WASHINGTON – The election is 22 days away, and the candidates are out on the Western trail two days before their third and final debate, scheduled for Wednesday at Arizona State University in Tempe.
While President Bush (search) and John Kerry (search) try to persuade people to go to the ballot boxes on Election Day, the president's campaign chairman, Marc Racicot, sent a letter to AFL-CIO (search) President John Sweeney, asking him to pull back his unionists, who he said are intimidating and injuring people at their protests outside Bush-Cheney campaign offices around the country.
"Over the past several weeks, acts of violence and vandalism have occurred at Republican and Bush-Cheney campaign headquarters across the country. In addition to the injuries, property damage and disruption associated with these acts, these events have created a threatening and intimidating atmosphere abhorrent to our democratic process," Racicot wrote.
Racicot then described a litany of crimes against Bush-Cheney offices, staff and supporters that he blamed on protesters and other suspects, and ended by saying that Sweeney should put an end to the incidents.
"We will hold you and your organization accountable for the actions of your members and urge you to immediately discontinue any coordinated protest efforts that result in damage to our facilities, or injury to people who may hold different political views than your members, but who share an equal right to be involved in the political process without suffering violence, intimidation and threats," Racicot wrote.
Disenfranchised Voters Get Second Chance
On Sunday, Kerry, who appeared alongside Revs. Al Sharpton (search) and Jesse Jackson (search) in a Miami church, evoked images of African-Americans being denied their rights at the ballot box. He pledged to respond aggressively to any allegations of voter disenfranchisement in the black community.
"Never again will a million African-Americans be denied the right to exercise their vote in the United States of America," Kerry said, referring to the disputed Florida recount in the 2000 presidential race.
Meanwhile, both major political parties are claiming that their rivals are trying to prevent voters from being able to pick their tickets.
In Ohio and Missouri, Democrats accuse Republican secretaries of state of writing election rules that could disenfranchise legitimate voters likely to back Kerry. In New Mexico and Iowa, Republicans say Democratic officials are making it easier for Kerry supporters to vote.
Meanwhile, the sides are also fighting over the order by Congress that requires states to offer a backup ballot to any voter whose name does not appear on the rolls when the voter comes to the polling place on Election Day. If the voter is later found eligible, the vote counts, but Congress did not indicate how eligibility was to be determined and now the two sides are complaining about the way different states are implementing their rules.
Both parties have started training lawyers to contest the rules in some state, and already, five are facing lawsuits that argue election officials are adopting too strict a standard for which votes will count, and that eligible voters will be denied the right to vote as a result.
Not So Much a Day of Rest
The candidates were out on the trail Monday, after spending their Sundays in various states of repose.
While the Senate deliberated legislation all weekend — much to the chagrin of Sen. Robert Byrd (search), D-W.Va., who cited the Old Testament to express his displeasure for working on Sunday, Bush only violated the Christian Sabbath for a little while on Sunday — receiving briefings on the business of his administration before spending the rest of the day relaxing at his home in Crawford, Texas.
It's a tough call whether Kerry strictly observed the Sabbath or not. Spending the day in Florida, Kerry did go to church — two as a matter of fact, one Haitian Catholic and one black Baptist — but he also spoke there about his bid for the presidency.
Later in the day, the senator filmed a commercial before heading to Santa Fe, N.M., where he was speaking Monday on energy independence.
The speech comes as oil prices floated around a record $53-plus per barrel. Treasury Secretary John Snow reported Sunday that finance ministers from oil-producing countries in the Middle East vowed to help bring that price down.
That report is likely to help feed Kerry's claims that the Saudis are in cahoots with the Bush family. The Kerry campaign said Sunday that Kerry's speech would spend its focus on his "plan to move America towards energy independence, so that America relies on its own ingenuity and innovation, not the Saudi royal family."
Bush got back out on the campaign trail on Monday with stops in New Mexico and Colorado. He was attending two victory rallies and was stumping a bit for beer mogul Peter Coors, who is running for Senate in Colorado.
Vice President Dick Cheney was spending Monday in New Jersey and Ohio, while Democratic vice presidential candidate John Edwards was traveling to the battleground states of Iowa and Missouri.
Edwards also visited a predominantly African-American church in Wisconsin on Sunday and spoke for about five minutes, mainly on the plight of black Americans. That was after appearing on the five Sunday morning talk shows. He also held a "conversation" with Wisconsin Working Women. That discussion focused on the economy, the squeeze on middle-class families and after-school programs.
Edwards on 'FOX News Sunday'
One of Edwards' Sunday morning appearances was with Chris Wallace on "FOX News Sunday." Edwards had some choice words for Bush and Cheney as well as some pledges to the public.
"We will not raise taxes on the middle class, as John [Kerry] said clearly. And we will cut back on our programs if it's necessary to make sure that that happens," Edwards promised, saying even programs "near and dear" to their hearts, like national service and Early Start, could be cut in order to prevent raising taxes on middle America.
Edwards called Bush's criticism that Kerry is not fiscally responsible "a distortion," and suggested the president was wrong to invade Iraq.
"Of course, there was, there are lots of threats waiting to happen all over the world. That doesn't mean that that justifies invading a country. What we have to do is we have to confront these threats as they arise, and I might add, on top of that, if you look at what's happened while this president has been in office, of the three countries that are a part of the 'axis of evil', we invaded one of those three that doesn't have nuclear weapons," he said.
Edwards also responded to Cheney's statements about the North Carolina senator's absence in the Senate.
"I helped write the laws after Sept. 11, to keep this country safe. But at that point, I came to the conclusion, the only real solution to this was to get George Bush out of the White House. That's when I decided to run for president, and that's the period of time that they're talking about," he said.
Bush National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice was also on "FOX News Sunday," where she gave her not-so-flattering analysis of Kerry's stance on the war in Iraq.
"It was time to take care of this threat, you were never going to break the link between Saddam Hussein and weapons of mass destruction, it was only a matter of time. It was a pre-Sept. 11 way of thinking to say well, 'We would have just waited to see' whether we could have kept these imperfect sanctions in place," she said.
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Narrator: "First, Kerry said defeating terrorism was really more about law enforcement and intelligence than a strong military operation. More about law enforcement than a strong military? Now Kerry says we have to get back to the place where terrorists are a nuisance like gambling and prostitution, we're never going to end them. Terrorism, a nuisance? How can Kerry protect us when he doesn't understand the threat?
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Ad: “Can’t Win:”
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Narrator: "Ninety-five percent of containers coming into America go uninspected. But in the first debate, George Bush said we can’t afford to fix it. Bush gives Halliburton $7 billion in no-bid contracts; $200 billion for Iraq. But to inspect containers, secure bridges, tunnels and chemical plants, Bush says we can’t afford it. And on the War on Terror, Bush said: 'I don’t think you can win it.' Not with his failed leadership. It’s time for a new direction."
FOX News' Julie Kirtz and Vanessa Loftus and The Associated Press contributed to this report.