Two items of interest in The New York Times caught Campaign Desk’s eye this morning.

First was a page one thumbsucker by Adam Nagourney and Richard W. Stevenson about Bush aides plotting a “more aggressive” campaign strategy intended to contrast Bush’s “record and character” with Sen. John Kerry’s.

Unlike so many “inside dope” pieces of reporting, this one has actual quotes from actual people with actual names and titles. Chief Bush strategist Matthew Dowd notes that Kerry’s voting record in the Senate has yet to be examined “in any concerted way” and a reader can almost hear Newt Gingrich, former House speaker, licking his lips in anticipation as he says, “If Kerry was a centrist from the Midwest or South, the next six or eight months would be intense. But he’s a Jane Fonda antiwar liberal. They just need to let the country get to know Kerry, calmly and methodically.”

In turn, Kerry’s communications director, Stephanie Cutler, says, “The Bush campaign is right” to fear that Kerry is no sitting duck (a.k.a. Michael Dukakis). “John Kerry will fight back against the right-wing smear machine,” she declares. “And this President’s record provides ample opportunity to do so.”

Only once do Nagourney and Stephenson fall back on that old chestnut of campaign reporting: a provocative quote from a maddeningly unidentified source. That’s when they quote “one prominent Republican strategist” who complains that “The two defining events for this year have been the State of the Union and the ‘Meet the Press’ interview, and both have been colossal failures.”

Elsewhere, the Times prints an informative collection of lists and maps tracing campaign contributions to several candidates, based on Federal Election Commission data. For example: Two of the top five counties in per capita contributions to Bush’s campaign are in Texas and another two are in Georgia. By contrast, Kerry’s largest contributions per capita come from, of all places, Blaine County, Idaho (where he has a vacation home). Also of note: the donors in Bush’s largest-contributing counties tossed in $14.54 per resident, whereas Kerry’s largest-donating counties ponied up a measly $2.21 per capita.

So don’t feel bad if you only sent $20 to the candidate of your choice; by the Times’ standards, that makes you a big player indeed.

—S.L.

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Steve Lovelady was editor of CJR Daily.