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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.