The stage is set for tomorrow’s Democratic presidential debate.
CHARLESTON, South Carolina (CNN)– It’s two days until show time and the stage is in the process of being set for Monday night’s Democratic presidential debate.
There’s an army of technicians working in concert to construct the stage and dress up the McAllister Field House, here on the campus of the Citadel, for the debate that CNN, You Tube and the South Carolina Democratic Party are teaming up to host.
Lighting and video technicians, stage carpenters, members of the CNN design team and field engineers, and a host of other workers are busy transforming the field house, which normally hosts basketball games, into a debate hall that will be seen by television viewers and computer users around the world.
Above me some 40 thousand pounds of lighting equipment is being set up on grids attached to the ceiling of the building. Riggers, who scale the tops of the field house, are finishing up connecting lights and cables to the ceiling grids above the stage. I’m sitting directly under a huge speaker as I write down these observations. You know what, maybe I better move.
Cameramen are setting up their equipment, and checking their shots. Ten cameras, both stationary and hand held, will be inside the hall to shoot the debate.
On stage right now, an honor guard from the Citadel is practicing a drill they will perform at the beginning of the debate. “Right face” commands the honor guard’s leader. Now the six member team is marching off the stage. They will practice their drill over and over again.
Stage left and hanging from a grid attached to the ceiling is a giant high definition screen where the candidates and the debate audience will see the recorded questions. Each of the eight candidates will also have personal monitor in their podium on the stage.
The CNN director who will call the shots Monday night just walked on stage. She’s checking her shots and the lighting. It’s something she’ll do a number of times between now and show time Monday night.
All this action began on Wednesday and will go through Monday afternoon, when the final touches will be applied.
– Deputy Political Director Paul Steinhauser
DES MOINES, Iowa (CNN)–Republican Duncan Hunter's presidential campaign announced Saturday that former McCain staffer Patrick Anderson has signed on as Hunter's Iowa director.
"It wasn't a hard decision at all," Anderson told CNN. "It's interesting because about four hours after I committed to McCain, [the Hunter people] called and said they wanted me. I would have gone with Hunter in the first place, but the McCain people had been on and off before Hunter made the decision."
Anderson was coalition director of field operations for John McCain's presidential campaign, but was one of a handful of staffers laid off in early July. Before working for the Arizona senator, he was also the Iowa director for Chicago businessman John Cox, a Republican presidential candidate whose campaign, according to Anderson, has "sort of failed to take off nationally."
Duncan Hunter, a California congressman, currently has three other staffers working under Anderson in Iowa.
– CNN Iowa Producer Chris Welch
Romney campaigned in Iowa on Saturday.
ALGONA, Iowa (CNN) - GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney said Saturday that he is cutting back on his budget for the Ames, Iowa, straw poll.
"We're not trying to overshoot dramatically," said the former Massachusetts governor. "Initially we planned to try to bring in a very large number of folks from across the state for the straw poll. We've cut back on our target from that standpoint to a level where we think we can win, but we're not trying to overwhelm anybody. But I think it's important to show our commitment to the straw poll process."
GOP presidential rivals John McCain and Rudy Giuliani have said they will not participate in the contest.
The Ames straw poll, held on August 11 this election cycle, is an unofficial test of the Republican candidates, typically used as a gauge that may or may not show how much support a candidate really has.
"It's not going to be as intense of an event as it would have been had the other frontrunners decided to participate."
Romney declined to mention any figures as to exactly how much they'd be scaling back.
– CNN Iowa producer Chris Welch
CHARLESTON, South Carolina (CNN) - Veteran Republican operative Rich Galen has signed on as a senior advisor to former Sen. Fred Thompson, R-Tennessee, who is exploring a bid for the GOP presidential nomination.
Galen, author of the popular political cyber column MULLINGS, is well known in GOP circles for his savvy political communications skills. He often provides political analysis on CNN.
"Assuming he gets into the race, I think Fred Thompson may well be the best combination of insider-outsider experience and possess the kind of new ideas that don't exist in either party," Galen said.
Thompson is expected to make a formal announcement after Labor Day.
– CNN Political Editor Mark Preston
Documents show Thompson lobbied for an abortion rights group.
CHARLESTON, South Carolina (CNN) - Fred Thompson often plays up his social conservative credentials, telling audiences that he believes “in the sanctity of human life.” And when he officially jumps into the race for the White House, which we believe will be sometime around Labor Day, he’ll be counting on the support of values voters.
But billing records show that in 1991 and 1992, the former Tennessee Republican spent some 20 hours lobbying for a group trying to ease federal laws that restricted abortion counseling. The records detailing Thompson’s work for the National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association were first reported Thursday by the New York Times and also obtained by CNN.
Earlier this month, in response to a Los Angeles Times story, a Thompson spokesman said the former senator had no recollection of doing anything to aid the abortion rights group. Last week, another spokesman reasserted this comment but then added to the statement.
“It is not unusual for a lawyer, when asked by a colleague, to provide counsel or assistance when asked, including matters on which they personally disagree," Thompson spokesman Robert Traynham said.
But non-partisan political analyst Stuart Rothenberg said the most recent news about Thompson's past work could hurt him with social conservatives.
“I think the controversy could be a significant problem," Rothenberg said. "Part of Thompson’s appeal is he is a Ronald Reagan conservative and there is a contradiction between that ideal and the reality of his work on the issue of abortion."
And Thompson’s already feeling the heat. A video posting on YouTube shows Thompson answering a question in a 1994 Senate debate about supporting or opposing abortions on demand. “I do not believe that the federal government ought to be involved in that process,” said Thompson in his response.
But Thompson’s voting record during his eight years in the Senate was consistently anti-abortion. And it appears that so far at least, many social conservatives may be willing to give Thompson a pass on this current controversy.
“The conservative wing of the Republican Party really wants to be able to support somebody and because of that they may be able to move past this,” said Rothenberg, who adds that “we won’t know for a number of weeks, possibly a number of months, whether it could get a little bit rocky for Thompson.”
– CNN Deputy Political Director Paul Steinhauser
President Bush will be in Charleston hours after the Democratic candidates debate
CHARLESTON, South Carolina (CNN) - Guess who’s coming to town just hours after eight Democratic presidential candidates finish beating him up? None other than the commander-in-chief, himself, President Bush.
Bush will deliver a speech at the Charleston Air Force Base Tuesday, which is just down the road from the Citadel where CNN is partnering with YouTube to broadcast a presidential debate Monday night. The candidates are expected to use the national forum to continue criticizing Bush for his execution of the Iraq war.
He will also meet with military personnel during his visit and view the loading of military cargo planes headed to Iraq.
The White House isn’t saying if the president will definitely speak about the war, but presidential spokesman Tony Snow says it is likely to come up. The visit will also give Bush the opportunity to respond to any criticism lobbed at him by Democrats the night before.
The president was invited to Charleston by South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, who has stood by Bush on the president's most controversial initiative: immigration reform. Bush's visit to the Palmetto State comes as a new CNN/Opinion Research Poll shows that his approval rating is 35 percent in the state. In 2004, Bush won South Carolina with 58 percent of the vote.
– Deputy Political Director Paul Steinhauser
WASHINGTON (CNN) - After about three hours, President Bush on Saturday reclaimed his presidential power from Vice President Dick Cheney after undergoing a routine colonoscopy at Camp David, Md., a White House spokesman said.
Five polyps were found in the examination, spokesman Scott Stanzel said. All were small, less than 1 cm in diameter, he said, and "none appeared worrisome." Bush reclaimed presidential power about 10:30 a.m.
The polyps were removed and sent to the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., for routine microscopic examination, Stanzel said. Results are expected in two to three days.
At 7:16 a.m., Bush faxed letters to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., president pro tempore of the Senate, informing them that he was voluntarily transferring power to Cheney.
The transfer ends when the president sends another letter to congressional leaders advising them he is reclaiming power effective immediately.
White House spokesman Tony Snow said Friday that the procedure, during which a doctor looks for any signs of cancer, was to be carried out at Camp David, Md., and the president would be placed under anesthesia.
Bush's last colonoscopy was in June 2002, and no abnormalities were found, Snow said.
WASHINGTON (CNN) - Republican Rep. Christopher Shays apologized Friday for a loud and angry altercation he had a day earlier with a Capitol Police officer, saying he behaved "in a way I know was not appropriate."
Shays spokesman John Cardarelli said the incident took place at the West Front entrance to the Capitol during a rainstorm when the congressman was trying to locate a group of his Connecticut constituents who were coming for a Capitol tour.
An intern had gotten lost with the group and had difficulty describing where they were to Shays, who asked to speak to the police officer. The officer refused, saying it was against policy to accept phone calls while on duty.
Shays eventually found the group and went to them, but the police officer refused to allow them to enter the building through the West Front entrance, which is off-limits to tourists. Shays, Cardarelli said, grabbed the officer's lapel "to look at his name badge" and shouted at him.
"I know Chris swore, and he probably did use the f-bomb," Cardarelli told CNN.
Shays later told CNN he did not remember grabbing the officer's lapel, but he said he was angry and frustrated at not being able to locate the group and get them inside out of the rain.
"The one thing I do remember is wanting to know who it was - I couldn't see the badge well," he said. "I didn't make a fist - that i'm sure of."
"I shouldn't have argued with an officer" or touched his badge, he said, and "I regret doing it."
Shays also said that the point of his apology was "that I don't want anything that I did to reflect on" the officer.
President Bush underwent a colonoscopy Saturday morning.
WASHINGTON (CNN) - President Bush on Saturday transferred his presidential power temporarily to Vice President Cheney just before he underwent a routine colonoscopy.
"This morning at 7:16 a.m., letters from President Bush were faxed to the Speaker of the House and President Pro Tempore of the Senate," the White House announced. "These letters informed them of his decision to invoke Section 3 of the 25th Amendment to voluntarily transfer his powers and duties to the Vice President. This transmission transfers his duties, therefore the Vice President is now serving as Acting President."
The White House said the "transfer ends when the president transmits a second "written declaration" – i.e., a letter – to the congressional leaders advising that he is resuming those powers effective immediately."
The procedure, called "routine" has already begun, the White House said.
It is expected to take about two and a half hours, the chief White House spokesman said on Friday.
Tony Snow said Friday that the procedure, during which a doctor looks for any signs of cancer, was to be carried out at Camp David, Md., and the president would be placed under anesthesia.
Bush's last colonoscopy was in June 2002, and no abnormalities were found, Snow said.