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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.