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Morning Thoughts: Long And Short Goodbyes

Good Tuesday morning. Like the Redskins or not, today is a sad day in Washington as Sean Taylor has died, about a day after he was shot during a home invasion in Miami. He was just 24. In the political world, here's what people are paying attention to:

-- The House is out of session, while the Senate will hold a brief pro forma session in order to prevent President Bush from making recess appointments. The White House's attention is fully focused on Annapolis, where more than twenty countries are meeting to encourage a solution to the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict. President Clinton made headlines with a handshake between Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat in 1993, but this year there is unlikely to be significant progress, despite the fact that Ehud Olmert and Mahmoud Abbas are closer than Rabin and Arafat ever were. Syria is among the countries at the table by the Chesapeake, but Iran and representatives from Hamas are absent.

-- Trent Lott's resignation continues to roil Capitol Hill, where some are scrambling to make the most of the aftermath. In the emerging GOP leadership races, Sen. Lamar Alexander has decided against a race for Republican whip and will instead throw his hat in the ring for Conference Chairman, should Sen. Jon Kyl take the number two spot. Alexander joins Sens. Kay Bailey Hutchison, Richard Burr and Jim DeMint in the race for chair. At the moment, meanwhile, Sen. John Cornyn looks like the only candidate for Policy Committee Chair, the post Texas seatmate Hutchison currently holds.

-- Lott's decision to resign before the end of the year, as he made clear in yesterday's news conference, seems designed to avoid a new lobbying reform measure that would prevent him from serving as a lobbyist for two years. If Lott gets out before January 1st, he can go to work on K Street after just one year out of the chamber. Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour issued a statement yesterday asserting that he will set the special election to replace Lott for November 4, 2008, but Democrats are having none of it, write The Fix and The Hill, insisting that the governor misread election law. Barbour's office thinks they have the right to set the primary in November through a technicality in the law. An election early in the year would be a huge benefit to Democrats, allowing their nominee to run without a presidential candidate, a big positive in Mississippi. Still, no matter who the Democratic nominee is (and Ronny Musgrove is making all the right noises), they face an uphill fight against a top Republican in what is still a federally red state.

-- Speaking of resignations, by the way, little-noticed late last night, thanks to Lott's big day, was Dennis Hastert's decision to step down a minute before midnight. Hastert officially submitted his resignation letters to Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, allowing Blagojevich, Hastert wrote, sufficient time to schedule a primary election to compete for the seat on the same day as his state's presidential primary. That's good news for Republicans, as a general election on February 5 -- when a certain favorite son is on the ballot for president in Illinois -- would have brought out a massive Democratic turnout that might have swung the seat blue. Democrats are still hopeful that scientist Bill Foster can snatch the seat, especially after a nasty GOP primary between businessman Jim Oberweis and State Sen. Chris Lauzen.

-- The IL-14 race could get ugly, but not as grisly as the Republican presidential race, which spent the weekend devolving into little more than name-calling between the national front-runners. Despite pledging to obey the 11th Commandment earlier this Fall, Rudy Giuliani has been engaged in a full-throated back-and-forth with Mitt Romney, as Dick Polman lays out. One aspect of the campaign we have yet to fully comprehend: Why Giuliani and McCain people and Romney folks feel such vitriol toward each other. At least some aspect of the race is staying polite, though: Mike Huckabee is just about the only candidate left not to have gone after Rudy Giuliani, the New York Sun reports. What do you suppose a veep nomination smells like? Still, we can bet that a Giuliani-Huckabee ticket would have some fiscal conservatives in Washington going through the roof, and not in a good way.

-- On the Democratic side, Barack Obama's decision to get Oprah on the trail has won big headlines around the country. But his opponents are getting their own big-time endorsements in New Hampshire, where John Edwards has won the backing of Manchester Education Association president Scott McGilvray and Hillary Clinton got support from Dr. Susan Lynch, wife of New Hampshire Gov. John Lynch. Lynch says he will remain neutral, but Tom Vilsack said the same thing four years ago even as his wife publicly threw her support to John Kerry.

-- With Lynch, Bill Shaheen and former Democratic Party chair Kathy Sullivan, Clinton now has access to the top political machine in New Hampshire. A wise political observer suggested to Politics Nation that New Hampshire is now the most important state in the Democratic race, as Clinton sees her numbers, and her fortunes, dip in Iowa. Clinton could make the Granite State her bulwark against Obama, if her team really thinks that Iowa is slipping from their grasp. Over at Politico, Allen and Budoff Brown write that Obama has the swagger of a front-runner. Times change quiclly in politics: A few weeks ago, we were wondering if Obama could stop Clinton. Now it's whether Clinton can stop Obama.

-- Clinton did not benefit from a gender gap in the highly-publicized ABC/Washington Post poll [PDF] earlier this month, but the key to winning in 2008, for either party, will be unmarried women, writes the San Francisco Chronicle. And, when learning how to appeal to that group, why not get a quote from Clinton strategist Ann Lewis, who says the key to appealing to those women is getting into their social networks. The group is big enough to swing any election: More than 53 million women fall into the category, about one quarter of the electorate. The group, says Lewis, cares most about economic issues, and with the housing crunch, credit crisis and turmoil on Wall Street that is now officially called a correction, one can bet the nominees have to start brushing up on their economic policies. Clinton, meanwhile, thinks she can find the edge among elderly women, Patrick Healy writes.

-- Holiday Gift Of The Day: Politics Nation is a huge and unabashed NPR fan, especially "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me," a weekend show in which the only prize is Carl Kassell's voice on your home answering machine. Perhaps taking inspiration from the show, The Plank spotlights a similar idea: Mitt Romney greeting anyone who calls your house, for a contribution, of course. Brilliant idea, and it's officially on Politics Nation's Christmas list. If every candidate offered the same service, we wouldn't be able to choose one over another.

-- Today On The Trail: Barack Obama is in Portsmouth, New Hampshire for a foreign policy summit. John Edwards rallies with writers and stage hands in New York, while Hillary Clinton is in Spartanburg, Aiken and Bennettsville, South Carolina. Bill Richardson discusses agriculture in Council Bluffs, Chris Dodd is in Ames and Joe Biden campaigns in Allison, Butler and Cedar Falls. Dennis Kucinich holds events in Plymouth, New Hampton, Exeter and Concord, New Hampshire.

-- On the GOP side, John McCain heads to a Chik-Fil-A in Seneca and a town hall meeting in Anderson, South Carolina. Mitt Romney has a health care forum in St. Petersburg, Florida, while Mike Huckabee is up the road in Orlando. Ron Paul holds two events in Charleston and a rally in Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina.