The Los Angeles Times and Washington Post lead with Sen. John Edwards' swipes at Sen. John Kerry in the final televised debate of the Democratic primaries. The dinks were focused on NAFTA and were just about the first Edwards has taken at Kerry. The New York Times, which goes inside with the debate, has a different take: "IN WISCONSIN FORUM, KERRY'S RIVALS PULL THEIR PUNCHES." The NYT's lead saysthat the administration is getting peeved about states apparently trying to fob off Medicaid costs on the federal government. It's supposed to be a 50-50 split, but states have devised "Medicaid maximization" strategies to shift costs to Washington. In response, the administration plans to subject state Medicaid budgets to federal approval. President Bush's proposed budget includes $1.5 billion in savings next year from restoring "fiscal integrity" to Medicaid. USA Today leads with Iraqi police saying that despite American officials' statements to the contrary, Saturday's storming of a police station in Fallujah, which killed at least 18, was carried out by Iraqis and not foreign fighters.
In a front-page interview with the NYT, the chairman of Howard Dean's campaign said he's bailing out if, as is likely, Dean doesn't win Tuesday. "If Howard Dean does not win the Wisconsin primary, I will reach out to John Kerry unless he reaches out to me first," said the chairman, Steve Grossman. Dean told Fox News yesterday, "We're not dropping out after Tuesday, period."
Most polls in Wisconsin show Kerry leading Dean by about 40 points. As the Times notes, Dean has no campaign events planned beyond Tuesday. Apparently, staffers are working hard—planning their vacations. "None of us are doing a whole lot right now, because there's not a whole lot to do," said one top, unnamed aide. Meanwhile, the Times and others pick up hints that Dean will pull out of the race soon and try to transform his campaign into ... something else. As Dean told the Associated Press, "We are staying in the race. The forum we will use to stay in the race remains to be seen."
The Post fronts the president's visit to the Daytona 500, where after Air Force One did a flyby on entry, Bush announced, "Gentlemen, start your engines," hung out in a corporate-sponsored sky box, and then moseyed on to Tampa. The Post notes that the White House classified his overnight trip to Florida as official business, meaning it's on the taxpayers' tab.
Both the NYT and Post note that despite all the hoopla around "NASCAR dads," they might be just consultant hooey. The Post quotes a clear expert—"a golf consultant who spent two years studying racing culture before writing parts of Chicken Soup for the NASCAR Soul"—saying fans are a pretty mixed group. Political strategists "are wasting their time," he said.
The NYT says after Saturday's raid on the Fallujah police station, officials are now acknowledging that security forces aren't in any shape to take over security. "I think it's quite clear the Iraqi security forces, brave as they are, and beaten and attacked as they are, are not going to be ready by July 1," said proconsul Paul Bremer. "Everyone has rushed to prepare them for July 1," said one occupation official. "And that's exactly what we have gotten: a rush." As the Times notes, American units have been pulling back and transferring patrols to Iraqi forces.
The NYT's off-lead says that with security seriously lacking in some parts of Afghanistan now, the White House suggested it may support postponing the country's planned June elections. Just 8 percent of voters have registered and as the article notes most experts support a delay. Despite the article's headline—"U.S. AIDES HINT AFGHAN VOTING MAY BE PUT OFF"—the U.S.'s position seems mixed, at best, with potential support for delaying parliamentary elections and actually opposition to holding off the vote for president. As the 16th paragraph puts it: "The administration is resisting a postponement in Afghanistan."
The NYT says that a Texas-based political action committee created by House Majority Leader Tom DeLay is being investigated by a grand jury for, among other things, allegedly misusing corporate donations. Such money isn't allowed to be used to pay politicians' fund-raisers; something that—judging by records the Times cites—the PAC appears to have done.
An op-ed writer in the Times says that while everybody laughs at Gen. Musharraf's insistence that Pakistan didn't know its top nukes scientist was operating a sort of plutonium.com, Musharraf was probably telling the truth, "for once." And that, says writer Stephen Cohen, is what's scariest. After all, it means "part of Pakistan's nuclear program may have been out of the effective reach of all government officials, civil and military."
With the president's talk about pushing democracy in the Middle East, an op-ed in the Post wonders if Bush is actually going to follow through. Bush will have a chance when he meets this week with Tunisian President Zine Abidine Ben Ali, "an unreconstructed autocrat who runs one of the most repressive police states in the Arab world." Ben Ali had a fabulous showing in his last election; he got more than 99 percent of the vote.