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« IA Dem Boswell Faces Primary Challenge | Blog Home Page | Obama Hits Two Milestones »

Morning Thoughts: Bloomberg For Veep!

Good Thursday morning. Baseball has officially begun in Arizona and Florida, meaning the long national nightmare is over. Here's what Washington is keeping an eye on this morning:

-- The Senate takes up legislation seeking a report on American strategy against Al Qaeda, while the House today will vote on postal facility renaming bills and a measure to establish a Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies. Ralph Nader announces his running mate in a noon press conference at the National Press Club, while President Bush meets with his economic team.

-- "If a candidate takes an independent, nonpartisan approach -- and embraces practical solutions that challenge party orthodoxy -- I'll join others in helping that candidate win the White House," writes New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, offering a New York Times op-ed finally slamming the door on a potential White House bid. One thing that might challenge both parties' orthodoxy: Selecting the Democrat-turned-Republican-turned-independent businessman as their vice presidential nominee. Speculation runs rampant.

-- We mentioned yesterday that news has not been good for John McCain, whether it's trouble with the FEC or trouble with the New York Times. But what if he's entirely ineligible to run for president because he was born in the Panama Canal Zone? As the Times writes today, George Romney was born in Mexico, Lowell Weicker was born in Paris and Barry Goldwater was born in Arizona when it was still a territory. Chester A. Arthur is said to have been born in Vermont, though rumored to have been born in Canada. With the first three, the debate was a non-issue -- they all lost. McCain, though, could win, and he's not joking around: He's asked former Solicitor General Ted Olson to put together a legal brief arguing that McCain, born in a U.S. military installation, is eligible.

-- This is not going to be the last time this story comes up: A few weeks ago, it was the Clark County, Washington, Republican Party publishing the Muslim emails as fact. A few days ago it was a radio host warming up the crowd at a McCain event using Barack Obama's middle name in hopes of scoring points against him. The same day, the Tennessee Republican Party sent out a press release employing the same tactic. Every time it happens, regardless of its effect on voters, it just looks bad, and national Republicans know it. The RNC warned the Tennessee GOP that, should the incident happen again, they would be publicly repudiated, as Jonathan Martin reports. McCain, who criticized the radio host, said he disapproved of the Tennessee party's move, too, per Fox News' Mosheh Oinounou. If McCain wants to be able to stop apologizing for his own party, those talking points are going to have to be distributed a little more widely.

-- One piece of good news for McCain: In the first few jabs of a general election matchup that will likely pit him against Barack Obama, he's holding his own and taking shots that have an ability to land. Seizing on Obama comments from Tuesday's debate, McCain had a little fun during a Tyler, Texas town hall: "I have some news" for Obama, McCain said, per the AP. "Al Qaeda is in Iraq. It's called 'Al Qaeda in Iraq.'" The back and forth escalated, but it works for both candidates; nothing fires up a Democratic base like arguing with a Republican, and vice versa.

-- When McCain first took on Obama, the younger senator sounded only shaky comebacks. But with practice comes skill, and Obama showed yesterday that he might just be catching on. "I have some news for John McCain," Obama retorted. "There was no such thing as al-Qaida in Iraq until George Bush and John McCain decided to invade Iraq." The response avoided what Obama has done before -- play defense -- and instead forced McCain to respond to something. While some Democrats still feel ill at ease considering Obama's response, or lack thereof, to an eventual Swift Boat-style attack, it looks like he's learned that, when the ball is in his court, he's got to hit it back.

-- Obama can't spend all his time focusing on McCain, though: He's still got a primary to win. And rival Hillary Clinton is doing her best to make Obama's life leading up to March 4's Texas and Ohio primaries a nightmare. Clinton staffers know the two states are must-wins for her, the Post's Murray and Kornblut write, and to that end they're spending every nickel. Like she did before Super Tuesday, Clinton will hold a "Texas-size" town hall meeting that will be broadcast on cable on Monday night. So far, Clinton has spent about $4 million on advertising in Ohio and Texas, while Obama's up to $7 million. And while internal Obama polls show him trailing in both states, the two write, that gap is narrowing.

-- Friendly Neighbor To The North Of The Day: Both Obama and Clinton used harsh rhetoric over NAFTA in Monday's debate, alarming some Canadians with their goals of renegotiating the treaty. But within the past month, CTV reports, a senior Obama staff member called Michael Wilson, Canada's ambassador to the U.S., to warn him the harsh words were coming. The staffer said the criticisms should not be taken literally, the station reports. Clinton may have delivered the same warning, though both campaigns denied the reports. Ohio voters love to hear attacks on NAFTA, but Ottawa and Mexico City prefer the behind-the-hand reassurances.

-- Today On The Trail: Obama has town halls set for Austin and Beaumont before hitting a rally in Fort Worth. Clinton has a town hall in Hanging Rock, Ohio, before heading to Houston for a speech. McCain has town halls set for Houston and Richardson, Texas, while Mike Huckabee, who is still running, rallies in Texarkana and Waco before meeting the media, outside a private fundraiser, in Amarillo.