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« More On Nevada | Blog Home Page | Huckabee's Ball And Chain »

Morning Thoughts: Rumblin', Stumblin', Fumblin'

Good Wednesday morning. Republicans are preparing to hear from snowmen, Mickey Mouse and others at the CNN/YouTube debate in St. Petersburg tonight. Before the gathering, here's what Washington is watching:

-- Congress is still out of session, but President Bush meets again with Ehud Olmert and Mahmoud Abbas in connection with the Annapolis conference, and Condoleezza Rice sits in. The conference has yielded no massive breakthroughs yet, but Olmert and Abbas agreed to keep talking, at the very least. And apparently even Barack Obama is getting involved in the talks.

-- On the Hill, Senate Republicans have set leadership elections for December 6, according to an email sent to GOP members and obtained by Roll Call. The race to replace Trent Lott as Minority Whip is all but over, as Arizona Sen. Jon Kyl has the contest all but wrapped up, The Hill reports. Kyl has not officially declared his candidacy, but he and supporters are making calls to Republican senators and appear to have secured the votes necessary to win while avoiding attracting a challenger. Sens. Kay Bailey Hutchison, Richard Burr and Lamar Alexander are running for Kyl's conference chair post, while Jim DeMint is considering a race. Conference Vice Chair John Cornyn will seek Hutchison's Policy Committee slot, while Jeff Sessions will run to replace Cornyn as Conference Vice Chair.

-- Out on the trail, candidates are making mistakes. Or at least they're being accused of mistakes, and no one's innocent until proven guilty in a campaign. Did Mitt Romney tell a Pakistani supporter that he would not consider hiring Muslims for high-level policymaking positions? Mansoor Ijaz says Romney did, at a campaign stop in Las Vegas. Two others from the fundraiser back up Ijaz's claim, TPM reports. Romney's camp is pushing back hard on the report and the candidate himself denied saying he would not appoint Muslims, but Ijaz is not backing down. Downside for Romney? Not in a Republican primary, Cenk Uygur opines.

-- Mike Huckabee is not mistake-proof, either. The AP this morning shed light on a treasure trove of goodies for opposition researchers: 436 pages of documents on Huckabee's interactions with his state's Ethics Commission. Huckabee accepted 314 gifts with a total value of more than $150,000, according to the commission, and 16 complaints were filed, leading to five violations. On taxes, Huckabee's record is less altruistic than he asserts. And on immigration, he was not the hard-liner some supporters would like to make him out to be. Telling quote from Arkansas Ethics Commission director Graham Sloan: "People are starting to contact us and they're saying, 'We want everything on Mike Huckabee.'"

-- Nor is Barack Obama clean as a whistle. Obama's HOPEFUND PAC has given donations to elected officials backing his campaign in several early states, a move Hillary Clinton's campaign said was in violation of federal election law. Sure, a campaign wants to spread the wealth to their backers, but it looks bad when New Hampshire State Sen. Jacalyn Cilley gets a $1,000 donation just six days before announcing her support for Obama. The Clinton camp, by the way, was not Obama's only Democratic rival to spread a recent Washington Post story around, looking for takers. Ironically, as the LA Times reports, Obama's PAC violates the candidate's pledge not to take money from other PACs and federal lobbyists: It has done both. We don't think campaign finance stories attract an audience any wider than the Beltway (anyone who pays that much attention to politics, the theory goes, has already made up their mind), but the issue could strip Obama of one issue on which he and Clinton actually differed.

-- And for Rudy Giuliani, the Empire State Pride Agenda has bad news on the question of whether he's a gay rights supporter. The group has released "The Giuliani Files," detailing the ex-Mayor's backing for gay rights between 1994 and 2001. Those efforts included backing a hate-crimes bill, signing a domestic partnership law and addressing the group's annual dinner in 2001. Try explaining those positions to voters in South Carolina. (By the way, a must-read on the aborted Clinton-Giuliani Senate race in 2000, in which Adam Nagourney writes the two picked up many of the political skills they're showing off today).

-- Finally today, should Mitt Romney give "the speech" outlining his Mormon faith? Here's one influential voice Romney might want to listen to: Orrin Hatch, Utah's senior senator, Romney backer and a fellow Mormon. Hatch thinks Romney would do well to give a speech, according to the Associated Press. The campaign told AP that a speech "dealing with faith and values" is still being considered. New York Times' Michael Luo sees the Mormon issue as hurting Romney in Iowa while fueling Mike Huckabee's rise. Huckabee manager Chip Saltsman, though, says his candidate has no intention of bringing up Romney's faith, and will only discuss his own.

-- Reason To Buy A Bigger Suitcase Of The Day: More proof that, while Iowa and New Hampshire are critical for top candidates in both parties, this thing is going to continue at least through Super Tuesday: Obama is spending heavily in February 5 states, The Fix notes, with offices in 13 states including the newest one in Fargo, North Dakota. The campaign says they'll even send some poor souls to Alaska to campaign there. Clinton has five offices in just four states, though five more are opening soon.

-- Today On The Trail: A very slow day on the campaign trail. Joe Biden and Dennis Kucinich address College Convention 2008 in Manchester, after Biden and Chris Dodd address the Iowa Association of Counties in Des Moines. Hillary Clinton talks about health care in Ankeny, Iowa, near Des Moines. And only John McCain holds events before the debate, with a town hall at Clemson and a party with supporters in St. Pete.