The election is 19 days away. President Bush and his Democratic challenger, John Kerry, faced off for their third and final debate on Wednesday, where the two candidates focused on domestic policy and the economy.
As the days wane before the polls open on Nov. 2, both camps, as well as independent groups, continue to launch a flurry of attack ads as well as argue over voter registration, fraud and possible complaints to be alleged after the election.
An Attack of Voter Fraud?
Several federal lawmakers are asking Attorney General John Ashcroft and the Justice Department to investigate recent reports of activities in Nevada, Oregon, West Virginia and Pennsylvania that may be denying some citizens the right to vote.
"We are concerned that these actions are part of an orchestrated plan to deny citizens, registered as members of non-Republican parties, their right to vote," states a letter to Ashcroft from House Reps. John Conyers, D-Mich., Jerold Nadler, D-N.Y., Melvin Watt, D-N.C., and Robert Scott, D-Va. "It both shocks and saddens us that four decades after the adoption of the Voting Rights Act (search), these patterns of discrimination and voter suppression continue. This behavior is intolerable in the 21st century."
The lawmakers want the Justice Department to take "any and all actions necessary to prevent any further such abuses," which includes pursuing criminal and civil actions against the perpetrators.
Click here to read FOX News' complete story on the issue.
Democratic Sens. Patrick Leahy of Vermont and Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts also sent a letter voicing concern over the reports that Voters Outreach of America (search), a private company under contract with the Republican National Committee, had solicited voter registration forms in Las Vegas and Reno, Nev., and Portland, Ore., and destroyed Democrats' registration forms.
"If the allegations are true, many citizens who have every reason to believe they are registered to vote will be turned away from the polls on November 2," they wrote in the letter dated Thursday.
The senators note that FBI Special Agent David Schrom told The Associated Press this week that no federal investigation had been launched either in Las Vegas or in Reno, while suggesting that any investigation would likely fall under state jurisdiction.
"These statements are in apparent conflict with assurances made yesterday by representatives of your Civil Rights Division (search), who stated that the matter was under investigation by the Department's Criminal Division," the senators wrote.
"We will review the congressmen's letter as we do all congressional requests," said Mark Corallo, a Justice Department spokesman.
In addition, the Justice Department on Thursday received the Government Accountability Office (search) report evaluating the mechanisms used in the 2000 election to track voting irregularities. The GAO report identifies steps DOJ has since made to help ensure voter access to the polls.
The GAO makes two recommendations aimed at improving the tracking of voting irregularities, both of which have since been fully adopted and implemented by DOJ, said Eric Holland, a spokesman for the Civil Rights Division of DOJ.
Those recommendations include developing forms and procedures that provide greater specificity in categorizing the types of allegations and actions made; improving the training of intake personnel to receive complaints; and utilizing the Interactive Case Management (search) computer system to track and report on election-monitoring activities.
Holland said that since the GAO review, the Voting Section of the Civil Rights Division has employed an effective civil rights monitor and observer program to ensure compliance with federal voting rights.
So far this year, more than 700 civil rights monitors and observers have been deployed to primary elections nationwide. Approximately 1,000 more will be sent out for the Nov. 2 general election. The 1,700 civil rights monitors that will have been deployed far exceeds the 516 that were sent in the 2000 election, the Justice Department noted.
Holland also reported that since May of 2004, the DOJ has filed lawsuits and obtained relief for voters whose second language is English and is working with civil rights leaders, state and local election officials to help ensure that citizens' voting rights are protected.
FOX News' Anna Persky contributed to this report.
Behind Every Great Man Is a Woman
The last question of Wednesday night's debate didn't focus on health care or taxes or even homeland security. Instead, moderator Bob Schieffer of CBS asked Kerry and Bush what they have learned from the women around them.
"To listen to them — to stand up straight and not scowl," Bush responded, poking fun at critics who, after the first debate between the two presidential candidates, said the president scowled too much and made faces while Kerry was talking.
Of first lady Laura Bush, Bush said: "She speaks English a lot better than I do, I think people understand what she's saying."
Kerry also loosened his tie a little bit, so-to-speak, in his response.
"The president, you and I are fine examples of people who have married up, some may say me, more so than others. But I can take it," Kerry said, referring to his wife, Teresa Heinz Kerry, heiress to the Heinz ketchup fortune.
Heinz Kerry and the Democratic candidate's daughters, Vanessa and Alexandra, "also kick me around — they keep me honest," the Massachusetts senator said. "They don't let me get away with anything. I sometimes take myself too seriously, they sure don't let me do that."
No Attack Will Go Unanswered
The Kerry camp is vowing that no attack by their opponent in the race for the White House will be allowed to fly.
"No negative attack will go unanswered," Kerry adviser Tad Devine told reporters via a conference call shortly before Wednesday's debate, adding that his candidate's campaign will either respond to Bush ads with ads of their own or Kerry will address any attacks in stump speeches.
Kerry advisers were asked if they were going to virtually ignore attack ads launched by the Bush-Cheney camp or by independent groups like the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth (search). When the group first began airing their ads attacking Kerry's Vietnam heroism and challenging his medals earned in combat, the Democratic camp was, for the most part, mum on the issue for much of August. Political observers from both sides of the aisle agree the lack of response hurt the campaign.
But with just a few weeks left until Election Day, Kerry is going to come out swinging, his advisers promised, especially, they said, because the GOP will continue their attacks since, "we have an opponent who's run that [type of] campaign since March and I think will run it until the last moment," Devine said.
There's a "big difference" between tactics used by the opposing campaigns, Devine said.
Kerry "is not going to engage in relentlessly, a negative, utterly disingenuous and dishonest campaign that the president has been waging in recent weeks," he continued. "We honestly think that difference will help us succeed with voters," particularly the swing voters, Devine added.
On another note, the Kerry-Edwards campaign sent out an e-mail to supporters Wednesday asking for donations to raise $5 million via the Internet by midnight. The money will be used to determine the campaign's advertising strategy for the rest of the month, according to the e-mail from Kerry campaign manager Mary Beth Cahill.
"We are almost there — help put us over the top," the e-mail states.
The Bush-Cheney campaign has launched a new Web site highlighting what it calls examples of Kerry's "liberal" Senate record. The site, www.KerrysLiberalRecord.com, includes statistics and analysis of the Massachusetts senator's record, noting that the nonpartisan National Journal ranks Kerry the Senate's most liberal member. The site also breaks down Kerry's "liberal" votes on taxes, compassion and values, health care, education, safety and security, and environment and energy.
"Kerry has voted 98 times to raise taxes, six times against banning partial-birth abortion and is proposing a $1.5 trillion big-government health care program," the Bush-Cheney campaign Web site states. "While Kerry has repeatedly tried to distort his record and deceive the American people during this campaign, he wasn't lying when he said in 1991, 'I'm a liberal and proud of it.'"
Shortly after Wednesday's debate ended, several media groups released results of snap polls taken of viewers
A CBS poll of an unknown sample gave Kerry 39 percent support and Bush 25 percent support. A CNN focus group of 17 gave Kerry a lead of 10 votes over Bush's 7. A CNN snap poll gave 52 percent support to Kerry and 39 to Bush. And an ABC poll of 566 viewers — 38 percent Republican, 30 percent Democratic and 28 percent independent — gave Kerry a 1 percentage point lead over Bush with 42 percent support over the president's 41 percent.
GOP pollster Ed Goeas conducted a focus group of 20 undecided voters and said Kerry's remark about Vice President Dick Cheney's daughter was a huge turnoff. When asked by Schieffer whether he thought homosexuality was a choice, Kerry, in his response, referred to Cheney's gay daughter, and said it was not a choice. "We're all God's children," he said.
Goeas said that until that point, his focus group was basically calling the debate a draw but they viewed Kerry's remark as a cheap shot and were generally turned off thereafter toward Kerry.
Addressing supporters at a post-debate party outside Pittsburg, Lynn Cheney, who said she was speaking as an indignant mother, said: "This is not a good man ... What a cheap and tawdry political trick."
An ABC News poll conducted Oct. 10-12 of 1,203 likely voters have the Bush-Cheney camp tied with Kerry-Edwards, both with 48 percent support. The Nader-Camejo ticket received 1 percent support, while another 3 percent remained unsure.
Arizona, Iowa and Oregon
A Northern Arizona University survey of 401 likely voters conducted Oct. 8-11 gave Bush 49 percent support, Kerry 44 percent and another 7 percent were unsure. Bush won the state's 10 electoral votes by 5.3 percentage points in 2000.
A survey of 600 likely Iowa voters, conducted by American Research Group, have Bush and Kerry tied at 47 percent, Nader with 2 percent and another 5 percent were unsure. Gore won Iowa's 7 electoral votes in 2000 by .3 percentage points.
Another ARG poll of 600 likely Oregon voters conducted Oct. 9-12 gave Kerry 49 percent, Bush 44 percent, Nader 2 percent and another 5 percent were unsure. Gore won the state's seven electoral voters in 2000 by .5 percentage points.
Minnesota, Iowa, Ohio and Wisconsin
Kerry has a 5-point lead above Bush, according to a Minneapolis Star Tribune survey of 809 likely voters, conducted Oct. 9-11. Kerry had 48 percent support, Bush had 43 percent and another 9 percent were unsure.
The Massachusetts senator has the lead in three out of four battleground states surveyed Oct. 9-11 by Market Shares Corp. for The Chicago Tribune.
Of the 500 likely Minnesota voters surveyed, Kerry enjoys 45 percent support, while Bush enjoys 43 percent and independent candidate Ralph Nader got 2 percent. Another 10 percent were undecided.
Among the 500 likely Iowa voters surveyed, Bush had Kerry beat by 2 percentage points with 47 percent support, compared to the Democratic challenger's 45 percent. While 1 percent voted for Nader, another 7 percent were unsure.
Kerry had 49 percent support among the 500 likely Ohio voters, compared to Bush's 45 percent. Another 6 percent were undecided. And in Wisconsin, Kerry got 47 percent support among the 500 likely voters surveyed, while Bush got 43 percent. Nader got 2 percent support and another 8 percent were unsure.
Cheney, Edwards on the Trail
Vice President Dick Cheney was back on the bus for a tour through Pennsylvania on Wednesday. In Saxonburg, Pa., after saying Bush was "loaded for bear" — as in ready with his gun loaded for the debate against Kerry Wednesday night — Cheney outlined a defense of the tax cuts and talked about the second term agenda.
"We faced a basic decision — to leave more money with families and businesses, or take more of the American people's hard-earned money for the federal government. President Bush made his choice. He proposed and he delivered tax cuts for the American people not once, not twice, but four times.
"We know there are still challenges, especially in our manufacturing communities. The President and I will not be satisfied until every American who wants to work can find a job. But this is a strong economy; it's growing stronger. The Bush tax cuts are working," he added.
On the stump in Medford, Ore., Kerry's running mate, North Carolina Sen. John Edwards, said the Bush administration was "out of touch" with Americans who have lost jobs or are struggling to pay for health care.
"The truth is, you can't fix a problem until you first see a problem," Edwards told some 3,000 supporters in traditionally conservative Southern Oregon.
Edwards said he and Kerry, if elected, would help pay for health care by strengthening the existing system, provide coverage to children and families and help employers offer benefits to workers. He also promised to work toward reducing prices for prescription drugs by allowing imports from Canada and bargaining with drug companies for lower prices.
"They talk about costs. It doesn't cost anything to allow prescription drugs to come into this country from Canada," Edwards said.
Sponsor: Kerry-Edwards campaign
Voiceover: George Bush's attacks on John Kerry's health care plan are called "Not True," "Outright Fabrications." Listen for yourself.
Clip of Bush Ad: "…rationing, less access, fewer choices, long waits."
Voiceover: "Wait a minute. That's what we have now under George Bush. It's Bush that let insurance companies overrule your doctor. Costs have skyrocketed. The Kerry plan lowers cost. You choose your doctor. You make medical decisions, not the government. It's time for a new direction."
Sponsor: MoveOn.org PAC
On screen: President Bush April 13, 2004
Bush: You know I hope I don't want to sound like I made no mistakes. I am confident I have
On screen: 3.8 million Americans lost health care insurance
Bush: You know I just I am sure something will pop into my head here
On screen: 750, 000 Americans lost their jobs
Bush: It is, uh it is …
On screen: In Iraq: over 6,000 Americans dead or wounded ... and rising
Announcer: Four years ago a mistake was made on Nov. 2 we can correct that
On Screen: George Bush: He's not on our side.
Announcer: Moveon PAC is responsible for the content of this advertisement.
Ad: 'They Served'
Sponsor: Swift Boat Veterans for Truth
Announcer: "They served their country with courage and distinction. They're the men who served with John Kerry in Vietnam. They're his entire chain of command, most of the officers in Kerry's unit. Even the gunner from his own boat. And they're the men who spent years in North Vietnamese prison camps. Tortured for refusing to confess what John Kerry accused them of ... of being war criminals. They were also decorated. Many very highly. But they kept their medals. Today they are teachers, farmers, businessman, ministers, and community leaders. And of course, fathers and grandfathers. With nothing to gain for themselves, except the satisfaction that comes with telling the truth, they have come forward to talk about the John Kerry they know. Because to them, honesty and character still matters ... especially in a time of war. Swift Vets and POW's for Truth are responsible for the content of this advertisement."
Sponsor: Swift Boat Veterans for Truth
John Edwards: "If you have an questions about what John Kerry's made of …"
Veteran Van Odell: "Why do so many of us have serious questions?"
Dr. Louis Letson: "How did you get your purple heart when your commanding officer didn't approve it?"
Steve Gardner: "Why have you repeatedly claimed you were illegally sent into Cambodia …"
Bob Elder: "… when it has been proven that you were not?"
Jim Werner: "How could you accuse us of being war criminals …"
Ken Cordier: "…and secretly meet with the enemy in Paris …"
Mike Solhaug: " …and promote the enemy's position back home …"
Paul Galanti: "…when I was a POW, and Americans were being killed in combat."
Bud Day: "How can you expect our sons and daughters to follow you, when you condemned their fathers and grandfathers?"
Joe Ponder: "Why is this relevant?"
Tom Hanton: "Because character and honesty matter. Especially in a time of war."
Rear Adm. Roy Hoffman: "John Kerry cannot be trusted."
Announcer: Swift Boat Veterans for Truth is responsible for the content of this advertisement.
"The Tonight Show With Jay Leno"
"Tonight was the last debate. The debate that asks the most important question ... "OK, who do I hate the least?" You know who won the debate? Anyone who watched baseball, you were the big winner."
"Both candidates are neck 'n' neck. Pollsters are now saying this could be the closest race since Clay Aiken beat Ruben Studdard."
"This campaign is really getting nasty. Democrats are calling Bush a child of privilege and are labeling him in ads, `Fortunate Son' because his dad was rich. Not to be confused with John Kerry. He's the `Fortunate Husband.' Two rich white guys from Yale, or as we call diversity."
"John Kerry took a lot of flak for a statement he made in The New York Times on Sunday. He said we need to get back to the days when terrorism was not our main focus but just a nuisance like prostitution. And 500 Democrats immediately fired back, `Since when is prostitution a nuisance?" It's only when the girl doesn't have change, that's the only time."
"Florida Gov. Jeb Bush announced that to avoid any election return problems this year ... this time he's going to announce the results before people vote."
"Late Show with David Letterman"
Top 10 President Bush explanations for the bulge in his jacket
10. "It's connected to an earpiece so Cheney can feed me answers. .$&! I wasn't supposed to say that!"
9. "It's a device that shocks me every time I mispronounce a word."
8. "Just a bunch of intelligence memos I haven't gotten around to reading yet."
7. "Mmm, delicious Muenster cheese."
6. "John Kerry initially voted for the bulge in my jacket, then voted against it."
5. "I'll tell you exactly what it is — it's a clear sign this economy is moving again."
4. "Halliburton is drilling my back for oil."
3. "Oh, like you've never cheated in a presidential debate!"
2. "Accidentally took some of Governor Schwarzenegger's 'roids."
1. "If Kerry's gonna look like a horse, then I'm gonna look like a camel."
FOX News' Liza Porteus, Corbett Riner and Carl Cameron contributed to this report.