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Morning Thoughts: Huck & Hill Push Back

It's Friday morning, and Iowa Democrats are flocking to Des Moines for the annual Jefferson Jackson Dinner fundraiser that party organizers now say will be the largest event in Iowa Democratic history. The party expects 9,000 people to attend. Back in Washington, here's what's on people's minds:

-- The House today takes up a measure to patch the alternative minimum tax. The Senate is in session but will not record votes. President Bush has fled the chilly climes of Washington for Crawford, Texas, where he welcomes German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Secretary of State Rice.

-- Late last night, Judge Michael Mukasey was confirmed as the next Attorney General by a 53-40 vote. Of the seven senators who did not cast a vote, five are running for president, including Senators Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton, Chris Dodd and Barack Obama, all of whom had announced their opposition to the nomination. John McCain and fellow Republicans Lamar Alexander and John Cornyn also did not cast ballots. While senators running for president are missing their share of votes these days, but for Obama, who has missed 80% of his votes since September, failing to be there to cast a vote on Mukasey is the second time in recent weeks he has missed a vote he's talked about frequently on the campaign trail. McCain has missed more votes than any other senator, of both parties, save Tim Johnson.

-- Politics Nation heard a lot of comments yesterday about a certain story on National Public Radio, in which reporter David Greene found two ordinary people who have crossed paths with big-time political campaigns. The story cites Toledo, Iowa, waitress Anita Esterday, who served Hillary Clinton and campaign staffers and who claims the campaign didn't leave a tip. The campaign pushed back hard on the story, asserting that the campaign left a $100 tip on a $157 bill. Still, their explanation, which NPR ran in a correction, drew skepticism from Esterday and her fellow waitresses. The matter, which can be chalked up to bad staff work (candidates rarely carry cash, credit cards, et cetera) also goes to show how quickly the Clinton campaign will push back on any story it sees as negative, especially one that shows up on NPR, about as close as liberals get to their own version of Rush Limbaugh.

-- Is Mike Huckabee going negative? Comments in two separate articles today suggest the former Arkansas governor is more than just a happy-go-lucky candidate willing to get along with everyone. After being attacked lately by Mitt Romney (on immigration), Fred Thompson (on taxes) and the Wall Street Journal (on waffling), Huckabee is flexing his own muscles. "I am probably the only candidate that has been subjected to this sort of detailed questioning about faith," Huckabee told Salon (thanks, Playbook). "I don't think Romney has even been [questioned]." Sure, not the sharpest attack. But how about this one: Huckabee blasted Fred Thompson for his opposition to a nationwide abortion ban, criticizing him for his willingness to leave the issue up to the states. A cynic will suggest that Huckabee is auditioning for vice president, showing off his attacking skills. Others, though, are starting to think that Huckabee may be seriously concerned with taking a shot at the number one position.

-- Huckabee won an endorsement from a prominent social conservative, American Family Association head Don Wildmon, but he's no Sam Brownback or Pat Robertson. The split of Christian conservatives will be a problem for Huckabee, and thanks to their failure to coalesce around a candidate, it now looks like the once-powerful Christian Coalition will sit out the primaries, as AP's Jim Davenport writes. Coalition president Roberta Combs says her organization will be focusing on Congressional races.

-- Be careful what you wish for: One Ron Paul supporter urged the Washington Post's Fact Checker site to include Paul on their list, even though, the reader wrote, Paul "doesn't lie enough to make for entertaining reading on this site." So the Fact Checker checked, and sure enough, during an interview with NBC's Jay Leno a few weeks back, Paul made some gaffes, asserting that the elimination of the income tax would still leave the government with revenue equal to that of the 2000 federal budget. Not so, says the Post, reporting that a tax slash of that size would reduce the government to the size it was in 1995. The amount of money -- $1.1 trillion -- is the amount the government spends on discretionary matters, including defense spending.

-- We Told You So Of The Day: The RNC approved penalties for states that hold their delegate-allocating primaries before the February 5th window today, following through on rules it set down during the 2004 convention. Iowa and Nevada are unaffected because, technically, the states do not officially allocate their delegates to the national convention when they hold early caucuses; they allocate delegates only to the county conventions. For all intents and purposes, the differences are so negligible that they are essentially the same thing. The vote, according to Marc Ambinder, was overwhelmingly in favor of punishing New Hampshire, Wyoming, Florida, South Carolina and Michigan.

-- Today On The Trail: John Edwards is in Des Moines, followed by events in Sioux City, Carroll and Jefferson. Joe Biden is in Oelwein, as is Chris Dodd, who also attends a press conference in Des Moines. Obama holds a roundtable discussion in Des Moines, then goes to a town meeting in Sioux City.

-- On the GOP side, Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee and John McCain all make New Hampshire stops today. Romney meets voters in Atkinson and Hudson, Huckabee delivers a speech in Lebanon, and McCain holds a press conference in Concord followed by meetings with voters in Meredith and Moultonborough. Fred Thompson unveils a Social Security plan in Washington, and Rudy Giuliani meets locals in Henderson, Nevada.