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« Popcorn For The Mind | Blog Home Page | Kirk Faces Tough Fight »

Morning Thoughts: The Real World

Good Tuesday morning. Now that you've celebrated the lives of Millard Fillmore, William Henry Harrison, James K. Polk and other presidents, it's time to get back to work. Here's what Washington is watching today:

-- Perhaps not satisfied with the four-day weekend, the House is out of session all week for a district work period. Because Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's mistrust of President Bush runs so deep, the Senate will hold more pro forma sessions through the week. Still, some crucial work is being done: The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee will hold a hearing on the impacts of reduced whale hunting on Maine's lobster population, which, members can be assured, will come with a taste test at Jeff's Catering and Convention Center in Brewer, Maine.

-- Sometimes the campaign is interrupted by that pesky thing called real life, and this morning two news items that are going to have legs are making big headlines. The first, which will actually appear in newspapers today, is the Bush Administration's decision to recognize the Republic of Kosovo, as The Swamp writes. The U.S. joins Britain, France, Germany and Turkey in recognizing the fledgling state, which has been administered by the U.N. since a NATO-led bombing campaign almost a decade ago. Russia and China, along with Serbia, vehemently disapprove of the move, but it's something a future president is going to have to consider: Taiwan and Russian separatists could also declare independence, setting off massive regional, and perhaps global, conflicts. Don't be surprised if Kosovo shows up in more than a few stump speeches.

-- The second story, which broke this morning, will lead major papers tomorrow: After nearly 50 years in office, Cuban President Fidel Castro announced he will step down, the ailing chief executive wrote in a letter that appears this morning in Cuban newspapers. While not unexpected, as the Miami Herald writes, the move comes less than a week before the National Assembly meets to pick a new Council of State, of which Castro is president. Castro hasn't been seen in public since July 2006, when he had stomach surgery. While brother Raul is expected to fill Castro's shoes, Vice President Carlos Lage and Prime Minister Felipe Perez Roque are also names to remember, the Washington Post writes.

-- Voters head to the polls today in Wisconsin and Washington State, while caucus-goers attend midnight (Eastern Time) meetings in Hawaii. Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, John McCain and Mike Huckabee have all spent time in Wisconsin, and the latest RCP Wisconsin Averages have Obama up 4.3 points while McCain is well ahead on the GOP side. Only the Republican primary matters in Washington State, where Democrats allocated all their delegates by caucus on February 9, and only Democrats will caucus in Hawaii.

-- It is widely assumed that Obama is on his way to another sweep, but Clinton shouldn't be counted out of either Hawaii or Wisconsin just yet. In the Badger State, Obama has backing from the governor, from the congresswoman who represents the state's largest city and the mayor of that city. But Clinton's average voter lives there -- working class white men and women with less education than other parts of the electorate where Obama does well. Expect big Obama numbers tonight in Milwaukee and Madison, the state capitol and resident liberal bastion, while, if she has any chance of winning, Clinton should run up similarly wide margins in the state's northern half.

-- Hawaii, though, is Obama's home state. Add the fact that Hawaiians will caucus instead of cast primary ballots and it should be a runaway. But not so fast: In California, where Asian American voters made up 8% of the electorate, they broke 71%-25% in Clinton's favor. That was a greater gap than the 67%-32% she won among Latinos, though lower than Obama's 78%-18% win among African Americans. While just one in twelve voters in California are Asian, four in ten Hawaii residents are Asian. The state's senior Democrat, Senator Daniel Inouye, is backing Clinton, while Rep. Neil Abercrombie is backing Obama. In short, if Obama loses the state, his team will have plenty of reason to spin it as not terribly out of the ordinary.

-- An otherwise quiet weekend was shattered yesterday as the Clinton campaign accused Obama of plagiarism, hitting their opponent for supposedly lifting lines from Massachusetts Governor and major Obama backer Deval Patrick, coincidentally also a client of a certain David Axelrod. By some standards, the story blew up immediately: It spent most of the day on top of Drudge, which some believe is the measure of a story's success. Many writers suggest the charge is overstated, as does former Clinton speechwriter David Kusnet, Atlantic columnist James Fallows and prominent liberal blogger Bob Cesca.

-- Still, the flap had some impact. "I'm sure I should have" given Patrick credit for the lines, Obama said at a news conference in Niles, Ohio yesterday, per NYT's Jeff Zeleny. Whether the accusation gained Clinton any votes, or robbed them from Obama, it did put him off message for a few hours, and in an era of 24-hour news cycles, sometimes that can make a heap of difference. No one, though, is calling Obama's borrowed lines anything like those of Joe Biden, in 1988. In fact, Obama's team counterpunched is suggesting Clinton has been using some of his lines from time to time as well, including that whole "fired up, ready to go" thing (which, to be completely fair, we've even heard John McCain use).

-- Overlooked Person Of The Day: As top Democrats from John Edwards to Al Gore mull how best to overcome what looks increasingly like a deadlocked convention, one name hasn't come up much: DNC chairman Howard Dean. As TNR's Eve Fairbanks writes, the Democratic chief showed up to at least one debate with a suspiciously fresh tan, and his influence has not been exactly widely felt. A recent letter exchange with NAACP chairman Julian Bond came off, in some minds, as weak and without offering solutions to the delegate situations in Florida and Michigan. He's come a long way from the scream.

-- Today On The Trail: Clinton rallies in Youngstown, Ohio, while Obama holds a roundtable and a town hall meeting in San Antonio before holding his own rally in Houston. Mike Huckabee, back on the trail -- though for how long no one is certain -- meets with the media in Little Rock. And McCain campaigns in Brookfield, Wisconsin before meeting the media and celebrating election returns in Columbus, Ohio.