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« Thompson Misses Ballot | Blog Home Page | Landrieu Up, Barely »

Morning Thoughts: No News Is Good News

Good Thursday morning. If you slept, it's probably because your name will not show up in former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell's report on steroids in baseball. There are sleepless ballplayers who can't take their eyes off the ceiling because Mitchell is naming names. Check Politics Nation for more on that later today. Meanwhile, here's what Washington is watching today:

-- The House this morning will take up a continuing resolution to keep the government at work past Friday. Later, the lower chamber will take up the conference report on the intelligence authorization bill. The Senate, meanwhile, continues to slog through the farm bill and its myriad amendments, and will also take a procedural vote on an energy bill. And just three weeks from today, Iowa caucus-goers will be the first to pass judgment on the 2008 presidential field. We can't wait.

-- We hear there was a Republican debate yesterday. Funny, we saw a gathering of Republican candidates arguing with a moderator, but we didn't hear them take many shots at each other. Aside from Tom Tancredo's kind-of shot at Mike Huckabee on immigration and Fred Thompson's shot at Mitt Romney ("You're getting to be a pretty good actor"), the most effective attack lines came from former UN Ambassador Alan Keyes. How did he meet the Des Moines Register's criteria for participation -- 1% in Iowa polls, a paid Iowa staffer and an official statement of candidacy with the FEC -- while Democrats Mike Gravel and Dennis Kucinich, who have been in plenty of debates, did not?

-- With nine candidates on stage, it's impossible to say anyone won, and because no one slipped and fell or drooled on themselves, no one lost, either. Thompson stood out with a good moment, refusing to raise his hand during a global warming question (though this is about the sixth time candidates have rebelled against hand-raising, leading, some would hope, moderators to come to a new conclusion about the questions). John McCain looked and spoke like he was in a New Hampshire town hall, where he does best. Rudy Giuliani took a tough question about government openness and turned it to his advantage. Romney still looks like he's from central casting, and looking like a president is half the battle. And Mike Huckabee made a smooth transition from humorous joker to serious communicator quite effectively.

-- The only news that was made: Mike Huckabee apologizing to Mitt Romney after the debate. The apology came in the wake of Huckabee wondering aloud to a New York Times reporter whether Mormons believe that Jesus and the Devil are brothers. Romney, spokesman Kevin Madden said, accepted the apology. On the Democratic side, former New Hampshire First Gentleman Billy Shaheen also apologized yesterday for commenting on dangers his party faced if they nominate Barack Obama as president. The senator's drug use and admission of same, Shaheen said, would open him up to Republican attacks. Splashed on Drudge's front page for hours yesterday, Shaheen's comments ("It'll be, 'When was the last time> Did you ever give drugs to anyone? Did you sell them to anyone?'" he said, per the Post. "There are so many openings for Republican dirty tricks. It's hard to overcome.") were quickly disavowed by the Clinton campaign. Late last night, Shaheen officially apologized.

-- Today, it's Democrats' turn. Don't expect much in the way of negativity to come from their gathering today, though: It's unlikely candidates want voters' last impressions to be of them squabbling. But given the weather in Iowa, it will be a big deal if all four Senate Democrats are in their places on time. Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton, Chris Dodd and Barack Obama are all back in Washington today to take procedural votes on the aforementioned energy bill and for a key farm bill vote. Why take the risk of being in Washington instead of overnighting near the debate site? Could be because Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin is managing the farm bill for Democrats, and irritating him three weeks before the caucuses is not a good idea.

-- This reporter has an article up today suggesting that immigration is an issue that simply doesn't move votes in a general election. But in Storm Lake, Iowa, the reason might be clear: Few believe they have heard an immigration proposal that actually satisfies them, as the New York Times writes. The issue only motivates voters to pick new candidates in a GOP primary, as the New Yorker's Ryan Lizza wrote this week. Yet in another sign yesterday's debate meant little, the moderator actively dissuaded candidates from discussing the issue, saying Iowa voters were familiar with their positions.

-- Back to the trail. Rumors of an impending shake-up in Camp Clinton continue to buzz, and Newsday has the sights set squarely on top pollster Mark Penn. The story has been running for three days now, and it's becoming more specific, despite the candidate's denials of any problems within the campaign. Aides, too, say a change is unlikely, and that Penn still has her ear. But he could be skating on thin ice. The best way to put the rumors behind you: Actually make a move that means something.

-- Bad News Of The Day: John DiStaso is to New Hampshire as David Yepsen is to Iowa. You don't mess with the dean of an important state's press corps. And when he says you have no firewall in New Hampshire, as your campaign has planned for, you sit up and pay attention. That's what Clinton's team is doing this morning, as DiStaso pens a look at Clinton's grand plan of halting an Obama surge in the Granite State and determines, simply, that it's not working. But, again, Bill Shaheen to the rescue, comparing Clinton to New Hampshire Rep. Carol Shea-Porter, who "was down by 25 percentage points with three weeks to go and no money." That would be the same Shea-Porter who just announced her endorsement of ... Obama.

-- Today On The Trail: Democrats debate in Johnston, Iowa, at 2 p.m. Eastern. Afterwards, Hillary Clinton rallies in Shenandoah, John Edwards has a community meeting in Indianola, Chris Dodd holds campaign events in Grinnell and Story City and Barack Obama starts a tour through Iowa in Dubuque and holds a town hall in Maquoketa. Joe Biden speaks to Polk County Democrats in Des Moines. On the GOP side, Ron Paul meets supporters in Fallon, Nevada. John McCain holds town hall meetings in Sioux City and Davenport (that's right, Iowa, not New Hampshire). And Mitt Romney holds events in Muscatine and Bettendorf, Iowa.