Richard Wolffe

RATING THE ROADSHOW

It was meant to be a heart-to-heart: just the two presidents and their translators, sitting alone inside the historic castle that overlooks the Slovak capital of Bratislava.

The Oval: Heavy Going

Exactly one month ago, George W. Bush kicked off his campaign to overhaul Social Security in earnest, pitching his plan for personal retirement accounts directly to the American people and Congress in his State of the Union address.

A DIPLO-SPEAK GUIDE: BUSH IN EUROPE

President Bush begins the first overseas trip of his second term in the diplomatic minefield of Europe this week--and it's being tightly stage-managed. For example, White House officials ditched plans for a town-hall meeting with regular folk in Mainz when the German government said it couldn't guarantee friendly questions.

The Oval: Barnstorming

Both proposals landed on Capitol Hill with a resounding thud, described by some members of the president's own party as "dead on arrival." While their public show of confidence is still high, some White House officials appear blindsided by the opposition to what one of the most ambitious second-term agendas by a president in recent history. "There's always a certain level of posturing," a White House adviser told NEWSWEEK. "We'll just have to ride it out."Bush, meanwhile, isn't sitting idle.

BUSH'S HARD SELL

Just five days before delivering the first State of the Union of his new term, President Bush dispatched his senior aides to ask his party for some unusual advice about the landmark address: what should he say about Social Security?

The Oval: A Battle Joined

Of all the people President Bush clasped hands with at 9:01 p.m. in the House chamber, one cantankerous character emerged from the crowd for special treatment: Bill Thomas, chairman of the all-powerful House Ways and Means Committee.

The Oval: Bush's Fresh Start

The White House wants the world to see its new term as a fresh start, with a re-election victory behind it and a big domestic agenda ahead. But it's not at all clear that the rest of the world should expect much change from a second Bush term.

PRESIDENTS: BUBBA AND DUBYA--WARMING UP

Four years ago George W. Bush used to call him "the shadow" and promised a fresh start by pledging to "uphold the honor and dignity" of the presidency. He even joked to late-night TV's David Letterman that one of his top 10 priorities in the White House would be to give the Oval Office "one heck of a scrubbing."But when President Bush welcomed Bill Clinton into that same office last week, those barbs were ancient history.

THE WONKETTE

Ana Marie Cox started writing as the Wonkette in January '03, delivering a gossipy, satirical blog on D.C. politics. Now she's working on her first novel.

Taking Charge

It's no coincidence that the first two cabinet nominations of the second Bush administration are some of the very same people he first named in 2000. Condoleezza Rice and Alberto Gonzales were among the initial wave of appointments by George W.

Final Days

After all the conventions, after all the debates, after all the TV ads and stump speeches, what's left? How does a presidential campaign break through the clutter to reach the hearts and minds of voters?It's the news, stupid.

KERRY BY THE BOOK

It's one of John Kerry's biggest achievements in the Senate: a groundbreaking investigation into money laundering, drug dealers, terrorists and secret nukes.

The Slog of War

HEAD TO HEAD: BUSH LIMPED INTO ST. LOUIS, BUT BOUNDED BACK OUT--CONFIDENT THAT HIS DEBATE PERFORMANCE LEFT THE RACE DEAD EVEN. TWO DOWN, ONE TO GO.

Trail Mix: On the Defense

The final debate of the 2004 election in Tempe, Ariz., was supposed to be John Kerry's turf: jobs, health care and the economy. But it was also George W. Bush's ground: religion, abortion and education.

Trail Mix: Body Blows

It was billed as a contest between the man with the golden parachute and the man with the golden tongue. Instead, the debate between Vice President Dick Cheney and Sen.

Trail Mix: 'Sparks of Life'

It's never easy to declare the winner of a TV debate. But the contest in Coral Gables, Fla., on Thursday scored some striking successes all the same. Not least, the debate showed sparks of life--and insights into both candidates--that nobody anticipated.

KERRY'S NEW CALL TO ARMS

Sitting in his black-leather swivel chair, with his trusty world atlas beside him, John Kerry huddled with his aides in the executive-style cabin at the front of his campaign jet.

Trail Mix: Reviving Kerry

John McCain, that part-time friend to both presidential candidates, likes to joke about the false sense of hope that bedevils politicians. "Remember the words of Chairman Mao," he says. "It's always darkest before it's totally black." It's unclear whether Mao ever said such a thing, or whether this is just another example of McCain jerking the chain of his Vietnam-era foes (who believe that he and John Kerry are some kind of Commie double-agents).

WHY HE MIGHT STAY

For nearly two years, the settled wisdom in Washington has been that Colin Powell would never stick around for a second Bush term. The secretary of State, who began his tenure as the most popular and prestigious figure in Bush's cabinet, was fed up--tired of being a moderate minority of one in a squall of neocon true believers.

IN BUSH'S SHADOW

John Kerry wanted to hit back. It had been a miserable August as he took incoming fire about his military service from a gang of hostile Vietnam vets. But no, campaign manager Mary Beth Cahill and other staffers argued, the Swift Boat ads would blow over.

PAIN ON MAIN STREET

To the rest of the world, Matthew Sandri's death in Fallujah looked like just another statistic from the war in Iraq. A 24-year-old Army medic, Specialist Sandri was killed in a rocket attack on a staging area far from the front lines in March.

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