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Bush, Kerry Plan Debate Workouts

Behind Each Practice Site Is a Message

By Mike Allen and Lois Romano
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, September 23, 2004; Page A10

Both presidential candidates are leaving the campaign trail this weekend to cram for their first debate next Thursday, and both are choosing study locations that they hope will send a message.

President Bush will try to project an air of routine by retiring to his ranch in Crawford, Tex., after two campaign events in Wisconsin on Friday. He will barnstorm in Ohio on Monday and then will be out of sight again in Crawford on Tuesday. He will make a stop in Florida on the way to the debate site in Coral Gables.

"The president will operate out of Texas for the first debate," White House press secretary Scott McClellan said.

Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) will hold a more traditional debate camp, heading for Wisconsin because of its status as a swing state. That follows the lead of Vice President Al Gore, who held his 2000 debate camps in Florida.

Kerry has a very light public schedule between Saturday and the debate. On Sunday, he heads to Spring Green, Wis., for intense debate preparation at a secluded location.

"We wanted someplace private and roomy, and we were interested in a battleground state," said Kerry campaign manager Mary Beth Cahill. "We couldn't do Florida because . . . we didn't want to distract from all the work being done on the hurricane situation. If not for that, we would be in Florida."

Although there is nothing on Kerry's schedule in Wisconsin, Cahill did not rule out some day events while he is there.

The role of Bush in Kerry's preparation sessions is being played by Gregory B. Craig, a seasoned trial lawyer who is a partner at Williams & Connolly. Craig represented the father of the Cuban boy Elian Gonzalez. Campaign officials said Kerry selected Craig because he wanted someone fresh and knowledgeable to play Bush. Craig, who has ties to Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), was a high ranking State Department official in the Clinton administration and a central figure in the Clinton impeachment defense team.

Bush began debate preparation in late July in secret sessions at the White House residence, an aide said. The role of Kerry has been played by a fellow New Englander, Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.), who played Gore in Bush's debate preparations in 2000.

Bush officials would not discuss details of his preparation on the record, but aides said it has been heavily focused on Kerry's record and past statements. The aim, they said, is for Bush to correct what they consider omissions or distortions from the lectern, rather than having campaign officials do so afterward in the chaotic "spin alley." Bush is not known for diligence with homework, but aides said he has devoured the Kerry material.

Vice President Cheney will hunker down at his home in Jackson, Wyo., to prepare for the vice presidential debate, to be held on Oct. 5. His sparring partner is Rep. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), who played Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (D-Conn.), Gore's running mate, in Cheney's prep sessions in 2000.

Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.), Kerry's running mate, has not announced his debate preparation plans.

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