The election is 34 days away and the first of three presidential debates is Thursday night.
President Bush (search) and Sen. John Kerry (search) spent Tuesday in Texas and Wisconsin, respectively, preparing for the "Clash of the Gables" face-off to take place in Coral Gables, Fla., Thursday.
Within the past 24 hours, the talk on the campaign trail has been about the color of Kerry's face.
While he was pale a few days ago, Kerry's pallor now has been turned to a tan — well, almost orange — hue.
Kerry aides deny that the candidate has used any artificial-tanning aids or medications that might make him susceptible to sunlight. They say he got some color when playing football last Friday in Bedford, Mass.
A senior campaign adviser to Kerry, Mike McCurry, told FOX News Wednesday morning that he would get to the bottom of the facial fixation.
"Were you guys fiddling with the color dials or something?" McCurry asked "Fox and Friends" host E.D. Hill after co-host Steve Doocy's face seemed to magically deepen to the color of a pumpkin as he talked about the complexion confusion.
Asked whether Kerry's hue was from a bottle or a trip to the tanning salon, McCurry said: "I was told that that's not true, but I'm gonna catch up with him [Kerry] tonight and I'll ask him and get to the bottom of this."
Even the late-night talk shows took notice of the facial flip.
"Am I the only one who noticed how tan he was?" asked Michael Ian Black, this week's host of the "Late Late Show" on CBS. "Apparently not. The Bush campaign did as well. Look at this ... look at John Kerry in Wisconsin. John Kerry used to be white. Now he's Hispanic. Next week, John Kerry will probably be white again. John Kerry, racial flip-flopper. Paid for by Flip-Flop Veterans for Truth."
The Drudge Report showed a news photograph of Kerry from a recent Wisconsin event with an altered picture from the comedy show's mock ad. The Kerry campaign called it a petty smear by the right wing, noting that conservative talk-show host Rush Limbaugh led his show with it.
A top New York dermatologist told The New York Post that the deep bronze color appears to be one big fake.
"Wow! That is a tan! He has color all over his face. But if he had gotten it all outside, he wouldn't have been so evenly tanned," said Dr. Ted Daly of Garden City Dermatology. "My diagnosis is: It's a tanning salon — some ultraviolet rays."
Added Sarah Degaetano, a tanning consultant at Hollywood Tans on Sixth Avenue in Manhattan: "To me it looks like it came out of a bottle or was sprayed on. He's too fair, so that's why it looks orange."
BoycottCBS.com to Debate Commission: Show Schieffer the Door
Thousands of BoycottCBS.com supporters have swelled e-mailboxes at the Commission on Presidential Debates (search), demanding that CBS correspondent Bob Schieffer be replaced as moderator for the Oct. 13 presidential debate, the third of the three debates between Bush and Kerry.
BoycottCBS.com says Schieffer is no better than the rest of the CBS News service because he helped perpetuate claims that questionable documents used in a report on President Bush's Air National Guard service were real.
Most document experts now say the memos, allegedly written by the now-deceased Lt. Col. Jerry Killian (search), are not real. CBS was also hurt by the revelation that the producer of the story arranged a phone meeting between the source of the documents and the Kerry campaign.
The Commission selected Schieffer before CBS became embroiled in the scandal.
"Far from serving as a 'whistleblower' or someone completely separate from the scandal surrounding his friends and colleagues, Schieffer was parroting the CBS News party line a full week after the documents had been exposed as fraudulent," said Mike Paranzino of BoycottCBS.com. "With CBS News still knee-deep in denial, and its objectivity destroyed by its secret communications with the Kerry campaign, common sense cries out for replacing CBS' Schieffer."
BoycottCBS.com supporters have also sent thousands of e-mails to the Federal Communications Commission (search), CBS News advertisers and local affiliates.
The Gaffe Factor
It's no secret Bush has a tendency to bungle his words when speaking in public, whether it be "nucular" or "misunderestimate." But political insiders and observers from both sides of the aisle agree that the president's frequent vocab blunders won't hurt his overall debate scorecard.
"Ordinary Americans mangle the language too ... in Texas, it's not unusual to hear people talk a little funny and use words you probably won't use at Yale or Harvard," former Texas gubernatorial candidate Gary Mauro, a Democrat, told FOX News.
Added Tom Downey, a former New York congressman who used to serve as Al Gore's mock debate partner: Bush "sticks to his message and even though his syntax may not always be correct, he gets his message across."
Asked if Bush will mangle a word, White House Communications Director Dan Bartlett has responded: "I'm sure he will."
Imus to Edwards: 'I Want You Right in His Face'
Kerry's vice presidential pick, North Carolina Sen. John Edwards, phoned in to MSNBC's "Imus in the Morning" radio show Wednesday.
Host Imus carried on about how Edwards must do well in the debate against Vice President Dick Cheney on Oct. 5, and that he and Kerry need to win in October.
"I want you to get right in his face ... we're counting on you … don't go in there grinning and all that ... you gotta win this thing or I'm gonna look like a moron," Imus told Edwards, who responded with bits like, "I'm ready … I know that ... not just you" [are counting on him to win].
When asked when he decided he wouldn't make as great a president as Kerry, Edwards -- who made an unsuccessful run for president earlier this year -- sidestepped the question and said: "I think John Kerry would make a great president."
Imus also took a shot at Democratic Sen. Zell Miller of Georgia, who served as the keynote speaker at the Republican National Convention in New York this month.
"He freaked out … maybe he wasn't taking his medication," Imus said.
Edwards responded: "Tell me about it."
The Kerry-Edwards camp also has been criticized by Republicans and Democrats for not responding sooner and more forcefully to charges from the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, who claim Kerry exaggerated his heroism stories from Vietnam.
"I think that if you watch what we've been doing in these recent attack ads -- all the attacks they've lost on John Kerry -- we've been responding strongly and forcefully. When they lie, we tell them it's a lie," Edwards said. "We're focused on the next 30-some days. Maybe when this election is over, we'll start analyzing what happened in July or August … I'm thinking we're gonna focus on winning on Election Day so you can stop whining on this show."
On Bush's Trail
Cheney: Kerry a copycat, a great big waverer and a vacillator-in-chief
While the president was boning up on his debate techniques at the western White House in Crawford, Texas, Cheney and Mrs. Cheney were in Dubuque, Iowa, Tuesday afternoon for a town hall meeting.
"In the present conflict, he [Kerry] has shown endless vacillation and indecision. He makes repeated changes in direction that seem to be in response to his own standing in the polls, or to his most recent campaign advisers," Cheney said. "His endless back-and-forth on Iraq sends a message of confusion, and shows that he is not ready for the responsibilities of commander in chief."
On the issue of Iraq, Cheney said: "Now, with 35 days left in the campaign — and just in time for the debates — Senator Kerry says he has a plan for Iraq. Yet the plan he announced is not a plan — it's an echo of the strategy President Bush laid out many months ago. And it's a strategy that Senator Kerry has alternately supported and opposed, depending on his assessment of the political advantage."
Duck hunting with Scalia
At one point, a man invited Cheney to come duck hunting.
Lynne Cheney replied for her husband, "can he bring Scalia?" — a reference to when the vice president took Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia duck hunting with him in Louisiana early in January 2004, something that was perceived by many watchdog groups as a little too close to a member of the court. Scalia later recused himself from a Supreme Court case involving Cheney.
On Kerry's Trail
Edwards: It's Cheney's fault and Bush-Cheney are 'great negators'
While Kerry was preparing for the Thursday face-off in Wisconsin, Edwards was in Pittsburgh, Pa., Wednesday morning for a town hall meeting. He had his own thoughts on the Bush-Cheney team and its policies thus far.
"They said that the price of a barrel of oil would be about $27 now; it's now over $50. And this is not a complicated thing at the end of the day," Edwards said. "We have a vice president who left Halliburton to become vice president, we have a president with long, deep ties with big oil companies and with the Saudi royal family."
On the creation of the Sept. 11 commission, Edwards said: "George Bush and Dick Cheney opposed the creation of the 9/11 commission, they also, by the way, opposed the creation of the department of homeland security. And now they are being dragged kicking and screaming to putting any kind of intelligence reforms in."
Bush has taken a lead over Kerry among key groups such as Catholics and those with a high-school education, according to a poll conducted by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press.
Bush was backed by 48 percent and Kerry by 40 percent among registered voters in the survey of 948 registered voters conducted Sept. 22-26.
Bush has gained ground on Kerry, even though he has less of an advantage on who would be best in handling Iraq — now 46 percent for Bush to 38 percent for Kerry.
Kerry inspires more confidence than the president on handling the economy and trails by 24 percentage points on handling terrorism.
The two are even among women and young adults. Bush has a 49-39 lead among Catholics and a 50-37 lead among those with a high-school education — groups that Kerry needs to win.
About Those Persuadables...
In a new FOX News/Opinion Dynamics poll, 77 percent of 1,000 likely voters surveyed said their minds were made up in the race.
Asked whom they expected to do better in Thursday's debate, 39 percent said Kerry and 37 percent said Bush. Ten percent said both candidates would do the same while 14 percent were not sure.
According to an Associated Press poll of 1,329 persuadable voters, about one in every five voters is "persuadable" — including about 5 percent who tell pollsters they don't know who will get their vote, and about 15 percent who say they are leaning toward one candidate but could switch to another.
This group tends to like Kerry better on handling the economy, and half say a fresh start would be worth the risk. But doubts about his leadership skills are mentioned early as an obstacle to those considering a switch to the Democratic nominee.
Among all persuadable voters — the undecided and the leaners — Bush has a lead of 40 percentage points on the question of who would best protect the nation.
Who's the Most Appealing of Them All?
Bush has crossed the magic 50 percent threshold with a six-point lead over Kerry among likely voters in a three-way race including Ralph Nader (search), according to the latest Washington Post/ABC News poll.
Six in 10 registered voters surveyed now say the United States has gotten bogged down in Iraq, 51 percent say that the war there was not worth fighting and 55 percent say that the president is "too willing to take risks."
Bush has a 26-point advantage when it comes to who voters think is the stronger leader. Bush has a 33-point lead among men and among women, while Kerry still trails by 19 points. The president also has a 59-28 advantage when it comes to who voters think takes a strong stand.
On the war on Iraq, Bush has a double-digit edge over Kerry on whom voters trust most to handle the situation there, while Kerry is 17 points behind on who voters trust to fight the War on Terror.
On who voters think can better handle the economy, Bush still has a five-point lead over the Massachusetts senator.
And when it comes to who's more appealing, the incumbent leads the challenger 51 to 32 overall. Among men only, Kerry trails by 25 percent, and among women, it's still a double-digit deficit for Kerry.
North Carolina, Oregon and Pennsylvania
A Research 2000 poll of 600 likely North Carolina voters taken from Sept. 20-22 gives Bush-Cheney a lead of 50 percent over Kerry-Edwards' support of 44 percent. Another 6 percent were unsure.
Among 600 likely Oregon voters, another Research 2000 poll conducted from Sept. 20-23 found that the Kerry-Edwards camp has 50 percent support over Bush-Cheney's 43 percent. Another 7 percent are unsure.
A Quinnipiac poll of 726 likely voters in Pennsylvania found that Kerry had 49 percent support and Bush had 46 percent. Another 5 percent of voters surveyed from Sept. 22-26 were unsure.
Ad: 'One Question' — will air Thursday and Friday only in Miami
Sponsor: National Progress Fund
Voiceover: "There is one question George Bush does not want to be asked. It is the one question that will define his presidency: 'Are we safer now than we were four years ago?' Well, you decide."
(footage of soldiers/warfare)
VO: "Every day the bloody chaos in Iraq grows."
(images of Al Qaeda)
VO: "Al Qaeda still threatens us at home and abroad."
(images of ports, container ships)
VO: "America's ports, its borders, our cities — remain needlessly vulnerable to terrorist attack."
(Images of bin Laden, post-attack scenes)
VO: "And after three years, Usama bin Laden, the murderer of thousands of innocent Americans, is still at large. Are we safer now than we were four years ago?"
(Split photo of Bush)
VO: "The answer, Mr. President, is no. Your policies have failed us."
Ad: 'Peace and Security'
Sponsor: Bush-Cheney campaign
Voiceover: "History's lesson. Strength builds peace. Weakness invites 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 over 40 weapons now fighting the War on Terror. And refused to support our troops in combat with the latest weapons and body armor."
Graphic: "John Kerry & Congressional Liberals. Putting Our Protection at Risk"
"The Tonight Show With Jay Leno":
"Well, the terror level on John Kerry's face has been raised to orange. First, he gets the Botox. Now, he's got the rich tan. Apparently the senator's confused. The Miss America pageant was last week. This is the presidential debates. In fact, it was reported Kerry got a bikini wax!"
"Let me tell you something: The only time Bush's face turns color is when he's choking on a pretzel."
"Are you all ready for the presidential debate this Thursday? It's kind of like 'The Apprentice,' except we get to fire somebody."
"Debates experts say President Bush could win if he doesn't get off message. But John Kerry could win if he gets a message!"
"I tell you, Bush is working very hard getting prepared for these debates. He got one of those 'Hooked on Phonics' tapes."
"Problems at Kerry debate prep: They keep trying to tell him he doesn't talk like a regular average Joe and he said, 'Au contraire!"'
"A New York company has made a video game that re-enacts John Kerry's war career. Players pretend they're Kerry on a swift boat in Vietnam. Wasn't there already some game based on John Kerry's life? Oh, yeah, 'Who Wants to Marry a Millionaire?'"
"And the big question is if the Iraqi election will take place as scheduled or not. That's what all the pundits and experts are arguing. What are they talking about? How are we going to figure that out? We can't even figure out if Britney Spears is married!"
"Late Show With David Letterman":
"Top Ten George W. Bush Debate Strategies:
10. Ask the question, 'We've never had a horse-faced president, so why start now?'
9. Instead of witty retorts, have Secret Service wrestle Sen. Kerry to the ground.
8. Use Kerry's long-winded answers to take much-needed bathroom breaks.
7. Hope one of them hurricanes cancels the debate.
6. Instead of water, fill Kerry's mug with Red Bull and vodka.
5. Find time to work in joke prop — giant waffle.
4. Moving his lips to pretend microphone isn't working.
3. Handle it same way he handled National Guard duty — don't show up.
2. If Kerry makes a good point, distract him with some chaw spit in the eye.
1. Point out Sen. Kerry's mispronunciation of the word 'nucular.'"
FOX News' Corbett Riner and Liza Porteus contributed to this report.