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Morning Thoughts: Welcome Back

Good Tuesday morning. People are wearing suits again on Capitol Hill today, as members of Congress return to work after an extended break. Here's what Washington is watching today:

-- The House takes their symbolic first vote to establish a quorum for the Second Session of the 110th Congress this evening, then proceeds to try to override President Bush's veto of the National Defense Authorization Act for this fiscal year. The House Oversight Committee will hear from former Senator George Mitchell, Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig and players' union chief Donald Fehr on the topic of illegal steroid use in baseball. It's not Roger Clemens and Andy Pettite, but that hearing is going to be packed.

-- Today's a huge day on the campaign trail. Michigan Republicans head to the polls tonight to pick a presidential nominee, and polls show it's a tight race. The latest RCP Michigan Average shows Mitt Romney leading by a single point over John McCain with Mike Huckabee trailing by a dozen. Still, don't forget that Michigan, like New Hampshire, allows independents to choose a ballot as they walk into the voting booth, giving McCain a hefty dose of independents from which to draw. Huckabee's not making Romney's life any easier; an independent 527 backing him sent out a push-poll last night that even managed to ensnare Rep. Pete Hoekstra, Romney's Michigan chairman.

-- Romney needs a win in Michigan or his campaign will be all but over. His situation is complicated by both McCain, who won there in 2000 thanks to his cadre of independents, and Huckabee, who has a better record on Second Amendment issues than the others, with which he can draw hunters into his coalition of social conservatives. To be fair, without winning Iowa, Huckabee would not have made it past single digits in other states. Thanks to Romney's loss there, the Bay Stater now has to contend with the Razorback for social conservative votes throughout the primary. That may kill Romney's chances no matter who his final opponent will be.

-- Complicating matters: It's snowing in Michigan, virtually from border to border. Michiganders are used to such fowl weather, and it's only supposed to bring a few inches (an amount they scoff at, yet would bring Washington to a virtual halt). We're guessing that the Romney campaign is working hard to get registered Republicans' driveways plowed in areas outside Detroit. Then again, they could be sitting back and relaxing. Jim Geraghty points out, via a Romney source, that they were the only ones on television targeting absentee voters, who are older and might remember father George Romney's time as governor.

-- Also today, Democrats meet in Las Vegas for a debate sponsored by MSNBC, and it was going to be a very pleasant, we're sure, conversation between Clinton, Edwards and Obama. That is, until a Nevada judge ruled that MSNBC has to include Dennis Kucinich, as the LA Times writes. Kucinich is holding a press conference in Cleveland now as he prepares to board a plane for Vegas and the debate stage. Still, he may not have a place to stand: NBC is appealing the ruling to the Nevada Supreme Court.

-- The debate comes after a tense few days, in which surrogates from Obama's campaign have accused Clinton of race-baiting and surrogates from Clinton-land have leveled charges that Obama is not the anti-war advocate he claims to be. Yesterday, though, both campaigns held out an olive branch. Obama said the Clintons "have historically been on the right side of civil rights issues," while Clinton issued a statement reading, in part, "when it comes to our heroes -- President John F. Kennedy and Dr. King -- Senator Obama and I are on the same side" (both per Marc Ambinder). The real mover and shaker, House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, who threatened to endorse Obama thanks to Clinton's comments last week, backed off yesterday and said he hopes to move beyond the incident. Luckily for Clinton, the powerful Clyburn will remain neutral. For now.

-- Filing closed in Mississippi late last week, leaving Senator Thad Cochran little more than token opposition but presenting Senator Roger Wicker with two potentially dangerous Democrats. Wicker, appointed to fill the remainder of Senator Trent Lott's term late last year, will either face former Governor Ronnie Musgrove or former Rep. Ronnie Shows, who lost his seat after the 2002 redistricting forced him to run against Rep. Chip Pickering. Wicker will have to defend the seat in a Special Election called within 90 days of December 20, a judge ruled yesterday, according to the Jackson Clarion Ledger. That gives Democrats more hopes of taking the seat, but both Musgrove and Shows would face a difficult task in beating Wicker, a recent poll showed.

-- Unintended Consequence Of The Day: Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki lost his bid for a second term, exit polls from the International Republican Institute show and McClatchy reports. The polls show challenger Raila Odinga won the December 27 election by about 8%, an 11-point gap from certified results that suggested Kibaki won by three points. The IRI has been conducting exit polls in Kenya since 1992, funded by USAID, having refined them to the point of reliability. Still, with the poll's results being leaked just a week after exit pollsters showed Barack Obama beating Hillary Clinton in New Hampshire, it is exactly the wrong time for a pollster to be calling themselves an expert. Further problems, including that interviewers were not where they were supposed to be on Election Day, hampered the survey enough to make it questionable, IRI chief Lorne Craner said.

-- Today On The Trail: All three Democrats head to Las Vegas tonight for a debate to be held on MSNBC. Edwards will meet with Vegas voters beforehand, Clinton rallies with voters afterwards and Obama's only public event is the debate.

-- On the GOP side, Huckabee is in Detroit to meet voters at polling stations before heading to Rock Hill, Sumter and Lexington, South Carolina. McCain greets voters at polling places in Traverse City before addressing the Ann Arbor Economic Club and talking to the press in Ypsilanti. He ends the day watching results in Charleston. Mitt Romney has a rally in Grand Rapids and an election night party in Southfield, while Ron Paul rallies in Detroit and Flint before celebrating in Plymouth, Michigan. Fred Thompson has a radio town hall with voters in Spartanburg before stopping in Rock Hill and York before meeting voters in Columbiana. Rudy Giuliani meets voters in Lake Buena Vista, New Smyrna Beach, Jacksonville and Yulee, Florida.