The papers all lead with election scuttlebutt in the United States, Iraq, or Afghanistan. The Los Angeles Timestops a Bush administration decision to put off an all-out assault on insurgent strongholds in Iraq’s Sunni Triangle until after Nov. 2, fearful that a major offensive could upset the presidential race here. “When this election’s over, you’ll see us move very vigorously,” an SAO said. The New York Times leads with worries that many Iraqi Sunnis, hemmed in by violence and fearful of persecution at the hands of a Shiite majority, may boycott the January elections there. The Washington Post, meanwhile, leads with more positive news from Afghanistan, where disgruntled presidential candidates backed down from demands that Saturday’s vote be invalidated because of alleged fraud. Back in the U.S., the Wall Street Journal’s world-wide newsbox highlights stumping in the run up to Wednesday’s final presidential debate, and USA Today leads with the growing battle over provisional ballots. The paper suggests hundreds of thousands such ballots could be cast, only to be verified after Election Day; one election official warns that they “could be the hanging chads of 2004.”
The LAT’s lead, in effect, puts the kibosh on hopes expressed in the NYT’s. Some Sunni leaders cited by the NYT say they are relying on the promised American-led offensive; once Sunni areas are opened up, they hope candidates will come forward to campaign for January’s election. But it might already be too late: According to the LAT, Pentagon officials are saying it may not be militarily possible to recapture every Sunni Triangle city by January, regardless of what is said publicly. “The State Department can talk about people voting everywhere. But securing Iraq in time for the election can’t happen without the U.S. military,” a “senior military official” said.
The papers also mention, the NYT at greatest length, twin suicide car bombings in Baghdad. The blasts went off within 15 minutes of each other, killing at least 10 Iraqis and an American soldier. Iraq round-ups in the Post and the LAT (and a separate piece in the NYT) focus instead on Donald Rumsfeld, who dropped into the country yesterday for a photo-op (a.k.a. “town hall-style meeting”) with soldiers.
According to the LAT, at least three of 15 Afghan presidential candidates who had complained about Saturday’s election agreed, after some persuasion by the U.S. ambassador, to accept the results of a proposed independent investigation. Others are said to be close to coming around. The papers all say that the candidates backed down because most Afghans think the election actually pretty went well—although no one actually backs up this account of public opinion apart from quoting diplomats involved in negotiations. “Some candidates now believe they acted in too much of a rush. Their statements were not well received,” said a “Western diplomat” who met with them, according to the WP. “Most of them are now looking for a way out without losing face.”
The NYT reefers and the WP goes deep inside with a story that first appeared in Saturday’s LAT: Conservative-leaning Sinclair Broadcast Group has ordered its 62 stations, which reach 24 percent of American homes, to preempt regularly scheduled programming to air a film intensely critical of Sen. John Kerry’s antiwar testimony in 1971. The papers say the group has invited Kerry to speak after the film, thereby skirting federal requirements to provide “equal time” to candidates during election season. But an expert quoted by the NYT says that the regulations are based on which candidate actually appears; since the film only features Kerry, he says the channels might have to show Bush or Nader if they request it.
As usual, the papers pack their news pages with election articles focused largely on strategy and horse metaphors. Sen. John Edwards worked the Sunday shows yesterday, winning himself rote hey-he’s-going-higher-profile! stories in the WP and NYT. More interesting is the Post’s front pager on the more than 14,273 political ads aired so far in Toledo, Ohio, which the paper says is ground zero for the campaign air war. And the paper goes inside with the metaphorical fox holes the campaigns are digging for the ground war in Iowa—or, as Gov. Tom Vilsack calls it, the “purple state.”
Of course, everyone hits Florida. USAT goes to Pinellas County, on the Western end of the I-4 corridor, and finds—surprise!—that it’s a tough race to handicap. The papers all offers trail pieces on Kerry’s appearance at a Baptist church in Miami with the Rev. Jesse Jackson and the Rev. Al Sharpton (“We are taught to walk by faith, not by sight,” Kerry said, drawing shouts of “Amen!” and “Teach it!”), while the LAT does one better, fronting efforts by local election officials in Gadsen County, a majority black district on the Panhandle, to turn out every vote. The NYT chimes in, too, fronting black Floridians, many of whom say they are still angry about 2000. Still, they haven’t necessarily warmed to Kerry. “I guess he’s all right,” one man said, “but he’s no Bill Clinton, downright homey-like.”
O Superman … And in late-breaking news, the LAT and USAT both catch word that Christopher Reeve died yesterday afternoon of heart failure. He slipped into a coma at home on Saturday and never regained consciousness. He was 52.