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Blog Home Page --> September 2007

Paul To Surprise Again?

As the fundraising quarter draws to a close at midnight tonight, candidates are scrambling to boost their numbers by any means necessary (we've received two fundraising pitches signed by candidates with the subject line "Hey," and one from a spouse headed "Re: Hey"). And while he's gotten little attention outside his fervent and fanatic fan base, Texas Congressman Ron Paul, who finished the second quarter with more cash on hand than Sen. John McCain, could have another surprise in store for the media establishment his supporters so often malign.

In the run-up to the filing deadline, Paul's supporters were asked to help the candidate raise $500,000 in just a few days. That's more than former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee raised in the entire first quarter, by the way. Yesterday, the Paul campaign revised its goal -- supporters had raised $850,000 already, and the campaign was shooting for $1 million by midnight tonight.

The campaign reached the $1 million mark last night, a full day ahead of schedule.

Paul won't outraise any of the front-runners, but the frugality with which he is running the campaign, as well as the fervency of his supporters and his presence in Iowa and New Hampshire, mean that he will be one second-tier candidate unwilling to drop out before the nominating process takes its course. Paul could cause some serious problems for the front-runners, and it looks increasingly like he will have the money to compete in at least a few early states.

Rossi Quits Non-Profit, Starts Exploring

The irreplaceable David Postman, Washington State's version of David Yepsen or John DiStaso, reported earlier this week that 2004 Republican gubernatorial nominee Dino Rossi stepped down from his post as head of Forward Washington, a non-profit think tank he had founded, because he was a distraction to the group's mission.

Rossi told another Seattle Times reporter that he would spend about the next six weeks contemplating a rematch against Gov. Christine Gregoire (D), who beat Rossi in the most closely-contested election in Washington State history, the validity of the results of which are still hotly debated.

Rossi initially decided to accept a severance package from Forward Washington, though he later decided against one

Postman thinks Rossi's decision to step down, as well as the $3 million Gregoire has raised, are their own announcements, and that neither is being terribly honest when pretending to delay an official announcement.

If Rossi does make the race, national Republicans will no doubt help him catch up with Gregoire's fundraising -- he made good connections when, after his loss, he traveled to DC for President Bush's second inaugural, and the RGA still has him smack in the middle of their radar. The Evergreen State will be one of the most tightly contested races in 2008.

Democratic Debate Wrap

Nobody won, some people lost, I wrote of the Democratic debate. Now, perfect for a Friday, the reporter's version of a document dump:

Number of "Moose Crossing" signs: 3

Number of sign-waving fanatics: A few hundred (but fewer than it looked like on TV).

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Number of pundits with beards on MSNBC's "Hardball": At least 2.

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Washington Post's Dan Balz and NBC's Chuck Todd pontificate for Chris Matthews

Number of Bill Richardson trucks: 2. But I only got a picture of one. Don't think the other was an official campaign vehicle.

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The snowman showed up as well, even though the temperature hovered in the 90s all afternoon:

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So did the press. The press room during the debate (that's ABC's David Chalian in the middle):

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After the debate, the spin room was packed. Why not open up a bigger room?

Among the attendees:

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Elizabeth Edwards
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And Obama's David Axelrod

As everyone can tell, photography isn't my strong suit. Still, I'll be taking and posting pictures every chance I get along the campaign trail.

Nebraska Race To Get Less Crowded

Former Omaha Mayor and Congressman Hal Daub will end his Senate bid at a press conference in his hometown this morning, just ten days after jumping into the race. The Omaha World-Herald broke the story this morning.

An underdog in the Republican race to replace Senator Chuck Hagel, Daub's exit is a good thing for Cornhusker Republicans. With three major candidates running for the Republican Senate nomination, the GOP nominee would have likely faced a Democrat without a primary.

Former Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns is a heavy favorite in the GOP primary, though Attorney General Jon Bruning remains in the race to put up a fight. Former Democratic Senator Bob Kerrey is still said to be mulling a bid.

Netroots Take On Cornyn

The liberal netroots, headed by DailyKos, has picked an early target for their fire: Texas Republican Sen. John Cornyn. The conservative Senator is one of Capitol Hill's biggest Bush boosters, and Kossacks, as they're called, want him gone. Kos commissioned a poll from Research 2000, a respected firm on the Maryland side of the Beltway, that they hope shows State Rep. Rick Noriega has a legitimate shot at beating the incumbent.

The poll, conducted 9/24-26, surveyed 600 voters for a margin of error of +/- 4%.

General Election Matchup
(All / Men / Wom / Dem / GOP / Ind)
Cornyn 51 / 53 / 49 / 17 / 81 / 46
Noriega 35 / 34 / 36 / 60 / 16 / 35

Vote To Re-Elect Cornyn?
Re-elect 40
Consider replacing 15
Replace 35

Fav/Unfav
Cornyn 46 / 44

Cornyn Job Approval
Approve 45
Disapprove 44

Cornyn finds himself above the magic 50% number, meaning Noriega will have to work to take votes away from him. And while the race will tighten, Texas is a massive state that requires tens of millions to even be taken seriously. Whether Noriega can even come close to competing financially is a major question that will determine how tight the race becomes.

Few will deny that Cornyn is a major favorite right now. Noriega even faces a primary, from wealthy attorney Mikal Watts, who will largely self-fund. Still, Kossacks are proud of their claim that they identified Sens. Jim Webb (D-VA) and Jon Tester (D-MT) well before the mainstream media did, and even as they faced competitive primaries, and, they say, helped them win their seats.

Morning Thoughts: Trouble For Obama, Edwards?

Nearly October and Fall still hasn't quite arrived in Washington. And with fewer than 72 hours to go until the third quarter fundraising deadline, the candidates are starting their final pushes.

-- No major action expected in either the House or the Senate today. In the administration, President Bush delivers remarks at a climate change conference at the State Department, while Vice President Cheney addresses the Council for National Policy in Salt Lake City, then raises money for newly-appointed Senator John Barrasso in Teton Villiage, Wyoming. Finally, the Congressional Black Caucus holds their annual Legislative Conference, where members and guests will hear from Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, as well as freshman Sen. Jim Webb.

-- Democrats are secretly breathing easier this morning, as backers of a controversial initiative to award California's electoral votes by Congressional District have given up. The plan, which would have conceivably given Republicans as many as 20 of the state's 55 electoral votes, has suffered from internal arguments, a lack of funds and resignations, reports the Los Angeles Times, which broke the news. Two other states, Nebraska and Maine, split their electoral votes, though neither are ever seriously contested. Had Republicans who backed the electoral initiative succeeded, the party would have been looking at a much easier path in 2008.

-- For one Democrat, today is going to bring a lot of questions that will send the campaign off message. Former Senator John Edwards yesterday said he would accept public financing for the Democratic primary, a change from his previous plan to raise and spend amounts not subject to the FEC's spending limits. The campaign's point of view: Adhering to spending limits draws an important distinction between Edwards and the two free-spending front-runners. The immediate reaction from other campaigns: Stick a fork in him; Edwards is done. The spending limits, they say, will mean Edwards gets to spend less on advertising in Iowa than New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson already has spent. Really, can you get by with just $1.48 million in Iowa (FEC limits here)?

-- It's amazing to see the following sentence, comparing Edwards' fundraising to Clinton's and Obama's: "Edwards raised just $23 million in the first six months of the year," writes AP's Nedra Pickler

-- Edwards spent some of yesterday defending his wife, who has no qualms taking on Clinton, Obama, or really anyone in her path. But Elizabeth Edwards, John's biggest fan and closest advisor, isn't the presidential spouse who wishes she hadn't said something she did. That honor falls to Michelle Obama. "Iowa will make the difference," Obama said, according to the LA Times. "If Barack doesn't win Iowa, it is just a dream." Wait, did she just say Obama, running third in the latest RCP Iowa Average, had to win the Hawkeye State? That's pretty far off the reservation.

-- Campaign manager David Plouffe, though, said the same thing without saying the same thing in a memo to supporters this week. While polls have Obama running behind, Plouffe argues that the campaign will benefit from a "hidden vote," meaning youth and others who don't typically vote in primaries. Those voters, pollsters know, don't actually vote in most primaries, so the pollsters set up "screens" to weed them out of samples. Plouffe may be right, Obama may have a great deal more support than he shows in public polls. But there's a reason pollsters say youth and others don't vote in primaries: They don't, typically. For any campaign to rely on a population like that to win a primary can be very dangerous. Obama's New Hampshire director, Matt Rodriguez, stayed behind at the debate site yesterday to encourage students to register their friends to vote for his guy. Does this mean Obama's camp knows he's having trouble with older voters?

-- On the GOP side, major evangelical leaders are not only frustrated with the lack of a consensus social conservative among Republican front-runners, they're beginning to get frustrated with each other, reports the Washington Times. American Values founder Gary Bauer has criticized statements from Focus on the Family President James Dobson, who doesn't think Fred Thompson is a Christian, while Family Research Council President Tony Perkins downplayed any rift. Redeem the Vote chief Randy Brinson, of Montgomery, Alabama, said the lack of a consensus was coming from Washington-based evangelical groups, who had a symbiotic relationship with economic conservative groups and therefore wouldn't back former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, a Southern Baptist minister.

-- What if you throw a debate and the guests of honor don't show? Well, six Republican candidates who did show up to the PBS debate last night in Baltimore tried to out-do each other by lobbing bombs at the four front-runners who skipped the show. The front-runners have been criticized by party strategists for abandoning the minority vote, and now they have a chance to remedy the situation: Univision and the University of Miami are offering GOPers another shot to address Hispanic voters, after an originally-planned September 16 forum was called off due to lack of interest.

-- One of those front-runners has a little more brushing up to do if he's going to perform well in his first debate, in Michigan in October. After botching questions on Terri Schiavo and drilling in the Florida Everglades, former Senator Fred Thompson admitted yesterday he was unaware a federal judge had ruled Tennessee's lethal injection procedures were unconstitutional. The Senator, who made the death penalty a centerpiece of his campaign in 1994, was also unaware that the Supreme Court said it would take up the question of whether the procedure in neighboring Kentucky violated the Eighth Amendment protection against cruel and unusual punishment. Thompson needs to lock himself in a room with newspapers from the last year if he wants to protect himself from what could be a fatal stumble in his first debate.

-- Endorsement Of The Day: The day after winning the backing of Hollywood mogul Rob Reiner, the world learns that Sen. Clinton is also picking up the support of former Democratic nominee George McGovern. McGovern will announce his support in Iowa City on October 6th, he confirmed while sitting in a barber shop in his home town of Mitchell, South Dakota.

-- Today On The Trail: Huckabee delivers a foreign policy address at the Center for Strategic and International Studies today in Washington, while Obama delivers the convocation at Howard University, also here in DC. Clinton and Obama are also, as noted above, addressing the CBC legislative conference. Sen. John McCain is in Detroit to address the 2007 Hispanic Business Expo; he later holds a town hall in St. Clair Shores, Michigan. Ex-Gov. Mitt Romney will address the Council on National Policy, though not with Cheney, in Salt Lake City. Ex-Mayor Rudy Giuliani will continue a California swing in Los Angeles and Yountville. John Edwards is still swinging through New Hampshire, and Richardson is raising cash in Florida.

Morning Thoughts: Fundraising Gets Weird

MANCHESTER -- After a big Democratic debate last night (check out the wrap-up here), did anything change? We'll see. But before we do:

-- The Senate today takes up hate crimes legislation, and if Senator Hillary Clinton's jab lands, Senator Barack Obama will be there (see the wrap-up for more on that). Meanwhile, the Senate Commerce Committee takes a look at air travel delays after what was reportedly the worst summer in history for long, unexpected waits.

-- The lower chamber, meanwhile, takes up flood insurance reform and small business investment. Democrats keep hammering Iraq, as the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee will hold a hearing assessing the state of that country's corruption.

-- Vice President Dick Cheney raises Republican cash today in Nevada and Colorado, both for the party instead of a named candidate.

-- Mayor Rudy Giuliani, just days before the end of the third quarter fundraising period, has replaced top fundraiser Anne Dunsmore. A spokeswoman told the New York Times Dunsmore hadn't been fired, and another spokesman refused to elaborate to RCP, saying only the campaign was going in a new direction. The campaign has tapped Jim Lee, a former Bush fundraiser, to take over the money shop.

-- Meanwhile, we heard rumors about one Democratic candidate being ill last night, and today Mitt Romney has canceled a few weekend events because he, too, is feeling under the weather. And in Long Beach yesterday, the former venture capitalist who has given $9 million to his own campaign said he would be willing to write himself another check down the road. Will he wait until the start of the fourth quarter? His last contribution, of $6 million, came in the second quarter, as far as we know.

-- Senator John McCain is trying to get back on track in New Hampshire, where he has always seemed more comfortable. The beleaguered campaign has bought television time in New Hampshire for the campaign's first ad. McCain holds a 10:30 conference call with reporters today to discuss.

-- In some actual good news for Republicans in the House, 2006 nominee Angie Paccione announced yesterday that she would not seek a rematch against Rep. Marilyn Musgrave in Colorado's 4th District. Paccione came within two points of knocking off Musgrave, a relatively unpopular incumbent still in a GOP-leaning district, in '06. Her departure means Democrats will have to rely on Sen. Ken Salazar's former aide Betsy Markey and former Reagan appointee and 2006 independent candidate Eric Eidsness to take the seat.

-- Credit Where Credit Is Due Of The Day: As (some) Republicans head to Baltimore tonight for a debate aimed at attracting African-American voters to the GOP, Republican strategists are urging candidates to show up and participate in forums and debates targeting minority groups. The GOP doesn't have the luxury of writing off some constituencies, argued Armstrong Williams on National Public Radio yesterday. But before every Republican candidate is painted with the same broad brush, remember that Colorado Rep. Tom Tancredo was the only candidate to show up at the NAACP's presidential forum in Detroit in July. The image of Tancredo amid eight other empty podiums was his best press day of the year.

-- Today On The Trail: Tancredo, Ron Paul, Mike Huckabee, Sam Brownback, Duncan Hunter and Alan Keyes will face Tavis Smiley's questions in Baltimore tonight. John McCain gives what's billed as a major policy address on Iraq in New York City. In California, Rudy Giuliani wins backing from ex-Gov. Pete Wilson, then meets residents in Santa Barbara and hits a fundraiser in Lancaster. Fred Thompson is still in Tennessee, raising more money. On the Democratic side, it's rally day for Barack Obama, in Washington Square Park, while John Edwards participates in a candidate "dialogue," sponsored by MySpace and MTV, in Durham, New Hampshire, then kicks off a two-day sprint around the state. Bill Richardson has media events in East Boston, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.

Off to catch a flight. Next dispatch coming from Washington.

The Exchange: Ranking Senate Races

Today, we debut Politics Nation's Exchange, where we rank the big Senate races up for election in 2008. We've ranked the races based on the order in which we think they are most likely to change hands -- that is, the number one race is the seat most likely to switch from one party's control to the other.

Bottom line: it's an ugly year for Republicans, and it's probably not going to get much better. With the number of GOP open seats rising, the fundraising gap between the two parties widening and all the breaks seeming to favor Democrats, Republicans are looking at another disappointing year in 2008, though a lot more dominoes would have to fall for Democrats to break the magic 60 number.

Agree? Disagree? Drop us a line, and make sure to trade your contracts in RCP's Fantasy '08 stock exchange.

10. Alaska: (R) A recent report on National Public Radio suggested that Alaska has three main sources of revenue: Oil and gas drilling, tourism, and Sen. Ted Stevens, who has brought billions to the state over his long career. But with Stevens under increasing scrutiny for his role with the Veco Corp., retirement rumors are spreading, and over the weekend even Gov. Sarah Palin, a fellow Republican, got into the act, saying Alaskans needed to hear a better explanation from Stevens. If Stevens steps down, Republicans would be favored to hold the seat; possible candidates would include Lieutenant Gov. Sean Parnell, former State Sen. John Binkley, who ran for governor in 2006, and several incumbent legislators. Democrats, though, have two strong candidates -- 2006 Lieutenant Gov. nominee Ethan Berkowitz and Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich, whose father served in Congress. Begich would seem to be the stronger candidate; the last Democrat elected statewide, Tony Knowles, also served as mayor of the state's largest city.

9. South Dakota: (D) Sen. Tim Johnson's medical issues continue to raise questions about whether or not he will retire, though his recent return to the Senate indicates he's not quite done yet. If he does retire, Democrats would likely turn to Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, who is used to difficult races and is known because of her statewide district. Republicans have a problem, in that no strong challenger has emerged to face Johnson, and even Herseth got a relatively easy ride in 2006. That all changes, though, if Gov. Mike Rounds (R) would move to replace Johnson. Rounds is one of the most popular governors in the country, and if he makes a race, he would become an immediate front-runner and the GOP's best pickup opportunity of the cycle.

8. Minnesota: (R) Sen. Norm Coleman came to Washington under less than ideal circumstances -- following the death of his opponent in 2002, Paul Wellstone. He is somewhat popular in the state, but Minnesota is still Democratic, and in a year less than favorable to the Republican Party, Coleman, while the initial favorite, will have his work cut out for him. His Democratic opponent will be the winner of a primary between comedian Al Franken and attorney Mike Ciresi, both of whom fall short as Democrats' ideal nominees. Still, Republican Governor Tim Pawlenty came within a whisker of losing to a less-than-stellar Democratic challenger in 2006, and with a similar national tide against the GOP, Coleman could find himself in a nail-biter.

7. Nebraska: (R -- Open) His Senate career over, the race to succeed Sen. Chuck Hagel (R) has heated up incredibly quickly. Like New Hampshire, both parties got their strongest potential candidates. Unlike New Hampshire, where Democrats got out of the way of former Gov. Jeanne Shaheen, Republican former Gov. Mike Johanns may face a contested primary. It is unclear how much a challenge from Attorney General Jon Bruning will distract Johanns, but the GOP doesn't need the fight in a strongly Republican state. If the Republican nominee faces former Sen. Bob Kerrey, who is flirting with a bid, only Johanns would be considered a favorite against Kerrey. Johanns would be a heavier favorite against Omaha Mayor Mike Fahey or 2006 congressional candidate Scott Kleeb. With Kerrey in the race, Democrats will spend money here. Without Kerrey, this race moves much farther down the list.

6. Maine: (R) Home of two of the most popular senators in the country, Maine is a reliably Democratic state that has elected Republican senators for the past several terms. Senior Sen. Olympia Snowe won her first race with 60%, and has improved in her two re-election bids, winning in 2006 with 74%. Junior Sen. Susan Collins, up in 2008, won her first race with less than 50% of the vote, though she earned 58% in 2002. Still, Democrats got their top recruit -- Rep. Tom Allen -- and both candidates will be well-funded. Early polls have showed Collins running ahead, and her skepticism of the war in Iraq should help her. Allen, however, will not go quietly, and will likely make this one of the nation's top races.

5. Oregon: (R) Incumbent Gordon Smith is used to tough races. Running in a special election in 1996, Smith lost to fellow Sen. Ron Wyden by less than 20,000 votes; he won a regular election later that year by just over 50,000 votes. Smith is a talented politician, and outran a strong candidate in 2002 by 16 points. Democrats, too, failed to recruit their top choices -- Rep. Peter DeFazio and former Gov. John Kitzhaber first among them -- and have settled on State House Speaker Jeff Merkley. Still, Merkley is getting his house in order early (though he faces a primary) and fewer Oregonians will be willing to vote Republican than they were in 2002, a good year for the GOP. Smith's position on Iraq has evolved, and he'll need to hope he's convinced Oregon voters if he wants to hang on.

4. Louisiana: (D) After Hurricane Katrina, Sen. Mary Landrieu (D) lost thousands of her voters in Democratic New Orleans. Now, faced with the possibility of Democrat-turned-Republican John Kennedy as her opponent, Landrieu faces the fight of her political life. She's not taking the race lying down, though, and both candidates will have national support and huge bankrolls. If Rep. Bobby Jindal (R) can't get 50% to win the gubernatorial election in the first round of voting, Landrieu's turnout operation works, and she would have a strong chance in 2008. If Jindal wins outright this year, Landrieu's fortunes will take a dramatic downward turn.

3. Colorado: (R -- Open) Like Virginia and New Hampshire (see below), Colorado has trended Democratic of late. The state legislature is now in the hands of Democrats, and Bill Ritter and Ken Salazar have won statewide elections to take over previously Republican seats. Now, former Rep. Bob Schaffer is the best candidate Republicans can field, while Rep. Mark Udall, the Democrats' strongest possible choice, has been preparing for the race for years. Udall is more liberal than Ritter and Salazar, but Schaffer is not the best the GOP could do. Udall has raised a bundle of cash, and national Democrats are all but assured that this seat is theirs for the taking.

2. Virginia: (R -- Open) In elections for the Commonwealth's two Senate seats and the governor's mansion, no Republican other than retiring Senator John Warner has won since George Allen beat Chuck Robb in 2000. Now, former Virginia Gov. Mark Warner (D), who remains popular around the state, has jumped in the race to succeed John Warner. A divisive Republican primary would leave the GOP with either conservative former Gov. Jim Gilmore or more moderate Rep. Tom Davis, while Warner's path to the Democratic nomination is clear. No matter the winner of the GOP race, Warner starts out as the heavy favorite.

1. New Hampshire: (R) No state felt the Democratic wave in 2006 as much as New Hampshire did. Democrats picked up more than 80 seats in the State House, won control of the State Senate and kicked out two Republican members of Congress. All that happened as the incumbent Democratic governor won with more than 70%. Early polls show a rematch between former Gov. Jeanne Shaheen and Sen. John Sununu, which narrowly went to Sununu six years ago, favoring Shaheen by wide margins. Also six years ago, Republican Craig Benson shared the top of the ticket with Sununu and won the governor's mansion. This year, Democrat John Lynch, whose disapproval ratings have never climbed above 15%, could boost Shaheen's numbers quite a lot.

Democrats Debate: It's A Wrap

Apologies for not posting this last night, but here's my wrap-up of the debate.

Democrats Debate: Biden's Niche

HANOVER -- Asked whether raising the cap on Social Security taxes would make the system solvent, Joe Biden was blunt: "The answer is yes. No one up here is going to say it."

That's become a familiar refrain for Biden -- the only guy on stage willing to actually tell it like it is. And it works. Biden's blunt talk on everything from Social Security to Iraq takes many aback, in a way that separates him from the field. Unfortunately, blunt-speak is rarely popular, which might explain his low standing in polls.

Biden's reputation is such that the most dangerous place in Washington, it is said, is between Biden and a camera. It is remarkable that someone with so much media experience remains so authentic and blunt, and in a way that is appealing and doesn't come across as false.

Democrats Debate: Round One

HANOVER -- In a round dominated by foreign policy, no one landed any big shots. Barack Obama and John Edwards tried repeatedly to get into it with Clinton: "Had my judgment prevailed back in 2002, we wouldn't be in this predicament," Obama said of Iraq. Meanwhile, Edwards took a shot at Clinton for saying she would continue combat missions in Iraq, which Clinton parried before Edwards had even finished his answer.

On the left side of the stage -- geographically, not necessarily ideologically -- Bill Richardson, Joe Biden and Chris Dodd struggled to distinguish themselves. Biden at times seemed exasperated, urging Russert to include him in the debate.

Meanwhile, where's Obama? After early answers on Iraq, the Illinois Senator, who was reportedly feeling ill before the debate, rarely offered his opinion and hasn't interjected.

Finally, on a night when Clinton is the main target, it seems very appropriate that she is flanked by Dennis Kucinich and Mike Gravel. It also seems appropriate that, for some reason, there is a boxing ring in the press filing room.

Democrats Debate: Opening Thoughts

HANOVER -- As Democrats gather at Dartmouth College for the third of six DNC-sponsored debates, a dominant story line of the campaign so far is coming to a close. Like the unwelcome coming of fall, many decried the early start of the primary season. For candidates trailing in money or in polls, the refrain was similar: It's still early. There's plenty of time left to catch up.

With just over three months and just one fundraising quarter left before ballots are cast, tonight's debate marks the beginning of game time. If second-tier candidates don't break out within a very short period of time, they will find themselves little more than footnotes in history.

For two top candidates, the risk of being left behind is also becoming clear in a way it hasn't before. Senator Hillary Clinton, a recent University of New Hampshire/CNN/WMUR poll shows, is solidifying her lead, and now enjoys the support of more than twice as many Democrats as her nearest rival, Senator Barack Obama. Obama and former Senator John Edwards, searching for holes in Clinton's armor, will use tonight to launch more vollies her way.

If they fail, and if Clinton maintains an ever-widening aura of inevitability, Obama and Edwards will find themselves with one fewer chance. Those chances are dwindling fast. And while fans of both will point out, rightly, that 55% of respondents said they were still trying to decide on a candidate, Clinton's lead will be hard to overcome. Even if many are still unwilling to commit, they are leaning toward the New York Senator. Attacks launched tonight will be aimed at dislodging those tentative masses.

The second tier will not allow the debate to become a focus on the trio of front-runners. Each will fire their own salvos, attempt to distinguish themselves in some way and do whatever they can to make it into tomorrow's stories.

Clinton, the undisputed leader of the pack, has much riding on the debate, but if her previous appearances are indicative, she can further stand above the pack. Obama likely has more at stake tonight, as many pundits are beginning to question whether he is anything more than the second-place finisher. But whoever wins tonight, in the eyes of the media and the viewing public, will have scored a point in a contest with increasingly few opportunities to do so.

Rep. Terry Everett To Retire

Read Tom's post for the details.

In Better News For The GOP...

North Dakota Gov. John Hoeven told the AP today he would be a candidate for a third term as governor. Hoeven, a perpetual target for Republicans in Washington looking to recruit Senate candidates, won re-election easily in 2004. If re-elected, Hoeven would be the first governor to be elected to three four-year terms.

State Sen. Tim Mathern (D), writes the AP, is the only Democrat publicly thinking about a race.

Not A Vote Of Confidence

Kentucky Gov. Ernie Fletcher, facing dismal poll numbers showing him down 15 points or more, doesn't need any more bad news. He certainly doesn't need Kentucky Office of Insurance Executive Director Julie McPeak looking for another job because, according to emails, she thinks his re-election prospects are "bleak." And if those emails ever showed up in the Lexington Herald-Leader, it would really rub salt in the wound.

Too late.

Fletcher, likely to lose his seat to former Lieutenant Gov. Steve Beshear (D), just can't catch a break.

Romney's New Massachusetts Dilemma

BOSTON -- Former Gov. Mitt Romney is not popular in his adopted state. Polls toward the end of the 2006 gubernatorial campaign, when Romney decided against a second term, showed the public narrowly disapproving of the incumbent, and after months of bashing the state to Republican primary voters around the country, Bay Staters think even worse of him. "He should be impeached," one close friend and Massachusetts native told me, apparently unaware of the requirement that Romney still be in office.

While the former governor is shy about discussing Massachusetts in the primary, if he makes it to the general the message is going to change in a heartbeat, to a much friendlier bipartisan message. Yet there are still things Romney can brag about in Massachusetts, and still things his opponents can hit him on. Yesterday was a perfect example, and proves why the Boston media is one of the toughest crowds in the country.

A recent FBI report showing an increase in violent crime for the past two years spurred the Boston Herald to investigate just how much crime changed while Romney was governor. The results: Not good for Mitt. Murder was up 7.5%, outpacing the national 1.8% increase.

But anyone listening to WBUR, Boston's National Public Radio station, yesterday would have been hard pressed to miss news that new data out of the U.S. Department of Education showed Massachusetts kids scored higher than any other state on three out of four National Assessment of Educational Progress exams, and tied for first on number four. The state also won top honors the last time the test was administered, in 2005, when Romney was in office.

So, does Romney brag about his success in educating Bay State children? Does he defend himself from charges that crime spiked under his watch? Or does he just artfully change the subject and pray no one remembers he's from liberal, lefty Massachusetts?

Morning Thoughts: SCHIP On The Shoulder

Happy debate day. As the Democratic candidates wind their way to Hanover, New Hampshire, and as Republicans (minus the four front-runners) prepare to make their way to Baltimore for tomorrow's turn at the microphone, here's what Washington is watching:

-- The House last night passed the compromise State Children's Health Insurance Program by a wide 265-159 margin. While Speaker Nancy Pelosi immediately sent out a release praising its passage, the margin was short of a veto-proof majority, meaning Democrats have to do something to get President Bush to back away from his veto threat. In the Senate, a veto-proof majority exists.

-- Both the House and Senate are in session today, continuing the long road to appropriations passage, as the end of Fiscal Year 2007 draws to a close on Tuesday.

-- Democrats keep the pressure on Republicans on Iraq, as the Senate Appropriations Committee gets a shot at Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte and outgoing Joint Chiefs Chairman Peter Pace, as they testify in support of President Bush's FY08 supplemental request for war funding. Committee members include war opponents Robert Byrd, Patrick Leahy, Tom Harkin, Dianne Feinstein and Jack Reed, all of whom will take their shots.

-- Off the Hill, General Motors and the United Auto Workers reached a deal to end their two-day strike, shifting $51 billion into a union trust fund for retirees' health care. The brief walkout, the first nationwide strike against GM in thirty years, brought statements of support from every Democratic campaign, but as Ben Smith points out, it's lucky for Dems the action only lasted two days. Presidential candidates would not have been able to walk picket lines in Detroit, thanks to the four legitimate early primary states who made candidates sign a pledge saying they wouldn't campaign in Michigan or Florida. Still, with GM plants in 30 states, candidates would have had plenty of opportunities to picket their hearts out.

-- In other union news, former Sen. John Edwards still can't convince the Service Employees to back him. At a board meeting in Chicago on Monday, SEIU again declined to endorse their favorite son, or any preferred offspring, for that matter. A majority of board members favored Edwards, though together they do not represent 60% of the union's members. The union backed former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean in 2004 and stuck by the governor through the end of his campaign.

-- The exodus has begun: With four months to go before the first votes are cast, Delaware Sen. Joe Biden is sending virtually his entire campaign staff to Iowa, reports The Fix. Yet another candidate, that means, is banking on a great showing in Iowa; Biden just becomes the first to visibly confirm it. He joins John Edwards, Bill Richardson (to some extent), Sam Brownback, Tom Tancredo and Mike Huckabee (notwithstanding Huckabee's trip to New Hampshire later this week) in betting it all on Iowa. The Hawkeye State, unlike many other early states who find their status threatened, is only getting stronger.

-- Speaking of Richardson, in an incredible play to the Netroots, the governor is now running an ad featuring three prominent lefty bloggers (see the ad here). "The media is silent," the ad begins, scratching behind the proverbial ears of every Netroots activist watching television. The ad dropped yesterday, and begins running in some New Hampshire markets today, after columnist David Brooks asserted that bloggers can tell you "almost nothing" about the future of the Democratic Party. The article has probably flooded Brooks' inbox, while bloggers from around the Netroots scream bloody murder.

-- Back to the ads for a minute: USA Today reports that running ads in the primary, already a big business so early in the season, is only going to get moving faster. It's likely, the paper reports, that campaigns will spend more than $100 million on television during the primary. That's a spicy meatball.

-- Keep an eye on this one: The Washington Post picks up on the idea that outgoing Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns is abandoning his post just as the farm bill comes before Congress. Johanns foe Hal Daub, a former Omaha Mayor and member of Congress, already criticized the Secretary for not sticking it out (2nd release down), as has the Nebraska Democratic Party. If the argument sticks, Johanns' Republican primary opponents, and his Democratic general election opponent, if he gets that far, will hammer away as much as possible.

-- Good Move Or Bad Move Of The Day: Offered an interview with President Bush, National Public Radio said thanks, but no thanks. The White House had urged NPR to let top political analyst Juan WIlliams, who is African American, interview Bush on the 50th anniversary of the Little Rock 9 school desegregation. NPR was upset that the White House had tried to pick their own interviewer, while Williams told Howie Kurtz he was "stunned by the decision to turn their backs on [Bush] and to turn their backs on me." The interview will air instead on Fox News. Good move? Bad move? At least it was a gutsy move.

-- Today On The Trail: Barack Obama holds one of the few pre-debate events when two Peterborough residents throw him a house party this morning. Rudy Giuliani sits down with Iraqi President Jalal Talabani today in New York, followed by two events in New Jersey, while Mitt Romney is still in California holding "Ask Mitt Anything" forums in Long Beach. Also today, the third annual Clinton Global Initiative opens in New York, hosted by former President Bill Clinton.

Pre-Debate Poll Shows Clinton Solidifying Lead

MANCHESTER -- A poll out today, conducted by the University of New Hampshire Survey Center for CNN and WMUR-TV, shows New York Senator Hillary Clinton solidifying her lead on the eve of the latest Democratic debate, to be held tomorrow at Dartmouth College in Hanover.

Perhaps as important as her lead in the primary, the results show that Clinton's biggest weakness -- her perceived inability to win a general -- is not a concern among Democratic primary voters, a majority of whom name her as most likely to beat the GOP nominee. Given that Clinton, Sen. Barack Obama and former Sen. John Edwards are all virtually equally seen in a favorable light, primary voters look as if they are going with the electable candidate, in Clinton, over Obama and Edwards, both of whom are seen as more likeable.

The poll, taken September 17-24, surveyed 307 respondents who said they planned to vote in the Democratic primary. The margin of error is +/- 5.5%.

Democrats
Clinton 43 (+7 from 7/07 poll)
Obama 20 (-7)
Edwards 12 (+3)
Richardson 6 (-5)
Biden 3 (-1)
Kuchinich 3 (nc)
Dodd 1 (+1)
Gravel 0 (nc)

Democrats (w/Gore)
Clinton 41 (+8)
Obama 19 (-6)
Edwards 11 (+3)
Gore 7 (-1)
Richardson 6 (-4)
Biden 3 (nc)
Kucinich 3 (nc)
Dodd 1 (+1)
Gravel 0 (nc)

Which Candidate Is Most Likeable?
Obama 39
Edwards 27
Clinton 15
Richardson 6

Which Candidate Has Best Chance Of Beating GOP Nominee?
Clinton 54
Obama 13
Edwards 8
Gore 8

Which Candidate Has Right Experience To Be President?
Clinton 47
Gore 14
Edwards 8
Obama 8

Which Candidate Is Most Likely To Bring Needed Change?
Clinton 36
Obama 24
Edwards 8
Gore 7

Fav/Unfav
Obama 78/11
Clinton 77/15
Edwards 76/10
Gore 73/19
Richardson 53/14
Biden 45/20
Dodd 40/23
Kucinich 31/27
Gravel 7/23

First Stop: Red Arrow

MANCHESTER -- As the Northeast undergoes an early fall heat wave, Democrats prepare to descend on the Granite State for tomorrow's MSNBC-sponsored debate from Dartmouth. Voters here, having endured close to a year of campaigning already, are stoically entrenched, preparing for the onslaught the next three months will bring.

Customers at the Red Arrow Diner, just down the street from Rep. Carol Shea-Porter's district office and Manchester Mayor Frank Guinta's re-election headquarters, are so accustomed to out-of-town reporters dropping in for a sandwich that the waiters make them sign a guest book. Apparently, however, Politics Nation is not well-enough known (yet) to merit a notice.

When stopping into the Red Arrow, if a customer values their health, they won't call the young lady who serves them "ma'am." Politics Nation learned that lesson the hard way, when she threatened to deck us for the slur. Our apologies.

More updates from New Hampshire as events warrant.

Money Troubles

As Blake notes today, with the fundraising quarter ending this weekend, campaigns are getting heavily involved in the expectations game. Money numbers make for excellent news copy, and the mainstream media has its own questions for which they will seek answers. Among them:

-- How big will the drop-off be? One campaign spokesman said recently that the third quarter is an historically bad time to raise money. It's the summer, everyone's on vacation. But when $100 million was raised, by Democrats alone, during the first six months, we should still see some pretty big numbers. Low-hanging fruit is gone, the big donors have maxed out, and even bundlers not named Hsu are running out of friends to call.

-- Who wins the Democratic expectations game? Clinton's camp expects to hit between $17-20 million, while putting Obama's numbers at a probably unreachable $30 million. If Obama outraises Clinton for a second quarter in a row (third, if you don't count the $10 million Clinton transfered over from her Senate account), will more people begin to buy the idea of a long campaign that stretches into late February or even March?

-- Can either John McCain or Mike Huckabee impress enough to get on a few more radar screens? (See the NYT for top-notch analysis) McCain's disappointing -- to say the least -- second quarter cash-on-hand number has to come way up, while Huckabee's strong showing at the straw poll in Ames means expectations are on him to top the seven-figure mark for the quarter, something he hasn't done yet.

-- Whither Fred Thompson? Missing fundraising expectations in his first month of campaigning hurt, and worked to tamp down the myth of Thompson as knight in shining armor. Does he have to come in third, behind Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney, to stay relevant? Or should we all start buying the Thompson to withdraw contract at RCP's Fantasy '08? Thompson does have a big upside, though. He's scheduled five fundraisers in Tennessee, and while, as mentioned above, other candidates have exhausted their low-hanging fruit, Thompson's still got plenty ripe for the picking. While other candidates have down quarters, Thompson's could be decidedly impressive, especially by comparison.

-- How much lighter will Mitt Romney's wallet be? The former Massachusetts governor gave his campaign about $9 million in the first half of the year, including $6 million in the second quarter to pay for early advertisements. Will he continue to dip into his personal reserves to give himself a big leg up, or is he waiting for the fourth quarter, when he can do so more efficiently to react to a rapidly-changing situation?

-- Who's got the final leg up? Cash on hand, as AP's Jim Kuhnhenn writes, is the number to watch. The campaigns have just three months to go before the first nominating contests, and while several have run their first ads (Kuhnhenn reports the Democratic Iowa numbers: Obama, $2.7 million so far; Clinton, $1 million; Richardson, $2 million), everyone starts the cash dump pretty soon. Media buyers, beware: Your phones will be ringing off the hook.

-- Who is thinking strategically about responses? Some campaigns are going to have to go very negative to cut down their rivals. If campaigns have the money to hold back, might McCain save an ad defending his immigration record? What about Romney fighting off the very word "Massachusetts"? Thompson not remembering Terri Schiavo? Perhaps the biggest challenge is Giuliani's: He's got to deal with GOP voters' anger when they hear about his record on gays, abortions and guns (especially now that the NRA is considering getting involved in the GOP primary). Of course, this question isn't answered by 3rd quarter FEC numbers alone, but outlines will begin to form.

Candidates are laying low lately, making the mad dash for cash in the final days before the quarter ends. How they answer the questions above may well determine who's still raising money in the first quarter of 2008, and who's simply trying to get rid of debt.

Morning Thoughts: Granite Status

Off to the Granite State this morning, so here are last night's morning thoughts:

-- The Senate tomorrow takes up the Defense Department authorization again. Senator Joe Biden, who now has more endorsements from Iowa state legislators than any other Democrat aside from Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, finally gets a vote on his amendment to partition Iraq, albeit in a non-binding vote.

-- In the House, Congressman Adam Smith has a busy day. The Washington State Democrat is managing three bills on the House floor, including resolutions expressing support for Latin American countries who have already dealt with three major hurricanes this year, condemning the UN Human Rights Council for unfairly criticizing Israel, and his signature issue, the Global Poverty Act. The House also deals with the compromise between the two chambers on the State Children's Health Insurance Program; President Bush has yet to back off his veto threat.

-- Former Senator Fred Thompson, after forgetting who Terri Schaivo is and after James Dobson told friends he wouldn't support Thompson, is having trouble wooing Southern Conservatives. Still, it helps when Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission President Richard Land is on Thompson's side. "I've received phone calls and emails from Southern Baptists about Senator Thompson," Land wrote. "They are all furious at Doctor Dobson," according to CBN's David Brody.

-- Ex-Gov. Mitt Romney exploited Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinijad's visit to New York as much as possible, with new radio ads in Iowa and South Carolina pointing out that Romney refused security for former Iranian President Mohammad Khatami when he visited Harvard during Romney's tenure as governor. "Now another Iranian President is visiting America," the ad says. "Coming to New York, and Governor Mitt Romney is leading the opposition." Not a bad way to get press even as every other candidate is criticizing the visit.

-- Meanwhile, Rudy Giuliani is trying to get in on the action.

-- On the Democratic side, Senator Hillary Clinton yesterday announced the endorsement of Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh, an automatic front-runner for Vice President. Trying to keep up, and doing a better than average job, Illinois Senator Barack Obama announced support from former Iowa Democratic Party chairman Gordon Fischer. Bayh sent representatives to work for state legislative candidates in 2006, though with FIscher's connection to state party activists, he may be an equal, if not more valuable, endorsement.

-- Local Video Game Angle Of The Day: "Halo 3" comes out at midnight tonight, and Seattle-centric Microsoft says it expects to make about $200 million ... in the next 24 hours. If you're a Northwest native, you might recognize a certain mountain featured in the game. It's Mount Rainier, according to Seattle Times columnist Brier Dudley. Yes, he says, it's supposed to be Kilimanjaro, but the resemblance is more than coincidence.

-- Today On The Trail: Senator Clinton and ex-Senator John Edwards are in Iowa at a "Change to Win" rally, while Sen. Barack Obama attends a low-dollar fundraiser in Portland, Maine. Bill Richardson is still in New York, fundraising. On the GOP side, Senator John McCain fundraises in Houston, while Mitt Romney continues his California tour in Bakersfield. Meanwhile, Bolivian President Evo Morales joins Jon Stewart on The Daily Show.

-- Next update coming from Manchester, so check back with Politics Nation for breaking news from New Hampshire and the latest leading up to Wednesday's Democratic Presidential debate.

History Made During Last Presidential Address

To critics, President Bush's address to the nation on September 13th made little news other than the expected request for more time in Iraq. To supporters, the address was an important affirmation of a strategy that is working.

But in at least one sense, the speech was groundbreaking. FishbowlDC points out the speech was the first presidential address broadcast in high definition. Turns out the feed had a bit of a problem, though, and it was only because HDNews subscribed to NBC's pool feed and plugged directly into the pool drop at the White House that the event was recorded for posterity.

A cool "did you know," maybe, but we doubt the fact the speech was in high-def will end up as a chapter in Mr. Bush's autobiography.

FL Dems To DNC: Take That!

In an open letter emailed to Florida Democrats, state party chairwoman Karen Thurman pledged this weekend to make her state's January 29 primary binding. "Don't let anybody call this vote a 'beauty contest' or a 'straw poll,'" she wrote. The move comes just weeks after the Democratic National Committee voted to strip Florida of all its delegates to the convention if the party went ahead with a primary planned before the official opening of the window in which states are allowed to hold nominating contests.

The Florida Democratic Party launched a website, MakeItCountFlorida.com, dedicated to trumpeting their contest, and urging Democrats to participate not only in the presidential primary but in state and local referenda the party calls crucial.

Florida Democrats are operating from a position of strength. While Democratic presidential candidates have signed a pledge, put forward by state parties in early states Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada, promising not to campaign in Florida, the primary will still make news. And, at the end of the day, no nominee will want to exclude a state from the convention.

The Democratic nominee, who will have considerable influence over the makeup of the DNC credentials committee, will likely exert pressure to include delegates from Florida or other states in order to fully include what remains a crucial swing state.

Florida's move, and decisions by candidates to sign onto the pledge, is likely a boon to front-runners Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. Without the benefit of sustained campaigning in the Sunshine State, voters will only be exposed to national media coverage, which is largely concerned with the race's two superstars.

The other fallout: WIth the increasing chaos, party leaders may finally decide that the primary calendar in 2012 should look much different from the calendar this year. Both parties are exploring ways to exert any control they can over states, and Florida's move, along with that of Michigan and many other states who moved their contests up to February 5th, could prove the impetus to finally do something.

Rudy's Phone Flap: Good Call?

This didn't really fit in my story from Friday, but during his address to gun rights advocates in Washington, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani paused to take a phone call from his wife, Judith Nathan. The crowd, at first, seemed a little taken aback, but when he ended his call with, "Okay, have a safe trip. Bye-bye. Talk to you later, dear. I love you," the crowd broke out into applause.

The media, too, seemed divided. New York Post's Charles Hurt wrote of the incident under the header, "Bad Call By Rude Rudy." The New York Daily News writes that the "laughing audience applauded," a much more positive tone.

This isn't the first time Giuliani has answered his wife's call during a speech, as Marc Ambinder noted. Still, was the call rude? The audience's laughter and applause seemed genuine -- and as I noted today, it was an audience not inclined to be nice to Giuliani.

But was it rude? Was it endearing? Would you allow your candidate to go on stage with a live cell phone? Email thoughts and comments and I'll post them later in the week.

Morning Thoughts: Happy Credit Union Month

Happy Monday morning. Could the Seachickens have made their win over the Bungles look any sloppier? And what's this Green Bay Packers team, sitting at 3-0 after beating the Chargers, think it's doing? Upsetting the natural order of things, that's what. On to business:

-- The Senate votes this afternoon on a conference report on the Water Resources Development Act, though some Senators will be busier than others. Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh will endorse Sen. Hillary Clinton for president today at a press conference just blocks from the Capitol. Coming off a big week in which she outlined her health care platform and hit all five Sunday shows, Clinton is starting off a second week with a bang.

-- The House today takes up a number of resolutions recognizing various commemorative holidays (Veterans of Foreign Wars Day, Gold Star Mother's Day, Sickle Cell Disease Awareness Month, Federal Credit Union Month) as well as the reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration. The FAA, which needs the bill to pass to have the funding to continue operations, is missing an Administrator, a Chief of Staff, a Chief Operating Officer for Air Traffic Organization (though one has been nominated) and an Assistant Administrator for Communications.

-- Upcoming this week, Congress is going to have to make a few tough votes. Fiscal Year 2007 ends on Sunday, and both chambers are far from finished with their respective appropriations processes -- the Senate has passed five bills while the House has passed all twelve, though none have gone to the president for a signature. Look for the first of what may be several continuing resolutions this week.

-- As noted above, Bayh's endorsement helps Clinton build her aura of inevitability. But it also does Bayh some good as well. "Now, columnists can add Bayh's name to the growing list of possible Democratic vice presidential candidates should Clinton win the nomination," writes the LA Times' Andrew Malcolm. Bayh's name goes close to the top of the list, next to that of former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack, who, in taking shots last week at Rudy Giuliani, seemed to be auditioning for the attack dog role the vice president usually plays in the general.

-- The other big news of the weekend: House Minority Leader John Boehner and the GOP leadership is reportedly upset with how Rep. Tom Cole is running the NRCC. The committee is targeting some Democrats, like North Dakota Rep. Earl Pomeroy and Michigan Rep. Bart Stupak, who represent Republican-leaning districts but haven't won by less than twenty points in years. Boehner reportedly wants resignations of executive director Pete Kirkham, a former Cole chief of staff, and political director Terry Carmack. Cole has threatened to resign before firing either man.

-- Already $9 million in fundraising behind the DCCC, Cole's NRCC had just $1.6 million on hand as of the last reporting cycle, along with $4 million in debt. The DCCC maintains $22 million on hand with just $3.1 million in debt. Republican strategists are worried about the state of the committee and hope to turn operations around before Democrats expand and solidify their majority next year.

-- In the Republican presidential race, with three, maybe three and a half months to go before the first nominating contests, a conclusion is rapidly forming: No front-runner really exists. The Des Moines Register sat down with GOP caucus-goers who sounded a familiar theme, that no candidate truly overwhelms them, though each candidate has some skills necessary to win their hearts. The race "remains remarkably fluid," writes the New York Times, which concludes that Fred Thompson's entry is doing little to excite the GOP base. No wonder, then, that former House Speaker Newt Gingrich is actively seeking commitments to help him raise $30 million over the next three months.

-- Famous Baseball Fan Of The Day: According to a profile written up in Sunday's New York Times magazine, The Plank points out that Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, the court's oldest member, attended Game 3 of the 1932 World Series at Wrigley Field, where Babe Ruth famously called his shot before belting a home run.

-- Today On The Trail: Senator John McCain is fundraising in Chicago and Milwaukee today. Ex-Gov. Mitt Romney heads to Santa Clara for an "Ask Mitt Anything" event. Rudy Giuliani is in South Portland, Maine, to address the National Troopers Coalition. Clinton is with Bayh in Washington; ex-Sen. John Edwards is in Washington to participate in a forum on health care sponsored by Families USA and the Federation of American Hospitals. Bill Richardson fills the bank account in New York. And Dennis Kucinich, in Santa Barbara, will join Jay Leno on the Tonight Show this evening.

Perry For Veep?

This year is the first, since 1984, that no major presidential candidate has hailed from the Lone Star State. Thanks to Ronald Reagan's choice of George H.W. Bush as Vice President in 1980, 1976 was the last time no Texan showed up anywhere on the national ticket. In 2008, only Rep. Ron Paul comes from Texas, and he runs well behind front-runners.

So, where is someone to find a Texan to compliment a ticket? How about a governor with a great reputation with conservatives to compliment more moderate nominees like Mitt Romney or Rudy Giuliani? Gov. Rick Perry, the man who succeeded President Bush, has ramped up his travel schedule lately and is raising his national profile.

After heading to Iraq and Afghanistan a few months ago, Perry made a stop in Israel, where he accepted an award for fostering international cooperation. Then, just over two weeks ago, Perry headed to California to address the state's GOP convention. While California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger offered platitudes about working with Democrats in a bipartisan matter, Perry won applause for throwing the crowd some serious red meat.

Asked about Perry's travel schedule, spokesman Robert Black made all the right noises, emphasizing Perry's positives while saying his boss isn't campaigning for the job. "The vice presidency isn't something you run for." Still, Black says, Perry has an important role to play. "Since Texas doesn't have a native son on the ballot," he said, "you can anticipate him doing any kind of surrogate speaking he is asked to do."

A general election candidate, aside from assuaging the base with the conservative Perry, might also be attracted to Perry's fundraising ability. As chair of this year's Republican Governor's Association dinner, in late February, Perry pulled in $10.4 million -- a record for the event, held in DC and keynoted by his predecessor, according to an RGA spokesman.

Perry, maintains Black, isn't thinking about the job. "He thinks he's got the best job in the country," Black said. "Just ask the current occupant of the White House."

Romney Wins Mackinac Poll

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney came out on top this weekend at the biggest gathering of Michigan Republicans before their January 15th primary. At the Michigan Republican Leadership Conference, Romney, whose father served as governor of the Wolverine State, took 39% in a straw poll sponsored by The Hotline.

Romney led Arizona Senator John McCain, who received 27%, and Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX), with about 11%. While the 979 people who cast ballots are much more die-hard than the Michigan electorate as a whole, the results indicate that top Michigan Republicans are skewed toward their prodigal son. If Romney's lead holds in Iowa and New Hampshire, a win in Michigan could make it hard for the rest of the field to find their first win.

Romney, McCain, Paul, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, Rep. Duncan Hunter and former Senator Fred Thompson all addressed Michigan Republicans during the conference. The poll was conducted Friday and Saturday, and the results were unofficially certified by the Michigan Republican Party.

The results, which come close to mirroring recent polls (Romney leads by 7.6% in the latest RCP Michigan Average) again show that Thompson's rise to the top will not be easy. McCain's second-place finish, despite a blow he suffered when Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox left his camp last week, may mean he still has some fight left in him, though he places fourth in the RCP Average. And Paul, who beat out both Thompson and Giuliani, continues to show surprising grassroots-level support. Whether he can translate that into votes remains, however, to be seen.

Full results after the jump.

Full Results
Romney 39% (383 votes)
McCain 27 (260)
Paul 11 (106)
Giulaini 11 (104)
Thompson 7 (70)
Huckabee 3 (25)
Hunter 1 (12)
Brownback >1 (3)
Tancredo 0 (0)
Uncommitted 2 (16)

Romney's "Open Letter"

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney is trying everything he can to separate himself from the field. His "open letter" to his own party, which will run Sunday in the New Hampshire Union Leader and in Roll Call on Monday as full-page ads, takes the GOP to task using some of the same themes as in a recent ad he launched in early primary states.

"The blame, we must admit, does not belong to just one party. If we're going to change Washington, Republicans have to put our own house in order." Using the same lines he does in the television spot, Romney continues: "We can't be like Democrats -- a party of big spending. We can't pretend our borders are secure from illegal immigration. We can't have ethical standards that are a punch-line for Jay Leno."

The goal of the letter: Distance himself from President Bush as publicly as possible while saying what many Republicans privately believe. Still, when 73% of Republicans approve of President Bush's job performance, according to the latest CBS Poll [PDF], it's a dangerous ploy.

One thing is certain: American voters are not happy with Washington. Republicans and GOP-leaning independents who stayed home, or abandoned the GOP altogether at the polls in 2006, need to hear something like contrition before they come home. The lack of a candidate Republicans believe can move them out of the doghouse is a big reason just 19% say they're satisfied with the GOP candidates, according to the latest CNN poll [PDF].

If Romney, or Fred Thompson, or Rudy Giuliani for that matter, can convince Republican primary voters that they're the candidate to move the party forward, they'll find themselves facing the Democratic nominee next year. In fact, with opinions about the Republican Party running so low among independents, a candidate seen as willing and able to change the party's direction is just the start Republicans need heading into 2008.

Long-Term Negatives For MoveOn?

Even after being singled out by the Senate for condemnation, MoveOn.org isn't slowing down. The group is spending $100,000 for a television ad targeting Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell for voting against Senator Jim Webb's amendment yesterday to require troops to stay home as long for periods equal to the amount of time they spend in combat zones.

The question: After their poorly-received decision to take on General David Petraeus, are MoveOn's attacks effective anymore, or do they just boost the prospects of candidates they go after?

We'll find out next week. The next Zogby poll, which goes in the field on Monday, will test the group's favorability rating.

At NRA Forum, Rudy Gets Tepid Response

WASHINGTON -- Before a gathering of gun rights activists in Washington today, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who as mayor took stands that were seen as pro-gun control, took pains to assure the audience that, as president, he would be an ally. Despite his previous positions, Giuliani told the crowd, "there are many more things that we have in common."

"You never get a candidate you agree with one hundred percent. I'm not even sure I agree with myself one hundred percent," he joked.

His pro-gun control positions, he said, allowed him to "take a city that was the crime capitol of America and make it the safest large city" in the country. After crime rose thanks to what Giuliani called "left wing policy choices," his administration's move to hold people accountable for their actions reduced crime. "The results speak for themselves," he said. "It's people that commit crimes, not guns."

Voicing support for a recent court decision striking down a ban on handguns in Washington, D.C, Giuliani maintained that "the Second Amendment is a freedom as important as the freedoms in the other ten amendments."

The mayor also took the time to blast MoveOn.org for a recent advertisement critical of General David Petraeus, and took a veiled shot at Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton, who voted against a resolution yesterday condemning the group's attack. MoveOn.org, said Giuliani, "spent hundreds of millions on the politics of personal destruction, which happens to be a Clinton phrase, by the way."

"You have absolutely no right to impugn [Petraeus's] integrity," Giuliani said, earning his biggest applause of the day. "That is precisely what MoveOn.org did."

Asked about his support for a 2000 lawsuit aimed at holding gun companies liable for shootings, Giuliani said the lawsuit had taken turns he doesn't agree with, and that the events of September 11th redefined his thinking on gun ownership. "I was taking advantage of every law and every interpretation I could think of to reduce crime in New York City," he explained. "I didn't anticipate the lawsuit would go in the direction it is now."

Giuliani closed by urging NRA members to back the candidate they found most electable, and to seek common ground. "Who is going to be the best president overall to lead this country?" he asked. "I would like us to respect each other because we have very similar views."

Second Amendment activists greeted the mayor with little enthusiasm but polite applause. The constituency is one that will likely never be Giuliani's number one fan base, yet one that plays an important role in a Republican primary fight. "To get elected, I need your support," Giuliani said.

Giuliani refused to take questions afterward, though he did tell memebers of the media that "I think we did well." As his three-car caravan pulled away from the Capitol Hilton, the mayor has to hope that those inside thought the same way. If not, Second Amendment activists could prove a prickly thorn in Giuliani's side.

New KY Gov Poll

A new poll out today shows another big lead for former Lieutenant Gov. Steve Beshear as he races to replace Gov. Ernie Fletcher. The Louisville Courier-Journal's Bluegrass Poll, conducted 9/13-18, surveyed 667 likely voters for a 3.8% margin of error.

General Election Matchup
(All/Men/Wom/Dem/GOP/Ind)
Beshear/Mongiardo 55 / 57 / 54 / 75 / 26 / 57
Fletcher/Rudolph 35 / 36 / 35 / 18 / 66 / 24

Fletcher, beset by a hiring scandal that led him to pardon nine of his own employees, has a job approval rating of just 42%, while 48% disapprove. Only 8% of Kentuckians approve strongly of his job performance. 71% think Fletcher has failed to deliver on his promise to change Frankfort, as well.

Just one of the ten polls taken since the primary, the Courier-Journal notes, has showed Fletcher within 16 points. The Republican Governor's Association is still running ads on Fletcher's behalf, though whether that support will continue, or if the RGA will simply cut their losses, remains to be seen.

Capture The Flag

The world's increasing fuel needs mean countries are doing anything they can to stake their claims to any oil fields left. Now, the battle is raging over a more and more pertinent question: Who owns the North Pole?

Russia last month sent a submarine underneath the Pole, where it planted a titanium flag to claim the area in order to win drilling rights on what many believe is one of the world's largest untapped oil fields. At the time, Canadian Foreign Minister Peter MacKay dismissed the move with a great zinger: "This isn't the 15th century. You can't go around the world and just plant flags and say, 'We're claiming this territory.'"

Russia's move followed a visit to Resolute Bay by Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who traveled to the country's northern-most point to claim that "the first principle of Arctic sovereignty is -- use it or lose it." Meanwhile, Denmark, which lays claim to Greenland, has called for international talks over the North Pole.

Talks may not do any good, points out The New Republic's Josh Patashnik. Russia now claims soil samples from beneath the North Pole show the area is geologically linked to the Russian continental shelf, which would give Russia oil drilling rights. Patashnik: "I suppose [the soil sample] has a little bit more legitimacy than going around and planting flags all over the place."

Morning Thoughts: The GOP's Big Weekend

Happy Friday to you. How 'bout them Canes? Sorry, Defense Secretary and number one Aggie fan Robert Gates. Elsewhere in Washington:

-- The Senate, still haggling over the Defense Authorization bill, will vote at 10 a.m. on an amendment from Democratic Senators Carl Levin (D-MI) and Jack Reed (D-RI) that would begin the phased redeployment of U.S. forces and altering the mission of forces that remain, eliminating combat roles for U.S. troops. This is the fifth time the resolution has been introduced, and Time's Michael Duffy writes that, with a baseline of 53 votes to begin, the measure is Democrats' best hope of limiting the scope of the war, and the best chance to get 60 votes and cut off debate.

-- The House is not in session today.

-- We learned this week that the past is not always a bad thing, and that a skilled campaigner like Senator Hillary Clinton can turn a past crushing defeat on health care into a major political advantage. The HillaryCare roll-out continues this weekend, as the New York Senator appears on all five major Sunday shows -- Meet The Press, Fox News Sunday, ABC's This Week, CBS's Face The Nation and CNN's Late Edition. That's usually a trick for the Vice President or Secretary of State Rice, though even they only make it on three or four shows. That Clinton is willing to appear on all five shows means her team is supremely confident in their health care plan. Clinton tapes all five shows today in between Senate votes.

-- News yesterday that Senator John McCain has pulled in just $3.7 million was met with strong denials from the campaign. Now, Marc Ambinder writes that the camp is thinking about using $350,000 to $500,000 on its first television ad. The bio spot would roll out in New Hampshire. McCain will spend the next week and a half before the quarter ends raising cash in six states.

-- Today is a big day for McCain, and for six other presidential candidates who join the National Rifle Association at the "Celebration of American Values" conference here in Washington. McCain will lob accusations that former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, not exactly the Patron Saint of the Second Amendment, backed a lawsuit that would have bankrupted "our great gun manufacturers," according to prepared remarks obtained by the AP. How big a problem will gun owners be for Giuliani? Check out RCP on Monday for our analysis, but you can bet they'll be a big thorn in the lion's paw.

-- Also attending the conference: New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson (via video), Rep. John Dingell and former Rep. Harold Ford, all Democrats. What, no Howard Dean? The DNC chief is a former NRA board member, though he surrendered his spot, to Dingell, when he ran for President. Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, former Attorney General John Ashcroft, new Senator John Barrasso and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich are attending as well.

-- This weekend's other big event, the biennial Mackinac Republican Leadership Conference, kicks off tonight on a beautiful island between Michigan's Upper and Lower Peninsulas. The event, in a state holding their primary on January 15th, will be the first major gathering of candidates featuring ex-Sen. Fred Thompson as an official member of the gang. Previous big speeches from the ex-actor have been panned, so Thompson needs a big night. One campaign aide tells Politics Nation that Thompson will speak not from prepared remarks, but from notes.

-- The Senate news can't get any worse for Republicans, or better for Democrats, as we wrote earlier this week. Now comes news that, in the ongoing investigation of the relationship between Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens and oil services company Veco Corp., the FBI has tape-recorded calls between Veco chief Bill Allen and Stevens. The calls show Stevens has been under investigation for months longer than previous reports indicated, and the deal between the FBI and Allen was reached on the last day of August last year. If Ted Stevens steps down next year, Republicans will still be favored to keep the seat, but it won't be easy, and it will be another place the NRSC has to spend money.

-- Stevens' son, former Alaska Senate President Ben Stevens, has also been implicated in the probe. Two days ago, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, who over the past two years has taken on what she sees as corruption in her own party, called on the younger Stevens to step down as the state's RNC representative. Alaska GOP chair Randy Ruedrich, who has had numerous run-ins with Palin, says there is no way for the state Republican Party to remove a sitting committee member.

-- Everybody Panic Of The Day: In trading yesterday, the Canadian dollar, worth as little as 62 U.S. cents in 2002, rose as high as 1.0008 U.S. dollars, before settling at 99.87 cents. It's the first time the two currencies reached parity since November 1976. Canadian economists are ecstatic, saying the rise is due to increased demand for copper, gold, wheat and oil.

-- Today On The Trail: Most Republicans, including McCain, Giuliani, Fred Thompson and Mike Huckabee, will attend the NRA event in Washington. Rep. Duncan Hunter and ex-Gov. Mitt Romney have sent videotaped messages. Giuliani has a busy day, with stops in Reston this morning and at Mackinac tonight. On the Democratic side, former Sen. John Edwards delivers a major education speech today in Des Moines, after a stop in Altoona, then heads to Guthrie Center, Iowa. His wife, Elizabeth, holds house parties in three New Hampshire towns. Sen. Barack Obama is off to Ames for two events today.

Waxman Invites Blackwater Testimony

Following the Iraqi government's decision to ban contracting firm Blackwater from operating in the country, pending the outcome of a joint Iraqi-US investigation into a recent shooting incident in Baghdad in which 11 civilians were killed, House Oversight and Government Reform Committee chairman Henry Waxman has called the company's CEO to testify.

Waxman issued a letter today to CEO Erik Prince to testify on October 2nd on Blackwater's mission in Iraq and Afghanistan and on whether the U.S. government is relying too heavily on private security contractors. The hearings will shine another spotlight on the use of private companies in a military or support role. Some have estimated that more than 100,000 private contractors are operating in Iraq, alongside the 160,000 U.S. troops in the country.

For background on Blackwater and its operations, read Mark Hemingway's excellent recap of his visit to the company's Moyock, North Carolina headquarters.

Bad News For McCain, Thompson

Blake reported both of these items in today's Daily 2008, but I thought they deserved another spotlight.

Coming off a fundraising quarter after which his campaign found itself deep in debt, after months of staff departures and after losing prominent supporters, most recently Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox, Senator John McCain thought he'd turned a corner. His recent "No Surrender" tour won him good press in three early primary states, while his poll numbers have recently begun ticking up.

The Washington Times' Ralph Z. Hallow, though, reports today that McCain's money woes are still a major concern. The campaign set a goal of $4.5 million for this quarter, though one confidante says McCain has raised just $3.7 million so far. After a good month of press, the last thing McCain needs is a new round of stories questioning his campaign's ability to continue.

One-time McCain supporter Fred Thompson, who was once seen as the savior of conservatives, isn't getting any better news of late. Evangelical Christian leader James Dobson, in an email message to friends, said he could not support the former Tennessee Senator, according to the AP.

"Isn't Thompson the candidate who is opposed to a Constitutional amendment to protect marriage, ... favors McCain-Feingold, won't talk at all about what he believes, and can't speak his way out of a paper bag on the campaign trail?" Dobson asked. "He is apparently the Great Hope that burns in the breasts of many conservative Christians? Well, not for me, my brothers. Not for me!"

The mention of campaign finance reform underscores a point one conservative strategist brought up in a conversation with Politics Nation when he referred to the "McCain-Feingold-Thompson" bill.

McCain and Thompson will have a better day tomorrow, when the two candidates go before the National Rifle Association's confab in Washington. Both have a long record of support for gun rights, while other front-runners Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney will face tougher questions on their records.

The four front-runners' continued misfortune and lack of complete alignment with conservative orthodoxy is the reason Mike Huckabee and Sam Brownback are sticking around. A nod from someone like Dobson could provide the kind of boost that helps one of them gain some traction.

New Obama Ad Taking HRC's Message

Senator Barack Obama is up with a new ad, entitled "Believe," hitting themes of change in Washington and taking as many jabs as possible at front-runner Hillary Clinton: "I've taken on drug and insurance companies. And won," he says. "I defied the politics of the moment and opposed the war in Iraq before it began."

Neither Obama nor Clinton seem to believe that "change" and "experience" are contradictory messages. Obama's anti-Washington ads come even after what he cites as 20 years of public service, and Clinton, the Washington insider, is running against the Beltway even as she says she's ready to lead on day one.

It's hard to tell how Obama distinguishes himself from Clinton, but perhaps co-opting her message and presenting the same qualities in a different package may work.


Shaheen's Path Gets Easier

Former Congressional candidate and daughter of Rep. Tom Lantos (D-CA) Katrina Swett, once seen as a strong candidate in the New Hampshire Democratic Senate primary, will drop out on Friday in order to back former New Hampshire Gov. Jeanne Shaheen, Boston Globe's James Pindell reports.

Swett had raised more than $1.2 million so far for her bid, but now she joins Portsmouth Mayor Steve Marchand on the sidelines, backing Shaheen. Professor and former astronaut Jay Buckey remains in the Democratic race and promises to give Shaheen a fight.

UPDATE: The NRSC has launched "The Shaheen Record," an anti-Shaheen website.

Daniels In Trouble?

A new poll out from Research 2000, conducted for WISH-TV, shows Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels (R) in some trouble as he prepares for his re-election campaign. However, Daniels is in a better position than he might otherwise be, and Democrats aren't exactly getting the news they want.

The poll was conducted 9/10-14 and surveyed 800 likely voters, for a 3.5% margin of error. Daniels was surveyed alongside ex-Rep. Jill Long Thompson (D).

General Election (All/Dem/GOP/Ind)
Daniels 46%/ 9%/ 77%/ 42%
Long Thompson 38 / 74 / 7 / 40

Keeping an incumbent governor under 50% is hugely important. Long Thompson also faces a competitive primary, so she has room to grow among Democrats, while 18% of independents remain undecided.

The problem for Democrats: Long Thompson isn't seen as the party's strongest candidate. The former Congresswoman faces Jim Schellinger, a wealthy business owner, and State Senate Minority Leader Richard Young. Democrats in Washington have sent strong signals that Schellinger is their candidate of choice, and he already has at least eight staffers, including former Democratic Governors Association staffers and a former top aide to now-Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO).

At the end of the second quarter, Schellinger held a wide fundraising lead, with more than $1.1 million cash on hand, compared with just $70,000 for Young. Long Thompson did not have to file because she hadn't announced in time. Still, because of her name recognition, Long Thompson holds a big lead in early polling:

Primary Election (All/Men/Wom)
Long Thompson 41%/ 38%/ 44%
Young 16 / 19 / 13
Schellinger 10 / 12 / 8
Undecided 33 / 31 / 35

n=400, MoE= +/- 5%

Morning Thoughts: Threatening Retirements

Happy Thursday morning. Today, we find out what a new $5 bill looks like when the Treasury Department unveils the new design at 9:30. Other, lesser stories moving today:

-- The Senate, still considering the Defense Authorization bill, yesterday defeated Sen. Jim Webb's amendment to define the amount of time servicemembers must stay home after deployment in a combat zone. The bill went down with just 56 votes, four short of the 60 needed to end debate, as Webb and co-sponsor Chuck Hagel (R-NE) were unable to swing the votes necessary from Republican moderates to get it passed. Sen. John Warner (R-VA), who had supported the measure when it first came up in July, voted against it this time after conversations with the White House and Defense Department.

-- The House is on to the FAA Reauthorization Act, while the House Intelligence Committee holds a rare open session with National Intelligence Director Mike McConnell and assistant Attorney General Kenneth Wainstein, to discuss the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Visitors, make sure you're there for the 8:30 am security sweep.

-- In the eleven days left until the third quarter fundraising deadline, candidates are getting nervous about their numbers. Marc Ambinder, always the master predictor, throws out some numbers, including his guess that Bill Richardson "could" beat John Edwards this quarter. Question: After a number of shoddy debate performances, lackluster polling numbers and no real momentum, where is Richardson's money coming from? One theory: His commercials are brilliant, and his poll numbers rival, in some cases, Edwards'. Is Richardson the anti-Edwards?

-- While Norman Hsu cost Hillary Clinton several hundred thousand dollars, much of which she tried to get back after returning it, Hsu isn't the only bundler in trouble with the law. Edwards bundler William Lerach, of the law firm Lerach Coughlin, appeared likely to face criminal charges after his firm came under indictment. Now, the bundler who raised $78,000 for Edwards has reached a plea deal with prosecutors that would send him to jail for a year. Edwards released a statement in May supporting the firm in a case against the SEC.

-- Unless John McCain pulls off a miracle, 2008 will be the first year in generations in which neither party's nominee has military experience. Making matters bad for the GOP, the party has lost its historical edge when respondents are asked which party they trust most when handling the war on terror and Iraq. So is Rudy Giuliani right to be attacking Hillary Clinton for her questioning of General David Petraeus? Dick Polman says no.

-- Another Republican House member is out. Rep. Jerry Weller (R-IL), who recently has undergone scrutiny for land deals in Nicaragua, will step down after seven terms, according to two sources of the Chicago Tribune. Weller's district, to Chicago's south and southwest, is one of the fastest growing in the country, and GOPers can't be happy of having to defend it: President Bush beat Al Gore here by just two percent, and took out John Kerry by a slightly healthier 7%.

-- The news of Weller's open seat is no good for the GOP, but this one could be even worse: Rep. Chris Shays (R-CT), the lone Republican left in the Northeast's House delegation, has threatened to retire unless he is given an assignment as the ranking Republican member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. The maverick, who has barely survived his past several races, represents a district that voted for Gore by 10% and for Kerry by 6%. Shays' chief of staff said Shays hadn't actually threatened to retire, he had simply responded to a question posed by a reporter.

-- Least Welcome News Of The Day: Eighteen Republicans and four Democrats made Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington's third annual "Most Corrupt Members of Congress" report, out yesterday. They include retiring Reps. Weller, Duncan Hunter and Rick Renzi, perennial inclusion Jack Murtha and a few members, including Reps. John Doolittle, Tom Feeney, Don Young and Heather Wilson, Democrats are targeting in 2008. Senators Larry Craig (R-ID) and David Vitter (R-LA) won "dishonorable mentions" for their recent, well, publicity. (h/t: Political Wire)

-- Today On The Trail: Democrats participate in an AARP "Divided We Fail" forum in Davenport, Iowa, that will appear on Iowa Public Television. Except Obama; this is the first forum the Illinois Senator is skipping in order to run his own campaign. Three big Republicans hold nothing more than press availabilities today, as Mitt Romney shows up at the Oakland County, Michigan, airport; Fred Thompson is at Love Field in Dallas; and Rudy Giuliani, fresh off the jet lag, is in Reston, Virginia, just outside the Beltway. Mike Huckabee and Sam Brownback are in South Carolina, where both campaigns have room to grow, and former President Bill Clinton will sit down with the Daily Show's Jon Stewart tonight.

Warner Scoops Webb

As the Iraq war debate, surrounding the Defense authorization bill, heats up in the Senate, Republicans may have found a way around a particularly thorny issue today.

Senator Jim Webb, a former Secretary of the Navy and one of Senate Democrats' leading voices on the military, was set to reintroduce his measure to specify the amount of time troops must be rotated home between combat deployments. The measure, co-sponsored by Nebraska Republican Chuck Hagel, earned 36 cosponsors in July and got 56 votes for cloture -- including seven Republicans and just four short of the 60 needed to move to final passage.

As Webb and Hagel worked the phones today, reportedly within three votes of the magic 60 mark, both were said to be targeting a number of Republican moderates, including Senators Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), George Voinovich (R-OH), Elizabeth Dole (R-NC) and Arlen Specter (R-PA).

Defense Secretary Robert Gates said this weekend that, if the amendment got through, he would ask the President to veto it. The White House is working hard on stopping the language in the Senate, as while the President would likely veto it if it passes, it would be politically unpopular to do so.

Still, Webb hoped to work with Gates, and spoke with him last week, according to Webb spokeswoman Kimberly Hunter, and modified the bill to include a 120-day period before implementation. "I had a personal discussion with Secretary Gates on Wednesday and modified the amendment to address his major concerns. It is an appropriate area for Congress to act, and we stand by the amendment," Webb said.

Faced with an increasingly popular amendment and with just three votes separating the measure from passage, the White House turned to Webb's senior colleague, retiring Virginia Republican John Warner, who this morning introduced the measure not as an amendment to the bill, but as a sense of the Senate resolution, essentially stripping the move of any teeth.

Spokespeople for Warner and Secretary Gates did not return repeated phone calls seeking comment.

Warner was one of the seven Republicans who voted for the Webb Amendment in July. Now, he's scooped his junior colleague and saved the White House some face, as more Republicans will be able to vote for a toothless resolution and the Administration avoids a public, and likely very unpopular, veto.

House Dems, GOPers Take Aim

Press aides for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and the National Republican Congressional Committee were burning the midnight oil last night, sending out hit pieces to state and local media in areas with targeted incumbents. The members each targets says a lot about the 2008 landscape, though both lists need to be read with a grain of salt.

Some districts are realistic takeover possibilities for both sides. Most Democratic targets hail from the Northeast and the Midwest, while just two -- Reps. Robin Hayes (R-NC) and Thelma Drake (R-VA) -- are from the South, not counting three members from Florida. A majority of the Republican targets are freshmen who knocked off incumbents last year, including real take-back opportunities like Reps. Steve Kagen (D-WI) and John Yarmuth (D-KY).

Both parties, though, reach optimistically for some seats. There's little chance that Reps. Vito Fossella (R-NY), Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), Bart Stupak (D-MI) and Earl Pomeroy (D-ND) will see real challenges next year, though media outlets in all four districts got the releases.

It's telling that House Democrats have 35 Republicans on their list while Republicans are going after just 17 Democrats. The NRCC has consistently trailed the DCCC in money raised and cash on hand -- Republicans had just $1.97 million in the bank as of July 31, along with a $4.1 million debt, while Democrats had $21.3 million on hand and $3.5 million in debt.

The releases themselves aren't likely to generate any above-the-fold coverage, but they are the first shots over the bow of many: Democrats wanted to know if vulnerable Republicans would call on House Minority Leader John Boehner to apologize for and retract recent comments suggesting the war in Iraq's toll has been a "small price to pay" for stopping al Qaeda. Republicans wondered why targeted Democrats had voted -- "AGAIN" (caps theirs, not ours) -- to allow housing assistance for illegal immigrants.

Full list of targeted members after the jump.

Democrats targeted Republican Reps. Mark Kirk (R-IL), Jerry Weller (R-IL), Tim Walberg (R-MI), Joel Knollenberg (R-MI), Michelle Bachmann (R-MN), Sam Graves (R-MO), Steve Chabot (R-OH), Pat Tiberi (R-OH), Steve LaTourette (R-OH), Ralph Regula (R-OH), Chris Shays (R-CT), Mike Castle (R-DE), Frank LoBiondo (R-NJ), Jim Saxton (R-NJ), Mike Ferguson (R-NJ), Peter King (R-NY), Vito Fossella (R-NY), Jim Walsh (R-NY), Tom Reynolds (R-NY), Randy Kuhl (R-NY), Phil English (R-PA), Jim Gerlach (R-PA), Charlie Dent (R-PA), Tim Murphy (R-PA), Ric Keller (R-FL), Vern Buchanan (R-FL), Tom Feeney (R-FL), Robin Hayes (R-NC), Thelma Drake (R-VA), Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), Don Young (R-AK), Marilyn Musgrave (R-CO), Heather Wilson (R-NM), Jon Porter (R-NV) and Dave Reichert (R-WA).

Republicans took after Reps. Michael Arcuri (D-NY), Bruce Braley (D-IA), Joe Courtney (D-CT), Chet Edwards (D-TX), Darlene Hooley (D-OR), Steve Kagen (D-WI), Dave Loebsack (D-IA), Brad Miller (D-NC), Alan Mollohan (D-WV), Chris Murphy (D-CT), Earl Pomeroy (D-ND), Ciro Rodriguez (D-TX), Joe Sestak (D-PA), Carol Shea-Porter (D-NH), Bart Stupak (D-MI), Tim Walz (D-MN) and John Yarmuth (D-KY).

Bush, Congress In A Bad Way

Reuters is out with a new Zogby poll this morning, and Tom has details on the horse race. But in general, Americans are pessimistic about the state of the U.S.

President Bush is even less popular than he used to be, as just 29% rate his performance as excellent or good, while 71% call it fair or poor. It's barely possible, but Congress performs even worse -- just 11% call its performance excellent or good, while 87% say it's fair or poor.

62% say the U.S. is off on the wrong track, though, slightly below the latest RCP Average, which shows 68.8% of Americans who think the country's headed in the wrong direction.

Because Zogby asks respondents to rate on a scale, instead of whether they approve or disapprove, the results are slightly different from RCP Averages for President Bush's and Congress' job approval. Currently, Bush stands at 33.6% in the RCP Average, while Congress stands at 27%.

Johanns To Run

The Lincoln Journal Star reports this morning that U.S. Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns will resign his position and return to Nebraska to run for the seat being vacated by Senator Chuck Hagel. The Journal Star says Johanns and his wife went "house-hunting" in Lincoln over the weekend.

The news, coming as former Senator Bob Kerrey (D) considers a return bid for his old job, will be hugely welcomed by Republicans who, after months of bad news, can claim this as their best recruiting job so far this cycle.

Kerrey has informed New School University trustees that he may resign to make a run at the seat, though no decision is final. Already running are Attorney General Jon Bruning and former Omaha Mayor and Congressman Hal Daub, who announced his candidacy on Monday.

A Kerrey-Johanns matchup could turn out to be one of the best races of the year, as both won election in their home state with ease. The state is heavily Republican, though as we pointed out Monday, Hagel is the only Republican to win a Senate election since 1972.

New Romney Ad

Is it coincidence that three of the four Republican front-runners are not Washington politicians? Is it any wonder that the one front-runner who works on Capitol Hill, John McCain, is struggling to keep up, both in polls and financially? If Republican primary voters are really concerned with the direction of their party, they have the option of choosing "change" without choosing a Democrat.

That, at least, is what Mitt Romney is hoping as he constantly hypes his "change" themes. His latest ad, running in Iowa and New Hampshire, makes Romney out to be the candidate best able to turn around a party that's lost its way, on immigration, ethics and spending: "If we're going to change Washington," Romney intones solemnly, "Republicans have to put our own house in order."

"We can't be like Democrats, the party of big spending," Romney says, in "Change Begins With Us." "When Republicans act like Democrats, America loses."

Red meat for the base while dissing Democrats as much as possible: Two birds, one stone.

Morning Thoughts: Iraq Debate Above The Fold

Good Wednesday morning. Here's what's happening today in Washington:

-- The Senate is continuing to debate the Defense Department authorization bill, which is likely to take most of the week. How serious are they? They're dragging their Senatorial behinds in to begin debate at 9:30 a.m. The Senate Rules Committee meets at the same time to discuss S. 1905, the Regional Presidential Primary and Caucus Act, which would create a rotating schedule of presidential primaries and, sponsors hope, end the mess in which parties find themselves now. The bill is sponsored by Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-CT), Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN). Iowa Secretary of State Michael Mauro is among those set to testify.

-- On the House side, members take up the Terrorism Risk Insurance Revision and Extension Act and a bill to overhaul the Food and Drug Administration. The House Foreign Affairs Committee holds more hearings on the Bush Administration's status update on Iraq today, featuring testimony from Sen. Lindsey Graham and former Clinton UN Ambassador Richard Holbrooke.

-- The battle over Iraq, fought mostly in the Senate, is coming to a head. After failing to find common ground during negotiations, Reid told CNN yesterday that Democrats would move ahead with an amendment from Sens. Carl Levin (D-MI) and Jack Reed (D-RI) that would set timetables for bringing American troops home. The amendment won 52 votes in July, short of the 60 needed to end debate. Still, Reid spokesman Jim Manley told CNN, Democrats don't have the 60 votes to get the bill passed.

-- An amendment from Sen. Jim Webb (D-VA) to give troops equal time at home and in combat zones appears to have 57 votes, though Webb is confident he can get to 60. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said this weekend he would urge President Bush to veto any such legislation. Other measures, including a bill to make the Iraq Study Group recommendations law, from Sens. Ken Salazar (D-CO) and Lamar Alexander (R-TN) are still being perfected.

-- Senator Hillary Clinton is still making the rounds, with hits on the Today Show and NPR's Morning Edition. Ben Smith points out that none of the Sunday shows will comment as to whether Clinton will appear with them this week. It's been a while since Clinton was on one of those shows, hasn't it?

-- Remember that debate targeted at "values voters"? The one that no top Republican attended? Well, without the top four, Mike Huckabee won a massive majority in a straw poll following the debate, with 64%. Mitt Romney: 0 votes. Presaging trouble in South Carolina? We shall see. And Republican leaders, writes WaPo's Perry Bacon on today's front page, are worried about the message the party sends when top candidates skip debates targeted at minorities.

-- The scandal surrounding Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham was one of the straws that broke the Republican camel's back last year, and it's still hovering around the Capitol. Defense contractor Brent Wilkes, the man charged with bribing Cunningham, has subpoenaed 13 members of the House to testify at his trial, Paul Kane writes. The members include former Speaker Denny Hastert and Reps. John Doolittle (R-CA), Jerry Lewis (R-CA) and Jerry Weller (R-IL), already under scrutiny for some of their own actions. Democrats Norm Dicks (D-WA), Silvestre Reyes (D-TX) and Ike Skelton (D-MO) are also among those subpoenaed. The House counsel has written to Wilkes' lawyer protesting the summons as overly broad.

-- Also in Washington today, President Bush makes remarks at the NSA, in Fort Meade, documentarian Ken Burns addresses the National Press Club, Attorney General nominee meets Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (11 a.m. in the Ohio Clock Corridor, be there or be square) and Bob Novak signs his book, "The Prince of Darkness," today at Trover Books.

-- Larry Craig's Bad Luck Of The Day: As the Senator from Idaho returned to the Capitol for the first time since his Minneapolis airport bathroom incident became public, he wasn't in for a very lucky day. He immediately bumped into CNN reporter Ted Barrett, then, after hiding out in his private office in the Capitol, emerged to find, happily for them, camera crews from NBC and CBS, waiting to get b-roll of a meeting between Attorney General nominee Mukasey and Senate Judiciary Committee ranking member Arlen Specter. Then, thanks to Carl Hulse, Craig got busted leaving the Senate floor and was surrounded by journalists.

-- Today On The Trail: Joe Biden is in Des Moines, Oskaloosa, Mount Pleasant and Burlington, Iowa. Bill Richardson talks to an anti-obesity conference in Washington. John Edwards heads to Seattle to fundraise. Both Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Sam Brownback will speak to the 6th Annual Women Impacting Public Policy conference in DC. On Brownback's side, Rudy Giuliani is headed to London to raise money from American ex-pats and meet with Prime Minister Gordon Brown and two of his predecessors, Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair (what, no John Majors?). Mike Huckabee begins a two-day campaign swing through South Carolina, while Mitt Romney is still in Florida and John McCain holds more fundraisers in Washington.

Fed Cuts Rates, Oil Prices Up

Stocks soared today after the Fed cut rates by 50 basis points, one half of one percent, and CNBC anchors and guests are going ballistic. The Dow is up around 280 points with ten minutes to go before the closing bell, while the Nasdaq and the S&P 500 are also seeing big gains.

The rate cut, many warn, will do little to ease the current crisis in the housing market.

Meanwhile, oil prices continue to climb, settling above $82 a barrel in after-hours trading, setting a new record high.

Shaheen Leads Early, Not Overwhelmingly

Former New Hampshire Gov. Jeanne Shaheen, who last week stepped down from her post as Director of the Harvard Institute of Politics to seek a rematch with Sen. John Sununu, got some good news thanks to a new American Research Group poll, out today, though Sununu can claim the poll as a shot in the arm for him as well.

Six years ago, Sununu beat Shaheen 51%-47%. Now, ARG, a New Hampshire polling firm that has done work for Republican candidates in the past, shows Shaheen in the lead:

General Election Matchup
(Now/GOPers/Dems/Indies)
Shaheen 46 / 8 / 88 / 46 (-11 from last poll, in 6/07)
Sununu 41 / 80 / 7 / 35 (+12)

Polls earlier this summer showed Sununu trailing by huge margins, including 57%-29% in June's ARG poll and 54% to 38% in University of New Hampshire's Survey Center poll.

Is a poll showing a much narrower race an outlier? Is it further evidence that once a potential candidate becomes an actual candidate, their support drops? Look for another poll, from UNH, in the very near future.

Did "No Surrender" Work?

As we mentioned this morning, Senator John McCain finished up his "No Surrender" tour through Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina with a massive rally at The Citadel. The tour sought to capitalize on McCain's unapologetic support for the war in Iraq and for the troop surge; fittingly, the first event was held just hours after McCain participated in questioning General David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker on Capitol Hill.

McCain's poll numbers have been inching up of late, from its bottom last week, around 10%, to nearly 16% in the latest RCP Average, presumably as more Republicans show their support for the war. But in New Hampshire, the latest poll, at least half of which was conducted when McCain was in the state, shows him dropping -- down 3% since Franklin Pierce's last poll, in June.

McCain's numbers are stable at 12.5% in RCP's New Hampshire Average, but if they don't start going up soon, in a state that vaulted McCain into contention in 2000, the "No Surrender" tour may not work beyond the Beltway. Wait for the next poll to see if McCain's team made any difference.

Clinton Launches Health Care Ad

A day after her health care plan was mauled by Democrats and Republicans alike, yet won favorable reviews -- both for the process by which she developed the plan and the plan itself -- from the media (including liberal favorite E.J. Dionne, Sen. Hillary Clinton has launched a new ad on health care in Iowa and New Hampshire.

The ad blends the experience and change messages so essential to Clinton's campaign, running through her history on health care (a fine line to walk and not remind people of 1993's debacle) and ending with this tag: "If you're ready for change, she's ready to lead."

The ad:

Taking a look at health care plans each candidate has offered, the Chicago Tribune's Rick Pearson and Mike Dorning think it's an issue with major distinctions between the two parties. Plans offered by Clinton, Senator Barack Obama and former Senator John Edwards all rely on greater government involvement. Plans offered by Republican front-runners tackle health care costs by offering tax credits.

Morning Thoughts: Safer Ground

Good Tuesday morning. Busy day on Capitol Hill today:

-- New Attorney General nominee Mike Mukasey makes his first trip to Capitol Hill in search of votes since his 1987 appointment to the federal bench. He meets at 11:15 this morning with Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Pat Leahy (D-VT), the man who could make his life much easier or, as Leahy's threatened, throw up road blocks if the White House doesn't answer questions about their role in firing U.S. Attorneys.

-- One question facing Mukasey and the White House: How will conservatives feel about an unknown quantity? Widely seen as an independent voice, Mukasey will have to soothe conservatives as he courts Democrats. Conventional wisdom in Washington quickly became that the Administration's pick was done to avoid a fight -- especially after Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid all but said former Solicitor General Ted Olson would not pass a Senate confirmation battle. Conservatives also aren't happy that Mukasey is getting such good reactions from Sen. Charles Schumer. Dick Polman thinks Mukasey's a wise choice.

-- The Senate today takes up the D.C. Voting Rights Act, which would give D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton a vote in Congress in exchange for what would be an additional heavily GOP seat in Utah. Democrats hope to have the votes for cloture, though of the bill's 20 co-sponsors, Utah Sens. Bob Bennett and Orrin Hatch are the only Republicans on board.

-- Furiously courting the Service Employees Union at a forum in Washington yesterday, Senator Barack Obama drew rave reviews even after former Senator John Edwards had been seen as a front-runner for the union's endorsement. With one line -- "I've spent my entire adult life working with SEIU. I'm not a newcomer to this" -- Obama even seemed to throw a little barb Edwards' way.

-- Meanwhile, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson probably shouldn't be counting on SEIU's nod. Here's how he closed his speech to the delegates yesterday: "Thank you AFSCME!" Mark Murray points out that this is big gaffe number four, at least, following his admiration for SCOTUS Justice Byron White, a Roe v. Wade dissenter, his assertion that he's a Red Sox fan and a Yankees fan, and his statement that homosexuality is a choice, in front of a gay rights group. Are these slips of the tongue enough to cost him when a nominee starts thinking of Vice Presidential picks?

-- Sen. John McCain ended his "No Surrender" tour yesterday on two decidedly different notes. At a rally at The Citadel, former President George H.W. Bush, who flew 58 combat missions in World War II, sent a video congratulating McCain for the tour (though campaign manager Rick Davis says it shouldn't be construed as an endorsement), but he lost a big ally in Michigan, a state he won in the 2000 primaries, as Attorney General Mike Cox plans to step down as McCain's state chairman. Still, McCain's tour may have done something to reverse, or at least slow down, his free-fall over the summer.

-- Ex-Senator Fred Thompson will first appear on stage alongside his rivals not at this month's debate at Morgan State University, an historically black college in Baltimore, but a week and a half later, at a CNBC-sponsored debate on October 9 in Dearborn, Michigan. Thompson and the other top GOP candidates have now passed up debates or forums targeted at Latino voters (twice) and African Americans (check out the Tavis Smiley quote here).

-- Oh, and there was a Republican debate last night in Florida. None of the big four showed up to court so-called "values voters," though David Brody says it was "unlike any debate I've ever seen."

-- Blast From The Past Of The Day: Alan Keyes filed papers with the FEC yesterday to run for President.

-- Today On The Trail: Obama's in Washington announcing a plan for middle class tax relief and holding a low-dollar fundraiser; Clinton joined Kiran and John on American Morning to talk health care, and more webcasts will be forthcoming; Richardson speaks to the Laborers' Union in Chicago. On the GOP side, Thompson sits down with Florida Gov. Charlie Crist (an event worthy of a press release, not on the website yet but emailed to reporters yesterday afternoon), and ex-Gov. Mitt Romney holds a town hall meeting, also in the Sunshine State.

Gregoire's Big Bank, Big Burn Rate

After winning the 2004 election by just over 100 votes and three recounts, Washington State Gov. Christine Gregoire (D) knows she faces a tough battle for re-election, especially if, as looks likely, former State Sen. Dino Rossi (R) runs against her a second time. Rossi, from Issaquah, a Seattle suburb, has kept his name in the papers with his Forward Washington Foundation think tank, and many say his decision on the race could be forthcoming as early as October.

Gregoire is taking no chances, though, and is stockpiling money as fast as she can. Gregoire raised about $6.4 million for the 2004 race, the most in Washington State history. Now, in the five months since the legislature has been out of session (statewide candidates in state offices are subject to a fundraising freeze while the legislature is in session), Gregoire has held about two dozen fundraisers, pulling in almost $1 million, according to the Seattle Times.

Those events bring Gregoire's total raised to more than $2.6 million, and puts her on pace to raise more than she did in 2004. Still, filings with the Public Disclosure Commission, Washington's version of the FEC, show the Democrat has burned through about $940,000 of that cash, for a 35% burn rate, leaving her with about $1.7 million on hand.

The high burn rate doesn't scare many Democrats, though. "Next year is the most politically expensive year of our lives," said Democratic consultant Cathy Allen. "What they're doing now is building the data and getting early commitments from people, and that costs money and takes time."

Republicans, on the other hand, see the burn rate as indicative of fundraising troubles. "That's surprising that she's burned that much because the early money should be the low-hanging fruit," said GOP strategist Todd Myers.

Republican strategists are convinced that Rossi will be able to quickly close the gap, especially because of the fundraising freeze. Gregoire will not be able to fundraise beginning thirty days before the legislative session starts. Rossi has "three, four months where he can fundraise where the governor can't," Myers said. "From this day forward, he has more time to fundraise than she does." Allen, among other Democrats, is not convinced. "Happily, the economy is pretty good here," she said. "But it's not that good."

A poll conducted in early July showed Rossi trailing Gregoire by just 4 points, 47%-43%, in a state that leans heavily Democratic. Rossi, if he runs, will have a lot of catching up to do in order to stay financially competitive. But a high burn rate from Gregoire, along with a GOP fundraising base still hopping mad about the 2004 election, will allow the Republican to catch up just that much faster.

UPDATE: This reporter made the idiotic mistake of spelling Mr. Myers' name with one too many e's. We regret the error.

Clinton On The Daily Show

No, not THAT Clinton. Former President Bill Clinton will be a guest on Thursday's Daily Show with Jon Stewart. We're waiting for the Senator to make her second appearance, especially after Senator Barack Obama's latest visit.

Ramstad To Retire

Congressman Jim Ramstad (R-MN 03) becomes the latest surprise retirement as he announced he would not run for another term next year. Ramstad's district, which voted narrowly for President Bush twice and picked Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar last year, surrounds the Minneapolis-St. Paul suburbs in Hennepin County.

The seat, as noted by an NRCC release, has been represented by a Republican for 45 years, though Democrats are likely to make a strong run given a newly open opportunity. Politico's Josh Kraushaar points to State Rep. Erik Paulsen, businessman Brian Sullivan and Governor Tim Pawlenty's former chief of staff David Gaither.

Intriguingly, Ramstad predicted a wave of retirements yet to come. "There are going to be a number of retirements, I assure you, in both parties," Ramstad said, according to Kraushaar.

Otter Now Showing Craig The Door

Not content with Senator Larry Craig's on-again, off-again resignation promises, Idaho Governor Butch Otter is doing his level best to push Craig off the precipice without actually saying it. Otter Friday released a list of two dozen Idaho residents who have expressed some interest in replacing Craig in the Senate.

The list, Otter's office notes, does not include those whose names were submitted by others or those who told Otter they didn't want their names made public. Finally, the list doesn't include those who promised to move to Idaho to accept the Senate seat (Did Alan Keyes really call Otter?).

Notable names on the list include Lieutenant Gov. Jim Risch, Attorney General Lawrence Wasden, State Senators Mike Jorgensen, John McGee and Gary Schroeder, State Representatives Scott Bedke, Russ Mathews and Ken Roberts, and 2006 Congressional candidates Robert Vasquez and Sheila Sorensen, who lost to Rep. Bill Sali in the primary.

While Craig nears the September 30th date on which he "intends" to resign, Idaho Republicans, like their national counterparts, are leaving little doubt which way they hope Craig goes.

Taking On HillaryCare

Speaking in Des Moines this morning, Senator Hillary Clinton offered version two of her health care plan, hoping for a dramatically better reception than she got in 1994 when HillaryCare crashed and burned.

The campaign claims the plan would cover all 47 million uninsured Americans. The plan was quickly endorsed by business, including Kodak CEO Antonio Perez, and unions backing the New York Senator, including the Machinists Union.

The plan would offer new coverage choices, including the same health care plan options that members of Congress receive. It would lower premiums by cutting some taxes and focusing on prevention and efficiency, end insurance companies' practice of denying coverage based on pre-existing conditions and offer a tax credit to families to make health care more affordable.

The campaign calls the plan a "net tax cut" for taxpayers, and says the bulk of the plan would be paid for by a repeal of the Bush tax cuts for individuals making over $250,000 and through savings from modernizing the health care system and reducing excess spending.

Just moments after she unveiled her American Health Choices Plan, many of Clinton's rivals have taken it upon themselves to knock it down, though in very different ways.

"HillaryCare continues to be bad medicine," said former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney. "Hillary Clinton fundamentally believes in Washington. She doesn't believe in the American people." Romney compared Clinton's health care package to "European-style socialized medicine," saying "it's a plan crafted by Washington, centered in Washington -- not by states. It's government insurance, not private insurance. It's frankly the wrong direction."

"If you liked Michael Moore's 'Sicko,' you're going to love HillaryCare 2.0," said Katie Levinson, communications director for former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani. Levinson said the plan "includes more government mandates, expensive federal subsidies and more big bureaucracy -- in short, a prescription for an increase in wait times, a decrease in patient care and tax hikes to pay for it all."

For Democrats, Clinton's 1994 effort is also the launching pad for attacks. While Republicans attack the scope of the program, Democrats point to the fact that the plan failed to pass. "The real key to passing any health care reform is the ability to bring people together in an open, transparent process that builds a broad consensus for change," Senator Barack Obama said, referring to the legendary secrecy that surrounded Clinton's first health care reform effort.

Former Senator John Edwards attacked Clinton more directly. "The cost of [the 1994] failure 14 years ago is not just somebody's political fortune or their scars," he said, according to The Swamp. "It's the millions of Americans who have now gone for almost 15 years without health care."

"I don't believe you can sit down with lobbyists, take their money and cut a deal," Edwards continued. "If you defended the system that defeated health care, I don't think you can be the president who brings health care."

Big Lead For Beshear

(Note: Originally published Saturday on the RCP Blog)

A new Research 2000 poll out today shows former Lieutenant Governor Steve Beshear leading incumbent Republican Governor Ernie Fletcher by a wide margin. Fletcher's administration has been marred by controversy, and despite going after Beshear for the Democrat's support for some forms of gambling, he finds himself far behind with just six weeks to go.

The Research 2000 poll, conducted for the Lexington Herald-Leader and Action News 36, was conducted between September 10-13 and surveyed 600 likely voters. MoE +/- 4%.

Head-To-Head (All, Dems, GOPers, Inds)
Beshear 56 / 84 / 23 / 59
Fletcher 39 / 10 / 75 / 33

Kentucky may seem like a conservative state, and it votes reliably Republican in presidential elections. Still, it remains a southern state, and of the 56 governors in its history, 29 have been Democrats, a plurality by far. Just eight Republicans have won election, and Fletcher is the first GOP chief executive since 1971.

Without the support of independent voters and Democrats who grew tired after the scandalous end of Gov. Paul Patton's administration, Fletcher remains unlikel

Brownstein To Atlantic

The Atlantic, which has recently greatly increased its political coverage, is bringing an alum home. Los Angeles Times columnist Ron Brownstein, who worked at National Journal (a sister publication) in the 1980s, will serve as The Atlantic's political director and will write a weekly column for both the Times and National Journal.

Brownstein has largely been kept on the sidelines of White House coverage this year, as his wife, Eileen McMenamin, serves as Senator John McCain's Senate spokesperson.

NE Sen Primary Getting Crowded

The Republican primary to replace Sen. Chuck Hagel will get a little more crowded this morning as former Congressman and former Omaha Mayor Hal Daub announces his plans during a two-day fly-around of the state. Daub will make stops at airports in Scottsbluff, North Platte, Grand Island, Lincoln and Omaha today, and Beatrice, Hastings, Kearney, Columbus, Norfolk and South Sioux City tomorrow.

Daub put off his announcement over the weekend because of the death of his mother-in-law.

Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning, also seeking the Republican nomination, has been running for months and raked in an impressive $730,000, outpacing Hagel himself and establishing Bruning as the early frontrunner. Financial analyst Pat Flynn and businessman Tony Raimondo have also declared their candidacies.

Both parties have yet to recruit their top candidates, though rumors that both former Senator Bob Kerrey (D) and former Governor and now-US Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns (R) will run have been making the rounds. Kerrey, currently the president of the New School in New York, visited Washington last week to check in with DSCC Chairman Chuck Schumer, who urged him to run, while Johanns is actively considering the race and reportedly wants to make a bid.

If Kerrey takes a pass on the race, Democrats would turn to Omaha Mayor Mike Fahey or 2006 House nominee Scott Kleeb. Johanns, meanwhile, would clear the field of a few Republican candidates and would begin the primary as the front-runner. Bruning, though, has vowed to stay in the race even in the face of a Johanns candidacy.

Nebraska is a solid Republican state in national elections, and though the state has a history of electing Republican members of the House, Hagel is the only Republican to have won a Senate seat since the late Sen. Carl Curtis, in 1972. Since Curtis' election, Cornhuskers elected Senators James Exon, Edward Zorinsky, Kerrey and Ben Nelson, all Democrats, along with Hagel.

Steak Fry Rakes In Big Bucks

How big is Iowa Senator Tom Harkin's annual steak fry? Two years ago, former President Bill Clinton headlined. Last year, it was Senator Barack Obama. This year, it was Clinton's wife, Obama, and four other Democrats running for President.

The steak fry brought in a reported 18,000 Democratic activists -- assuming $30 a ticket (and that was only pre-sales; it was $35 at the door), that's $540,000 for Harkin's re-election campaign -- as well as nearly 200 credentialed reporters. That's more than one-third the number of fans who showed up to watch the Iowa State Cyclones narrowly defeat the University of Iowa Hawkeyes, the biggest football game in Iowa of the year.

Today's Des Moines Register features at least four stories about the event. One story, posted yesterday around noon, warned of major traffic delays of at least four miles by noon.

Coming on the heels of the Iowa Republican Party's straw poll, at which turnout was markedly down from 2000, the event seems to show, more than anecdotally, that Iowa Democrats are much more enthusiastic about the Presidential race than the GOP.

Welcome To Politics Nation

Welcome to Politics Nation, a new RealClearPolitics blog devoted to Election 2008 hosted by yours truly. First, a little about the author: Politics Nation editor Reid Wilson got his start in journalism at The Hotline, National Journal's daily briefing on politics, where he covered polls, polling and state legislatures. His work has appeared in National Journal, on WSJ.com, Hotline OnCall and the Arizona Capitol Times.

After a brief detour to the campaign of Connecticut Senator Chris Dodd, Wilson joined Real Clear Politics in early July as associate editor and the entire Washington, D.C. bureau.

Second, the Politics Nation mission: To bring readers up to date and breaking news along with insightful analysis on campaigns around the country as the '08 playing field continues to take shape. It's an ambitious goal, but also a political junkie's dream, and Politics Nation will do its utmost to make sure we're consistently delivering the essentials for junkies everywhere.

Third, what to expect: This space will be focused heavily on the nuts and bolts of the various campaigns, starting with a morning round up of the news and a look at the day ahead, followed by news and analysis throughout the day as well as breaking news, which will include original reporting from the campaign trail. In other words, if you don't want to miss anything, get in the habit of checking Politics Nation early and often, every single day.

Lastly, an important note: The analyses contained in this blog are the sole opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the thinking of anyone else at RealClearPolitics or, indeed, sane people anywhere. We'll try and bring opposing views as often as possible, but remember that this space's goal is to think one step beyond the conventional wisdom.

Suggestions? Comments? Questions? Tips? Always feel free to email us and we'll get back to you.