Walking it back a bit? Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage made a bit of news the other day in Warsaw when he told reporters that insurgents in Iraq are stepping up their attacks because "they are trying to influence the election against President Bush."

"Does that mean they are working for Senator [John F.] Kerry?" a reporter asked.

"I didn't say that," Armitage replied. "What I said was that they were trying to influence the election against President Bush. That's all I said."

Alarms went off among the diplo crowd, but State Department officials later said Armitage did not wish to amend his remarks, according to an account in the Chicago Tribune.

But on Friday, Armitage, testifying on the Hill, did the old "revise and extend" tango.

"I do expect an increase in attacks," Armitage said. "The intelligence will show that they're planning to get more virulent. They don't want the Iraqi government to become democratically elected. I think -- I personally think that they want to disrupt our election, and they want to do that no matter who was president -- it's not a matter of George Bush, it's just president of the United States -- that's what they want, just as they think they interfered with Spain -- and apparently they did."

Maybe he pulled back after new polls showed the insurgents closely divided with a huge undecided bloc waiting for the debates?

A Balancing Act at Honest Abe's

The National Park Service, under pressure from conservative religious groups, promised last year to unveil what a spokesman said was a "more balanced" version of an eight-minute video for visitors to the Lincoln Memorial.

The video, shown since 1995, opens with Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech and President Abraham Lincoln's condemnation of slavery. But it also shows demonstrations there against the Vietnam War and others favoring abortion, gay and women's rights. NPS promised to make the requisite political changes.

Since then NPS has spent nearly $200,000 to make two new versions of the video, but the agency is sitting on the finished product until after the elections, according to a group called Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility.

PEER, citing NPS employees and agency documents it obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, says Park Service folks dutifully sifted through archival material and found pictures of additional GOP presidents -- underrepresented in the original -- and some pro-Gulf War demonstrations and inserted those, adding about a minute to the video.

The new version was done months ago but apparently failed to pass muster with higher officials, said Jeff Ruch, PEER's executive director. So a new version, presumably slashing "feminists, war protesters and gays from American history," was worked up. Meanwhile, NPS won't release either version.

It's not just the video that's being "updated," NPS spokesman Bill Line said yesterday, but "the entire exhibit [and] the Park Service has not finalized any plans." Around election time, "people throw a lot of things" around claiming electoral shenanigans, but there's "no basis in fact" to claim NPS is stalling until after the election, Line said.

"When it's ready, we'll let people know," he said.

So call back next month?

In a Traffic Jam

The presidential election battle is clearly heating up. On Monday, a Bush campaign rally in Carlisle, Pa., waited and waited for the "Help Is on the Way" bus, which carried a group of pro-Bush firefighters from New York City.

The group, from the Uniformed Firefighters Association of Greater New York, Local 94, had been at an event in Clarks Summit, Pa., and the 145-mile trip should have taken maybe 21/2 hours.

The bus showed, an hour and 15 minutes late.

Joe Miccio, the union's recording secretary, blamed Kerry operatives, according to a Bush campaign official. Seems the bus fell in behind a car with a Kerry bumper sticker that was going 50 mph, Miccio explained. Every time the bus tried to pass, he said, the car would swerve in front of it and prevent it from doing so.

"They bobbed and weaved all over the highway," Miccio said, "kinda like John Kerry on the campaign trail."

The firefighters, after stops in Ohio yesterday, are wrapping up their swing in West Virginia today.

Please Be Seated

Speaking of presidential candidates, Ralph Nader called Monday to say he was most annoyed about a Loop item saying he straddled two seats on an airport shuttle bus last week, leaving two elderly women to stand.

"First of all," he said, "you got the wrong airport -- it was National, not Dulles." And "why didn't you call me?" Didn't have your number so we called your flack about the matter, we said.

"I can't believe somebody called you about this," Nader said. The rather gaunt Nader said he recalled a good-size gentleman standing near him on the jammed bus, but "that guy couldn't possibly fit" in the spot next to Nader.

"Maybe a tiny person could get into it," he said, but not that fellow. "I didn't notice any elderly women" looking for a seat, he said, but "I would have gotten up" for them.

Just to show he harbored no grudge, Nader asked, "Can you put my Web site in the column?"

Sure, we said.

"Really?" he said.

No problem. "Votenader.org." If you do, he'll give you a seat, maybe even two, on the shuttle bus at National.