Today's Papers

Poll Vaulting?

USA Todayleads with another poll, this one from Gallup, suggesting that the presidential race has settled back into a dead heat, with Sen. John Kerry’s debate performance giving him a significant bounce after a month of sometimes double-digit leads for President Bush. The same poll showed Bush up eight points among likely voters before the debate. The New York Times leads with the sustained surge of new voter registrations in swing states, as the first round of deadlines passes. The Washington Post goes above the fold with the registration race in Ohio but leads instead with what it calls the “new importance” of Tuesday’s vice-presidential debate, as the Bush campaign looks to Dick Cheney to help reverse the momentum of the Democratic ticket. The Wall Street Journal’s world-wide newsbox and the Los Angeles Times’ top non-local story lead with Samarra, where U.S. forces say they have regained control after a three-day assault on insurgent neighborhoods. Elsewhere in Iraq, early morning wires report that two powerful bombs have exploded within 30 minutes of each other in central Baghdad, killing at least 10 and wounding 70.

Gallup’s most interesting finding may be that the number of people who say Kerry won last Thursday’s debate has grown since the debate itself, presumably as the post-debate spin has crystallized. The WSJ’s horse-race story (subscription required) says, however, that Kerry aides downplayed the new poll results, having previously discounted results showing a Bush lead. Moreover, Mark “Mystery Pollster” Blumenthal cautions on his blog that polls conducted over the weekend (i.e., post-debate surveys by Gallup and Newsweek) are generally less representative because they are often skewed toward people who more closely follow current events.

Both the NYT’s voter registration story and a  similar one from Knight Ridder  provide yet more familiar reason to treat the polls skeptically: New registrations have been coming in so fast and furious that it’s difficult to tell who will actually be voting on Nov. 2. In swing states across the country, counties have been forced to add staff and put employees on mandatory overtime merely to handle the backlog of registration forms. Election Day is “going to be insane,” an elections worker in Philadelphia, Pa., said. Then he corrected himself: “It’s already insane. It’s been nuts since June.” For its part, the WP’s Ohio story goes high with Republicans’ and Democrats’ competing claims to have registered an unusually large group of voters. “We’ve never had a grass-roots organization like this in the state of Ohio,” the head of Bush’s Ohio campaign said.

Despite Kerry’s new momentum, or at least his appearance of momentum, the WP reports that  his campaign has effectively conceded Virginia, reassigning key staffers to more competitive states. Virginia has not voted for a Democratic presidential candidate since Lyndon Johnson.

The Democrats’ outlook in the Senate is looking more rosy: The WP says inside that the Democratic candidate is leading in Oklahoma, and the NYT reports that Lincoln Chafee, the moderate Republican senator from Rhode Island, has said he will not be voting for President Bush this November. More significantly, it seems Chafee’s been meeting with Vermont Sen. Jim Jeffords, who you may remember defected from the Republican party in 2001. “I understand the feelings that he has,” Jeffords said. “I’m going to be talking to him, so I’m not going to say any more. I probably shouldn’t have even told you that.”

The NYT joins the LAT in fronting a big photo from Samarra, where joint U.S.-Iraqi patrols encountered only sporadic small-arms fire yesterday. “We studied what had happened in Najaf and elsewhere very carefully, and we learned some important lessons,” a commander of one of the four U.S. battalions that took the city told the NYT. The papers say the military is hoping that the assault can serve as a model for future operations in other insurgent strongholds, such as Fallujah. According to the WP, Samarrans ventured outside yesterday for the first time since the attack began, but the LAT makes clear that the city is still under a tight lid. To discourage would-be bombers, a bridge over the Tigris carried signs warning, “No stopping or you will be shot.”

In response, perhaps, to yesterday’s detailed NYT story, which suggested that the Bush administration ignored significant doubts that Saddam Hussein was attempting to reconstitute his nukes program, Condoleezza Rice hit the Sunday shows to defend the decision to go to war. Although a mountain of evidence shows that it is unlikely that aluminum tubes Iraq had purchased could be used in uranium centrifuges, Rice said, “As I understand it, people are still debating this.” An expert told the WP that Rice “is being disingenuous, and just departing from any effort to find the truth.”

The papers check in on that other presidential election—the one in Afghanistan, which takes place on Oct. 9. The WP fronts a piece about fears that intimidation by local warlords will taint the result. In a survey over the summer, some 88 percent of Afghan respondents said the government had to do more to curb the power of regional militias. But the NYT focuses more hopefully on democracy classes, which school voters in the art of the secret ballot. “Suppose you are faced with a commander or very rich person and he wants you to vote for the person he wants,” a civic educator told one class. “You can tell him ‘O.K.,’ but when you go to vote, no one can see what you do, and when you come out, he will not know who you voted for.”

Spanish and French authorities captured the leader of the Basque separatist group ETA yesterday in a raid in southwestern France. There are few details, but Spain’s El Mundoreports that the operation was four years in the making.

Last Thursday, the WP reported some rather, um, bold propaganda moves by the Pentagon and the U.S. Agency for International Development—including a USAID decision to restrict distribution of less-than-upbeat reports Kroll Security International has been preparing for the Agency about the situation in Iraq. (Those reports formed the basis of a particularly damning WP piece last Sunday, which prompted USAID to stop distributing them.) The Post’s Al Kamen notes inside, however, that some Kroll reports are still available online; the most recent pours cold water on the prospect than an election can be held by January and suggests U.S. intransigence on the issue is a ploy tied to Bush’s re-election campaign. Kamen offers the administration some advice: “Either these guys get on message, or that contract will have to be terminated.”