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First Glance

From Elizabeth Wilner, Mark Murray, Huma Zaidi, and Jennifer Colby
Eleven days to go...  President Bush today looks past election day, meeting with the NATO Secretary General as prep for the NATO summit in Latvia next month.  Others in the Administration will contend with a GDP figure showing a much lower rate of growth than expected, unwelcome news amid the Administration's big push to focus voters on a strong US economy.  Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson will appear on CNBC later this morning.

The latest sign of how the once formidable Bush-Cheney campaign team's effectiveness has been curbed by their poll standing is how much their itineraries are starting to blur together.  They're also overlapping with the travel schedule of Laura Bush, who remains the White House's universal donor, publicly popular enough to be able to boost even the GOP's most vulnerable candidates. 

They're all even getting the same poor House candidate's name wrong over and over again.  Yesterday, campaigning for Jeff Lamberti (R) in Des Moines, Bush twice called him "Dave."  Our Des Moines affiliate WHO reports that when Cheney was there to raise money for Lamberti a few months ago, he mispronounced Lamberti's last name -- as did Laura Bush when she visited.

Today, Cheney goes to Missouri and then to Kiawah Island, South Carolina for a Republican National Committee fundraiser.  Tomorrow, Bush goes to Indiana and then to Kiawah Island, South Carolina for an RNC fundraiser.  Cheney rallies with US troops in Missouri today; Bush rallies with US troops in South Carolina tomorrow.  Bush also will double back on some of his own travel, doing two campaign rallies in Georgia in two days, on Monday and Tuesday. 

Laura Bush raises money for a House candidate in Florida today, two days after her husband visited.  Vern Buchanan is struggling to win Katherine Harris' open House seat in Florida.  The big national GOP push for Buchanan is understandable given how Democrats would view that victory as particularly sweet prize.  After that event, Mrs. Bush heads from Sarasota to Palm Beach for two events in embattled Rep. Clay Shaw's district, including a fundraiser at a private home. 

On the back-to-back, Bush-Cheney Kiawah events, RNC spokesperson Tracey Schmitt tells First Read, "Just like we did in the final stretch of 2004, it's the RNC's final push and an opportunity to thank those who have been so committed to ensuring we have the resources we need to keep our majorities."  Schmitt also says that in general, "it's fair to characterize this as Republicans in high gear for the home stretch."

And once again, Republicans are hoping to hit a certain nerve for voters in their efforts to hang onto a Senate seat in a Southern state.  First, the RNC ran that controversial ad against Democrat Harold Ford in Tennessee which critics charge was implicitly racist.  Now hitting the Internet are what appear to be excerpts of war novels written by Virginia Senate nominee Jim Webb (D) which feature steamy sex scenes, including between men. 

When asked, a spokesman for the Democratic Senate campaign committee did not deny that the excerpts were written by Webb, who penned the novels based on his years and experience in the military.  Instead, Democrats -- like strategist Paul Begala on Imus this morning -- are countering that some prominent Republicans like Lynne Cheney and Newt Gingrich also wrote pulpy books.  They also cite Sen. John's McCain's praise for one of Webb's novels, as printed on its back cover.  But neither Mrs. Cheney nor Gingrich are on the ballot in Virginia right now after a long campaign in which they emphasized their military credentials, as Webb has.

It's hardly uncommon for candidates in top races to see their opponents make their past writings an issue in the race.  The campaign of Sen. George Allen (R), Webb's opponent, has focused on Webb's previous criticisms of the concept of women in combat, which get front-page Washington Post coverage today.

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