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Let the debates begin

First week of trying for the last word (and the big burrito)

Let the debates begin

By John Mercurio, Robert Yoon and Dana Bash
CNN Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Welcome to This Week in Politics, the CNN Political Unit's weekly look at the key developments you can expect on the political horizon. With the help of sources across the country, we'll bring you the latest scoop on all the big political stories: the battle for Congress, the race for the White House in 2004 and much more.

Hoping to get in one final jab before they enter self-imposed September 11 truces, candidates in several top races will go toe-to-toe for the first time this week in debates, many of them televised across their respective states or districts.

Such showdowns could prove particularly decisive in states like Florida, where the three Democrats vying in the September 10 gubernatorial primary will meet Tuesday in Palm Beach.

Jeb Bush
Jeb Bush  

For his part, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, a Republican, has agreed to participate in three debates with his Democratic challenger, whomever that may be.

Most of the action over the next two weeks will focus on the September 10 primaries, the so-called Super Tuesday of the 2002 cycle, in which 11 states and Washington D.C. will nominate candidates in a slew of closely watched races. Candidates in federal primaries are required to file finance reports with the Federal Election Commission by Thursday. One question sure to emanate from those FEC reports will be whether pro-Israel groups, who have heavily financed Democrats who ousted two incumbent House Democrats this year, are now turning their sights on Rep. John Sununu, a Lebanese-American, who's challenging GOP Sen. Bob Smith in the New Hampshire primary.

Meanwhile, President Bush will continue his record-breaking pace of fund-raising, moving toward a stunning $115 million take. After wrapping up a two-day visit to California to help beleaguered GOP gubernatorial nominee Bill Simon, the president travels to Oklahoma City and Arkansas to stump for incumbent GOP Sens. Jim Inhofe and Tim Hutchinson, respectively.

Hutchinson might have a tough race ahead of him, but at least he's willing to campaign with his party leaders. Arkansas Attorney General Mark Pryor, the senator's Democratic challenger, is ducking out of an appearance with former President Bill Clinton, who is returning to his native Arkansas on Monday to campaign with Rep. Marion Berry and every statewide Democratic candidate -- except Pryor. Aides said Pryor needs to rest up for the upcoming debate, but spokesman Michael Teague, who worked as a White House press aide during the Clinton administration, said Pryor "does not come from the Clinton school of politics."

Joe Lieberman
Joe Lieberman  

Still, the most peripatetic 2004 contender this week has to be Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Connecticut, who spends three days in two states and plans to meet, either publicly or privately, with about a dozen Democratic officeholders and party leaders.

But personally, our favorite happening is taking place in the Maryland suburbs -- the results of the highly acclaimed burrito poll in a top House race. The California Tortilla restaurant chain, based in Bethesda, sponsored a promotion in which hungry citizens voted for one of five specialty burritos, each named after a different candidate. The candidate with the top-selling burrito gets the all important "burrito bounce" coming out of Labor Day. At press time, Democratic state Sen. Chris Van Hollen's "Viva Van Hollen" burrito was leading the field with 582 votes, followed by GOP Rep. Connie Morella's "Mozzarella Morella" with 541 votes. The following is a comprehensive report of the major events in politics this week. Enjoy.

August 24

First week of trying for the last word (and the big burrito)

  • Incumbent Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa and Rep. Greg Ganske, R-Iowa both address the Iowa Farmers Union Convention -- but not together. Harkin speaks at noon and Ganske follows three hours later.
  • Fresh from lunch and dinner events from Friday, President Bush completes his three-square meal fund-raising swing for California gubernatorial candidate Bill Simon with a breakfast fund-raiser in Los Angeles. The event, held at L.A.'s Regency Club, is $2,500 per person; for $10,000 or $25,000, you can reserve a table and get a breakfast snapshot with the leader of the free world. Talk about a power breakfast! When it comes to political campaigns, cold cash, not cold cereal, is the true breakfast of champions. The president then heads to Las Cruces, New Mexico, to attend a reception for GOP gubernatorial nominee John Sanchez and House nominee Steve Pearce.
  • House Democratic Conference Chairman Martin Frost holds a barbecue in Arlington, Texas. Some top Democrats, including gubernatorial nominee Tony Sanchez, plan to attend.
  • Sen. Max Baucus, D-Montana, holds what's being billed as the largest event of his campaign at the Seiben Ranch Hoedown and Barbecue. Although the price is a relatively low $50 per person, a Baucus aide expects to raise "big Baucus bucks." Meanwhile, Baucus' GOP opponent Mike Taylor will hit the county fair circuit in Jordan and Miles City.
  • Colorado's Democratic Senate hopeful Tom Strickland will climb Grays and Torreys Peaks near Georgetown, Colorado, as part of a statewide "Summit with Strickland" event, where small teams will climb each of the state's 54 peaks that reach 14,000 feet or higher (called "fourteeners" in mountain-climbing lingo). Strickland, whom aides say is an avid climber, will then hold a fund-raiser and celebration after the climb. The event is a suggested $50 per person, but is free for climbers.
  • Beam Me Up! (This is not a Traficant story) -- William Shatner, Capt. Kirk in film and television, is beaming into Cleveland to headline a fund-raiser for Democratic gubernatorial nominee Tim Hagan. The "Star Trek"-themed event will also feature the cast of "Star Trek: Voyager," including Hagan's wife, actress Kate Mulgrew (i.e. "Captain Janeway"). The event will also feature Hagan supporters and hard-core "Trekkies" disguised as Hagan supporters.
  • William Shatner
    William Shatner  

  • Bob's Beautiful Balloon: Maryland congressman Robert Ehrlich, the state GOP's best hope in years for recapturing the governorship, takes his campaign to the skies with a balloon ride fund-raiser at the Primoff Farm in Carroll County. Balloon rides are $100 per person, $150 per family. Also that day, Ehrlich will go door-to-door in Montgomery County, the state's most populous jurisdiction, stumping for votes. According to the latest independent poll, Ehrlich has narrowed the gap with his Democratic opponent. Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend leads with 47 percent to 43 percent for Ehrlich (Gonzales/Arscott, 8/10-8/18).
  • Michigan Democrats begin a two-day convention. The big event -- touting their gubernatorial nominee, state Attorney General Jennifer Granholm, who's running double digits ahead of her GOP rival, Lt. Gov. Dick Posthumus.
  • Rep. Ric Keller, R-Florida, holds a "Day of Golf" in Longwood, Florida. Cost: $1,000 per PAC; $500 per individual.
  • August 25

    First week of trying for the last word (and the big burrito)

  • Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Connecticut, headlines a fund-raiser for Rep. Eliot Engel in Westchester.
  • Arizona gubernatorial candidates debate.
  • Rep. Robert Ehrlich, Maryland's GOP gubernatorial hopeful, will host an outdoor fund-raiser on the shores of Middle River, Maryland. Tickets are $250 per person.
  • Governors from the New England states will head to the Great White North to meet with their Canadian counterparts for the 27th Annual Conference of the New England Governors and the Eastern Canadian Premiers, held in Quebec, Canada. Among those in attendance: Howard Dean, Vermont's Democratic governor and uber-traveller. This is Dean's second trip to Canada this month. Ah, courting the crucial Quebecois vote, eh?
  • Howard Dean
    Howard Dean  

  • U.S. Senate hopeful Tom Strickland, D-Colorado, participates in the 15th Annual AIDS Walk Colorado in Denver. Later that day, Strickland will catch a Colorado Rockies Baseball game with Denver Mayor Wellington Webb and kids from the Denver Children's Home and the Colorado Christian Home. Webb considered running for the Senate last year, but decided against it.
  • Montana's GOP Senate nominee, Mike Taylor, goes door-to-door in Billings with a candidate for state legislator.
  • GOP Pennsylvania candidate Mike Fisher attends the "National Candy Gift and Gourmet Show" to grip-and-grin with the 4,000 people expected to attend in Philly.
  • While the New England governors whoop it up in Canada, the Southern Governors Association opens its 68th annual meeting in New Orleans.
  • August 26

    First week of trying for the last word (and the big burrito)

  • Vice President Dick Cheney is traveling to Tennessee for a Veterans of Foreign Wars meeting, and will then host a private luncheon in a Nashville hotel for GOP Senate nominee Lamar Alexander and GOP gubernatorial nominee Van Hilleary.
  • Bill Clinton will head home to West Memphis, Arkansas, to campaign for Rep. Marion Berry, a Democrat. Clinton will attend a rally with Berry and Democratic gubernatorial nominee Jimmie Lou Fisher and then headline a $500-a-head fund-raiser for Berry. Quite notably, however, Democratic Senate nominee Mark Pryor will not be seen with Clinton, saying he needs to rest up for a televised debate with Sen. Tim Hutchinson on Tuesday. "We're not disparaging [former] President Clinton, but Mark is in the David Pryor school of politics," said Pryor spokesman Rodell Mollineau, referring to Pryor's father, ex-Sen. David Pryor, a Democrat. (Curiously, Michael Teague, a former Clinton press aide, went a step further, telling The Washington Post that Pryor is not from the "Bill Clinton school of politics.")
  • Still, Republicans note that Pryor, who has raised money with the former president and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton in Washington and New York, skipped an earlier in-state event with Clinton. "He's happy to have the Clintons host fund-raisers for him in New York and Washington, just not back home where people can see him," said Sen. Tim Hutchinson's spokesman, Anthony Hulen. (Latest Zogby poll: Hutchinson 46 percent; Pryor 43 percent.)
  • The Senate's top Democrat, Tom Daschle, is the target of The Concerned Women for America's new ad calling for a vote to ban late-term abortion. The ad says of Daschle: "In the past, he listened and twice voted to ban the horrible practice of partial birth abortion. Now, he's the Senate Leader, and he must choose between South Dakota values and Washington values." The 30-second spot, which is running on broadcast and cable stations in Daschle's home state of South Dakota, starts today and runs through September 6. A spokeswoman for the conservative women's group would not disclose how much they are spending on the ad, although she did say it's a "significant buy."
  • Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Connecticut, travels to suburban Detroit to attend a roundtable discussion with Democratic gubernatorial nominee Jennifer Granholm on corporate responsibility. Lieberman later will meet with Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick and other party leaders and a fund-raiser for the state Democratic coordinated campaign.
  • Jennifer Granholm
    Jennifer Granholm  

  • Bus Tour for Tourism -- Democratic candidate for Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell embarks on a weeklong bus trip across the northern part of the state to launch his proposals to promote tourism in the Keystone state. The former Philly mayor will follow historic Route 6, stopping at Pennsylvania's Grand Canyon and other places of natural beauty along the way. A Rendell spokesman said the candidate will be going to parts where "there are more deer than people." Do Pennsylvania deer vote?
  • Iowa ABCs -- Iowa's incumbent governor, Democrat Tom Vilsack, holds a press conference to unveil his new education proposal. His spokesman says Vilsack spent his first term focused on elementary education but will now unveil some proposals to help families afford college for their kids.
  • Texas Democratic gubernatorial nominee Tony Sanchez starts what one aide calls the "Bubba Bus Tour" in northeast Texas.
  • The Southern Governors Association opens its two-day conference in New Orleans.
  • August 27

    First week of trying for the last word (and the big burrito)

  • Primary Day! Voters are heading to the polls in Alaska and Oklahoma, two states with open-seat gubernatorial races but very little else in play. In Alaska, Lt. Gov. Fran Ulmer, a Democrat, and Sen. Frank Murkowski, a Republican, face token challengers in their bids to succeed term-limited Gov. Tony Knowles, a Democrat, who may run to fill the remainder of Murkowski's term (two years) if the senator wins this fall. Murkowski is the early favorite. In Oklahoma, Rep. Steve Largent is the solid favorite to win the GOP gubernatorial nod, while state Sen. Brad Henry and restaurant owner Vince Orza are battling for the Democratic nomination. Largent is favored this fall as well. There could be a closer-than-expected Democratic Senate primary -- ex-Gov. David Walters, expected to sail through his primary battle with attorney Tom Boettcher, is instead locked in a relatively tight race. Walters, who left office in 1994 after a stormy first term, is still favored -- if only slightly.
  • Fran Ulmer
    Fran Ulmer  

  • Gore's Alaska Strategy?: Possibly the most interesting race in Alaska's otherwise predictable primary is a ballot initiative that would change the way Alaskans cast votes for president, Congress and other offices. The Center for Voting and Democracy is pushing for "instant runoff voting," which would have given Al Gore the presidency if Florida had such a system in place in 2000. Under the system, voters would rank their preferences for up to five candidates. If no candidate gets a majority of first choice votes, the candidate with the least amount of first-choice votes is eliminated, and a new tally is taken, including the eliminated candidate's second-choice votes. And so on until a candidate gets a majority. If this method were used in Florida, Green Party candidate Ralph Nader would have been eliminated after the first round, and his second choice votes, which likely would have gone to Gore, would have put the Democrat over the top. A spokesman for the center says that the eventual winner will have broader support among the electorate under an "instant runoff voting" system. The spokesman also said that "it's kind of like 'Survivor,' where you knock off one candidate at a time, until you have a winner." The measure wouldn't go into effect until November 2004. The election for governor would be exempt from the system for state constitutional reasons.
  • Sen. Tim Hutchinson, R-Arkansas, and his Democratic challenger, Mark Pryor, are holding their first face-to-face televised debate in Hendricks College in Conway, Arkansas. Hosted by KATV at 7 p.m. CDT.
  • Lamar Alexander and his GOP primary rival, Rep. Ed Bryant, are stumping today and tomorrow across Bryant's Memphis-area district.
  • The Democratic candidates hoping to unseat Florida's incumbent GOP Gov. Jeb Bush will debate in Palm Beach. All three Democrats running for the nomination, Janet Reno, Bill McBride, and Darryl Jones, will participate.
  • Democratic candidates for Massachusetts governor almost make it to prime time in a Channel 5-sponsored televised debate at 7 p.m. The four contenders: Robert Reich, Shannon O'Brien, Tom Birmingham, and Warren Tolman will all be there to go mano ... a mano .... a mano ... a mano.
  • Commerce Secretary Don Evans is doing a reception for California's GOP gubernatorial nominee, Bill Simon, in San Francisco with the president of Williams-Sonoma.
  • August 28

    First week of trying for the last word (and the big burrito)

  • Sen. Zell Miller, D-Georgia, campaigns for Rep. Bob Clement, the Democratic Senate nominee in Tennessee. Miller and Clement are touring east Tennessee, doing a series of fund-raisers, press conferences and a talk-radio interviews. Democrats hope Miller will play a major role in key Senate races throughout the South, including Louisiana, Alabama, Texas, the Carolinas and, of course, his native Georgia. But so far, Miller, who had to be dragged back into politics in 2000 after serving eight years as governor, is keeping a relatively low profile.
  • Zell Miller
    Zell Miller  

  • The Senate's top Republican on the Armed Services Committee, John Warner, R-Virginia, heads to New Hampshire to campaign with incumbent GOP Sen. Bob Smith. The two men will lunch at Yokens restaurant in Portsmouth with veterans, tour a shipyard, meet the press, then meet with Coast Guard reservists to hand out some first responder awards. Also that day, Smith and his opponent for the GOP nomination, Rep. John Sununu, will have a non-televised debate in Manchester, sponsored by the Manchester Republican Committee.
  • John Sununu
    John Sununu  

  • Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Connecticut, holds a breakfast fund-raiser in Denver for state Attorney General Ken Salazar's re-election bid. Lieberman also will meet privately with Denver Mayor Wellington Webb, a Democrat, and will headline a campaign rally for the state Democratic Party. The senator then will attend a luncheon fund-raiser at Denver's Oxford Hotel for Democratic Senate nominee Tom Strickland and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.
  • Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, a Democrat, heads to his state's Champlain Valley Fair.
  • Rep. Steve Buyer, R-Indiana, holds a $1,000-a-head golf outing at the Raspberry Falls Hunt & Golf Club.
  • House Democratic Caucus Chairman Martin Frost, D-Texas, delivers a major speech to the Dallas Democratic Forum. The topic: How Democrats win back the House. Frost, a former two-time chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, who oversaw this cycle's redistricting effort, is widely considered the sharpest campaign strategist in the caucus.
  • Democrat Ron Kirk and Republican John Cornyn compete for the endorsement of Combined Law Enforcement Agencies of Texas (CLEAT). The two Senate candidates will meet at their CLEAT headquarters in South Austin.
  • GOP gubernatorial candidate Mitt Romney does his 15th "work day" at a biotech firm in Cambridge. He'll spend a few hours in the lab in attempt to find out what kind of work they're doing and what their problems and issues are.
  • Labor Secretary Elaine Chao heads to Iowa to announce a "special grant." Chao will head to California in early September to do an event with GOP nominee for governor Bill Simon.
  • Elaine Chao
    Elaine Chao  

  • EPA Administrator Christie Todd Whitman heads to Baltimore to campaign for Helen Delich Bentley, the former congresswoman who is running to succeed Rep. Robert Ehrlich, who is running for governor.
  • August 29

    First week of trying for the last word (and the big burrito)

  • President Bush travels to Little Rock, Arkansas for a $500-a-plate early supper event with Sen. Tim Hutchinson, a Republican, Gov. Mike Huckabee and other statewide candidates. The fund-raiser-in-chief also stops in Oklahoma City to collect money for Sen. Jim Inhofe, a Republican.
  • Less than two weeks before voters go to the polls, Republican rivals for Sen. Bob Smith and his challenger John Sununu square off in a high-stakes, high-profile debate sponsored by WMUR, New England Cable News and the Manchester Union Leader. Three reporters, one from each outlet, will grill the GOP contenders at 7 p.m. in the last forum where they engage mano a mano before primary day September 10.
  • Doctor, Doctor! (Part I): -- Doctor-turned-GOP Senate hopeful, Rep. Greg Ganske, gets a House call from the Senate's only physician -- Bill Frist of Tennessee. Frist, chairman of the NRSC, will raise some cash for Ganske in Council Bluffs, meet with GOP supporters, and hold a joint press conference in the hopes of getting some more medical help in Congress' upper chamber.
  • Doctor, Doctor! (Part II): The only physician running for president, Vermont's Democratic Gov. Howard Dean, will talk shop at the American Political Science Association's annual meeting in Boston. Dr. Dean will give his diagnosis for universal health care in an address called "Beating Harry and Louise: Guaranteeing Health Care for Every American."
  • The GOP ticket for Maryland governor, Rep. Robert Ehrlich and state party chair Michael Steele host a fund-raiser at the Club of Patriots Glenn in Elkton, on the state's Eastern Shore. The event is $50 per person.
  • Upstate Debate -- Their first debate, just this past Sunday, was noted for producing nothing notable, so perhaps the upstate air will spark some fireworks between New York Democratic gubernatorial candidates Carl McCall and Andrew Cuomo. The two will engage on TV for the second time in Rochester's "Voice of the Voter Debate," sponsored by ABC and PBS affiliates there.
  • Filing Deadline -- Candidates in September 10 primaries, which are being held in 11 states, are due to file campaign finance reports today with the Federal Election Commission. Electronic reports for House candidates should be available by Friday at
  • Office of Management and Budget Director Mitch Daniels is headlining a luncheon with Rep. John Hostettler, R-Indiana, in Evansville, Indiana.
  • Watts 2004? Probably not, but the House Republican Conference chairman is campaigning in Iowa. Rep. J.C. Watts will stump today with Rep. Jim Nussle, a Republican, who said Watts is "a good friend of mine, and I am honored that he is taking the time out of his schedule to campaign with me." During the visit, Watts will attend a Scott County GOP rally and a Nussle fund-raiser.
  • J.C. Watts
    J.C. Watts  

  • Rep. Melissa Hart, R-Pennsylvania, holds a spaghetti dinner in New Castle, Pennsylvania.
  • Georgia Gov. Roy Barnes, a Democrat, attends a reception in Atlanta for Georgia Secretary of State Cathy Cox, a Democrat, who, like Barnes, is running for re-election.
  • The 13th annual Midwest Polka Fest opens in Humboldt, Iowa.
  • South Carolina Gov. Jim Hodges, a Democrat, and his GOP challenger, ex-Rep. Mark Sanford, will hold their first televised debate at SCE-TV in Columbia. The debate is live to tape and will air September 5.
  • August 30

    First week of trying for the last word (and the big burrito)

    First Mitch Daniels, now Dan Quayle! Rep. John Hostettler, R-Indiana, who hosted an event with Mitch Daniels earlier this week, will host a breakfast with fellow Hoosier Dan Quayle in Vincennes, Indiana. Hostettler aides are expecting a relatively small haul, in the neighborhood of $5,000.

    Minnesota Public Radio hosts a debate from the state fair.

  • First, Sen. Paul Wellstone, D-Minnesota and his GOP opponent Norm Coleman face off in their first general debate, then it's the gubernatorial candidates' turn to show their stuff.
  • One week after President Bush's Iowa appearance, his HUD secretary, Mel Martinez drops in on Rep. Greg Ganske, R-Iowa, for a campaign event in Des Moines. The two will talk about urban renewal and suburban sprawl, a big issue for small town Iowans.
  • Greg Ganske
    Greg Ganske  

  • Like Father, Like Daughter: Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, a 1977 Yale graduate, heads back to his alma matter to help his daughter Anne move in for her freshman year. The man Dean hopes to unseat, President George W. Bush, is a 1968 Yale graduate whose daughter Barbara is a junior at Yale.
  • August 31

    First week of trying for the last word (and the big burrito)

  • University of South Carolina plays New Mexico State in Columbia. South Carolina State plays at home in Orangeburg. Clemson is at the University of Georgia in Athens, Georgia. Look for Gov. Jim Hodges and his GOP rival, Rep. Mark Sanford, to root for home teams.
  • Minnesotans attending the state fair will be able to jam to the music of one the man who wants to be their governor. Independent candidate Tim Penny will play at his booth with his band "The Pumper, The Peddler and The Politician." (Bandmates work at a gas station and sell electronics). Penny sings and plays the guitar to '50s and '60s tunes.
  • Run for the Border. . . and for Congress! What was once just a hot congressional race gets upgraded to "extra spicy" when the results of a much-anticipated "burrito" poll are unwrapped in Maryland's highly competitive 8th District. The California Tortilla restaurant chain, based in Bethesda, Maryland, sponsored a monthlong promotion where hungry citizens get to vote for one of five specialty burritos, each named after a different candidate. The candidate with the top-selling burrito wins the poll, and gets the all important "burrito bounce" coming out of Labor Day. With less than a week to go, Democratic state senator Chris Van Hollen's "Viva Van Hollen" burrito leads the field with 582 votes, followed by GOP Rep. Connie Morella's "Mozzarella Morella" with 541 votes. Former Clinton trade official Ira Shapiro's Asian-themed "Yaka Tori Shapiro" is third with 448 votes. The "Super Savory Shriver," Democratic state legislator and Kennedy family member Mark Shriver's entry into burrito politics, is fourth with 304. Democrat Deborah Vollmer's "Vivacious Volmer" is fifth with 127. A portion of the proceeds will be donated to charities of the candidates' choosing. The latest non-burrito poll has Shriver leading Van Hollen 31 to 30 percent in the Democratic primary, with 14 percent for Shapiro and 4 percent for Vollmer. There was no head-to-head matchup with Morella, but the GOP incumbent had a 54 percent favorability rating, compared with 57 percent for Shriver and 51 percent for Van Hollen (Gonzales/Arscott, 8/10-8/18). .
  • Ballot burritos
    Ballot burritos  

  • Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, a Republican, holds a barbecue in Volusia County.
  • September 1

  • Sen. John Edwards, D-North Carolina, will attend the Aggie-Eagle Classic football showdown in Raleigh. The game pits two traditionally African-American colleges against each other for football supremacy: the "Aggies" of North Carolina A&T State University and the "Eagles" of North Carolina Central University.




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