say to counter that? It will be interesting to see on Thursday."

Read the first part of the Bush-O'Reilly interview here.

Poll Watch: Bush Gets Stronger

According to a national Gallup poll of 758 likely voters conducted Sept. 24-26, Bush has a lead of 52 percent over Kerry's 44 percent. Among 926 registered voters, Bush had 54 percent support, while Kerry had 41 percent. In both cases, Bush's support had increased from a previous poll taken Sept. 13-15.

Ad Wars

Ad: 'Peace and Security'

Sponsor: Bush-Cheney campaign

Narrator: "History's lesson, strength builds peace, weakness and fights those who would do us harm. Unfortunately, after the first World Trade Center attack, John Kerry and congressional liberals tried to slash $6 billion from intelligence budgets. And tried to cut or eliminate 40 weapons now fighting the war on terror and refused to support our troops in combat with the latest weapons and body armor."

Text on screen: "John Kerry & Congressional Liberals — Putting Our Protection at Risk"

Ad: 'Searching'

Sponsor: Bush-Cheney campaign

Kerry, on different occasions: "It was the right decision to disarm Saddam Hussein, and when the president made the decision I supported him."

"I don't believe the President took us to war as he should have."

"The winning of the war was brilliant."

"It's the wrong war, in the wrong place, at the wrong time."

"I have always said we may yet even find weapons of mass destruction."

"I actually did vote for the $87 billion before I voted against it."

GRAPHIC: "How can John Kerry protect us ... when he doesn't even know where he stands?"

Ad: 'Doesn't Get it'

Sponsor: Kerry-Edwards campaign

Narrator: "There he goes again. George Bush said Iraq was 'mission accomplished.' 16 months later, he still doesn't get it. Today: over 1,000 US soldiers dead, kidnappings, even beheadings of Americans. Still Bush has no plan what to do in Iraq. How can you solve a problem when you can't see it? John Kerry's plan: Train Iraqis to handle their own security ... real elections ... and work with allies to shoulder the burden. It's time for a new direction in Iraq."

Ad: 'I Don't Know'

Sponsor: Democratic National Committee

Text: "President Bush speaks on Usama bin Laden. September 17, 2001"

Voiceover: George W. Bush [9/17/01]: "...there's an old poster out West, as I recall, that said, 'Wanted: Dead or Alive.'"

Text: "Six months late r ... March 13, 2002"

VO: George W. Bush [3/13/02]: "I don't know where he is. I, ah [laugh] I repeat what I said. I truly am not that concerned about him."

Text: "Three years later ..."
"U.S. General Says Bin Laden, al-Zawahri Still Directing Attacks"
Source: USA Today, 9/11/04
"Bin Laden Is Said to Be Organizing for a U.S. Attack"
Source: New York Times, 7/9/04

VO: "Word tonight that Usama bin Laden is very much alive, and coordinating plans for new attacks on America and American allies."

VO: George W. Bush [3/13/02]: "I don't know where he is ... I truly am not that concerned about him."

On Bush's Trail

Debate prep is hard when you don't know your opponent's position...

Bush, speaking at an education event in Springfield, Ohio, Monday, said: "You know, later on this week, I'm going to have a chance to debate my opponent. It's been a little tough to prepare, because he keeps changing positions on the War on Terror." (Laughter)

"He voted for the use of force in Iraq and then didn't vote to fund the troops. He complained that we're not spending enough money to help in the reconstruction of Iraq, and now he's saying we're spending too much. He said it was the right decision to go into Iraq, now he calls it the wrong war. He probably could spend 90 minutes debating himself."

Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani (search) was in Wisconsin to talk about Kerry and his record.

"John Kerry, almost no matter what he says, is contradicted by something John Kerry has said in the past," Giuliani said. "I guarantee you that. Whatever he says in the debate, there will be several set of contradictory positions that he's taken in the past."

The Republican National Committee set up a Web site that purportedly lists Kerry's changes of position. It features a dolphin swimming across the top of the screen with bubbles rising and theme music from the 1960s television series "Flipper."

Bush May Mangle Something

White House Communications Director Dan Bartlett, traveling with the president, told reporters Monday that Bush practiced debating all weekend with Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., who "spent every moment he had attacking the president."

The president is "fully bracing for a series of attacks" from Kerry, Bartlett said, and he "will be ready," although Bush will "almost have to study twice as hard to learn all John Kerry's positions."

Asked if Bush will mangle a word on Thursday, Bartlett responded: "I'm sure he will."

FOX News' Molly Henneberg contributed to this report.

On Kerry's Trail

Changing horses in midstream?

Kerry was in Spring Green, Wis., Monday for a town hall event and to prepare for Thursday's debate.

"When I got here to Wisconsin yesterday in Madison guy said to me, 'You know, I want to vote for you, but a lot of people are asking this question, "Can we change horses in midstream?'"'" Kerry said. "And I said to him, 'You know, when horse is headed down toward the waterfalls or when your horse is drowning, it's a good time to change horse in midstream, folks.'" (Applause)

Kerry ally, Sen. Edward Kennedy (search), D-Mass., gave a speech Monday in Washington on Iraq.

"Are we safer today because of the policies of President George W. Bush? Any honest assessment can lead to only one answer, and that answer is an emphatic 'no,'" Kennedy said. "President Bush is dead wrong and John Kerry is absolutely right. We are not safer today. And the reason we are not safer is because of President Bush's misguided war in Iraq."

Kennedy also said Bush increased the danger of a "nuclear 9/11" by shifting attention from bin Laden to Iraq.

In response to Kerry's comments, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., shot back, saying: "Senator Kennedy's evaluation and criticism of the war effort is over the top and represents a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of the conflict we are in and the nature of our enemy. Unfortunately, the consequences of the verbal attacks from Senators Kennedy and John Kerry will only deflate our allies who are fighting and dying for freedom in Iraq."

Excuses, Boos, Excuses

Actress Glenn Close introduced Kerry's running mate, North Carolina Sen. John Edwards (search), at the first of two New York City fundraisers Monday night. At the first, Edwards helped raise $750,000 for the Democratic National Committee.

Edwards listed the mistakes of the current administration's handling of the "mess" in Iraq. He talked about Bush's unwillingness to admit to mistakes.

"We are going to hear every excuse known to man, in the debates, between now and the election about why all these bad things have happened," he said.

Edwards used, by name, the interview by FOX News' Bill O'Reilly's of Bush as an example of what he characterizes as of the president's disconnect with reality.

"He had an interview that's being aired I think tonight or tomorrow night with Bill O'Reilly where he was asked [audience boos] — I can see, one of your favorites — where he was asked when he landed on aircraft with 'mission accomplished' and gave a speech if he would do again ... Yes, he would do it again, yes, he would give that speech again ... What we need is a president of the United States who won't talk about mission accomplished, who will actually accomplish the mission."

Facial Facts

Much ado has been made lately about John Kerry's sudden new suntan. Many observers have said that the candidate has taken on an orange hue, and some have even speculated that artificial enhancements may be responsible.

Kerry aides scoff at the suggestion that Kerry's changing hue has been aided by a tanning gel or tanning machine. They say the Massachusetts senator does, indeed, have more color than a few days ago. And that, they say, is what happens when you spend several hours outdoors throwing around a football.

Endorse This

Kerry and Edwards on Tuesday received the endorsement of Bush's hometown weekly newspaper, The Lone Star Iconoclast, in Crawford. The editor, Leon Smith, is also the publisher of the Clifton Record, which endorsed Bush and Cheney in 2000.

"The publishers of The Iconoclast endorsed Bush four years ago, based on the things he promised, not on this smoke-screened agenda," the newspaper states, citing Social Security, the economy, civil liberties and Bush's "continuous mistakes" regarding terrorism and Iraq as the four big topics the paper is taking issue with. "Today, we are endorsing his opponent, John Kerry, based not only on the things that Bush has delivered, but also on the vision of a return to normality that Kerry says our country needs."

Funny Files

"Late Show With David Letterman":

"Well, the first Kerry-Bush debate between President Bush and John Kerry takes place Thursday in Miami. And today, thousands of local residents began evacuating."

"The ground rules for the debates ... the candidates must remain at least 10 feet apart and they cannot directly address each other. It's actually based on the John Kerry-Theresa Heinz Kerry pre-nup agreement."

"The Tonight Show With Jay Leno":

"Ralph Nader says he is going to participate in the presidential debates. OK, he'll be at home yelling at the screen."

"Both candidates now are trying to lower expectations for how they'll do on the debates. For example, Kerry tried to lower expectations for himself by saying Bush has never lost a debate and that he is a formidable opponent. Then Bush lowered expectations for himself when he said, 'Hey, what does "formable" mean?'"

"Kerry's advisers are now working hard trying to prepare him for the debates. They told him he has to try and connect with the regular people. Like they told him, if you need a glass of water, don't yell, 'Jeeves!'"

"Teresa Heinz Kerry predicted at a fund-raiser the other day that Usama bin Laden will be captured just before the election. Of course when President Bush heard that he was furious. He said, 'How did she find out?'"

"Late Night With Conan O'Brien":

"President Bush met with the prime minister of Greece. In the meeting, Bush praised the Greek people by saying, 'You gave the world Plato, which I once ate a can of."'