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RealClearPolitics Politics Nation Blog

 

Blog Home Page --> October 2007

Colbert To File For Dem Ballot

Stephen Colbert will file to run in the Democratic primary as a Democrat, CNN reports, citing a source close to Colbert's campaign. The comedian had initially planned to file for both the Republican and Democratic ballots, but the GOP's $35,000 price tag was too high. South Carolina Democrats require just a $2,500 filing fee.

Still, even after he files, the Democratic Party's executive council will meet tomorrow to decide whether each candidate are eligible for the ballot. Party chair Carol Khare Fowler told CNN that Colbert does not look like he's campaigning to win nationwide if he's only running in the Palmetto State.

Colbert has already appeared at two events in his native state, stopping over the weekend in Charleston and Columbia, and is using his campaign to raise $100,000 for the state's schools through a philanthropic website. The site has already pulled in more than $40,000, CNN reported.

A brief editorial note: Colbert and Comedy Central have clearly had some detailed discussions about their plans. Not only has the television network hired a Washington law firm to help Colbert avoid running afoul of federal campaign laws, but now the "campaign" has anonymous sources willing to chat with the press on background.

A recent poll showed Colbert outdrawing some serious candidates on both sides of the aisle, and it is interesting to note the generally serious tone the media takes with Colbert's joke candidacy. The only conclusion this space can draw: There are too many media outlets looking for stories. Everyone, take a mandatory week-long vacation, beginning today.

Cunningham Lobbyist To Pay Fine

Mitchell Wade, the defense contractor who pleaded guilty to bribing former Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham, will pay the second largest fine in Federal Election Commission history for his role in a scheme to funnel $78,000 in illegal contributions to federal political candidates. The FEC today announced a $1 million settlement with Wade and his company, MZM Inc., now called True Norte, Inc.

Wade used corporate funds to reimburse MZM employees for their contributions to Reps. Virgil Goode, a Virginia Republican, and Katherine Harris, formerly a Florida Republican. Wade pleaded guilty to a number of counts including election fraud in February, and an employee, Richard Berglund, pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor for making unlawful contributions in July. Berglund will pay a $42,000 penalty.

The FEC cleared Goode's and Harris's campaigns of wrongdoing, and both committees either returned the contributions or gave the money away.

Wade was the defense contractor who bought a house from Cunningham in Del Mar, California, for about $700,000 more than it was worth. After the purchase, and after other bribes including free rent and payments to a Pentagon official, MZM received more than $150 million in Defense Department contracts, thanks largely to Cunningham's position on the House Appropriations Committee. Cunningham is currently serving a 100-month prison term for his role in the public corruption scandal.

Dole Gets An Opponent

After a disastrous term at the helm of the National Republican Senatorial Committee in 2006, after months of headlines questioning her retirement plans and months of giddy Democrats pointing to her sinking approval rating, Sen. Elizabeth Dole looked like she might face a tough race for re-election next year. Now, after several top-tier Democrats took their names out of contention, Dole will face either investment banker Jim Neal or State Sen. Kay Hagan.

Hagan took her own name out of contention three weeks ago but has changed her mind, the AP reports today. Hagan's entry comes a week after Neal said publicly that he is gay, though she said his sexual orientation had nothing to do with her candidacy.

Even without a Democratic primary to drain the eventual nominee's bank accounts, Dole is in much better shape now than she's looked for several years. Having stockpiled over $2.3 million through the end of the third quarter, even her approval rating is climbing steadily. A poll conducted in late September by Elon University showed 50% of North Carolinians approving of her job performance, while just 25% disapproved. A Voter/Consumer Research poll, conducted for Dole, showed her job approval at 64% in mid-September, up three points from a June survey.

The fact that Dole has conducted two polls in the past few months shows that she won't take 2008 lightly. That can be good news for Republicans: The senator is unlikely to be surprised by any Democratic challenger. Democrats with a glass-half-full attitude can find good news, too: With Dole focusing on her own race, she will have less time to stump and fundraise for other candidates.

Neither Neal nor Hagan has filed with the FEC, and with a $2 million gap to make up, it is Dole's opponents, rather than the senator herself, who face a mountain the size of Kilimanjaro.

Morning Thoughts: Boo!

Good morning and happy Halloween. After a long night watching debates (yeah, like anyone actually watched) here's what Washington is keeping an eye on today:

-- The Senate considers version two of the SCHIP bill, with a vote on cloture coming this evening. The White House has already promised a veto. The House tackles trade adjustment assistance and the Hardrock Mining and Reclamation Act. The House Administration Committee's Elections Subcommittee holds a hearing on the use of robocalls in federal campaigns, and the House Ways and Means Committee takes up a bill to ensure free trade between the U.S. and Peru.

-- Much coverage today on the question of whether Hillary Clinton was tripped up late in last night's debate when asked about New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer's move to give driver's licenses to illegal immigrants. One journalist point out to Politics Nation that a two-hour debate can trip a candidate up, and Clinton's non-answer-double-answer looked to many like a major slip-up. But the big question for Barack Obama and John Edwards: Was it a slip-up that they can exploit, or do they have to make the argument that Republicans will be able to exploit it? (By the way, my round-up of the debate here.)

-- Speaking of which, here's something to watch: Spitzer caused Clinton trouble last night, as did powerful Ways and Means chairman Charlie Rangel, whose massive tax overhaul Clinton was asked if she would support. The tax plan, the New York Times writes, is a big target, as is Spitzer's plan. Clinton mentioned her work as First Lady of Arkansas last night. Could that be a theme that becomes more prominent once the general election gets started? After all, it's a pseudo-red state to New York's big, bright baby blue.

-- After the fracas in Philly, one thing is clear: The nastiest general election campaign would be a contest featuring ... Rudy Giuliani and Joe Biden? After Biden's biting one-liner on Rudy's sentence structure ("A noun, a verb and 9/11"), the Giuliani campaign came out with a release on their differences: "Rudy rarely reads prepared speeches and when he does he isn't prone to ripping off the text from others." Back shot Biden's team: "It's pretty obvious that they can't defend themselves on the real charge that Mr. Giuliani walked away from the cops and firefighters who were waiting for the 9/11 Commission to be enacted and the Biden crime bill to be restored." Makes all the attacks on Clinton look downright civilized.

-- More marking of calendars: We saw fireworks in the debates last night, but the fur will really fly when Republicans and Democrats meet at Des Moines Register-sponsored debates, rescheduled from January for 12/12 and 12/13 respectively.

-- Back in Washington, President Bush addresses an issue today that the GOP, for its long-term well-being, needs to fix. Bush will talk to grocery store owners and food manufacturers about health care, and what he sees as Democrats' slow walk toward socialized, government-run health care. While Democrats are trying to expand Medicare and other government-run programs, Bush wants to boost private insurance markets, he will argue. Democrats have long led on credibility surrounding health care, according to polls. Whether the argument can be won by touting the business merits of one's plan, rather than the health merits, is a question Congressional Republicans hope are resolved by the president today.

-- Keep an eye on this: The first attack mailings are out in South Carolina, and nowhere can one find the words "Romney" or "Mormon." Instead, the mailers, from Sen. John McCain, take after Clinton and fellow Republican Rudy Giuliani. McCain, the mailer claims, "is a stronger candidate than Rudy Giuliani in the general election" and wonders about Hizzoner's record on choice, per CNN's Peter Hamby. The mailer is an invitation to a town hall meeting in Myrtle Beach, with an appropriately small universe of targeted homes, but the shot at Giuliani makes one wonder whether the Mayor will be a bigger target than Romney. The latest RCP South Carolina Average has Giuliani leading by just 0.2 percentage points over Fred Thompson.

-- Nod Of The Day: John Edwards got a pre-debate boost when members of the New Hampshire Service Employees union announced they would back his campaing, despite heavy lobbying from Clinton and Obama. SEIU couldn't come up with a national endorsement, so they freed their state chapters to do what they wanted. Edwards now owns nods from New Hampshire and Iowa, which means other state chapters can't send volunteers in to help their candidates of choice. Labor prizes left to win: AFSCME, which is said to be on the verge of endorsing Clinton, the National Education Association and the Communications Workers of America, per the NYT.

-- Today On The Trail: John Edwards is in Peterborough and Manchester, New Hampshire, and takes his kids trick-or-treating in Bedford. Barack Obama is trick-or-treating with his kids at home in Chicago. Mitt Romney's kids are probably too old to trick-or-treat, but he's in Adel, Iowa, for a house party. Rudy Giuliani visits a restaurant in Nashua, while John McCain presents his health care platform to a Kaiser Family Foundation-sponsored forum in Washington. Fred Thompson holds a press conference in San Francisco.

Halfway Through...

John Edwards is having a heck of a night. He's trying his best to beat out Barack Obama for the Anybody-But-Clinton crowd.

Dennis Kucinich and Bill Richardson have gone after those attacking Hillary Clinton as hypocrites.

And which is the bigger storyline: Edwards' performance, or Obama's lack of any form of spark?

Whither Arkansas?

A thought: Sen. Hillary Clinton just mentioned some of her work in Arkansas. As she moves closer to a general election strategy, will the kind-of-Red-State become a bigger part of her message?

It seems like a wise move, and sounds better than pitching herself as a New Yorker.

Best Surrogate Ever

In the audience tonight: Bill Barloon, a former hostage in Iraq who credits New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson with saving him from captivity. Barloon was taken hostage in early 1995 and released after four months of captivity, thanks, he says, to Richardson's negotiations.

Barloon will be in the spin room after the debate, spinning for the media. Not a bad endorsement. Barloon has previously appeared in campaign ads for Richardson.

Russert Mocks Kucinich

Moderator Tim Russert had no problem taking a less than gentle poke at Dennis Kucinich in a debate that, toward the end of the allotted time, just got silly, by asking him whether he really saw a UFO. Kucinich, whose UFO sighting was disclosed in a new book by longtime friend Shirley MacLaine, turned the answer right back around and got big laughs from the audience.

He made sure that Russert repeated, twice, than 14% of Americans claim to have seen a UFO.

Just Noticing

Once the debate's "lightening round" began, and real policy questions started coming down the pike, journalists in Drexel University's media filing center got restless.

Obama, Edwards Lace Up Gloves

PHILADELPHIA -- As hundreds of students and perhaps thousands of volunteers descend upon the campus of Drexel University, top Democratic candidates John Edwards and Barack Obama find themselves painted into something of a corner. Each have promised their supporters, and themselves, that they will land blows against Hillary Clinton, increasingly running away with the Democratic nomination.

Rocky.jpg
Photo credit:
Susan Davis
Whether they can actually do it, however, is another question. The opportunities for candidates to establish themselves as real contenders are waning, and if Obama or Edwards do not land serious body blows soon, their chances of a twelfth-round upper cut in Iowa fade.

Each candidate has important questions to answer tonight. For Obama, who telegraphed his punch in a weekend New York Times interview, buzz is growing that supporters of his are getting restless with his failure to shake the Clinton foundations. After two efforts to change the tone of the debate amounted to little more than false starts, Obama may be forced to take a swing, and for someone unaccustomed to direct verbal jabs, anything less than a perfect swipe only hands Clinton an opportunity for a counterpunch.

Obama's long dedication, as well, to what he calls the politics of hope provides him a delicate balancing act that seems to argue for an attack. While any overt confrontations Obama begins will be greeted by cries that he abandons pretenses of an all-positive campaign, if he decides to avoid direct clashes, Democratic primary voters may wonder how he would be able to stand up to broadsides from the eventual Republican nominee, none of whom will be shy about taking him on.

For Edwards, the risk is of becoming a shrill attack dog. Edwards has done the most to draw contrasts between himself and Clinton, but none have proven terribly effective. Refusing lobbyist money and promising to remove troops from Iraq were Edwards' issues, but his contrasts are muted by the fact that Obama shares many of his policies. Ironically, it may be Edwards' criticisms that makes Clinton vulnerable to another candidate, but because Obama is the fresh new face, Edwards may not be the beneficiary of his own hard work.

If Edwards' campaign is thinking the same thing, it may be more important for the former Senator to draw his contrasts with Obama and set himself up as the Anyone But Clinton candidate.

The second tier can do almost nothing to break through, as countless debates have already shown. In hopes of winning a prominent position in tomorrow's stories, one possibility is to come to Clinton's defense and contrast not with her, but with Obama and Edwards. On the other hand, second-tier candidates this year seem unlikely to be prominent vice presidential contenders, and their campaign staffs may decide that lobbing grenades at any front-runner, at any opportunity, is their best hope.

Going into tonight's debate, in the city of brotherly love, at least two top Democratic candidates are lacing up their gloves. It is appropriate that a statue of Rocky Balboa, the world's most famous fictional boxer, stands just a short distance away on the steps of the Philadelphia Art Museum.

Kilroy Cruising?

When a member of Congress announces his or her retirement, especially in a contentious district, the incumbent party often faces a burden in avoiding a contentious primary, supporting a first-time candidate financially and reestablishing the good will the incumbent brought.

In Ohio's 15th District, where Rep. Deborah Pryce announced her retirement in August, Republicans face an even more basic challenge: Finding a candidate to begin with. The GOP has thus far failed to recruit any serious candidate, though the NRCC maintains it is a top priority. "We will have an A-list candidate sooner rather than later," NRCC press secretary Ken Spain told the Columbus Dispatch more than a month ago.

Strong candidates including former Attorney General Jim Petro, former Columbus Mayor Greg Lashutka, state Rep. Jim Hughes and State Sen. Steve Stivers have all passed on the opportunity. Only Aaron Wheeler, a pastor at Mountaintop Missionary Baptist Church, has declared on the GOP side.

Democrats will again back Franklin County Commissioner Mary Jo Kilroy, who lost to Pryce by less than one half of one percent -- just over 1000 votes -- in 2006. Kilroy has already raised more than $425,000 this year, and maintains $380,000 cash on hand, albeit with $62,000 in debt. This morning, she got more good news when EMILY's List, a powerful Washington-based group dedicated to electing pro-choice women to Congress, announced they would back her campaign.

Kilroy raised more than $2.7 million in 2006, and with EMILY's List's backing, she can expect similarly strong financial support this year.

President Bush won the district by fewer than 2500 votes, out of more than 300,000 cast, making the district one of the most competitive in the nation. But all that may not matter if Kilroy finds herself with little more than token opposition come November.

Disclosure Rules Ranked

A new report by the Campaign Disclosure Project shows some states are doing more than others to make campaign finance reports available to the public. Still, the report concludes, more states have work to do in making information available to the public. In all, 21 states improved their public disclosure systems since the last report, in 2005, while 14 states earned what the group called a failing grade.

Pacific coast states sweep the top three places, with Washington coming in first and California and Oregon trailing. In the Evergreen State, campaigns have to file disclosure reports on donors giving more than $25, with more detailed reports coming at the $100 donation level. Independent expenditures made within three weeks of an election must be reported within 24 hours, and all filings are electronic, unless a candidate spends less than $10,000. Software comes free, courtesy of the state's Public Disclosure Commission.

The report also investigated the accessibility of each state's information, and as a Washingtonian, Politics Nation can verify that Washington's system is less than perfect. Still, the state gets kudos for coming out on top for the fourth consecutive time.

The organization gave Washington an A-, the top grade this year. But more than a dozen states earned "F" grades for lack of thorough reporting requirements, inaccessibility of data and other problems. A state with weak reporting rules makes opposition and media research hard. Several failing states, including New Mexico, Delaware, Nevada and Montana, will feature hot gubernatorial or legislative elections in coming years.

Wyoming, though, earns the dubious distinction of dead last. Occupation, employer and cumulative contributions are not required, while the state doesn't require last-minute contributions to be filed until after Election Day. Expenditures, as well, can wait until after an election to be filed. Wyoming is also one of two states that posts none of its disclosure data online.

The group concluded that state-level disclosure is, in general, improving, with the most improvements coming in technological and online advances. Since 2005, five states have enacted online filing requirements, and five states added online, searchable databases of contributions or expenditures.

Find out how your state's disclosure rules stack up here.

Chavez Up In Own Poll

After a week that saw Democrats lose a top potential candidate in Nebraska, another Senate seat the party hoped to pick up looks within reach, according to a new poll. Roll Call's David Drucker writes up a poll today showing Albuquerque Mayor Martin Chavez in good position for 2008, when he hopes to retake retiring Republican Pete Domenici's Senate seat for his party.

The poll, conducted 10/8-11, surveyed 400 likely voters for a margin of error of +/- 4.9%. Lake Research Partners, a prominent Democratic polling firm, handled the survey for Chavez's campaign. Also tested was Rep. Heather Wilson, who represents Albuquerque and its suburbs.

General Election Matchup
(All / Ind)
Chavez 41 / 48
Wilson 40 / 30

Chavez, the poll suggests, is less well-known around the state and has room to grow as a candidate. Of those surveyed, 46% had a favorable impression of the mayor, while 22% viewed him unfavorably. By contrast, 48% viewed Wilson favorably and 38% unfavorably.

Pollsters will only release results that are good news for their campaign, so any internal polls that leak should be treated with a healthy dose of skepticism. But this particular poll was conducted before Rep. Steve Pearce announced his intentions to run for the seat, pitting Wilson against a strong primary challenger and potentially weakening the eventual GOP nominee.

Candidates have until February 12 to file, and the primary is likely to be held in June.

What Not To Ask

It is highly impolite to ask a person's age, and heaven knows a guess is guaranteed to insult, no matter if it's high or low. But an intrepid, and brave, reporter for the Raleigh News Observer wanted to know exactly how old North Carolina Lieutenant Gov. Beverly Perdue really is.

Perdue, Ryan Teague Beckwith noted, has recently said she was born in 1947. But earlier documents show her birthdate listed as 1948. A spokesman said she changed her date of birth in order to please her first husband, whom she divorced in 1994. That first husband was seven months younger than Perdue, something he apparently didn't like to advertise.

The issue is not going to lose an election by itself for Perdue, who is currently locked in a Democratic primary contest with State Treasurer Richard Moore to replace term-limited Gov. Mike Easley. But if any more small fibs come out, a campaign commercial could be forthcoming. A good lesson: Nothing helps a campaign more than a good researcher, and nothing hurts a campaign more than a reporter digging in old files.

Morning Thoughts: Someone's Moment

A beautifully clear Tuesday morning here in Washington. Politics Nation is headed to Philadelphia today, so stop by Pat's or Geno's -- we'll sample both. And, as one top GOP staffer advised us last night, we won't ask for swiss cheese. Here's what Washington is paying attention to today:

-- The Senate will begin roll call votes on the Amtrak Reauthorization bill this morning, and could take up the latest version of SCHIP, while the House tackles internet taxes and small business contracting. This morning, President Bush met with House Republicans at the White House.

-- Politics Nation will be gorging on cheese steaks in advance of the DNC-sanctioned Democratic debate taking place tonight on the campus of Drexel University, in the city of brotherly love. There will be little love lost tonight, though, if Barack Obama makes good on his promises to challenge Hillary Clinton more directly. Still, as Rick Klein pointed out yesterday, this is the third time in recent months that Obama has promised a more direct challenge to Clinton. The first came as early as August, while the most recent happened on CNN's Situation Room, in early October.

-- The media certainly wants a fight, and headlines today are forecasting a real battle. But the weekend New York Times interview previewing the battle raised two questions. "He certainly telegraphed that punch, which isn't always the best way to do this," Clinton backer Steve Elmendorf told The Hill. Is this Obama's way of attacking without actually attacking? The audacity, perhaps, of a head fake? Then, Elmendorf finishes the quote: "Time is running out, and they clearly know that." Have Obama's people just waited too long?

-- Meanwhile, one candidate is actually hitting Clinton with clear, sharp attacks that could gain traction, if anybody paid attention to him. Iowa is becoming more and more important to ex-Sen. John Edwards, but he seems to be losing steam there, according to the latest RCP Iowa Average. In early April, Edwards was at 31.3% and led the field. Today, he's down to 21.3%, trailing Clinton and Obama and on an obvious slope. For Edwards, tonight marks a likely turning point: Either he steps up and competes with both fellow front-runners or he descends into tedious whining. Watch how much time the MSNBC moderators give him; that's likely the deciding factor: The more time he has to make his point, the better chance he has of making it.

-- Just four presidential candidates have already spent more than $8.7 million on Iowa television ads, reports Ad Age's Ira Teinowitz. Barack Obama and Mitt Romney have doled out about $2.6 million each -- as much as John Kerry did during the whole 2004 cycle -- while Bill Richardson is at $1.9 million and Hillary Clinton is at $1.6. The kicker: With so much money, Obama, Clinton and others will dump so much money into the Hawkeye State that Christmas advertising from local businesses will be elbowed out.

-- In what will perhaps be the best show on television tonight (yes, we know the debate's on, but still...) Texas Rep. Ron Paul heads to the Tonight Show with Jay Leno at Leno's Burbank studios. The appearance will certainly boost Paul's fundraising, which has been going at an impressive pace: He's raised $2.4 million this month alone, according to his website, which updates donations in real time. The LA Times notes that already, Leno has hosted presidential candidates 11 times. Still, no Rudy Giuliani and no Hillary Clinton. They're both Letterman fans.

-- Mike Huckabee is in the midst of his latest boomlet, and this time, he may be converting the opportunity. David Yepsen today gives him a "Reagan-like spirit" and suggests the former guv could actually win the Iowa caucuses. The New York Sun suggests he may be the GOP's dark horse this year, and the latest RCP Iowa Average shows him just over half a point out of second place. How's that translating in the money race? Marc Ambinder says pretty well: He's pulled in $700,000 online this month, a much faster clip than his first and second quarter pace, and about $5,000 a day better than the third quarter. Could this boomlet actually pan out?

-- Bad Headline Of The Day: "Thompson, in rare trip to state, promises more visits." So heads the Concord Monitor after Fred Thompson filed for the Granite State primary ballot yesterday in just his second visit. With just over two months before primary day, Thompson celebrated the grand opening of his Manchester headquarters and belted out this gem, by way of explaining his absence: "Every time you're somewhere, that means you're not somewhere else."

-- Today On The Trail: Paul is in Burbank and Democrats are in Philadelphia tonight. Before he gets to Drexel University, Bill Richardson heads to Concord to file for the primary. For the rest of the GOP, John McCain joins Jewish leaders for a forum in New York, Mitt Romney is in Chicago, where he holds a press availability, Rudy Giuliani participates in an NFIB conference call, and Fred Thompson announces new endorsements in Sacramento.

SCHIP Will Never Die

Two days from Halloween and some House Republicans must be thinking they've seen a reincarnation of Dracula. The State Children's Health Insurance Program is back again, and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is targeting seven more members on the new version of the bill, which passed the House last week.

Reps. Richard Baker (R-LA), Steve Chabot (R-OH), Kenny Hulshof (R-MO), Ric Keller (R-FL), Joe Knollenberg (R-MI), Peter Roskam (R-IL) and John Shadegg (R-AZ) are all under fire for their votes on the bill, which passed without a margin wide enough to override a veto. Still, with Democrats bringing the bill up over and over, these seven, and other potentially vulnerable members, are certainly searching for the mythical silver bullet or a few cloves of garlic.

Gregg Endorses

Sen. Judd Gregg, dean of the New Hampshire congressional delegation, will endorse Mitt Romney today at the state capitol, the Union Leader reports this morning. Gregg will join Romney before the former governor treks across the street to file papers to officially become a candidate on the New Hampshire ballot. A top Gregg adviser, Tom Rath, was an early Romney backer.

Gregg's endorsement means two of the Granite State's four members of Congress have chosen a candidate. Freshman Democratic Rep. Paul Hodes threw his support behind Barack Obama in July. Spokespeople for Democratic Rep. Carol Shea-Porter and Republican Sen. John Sununu were not immediately available to answer questions about whether their bosses would endorse.

Former Gov. Jeanne Shaheen, who is running against Sununu in 2008, is not backing a candidate, though her husband Bill is supporting Hillary Clinton. And Gov. John Lynch, also a Democrat, has remained neutral thus far.

No one from the Iowa delegation has publicly picked a candidate, though several South Carolinians have endorsed. Sen. Jim DeMint is on Romney's team, while Sen. Lindsey Graham is backing John McCain. Rep. Gresham Barrett is on board with former Sen. Fred Thompson.

Evaluating Huckabee

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee is, by many accounts, someone the Republican Party could use to bring independents into the GOP fold. He's pro-life and pro-gun, and as he likes to say, he's conservative but he's not angry at anyone about it. George Bush's compassionate conservativism may not have played out for him, but for Huckabee, the label fits.

An ordained minister, Huckabee outperforms his fellow candidates in debates, and while he has yet to offer detailed policy proposals on a number of issues, he has important backers among social conservatives, especially from backers of home schooling and those advocating the so-called Fair Tax. Put him up against any Democratic vice presidential nominee in a debate and he draws clear contrasts, plus he would run circles around any but the best debaters.

So why are many in the conservative base writing him off completely? Huckabee, some conservatives assert, was a liberal when it came to taxes, social welfare spending and immigration, writes the Washington Times today.

It's an argument the anti-tax Club for Growth has been pushing for months. The group has gone so far as to run radio ads against Huckabee in Iowa, and their goal is clear: While few think Huckabee can win the GOP nomination, the Club wants to remove him from consideration as a potential veep.

Rule number one for vice presidential pickers: The choice must do no harm. By making Huckabee radioactive, the Club and other groups, including Phyllis Schlafly's Eagle Forum, hope to keep him off a Giuliani- or Romney-led ticket, both of whom would benefit from a Southern social conservative on the ticket.

Still, will the groups' efforts work? One prominent Republican strategist working for a front-runner this year literally laughed at the idea when asked by Politics Nation. No way, the strategist said, would small, inside-the-Beltway groups be major factors in eliminating Huckabee from Vice Presidential consideration. If the Club and Schlafly decide to redouble their efforts, look for more nasty ads before Huckabee faces the veep vetting process.

Morning Thoughts: Calendar Concerns

Good Monday morning. Let last night be a lesson: There's absolutely no reason to take eight days off between jobs. And really, does Bill Belichick need any more enemies? Aside from gloating Red Sox fans, here's what Washington is looking at today:

-- The Senate this afternoon takes up the Amtrak Reauthorization bill, though no roll call votes are scheduled. The House takes up bills to repair dams, recover from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita and improve safety for miners. Several committees are holding field hearings today, including the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, which will investigate Chicago's transportation needs for its 2016 Olympic bid. President Bush, meanwhile, raises money for the Pennsylvania GOP in Bryn Mawr, then hosts a reception for Rep. Steve Chabot in Cincinnati.

-- Late last night, Iowa Democrats officially set January 3rd as their caucus date. Party chair Scott Brennan, in a statement, said keeping the first caucuses in the same calendar year as the general election is an "important common-sense principle." How much did Brennan have New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner in mind when he said that?

-- Speaking of Iowa, something for a certain campaign based on hope to consider, per the Des Moines Register: You're wildly popular with college students, many of whom would vote for you in huge numbers at caucus sites around the University of Iowa, Iowa State or any one of the many different campuses around the state. But on January 3rd, those students will wake up late, roll out of bed and go hang out with Mom and Dad in the middle of Winter Break. Which is more effective, 300 college kids in a room yelling and screaming for Obama, or one college kid in 300 rooms doing his or her best to convince their neighbors to vote for Obama? Given the requirements of caucusing, and the practice some of those students' older neighbors will have, that one college kid will have a rough time winning votes.

-- A new study from the Project for Excellence in Journalism, due out today, suggests the mainstream media never gave some candidates a fighting chance. Sens. Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and John McCain, along with former Gov. Mitt Romney and ex-Mayor Rudy Giuliani, won more than half the coverage of the presidential race, despite the 17 candidates who are or were a part of the field. Obama won the most friendly press, McCain got the most negative, and Clinton and Giuliani got more negative than positive stories. Meanwhile, and this will make GOPers go nuts, Democrats still got more coverage and more positive press than Republicans.

-- One of those lesser-known candidates, Rep. Tom Tancredo, says he's done by the end of the year. Tancredo told the Rocky Mountain News last night, after the Rockies lost to the BoSox, that win or lose the presidency, this will be his last year in the House. The five-term member of Congress from Denver's southeast suburbs will leave a safe Republican district -- it gave President Bush 60% in both his presidential bids, outpacing Tancredo's margins of victory. Tancredo has been hinting that he would like to take on Sen. Ken Salazar when the freshman runs for re-election in 2010.

-- McCain gets another negative story, kind of, today as Paul Kane points out that the Senator, who last week said he regretted missing Woodstock, that "pharmaceutical event," because he was tied up at the time (to wild, standing ovation) actually missed the vote on the earmark he was criticizing. McCain hasn't been around for 52% of the Senate votes this year, the most among Senators running for president and second only to Sen. Tim Johnson, who was sidelined with a brain aneurysm. Still, McCain gets to cut the television spots, and we doubt anyone will hit him back on that. But it seems like missed votes are always a story.

-- A question that will determine the outcome of the GOP field: Which state is more important, New Hampshire or South Carolina? NYT's Michael Luo says South Carolina can give Fred Thompson the boost needed to win. Meanwhile, Fred Barnes (and Isaac Chotiner) thinks only Giuliani and Romney have scenarios that will enable them to win. And Romney's depends on New Hampshire.

-- Overserved Of The Day: Choosing Nevada to hold an early caucus was a bust, and it's the Boston Globe -- neighbor to New Hampshire, which complained incessantly about the move -- who writes the story first, in yesterday's paper. Voters just aren't interested yet, and it takes a while to learn to caucus, the Globe writes. National Journal, which keeps track of campaign visits, estimates the eight Democratic candidates have taken 50 trips to the Silver State this year, while Barack Obama and Bill Richardson alone have taken more trips to Iowa. Richardson leads the Nevada pack, with eleven visits.

-- Today On The Trail: Mitt Romney files for the New Hampshire ballot in Concord today, then holds town hall meetings in Manchester and Nashua. Rudy Giuliani holds a health care roundtable in Manchester and a town hall in Londonderry before heading to Hartford, Connecticut. Fred Thompson files candidacy papers in person, after last week's snafu, in Concord, then hosts the grand opening of his Manchester offices. On the Democratic side, John Edwards files his own papers, gives a major speech in Manchester and holds meetings in Exeter and Portsmouth. And Barack Obama holds an MTV/MySpace presidential dialogue in Cedar Rapids, followed by a fundraiser in Charlottesville, Virginia.

McConnell In Trouble?

Republicans crowed recently when a Nevada poll showed public opinion of Sen. Harry Reid, the Democratic leader, tanking. But Reid doesn't face voters until 2010. A new poll, conducted by Research 2000, shows Democrats the MoveOn crowd, which has for months blasted Kentucky Republican Mitch McConnell, Reid's GOP counterpart, with negative ads, may have a point -- the Republican leader's reelection numbers are less than stellar.

The poll, conducted 10/22-24, surveyed 600 likely voters for a +/- 4% margin of error. The Lexington Herald-Leader and WTVQ-TV commissioned the survey, which tested McConnell against Rep. Ben Chandler, Attorney General Greg Stumbo, State Auditor Crit Luallen and 2006 Congressional candidate Andrew Horne.

General Election Matchups
(All / Men / Wom / Dem / GOP / Ind)
McConnell 46 / 50 / 42 / 14 / 84 / 42
Chandler 41 / 38 / 44 / 71 / 7 / 42

McConnell 46 / 49 / 43 / 14 / 84 / 43
Stumbo 37 / 35 / 39 / 65 / 7 / 34

McConnell 45 / 50 / 40 / 14 / 82 / 42
Luallen 40 / 36 / 44 / 70 / 7 / 41

McConnell 45 / 49 / 41 / 14 / 81 / 44
Horne 34 / 32 / 36 / 59 / 6 / 35

McConnell's favorability rating stands at 47%, compared with 46% who view him unfavorably. With so few people undecided about McConnell, his path to re-election is made easier by virtue of the fact that the state's senior senator need not introduce himself to the electorate again. He can simply spend his time and money driving up an opponent's unfavorable rating.

Still, if Democrats managed to recruit either Chandler or Luallen, the seat could become one of the important Senate races to watch next year. Chandler and Luallen have favorability ratings of 57% and 56%, respectively. McConnell also does not begin a campaign with great job approval numbers. Just 45% approve of his performance, while 46% disapprove, including 53% of independents and 61% of self-described moderates.

The race would be an uphill battle for Democrats. But it's not the Matterhorn -- and some party activists, remembering the 2004 campaign, in which former Rep. John Thune knocked off then-Democratic leader Tom Daschle in South Dakota, with the assistance of then-Majority Leader Bill Frist, may be spoiling for enough of a fight that they'll try anything to beat McConnell.

Rethinking McCain

Here's an intriguing thought: With Rudy Giuliani and Fred Thompson spending little time in Iowa, virtually ceding the territory to Mitt Romney, there are still a lot of undecided voters looking for a candidate. That vacuum isn't right for a Ron Paul -- caucus-goers are too traditionally Republican. Mike Huckabee's doing all he can to fill it, but he doesn't have the money. And try as they might, no one is seriously considering Duncan Hunter or Tom Tancredo.

That leaves John McCain. What if we've been looking at the effect of Giuliani and Thompson taking a pass all wrong? Here's a new angle: With the big candidates out, Iowa provides the oxygen for smaller candidates to grow. Could John McCain's campaign find its rebirth not in New Hampshire, but in Iowa?

If they didn't think so , we wonder why McCain's people have dropped two rounds of mail, hitting more than 100,000 households, in the past two weeks. Jonathan Martin has copies of both. McCain doesn't have to win in Iowa, and given the commitment Romney has shown to the state, he likely won't. But a strong second-place showing would make McCain an important part of the stories for the next week. It would be just the boost McCain needs going into New Hampshire.

We've said it before, we'll say it again: Don't count McCain out of this race. He's going to be a difference-maker, one way or another (By the way, we argued that very point in an article today).

Quote Of The Week

From yesterday's Marketplace, on NPR:

"I'm willing to work with any president in the next election, no matter who she is."

-- A confident Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-NY), who is, of course, backing fellow New Yorker Sen. Hillary Clinton.

Friday Funnies

A hotel in Brattleboro, Vermont, where Rep. Tom Tancredo stayed during a recent visit to neighboring New Hampshire, was raided recently by law enforcement officials looking for, what else, illegal immigrants. Tancredo told the Rocky Mountain News' M.E. Sprengelmeyer that he was surprised to hear about the raid, which also netted owner Gurdeep Nagra, a Canadian citizen.

The raids, at a Hampton Inn and a Quality Inn, netted a total of 14 workers whose immigration status was questioned. Seriously, coming so soon after a Tancredo visit? Sure, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement investigation reportedly began about a year ago, but sometimes there are just too many coincidences.

Also today, another example of an increasingly important lesson for Democrats: Do not irritate the Netroots. They have a long memory. Rep. Brian Baird, the Washington State Democrat who traveled to Iraq recently and came back saying he believed the surge was working, has been on the receiving end of some rough talk from lefty bloggers.

Now Baird is looking for a new communications director. Open Left's headline: "Want to Become a Rightwing [sic] Cable Booker?" Baird is a relatively liberal member of the Washington State delegation, though being out of step on the war is enough for excommunication.

First House Dem Out

Rep. Michael McNulty will call it quits after ten terms in Congress, the Albany Times Union reports. McNulty, who is expected to announce his plans at an event Monday, becomes the first Democrat to announce he will not seek re-election.

The open district is of little help to Republicans, though. Democrats outnumber GOP voters by about 50,000, as Al Gore carried the seat 56%-39% and John Kerry won it 55%-43%.

The Times Union points to Democrats Brian Stratton, mayor of Schenectady, Bethlehem State Sen. Neil Breslin and Hillary Clinton aide Tracey Brooks. Assemblyman George Amedore could be a solid Republican candidate.

Morning Thoughts: Stupid Boston

Let's see, the Patriots are undefeated, the Sox take a 2-0 lead back to Denver, Boston College survives -- in Blacksburg -- to remain number two, and the new-look Celtics are all anyone in the NBA talks about besides Kobe. Boston fans never, ever, get to complain again. Aside from that, happy Friday, and this is what we're watching today:

-- The Senate is in session, but there are no votes today, while the House is out of session. President Bush meets with Democratic Republic of Congo President Joseph Kabila at the White House, DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff speaks to the International Association of Fire Chiefs, and Defense Secretary Robert Gates gets to go home, somewhat, when he receives the 2007 George (H.W.) Bush Award for Excellence in Public Service at Texas A&M University, where Gates was president until being nominated as Pentagon chief.

-- After Iowa Democratic Party chairman Scott Brennan suggested his central committee vote to hold the caucuses on the same day as the state's GOP, January 3rd, New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner told the Union Leader's John DiStaso the move clears the way for the Granite State to hold their first in the nation primary in January, rather than December. It ain't pretty, but for now, it appears, a major calendar crisis has been averted. DiStaso's counterpart, David Yepsen, thinks January 3rd helps John Edwards. Adam Smith of the St. Pete Times thinks the resolution helps Florida.

-- Elsewhere on the presidential campaign trail, Texas Rep. Ron Paul is finally doing something with all that money he's raised, according to the New York Times. Next week, the campaign will roll out its first big television ad campaign, committing $1.1 million to ads in New Hampshire over the following six weeks. That level of spending won't compete with Mitt Romney, who has his personal fortune to thank, but with Paul already at 7% in one poll -- fourth in the state -- he could become a serious headache for the three candidates running ahead of him. And by the way, what will the mainstream media think of a candidate who finishes behind Paul in an early state? We're looking at you, Senator Thompson.

-- Hillary Clinton turns 60 today, and the AP gives her a nice present, with Nedra Pickler writing that the Democratic race is hers to lose. Making matters worse for the Democratic field, CNN Political Ticker found the story running in the Quad City (Iowa) Times. The last thing Barack Obama and John Edwards need now is Clinton's sense of inevitability creeping into Iowa.

-- Obama's campaign has been distracted lately by the controversy over a pastor and gospel singer whose views on gays and lesbians are not as progressive as the candidate's. In fact, Donnie McClurkin's views are exactly those that rile up the GLBT community -- that homosexuality can be cured, that homosexuality is akin to drug addiction and alcoholism, and, for some reason, that gays are trying to kill children. Now some in the lefty blogosphere are taking Obama to task for trying to stick by McClurkin, John Aravosis being the most strident voice thus far. Politics Nation thought Floyd Mayweather's battery charges were going to be worse for Obama; we appear to have been mistaken. Still, every day his campaign is dealing with this crisis is a day it is not attacking Clinton.

-- In Kentucky, things still look bad for Gov. Ernie Fletcher. A new Research 2000 poll shows the incumbent trailing former Lieutenant Gov. Steve Beshear 55%-40%, virtually the same as the last R2K poll, in mid-September, which showed Beshear leading 56%-39%. Fletcher, whose administration has been marred by scandal and who was himself indicted on three misdemeanor charges, is the first Republican to hold the governor's mansion since Louie Nunn left office in 1971.

-- Republicans will probably lose Kentucky, but they got some good news yesterday when former Washington State Senator Dino Rossi announced he would make another bid for governor, once again challenging Democrat Christine Gregoire. Rossi won two machine counts of the ballots in 2004, then lost a hand recount by fewer than 150 votes, the closest election in state history. Rossi has a ways to go before he catches up with Gregoire financially, but he begins the race in good political position and will make Washington a state to watch next year.

-- Good Point Of The Day: NYT's Jim Rutenberg points out what we're all thinking: The memos presidential campaigns send out are nothing more than talking points made fancy. Rutenberg's got one from the McCain campaign, purportedly leaked, that suggests Rudy Giuliani has created the false premise that he's the most electable. Marc Ambinder takes a look at dueling memos from the Clinton and Obama camps. The only thing the memos really mean: There are too many political reporters to have phone conversations with, so why not just distribute what a press flak would say in those conversations in memo form?

-- Today On The Trail: John Edwards makes two stops in Des Moines, followed by town hall meetings in Boone, Iowa Falls and Forest City, while wife Elizabeth stops in Brentwood, Concord and Milton, New Hampshire. Barack Obama fundraises in Columbus, Ohio, while his wife Michelle stumps in Hampton, Eagle Grove, Algona and Mason City, Iowa. Joe Biden participates in an AARP forum in Manchester and keynotes a fundraiser for local Democrats in Derry. Also today, Dennis Kucinich files his candidacy papers in Concord. On the GOP side, John McCain makes stops in Sioux City, Sheldon and Rock Rapids, Iowa. Mike Huckabee rallies in Moville and rocks out with his band in Clear Lake, Iowa, while Mitt Romney holds town halls in West Des Moines, Mt. Pleasant and Fort Madison. Ron Paul addresses the Arab American Institute in Dearborn.

No Brownbacking Today

THE CAPITOL -- Sen. Sam Brownback and former Mayor Rudy Giuliani sat down for what Brownback called an "excellent meeting" today in Brownback's Senate office this afternoon. Still, said Brownback, Giuliani won't benefit from his support just yet. "I am not making any endorsement at this time," Brownback told gathered reporters.

Giuliani, seeking to ameliorate concerns among conservatives that his positions on life and same sex marriage issues were more liberal than the Republican base, thanked Brownback for his time and advice, and seemed to make some headway with Brownback. "I'm much more confident on the mayor's positions," Brownback said.

Brownback cited Giuliani's promises to appoint strict constructionist judges in the molds of John Roberts and Sam Alito as evidence that the New Yorker's positions were compatible with his own. Giuliani, though, promised not to impose a litmus test on any nominee.

Giuliani has used the promise to appoint conservative judges as a tool to circumvent his past statements, which many social conservatives take to be virtually pro-choice.

Addressing reports that he may have been the subject of a discussion by leaders of prominent New York mob families in the 1980s, Giuliani said he did not recall that particular threat. Other threats, he said, had been relayed to him by the FBI, which he praised for protecting him during his time as a federal prosecutor.

Giuliani's Tardiness

When will Rudy Giuliani's constant tardiness, a subject on which we've heard many complaints lately, come back to haunt him? Iowa voters don't like it. New Hampshire voters don't like it. Sitting Senators certainly don't appreciate it.

He's already 20 minutes late to his meeting with Sen. Sam Brownback. Could this be the day?

Mark Your Calendars

The Iowa Democratic Party Central Committee is scheduled to meet this Sunday at 8 p.m., when they will discuss a date on which to hold the caucuses, according to Radio Iowa and The Page. IDP spokesperson Carrie Giddens confirms to both that state chairman Scott Brennan will recommend to the Central Committee that they hold the caucuses on January 3rd, the same date state Republicans will hold their caucuses.

Now that Iowa has set their schedule, it's New Hampshire's move next. Asked to wager, Politics Nation would put chips on January 8th as the date Secretary of State Bill Gardner sets for the Granite State primary, followed by Michigan one week later.

Regardless of the next move, at least the Iowa piece of the puzzle is in place.

In Remembrance

Five years ago today, a plane carrying Sen. Paul Wellstone, his wife, daughter and several campaign aides crashed en route to a funeral in Northern Minnesota. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid just sent out a statement remembering Wellstone. Read the statement after the jump.

Washington, DC -- Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid made the following statement today on the floor of the U.S. Senate:

"Five years ago today, the Senate family lost one of its hardest working and most respected members - Senator Paul David Wellstone, as well as his wonderful wife, Sheila, one of his three children, Marcia, and three of his campaign aides.

"In his life, Paul Wellstone earned the titles of Doctor, Professor and Senator. But he wanted to be known only as Paul. That is how we knew him, and that is what I will call him now.

"A colleague of mine since he joined the Senate in 1991, Paul was a tireless crusader for all Americans. But, particularly for those who needed help the most. The poor and left behind, veterans, the environment and those with mental illness were his special concern. He took pride in championing the fight for people needing a helping hand.

"He, himself, knew a lot about growing up with adversity. His brother suffered from mental illness, and his parents worked hard but didn't have much. But this remarkable man overcame those challenges - with sheer grit and determination - to make something of himself. And did he ever.

"He earned a wrestling scholarship to the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, where he married his high-school sweetheart, earned an Atlantic Coast Conference wrestling championship, and managed to graduate in just three years. After college, he earned a Ph.D. in political science and became a college professor at the tender age of 24.

"Even then, years before his service in the Senate, Paul was a true believer, an impassioned fighter for justice. While teaching at Carleton College, he led the charge to divest the university from Apartheid South Africa. He helped local farmers when banks came to foreclose their farms. And he fostered a new generation of active, civic-minded students by teaching specialized courses like 'Social Movements' and 'Grassroots Organizing.'

"There were some who said that for an untenured professor, teaching activism and leading campus protests wasn't the smartest career move. In fact, when Paul came up for tenure, he was initially denied. It took a groundswell of student support - thousands of students rallied on his behalf - to keep his job and secure his tenure. That made him, at 28, the youngest tenured professor in the history of Carleton College.

"So when he arrived in the Senate, it came as no surprise that he brought a fearless progressive spirit with him. I recall observers comparing him to Jimmy Stewart's character in 'Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.' He was idealistic, determined, and most importantly, effective. He came here refusing to be fazed by the politics of division - refusing to be fazed by business as usual.

"I don't think the phrase 'status quo' was in Paul's vocabulary. Wherever he saw injustice, intolerance, or simply ineffectiveness, he stepped forward. When he found injustice in the treatment of the mentally ill, he stepped forward - to ensure parity for sufferers of what were known as 'unspoken' illnesses when it came to insurance caps. When he found injustice in the treatment of our veterans, he stepped forward to help them - especially those who were homeless. When he found injustice in the way our earth was treated, he stepped forward - to protect the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge from drilling.

"Paul never hesitated, paused or pondered. He stepped forward. He was a leader. Many wondered how this fire-breathing progressive was able to accomplish so much in his time here. The answer is that he believed in bipartisanship and actively embraced it. It was never a surprise to see Paul team up with one or more of the Senate's most conservative members to get something done for the people of his beloved home state of Minnesota or throughout the country.

"During his time here, Washington never changed him, not one bit. He left this earth with the same idealism and passion he always had. Paul once said, 'Never separate the life you live from the words you speak.' He lived by that rule.

"I recall that when he first arrived in the Senate, he arrived one morning in his office to find that things had been cleaned and tidied over night. He asked a member of his staff how this had happened. The staffer explained that the Senate employs custodians who clean and maintain the offices late at night. True to form, that night Paul stayed very late - well into the night - long past the time his staff had left. He stayed so he could meet the people who cleaned his office - to introduce himself, shake their hands, and thank them for the work they did.

"In a nutshell, that was Paul. We often refer to our colleagues here in the Senate as 'my friend,' and it is true that many of us are friends. But no one had more friends among colleagues than Paul Wellstone. No one was more admired. The loss of his presence here has been felt and missed every single day. His sons, David and Mark, and the entire Wellstone family, are all in our hearts."

Dems Raiding Others' Camps

Two reports today show the Democratic race is condensing around Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, and that both have no qualms about robbing support from other Democratic candidates.

Clinton, the Wall Street Journal reports today, will hold a massive fundraiser at Union Station in Washington on December 6th. The event is expected to draw between 2,000 and 3,000 attendees, but here's what drew our attention: "The location is no accident, says a lobbyist who's among the planners (though publicly still aligned with a rival Democrat): The metaphorical message is, it's time to get on board."

The emphasis is ours, and it's telling: With growing leads in the polls, Democratic insiders are jumping on the bandwagon as fast as possible. And that's bad news for whichever rival Democrat that lobbyist was backing -- and for every other rival Democrat.

Meanwhile, the last Democratic administration produced the experts and big names who run the party's policy apparatus now. And despite the last name on that administration, many former Clintonites are defecting to Obama's campaign, the Boston Globe reports.

In the Globe's backyard, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, a former Clinton Justice Department official, threw his weight behind Obama, joining former Clinton cabinet members Frederico Pena and Bill Daley, top foreign policy minds Tony Lake and Susan Rice and others. A few other former Clinton administration officials have backed other candidates, but Obama has been the prime winner of administration ex-patriots.

Endorsements on their own mean little, but collectively show a campaign's momentum. Whether it's being inspired by Obama's message or being nudged by Clinton's inevitability, the window has likely closed for any other Democratic candidate.

Morning Thoughts: Mending Fences

Good Thursday morning. We think Fall is finally upon us. Here's what Washington is frigidly paying attention to this morning:

-- The Senate considers a bill to improve the passenger rail system in the United States, while the House revives SCHIP, producing a version that makes clear that illegal immigrants are not covered, makes sure adults without children aren't covered after one year, and that no one over 300% of the poverty line is covered. Republicans call the changes little more than cosmetic, while Democrats hope the changes are enough to convince a few more GOPers to vote to override the impending veto.

-- President Bush is, as you read, on his way to Southern California to tour the fire destruction. He's going to join his FEMA Director, and we guess David Paulsen will not become "heck of a job, Paulie." DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff is also already on the ground, and has been there since Tuesday.

-- Henry Waxman is making the White House's life miserable, writes Jonathan Weisman in an A-01 story. Today, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, fresh off being harangued at a Foreign Affairs Committee hearing yesterday, appears before Waxman's Oversight and Government Reform Committee to answer questions about the costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which could run to $2.4 trillion. "Waxman has become the Bush administration's worst nightmare: A Democrat in the majority with subpoena power and the inclination to overturn rocks," Weisman writes. More than two dozen investigations are already underway, and Waxman says these are just the "low-hanging fruit."

-- Rudy Giuliani is still doing his best to mend fences with the religious right today as he sits down with Sen. Sam Brownback, who dropped his own presidential bid last week. From the beginning, Brownback has predicted Giuliani would not be the GOP nominee because he's not pro-life, as he reiterated last week, to the LA Times' Andrew Malcolm. If Giuliani can somehow get Brownback on his side, he will have rebuilt one important bridge to social conservatives.

-- Howard Dean has some fences to mend as well. As the DNC's Rules and Bylaws Committee prepares to strip Michigan of its delegates for violating the February 5th window, Dean is headed to Oakland County to address the local party's annual Phil Hart Dinner, per WSJ's Susan Davis. For a small donation, Michigan Democrats can guarantee their spot at the dinner and speak with Dean. Here's betting more than a few give the former governor a piece of their mind.

-- And a new New Hampshire poll, from St. Anselm College and SRBI Research, shows Hillary Clinton well ahead of her Democratic rivals, and Mitt Romney widening the gap on the GOP side. Bad news for many front-running candidates: John McCain doesn't need to hear that 41% of undeclared voters will choose Democratic ballots, while just 19% will choose GOP ballots. McCain won the state largely on the strength of independent voters in 2000. Fred Thompson, already thinking the state won't be his best bet, saw his support shrink to 5%, good for sixth place behind Mike Huckabee (6%) and Ron Paul (7%!!!). For Barack Obama, his 22% is just over half of Clinton's support, and, writes Stu Rothenberg, a Clinton victory here "would all but guarantee her the Democratic nomination if she also wins the Iowa Democratic Caucuses."

-- Not exactly what Senate Republicans need right now: We heard rumblings about this last week, but it seems that Sen. Larry Craig has RSVP'd for a big NRSC fundraiser on Sea Island, Georgia, for early next month, according to The Sleuth. The NRSC had rescinded Craig's invitation, and their staff called the senator's staff to explain why. If he shows up, we've heard, the hotel will mysteriously be all booked up.

-- Stat Of The Day: Whatever Republicans say, writes Paul Kane, Congress has been anything but do-nothing this year. Yesterday, the House cast its 1000th roll call vote of the year, more than any previous Congress achieved. Still, Republicans say the number of votes means nothing, because House Democrats are "measuring quantity, not quality," said GOP Conference Chairman Adam Putnam.

-- Today On The Trail: Mitt Romney talks health care in Manchester, then holds town hall events in Hooksett and Exeter. John McCain holds a town hall meeting in Sioux Center, then meets residents in Le Mars, Iowa. McCain and Mike Huckabee also participate in an AARP forum in Sioux City. On the Democratic side, Bill Richardson is in Albuquerque with his local IBEW, Joe Biden and Dennis Kucinich are in Washington for a Kaiser Family Foundation forum, and John Edwards is in Corning, Bedford and Indianola, Iowa. Oh, and Hillary Clinton is celebrating her last day as a 50-something, with a birthday party including former President Clinton and some close friends -- headlined by Elvis Costello and the Wallflowers -- in New York. Her actual birthday is tomorrow.

Ah, The Good Ol' Days

Many people joked that, on Heath Shuler's first day in Washington as a Congressman, rather than a quarterback, he still managed to throw a few interceptions. Well, on Monday night, Shuler did throw two picks, in the annual Longest Yard Football Classic.

Shuler quarterbacked for the team made up of members of Congress as they took on a team of Capitol Police officers. As usual, the cops beat the bad guys, by a whopping 28-0 score. The event raised $30,000 for the Capitol Police Memorial Fund.

A State Of (Cham)Bliss

A Strategic Vision (R) poll shows Sen. Saxby Chambliss looking like a safe bet for re-election. The survey, of 800 likely voters, was conducted between 10/19-21, for a margin of error of +/- 3%. Chambliss was tested alongside Democrats Vernon Jones, CEO of DeKalb County, former investigative reporter Dale Cardwell, environmental engineer Rand Knight and Vietnam veteran Josh Lanier.

General Election Matchups
Chambliss 57
Jones 28

Chambliss 58
Cardwell 26

Chambliss 58
Knight 25

Chambliss 58
Lanier 24

Chambliss has a less than perfect 52% approval rating, while 36% disapprove. President Bush's job approval is in negative territory -- 36% to 49% -- while Congress has an even worse 18% approval rating. One plus-side for Democrats: Without a better, top-tier candidate, the party will probably find their baseline vote in the state.

Kerrey Won't Run In Nebraska

Washington Democrats were handed a setback today when former Nebraska Sen. Bob Kerrey announced he would not run to replace retiring Sen. Chuck Hagel, a Republican. As Hagel announced he would step down, Kerrey's name was widely circulated as a potential candidate, and he even visited Washington to discuss the race with Senate Democratic leaders.

The move means Democrats will now reach out to second-tier candidates Mike Fahey, mayor of Omaha, and 2006 Congressional Candidate Scott Kleeb. The winner of the Democratic primary will face off against either former Gov. Mike Johanns, who recently resigned as Agriculture Secretary, or Attorney General Jon Bruning, who are running against each other in the GOP race.

Johanns, who remains widely popular in the state, is considered the favorite in both contests.

Prez Race Good For Party Infrastructure

Never let it be said that a presidential election year isn't great business for state and local parties. Iowa Democrats charge $50,000 if you buy their voter lists early. The Iowa Republican Party brought in more than $1 million for the straw poll in Ames in August. Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin raised lord knows how much at his annual Steak Fry in Indianola last month. Plus, candidates flock to annual party events in New Hampshire and South Carolina.

But other states can benefit as well. Sen. Hillary Clinton spent Monday night at the Washington State Democrats' annual Maggie Awards banquet, named for the late Sen. Warren Magnuson, and pulled in more cash than any single event in state party history. More than 1200 people showed up at Benaroya Hall in Seattle. The event raised $170,000, which party spokesman Michael King says is "by far" the biggest in Evergreen State history.

GOP Narrows Its Scope

Back to something we touched on briefly in Morning Thoughts: How are campaigns deciding where to put their resources? Recent trends and FEC filings show a pretty clear-cut picture, and while no campaign will admit to pulling out of an important primary state, some candidates are barely investing in what they think would be a lost cause for them.

The Des Moines Register has an important breakdown of how campaigns are spending their time and money in Iowa these days. Mitt Romney, polling first with 26.3% in the latest RCP Iowa Average, 11 points higher than Fred Thompson and 12.5 points higher than Mike Huckabee, has clearly invested the most in the state. He has by far the most staff, 67 (next highest number: Thompson and Rudy Giuliani, with 12 each) has run the only television ads, and has won the most state legislator endorsements, at 15.

Other campaigns, it appears, have all but ceded Iowa to Romney. Yes, as John McIntyre wrote this weekend, Huckabee has a shot at winning Iowa. But the caucuses take organization, and with 67 staffers versus just eight, Romney can outwork the Huckabee campaign many times over. And if, as they say, Rudy Giuliani is not giving up on the state, why would he stay away for more than two months, before returning last week? A Thompson adviser told Politics Nation last week that the campaign will make a serious push for Iowa, but none has emerged thus far.

For the GOP, the real first fight will come in New Hampshire. Romney leads in the state by just 4.2 points, according to the latest RCP New Hampshire Average. Romney's lead was much bigger, though Giuliani has pulled closer over the end of the summer. As in 2004, John McCain will make a strong push in the Granite State -- he's visited a total of 17 times, more than any candidate save Romney, at 28, according to numbers compiled by The Hotline.

Meanwhile, writes The Hill, Thompson is again largely absent from New Hampshire. He will go so far, a source says, as to send a surrogate to Concord to file candidacy papers for him. In a state where candidates file, then offer a speech and get pages of free media, surrogate campaigning is frowned upon, to say the least. State GOP chair Fergus Cullen offers this shot: "We would welcome him here to start campaigning any day now."

After New Hampshire holds its primary, Michigan is next in line, slated to hold its primary on January 15. The latest RCP Michigan Average has Romney up 5.2% over Giuliani, though the two latest polls show Giuliani leading narrowly -- and an Insider Advantage Poll has the four top-running candidates within five points of each other. Our bet: If Romney or Giuliani's campaigns decide they might lose New Hampshire, watch for a surge of advertisements in Michigan to prevent any more blood loss. If either, or both, decide to dump money into the Wolverine State, will Thompson be able to spend here as well?

Thompson's first real shot at a victory looks like it will come in South Carolina, where he trails Giuliani by just 0.2 points in the latest RCP South Carolina Average. Romney, who had trouble getting traction in the Palmetto State over the first eight months or so of the campaign, goes up with a new ad in the state today, and has recently signaled he will invest heavily in the state, which could spell trouble for Thompson and Giuliani.

Giuliani and Romney will spend resources in the Palmetto State, and Thompson, it seems, is banking on being "the" Southern candidate. Whether or not he can actually win a state at all, much less the nomination, will likely depend on how he does in the first Southern state to cast its ballots.

Romney will likely win Iowa. Romney, Giuliani or McCain will likely win New Hampshire. Romney and Giuliani have leads in Michigan that would be expensive to beat. And Thompson, Romney and Giuliani are all in the hunt in South Carolina. Campaigns have narrowed their focuses to states they can win. Now, it seems, whichever candidate is given the snowball mantle first can roll through February 5th and on to the nomination. Unlike the Democratic field, this one is anyone's ballgame.

Morning Thoughts: Lessons From Katrina

It's Wednesday morning, and in Boston, the Sox and the Rockies are taking their final warmups in advance of game one of the World Series. Game two tomorrow, also from Boston, then the Rockies complete the sweep in games three and four, in Colorado, over the weekend. Aside from the Rockies, here's what Washington is paying attention to:

-- The Senate today takes procedural votes on the nomination of Leslie Southwick to federal court, and on a bill that would allow children of some illegal immigrants to remain in the U.S. The House Budget Committee begins to take a look at the costs of the war in Iraq, in a morning hearing, and the House Foreign Affairs Committee quizzes Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Middle East policy. The fight to watch: The House Rules Committee mmeets today to formulate a rule for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which bars employment discrimination against gays and lesbians. When the bill hits the floor, it will likely top papers around the country. Meanwhile, during a Democratic caucus meeting yesterday, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer told rank and file members that the House will likely be in session at least through the first two weeks of December, writes CQ.

-- President Bush learned his lesson from the delayed response to Hurricane Katrina, as the White House is pointing out. The president holds a teleconference today on the California wildfires, and FEMA chief David Paulsen, pointedly not wearing any fancy clothing and, presumably, not heading to big department stores, is already on the ground, doing the media rounds. Bush heads to California tomorrow, canceling an RNC fundraiser in St. Louis. AP's Jennifer Loven has the story. On the presidential trail, Jonathan Martin wonders if candidates aren't understanding how bad the fires really are, and Bill Richardson became the first to help out, donating $10,000 from his campaign fund and dispatching New Mexico fire fighters to the scene. Update: Michael Brown, ex-FEMA chief extraordinare, is available for interviews in his capacity as director of corporate strategy for Cotton Cos., writes WSJ's Susan Davis, who was "a little stunned" at the news.

-- Washington Republicans got some good news recently, as reports leaked that Rep. Tom Davis would forgo a potential run to replace Sen. John Warner, of Virginia. That meant the Virginia GOP would not face a competitive convention, and would also maintain a strong candidate to keep Davis' House seat, in Northern Virginia, an area rapidly trending Democratic. Now, writes Roll Call, the NRCC is getting bad news: Davis may be a day away from announcing he will not run to keep his seat. With Davis out of the race, the district becomes a prime target for House Democrats looking to expand their majority. Davis will speak with the media tomorrow to discuss his plans.

-- Let no one claim to be perfect: Last night, Senate Democrats and Republicans held separate fundraisers for their campaign arms featuring not the top brass, but chiefs of staff, Paul Kane writes. The smart lobbyists all know that Senators forget what they say moments after it's been said, while in many cases the chiefs of staff are where the real action takes place. Raising money is a big deal for the NRSC, says Kane, which has $8.3 million on hand, well behind Democrats' $22.9 million. Yesterday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell held the GOP's weekly policy lunch at the NRSC to chat politics.

-- Speaking of fundraisers, after an RNC decision to reduce New Hampshire's delegate slate by 50% because it violates Republicans' February 5th window, Granite State Sen. Judd Gregg has pulled out of a fundraiser featuring RNC chief Mike Duncan, charging "rampant elitism" by Beltway insiders, per John DiStaso. New Hampshire's junior senator, John Sununu, will still attend the event; it's being held at his parents' home in Hampton Falls. The fundraiser will rake in dough for the New Hampshire Republican Party, and you can bet that many will have some harsh words for the RNC chair.

-- On the presidential campaign trail, two new storylines are developing: The mainstream media is discovering that Republicans are largely bypassing Iowa, and Democrats are making their stands in the Hawkeye State. Tom Beaumont notes that John Edwards and Barack Obama have more staff in the state than all the GOP candidates combined. Rudy Giuliani showed up last week, his first visit in more than two months. The GOP seems to be surrendering the state to Mitt Romney, whose 67 staffers far outpace the 12 of Giuliani and Fred Thompson.

-- On the other hand, Democrats aren't surrendering an inch. With Hillary Clinton showing a slim lead in the polls, Edwards will become the first Democratic candidate to hit all 99 counties in Iowa Saturday, when he holds a meeting in Franklin County. Only former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson, a Republican who dropped out in August, can make the same claim. In 2004, a whopping 328 caucus-goers turned out, giving Edwards 45% of the vote, the most of any candidate. Edwards has 130 staffers in Iowa; Obama has 145; and Clinton has 117.

-- Flip Flop Of The Day: Rudy Giuliani told the AP he'll be rooting for the Boston Red Sox during the World Series this week, auspiciously because he's an American League fan. Any coincidence, at all, that the dateline on the article is Boston? Andrew Malcolm almost has a heart attack at the news.

-- Today On The Trail: Mitt Romney makes a stop today in Myrtle Beach, then offers a press conference in Philadelphia. John McCain gives a speech in Des Moines, and Rudy Giuliani is in Davenport, Iowa. Fred Thompson breakfasts with supporters in Mount Pleasant, then makes two stops in Bluffton, South Carolina. Ron Paul is in Washington, where he will address college students at American University. On the Democratic side, Barack Obama meets residents in Dover, New Hampshire, John Edwards starts a four-day Iowa tour with meetings in Glenwood, Sidney, Shenandoah and Red Oak, Bill Richardson gives a speech on Latin American policy at UCLA, and Hillary Clinton gives a lecture on women and politics at Iowa State in Ames.

Clinton To Get AFSCME Nod

Sen. Hillary Clinton will be endorsed next week by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Union, Newsweek's Howard Fineman reports. The group boasts 30,000 members in Iowa, and large contingents in other early states.

That's many more than the 2000 members SEIU boasts in Iowa -- the Service Employees in several states, including Iowa, are backing former Sen. John Edwards -- but SEIU can also import members from California, which is also backing Edwards. The Golden State's SEIU contingent is more than 650,000 members strong.

AFSCME, Fineman notes, came out strong for Bill Clinton in 1992, well before he was the front-runner. Fineman reports the former president called union chief Gerald McEntee on behalf of his wife. AFSCME joins the American Federation of Teachers and the Machinists union in Clinton's corner.

Edwards has attracted the support of the Steelworkers and Miners unions as well as SEIU statewide chapters across the country. The national SEIU couldn't reach an agreement on a single candidate to endorse after locals in New York and Illinois, home territory of Sen. Barack Obama, objected to a national endorsement. Obama has picked up support from state SEIU councils in his home state and in Indiana.

Collins Shows Big Lead

Facing the prospect of major pickups in the U.S. Senate, Democrats worked early to try to recruit Rep. Tom Allen as their candidate against Maine Senator Susan Collins. They got Allen, but early polls have showed Collins leading by a wide margin, showing the DSCC has a long way to go to catch up.

A Research 2000 poll, conducted 10/15-17 for DailyKos, surveyed 600 likely Maine voters and tested Collins and Allen, with a margin of error of +/- 4%.

General Election Matchup
(All/Dem/GOP/Ind/Men/Wom)
Collins 56 / 37 / 75 / 57 / 55 / 57
Allen 33 / 54 / 11 / 33 / 35 / 31

While President Bush's job approval rating sits at a miserable 28%, 56% approve of the job Collins is doing, while just 36% disapprove. Currently, 55% would vote to re-elect Collins, while 20% would consider voting to replace her and 21% will definitely vote against the incumbent.

Both candidates have raised huge amounts of money so far. Through the end of the 3rd Quarter, Collins had $3.1 million cash on hand, while Allen held $2.1 million in reserve. Both should have ample resources to wage war, and if national Democrats make a significant investment here, this is one state where the DSCC's cash advantage over the NRSC could make a big difference.

Explaining The RNC's Move

The Republican National Committee yesterday notified several states planning to hold early nominating contests that it would strip them of at least 50% of their delegates for non-compliance. Blake posted the story yesterday. One important factor to keep in mind: While some states may be sanctioned now, it is likely that most, if not every state, will enjoy its full compliment of delegates once convention time comes.

Here's a quick explanation of how Democrats and Republicans are approaching delegate nominating rules:

The Democratic National Committee's Rules and Bylaws Committee sets rules by which the party selects delegates. The RBC, as it's called, meets occasionally, as it did last month, to approve every state's nominating plans. If a state is granted a waiver, it may hold its contests before February 5th. This year, New Hampshire, Iowa, South Carolina and Nevada were granted waivers to hold early primaries.

Michigan and Florida, which will also hold January primaries, were not granted waivers. The Rules and Bylaws Committee punished Florida at its most recent meeting. Michigan's early primary plan was submitted after that meeting, and the committee is expected to punish Michigan with the same severity as it did Florida, by taking away all of Michigan's delegates. While the committee can vote to reinstate delegates from any punished state, the vote to punish Florida attracted just one "no" vote -- from Florida's representative on the committee.

The Republican National Committee has no standing committee to deal with the selection of delegates. Their rules are clear, having been set at the 2004 Republican National Convention: States either hold their delegate-allocating nominating contests after February 5th, or they lose delegates. Unlike Democrats, no early states are granted waivers by the GOP. That means New Hampshire, South Carolina, Wyoming, Michigan and Florida would lose 50% of their delegates for holding early primaries.

Iowa and Nevada, which hold caucuses, technically do not allocate their delegates until later conventions, and are therefore unaffected by the ruling. Any state that changes its rules after the call to the convention goes out, a call required by the end of the calendar year, is subject to losing 90% of its delegates.

Democrats, in short, have the ability to punish states as their Rules and Bylaws Committee sees fit. Republicans have no such power and are confined to punishing any state that breaks a rule.

At the end of the day, though, it will be up to each convention's Credentials Committee to decide whether to seat full slates of delegates for each state punished. Practically speaking, no presidential candidate is going to want to irritate any swing state (and of the seven early states, only South Carolina and Wyoming can be considered safe for one party) by neglecting to seat their entire delegate slates.

Interestingly, it is Democrats who are catching the most flack for their move to strip Florida's delegates, thanks in large part to the ruckus raised by Sen. Bill Nelson and Rep. Alcee Hastings, who have sued the DNC and the State of Florida. But Democrats' Credentials Committee is much more likely to allow Florida to seat their delegates despite breaking the rules. For the GOP, on the other hand, it only takes a few members of the committee to object to prevent a state's full delegate slate.

Morning Thoughts: Fred's Way

Good Tuesday morning. Indianapolis is still undefeated, and we're not quite sure why everyone thinks it's the Patriots who are going to end up undefeated. Anyway, neither here nor there. Here's what Washington watches today:

-- Today, the Senate is expected to vote on final passage of the Labor, HHS and Education appropriations bill, after tackling the final four amendments. The House takes up a terrorism bill and a veterans' suicide prevention bill.

-- As many reported yesterday, the RNC has recommended to its executive committee that New Hampshire, Florida, South Carolina, Michigan and Wyoming be stripped of half their delegates to the national convention. Following Florida Democrats' lead, South Carolina is said to be considering legal action, per the Associated Press. Check back with Politics Nation later this morning for a rundown of how the DNC, which has stripped Florida of all its delegates and is expected to do the same to Michigan, and the RNC handle their delegate selection process. Jonathan Martin says Sen. Mel Martinez's decision to step down last week came because he didn't want to serve as chair as the party was punishing his home state. We eagerly await the next set of fav/unfav and job approval numbers out of the Sunshine State.

-- In Virginia, the Republican Senate race will get a little lighter soon, as Rep. Tom Davis is expected to take a pass on the race, per The Fix. Davis had long been seen as the heir apparent to retiring Sen. John Warner -- a moderate who could perform well in Northern Virginia -- but the Virginia Republican Party's decision to hold a nominating convention instead of a primary gave more conservative former Gov. Jim Gilmore a leg up. Davis told the Washington Post that he will address the media Thursday, but that he hasn't made up his mind on the race. Both Davis and Gilmore have run well behind former Democratic Gov. Mark Warner in early polls.

-- Washington State Republicans get their wish later this week as former State Sen. Dino Rossi is expected to make his second bid for Governor official. Rossi, a Republican from just east of Seattle, came within 133 votes of defeating then-Attorney General Christine Gregoire, a Democrat from Olympia, in 2004. Rossi's decision to run again gives Republicans a good shot at taking back a blue state's governor's mansion, a seat Republicans haven't held since John Spellman lost to Booth Gardner in 1984. For previous coverage of the race, click here.

-- Back to the White House race for a moment: Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, coming off another strong debate performance and a Values Voters summit in Washington where attendees couldn't seem to get enough of him, scooped up the best endorsement so far, writes CBN's David Brody: Watch out, opponents, Chuck Norris is coming after you. Meanwhile, JMart talked to Huckabee manager Chip Saltsman, who said fundraising is going a lot better for the dark horse, and Byron York thinks Huckabee is beginning to be included among the top-tier candidates.

-- While I thought Fred Thompson did much better in Sunday's debate than in his first effort, in Dearborn, Michigan, he's still having to confront the lazy question. "I'm going to do it the way I want to do it," Thompson told the AP, per Wilshire & Washington. Thompson hasn't taken a lot of major campaign swings lately, though blank schedules can be explained away, according to supporters. One Thompson surrogate in the spin room Sunday after the debate said the former Senator, because of his late start, has had to spend a lot of time fundraising lately. Enough to quell the rumors? Of course not.

-- The cult of the consultant continues in two papers today. The New York Times spotlights John McCain campaign manager Rick Davis ("Savior or Machiavelli," the header begins). Davis' smartest move, the piece argues, is to let McCain be McCain and put him in front of as many town hall-type events as possible. The Washington Post, meanwhile, puts John Edwards strategist Joe Trippi back in the limelight. Trippi, the profile reveals, has a close relationship with Elizabeth Edwards, who wields more power than an ordinary candidate's wife.

-- No Longer Bedfellows Of The Day: The Hill reports today that a former Bush Administration official is actively lobbying Republicans in Congress to come out against recent agreements with North Korea to end its nuclear program. That former official: One-time acting UN Ambassador and former top State Department official John Bolton. Bolton's opposition to the deal is well-known, but to actively lobby against a top priority of his former boss' administration is unusual.

-- Today On The Trail: Barack Obama picks up Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick's endorsement in Boston, Joe Biden is in Iowa City and Hillary Clinton rallies supporters in Denver. On the Republican side, John McCain and Rudy Giuliani file papers today to get their names on the New Hampshire ballot. Later, McCain heads to Concord, Rochester and Hampton. Giuliani starts the day in Boston, then holds town halls in Concord and Lebanon. Mitt Romney gives speeches in Greenwood and Greenville, South Carolina, then keeps chalking up the "Ask Mitt Anythings" in Columbia and Summerville. Also today, Maria Shriver, first lady of California, hosts a forum with potential first ladies Elizabeth Edwards, Michelle Obama, Cindy McCain, Jeri Thompson and Ann Romney in Long Beach.

Lautenberg Gets An Opponent

Anne Evans Estabrook, a northern New Jersey businesswoman who once chaired the state's Chamber of Commerce, filed papers today with the FEC to challenge Sen. Frank Lautenberg.

A moderate, Estabrook will face a competitive primary with more conservative State Assemblyman Joe Pennacchio. Still, Estabrook begins the primary as the establishment favorite, and she has some big institutional support: Former RNC finance chief Lew Eisenberg will serve as chairman of Estabrook's campaign.

Whether Pennacchio or Estabrook takes the primary, they face an uphill battle against Lautenberg. Sure, a Quinnipiac University poll in September showed Lautenberg leading a generic Republican by just 3%, while his approval rating is only 42% (compared with 34% who disapprove). But New Jersey voters are notorious for refusing to answer polling questions, and for breaking to the Democratic side late.

Another sign the GOP isn't confident about their ability to capitalize on Lautenberg's weakness: Few Republican strategists ever point to the state as even a remote pickup opportunity. After losing close and expensive elections for Senate in 2000 and 2002 and for Governor in 2001 and 2005, Republicans know playing in Philadelphia and New York media markets is not cheap, and the party may decide that, four times bitten, five times shy.

An Analogy The NRCC Likes

After recruiting their top candidate in New Mexico's Albuquerque-based First District, House Republicans are hoping Bernalillo County Sheriff Darren White can emulate another sheriff turned Congressman. "If Democrats are smart, they will do the math and come to the realization that getting mixed up in a political shootout with a sheriff like Dave Reichert and Darren White usually yields negative results," said NRCC press secretary Ken Spain.

Reichert, the former King County Sheriff, won election in 2004 in Washington State's Eighth District. The county is the largest in the state centered around Seattle and its eastern and southern suburbs. When the late Rep. Jennifer Dunn retired, many saw the seat as a top Democratic pick-up opportunity. Reichert has won narrowly twice in an increasingly Democratic district, and House Republicans hope White can save the New Mexico seat following Reichert's model.

The early results look good. A Public Opinion Strategies poll, taken for White's campaign, shows White leading several potential Democratic contenders. The poll, conducted 10/8-9, surveyed 400 likely voters for a 4.9% margin of error. Tested alongside White were former state Attorney General Patricia Madrid, who lost narrowly to Heather Wilson last year, and Albuquerque City Council member Martin Heinrich.

General Election Matchups
White 51
Madrid 39

White 51
Heinrich 33

POS is one of the most highly-respected Republican polling firms in the country, and the NRCC frequently uses them for top races. White is using Nicole McCleskey, a partner at POS based in Albuquerque, for his polling.

The poll is an optimistic baseline that Republicans are pushing to convince reporters they can hold the district. But without a top-tier Democrat in the race yet, and with White getting a head start, the numbers show that Democrats face a difficult race to retake the seat, to say the least.

Morning Thoughts: SeaWorld Edition

Good Monday morning. An abbreviated Morning Thoughts today as Politics Nation races to the airport to catch a flight. Here's what Washington, and those of us still in Orlando, are watching this morning:

-- The Senate today meets to continue work on the Labor, HHS and Education appropriations bill, with the first roll call coming late this afternoon. The House works on two energy technology and efficiency bills, as well as a resolution commemorating the Wichita State University women's bowling team for winning the NCAA national championship.

-- The consensus after the debate: Fred Thompson did well last night, but whether it made up for what some saw as a snub, when Thompson addressed Florida Republicans on Saturday for just five minutes, compared with Rudy Giuliani's thirty-minute address, is an entirely separate question. John McCain seemed somewhat absent. Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney are learning how to play defense. And Fox News focused most on the first tier than in previous debates, leaving Duncan Hunter (who was still shaking hands at 11:30 last night) and the rest of the second tier gasping for oxygen.

-- Every reporter ledes with and focuses on the first twenty five minutes, when top-tier candidates bantered back and forth about who was more conservative than whom. But, as Chuck Todd notes, the tone cooled off, and we're sure more than a few channels were changed, almost to the minute the first pitch was thrown at Fenway Park and the Steelers-Broncos Sunday night game kicked off. As we wrote, Mike Huckabee performed with his usual eloquence, but he was asked his first question only after sparks had, for the most part, finished flying. Speaking of Red Sox Nation, the happiest guy in the bar last night: Fox News' Carl Cameron, who told Politics Nation that he used to sell ice cream at Fenway Park.

-- Huckabee is on a bit of an upswing lately. In a solid third place in recent Iowa polls and after a big win at the weekend's Family Research Council summit in Washington, Huckabee gets more important ink this morning from Concord Monitor editor Mike Pride: "Voters should get to know Huckabee," he headlines. We won't be surprised if he wins more than a few editorial board endorsements.

-- How happy is Hillary Clinton? The New York Senator got 34 mentions in last night's debate, per Washington Wire's Susan Davis. Total for every other Democratic candidate: Zero. But did they say anything new? One reason Politics Nation has always thought Clinton would be a strong Democratic challenger is because the shots Republicans take haven't changed in a decade. Will they need to break out new arguments about her to have a shot at taking her down?

-- Many candidates will argue they're the best at holding the line on spending. But the parties have a remarkably similar record so far this year: In 2007, Democrats have spent $133 million on the presidential race, while GOP candidates have shelled out $132.4 million. Dems have a lot more left over, though, having raised $244 million to Republicans' $175 million. Those numbers mean the half a billion raised mark is likely to be smashed sometime late this quarter. More in depth spending reports, in which NYT's Leslie Wayne and Aron Pilhofer find candidates' strategies becoming more evident.

-- Rep. Bobby Jindal's victory in the race for Louisiana governor has some, including The Fix, wondering whether the victory is a sign of a Republican turnaround across the nation. A former top official at the Republican Governors Association, Phil Musser, tells Chris Cillizza the victory is comparable to Giuliani's in New York in 1993 and Richard Riordan, as mayor of Los Angeles, the same year, seen now as harbingers of strong GOP performance in 1994. Still, Cillizza says, Republicans can't celebrate yet, especially as Kentucky Gov. Ernie Fletcher remains a heavy underdog for re-election.

-- While Jindal's win will make the NRSC more bullish on their chances to beat Sen. Mary Landrieu next year, Hotline's Quinn McCord breaks down the vote and sees Landrieu not in a terrible position -- especially as her brother, Lieutenant Gov. Mitch Landrieu, took 57% in his own race this weekend.

-- Today On The Trail: Thompson sticks with Florida, holding events in Kissimmee, Tampa and Lakeland. McCain heads back to New Hampshire, where he will appear in Pelham. On the Democratic side, Joe Biden is making stops in Leon, Bedford and Shenandoah. Barack Obama begins a big New Hampshire tour today. John and Elizabeth Edwards go on the Ellen DeGeneres show, and Hillary Clinton headlines the Washington State Democratic Party's answer to the Jefferson-Jackson Dinner, the Warren G. Magnuson Awards.

Huckabee's Opportunity

ORLANDO -- "I'm kind of glad I wasn't in on the first few minutes, because it was all about these guys fighting each other," said former Gov. Mike Huckabee.

Huckabee has a lot riding on the debate tonight; he's recently seen a bump in poll numbers, and this weekend won a key straw poll among attendees of a so-called "Values Voters" summit in Washington.

He's started off well, though a bit late -- at 22 minutes into the debate, he started after the first pitch of the Red Sox-Indians game 7 had started -- earning the biggest applause of the night thus far.

If Huckabee converts tonight and performs well, John McIntyre wonders whether he can win Iowa.

Charlie Crist's Big Day

Florida Gov. Charlie Crist just welcomed viewers to Orlando, touting himself as a bipartisan leader. Though he denied ever thinking about the vice presidency in an interview today with Real Clear Politics, Crist would certainly be an attractive number two contender.

Live, From Orlando...

ORLANDO -- Ahead of the Republican presidential debate tonight, at the Rosen Shingle Creek Resort and live on Fox News, top Florida Republicans profess their neutrality in the race for the GOP nomination. And while many think the large number of debates have watered down the effect of each individual forum, every stop comes with its own subplots. Tonight's event will go farther in answering some important questions:

-- Does Fred Thompson matter? In the last debate, Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani spent more time going after each other than after Thompson. Have those campaigns already decided he's a non-threat? And if they have, can he do anything tonight to rebuild the excitement that once swirled around his candidacy? He didn't do himself any favors yesterday, when he addressed Florida Republicans for about five minutes, just a short while after Giuliani went on for about half an hour and Romney spoke for twenty minutes.

-- Can anyone stop Giuliani? Iowa may be Romney's stomping grounds, and there's a battle for New Hampshire. But make no mistake, Florida is Giuliani country. Social issues, for which some conservatives can't stomach Hizzoner, seem to matter less to Floridians assembled here, many of whom, even if they back another candidate, are still effusive in their praise of Giuliani. Thompson, Romney and the rest will do everything they can to close the gap in the Sunshine State. That means Giuliani better watch his back tonight.

-- Is Romney stopping or starting? Dogged by questions after the last debate, we estimate he will mention talking to lawyers approximately zero times tonight. People thought his debate performance last time was so-so, at best. Can he reassert himself as one of the best top-tier debaters tonight? And if not, will it keep stories of his stalled campaign alive until the next time the GOP candidates meet?

-- Will John McCain rebound? Last debate's topic was way outside his strike zone. A better performance tonight will only do more to further stories of a comeback. A lousy performance, and those stories disappear. Maybe no candidate faces more pressure than McCain tonight.

-- Is Huckabee for real? A few good Iowa poll numbers, a few good straw poll showings, and people are wondering whether Mike Huckabee belongs in the top tier. Add in kind words from Newt Gingrich and others and Huckabee's window may be opening. He will never perform at the financial level of the four leaders (or even at the level of Ron Paul) but he always does well at debates. He, more than any other candidate, is probably most irritated with the Cleveland Indians' inability to seal the deal last night, robbing him of a few hundred thousand viewers.

-- Who gets the biggest applause tonight? We're going out on a limb here and guessing the candidate who has been around the conference the most: California Congressman Duncan Hunter. A surprising number of the delegates we've talked to express admiration for Hunter, though they recognize in the same sentence his long-shot status. On a less risky limb, we'll also guess Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, for whom tonight is something of a national coming-out party. No presidential candidate inspires the same kind of reaction than Crist among his Florida GOP faithful.

Plenty of questions to answer. Don't flip over to baseball. By the time the debate ends, at 9:30, the game will only be in the third or fourth inning. I'm offering instant reaction and analysis at M.E. Sprengelmeyer's Back Roads to the White House, so tune in and follow along, then check back here for our wrap-up after the debate.

Fox News Hates Curt Schilling

ORLANDO -- The Boston Red Sox thumped the Cleveland Indians last night, leaving several Fox News producers on-site for tonight's Republican Presidential debate morose. No, they have no links to the BoSox, nor did they lose a bet. But now tonight's debate, broadcast at 8 p.m. on Fox News, will appear opposite game 7 of the American League Championship Series.

So how bad will ratings be tonight? Previous Fox debates have drawn larger audiences than similar events on CNN and MSNBC, but some Fox employees worry that many would-be viewers will flip the channel to catch the ballgame instead. One top official working on a GOP campaign even joked he would be watching the game instead of the debate.

But Fox's glass is half full: Game 7 appears on the Fox network, so the company won't lose too many sets of eyeballs.

Huckabee, Romney Chalk Up Wins

In a straw poll held at this weekend's Values Voters Summit in Washington, social conservatives sent two messages and previewed how an important segment of the GOP electorate will react after one of their own, Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback, called it quits.

Voters could cast ballots both on-site, at a Washington hotel, or online. As expected, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee performed well in front of voters he will need if he has any hope of overcoming chronic money woes in early primary states. No one, however, expected Huckabee to perform this well. Among on-site voters, Huckabee attracted a stunning 51% of the nearly 1000 ballots cast.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, by comparison, finished second with 10%. Still, Romney's campaign has something to brag about. In the online portion of the poll, Romney finished first, though less than one half of one percent ahead of Huckabee.

If the results are any indication of where supporters of now-former candidate Sam Brownback will go, Huckabee can count on strong backing from Christian conservatives, while Romney's campaign must be breathing easier knowing that, for a significant portion of Christian voters, his Mormonism is not a deal-breaking issue.

For John McCain, who has lately made a stronger push for social conservative votes, the results are not inspiring. Even after a speech to the group yesterday that received some applause, McCain finished close to the bottom in both polls. Rudy Giuliani, as expected, finished behind most candidates as well. Summit-goers yesterday were skeptical of his efforts to make peace with voters whose ideology he has largely opposed through his career.

The straw poll, conducted yesterday and today, comes a day before Republicans meet in Orlando for a debate broadcast live on Fox News. Politics Nation will be on-site as the Florida Republican Party holds its Presidency IV event for young political activists in conjunction with the debate. Giuliani, Fred Thompson and Romney have all put campaign resources in Florida.

The full results:

On Site
Huckabee 488 (51.3%)
Romney 99 (10.4)
Thompson 77 (8.1)
Tancredo 65 (6.8)
Giuliani 60 (6.3)
Hunter 54 (5.7)
McCain 30 (3.2)
Brownback 26 (2.7)
Paul 25 (2.6)
Undecided 11 (1.2)

Online
Romney 1595 (27.6%)
Huckabee 1565 (27.2)
Paul 865 (15)
Thompson 564 (9.8)
Brownback 297 (5.1)
Hunter 140 (2.4)
Tancredo 133 (2.3)
Giuliani 107 (1.9)
McCain 81 (1.4)
Undecided 329 (5.7)

Johnson To Run For Re-Election

Sen. Tim Johnson today released a written statement confirming what many had suspected: He will run for re-election in 2008, according to the Rapid City Journal. Johnson has faced a long road to recovery following a cerebral arteriovenous malformation, a form of bleeding in the brain, though his staff has long said they expect him to run for re-election.

Republicans have been reluctant to challenge Johnson so far, and the strongest potential candidate, Gov. Mike Rounds, has said he would not run if Johnson ran. Johnson's strongest opponent so far is State Rep. Joel Dykstra, who reported just $37,000 cash on hand at the end of the 3rd Quarter.

Johnson, helped along by Senate colleagues, has already amassed more than $2 million for his re-election bid.

House Dems Beat GOP, Again

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee continued to outpace Republicans on the fundraising circuit in September, hauling in $8.5 million for the month, new FEC filings will show. The committee retains $28.3 million in the bank. The NRCC, meanwhile, raised $2.6 million, but kept up its high burn rate, spending all but $6,000. Republicans kept $1.6 million in the bank.

The NRCC's high burn-rate can be attributed to the committee's efforts to pay down its debt, which remains at $3.85 million. Chairman Tom Cole told reporters on Wednesday that the committee pays down at least part of its debt every week, judging that a debt-free committee is more valuable than a high cash-on-hand number coupled with a high debt.

The DCCC is still $2.9 million in debt.

Only the Republican National Committee has consistently outraised its Democratic counterpart this year, while the DCCC and the DSCC beat the NRCC and NRSC virtually every month. The RNC pulled in $5.8 million and spent $5.28 million, leaving the national committee with $16.5 million in the bank. The DNC and the two Senate committees have yet to release their numbers for September.

Martinez Stepping Down Today

Though Bob Novak broke news a few weeks ago that Republican National Committee chairman Mel Martinez would step down once a presidential nominee was evident, likely in January, Politico reports he will actually step down today, in order to spend more time on his duties as a senator.

The resignation comes just two days after the RNC's Presidential Trust Dinner raked in $5 million from about 700 attendees. Still, some in the GOP were displeased with Martinez's election as RNC chief. Cuban by birth, Martinez and immigration hard-liners do not see eye-to-eye, which caused friction during recent debates over the issue.

During his time as RNC chair, Martinez saw his disapproval rating in his home state rise to 41% in a September Strategic Vision poll, up from 35% in March. 44% approved of Martinez's performance in both polls.

RNC co-chair Mike Duncan will stay on at the committee.

At FRC, Searching For A Giuliani Alternative

Speaking to a mostly full room at the Family Research Council's Washington Briefing today, former Tennessee Senator Fred Thompson made every effort to hit the socially conservative group's top issues, and to set himself up as the conservative alternative in the Republican presidential contest. Still, with a cheering section of Thompson fans waving signs, the candidate elicited just one standing ovation, and many in attendance were not completely impressed.

Thompson repeatedly asserted his conservative record during eight years in the Senate, stressing his consistency, an implicit shot at front-runners Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney. "That's who I was then, that's who I am today, and that's the kind of president I would be," Thompson said.

Conservative leaders gave optimistic reviews of the speech. "Senator Thompson helped himself here today," said Gary Bauer, a former presidential candidate and top voice in religious political circles. "I think he did well. He's got a solid conservative message," agreed FRC chief Tony Perkins.

But rank and file social conservatives were less impressed. Russell May, of Virginia, who attended the forum with his wife, is not sold on Thompson just yet. "At this moment, I don't think of any area where I disagree with him," he said, adding "I would not necessarily place him above other Republican candidates." "I wouldn't necessarily say that he is the most charismatic of the presidential candidates," added David Gruver, of North Carolina.

Gruver, like many, is waiting for more details from Thompson. "He'll have to take substantial positions on issues that are important to people who are conservatives." Thompson tried to assuage criticism that he brings less substance to the race than style, offering his views on a number of issues Christian conservatives find important. Calling government overspending a moral issue, Thompson said he would end the practice of passing debt on to the next generation; he reminded the audience that he fought for the Defense of Marriage Act; he criticized a Maine school district for offering birth control pills to some middle school students; and he told the audience that after seeing a sonogram of his daughter, "my heart is now fully engaged with my head." "No legislation will pass my desk that funds or supports [abortion] without my veto," he promised.

Thompson, like other candidates, placed a high premium on judges. Noting that President Bush asked him to shepherd Chief Justice John Roberts' nomination through the Senate, Thompson promised to appoint similarly conservative judges. "I believe he will go down as one of the great cheif justices. We just need more of 'em," Thompson said. "Judge Roberts proved that quality will win out in the end." He also promised to fight for his nominees. "That is a fight we can have with the American people, for the American people, all day long. And if we're persistent, we can win."

Values conservatives milling around the Washington Hilton seemed to be searching for a candidate to represent them against the moderate Giuliani, and Thompson, along with Romney, is one who might slake that thirst. "At the end of the day, I suspect one of those two will end up emerging as the main alternative to Giuliani," Bauer said. Romney takes his turn in front of the crowd tonight, in a speech his campaign says will focus on ending unwed pregnancies.

Giuliani, who addresses the crowd tomorrow, looms large over the summit today. While his previous positions put him at odds with attendees, "he realizes that this is an element of the conservative movement that he has to deal with, and I think he realized he could not be the only Republican candidate not to come out," Perkins said. Still, he added, "I don't think Giuliani is at risk of winning the straw poll tomorrow."

Some conservatives, though, urged values voters to keep an open mind. Rep. Jeanne Schmidt, an Ohio Republican, told the audience to stand up for their candidate in the primary, but "stand behind the person that is at least the better alternative" in the general election. Otherwise, she warned, "that woman" might occupy the White House.

Light Morning

We're on our way to the Family Research Council's Values Voter Summit, going on today in Washington. We'll post updates from there.

In the meantime, if you haven't already, join the Politics Nation Facebook group! In just over a week, 200 people have joined up, and you can too. Remember, admitting your addiction to politics is the first step toward recovery. But why would you want to recover from being a political junkie?

Morning Thoughts: Tony Perkins' Day

Last day of the week. And if you'd offered us $5 million to work for George Steinbrenner for a year, we'd have said no too. Good for you, Joe. A few hundred miles south of the newly-liberated Torre, here's what Washington is working on.

-- No roll call votes in the Senate today, and the House is out of session. Meanwhile, on the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue, finance ministers from the G7 are meeting at the Treasury Department today, and University of Virginia Professor Larry Sabato literally tries to rewrite the Constitution, as former Rep. Geraldine Ferraro, ex-Sen. Bob Dole and SCOTUS Justice Samuel Alito address his National Constitutional Convention.

-- After failing to override the president's veto yesterday on SCHIP, (see here and here), Democrats say they will use continuing resolutions to keep the program alive, according to CongressDaily (sub req'd). Speaker Nancy Pelosi said lawmakers should be prepared to face an expansion next year, if the House was unable to reach a veto-proof majority on expansion this year, raising the specter of dragging the debate into an election year.

-- Several candidates address so-called values voters today, at an event sponsored by Focus On The Family, the Family Research Council and others. Giuliani and Huckabee speak tomorrow, but pretty much everyone else gives a talk today. Romney, per his campaign, will focus on single parents, a topic that won him applause at the Des Moines State Fair, and, one can bet, show off his family in a less than subtle way, as he's prone to do (wife Ann always gets the microphone first). Romney's up with a new ad in advance of the meeting, in which Ann talks about their home life. As Andrew Malcolm points out, Romney uses his family as a contrast to those of Fred Thompson, John McCain and Rudy Giuliani, all of whom have had at least two spouses.

-- Win the designation as the Christian conservative candidate, writes Mark Silva, and win four in ten Republicans who are evangelical Protestants. That's enough to pick up a nomination. And while Romney looks like he's in better position than John McCain (Who's a Baptist now, not Episcopalian), Fred Thompson (Dobson questions if he's anything at all) and Giuliani (Right...), a quarter of evangelical voters say they would have trouble voting for a Mormon for president, according to a recent Pew poll. See the schedule below, but while Mike Huckabee's in New Hampshire today, wouldn't his time be better spent canvassing the estimated 2000 voters who show up at the Hilton north of Dupont Circle (by the way, an ironic location)?

-- What about McCain, though? CBN's David Brody previews his early morning speech to summit attendees, in which he claims to be the only major candidate who can say he's been pro-life his entire career. The mainstream media is having problems figuring out where McCain fits in the primary puzzle. He's either back on his way to the top of the pack, thanks to having rediscovered his maverick streak (Time's Joe Klein) or about to undergo more money woes as he actively considers taking public funding or a seven-figure loan (The Fix). If McCain does well in New Hampshire, he will still have to face the ghosts of South Carolina, the New York Times writes. And does anyone take more lonely pictures than McCain?

-- On the Democratic side, John Edwards is making the case that he, unlike Clinton and Obama, is the only candidate who could win electoral votes from Georgia, Oklahoma and Wisconsin. Yesterday, elected officials in those states helped Edwards kick off the "True Blue Majority" campaign, and today state legislators from red states will hold a conference call arguing that Edwards at the top of the ticket would benefit local Democratic candidates. Will the Clinton at the top of the ticket factor scare Democrats away from her? Some Republicans in Washington are absolutely licking their chops in anticipation of just such a scenario.

-- In Virginia, the GOP may get a preview of what will happen to it next year as Democrats get a second look at their 2006 success. Democrats running for the state legislature in the Old Dominion outraised their GOP counterparts $3.2 million to $2.7 million in September, which is very unusual for a minority party. Democrats are looking to pick up four seats in the State Senate and eleven in the State Assembly to retake a majority they lost in 1999. Experts, says the Richmond Times-Dispatch, think the party has a shot at the Senate, but that the Assembly will be more difficult. Will Virginia's results foreshadow Congressional results next year, when Democrats are likely to have a cash advantage on Republicans? One of the top Democratic targets in the Senate, Sen. Jeannemarie Devolites Davis, is said to be in danger of losing her seat. Still, U.S. Rep. Tom Davis' wife has raked in an impressive $386,000, the second-largest warchest in the state.

-- Jaded Response Of The Day: It can't be that the citizens of Iowa and New Hampshire are just smarter than everyone else. So why do they get to run their nominating caucuses first? Because, as the Des Moines Register points out this morning, the hospitality industry stands to make somewhere around $100 million during the process. The next ten weeks, says the head of Des Moines' Convention and Visitors' Bureau, could bring the city an extra $25 million in advance of the caucuses. No wonder Florida and Michigan want a piece of the pie.

-- Today On The Trail: Sam Brownback announces his withdrawal, in Topeka, Kansas. Huckabee hits a Politics and Eggs breakfast, then stops in Concord, Manchester and Whitefield. Rudy Giuliani stops in Miami, and Mitt Romney holds "Ask Mitt Anything" forum number 101 in Shenandoah, Iowa, then stops in Treynor and Council Bluffs. Everyone else -- John McCain, Fred Thompson, Romney, Duncan Hunter, Tom Tancredo and Ron Paul -- participate in the values voters forum here in Washington. On the Democratic side, Joe Biden is in Des Moines, John Edwards is in Los Angeles, where tonight he appears on Bill Maher's show, and Barack Obama is at Arizona State University. Bill Richardson is in Guthrie Center, Greenfield and Corning, Iowa. And Biden, Clinton and Richardson attend the Polk County Democrats' annual dinner in Des Moines.

Theater Of The Absurd

The chaos over the primary calendar is getting worse, not better, and quickly. We pointed out Roger Simon's strong suspicion that New Hampshire's primary will be held in December of this year, and residents of the Granite State seem just fine with that, if it means they stay first.

Today's front page of the influential New Hampshire Union Leader:

NH_UL.jpg
(click for a bigger image, courtesy the Newseum)

That's a front-page profile of New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner (Headline: "Gardner the Guardian"), who has sole discretion over when the primary is held. The profile, penned by senior political writer John DiStaso, appears above a front-page editorial from publisher Joseph McQuaid calling on Gov. Mitt Romney to reconsider his decision to participate in the Michigan primary and chastising the "double-talking" Sen. Hillary Clinton.

In turn, the editorial appears above DiStaso's regular column, Granite Status, complete with a picture of Michigan Sen. Carl Levin, who has made it his business to challenge New Hampshire's early privilege (caption: "Sen. Carl Levin, Michigan menace"). The picture, we're sure, will appear on more than a few New Hampshire dart boards before the day is out.

Even NBC Political Director Chuck Todd has had enough. This column has had the privilege of knowing the NBC guru for quite a while, and it's shocking, given his strong feelings on the way college football chooses a champion, to read this sentence: "In fact, I can't believe I'm saying this, but the presidential nominating process has become so ridiculous and convoluted that it makes college football's 'Bowl Championship Series' seem orderly."

House Sustains SCHIP Veto

Minutes ago, the House voted to sustain President Bush's veto of the State Children's Health Insurance reauthorization and expansion. 273 members voted to override, while 156, including Democrats Gene Taylor, of Mississippi, and Jim Marshall, of Georgia, voted to sustain the veto.

The two parties will go back to the negotiating table and try to find a compromise that can come closer to the two-thirds majority required to overcome a presidential veto.

Dems Happy With Position On SCHIP

As the House gets set to vote today to override President Bush's veto of the reauthorization and expansion of the State Children's Health Insurance Program, Democrats think they're riding high. A memo emailed to reporters today cited several polls showing the SCHIP program as widely popular, and Democrats hope they can paint Republicans as voting in lock-step with the president when, as is expected, the override vote fails.

The poll numbers are overwhelmingly in favor of SCHIP: A CBS poll showed 81% of Americans back the expansion, while an NPR poll had 70% approving of adding $35 billion to the program. The NPR poll and a CNN poll showed 64% and 60%, respectively, in favor of overriding the veto.

Republicans have some poll numbers of their own. A release yesterday highlighted a Gallup poll showing 52% support the program's expansion going to families who make under $41,000 a year, as opposed to those making $62,000 a year.

The GOP is taking a longer-term view of the veto. SCHIP is just the first of many expansions the President has promised to veto, in the name of holding the line on federal spending. And the GOP has a point: This veto is about children's health care, Democrats say, but after half a dozen, the story line breaks down into Congress and the White House facing off over faceless spending programs.

That strategy fits in with Congressional Republicans' new tactic of painting Democrats as the driving force behind the Washington status quo. After a close special election race this week in which a Republican came close to knocking off a heavily-favored Democrat, the GOP thinks making the point that Democrats now run Congress can be a political winner for them. With Congress' approval ratings in the dumps, they may be right.

But to pull off that feat, the Republicans will have to endure significant short-term grief. Every day SCHIP remains in the news, Democrats believe - and the polls suggest - they benefit at the expense of Republicans.

Brownback Out

The Associated Press is reporting that Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback will drop his White House bid in an announcement tomorrow. Brownback, a Christian conservative, had sought to build a base in Iowa, though a disappointing third-place finish in the straw poll in Ames in August hurt him with donors.

He raised just $800,000 in the third quarter, bringing his total for the cycle to over $4 million.

The immediate winner appears to be former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, another candidate who identified heavily with the religious right. The two had clashed earlier this year as each tried to court social and religious conservatives. Huckabee came in a surprising second in Ames, and has recently polled much higher than Brownback.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney will also be pleased with the announcement. In the run-up to the straw poll, Brownback hammered Romney relentlessly.

Brownback, first elected to the Senate in a special election in 1996, promised to serve just two full terms. When his seat is up in 2010, the AP reports he is widely anticipated to make a run for governor, seeking to replace term-limited Gov. Kathleen Sebelius.

Is Paul's Military Support Significant?

The Houston Chronicle today reports that more members of the Armed Forces have ponied up to Texas Rep. Ron Paul's presidential campaign than to any other candidate. Significant? Perhaps, but some would be right to be skeptical.

Paul supporters will argue that the amount of money military men and women have given him -- $63,440, more than any other contender -- is because he is the only Republican who supports ending U.S. involvement in Iraq. Military personnel tend to lean Republican, and given the outlet of an anti-war candidate (and surely at least a few members of the military are against the war, despite what those on the right or left will tell you), they flocked to Paul.

Bolstering that claim: Second on the list, another war opponent, Sen. Barack Obama, at $53,968.

Every time candidates are required to file FEC reports, media outlets will rush to show that some received hundreds of thousands, or even tens of thousands, of dollars from one law firm or one Wall Street brokerage, or, in this case, members of the military. Don't buy into it.

Ron Paul has raised an astonishing $8.2 million. The $63,000 from members of the military represents less than one percent of his campaign haul. The $53,000 Obama received represents less than one-tenth of one percent of the nearly $79 million he's raised.

Small fractions of a candidate's treasury, from any group, are insignificant representations of a candidate's support. They are also insufficient grounds on which to accuse a candidate of being bought, as we're sure Democratic and Republican campaign committees will do to their opponents often this year (the NRCC sent one out just the other day).

Paul's support, in the end, goes a lot deeper than just one crowd. So does Obama's, and, for that matter, virtually every candidate's. No one should get credit, or be pigeonholed, for the sources of tiny bits of their campaign treasuries.

Though Paul may want to take credit for some of his more creative donors, per WSJ's Susan Davis: One donor listed his occupation as "tax slave to the Federal Govt." Another's employer: "Our children." Other great occupations: "Curmudgeon" and "Citizen Fighting Tyranny."

The campaign has set an incredibly ambitious goal of raising $4 million in October and $12 million total in the 4th Quarter. With 13 days to go, Paul is up to $1,119,052 for the quarter, a statistic measured in real time on his campaign's website (as of 9:35 am -- it changed three times while this column was looking at the site).

Morning Thoughts: Tourists Rejoice!

Good Thursday morning. Summer keeps sticking around Washington, though every morning we swear we feel the tide turning. It's judgment day at Fenway Park, but in Washington, here's what's driving the day:

-- The Senate continues debating the Labor, HHS and Education Appropriations bill, while the House takes a critical vote on overriding the president's veto of SCHIP legislation. The veto is likely, many say, to be sustained by a comfortable margin. Still, emboldened by the public's support for the program, House and Senate Democrats have shown little willingness to compromise. In committees, a vote on reforming the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act was pulled from the House floor yesterday after Republicans employed a parliamentary maneuver, so the Senate Intelligence Committee takes up the matter today instead. Judge Michael Mukasey undergoes a second day of testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, as they weigh his appointment as Attorney General.

-- Former House Speaker Dennis Hastert, the Republican who served longest in that post, will resign his seat soon, two sources told CNN's Deirdre Walsh yesterday. Hastert, one source said, "is just done with being a member of Congress." Hastert was House Speaker from 1999 to the end of 2006. The move sets up a special election in Illinois' 14th District, a seat that leans Republican, though a wealthy Democrat, businessman Bill Foster, will be competitive here. Top Republican candidates include State Sen. Chris Lauzen, businessman Jim Oberweis, Geneva Mayor Kevin Burns.

-- Mitt Romney's people are doing nothing to dissuade the notion that it's a two-person GOP race. One adviser on the campaign's payroll emailed fellow Christian conservatives yesterday urging them to back Romney so that Rudy Giuliani doesn't win the GOP nomination, writes Jonathan Martin. While many have wondered whether Romney's Mormonism will hurt him in South Carolina (and it doesn't, with Bob Jones III, at least), we wonder what happens when Christian conservative leaders make a more strenuous push against Giuliani. That could wound his campaign more than Romney's religion, by the end of the day.

-- FEC details keep sticking out like so many sore thumbs, and Washington Post's Paul Kane takes a look at some members in legal trouble who may not be around next year. Rep. William Jefferson, the Louisiana Democrat indicted in the Spring under many counts of corruption, has just $33,000 cash on hand and finds himself in $260,000 worth of debt, most of which comes in the form of loans to himself. He raised just $15,000 in the 3rd Quarter, only $150 of that from someone other than a fellow member of Congress.

-- Rep. John Doolittle, a California Republican, is another ethical retirement threat. He's seen at least nine staffers questioned by authorities, and under threat of indictment he raised just $50,000 and retained just $38,000 cash on hand, and close to the same amount of debt. Doolittle spent more than $2.3 million to beat his Democratic opponent by a narrow margin last year, and that opponent is running again -- though this time Charlie Brown has $380,000 cash on hand, more than ten times what Doolittle has. Chris Cillizza thinks his seat is the most vulnerable Republican seat in the House, assuming Doolittle remains on the ballot. Still, three Republicans are already running against the long-time incumbent, and his chances of surviving a primary look thin.

-- Two big endorsements on the Democratic side today: Washington Post reports that Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, a former Clinton Administration official and only the second African American governor in modern history, will back Obama, his fellow Harvard Law graduate. For former Sen. John Edwards, his support comes from former Congressman Ben Jones, of Georgia (who later ran in Virginia). If the name doesn't sound familiar to you, consider another way of looking at it. Jones played Cooter Davenport, the mechanic on the Dukes of Hazzard, from 1979 to 1985. M.E. Sprenglemeyer has photos of the grease monkey campaigning through Iowa with his fellow Southerner.

-- Stephen Colbert is running for President. No, really, check out Tom's post yesterday. Very funny, right? Turns out, according to Vanity Fair's Wilshire & Washington, that a Colbert representative contacted the South Carolina Democratic Party weeks ago, and that South Carolina GOP chief Katon Dawson said his office had received a phone call as well. This can't be serious, right?

-- Real Lede Of The Day: Playbook puts it second. The Express ledes with it. It's on the bottom right front page of the Washington Times, bottom left of the Washington Post. That's right, Washington, D.C., cabs will switch from zoned fares to metered fares, per an order by the city's mayor, Adrian Fenty. For years, it was rumored that zone one, which encompassed the Capitol all the way to George Washington University, was established to give members of Congress a cheap ride downtown. No more, says the Mayor. And no more do cabbies get to cheat tourists who know not where they are.

-- Today On The Trail: Fred Thompson is in Kennesaw, Georgia, to accept an endorsement, then fundraises in Atlanta and Powder Springs. John McCain holds town hall meetings in Spartanburg and Greenville, South Carolina, while Rudy Giuliani meets voters in Minneapolis and Chicago. Mitt Romney holds events in Pawleys Island, Florence, Spartanburg and Fort Mill, South Carolina. Mike Huckabee delivers remarks at Franklin Pierce College, then holds events in Peterborough, Concord and Amherst, New Hampshire. On the Democratic side, Clinton attends a health care forum in Washington, Barack Obama has town hall meetings in Reno and North Las Vegas, Joe Biden stops in Sheldon, Cherokee, Storm Lake, Laurena and Lohrville, Iowa, and Bill RIchardson gives a talk in Des Moines, then meets voters at separate events in Nevada (remember, governor: "Ne-vey-da, Iowa") and Des Moines.

Cole: Country In A "Firing Mood"

Meeting with reporters today, National Republican Congressional Committee chief Tom Cole, an Oklahoma Republican, said yesterday's narrow Democratic victory in Massachusetts shows that the national political landscape is changing, and that some Democratic strategies employed successfully in 2006 won't work again.

"I suspect [Americans] are in what I've called before a firing mood," Cole said, noting that Republican candidate Jim Ogonowski successfully labeled his Democratic opponent, Rep.-elect Niki Tsongas, as a status quo candidate with the backing of Washington Democrats. The strategy, he said, is one Republican challengers will use next year. "I tell candidates all the time, 'You ought to be running against all of Washington, D.C., and that includes us.'"

The results yesterday show Democrats blew their chance to make a good first impression on the country, Cole said. 'The American people think they've not governed effectively." And if voters are in a firing mood, both parties will suffer, as in 1992 when dozens of incumbents lost with no significant change in the makeup of the House. But because of sheer numbers, Cole argued, Democrats should be nervous. "They've got more incumbents than we do, and they run this institution," he said.

Cole hopes for an atmosphere much like 1992. "I just like the way the battlefield is tilted," he said. "We need a battlefield with a lot of ambiguity ... I feel better about the things I can't control than about the things I hypothetically can." Pointing to the more than 60 districts Democrats hold which voted for President Bush in either 2000, 2004 or both, Cole said the presidential race next year should help some of those seats return to the Republican fold.

Despite recent finance reports showing Cole's NRCC trailing its Democratic counterpart in money available, Cole pointed out that the gap wasn't nearly as big as some Republicans feared. The DCCC has pulled in more than $40 million, while the NRCC has raised more than $30 million, despite a bigger debt it had to pay off. "We've raised that money in the worst of times for us, and they've raised that money in the best of times for them," he said.

Still, with less money in the bank, spending decisions will be hard to make, he said. "We're going to be pretty ruthless in the decisions we make in terms of money because I don't have enough money to be generous."

Planning Ahead

Politicians plan ahead, and two Republicans are plotting their next moves, both of which seem aimed at their state's governor's mansions.

As was widely reported yesterday, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, a Texas Republican, told Texas Monthly magazine that she would not run for re-election when her term comes up in 2012, and that she may resign as early as 2009, according to the Houston Chronicle.

Hutchison is rumored to be interested in taking over for Gov. Rick Perry, who is thought likely to step down in 2010 after a decade on the job. "People have been asking me if I would consider running for governor in 2010, and I am considering it," Hutchison told a news conference off the Senate floor yesterday, according to the Dallas Morning News' Todd Gillman. Still, she said, she has not made up her mind on the race, and likely won't for some time.

In Rhode Island, where Republican Gov. Don Carcieri faces term limits in 2010, another Republican is gearing up to take a shot at this historically liberal state. In 2006, as Carcieri narrowly fended off Lt. Gov. Charles Fogarty, a Democrat, Sen. Lincoln Chafee had to fight back a challenge from former Cranston Mayor Steve Laffey in the GOP primary. Laffey had the strong backing of the conservative Club for Growth, which helped him raise money and got him close to knocking off Chafee, who won by a narrow 54%-46% margin.

As the Club for Growth met today in Washington, Laffey was on hand to catch up with his supporters. One woman, who told Laffey she had recently read his book, gave him a hug and told him she was sorry he lost. Laffey gave her an enthusiastic response: "I'm going to run for governor," he said, before introducing her to his former campaign manager.

Whether Laffey, a conservative, can replace Carcieri, more of a moderate business pragmatist, in Rhode Island's mind as an heir to the New England Republicanism that sometimes works in the state, though, remains to be seen. Polls before the Republican Senate primary showed Laffey losing to now-Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse by wider margins than Chafee.

Giuliani Stumps At CfG

Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani is proud of his city. Rather, he's proud of how he tamed what he sees as the out-of-control fiscal beast that was the Big Apple. Meeting with the fiscally conservative Club for Growth today in Washington, Giuliani sought to continue building the narrative that, as a tax- and spending-cutter, he ought to be the group's ideal candidate.

"You really need to take a look at that record," Texas Gov. Rick Perry told the audience, after endorsing Giuliani earlier in the morning. "It is a powerful story that those of us who are fiscal conservatives can shout from the mountaintop."

Giuliani used the speech to lay out his own agenda, based on cutting taxes and spending, reducing lawsuits and moderating government regulation, while taking a few veiled shots at former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and more overt shots at Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton.

"My ideas on the economy and economic philosophy are proven," Giuliani said. "In my case, I can support what I believe with results. And I think that is a very big distinction between me and the other candidates." Asked to contrast his health care plan with that of Romney, Giuliani demurred, saying he would rather contrast his plan with HillaryCare. "With regard to my Republican opponents, I try not to criticize them unless they criticize me, and then I can't help it," he joked.

Clinton's plan, he said, would drive up costs, something he implied Romney's plan would do as well. "She's going to mandate that you have health care, which Governor Romney did in Massachusetts," he said. "The minute you mandate something, the cost of it goes up."

While an early Romney campaign memo suggested the former governor would use his campaign to contrast himself with France, a paragon of big government, Giuliani took virtually the opposite track, pointing out the positives in new French President Nicolas Sarkozy's plans to cut corporate tax rates and eliminate the estate tax. Sarkozy's moves on taxes, Giuliani suggested, was partially borne out of his experience as mayor of Neuilly-sur-Seine.

Like many groups Giuliani addresses, there are aspects of his record with which Club for Growth members find fault. Club president Pat Toomey asked Giuliani pointedly whether his views on the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law, which he initially supported, had changed. "It's one of my many occasions on which I can point out to you that I'm not perfect," Giuliani said. The bill, which he called a "mistake," is "a process that needs to be reviewed."

Still, Giuliani promised not to make the same mistakes he's made in front of other groups. Noting that some who aren't insured have at least enough money to buy a cell phone, he brought up something of a sore subject, given criticism he underwent after answering a call in front of the National Rifle Association last month. "I put mine off this morning, by the way," he joked, eliciting laughter.

Former Sen. Fred Thompson and Romney will address the group later today.

Morning Thoughts: Mukasey At The Bat

Good Wednesday morning. At the risk of alienating a large number of readers, how 'bout them Cleveland Indians? Still, the last team to come back from a 3-1 deficit to win a series: The Boston Red Sox. Watch out, Sabathia. Aside from baseball, here's what Washington is paying attention to today:

-- The Senate takes up the Labor, HHS and Education Appropriations bill, while the House takes up measures on railroad safety and on regulating electronic surveillance. Meanwhile, Sens. Chuck Schumer and Joe Lieberman will introduce Attorney General nominee Michael Mukasey to the Senate Judiciary Committee, which takes up his case today at 10 a.m. Paul Kane reports that Judiciary Committee chairman Pat Leahy and ranking member Arlen Specter will meet Mukasey before the hearings and walk him into the committee room for the panel's 10 a.m. start time.

-- Also today, the President, First Lady and leaders of both parties of Congress award the Congressional Medal of Honor to the Dalai Lama in the Capitol Rotunda. Afterwards, the Lama delivers remarks at a Tibetan Cultural Celebration on the West Lawn, where House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and actor Richard Gere will also speak. Ahead of the event, security around the Capitol has been tightened, as visitors will have to go through medal detectors to even enter the grounds.

-- Mitt Romney and Ron Paul were the only two candidates to address the dinner portion of the RNC's Presidential Trust dinner last night in Washington. The event, attended by some 700 people, raised approximately $5 million for the party, according to officials, and while Rudy Giuliani, Fred Thompson and John McCain were scheduled to speak, Giuliani and Thompson only addressed a prior reception. Still, all three had been slated to speak to the crowd, and no explanation was given for their absence (McCain had votes to cast, one RNC media official said, though RNC general chairman Mel Martinez and Sens. Norm Coleman and Jim Inhofe managed to show up). "Governor Romney was happy to show his support for the national committee and he enjoyed meeting with and talking to all of the other Republican Party activists who attended the dinner," said spokesman Kevin Madden. "You know what they say: Showing up is half the job." Requests for comment and clarification to the three no-shows' campaigns went unanswered.

-- Giuliani and Thompson had most certainly better show up today, when both are slated to address the fall conference of the Club for Growth in Washington. The tax-hating crowd will also hear from Romney, via video link. The Club has already made life excruciatingly difficult for former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who they say raised taxes, and is weighing in on the race to replace the late Rep. Paul Gillmor, in Ohio's 5th District, and the New Mexico Senate race, where they favor conservative Rep. Steve Pearce over more moderate Rep. Heather Wilson. This is one group no one in the Republican Party wants as an enemy. To add to his credentials and assuage some conservatives, Giuliani will pick up support from Texas Gov. Rick Perry, a staunch conservative, in a presser before addressing the crowd, Marc Ambinder reports. Just a few weeks ago, we wrote Perry might be an interesting vice presidential pick, don't you think, Mr. Mayor?

-- Iowa Republicans have set their caucus date -- the incredibly early January 3rd, the first Thursday of the year, Jonathan Martin reports. Iowa Republicans are hoping ("confident," Jonathan writes) that Democrats hold their caucuses the same day, though others predict the Ds will pick another date. Roger Simon, meanwhile, acknowledges the very real possibility that Bill Gardner loses his marbles and holds New Hampshire's primary in December. South Carolina Democrats moved their primary as well, three days earlier to Saturday, January 26, ABC News reports. And John DiStaso seems cautiously optimistic.

-- Meanwhile, an analysis by the Washington Post shows more than a third of Bush-Cheney Pioneers and Rangers have yet to put their chips on a candidate, providing some of the reason Democrats run so far ahead of Republicans in fundraising. Two dozen or so, write Cillizza and Mosk, have actually given to Democrats. Says the always popular ex-New Jersey Gov./ex-Bush cabinet official Christine Todd Whitman: "The Republican brand is not selling very well."

-- FEC numbers provide more than a few fun little details, and the New York Times went digging in Ames. Mitt Romney spent more than $210,000 on buses to take voters to the Iowa Straw Poll and $35,000 on barbeque (which was a worthwhile expense, this taster will testify). Still, he spent more than $250,000 to buy tickets -- that's more than 7,000 at $35 a piece -- but won only 4516 votes. Now we see where some of those thousand voters Mike Huckabee didn't buy tickets for came from.

-- Fundraising news isn't all bad, however. While endangered House Democrats in the Frontline program have all raised good money, Republicans in a parallel group, the Regain Our Majority Program, outraised their counterparts for the 3rd Quarter. Leading the pack, as always, is Illinois Republican Mark Kirk, who crossed the $1.5 million cash on hand threshold by September 30, while Reps. Vern Buchanan, Joe Knollenberg and Tom Feeney, all Democratic targets, raised impressive sums, Politico's Josh Kraushaar reports.

-- Wishful Thinking Of The Day: The AP, via Playbook, offers up a "tentative" schedule for the nominating contest. Tentative? Iowa's early caucuses are only 78 days away! Still, at least five states will hold contests in January -- six, if Bill Gardner doesn't get trigger happy and move his state to December.

-- Today On The Trail: After addressing the Club, Giuliani heads to Iowa for town halls in Des Moines and Muscatine, then meets students in Iowa City. Romney holds events in Clinton, DeWitt and Davenport, then heads to Columbus, Ohio. Thompson addresses the Club, while McCain is in South Carolina for town halls in Columbia and Fort Mill. Mike Huckabee, meanwhile, gives a speech in Manchester, tours a factory in Nashua and, back in Manchester, addresses the AARP's Divided We Fall forum. On the Democratic side, Joe Biden promises to stop domestic violence in Des Moines and holds a house party in Sioux City. Clinton addresses the National Women's Finance Council, while John Edwards continues his rural tour with stops in Rock Rapids, Sibley, Estherville and Cylinder.

Tsongas Wins Massachusetts Special

Community activist Niki Tsongas, the widow of the late Senator and presidential candiate Paul Tsongas, won a narrow victory in a special election today to replace former Rep. Marty Meehan. Tsongas beat farmer and businessman Jim Ogonowski by a narrow 51%-45% margin, in a district that Sen. John Kerry won by 17 points in 2004.

Check out Real Clear Politics tomorrow morning for complete analysis.

Pearce, Wilson To Duke It Out

Washington Post's Chris Cillizza reports today that Rep. Steve Pearce will run to replace retiring Sen. Pete Domenici in New Mexico. Pearce's entry sets up what will likely be an ugly primary contest between him and First District Congresswoman Heather Wilson.

Pearce's sprawling district, on the southern side of the state, gives many more votes to Republicans than Wilson's Albuquerque-based seat. Rumors around Washington indicated that Pearce waited to announce his intentions until a poll he commissioned came back. A SurveyUSA poll last week showed Pearce leading Wilson in a primary.

The Democratic field is currently led by Albuquerque Mayor Martin Chavez, while some top Democrats are said to be leaning on Lieutenant Gov. Diane Denish, encouraging her to make a bid. Until Domenici retired, Chavez and Denish were thought to be headed toward a showdown to replace Gov. Bill Richardson when his term expires in 2010.

Richardson himself has repeatedly shot down rumors that he will get in the race if his presidential campaign doesn't go anywhere. The state's early filing deadline, just two weeks into February, would be just a week after a February 5th primary when Richardson learns the fate of his White House hopes.

Wilson reported more than $750,000 cash on hand at the end of the third quarter, while Pearce showed $580,000.

[Correction: I wrote that Pearce's district encompassed the northern side of the state. He represents the southern portion of the state. Udall represents the top half of New Mexico. Entirely my fault, I regret the error.]

When A Safe Seat Comes Open

In Colorado's second district, Rep. Mark Udall has not faced a difficult race since 2000, when he took 55% to win re-election for the first time. In 2004 and 2006, Udall took 67% of the vote, while John Kerry won the district with 58%. This year, Udall is running for Senate, and the race to replace him has attracted three top-tier and surprisingly well-financed candidates.

State Senate President Joan Fitz-Gerald, Colorado Board of Education member Jared Polis and environmentalist Will Shafroth, all Democrats, have long histories in the district. The three have tried to out-do each other on opposition to the war in Iraq, but for the most part seem to agree on most other issues. The most fur has flown between Polis and Fitz-Gerald, widely seen as the front-runners, who have battled over accepting campaign contributions from lobbyists.

Roll Call's David Drucker last month wrote that every Democratic candidate who has won a nomination in Colorado since 1992 has been the candidate to spend the most money. The money chase is going well for all three candidates: Through the third quarter, Polis had $554,000 in the bank; Fitz-Gerald kept $449,000; and Shafroth kept $424,000. All three have outraised several potentially vulnerable incumbent members of Congress, while freshman Rep. Ed Perlmutter, a fellow Coloradan, has a comparative $438,000 cash on hand.

The seat, based in Boulder, including Vail and extending to the outskirts of Denver, is going to be an expensive and difficult contest. Does enthusiasm for the three candidates speak to a larger enthusiasm for Democrats in 2008, or are the three simply vacuuming up money that might be better spent on other, Republican-held seats around the country?

Obama's Smart Fundraising Ploy

Make no mistake: Barack Obama is not hard up for cash. His $36.1 million cash on hand is a huge amount, yet he trails Sen. Hillary Clinton by $2.1 million.

In his latest fundraising pitch, Obama uses that minor disparity to urge his supporters to help him catch up. "The situation here is simple. We are $2.1 million behind. We must close that gap right now. I need you to make a donation," Obama writes in a fundraising email. "Hillary Clinton aggressively seeks money from Washington lobbyists and special interest PACs. She's even said that these lobbyists represent real Americans. She's wrong."

The admission and the hit on Clinton, which plays into Obama's perceived strength as a straight-talking outsider, are both smart moves. "Washington lobbyists have chosen their candidate (ed. note: Which candidate, Mr. Obama?) and are determined to provide her (ed. note: Oh...) with an overwhelming advantage. But you can even up this contest."

No pundit or prognosticator can seriously believe that the difference between $38 million and $36 million is the difference between a win and a loss. But by sending subtle hints of urgency, we're betting Obama finds this email to be one of his most successful during the campaign.

Mark Halperin, who has a copy of the email, thinks this is the opening salvo of Obama's new phase of taking on Clinton more directly. The attack is certainly direct, and could signal the beginning of the bloody phase of the primary.

Senate Fundraising Numbers

Senate numbers trickle in slower than House numbers, as Senate candidates file with their chamber's Sergent at Arms, which then forwards the numbers to the FEC, rather than electronically, as House candidates do. Still, top candidates in important races brag of their success. Here are the numbers we've compiled for our top-ten Senate races to watch, with New Mexico added on for good measure. Results in alphabetical order:

Alaska (Anchorage Daily News)
Ted Stevens (R): $463k raised, ~$1.2m cash on hand

Colorado (Courtesy Rocky Mountain News)
Mark Udall (D) $1.05m raised, $3.1m cash on hand
Bob Schaffer (R): $786k raised, $1.16m cash on hand

Louisiana (Politics Nation reporting)
Mary Landrieu (D): $857k raised, $3.4m cash on hand
(State Treasurer John Kennedy has not yet entered the race)

Maine (Bangor Daily News gets credit)
Susan Collins (R): $1m raised, $3.1m cash on hand
Tom Allen (D): $666k raised, $2.1m cash on hand

Minnesota (Hat tip, Star-Tribune)
Al Franken (D): $1.89m raised, $2.45m cash on hand
Norm Coleman (R): $1.7m raised, $5m cash on hand
Mike Ciresi (D): $307k raised, $607k cash on hand

Nebraska (The Hill article and Politics Nation reporting)
Jon Bruning (R): $225k raised, $1m cash on hand
Bob Kerrey (D): $342k cash on hand
(Note: Kerrey's numbers are left over from his last Senate bid. He has not formally closed his campaign committee, nor has he declared an intent to run in 2008. Former Gov. Mike Johanns launched his campaign last week, after the filing period had closed)

New Hampshire (Thanks, Union Leader)
John Sununu (R): $701k raised, $2.7m cash on hand
Jeanne Shaheen (D): $188k raised, $178k cash on hand
(Note that Shaheen began raising money two weeks before the filing period ended)

New Mexico (Nice work, Las Cruces Sun-News/AP)
Heather Wilson (R): $240k raised, $755k cash on hand
Steve Pearce (R): $251k raised, $582k cash on hand
Don Wiviott (D): $130k raised, $371k cash on hand
(Note: Wilson announced for the seat after the filing deadline had closed. Pearce has not yet announced his plans. Fundraising results are for both of their House committees, all of which they could transfer into a Senate race)

Oregon (Again, The Hill)
Gordon Smith (R): $825k raised, $4m cash on hand
Jeff Merkley (D): ~$300k raised, $200k cash on hand
Steve Novick (D): ~$300k raised, $200k cash on hand

Virginia (Per The Hill and Politics Nation reporting)
Mark Warner (D): $1.1m raised, $1m cash on hand
Tom Davis (R): $220k raised, $1m cash on hand
(Note that Warner began raising money in mid-September, while Davis has not officially entered the race; Davis' fundraising numbers reflect money in his House account that he can transfer to a Senate bid. Former Gov. Jim Gilmore has yet to officially enter the race and has not opened a federal campaign account.)

South Dakota (AP and Sioux City Journal)
Tim Johnson (D): $450k raised, $2m cash on hand
Joel Dykstra (R): $82k raised

Morning Thoughts: Game Day

It's Tuesday, the Colorado Rockies are in the World Series, oil approaches $88 a barrel in overnight trading, and more importantly, it's Election Day. See below for more on that. Here's what Washington fights over today:

-- The Senate today continues to debate the Commerce-Justice-Science Appropriations bill, while the House mulls amendments to the Internet Tax Freedom Act and the Free Flow of Information Act, which would protect reporters from being prosecuted for failing to reveal a source. The Senate Commerce Committee takes up the September 11th Commission's recommendations, while the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee begins to discuss the budget for the 2010 Census, beginning what will likely be a fight protracted for three years. The House Rules Committee meets to make a rule for the RESTORE Act, which limits certain kinds of electronic surveillance.

-- The folks at the Federal Elections Commission are very popular this morning. On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton raised $27.3 million this quarter, spending all but $6 million for a total of $50.5 cash on hand, $15.9 of which is for the general election. That leads the field, ahead of Barack Obama, who raised $20.6 million for the quarter, spent $21.3 million and had $36.1 million on hand, $4.2 million of which is for the general. In third place, former Sen. John Edwards raised $7.1 million, spent $8.2 million, and retains $12.4 million on hand, $2.4 million of which has to be saved for the general.

-- On the Republican side, the numbers are much lower, but somebody's got to win. Rudy Giuliani raised $11.5 million and spent more than $13 million, leaving him with $16.6 million on hand, though $5 million must be saved for the general election. Mitt Romney raised $9.8 million and spent more than twice that, though an $8.5 million loan to his own campaign left him with $9.2 million in the bank. Romney's campaign is $17.4 million in debt, though all that money is owed to the candidate himself. Fred Thompson raised $9.3 million for the quarter, though his team maintains the pace took off after his formal announcement in September. John McCain pulled in $5.7 million, spent just $1.8 million and retained $3.5 million. The bad news for McCain, though, is that $1.8 million of his cash on hand has to be saved for the general, meaning the remaining $1.7 equals his debt.

-- The storylines developing for Republicans are of fast spending and little money left over. "Top spender Romney could soon run short," headlines the Boston Globe. Bloomberg notes Giuliani spent more than he raised, though the rate is "appropriate," according to a campaign finance expert at Fordham University. McCain posted a 95% burn-rate, ABC News headlines. And the New York Daily News looks at Thompson, spending $5,500 for food from a fancy French restaurant and $7,400 at an Atlanta liquor store, contrasted with Mike Huckabee, who catered two events from Sam's Club, shelling out a whopping $610. Those stories only add to GOP woes when other papers are writing about Democrats' better fundraising (NYT: "Democratic Candidates Keep Outraising Republicans"; USA Today: "Dems hold cash edge over GOP in '08 bids")

-- CongressDaily takes an early look at campaign finance reports and finds fuel for speculation that more members are about to hang 'em up. Florida Rep. C.W. Bill Young, long a retirement possibility, pulled in just $30,000 this quarter. Young's district went for President Bush by just 2 points in 2004 and to Al Gore by the same narrow margin in 2000. Indiana Democrat Julia Carson, whose health is said to be on the decline, raised only $9,000 last quarter. Carson represents a more solidly Democratic district, though she defeated her Republican challenger in 2006 by a narrow 54%-46% margin.

-- Around Washington, Republican fundraisers know they lag their Democratic counterparts this year. Political Action Committees representing all ten of the top industry contributors, according to Politico's Jeanne Cummings, are now giving more money to Democrats than the new minority Republicans; a year ago, the GOP led in 6 of those 10 fields. One reason Republicans are losing support in the business community, Cummings says, is their push to put business owners in jail if they hire illegal immigrants. That caused the Chamber of Commerce to join with the ACLU in a suit that successfully blocked the order from taking effect.

-- The only thing more exciting than FEC filing day, of course, is election day. Voters in Lowell, Tewksbury, Chelmsford and a number of other northern Massachusetts towns head to the polls today to select a replacement for Marty Meehan, who now serves as Chancellor of the University of Massachusetts at Lowell. Democrat Niki Tsongas is the favorite going into the day, though Republican Jim Ogonowski is an impressive candidate who has given Tsongas a run for her money. (See our preview of the race here) If Ognowski wins, or even comes close, Republicans could benefit from some very positive articles.

-- Iowa's Excuse Of The Day: According to the latest Des Moines Register Iowa Poll, Hawkeye voters really are more engaged than their counterparts around the country. 43% of likely caucus-goers have seen a presidential candidate in person. 16% have given money to a candidate, and, the statistic that floored us, a full 7% have been interviewed about the 2008 race by the media. That speaks to rumors many are hearing of roving bands of reporters, digital recorders extended, barking questions to anyone who passes. After caucus night, we're willing to bet that number is close to double what it is now.

-- Today On The Trail: Republicans head to Washington this morning for the Republican Jewish Coalition, where Giuliani, Romney, Thompson, McCain and Sen. Sam Brownback address attendees. Later tonight, the four front-runners address the RNC's Presidential Trust Dinner at the National Building Museum. McCain also becomes the first candidate to address a tele-town hall with NFIB, the Restaurant Association and Associated Builders and Contractors. Other candidates will follow on coming Tuesdays. On the Democratic side, Clinton delivers a speech in Manchester and attends a town hall in Salem, New Hampshire. Edwards is on a rural tour, stopping in Dunlap, Harlan, Exira, Greenfield and Waukee, Iowa, while Obama is in Fairfax, Iowa, to announce his rural agenda, followed by stops in Vinton, Amana and Tipton. And former Sen. Mike Gravel takes your questions on a live chat at the Washington Post at noon today.

Young Trails In Poll

Veteran Alaska pollster Ivan Moore today gave more credence to the theory that Alaska voters are ready for a change. While Gov. Sarah Palin (R) turned former Gov. Frank Murkowski (R) out of office in 2006, few thought that long-time Sen. Ted Stevens and Rep. Don Young, two Alaska institutions, could possibly be in trouble.

Moore's poll shows former State Representative Ethan Berkowitz, a Democrat, leading Young in the race for Congress. The poll, conducted just after Berkowitz announced his entry in the race for the Democratic-leaning Swing State Project, surveyed 497 voters, with a margin of error of plus or minus 4.4%.

Positive/Negative
Young 43 / 50
Berkowitz 42 / 17

General Election Matchup
Berkowitz 51
Young 45.5
Other/undec 3.5

Cross-tabs show 35% of voters are strongly for Berkowitz, while just 19% are strongly for Young. Alaska voters, of course, are heavily Republican, though Democrats have to be ecstatic that Berkowitz begins not only with a lead, but with a lead over 50%. Party registration in the poll shows just 17% of the state's voters are Democrats, while 32% are Republican. 51% are independents or no registered party.

With a Democrat on the presidential ticket, or facing a candidate other than Young, Republicans remain the favorite in the race for the Last Frontier. But with Young on the ticket, and because Berkowitz has gotten an early and impressive start, Democrats believe they maintain a strong chance to pick up the seat.

Update: Politico's John Bresnahan reports Young's 3rd quarter FEC reports show he spent more than $180,000 on attorneys, more than he raised in the entire quarter. Young maintains a total of $1.65 million cash on hand, and has raised more than $600,000 for the cycle.

Risch Holds Early Lead

A poll out over the weekend from prominent Idaho pollster Greg Smith shows Lieutenant Gov. Jim Risch, who kicked off his campaign last week, in good position to win the Republican nomination to replace Sen. Larry Craig. The poll, conducted 10/8-9 for KIVI-TV, surveyed 300 Idaho adults, for a margin of error of +/- 5.6%. Risch, Congressman Mike Simpson and Attorney General Lawrence Wasden were tested.

Primary Election Matchup
Risch 30
SImpson 13
Wasden 5
Undecided 45

Idahoans, though, would like to get the job done sooner rather than later. 51% of those surveyed said they opposed a decision by Craig, in trouble for allegedly making advances in a men's restroom, to stay in the Senate, while 21% want him to stay in office.

With the early lead, Risch can raise the money to scare Wasden out of the race. Simpson has vehement opposition from the Club for Growth, which has accused him of raising taxes, while Wasden continues to publicly mull a bid. The winner of the primary will likely face former Rep. Larry LaRocco, a Democrat who lost a bid for Lieutenant Governor against Risch last year.

What Women Want

A new ARG poll out yesterday, showing Hillary Clinton leading the Democratic field by 25 points and Rudy Giuliani up on the GOP side by 8 points shows an interesting gender gap developing in both parties: Women are flocking to certain candidates, and those candidates are winning.

On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton could not have reached 45% without an even half of the women surveyed backing her bid. Just 39% of men support her candidacy. Barack Obama, in second place with 20%, scores better among women than among men as well, by a 21% to 18% margin. Many more men favor John Edwards (third place, 13%) and Joe Biden (fourth, with 5%) than women.

Among Republicans, Giuliani benefits from a sizeable 11-point gender gap. The front-runner, with 24%, scores 30% with women and just 19% with men. The gender gap reverses in second place, as more men back Fred Thompson (21%) than women (11%), giving him 16%, and Mitt Romney's 15% comes with a four-point male advantage. In fourth place with 14%, John McCain scoops up women voters, who favor him by a 10-point margin over their male counterparts.

The gender gap among Democrats is understandable -- Clinton, as the first woman front-runner in history, benefits from a sizable lead. On the GOP side, could Giuliani's head start among women come from his post-September 11th mystique and concerns about crime and safety? If so, the issue may be a tool Giuliani, as the GOP nominee, could use to cut into what would likely be an even larger gender gap in the general election.

Air Wars

Few examples of international trade wars are more evident than the constant battle between Boeing and Airbus, which fight for supremacy at airports around the world. The struggle has see-sawed back and forth in recent decades, as Airbus reigned only to see its market share slip, to Boeing's advantage. Now, the companies are again at each other's throats, with two different strategies embodied by very different aircraft. Making matters all the more complicated, Boeing and Airbus no longer dominate the commercial aviation market, as they once did.

As Airbus rolls out its long-awaited, long-delayed A380 mega-jumbo jet, Boeing is dealing with problems of its own, though the American company still appears to have a leg up on its European counterpart. Singapore Airlines took delivery today of the first A380, delayed more than two years by technical and legal issues, and just one week after Boeing announced its 787 Dreamliner would be delayed at least six months.

The two companies are taking different approaches to serving their next generation of customers. The A380 will only be able to land at hub airports, and will ferry passengers between major destinations on well-traveled routes. The 787 is smaller, and will be able to serve customers on a more point-to-point destination. So far, Boeing seems to have done it best -- in mid-September, the company had more than 700 orders from 48 customers, while the A380 has attracted just 189 confirmed orders.

If a trade battle ever gets seriously underway between the U.S. and the European Union, one can bet that the two airline companies will feel the pinch.

In fact, some say at least one group has already used the plane makers to get back at the U.S. Emirates Airlines has ordered 55 A380 jets, and while the company is still taking delivery of Boeing 777 aircraft, Emirates has not ordered any 787s. The decision to go with the A380 came after a deal that would have given control of several U.S. ports to Dubai Ports World, a state-owned company in the United Arab Emirates.

Emirates Airlines, also a state-run company, has its hub at Dubai International Airport, which is undergoing a redesign in order to accommodate the mammoth A380.

While Airbus and Boeing fight the economic equivalent of the Battle of Britain, two smaller yet growing players have quietly though dramatically entered the market. While Boeing delivered 398 jets in 2006, little-known Embraer made 130 deliveries and Bombardier sold 112 planes, mostly to the American market. The smaller jets are widely visible on regional airline routes, making both companies growing players in the aerospace industry -- some estimates suggest the two companies own close to a fifth of the market, and there are more Embraer jets operating than the popular Boeing 767, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics.

Both companies can steer clear of any U.S.-E.U. trade wars as well. Bombardier is a Canadian company that specializes as well in trains, while Embraer is a Brazilian firm that is now the third-largest airplane manufacturer in the world.

It is hard to miss news accounts of the massive A380 barreling down the runway at Airbus headquarters in Toulouse, or of the 787 rolling out of its hanger in Everett, Washington. But the behind-the-scenes fight to control the commercial air market is becoming more intense, and the outcome could have international trade ramifications felt for a generation or more.

Questions Obama Doesn't Want To Answer

Talk about off-message. Presidential candidates are supposed to spend their time discussing policy and their proposals, and press departments everywhere hate it when reporters ask their candidates about the process of getting elected. When Sen. Barack Obama campaigned door-to-door in Des Moines this weekend, Register writer Jason Clayworth succeeded in getting him to talk about the state of his campaign, rather than the state of his ideas.

The headline, "Obama: Iowa campaign on track," screams of a flailing campaign, though the rest of the article is largely positive -- "'We've really exceeded expectations so far,' Obama said. 'We always knew that I've got to introduce myself to voters in a way that some of the other candidates don't have to do.'"

Answering questions about the state of his campaign, as he runs third, behind Sen. Hillary Clinton and ex-Sen. John Edwards, is not how Obama needs to spend his time on the trail.

Oh, and we love this gem: "One woman told reporters about 11 a.m. that she was just about to leave her home to go get a beer when she saw the senator make his way into her neighborhood." Getting a beer at 11 a.m.? Why didn't she invite Obama?

Morning Thoughts: Calm Before The Storm

Good Monday morning. Here's what we know: Being number one in the NCAA is a kiss of death. The Boston Red Sox have the most fans, but if the Indians don't beat them, the Rockies will crush them in four straight. And this week is going to be one of the busiest of the year. Washington turns its lonely eyes to these stories today:

-- The Senate returns to Washington to take up the Commerce-Justice-Science appropriations measure. They are likely to vote on final passage before the day is out. The House, meanwhile, takes up bills promoting research into postpartum depression and paralysis as well as the Vision Care for Kids Act.

-- President Bush is swinging through the South today. He visits locations in Rogers, Arkansas, before attending a fundraising reception for Tennessee Sen. Lamar (!) Alexander in Memphis. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, a noted environmentalist, talks about the importance of national parks at a summit in Austin, Texas, while Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is on foreign travel to the Middle East.

-- As we mentioned, this is a busy week for politics. Today, campaigns must file their actual FEC reports, instead of just leaking numbers, generating a new round of stories on who's up and who's down in the money race. Tomorrow, voters from Lowell to Chelmsford will pick a new representative to take over for ex-Rep. Marty Meehan in a special election that may prove better for Republicans than many think. On Thursday, the House will try to override President Bush's veto of legislation expanding the SCHIP program, though House Democrats admit they are still more than a dozen votes short. And as the Armenian Genocide resolution makes its way to the floor, with Turkey's ambassador firmly planted at home in Ankara rather than in Washington, Speaker Nancy Pelosi says President Bush has yet to reach out and call her on the issue. The last time the bill moved toward the floor, President Clinton called then-Speaker Dennis Hastert to get the bill pulled just before votes were cast.

-- On Saturday, Louisiana voters take to the polls to pick a new governor. And this weekend, Republican presidential candidates have to be in three places -- Washington, for the Values Voters Summit, San Diego, for the Western States Leadership Conference, and Orlando, for the Presidency IV summit and Fox News debate. Fred Thompson's second debate comes as another round of stories examine his absence on the trail and his commitment to a long and difficult race for president. Scheduled to be in New Hampshire this weekend, the Thompson campaign canceled at the last minute, and his schedule this week is remarkably light. AP's Phil Elliott says New Hampshire voters, at least, are noticing.

-- The Boston Globe, meanwhile, covers Thompson's Social Security plan and the attendant reaction from his fellow Republicans -- or lack thereof. Does the fact that other candidates didn't hit him for proposing cuts in benefits mean they don't consider Thompson a serious threat? Seriously, the Globe notes, the other candidates said next to nothing.

-- Former Sen. John Edwards had a good weekend. The North Carolinian picked up the backing of Friends of the Earth Action, FoE's political arm. Normally, the group would not play a huge role, but they got headlines for making their endorsement just days after former Vice President Al Gore took home the Nobel Prize for his work on global warming. Edwards also won the backing of Iowa's Service Employees Union, which was freed up to make their pick after the national organization couldn't come to an agreement. The Iowa SEIU isn't the largest in the country, but by winning their support, Edwards can import SEIU help from other states, including California, where the union is both strong and backing the former senator.

-- On the Republican side, after taking on former Mayor Rudy Giuliani over taxes and spending, Mitt Romney picked a fight with anyone who wanted one on what it means to be a Republican. Romney, channeling Howard Dean, said he represented the "Republican wing of the Republican Party." John McCain was the first to take up the fight, slamming Romney for backing Paul Tsongas and failing to endorse the Contract with America, The Hill writes. Romney has been unafraid of a fight lately, and while the battle with Giuliani helped drive stories suggesting the race was between the two of them, a battle with McCain could be more dangerous. McCain may be bouncing back, writes South Carolina sage Lee Bandy, and his two-state strategy that includes wins in New Hampshire and the Palmetto State could make him this year's comeback kid. A battle with Romney, the leader in recent New Hampshire polls, is just what McCain needs.

-- Keep an eye on this one: When the House Homeland Security Committee suggested staffers get certain immunizations before visiting the Talladega Superspeedway, in Alabama, and Lowe's Motor Speedway, in North Carolina, Republicans virtually shrieked with glee: Democrats had, they said, suggested that NASCAR Nation was a third-world country. Much as Democrats would like it to, this is not an incident that Republicans will forget any time soon. And as Rep. Robin Hayes faces a repeat challenge from a Democrat he beat by fewer than 500 votes, the Republican who first questioned the committee will certainly try to paint Democrats as out of touch with his constituents who head to the Lowe's track, in his district.

-- Former Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns officially announced his candidacy for retiring Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel's seat. Johanns joins Attorney General Jon Bruning in the GOP primary, while former Omaha Mayor and Congressman Hal Daub withdrew a few weeks ago. The big question many Democrats would sure like an answer to: After an initial flurry of buzz and interest, where has former Sen. Bob Kerrey gone? Kerrey represents Democrats' best shot at picking up the seat, and if he says no to a return engagement, the party will turn to current Omaha Mayor Mike Fahey or 2006 congressional candidate Scott Kleeb.

-- Today On The Trail: Candidate schedules are light today, like the calm before the storm. Obama is in Madison, Wisconsin, for a rally. Richardson is in Santa Fe, while Clinton hits a luncheon in New York and John Edwards is on the trail in Iowa City. On the GOP side, Fred Thompson addresses the New York Conservative Party's annual dinner, in the city.

Hobson Makes It Three In Ohio

Congressman David Hobson, a nine-term member representing a swath of central Ohio just south of Columbus, became the third Republican from Ohio to announce his retirement today. Hobson joins Republican Reps. Deborah Pryce and Ralph Regula in stepping down after the 110th Congress.

The district will prevent fewer challenges to Republicans than Pryce's seat or Regula's seat. President Bush took 57% here in 2004 and 55% in 2000. Hobson has not faced a serious challenge in his career, though emboldened Democrats may take a shot if they think Ohio will prove fertile territory.

No obvious contenders on either side have emerged yet, though they will in coming days.

Setback For Davis Means Setback For DC Dems?

In a possible setback to Congressman Tom Davis, the moderate Northern Virginia Republican running to replace retiring Sen. John Warner, Politico's Josh Kraushaar reports the state Republican Party Central Committee voted yesterday to nominate a candidate for Senate by convention.

Davis allies, Kraushaar reports, were lobbying for a primary, which they believe would give their candidate a better chance against more conservative former Gov. Jim Gilmore. Davis has a million-dollar fundraising head start on Gilmore, and a primary would draw many more moderate Republicans to the polls. A convention, many contend, would advantage Gilmore by drawing more conservative party activists.

The winner of either a primary or a convention will most probably face former Gov. Mark Warner, a Democrat, in November. A Washington Post poll out this week showed Warner handily beating both Republicans. The same poll shows Gilmore leading Davis in the primary, 48%-29%.

But the setback for Davis could also become a setback for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. If Davis decides that facing a convention will be too difficult to win and opts instead to run for re-election in his Northern Virginia district, he would be a heavy favorite for re-election. If he continues with his Senate race, Democrats will have a strong chance to pick up the seat. While Democrats could still give Davis a run for his money, it would certainly be a much more uphill fight.

Another factor for Davis to consider is his wife, Virginia State Senator Jeannemarie Devolites-Davis. Devolites-Davis faces a tough re-election fight in state legislative elections this year, and political observers familiar with Virginia politics say her seat is a top Democratic pick-up opportunity. Many had suggested that Devolites-Davis would try to replace her husband in the House as he sought the Senate seat. If Devolites-Davis loses her seat, her bid for her husband's seat would be severely compromised.

Beware The U-L

Forget the New York Times, the Washington Post, even the Wall Street Journal. Candidates running for president hunger for a kind word or a favorable lede in big early state papers. The Des Moines Register's David Yepsen, we're just guessing, could get any candidate on the phone in ten minutes. The State, in Columbia, covers the primary nonstop. Even the Las Vegas Review-Journal is stepping up its coverage as candidates finally begin to travel the state.

In New Hampshire, it's all about the Union Leader. Founded during the civil war, the paper reaches just over 60,000 people, but those are New Hampshire primary voters, and their opinions can be moved by the Union Leader's slant. And slant it has: Publisher William Loeb put a conservative spin on the opinion page, urging candidates to pledge never to raise taxes. His wife continued the themes until she died in 2000.

Now, publisher Joseph McQuaid runs the paper, and while the conservative bent has been quieted some, his front-page editorials and zealous commitment to the state's first-in-the-nation primary can still cause headaches for candidates.

Today's example: Sen. Hillary Clinton was the only top tier candidate to remain on the ballot in Michigan, which will hold a primary on January 15, three weeks before the approved window. The Union Leader weighs in this morning with a scathing editorial, titled "Clinton's 'is' moment." "If she'll break her word to participate in a virtually meaningless primary, what won't she break her word for?" the paper asks.

The only bright spot: The editorial did not run on the front page.

Clinton, and every other candidate, will has to tiptoe around the feelings of editorial writers in Des Moines, Columbia and Las Vegas. But cross those who buy ink by the barrel in Manchester, and they won't forget it.

White House Loves New Mexico

Just months after President Bush stopped by Albuquerque to raise cash for Sen. Pete Domenici, Vice President Dick Cheney will pull in cash for the congresswoman hoping to replace the retiring Senator. Cheney will appear at a fundraiser for Rep. Heather Wilson next month, reports the Santa Fe New Mexican's Steve Terrell.

Appearing with Bush is dangerous, thanks to his low approval numbers. Appearing with Cheney, who is even less popular than his boss, could be even less fun for Wilson. Fortunately, Air Force Two will remain far from the prying eyes of local media: The fundraiser will be held in Washington.

Cheney's agreeing to hold a fundraiser for Wilson comes before Rep. Steve Pearce, also a Republican, has made up his mind on the race. The overt support from the White House is a pretty clear indication about what Washington Republicans think Pearce should do: Stay in his House seat, and let the more moderate Wilson take her shot.

Meanwhile, the race for Wilson's Albuquerque-based district is getting more crowded. We wrote recently about Republicans getting their top pick, Bernalillo County Sheriff Darren White. Now Democrats have picked up one of their top candidates. Former New Mexico Health Secretary Michelle Lujan Grisham announced yesterday she would jump in the race, the AP reports, to contest the Democratic nomination.

Albuquerque City Councilman Martin Heinrich, another Democrat, is already running for the seat, while 2006 candidate Patricia Madrid has not said whether she will run again.

Landrieu's Impressive Pace

Endangered Senator Mary Landrieu, perhaps Republicans' best pick-up opportunity in 2008, knows the position in which she sits. Releasing campaign finance reports today, Landrieu reported raising an impressive $857,000 for the quarter, bringing her cash-on-hand total to $3.4 million.

The senator's pace is faster than it was last time out, Landrieu's campaign notes. At this point in the 2002 cycle, Landrieu had $1.5 million cash on hand, less than half what she has this year.

Landrieu, who needed a run-off to win re-election in 2002, lost many of her base Democratic voters after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, and Republicans recruited Democrat-turned-Republican state Treasurer John Kennedy to take her on. Kennedy, running for re-election this year, will spend much of his warchest on boosting his name identification in preparation for taking on the two-term Democrat next year. Kennedy lost his first bid for Senate, in 2004, when he and Rep. Chris John could not force then-Rep. David Vitter into a runoff.

Gregoire Leads By A Little, Warner By A Lot

Tom Bevan posts a new poll this morning, showing Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire narrowly edging out former State Sen. Dino Rossi, 47%-45%, in a re-election rematch. Gregoire won the 2004 matchup between the two by just more than 100 votes, after several recounts and ballots that were disputed on both sides. It was the closest contest in Washington State history.

The poll, from Republican firm Strategic Vision, is actually good news for Gregoire. The company has been polling the matchup off and on for several years, and until this poll, Rossi has always come out ahead. Two October 2006 Strategic Vision polls had Rossi leading 50%-45% and 51%-43%. Other recent surveys have also shown Gregoire inching ahead.

Rossi has yet to formally enter the race, though he did quit his job recently to begin making preparations for a bid.

In other new poll news, Tom posts a Washington Post poll showing former Virginia Gov. Mark Warner stomping on the Republican competition in the race to replace Sen. John Warner. Mark leads former Gov. Jim Gilmore 61%-31%, and Rep. Tom Davis 63%-28%. In the GOP primary, Gilmore leads Davis 48%-29%.

The DCCC had better hope Davis still thinks he can get through a primary and win the nomination. If he stays in the race, Democrats will have a better-than-average shot at picking up his Northern Virginia-based 11th Congressional District. A moderate, Davis is frequently jokingly referred to as the Republican from the Orange Line, which runs from his district directly to Capitol South Metro Station, on Capitol Hill.

Morning Thoughts: News Canceled Today

Washington is waking up to a not-so-surprising announcement this morning, and it has nothing to do with underdogs like Wake Forest and the Colorado Rockies winning last night. The big brouhaha is in item number two. But first, the rest of what Washington wants:

-- The House and Senate enjoy one last day off before returning Monday to do some serious catching up. President Bush lunches with RNC supporters in Pinellas Park, Florida, then delivers a speech on trade policy in Miami. Energy Secretary Sam Bodman opens his department's third annual Solar Decathlon today on the Mall, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice are in Russia, and Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez leads a codel to Colombia.

-- Aside from that, nothing big happened overnight. Unless you count former Vice President Al Gore taking home the Nobel Peace Prize, which he will share with the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Add that to his Oscar, his Emmy, and his legions of shrieking fans who beg Gore to run for President, and 2007 has been a pretty good year for the former Veep. So, after all the publicity and the $65,000 supporters raised to place a full-page ad in the New York Times urging him to run, will he give it a go? Betting money says there's no way he runs. As former Rep. Dick Armey (R-TX) said on CNN a few days ago, Gore's like a High School sophomore who just got asked on a big date. He knows not to push it, and to enjoy his time on the top of the social pecking order.

-- Gore's support, in national polls, peaked near 20% in about April, and hovers around half that much now (10% in the latest Fox News/Opinion Dynamics [PDF] poll, in which Sen. Hillary Clinton scores 44%). There is little doubt that Gore's numbers would shoot through the roof if he decided to run, thanks to the media attention he would almost surely get, but if his sinking poll numbers are indicative of anything, they show that most Democrats, many of whom still feel strongly for Gore, recognize the unlikeliness of his actually running for office.

-- For the record, CNN carried the announcement live, at about 5 a.m. Eastern, and Playbook notes that John Edwards was first out of the box with a congratulatory statement. Who in his press shop is up at 5:17 a.m.? Whoever they are, we hope, for their sake, they went straight back to bed.

-- Clinton, running well ahead in the polls in most states and nationally, has yet to convert that momentum to overwhelming leads in Iowa. The tight three-way race between Clinton, Sen. Barack Obama and former Sen. John Edwards probably has nothing to do with the following fact, but it's intriguing, nonetheless: Iowa is one of just two states that has never sent a woman to the House, the Senate or the Governor's mansion. Pointing out that Iowa's population is 3% Latino, 2% African American and 1% Asian, LA Times political editor Don Frederick wants to know why everyone's so hesitant about moving the first contests to another state.

-- Shenanigans are afoot in that same tiny, ultra-white state. Rocky Mountain News' M.E. Sprenglemeyer unearths a liberal blogger who says she has sources in several campaigns who claim Obama's team urged them to get out of the Michigan primary in order to weaken Clinton among Iowa voters. By refusing to back out of Michigan, Obama's team rationalized, Clinton would irritate first caucus voters by appearing to break a pledge she signed to campaign only in four early states, leaving out Michigan and Florida. Obama, the blogger writes, feared a poor showing in Michigan and hoped to make it meaningless by leaving Clinton the only candidate on the ballot.

-- For Clinton, the Democratic standard-bearers from generations past are lining up to back her. Last week it was George McGovern. Today, The Hill reports that former Vice President Walter Mondale will endorse Clinton. But not all endorsements are political positives. Here's a nod Rudy Giuliani could live without: NARAL political director Elizabeth Shipp "acknowledged that Giuliani is the lone Republican in the field who could potentially with the [pro-choice] organization's support." That gem from Huffington Post. Adding insult to injury, CBN's David Brody noticed it, and now his mostly socially conservative readers have too.

-- On the GOP side, the mainstream media is increasingly casting the race as between two men, Giuliani and Mitt Romney. Articles yesterday by the Associated Press and the Boston Globe wondered whether the race was becoming a two-person affair, and today the Wall Street Journal spends 1000 words contrasting "the prosecutor and the salesman." Message to Fred Thompson, John McCain and others: Don't let the two of them go after each other in debates anymore. It's time to inject yourself into every debate you possibly can. Get off the bench! Coffee is for closers.

-- Finally, Romney will, at some point, have to address his Mormon faith in some form or another. A National Journal Insiders Poll out this morning shows 59% of 83 top Republicans say Romney should give the address sooner rather than later, writes the Boston Globe. Evangelical publicist Mark DeMoss is a Romney backer, and sent a letter to fellow evangelicals urging them to back his candidate. Once again, David Brody takes a look at whether evangelicals will back Romney, and concludes that leaders of the movement will rally to either Thompson or Romney, whoever can best take on Giuliani.

-- Bill Gardner Profile Of The Day: Brought to you today by the Washington Post, where Joel Achenbach takes a page A01 look at the long-time New Hampshire Secretary of State, who has the sole power to decide when his state holds its presidential primary. The nuggets we get: Achenbach gets to drive Gardner's Volvo, while the state representative who wrote the law giving Gardner his power, Jim Splaine, along for the ride, is pushing December 11th (!) for the primary. Calling him New Hampshire's equivalent to the chairman of the Federal Reserve, Achenbach says pundits "scrutinize his words with Talmudic intensity."

-- Today On The Trail: Clinton is in Atlanta before making stops in Charleston and West Columbia, South Carolina. Obama delivers a speech on the fifth anniversary of Congress' authorization for the use of force in Iraq, at Drake University in Des Moines, and later makes stops in Indianola, Newton and Marshalltown. Bill Richardson goes to Salem, Bedford, Manchester, Somersworth and Portsmouth, New Hampshire. On the GOP side, Giuliani is in Columbia, South Carolina and Spanish Fort, Alabama. John McCain visits Crawfordsville and Davenport, Iowa, before trekking to Amherst, New Hampshire tonight. Tom Tancredo is in Bettendorf, Iowa, while Mitt Romney is in Sparks, Nevada. And in this week's long-anticipated show of bipartisanship, Joe Biden and Sam Brownback hold a joint press conference in Des Moines to talk about their planned solution for Iraq.

Another Ohio GOP Retirement

After a week in which they managed to snag some top recruits, the NRCC took a hit today when word leaked that long-time Ohio Rep. Ralph Regula will announce his retirement. Roll Call's Shira Toeplitz and David Drucker report the announcement could come as early as tomorrow.

Regula, first elected in 1972, has had little trouble holding on to his district, in Northeast Ohio just south of Cleveland. Still, the district is close. President Bush won just 53% of the vote in 2000, and beat Kerry only 54%-46% in 2004. Democrats are excited about their candidate, State Sen. John Boccieri, while Republicans hope to recruit State Sens. Kirk Schuring and Ron Amstutz, Toeplitz and Drucker write.

Regula did get a scare last year, when Ashland County Commissioner Matt Miller took almost 42% of the vote in the Republican primary to Regula's 58%. Miller has already declared he will try for the seat again.

The seat should favor Republicans, at least initially, but if Democrats invest in the race, Boccieri would be another strong pickup opportunity. Again, as Republicans are forced to defend more seats from retirement, their resources become less effective as they are spread more thinly.

A Little Bit Of History Repeating

A new Southeastern Louisiana University poll shows the nightmare scenario Rep. Bobby Jindal could certainly live without. Jindal, a Republican, finished first in the first round of balloting in 2003, only to be defeated by Democrat Kathleen Blanco in the runoff in December.

This year, after Blanco was blamed for mishandling much of the Katrina disaster, Jindal is giving the race another shot. He's spent the entire campaign well ahead of every other candidate, and, for the most part, above the 50% mark needed to win the election outright and avoid a runoff.

Until now.

The poll, conducted 10/1-7, surveyed 641 registered voters, for a margin of error of +/- 4%. Jindal, State Sen. Walter Boasso (D), businessman John Georges (I) and PSC Commissioner Foster Campbell (D) were tested.

General Election Matchup
(All/Dem/GOP/Ind/White/Black)
Jindal 46 / 26 / 78 / 42 / 58 / 18
Boasso 10 / 17 / 3 / 7 / 6 / 22
Georges 9 / 11 / 8 / 12 / 10 / 7
Campbell 6 / 11 / 1 / 4 / 5 / 8

Jindal, under the 50% mark, still has 29% of voters who are undecided to work with. If he can coax just enough of them to win 50%, he will avoid what could be a major headache for national Republicans. Jindal would be the heavy favorite over any of his opponents in a general election, but heavy favorites can lose, and many would see his failure to win outright as a further bad omen for the GOP.

A side note: While Blanco's approval ratings hovered in the low 30s after the hurricane, she may be regretting her decision not to run for another term. The poll finds 46% of Louisianans approve of her job performance, while 44% disapprove. That being said, if Jindal runs away with the October 20th round of voting, we can imagine that Blanco's approval ratings are probably significantly worse than they look right now.

Giuliani To Get Big South Carolina Endorsement

A rumor floating around South Carolina Republican circles suggests South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford has picked a candidate in the 2008 Republican race. As Rudy Giuliani makes a campaign swing through the Palmetto State, the campaign says it will unveil a "significant" endorsement at a press conference tomorrow in Charleston. Palmetto Republicans are giddy with the prospect that it could be Sanford.

Trouble is, one source inside the Giuliani campaign told Politics Nation that tomorrow's announcement will not be Sanford.

A Republican familiar with the state GOP's top elected officials suggested the event's location in Charleston could indicate that Lieutenant Gov. Andre Bauer could throw his support to Giuliani. Bauer has a home in Charleston and has not endorsed a candidate yet. A call to Bauer's office was not immediately returned.

The state's political leaders are strangely divided over the question of whom to endorse. Sen. Lindsey Graham is one of John McCain's top backers, as is state Attorney General Henry McMaster. Sen. Jim DeMint uses his time to advise and support Mitt Romney. Rep. Gresham Barrett is on board with Fred Thompson. Sanford and Bauer, though, have been silent on the race.

Speculation continues that Sanford, as a Southern governor, would be a strong compliment to Romney or Giuliani, two Republicans from the Northeast, as a Vice Presidential contender.

Rothenberg's Report Bad For GOP

Stu Rothenberg, one of Washington's top election watchers, offered his latest House rating yesterday. The outlook, he says, is not good for Republicans.

Of nine pure toss-ups, Rothenberg includes four incumbent Democrats -- Florida's Tim Mahoney, Kansas' Nancy Boyda, Pennsylvania's Chris Carney and Nick Lampson of Texas -- and five Republican open seats, including AZ-01 (Renzi), IL-11 (Weller), MN-03 (Ramstad), NM-01 (Wilson) and VA-11 (Tom Davis). Another open seat, that of Rep. Deborah Pryce in Ohio, "tilts" Democratic, while Republicans might target four "tilt Democratic" incumbents and Democrats can take on three "tilt Republican" incumbents.

The rankings come the same day the Evans Novak Political Report rated both NM-01 and OH-15 as leaning toward a Democratic takeover.

Morning Thoughts: NH Is Still The One

Good morning. If, for some reason, you're in Washington and you haven't left the house, wear a sweater. Overnight, summer decided it had overstayed its welcome. Here's what a very cold capitol city paying attention to today:

-- The Senate is out of session for Columbus Day recess. The House is out of session today for the funeral of the late Rep. Jo Ann Davis, who passed away last weekend after a long battle with cancer. Davis isn't the first member to pass away this year. After the 109th Congress, in which no member died, four Representatives have passed away this year, including Davis, Juanita Millender-McDonald, Paul Gillmor and Charlie Norwood, as well as Sen. Craig Thomas. It's been a sad year on Capitol Hill.

-- Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice begins a week-long tour of some global hot spots today. Her trip will take her to Russia, Israel, the Palestinian Territories, Egypt and Jordan before she returns next week. Meanwhile, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon makes a trek of his own, to Arlington, to address the National Association of Evangelicals.

-- It's official, the Draft Al Gore movement is heaving to the top of media consciousness again, though it may be in its death throes. Gore may soon win the Nobel Peace Prize, news that came a day before Draft Gore, a national group independent of the former veep, took out a full-page ad in the New York Times and ran radio ads urging Gore to get in the race. Articles show up today in the NYT, LA Times and other top papers. If Gore's working on a secret campaign, he'd better get going quickly: Filing deadlines are rapidly approaching in several states.

-- One state in which Gore may have a legitimate shot of winning votes: Michigan, where supporters are working to get the signatures necessary to get him on the ballot. Most of his fellow Democrats pulled out of the early primary this week, though a few, including front-runner Hillary Clinton, are hanging around. That could get her in trouble in early states, where she and others signed a pledge promising to campaign only in DNC-approved early contests. Some campaigns privately pointed out her move as a possible violation, and now word leaked to New Hampshire Union Leader columnist John DiStaso, owner of one of the most widely-read spaces in New Hampshire political journalism. He wonders aloud if Clinton is committed to Iowa and New Hampshire. Lesson of the day: Do not mess with New Hampshire.

-- Speaking of New Hampshire, voters in the Granite State want to see the real thing. The inimitable Phil Elliott points out today that the real thing does not include wearing a tie to a lobster shack in Seabrook. That's what Rudy Giuliani did this summer. This column heard rumblings earlier of farmers so taken with the mayor's pinstripe suit that they began wearing them on their tractors in rural Iowa (no, not really). Barack Obama mentioned Iowans' arugula crops (there are none) and their price at Whole Foods (no stores in Iowa). Fred Thompson offended South Carolina Gov. "Mark Sandford" (that's "Sanford," senator). In a long campaign season, everyone makes mistakes. One true test of a candidate's mettle is how well they spontaneously recover from goofed choreography.

-- One big campaign "do": Hold interesting fundraisers. When Bruce Springsteen and The Police come to Washington next month, at least a few members will take advantage to hear the sets and raise some cash. Reps. Greg Walden (R-OR), Diana DeGette (D-CO), Allen Boyd (D-FL) and Melissa Bean (D-IL) will take in Sting and company, while Reps. Joe Crowley (D-NY), Ed Towns (D-NY) and Frank Pallone (D-NJ) will hear the Boss and his E Street Band, according to Mary Ann Akers and Paul Kane. Hillary Clinton last night rocked out with the Goo Goo Dolls, and her 60th birthday is being played by Elvis Costello. Some members even take a turn on stage: Freshman Rep. John Hall (D-NY), whose band Orleans had such hits as "Still the one," will headline an event at the Florida Democratic Convention with his old band-mates.

-- More wonderful beans being spilled by Dan Bartlett, the loyal and trusted former White House communications specialist, who told the U.S. Chamber of Commerce back in September that Vice President Cheney is a difficult man to advise. For a rapid response ace like Bartlett, that can be a bit frustrating at times, certainly. Our question: How did this Chamber speech not get out sooner? And how do we get on the invite list for the next one?

-- Bitter Irony Of The Day: Former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has hired himself a lawyer. The man he hired, influential Washington power broker George Terwilliger, will defend Gonzales in a probe looking into allegations he misled members of Congress in testimony while at the Justice Department. Terwilliger, though, would sure like to be doing something else. The former Deputy Attorney General under President George H.W. Bush, Terwilliger was on the extremely short list to replace Gonzales when Gonzales left the Justice Department in August.

-- Today On The Trail: John Edwards heads to Darlington, Summerton, Kingstree and Ridgeland, South Carolina, a state not often mentioned on Democratic itineraries. Hillary Clinton goes back to New Hampshire, campaigning in Plymouth and Canterbury, while Bill Richardson meets with the National Education Association and campaigns in Concord and Hooksett. On the GOP side, Rudy Giuliani meets voters in Greenville and Rock Hill, South Carolina, Mitt Romney raises money in Oklahoma City, then heads to Phoenix, and John McCain is in Des Moines and Mount Pleasant. Sam Brownback tours Muscatine and Dubuque, Iowa, while Ron Paul addresses the Robert Taft Club in Arlington.

Alaska Chessboard Becomes Clearer

Former State Representative Ethan Berkowitz today announced his plans to run against Alaska Congressman Don Young, the Republican who has represented the state in the House since 1973. Young has been associated with scandals currently roiling Alaska's Republican Party, and is widely considered to be thinking about retiring.

Despite his long history of bringing home the bacon for Alaska, Young won re-election last year with just 56% against an opponent who once ran for governor on the Green Party line. Berkowitz, the Democratic candidate for Lieutenant Governor in 2006, wins high praise from national Democrats, who see the seat as a possible pickup.

The move also means another Democratic recruitment target will be free for Senate Democrats. With scandal surrounding Senator Ted Stevens, Democrats smell an open seat. The DSCC has long sought to recruit Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich, seen as the most popular Democrat in the state, to run either against the weakened incumbent or for an open seat.

Begich has yet to make a decision on the Senate race. National Democrats are said to covet his entry into the race, and rumor had it he and Berkowitz were deciding between themselves which would enter the House race and which would go for Stevens' seat. If Begich enters the Senate race, the DSCC and the DCCC will have scored major recruiting coups.

For NRCC, A Good Week

Earlier, we wrote about former Rep. Mike Sodrel's decision to run, for a fourth time, against Rep. Baron Hill in Indiana's 9th District. Word also today that Bernalillo County Sheriff Darren White, a Republican, will run to replace Rep. Heather Wilson in New Mexico's First District.

The district, which John Kerry and Al Gore both won narrowly, has proved a challenge for Democrats on the House level. Republicans are excited, and think White is the top-tier recruit they've been looking for. "Candidate recruitment continues to go exceedingly well for us," says National Republican Congressional Committee spokesman Ken Spain. "We expect more top-tier recruits to announce their candidacies in the coming days and weeks."

Wilson is leaving her seat to run for Senate, a position vacated by Sen. Pete Domenici, who is retiring.

With the additions of Sodrel and White, this is proving to be a good week for the NRCC.

The Bloody Ninth

For a generation, Indiana's Eighth Congressional District has been known as the "Bloody Eighth," marked by constantly negative campaigns and candidates who find nothing more appealing than attacking their rivals. But next door, in the state's Ninth District, trucking executive Mike Sodrel and one-time Indiana basketball superstar Baron Hill have been engaged in a similarly ugly back-and-forth for the past six years.

After winning election in 1998, Hill, a Democrat, took a seat that should have favored Republicans. He held on, though barely, in 2002, defeating Sodrel 51%-46%. Sodrel returned in 2004 to win by about 1500 votes. In 2006, Hill ran again, taking 50% to Sodrel's 46%.

Yesterday, Sodrel announced he would try to return to Congress, marking the fourth time in four cycles the two have run against each other. The race was costly last time out -- Sodrel spent $2.7 million to Hill's $1.8 million, while outside groups threw in more than $6 million on behalf of their candidates.

The district borders Kentucky, in Indiana's southeast corner, and boasts the campus of Indiana University, where Hill played college basketball. Sodrel's base is the more conservative border area along the Ohio River. President Bush won the district by 19 points in 2004, and by 16 points in 2000. If Republicans have a good year in 2008, Sodrel has a chance to take back at least one seat for his party.

When Non-Binding Is Binding

Ninety years ago, in the waning days of the Ottoman Empire and World War I, more than one million Armenians died, possibly at the hands of the Young Turk regime. This week, the House Foreign Relations Committee takes up a resolution condemning those deaths as genocide. But House Resolution 106, the Affirmation of the United States Record on the Armenian Genocide, is more than just a non-binding resolution. In the years it has been proposed, the bill has cost at least one Congressman his seat in the House, and now Turkey is threatening greater consequences.

The bill, first advanced by then-Rep. James Rogan (R-CA), came close to the floor in the late 1990's. After President Clinton urged Speaker Dennis Hastert to pull the bill, Rogan lost his seat, to Democrat Adam Schiff, who took up the cause. Now, Schiff has an ally in Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a co-sponsor of the resolution, and the measure is undergoing hearings in committee. Pelosi and Schiff are far from alone: The bill has a total of 225 congressional co-sponsors.

Turkey's response has been subtle, but strong. With representation from three top lobbying firms in Washington, one of America's strongest allies with a foothold in the Middle East has suggested it may be less willing to assist America if a resolution goes through. A recent poll, cited by the Washington Post today, shows 83% of Turks would oppose their country helping the U.S. in Iraq if the resolution goes forward. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan put in a phone call last week to President Bush warning on the dangers of passing the resolution.

The American foreign policy community realizes the problems with adopting the resolution, as well. Turkey ended some military agreements with France after the French National Assembly criminalized any denial of a genocide.

A letter with signatures from all eight former Secretaries of State who are still alive went to Pelosi earlier this week, and three ex-Defense Secretaries warned Turkey could go as far as to cut off access to an air base used for operations in Iraq. The State Department and the Bush Administration, like the Clinton Administration before it, are vehemently opposed to the measure because of the foreign policy ramifications.

There are historical questions surrounding the deaths, as well. Turkey maintains that the deaths were the result of the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, not an organized genocide, and that thousands of Turks perished as well.

Still, say proponents, to pass the bill recognizing the genocide would be a renewal of American commitment to preventing genocide around the globe. How, they ask, can the U.S. take action in Darfur without recognizing other, previous genocides? Opponents say regardless of the moral dilemma, modern reality is that the resolution will hurt U.S.-Turkish relations at a time when America needs allies in Iraq.

Turkish and Armenian lobbying groups in Washington have spent millions battling over the issue. According to the Post, Turkey pays more than $315,000 a month to the three well-connected lobbying groups, while last year alone the Armenian Assembly of America spent $3.6 million to lobby Congress.

For some, the issue is relevant and hugely important as the United States tries to remake its image in the world. For others, including the Washington Post editorial board, the resolution promises more trouble for troops in Iraq. Many will criticize Congress for a do-nothing session, but at times, even a non-binding resolution can cause widespread consequences.

Morning Thoughts: Center Stage

It's Wednesday, October 10th. One hundred sixty-two years ago today, the U.S. Naval Academy was founded in Annapolis, Maryland. Just down the road, in Washington, here's what's on tap today:

-- The Senate remains out for recess, while the House will take up legislation prohibiting the IRS from using private debt collection companies to collect unpaid taxes as well as a bill to create a national housing trust fund. Larger battles are being fought behind the scenes today, as the House Judiciary and Intelligence Committees mark up a foreign intelligence surveillance bill. Once hearings begin, the bill is going to become an issue for both civil libertarians and those worried about homeland security.

-- In Michigan, all eyes were on Fred Thompson. That is, until four top Democrats opted to pull out of the state's primary, which is scheduled to violate DNC rules by occuring before the "window" which opens February 5. Marc Ambinder has the Detroit Free Press' front page today.

-- More proof, as if any were needed, that the Beltway media pays attention to much different news than the rest of the country. While Michiganders led with the Democratic field, Washingtonians were glued to their sets waiting to see just how Thompson performed. Results from the political punditocracy were decidedly mixed: Thompson's "presence did not seem to have much affect on the other candidates," the NYT blogs, leaving it to Leibovitch to write that Thompson "survives," even though many were looking for "the political equivalent of a Nascar wreck." He was "dull," says Roger Simon, and seemed "in over his head," wrote Howard Fineman. Mark Halperin gives him a C+, ranking him behind Rudy Giuliani, Mitt Romney and John McCain. Tom Bevan calls Thompson a winner, finishing strong after a "shaky start." David Brody, on the other hand, called the performance "measured and pretty strong."

-- The debate "went pretty much the way the entire campaign has gone lately: A lot of hype about Fred Thompson, but ultimately a contest between Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney," The Plank writes. The heated exchange yesterday between Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani, and the headlines that accompany major write-ups of the debate, show the real state of the GOP race: The former Guv and Hizzoner are the AL East, the big leagues. Everyone else, including Thompson, are playing in the AL or NL West. The two "steal the show," heads USA Today. "Romney and Giuliani Spar as New Guy Looks On," the New York Times writes. The two "stood out as they just seemed more comfortable with the main topic," the economy, writes Chuck Todd.

-- The two both had some great lines, though, and the difference between how those lines came across says a lot about who they are: Romney's lines, including assuming there would be a tax levied on the debate before it was over, and the race reminding him of a long Law & Order episode, were planned. Giuliani's lines, including his assertion that he thinks the way he does about the line-item veto because he's a strict constructionist, are more spontaneous. Each has benefits, but aside from former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, the two stood out for seeming so confident, event while standing next to a guy a full head taller than both.

-- The Log Cabin Republicans might see the race the same way. If so, they've picked their candidate, and it isn't Mitt Romney. The group released its second ad zinging the former Massachusetts governor, which will run for ten days in Iowa and on Fox News nationally. The ad accuses Romney of changing positions on abortion, guns and Ronald Reagan (heaven forfend!), reports the Washington Times. "He's changed his views so many times it's really hard to predict what a Romney administration would be like," zings LCR chief Patrick Sammon. The group is the first to go after a front-running Republican; so far, only Club for Growth has been outspoken in their opposition to a candidate, though it is the second-tier Huckabee.

-- Fred Thompson is a dud. Mitt Romney has a Mormon problem. Huckabee's a hick. And McCain's going to lose. DNC press release? No, the frank assessment of Dan Bartlett, former White House counselor, who made the remarks during a September 13 appearance at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce that everyone, somehow, forgot to notice. The Washington Post's Peter Baker offers what could be a key insight: "Although [Bartlett] and the White House both emphasized yesterday that he was speaking for himself, Bartlett spent 14 years channeling Bush, so his views may be seen as a revealing look at the thinking within the president's inner circle."

-- Bag Out Of Which Cat Escapes Of The Day: Speaking to a group of reporters yesterday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi admitted that the DNC is virtually powerless to actually punish Florida once a presidential nominee has been selected. "The Democratic National Committee is the ruling authority now," Pelosi said, "but the tradition is that the presidential candidate will decide." Pelosi has a long history with presidential nominating contests; she was the DNC's main enforcer in the early 1980s, threatening to crack skulls of anyone suggesting Iowa or New Hampshire move up their dates. She was, as this year shows, less than successful.

-- Today On The Trail: Most Republicans are down the day after the Dragout in Dearborn, but John McCain takes the opportunity to head to Grinnell and Coralville, Iowa, while Mitt Romney skips from Royal Oak, Michigan to Denver, where he holds a town hall meeting with law students. Romney's wife Ann will hold campaign events in New Hampshire, stopping in Manchester, Hampton and Portsmouth. On the Democratic side, Barack Obama ventures to the end of the Blue Line for a rally in Largo, Maryland, while Bill Richardson holds events in Albia, Ottumwa, Fairfield, Mt. Pleasant and Burlington, Iowa. Hillary Clinton goes to Merrimack and Derry, New Hampshire, then heads to Boston for a fundraiser.

The Market Gauges Thompson's Performance

Prices in the Real Clear Predicts Market Fantasy '08 as the GOP debate begins, with today's price changes in parentheses, as of 4:06 p.m.:

Giuliani 38.9 (-0.6)
Thompson 21.9 (+0.3)
Romney 23.6 (-1.6)
Paul 5.7 (-1.6)
McCain 5.2 (+0.3)
Huckabee 3.4 (-1.3)

All other candidates have no contracts and no change on the day.

Rocky Mountain Tie

Our apologies for missing this poll, out of Colorado, where pollster Floyd Ciruli, one of our favorite pundits around, tested Rep. Mark Udall (D) and ex-Rep. Bob Schaffer in the race to replace outgoing Sen. Wayne Allard next year. The poll, conducted 9/12-15, surveyed 504 registered voters for a 4.4% margin of error.

General Election Matchup
(All/Dem/GOP/Ind)
Udall 36 / 72 / 6 / 34
Schaffer 35 / 3 / 68 / 19

The race is close thanks to a number of undecided independents -- just 53% choose a candidate. Still, the poll reminds that Colorado, while trending Democratic, remains tough territory for both parties. There are more Republicans in the state, though independents have, of late, heavily favored Democrats. Shaffer has to appeal strongly to those not affiliated with either party if he wants to move above Udall.

Republicans Lining Up In Dearborn

Fred Thompson is set to make his big debut in just half an hour at the CNBC/MSNBC debate in Dearborn, Michigan. RCP's Tom Bevan is there. Check back to RCP tonight for Tom's report, and check out the five questions he's looking to answer tonight..

Democrats Pull Out Of Michigan

After Michigan Democrats refused to disregard their state's planned January 15 primary, four top Democratic candidates have filed papers with the Secretary of State to withdraw their names from the ballot. Sen. Barack Obama, ex-Sen. John Edwards and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson said they would take their names off the state's primary ballot today, according to the Detroit Free Press. Sen. Joe Biden sent out a release saying he, too, would take his name off the ballot today, the last day to legally do so.

Michigan is home to Sen. Carl Levin and party activist Debbie Dingell, wife of Rep. John Dingell, the two most active members of a group of Democrats trying to break the stranglehold Iowa and New Hampshire have on the presidential nominating process.

Candidates earlier this year were asked to sign a pledge not to campaign in states that violated the DNC's rule prohibiting nominating contests held before February 5th. Only Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada are allowed, under DNC rules, to hold early contests.

Other Democratic candidates, including front-running Sen. Hillary Clinton, have yet to issue statements. They have about four hours to make their decisions. The DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee will likely treat Michigan to the same sanctions as Florida, which, by holding a January 29 primary, lost all its delegates to the 2008 convention.

It remains likely that both states' delegates will ultimately be sat at the convention, thanks to the presidential nominee's control over membership on the Credentials Committee. Still, the move is another step towards chaos endemic in this year's primary calendar.

UPDATE: Blake Dvorak has the report that Clinton will stay on the ballot in Michigan. How the first four primary states will react could propel this story for a few more days.

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New Gallup Poll Has Giuliani Up

A Gallup Poll, conducted 10/4-7 and released on the eve of the big Republican debate today in Dearborn, Michigan, shows Rudy Giuliani still in command of the race, at least nationally. The poll surveyed 409 Republicans and leaners, for a margin of error of approximately +/- 5%.

The big news: Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee seems to be on a measurable rise. Huckabee is at 7%, up from 1% as recently as May, while candidates like Mitt Romney have remained largely stagnant, finishing at 9% today, down just 1% since May.

Primary Election Matchup
Giuliani 32 (+2 from last poll, 9/14-16)
Thompson 20 (-2)
McCain 16 (-2)
Romney 9 (+2)
Huckabee 7 (+3)

Taking a look at the favorable ratings for each candidate, John McCain and Rudy Giuliani have little upside remaining. Both are very well-known -- just 13% have not made up their minds about Giuliani, and 15% remain undecided about McCain. High name identification is a good thing, but when people have yet to make up their minds about other candidates, it means those candidates have more of a potential upside.

For Fred Thompson and Mitt Romney, about 40% of the electorate still needs to learn more about them before formulating an opinion. Those who can learn more about Huckabee: 65%. Thompson, Romney and Huckabee have the potential to win many more supporters, while fewer new voters are available to flock to McCain and Giuliani.

Fav/Unfav
Giuliani 72 / 15
McCain 61 / 24
Thompson 53 / 10
Romney 45 / 15
Huckabee 26 / 9
Paul 14 / 14

The Third Party Gambit

Reports last week suggesting that social conservative leaders would bolt the GOP nominated a pro-choice candidate (read: Rudy Giuliani) were met with defiant statements, not denials, from those same conservatives. Republicans, some social conservatives said, need to be sent a wake-up call, and while bolting the party would help a Democrat win the White House, they argue that the religious right needs to reassert itself as a driving force in the GOP.

But there's a hidden upside for Republicans, if not in the near term, then in the long run. By leaving Republicans and founding a party based solely on a social conservative agenda, the new team could help woo African American voters away from Democrats. Socially conservative African Americans, who have more in common with the white religious right but are loathe to cast a ballot for Republicans, are the targets of some early outreach, the Washington Times reports today.

African Americans are likely to feel more strongly against gay rights, more strongly pro-life and more strongly identified with a church. "As black conservative leaders, we would not be opposed to a third party that brings us together with our fellow Christians," Bishop Harry Jackson, who runs a mega-church near Washington, told the Times.

Still, socially conservative African Americans will need a lot of convincing to go with a candidate other than the Democratic nominee. Just 11% of African Americans voted for President Bush in 2004. Two other factors make life difficult for a socially conservative third party: First, African Americans remain hugely supportive of both Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.

Second, both leading Democrats, and others running for the nomination, are talking more openly about faith. Obama gave a guest sermon at an African American mega-church in Greenville, South Carolina, this weekend. Obama, said former Ohio Republican Secretary of State Ken Blackwell who works at the Family Research Council, "hijacked the language" of African American evangelical leaders. But Obama, Clinton and others are less shy about discussing their faith, which could delay a third party's success.

Morning Thoughts: Turn Left At Albuquerque

Happy Tuesday morning. Cleveland, apparently, rocks. Sorry, Yankee fans. Here's what's kicking around Washington today:

-- The Senate is out of session this week for Columbus Day recess, while the House begins an easy week tonight. No votes until 6:30 p.m., when the House will take up bills on product safety, war profiteering and college tuition for residents of the District of Columbia. The House Foreign Affairs Committee takes up a resolution declaring genocide in an early 20th Century incident in the then-Ottoman Empire, when thousands of Armenians were slaughtered. When France threatened a similar resolution, Turkey cut off some military ties, and some have suggested that, should the resolution pass, several air bases the U.S. uses to stage operations for Iraq could be threatened.

-- The biggest news driving the day: Anticipation over former Sen. Fred Thompson's impending debate performance in a gathering, sponsored by CNBC, tonight in Dearborn, Michigan. The storyline going into the debate is that Thompson must have a stellar performance tonight. The debate is "crucial," per the NYT and WaPo and a "big test," says Thompson's hometown Tennessean. Thompson has been practicing for weeks, with at least seven sessions at his McLean, Virginia, headquarters, writes AP's Liz Sidoti. Roger Simon's round-up of expectations the Thompson camp is setting: "All he has to do is not fall asleep. All he has to do is not throw up. All he has to do is not drool."

-- One side note that will be telling: Sidoti reports that Thompson will find himself standing between Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani tonight. The two campaigns have gone after each other with increasing urgency of late, most recently on taxes and spending, with both launching shots suggesting the other is nothing less than a tax-and-spend liberal. If the two take more shots at each other than at Thompson -- and given that the debate will focus on economic issues, taxes and spending will be a major topic -- will that signal that neither takes the threat of Thompson very seriously?

-- In a blow to former Sen. John Edwards' campaign, SEIU yesterday voted not to endorse a presidential candidate, freeing their local chapters to do the job for them. While most top officials are friendly to Edwards, locals in New York and Illinois backed their favorite daughter and son enough to block the North Carolinian from grabbing the nod. "Given the importance of this election, we are encouraging members and leaders to act on their passion for the candidates, and get involved on a statewide basis," SEIU President Andy Stern said. Edwards' campaign sees reason to be publicly optimistic, saying they could now win endorsements from locals in key states, writes Perry Bacon.

-- Unions have split on supporting candidates in the primary this year, writes the Chicago Tribune's Mark Silva. The AFL-CIO has promised to spend more than $50 million in 2008, though they haven't picked a Democratic standard-bearer. Hillary Clinton owns the support of six big unions, including the Machinists and National Federation of Teachers, while Edwards has support from four big labor groups, including the Steelworkers, Mine Workers and Carpenters. Barack Obama has the backing of one union, the Correction Officers' Benevolent Association.

-- Rep. Heather Wilson (R), who yesterday reported a whopping $750,000 cash on hand, gets a major opponent today when Albuquerque Mayor Martin Chavez (D) will enter the race to succeed Sen. Pete Domenici in New Mexico, reports The Hill. Chavez, who lost a bid for governor in 1998, gives Democrats at least one top-tier candidate, though the party still pines for a bid from either Gov. Bill Richardson or Rep. Tom Udall, both of whom have said no.

-- Former Rep. Larry LaRocco (D-ID), running to replace outgoing Sen. Larry Craig, goes from being a big front-runner (because no one else was running) to being a big underdog when Lieutenant Gov. Jim Risch (R) is expected to announce his candidacy in several news conferences around Idaho today. Risch will fly around from Boise to Idaho Falls and Coeur d'Alene, according to the Idaho Mountain Express. The move comes a day after news leaked that Craig will be inducted into the Idaho Hall of Fame this coming Saturday.

-- Off-Message Hoax Of The Day: Two days after placing third in the latest Des Moines Register Iowa Poll, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee's campaign is warning of a hoax email sent to supporters claiming that the campaign's Iowa chairman, former Lieutenant Governor candidate Bob Vander Plaats, is leaving the fold. "I'm not leaving my guy any time," Vander Plaats told the Register, strongly denying the rumors. The email hoax says Vander Plaats is off to support Romney, who led the Iowa poll with 29%, to Huckabee's 12%.

-- Today On The Trail: The GOP candidates head to Dearborn, Michigan, for the debate tonight. McCain offers a speech to the Detroit Economic Club earlier in the day, while Paul rallies with students at the University of Michigan. Romney and Giuliani hold post-debate rallies. On the Democratic side, Clinton continues rolling through Iowa, with stops in Webster City and Humboldt. Obama is in Londonderry and Plymouth, New Hampshire. Edwards visits beautiful Seaside, Oregon (Hint: Don't go to the aquarium, you'll just get depressed) addressing the Oregon AFL-CIO, and Kucinich meets students at a community college in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Wilson Reports For 3rd Quarter

Rep. Heather Wilson (R-NM), flexing her fundraising muscle after announcing her plans to run for Senate, will report more than three quarters of a million dollars on hand when her campaign files with the FEC next week.

Deputy finance director Heather Wade reports her boss pulled in $238,000 during the third quarter, giving her $908,000 raised on the year and with $754,000 left over. With Albuquerque Mayor Martin Chavez and Lieutenant Gov. Diane Denish each starting at about zero, numbers like that have to give Democrats pause. Rep. Tom Udall, the only potential candidate with a federal account already in use, bowed out of the race last week.

Rep. Steve Pearce, a more conservative Republican than Wilson, is on family vacation this weekend making a final decision about the race. His campaign reported $383,000 cash on hand at the end of the second quarter, in July. Pearce would benefit from the backing of the Club for Growth, a conservative anti-tax organization that has already sent out releases blasting what they call Wilson's "liberal record."

The possibility of a bloody primary is not one the NRSC hopes for, while the DSCC is still trying to coax a candidate into the race.

Thompson Announces National Team

The day before his first appearance in a Republican debate, former Sen. Fred Thompson used Columbus Day to make sure stories tomorrow begin by announcing his national campaign co-chairs, rather than leading with the importance of a stellar performance.

National co-chairs include former Sen. Howard Baker, who long served as a mentor to Thompson and virtually shoved him into the race, and former Sen. Spence Abraham, who has been a major part of the nascent campaign for months. Former Sen. George Allen, himself once thought to be a top-tier presidential contender, and former State Department official Liz Cheney round out the campaign's top team.

Allen's addition will help Thompson reach out to conservatives he needs to woo if he has any hope of the nomination, while the addition of Cheney, whose father, of course, is also employed within the administration, seems set to imply that Thompson is the choice of some (indeed, much) of the GOP establishment. Remember, on the GOP side, the establishment choice usually wins the nomination.

We noted earlier that Thompson's former debate prep coach, former Sen. Al D'Amato (R-NY), is filling that role for Rudy Giuliani this cycle. Cheney, the release from Thompson's campaign notes, managed vice presidential debate prep for the Bush-Cheney campaign in 2000 and 2004. If she works hard today getting Thompson ready, she may be managing the top of the ticket's preparation in 2008.

Morning Thoughts: It's Not Heaven, It's Iowa

Happy Columbus Day. In New York, the streets are alive with paraders and Yankee fans still celebrating last night's win. Here's what a late-rising Washington will be reading today:

-- The House and Senate are out of session all week for district work period. Some members are still in town, though: House Appropriations Committee chairman David Obey (D-WI) heads to the National Press Club for an address on federal budget priorities, while Sen. Dick Lugar (R-IN) addresses the Brookings Institution on Russia.

-- A new poll of likely caucus-goers in Iowa, released over the weekend by the Des Moines Register, shows two fields in flux. On the GOP side, Mitt Romney is still well ahead of the pack, with 29%, though former Sen. Fred Thompson is at 18% in the first Iowa Poll (the Register's trademarked poll name) in which he's been included. The poll, the Register points out, was conducted as Thompson made a high-profile campaign swing through the state. The real shocker on the GOP side: If there are just three tickets out of Iowa, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee is in position to claim ticket number three. Huckabee has the support of 12% of Iowa Republicans, one point ahead of Rudy Giuliani's 11%. Importantly, more Huckabee supporters say their minds are completely made up than voters who have chosen other candidates.

-- The Democratic seesaw in Iowa continues back and forth, with New York Sen. Hillary Clinton ending up on top this month. Clinton leads the Democratic pack with 29%, trailed by John Edwards at 23% and Barack Obama at 22%. In the May poll, Edwards held 29% and the lead, while Clinton, at 21%, trailed Obama, at 23%, for third. Like Huckabee, Clinton benefits when respondents were asked if they had completely made up their mind; she is favored by roughly half (48%) of about a third of voters who have made final decisions. Obama, as expected, does well among independents and younger caucus-goers, though three quarters of those not supporting him say they favor someone else because of his relative lack of experience, an issue the Chicagoan is actively trying to overcome.

-- Iowa Republicans voted Friday to recommend January 3rd as their state's caucus date, per Marc Ambinder. If Iowa GOP executive director Chuck Laudner can't get Democrats to agree to the date by October 15, he can announce the January 3 date for the Republican caucuses. With Iowans voting so close to New Years, about two weeks earlier than they did in 2004, will a candidate who isn't leading by Christmas have the chance to catch fire in the final days? If Iowans had voted so early four years ago, Howard Dean might have been the Democratic nominee.

-- The biggest news of the week happens tomorrow when Fred Thompson stands on stage with his fellow candidates for his first actual debate. Thompson announced his candidacy the same night as the last GOP debate, in early September, and tomorrow's event promises lots of media attention. The big question: After so many major speeches flopped or were deemed just okay, can Thompson turn in a game-changing performance? Will a format that still has Thompson sharing the stage with eight other candidates actually allow him to do so? Simply put, probably not. The New York Times takes a look at Thompson's last major debate, with Rep. Jim Cooper (D-TN) in 1994, when the two were battling for a Senate seat. Back then, ex-Sen. Alfonse D'Amato helped Thompson prepare for the back-and-forth. This time, D'Amato's in Giuliani's corner.

-- In the race for union endorsements, SEIU is the crown jewel. The Service Employees have yet to make a pick, as their executive board cannot agree between Clinton, Obama and Edwards. Edwards remains the favorite of important factions on the union's governing body, though locals from New York and Illinois are pushing for no endorsement. If SEIU votes to allow its locals to make their own endorsements, Edwards will lose an important ally in the unified, very politically savvy union. Union officials meet today to go over various proposals, Ben Smith reports.

-- Not content at 2% in the polls? Try something a little different. That's what Sens. Joe Biden and Sam Brownback will do Friday when they hold a joint campaign event to talk about their plan for Iraq. Last week, the Senate voted overwhelmingly for the Biden-Brownback-Boxer Amendment (Throwing Barbara Boxer in there, how's that for bipartisanship?) creating a decentralized federal system for Iraq. The two will address the Greater Des Moines Committee on Foreign Relations over lunch, an event certain to get front-page play in the Register. Still, bipartisan presidential gatherings are not unheard of. In 2000, John McCain and Bill Bradley held a similar event to talk about campaign finance reform.

-- Probably Relevant Stats Of The Day: According to a Chicago Tribune review, Edwards has been to 80 of Iowa's 99 counties; Obama has visited 56; Clinton has shown up in just 31. Still, Obama leads in local offices, with 31 in Iowa, while Clinton has 21, and Edwards and Bill Richardson each boast 15, according to an NBC/National Journal analysis.

-- Today On The Trail: Obama makes a major energy policy speech in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Edwards stops in Corydon, Leon and Mount Ayr, Iowa, while Biden is in Monticello, Vinton, Marengo, Tipton and Clinton, Iowa. Clinton begins her "Middle Class Express" bus tour through Iowa with a speech in Cedar Rapids and rallies in Marshalltown, Boone and Ames. Republicans are all down today, preparing for tomorrow's debate, though we could have sworn the camera showed Rudy Giuliani at the Yankees game last night in The Bronx.

In IL 14, An Expensive Primary

The race to replace former House Speaker Dennis Hastert is going to prove expensive, even before a Democrat gets involved. Several wealthy candidates, including dairy owner Jim Oberweis and State Sen. Chris Lauzen, will likely contribute heavily to their own campaigns, and indeed have already done so.

After declaring his candidacy just three weeks ago, Lauzen, a State Senator since 1992, will report having raised over $210,000 from more than 265 donors. Lauzen is also kicking in a personal loan of $325,000, for a cash on hand total north of $525,000, sources tell RCP's Tom Bevan.

Oberweis's campaign refused to release fundraising numbers, but a source tells Politics Nation the campaign will begin running its first advertisements today. The district, which stretches west of Chicago from Aurora nearly to the Iowa border, is Cubs territory. The team faces the Arizona Diamondbacks in the first round of the playoffs, and thanks to Major League Baseball's decision to put the games on cable, ad rates are significantly less expensive than network rates would be.

With ads going up so early -- the primary is scheduled for March -- the race will only get more expensive.

Wilson In, Udall Out In NM

Congresswoman Heather Wilson, a perpetual Democratic target, will announce in just minutes that she will be a candidate to replace New Mexico Senator Pete Domenici, who announced his retirement yesterday. Wilson, a five-term Republican representing Albuquerque, gives the Republicans a strong chance to hold the seat in an increasingly even state, while seeking to become a Democratic target once every six years, as opposed to once every two.

On the Democratic side, Congressman Tom Udall, initially seen as one of the party's best chances to capture the seat, announced yesterday that he will not run. Democrats now turn their attention to Albuquerque Mayor Martin Chavez and Lieutenant Gov. Diane Denish as two top candidates.

Gov. Bill Richardson, who would start a race as an overwhelming favorite, used yesterday to deny in every way he could that he would abandon his presidential bid to run for the seat.

UPDATE: Giuliani Hits Back

Not content to let former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney hit Mayor Rudy Giuliani's record for free, the Giuliani campaign today went a step further than they did yesterday, when they let surrogate speakers respond to Romney's claim. Today, Team Giuliani dumped a little oppo research of their own.

Among their claims, that Romney raised taxes on out-of-state residents who worked in Massachusetts as governor -- critical for the thousands of workers coming in from a certain early primary state immediately to the north of Romney's home state. Taxes raised included employment taxes, deferred compensation, vacation pay and other income. During Romney's tenure, the state's tax burden rose 10.75%, while New York City's tax burden fell 17% under Giuliani.

Hitting back at Romney's broadsides indicates the mayor's campaign sees a win in New Hampshire as important, just like Romney's team does. While Giuliani has largely focused on later states, like Florida and the February 5th giants, what happens if his campaign decides to put more chips on New Hampshire? If Giuliani decides to spend more money in the Granite State, Romney will have to dig deeper into his own pocket to protect the investment he's already made.

Romney Aims At Giuliani

As Republicans descend on Washington today to address anti-tax activists, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney is taking a hard line with former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani while defending his own record on taxes and spending. At a forum yesterday in Manchester, Romney lambasted Giuliani's lack of support for a line-item veto, which small government advocates see as key to keeping spending in check.

"Mayor Giuliani was the mayor who fought the line-item veto -- went to court to stop the line-item veto. And he won, and because he won, he killed the line item veto," Romney said. "It is the single most important tool we have to stop excessive spending. And that was a serious mistake."

Giulaini's administration filed suit in federal court in 1997 challenging the constitutionality of the veto, a suit that made it all the way to the Supreme Court. The Court ruled in Giuliani's favor. The mayor, who had sued to keep a federal Medicaid reimbursement in place, called the win a "very, very big victory for New York City and New York State."

Giuliani has now pledged to propose a Constitutional amendment establishing the line-item veto. Yesterday, former Massachusetts Gov. Paul Cellucci, who is backing Giuliani, hit back at his successor. "It's a pretty weak argument from a governor who in four years really had no tax cuts for the people of Massachusetts," Cellucci said on a conference call, according to National Journal/NBC's Matt Berger.

The spat comes as Romney debuts a new radio ad, running in New Hampshire beginning today, that seeks to distinguish him from the pack. "I'm proud to be the only major candidate for President to sign the Tax Pledge," he says, referring to the Taxpayer Protection Pledge, an initiative of Americans for Tax Reform. Senator Sam Brownback, former Governor Mike Huckabee and Reps. Ron Paul and Tom Tancredo have also signed the pledge.

Taxes and spending weren't the only issues on which the Red Sox fan took on the Yankee. Speaking to reporters after the event in Manchester, Romney did not hesitate to spotlight a few other distinctions between the rivals. "Mayor Giuliani is pro-choice, and I'm pro-life -- that's probably the most stark and dramatic difference," the Politico reports Romney said. "I oppose same-sex marriage and civil unions and he is in favor of civil unions."

The barrage comes as Romney has seen his support in New Hampshire slip in recent weeks. Once riding high at more than 31% in the RCP New Hampshire Average, Romney now sits at 25.2%, just 3.8 points ahead of Giuliani, whose support in the Granite State has risen of late.

Romney has also been dogged by recent reports that his campaign's momentum is slowing down. His efforts to distinguish himself from Giuliani, the harshest comments any top-tier candidate has made about another top-tier candidate, are a way to both slow down the surging mayor and to reestablish himself in New Hampshire.

Morning Thoughts: Revising Up

Friday has finally arrived. The Phillies and Yankees find themselves in early holes, while the Arizona Diamondbacks continue to inspire the phrase: "Who?" Given that the Nationals are busy honing their golf games, here's what else Washington is paying attention to today:

-- The House and Senate will not take up legislative business today, ahead of a week-long recess to honor Columbus Day. Conservatives meet in Washington today on for the Americans for Prosperity Foundation's Defending the American Dream summit. Guests include several presidential candidates and conservative stalwarts Sens. Tom Coburn (who makes two appearances) and Jim DeMint, and Reps. Jeff Flake, Mike Pence (also twice), John Shadegg and Jeb Hensarling, among others.

-- A clever tactic: Campaigns for both Fred Thompson and John McCain released preliminary fundraising numbers earlier this week -- $8 million and $5 million for the quarter, respectively. Later in the week, the same day front-runners Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani announce their impressive eight-figure hauls, Thompson and McCain revised their numbers up. Thompson now says he will report raising $9.3 million, with $7 million on hand, while McCain revised his number up to $6 million, with $3.6 million cash on hand and a $1.5 million debt. Both stories are different from the early narratives, and each candidate benefits from getting their names in two news cycles.

-- As if DNC opposition researchers didn't already have their hands full with Rudy Giuliani, the New York Times today reminds them of his infamous radio call in show, while he was mayor. While on the air, Giuliani was, as the Times puts it, "uncensored and unbowed," a polite way to point out that he insulted any number of citizens who called up. Should the Mayor make it through to the general election, the tapes of his radio show will prove a treasure trove for ads reminding the rest of the country that pre-September 11th Rudy Giuliani was not the most popular of mayors.

-- Blake Dvorak yesterday posted a very clever ad aimed at derailing Romney's bid. Listen to it, and it sure sounds like a positive piece. But then consider that the praise for having "fought conservatives and religious extremists," and consider that the ad will run on Fox News. Clever Log Cabin Republicans. Now, Jonathan Martin gets his hands on an email sent around by someone who doesn't seem to be a Romney fan touting an "endorsement" for Romney from the same Log Cabin group. The kicker, from Iowa.team.romney@gmail.com: "We are proud to welcome the gay and lesbian group to our growing list of endorsements!" The email purportedly went to many Romney supporters in the Hawkeye State.

-- House and Senate Republicans who back an expansion of the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) privately admit that a vote to override the president's veto is great politics, and that appearing to be against health care for low-income children could hurt the party. Still, for the four leading Republican presidential candidates, for whom spending is becoming a bigger issue, backing the veto is a no-brainer. All four told the New York Times they support the veto. The issue is part of a larger debate over which candidates would hold the line on federal spending. Look for more on that later today.

-- Iowa and New Hampshire residents and their attendant media are a little touchy on the subject of their primaries. See today's Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier, which spends more than 230 words reviewing an article in the latest "American Prospect" magazine critical of Iowa's first-in-the-nation status. Meanwhile, members of both states' congressional delegations authored a letter to House leaders criticizing legislation establishing a regional presidential primary. The letter, signed by all seven House members from Iowa and New Hampshire, warned House leaders that Congress would be overstepping its bounds. There has been no indication that leadership plans to bring the bill to the floor.

-- Power Player Of The Day: Speaking of Iowa and New Hampshire, the latter's long-time Secretary of State, Bill Gardner, is beginning to feel the pinch. Iowa doesn't want to hold their primary in December, while the DNC may allow South Carolina to move its primary up and Nevada to move its caucus up. A condensed primary calendar, even with New Hampshire going second, would drastically impede New Hampshire's abilities to influence the process, and that's something Bill Gardner can't have. Still, time is running out. Gardner, no wallflower, could decide to make a drastic move and skip well ahead of Iowa. He alone has discretion over the date on which the state holds its primary.

-- Today On The Trail: Ron Paul, Mike Huckabee, Sam Brownback, Thompson, Giuliani and Romney address the Defending the American Dream summit today in Washington, while John McCain raises cash in Arizona. Rep. Tom Tancredo will call for the removal of the Iowa judge who overturned the state's gay marriage ban at a press conference in Des Moines. On the Democratic side, Joe Biden, John Edwards and Barack Obama are all in Iowa. Biden makes stops in Fort Madison, Keosauqua and Mount Pleasant; John Edwards is in Cresco, Waukon, Elkader and Fayette; and Obama meets voters in New Hampton, Charles City and Mason City. Bill Richardson addresses the Southern Congressional Black Caucus and the Georgia Association of Democratic County Chairs.

Wilson To Make Announcement Tomorrow

As Senator Pete Domenici announces his retirement today in Albuquerque, Rep. Heather Wilson is set to make her plans clear at an event tomorrow at her campaign office, Politico's Josh Kraushaar reports.

A Wilson spokesman refused to comment on her plans, but her campaign has asked supporters to attend the 1:30 local time event. If Wilson decides to run for Domenici's seat, as expected, she would make a strong general election candidate in a state that is trending away from Republicans. Still, her seat would become a top target for Democrats who have long been frustrated by failed attempts to knock off the incumbent.

Rudy's $11 Mil Quarter

Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani will report having raised $11 million for the 3rd Quarter. Check out Tom Bevan's post for the details.

Romney To Report $18 Mil 3rd Quarter

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney will report more than $18 million in total receipts for the third quarter, bringing his total to $62 million for the year, according to spokesman Kevin Madden.

The campaign will report about $10 million in primary contributions and another $8.5 million in loans from Romney himself. That makes a total of $45 million raised in contributions and about $17 million in loans from Romney's personal bank account.

While Romney's momentum might have slowed of late, as some are suggesting, the campaign is happy with the way the third quarter progressed. They held more than sixty "Ask Mitt Anything" forums in the quarter, won the Iowa straw poll, crossed the 100,000 contributor threshold, and maintains about $9 million cash on hand.

Unlike other campaigns, Romney is not raising general election funds yet, so every penny of the $9 million, plus whatever else Romney loans himself, can be spent to win the nomination.

Every major candidate has now disclosed their fundraising performance except former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, whose totals are expected shortly.

Thompson Aide Heads To CN8

Robert Traynham, a senior communications adviser to former Sen. Fred Thompson, has left the campaign to take over as Washington bureau chief for CN8, a Comcast network. The network announced Traynham will start next Monday, October 8th.

Traynham, a former top press aide to Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA), joined the campaign in its "testing the waters" phase in late June. A campaign spokesman says Traynham left the campaign shortly before the official announcement, early last month, for the new job. "The campaign regretted losing him but was supportive of him in this new endeavor," said spokesman Jeff Sadosky.

Traynham did not respond to an email seeking comment.

Traynham is one of many communications staffers who left just before the campaign became official. Others, including senior advisor Mark Corallo, spokesman Jim Mills, communications director Linda Rozett and press secretary Burson Snyder all left in August or early September.

Thompson's communications shop is now run by veteran Republican communications specialist Todd Harris, his deputy, Karen Hanretty, and spokesman Jeff Sadosky. Harris and Hanretty are veterans of California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's 2003 campaign, while Sadosky came to his post after serving as communications director for the Florida Republican Party.

Shaheen Keeps Big Lead

Though two recent polls showed Sen. John Sununu trailing by narrow margins, a new Granite State Poll by the University of New Hampshire shows former Gov. Jeanne Shaheen with the same commanding lead she help several months ago. UNH's Survey Center, headed by Dr. Andy Smith, conducted the poll, sponsored by CNN and WMUR-TV, between 9/17-24. 508 adults were surveyed, with a margin of error of +/- 4.4%. In the state's First Congressional District, 230 adults were surveyed (+/- 6.5%) and 278 respondents came from the Second District (+/- 5.9%).

General Election Matchup
(All/Dem/GOP/Ind/Men/Wom)
Shaheen 54 / 82 / 15 / 63 / 53 / 55 (nc from last, in 7/07)
Sununu 38 / 9 / 26 / 79 / 42 / 35 (nc)

For comparison, the poll also surveyed the state's senior Senator, Judd Gregg.

Fav/Unfav
(Note: Change from last poll is fav rating only)
Shaheen 56 / 25 (-4)
Gregg 49 / 26 (+1)
Sununu 40 / 37 (-3)

House Fav/Unfav
(Respective districts only)
Ex-Rep. Jeb Bradley 42 / 26 (nc)
Rep. Carol Shea-Porter 33 / 21 (-6)
Rep. Paul Hodes 35 / 16 (+1)

Last week, we ranked New Hampshire as Democrats' number-one pickup opportunity. With a 16-point lead over an incumbent, Shaheen is in strong position, to say the least. Still, Democrats have to guard against being overly optimistic with the race. Having Gov. John Lynch at the top of the ticket, and his organization working in the background, will go a long way to keep everyone's eye on the ball.

Morning Thoughts: Jump That Bandwagon!

Good Thursday morning to you. Washington refuses to succumb to the clutches of Fall, which means, in this resident's experience, that winter is going to be particularly harsh. Here's what's going on around politics today:

-- The Senate continues its work on appropriations bills today, taking up the Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies funding measure. The House is also in session. The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee takes up the state of Iraqi corruption today at a 10 a.m. hearing.

-- Senators Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell will also join Iraqi President Jalal Talabani for a photo op today at the Capitol. But how can today be any better than yesterday, when Bono made a surprise stop on Capitol Hill?

-- Coming off of President Bush's veto of SCHIP, which Democrats see as a political victory, Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Patrick Leahy says he is ready to begin hearings on Attorney General nominee Michael Mukasey. Leahy did not get a deal on documents he wanted from the White House, an early condition for the hearings' start, but he promised to grill Mukasey on matters of contention between Capitol Hill and the Administration. Leahy did not set a date for the start of the hearings, but invited Mukasey to a meeting on October 16.

-- After yesterday's Washington Post/ABC News poll, which put Sen. Hillary Clinton's support at 53% and bumped her lead in the latest RCP Average to 20.3 points, the drumbeat of inevitability just keeps getting stronger. Here's another example: Wealthy Chicago businessman J.B. Pritzker, one of Clinton's national co-chairs, tells the Chicago Tribune that it's getting easier to raise money in Sen. Barack Obama's hometown. Big donors must be hearing the same bandwagon rapidly passing them by, and doing everything in their power to get aboard. (Talk about a political family, by the way. J.B.'s sister Penny is Obama's national finance chair. "It's not a competition," J.B. said.)

-- We broke the news yesterday that Texas Rep. Ron Paul pulled in an impressive (ABC News called it "Jaw-Dropping") $5 million last quarter, ending the quarter with $5.3 million cash on hand. Delving a little deeper, Paul has some positives to look forward to, including that 70% of his 3rd quarter donations came online, actually down from the 80% rate in the first and second quarters. But with just $200,000 more on hand than he raised last quarter, that means the campaign is expanding and burning cash faster than it once was. Paul is likely to have spent somewhere in the neighborhood of $2.9 million through the first three quarters -- a fraction of what the front-runners have spent -- but most of that came in the 3rd quarter. Watch out for a high burn-rate when reports are released October 15.

-- Policy roll outs continue today (see my piece on Obama's attempt to build substance with a series of September proposals) with Clinton promising a new approach to science and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson offering a plan for Iraq and defense modernization. Clinton, per CNN, will sign an executive order encouraging stem cell research, boost space flight and prohibit Administration appointees from altering scientific conclusions in reports when she addresses the Carnegie Institute. Richardson will call for cutting the defense budget by $57 billion and will emphasize his plan to get troops out of Iraq during his address, at Georgetown University.

-- Erik Prince, CEO of Blackwater USA, went through the wringer two days ago for his company's role in several controversial incidents, though Rep. Henry Waxman's panel would not allow him to testify about the Baghdad Square incident on September 16, currently under FBI investigation. Democrats know that Prince comes from a very political family -- he's a founder of the Family Research Council, his sister chaired the Michigan Republican Party and her husband, Dick DeVos, ran for governor of Michigan last year. Republicans know it, too, and they smelled a political witch hunt. As the Philadelphia Inquirer's Dick Polman points out, though, only Rep. Darrell Issa brought up party affiliation in the hearing. Waxman then laughed at him. Andrew Malcolm details all of Prince's donations.

-- The retirement of Sen. Pete Domenici, which he is expected to announce today from Albuquerque, sets up the possibility of a bid by Rep. Tom Udall (D-NM), son of the late Rep. Stewart Udall (D-AZ) and cousin of Rep. Mark Udall (D-CO), who is running for Senate himself. But what we overlooked, which Taegan Goddard points out today, is that a third cousin to both congressmen, Oregon Sen. Gordon Smith, a Republican, is running for re-election. Have three first cousins ever been on the ballot for Senate in the same year before? UPDATE: Former Rep. Stewart Udall, happily, is not late, unless he has a meeting he's missed. An astute reader points out that Udall is alive and well. I must have been thinking of his brother, Mo Udall, who passed away. I regret the error.

-- Lawsuit Of The Day: Florida Sen. Bill Nelson, still smarting over the DNC's decision to revoke all his state's delegates to the 2008 convention because of a pre-window primary, will file suit today accusing national Democrats of violating the rights of four million Florida Democratic voters. The suit, to be filed with Rep. Alcee Hastings, also names Florida Secretary of State Kurt Browning as a defendant, per the New York Times, which got an advanced copy.

-- Today On The Trail: Clinton and Richardson deliver their policy addresses in Washington while John Edwards heads to Columbus, Kentucky, a tiny little town that won a contest promising an Edwards visit. Obama is still in Iowa, with stops in Waterloo, Independence and Decorah. Sen. Joe Biden delivers his education plan in Des Moines today. On the GOP side, Rudy Giuliani meets residents in Clayton, Missouri, Glen Ellyn, Illinois, and Chicago. Mitt Romney hits Hudson, Manchester, Derry and Merrimack, New Hampshire, while John McCain continues his South Carolina tour.

Domenici To Retire

The Fix, always first on the scene, reports this afternoon that veteran New Mexico Sen. Pete Domenici is expected to announce his retirement tomorrow, throwing into play another once-safe Republican seat.

Domenici has long been said to favor Republican Rep. Heather Wilson to take over his seat. Wilson narrowly survived a strong challenge last year from New Mexico Attorney General Patricia Madrid, and as a seasoned campaigner representing a Democratic district would be a strong candidate in a general election. Congressman Steve Pearce, from northern New Mexico, may also be interested in a bid, setting up the potential for a nasty GOP primary.

The state's third Congressman, Democrat Tom Udall, ruled out a bid against Domenici but has yet to say no to a race for the open seat, leaving open the possibility that all three of the state's congressional seats could be up for grabs next year.

Spokespeople for the three members of Congress did not answer phone calls or emails seeking comment.

Madrid, too, is said to be contemplating a race, while New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, running for president, has shot down suggestions that he will leave the race to run for Senate. Activists Jim Hannan and Lelan Lehrman are already running, as is real estate developer Don Wiviott, who has already contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to his own campaign.

Domenici's departure, coming weeks after President Bush held a fundraiser for the longtime Senator in New Mexico, is another blow to Republicans. In recent years, the state has inched more Democratic, though neither Domenici nor Senator Jeff Bingaman, a Democrat, has seen a serious challenge for several terms. Incidentally, after a replacement is elected, Bingaman will no longer be saddled with the distinction of being the longest-serving Junior Senator in the Senate.

Democrats see a huge opportunity to pick up what has for decades been an untouchable seat. With the DSCC's financial advantage, which sits at more than two to one over the NRSC when debt is factored in, New Mexico becomes an automatic target for what could be millions of dollars in investments.

Fires On Capitol Hill

CNN and others report that four fires have been set today in the Dirksen and Hart Senate Office Buildings today. Three of the fires were contained and put out by Capitol Police, while the fourth required fire trucks to respond to the scene. No one has been hurt, and no offices have been evacuated.

All four fires were set between 10 a.m. and noon or so today, according to Capitol Police, and all four were set in bathrooms in the two office buildings.

Just asking: Has anyone seen Larry Craig today? Is this a Sherman-esque scorched earth campaign?

Exclusive: Paul Tops $5 Mil For Quarter

Texas Congressman Ron Paul, an anti-war libertarian making his second run at the White House, will report having raised $5.08 million in the third quarter. The number, which rivals those of John McCain and Bill Richardson, was boosted thanks to last-minute online fundraising that brought in more than $1.2 million in the last week of the quarter alone.

Paul has drawn himself in sharp contrast with the rest of the field, often engaging in loud exchanges with fellow candidates over his vehement opposition to the war in Iraq. His campaign has been marked by frugal spending and a surprisingly strong online fan base; he routinely wins online straw polls after debates.

This is the second quarter in a row Paul has shown fundraising strength. Last quarter he reported having more cash on hand than McCain, a sidebar that contributed to stories of McCain's collapse.

Whether Paul will be a major factor in the GOP nominating contests remains to be seen, but his money totals - it is likely he will have outraised several second-tier Republicans and Democrats combined - mean he will be in for the long haul. Paul's campaign announced they will begin running television spots earlier this week.

Anatomy Of A Splash

Yesterday was supposed to be Senator Barack Obama's big day. On the five year anniversary of his speech against the war in Iraq, Obama was to kick off a big foreign policy tour through Iowa, capitalizing on the biggest tangible difference between himself and front-runner Hillary Clinton -- that he opposed the war she voted to authorize.

Two hours or so before Obama's big speech, on the campus at DePaul University in Chicago, Clinton's campaign dropped their 3rd Quarter fundraising numbers. The $27 million raised, $22 million of it available for the primary, landed with a thud that some in the Obama camp must have thought landed right on their heads. Clinton didn't blow Obama out of the water -- in fact, he still leads in overall money raised -- but the storyline still looked great for Team HRC: 1) Clinton outraised Obama. 2) She had a great quarter. 3) 100,000 new donors gave to her campaign. 4) $27 million (misleading, of course, because $5 million of that is not available for the primary, but that's the number that gets out nonetheless).

Check out the play Clinton gets on today's front pages:

"Clinton Steals Obama's Fund-Raising Thunder," over three columns in front of the New York Times.

"Clinton raised $22 million for her primary campaign in the past three months, $3 million more than Obama, reinforcing her status as the Democratic front-runner," the Wall Street Journal writes in their world-wide news box.

"Clinton saves cash for 2008," teases USA Today, with no other mention of Obama.

Washington Post has a related story, though it's not about money: "Clinton Widens Lead In Poll," prominent as the paper's lead story today.

The Illinois Senator did get one of the most important leads, though: The Des Moines Register fronted Obama's call to eliminate nuclear weapons, noting below the article that "Clinton edges Obama."

Obama won an important battle, in Des Moines. But Clinton, in the Post, the Times, the Journal and USA Today, looks like she won yesterday's war.

Morning Thoughts: Carved In Pumpkin

It's Wednesday, October 3rd, the five-year anniversary of a major anti-war speech delivered by a now-Presidential candidate. No, Barack Obama's five-year anniversary was yesterday. Today, it's Dennis Kucinich's turn to brag about being right. Let's see what else is kicking around Washington:

-- The Senate begins voting on amendments to the Defense Appropriations bill this morning, while the House considers a measure to establish new checks on the powers of federal contractors outside U.S. borders, which comes up a day after Erik Prince, president of Blackwater USA, testified on Capitol Hill.

-- The real question is when will President Bush follow through on his threatened veto of the expansion of the State Children's Health Insurance Program? The bill officially landed on Bush's desk yesterday, and news reports suggest he could bring out the veto pen as early as today. Can Democrats make an issue out of taking medical care away from kids? Or will the bill reenergize the Republican base around a president who shows himself, finally, to be a fiscal conservative? Neither side thinks the debate ends with the president's veto.

-- Sen. Mel Martinez confirmed reports earlier this week that he will step down as chair of the RNC after a presidential nominee becomes clear. While Tennessee lawyer Mike Duncan will remain in his post running day to day operations, South Carolina party chairman Katon Dawson, long a prominent figure in RNC circles, confirmed to National Journal that he is considering a bid to replace Martinez. Dawson piqued the interest of some South Carolina Republicans when he traveled to New Hampshire to announce the Palmetto State's primary date.

-- Former Gov. Mitt Romney is close to a milestone. After burning through $8 million, he's aired almost 10,000 television ads, Evan Tracey reports, starting in late February. The ads have been run virtually without response from other major candidates, and now Romney is expanding his buys from Iowa and New Hampshire into South Carolina and Florida. Sure, building leads here when your opponents aren't running ads is more soft support than anything, but it's a lot easier to win when you start ten points ahead. Rudy Giuliani leads the latest RCP South Carolina Average by 1.2 points over former Sen. Fred Thompson.

-- On the Democratic side, Tracey has New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson leading the pack with 4,000 ads run, while Barack Obama is right on his heels. Hillary Clinton and John Edwards have spent far less, primarily because of their already-high profiles. Still, this is a banner year for ad spending already -- Richardson, Obama and Romney have already spent more on Iowa television than John Kerry did in all of 2003.

-- Speaking of Romney, we saw Hillary Clinton wait until Barack Obama's big day to dump massive fundraising news (and her announcement dominate the headlines this morning). Are Romney and Giuliani waiting to out-do each other? Neither has yet to release numbers, though we're sure their finance teams have the numbers. Speculation is that each will report somewhere in the neighborhood of $16 million raised for the quarter, including Romney's contributions to himself, though no one has seen actual numbers.

-- Speaking of Giuliani, why won't this cell phone thing go away? A report in yesterday's Wall Street Journal suggested the mayor has answered cell phone calls in the middle of speeches, presentations and other events more than 40 times, and he continues to do so even after aides have warned him it's rude. The Journal points out a Fox News [pdf] poll out last week that showed 81% of respondents said politicians should let that call go to voice mail. Top of the Ticket equates Giuliani's interruption of his NRA speech as up there with John Edwards' $400 haircut, Romney's assertion that his sons are serving their country by working for him, "and virtually any of Bill Richardson's early debate performances." (Zing!) Still, the NRA forum was a few weeks ago and it continues to leave an impression. Time for Giuliani to worry?

-- Excellent Idea Of The Day: Thanks to Political Wire for pointing this one out. The Des Moines Register, offering further proof that Iowans are a breed apart, offers templates for carving pumpkins in the shapes of presidential candidates. Politics Nation has never been a terribly skilled pumpkin carver, but at first glance, Obama and Edwards look easiest, while Romney and McCain look close to impossible. Bonus points for any readers who actually send in pictures of their successful attempts.

-- Today On The Trail: Sens. Clinton and Biden, along with former Sen. Mike Gravel, join the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute for a presidential forum in Washington. Biden later heads to Newton, Iowa, for a town hall with local Democrats. Obama continues his foreign policy swing through Iowa, with stops in Iowa City and Washington, Iowa. Former Sen. John Edwards is in Hampton and Portsmouth, New Hampshire, where he will deliver a major address on Iraq. On the GOP side, Giuliani makes stops in Manchester, Derry, Nashua, Salem and Windham, New Hampshire. Thompson has stops in Nevada (ne-vay-duh) and Dubuque, Iowa, before raising money tonight in Chicago. And Sen. McCain hits the trail in South Carolina, where he will give three speeches, two to student military organizations.

Weird Finish To Defense Authorization Bill

The hotly-contested Defense Authorization bill, which Senate Democrats tried to use as a vehicle for policy change in Iraq, passed with just three no votes yesterday as no significant compromise could be found. The 92-3 vote did not include five senators who didn't bother to cast their ballots.

Those five senators: Joe Biden (D-DE), Chris Dodd (D-CT), Barack Obama (D-IL), Hillary Clinton (D-NY) and John McCain (R-AZ).

Notice anything the five have in common? Funny, Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS) carved time out of his busy schedule to cast a vote in favor.

Two Good Nomination Fights In NC

An Elon University poll out today shows what are shaping up to be two hot contests in the race to replace term-limited North Carolina Gov. Mike Easley. The poll has small subsamples, with correspondingly high margins of error, and campaigning is not seriously underway yet, but in both parties no one is close to a lock for the nominations.

Tested were Lieutenant Gov. Beverly Perdue and Treasurer Richard Moore, both Democrats, and attorney Bill Graham, former North Carolina Supreme Court Justice Bob Orr and State Senator Fred Smith, all Republicans.

Democrats
Perdue 35
Moore 27
Too early 19
Undecided 19

Republicans
Graham 12
Orr 11
Smith 11
Too early 36
Undecided 31

Which Party Will You Vote For In '08?
Democratic 35
Republican 32
Too early 17
Undecided 16

The poll, conducted 9/24-27, was released the day after Perdue officially launched her campaign to become the first female Tar Heel chief executive. Moore has already taken aim at some of Perdue's positions, foreshadowing what could be an ugly and expensive primary.

Graham Getting A Challenger?

South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham is getting it on all sides. Republicans are unhappy with Graham's position on immigration, among other issues. Until a federal indictment for cocaine distribution, Treasurer Thomas Ravenel, a fellow Republican, was said to be set to mount a bid against the freshman Senator. Rumors of a Republican primary challenger continue to swirl, focusing on David Wilkins, the current U.S. Ambassador to Canada and former State House Speaker, among other candidates.

Now, Graham is getting a Democratic opponent, and one stronger than he probably contemplated. Former State Democratic Party Chairman Joe Erwin, a wealthy public relations executive from Greenville, said yesterday he's contemplating a Senate race.

Erwin stepped down from his position as party chairman in April as rumors of a bid first cropped up. He told the Associated Press yesterday that he has since received encouragement from around the state, and that top Democrats are launching a serious draft campaign.

State party chairs don't have the best success in statewide races -- think former Arizona Democratic Party chairman Jim Pederson, who lost a bid for Senate last year, or former Colorado Republican Party chairman Bob Beauprez, who lost his bid for governor in 2006. Still, Erwin, like Pederson, would be able to kick-start his campaign with a loan. Even if Graham survives a bitterly contested primary, South Carolina Republicans are unlikely to choose a Democrat over their nominee, and Erwin could give the incumbent a closer race than he would like.

New GOPer In CO Sen Race

Delta County Commissioner Wayne Wolf, a Western Slope Republican, is in the race to replace Sen. Wayne Allard, reports the Denver Post. Wolf, a rancher and former teacher, is the second serious Republican candidate in the race, along with ex-Rep. Bob Schaffer.

Wolf's entry shows the fundamental geographic divide in the state. Sources say his reputation is as a conservative, like Schaffer, but Delta County is on the state's western slope. Shaffer represented the state's 4th Congressional District, on the east side of the state, during his three terms in Washington.

Schaffer remains the favorite to win the GOP primary, though whoever takes the prize will face an uphill battle against likely Democratic nominee Rep. Mark Udall. Udall has prepared for the race for several years, and will be difficult for the Republican nominee to compete with financially.

For more background, see my piece on recent population shifts as they effect the Colorado landscape going into 2008.

Hillary's Big Haul

No wonder Hillary Clinton waited a day. Campaign manager Patti Solis Doyle reports the campaign pulled in $27 million over the 3rd Quarter, with $22 million available for the primary. More than 100,000 new donors contributed to the campaign.

Clinton's numbers will do something to dampen rival Barack Obama's big day on Iraq today, but, as one pundit points out, the real story remains "Obama, Clinton raise lots of money." If Obama's lucky, that will remain the headline. If he's not, everyone will point out that Clinton outraised him by $3 million in primary cash.

Morning Thoughts: GOP Losing Lock On Business?

Welcome to Tuesday. Here's what's shaking in Washington:

-- The Senate begins consideration today of the Defense Appropriations bill. No appropriations bill has yet to make it through both chambers and conference committee, meaning Congress will be in Washington for a long time yet to come.

-- The House, meanwhile, takes up federal contracting reform, the International Emergency Economic Powers Enhancement Act and resolutions recognizing the beginning of Ramadan and decrying the violence in Myanmar. The House Education and Labor Committee is busy today marking up the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, or ENDA, which is sure to get some on the right up in arms when it comes to the floor, and the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee interviews Blackwater USA president Erik Prince.

-- President Bush today hosts Iraqi President Jalal Talabani in the Oval Office, as does Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, an hour later. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will appear on "The View" today at 11 a.m.

-- Sen. Barack Obama raised about $20 million, $19 million of that primary money; Bill Richardson pulled in $5.2 million; John Edwards is at $7 million; Joe Biden, Ben Smith reports, will come in a little under $2 million. Who's missing? Oh, right, Sen. Hillary Clinton. Waiting until the day after everyone else is smart, if your haul is huge. Further, it's sure to step on any news Sen. Barack Obama's Iraq speeches today might make (more on that below).

-- On the GOP side, Mitt Romney pulled in around $16 million, including a $6 million contribution from himself, John McCain raked in $5 million, and Fred Thompson had $8 million, while Rudy Giuliani's numbers remain unclear. One other surprise, and not in a good way: Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who was expected to have a good quarter after an upset second place finish at the Ames straw poll, won't release his numbers until the required filing deadline of October 15. That would seem to presage bad news for the governor.

-- Yesterday's assertion that top Evangelicals would abandon the GOP and form a third party, if Rudy Giuliani is the Republican nominee, frankly isn't being taken all that seriously. The threat is "more bombast than substance," writes Marc Ambinder, who says the subject was first broached at a 2005 meeting in Miami. Dick Polman reports that the real problem for folks on the religious right is that they aren't quite sure how to proceed, and whether sacrificing 2008 is worth a Clinton presidency. Finally, Matt Lewis at Townhall floats the name for the third party nod: Former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore, who, as JMart notes, came within 33% -- a virtual whisker! -- of beating Alabama Gov. Bob Riley in a primary.

-- As if losing the religious right weren't enough to make Republicans upset, the Wall Street Journal today fronts a piece by Jackie Calmes investigating whether the GOP is also losing its grip on business. "The votes of many disgruntled fiscal conservatives and other lapsed Republicans are now up for grabs," she writes. The argument that GOP troubles in 2006 had as much to do with rampant federal spending as anything else is one that some Republicans on Capitol Hill buy into as well, including Arizona Rep. Jeff Flake, who told RCP his party needs to get back to its small-government roots.

-- It has been said that in 2000, Al Gore didn't beat Bill Bradley in New Hampshire; John McCain beat Bill Bradley in New Hampshire. The argument goes thusly: Bradley and McCain were both hugely popular with independent voters, but those voters had to choose a party. The overwhelming majority took a Republican ballot, depriving Democrat Bradley of much-needed votes and handing him a loss. This year, though, New Hampshire independents are more likely to grab the Democratic ballot, writes Adam Nagourney. The 45% of the New Hampshire electorate that refuses to declare a party, which helped McCain to an 18-point win in 2000, could this year be one factor that knocks him from the race, as they are likely to be anti-war and more susceptible to a maverick image like Obama's, rather than McCain's.

-- State Of The Day: Wyoming Republicans understand the game. They don't care if they lose delegates to the 2008 convention; by holding their county nominating conventions on January 5th, likely only two days after Iowa holds its caucuses (though Gov. Chet Culver has yet to set the Hawkeye State's official date, the 3rd looks promising), Wyoming will earn significant media attention, some of which will come because second tier candidates can spend some money and see some television time in return. Candidates are taking note -- this weekend, Fred Thompson, Sam Brownback and Duncan Hunter spoke at a forum in Casper, while Josh Romney spoke for his dad. The man behind the state's newfound influence: Republican National Committeeman Tom Sansonetti, former chief of staff to the late Sen. Craig Thomas and was one of three finalists to take Thomas's seat when he passed away earlier this year.

-- Today On The Trail: Five years ago today, State Senator Barack Obama gave a speech opposing the war in Iraq. Today, U.S. Senator and leading presidential canddiate Obama marks the anniversary by giving a major foreign policy speech at DePaul University in Chicago, then kicking off a tour through Iowa over the next few days. New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson is in Boulder, Nevada, for meetings with voters. Sen. John McCain gives a speech tonight in Westminster, South Carolina, while ex-Sen. Fred Thompson continues his Iowa swing today with stops in Fort Dodge, Clinton and Coralville.

Edwards Has $7 Million

First Read reports that former Sen. John Edwards, who recently announced he would accept federal matching funds, isn't doing too badly -- he raised $7 million in the 3rd Quarter, with $12 million cash on hand. They have the potential to earn another $10 million from matching funds.

The campaign has maintained a goal of $40 million raised this year, and with more than $30 million picked up so far, they remain on track. Still, when Sen. Barack Obama has about $75 million and Sen. Hillary Clinton is likely to come in somewhere near that, Edwards' competitiveness in the primary remains a question.

McCain In Debt

Politico's Jonathan Martin reports Arizona Senator John McCain will report raising about $5 million this quarter, though his money hemorrhaging hasn't totally stopped. The campaign will still show more than $2 million in debt.

So, when McCain floated that trial balloon about accepting federal matching funds, it looks like he may have been serious. But if he abides by spending caps, while he will be outspent in Iowa and New Hampshire, his grassroots skills, especially in the Granite State, could keep him competitive in a state that still swoons every time he shows up.

Obama Announces Fundraising Totals

Sen. Barack Obama's campaign just announced their 3rd Quarter fundraising totals -- $19 million in primary money, another $1 million in general election funds.

The campaign attracted 93,000 new donors, giving them a total of 352,000 donors and more than 500,000 individual donations.

$20 million is approximately in line with expectations pundits and the media had set for Obama's campaign. The total brings Obama's year-to-date numbers to $74.9 million for the primary.

When does Senator Clinton release her numbers, and how close will she come to Obama?

New Challenger In MN 06

Politico's Josh Kraushaar reports that former Minnesota Transportation Commissioner Elwyn Tinklenberg will make a second bid for Congress against freshman Rep. Michele Bachmann. Tinklenberg ran in 2006, and many at the DCCC preferred him to 2004 nominee and child safety advocate Patty Wetterling.

Still, Wetterling won the primary, then lost to Bachmann in the general by eight points. Bachmann, who took over for Rep. Mark Kennedy when he ran for Senate, represents a relatively conservative district north of the Twin Cities. Senator Norm Coleman won the district in 2002, while Gov. Tim Pawlenty and President Bush won it twice, Bush by 52% in 2000 and 57% in 2004.

Wetterling's loss in 2006 was by a wider margin than expected, and with the more moderate Tinklenberg in the race, Democrats may decide to take a shot at the seat.

Do Republicans Have A Shot?

Can Republicans actually pick up a seat in Congress this year? When Rep. Marty Meehan resigned to take over as chancellor of the University of Massachusetts-Lowell, he set up an open-seat race that has at least a few Washington Republicans taking note. Check out my piece on it here.

One correction: I write that a Democrat, Deval Patrick, sits in the state's governor's mansion. A reader points out that Massachusetts is one of the rare states that actually has no governor's mansion. Oops.

Santorum Eyes Gov Mansion

After getting thumped by Sen. Bob Casey last year, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum is looking at a comeback. True, Politics Nation spotted Santorum in Washington last week, but he's not looking at replacing Sen. Arlen Specter: He's actually thinking about a race to replace Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell in 2010, according to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

Rendell, who won re-election by a wide margin last year, is term-limited. Santorum would likely begin a statewide race at the head of the GOP pack.

Hunter Gets Hacked

For Congressman Duncan Hunter, nothing seems to be going right. He's near the bottom in the polls, can't raise any money and hasn't had a good finish in any straw polls of note. Now, his website got hacked:

Hunter.png

When it rains, it pours.

Morning Thoughts: Big Monday

Good Monday morning. Anyone think the Trojans still deserve the number one spot? Not AP, at least. On the agenda today:

-- Senators are back at work on the Defense Authorization bill today.

-- The House meets today for decidedly lighter lifting, including four postal facility naming bills and resolutions recognizing the Wings Over Houston Airshow and the 1st Brigade Combat Team of the Minnesota National Guard.

-- But today is really all about October 1st, the beginning of the fourth fundraising quarter, and more importantly, the end of the previous one. New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson was first out of the gate, announcing $5.2 million raised, while Sen. Barack Obama's campaign said last night it had received 500,000 donations from 350,000 people. The biggest news: Former Senator Fred Thompson will report raising more than $8 million, according to ABC News. Is that enough to sate the pundits?

-- Other fundraising hints and murmurs: John Edwards will report about $7 million, according to a senior adviser. Senator John McCain, meanwhile, says fundraising is improving, though he offers no details. Mitt Romney said himself he raised about $10 million and gave another $6 to $7 million of his own money. Karen Tumulty, of Time Magazine, says Romney opponents fear he will simply write himself a massive check shortly after the end to the 4th quarter, a check which opponents wouldn't know about until late February, when the contest will be all but decided. More fundraising news coming as the day rolls on.

-- The first Monday in October is significant for another reason: Today marks the opening of this year's session of the Supreme Court. The court will kick off with a hearing on a controversial "top-two" primary system in Washington State, which, both Democrats and Republicans argue, violates their First Amendment right of association by letting voters who aren't members of their party choose nominees. Other big cases include the rights of Guantanamo detainees to have a day in court, the question of lethal injection as a cruel and unusual punishment and whether a state can require photo identification at a polling place. Chicago Tribune runs down the list of five big cases to watch.

-- The primary calendar is no clearer this morning, but at least candidates know when to file to be on the New Hampshire ballot. National Journal's Mike Memoli reports Secretary of State Bill Gardner, the enigma wrapped within a conundrum who controls the primary date, has set filing for October 15 through November 2. That window is two weeks earlier than it was four years ago, though Gardner says that doesn't say anything about when he will call the primary.

-- Big trouble for former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani: Several top Christian conservatives backed a resolution this weekend to explore the option of a third-party candidate if a pro-choice candidate (read: Giuliani) wins the GOP nomination. Those voting included Focus on the Family's James Dobson, Family Research Council's Tony Perkins and Virginia Republican National Committeeman Morton Blackwell, as well as conservative icon Richard Viguerie. These stalwarts of the Christian conservative movement can make considerable amounts of trouble for Giuliani if he wins the nomination, but of course they hope to head that possibility off if they can. It is also telling that the meeting leaked to so many reporters, including Jonathan Martin, the New York Times, ABC News and others.

-- Funny enough, October rolls around and Larry Craig is still a member of the United States Senate. Now even the Winston-Salem Journal is getting in on the act, criticizing the Senator for trying to get his guilty plea overturned. Craig has said he will stay in the Senate until the matter is decided by a Minnesota judge.

-- Departure Of The Day: Bob Novak spent the weekend reporting that RNC Chairman Mel Martinez, who took over in mid-January, has told friends he will leave the post once a GOP nominee is apparent. During his brief stay, the Senator and former Bush cabinet official took heat for his immigration stance and has been criticized for a lack of visibility, though some blame that on the glut of presidential contenders.

-- Today On The Trail: Sen. Joe Biden is in Rock Hill and Columbia, South Carolina, while Hillary Clinton holds a big party in Oakland, then talks about her urban agenda. On the GOP side, Mitt Romney is in St. Louis, Fred Thompson makes four stops in Iowa, hitting Newton, Marshalltown, Iowa Falls and Cedar Falls, and Rudy Giuliani holds campaign events in New Jersey, then stops at Geno's Steaks in Philadelphia. The guys at Pat's are going to be irritated.