NASHVILLE - It was a dustup when Democratic running mate Joe Biden said it, but now the top U.S. intelligence official has weighed in: A new president's first year in office is a dangerous time for the country.

"The period of most vulnerability for us is the first year of a new president," Director of National Intelligence Michael McConnell said yesterday at a conference of intelligence contractors.

He noted that the first World Trade Center bombing occurred in President Bill Clinton's first year. The 2001 terrorist attacks on the same buildings happened in President Bush's first year.

Even more detailed briefings covering top-secret and covert operations not "known to even those on [Capitol] Hill, except perhaps to those on the intelligence oversight committees," will start the day after the election, McConnell said. He added: "My counsel to the next set of players is, 'Before you make dramatic changes, fully understand where we are and what we're doing.' "

- AP

Joe the Plumber hires a P.R. team

NASHVILLE - Like all good celebrities, Joe the Plumber has hired a publicity team.

The Press Office in Nashville, whose clients include rockers Grand Funk Railroad and Eddie Money, will help Joe, better known as Samuel J. Wurzelbacher, 34, of Ohio, handle the flood of interview and appearance requests that have poured in since he was mentioned during a presidential debate and quickly became a household name.

Despite rumors to the contrary, he is not planning to release an album, though a book is in the works.

"He's not doing a country record," Jim Della Croce, who owns the agency, said yesterday.

- AP

McCain and GOP boosting ad buys

WASHINGTON - After weeks of being out-advertised by Barack Obama, John McCain and the Republican Party are nearly matching the Democrat ad for ad in battleground markets.

Ad spending and ad-placement data obtained from Democratic and Republican operatives show that in the closing days of the campaign, the Republican voice has grown louder in states such as Florida, Ohio, North Carolina, Virginia and Pennsylvania.

For instance, Obama had been scheduled to buy about $2.5 million in Florida ads for the campaign's last week. McCain is now set to spend about $1.6 million, and the Republican National Committee added $1.5 million to their buy there this week. Obama appears to have added more weight to his ads since.

The ad war is especially noticeable in Florida's central corridor, which includes Tampa and Orlando.

Those near-parity levels in crucial states come with a price. McCain has had to trim back his ads in Maine, Minnesota, New Hampshire and Wisconsin.

- AP

Gore to campaign in Florida today

WASHINGTON - Florida was more trick than treat for Al Gore in 2000, yet the former vice president is heading there on Halloween to campaign for Barack Obama.

Gore and his wife, Tipper, plan to hold two rallies today, in West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale, to urge voters to cast their ballots early for the Democratic nominee, Obama's campaign said yesterday. The rallies will mark the first time Gore has hit the trail for Obama.

- AP