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« GOP Wins Both Specials | Blog Home Page | Saxby's Smooth Sailing »

Morning Thoughts: Grand Old Sign Of Relief

Good morning, it's Wednesday. Only twenty two more shopping days until the Iowa Caucuses. Here's what Washington is watching today:

-- The House this morning takes up the Alternative Minimum Tax before tackling terrorism insurance and two appropriations bill conference reports. The AMT fix heads to the floor without a Medicare package that was anticipated, primarily because House Democrats have yet to agree on what it should contain while Senate Democrats have warned that anything but a small version will not win Senate approval. The Senate continues trudging through farm bill amendments.

-- Republicans avoided a potentially embarrassing storyline yesterday, handily winning special elections in Ohio and Virginia. In Ohio, despite an onslaught of DCCC ads attacking State Rep. Bob Latta for his ties to disgraced former Gov. Bob Taft and the coin collector who got him in trouble, Latta had no trouble easing by Democrat Robin Weirauch, 56%-44%. In Virginia, Republican Delegate Rob Wittman handily beat Iraq war veteran Philip Forgit, whose profile had looked promising. But the DCCC never jumped into the race with both feet, and Wittman prevailed, 63%-35%.

-- The two races seriously cost Republicans. The NRCC put around $440,000 into Ohio 05 and $80,000 into Virginia 01. $520,000 is a lot of money for the NRCC, which had only $2.5 million in the bank by the end of October. Still, by spending 20% of its money on two easy wins and making sure they were easy wins, Republicans probably earned more than they spent. If either seat had fallen into Democratic hands, donors would have flocked elsewhere, as far away from what would have been a sinking ship as possible. By preserving the seats, Republicans helped themselves in the long run.

-- The final two debates before the Iowa caucuses take place in Des Moines over the next two days, and what Iowan won't be watching television at 1 p.m. local time? That's right, the Republican debate can be seen today on CNN at 2 p.m. Eastern. Great for ratings. Here's what to watch on stage: Mitt Romney going after Mike Huckabee on immigration. Fred Thompson going after Huckabee on immigration. Rudy Giuliani going after Romney on immigration. John McCain going after Romney just because he's used to it. Ron Paul going after everybody. Romney touting an endorsement from the National Review. Huckabee touting an endorsement from Minuteman Project founder Jim Gilchrist. Thompson touting an endorsement from conservative icon Morton Blackwell. Giuliani touting the fact that he still leads in polls (this week). McCain, in Iowa, talking about how much he loves New Hampshire. And making it even more entertaining, Alan Keyes will be onstage.

-- The debates are likely to have what the Des Moines Register calls "seismic impact." It's the tenth time Republicans have met this year, and the 16th for Democrats, marking the conclusion of what has been a remarkable pre-primary year. If the GOP debate is going to be good, tomorrow's Democratic mix-up should be a pay-per-view event, as Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and John Edwards mix it up. We'll offer a fuller preview later. Suffice it to say, a Clinton deputy campaign manager with ties to the Chicago area sent an email to a friend there asking for dirt on Obama during his days as a community organizer on the South Side. Did he find anything? We'll know tomorrow.

-- One thing Mitt Romney doesn't need is a headache in New Hampshire to go along with his Iowa migraine. Unfortunately, he doesn't seem to get along well with former governors of his home state. While he brought predecessor William Weld to New Hampshire with him last week, other campaigns have used former Massachusetts governors as their favorite surrogates for attacking the Gov. First, Paul Cellucci, former governor and U.S. ambassador, joined Rudy Giuliani's team. Now, Jane Swift, Romney's immediate predecessor, is backing John McCain and penned an op-ed in the New Hampshire Union Leader labeling Romney a flip-flopper. Swift, acting governor after Cellucci resigned to serve as ambassador, was pushed out of the governor's race by Romney's entrance in 2002. Now she's back, campaigning today for McCain in stops in New Hampshire. Revenge is a dish best served cold, and New Hampshire is mighty cold right now.

-- For Hillary Clinton, what more could she want right now? How about reminding voters that she voted for the war in Iraq and has yet to denounce her vote? That's part of the picture Examiner White House correspondent Bill Sammon paints in a new book taking a look at top presidential contenders, excerpts of which will be published all week. In many ways, Sammon concludes, Clinton sounded a lot like President Bush. Imagine that passage, highlighted and circled, showing up in mailboxes around Iowa.

-- David Yepsen, dean of the Iowa press corps, spent a second column yesterday warning campaigns against trucking in supporters from outside the state, and singling out one candidate in particular: "Maybe we should call these the Illinois caucuses," he ledes. Yepsen goes as far as to insinuate that Obama's approach might constitute fraud. Not a great column to have written about your campaign from the most widely-read columnist in the state just three weeks before they vote. Still, making sure college students are freezing their rear ends off in Iowa City and Ames rather than at home in Chicago could pay off for Obama. The question is, will those students do more than just overwhelm a few precincts? Chris Bowers, by the way, will head to Iowa to give Yepsen a piece of his mind and a vote in his caucus.

-- Big Spender Of The Day: Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi has spent $16,000 on flowers since January, The Hill reports today. Records out recently show Pelosi has spent more than $3 million so far this year, more by far than former Speaker Dennis Hastert's $1.6 million in spending for the same period last year. Critics will say the Speaker is spending too much money. Supporters will argue that Pelosi is trying to re-establish the office of the Speaker as a counterbalance to the president: The flowers, a spokeswoman said, were purchased for visits by foreign dignitaries including Israeli Prime Minister Olmert, French President Sarkozy and King Abdullah of Jordan.

-- Today On The Trail: After Republicans meet in Johnston for the Des Moines Register/Iowa Public Television debate, Romney heads to a house party in Johnston and a Christmas party in Marion. McCain will hold events in Urbandale, Des Moines and Waukee, Giuliani meets supporters in West Des Moines and Cedar Rapids, and Huckabee has a health care policy discussion at Des Moines University. Ron Paul will give a speech at the Iowa State Fairgrounds, and the rest of Thompson's day consists of dropping by a debate watch party in Johnston. Light day on the Democratic side: Bill Richardson is in Sioux City, Storm Lake and Fort Dodge; Chris Dodd attends community forums in Vinton and Mason City, and John Edwards has events planned for Iowa City, Grinnell and Des Moines.