This is the time in the political calendar when soothsayers point to the size of crowds at rallies to see which candidate is producing more enthusiasm. The campaigns, well aware of this practice, can't resist putting their thumbs on the scale.

On Tuesday, correspondents from The Washington Post and the Washington Times counted the crowds at President Bush's three stops in Missouri, then compared the actual figure with the official Bush campaign figure:

* Lee's Summit: Actual attendance, 8,500. Bush count, 14,000.

* Sedalia: Actual attendance, 2,200. Bush count, 3,200.

* Columbia: Actual attendance, 8,000 to 9,000. Bush count, 14,000.

It seems that the Bush campaign is inflating its crowd counts by 45 to 75 percent. Some of this may be the result of people walking through metal detectors more than once, but there's clearly some old-fashioned crowd padding going on.

The Shrinking Battleground

John F. Kerry's campaign recently announced a $45 million advertising buy through the November election, aimed at 20 battleground states but has sharply scaled down the battlefield with its newly released ad "Wrong Choices," which debuted yesterday.

Campaign officials said the ad would begin airing in seven states, with an eighth to be added later in the week. Combined with an independent advertising campaign by the Democratic National Committee, the Democrats will be focused for now on 14 swing states.

Earlier in the campaign, Kerry officials said they planned to expand the battlefield as much as possible, but with fewer than 60 days remaining in the campaign, the new ad buy indicates that the Democrats have begun targeting their electoral map strategy more carefully, with a dozen or so top-tier targets and others relegated to lesser priority.

The new Kerry ad began airing in Florida, Iowa, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Wisconsin. The campaign will add Ohio this week.

The DNC's ad buy includes all of the states where Kerry is advertising, except New Mexico, but adds Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, Oregon and Washington.

Kerry adviser Tad Devine said the campaign will increase the quantity of its ads as the election nears and also is likely to add markets and states in coming weeks. "We will have a dominant paid media presence at the end of this race," he said.

A Bumper Crop of Controversy

A small stack of bumper stickers at the Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party caught the eye of a Minnesota Republican Party official who had stopped by to deliver a letter.

"Bush/Cheney -- Most hated world leaders since Hitler," proclaimed the stickers, which also carried the name of a Web site,, according to the Associated Press.

The Democrats denied culpability, but the Republican National Committee issued a statement from Sen. Norm Coleman (Minn.) saying, "Someone needs to tell John Kerry that this is not the way we do things in the American heartland."

Staff writer Dan Balz contributed to this report.