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Blog Home Page --> April 2008

Tip Of Obama Iceberg?

A day after excoriating the Rev. Jeremiah Wright and trying once again to finally put a difficult hurdle behind his campaign, Barack Obama has already received three big endorsements today from prominent super delegates, giving him four in the last twenty-four hours alone.

Indiana Rep. Baron Hill, whose district in the southeast part of the state is heavily blue collar and should be prime territory for Hillary Clinton, will endorse Obama tonight, the campaign confirmed. In a long statement, Hill cited Obama's denunciation of Wright's comments, which Hill said showed "a strength of character and commitment to our nation that transcends the personal."

Hill also pointed to an earlier endorsement of Obama from former Rep. Lee Hamilton, whom Hill replaced in the House. The former vice chairman of the September 11 Commission endorsed Obama in early April.

Obama will also be endorsed by Iowa Rep. Bruce Braley, one of three Democratic members of Congress from the Hawkeye State and one who had endorsed John Edwards before his state's caucuses. Braley will describe his decision to support Obama on a conference call this afternoon, after what he described as overwhelming support for Obama at his Congressional District caucus over the weekend.

In a move that shows their confidence, the Obama campaign pointed out that Braley and Hill's endorsements bring them to 246 total super delegates -- the latest RCP Super Delegate Count has the number at 241 -- and within 286 delegates of securing the party's nomination. There are 291 uncommitted super delegates remaining.

Just a few hours later, California Democratic Rep. Lois Capps announced she too would back Obama, cutting the number of delegates needed to clinch the nomination to 285.

While Hillary Clinton has picked up several super delegates in recent days -- including Pennsylvania AFL-CIO chief Bill George, who endorsed today -- Obama's roll-out the day after his condemnation of Jeremiah Wright feels like the turning point the campaign was looking for. If Obama pulls out at least one win on Tuesday, it may bring down a hail of super delegate endorsements that forces Clinton from the race. Today might be just the tip of the iceberg.

Enzi To Run For 3rd Term

Ending months of rumors about whether he would seek a new term, Wyoming Senator Mike Enzi announced over the weekend that he would indeed run for re-election. After just an eight-point win in his initial bid in 1996, Enzi won re-election easily in 2002 against an opponent who spent just $8,000. This year, he has yet to draw a credible Democratic challenger.

Enzi was not a sure bet to run, though, after Senate Republican leaders bypassed him a second time for a seat on the Senate Finance Committee. Instead of to Enzi, the ranking Republican on the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell instead John Sununu, a freshman who faces a difficult re-election bid this year.

Many saw Enzi's lackluster fundraising as a sign that he would retire instead of seek a third term. Through March, Enzi had raised $760,000, $193,000 in the First Quarter, and kept $647,000 in the bank. In truth, Enzi has never been a strong fundraiser, and he doesn't have to be in inexpensive Wyoming. He spent $953,000 on his 1996 race and $884,000 in 2002. Most of his contributions this year have come from political action committees; Enzi has raised just $79,000 from individual donors, his FEC reports show.

Wyoming lacks a deep Democratic bench, but two candidates are running against Enzi's junior colleague, Senator John Barrasso. Barrasso was appointed by Governor Dave Freudenthal to fill the unexpired term of Craig Thomas, who passed away after a bout with cancer last year. Barrasso will run for the final four years of Thomas' term, making Wyoming and Mississippi the two states where both Senators will appear side by side on the ballot this year.

Franken Owes $70K

After building his name recognition, campaign war chest and overall credibility and all but securing the Democratic nomination for Senate in Minnesota, satirist Al Franken has stumbled in recent weeks as repeated revelations about his business dealings have made for splashy headlines. Now, Franken has paid $70,000 in back taxes and fines in 17 states where he earned money in recent years, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune reported today.

Franken blamed his accountant, with whom he has done business for eighteen years, of making fundamental errors that caused the oversights. Those oversights led to overpayments in Franken's two home states, Minnesota and New York, and non-payment in the more than a dozen other states where Franken earned money, usually through appearance and speaking fees. Franken maintained that, after the overpayment, he owed just $4,000 more in taxes, according to an early estimation by his new financial handlers.

The disclosure comes a month and a half after Franken's company, Alan Franken Inc., was charged a $25,000 penalty by the New York State Workers' Compensation Board for not buying workers' comp insurance, as the Star-Tribune reported in mid-March. After an internal investigation, Franken admitted the mistake and paid the fine.

Franken's candidacy was initially greeted with some skepticism from Minnesota Democrats, who wondered whether putting a comedian with a long history of raunchy jokes up against a sitting Senator was a good idea. But Franken raised a significant amount of money, outpacing -- and outspending -- Republican Norm Coleman several quarters in a row. Recent polls have shown the race close, with Coleman leading but near the margin of error.

But Franken's follies could bring a renewed sense of angst to the state's Democrat-Farmer-Labor Party, which since Coleman's election in 2002 has been itching for the opportunity to oust the Republican from office. Coleman won election after the death of incumbent Senator Paul Wellstone, whom Coleman had been trailing in polls.

While Franken retains a good chance at knocking off Coleman -- Minnesota is one of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee's top targets -- he has seen his poll numbers slip in recent weeks. A rebound of some sort sooner, rather than later, is hugely important to Franken. Too, his research team, which might have caught the mistake before it was discovered by Republicans and the media, might want to go back and take a look at their candidate's record one more time to avoid future missteps.

IN: Thompson Up Big

Consider this a preview of what September and October are going to look like: As Hoosier voters prepare to head to the polls on Tuesday, the third survey in three days is out with yet another very different picture of the state's gubernatorial primary. Just wait until Senate and House races get into the act with their own cascade of numbers down the road.

The survey, taken 4/23-24 for Howey Politics Indiana by Gauge Market Research, quizzed 600 likely Democratic primary voters and 600 likely general election voters on the governor's race, for a margin of error of +/- 4% each. Democrats Jill Long Thompson and Jim Schellinger and Republican incumbent Mitch Daniels were surveyed.

Primary Election Matchup
Thompson 45
Schellinger 27

General Election Matchups
Daniels 55 (-1 from last, 2/08)
Thompson 36 (+3)

Daniels 56 (+2)
Schellinger 33 (+2)

The Howey-Gauge poll has, in two consecutive surveys, shown Daniels running much better against either Democrat than other polls taken in Indiana. But the wide gap in the primary, analyst Brian Howey writes, is attributable to Schellinger's failure to boost his statewide name recognition. Just 50% of voters in the Democratic primary knew of Schellinger, and just 23% knew enough to have an opinion of him. Long Thompson, on the other hand, is known by 59% of voters, which is not much better.

Compare that to the 99% of voters who knew of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama in the same survey and it becomes evident why Daniels, the well-funded though embattled incumbent, has a big lead in general election matchups.

While it may be a little like comparing apples and oranges, the plethora of recent surveys does give us an early opportunity to judge pollsters side by side. Keep in mind these polls out recently, from Research 2000, Selzer & Co. and Howey-Gauge, as Long Thompson and Schellinger battle toward Tuesday. We've included the polls in the chronological order of their survey dates, from earliest to latest (Selzer & Co.: 4/20-23; Research 2000: 4/21-24; Howey-Gauge: 4/23-24):

Sel R2K H-G
Thompson 26 48 45
Schellinger 28 42 27

Something to keep an eye on as the votes come in on Tuesday.

Strategy Memo: Obama's Rough Patch

Good Wednesday morning. The sprint is on with just a week of campaigning left before Indiana and North Carolina voters head to the polls. And judging by the way this week is going, the following could once again provide a new way to look at the Democratic contest. What they're watching in Washington:

-- The Senate meets today to continue consideration of the FAA reauthorization bill. The House will take up a bill to make technical corrections to major transportation legislation and a measure on special needs education. Both chambers will pause at midday for a joint address from Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern. President Bush addresses the national Teachers of the Year, then joins the Super Bowl champion New York Giants on the South Lawn before fundraising for the GOP at a private residence in Fairfax, Virginia.

-- Back on the campaign trail, the race shifted in a major way yesterday when Barack Obama offered his strongest public statements to date on controversies surrounding his former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. At a news conference in North Carolina, Obama responded to Wright's recent media blitz, in which the retired pastor has traveled as much -- with stops in Dallas, Detroit, Washington and a major television news set -- as the presidential candidates, by doing his best to completely disassociate himself with Wright's comments, saying he had misjudged the man who made those statements. Wright has been in the news a lot lately, mostly of his own volition, but yesterday it was Obama who brought him up, and Obama who sought to dismiss Wright completely from the campaign trail.

-- There are pluses and minuses in Obama's very public efforts to turn the page on Jeremiah Wright, though on balance yesterday's press conference is something the campaign should have considered months ago. Obama is facing one of the roughest patches his campaign has so far seen, due in large part to his inability to overcome Wright as an issue. His poll numbers are slipping, he's reportedly not as sharp as usual on the stump, and the long campaign is getting to him. His decision to take on Wright forcefully may have been poll-driven -- at least someone is asking Wright-related questions in North Carolina, as Marc Ambinder reports -- but Obama needs something to come of this, his own version of the Sister Soulja moment. If nothing changes, Wright will continue to be an issue used against Obama for months to come.

-- Perhaps, as some have suggested, the incident is part of a larger theme that has emerged in this campaign. As Obama emerged as a contender, as much as a year ago, many African American leaders stuck with Obama rival Hillary Clinton, including such luminaries as Rep. John Lewis (who later switched to Obama after his district made their preference known), while Rep. James Clyburn stayed on the sidelines. Perhaps Obama's clash with Wright is more generational than anything else, reflecting the turning of a page in leadership in a community that has not seen a lot of turnover in recent decades. The comparisons between Obama and Newark Mayor Cory Booker, who would have defeated long-time incumbent Sharpe James and beaten the Democratic machine had James not stepped down, are looking more apt by the day.

-- Obama has another problem that has gotten him in trouble in recent weeks. The candidate of hope and change isn't supposed to be running negative advertisements, and at a rally with 5,000 of his closest Tar Heel friends in Wilmington, North Carolina, Obama said he will head down a more positive path, as Bloomberg's Jensen and Leigh write. Obama took some grief for his approach to Clinton in Pennsylvania, and now that he's ahead in at least one state, he's able to stay away from hitting his rival. Clinton, meanwhile, is up with a new ad in Indiana, CNN reports, in which she lets Obama have it on freezing foreclosures and using a gas tax holiday to save consumers money. Obama's lofty image means he must be above reproach. Clinton's reputation, somewhat grittier, means she can play in the mud. In terms of doing what it takes to win, Clinton now has a lot more leeway.

-- Meanwhile, his efforts have finally paid off, at least a little bit, and John McCain is back in the news. In a major speech on health care in Tampa, Florida, McCain hewed to mostly Republican themes in offering his own solution to the health care crisis, as Business Week's Catherine Arnst writes, urging a market-driven answer in which consumers can shop around and are given tax breaks to help them afford care. That's music to the ears of free market conservatives, but it bothers those on the left, and one on the left in particular: Elizabeth Edwards, who has taken to pointing out of late that neither she, thanks to her cancer, nor McCain, thanks to his recurring bouts with melanoma, would be able to get insurance under McCain's plan, as fellow critic Jonathan Cohn writes in The New Republic. Health care policy can b difficult to distill into understandable sound bites, but McCain's first big policy proposal on the domestic front is already taking some pretty heavy shelling.

-- Clinton had a big day yesterday as well, picking up support from North Carolina Governor Mike Easley. Easley can follow one of two paths that governors who back Clinton have taken: Ted Strickland, Ohio's chief executive, was an asset among working-class Democrats, given his background as a member of Congress from a very blue collar district and his popularity among his state's Democratic base. Ed Rendell, Pennsylvania's top dog, was more of an asset on television and as a crowd-gatherer. In truth, those who voted for Rendell in his 2002 gubernatorial primary against Bob Casey were most likely to vote for Obama, while Casey voters probably cast their ballots for Clinton, making Rendell more effective explaining his state than in actually gathering votes for Clinton. Easley, some believe, is more in the Rendell model, given that he's never had an extensive grass-roots political network. But, as strategist Harrison Hickman tells the Charlotte Observer, he may boost the confidence of a few wary super delegates.

-- Veep Talk Of The Day: Governors just can't stop making vice presidential news, and don't believe what they say, they actually love it. Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal showed up on Jay Leno's couch last night, recounting his childhood as the son of immigrants and his state's head honcho by the age of 36. As the New York Times points out, how could Leno resist age jokes? Jindal is just barely over half McCain's age. In an interview with the Washington Times, though, Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour took himself out of the running, calling himself too conservative to be McCain's number two (Is that really the message McCain's team wanted?). And, of course, Florida Governor Charlie Crist was with McCain when he gave his speech yesterday, though he, too, professes no interest in the second slot.

-- Today On The Trail: Obama will hold a discussion with working families in Indianapolis before touring a factory with employees. He heads to Bloomington for a rally in the afternoon. Clinton is in South Bend to meet with employees of a sheet metal plant before heading to a town hall meeting in Portage and rallies in Lafayette and Kokomo. John McCain is farther east, in Allentown, Pennsylvania, where he will host a town hall meeting and speak with the press.

Dems Lose Top NV Recruit

Nevada Democratic hopes of taking back a swing seat in Congress were dealt a blow yesterday when their top recruit abruptly withdrew from the race, citing family concerns. Robert Daskas, a former top prosecutor for Clark County, pulled out of the race Monday, the Las Vegas Review-Journal's Molly Ball reports today.

The Silver State's Third District, based in Henderson and suburban Las Vegas, has been one of Democrats' top targets in recent cycles. Republican incumbent Jon Porter won re-election in 2006 with just 48% of the vote, edging out a former top aide to Senator Harry Reid by just 4,000 votes despite outspending her by a two-to-one margin. President Bush carried the fast-growing district narrowly in 2004 after losing the seat by a slim margin in 2000.

Daskas' departure was unexpected, and fundraising, cited by several once-potential candidates this year, was certainly not the problem. He raised $233,000 in the First Quarter of 2008, leaving him with $453,000 in the bank. Porter raised $366,000 in the first three months of the year and retained $1.03 million on hand, an advantage, but hardly an overwhelming one.

Democrats have a backup candidate on hand, though she will start at an even steeper fundraising disadvantage given her late entry into the race. State Senate Minority Leader Dina Titus, who came surprisingly close to winning the governor's mansion in 2006, said she is seriously considering the race, and that she has been in close contact with top Nevada and Washington Democrats.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee was quick to add their support. "Dina Titus would be an excellent candidate with unparalleled experience and support from people in Nevada's 3rd congressional district," DCCC chair Chris Van Hollen said in a statement. "Her vision, strength, and ability to get things done for Nevada would make her a powerful voice for change."

The National Republican Congressional Committee hammered Titus for her loss two years ago, when she lost to Republican Governor Jim Gibbons by four points even after Gibbons was accused of improper behavior by a cocktail waitress. "Dina Titus should think long and hard before launching a second long-shot campaign. Two losses in a row would be career-ending for her," NRCC spokeswoman Julie Shutley said in a statement this morning. Ball, though, writes that Titus beat Gibbons in the Third District by two points.

Titus has said that a decision on her entry into the race will come by the end of the week. Porter, who has survived two close contests in recent years, has to be breathing better today, though Titus will prove no easy opponent. The incumbent has worked hard to keep his seat, and he is unlikely to be caught by surprise by Titus' challenge.

Undecided Romps In IN

Perhaps Indiana voters are just too concerned with their votes in the presidential contest to make up their minds about a puny governor's race. A new poll conducted for the Indianapolis Star shows a huge plurality of Democratic primary voters remain undecided just a week before two Democrats fight for the right to take on incumbent Governor Mitch Daniels.

The survey, conducted by Des Moines-based Selzer & Company between 4/20-23, surveyed 500 likely Democratic primary voters for a margin of error of +/- 4.2% and 384 likely general election voters for a margin of error of +/- 5%. Daniels and Democrats Jim Schellinger, an architect and businessman, and Jill Long Thompson, a former member of Congress, were surveyed.

Primary Election Matchup
(All / Ind)
Schellinger 28 / 28
Thompson 26 / 34

General Election Matchups
Thompson 44 (nc from last, 11/07)
Daniels 43 (nc)

Daniels 45 (+5)
Schellinger 41 (-3)

That Long Thompson leads among independents is an important boost for her campaign in a primary that is likely to see unprecedented involvement from those non-aligned voters. But with 46% of the state's voters remaining undecided, the race could hinge on name recognition and late breaks. Schellinger has been on television more than Long Thompson, but Long Thompson is a known political name, perhaps giving her the leg up on attracting those undecided voters.

Either Democrat would be in strong position to challenge Daniels in an overwhelmingly red state; despite his healthy fundraising clip and his political talent, Daniels' weak general election poll numbers have been a recurring theme this year.

The incumbent is seeing some improvement, though. 47% of voters now approve of Daniels' job performance, up seven points since November, while his disapproval rating has dropped from 50% then to 40% now. While lower than a 50% approval rating is dangerous, it's still nowhere nearly as bad as the upside down rating Daniels owned in November.

On PN Radio: Childers Out

Last week on Politics Nation Radio, Politico's Josh Kraushaar and Chris Frates dissected the Pennsylvania results with Jonathan Martin, and wondered whether the ongoing Democratic battle is really going to hurt the party come November. Former Iowa Democratic Party Communications Director Carrie Giddins also weighed in on how the Florida and Michigan delegate situations will be resolved:

In the second hour, House Race Hotline editor Tim Sahd joins the crew in studio for a long look at special elections in Mississippi and Louisiana. Prentiss County Chancery Clerk Travis Childers, the Democratic candidate, and Southaven Mayor Greg Davis, the Republican candidate in Mississippi, provide exclusive interviews to Politics Nation:

SCOTUS Allows Voter IDs

The Supreme Court yesterday upheld an Indiana law that requires voters to show photo identification before casting a ballot, a decision that could have wide-ranging implications not only on Hoosier State voters but on residents around the country as more states prepare similar laws. The six-to-three ruling allowed the Indiana law, which remains in force, to stand, drawing criticism from Democrats and civil liberties groups that maintain it will disenfranchise minority voters.

Twenty-five states have some form of voter identification law on the book, the New York Times reports, and in several states the legislature is in some stage of consideration of new measures. Identification laws have been challenged before, and largely because of a Georgia statute, Federal Election Commission nominee Hans von Spakovsky has been held up by Democrats who oppose his view on the subject.

The ruling, said some election law experts, did not validate all voter identification laws, though it did shift the burden of proof to groups who claim to be disenfranchised by such laws. "The court specifically left open the possibility of lawsuits against ID laws that burden specific groups of citizens like older voters, poor voters and students," New York University law professor Wendy Weiser told the Times.

Civil liberties organizations say the Indiana law and those similar to it can hinder minority and elderly voting, as those are the demographics least likely to have state-issued identification. Both groups tend to vote heavily Democratic, a fact not lost on either party; Republicans generally favor voter identification laws, while Democrats oppose them. In a statement, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid pointed out that every Republican in the Indiana legislature voted for the measure, while every Democrat opposed it.

Congressional Democrats reacted harshly to the ruling. "The Indiana law and others like it are roadblocks to democracy - these laws place an unnecessary burden on elderly and low-income voters, not to mention other voters of disparate racial and ethnic backgrounds, among others," Reid said in the statement. "As November approaches, Americans must remain vigilant to protect the right to vote in the face of this and other schemes to depress turnout."

"The Court's decision today places obstacles to the fundamental rights of American citizens -- especially the poor, the elderly, and individuals with disabilities -- to participate in the electoral process," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in her own statement. "Requiring American citizens pay for underlying documents needed for an identification card and travel to distant motor vehicle locations for processing hinders -- and diminishes -- their right to vote."

Four opinions in the case took widely different paths to reaching their conclusions. Justices John Paul Stevens, Anthony Kennedy and John Roberts argued the state's right to prevent voter fraud superseded the burden on voters. A concurring opinion said the law was justified and mocked opposition to the measure as irrelevant; Justices Clarence Thomas and Sam Alito joined author Antonin Scalia in that opinion.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg and David Souter authored the dissenting opinion, while Justice Stephen Breyer dissented on his own.

Strategy Memo: Long, Slow Decline

Good Tuesday morning. We thought we might have spent too much time on the Rev. Jeremiah Wright yesterday morning, but after his speech at the National Press Club yesterday, we are no longer of that opinion. More Strategy Memos will be dedicated largely to Wright's effect on the campaign, we're sure. Meanwhile, here's what Washington is watching today:

-- The Senate this morning resumes consideration of the FAA reauthorization bill today, after months of delay over disputes about how to fund certain upgrades to the nation's aviation infrastructure. The House handles three measures designed to transfer land to Native American tribes in the Southwest, followed by a huge bill dealing with dozens of smaller natural resource issues, as well as relief for struggling credit unions. President Bush meets with the U.N. Special Envoy to Afghanistan at the White House today, while Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice meets with Paul Kagame, the president of Rwanda.

-- Wright's media blitz, taking him from PBS to Dallas to Detroit to Washington over the weekend, is the talk of the town, and few understand what he's trying to do. Most agree that Wright's reemergence, especially at the Press Club yesterday, did little to help his former congregant, Barack Obama, as AP's Nedra Pickler writes today. The reemergence of a prominent leader, especially one who has not spoken to the media after such a firestorm, is big news, and voters in Indiana and North Carolina are going to get a face full of Wright, whether on the news, from blogs or from organizations seeking to divide the Democratic constituency.

-- One major concern super delegates and other influential endorsers have with the Wright issue is the simple fact that it's been going on for so long -- his controversial speeches reemerged on the national stage about two months ago now -- and yet Obama strategists have not put the story behind them. They seem to realize Wright presents them with a problem; at a tarmac news conference in Wilmington yesterday, Obama addressed his former minister in stronger language than usual: "Some of the comments that Reverend Wright has made offended me and I understand why they offend the American people," and "He does not speak for me. He does not speak for the campaign," per NYT's Jeff Zeleny. When, though, can Obama really put Wright behind him? What if, super delegates may ask, a scandal comes up in September or October that the campaign has similar trouble dealing with before November?

-- In fact, Obama has had a bad few weeks. Combining Wright with negativity toward rival Hillary Clinton, a tough loss in Pennsylvania and other missteps in the long interregnum between the Texas and Ohio primaries and April 22, the effect for the Illinois Senator has been severe and marked slippage in his national and state-by-state poll numbers. What was a ten-point lead over Clinton in the RCP National Average, just about a week ago, is now down to just under six points. After climbing all month, his lead over John McCain in the RCP General Election Average is down to just a point and a half. And Obama's leads over Clinton in North Carolina and Indiana are both down from last week. No matter the average, Obama has taken some serious lumps and it's having a dramatic effect. Clinton will take advantage by pointing to an AP/Ipsos poll, out today, that has her leading McCain by nine points, and at over 50%, while Obama stumbles ahead by just two.

-- Super delegates, though, are still moving in one obvious direction. Since the April 22 Pennsylvania primary, six super delegates have endorsed Obama, including Oregon Rep. David Wu, whose state votes by May 20, and Oklahoma Governor Brad Henry and New Mexico Senator Jeff Bingaman, two western red state Democrats whose voices have sway inside their states. Two super delegates, meanwhile, have endorsed Clinton (that number grows to three today when North Carolina Governor Mike Easley jumps on board; more on that in a minute). Obama now leads Clinton in super delegates among his Senate colleagues, the Post's Jonathan Weisman writes, and he's on his way to leading her among all super delegates.

-- That last statement, per the Wall Street Journal's Jackie Calmes, comes as Clinton boasts just a 20-super delegate lead over Obama, according to the latest RCP Delegate Count. At the beginning of this calendar year, that lead was hovering near 100 super delegates. Perhaps more importantly, her lead among party elders was once a top Clinton argument for staying in a race in which she is losing the pledged delegate vote total. With pressure mounting on both candidates to end the race by June, forget the Rev. Wright; how can a candidate trailing in both kinds of delegates actually justify staying in the race if her opponent has yet to collapse?

-- Maybe the truth is that neither Democratic candidate is as strong as once thought. A Clinton victory in the primaries would still divide some parts of the party and the country; an Obama victory could spell defeat in November virtually regardless of who the GOP nominee is. An John McCain, on day two of his "Call to Action Tour" and addressing health care issues in Tampa, Florida, is in excellent position for a candidate with no money: His Republican National Committee has far outraised its Democratic counterpart, and McCain is far ahead of either Democratic candidate in terms of planning for the general election candidate. Oh, and when was the last time conservatives said anything bad about their party's standard-bearer? That "conversation" McCain promised to have with the right wing of the party seems to have worked out pretty well, and a lot faster than expected.

-- Endorsement Of The Day: In Pennsylvania, Senator Bob Casey and Governor Ed Rendell were huge surrogates for both Democratic candidates, and so far Indiana Senator Evan Bayh has been Clinton's constant companion. But today's endorsement, from North Carolina Governor Mike Easley, could be just as important psychologically as it is politically (NBC's First Read has the background). Easley is a smart operator who has a long career in a very red state; those sorts of politicians have tended toward Obama in the past. And he's jumping on board the Clinton campaign, relieving those who might have thought the only thing they could do was to rearrange the deck chairs on the Titanic. Side story to watch: Could John Edwards be far behind?

-- Today On The Trail: Obama has town hall meetings in Winston-Salem and Hickory, North Carolina. Clinton tours a bio-manufacturing business at North Carolina State University in Raleigh before joining Easley to accept his endorsement. Later, she tours a factory in Indianapolis, holds a town hall meeting in Hobart and a rally in Princeton, Indiana. McCain will offer a speech on health care at a cancer center at the University of South Florida. This afternoon, Bill Clinton hits four events in eastern North Carolina.

Today On POTUS '08

Tune in for a special edition of The Race tonight on XM Radio's POTUS '08 as Real Clear Politics guest hosts. Join Politics Nation from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. as we tackle the hot issues of the day in politics. Listen free here (link about half-way down the page) as:

-- Reid Wilson and guest host Kyle Trygstad dissect the race, the polls and the status of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton as they battle for votes in Indiana and North Carolina. We'll hear from each of the candidates as well, with audio from today's events in both states.

-- In the second hour, we'll dive deeper into Indiana with pollster Ann Selzer, whose polls this year have nailed margins and turnout figures in Iowa and Michigan. Her new poll sheds light on the race in Indiana, which may be much more wide open than we all think.

-- And, as a special treat, an exclusive interview with Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chairman Chris Van Hollen, on his party's outlook in the 2008 Congressional elections, upcoming special elections in Louisiana and Mississippi, and much more.

All that and a few surprises, we're sure, tonight on The Race, only on XM Radio's POTUS '08. Listen live, tonight from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Eastern.

House GOP Targets Obama

In the first two advertisements of their kind, Republicans seeking an advantage in a Mississippi special election are invoking Barack Obama in arguing that a Democratic Congressional candidate is too liberal for his district. That flies in the face of what has been conventional wisdom for months among national Democratic strategists who have not publicly taken sides in the presidential contest; many privately express more hope in Obama's potential coattails than in rival Hillary Clinton's.

But while Hillary Clinton and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi have made appearances in Republican advertisements before, the GOP is now taking on Obama, reflecting both a growing consensus that the Illinois Senator is the most likely candidate to emerge from the ongoing primary fight and that Republicans believe he, like Clinton, can be transformed into a lightening rod used to tarnish downballot Democrats.

The advertisements target Travis Childers, the Prentiss County Chancery Clerk who led his Republican opponent, Southaven Mayor Greg Davis, in last week's special primary election to replace Senator Roger Wicker in a northern Mississippi House seat. Both Davis and the National Republican Congressional Committee released the spots less than a week after Childers came within about 400 votes of avoiding a runoff by scoring above the 50% mark. And beyond Mississippi, NRCC chairman Tom Cole, meeting with reporters today, suggested that ties to Obama could hurt downballot Democrats nationally.

"When Obama's pastor cursed America, blaming us for 9/11, Childers said nothing," Davis' spot begins. "When Obama ridiculed rural folks for clinging to guns and religion, Childers said nothing."

While bringing up the Rev. Jeremiah Wright may be dangerous for some Republicans, the NRCC's commercial sounds a theme that will prove a more universally-sounded concept. "Travis Childers claims he's a conservative. But Travis Childers contributed money to John Kerry, and is endorsed by Barack Obama, who has the most liberal voting record in the U.S. Senate."

That refrain, from National Journal's annual vote ranking, will be Obama's constant, and unwelcome, companion on the campaign trail. An NRCC poll showed John McCain beating Obama by about 35 points in Mississippi's First Congressional District, Cole said, and next to Pelosi, Republicans are beginning to use Obama's name as the latest image of the liberal boogeyman. And for all Obama's talk of putting more states in play, Cole doesn't believe that is necessarily the case. "Does anybody really believe Barack Obama is going to carry [Mississippi's First District]," he asked.

Saying the country remains a center-right political climate, Cole said he welcomed the debate with Obama. "The special elections are the first effort on our side to inject that intellectual dichotomy."

In both Mississippi and neighboring Louisiana, where Republican candidates in heavily red districts find themselves in tenuous positions, Cole said turning the election into a contest with national implications, much as Democrats did in 2006, can benefit his party. "Our candidates now are trying to turn those [elections] into a referendum on Pelosi, on Obama," he said. "As these elections become nationalized, I think we do better."

National Democrats criticized the ads as Hail Marys from a candidate and a party worried about losing the seat. "These are the sort of 11th hour attacks you expect from a desperate politician and National Republicans trying to distract voters from Greg Davis' horrible record of broken promises, raising property taxes 4 times and doubling spending," Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spokesman Doug Thornell told Politics Nation. "The mere fact that national Republicans are being forced to spend a large chunk of their [cash on hand] to protect a ruby red district George Bush carried with over sixty percent shows how out of touch the GOP is with the American people."

Bush won the First District by twenty-five points in 2004 and by nineteen points in 2000, and Wicker, first elected in 1994, never faced a difficult re-election bid. In the Louisiana seat, Bush won by equally large margins in both his elections.

The Obama campaign declined to comment for this article, while the Clinton campaign did not return emails seeking their opinion.

Regardless of the outcomes of the two special elections, it remains remarkable that either is competitive. Both parties are spending heavily on the two seats. Through Saturday, Democrats had spent $384,000 in Mississippi and $712,000 in Louisiana, where State Rep. Don Cazayoux is vying with Republican Woody Jenkins to replace retired Rep. Richard Baker. Republicans have spent $570,000 helping Davis in Mississippi and $312,000 backing Jenkins in Louisiana. Several independent groups, including the Club for Growth and Freedom's Watch, are also spending money on behalf of GOP candidates in the districts.

At the moment, it appears that both Democratic candidates are the favorites. Childers won more votes in last Tuesday's election than Davis, and combined with the few hundred votes his Democratic opponent received -- the Democrat and Republican who placed second in the primary for the full term both tried, unsuccessfully, to have their names removed from the ballot -- Democrats received more than 50% of the ballots cast. In Louisiana, recent polls have shown Cazayoux leading Jenkins by as many as seven points, while no poll made public recently has shown Jenkins ahead. The runoff elections will be held on May 3, in Louisiana, and May 13, in Mississippi.

To turn that tide, Cole told reporters today he can use Obama to effectively nationalize both special elections. "Both Democrats were leading at the point where we began to talk about national issues," he said today. After hundreds of thousands of dollars spent trying to tie the two Democrats to the candidate who will likely be their party's standard-bearer in November, the special elections could even serve as an important turning point in the Democratic presidential contest: If both Democrats go down thanks to the association with Obama, Hillary Clinton might have another powerful argument to make to super delegates nervous about Obama's electability. If one or both Democrats win, national party strategists will not only point ecstatically to more potential signs of a Democratic wave, but will privately breathe a sign of relief that, unlike several previous nominees, Obama is not poisonous to down-ballot candidates quite yet.

How Far Does Change Extend?

Voters in Iowa's Third Congressional District gave Barack Obama a huge boost in his caucus campaign. The Illinois Senator won six of the Des Moines-based district's twelve counties, including Polk County, from which a majority of the votes came; Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, won none of the twelve counties. Obama's theme of "change," it seemed, was in the air.

But the incumbent Democrat, Rep. Leonard Boswell, had thrown his support to Clinton (The state's three Democratic members of Congress each endorsed different presidential candidates), and as has happened in other primary states, that angered at least a few members of the state Democratic Party's liberal wing. After the endorsement, former State Rep. Ed Fallon, who had finished third in the 2006 gubernatorial primary and who seemed to be building a solid base for himself, decided to give the generally more conservative Boswell a credible primary challenger.

A new poll, though, shows that Fallon has some serious work to do in advance of the state's June 3 primary. The survey, taken by Research 2000 for KCCI-TV and KCRG-TV between 4/21-23, surveyed 400 likely Democratic primary voters in the district, for a margin of error of +/- 4.9%. Boswell and Fallon were tested.

Primary Election Matchup
(All / Men / Wom)
Boswell 52 / 55 / 49
Fallon 28 / 26 / 30

Boswell has a long history of surviving competitive general elections, and his district is one of the most evenly-divided in the nation. He first won election with 49%, beating out a well-funded Republican opponent in an open seat contest. Even as Democrats swept to victory nationwide last year, Boswell managed just a six-point win over State Senator Jeff Lamberti, who at the time served as the co-president in a divided upper chamber.

Whether the more liberal Fallon could hold the district in a normal year, even as moderate Boswell has faced tough races, is an open question. President Bush won a 270-vote majority in the district in 2004, while Al Gore beat him by 1,500 votes in 2000. And Fallon, unlike Boswell, is not a proven fundraiser; Boswell has raised $982,000 through the First Quarter and kept $840,000 in the bank; Fallon managed to pull in just $171,000 and spent most of it, leaving him only $19,000 in reserve.

But should Fallon pull out the upset in the primary, he would probably be the favorite heading into November. The likely GOP challenger, once a top aide to ex-Rep. Greg Ganske, jumped into the contest very late, and hadn't raised money of any significance through March. Then again, if national Republicans see the opportunity to steal a seat in central Iowa, likely to be a battleground state come November, they may pounce at the chance and make sure the Republican, Kim Schmett, is well-funded enough to become a credible challenger.

Obama's message of change may be compelling, and one Democrat -- nonprofit executive Donna Edwards, in Maryland -- has unseated an incumbent by closely mimicking Obama's style and substance. Longtime Rep. John Lewis, of Georgia, even avoided a primary challenge after switching his endorsement to Obama after initially backing Hillary Clinton. But the backlash against pro-Clinton super delegates does not appear to have reached fever pitch: At this point, though, Boswell remains a heavy favorite both in the primary and in the general election as he seeks his seventh term in Congress.

More Tight IN Polls

Just a week before the primary that will decide who has the right to face Governor Mitch Daniels in November, a new poll conducted for several media outlets in Indiana shows both Democrats running neck and neck with the incumbent Republican. Most polls in the state have shown a similarly close race, though at least a few have shown Daniels with wide leads.

The survey, conducted by Research 2000 for WSBT-TV, WISH-TV, WANE-TV and the South Bend Tribune, quizzed 600 likely voters between 4/21-24, for a margin of error of +/- 4%. Daniels, ex-Rep. Jill Long Thompson and architect Jim Schellinger were surveyed. The sample was 42% Republican, 35% Democratic and 23% represented independents and minor parties.

General Election Matchup
(All / Dem / GOP / Ind / Men / Wom)
Daniels 45 / 7 / 79 / 40 / 50 / 40 (-1 from last, 9/07)
Thompson 45 / 86 / 7 / 52 / 42 / 48 (+7)

Daniels 45 / 7 / 79 / 40 / 50 / 40 (no trend)
Schellinger 44 / 84 / 7 / 51 / 42 / 46

Research 2000 also conducted a poll of the Democratic primary, between 4/23-24. 400 likely Democratic primary voters were asked their thoughts on the race between Long Thompson and Schellinger, for a margin of error of +/- 4.9%.

Primary Election Matchup
(All / Men / Wom / Wht / Blk)
Thompson 48 / 41 / 54 / 48 / 51
Schellinger 42 / 52 / 34 / 43 / 35

African Americans made up only 13% of the Democratic primary sample, about what is expected in a normal Democratic primary (the state is just 8.3% African American, according to the Census Bureau). But if African Americans heavily favor Long Thompson, Schellinger has a bigger problem on hand. With the presidential contest that same day, as well as a tight Congressional primary in the heavily-African American Seventh District, in Indianapolis, African American turnout could be huge, as it has been in other states.

In the Seventh District, Rep. Andre Carson was elected in March to fill in for his late grandmother, but he faces a difficult fight for his party's nomination to a full term in November. Carson will face a number of well-financed challengers, two of whom are also black, probably further increasing turnout. Long Thompson and Schellinger are both white.

Whichever Democrat takes on Daniels in the Fall is going to have an opportunity and a huge hurdle. To keep an incumbent under the 50% mark for so long is impressive, and it speaks to Daniels' unpopularity. The poll showed just 42% of Hoosiers said they had excellent or good opinions of Daniels' work as governor, while 49% said their thoughts about the incumbent were fair or poor.

Voters also said taxes and state spending were a big issue, with 36% naming it as the number one issue determining their vote. That's generally bad for incumbents, and especially in Indiana; Indianapolis Mayor Bart Peterson, a Democrat, was stunned to lose to a Republican neophyte opponent in 2007 after property taxes became a campaign issue.

But Daniels has another advantage in the form of his bank account. Schellinger has raised much more money than Long Thompson -- about $2.3 million to about $907,000, according to financial disclosure reports through the end of March. Both are spending a lot of money on the primary; Schellinger had $715,000 left on hand, while Long Thompson had $484,000 in the bank. Whichever Democrat contends with Daniels in the Fall, they will have to find some way to stay competitive with the $8.3 million he has raised so far, and the $5.3 million he still has in the bank.

Harkin Looks Safe In '08

Though he has run a series of close re-election bids during his four terms in the Senate, Republicans this year failed to field a strong challenger against Iowa Democrat Tom Harkin, and a new poll shows Harkin is a safe bet for re-election in November.

The survey, conducted by Research 2000, tested Harkin against Republicans former State Rep. George Eichhorn, businessman Steve Rathje and businessman and Navy veteran Chris Reed. Conducted for KCCI-TV and KCRG-TV between 4/21-23, the poll contacted 600 likely voters for a margin of error of +/- 4%. The sample was made up of 33% Democrats, 30% Republicans and 37% independents and other parties.

General Election Matchups
(All / Dem / GOP / Ind)
Harkin 57 / 86 / 17 / 63
Eichhorn 28 / 7 / 52 / 27

Harkin 58 / 87 / 17 / 64
Rathje 23 / 6 / 47 / 20

Harkin 59 / 87 / 17 / 68
Reed 20 / 6 / 43 / 14

54% of Iowa voters approve of the job Harkin is doing in the Senate. As chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee and as the fourth-ranking Democrat on the Appropriations Committee, Harkin has been able to bring back a number of big projects and benefits to Iowa.

After Republican Reps. Tom Latham, a moderate, and Steve King, a conservative, declined to challenge Harkin, the incumbent Democrat's streak of beating House members will come to an end this year. After beating incumbent Roger Jepsen, a Republican, in 1984, Harkin defeated Republican House members who challenged him in 1990 (Tom Tauke), 1996 (Jim Ross Lightfoot) and 2002 (Greg Ganske).

Harkin is one of a number of Democrats in states President Bush won in either 2004 or 2000 in which the Republican Party failed to recruit a strong candidate. Like Harkin, Montana Senator Max Baucus and South Dakota Senator Tim Johnson will face under-funded, little-known challengers. Arkansas Senator Mark Pryor, who narrowly won his race in 2002, doesn't even have a Republican challenger, well-known or not.

Strategy Memo: Wright Back At Ya

Good Monday morning, and welcome to the column formerly known as Morning Thoughts. With just over a week to go before North Carolinians and Hoosiers vote, and as Politics Nation makes his way back across the country, here's an abbreviated version of what Washington is watching today:

-- The Senate meets this afternoon to consider a reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration, with a motion for cloture coming early this evening. The House will remain out of session until Tuesday. President Bush meets with Alvaro Colom Caballeros, the President of Guatemala and the chairs of the US-Brazil CEO Forum, while Vice President Cheney fundraises for the North Carolina Victory Committee in Raleigh, the week after the state party there came under fire for releasing an advertisement highlighting Barack Obama's ties to the Rev. Jeremiah Wright.

-- Wright was in the news this weekend, and he's not going away for a little while. After appearing on Bill Moyers' program on PBS (video here), Wright addressed the Detroit NAACP's annual banquet, a major event that has drawn politicos and prominent newsmakers for more than 50 years. The speech was broadcast live, at least on CNN, and if the Reverend flew into Washington this morning he would have seen his comments being replayed again. He's in Washington to address a breakfast at the National Press Club, a day after giving a sermon in Dallas, as the Dallas Morning News reports, and this morning he will address a breakfast at the National Press Club. After more than a month of relative media silence, Wright is reemerging with a bang.

-- In general, every time Wright's name comes up, it reminds voters -- with the help of certain bloggers -- that Obama is associated with his former church. As questions of Obama's appeal to white working-class males in the Midwest persist after losing both Ohio and Pennsylvania on the backs of that demographic's vote for rival Hillary Clinton, some have rightly started questioning whether Wright is the vehicle for Obama's enemies to, however subtly, make race an issue. Obama's campaign, which has lately been quick to jump on perceived attacks (all three campaigns seem sensitive lately) can't have been happy with the candidate's proclamation on Fox News yesterday: "The fact that [Wright] is my former pastor ... makes it a legitimate issue," Obama said, per USA Today.

-- But as was evident last week, John McCain walks what could become an increasingly impossible tightrope when the issue of Rev. Wright comes up. On one hand, McCain can be tarnished by even associating with what might be seen as exploitation of some kinds of racism, and he's worked hard to avoid any. See his response, in a personal email to and via pressure on the chairwoman of the North Carolina Republican Party last week. He has repeatedly said that he wants the contest to be fought out on issues, rather than on attacks. But on the other, he has not only failed to hold his own party responsible -- Tar Heel Republicans are reportedly going ahead with plans to air the ad -- but he's also called Wright an issue, which he did yesterday at a media availability in Florida, as Fox News' Mosheh Oinounou reports. "Senator Obama himself says it's a legitimate political issue so I would imagine that many other people would share that view and it will be in the arena." The Obama campaign hit back hard, saying McCain is "sinking to a level that he specifically said he'd avoid." Full statement here.

-- On the other hand, Obama still has to get through a Democratic primary, which he can do with big wins in North Carolina and Indiana. After a few weekend polls, Obama is running ahead of Clinton in both states -- up 15.5 points in North Carolina and up 3 points in Indiana, according to the latest RCP Indiana and North Carolina Averages.

-- A big reason the Obama campaign should be optimistic: Indiana looks a lot like Ohio and Pennsylvania, and Clinton maintains the same institutional support she had in the other states, thanks mostly to Hoosier-ville's most popular Democrat, Senator Evan Bayh. But unlike in the Buckeye State and the Keystone State, Obama's poll numbers look a lot better; in one poll last week, he hit the 50% threshold, and in another he's at 48 points. Remember that in his previous two losses, Obama couldn't break out of the low 40s in pre-election polls. He's done that now, giving him the opportunity to win the state. A word of warning, though: Pollster Ann Selzer, who has been spot on in both Iowa contests and the Michigan Republican race, has Obama ahead but at just 41% to Clinton's 38% in a poll conducted for the Indianapolis Star, meaning there are a lot of undecideds left to win over.

-- Gadfly Of The Day: Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee each own a combined 542 delegates they can add to John McCain's total once he gets to St. Paul. But as the Nevada GOP found out this weekend, Ron Paul's campaign isn't quite finished yet, and they have the organization to eek out a few more than the 14 delegates they currently control. We've seen Paul supporters turn out big time to county conventions in Missouri and other places where lagging interest allows one candidate to pick up a few extra delegates, and this time it was the Silver State's turn to deal with huge Paulite turnout. The state party had to close down their convention early after Paul backers outnumbered McCain supporters, even with Romney, who won Nevada's caucuses, in the room urging a McCain win. How Republicans deal with a possible Paul speaking bid at the convention this summer could be a fascinating side story to watch.

-- Today On The Trail: Obama has town hall meetings planned for Wilmington and Wilson, North Carolina, before hitting an early vote rally at the university in Chapel Hill. Clinton will have her own early voting event in Salisbury before rallying supporters at an arena in Charlotte, North Carolina. John McCain is in Florida raising money.

FEC Reports -- The End

After flipping through hundreds of Federal Election Commission reports detailing the daily lives of every candidate under the sun, we've come to a close. Check back on the posts we've had up over the last week, inspecting the hot House races of the cycle:

The Northeast, the Mid-Atlantic, Pennsylvania, The South, Florida, the Ohio Valley, the Dust Bowl, the Rocky Mountains, the Desert West, the West Coast, the Northern Mississippi, and the Great Lakes, both Western and Eastern, along with the House campaign committees.

Taking a gander at all those House races means there are bound to be a few massive glaring errors, and for those Politics Nation apologizes. Thanks to everyone who pointed out, for example:

-- That Lou Barletta, running against Rep. Paul Kanjorski in Pennsylvania, is the mayor of Hazelton, not Scranton.

-- That some of the numbers in New Jersey reflected the cash on hand statistics for the end of 2007, not for the end of the First Quarter in 2008. In New Jersey's Third District, State Senator John Adler finished March with $1 million in the bank after raising $1.17 million, $500,000 more than we'd reported. In the Seventh District, 2006 candidate and Assemblywoman Linda Stender has $845,000 remaining after raising nearly $1.05 million. Our numbers for two Republicans in each of those districts were accurate.

-- That Indiana's primary is on May 6, not May 13 (You'd think, with all the presidential hoopla, that we would have remembered that.).

-- That Ashwin Madia, the Democratic nominee for Congress in Minnesota's Third District, could use a better descriptor than "Democratic activist." Madia is a lawyer, an Iraq war veteran and not exactly the biggest Democrat in the history of the world, either. Roll Call's Shira Toeplitz pointed us to this interview, with Minnesota Public Radio, in which Madia admits that he voted for President Bush in 2000 after telling the same station that he voted for Al Gore that year.

-- That Bob Onder, the candidate for Congress in Missouri's 9th District who has raised the most money to date, is in fact a Republican, not a Democrat.

-- That Wayne Parker, a Republican, is running for Congress in Alabama's Fifth District. Parker filed his organizational paperwork with the FEC on April 4, and we just plain missed it. He raised $177,000 in the first few days of his candidacy.

Other mistakes we made? Candidates we missed? Feel free to email us your comments and complaints.

Barrow To Face Primary

While Republicans did not win a single Democratic-held seat in 2006, they came awfully close in Georgia's Twelfth District, where Rep. John Barrow, running for his second term, beat out an old rival by fewer than 900 votes. Now, Barrow will face what could be a strong Democratic state legislator in Georgia's July 15 primary. Barrow could find that, while Republicans came close, it's his own party that would prove most dangerous.

Barrow's time in Congress has not been easy. His district, which runs along the border with South Carolina and includes all of Savannah, in the south, and parts of Augusta, in the north, gave him just an 8,000-vote win in 2004 -- though that came as President Bush won the seat by about 2,500 votes -- and his 2006 rematch with Max Burns, the Republican incumbent he had beaten the previous cycle, was the closest any Republican came to ousting a Democrat that year.

Burns spent nearly $2.8 million on the 2004 race, outpacing Barrow by almost $1 million, and $2.17 million in 2006, staying competitive with the incumbent Democrat. This year, no serious financial threat has emerged; conservative activist and former Burns aide John Stone had just $42,800 in the bank through the end of March, compared with $1.3 million for Barrow.

Enter State Senator Regina Thomas, who represents Savannah in the state legislature and has three months to overcome Barrow's name recognition in the rest of the district before Democrats vote in the primary. Thomas represents by far the biggest county in the district; Chantham County residents made up just less than one-quarter of the total vote and gave Barrow a nearly 8,000 vote cushion against Burns in 2006. Barrow lived in Athens until redistricting moved the border, and since then he's moved to Savannah. meaning Thomas has deeper roots than Barrow in the vote-heavy county.

Thomas has one other advantage that Barrow will have to overcome: A majority of the votes in the Democratic primary will be cast by African Americans, especially in and around Savannah, and Thomas is African American. So are 45% of district residents.

Facing an African American politician with deep roots in a major voting base, the white incumbent who just moved in could have a tough time keeping his seat. Barrow has the money to compete, but without a Republican challenger in the race on par with Burns, Barrow would have liked to have saved that money for the next time around. Instead, he'll have to use it just to secure his own party's nomination for the Fall.

Morning Thoughts: Now What?

Good Friday morning, and welcome to the last Morning Thoughts you'll ever read. Come Monday, we're going to have a new name for our daily update on what's going on in the race for the White House. (Clarification: It's only a new name, folks. It'll still be your daily must-read at 9 a.m.) Thanks to Kyle Trygstad for yesterday's column, and today, here's what Washington is watching:

-- The Senate is not in session, while the House will only be in pro forma session today. President Bush will visit a Boys and Girls Club in Hartford, Connecticut, and will address a gathering on what he will officially proclaim to be Malaria Awareness Day. Later, he attends a fundraising reception for State Senator David Cappiello, who is running against freshman Democrat Chris Murphy in the state's Fifth District. Vice President Cheney will fundraise for the NRCC and Rep. Jeff Miller in Fort Walton Beach, Florida, as well.

-- Trygstad put it best yesterday: Clinton's win in the Keystone State was, in fact, so two days ago. Now, it's a race against an increasingly expiring clock. On post-Pennsylvania Wednesday, a super delegate from Nebraska and the governor of Oklahoma endorsed Obama, while Clinton only picked up the backing of Tennessee Rep. John Tanner. Yesterday, Obama rolled out Rep. David Wu, just under four weeks before Wu's home state of Oregon concludes their mail-in balloting. To translate her victory into a really big win, Clinton is going to need more than Tanner, Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell and Philadelphoa Mayor Michel Nutter, to save her.

-- Clinton is trying to stem the tide, meeting in the last two days at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Comimittee's headquarters with uncommitted super delegates and urging them to continue holding off, as the Atlantic's Marc Ambinder reports.. Her pitches so far: Electability, the advantange of being able to carry white voters in a Democratic primary against the War Hero; sustainability, the fact that a young guy has more energy than an old guy (or gal). Neither is the complete reason some delegates are looking to Clinton, but both are seriously mitigating factors.

-- In order to avoid an increasingly common perception that Obama will win the nomination, Clinton has been pushing for more debates and more opportunity, like the one ABC News put on last week, during which questions of Obama's electability comes up, but Clinton also has to assert that she can win. Future debates are unlikely to happen, though, especially since the Obama team has continued to complain about their treatment last week.

-- The race is likely to come down to Indiana, where the latest RCP Average shows Obama leading against Clinton by a slim 3.0 percent margin. But after raising $10 million on line in less than a day, a new poll shows that Clinton's team is ready to go, and given her schedule tomorrow, she may again be seeing North Carolina as at least in play in the Democratic primary. In order to end the race, Obama will need big wins in both states on May 6.

-- Pardon the brief thoughts. More toward noon on the East Coast, as Politics Nation comes to you live from a very dear friend's nuptials.

-- Today On The Trail: Clinton has town hall meetings in Jacksonville, North Carolina, followed by stops in Bloomington, Gary and East Chicago, Indiana. Obama is back on the trail after taking a day off, hitting a town hall in Kokomo, Indiana. And McCain will head to Arkansas for a fundraiser and media availability before hitting a similar sequence of events in Oklahoma City.

FEC Reports -- Eastern Great Lakes

Chapter eleven in our look at FEC reports from around the country takes us to one state where Democrats had a very good year in 2006 and one they hope to have a good year in 2008. Three Democrats stole GOP-held seats in Indiana, and this year two of the party's top targets are in neighboring Michigan. (We know Indiana only barely touches Lake Michigan, but just go with it, we're running out of names) The races that we're watching:

Michigan 07: Three different members of Congress, all Republicans, have held the south-central district in the past three terms. After Rep. Nick Smith retired, moderate Republican Joe Schwarz beat a crowded field of conservatives and served one term starting in 2007, before the third-place finisher from 2006, Tim Walberg, came roaring back to beat Schwarz in a primary with significant help from the Club for Growth. Now, Democrats think Walberg is too conservative for the district, and State Senate Minority Leader Mark Schauer is making a run to be the fourth member in four terms from the Battle Creek area. Schauer has outraised Walberg, pulling in $904,000 and keeping $751,000 on hand, while the incumbent raised $829,000 through March and still has $604,000 left over.

Michigan 09: Closer to Detroit, eight-term Republican Rep. Joe Knollenberg faced an unexpectedly tough challenge in 2006, giving Democrats the hint that the right candidate might knock him off in a district that gave President Bush just 51% of the vote in two consecutive elections. The party recruited former state lottery commissioner Gary Peters to take on Knollenberg in the district just north of Detroit, which includes Pontiac, and it turns out to have been a wise financial move. Peters raised $750,000 when the First Quarter tallies were finished, and ended the quarter with $644,000 in the bank. Knollenberg will be better financed than his colleague Walberg, though; after March, he had $1.33 million cash on hand after raising $1.85 million so far, more than he spent during the entire 2004 campaign.

Indiana 02: Joe Donnelly, the candidate thought to have the longest shot to knock off an incumbent of any of the three Indiana Democratic challengers in 2006, still pulled out a win that year, beating Republican Rep. Chris Chocola. Donnelly will defend his seat, based along the state's northern border with Michigan and including South Bend south to Kokomo, from businessman Luke Puckett, who just recently jumped in the race. Because Indiana's primary is coming up on May 13, candidates don't have to file until tonight at midnight. We'll update the numbers when they're available, but through the end of December Donnelly raised $1.1 million and has kept $713,000 in the bank.

Indiana 07: Based in Indianapolis, the Seventh District came open late last year with the passing of Rep. Julia Carson, and last month Carson's grandson Andre kept the seat in Democratic hands. But Carson could face a hurdle in the May 13 primary, when he faces a well-funded challenger who has been climbing in recent polls. Democrat Woody Myers, the former state health commissioner, has raised and spent $705,000 through March 31, including $550,000 of his own money, virtually even with Carson's $740,000 raised. Carson still had $93,000 in the bank as of the first day in April, and he's likely increased that number since coming to Washington. Republicans were attracted to State Rep. Jon Elrod as a candidate, but Elrod only raised $192,000 for the special election, leaving some in the GOP disappointed.

Indiana 09: In baseball, the third game of a three-game split series is called the rubber match. In Indiana's Ninth District, Democratic Rep. Baron Hill will face trucking executive Mike Sodrel a fourth consecutive time, and we're not sure what that's called. Hill has won twice, in 2002 and 2006, while Sodrel took the seat in 2004. Hill had raised $1.13 million through the end of the year and kept $862,000 on hand, while Sodrel has yet to file his paperwork. When these two candidates report tonight, we'll be sure to update the figures in what is going to be another of the great races of 2008. There is little love lost between the old foes, and the race promises to be bitter and expensive.

FEC Reports -- Western Great Lakes

Getting close to the end of our exhaustive look at the hot House races, and we're swinging back to the Great Lakes region, where hot races in Wisconsin and Illinois are going to hold our attention through November. The races to learn and love:

Wisconsin 08: In conversations with Republican strategists, most say that former Wisconsin Assembly Speaker John Gard is the candidate who most should have won his race in 2006. Instead, Gard lost to Democrat Steve Kagen. Kagen had a tough first year, but he's raised an impressive amount of money so far. Kagen pulled in $1.07 million through the first quarter and retained $760,000 million for his battle in November. Kagen still owes himself $469,000 from his last race. Gard, running again, raised $555,000 through March and still has $427,000 left. Gard will benefit from a heavy turnout for John McCain, but Kagen pulled out one surprise already and he might just do so again.

Illinois 08: Freshmen Democrats looking for a key to surviving their first re-election bid can take cues from Melissa Bean, who beat a long-time incumbent Phil Crane in 2004 and survived a wealthy self-funder in 2006. This year, she faces another wealthy businessman, Steve Greenberg. Greenberg has already given his own committee close to $100,000, and has raised $522,000, but after taking the whole month of March off, he's down to just $5,000 in the bank, and his campaign manager just quit. Bean has raised $2.22 million so far, and she still has $1.35 million on hand. Bean first won the district as President Bush carried it by twelve points, and with Barack Obama on the ballot this year, Republicans might have to wait two more years to give Bean another strong challenge.

Illinois 10: Republicans lost a huge number of suburban seats in 2006 despite the best efforts of Rep. Mark Kirk, who tried to warn his fellows of the danger they faced. Kirk himself beat a surprisingly strong Democrat by just six points that year, and this time around he will again face marketing executive Dan Seals in November. Kirk has already banked a whopping $2.95 million, through March, and he still has $2.25 million in the bank. Seals had a somewhat competitive primary, but of the $1.42 million he's raised through the First Quarter, he still has $745,000 on hand. Kirk is another paranoid incumbent, so he's not going to be taken by surprise, but this northern Chicago suburb could be in danger anyway.

Illinois 11: Republicans thought they had a good candidate to replace retiring Rep. Jerry Weller, until that candidate proved unable to raise money and was uninterested enough to simply drop out. Now, Republicans have fielded wealthy businessman Martin Ozinga, though he has yet to begin raising money. Ozinga will face State Senate Majority Leader Debbie Halvorson, who has already raised $861,000 and still has $673,000 left in cash. Not only will Ozinga have catching up to do, but national Democrats have already hammered him for his business dealings. If Ozinga doesn't respond by defining himself soon, Democrats will remain strong favorites to pick up this seat based largely southwest of Chicago.

Illinois 14: Former Speaker Dennis Hastert was replaced by Democrat Bill Foster in a special election in early March, and a rematch in November will again pit Foster against Republican Jim Oberweis, a candidate many in his own party blamed for losing the seat. Both candidates spent more than $3 million in their bids, and both have a long way to go to rebuild their war chests. Foster had $262,000 in the bank after March, while Oberweis had $132,000 lying around. In three previous contests, Oberweis has had to largely self-fund, and if donors don't kick in contributions now, he will start writing his own checks again.

Morning Thoughts -- On To Seis de Maio

Good Thursday morning. It's beautiful here in Washington, D.C. -- one of those days you have to get outside just to be outside. As we write, Reid Wilson is in the air en route to the other Washington, but here is what this Washington is watching today:

--Congress is indoors today. After the Senate convenes to conduct morning business, it will continue consideration of S.B. 1315, the Veterans' Benefits bill. It's also set today to pass legislation that would ban the practice of discrimination based on genetic test results by health insurance companies and employers. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton appeared and spoke on the Senate floor last night after campaigning in Indiana. Democrats delayed until 6 p.m. voting on a measure aimed at making it easier for women and others to sue one's employer over unequal pay, so the two candidates could participate. Republicans blocked the bill, without the help of John McCain, who was campaigning in Kentucky. Today, the House meets at 10 a.m. and continues voting on a myriad of bills.

--Clinton's big (popular vote) win in Pennsylvania -- it appears she will net 12 delegates, at most -- is so two days ago. The battle for Indiana and North Carolina is what's up now. And Clinton's big news is that the campaign raised $10 million in about 24 hours following Tuesday's primary. To put that in some perspective, Clinton pulled in $20 million in all of March. This should help Clinton, whose campaign is in debt after a long and expensive Keystone State battle.

--If you haven't yet read Michael Barone's breakdown of the Pennsylvania primary vote, be sure to check out his U.S. News blog. He of course looks at the voters and voting trends like no one else can. But he also notes the possibility that Democrats cannot be hoping for: After the last states have voted on June 3, Clinton wins the total popular vote and Obama wins the pledged delegate vote.

--Neither candidate is likely to make it to the magic 2,024 total delegate number without more superdelegates, and the Obama campaign is now focusing on how hard it will be for Clinton. In a conference call with reporters yesterday, Obama campaign manager David Plouffe said Clinton would need to win 57% of the remaining pledged delegates to cut Obama's pledged lead down to 100, and then would still need to win a "huge majority" of the undecided superdelegates. "At the conclusion of these primaries on June 3, we're going to be a very manageable number away from the nomination, and we're increasingly going to focus on that," Plouffe said. "Let's move away from the theoretical into the world of reality here."

--Obama now has a chance to make up at least a large chunk of the more than 200,000 net popular votes Clinton picked up in Pennsylvania. With the popular vote a major tool for the Clinton campaign to convince undecided superdelegates to support her, keeping his current 500,000 or so popular vote lead is imperative. In the RCP averages, Obama currently is up 15.5 points in North Carolina. Indiana is far closer right now, with Clinton leading by 2.2 points.

--Fact Of The Day: The Census Bureau reports that on July 1, 2006, there were 37.3 million people aged 65 or older living in the United States. This accounted for about 12% of the total population. By 2050, Census projects the number of those 65 or older to be 86.7 million, making up 21% of the population. One more interesting fact: Census estimates that about a quarter of those 65 or older right now are military veterans.

--Today On The Trail: McCain will be touring the Lower 9th Ward of New Orleans with Gov. Bobby Jindal, before holding a town hall event at Xavier University, and a fundraiser in Baton Rouge. Clinton will be crossing the state of North Carolina east-to-west, with events scheduled on the coast in Jacksonville, then inland to Fayetteville, and on to the scenic and mountainous Asheville in the western part of the state. Obama has no scheduled events today.

--Kyle Trygstad

Mitchell Leads Dem Poll

After defeating Republican Rep. J.D. Hayworth by about 8,000 votes in 2006, Democratic freshman Harry Mitchell could face a challenging re-election bid this year against any one of a number of potential Republican rivals. But a new poll out shows the former Mayor of Tempe could be in better position to keep his seat than Republicans would like, even with home state Senator John McCain heading the GOP ticket.

The poll, conducted by Bennett, Petts & Normington, a Democratic polling firm, surveyed 400 likely voters between 3/9-11 for a margin of error of +/- 4.9%. Conducted for the American Hospital Association, the survey tested Mitchell, former Maricopa County Treasurer David Schweikert and former State Rep. Laura Knaperek, two of the four Republicans with a real chance to take on Mitchell in November.

General Election Matchup
Mitchell 50
Schweikert 24

Mitchell 49
Knaperek 26

While the district has a history of voting Republican, and gave President Bush two majorities when he ran in 2000 and 2004, voters in the Tempe- and Scottsdale-based district are generally wealthier and better educated than comparable districts in the state, and voters there seem to care more about fiscal issues than social issues. With his foundation as mayor of the district's second-largest city, Mitchell was able to cast himself as a moderate in contrast with the conservative firebrand Hayworth.

The poll did not test former Scottsdale City Councilwoman Susan Bitter Smith, who now heads a cable communications association and serves on the Central Arizona Water Conservation District, or Jim Ogsbury, who until he moved back to Arizona to run for the seat was a lobbyist for prominent Arizona institutions and companies in Washington. Bitter Smith is still in the exploratory phase of her campaign.

The race promises to be costly for Mitchell no matter which Republican emerges victorious from the late primary. While Knaperek and Bitter Smith have not raised much money, Schweikert has $514,000 in the bank after a $250,000 personal loan. Ogsbury, who also gave himself $250,000, has $353,000 left over after the First Quarter. Mitchell has worked hard to build his war chest and had $1.12 million left over at the end of March.

Republicans think they will benefit most from McCain's coattails in the Fifth District, which is just east of downtown Phoenix. But those coattails will need to be long, the poll shows, as Mitchell remains popular and in good position to capture a second term.

Club Bats .500

An increasingly aggressive Club for Growth went one-for-two last night as Republican primary voters headed to the polls in Pennsylvania. The conservative anti-tax group spent thousands on behalf of two candidates in the state, one running to replace retiring Rep. John Peterson and one running for the right to face Democratic Rep. Chris Carney in November.

In Carney's Tenth District, based north of Scranton, Chris Hackett emerged the winner in a Republican primary that featured two wealthy businessmen. The Club for Growth backed Hackett and spent more than $60,000 on advertisements slamming his opponent, Dan Meuser. That amount was a drop in the bucket, though, compared with the amount each candidate spent from their own wallets. Hackett gave $590,000 to his own cause through March 31, while Meuser loaned himself nearly $929,000.

Hackett now goes on to face Carney in a district that gave President Bush a 20-point margin in 2004. Carney won the district in 2006 after beating incumbent Republican Don Sherwood, who got himself in trouble when police in Washington responded to a domestic disturbance complaint between Sherwood, who is married, and a woman who claimed to have been his mistress for five years. Still, Carney won by just a 53%-47% margin. This year, Carney has prepared for a stiff challenge, with more than $966,000 in the bank through April 2. But while Hackett's war chest is likely tapped after the primary, his ability to loan himself more money and backing from the Club, which can bundle contributions on his behalf, should make him financially competitive, and quickly.

Carney's district, based near Scranton, where Hillary Clinton has deep roots, voted overwhelmingly for the Democratic presidential contender. While Scranton itself voted three-to-one for the New York Senator, surrounding counties based in Carney's district gave her percentages ranging from the low to the mid-60s.

In Peterson's Fifth District, a geographically sprawling area that stretches from State College in the middle of Pennsylvania north to the border, Club-backed candidate Matt Shaner, a developer, finished third to local Republican Party chairman and nursing home director Glenn Thompson in an incredibly narrow race. The Club spent more than $72,000 in the contest on Shaner's behalf, running ads in the final days that hit candidates Jeff Stroehmann and Derek Walker.

Thompson, unscathed amid the bitter primary, won 19.5% of the vote to take the GOP nomination. Walker finished second, just 14 votes ahead of Shaner at around 17.5%, and Stroehmann finished fourth with 13.6%. Five other candidates failed to break double digits. Thompson will face Clearfield County Commissioner Mark McCracken, who won the Democratic primary with 41%, in November.

Close to 71,000 Democrats turned out to vote in a district that gave President Bush a 22-point margin in 2004, while nearly 69,000 Republicans cast ballots. Democrats turned out for the presidential contest, while Republicans had no similar top of the ticket race to drive up their numbers. Hillary Clinton won all but one of the district's fifteen counties; the one she lost, by a 60%-40% margin, was Centre County, where Penn State University is based.

Republicans suggest that Obama's loss in Pennsylvania could be trouble should he become the Democratic nominee. "Barack Obama's abysmal performance last night in some of Pennsylvania's swing congressional districts should be taken as a terrible sign for Democrat incumbents," NRCC spokesman Ken Spain told Politics Nation. "Should he become the Democratic presidential nominee, Barack Obama's disdain for gun-owning, church-going Pennsylvanians could potentially create a huge drag on Democrats running down-ballot." Carney's and Peterson's districts are largely white rural voters, a segment of the population with whom Obama has had serious trouble making inroads.

For the Club for Growth, news last night was mixed, though their intense focus on House races so early in the cycle suggests they are plotting to play a more active role throughout the year. So far, the Club has already seen one of their candidates beat an incumbent Republican, when State Senator Andy Harris beat Maryland Republican Wayne Gilchrest in February. The group is also running ads in Louisiana, Alabama and California, and is likely to play in a Colorado primary as well.

Of course, Pennsylvania has a special place in Club for Growth President Pat Toomey's heart: He's a former member of Congress from the state, and came within a few thousand votes of knocking off Senator Arlen Specter in the GOP primary in 2004.

Dem Surprises In MS

Prentiss County Chancery Clerk Travis Childers came within 400 votes of winning outright a seat in Congress last night, giving Democrats another shot at picking up a district Republicans have held for a long time, and that gave President Bush a wide margin of victory in 2004. The race to replace Senator Roger Wicker in his old Tupelo-based House seat will now advance to a May 13 runoff between Childers and Southaven Mayor Greg Davis, the Republican.

Childers won 49.4% of the vote, but when combined with the nearly 1,000 votes State Rep. Steve Holland took, Democrats actually won closer to 51% of the vote. Holland and Glenn McCullough, the former Mayor of Tupelo, finished second in their primaries to replace Wicker, and both remained on the ballot in the special election despite going to court to get their names removed from the ballot.

Holland offered a strong endorsement of fellow Democrat Childers, while McCullough's lukewarm support for the Republican ticket as a whole -- he did not offer a specific endorsement to Davis -- came after a contentious GOP primary that was decided by about 500 votes. Republicans are promising to spend more time in Lee County, where Tupelo is based and where Childers won by twenty points. In 2006, Wicker, who is also from Tupelo, won the county with nearly 70%, performing better than he did in the rest of the district. To come back and win, Davis will need a much better result in the district's largest county.

After the National Republican Congressional Committee spent nearly $300,000 on the seat, which Wicker never had a problem keeping, and Democrats spent about $140,000 to aid Childers, the two parties are likely to continue spending both there and in Louisiana's Sixth District, where Democrat Don Cazayoux and Republican Woody Jenkins will face off on May 3.

That the two seats are in play sends what should be a terrifying message to Republicans looking toward the Fall. With more than two dozen GOP members of Congress retiring, the NRCC has seen a silver lining in that many of those seats looked out of reach for Democrats. But if Mississippi and Louisiana provide promising targets for Democratic candidates, so too can open seats all over the country.

Check out our full write-up and analysis of last night's Mississippi special election.

Morning Thoughts: Repeat If Necessary

Good Wednesday morning. As in Iowa and New Hampshire, campaign staffers have mere minutes to clean up their Pennsylvania apartments and move on toward North Carolina and Indiana. Weary staffers got the message last night as well: The fight goes on. Here's what Washington watches this morning:

-- The Senate meets this morning to continue consideration of a bill to improve insurance for disabled veterans, before moving on to a bill that would promote fair pay among men and women. On the House side, members take up two bills dealing with government contractors and federal spending, as well as a bill that would amend the Small Business Act and a resolution expressing condolences over the passing of conservative intellectual icon William F. Buckley. President Bush meets King Abdullah of Jordan today at the White House before addressing small business owners in the East Room. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is in Washington as well, and he will meet Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice at a Georgetown hotel.

-- The big news this morning is the ten-point win Hillary Clinton took last night in the crucial Pennsylvania primary. The margin is virtually spot on with expectations, and this morning is one for victory laps. She won with big margins around Scranton, around Pittsburgh and in Allentown, while keeping Obama's margins down in critical suburban Philadelphia -- he won Delaware and Chester Counties by just ten points, while Clinton won Montgomery County by two points and easily cruised to victory in northern Bucks County. Exit polls showed Clinton won white voters by a 62%-38% margin, slightly less than her 64%-34% margin in Ohio, but significant nonetheless. But among men, she lost by just four points, while winning women by fourteen. The gender gap, once again, provided the margin of victory.

-- But Clinton faces a major challenge. On her marathon sprint through the morning shows, Clinton made sure to urge viewers to head to her website and drop off a few bucks. Financial disclosure reports show Clinton owes more to vendors than she had in the bank at the beginning of April, while Barack Obama had a huge cash on hand advantage that he used in Pennsylvania. The Keystone victory, though, gives Clinton the ability to raise big amounts of cash online, and the campaign says it is taking in a pretty hefty haul: Through 11:30 p.m., the website had generated $2.5 million, the New York Post writes this morning. Clinton is going to need a lot more than that to catch up with Obama, but last night's Pennsylvania victory is a good start.

-- No one wins without a loser, and this morning, Barack Obama's campaign team is shaking off the hangover of a big defeat. The rival campaign argues that Clinton's win in Pennsylvania doesn't mean all that much, given that she is virtually certain not to pick up the delegates necessary to cut into Obama's 127-delegate head start. One Obama adviser compared Pennsylvania to a baseball game: Clinton's behind by a few runs, but with Pennsylvania's 158 delegates off the table, it's like leaving men on base in the seventh inning. Sure, Clinton has the eighth and the ninth, but the only thing that's changed from last night is that another three outs went by without the score really changing.

-- Clinton's campaign is less subtle about what the Pennsylvania primary means. While Obama's folks rely on advisers to get the word out (and Clinton's do too, to be fair), the candidate herself has something to say on the matter: "With his extraordinary financial advantage, why can't he win a state like this one if that's the way it turns out," Clinton asked, per CBS News. Obama did outspend Clinton on television and radio somewhere in the 2.5- to 3-to-1 neighborhood, and he had six weeks to introduce himself to voters around the state. Given that he lost to Clinton by a ten-point margin after spending that money and time, last night's contest should be considered a real, painful loss.

-- Early estimates of delegate totals show Obama has crossed yet another threshold, having now secured more than 1,700 delegates, just over 300 short of the 2,024 he will need to win the nomination. To reach the magic number relying only on pledged delegates, Obama would have to achieve the virtually impossible and win three quarters of the 408 pledged delegates available in the nine remaining contests. Instead, it is much more likely that super delegates will be the ones to award the nomination to the Illinois senator. While Clinton's ten-point win isn't going to provoke the rush of super delegates Obama was hoping for, he did pick up one today, Oklahoma Governor Brad Henry, who became the latest party leader to endorse after saying he would hold back, The Oklahoman reports. If Obama is going to get some new momentum, or slow Clinton's, he needs a few more supers on his side by week's end.

-- Meanwhile, the results are a mixed bag for John McCain, who is once again relegated to the end of our thoughts. He's getting little attention and not exactly winning huge amounts of votes -- aside from a stop in Ohio yesterday, McCain is spending the week in solidly red states. Today, he stops in Inez, Kentucky, a small town close to the West Virginia border, for the third day of his "Time for Action" tour. The most notable feature of Inez: It is home to a lawyer by the name of Mike Duncan, who also happens to be chairman of the Republican National Committee. Duncan will be in attendance at McCain's speech today. Less attention, fewer resources and time spent in heavily red states has to make one wonder whether McCain really does benefit from a continued Democratic nomination fight. If it gets uglier, he'll just have to suck it up and face a weakened Democratic nominee.

-- One positive note for McCain: If he's sticking to the Midwest, which his travel schedule of late suggests, that means his campaign thinks he has the Mountain West, from home state Arizona to New Mexico, Nevada and Colorado, locked up. That means no matter who his Democratic opponent is, McCain will be fighting for the 2004 map, even after Democrats heading into this cycle had hopes of unlocking at least some of the 29 electoral votes those four states represent. Watch how much time both candidates spend in and west of the Rockies this summer and into the Fall.

-- Misperception Of The Day: In an editorial, the New York Times today says it is "past time" for Clinton to acknowledge the campaign's increasing negativity, "for which she is mostly responsible." The Clinton campaign should simply point out that Obama, too, has gone negative in recent days, and if the mainstream media is going to treat him as a harbinger of new-style politics, perhaps they ought to hold him to those standards. But others have complained that increasingly biting attacks are having a real impact on the race. "Voters are getting tired of it," the Times writes. Given that every contest so far, up to and including Pennsylvania, has seen record turnout, voters clearly aren't getting tired of it.. Think John McCain isn't going to hit Obama hard? Think again. This is politics.

-- Today On The Trail: McCain is in Inez, Kentucky, where he will hold a town hall meeting and host a media availability. Clinton is in Indianapolis for a rally, and Obama heads to New Albany, where he will hold his own town hall meeting.

FEC Reports -- Northern Mississippi Valley

The northern Rocky Mountain and Plains states, stretching from Idaho to Montana and the Dakotas, won't offer much in the way of interesting House races this year as most incumbents are going to win easily. But circling back to the upper Mississippi Valley, both parties have opportunities in our twelfth installment of a look at interesting FEC reports:

-- Minnesota 01: After being kicked out of a rally for President Bush in 2004, Democrat Tim Walz decided to run for Congress and pulled off a surprise upset of GOP incumbent Gil Gutknecht. The district, which takes up the entire southern border of the state, voted narrowly for President Bush twice, but Walz has raised $1.6 million to keep his seat and retains just over $1 million in the bank. His main opponents have much smaller bank accounts after battling for the GOP nod; Republican activist Brian Davis, a doctor at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester who won the party's nomination, has raised $222,000 and still has $50,000 in the bank, while State Senator Dick Day has raised $226,000 and retained just $72,000. They will face each other in the primary in September. The winner will face a steep climb against Walz in November, but the Republican National Convention could provide the victor a good opportunity to raise a lot of money.

-- Minnesota 03: Retiring Republican Jim Ramstad, who represents the northern, western and southern suburbs of Minneapolis, leaves a toss-up seat open to challenge this year. Democrats had recruited State Senator Terri Bonoff, but a convention victory for newcomer Ashwin Madia, a Democratic activist, and Bonoff's concession left Minnesota political watchers shocked. Madia has raised $362,000 through the end of march, more than $100,000 less than Bonoff, and retained $190,000 in the bank. He will face Republican State Rep. Erik Paulsen, who has a much bigger war chest of $688,000 after raising a total of $772,000. The district could be trending Democratic, but Paulsen is said to be a good candidate and his fundraising head start could be tough for Madia to overcome.

-- Minnesota 06: One of just thirteen Republican freshmen elected in 2006, Michelle Bachmann won an eight-point victory over children's advocate Patty Wetterling two years ago. Wetterling may not have been the best candidate against Bachmann, and this year Democrats are excited for their original first choice to take on the incumbent, former State Transportation Commissioner Elwyn Tinklenberg, who raised $260,000 through March and has about $102,000 in the bank. Attorney Bob Olson is also running, and he raised $268,000 through the same period while keeping $112,000 on hand. Bachmann has pulled in $1.5 million so far and retains $1 million for later. Bachmann is a heavy favorite, but in a wave election she could face a touch race.

-- Iowa 03: One of the top-ranking Democrats on the House Agriculture Committee, Democrat Leonard Boswell has faced some tough re-election fights in his Des Moines-based district. This year, his challenge comes from the left, as one-time State Rep. Ed Fallon, who finished third in the gubernatorial primary in 2006, is making a bid arguing that Boswell is not liberal enough. Ahead of the June 3 primary, Boswell has pulled in $982,000 and kept $841,000 on hand, while Fallon has raised $171,000 and spent all but $19,700. Former Hill staffer Kim Schmett will be the Republican nominee, but he's raised virtually no money yet. Most likely, this race will be decided in the primary.

-- Missouri 06: Though Republican Sam Graves has had a generally easy time winning re-election, he hasn't faced very many well-financed challengers in his suburban and exurban Kansas City district. This year, that changes. While Graves has raised an impressive $1.57 million and still has $1.13 million in the bank, former Kansas City Mayor Kay Barnes finished the quarter with $1.4 million raised and $954,000 left over. President Bush won the seat by fifteen points in 2004, but national Democrats are excited at the prospect that Barnes presents. Graves' strong fundraising performance shows he's not taking the race for granted. National Democrats could spend a significant amount of money on the seat after finally convincing Barnes, whom they've been chasing for years, to make a bid.

-- Missouri 09: When Republican Kenny Hulshof decided to make a run for governor, strong candidates on both sides started scrambling to replace him in his northeast Missouri district. Four top candidates on each side are running for the seat, and at the moment State Reps. Bob Onder, a Republican, and Judith Baker, a Democrat, are leading the pack with $370,000 and $216,000 raised, respectively. Onder gave his campaign $250,000, and he retains $369,000 on hand, while Baker has $188,000 left over. Democrats are also excited about former State House Speaker Robert Gaw, who raised $110,000 and still has $102,000 left over. Republicans are also eying former State Tourism Director Blaine Luetkemeyer, State Rep. Danie Moore and former professional football player and Mizzou star Brock Olivo. None of the top Republicans have raised more than $100,000.

FEC Reports -- West Coast

We're on to the eleventh installment of our comprehensive look at the fun races in 2008, and throughout the districts in states that touch the Pacific Ocean -- 70 combined in California, Oregon, Washington, Alaska and Hawaii -- just five look like they might be serious contests. A quick scan of the West Coast:

-- California 04: Buffeted by investigations into his association with convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff, Republican Rep. John Doolittle survived 2006 by just three points. Now that he's retiring, retired Air Force officer Charlie Brown, Doolittle's 2006 Democratic foe, faces a steeper climb against the winner of an increasingly nasty Republican primary. Brown has raised $952,000 and still has $590,000 in the bank, but he may need more than that to win a district President Bush carried by twenty-four points in 2004. He will face either former Rep. Doug Ose, who has $845,000 in the bank after raising $3.25 million -- including a $400,000 transfer from his old congressional account and more than $800,000 in loans to his own campaign -- or State Senator Tom McClintock, who has raised $315,000 and still has $125,000 left in the bank in advance of the state's June 3 primary. The bizarre irony: Ose lives in the neighboring district, and McClintock's house is in his State Senate district, 400 miles south.

-- California 11: Outside interest groups concerned with the environment played a key role in ousting Republican Rep. Richard Pombo in 2006, when Democrat Jerry McNerney beat the incumbent by six points. Republicans now see the seat, which includes Stockton and parts of San Joaquin, Alameda and Santa Clara Counties and a fraction of Contra Costa County outside of Oakland, as one of their best pickup opportunities, and former State Assemblyman Dean Andal as one of their best candidates in the country. Andal has raised $638,000 for his challenger bid, with $531,000 left on hand. McNerney raised $2.4 million for his 2006 race, and has already pulled in $1.64 million this year. He ended the quarter with $1.15 million in the bank, but McNerney could face an uphill battle in a district that is likely to back John McCain.

-- Oregon 05: South and west of Portland, Democrats are playing a rare game of defense in an open seat after Rep. Darlene Hooley's health problems forced her to retire. Businessman Mike Erickson, who narrowly lost to Hooley in 2006, is already up with television ads after raising $634,000 and retaining $332,000. Erickson will face former state Republican Party chair Kevin Mannix, a former GOP gubernatorial nominee, in the state's May 20 primary. Mannix kicked off his campaign last month and has raised $109,000 with $66,000 in the bank. Democrats have recruited State Senator Kurt Schrader, who raised just $56,000 in the little more than a month he's been in the race, but he kept all but $34 of that money. He will face Steve Marks, who served as chief of staff to former Democratic Governor John Kitzhaber, in the primary; Marks has raised $26,000 and has $18,000 in the bank.

-- Washington 08: Republican Rep. Dave Reichert is running for his third term, and he's never had an easy contest. This year could be even more difficult, as Reichert will face Democrat Darcy Burner for a second time. In 2006, Reichert won by just 7,000 votes as the two candidates spent virtually identical amounts. This year, Burner is actually outraising Reichert, with $1.396 million raised and $921,000 left over. Reichert has raised $1.37 million and is keeping $698,000 in reserve. Netroots activists are helping Burner, a leader of a move by some Democratic challengers to focus most on the war in Iraq, but Reichert remains popular for his service as King County Sheriff. The second meeting of these two strong candidates will be one of the closest races in the country.

-- Alaska At-Large: Alaska Republican Don Young, who has represented his state in Washington for 17 terms, faces two tough contests this year as he finds himself involved in an investigation over an oil services company that has already seen several members of the state legislature head to jail. Young has raised $834,000 so far this cycle and has $604,000 in the bank, but he's spent nearly $2.1 million in the past fifteen months, much of it on attorneys' fees. In the primary, Young will face Lieutenant Governor Sean Parnell, who announced in late March he will run and has raised $26,000 and spent about $225 so far. Democrats will throw former State House Minority Leader Ethan Berkowitz at the winner of the primary; Berkowitz has raised $401,000 since jumping in the race and retains $287,000. If Young survives the primary, watch for Democrats to spend heavily on the state.

FEC Reports -- Desert West

Part ten in our series of House races we're likely to be watching six months from now heads to John McCain's backyard, where Republicans are thrilled to have some help at the top of the ticket. McCain's coattails, should they extend far enough, could help his party take back the two seats they lost in Arizona in 2006, but strong Democratic candidates aren't going to let it happen that easily. The races to watch in Arizona and Nevada:

-- Arizona 01: Thirty-five felony counts is a great way to convince an incumbent to retire from office, and that's just what Republican Rep. Rick Renzi plans to do. Democrats recruited former State Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, who has raised $660,000 and still has $465,000 in the bank, to try to win this district that sprawls from the Four Corners along the New Mexico border, on the eastern half of the state, and even includes some communities south of Phoenix. Kirkpatrick will have to get past activist Howard Shanker, who has raised $137,000 and maintains just $34,000 on hand, and former television anchor Mary Kim Titla, who pulled in $169,000 and kept $48,000 in reserve. Republicans have missed the opportunity to recruit nearly a dozen candidates, and at the moment trade association president Sydney Hay looks like the GOP's best shot. Hay raised $268,000 through March and still has $222,000 in the bank.

-- Arizona 03: After being petitioned by colleagues to seek another term, Republican Rep. John Shadegg has reconsidered an earlier decision not to run in 2008. He will face attorney Bob Lord, a Democrat who has raised an impressively large sum of money -- $832,000 through March, with $632,000 left over -- in a district encompassing many of Phoenix's northeast suburbs. Shadegg, who NRCC chair Tom Cole describes as a "paranoid incumbent," is taking nothing for granted and has already raised $1.24 million with $937,000 left in the bank. A poll taken for Shadegg that he referenced in his initial withdrawal statement showed him up by a hefty 30-some point margin, but the race could get pricey come the Fall.

-- Arizona 05: When he beat Republican Rep. J.D. Hayworth in 2006, Democrat Harry Mitchell became the only freshman to chair a subcommittee in the 110th Congress. But despite his position on the Veterans Affairs Committee, Mitchell is going to face one of several strong challengers this year, and he knows it. Mitchell has already raised $1.36 million and retains $1.1 million. The front-running Republican, at the moment, is former Maricopa County Treasurer David Schweikert, who has raised $681,000 and still has $514,000 in the bank. Former lobbyist Jim Ogsbury is in second, with $427,000 raised and $353,000 on hand, while two state representatives seem to be underperforming; Laura Knapereck has raised just $100,000 and has $44,000 on hand, while Mark Anderson has raised $55,000 and retains $70,000. Both Ogsbury and Schweikert have given themselves $250,000 in seed money. The district, based in Tempe and Scottsdale, leans Republican, and should lean more so with McCain at the head of the ticket, but Mitchell is hugely popular and starts at a big advantage.

-- Arizona 08: After defeating a very conservative Republican to steal a GOP open seat in 2006, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords has proven one of the most prolific fundraisers in the Democratic freshman class. She's raised $1.9 million so far this year, with $1.67 million left in the bank to help her preserve her hold on the Tucson-based seat. Republicans were excited to recruit State Senate President Tim Bee, but after a slow fundraising start some of that enthusiasm slowed. Bee came roaring back in the First Quarter and now has a substantial bank account, with $752,000 raised and $525,000 cash on hand. This race feels like a tipping-point election: If Giffords survives this year, she will likely be safe for most of her career. If it's a close race, watch the GOP continue to target the seat for years to come.

-- Nevada 02: Freshman Republican Dean Heller -- one of just 13 GOP freshmen elected in 2006 -- won a narrow victory in a district that covers virtually the entire state of Nevada outside of Las Vegas-based Clark County. He defeated Democrat Jill Derby by just five points in a seat President Bush carried by sixteen points in 2004, and this year the two will face each other again. While they spent about the same amount of money last time, this year Heller has raised $980,000 and still has $808,000 in the bank, though he carries a substantial $370,000 debt. Derby lags far behind, with $143,000 raised and $133,000 left over. Heller should be safe this year, but Derby could make this a race.

-- Nevada 03: Shaped like a giant Y and based in Henderson, the Third District is where a Democratic presidential candidate can win Nevada's electoral votes -- Al Gore won the district by 1,000 votes, while President Bush won it in 2004 by just 4,000 votes. Republican Rep. Jon Porter fended off a former aide to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid by 4,000 votes in 2006 after outspending her two-to-one, and this year Porter is facing another tough race. He will likely face Robert Daskas, the chief deputy district attorney in Clark County, who has raised $584,000 and still has $453,000 in the bank. Porter has raised $1.64 million this year and retains $1.03 million left to spend. Daskas will have to get past accountant Andrew Martin in the Democratic primary; though national Democrats clearly prefer Daskas, Martin has raised a not-insignificant $378,000 with $204,000 still in the bank.

Morning Thoughts: X-Mas & D-Day

Good Tuesday morning. Iowa was a big day, New Hampshire was even bigger, and Super Tuesday was huge. But today is like Christmas and D-Day rolled into one. After six weeks of anticipation, it's finally Earth Day. Oh, and some voters in Pennsylvania are also voting on something or other, we're not sure. Here's what Washington is watching today:

-- The Senate takes up a bill on insurance reforms for disabled veterans. Later this afternoon, the chamber will recess for the unveiling of a portrait of former Majority Leader Tom Daschle, the South Dakota Democrat who lost his seat in 2004. The House takes up a series of bills under suspension of the rules, including a bill on Medicaid fixes. Later, the chamber takes up Copper River salmon (which any seafood lover will tell you is the best kind of salmon) and resolutions expressing recognition of Earth Day, National Health Care Decisions Day, World Glaucoma Day and a celebration of Israel's 60th birthday. President Bush is in New Orleans meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Harper and Mexican President Calderon for a summit, then hosts a lunch with community leaders, plants a tree and fundraises for Senate candidate John Kennedy, the Republican with the best shot at knocking off an incumbent Democrat.

-- But of course, all eyes will be on Pennsylvania, where 158 delegates are at stake in today's presidential primary. Polls close tonight at 8 p.m. (check out live-blogging coverage over at The RCP Blog) across the Keystone State in yet another must-win contest for Hillary Clinton. Her options: Win big, stay in the race. Win small, hear mounting calls for an end to the race and probably a dozen or so super delegates who flock to Barack Obama's campaign in a very public manner in the next few days. Lose and get out of the race. The latest RCP Pennsylvania Average -- which could be updated throughout the day as new polls roll in -- has Clinton leading by six points, but of course the real question is what constitutes a win for each candidate.

-- A win for Clinton: Her advisers are spinning it simply; a win is a win is a win. But Clinton needs to surprise some people tonight with her margin of victory to give her a counterargument when the Obama team points out that she failed to win back enough delegates to seriously cut into his lead. A surprise is not out of the question, and Clinton did earn a huge boost after wins in Ohio, Texas and Rhode Island. Clinton faces one more challenge today than she did back then, though: Her campaign is virtually broke, owing nearly as much to Mark Penn's polling firm as it has available for primary contributions. Clinton, in short, needs a big win for both the money and the momentum, without which not only will the calls for her to get out of the race mount, but she simply won't be able to compete in Indiana and North Carolina, or anywhere else, for that matter.

-- A win for Obama: Chief strategist David Axelrod has been telling reporters that they need to keep Clinton's margin under ten points, and that will be good enough to be considered a win. Huge turnout -- more than 215,000 new Democrats registered across Philadelphia alone -- could give him a boost, and the Obama campaign has sent in some powerful and experienced veterans to work turnout in Philadelphia. The city is about half African American, and a big turnout there will help Obama close Clinton margins elsewhere in the state. But given that Obama's campaign has actively worked so hard to win Pennsylvania, the race should be closer than it is, meaning a real Obama win should be within reach, if not expected. After all, you don't spend $10 million on television ads if your goal is just to lose by less than ten.

-- Democrats are likely to turn out in droves today, and more than half of the 4.2 million Democrats registered in the state are expected to go pull a lever. The Department of Justice is on hand in Philadelphia to keep an eye on accommodations made for Spanish-speaking voters, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports, and poll workers are prepared to be overwhelmed. How they handle the mad rush is anybody's guess, but here's betting that, as in other states, some stations will run out of ballots, both campaigns will cry foul and someone will be unhappily convinced that the results reported tonight aren't what they should have been.

-- Going forward, a new debate ahead of North Carolina's May 6 primary is not going to happen, the North Carolina Democratic Party announced yesterday, per the Charlotte Observer. The state party, along with outgoing Governor Mike Easley and other top Democrats, had been working with CBS to schedule an April 27 debate in Raleigh that would have given Katie Couric her one shot to moderate a Democratic throw-down. It would have meant a $300,000 boost to the party organization, one that is going to have to defend Easley's seat and gun for Republican Senator Elizabeth Dole in November. Still, both candidates are scheduled to address the Jefferson Jackson Dinner in Raleigh next Friday.

-- Who's responsible for the death of the debate? That would be the Obama campaign. Some supporters of the Illinois Senator even chanted "No more debates" at a Raleigh get-together this week. It's a smart strategy as well; if a debate is on the calendar, Clinton, despite a worse than expected showing in Pennsylvania, would have reason to stay in the race, and at this point she's looking for all the reason she can find. After the debate takes place, then the justification for staying in through the May 6 primaries in North Carolina and Indiana is there. Even if she doesn't win big in both states, West Virginia is the following Tuesday, and Clinton is expected to do very well there. One step leads to another, and soon the Democratic race could be into June.

-- Trend Of The Day: In virtually every primary contest so far, a stark trend has emerged: The older a voter is, the more likely they are to vote for Hillary Clinton. The younger a voter is, the more likely they are to vote for Barack Obama, as the New York Times' Katharine Seelye writes today. Pennsylvania is one of the oldest states in the nation -- the average Pennsylvanian is nearly three years older than the national average, and 58% of registered Democrats are older than 45. Imagine an Obama-McCain matchup in November, when the differences between the two is more generational than even the differences between the two Democrats. Obama will likely have to rely on the youth vote all the more, a daunting and dangerous prospect, but one he's achieved on a number of occasions so far.

-- Today On The Trail: Clinton and Obama are hitting the morning shows, when taped interviews aired on ABC, NBC and CBS. Neither has public events today, but this evening both will be watching election results with fans and supporters. Clinton will be at a Philadelphia hotel, while Obama will be at a concert John Mellencamp is putting on for supporters in Evansville, Indiana. Completely neglected today, John McCain will continue his forgotten America tour with a speech on the economy at a company in Youngstown, Ohio, followed by a town hall meeting at Youngstown State University and a media availability.

Begich Makes It Official

Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich will run for Senate against long-time incumbent Republican Ted Stevens, according to a press release from his exploratory committee. While an ordinary race against a man often seen as one of three pillars of the Alaskan economy would otherwise be a suicide mission, Stevens has faced increasing heat for his role in an investigation surrounding a controversial oil services company, giving Democrat Begich a strong chance to steal a seat.

Begich, who is in his fifth year as mayor of Alaska's largest city, raised $267,000 since forming the exploratory body in late February, leaving him with $204,000 in the bank. He was national Democrats' top choice to face Stevens, and the only public poll of the race, conducted in early December, showed him leading Stevens by a six-point margin.

Stevens does not appear to be willing to roll over and play dead just yet. He raised $590,000 in the first quarter and has $1.32 million in the bank, though he has been spending quite a bit of money as well. In the last three months, Stevens spent more than $300,000 to go along with his fundraising haul. He has signaled that his argument for another term will rest on seniority, and given that he has secured millions -- perhaps billions -- for the state during his 40 years in office, it could be a powerful line of reasoning.

Experience, too, is an advantage Stevens has over Begich; the state's senior senator was first elected to the upper chamber when Begich was just six years old, in 1968.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee has also shown it is not taking the race lightly. They have launched several websites, including BegichBaggage.com and MarkBegichFacts.info, dumping more opposition research against the Anchorage mayor than any other Democrat they are targeting this year. Stevens, perhaps anticipating attacks from the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, has asked that the NRSC not advertise in such a fashion, though so far his pleas are falling on deaf ears.

The real problem is that Stevens, fellow Republican Don Young, the state's lone member of Congress, and several state legislators are all wrapped up in the investigation surrounding VECO Corp. Several of the company's top executives have pleaded guilty, as have several former members of the State House and Senate. While Stevens and Young have not been indicted or accused of wrong-doing, both have undergone intense scrutiny. Stevens' home was raided by FBI agents last year, and Young's campaign committee has paid out hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees.

While Stevens has no primary opponent yet, the Alaska Republican Party is in something of a rebuilding phase. In 2006, Sarah Palin beat incumbent Governor Frank Murkowski, a fellow Republican, easily in the primary. Now Palin's Lieutenant Governor, Sean Parnell, is challenging Young in the state's GOP primary, and there is no guarantee that a similar challenger won't emerge for Stevens. Unless Stevens is beaten in a primary, though, Begich has one of the best chances in the country to take a Senate seat back for Democrats.

FEC Reports -- Rocky Mountains

Democrats are hoping a seismic shift in the Mountain West will propel them to both bigger majorities after this year as well as control of the White House. To find the new electoral votes and the hot races, they need look first to the Rocky Mountains, as hot races from Wyoming through Colorado and into New Mexico offer promising opportunities. But the road won't be easy, given the quality of some Republican candidates.

In our eighth installment of the series, we take a look at six seats stretching from Yellowstone to Roswell, and virtually everywhere in between.

New Mexico 01: Republican Heather Wilson is universally considered to be one of the best campaigners in the country, and her departure to run for Senate, leaving a seat that gave both Al Gore and John Kerry narrow wins, initially stung the GOP. But one of the party's top recruits, Bernalillo County Sheriff Darren White, is said to be as talented as Wilson, and given that he has been elected by a large portion of the Albuquerque-based seat, he starts with better name recognition than any of his rivals. White has raised $446,000 and has $297,000 cash on hand. His likely opponent, Albuquerque City Councilman Martin Heinrich, has pulled in $666,000 so far and retains $342,000 in the bank. Heinrich will have to get past former state aging secretary Michelle Lujan Grisham, who has raised $224,000 and still has $139,000 left. No matter which candidate faces White, they could face an uphill battle.

New Mexico 02: Wilson isn't the only Republican member of Congress running for Senate. Her colleague Steve Pearce is running as well, and his southern New Mexico district presents Democrats with an outside shot to pick up a seat as well. A large Republican field is fighting for the nomination, and restaurateur Ed Tinsley leads the way with $613,000 raised and $425,000 on hand, including a $200,000 loan to his own campaign. Retired banker Aubrey Dunn is not far behind, with $410,000 raised so far and $287,000 left over, though more than $300,000 of the total is his own money. Hobbs Mayor Monty Newman loaned himself $100,000 and has raised $295,000 with $206,000 left over. On the Democratic side, former Lea County Commissioner Harry Teague has $336,000 on hand after raising $579,000, more than $200,000 of it his own money, while Dona Ana County Commissioner Bill McCamley has pulled in $357,000 with $235,000 left over. Both nominees will likely be well-funded, and though President Bush won the seat by seventeen points in 2004, an increased Hispanic alliance with Democrats -- they make up 47% of the district's residents -- could spell a pickup opportunity.

Colorado 02: Another House seat opened by an incumbent running for the Senate, the race to replace Democratic Rep. Mark Udall will be all but decided in the Democratic primary. Three well-funded candidates are vying to win the nomination in the Boulder-based district to the north and west of Denver. Former State Senate President Joan Fitz-Gerald has raised $1.13 million to date and has $574,000 laying around for later. Wealthy businessman Jared Polis has raised $1.64 million, more than $600,000 of it from his own wallet, and has $322,000 left over. And Will Shafroth, the director of the State Conservation Trust, has raised $1.03 million and has $682,000 cash on hand. All told, the August 12 primary could be the most expensive in the country this year. Both John Kerry and Al Gore won the district by wide margins, and no Republican has even filed for the seat yet.

Colorado 04: It is rare for a multi-term incumbent to have a smaller margin in every one of her races, but somehow Republican Marilyn Musgrave, who represents much of the eastern half of Colorado, has pulled it off. Musgrave won her initial election with 55%, then won re-election with 51% in 2004. In 2006, against another strong Democratic opponent, she won a third term with just 46% of the vote, three points more than her opponent. This year, Musgrave has raised an impressive $1.38 million and keeps just over $1 million on hand after March. Her Democratic opponent, Betsy Markey, a former aide to Senator Ken Salazar, has hauled in $594,000 and still has $376,000 left to spend. Though it is a solidly Republican district and the presidential race will help Musgrave, she still faces another tough fight.

Colorado 05: Like Udall's Second District, the Fifth, based around Colorado Springs south of Denver, will probably be decided in the primary, though this time it will be the Republican contest to watch. Rep. Doug Lamborn won a bitterly contested primary by just 900 votes in 2006, with just 27% of the vote. The second-place finisher, former Congressional aide and Chamber of Commerce official Jeff Crank, is running again and has raised $203,000 to unseat the incumbent. He retains $130,000 cash on hand. Lamborn isn't exactly knocking people's socks off, having raised just $340,000 through March and retaining only $179,000 in the bank. One hitch in Crank's plans will come from retired Air Force Major General Bentley Rayburn (the Air Force Academy is located inside the district), who finished third in the 2006 primary and wants another crack at the seat himself. Rayburn has raised $194,000 and still has $112,000 in the bank. The Democrat who has raised the most so far has managed just over $5,000.

Wyoming At-Large: It is a rare occurrence when a retirement means the incumbent party actually has a better chance of holding a seat, but that's what's happened in Wyoming, where seven-term Republican Barbara Cubin is stepping down. Plagued by health issues, Cubin also made waves when she threatened to slap an opponent in 2006 (The reason she didn't: He was in a wheel chair). She beat her Democratic rival, Gary Trauner, by just over 1,000 votes that year. This time, Trauner is running again, and he's raised an impressive $648,000 and kept $550,000 in the bank. He will likely face either State Treasurer Cynthia Loomis, who had pulled in $170,000 through March 31 and kept $140,000 on hand, or rancher and businessman Mark Gordon, who pulled in $412,000 and has only $86,000 left over. That amount includes nearly $300,000 from Gordon's own pocketbook. Heavy Republican turnout for John McCain should help the eventual Republican nominee, but Trauner could still steal the seat away.

FEC Reports -- Dust Bowl

Our seventh installment in a comprehensive look at House races we'll be paying attention to heads to an amalgamation of the New South, in Texas, the classic Dust Bowl of Oklahoma (Well, there aren't any good races in Oklahoma this year, but it's right in the middle) and a piece of the Great Plains, in Kansas, where Republicans might actually have reason to be optimistic. Our five races to watch, from the Rio Grande to the amber waves of grain:

Texas 07: Representing a district on the west side of Houston, Republican John Culberson is a likely bet for re-election. The district, which descends from the first seat George H.W. Bush represented in the House, voted heavily for his son, and Culberson has generally been re-elected by wide margins. But having outspend his opponent about six-to-one in 2006, Culberson won 59% of the vote, a surprisingly weak margin. Now, Culberson has raised $589,000 and has only $270,000 on hand, while his opponent, Democratic businessman Michael Skelly, has raised an impressive $853,000 and retains $666,000 in the bank. An early December poll conducted for Skelly showed him trailing by 19 points, and Culberson remains a strong favorite to keep his seat. But with so much money in the bank, Skelly could at least make life uncomfortable for the incumbent.

Texas 22: It may have been easy running against Rep. Tom DeLay, but Democrat Nick Lampson didn't get to do so. Instead, in 2006, Lampson ran against a write-in candidate with a difficult last name to spell and only won by ten points. Republicans got their favored candidate this year, former John Cornyn chief of staff Pete Olson, when he beat out that hard-to-spell candidate, Shelley Sekula Gibbs, in a runoff. Olson's treasury was drained to just $127,000 through the end of March (It's probably lower now, after the early April runoff) but he has plenty of time to raise more, and Olson has shown promise, already pulling in a total of $893,000, aided by $175,000 from his own pocket. Lampson will have the financial edge, though, having already banked about $1.35 million and with just over $1 million on hand. Still, Olson has one of the strongest shots of any Republican to pick up a Democratic-held seat.

Texas 23: One of the geographically biggest Congressional districts in the country, the Twenty Third District stretches from the El Paso suburbs along the Rio Grande and the U.S.-Mexican border. Democrat Ciro Rodriguez, a former member of Congress who once lost his seat, beat out Republican Henry Bonilla in a December runoff in 2006. Rodriguez has raised $1.6 million this cycle, part of which includes money spent on the runoff, and retained $932,000 through March. His leading opponent, Bexar County Commissioner Lyle Larson, raised $272,000 and spent much of it to end the quarter with just $60,000 in the bank. Larson will have to win in a 65% Hispanic district, but one that gave President Bush a 57%-43% majority in 2004. That's a tall order, but if Larson's fundraising picks up, Rodriguez could face a tough fight.

Kansas 02: Nancy Boyda provided one of the biggest surprises of the 2006 Democratic landslide when she unseated Rep. Jim Ryun, a well-known and well-funded Republican, by a 51%-47% margin. Despite her refusal to allow the DCCC to aid her fundraising efforts, Boyda has raised an impressive $992,000 and kept $811,000 in the bank. Ryun, not content to let his old seat go, is running again in the eastern district, which includes Manhattan and Topeka, and he's raised an even better $1.2 million so far, with $459,000 in the bank. Ryun has spent so much because he first has to get by State Treasurer Lynn Jenkins, a more moderate Republican who has raised $622,000 and kept $486,000 on hand. The winner of the August 5 Republican primary, though, will have an excellent shot against Boyda in a district that gave President Bush a 20-point margin in 2004 and is likely to do the same for John McCain.

Kansas 03: A perpetual GOP target, the Kansas City-based Third District is home to Rep. Dennis Moore, a Democrat who has survived tight battle after tight battle until 2006, when he won by a two-to-one margin. Moore will likely face State Senator Nick Jordan this year, a Republican who has raised $388,000 and still has $307,000 in the bank. He'll have to do better than that to oust Moore, who has hauled in $982,000 and kept $889,000 on hand. If Republicans somehow find themselves in better financial position down the road, be it this year or next cycle, Moore will once again be on the target list. But if he can duplicate his performance from 2006 over a much stronger challenger, Moore may be in a position to own the seat for life.

Millionaire's Amendment Goes To SCOTUS

The Supreme Court has agreed to hear a challenge to one of the most well-known provisions of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform law in a coming session from a Democratic congressional candidate who says the act violates his constitutional rights. Wealthy businessman Jack Davis, who lost a second challenge to New York Republican Tom Reynolds in 2006, is suing the Federal Election Commission over the so-called "Millionaire's Amendment," which allows opponents of candidates who spent heavily of their own money to raise additional funds.

The provision, tripped when a candidate for Congress spends more than $350,000 of their own money, allows opponents to raise up to $6,900 from each contributor, three times the normal $2,300 per donor allowed under normal campaign finance rules. Initially created to avoid the perception that wealthy candidates can buy a seat in Congress, Davis argues the measure violates his First Amendment rights and, due to additional reporting requirements, his Fifth Amendment rights by forcing him to reveal campaign strategy, the Washington Post writes today.

A panel of judges on the District Court level found in favor of the Federal Election Commission, ruling that the provision does not actually place limits on how much Davis or any other candidate can spend on his own race. Davis spent $1.25 million of his own money in 2004, losing to Reynolds by a 56%-44% margin, and almost double that in 2006, when Davis lost by a smaller 52%-48% margin. He has announced that he will run again this year, as Reynolds is retiring, though national Democrats clearly favor other candidates in the state's September primary.

The millionaire's amendment followed a rash of candidates in the last decade who have spent truckloads of their own money trying to win Senate and House seats. Few, especially on the Senate level, have been successful; only Senator Maria Cantwell, of Washington State, and New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine, who won a Senate seat in 2000, the same year as Cantwell, stand out as having spent much of their own money for a win. In 2006, self-funders Ned Lamont in Connecticut, Jim Pederson in Arizona and Pete Ricketts in Nebraska all lost their bids, while wealthy candidates Pete Coors, in Colorado, and New Jersey's Doug Forrester also lost after spending heavily out of their own pocket.

The $350,000 limit has been tripped a total of 110 times, the Post reports Solicitor General Paul Clement saying. And while Davis argues that the main effect of the law has been to shut down challengers like himself, the fact is that just six incumbents have been among those cases.

The Supreme Court has ruled several times in recent years on the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, at times upholding large portions of the law and at others loosening some requirements. This case, Davis v. Federal Elections Commission, will be the first time Justices John Roberts and Samuel Alito are given a say on the matter. Regardless of the outcome, which likely won't be known until after the 2008 elections are held, Davis will trip the amendment again this year; he has pledged to spend $3 million, more than in either of his previous two attempts, to win the open seat in upstate New York.

FEC Reports -- House Committees

Despite a dinner hosted by President Bush on behalf of the National Republican Congressional Committee, an event that pulled in $8.6 million in pledges and donations on a single night, Democrats still have an overwhelming advantage on their Republican counterparts, FEC reports due last night at midnight show. And given heavy spending by both parties on House races in Louisiana and Mississippi, that gap could grow larger this month.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee raised $10.1 million in March, matching what they had raised in the previous two months combined. The committee is left with $44.3 million in the bank and no debt. Democrats look so powerful that even a political action committee dedicated to the juice company Ocean Spray made a contribution.

A little more than a month after taking a special election victory in Illinois, Democrats have now invested heavily in a number of special elections in 2008 alone. Democrats spent $1.05 million on the Illinois seat, which is now occupied by Rep. Bill Foster, and $311,000 on Indiana's Seventh District, now held by Rep. Andre Carson. Through Friday, the party had spent another $337,000 on Louisiana's Sixth District, where State Rep. Don Cazayoux is battling former state legislator Woody Jenkins, and $141,000 on Mississippi's First District, where local official Travis Childers is taking on Republican Southaven Mayor Greg Davis.

The National Republican Congressional Committee saw the gap between itself and Democrats grow this month, as despite commitments for $8.6 million at the presidential bash, the committee raised just $7.1 million in March and spent more than $5 million. A month after the party had to restate cash on hand totals after a scandal involving former treasurer Christopher Ward, the NRCC reported nearly $7.2 million in the bank with no debt.

The party is having to defend the same two special election seats Democrats are attacking, though, hindering Republicans' ability to build a nice November nest egg. Through Thursday, the NRCC had dropped $292,000 on Davis' Mississippi seat and $120,000 on behalf of Jenkins in Louisiana. In March, the committee spent $1.26 million in its unsuccessful effort to save former Speaker Dennis Hastert's seat in Illinois.

The situation is largely reversed when when it comes to the DCCC's and NRCC's building mates, their respective national parties. Howard Dean's Democratic National Committee raised almost $6 million in March, but they spent $5.4 million and ended March with just $5.3 million in the bank. That's up from $2.9 million cash on hand on January 1, a pace that isn't exactly on par with their Republican rivals.

Mike Duncan's Republican National Committee had a much better month, raising $15.3 million in March and spending $9.3 million to keep $31 million left over. At a meeting of the Republican National Committee earlier this month, Duncan formally informed John McCain's campaign manager that the money stood ready to help. McCain, perhaps returning the favor, will swing by Inez, Kentucky, a small town near Charleston and the West Virginia border that Duncan calls home.

Morning Thoughts: Civil War

Good Monday morning. The long national purgatory is almost over. Just wait another 36 hours and we'll all be alright. Ahead of tomorrow's vote, here's what Washington is watching:

-- The Senate will meet today, but no roll call votes will be taken. The House is out of session, returning to work tomorrow. President Bush will address a reception benefiting the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Later, he will meet today with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Mexican President Felipe Calderon in New Orleans. With all the talk lately among Democrats about what to do over NAFTA, the three leaders should have some interesting discussions.

-- Twenty-four hours before voters head to the polls in Pennsylvania, the race between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton has devolved into a mud-slinging contest. According to some reports, the vast majority of Clinton's ad buys in the state are negative, and an increasing amount of Barack Obama's ads are taking the same tone. In dueling statewide tours, Obama is calling Clinton a compromised Washington insider, as the New York Times' Zeleny and Seelye put it, and Clinton is complaining that Obama's finally gone negative. One thing Pennsylvania seems to ensure is that, as Nancy Pelosi predicted, Obama and Clinton will not be sharing a ticket this year.

-- The latest RCP Pennsylvania Average shows Clinton with a narrow 5.3-point lead over Obama, a gap that continues to shrink as the day of reckoning gets closer. But remember that Obama has never climbed above 45% in any poll taken in the Keystone State, suggesting he has a ceiling in the state. One way to reduce any shortfall of votes is to bolster turnout in Philadelphia, where Obama has sent several veteran organizers. But that may not be enough to catch up to Clinton, who is consistently polling in the upper 40s compared with Obama, mired somewhere south of 45.

-- Make no mistake, Clinton is ahead in Pennsylvania, and while her margin is not the 15-point gap it was last month, it's still significant, especially given that Obama has a hard time breeching 45%. Many have seemingly planned for an Obama win, either an outright win or a narrow loss, spun as a moral victory. But Clinton is in good position despite being outspent at least $10 million to $4 million on television ads, and despite Obama's strong efforts to win the state. Obama drew 35,000 to a rally on Friday night, and his whistle-stop train tour this weekend generated big headlines. In fact, he's spent about 20 days in the state, equal to what Clinton has. Clinton's spinners are saying a win is a win, regardless of the margin. Given that Obama has focused so much on Pennsylvania, the Clinton talking points are closer to the truth.

-- Clinton spinners want you to remember that a win is a win is a win, but some of her other, more prominent surrogates need to be given another lecture on how to keep their yaps shut. "Not to put any pressure on you folks, but this is it, this is it. We're gonna we win, no doubt about it, but we gotta win big," Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell told his candidate's backers in York, Pennsylvania, per Marc Ambinder. The campaign's inability to get Rendell to stay on message, coupled with the candidate's husband's tendency to spout off on his own predictions of the importance of each and every win, and the importance of big margins, speaks again to their inability to control expectations. Perhaps the media is just swallowing Obama's expectations more easily, but the Clintons aren't making their case as well as they could be.

-- But a win for Clinton doesn't mean a huge closing of the delegate gap. Obama holds a 140-delegate lead in the latest RCP count, and a relatively close Clinton win -- by which we mean not a three-to-one blowout -- is not going to change the delegate calculus very much, as the Allentown Morning Call's Josh Drobnyk wrote yesterday. The state awards about a third of its delegates proportionally based on the statewide results and the remaining two-thirds based, again proportionately, on results by Congressional district. The 158 delegates up for grabs tomorrow is the biggest prize left this year, but irrespective of a sense of momentum, it's unlikely to really shake up the race's hard numbers.

-- After Pennsylvania, party leaders are going to start the real push, the Wall Street Journal's Jackie Calmes writes, to get uncommitted super delegates off the fence and into one camp or the other. When convention fights have taken place in the past, in 1968, 1972 and 1980, the Democratic nominee has lost, and regardless of the winner of the remaining primaries this year, Clinton is not going to be allowed to take her argument to the convention floor if those party heads have anything to say about it. "Do you think for one minute that Nancy Pelosi or Harry Reid will allow this fight to go on and on and on?" Democratic super-strategist Donna Brazile asked. Just to be clear, she doesn't think so.

-- While Obama and Clinton spend millions beating the snot out of each other, John McCain is adding cash, and for the first time in more than a year ended a reporting period with eight figures in the bank. Reports due last night show McCain with $11.6 million in the bank after pulling in $15.4 million in March. McCain's bank loan is paid off, There's still a big gap, though: Obama had $51 million on hand at the beginning of April, the New York Times points out, and though he's spent a lot of that money in Pennsylvania, he will still have a huge financial advantage over McCain. Clinton, reports showed, raised $20.9 million in March, spent $22.3 million and closed the month with $31.7 million left over. No wonder, then, that Clinton is being outspent so heavily in Pennsylvania.

-- Non-Issue Of The Day: A front-page story in yesterday's Washington Post suggested something many already suspected strongly: That John McCain has a bit of a temper. Stories of McCain's blow-ups are legion, involving figures like Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley, Mississippi Senator Thad Cochran and others. Once again demonstrating how close he is to the Senator, top aide Mark Salter threw in his rebuttal, in the form of an email to National Review's Ramesh Ponnuru. But the reason the story will stick around, at least for a while, is that instead of just rehashing old arguments (Old? Cochran made his spine-tingling comments in about October), the article added to the library of reputed incidents, going to show that any time a good argument can be recounted later, it will be. Even the top denizens of Capitol Hill, at their core, are little more than gossips who love People Magazine.

-- Today On The Trail: Clinton is hitting the major markets today, with rallies in Scranton, Pittsburgh, Harrisburg and Philadelphia. Clinton appears tonight on CNN's Larry King Live. Obama meets with families in Blue Bell, followed by a town hall meeting in McKeesport and a rally in Pittsburgh. Tonight, Obama will hit The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. McCain will speak to voters and the media at the St. James Hotel in Selma, before visiting Alabama Southern Community College, in Thomasville, Alabama, as the first day of his off-the-beaten-path tour kicks off.

This Week On PN Radio

Saturday morning, from 10 a.m. to 12 noon Eastern, join Politics Nation on XM Radio's POTUS '08, when we'll tackle the week in politics. Listen free here (link about half-way down the page) as:

-- Wall Street Journal reporter Amy Choznik talks about life on a campaign, and the constant struggle to find a girlfriend or boyfriend in a tiny campaign office in Muscatine, Iowa. Later, we find out where in the world Mike Memoli happens to be today.

-- California Republican Rep. Kevin McCarthy isn't sitting back and waiting for the GOP to win a bunch of House seats, he's helping rebuild his beaten down party. Can a new group of Republican "Young Guns" be the answer the NRCC has been looking for?

-- And Democrats have expanded the House playing field, but they're still looking for ways to expand the Senate playing field. Could Elizabeth Dole be just the target they're looking for? State Senator Kay Hagan joins Politics Nation to tell us why she's the candidate to knock off a vaunted incumbent.

All that and a few surprises, we're sure, Saturday morning on Politics Nation, only on XM Radio's POTUS '08. Listen live, Saturday from 10 a.m. to noon Eastern and again at 7:00 p.m. Eastern.

FEC Reports -- Ohio Valley

For the sixth edition of our FEC roundup, it's off to the Ohio Valley, most of which are in the state of Ohio itself, as well as a lone race in West Virginia. Are Republicans looking at another region that could bear several losses?

Ohio 01: Republican Steve Chabot was forced to spend some $3 million in 2006 to defend his Cincinnati-based seat, which President Bush carried by just two points in 2004. In a tough year for Republicans, Chabot doubled Bush's margin to win his 7th term in office. This year Chabot will face another tough challenge, this time by highly-touted Democratic recruit, state Rep. Steve Driehaus. At the end of the 1st quarter, Chabot holds a 2-to-1 advantage in cash-on-hand, with $1.13 million in the bank. Driehaus has yet to spend much of the $700,000 he's raised so far. The DCCC has spent big here in previous attempts to oust Chabot, and that is likely to occur again with Driehaus a member of its Red-to-Blue program.

Ohio 02: In a district Bush carried with 64% in 2004, Republican Jean Schmidt won her first general election in 2006 by only 2,500 votes against Victoria Wulsin, after pulling out a five point victory in the GOP primary. Wulsin is challenging Schmidt again this year, and the Democrat has outraised, outspent and has more cash in the bank than the incumbent. Wulsin has pulled in $770,000, spent $600,000, and has $212,000 cash-on-hand. Schmidt, meanwhile, has raised $565,000, spent $400,000, and has $175,000 in the bank, but she's carrying more than $275,000 in debt. Schmidt spent big in the primary this year and still only won 57% of the vote. She outspent Wulsin 2-to-1 in 2006 and may need to do the same this year to hold on to her seat, despite the Republican tilt of the district.

Ohio 15: This open seat is up for grabs, as Republican Steve Stivers and Democrat Mary Jo Kilroy battle to replace retiring GOP Rep. Deborah Pryce. Kilroy came just 1,000 votes away from upsetting Pryce in 2006, despite being outspent by about $2 million. Likewise, Bush's eight-point victory over Al Gore in 2000 shrunk to just more than a 2,000-vote margin over John Kerry in 2004. Both candidates are in pretty good shape, financially, though because Kilroy has been in the race much longer, she has the upper hand in fundraising. Kilroy reported having $945,000 in the bank after raising $1.21 million. Stivers has raised $790,000 and has $600,000 in the bank. Both raised close to $300,000 between mid-February and the end of March.

Ohio 16: The long tenure of GOP Rep. Ralph Regula is coming to an end, and replacing him will be one of two state senators, Democrat John Boccieri or Republican Kirk Schuring. The edge should go to Schuring due to the Republican lean of the district, though Regula was held below 60% of the vote in 2006 for the first time since his initial election in 1972, and Governor Ted Strickland and Senator Sherrod Brown, both Democrats, carried Stark County by healthy margins. At the end of the 1st quarter, Boccieri has outraised Schuring by $200,000, though he's been in the race longer. Schuring's raised $490,000 and has $100,000 in the bank, while Boccieri has pulled in $690,000 with $250,000 in the bank.

West Virginia 02: In 2006, Republican Shelley Moore Capito matched her 2004 winning percentage, despite some tough questions she had to answer because of her seat on the congressional page board. She outspent her Democratic opponent by close to 4-to-1 that year, and this year she has so far outraised Sen. Robert Byrd's longtime aide, Anne Barth, by more than 3-to-1. Capito also has about three times as much cash on hand, with $925,000 to Barth's $305,000. While Byrd should help Barth's fundraising in the coming months, Capito's overall moderate record has helped her remain strong in the heavily Democratic Kanawha County, which she even won in 2006.

-- Kyle Trygstad

FEC Reports -- Florida

Part five in our series inspecting top House races we'll be watching come October and November. We head down to the Sunshine State, where Democrats feel great about their chances and Republicans are playing serious defense. But the GOP brand is in better shape in Florida than elsewhere, and Democrats have their work cut out for them. Onto our favorite hot and sunny contests:

Florida 08: Four-term Republican Ric Keller, who represents parts of Orlando and its suburbs, beat a tough Democratic challenger in his first election, in 2000, and another difficult challenger, consultant Charlie Stuart, by a narrow 53%-46% margin in 2006. Stuart, who was reasonably well-funded two years ago, is back and Democrats have Keller in their sights. Not the most prodigious of fundraisers, Keller raised $742,000 through March and kept $735,000 in reserve. Stuart has $316,000 in the bank after raising $415,000 so far this cycle. But his path to unseating Keller is not free of obstacles. In the August 26 primary, Stuart is going to have to get past attorney Mike Smith, who has raised $443,000 so far this year and still has $295,000 in the bank. Another attorney, Todd Long, has outspent both his fellow Democrats, having raised $192,000 and retaining just $17,000 in the bank.

Florida 13: In 2006, Republican Vern Buchanan and Democrat Christine Jennings, two wealthy businesspeople running in a Sarasota- and Bradenton-based district on the Gulf Coast of the panhandle, spent a combined $11 million on one House seat. Buchanan, who spent $8 million of that amount, won by a total of just under 400 votes, a margin so narrow that a House panel ended up investigating. This year, Jennings wants revenge; she raised $897,000 through the first quarter and retained $483,000 in the bank. Buchanan pulled in $2.34 million and held reserves of $1.12 million. Those seem like high burn-rates, but both candidates spent money on the court costs associated with the previous election. Either way, both candidates will be extraordinarily well-funded come November, and while Buchanan has an added advantage of incumbency, he will by no means have an easy time winning re-election.

Florida 16: The district that runs from the Atlantic Ocean across the middle of the panhandle likely cost Republicans more House seats last year than any other. Until felled by a scandal involving House pages, Republican Mark Foley held the seat. Now, Democrat Tim Mahoney is running for re-election with a war chest of just over $1 million, having already raised $2.13 million this cycle. He will face either retired businessman Hal Valeche, who serves on a local city council, or Tom Rooney, a recruit Republicans have been trying to score for various races for years. Valeche has raised $737,000 and put $250,000 of his own money into the race already, retaining $589,000 for later, while Rooney, whose parents own the Pittsburgh Steelers, has raised $691,000 and has $442,000 cash on hand.

Florida 18: The first of three heavily Cuban American districts in Southern Florida, Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen has cruised to re-election in her nine full terms -- she didn't even face an opponent between 1994 and 2000. But there is a huge generational gap among Cuban Americans. Older voters tend to favor Republicans who talk tough about Fidel Castro, while younger voters lean more toward Democrats. This year, Democrats are excited about businesswoman Annette Taddeo, who has raised $321,000 so far this year and still has $300,000 in the bank. Ros-Lehtinen has a whopping $1.72 million cash on hand after raising $880,000 so far this cycle. While Democrats are excited about their chances in all three races, it's going to take a big upheaval to knock out Ros-Lehtinen.

Florida 21: Republican Lincoln Diaz-Balart's district, nearly 70% Hispanic, is just north of Ros-Lehtinen's and includes the suburb of Hialeah. In eight terms in Congress, Diaz-Balart has faced a total of two opponents, including one candidate who ran as a Libertarian in 2004 and as a Democrat in 2006. This year, Democrats have recruited Raul Martinez, a former mayor of Hialeah, and the party thinks they might have a shot at the incumbent. Diaz-Balart has raised $1.07 million so far this year and had $1.45 million left in the bank after March, FEC reports showed. Martinez isn't falling too far behind, though. So far, the former mayor has raised $616,000 and kept $592,000 in the bank.

Florida 25: The only one of the three Cuban American Republicans representing Florida not born in Havana, Mario Diaz-Balart, Lincoln's younger brother, could also face a tough battle in the Fall. Mario's district touches the western edge of both Lincoln's and Ros-Lehtinen's and includes much of the southern tip of the panhandle. Seeking his third term, Mario Diaz-Balart has amassed a war chest of $747,000 after raising $719,000 through the end of March. Miami-Dade County Democratic Party chairman Joe Garcia, running against the incumbent Republican, has pulled in $331,000 and still has $316,000 left over. A Democratic win in South Florida may not come this year, but it will likely happen soon, given the changing attitudes of a generation more friendly to the party.

FEC Reports -- The South

Day two, and part four, of our exhaustive look at some of the hot races we might be watching come October and November. In this installment, we'll take a look at Georgia, Alabama ...

Note that there are some great races we're going to be watching in North Carolina, but because of that state's pending primary, candidates there don't have to file until next week. We'll update those races when we get the numbers. And Florida, like Pennsylvania, has so many great races that we're saving a special update just for the Sunshine State.

Georgia 08: Democratic Rep. Jim Marshall, initially elected to replace now-Senator Saxby Chambliss in 2002, has won two of his three elections by barely more than a percentage point. Marshall's district, which stretches from the Atlanta suburbs south to just north of the Florida border, has a considerably Republican tilt, and that means Marshall will likely never be safe. So far this year, Marshall has pulled in $1.04 million and retained $1.19 million in the bank. He will likely face retired Air Force Major General Rick Goddard, who through March had raised $577,000 and kept $403,000 in the bank. Marshall and fellow Democrat John Barrow were two of Republicans' top targets in 2006, and that trend is going to continue throughout both men's Congressional career, though this year Barrow seems to have avoided a top challenger.

Alabama 02: Republican Rep. Terry Everett's retirement after eight terms in the House left several candidates scrambling for a seat that ordinarily votes heavily Republican. Democrats recruited Montgomery Mayor Bobby Bright and released a poll showing him leading over prominent Republicans in the race, but fundraising records show Bright has catching up to do. In the month he's been running, Bright raised just $54,000 and has only $46,000 in the bank. Republicans Jay Love, a state Representative, and Harri Anne Smith, a state Senator, are seen as the GOP frontrunners; Love raised $434,000 after loaning himself $300,000, and he retains $276,000 in the bank. Smith pulled in $268,000 and kept $139,000 in the bank, as both candidates are running television ads. Dentist Craig Schmidtke raised $274,000 and spent all but $13,000 of it, and television executive David Woods raised $351,000 with $308,000 left over, after writing himself a $250,000 check. The race could be competitive, and watch for national Democrats to come in with guns blazing if Bright continues to lag in the fundraising department.

Alabama 05: North of Everett's district, Rep. Bud Cramer is one of just a few Democrats to announce his retirement from Congress after his party took control. Cramer, a Southern Democrat, could be difficult for the party to replace, but it helps a lot that Republicans have failed to recruit their own strong candidate. State Senator Parker Griffith is likely to be the Democratic standard-bearer; he raised $115,000 in his first few weeks in the race and retains $112,000 for future use. Attorney Ray McKee, who is also a former rocket scientist, is the only Republican raising any money in the seat, though he trails by a mile; through March, he had raised just $64,000 and kept $22,000 on hand.

Mississippi 01: When Senator Roger Wicker was elevated from the House following Trent Lott's retirement, few expected a competitive race to replace him. But recent polls have shown Prentiss County Chancery Clerk Travis Childers, a Democrat, running close to Southaven Mayor Greg Davis, the district's Republican nominee, and the NRCC is spending heavily in the district. Through April 2, when the district's pre-runoff reports were due, both candidates had depleted their war chests. Childers had just $7,600 in the bank after spending the vast majority of the $283,000 he's raised, while Davis kept just $59,000 in the bank after dishing out most of the $636,000 he's raised so far. Post-runoff reports will tell us more, but it is likely that Democrat Childers is staying competitive even though he's being vastly outspent. That could spell big trouble for Republicans down the line.

Louisiana 06: Another special election will be held in just a few weeks to replace retired Rep. Richard Baker, whose Baton Rouge-based seat has been getting significant national attention already. Democrat Don Cazayoux, a state Representatitive, is locked in a tight contest with former state legislator Woody Jenkins, a conservative Republican. Through the middle of March, Cazayoux had raised $565,000 and kept $110,000 in the bank, while Jenkins had raised $291,000 and held just $18,000 in reserve. Both national parties are spending heavily in advance of the special election, and the candidate who wins is likely to be the favorite come November. Like in Mississippi, most of our information will come after May 3, when the winner is decided and new filings become public.

Boehner To Campaign In PA

This weekend, Pennsylvanians will have plenty of opportunities to see presidential contenders Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, but they can also check out the top Republican in the House, as Minority Leader John Boehner takes a campaign swing through the state.

Boehner will join former Rep. Melissa Hart, who lost a close race to Democrat Jason Altmire in 2006, for a press conference this afternoon in Cranberry Township. Hart is looking to get her old job back in a district, encompassing many of Pittsburgh's northern suburbs, that voted for President Bush by narrow margins in both his contests, but Altmire has been one of the most prolific fundraisers among the House Democratic freshman class.

Later, Boehner will campaign for Republican Reps. Phil English and Tim Murphy, both of whom could face tight contests this year.

English represents the Third District, which encompasses Erie County and several smaller counties in the northwest corner of the state. He won election to his seventh term by twelve points in 2006, two years after beating the same challenger by twenty points. President Bush won relatively narrow six- and five-point victories in the district in his two races, and if the economy is a front-burner issue this year, Democrats might have a shot at upsetting English, whose district has been disproportionately hit by the economic slowdown that has plagued the Rust Belt. Four Democrats running in next week's primary have raised over $100,000 for their races.

Murphy's Eighteenth District surrounds Pittsburgh on the west, east and south, and gave Bush fewer votes than English's did. Murphy beat a business executive with 58% of the vote in 2006 after several better-known Democrats backed out of running. One of those potential challengers who backed out, former State Treasurer Barbara Hafer, is helping her daughter Beth, a businesswoman in the district, run this time, though she faces stiff competition from businessman Steve O'Donnell, who has outraised Hafer more than two to one.

Boehner's trip will be funded by his political action committee, The Freedom Project, which through February had $421,000 in the bank to help Republican candidates. In February, the group doled out $40,000 to candidates across the country, including a $5,000 contribution to John McCain's presidential campaign, and $5,000 each to failed Illinois Congressional candidate Jim Oberweis and that state's Republican Party. Through February, Boehner's PAC had spent about $208,000 on operating expenses and contributions.

Morning Thoughts: Moving On

Good Friday morning. We stayed up late for a total of about twenty seconds of candidate appearances on the Colbert Report? Really? We're not falling for that one again. Back in Washington, here's what the city is watching:

-- The House and Senate are in pro forma session, and no votes will occur today. President Bush is in Washington where he will meet with the President of the Republic of Korea, Lee Myung-Bak, who joined Congressional leaders for a photo opportunity yesterday. Meanwhile, Pope Benedict leaves Washington today to head to New York, where he will address the United Nations and hold a mass in Yankee Stadium, even though it's really the Mets who need prayers.

-- The day after a poor debate performance at the hands of moderators Charlie Gibson and George Stephanopoulos, Barack Obama was still talking about problems with the questions, which, he accurately pointed out, didn't turn to policy until 45 minutes in. Obama was furious, bringing up the debate during a rally in Raleigh, North Carolina, where he accused rival Hillary Clinton of being "in her element" around a Washington scene that "like[s] playing gotcha games," as The Swamp writes.

-- It's not just Obama who is mad. his advisers were furious, wondering where balance on Clinton's recent foibles was. And aside from an apology on Bosnia, they have a point. (Jay Newton-Small's wise observation: Where was Mark Penn and trade deal talk?) But the Obama campaign is making the best of a bad situation, using the debate to solicit donations, to complain about balance and even, potentially, to avoid debates in the future. North Carolina Governor Mike Easley has been urging Obama to commit to an April 27 debate in that state, though Obama strongly hinted yesterday that he thought 21 meetings between the two front-runners was enough, and that he thinks it's time to go campaigning.

-- And campaign he and Hillary Clinton will. Both are on long swings through Pennsylvania, which will culminate on Tuesday when voters there head for the polls. Clinton leads the latest RCP Pennsylvania Average by 6.4 points, and how one looks at the race there is determined by which candidate's spin one believes. If it's a neck-and-neck race, the winner of which will be hugely advantaged, you're in the Clinton camp. If it's going to be a Clinton blowout and Obama's just trying to make it respectable, you're listening to his side's spin.

-- But the expectations game is a fair one to play, and in truth the contest stands somewhere between those two extremes. Clinton is likely to win Pennsylvania, but the margin remains the question. If she takes a double-digit win, the race will likely continue on at least through May 6 contests in Indiana and North Carolina. If she pulls off just a narrow win, a wave of super delegates heading to Obama's side could be forthcoming. The key, as the Journal's Amy Chozick writes today, remains the delegate haul. Even if Clinton takes a big win, she can't possibly take over the pledged delegate lead on Tuesday, but a big majority of the delegates allowed would do a lot to keep her campaign afloat.

-- In Philadelphia, the race is hurting feelings over, well, race. 46% of the city is African American, and the city's new mayor, Michael Nutter, has become a star by endorsing, of all people, Clinton. The two go back decades; Nutter was a Clinton delegate in 1992, they crossed paths at the Democratic Leadership Council, and now he's introducing her at every rally in the city. That's angered many in the city's black community, the Harrisburg Patriot-News writes. (One person it hasn't angered: Rep. Chaka Fattah, the Obama backer who lost to Nutter in last year's Democratic mayoral primary. Fattah told Politics Nation at the debate on Wednesday that he knows Nutter's motivations are pure.) The 2008 Democratic primary contest has opened a number of wounds, and bad blood could end up remaining in many states' Democratic circles for a number of years. Just watch how easy Nutter's 2011 re-election battle will be.

-- On the Republican side (remember them?) John McCain is about to run one of the least traditional presidential campaigns in history, writing and following his own script, Politico's Jonathan Martin writes. From ten campaign managers around the country to a heavy reliance on free media, McCain's style is going to remind some of what Bill Clinton was so good at in the early 1990s: It's all about triangulation, using the Democratic nominee and President Bush to make himself look all the better. Meanwhile, next week, McCain will head to heavily African American parts of Alabama, labor-heavy Youngstown, Ohio, and the Appalachian Kentucky town of Inez, as USA Today reports, three areas McCain calls the "forgotten parts" of America.

-- Dirt-Digging Of The Day: In their attempt to leave no file behind, the Democratic National Committee's research shop is pouring over results of Freedom of Information Act requests with cabinet agencies, The Hill's Sam Youngman writes today. As the Democratic candidates squabble incessantly, the DNC has become louder in their McCain criticism, and the FOIA requests could produce even more to yell about.

-- Today On The Trail: Obama kicks off his five-day bus tour of Pennsylvania with town hall meetings in Erie and Williamsport before rallying in Philadelphia. Clinton has a town hall scheduled for Radnor, just outside of Philadelphia, then heads to Winston-Salem, North Carolina, for an event with the poet Maya Angelou. McCain is still in D.C., where he will attend the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast.

FEC Reports -- Pennsylvania

Part three in our series (which may take a few days, given the amount of notable races to watch) of interesting House races to watch in key states this year, based mostly on First Quarter FEC reports. In this edition, we were going to tackle several states, but with five hot races in Pennsylvania, we decided the Keystone State would be enough for one post:

Pennsylvania 04: Freshman Democrat Jason Altmire won a surprising upset over Republican Melissa Hart in this suburban Pittsburgh district in 2006, taking 52% to Hart's 48% even though he was outspent two to one. Altmire's re-election bid may be difficult this year; his district is likely to favor John McCain over either of the Democratic candidates. But he's already surpassed his total from 2006, raising $1.61 million through April 2 -- the filing deadline is put off for two days because of the state's April 22 primary -- and keeping $1.3 million in the bank. Hart, seeking her old job back, has raised $529,000 and kept $393,000 on hand through the same period. At the moment, Altmire should be favored, but not by much.

Pennsylvania 06: Republican Jim Gerlach, who represents the Philadelphia exurbs and into the middle of the state, has won each of his three terms with no more than 51% of the vote. As long as he's a member of Congress, his life will not be easy come Election Day. Gerlach has raised $1.51 million so far, and is keeping $714,000 on hand after paying off a large campaign debt from last cycle. But in his previous three terms, Gerlach has faced a strong Democratic opponent who has spent as much, if not more, than he has. This year, Democrats have recruited Bob Roggio, a retired businessman who served as chair of his local party and is unlikely to be anywhere nearly as strong as 2004 and 2006 nominee Lois Murphy. Roggio has raised $205,000 and has $168,000 in the bank. Without a major infusion of funds for Roggio, Gerlach could finally get his big win. But if the race is still close even with an under-funded challenger, look for Democrats to come after Gerlach again, with guns blazing.

Pennsylvania 10: After being accused of choking his mistress, Republican Don Sherwood stood little chance of keeping his seat in 2006, and Democrat Chris Carney beat him handily. But in a heavily Republican district, Carney will face a challenge this year from either Chris Hackett or Dan Meuser, two business executives who are spending heavily in advance of the state's primary next week. Carney has raised $1.28 million through April 2 with $966,000 in the bank, and both Republicans are supplementing their fundraising by spending their own money. Hackett has raised $931,000, more than half of it from his own check book, and Meuser is up to $1.47 million raised, almost two-thirds of that his own. Hackett has only $174,000 left, while Meuser is slightly below $70,000 on hand. Expect the winner of the primary to reinvest in his own campaign and potentially trip the millionaire's amendment, allowing Carney to raise even more money.

Pennsylvania 11: Longtime Democratic incumbent Paul Kanjorski, who has served in Congress since 1984, is not used to facing spirited challengers. After his initial election, he's won every re-election bid since with more than two-thirds of the vote, save once, when he beat Scranton Mayor Lou Barletta in 2002 by a 56%-42% margin. This year, Barletta, an anti-immigration activist who has gained national attention from talking heads like Lou Dobbs and Sean Hannity, is running again, and Republicans think they have another real chance at knocking off the incumbent. Kanjorski is well aware of Republican plans and has raised just under $1.09 million for his bid, keeping $1.83 million on hand. Barletta lags far behind, with $184,000 raised and $154,000 on hand through April 2. But if anti-immigration activists play anywhere, it will be in the northeastern district, which also includes Wilkes-Barre, and they could make this race competitive.

Pennsylvania 15: Just north of Philadelphia, moderate Rep. Charlie Dent is eyeing his third term warily, given that he is just one of about a half-dozen Republicans to represent a district that voted for both Al Gore and John Kerry. Dent is planning for a tough race, having raised $969,000 through April 2 and retaining $615,000 for future spending. His Democratic challenger, Sam Bennett, has raised $313,000 and kept $182,000 in the bank. Those numbers aren't overly impressive, and Bennett might not be the best Democrats can do: He ran and lost races for mayor of Allentown in both 2001 and 2005. But the NRCC has included Bennett in releases targeting strong Democratic challengers before, signaling that they, too, must be nervous. If the DCCC runs out of places to spend money, they could come looking at Dent this year.

FEC Reports -- Mid-Atlantic

Part two in the increasingly massive series of House races to watch focuses on New Jersey, Maryland and Virginia, where open seats could give Democrats some big gains. The races to watch over the next few months:

New Jersey 03: Republican Rep. Jim Saxton is retiring this year, opening up what is likely to be a closely contested race for the southern district that stretches from just north of Camden east to the seacoast. Democrats got their top recruit in State Senator John Adler, who has already raised $629,000 and has a war chest of $587,000 remaining. Jack Kelly, an Ocean County Freeholder, and Chris Myers, a Medford Township councilmember, are fighting for the Republican nod; Kelly has raised $306,000 and retains $281,000, while Myers pulled in $334,000 and kept $288,000 in the bank. George Bush won the district narrowly in 2004, though Al Gore won it by a wider margin in 2000, and Democrats clearly plan to make the seat a target.

New Jersey 07: While Saxton's retirement was not a complete surprise, Republican Mike Ferguson's decision to follow suit did come as a shock. Two potentially strong Republican candidates, Leonard Lance, the state Senate Majority Leader, and Kate Whitman, daughter of former Governor Christine Todd Whitman, are raising big bucks early; Lance has raised $294,000 with $255,000 still on hand, while Whitman has pulled in $444,000, keeping $307,000 left in the bank. The winner of the primary will face Democratic Assemblywoman Linda Stender, who came within 3,000 votes of beating Ferguson in 2006. Stender has raised $606,000 so far this year and has $502,000 remaining in the bank.

Maryland 01: Some of the biggest news of the cycle so far happened in Maryland earlier this year when Republican Rep. Wayne Gilchrest lost his battle for renomination in his district along the Chesapeake Bay to State Senator Andy Harris, a more conservative politician who had backing from the Club for Growth. Gilchrest will likely not endorse Harris, and though the district voted overwhelmingly for President Bush in both his races, some Democrats think Queen Anne County State's Attorney Frank Kratovil could be the right candidate at the right time. Kratovil has raised $431,000 and retains $214,000 in the bank, while Harris spent much of the $1.5 million he's already raised in the primary. Harris has $205,000 left over. It will probably take a very favorable year for Democrats, but Kratovil will have at least some money to take advantage should another pro-Democratic wave develop.

Virginia 10: After facing a spirited challenger in 2006, some Democrats think Republican Frank Wolf could be the next Virginia Republican to fall to an increasing Democratic wave. Wolf represents an exurban Washington district, and Georgetown University Professor Judy Feder held him to 57% of the vote in 2006. Though Feder didn't come as close as other Democratic near-misses, she clearly scared the incumbent, who is raising significant money as he prepares for a rematch in 2008. Wolf has raised $1.05 million so far this year and has $715,000 in reserve. Feder, a former Clinton Administration official, has $700,000 in the bank after raising $900,000, keeping relatively strong pace with the incumbent. Wolf's re-election bids are likely to get more difficult as more Democrats move into his district, but it will still take a big Democratic tsunami to unseat the 14-term incumbent.

Virginia 11: With the departure of Rep. Tom Davis, Republican chances to keep this suburban Washington seat took a serious hit. But Davis worked hard to clear the field for business executive Keith Fimian, who has raised an impressive $840,000 through March 31. Fimian will face either former Rep. Leslie Byrne, who lost to Davis in 1994, or Fairfax County Board of Supervisors chairman Gerry Connolly. Byrne has raised $346,000 through March, while Connolly, who leads the primary by wide margins in polls taken for his campaign, raised more than $500,000 in the First Quarter and maintains $424,000 in the bank. Few areas in the country have changed as rapidly as Northern Virginia, and the Democratic nominee, who will be chosen in June, will likely have the leg up in November.

FEC Reports -- The Northeast

With 435 races to at least glance over, the day House candidates' reports are due to the Federal Election Commission provides political junkies everywhere with what seems like an endless stream of information to take in. That information would be truly endless if we didn't break it up in some way. So here's our first manageable bite, as we take a quick look at the House races in the Northeast that could prove appealing come September and October.

As always, don't forget that money isn't everything, but along with poll numbers, candidate interviews and other factors, it's one thing we'll consider when we debut our races to watch list later this summer. For now, races we're keeping an eye on:

New Hampshire 01: Democratic Rep. Carol Shea-Porter wasn't even supposed to be in Congress this year after surprising national and Granite State Democrats by upsetting Democratic State House leader Jim Craig in the primary last year. But Shea-Porter surprised incumbent Republican Jeb Bradley, winning election in an extremely marginal district by just 5,000 votes after being outspent more than three-to-one. This year, Shea-Porter has already raised more than $662,000 and through the end of March retained $545,000 in the bank. Bradley, running for his old seat, is competitive, having raised $566,000 and keeping $516,000 in reserve. He will face former state Health and Human Services Commissioner John Stephen, who Bradley beat in his initial 2002 primary race, and who has raised $231,000 with $203,000 on hand, in the state's September primary.

New York 13: Republican Rep. Vito Fossella, the last Republican to represent any part of New York City, has won relatively easy re-election battles in recent years, but this time around he could find himself in trouble. Fossella has outraised his top Democratic challenger by a wide margin, but he's also spent a lot of that money. Through March, Fossella pulled in $851,000 and had only $248,000 in the bank. New York City Councilmember Domenic Recchia has raised $350,000 for his bid so far and retained $325,000 after March 31. Fossella spent more than $25,000 on polling with the very reputable Public Opinion Strategies this quarter, so if he starts hauling in a lot more money and getting aggressive, one could surmise that the poll held at least some bad news that scared the five-term incumbent.

New York 25: Longtime Republican Rep. Jim Walsh's departure from Congress could signal trouble for Republicans as they scramble to find a candidate to fill the seat. 2006 Democratic nominee Dan Maffei, a former Congressional staffer who came surprisingly close to beating Walsh that year, has already raised a whopping $853,000 for his bid in the Syracuse-based district, and retains $675,000 after March. Three serious Republican candidates -- Assemblyman Bob Oaks, Manilus Village Trustee Paul Serafin and former Onondaga County legislature chair Dale Sweetland -- are in the race, but none have filed with the FEC yet. If one of them doesn't raise big bucks, Maffei is going to pick up another seat for Democrats, a party that did very well in upstate New York.

New York 26: Another retirement that caught Republicans by surprise came when Rep. Tom Reynolds told constituents he would not stand for re-election after a tighter than expected contest in 2006 and a disappointing stint as NRCC chairman. The Democratic primary could be heavily contested, as Erie County Clerk Kathy Hochul is considering a bid while two-time nominee Jack Davis and Iraq war veteran Jon Powers are already in the race. Powers has raised $598,000 through March, with $402,000 left in the bank, while Davis has yet to begin raising money -- in his bids against Reynolds in 2004 and 2006, Davis largely self-funded. Attorney Alice Kryzan rounds out the field with $287,000 raised and $206,000 left in the bank. On the Republican side, the only candidate so far could find himself in early hot water. Iraq war veteran David Bellavia most recently won notoriety when he referred to Barack Obama as Tiger Woods, which some saw as a racially-tinged slight, while introducing John McCain at a rally last week in Washington.

Connecticut 02: After narrowly defeating incumbent Republican Rob Simmons in one of the nation's closest contests, freshman Democrat Joe Courtney has made himself an expert at the fundraising game, pulling in $1.46 million through March. He retains $1.19 million in the bank, and he will likely face Sean Sullivan, who commanded a major naval facility in the eastern Connecticut-based district, which includes New London and Norwich. Sullivan was a highly-touted recruit who Republicans loved, and they saw an early chance to steal back a seat. But his fundraising has been lacking; he pulled in $230,000 through March and held just $129,000 cash on hand. If his fundraising picks up, Sullivan could be a very strong contender, but if not, Courtney will be a safe bet for re-election.

Connecticut 05: In 2006, the incumbent member of Congress in the district that stretches from the Hartford suburbs to the New York border in the west lost to a state Senator. This year, Rep. Chris Murphy, who outpaced Republican Nancy Johnson two years ago, faces another state Senator, David Cappiello, who could give the freshman a run for his money. But Murphy, who is just 34 years old, is intent on keeping his job for a long time. Murphy has already raised $1.79 million and retains $1.54 million for his bid, and Cappiello, who Republicans say could be one of their strongest challengers, has raised $654,000 through March. Cappiello retains $420,000 in the bank, a possibly worryingly high burn-rate.

Check back later today for our look at the northern part of the Mid-Atlantic region.

Morning Thoughts: Obama's Debate Hangover

Good Thursday morning. Not only is Pennsylvania the capital of politics until late on Tuesday night, it is also the capital-killer in the National Hockey League, as the Pittsburgh Penguins swept the Ottawa Senators last night to win their first playoff series in seven years. Meanwhile, the Philadelphia Flyers are up two to one on the Washington Capitals, giving the state the chance to knock two world powers out of the Stanley Cup playoffs in one year. Aside from Game 3 tonight, here's what Washington is watching:

-- The Senate this morning continues work on a highway funding bill aimed at correcting flaws in previous legislation, while the House tackles student loans. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell will meet with Lee Myung-Bak, the president of South Korea, while President Bush will spend most of the day meeting with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown. Later, Brown will meet with all three presidential contenders during his brief visit to Washington.

-- Two messages came out of last night's debate in Philadelphia: One, from the media, Barack Obama had a bad night because of constant questioning about flag pins, William Ayers, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright and comments that some Pennsylvanians are bitter. Obama played defense most of the evening, took a few shots at rival Hillary Clinton and was generally less humorous and detailed than his rival. The second message, this from the Obama campaign: The debate wasn't fair. Question after question, they said, slammed their candidate unfairly, and last night was the opportunity to dump everything a news organization had on Obama. Prominent Obama backers who talked to Politics Nation were genuinely angry at the tone and tenor of the debate's first 45 minutes.

-- But Clinton didn't do well either, missing repeated opportunities to hit a home run and generally turning in a typical debate performance. Something for a future Clinton rival, be it for the presidency or her Senate seat, to remember: She's really not that good in debates. Last night, Clinton seemed to be waiting for Obama to ruin himself, but she had work to do as well, work that she largely skipped. At the end, there really was no big winner, a conclusion Politics Nation came to last night (Reader mail currently running two-to-one in favor of a Clinton win, 100% for this author's early internment in a room with padded walls).

-- Those were the immediate reactions, but wise sages who know the back story are convinced that we haven't heard the last of one aspect of the debate. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, William "Billy" Ayers was a prominent member of the Weathermen, later the Weather Underground, an organization that carried out twenty bombings, including of a barbershop in the U.S. Capitol, between 1970 and 1975. Last night, Obama sought to distance himself from Ayers, now an upstanding citizen in Chicago, rejecting assertions that he and Ayers share philosophies by association. Ben Smith has the full rundown of the answer. But the two are more closely associated than Obama would lead some to believe; they served on the board of a Chicago charity together and Obama attended a fundraiser at Ayers' house. But as NBC/NJ's Aswini Anburajan points out, it's not a question Obama has had to answer yet, ensuring it will get another round of press attention.

-- Last night was great for John McCain, though. If the Republican's campaign was looking for an excuse to portray Obama as someone out of touch with mainstream America, this last week has been a golden opportunity. First, they can portray Obama as a left coast elitist yuppie, making his dismissive comments about rural voters in, of all places, San Francisico, where liberals drink more fine red wine than pints of Yuengling. With the rise of Ayers, McCain has an excuse to drag Obama back to the counterculture of the Vietnam era. McCain has long pointed to his friendship with some serious Vietnam protesters, but people who actually bombed things? The combination of long-haired hippie meets latte liberal could paint Obama as dangerously out of touch.

-- While last night was the final time Obama and Clinton would be together to address Pennsylvania voters, by no means are either of the campaigns giving up. With a long weekend to go before Keystone Staters head to the polls, Clinton is launching a six-day bus tour today while Obama begins his own tour tomorrow, both of which will run through Tuesday's primary. Obama is still outpacing Clinton in television advertising by a wide margin, especially in Philadelphia, where we've seen more ads for one candidate in the primary for the Democratic nomination for state Treasurer than we've seen for Clinton.

-- The Clinton campaign knows they're being outspent, and that's leading to a new spin angle: The gap between Obama spending and Clinton spending is not a small one, and it means, in Clinton spin land, that Obama should really be leading in Pennsylvania. Instead, pre-debate, Clinton was up by a 6.7-point margin, according to the latest RCP Pennsylvania Average. That deficit is a plateau Obama reached last week, and since then he's hovered in the low-40s without being able to break through. Should Obama be able to win Pennsylvania? Probably not, it's a state tailor-made for the Clinton campaign. But Obama has put a curious amount of effort into the state, with two nearly week-long bus tours and millions in advertising. Maybe a loss here, no matter the margin, is a straight-up loss. That wouldn't mean Obama's campaign is over, but it could mean that Clinton actually won a significant battle.

-- Encounter Of The Day: Stephen Colbert, who has parked himself in Philadelphia for the week promising to have an impact on the primary (more write-in votes for Doritos?), has had some big guests, including Philly Mayor Michael Nutter, Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell and even Michelle Obama herself -- the two had a fun back-and-forth on Tuesday night, an appearance made in lieu of the candidate himself. But tonight, oh tonight, tune in when Hillary Clinton joins Colbert at a Philadelphia theater for his show, The Swamp's Frank James writes. Could there truly be a better moment for political writers looking for an epic slip-up?

-- Today On The Trail: Clinton begins her day in Washington with a conversation with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown. Later, she heads to Haverford, Pennsylvania, for a block party with daughter Chelsea, before heading over to Colbert's lair. Obama will also meet with Brown before heading south, to hold a town hall meeting in Raleigh and hit a rally in Greenville, North Carolina, a smaller town near the coast. McCain is down today.

Dem Debate Lacks Clear Winner

PHILADELPHIA, Pennsylvania -- For two candidates who profess to be most concerned with bringing their country and their party together, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton spent more time at last night's debate raising issues that divide the Democratic electorate than those that unite them. Last night's encounter, which marks nearly two dozen times the two have shared a stage, focused more on political questions than policy discussions, an indication, perhaps, that the intended audience was not Pennsylvania voters but rather the several hundred super delegates who have yet to publicly endorse a candidate.

The political wrangling that has consumed the political press corps in recent weeks found its way on stage for the entire first half of the debate. Obama, who critics charge has been treated with kid gloves by the mainstream media, underwent the harshest questioning he has faced so far during the primaries. Likely to the delight of Hillary Clinton's battered campaign, the New York Senator's rival spent most of that time on the defensive, both from Clinton and from debate moderators. But if Clinton was looking for a game-changing performance, she failed to contribute on her end, leaving both candidates without clear bragging rights.

Buffeted by days of controversy surrounding his suggestion that some in small-town Pennsylvania were bitter at their economic status, Obama brought up the gaffe in his opening statement. Citing Pennsylvanians' "core decency and generosity," Obama said there is nonetheless a sense of frustration, and that his candidacy hopes to "transform that frustration into something more hopeful." "It's not the first time that I've made, you know, a statement that is mangled up," Obama said.

The uproar over "bitter"-gate was far from the only controversy Obama faced all night. More than a month after a major speech in the same Constitution Center in which last night's debate was held, Obama still had to answer questions about his relationship with the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, whose controversial comments are still coming up. Later, Obama needed several minutes to answer a question about why he doesn't wear a flag pin. Though he claimed the flap was a "manufactured issue," Obama did not give the short answer he could have.

Clinton too had a rough night, beginning when she answered for her error in judgment over misstatements about her trip to Bosnia as First Lady. What she said on the campaign trail "didn't jive with what I've written about and knew to be the truth," she admitted. "I'm embarrassed about it."

Both candidates, asked whether their opponent could win a general election against John McCain, agreed, though for Clinton, whose assertion to super delegates that she is the most electable is more central to her campaign, the answer seemed almost overeager. "Yes, yes, yes," she said. "I think I can do a better job. Obviously. That's why I'm here," she backpedaled. "I, too, think that I'm the better candidate," Obama said a minute later.

ABC News anchor Charlie Gibson and fellow moderator George Stephanopoulos spent time on pointed questions about previous campaign statements, tactics and strategy, both for the primary and the general election, questions that would seem to concern party insiders, the media and valuable super delegates more than the electorate. Indeed, both candidates said they had fun during the preceding fifteen months of campaigning, but Gibson acknowledged that the race has gone far past the point at which pledged delegates can provide one candidate or the other a clear majority. "This is sort of round fifteen in a scheduled ten-rounder," Gibson joked as he opened the debate.

Not until 8:53 p.m., about 45 minutes after the debate started, did Gibson elicit the first policy-based response from the candidates, on Iraq. Both candidates said they would hold true to their pledges to begin withdrawing troops from Iraq in short order, offering no new policies but reiterating their commitment to ending the war. Asked about defending Israel from a possible nuclear strike from Iran, Obama agreed to do so while Clinton went farther, proposing a "security umbrella" that would protect other Middle East allies from an Iranian strike in exchange for the promise that they not pursue their own nuclear weapons.

It took until after 9:00 p.m. for the first question on domestic policy to arise, though when it did, the candidates engaged in their first real policy back-and-forth in months. Both pledged to cut taxes on middle class families, and generally agreed on capital gains taxes. But the two parted ways on lifting the $97,000 cap on payroll taxes, which Clinton said would hurt the middle class but which Obama said was necessary to fairly taxing much wealthier Americans.

Obama saved his best moment for last, asserting that he made a bet that Americans wanted a change in politics, and that he could be the messenger of that change. "During the course of these last fifteen months, my bet's paid off," Obama said. Clinton's best moment was a long, detailed answer on how to bring gas prices down, which she said she would do partly by investigating the possibility of price gouging and consideration of a possible windfall profit tax on oil companies.

Despite the occasional flare-up, though, both candidates stayed respectful in tone, if not in purpose. That carried some negatives for both candidates. In walking the tightrope designed to avoid losing votes by angering undecided supporters, Obama was forced into a defensive posture, a point from which he struggled to recover all night. Clinton, who was both more humorous and more detailed in her policy discussions, has yet to find the balance between hitting Obama hard on his vulnerabilities and not appearing shrill, could not deliver her own much needed knockout blow.

Trailing by half a dozen points in Pennsylvania, Obama likely did nothing to change his fortunes here. But Clinton, who faces harsh terrain after leaving Pennsylvania, did nothing to seriously blunt Obama's chances among voters in North Carolina, Indiana and following states. Both candidates, it seems, are committed to letting actual voters, be they super delegates or the regular primary electorate, decide the Democratic nomination fight.

Dems' Purgatory Of Nomentum

PHILADELPHIA, Pennsylvania -- When Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton meet on stage tonight for their first and only debate in Pennsylvania since early November, and their last before Keystone State voters head to the polls on Tuesday, both candidates will try and gain crucial and much-needed momentum. Since their last meeting, before the March 4 primaries in Texas, Ohio, Rhode Island and Vermont, the Democratic race has devolved into a chaos of mudslinging, and neither candidate has been able to seize a permanent and crushing upper hand. At the moment, the Democratic race is a contest of no-mentum.

For Clinton, that lack of positive movement has been excruciating, approaching the death of her candidacy by a thousand cuts. Since the March 4 primaries, Clinton, whose rationale for staying in the race hinges on convincing super delegates to give her the nomination at the convention in Denver, has picked up just nine party leaders with automatic votes at a convention. Obama has picked up at least twenty-two in the same period, including such big names as New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar and North Carolina Reps. Mel Watt and David Price, who endorsed the Illinois Senator today.

Too, while Clinton's strategy of convincing those super delegates that Obama would lose to Republican nominee John McCain in the Fall is gaining some traction, the Clinton campaign is the wrong messenger, and because of her attacks on Obama's record and rhetoric, the New York Senator has seen her unfavorable ratings jump through the roof. An ABC News/Washington Post poll out today shows Clinton's favorable rating at just 44%, down fourteen points since January; her unfavorable marks are up a corresponding fourteen points, to 54%. Both numbers are significantly worse than those of McCain or Obama.

Obama has not had an easy time closing the deal, either. To be sure, Obama leads the race for pledged delegates to the Democratic convention by a wide and virtually insurmountable margin. After a month and a half of stories involving Obama's relationship with the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, one tinged with racial overtones with which the candidate would rather not deal, and almost a week of non-stop talk of his controversial comments at a San Francisco fundraiser, some Democrats have voiced concern that Clinton might be right, and that the candidate who seemed above reproach is in fact as flawed as any other politician.

The Obama team has made its mistakes as well. An advertisement that was running on Pennsylvania stations as late as yesterday claimed that Obama is the only candidate who doesn't take money from oil companies, which allowed the Clinton campaign to point out, correctly, that no candidate can take money from corporations -- a political point scored, albeit a minor one, but it gave Clinton the opportunity to once again play the victim, a role to which she is uniquely suited and experienced. Obama's campaign has also failed to show it can slam the door on harmful stories, whether they involve Wright or the comments in which Obama seemed to imply that small-town bitterness leads to citizens lower on the economic totem pole clinging to their guns, their god and their prejudices.

Both fiascoes were spread around as quickly and as widely as possible by the Clinton campaign, to be sure, and Obama answered both with reasonable explanations. On Wright's comments, a well-received speech in Philadelphia seemed to fully explain his thoughts on the Reverend's comments that many found offensive; and though he has largely stuck to the general point of his remarks in San Francisco, which Clinton and McCain labeled as elitist comments, Obama has apologized for his word choice and sought to more fully explain what he meant. But here we are, weeks (in one case) and days (in the other) later, still talking about Jeremiah Wright and bitter Pennsylvanians.

Clinton, who should have been poised to capitalize on the stumbles of a rookie candidate, had troubles of her own, and like Obama's, her campaign has been unable to get out from under the weight of a foolish comment. Clinton's claim that she landed in a war zone in Bosnia under sniper fire -- a tale quickly exposed as false, complete with footage of a young girl greeting her at the airport -- continues to crop up, no thanks to her husband, who brought the topic up unexpectedly at a series of rallies in Indiana last week.

That scene, news footage of the girl meeting Clinton at the airport, brings to mind a surprisingly apropos metaphor: In "Wag the Dog," a fake war in Albania is launched to divert attention from a presidential sex scandal. One scene depicts the duplicitous president meeting an Albanian grandmother and her granddaughter, both refugees, at an airport. The parallel is telling of Clinton's larger problem: She is seen as just as conniving as many felt her husband was, and in fact she takes the blame that some thought wouldn't stick to him, but she gets none of the breaks he ever did. Americans who trusted Bill Clinton do not now trust his wife. The same Washington Post poll shows just 39% say they think Hillary Clinton is honest and trustworthy, while 58% disagree.

Again, though, Obama has been unable to seal the deal. Despite a strong comeback in Pennsylvania -- he cut Clinton's lead in the RCP Pennsylvania Average from nearly 17 points in mid-March to just six points last week -- his last-minute charge has stalled as he reached what looks like his ceiling in the Democratic primary. Just one polling firm used in RCP Averages has shown Obama reaching 45%. Clinton, meanwhile, has peaked at 56% in several polls going back several weeks. Obama has been unable to break through his apex despite outspending Clinton in television advertising by a factor of at least four.

Tonight, Democratic voters in Pennsylvania will see two candidates who have stalled and are looking for something to get them started again. Keystoners will have the opportunity to move the contest to other states and give Clinton a boost with a big win, or to end the primary by delivering a majority of their votes to Obama. But if voters are faced with two choices who can't seem to avoid a serious gaffe on what seems like a weekly basis, they may do neither. If Clinton wins a narrow victory, the purgatory of no-mentum will slouch unbroken toward May 6 contests in North Carolina and Indiana.

Landrieu Leads LA

Though Republicans are thrilled at the prospect of the chance to knock off two-term Democrat Mary Landrieu in Louisiana, polls have consistently shown a close race that is far from decided in the GOP's favor. A new poll out yesterday, in fact, shows Landrieu with her largest lead of the year, meaning that even though State Treasurer John Kennedy outraised Landrieu in the first three months of the year, the Republican still has a long way to go.

The survey, taken by Southern Media & Opinion Research, polled 600 likely voters between 3/26-4/9, an unusually long period of time for a single poll to be taken. Landrieu and Kennedy were tested, and the margin of error for a sample that size is +/- 4%.

General Election Matchup
Landrieu 50
Kennedy 38

Many believed that Landrieu would be in trouble this year given the dramatic demographic shifts Louisiana underwent after Hurricane Katrina. The daughter of former New Orleans Mayor Moon Landrieu, the last white mayor elected in the predominantly African American city, Landrieu has relied on large African American turnout in her two previous elections. But after Katrina, many of those voters fled to Arkansas or Texas, leading some to believe that Landrieu would have a tough fight for re-election.

The survey leaves plenty of questions open, though, especially given some suspect numbers deeper within it. President Bush has a 49% favorable rating versus 48% who say they have an unfavorable opinion of him, while Landrieu is hugely popular with a 70%-25% favorable to unfavorable rating. Junior Senator David Vitter, though, has an oddly favorable 52%-32% rating, despite his acknowledged involvement with the so-called D.C. Madam call-girl ring.

Landrieu is by no means safe for re-election, but this poll and her continued financial advantage over Kennedy has to make Democrats breathe at least a little more optimistic that they might go a second cycle without losing a Senate seat.

Sen FEC numbers

Along with Tax Day, April 15 is that magical day when political junkies get to pour over new Federal Election Commission reports showcasing which candidates actually have a shot. Today, we take a quick look at key Senate races around the country, which we ranked a few weeks ago in order of vulnerability. Unfortunately, thanks to rules that allow Senate candidates to file paper reports with the Secretary of the Senate instead of electronic reports with the Federal Election Commission, not all data is completely available.

Alaska (Fairbanks News Miner, twice)
Senator Ted Stevens (R) -- $540,000 raised, $1.3 million cash on hand
Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich (D) -- About $260,000 raised

Begich, who launched his exploratory committee in late February, actually outpaced Stevens in donations given the number of days he had to raise the money. But the Democrat has a long way to go to catch up in order to avoid being buried by an avalanche (it is snowy Alaska, after all) of television advertising. Both national committees have set up websites hitting their opponent, suggesting that each party will make the Last Frontier a priority come November.

Colorado (Denver Post)
Rep. Mark Udall (D) -- $1.45 million raised, $4.2 million cash on hand
Ex-Rep. Bob Schaffer (R) -- $1.02 million raised, $2.2 million cash on hand

Schaffer had his best fundraising period to date thanks to a fundraising visit from President Bush, but he still trails the better-funded Udall by a wide margin. Though several polls had shown the race within the margin of error, many rated Udall as the favorite, and the most recent survey to come out of the Rocky Mountains showed the Democrat with a wide twelve-point lead.

Kentucky (Louisville Courier-Journal)
Senator Mitch McConnell (R) -- $1.2 million raised, $7.7 million on hand
Businessman Bruce Lunsford (D) -- $800,000 raised, $666,000 cash on hand
Businessman Greg Fisher (D) -- $1.05 million raised, $854,000 in the bank

Fisher has donated $500,000 to his own cause while Lunsford has given himself $530,000. If either one trips the so-called Millionaire's Amendment in the general election, McConnell will be able to tap back into his incredibly deep well of contributors and double or even triple his current haul. McConnell, whose base is in the Democratic stronghold of Louisville, knows how to win elections, and he saw what happened to then-Minority Leader Tom Daschle in 2004. The current minority leader has no intentions of being caught by surprise this year.

Louisiana (Politico's Kraushaar)
Senator Mary Landrieu (D) -- $1.1 million raised, $4.5 million in the bank
Treasurer John Kennedy (R) -- $1.4 million raised, $2 million cash on hand

Landrieu, the nation's most vulnerable Democrat, will face a well-funded challenger in Kennedy, who may be the best outlet for frustrated Republican donors looking for candidates to back. Though recent polls have shown him trailing the incumbent, Kennedy will have a good chance at winning the seat back thanks to recent and dramatic demographic changes in Louisiana. Landrieu is the one Louisiana politician who has won praise for her response to Hurricane Katrina, though, and her work in Congress has earned her several prominent endorsements from Republicans. She will need a significant crossover vote to keep her seat, but that's a goal Landrieu is used to achieving.

Maine (Bangor Daily News)
Senator Susan Collins (R) -- $963,000 raised, $4.5 million cash on hand
Rep. Tom Allen (D) -- $700,000 raised, $2.7 million in reserve

Despite the target on her back, Collins remains the favorite in Maine, where polls have shown her leading by as many as twenty points. If Democrats in Washington are serious about trying to target Collins, they will have to start taking votes away from her instead of just building up Allen. Maine is used to contentious elections, but it's been a while since either Collins or senior Senator Olympia Snowe has been a target.

Minnesota (Minneapolis Star Tribune and Minnesota Public Radio)
Senator Norm Coleman (R) -- $2 million raised, $7 million in the bank
Satirist Al Franken (D) -- $2.2 million raised, $3.5 million saved up

Franken has outraised Coleman in several straight quarters, but his burn rate -- the rate at which he is spending that money -- is much faster than Coleman's, meaning much of that cash will not be available for the general election. Polls have consistently shown the race close, the most recent showing Coleman up by six points but under the 50% mark.

Mississippi (Jackson Clarion Ledger)
Senator Roger Wicker (R) -- $2.5 million raised, $2.8 million in the bank
Ex-Governor Ronnie Musgrove (D) -- $447,000 raised, $337,000 cash on hand

Wicker, appointed to the Senate on the last day of December, had an outstanding first quarter of fundraising as he seeks election to the final four years of former Senator Trent Lott's term. Along with the amount of money he raised, Wicker also transfered more than $500,000 from his House account into the Senate fund. Musgrove's quarter wasn't bad either, but compared with Wicker's haul, most candidates' performances would look paltry.

Nebraska (Associated Press)
Ex-Governor/former Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns (R) -- $641,000 raised, $1.33 million in the bank
Professor/2006 congressional candidate Scott Kleeb (D) -- $274,000 raised, $281,000 on hand
Businessman Tony Raimondo (D) -- $172,000 raised, $140,000 in store for later

Johanns retains a healthy fundraising advantage in the race to replace outgoing Senator Chuck Hagel, though Kleeb, who announced his own candidacy five weeks ago, has raised an impressive amount of money in such a short period of time. Raimondo's fundraising totals included a $100,000 loan from his own campaign. Raimondo and Kleeb will meet in the Democratic primary on May 13.

New Mexico (Associated Press)
Rep. Tom Udall (D) -- $1.3 million raised, $2.6 million cash on hand
Rep. Heather Wilson (R) -- $515,000 pulled in, $1.2 million left over
Rep. Steve Pearce (R) -- $467,000 raised, $854,000 in the bank

Wilson and Pearce continue to spend heavily ahead of the June 3 primary, each casting themselves as the only candidate who can beat Udall in November. Either Republican, running to replace outgoing Senator Pete Domenici, will likely be well-funded by national donors eager to hold onto the seat, but Udall will probably benefit from a big lead and the increasingly nasty primary battle. polls taken this Fall showed Udall leading by wide margins against both his potential opponents, giving Democrats reason to remain very optimistic.

Oregon (Oregonian, twice)
Senator Gordon Smith (R) -- $700,000 raised, $5.1 million cash on hand
House Speaker Jeff Merkley (D) -- $455,000 raised, $474,000 cash on hand
Attorney and activist Steve Novick (D) -- $346,000 pulled in, $197,000 left over

Money isn't everything in politics, but it sure means a lot when an entrenched incumbent retains more than ten times his wealthiest challenger before a contentious primary. Novick and Merkley have forced each other to the left, focusing heavily on more liberal voters in Portland and the most heavily-populated northwest corner of the state, but that's going to make it difficult for the survivor to make it back to the center against the moderate Smith. The primary and funding problems could cost Democrats a seat they once highly prized.

South Dakota (Associated Press)
Senator Tim Johnson (D) -- $530,000 raised, $2.5 million cash on hand
State Rep. Joel Dykstra (R) -- $65,000 raised, $20,000 in the bank

Republicans missed about ten opportunities to field a well-financed challenger against Johnson, but to be fair, they faced a seriously uphill battle no matter which candidate they recruited. South Dakotans like their politicians, and the last two Senate contests pitted popular Senators Johnson and Tom Daschle against John Thune. Johnson beat Thune by just 500 votes in 2002, then Thune beat Daschle by a narrow margin two years later. Only Governor Mike Rounds had the stature to compete with Johnson, and he ruled out a run long ago. Johnson's health problems could also provide him a sympathy vote, even though he looks like he will outspend opponent Dykstra on the order of twenty-to-one.

Virginia (Washington Post and the Daily Press)
Ex-Governor Mark Warner (D) -- $2.5 million raised, $4.4 million in the bank
Ex-Governor Jim Gilmore (R) -- $396,000 pulled in, $208,000 left over
Delegate Bob Marshall (R) -- $51,000 raised, $19,000 in the bank

Like in Oregon, money doesn't always matter, but when the gap is so dramatic it certainly does a lot of good. Warner continues to look like the best bet to steal a Republican seat in the entire country, and his Republican opponents aren't helped by the fact that they're still battling for the GOP nod in nominating conventions around the state. Gilmore is the favorite to face Warner in November, but he will enter the race as a serious underdog. National Republicans have all but written off the race as lost.

Wyoming (Associated Press)
Senator John Barrasso (R) -- $436,000 raised, $1.1 million left over

Barrasso, appointed to fill the late Senator Craig Thomas' seat in July, has raised about as much since his appointment as fellow Senator Mike Enzi had since he was re-elected in 2002. Both Republicans will be on the ballot this year. Challenging Barrasso, Casper City Councilman Keith Goodenough has yet to file while attorney Nick Carter began his campaign on April 4, after the filing deadline.

Specter's Cancer Returns

As his state becomes the central battleground in the race for the White House, Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter has a larger battle to fight, his office announced yesterday. In a statement, Specter's staff said he had been diagnosed with an early recurrence of Hodgkin's disease, a form of cancer the five-term incumbent who first beat the disease after being diagnosed in 2005.

A routine follow-up scan and biopsy showed cancer had returned to Specter's chest, but a biopsy on his bone marrow was negative, a positive sign that the disease has not spread. Specter will undergo chemotherapy for twelve weeks and will continue to perform his official duties, his office reports.

Meanwhile, Specter's doctor at the University of Pennsylvania says the one-time survivor has a good chance of doing so again. "Senator Specter has an excellent chance of again achieving a complete remission of his Hodgkin's disease. Senator Specter's early diagnosis of his recurrent Hodgkin's disease has a five- year survival rate of 60 percent," Penn oncologist John Glick said in the statement.

Unlike some of his colleagues, Specter is in great shape for his age, especially given his penchant for frequent games of squash. The former chairman, he now serves as ranking minority member of the Judiciary Committee, and holds positions as the second-ranking Republican on the Veterans' Affairs Committee and as the third-ranking Republican on the Appropriations Committee, behind Senators Ted Stevens and Thad Cochran.

Given his history of voting more with Democrats than his Republican colleagues do, it's little wonder that Specter has often found himself the target of difficult battles for re-election. After losing several primary battles in Pennsylvania, Specter escaped the 1980 GOP primary by just three points and won his initial election with only 50%. Since then, Specter has won re-election with more than 60% jut once, in 1998, and six years later came within 17,000 votes of losing in a primary to then-Rep. Pat Toomey, a conservative who now runs the Club for Growth.

At 78 years old, Specter has said he plans to run again in 2010. Democrats have been on a winning streak in Pennsylvania lately, picking off Specter's fellow Republican Senator Rick Santorum in 2006 and winning four House seats from Republican incumbents, as well as control of the state House, though by just one vote. But Specter has his niche, and barring a run from Governor Ed Rendell, who will be term-limited out of work in 2010, he should be relatively safe. That prospect, though Democrats would love it, looks unlikely.

Through the end of 2007, Specter had more than $4.1 million in the bank, and regardless of who comes after him, Specter has a good chance of winning re-election if he does indeed decide on running for a sixth term.

On PN Radio: A "Bitter" Debate

Last week on Politics Nation Radio, we talked with Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, a big Hillary Clinton backer, and former DNC chairman David Wilhelm, Bill Clinton's old campaign manager and now a supporter of Barack Obama, about Obama's comments on Pennsylvanians clinging to bitterness, the debate over seating Florida and Michigan delegates at the convention and how Nutter was going to prepare for Monday's appearance on the Colbert Report.

In the second hour, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee communications director Jennifer Crider and National Republican Congressional Committee press secretary Ken Spain go toe to toe on Louisiana special elections, Mississippi special elections and the House landscape as a whole. Later, we're joined by Hotline editor in chief Amy Walter and seersucker expert/barbeque wiseman/South Carolina Republican Party executive director Jay W. Ragley.

Morning Thoughts: Evening Constitutional

PHILADELPHIA, Pennsylvania -- Good Wednesday morning. Politics Nation comes to you live from Philadelphia today, where between stuffing our faces with good pretzels, good shaved pork sandwiches and good cheese steaks, we'll be covering a presidential debate. A few hours south of us, here's what Washington is watching:

-- The Senate continues to spar over a bill correcting a recent highway and transportation measure, while the House takes up student lending, debt relief and some environmental measures. President and Mrs. Bush, as well as Vice President and Mrs. Cheney, welcome Pope Benedict XVI to the White House before meeting together in the Oval Office. Today just happens to be Benedict's 81st birthday as well. Later today, Bush makes remarks on climate change from the Rose Garden on what is supposed to be a beautiful day, and Cheney attends the annual Radio-TV correspondents' dinner in Washington.

-- In an increasingly contentious nomination battle, a slew of new polls out move Hillary Clinton's advantage in the Keystone State to an 8.6-point margin, per the latest RCP Pennsylvania Average. Click on that link, and take a look at the graph. Barack Obama was in the middle of a huge and stunning comeback, but now that return looks stalled. And don't be fooled; Obama is trying to win the state, dumping millions in advertising, spending time here and investing in an infrastructure meant to hold the margin as low as possible. But as the two Democrats prepare to meet at Constitution Hall, it is Clinton who is in the clear, commanding lead with six days to go.

-- Should Clinton pull off the ten-point lead many thinks she will need to declare a realistic victory, the media will likely blame Obama's comments that small-town Pennsylvanians are "bitter" and "cling" to their guns and their faith. But the new polls out in the last twenty-four hours don't back that up, yet. Of the three in five polls that make up the latest RCP Average conducted after the remarks came to light, SurveyUSA shows the race tightening by four points while Rasmussen and Strategic Vision show the race widening from a five-point Clinton advantage to a nine-point margin. Strategic Vision, though, should be seriously discounted; their questionnaire shows they asked about the horse race matchup after they asked about Obama's comments (31% agree, 55% disagree), a seriously effective way of skewing the sample.

-- The two other polls involved in the latest RCP Average each show a tight race just outside the margin of error. One, from the LA Times and Bloomberg, has the race favoring Clinton by just five points, while another, from Quinnipiac University, has Clinton leading by six points, the same margin as their survey conducted a week earlier. Both polls were in the process of being conducted when news of the comments broke, but that they are narrow margins says something, perhaps, about the media's overreaction. Where does the story go next? The Fix has the rundown, including the notion that Obama may owe a kiss of the Fisherman's Ring to a certain Pope if that story dominates cable news coverage over the next few days (including the post-debate mass at the Nationals' new ballpark).

-- Those comments, though, will likely be the bedrock of tonight's fracas at the Constitution Center, a debate which broadcasts live at 8 p.m. Eastern on ABC. The Obama campaign is complaining that media is overhyping the story, giving it more play than it's worth, and they may have a point: Yesterday, during a taping of Hardball at Villanova University, John McCain was asked about Obama's remarks, and it was among the first questions thrown at Hillary Clinton on Sunday at a forum at Messiah College (which we wrote was a Catholic school; it's an Evangelical school, and we regret the error). Clinton is making as big an issue out of it as possible, hammering Obama in advertisements running in Pennsylvania, but is anyone else? Perhaps Tuesday is the test.

-- The real story of Pennsylvania is the amount of advertising going on, especially in the Philadelphia market and its suburbs. A tight state Senate primary and a contest for the Democratic nomination for State Treasurer are showing up on television, but interspersed throughout, in an almost Iowa- or New Hampshire-esque level of saturation, are Obama ads. He dominated the Flyers' playoff win over the Washington Capitals last night, ran ads during the Philles' win over the Houston Astros, and has been on every cable station in between. Last week, Obama spent $1.4 million on ads in Philadelphia alone, reports the Post's Matthew Mosk, compared with just $547,000 for Clinton. On cable in the next week leading up to the vote, the gap could be closer to a five-to-one advantage for Obama.

-- Some of the advertising is nasty, most of it is positive. In truth, the most negative ads we heard yesterday from both candidates came on the radio, where Obama accuses Clinton of taking money from oil companies and Clinton hits back, saying that's illegal and accusing Obama of distortions. But tonight's throwdown in Philadelphia promises to provide fireworks for one reason or another. Either Clinton is the feisty debater she was before voters in Ohio and Texas went to the polls, or she's the bland, boring debater who looked like she had given up before New Hampshire. In both cases, tonight is all about Clinton's performance, and that has to make Obama nervous. But he's handled it before, and tonight could prove another opportunity to declare him the front-runner.

-- Meanwhile, as we mentioned, McCain stopped by Villanova University yesterday to film Hardball on MSNBC. McCain was giving his interview while Michelle Obama was rallying students at locals at a stop at Haverford College, just down Lancaster Street a tick, a stretch of road that also includes St. Joseph's and Bryn Mawr. But McCain packed the place, hours after giving a speech on the economy on the Pittsburgh campus of Carnegie Mellon University in which he called on a summer holiday for a gas tax, as AP's ever-present McCain reporter Liz Sidoti writes. McCain's other economic initiatives included raising Medicare premiums on the wealthy, a revamped and simpler tax code and a one-year suspension of discretionary spending increases. The proposals are pretty basic McCain, but they're a starting point in the battle to define him on the economy.

-- Comeback Of The Day: As promised, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee has no intention of going away. As the count-down clock on Huckabee's website expired yesterday, the last man standing against McCain launched HuckPAC, a vehicle that will allow Huckabee to stay involved in the process, backing candidates and building good will toward a presidential bid in 2012 or 2016. Perhaps unsurprisingly, one of Huckabee's first three "featured candidates" is Bob Clegg, a New Hampshire state senator vying to unseat Democratic Rep. Paul Hodes. How many more Republicans from Iowa and New Hampshire are going to get help?

-- Today On The Trail: It's a light day as candidates prepare for tonight's debate. Obama is meeting with Jewish leaders in Philadelphia this morning, and Clinton's only public event is a Building Trades conference in Washington before flying up to Philadelphia. Michelle Obama has events planned for Evansville, Indianapolis and Anderson, Indiana, while Bill Clinton is in Indiana, Pennsylvania (don't get confused), Kittanning, Clarion, New Castle and Cranberry Township, all on the western side of the state near Pittsburgh.

GOP Worried About MS

A week after a poll conducted for Democratic nominee Travis Childers showed him leading his Republican foe by a single point in the runoff to take now-Senator Roger Wicker's old House seat, national Republicans have launched their first television and radio ads in the contest, suggesting the party is at least a little bit worried about their chances in a deeply crimson district.

The television ad slams Childers for conditions in nursing homes his company operates, while the radio spot also accuses Childers of paying his taxes late. "Our leaders should help seniors, not profit from them," the spot says.

The poll last week showed Childers leading Southaven Mayor Greg Davis by a statistically insignificant 41%-40% margin, but it was enough to scare the National Republican Congressional Committee into commissioning a poll from a well-respected Republican firm. The results must be back, and given that the party is up on the air with spots slamming Democrat Childers, the results must have shaken them at least a little bit.

Will Democrats respond with ads of their own? After all, with more than $44 million in the bank, as the DCCC reported yesterday, they have the funds to do so. And with a chance to pick up a House seat in a district where President Bush won by 25 points, how will they resist?

Facing a huge financial deficit, the last thing Republicans need right now is a shoot-out in a special election. But in order to prevent absolute catastrophe, it could prove their only choice.

Pope Brings Up A Point

Pope Benedict XVI lands at Andrews Air Force Base today at 4 p.m. Eastern Time, where he will be greeted by President Bush to kick off his inaugural papal visit to the United States. For the next six days, the Pope will visit Washington and New York, even celebrating his 81st birthday in the country (for which the White House has prepared a special dinner that Il Papa will not be attending).

Benedict's presence is sure to capture the attention of Pennsylvania Catholics, a large segment of the voting population that will head to the polls next week. 29% of Pennsylvania voters are Catholic, according to the Pew Research Center's U.S. Religious Landscape Survey, five points higher than the national average. And while ethnic Catholics were once a huge part of the Democratic coalition, that is no longer the case. Still, the group will play a huge role in the Pennsylvania primaries.

Democrats who focus now on winning primary Catholic voters will have a more difficult time wooing that group back in November. In 2004, for the first time in generations, President Bush won more Catholic votes than his Democratic opponent, even though John Kerry is Catholic. When it comes to social issues, Catholics naturally favor the Republican Party, though Hispanic Catholics have increasingly moved toward Democrats.

With John McCain heading the GOP ticket this year, though, his more moderate stance on immigration and his stated anti-abortion views could attract a number of those Hispanic voters. For Democrats, McCain's appeal could spell trouble in heavily Catholic states like New Jersey, New Mexico and Nevada, three potentially swing states where Catholics make up a larger percentage of the populace than the national average.

Both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton have hired Catholic outreach directors, the New York Times reports, and on Sunday the two headed to Messiah College, a Catholic institution, for a forum on faith and values. Clinton has the backing of prominent Catholics like Robert F. Kennedy's children, who penned an open letter to the state's Catholic voters recently, while Obama has backing from Senator Bob Casey and suburban Philadelphia Rep. Patrick Murphy, both Catholic.

Obama and Clinton also went as far as issuing statements welcoming Benedict to the U.S. "We are blessed to receive a visit from His Holiness, Pope Benedict, to the United States this week," Clinton said. "Not only is he the spiritual leader of America's great Catholic community, he is a strong and effective voice for the cause of peace, freedom, and justice as well as the fight against poverty and disease." Clinton also noted that Vatican City is a global leader on energy conservation.

"At a time when American families face rising costs at home and a range of worries abroad, the theme of Pope Benedict's journey, 'Christ Our Hope,' offers comfort and grace as well as a challenge to all faith communities to put our faith into action for the common good," Obama said in a statement after extending a welcome from himself and wife Michelle. "It will not only be Catholics who are listening to the Holy Father's message of hope and peace; all Americans will be listening with open hearts and minds."

Few religions vote as a bloc, including evangelical Christians. But Catholic voters from the Philadelphia suburbs to the Pittsburgh area could make the difference next Tuesday if they vote en masse for one candidate over another. It's a big enough segment of the population that the candidates might even try to appeal to them in tomorrow's Democratic debate, to be held at the Constitution Center in Philadelphia. In fact, if he's not doing anything, Benedict himself might want to drop by. Certainly both candidates would love to give him a ticket.

Cazayoux Still Up In LA

Adding to Republican panic that they could lose another special election, a new poll conducted for State Rep. Don Cazayoux and reported by Roll Call's John McArdle shows the Democrat with a slightly expanded lead over Republican opponent Woody Jenkins since a similar poll conducted in mid-March.

The survey, conducted by Anzalone Liszt Research, a Democratic firm based in Alabama, was conducted 4/8-10 among 500 likely special election voters. The margin of error is +/- 4.4%, and Cazayoux and Jenkins were tested.

General Election Matchup
Cazayoux 49 (nc from last, 3/08)
Jenkins 42 (-2)

The poll also shows both candidates are seen favorably by most voters in the district. Cazayoux is viewed favorably by 55% of district voters, while just 13% see him unfavorably, and Jenkins has a 56%-34% favorable to unfavorable margin.

Both parties have spent heavily in the district, including initial television ad buys of about $100,000 each last week. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee continues to spend about $1,500 to $2,000 a day on field organizing, and the party has dumped an additional $30,000 into new television ads. If Democrats win the seat, it would be their second special election take-away this year, following Democrat Bill Foster's win in an Illinois congressional district last month.

Cazayoux and Jenkins will meet in the special election on May 3.

Morning Thoughts: The Whiny Campaign

Good Tuesday morning. Only a week to go before we can stop contemplating cheese steaks, Utz pretzels and terrible towels in order to focus on another state. But in that next week, Pennsylvanians are going to get a taste of what Iowa is like, only with much, much warmer weather (this writer left Iowa at about seven degrees, only to land in Manchester, where it was three degrees). Here's what Washington is watching today:

-- The Senate meets today to continue work on a bill that would fix earlier highway and transportation legislation, while the House will discuss measures on taxes and to provide funding for some elections. Meanwhile, Secretaries Robert Gates, Carlos Gutierrez and Condoleezza Rice will each testify before different committees of Congress today. And President Bush will head all the way to Andrews Air Force Base to meet Pope Benedict XVI, who lands in Washington for his first trip to the United States as head of the Catholic Church.

-- On the campaign trail, Barack Obama has often referred to himself as a different kind of candidate running a different kind of campaign. But for all his professions about being different, Obama's rapid response operation looks pretty ordinary for a major national campaign. Obama's team has two speeds: Outrage and attack, and both have been on display in recent days. As Politico's Zenilman and Smith write, there is no apology. "Bitter"-gate has shown Obama's ability to hit back, against both John McCain and Hillary Clinton, while any number of comments about the candidate, from Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell or former Vice Presidential nominee Geraldine Ferraro, allow Obama's team to be outraged and imply racism.

-- McCain has been getting into the same act, most recently over comments from liberal radio show host Ed Schultz, who called the Republican candidate a "warmonger," and from West Virginia Senator Jay Rockefeller, who implied McCain didn't care about others' lives when he was at war. In both instances, McCain called on Obama to denounce those remarks, and in both cases Obama distanced himself from the comments and those who made them. With both candidates likely headed to a general election, each will be unwilling to give up the moral high ground, meaning we could be in for a lot of outrage and anger as the race goes on.

-- But stupid comments are something both campaigns will have to deal with. Obama's comments that rural voters are bitter and ar clinging to their guns and gods got a lot of people irritated, and while he recognizes the reason people are mad, the gaffe shows Obama still has something to learn as a candidate. That's something his advisers are going to have to figure out and continue to work on. McCain is going to have to deal with comments from others, like Republican Parties who spread rumors that Obama is Muslim or the northern Kentucky Congressman who referred to McCain's opponent as "that boy," a story that took off yesterday and has Republican Rep. Geoff Davis apologizing. Every time a Republican speaks ill of Obama in an underhanded way, McCain's the one who suffers.

-- Hillary Clinton knows a little something about counter-punching and taking offense as well, and she's doing a little of both in her own response to Obama's "bitter" gaffe. Clinton is up with a new person-on-the-street ad with Keystone Staters expressing their disappointment and the offense they took at Obama's remarks, and the ad is Pyrrhic enough in nature that it's sure to get DNC chief Howard Dean and other leading Democrats to begin to sweat about the prospects of losing in November. It's enough to make a super delegate have to seriously think about the question of whether they would rather lose the election or lose a good chunk of their base. Upon sober reflection, most would rather lose one election than ten, making Clinton's tactics difficult for her to pull off.

-- But for the next week, look at Pennsylvania alone: While no reliable polls have come out post-gaffe, Clinton maintains a 6.9 point lead in the latest RCP Pennsylvania Average, with tomorrow likely being the crucial day when polls emerge. Watch how much that number changes over the next few days, and in whose favor. That late momentum will be crucial to determining whether Clinton can reach the bar that's been set for her. For all their vaunted talent, though, the Clinton campaign has received little credit for the expectations they have tried to set, while the Obama campaign has gotten virtually a free pass in their own bar-setting skills. At this point, frustrated Clinton advisers should be asking members of the media what they have to do to actually get a victory.

-- On Tax Day, John McCain will be the focus of at least a few Pennsylvanians and reporters. McCain will deliver a speech in Pittsburgh on his own economic policy, which will walk a fine line between cutting spending and offering some aid to students, the elderly and families. True to form, McCain will spend much of his time talking about reducing discretionary spending and killing pork-barrel projects, the Wall Street Journal writes. This marks the beginning of what is expected to be a multi-day focus on economic policies, an issue on which McCain needs to lay out his proposals in a more obvious way. Why he'll do it in Pittsburgh, though, when Democrats are dominating the airwaves, instead of, say, Michigan, Wisconsin, even Minnesota, is a question only the philosophers can answer.

-- Pander Of The Day: Well, it's not really a pander, but in front of a room packed with journalists, McCain said he backs a law to protect confidential news sources, the AP's David Espo writes. Espo was in the room at the Associated Press' annual meeting in Washington, where, questioned by top political writer Liz Sidoti, McCain made at least a little bit of news in front of perhaps the most important lobbyists he can work with -- the ones with readers. Sidoti, a frequent rider on the Straight Talk Express, made McCain more comfortable during the interview by providing a box of Dunkin' Donuts, a staple on the bus.

-- Today On The Trail: Obama meets with the Building Trades Legislative Conference in Washington today before heading to a town hall meeting in Washington, Pennsylvania. Clinton is in the nation's capitol to address the Newspaper Association of America, while McCain gives his economic speech in Pittsburgh then meets the media and films "Hardball" at Villanova, just outside of Philadelphia.

NC Dem Race Tight

The race to replace outgoing Democratic Governor Mike Easley is fast moving up the list of most competitive governor's contests this year, primarily as two leading Democrats slug it out for their party's nomination. A new poll out today shows the race neck-and-neck with just a month to go before voters head to the ballot box. The tension on the Democratic side is made worse for the party as Republicans seem to be favoring a more moderate candidate who would likely be their party's strongest candidate.

The survey, conducted by Virginia-based TelOpinion Research for the Civitas Institute, tested 335 likely Republican primary voters and 441 voters likely to cast ballots in the Democratic primary, for margins of error of +/- 5.35% and 4.7%, respectively. Conducted 4/9-10, Democrats Beverly Perdue, the state's Lieutenant Governor, and Richard Moore, the state Treasurer, were tested, as well as Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory, State Senator Fred Smith, attorney Bill Graham and former State Supreme Court Justice Bob Orr, all Republicans.

Primary Election Matchups
(All / Dem / Ind)
Moore 37 / 37 / 31 (+14 from last, 2/20-21)
Perdue 36 / 35 / 46 (+8)

(All / GOP / Ind)
McCrory 28 / 27 / 34 (+10)
Smith 19 / 19 / 17 (+2)
Graham 5 / 5 / 2 (nc)
Orr 4 / 5 / 2 (nc)

Moore and Perdue have been attacking each other for months for taking money from Wall Street donors, over each others' education proposals and other topics. In fact, the heat has grown so intense that last week Perdue decided to cancel her advertisements attacking Moore, though Moore says he will continue running ads questioning his rival's record.

Interestingly, both candidates have made an issue of their support for Barack Obama, who is running well ahead in polls there. Perdue has sent mailers to African American households, while Moore has run radio spots on stations with heavily African American audiences.

On the other side, Smith, Graham and Orr are all seen as more conservative than McCrory, who announced his candidacy late in the game and is seen as a strong contender should he face off with either of the two Democrats. But being mayor of Charlotte, a position McCrory has held for longer than any other person, has been a harbinger of difficulty as a statewide candidate in recent decades. Each of McCrory's four immediate predecessors have run and lost for statewide office, though Sue Myrick made a comeback and now represents the city in Congress.

In a year with few competitive gubernatorial races, though, North Carolina could prove a surprisingly tight contest. While John McCain is favored to pick up the state's electoral votes and Senator Elizabeth Dole looks likely to win re-election, Easley won twice as Republicans cruised, making a Democratic victory not too far-fetched.

Surprise Winner In MN

In a move sure to add further confusion to one of Democrats' top House targets this year, local delegates of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party over the weekend backed lawyer and Iraq War veteran Ashwin Madia over State Senator Terri Bonoff in the race to replace retiring Republican Jim Ramstad in Minnesota's Third Congressional District. Madia will face State Rep. Erik Paulsen, a highly-touted Republican recruit, in November.

State Party conventions choose nominees, though candidates not chosen by the party can also petition their way onto a primary ballot. Bonoff stood before the Third District convention this weekend and asked delegates to endorse rival Madia, saying she would not run in a primary and appealing for party unity, the St. Paul Pioneer Press reported.

Ramstad is leaving the district, based around the northern, western and southern suburbs of Minneapolis, at the end of the year, and both parties were enthusiastic about their early front-runners, Paulsen and Bonoff. The Democratic state senator had raised an impressive $472,000 through the end of March, compared with just $166,000 through December for Madia, but conventions take wooing a committed group of supporters, and Madia was able to out-organize the veteran.

Many saw parallels in the race to that between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, with an older, experienced woman losing to the impressive rhetorical skills of a younger man. Party convention delegates were selected at precinct caucuses on Super Tuesday, in February, and Obama won the state overwhelmingly, likely giving a boost to more liberal precinct delegates who backed Madia.

Though national Democrats had recruited Bonoff for the race, their hopes are not completely dashed at her loss. In 2006, liberal anti-war activist Carol Shea Porter bested then-State House Democratic Leader Jim Craig in the Democratic primary to challenge Republican Rep. Jeb Bradley, in New Hampshire. Though the DCCC pulled out of the district, Shea Porter won in November anyway. Wisconsin Rep. Steve Kagen was not his party's number one choice to attack an open seat held by Republicans, but he, too, won a seat in Congress.

Madia will face a tough race against Paulsen, who ended 2007 having raised $389,000 and spending an incredibly frugal $25,000, to keep $363,000 in the bank. Madia told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune that he expects the race to cost about $3 million per candidate. No Democrat has represented the seat in more than two generations, but like many suburbs, voters there are getting more used to casting ballots for Democratic candidates. President Bush won by just three points in 2004, down from a four-point margin in 2000.

Byrd Fights For Seat

The longest-serving United States Senator in history won re-election in 2006, at the age of 89, by carrying 54 of his state's 55 counties. Now 90 years old, Robert Byrd is a living legend on the Senate floor, though recent health troubles have led some of his colleagues to question whether he is up to the grueling task of managing another season as chair of one of the most powerful committees in Congress.

Several Senate Democrats, Roll Call reported, spent the week trying to gently nudge Byrd aside as chairman of the Appropriations Committee, concerned about his health and ability to guide complex spending bills through the Senate. Byrd, who returned to the Senate after a recent hospital stay to be greeted warmly by colleagues from both sides of the aisle, spent part of last week making phone calls to fellow Democratic senators hoping to shore up his position as chairman.

Byrd has not managed a bill on the Senate floor in a year, and he hasn't even chaired an Appropriations Committee hearing since September. Last week, Roll Call reported, he canceled a subcommittee hearing on mine safety, an important issue to his home state of West Virginia, a move that caused concern among Democrats.

Over the last week, at least three Senators have been mentioned as potential replacements: Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy privately expressed interest in the position, trying to meet with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid a few times last week, sources told The Hill. Washington Senator Patty Murray, who has taken to managing more appropriations bills for Byrd in recent years, has been mentioned as a possible successor, as well, as has ranking committee member Daniel Inouye, of Hawaii. Each has vehemently denied the notion that they are interested in the spot as long as Byrd is in Congress.

Some senators have already expressed their public support for Byrd remaining on the high-profile panel. Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu and Nebraska Senator Ben Nelson, both panel members, have told the press that they support staying on. And while no member will come out and say publicly that they think Byrd should step down, a meeting of Senate Democratic leaders last week did bring up whether he can continue, multiple press outlets reported.

Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin and Senator Byron Dorgan, said to have brought up the issue at the leadership meeting, both strongly denied involvement to The Politico last week.

Should Byrd leave, even temporarily, tradition would dictate that Inouye would take over the top slot as the second-ranking Democrat on the panel (Inouye told The Post's Paul Kane that he did not expect opposition if Byrd stepped down on his own). Leahy is third in line, and he would have to give up his seat on the Judiciary Committee in order to take over Appropriations. Murray is seventh in seniority on the committee, but her increasing work moving bills through the chamber and her position as the fourth-ranking Democrat in Senate leadership could give her an argument for taking over.

But in the Senate, tradition is a compelling argument, and no one can argue that Byrd is less a part of the institution than any other member. Byrd keeps a copy of the Constitution in his breast pocket, and, when facing a crowded hallway on a recent trip to the Senate floor, told aides, press and fellow senators to "make way for liberty." He has written more extensively on the chamber's history than virtually anyone else, be they senators, academics or historians.

To dislodge such a figure will be difficult for Democrats, and those behind any move will have to tread lightly to achieve success. For his part, Byrd, who knows Senate rules and procedure better than most parliamentarians the body hires, has made it known that he intends to stay, and that, in the world of the Senate, could be the final word.

Morning Thoughts: "Bitter," Sweet And Sour

Good Monday morning. It's always nice to give away a new green jacket. Here's what jacket-less Washington is watching this morning:

-- The House meets this afternoon to consider several bills under suspension, while the Senate takes up corrections to a bill that funded highway construction and other transportation projects. Senators and members of the House begin conference committee meetings on the farm bill. President Bush is back in Washington, where he will meet with the Cabinet before handing out the Commander in Chief's trophy, given annually to one of two service academies who win a late-season football classic. This year, the Naval Academy's Midshipmen got the better of Army's Cadets.

-- A week from tomorrow, Pennsylvania voters head to the polls (remember when the contest was seven weeks out?) and, despite some stops and starts, it looks like the state is once again front and center in everyone's minds. On Friday, Barack Obama made sure Pennsylvanians knew his name, when comments he made at a San Francisco fundraiser came to light, igniting a firestorm that ensured no campaign staffers got any sleep Saturday or Sunday.

-- In response to the remarks, Hillary Clinton has become the candidate of hope and optimism, apparently. Clinton hit Obama for his comments at stops throughout Indiana yesterday, and somehow even managed to characterize herself as a gun-loving church-goer, the New York Times writes. That got an angry response from Obama, at a town hall meeting in small-town Steelton, Pennsylvania: "She's talking like she's Annie Oakley! Hillary Clinton's out there like she's on the duck blind every Sunday. She's packing a six shooter!" (CNN's video here)

-- In the course of their back-and-forths, it's very likely that both candidates went too far. Clinton, at a forum on faith in Grantham, Pennsylvania, said her concern was with Obama following previous Democratic playbooks by appearing out of touch. "We had two very good men, and men of faith, run for president in 2000 and 2004. But large segments of the electorate concluded that they did not really understand, or relate to, or frankly respect their ways of life," she said at the forum, per CNN and Ben Smith. That's not the best way to woo the most crucial super delegate who remains uncommitted, and later Obama took his own shot, saying he believes Al Gore won the 2000 election, as Bloomberg notes.

-- Obama's faux pas could come down to referring to Clinton as Annie Oakley. As was evident most notably in New Hampshire, women voters can come home to a female candidate very quickly if they feel their gender is somehow under attack. Obama's biggest problems now are among white, working-class males. He doesn't need a bigger problem among white women as well.

-- The big positive for Obama's campaign: A scandal erupted on a Friday, and by Saturday, the campaign was fighting back hard, with an almost full-court press -- "almost" because it took until Sunday to hear from Pennsylvania Senator Bob Casey, who defended his candidate on CNN's Late Edition. That's a big improvement over flaps surrounding the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, or underground false gossip about Obama's past, or even his adviser's comments about NAFTA to a Canadian government official. In all three cases, the campaign has been woefully, painfully slow in recognizing the crisis and responding quickly enough. This time, it took the campaign less than a day to respond. Slower than, say, James Carville would like, but still an improvement. Oh, and he won endorsements from two smaller-town newspapers this weekend, the Allentown Morning Call and the Scranton Times-Tribune.

-- Whether or not Pennsylvania voters are indeed "bitter," pundits are now guaranteed to read more into the Keystone State's results than they actually indicate: If Obama can win white voters, if Obama Republicans can be akin to Reagan Democrats, and other lessons one Democratic primary electorate can't accurately teach. But perception is reality in politics. And Obama, though he's won a number of white-dominated states, including everywhere from Maine (the whitest state) to Minnesota to Idaho and Washington, has yet to crack the true rural Democratic code. Take a look at white voters along the Appalachian corridor (Patrick Ottenhoff had a good look right after Ohio and Texas voted) and that's where Hillary Clinton has had some of her biggest margins. Those are also the people Obama said were the bitter ones. Those are also the people he's been aiming millions of dollars in television advertisements. The comments sure don't help his cause, but are they enough to derail Obama's chances in rural America completely?

-- Think about Appalachian voters, where Clinton has won (even in states like Georgia and Virginia, where she got blown out, she won big in eastern Appalachian counties) and compare that with the states left to cast ballots this Spring: Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Kentucky and West Virginia all have yet to vote. Even if Obama wins North Carolina, which he's plenty likely to do given his more than 15-point lead in the latest RCP North Carolina Average, all four states will likely provide plenty of fodder for the notion that Obama is going to have trouble with white rural voters come November. That's an argument that won't win Clinton many pledged delegates, but it's certainly language super delegates can understand.

-- Friend In Need Of The Week: John McCain, buffeted by a rough period with no money and sinking support about a year ago, knows what it's like to be in need of a little help from his friends. Now, with the nomination secured, McCain is helping pal Rudy Giuliani retire $3.1 million in campaign debt. Through March 1, Giuliani raised $63.5 million and retained $4 million in the bank, but McCain campaign chief Rick Davis is still helping the erstwhile opponent raise some money by sending out a fundraising email, Jonathan Martin reports, on Hizzoner's behalf. Most of the debt is owed to consultants and staff, as well as a whopping $65,000 to Giuliani's firm for back rent.

-- Today On The Trail: Obama is in Pittsburgh for a presidential forum sponsored by the Alliance for American Manufacturing before heading back to Washington for the annual meeting of the Associated Press, at whose luncheon he will deliver remarks. This evening, Obama attends the Philadelphia County Democratic Dinner in the state's largest city. Clinton will attend the same presidential forum and address the same Democratic dinner, holding a rally in Bristol, Pennsylvania in the meantime. McCain's only public event is addressing the AP's lunchtime gathering.

Obama Camp Clarifies Comments

In a hastily organized conference call with reporters, supporters of Barack Obama today defended the senator's controversial remarks in which he characterized residents of small towns as "bitter" at economic hardships they faced by shifting focus to the underlying principle they say Obama was addressing. "I don't think I would agree, or I would use the same words," said Lancaster Mayor Rick Gray. "I would use the word that people are angry. ... It's a very thin surface that you have to scratch beneath to find this anger."

"It's not surprising [that people] get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations," Obama said at the fundraiser. "So people end up, you know, voting on issues like guns, and are they going to have the right to bear arms. They vote on issues like gay marriage. And they take refuge in their faith and their community and their families and things they can count on. But they don't believe they can count on Washington." On Saturday, Axelrod attempted a clarification. "When things are going badly, people hold to the things that are important to them, and sustain them, and certainly faith is one -- he's a person of deep faith. Traditions are another," Axelrod said.

Top strategist David Axelrod said Obama had chosen his words poorly, but the sentiment was important to understand. "He made it very clear that he regrets the remarks," Axelrod said. "He was sorry for the offense that anybody took from them, and I think he understands why they might." But several small-town mayors said no apology was necessary. "It's not patronizing. It's not condescending. It's not elitism," said Braddock Mayor John Fetterman.

Since the comments, made at a San Francisco fundraiser last weekend, Obama has been hit hard by both his remaining rivals. "Senator Obama's remarks are elitist and out of touch," Clinton said at a rally in Indiana, while her new top strategists, pollster Geoff Garin, told TPM's Greg Sargent the comments "will be damaging." Indiana Senator Evan Bayh told reporters that the comments should be taken into account by super delegates who have yet to make up their mind about whom to support, while former Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack, a former small-town mayor himself, called the comments "condescending and disappointing."

In his own statement, McCain spokesman Tucker Bounds characterized Obama's reaction to the firestorm as arrogant. "Only an elitist who attributes religious faith and gun ownership to bitterness would think that tax cuts for the rich include families who make $75,000 per year. Only an elitist would say that people vote their values only out of frustration," Bounds said. "Barack Obama thinks he knows your hopes and fears better than you do. You can't be more out of touch than that."

Staffers at the Republican National Committee pushed the remarks around to reporters and bloggers, while the National Republican Congressional Committee issued press releases calling on twenty-five targeted Democratic members of Congress to repudiate Obama's remarks. "Americans don't want liberal politicians like Barack Obama who believe Washington is a substitute for faith, personal responsibility and belief that the Constitution guarantees our freedoms," NRCC communications director Karen Hanretty said in the statements.

Axelrod and others on the campaign's afternoon conference call lashed out at rivals' attacks, saying that Clinton's especially strain credibility. On the economy, trade and other issues of import to rural voters, Obama's "position has been wholly consistent over the years and that's not something Senator Clinton can claim." While Obama spoke of some rural voters' anger, Axelrod said, "Both Senator McCain and Senator Clinton seem to deny that, and it makes you wonder whether they're reading from the Washington playbook," he said.

"There is a real anger in many of our communities in this country." "We need hope," Fetterman said, not someone who is "fabricating sniper stories." Clinton's and McCain's reaction "showed someone out of touch with what's going on in our communities," Gray said. "That was more patronizing than the statements by Senator Obama."

SKYY Vs. Absolut

Hundreds of angry Americans took to pouring their Absolut vodka down the drain after the company published an advertisement showing several Southwestern states as part of Mexico. Sensing an opening akin to a major gaffe on the campaign trail, SKYY Vodka has issued a press release slamming their Swedish rivals. As it turns our, SKYY supports the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo.

We generally don't run press releases as a whole, but this is just too funny:

SAN FRANCISCO--(BUSINESS WIRE)--In 1848, the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo officially ended the Mexican-America War (1846-1848). With the signing of this treaty, the United States gained control of what was to become the Golden West, including California, Arizona, Utah, Nevada and parts of Colorado and New Mexico. Today, SKYY® Vodka, the number-one vodka produced in the United States, spoke out against suggestions by Absolut® Vodka to disregard that treaty, as well as the joining of Texas to the Union in 1845, as depicted in Absolut's recent advertising.

"Like SKYY Vodka, the residents of states like California, Texas and Arizona are exceptionally proud of the fact that they are from the United States of America," said Dave Karraker, SKYY Vodka. "To imply that they might be interested in changing their mailing addresses, as our competitor seems to be suggesting in their advertising, is a bit presumptuous."

In the ad, an "Absolut World" is depicted where the map of North America is re-drawn with Mexico claiming much of the Western United States, negating the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, as well as the Gadsden Purchase (1853), and the independence of Texas (1836).

"Don't get me started on the Gadsden Purchase," continues Karraker. "I think the folks in Tucson and Yuma would be rubbed the wrong way if they hear this landmark deal was somehow nullified as suggested by Absolut, a Swedish-owned brand."

SKYY Vodka was founded in San Francisco in 1992 and continues to be produced in the United States. Premium SKYY Vodka is made from American grain carefully selected from the Midwest and 100% pure filtered water. SKYY's proprietary four-column distillation and three-step filtration process consistently ensures exceptional quality. SKYY Vodka products include luxury SKYY90 and new SKYY Infusions, a unique, all-natural infused experience made with premium SKYY Vodka and succulent real fruit.

"Don't get me started on the Gadsden Purchase"? It's an attack line to make the Obama and Clinton press offices jealous.

This Week On PN Radio

Saturday morning, from 10 a.m. to 12 noon Eastern, join Politics Nation on XM Radio's POTUS '08, when we'll tackle the week in politics. Listen free here (link about half-way down the page):

-- Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, the city executive in most demand this week, joins Politics Nation before he heads off to the Colbert Report on Monday. Nutter, who is backing Hillary Clinton, lays out the Pennsylvania landscape and talks about what he's hearing on the trail.

-- Former DNC chairman David Wilhelm, a super delegate backing Barack Obama, hits the airwaves to talk about his candidate's chances in the Keystone State, as well as Obama's thoughts on public financing and a potential delegate compromise in Michigan and Florida.

-- DCCC spokeswoman Jennifer Crider and NRCC spokesman Ken Spain head into Politics Nation Plaza to assess their respective party's chances in November. We promise we'll get beyond the spin and the canned quotes and get to the bottom of both parties' strengths and weaknesses.

All that plus Hotline Editor in Chief Amy Walter and South Carolina Republican Party executive director Jay W. Ragley, Saturday morning on Politics Nation, only on XM Radio's POTUS '08. Listen live, Saturday from 10 a.m. to noon Eastern and again at 7:00 p.m. Eastern.

Parties Spending In Specials

Meeting with reporters earlier this week, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chairman Chris Van Hollen reemphasized how important a special election win can be to a party committee, a little more than a month after Democrat Bill Foster beat Republican Jim Oberweis in an exurban Chicago district previously held by former Speaker Dennis Hastert. "Illinois 14 did send a political shockwave across the country," Van Hollen said.

Now, Democrats are hoping they can repeat the performance. Sensing another opportunity to steal a seat from Republicans, the DCCC has started spending money in a Louisiana district once held by Republican Richard Baker, buying more than $92,000 in television time for an ad opposing Republican nominee Woody Jenkins. In addition, the party is spending more than $10,000 on literature on behalf of their candidate, State Rep. Don Cazayoux, and for field organizing.

The National Republican Congressional Committee, which had initially suggested that they would not spend significant resources should Jenkins have won the primary, is firing back with a new ad of their own, hitting Cazayoux for what they characterize as a career spend raising taxes. The NRCC bought just over $100,000 for the ad, which slams Cazayoux without mentioning Jenkins.

The district should not be a problem for Republicans, under normal circumstances. President Bush won easily there, twice, and Baker never had a difficult time beating out his Democratic opponents. But an influx of new voters, many refugees from Hurricane Katrina, may have tilted the district enough to the left to be winnable for Democrats. Jenkins makes Cazayoux's job easier, as he's widely considered to be too conservative for an already conservative district.

Republicans may be in for more bad news in the neighboring state, where Mississippi Senator Roger Wicker's former House seat is also up for grabs in a special election later this month. A poll commissioned by Democrat Travis Childers shows him in a statistical dead heat with Republican Greg Davis in a seat that is even more conservative than Baker's Louisiana district.

The poll, Republicans will point out, was conducted by a Democratic firm and for a Democratic candidate. But it's close enough and worrying enough to make Republicans begin to panic. While no party committees have spent money on advertising in the district, new FEC reports show the NRCC paid Republican firm Ayres, McHenry & Associates $12,000 for their own survey of district voters.

If Republicans, already in a financial hole, have to play defense in seats like Baker's and Wicker's, the party is in for a seriously painful year. On the other hand, Democrats will face more challenges this fall when they have to run with a presidential nominee heading the ticket. Southern voters may be willing to vote for a Democrat in a special election, but the job gets a lot harder when a Republican candidate can associate themselves with John McCain, who is likely to carry most southern states by large margins.

A Tale Of Two Veeps

After folding their campaigns, Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee promised to do everything they could to get John McCain elected this Fall. But both former contenders are also busy plotting their own comebacks, positioning themselves either as good vice presidential selections for McCain or as strong candidates themselves for 2012, should McCain's bid fall short.

Romney has been the most active, appearing for McCain this week at a Lancaster, Pennsylvania Republican dinner, shepherding McCain around Utah for a major fundraiser and promising to hit the stump in the future. Romney has also said he will raise $15 million for McCain, as the Associated Press' Glen Johnson reports.

The issues McCain is going to face in November could auger well for Romney, something of an economic whiz whose background as a businessman included helping Staples, Domino's and the Olympics turn themselves around. As more voters pay attention to the economy, McCain may decide he needs a running mate with serious economic credentials, and though animosity is still said to exist between the two, Romney would fit that bill.

Huckabee, too, is staying active. He signed a contract with a Hollywood talent agency this week, and next week he will launch a new venture with a major speech, to which his website is counting down (four days, five hours, forty-one minutes and twenty five seconds from the time this post was written). Huckabee brings executive experience, and though the Club for Growth dislikes him, his "Fair Tax" plan could be a compelling addition to a McCain-led ticket.

Then again, McCain can't choose both former rivals for the number two slot, and if McCain loses this year, the two will likely fight it out for the GOP nomination down the road. Fortunately for both, Iowa and New Hampshire are swing states, which voted differently in 2000 and 2004 (Iowa flipped from Gore to Bush, while New Hampshire flipped from Bush to Kerry). Which surrogate is going to park themselves in Des Moines to ensure the state's seven electoral votes go to their guy? Not a bad way to build the brand for 2012.

Morning Thoughts: Does Age Matter?

Good Friday morning. With a massive 8,000-word opus on the life and times of Chris Matthews to devour and contemplate, we have our plans set for the weekend. The question is, has Tim Russert read it yet? Aside from the inner workings of NBC News, here's what else Washington is watching this morning:

-- What, is this August? The House and Senate are not in session today after a week of testifying and debate over the housing bill. President Bush is in Crawford, Texas before heading to a fundraiser for the Republican National Committee, just down the road at the Broken Spoke Ranch (Where do attendees stay when they travel to Crawford for a fundraiser? There can't be many hotels). Vice President Cheney will also spend his day raking in cash, first for Colorado Senate candidate and former Rep. Bob Schaffer, in Grand Junction, then for California Rep. Dan Lungren at a private residence in Wilton.

-- As nervous Democrats watch Hillary Clinton extend the Democratic primary, a few are focusing on McCain's weaknesses to soften him up before the Fall. Howard Dean, the DNC chairman, told reporters yesterday that it is McCain's age -- at 72, he would be the oldest president in history -- that is concerning voters, and that those voters bring it up independently at DNC-held focus groups. Dean said the DNC itself would not focus on McCain's age, but he did call McCain's ideas "old fashioned," The Fix notes, which could become a code word by November.

-- But with three different generations represented, as much as Dean and other Democrats might say age won't be an issue, how can it not be? McCain was born before World War II, while Clinton is a classic baby boomer and Obama is almost a Gen-Xer. Those differences create a very different outlook on the world, and it's something voters will consider. A septuagenarian will ask him or herself whether someone of the same age still possesses the ability and stamina to be president, while a forty-something may wonder whether someone his or her own age is ready to be president.

-- Education will also play a key role in determining for whom people will vote. Throughout the primaries, better educated voters have tended to favor Obama over Clinton. That's likely to stay the same in the general election, according to the last week or so of combined Gallup tracking polls. Obama leads McCain by a ten-point margin among those with postgraduate degrees, while McCain has a six-point head start among those who didn't go to college. People with experience in college or even with a college degree are split right down the middle between the two candidates.

-- Clinton has a ceiling, as many have suspected, and it's not too much over 50%. That doesn't mean she can't win a general election, but it does mean that some attitudes are set permanently against her. In recent months, though, the candidate has managed to swing new attitudes against her, many of those among women she once counted on to deliver the election her way, as the LA Times' Don Frederick writes. A new survey conducted of women only shows Clinton's approval rating dropping among female voters, with 26% saying they have a more negative opinion of Clinton since January and just 15% saying their views of her improved.

-- Beyond that long-term problem for Clinton, today could have the markings of a very bad day. Bill Clinton headed back out on the trail yesterday, with stops along the western border of Indiana, and chose a few audiences there on whom to unload his interpretation of his wife's misadventures in Bosnia. "Hillary, one time late at night when she was exhausted, misstated and immediately apologized for it, what happened to her in Bosnia in 1995. Did y'all see all that? Oh, they blew it up. Let me just tell you," the former president said in Boonville, Indiana, per ABC and NBC embeds. Never mind that the situation blew up in the first place, bringing it up again just doesn't help.

-- But Bill Clinton has a point: Hillary Clinton, rightly or wrongly, never gets the benefit of the doubt, thanks to both years of Republican-driven attacks and her own foot-in-mouth syndrome. Some people are looking for a reason to vote against John McCain or Barack Obama, but no one needs an excuse to vote against Clinton. Despite the distance by which she trails Obama, in pledged delegates and the popular vote, Clinton is seen as still in this contest. Every gaffe, though, puts another nail in the coffin.

-- Foreshadowing Of The Day: Speaking of a bad day, Clinton had one a few months back when a man held hostages in one of her New Hampshire satellite offices. Last night, though, Clinton's office in Terre Haute, Indiana, caught fire and was destroyed. No injuries or deaths were reported, and an investigation is underway, so we can safely make fun of the incident: Is it an example of a hot race for the Democratic nomination? Or simply an example of what opponents will call Clinton's willingness to do anything, even burn down a building, to win? We're sure the vast right-wing conspiracy is somehow involved.

-- Today On The Trail: Clinton herself can't be to blame for the fire, though. She was a few states away, preparing for a big day in eastern Pennsylvania today. Clinton will visit a YMCA and stop by Drexel University for a town hall meeting, both in Philadelphia today. McCain is actually in the same state as the president, holding fundraisers in Dallas and Lubbock, Texas, before holding a rally later tonight in Lubbock. And Obama has town hall meetings scheduled for Columbus and Terre Haute, Indiana.

Obama's WI Numbers Look Good

Hillary Clinton's last shot to convince super delegates that she is the right candidate to take on John McCain in November hinges on her argument that she is more electable than rival Barack Obama. And Clinton polls better against McCain in the latest RCP Averages in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Florida. But a new survey from Wisconsin Public Radio and St. Norbert College suggests that in at least one battleground state key to any Democrat's victory, Obama has the electoral advantage.

The poll, conducted 3/25-4/5, surveyed 400 Wisconsin adults for a margin of error of about +/- 4.9%. Clinton, Obama and McCain were all tested.

General Election Matchups
Obama 46
McCain 42

McCain 46
Clinton 42

Any poll showing Clinton performing more poorly against McCain than Obama could seriously undermine Clinton's electability argument. It is no wonder, then, that the Obama campaign blasted the poll out to reporters as quickly as they could. If Clinton underperforms in Pennsylvania, super delegates not convinced that she's the most electable candidate could begin flocking to Obama in droves.

Poll Shows Close MS Race

While national Republicans fret about their chances of retaining ex-Rep. Richard Baker's seat in an upcoming Louisiana special election, the party could also have trouble in northwest Mississippi, where a special election will be held soon to replace Republican Roger Wicker. Wicker was elevated to the Senate in December after incumbent Trent Lott decided to resign early.

A new poll, conducted for Prentiss County Chancery Clerk Travis Childers, a Democrat, shows the race between him and Southaven Mayor Greg Davis neck and neck. The survey, conducted 4/3-7 among 500 likely voters for a margin of error of about +/- 4.5%, was conducted by Anzalone Liszt Research, a Democratic firm based in Alabama. Childers and Davis were tested.

Special Election Matchup
Childers 41
Davis 40

The seat, situated along the state's northern border, is not unaccustomed to electing a Democratic member of Congress. Former Rep. Jamie Whitten, a Democrat, still holds the record for longest continuous service in the House, as he represented the district from 1941 until his retirement in 1995. After Whitten's exit, Wicker won the district and has held it easily, and President Bush carried the seat by 25 points in 2004, higher than his 19-point margin in 2000.

Childers and Davis will each have a tough time avoiding a runoff in the April 22 special election. That's because candidates who lost a runoff for a full term last week, will still appear on the special election ballot. Republican Glenn McCullough, the former mayor of Tupelo, and Democrat Steve Holland, a state representative, are each trying to get their own names off ballot after finishing second in last week's runoff, though that appears unlikely to happen.

The poll has to be taken with a grain of salt, given that it was conducted for the Democratic candidate, but it's another indication that few areas in the country are truly safe for Republicans this year. If the party has to defend what should be solidly red Mississippi, there are few places they will not have to take seriously.

Unanue Subbing In NJ

After a disastrous beginning, former Goya Foods executive and businessman Andrew Unanue is considering ending his bid against New Jersey Democratic Senator Frank Lautenberg. Multiple Republican sources tell multiple news outlets that Unanue will leave the race, after allegations that he showed up to work intoxicated and that he actually lived across the water in Manhattan.

Should he make his exit official, Unanue would likely set up a "committee on vacancies," given that the filing deadline has passed. That committee could then select a replacement candidate, and former Rep. Dick Zimmer told Gannett he's fielded calls and is ready to step in. The decision to choose Zimmer would have to be made before April 16 in advance of the June 3 primary.

Zimmer, who lost a previous bid for Senate in 1996, serves as a lawyer at the prominent Washington shop Gibson Dunn, though he maintains his residence in Delaware Township, New Jersey. After losing to Democrat Robert Torricelli twelve years ago, Zimmer tried to run for his old House seat, in 2000, losing to incumbent Democrat Rush Holt. At 63 years old, Zimmer told the news service that he looks forward to stacking his record against either incumbent Lautenberg or Rep. Rob Andrews, who is challenging Lautenberg in the primary.

That Zimmer is considering accepting a nomination as a replacement candidate is somewhat ironic. Six years after beating Zimmer, Torricelli stepped down amid serious ethics problems in the middle of an election campaign, to be replaced by Lautenberg. Republicans cried bloody murder, convinced that their candidate would have beaten the badly damaged Torricelli easily.

Now, after a series of failed efforts to recruit a top candidate to take on the 84-year-old Lautenberg, Republicans are pulling the same trick and bringing Zimmer off the bench. He will face State Senator Joe Pennacchio and college professor Murray Sabrin in the primary, both of whom national and state Republicans feel would make subpar candidates.

Morning Thoughts: Obama, Out!

Good Thursday morning. American Airlines has canceled another 900 or so flights, and the Plains states are about to get whacked with a few inches of snow. So, if you're traveling to, say, Fargo today, we feel bad for you. Ensconced in a foggy but warming Washington, here's what folks are paying attention to today:

-- The Senate will dispense with energy legislation by voting on final passage today, and will take up a bill on natural resources later this afternoon. The House, meanwhile, will take up a measure that would roll back a requirement that the lower chamber act on trade deals within 90 days of the president sending them over, allowing the body to avoid acting on the Colombian trade deal the White House sent over earlier this week. President Bush will have breakfast with General David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker before addressing the nation on Iraq, after which he will head back to the ranch in Crawford, Texas.

-- Barack Obama has laid out what is likely to be his answer on accepting public financing for the general election, and something so arcane could actually become an issue. At a fundraiser yesterday, Obama said small, internet-based contributors have set up a parallel to the public financing system currently in place, adding what he considers new democracy to the fundraising process, the New York Times reports. That answer comes a year after Obama said he would accept public financing for a general election, and after a year of stellar financial returns, including more than $40 million raised in the last month alone. Obama's campaign says no decision on money matters will be made until the primary is over, but the comments strongly suggest that he's looking for a way to back out.

-- Take a look at the issue from all three candidates' perspectives, beginning with Obama's: Few thought Obama could win a year ago, when he and John Edwards were trying to be the cleanest candidate to contrast with the Hillary Clinton juggernaut. Yet once he took the lead in pledged delegates, Obama had to look ahead to a potential general election matchup with John McCain. In an era when national Democrats are virtually always outspent by Republicans, why would Obama give up the one time when his party has a huge advantage? Yes, $84.1 million, which is what candidates would get to spend from their conventions through the November election, is a lot of money. But it's not much compared with $150 million or more that Obama might be able to raise.

-- From Clinton's and McCain's perspective, anything Obama does is wrong: If he opts for public financing, he's throwing away the biggest advantage the party will have, and, if Obama loses, the "I told you so" from the Clinton family is going to be difficult to ignore in a 2012 primary. If he opts out of the system, McCain suddenly becomes the clean candidate, and while it may be an inside baseball argument, McCain gets to say that he's the one playing by the rules while Obama flaunts them. It's not an argument that will move a quarter of the vote, but it is one more in the slippery slope of labeling Obama as a practitioner of politics as usual, something the McCain team will try hard to do.

-- Why is McCain taking the money? For two reasons, one called necessity and one called Carly. McCain has never been a prodigious fundraiser -- even though he didn't have competitive races, he spent just $2.1 million and $2.4 million in his 2004 and 1998 re-election bids -- and $84 million is a lot of money, especially for two months. The second reason is Carly Fiorina, head of the RNC's Victory Committee, the wing of the party that will focus on electing McCain by building the infrastructure he needs to compete (look for a forthcoming interview with Fiorina on the RCP Blog). The RNC is planning to raise about $150 million, Marc Ambinder reports, making Obama's decision to skip out on his own public financing all the easier. The party already has $25 million in its coffers, while the Democratic National Committee has just $5 million or so on hand, and Howard Dean's DNC doesn't look like it will be able to catch up.

-- So what's Obama to do? Hand off the millions he raises to the DNC to keep him financially competitive? Not likely, as that seems a sure way to put one's fate in another's control, something it's never good to do. Instead, he seems headed toward giving up public financing and instead taking some lumps from McCain in the general. But keep an eye on the financing question; Obama's worked hard on his squeaky-clean image, and the guy who looks cleanest is frequently the guy who falls hardest. Too, his is the veneer easiest to strip off, given the high expectations he's set. Part of McCain's charm is that he's not perfect and he flaunts it. Not so with Obama. Whether or not he takes public financing may end up as more of an issue than we think.

-- Meanwhile, in Pennsylvania, a day after they heard testimony from Petraeus and Crocker, Clinton and Obama kept the focus on Iraq, as the Boston Globe writes. The same argument that's been happening for a year continues, with Clinton calling Obama's promise to get out of Iraq "just words" and Obama questioning Clinton's initial vote to authorize the conflict in the first place. Sure, it's the same week the two top officials in Iraq just testified on the Hill, but if Democrats don't change the subject, John McCain -- who is more trusted on the question than both Clinton and Obama -- is going to be a happy man.

-- Missed Opportunity Of The Day: When Iraq veteran David Bellavia introduced McCain at a rally in a park near the Senate on Tuesday, he appeared to insult Obama in what might have been an over-the-line fashion: "You can have your Tiger Woods, we've got Senator McCain," Bellavia said to applause. Seems like something to get upset about, right? Not when Obama backer and Teamsters President James Hoffa makes the same comparison: "With regard to his race, he's African American. I know he's of mixed race, but, you know, he's like a Tiger Woods. He's just a great person that's really excited a lot of people," Hoffa said on a campaign conference call, per Hotline OnCall. Maybe everyone just has the Masters' on the brain.

-- Today On The Trail: In must-watch television, McCain stops by "The View" to give Elisabeth Hasselbeck a little Republican back-up. Later, he attends a small business roundtable in Brooklyn. Obama has a town hall set for Gary and Lafayette, Indiana, and Clinton will make stops at Democratic Party dinners in Hopewell Township and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Bill Clinton is stumping in Indiana today. Finally, this evening, all three candidates will appear on 'American Idol' in taped interviews.

Gov Assocs Report Big Bucks

Despite just eleven governor's mansions being on the ballot this year, Washington-based committees that will help their parties defend and contest those seats are raising record amounts of money. Beyond this year, when just four contests are expected to be competitive, both parties are already looking ahead to 2010 when three dozen seats will be up for election.

The Democratic Governors' Association will report raising $5.7 million when they file first quarter reports next week. That leaves the committee with $10.5 million in the bank, more than they have ever held after the initial three months of the year. In a statement, DGA finance chairman Martin O'Malley, governor of Maryland, predicted the committee would raise more this year than it ever has. "We are off to a great start, and we're not slowing down," O'Malley said.

But officials at the Republican Governors' Association are also confident in their fundraising abilities, and the committee will report receipts of about $1.3 million more than their Democratic rivals. The RGA raised just over $7 million in the first quarter, and will show $14.6 million in the bank when they file their reports with the FEC. "It says a lot about the RGA that we're outraising the Democrats when they have the strong upper hand," Mississippi Governor and RGA finance chair Haley Barbour said in a statement.

The two committees will likely spend their money battling over open seats in North Carolina, where Democrat Mike Easley is term-limited, and Missouri, where Republican Matt Blunt surprised observers by dropping his bid for re-election earlier this year. Two incumbents -- Washington State Democrat Christine Gregoire and Indiana Republican Mitch Daniels -- will also face tough fights to keep their jobs.

Still Running Against DC

Two Democrats, up with their first advertisements of the year, are showing that challengers can still run against Washington, D.C., even when their party controls Congress. The candidates, Oregon House Speaker Jeff Merkley and North Carolina State Senator Kay Hagan, launched both ads this week in advance of their respective primaries on May 20 and May 6.

"Tired of his party's inaction, Jeff Merkley led Democrats back to power," Merkley's 30-second ad begins. In the state Senate, Hagan's ad claims, she "brought change," "but now, Washington is broken and needs the kind of change Kay represents." The lines in each ad show what comes of a Congressional approval rating in the low twenties, according to the latest RCP Congressional Average.

Both Democrats are the national party's favored choice to take on Republican incumbents Gordon Smith, in Oregon, and Elizabeth Dole, in North Carolina. And while some Republicans suggest Congress' poor approval rating could hurt Democrats in November, the new congressional majority still enjoys a big generic ballot lead in recent polls. An NBC/Wall Street Journal poll out earlier this month shows voters prefer a Democratic-led Congress by a 49% to 35% margin over a GOP-controlled legislature, and Democrats lead by 10.4% in the latest RCP Generic Ballot Average.

"The common refrain we hear from people all across the state is that they feel as though Washington has forgotten about them," Hagan communications director Colleen Flanagan told Politics Nation. "Kay has a proven record that shows she's been working for North Carolinians for years." Republicans in challenger races around the country have also made attacking Washington a priority, and it looks like neither party is going to give the nation's capitol a break.

Dem Leaders Optimistic

Meeting reporters at Democratic National Committee headquarters yesterday, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chairman Chris Van Hollen and Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee chair Chuck Schumer strove to tamp down expectations of optimism, casting their battle to extend their majorities as a battle against history.

Only once in recent memory has a party that benefited from a wave election gone on to win seats two years later, the two pointed out; after Democrats picked up 49 seats after Watergate, in 1974, the party netted an additional seat two years later. But after waves in pro-Democratic waves 1982 and 1992, Republicans took back a large number of seats the next time out.

This year, Van Hollen said, "We think that we are in a position to beat history." Democrats have already picked up a seat, after a special election victory in Illinois last month, but the party promises to stay on offense. "The big story we've seen in this cycle is, rather than just having to circle the wagons and play defense, we were able to put together a plan and stay very much on offense," he said.

House Democratic strategists contend they will target between 45 and 50 Republican-held seats, and combined with as many as 25 Democratic seats they will have to defend, as many as 75 seats could be seriously contested come November. That helps the party with the cash advantage, and Van Hollen, pointing to what is likely to be a four- or five-to-one cash on hand edge when reports come out later this month, said his party is "comfortably ahead" in that race.

Schumer characterized the 2008 contests as a potentially "tectonic" election, akin to the 1932 Democratic sweep and Republican gains in 1980. Those epic contests come when citizens' basic relationship to government changes, and Schumer said he believes the country is near that point.

But overconfidence is a concern, Schumer said, and Democrats can't risk getting ahead of themselves. "You don't want to get too enthusiastic at this time," he said, proceeding to rattle off states where he says his party will win big. Democratic candidates lead their Republican counterparts in five GOP-held states in DSCC polling, Schumer said, pointing to Virginia, New Hampshire, Colorado, New Mexico and Alaska. Three other Republican Senators, Maine's Susan Collins, Oregon's Gordon Smith and Norm Coleman of Minnesota, are "within reach."

Perhaps most importantly, only one Democratic incumbent is in real trouble, Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu. In five states President Bush carried in 2004 -- Iowa, South Dakota, West Virginia, Montana and Arkansas -- Democratic incumbents face only nominal opposition (Arkansas Democrat Mark Pryor will not even face a Republican opponent in the fall.).

Farther down the target list, Schumer characterized Republican incumbents in North Carolina, Mississippi and Kentucky as within "striking range," and he talked up candidates less likely to win in Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, Georgia, Idaho and Texas.

Van Hollen and Schumer rejected the notion that John McCain would play a positive role for Republican candidates, arguing that voters want fundamental change. "McCain is not going to be able to be a change candidate, given his record and his views," Schumer said. "The war in Iraq is an albatross around his neck." On their party's side, both said either Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama would help out their downballot candidates, "with the one caveat that we make sure that both candidates stay positive," Van Hollen warned.

And both chairmen warned of the possibility of involvement from independent organizations running issue ads on behalf of Republican candidates. Singling out one such group, Van Hollen said the assault had already begun. "Freedom's Watch, and others, have expressed now more than an interest in getting involved" in contests, he said, pointing to Ohio, where the 501(c)(4) organization ran ads slamming the Democratic candidate. Schumer pointed to ads running on behalf of Minnesota Senator Norm Coleman by a Colorado-based group, as well.

But perhaps the biggest concern the party should have is the possibility of getting ahead of itself. Democrats are being careful when playing the expectations game in the next contest, coming next month in Louisiana where State Rep. Don Cazayoux has a strong chance to defeat Republican former State Rep. Woody Jenkins in a special election. "We have a very good candidate," Van Hollen said, referring to Cazayoux. "We're clearly the underdogs in a district like that."

TX GOP Gets Their Guy

A chief complaint about the National Republican Congressional Committee has been its unwillingness to play in primaries in order to get their preferred candidate. But after virtually the entire Texas delegation and top GOP leaders in Washington weighed in, Republicans got their top choice in the Twenty Second District runoff last night, as former Congressional aide Pete Olson beat out ex-Rep. Shelley Sekula Gibbs by a wide margin, giving the party a good chance at beating Democratic Rep. Nick Lampson in November.

Olson, who served as chief of staff to Senator John Cornyn, won more than 68% of the vote against Sekula Gibbs, who won a special election to replace Republican Rep. Tom DeLay in 2006 on the same day her write-in campaign failed to beat Lampson for a full term in the 110th Congress. Sekula Gibbs' brief tenure in Congress began as Delay's leftover staff walked out on her first day, and she has grated on fellow Republicans in both Texas and Washington.

National Republicans dreaded another Sekula Gibbs campaign, and had virtually promised to pull out of the district if she were the nominee. But with Olson as the party's standard-bearer, the GOP feels more confident they can defeat Lampson, who beat Sekula Gibbs' write-in candidacy by just ten points in 2006.

The district, based south of Houston around the Harris County suburbs and into Pearland, the Johnson Space Center and DeLay's native Sugar Land, remains heavily Republican. After new district lines were drawn earlier this decade, President Bush won 64% of the district's vote. Lampson knows he faces a difficult race; he's a member of the DCCC's Frontline program for endangered incumbents, and through the middle of February he'd raised a respectable $1 million, keeping about $740,000 cash on hand.

He will start with a big cash advantage over Olson, who through the March 19 pre-runoff filing deadline held cash reserves of just $115,000. But Olson has already proven he can fundraise, pulling in more than $800,000 so far, a number that will only grow now that he's got the Republican nomination to himself. Lampson has faced difficult races before, but this year will be especially tough, and to Republicans the seat represents one of their best pickup opportunities of the cycle.

Morning Thoughts: Outrage, Apologize, Repeat

Good Wednesday morning. The Olympic torch makes its only stop in the U.S. today as it passes through San Francisco, where actor Richard Gere and hundreds of other pro-Tibet activists will protest the Olympic Games. Hillary Clinton has called for the President to boycott the opening ceremonies in Beijing, while Rep. Thaddeus McCotter, of Michigan, went a step farther and offered a bill that would have made any government official's attendance at the event illegal. Aside from Olympic headaches, here's what Washington is watching today:

-- The Senate meets this morning to continue roll call votes and discussion surrounding housing legislation, while the House will pass a series of resolutions renaming post offices, welcoming Pope Benedict XVI ahead of his inaugural visit to the U.S. next week and commending the Department of Homeland Security on its fifth anniversary. The House Administration Committee will take up the issue of presidential primaries and will hear from elections administrators from around the country as well as radio host Tom Joyner and NAACP National Voter Fund chief Greg Moore. President Bush plants a ceremonial tree on the White House lawn today, then meets with the Senior Minister of Sinapore this afternoon.

-- General David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker, the two top officials in Iraq, will give their thoughts to Congress' lower chamber today, meeting with the House Armed Services Committee at 9 a.m. and with the House Foreign Affairs Committee at 1:30 p.m. Yesterday's testimony to two Senate committees and three presidential candidates left some senators frustrated at what they saw as a lack of a clear set of goals. "I think people want a sense of what the end is going to look like," said Tennessee Senator Bob Corker, a Republican and no softy on Iraq, as the Washington Post writes. All three candidates asked harsh questions, though John McCain projected the most optimistic outlook, saying the country is "no longer staring into the abyss of defeat." Still, McCain was not the outright cheerleader that some expected, leaving that job to top supporters like South Carolina's Lindsey Graham.

-- Today's hearings will generate less coverage and fewer photographers, who swarmed McCain, Clinton and Barack Obama as they entered their respective hearing rooms yesterday, and the three senators are back out on the campaign trail. All three contenders had good days yesteryday -- despite worries, and thanks to a pass from Florida Senator Bill Nelson, Obama got to ask questions before the nightly newscasts, while McCain's position as ranking member on Armed Services gave him an opening statement. Clinton made little news and had to share her spotlight with McCain, but she asked serious questions that drove home points she wanted to make, and perhaps most importantly, she didn't lose anything.

-- As the three senators were doing their day jobs, their campaigns continued to battle behind the scenes, and John McCain's team has found a new way to counteract what might be one of Obama's biggest strength: The appropriations process. Any time a surrogate brings up some touchy issue in Obama's past, his campaign screams bloody murder and demands an apology. Now, when West Virginia Senator Jay Rockefeller suggested that McCain did not care about the lives of people he fought against in Vietnam and in current wars, a comment Rockefeller made to a Charleston newspaper, it's the McCain campaign's turn to fight back. Lately, they're doing so exactly as Obama has, by turning the surrogate's words (Rockefeller backs Obama) against the opponent.

-- The progression is a familiar formula: Rockefeller made his comments in Tuesday's Charleston Gazette. McCain's campaign hit back with a surrogate of their own, fellow former prisoner of war Orson Swindle, demanding an apology. Obama spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Obama "has a deep respect" for McCain's service and disagreed with Rockefeller's comments. Then, McCain campaign spokesman Tucker Bounds says that apology isn't enough, as CNN reports. Criticizing Obama's unwillingness to repudiate the comments himself, Bounds pointed to what he said is a pattern: "It's a trend that undermines Barack Obama's credibility when he makes calls for a 'new' more 'accountable' debate," he said.

-- That's what both candidates' "new politics" could look like: Second verse, same as the first. But for McCain, it could be effective. Obama has successfully avoided serious questions about his past be feigning outrage, and now both candidates are playing the victim. Earlier this primary season, in a debate at St. Anselm College in New Hampshire, Clinton, asked how she feels about constant criticism, jokingly said it hurt her feelings, a moment many though contributed to her Granite State comeback. Perhaps the winner in November will not be the candidate who can take the most offense to any off-hand remark by a rival's supporter, but the candidate who can laugh it off. After all, isn't everyone trying to project strength?

-- Clinton and Obama still have to figure out who's going to face McCain in November, though, and it is becoming increasingly clear that Obama wants to finish the race with a knockout punch. Pennsylvania, once ground zero for the presidential campaign, then ignored, is again the epicenter, no matter how hard Obama's team tries to spin the results. Obama is dropping $2.2 million a week on Pennsylvania television spots, which political experts in the Keystone State call unprecedented, according to the Boston Globe's Sasha Issenberg. "Nobody has ever spent 2.2 million in this state: not Rendell, not Specter, not Casey, not Santorum, not Bush, not Kerry," media consultant Neil Oxman, unaffiliated in the race, told Issenberg.

-- Make no mistake that Obama, down seven points in the latest RCP Pennsylvania Average, wants to win the state, a result that would all but force Clinton out of the race. But with actual effort comes a price: Clinton is still ahead, and still enjoys the institutional advantages that the state's governor and the mayors of the two largest cities -- both Clinton backers -- bring to her campaign. If she wins the state, it will be seen as a big win, a perception that will grow as Obama spends more time and money in the state. Still, the risk could be worth the reward: Win here, and Obama gets his clear shot at McCain.

-- Big Think Of The Day: The Wall Street Journal's Gerald Seib takes an in-depth look today at states all three candidates could put into play. McCain aides think he has a chance in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania and perhaps even New Jersey, all blue states. Obama can take back Colorado, New Mexico and Nevada, advisers say, and given a massive African American turnout could pick up Virginia and, dare they dream, even southern states that will not vote for another Democrat for a generation. Clinton's credentials with blue collar workers would help her in Missouri, New Hampshire and three key swing states, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida. The bottom line: The map of red and blue states this year will look so vastly different from any other contest that no political scientist is going to understand it in a generation, all because more states are in play than have been for a long time.

-- Today On The Trail: Clinton holds a town hall meeting in Aliquippa, Pennsylvania before heading to New York, where she will join Elton John for a fundraiser concert. Obama has town halls planned for Malvern and Levittown, then he will head to South Bend, Indiana, for a rally. McCain is in Westport, Connecticut, where he will have a town hall meeting.

WH Race Messes With Primaries

As Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton continue to battle over delegates, candidates running for down-ballot offices are facing the prospects of competing for voter attention with two mega-stars. In what are expected to be close primaries in Indiana and Oregon, candidates looking to advertise on television are going up against what could be million-dollar budgets for limited, and crucial, points.

In Indiana, former Rep. Jill Long Thompson and architect Jim Schellinger will share the ballot with Clinton and Obama in their race for the gubernatorial nomination on May 6. A recent poll have shown a close race between the two Democrats, but while both candidates are on television now, they could find themselves drowned out in a state where the two presidential candidates are each focusing major resources.

In Oregon, attorney and activist Steve Novick has been on television with humorous, quirky ads for several months (including one in which he opens a beer bottle with a hook), while House Speaker Jeff Merkley, the favorite of establishment Democrats, is just starting to go on television, as Swing State Project reports. Merkley and Novick will face off for the right to challenge incumbent Republican Senator Gordon Smith in Oregon's all-mail election, along with the presidential candidates, that ends May 20.

Not only do the presidential primaries increase the costs for down-ballot candidates running in other primaries, a contest with so much excitement introduces an additional element of uncertainty. Turnout around the country has been huge, and the four candidates, whose campaign teams are likely experienced in targeting normally small primary electorates, now have much bigger universes to target.

Of course, added turnout is great for state Democratic parties, which can use the new registrants and newly active voters to raise money, recruit volunteers and build organizations that will eventually benefit the winners of those primaries. "I actually think the primary coming to Indiana is helpful to my campaign for a lot of reasons because people are paying attention now more to the presidential and therefore to gubernatorial," Long Thompson told the NWI Times.

For Merkley and Long Thompson, who started advertising after their respective competitors, the added universe that is paying the most attention to the presidential contest could be hard to reach. But that's the case for Novick and Schellinger as well, neither of whom is particularly well-known in their states.

Special In CA Favors Dems

Voters in California today head to the polls to select a replacement for the late Rep. Tom Lantos, who died in February after a battle with cancer. That race is unlikely to make national news, as former State Senator Jackie Speier, a Democrat, is expected to easily carry the seat, based just south of San Francisco, as Roll Call's David Drucker writes.

The district includes the southwest part of San Francisco and several counties along the coast, and though it was once a base from which California Republicans could build around the Bay Area, it is now solidly Democratic. Lantos won his initial election, in 1980, with 46% of the vote and his re-election bid with 57%. Since then, he never dipped below 65%. Democratic presidential nominees carried the seat with 67% in 2000 and 72% in 2004.

Speier, who was forced out of the legislature by term limits, came within three points of securing the Democratic nomination for Lieutenant Governor that year, narrowly losing to now-LG John Garamendi. She faces health official Michelle McMurry, a Democrat, and former Public Utilities Commissioner Greg Conlon and economist Mike Moloney, both Republicans. Moloney took 24% of the vote against Lantos in 2006.

Once an aide to the late Rep. Leo Ryan, Speier was wounded when the congressman led a delegation to Jonestown, the cult colony in Guyana in 1978. Ryan was replaced in a special election by a Republican, who in turn lost to Lantos in 1980. Speier had already planned to run for the seat before Lantos announced he would retire, and was touting a poll showing her ahead of the incumbent by a wide margin.

Changing PA

As independent and Republican voters flocked to Pennsylvania courthouses and county buildings in recent weeks to change their voting registration in advance of the state's April 22 primaries, they managed to also change generations of history: Voter registration in Bucks and Montgomery Counties, both in suburban Philadelphia, has flipped from Republican to Democratic, the New York Times reports.

The Philadelphia suburbs featured some of the most hotly contested battlegrounds in 2006. Democrats made strong bids for three GOP-held seats and beat incumbents Curt Weldon and Mike Fitzpatrick, while narrowly missing picking off Jim Gerlach's more exurban district as well. All three districts, the state's Sixth, Seventh and Eighth, voted for both Al Gore and John Kerry, though by very narrow margins, and have been trending increasingly Democratic in recent years.

Of the four counties that ring Philadelphia, Chester and Delaware Counties retain Republican registration advantages. Gerlach's Sixth District includes the outer portions of Chester and Montgomery Counties; Weldon's old Seventh District, represented by freshman Democrat Joe Sestak, is heavily centered in Delaware County; and Fitzpatrick's Eighth District, held by freshman Democrat Patrick Murphy, has all of Bucks County within its borders.

The new boon comes after Democrats lost dozens of seats in the South during the 1990s and needed to find new voters to whom to appeal in order to regain their lost majority. They found early success with appeals to suburban voters, and, in recent years, those efforts have paid off most notably around Philadelphia, the suburbs of Chicago and even exurban New York City, both on Long Island and north through the Hudson Valley.

Opportunities for the party's gains don't stop at the state's borders; along with Gerlach, districts currently represented by New Jersey Republicans Jim Saxton and Frank LoBiondo are increasingly moving Democratic as well, and when Republican Rep. Mike Castle retires Democrats will be heavily favored to take over his Delaware at-large seat.

As Republicans get used to the minority, their efforts will turn more toward searching for their own new voters to reach. Until they find that group, the GOP could see more counties, historically Republican, shift to Democratic columns.

Dems Lead LA Special

A poll conducted for Democratic State Rep. Don Cazayoux looks to confirm Republicans' biggest worries, that Cazayoux will make a serious play for the front-runner mantle in his central Louisiana district in advance of next month's special election to replace retired Republican Rep. Richard Baker. National Republicans have made noise recently that Woody Jenkins, the Republican nominee to replace Baker, could prove an even more flawed candidate than businessman Jim Oberweis did in losing an Illinois special election last month.

The poll, conducted by the well-respected firm Anzalone-Liszt Research, surveyed 500 voters likely to cast ballots in the May 3 special election for a margin of error of approximately +/- 4.5%. Cazayoux and Jenkins were tested.

General Election Matchup
Cazayoux 49
Jenkins 44

In a district that gave President Bush wide margins in both elections, Republicans don't have a lot to be optimistic about lately. First, the Democrat far outraised the Republican; through the pre-primary reporting period, on March 16, Cazayoux held $110,000 in reserve while Jenkins had just $18,000 cash on hand.

Second, many people have said inflated turnout from the presidential primary won't help Democrats in November. That was before Democrats outpaced Republicans in the special election runoff, where 34,000 people voted for either Cazayoux or State Rep. Michael Jackson and just 24,000 chose between Jenkins and businesswoman Laurinda Calongne.

The general special election between Jenkins and Cazayoux, to replace Baker, takes place on May 3. The four candidates are also the leading contenders in Louisiana's primaries on October 20, the latest such contests in the country, with a runoff set for November 17, thanks to the state's old system of declaring a winner from two top candidates vying for office, regardless of party.

Morning Thoughts: Petraeus Rock

Good Tuesday morning. The Baltimore Orioles swept a four-game series against the Seattle Mariners and the Memphis Tigers cost Politics Nation a win in his bracket. Yesterday was perhaps the worst sports day in history. But today's a new day, and here's what Washington is watching:

-- The Senate will finally try to invoke cloture on a compromise substitute amendment to the housing bill, as the chair and ranking member of the Senate Banking Committee, which has jurisdiction, came to an agreement last week. The House takes advantage of the day's spotlight on military matters to vote on three troop-friendly resolutions, including one honoring the National Month of the Military Child, one commending the Army Reserve near its centennial, which takes place on April 23, and one resolution dedicated to thanking all the troops for their contributions. The House will also vote on a number of other resolutions, including one calling on China to end a recent crackdown in Tibet.

-- But the big news happens today when General David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker head to Capitol Hill where they will testify first before the Senate Armed Services Committee, at 9:30 a.m., and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, at 2:30 p.m. Eastern. The three presidential contenders will each get a chance to ask questions of the two top officials in Iraq, beginning with John McCain, who serves as ranking member of the Armed Services panel. Petraeus and Crocker are expected to offer a mixed report, and how each candidate spins it will determine how much the focus turns back toward Iraq in the coming days. When the two last addressed Congress in September, it served as a big boost for McCain's campaign, which was then in trouble in the GOP primary.

-- McCain set up his approach to the testimony in a speech yesterday to the Veterans of Foreign Wars in Kansas City, saying that the challenges in Iraq have been met by Petraeus and the troops so that the U.S. is "no longer staring into the abyss of defeat," as the Times' Elisabeth Bumiller writes. But not everything he says will be an unquestioning praise of Petraeus; advisers say McCain wants to know more about a recent uprising in Basra, the southern city once controlled by the British that devolved into a chaos of Shiite militias.

-- Still, that line of questioning will be completely at odds with a harsher light to which Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama will subject Petraeus and Crocker. Clinton made the morning television show rounds, criticizing the decision to slow down troop withdrawal and agreeing with a U.S. Institute of Peace report, put out by several former members of the Iraq Study Group, that asserts the country is no better off than it was a year ago, before the troop surge that at least temporarily reduced violence in the country. They're toeing a fine line, though, as too much criticism of the General can associate a candidate with MoveOn.org's questionable decision to run a controversial ad accusing him of betrayal during his September hearings.

-- Leaving the real world and back to the political for a moment, John McCain pulled in more than $15 million in March, the Associated Press and others reported yesterday, still significantly below Obama's $40 million haul and Clinton's $20 million take, but impressive, and enough to start hiring significantly more staff and paying off any bills. But McCain is also making more moves toward public financing for the general election, which would give him about $84 million for the two-month sprint to Election Day. That amount is expected to be supplemented by about $120 million in Republican Victory Committee funds, run through state parties and the RNC, that could build the infrastructure necessary to get their candidate elected in November.

-- Regardless of the outcome of the Democratic primary, that candidate will far outraise McCain up to the convention. Clinton will have no problem skipping public financing, but Obama's headed back down the rabbit hole if he becomes the nominee: In that instance, he will be forced to choose between what would likely be the biggest financial advantage a Democrat has held in modern American history and parity. Why would he accept public financing? Because he said he would, more than a year ago when his campaign looked like it would finish a respectable, but distant, second place to Clinton. If he doesn't, McCain will have whole new reasons to question Obama's sincerity, an attack on the campaign trail that just might work.

-- How close is Obama to winning the Democratic nomination? His recent swing through Pennsylvania (that worked so well he's doing the same thing in Indiana), combined with a massive ad campaign, cut Clinton's lead by ten points, down to 6.1 points in the latest RCP Pennsylvania Average. And along with the ad spending, unions that are backing Obama are running what could prove to be a promising door-to-door campaign to the tune of nearly $1 million, the New York Times writes. Sure, Obama doesn't want to look like he's trying hard in the Keystone State, but he should: If he actually won there, the Democratic race would be, for all intents and purposes, completely finished.

-- Tragedy Of The Day: There may be no more Olympic torch relay, a member of the International Olympic Committee said yesterday. Today, after fiascos involving protesters in Paris and London, the Olympic Torch heads to San Francisco, its only stop in the U.S. during its 34-day journey across six continents on the way to Beijing. The demonstrations have gotten so bad and become so public that the IOC's executive committee will reexamine the issue of future torch relays at a meeting later this week, CNN reports.

-- Today On The Trail: McCain joined veterans at a park near the Senate office buildings this morning for a rally in advance of the Petraeus-Crocker testimony, while Clinton and Obama will deliver remarks to the Communications Workers of America before heading to their day jobs. Michelle Obama is making a swing through North Carolina.

Sens Set Expectations For Iraq Hearings

Seeking to frame the debate over the war in Iraq in advance of testimony by General David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker on Capitol Hill tomorrow, senators from both parties offered their takes on what the men need to say to satisfy the Senate Armed Services and Foreign Relations Committees. But, like previous testimony from the two top U.S. officials in Iraq, appeasing both sides will be a virtually impossible goal.

Democrats expecting testimony to include a run-down of goals met and progress achieved lashed out at a strategy they maintain is not working. "We are facing the fifth or sixth evolution of our, quote, strategy," Massachusetts Senator John Kerry told reporters on a conference call. Citing conflicts between Kurds and Arabs in the northern city of Kirkuk and recent unrest among Shiite militias in the southern city of Basra, Kerry said top intelligence officials agree on the war's ramifications. "They are saying that our presence in Iraq creates instability and is attracting jihadists."

Rhode Island Senator Jack Reed said it is clear that increased numbers of U.S. troops have had no dramatic impact on any political progress. "The level of violence is more a function of political factors in Iraq than the number of troops we have on the ground," Reed said.

Republicans, on the other hand, implied they expected the hearings to become a political sideshow. In a rival conference call, Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl of Arizona told reporters he hopes members of the House and Senate use the testimony "to understand both the negative and positive results rather than use it as a political exercise to declare in advance a political point of view that isn't what General Petraeus and Amb. Crocker will be reporting on."

Democrats' arguments about Iraq will change, Kyl said. "I think what you might see is that they will use this report as well as the debate over the supplemental appropriation bill to fund the war as a means of making a different point," he asserted. "Not that there isn't success, but that the money could be spent back here at home."

Kyl said he suspects Democrats may include domestic spending add-ons to the supplemental war funding bill that is on the table, a move he characterized as "blackmail." He said Democrats would be "using our troops and their requirements as a hostage to Democrats' desire to spend more money on their favorite projects."

At least a few measures of success have been achieved, Kerry and Reed agreed, but they maintained too few goals had been reached. "There's been some progress, but the 'some' has to be italicized and very carefully defined," Kerry said. "It's not substantive in terms of what you really need to do to solve this."

Kyl said he expects "a mixed report," hinting on two occasions that the gradual drawdown of troops in Iraq that Petraeus previously called for will be "paused," though he called that idea his own speculation. Troop withdrawals, Kyl said, will likely continue by the end of the year, so that fewer troops will be in Iraq by the beginning of the next administration.

Democrats, whose views on Iraq are more positively reviewed with the electorate than their image handling the war on terrorism, sought to tie the two together. "This [war] is making us weaker and less effective on the real war on terror," Kerry said. Meanwhile, Reed asserted attention to another conflict is waning. "You have a serious challenge in Afghanistan," he said. "Progress there is slipping away."

Between Iraq and Afghanistan, both senators agreed, another country is on the rise. "Our presence in Iraq has essentially enhanced the power in the region and in Iraq of Iran," Reed said. Kerry added: "Everybody knows that Iran is taking advantage of our presence in Iraq, and we are playing into Iran's hand."

Responding to one reporter who pointed out that Democrats have repeatedly failed to force changes to the strategy in Iraq, Kerry said Iraq will be part of what this year's election will be about. "It is clear that we do not have the votes in the United States Congress at this time," Kerry said. "The American people are going to speak on this in November."

"I'm not even sure that the next election will necessarily result in that big of a change," Kyl said. "I think John McCain is going to win, and I think he has a pretty sensible policy toward maintaining the gains that we've made here and not blowing them off by early withdrawal.

"If he were not elected, the realities on the ground would make it very difficult for the political promises of the two Democratic candidates to be fulfilled," Kyl concluded.

-- Reid Wilson and Kyle Trygstad

Lautenberg Leads Full Poll

As Rep. Rob Andrews prepared to make formal his bid to unseat fellow Democrat Frank Lautenberg, New Jersey's senior Senator, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee released a snap one-day poll showing Lautenberg with a wide lead in an effort to convince Andrews to stay out of the race. That didn't work, as Andrews announced the next day that he would get in the race.

The rest of the poll, though, shows Lautenberg remains in strong position to keep his job. The survey, taken by Benenson Strategy Group between 4/1-2, polled 517 likely Democratic primary voters for a margin of error of +/- 4.3%. Lautenberg and Andrews were surveyed.

Primary Election Matchup
Lautenberg 52
Andrews 21

A polling memo provided to the DSCC by Benenson cites Lautenberg's strength in Northern New Jersey, where voters have little notion of who Andrews is and favor the incumbent by a wide 61%-11% gap. The congressman runs much better in the southern part of the state, near his base in Camden, and leads in the Philadelphia media market by a 50%-29% margin.

Lautenberg is also in a good position in terms of his relationship with the Democratic base. In the notoriously fickle state, 57% of party voters say they will vote to re-elect the senator, while just 12% are planning to vote against him. But Andrews is no pushover, and with more than $2.4 million in the bank through January and just two months before the state's primary, he could give the 84-year old incumbent a serious challenge.

A few months ago, New Jersey was seen as a possible sleeper race Republicans might have a chance at picking off, especially given Lautenberg's historically low approval ratings and narrow victories. But several candidates have backed out, and businessman Andrew Unanue, the party's latest recruit, has faced a bumpy road in his initial weeks. Over the weekend, biotech executive John Crowley also decided against a race, as PolitickerNJ reported.

LA Nominees Chosen

Runoff elections to choose nominees for two open Louisiana Congressional seats produced mixed results for Republicans over the weekend as Democrats think they have a chance to pick off another special election leading into November.

Republicans got the candidate they wanted in the state's First District, where State Senator Steve Scalise outpaced his GOP opponent and is heavily favored to win election in now-Governor Bobby Jindal's old seat. But in the Baton Rouge-based Third District, Republicans nominated a decidedly weaker candidate while Democrats picked up their favored candidate.

Former State Senator Woody Jenkins, a Republican who ran against Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu in 1996, easily defeated lobbyist Laurinda Calongne by a 62%-38% margin. Jenkins, now a newspaper editor, is heavily associated with the religious right and has been tied to white supremacist David Duke, from whom he bought a campaign list during the 1996 Senate race. Jenkins has denied the tie and said that had he known Duke was associated with the company, he would not have made the purchase.

Jenkins will face Democratic State Rep. Don Cazayoux (pronounced "ca-zhou," almost like the kind of nut), a conservative Democrat who last week won the endorsement of the National Rifle Association. The two are vying to replace former Rep. Richard Baker, who resigned to take a position with the national hedge fund lobby, in a special election on May 3.

Baker's district, based around Baton Rouge, to the northwest of New Orleans, has voted heavily for Republicans in the past, including for President Bush by twelve points in 2000 and by nineteen points in 2004. Baker had a tough race in his initial effort, in 1986, and finished with just 51% in both 1992 and 1998, though he was generally re-elected by wide margins.

Still, Democrats are hopeful they can paint Jenkins as a radical while promoting Cazayoux as a moderate, or even a conservative. An internal Republican poll found Cazayoux leading Jenkins by three points, Roll Call's John McArdle reported, and among key demographics, including older men, the Democrat leads by even wider margins. One Republican told McArdle that Jenkins' win could mean the National Republican Congressional Committee is supporting him in little more than spirit.

An NRCC memo after Jenkins' win touted their candidate's "deep roots" in the Baton Rouge area, along with Bush's big margins and Jindal's 55% win in the district, a higher percentage than he received throughout the state. A statement from DCCC chairman Chris Van Hollen touted Cazayoux as "a strong, independent leader who shares the values and priorities of middle class families" in the district.

If Republicans lose, it would be the second special election this year in which the party has failed to retain a seat vacated by one of their own members. Democrats picked up a special election win in Illinois in early March when scientist and businessman Bill Foster beat investor and dairy magnate Jim Oberweis to win back former Speaker Dennis Hastert's Aurora-based seat.

IN All Tied Up

With only a few governor's races that are hotly contested this year, Democrats in Indiana are battling over which candidate would be the best nominee to put Hoosier State Governor Mitch Daniels at risk in his bid for a second term. A new poll out late last week shows both major candidates virtually tied, just a month before the state's May 6 primary.

The poll, conducted by Maryland-based Research 2000 on behalf of the South Bend Tribune and television stations WSBT, WISH and WANE, surveyed 400 likely Democratic primary voters for a margin of error of +/- 4.9%, between 3/31 and 4/2. Architect and businessman Jim Schellinger and former Rep. Jill Long Thompson were tested.

Primary Election Matchup
(All / Men / Wom)
Thompson 42 / 35 / 48
Schellinger 41 / 51 / 33

The two candidates have fought recently over dual charges of spotty ethics records. Schellinger's camp hit Thompson for her involvement in the House banking scandal in the early 1990's, when, as a member of Congress, Thompson bounced more than a dozen checks. The Thompson team fired back by pointing out that she was cleared of wrongdoing and accused Schellinger of issuing misleading information that relied on old and discredited news accounts.

Both candidates are up with positive television ads across the state, with Thompson's debut coming in a biographical spot out just last week. Schellinger, though, appears to be the favorite of the Indiana Democratic institution, earning backing from the mayor of South Bend, the most recent Democratic Governor, Joe Kernan, and other top party leaders.

Several surveys have shown Thompson and Schellinger running well against incumbent Republican Daniels, though the most recent poll out of the state had Daniels leading both potential rivals by 23 points each. Along with Missouri, national Democrats remain most excited about Indiana as a potential target for takeover, while both parties agree that Washington State is likely the only Democratic-held seat in danger.

Morning Thoughts: Penn, Axed

Good Monday morning. Sorry about the late post. Major computer problems plague Politics Nation. The Detroit Tigers, expected to be one of the best teams in baseball this year, have now started the season with six straight losses. That's no way to make it to a World Series. Here in Washington, where the hometown Nationals are a game under .500 after seven outings, here's what folks are paying attention to:

-- The Senate is back today for a period of morning business before taking up the housing bill on which Senators on both sides think they have reached an important deal. Backers of the bill expect it to pass later this week, though no roll call votes will happen today. The House is out of session. President Bush, back in Washington after a weekend summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin, holds a meeting with small business owners to discuss the economic stimulus package. Later, the president hangs out with the Louisiana State University Tigers, last year's number one college football team.

-- The big news today -- news that could dominate the week -- revolves around a short statement Clinton campaign manager Maggie Williams released last night: "After the events of the last few days, Mark Penn has asked to give up his role as Chief Strategist of the Clinton Campaign; Mark, and Penn, Schoen and Berland Associates, Inc. will continue to provide polling and advice to the campaign. Geoff Garin and Howard Wolfson will coordinate the campaign's strategic message team going forward," the statement said, sent around 6:30 p.m. Eastern Time last night.

-- Penn's ouster comes after meeting with representatives of the Colombian Embassy over the pending trade treaty, a measure Clinton opposes and has said she will vote against should it get to the Senate floor. As first reported by the Wall Street Journal's Susan Davis last week in his capacity as chief executive of Burson-Marsteller, his public relations and crisis communications firm in Washington. Later, Penn called the meeting an error in judgment, a statement that the Colombian government took as an insult. That cost him a $300,000 per year contract. Now, he's out as top strategist, replaced by pollster Garin and one-time rival Wolfson.

-- While Penn is said to have been asked to be removed in the statement, word quickly leaked that that wasn't exactly the case. Clinton herself was furious after learning about the contract, the New York Times and ABC News report. The Colombian meeting is not the only reason Penn raised hackles: Long a lightening rod, he's clashed with top aides who have disagreed with his strategy, one which got Clinton into a hundred-plus delegate hole and let Obama grab the front-runner's mantle. Several aides were just looking for an excuse to show Penn the door.

-- Former rivals of Penn's, long egged on by Clinton's top pollster, reveled in their glee. "He has pretty much called the shots" in the last decade of Clinton campaigns, Barack Obama's chief strategist David Axelrod said on "Morning Joe" on MSNBC. Of the news Penn was gone, he said: "It's kind of stunning." Meanwhile, Joe Trippi, a top adviser to John Edwards, said he was surprised the move didn't come sooner, especially given Penn's conflicts between his firm and the campaign, which had arisen before. "The conflicts have been a problem for the campaign from the start," Trippi told The Fix.

-- So what's the real fallout? After Patti Solis Doyle left the campaign in favor of Williams, Clinton went on to win her next goal, the Texas and Ohio primaries. If Garin and Wolfson can help her win Pennsylvania, Indiana, North Carolina and other contests moving forward, they will have proved the move to oust Penn did not come too late. If they fail to do so, Penn will shoulder the blame for losing a campaign that was supposed to be a cakewalk. Many have noted that Penn insisted on being called the chief strategist, and now he finds out where the buck stops: Credit for success goes to other people, while credit for failure lands with him. Not all is negative, though: As an added bonus, much of Garin's polling career and that of his firm have happened around the three coming states, and theirs is one of the few Democratic firms with actual wins in those states.

-- John McCain will spend the next few weeks focusing on the economy, including offering a major address on Tax Day, April 15, in Pittsburgh, as campaign manager Rick Davis told Politics Nation. But sometimes, the real world intrudes, and this week is all about events none of the three candidates can control. Tomorrow, General David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker will visit Capitol Hill to offer their assessments of Iraq six months after their last check-in. That last set of hearings were marked by two occurrences: MoveOn.org displaying an ad accusing Petraeus of betrayal, and the beginning of the resurgence of McCain's campaign, two events that are not entirely separate from each other.

-- The candidates don't show up for a lot of committee hearings, but they will this time, the Washington Post writes. Obama sits as the seventh of eleven Democrats on the Foreign Relations Committee, headed by former candidate Joe Biden; Obama will quiz the two after supporters Chris Dodd, John Kerry and Russ Feingold get their turns. When Petraeus and Crocker get to the Armed Services Committee, McCain will be the second to ask questions as the committee's ranking Republican, just behind chairman Carl Levin of Michigan. Clinton, the tenth of thirteen Democrats in terms of seniority, will get the chance to ask her own questions later.

-- Bizarre Claim Of The Day: Condoleezza Rice is really interested in the vice presidency, ABC's Mary Bruce reports. According to Dan Senor, a former Coalition Provisional Authority official and now a Republican strategist, Rice's attendance at Americans for Tax Reform's weekly Wednesday meeting two weeks back raised eyebrows, and was viewed by some as the beginning of an effort to cozy up to conservatives who would have to give tacit approval of her nomination. As many who have written in to advocate for Rice know, Politics Nation doesn't think the Secretary of State is an option for the simple reason that she's involved in the current administration, a group of folks that McCain wants to distance himself from as fast as possible. But, at least it's a topic that's being discussed among a few Republicans. Will it merit a Novak mention?

-- Today On The Trail: John McCain is at the National World War I Museum in Kansas City, where he will address members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars in what Davis told Politics Nation will be a major speech on the war in Iraq. Bill Clinton is in Puerto Rico, where he will campaign in Barceloneta, Salinas and Ponce. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are both taking a day off the trail before heading to Washington to hear from Petraeus and Crocker.

This Week On PN Radio

This morning, from 10 a.m. to 12 noon Eastern, join Politics Nation on XM Radio's POTUS '08, when we'll tackle the week in politics. Listen free here (link about half-way down the page):

-- We talk to Mark Salter, one of John McCain's chief advisers, about the Arizona Senator's recent biography tour. Did McCain's trip through time get drowned out by Democratic squabbling? Did he make any real news?

-- Washington Post polling director Jon Cohen joins Politics Nation to chat about the state of the race, and all the latest polls. How can John McCain be tied or ahead when a generic Republican trails a generic Democrat by 15 points?

-- Voters in Louisiana head to the polls today to pick candidates for two special elections. If a certain Republican nominee wins his runoff, will the NRCC give up on the seat? A top Republican strategist and a Louisiana demographics guru give us the scoop, and Politics Nation's special weather correspondent will fill us in.

All that and more, this morning on Politics Nation, only on XM Radio's POTUS '08. Listen live, Saturday from 10 a.m. to noon Eastern and again at 7:00 p.m. Eastern.

McCain Chief Optimistic, Sees Challenges Ahead

SANTA ANA PUEBLO, New Mexico -- Entering to a standing ovation of Republican National Committee members, John McCain's campaign manager Rick Davis told the GOP leaders he is optimistic about the general election campaign, but that challenges lie ahead.

Nearly a year ago, few would have thought Davis would be standing before the RNC as the representative of the party's nominee-designate. "He has engineered what will go down in history as perhaps the greatest comeback in politics," RNC chair Mike Duncan told the crowd.

Calling the campaign "the greatest return to victory that has ever been seen," Davis said he's not ceding anything to Democrats. "The Democrats like to talk about the future. They like to talk about change. It's interesting to me that that has become the media's favorite topic. And I want to say that we want to talk about change, and we want to talk about the future too." McCain, though, will offer "change that we can talk about in specific terms," Davis said.

"I'd rather have a candidate who can walk the walk than can talk the talk," he continued, offering direct parallels with Barack Obama. "We're actually going to do it."

In a short video, McCain thanked RNC members and asked that the party come together. "It's going to take a team effort," McCain said. "Sure, we had our differences. Campaigns and primaries are tough," he said, acknowledging former Republican candidates.

Aside from the fissures within the Republican Party, Davis acknowledged larger challenges the party faces. Noting a recent New York Times/CBS News poll that showed voters favor a generic Democratic White House candidate by a fifteen-point margin over a generic Republican. "We cannot win the election if our party is viewed 15 points less as a solution to the problems of America than the Democrat Party," Davis said.

Davis pointed to five subgroups he said would be key to a victory in November. Those include "WalMart Moms," frugal suburban voters lower on the economic scale who Davis estimates will make up 17% of the electorate, and "Rehab Republicans," historically GOP voters who have grown disaffected, and a group from which Davis estimates McCain needs four out of five voters to win.

Younger voters, Davis said, will be a new frontier for national Republicans. While thousands pack rallies with Barack Obama, the campaign and the RNC will work together to figure out new ways to attract those younger voters. Acknowledging Obama's popularity and the higher turnout his candidacy has generated, Davis said he won't give up on the demographic. "If Barack Obama wins the nomination, we need to fight him for every youth vote we can," Davis said.

Reaching out to social networkers, which Davis defined as "Facebook Independents," will be key as well. Fiscal conservatives -- "There's a reason there's no taxation on the internet," he said -- the group is more likely to become an activist on their candidate's behalf.

Finally, Davis focused on Hispanic voters, a group that cast 72% of its ballots for McCain in his last Senate re-election campaign. Calling a strong performance among Hispanics "critical to our success," Davis said the McCain campaign will spend their time and money wooing the demographic that has increasingly broken for Democrats in recent years. Davis also promised that most television advertisements the campaign released would have Spanish-language versions running concurrently. "We need to perform as a party the way George Bush did in 2004," he said.

But the campaign, he promised, "won't be a third term of George Bush that we endeavor to define. It will be a third term for the Republican Party." It will take what Davis described as a "second look" to get voters back into the fold. "We know something about second looks in this campaign, and I know we can get a second look for our party by this November."

Of course, while McCain has secured his party's nomination, Democrats continue to fight amongst each other. Pointing out that Democrats have yet to settle on a nominee, Davis joked: "Frankly, I'd just as soon they not figure that out for a while longer."

Yesterday, Davis sat down with Politics Nation to chat about the race. Look for more of his analysis of the race on Monday.

Challengers Get Big Bucks

Incumbency has its advantages, but sometimes being a challenger isn't so bad, either. Two challengers running against entrenched incumbents had pretty good quarters over the past three months and raked in some impressive hauls. One remains a long-shot, but the other, Louisiana Treasurer John Kennedy, could be benefiting from the widely-held belief that his bid against incumbent Democrat Mary Landrieu is the best chance Republicans have at picking up a seat.

Kennedy raised $1.4 million in the past three months, actually out-pacing Landrieu, who hauled in about $1 million in the same period. Kennedy will end the period with nearly $2 million in the bank, the New Orleans Times-Picayune's Bill Walsh reports. Landrieu still has a wide cash advantage, with about $4.5 million on hand, but Kennedy's pace suggests he's on his way to catching up.

While Landrieu raised almost three times what she raised in the same period in 2002, the last time she faced a re-election bid, Kennedy shows no signs of slowing down. He will join President Bush at a Baton Rouge fundraiser on April 22, an event that will further help close the gap with Landrieu. In 2002, Landrieu outspend Republican Suzanne Terrell by a wide $9.4 million to $3.4 million margin and captured a 52%-48% win.

In a year when national Republicans have found it next to impossible to recruit top-tier candidates against any of a number of Democrats running for re-election, Kennedy is one of the lone stand-outs. His prominence as the one challenger to really put a Democrat on defense could serve him well as he pitches donors around the country.

In North Carolina, State Senator Kay Hagan remains a long shot to oust incumbent Republican Elizabeth Dole, but that doesn't mean her fundraising is suffering. Hagan raised about $820,000 between January and March 31, ending the quarter with more than $1 million cash on hand. Hagan raised eyebrows in January by reporting more than $560,000 raised.

Figures for Dole's campaign were not immediately available, as a spokesman told Politics Nation they would not release numbers before the pre-primary filing deadline on April 24. Dole has already raised more than $4.8 million this cycle, but thanks to her stint as head of the National Republican Senatorial Committee in 2006, she's also spent $2.4 million of that money. She ended 2007 with $2.6 million cash on hand.

Hagan faces wealthy investment banker Jim Neal in the Democratic primary, though afterwards national Democrats could be well-served by ensuring she has the money to stick around for the long haul. Dole is popular on the stump and can rake in big money for other candidates around the country. If Hagan is able to stay competitive through the later months of the campaign, she could effectively tie Dole down in her home state.

On the other hand, if Dole does travel the country on behalf of other candidates, Hagan might be able to emulate a Democrat from a state to her north. As Virginia Senator George Allen was busy setting up a presidential campaign as he ran for re-election in 2006, he neglected to pay attention to Democrat Jim Webb until he had to make a hectic campaign swing that culminated in him calling a Webb staffer "macaca," a major gaffe that cost him the race. Keeping Hagan competitive will allow Democrats to mute Dole's positive effect on other Republican races and make sure one of their candidates could be in position to benefit from a slip-up.

Guess Who's Back

John McCain is cruising to the GOP nomination, having already secured close to 400 more delegates than he needs to carry the convention in St. Paul. Despite the inevitability, Texas Rep. Ron Paul is still on the hustings, campaigning this weekend in Pennsylvania. Paul, who easily won his bid for renomination to Congress and will likely win the general there, was in Pittsburgh yesterday for a rally and press conference, as the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports.

Paul spoke to a packed house and later blamed his loss on his lack of media coverage. Still, his fans know about him somehow: Many drove several hours to see him. As the paper's Timothy McNulty writes, while Hillary Clinton handled calls for her to withdraw from the race by comparing herself with Rocky, Paul might consider himself more of a Sisyphus, the mythical man cursed to roll a stone up a hill only to watch it plummet to earth again.

We sincerely hope that Mr. McNulty's email inbox is big enough to handle the flood he's probably receiving right now.

Paul's supporters, unimpressed by McCain's majority of delegates, have recently made a point of crashing county conventions across the country. At the RNC meeting just north of Albuquerque this week, several Republican state party executive directors told Politics Nation that they are already planning to have sheriff's deputies at the ready if Paul backers make a scene at their conventions.

One thing to keep an eye on: How, or when, does Paul get to speak at the Republican National Convention this summer? He's a Congressman who has won delegates, which should give him a shot at a speaking slot. But with one hour of prime time coverage a night, don't expect Paul to lead off the nightly newscast. We'd be surprised if Paul's speaking slot was any time after 2 p.m. Eastern, when only C-SPAN junkies tune in.

Morning Thoughts: The End Is Near!

Good Friday morning. The campaign takes a bit of a pause today as the candidates pause to remember the fortieth anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King. In addition to the commemorations in Memphis, here's what Washington is watching today:

-- The House is in pro forma session today, while the Senate will keep working on housing legislation that inspired some fireworks on the floor yesterday. President Bush is finishing up his meetings at the NATO summit in Bucharest, Romania, before meeting with the host prime minister. Later, he heads to Zagreb for a meeting with Croatian President Stjepan Mesic. In other administration news, just as the president threatens to send a trade pact with Colombia to Congress, where it could meet defeat, U.S. Trade Rep. Susan Schwab is on a Congressional Delegation trip to the country, no doubt trying to swing some votes.

-- Many are looking toward the Democratic race ending in a loud and contentious convention in Denver, where Barack Obama's and Hillary Clinton's supporters will be at each other's throats. Howard Dean and Harry Reid endorsed a plan to make super delegates declare their intentions by July 1, heading off that potentially disastrous situation. But what if the race ends much earlier than that? New movement suggests it just might. What was once a 16-point edge for Clinton is now just a 5.4-percentage point margin, according to the latest RCP Pennsylvania Average. The gap closed quickly after a few days of serious advertising and a six-day bus trip through the state. With just over two weeks to go before Keystoners vote, Obama is within striking distance in a state Clinton should win.

-- If Obama wins in Pennsylvania, Clinton's rationale for staying in the race will collapse: He will have won a big state, a state where a win is heavily dependent on white, working-class voters, and a November swing state. He will also virtually assure himself a victory in the entire contest's popular vote count, and super delegates will flock his way. In short, an Obama win in Pennsylvania cuts off all the oxygen Clinton needs to continue.

-- Of course, Clinton faces other challenges as well. USA Today's Susan Page got the notion that the race will end by North Carolina's contests, in a must-read out yesterday. A new poll from Indiana shows Clinton leading that must-win state by just three points, but we don't have enough data to create an RCP Indiana Average just yet. Conventional wisdom is starting to coalesce around the notion that Clinton has to win each state, and in a big way, if she can resist calls to bow out before the convention. A tightening Pennsylvania race, a North Carolina contest in which Obama maintains a big lead and a narrow Indiana fight are not positive indicators for Team Clinton.

-- But, as we seem to have written a hundred times, don't count Clinton out just yet. In the four weeks after Super Tuesday, Clinton's team built a massive organization in Ohio and Texas, where she scored wins big enough to keep her campaign alive. And Ed Rendell knows how to win the state (but so does Bob Casey). Clinton maintains a lead, and it's one that she's not going to give up easily. Every time, in this campaign, that Clinton's back has been against the wall, she's prevailed. Obama's support is down among key voting demographics, the new New York Times/CBS News poll reports, and, they write, it's a sign that Obama's momentum is slowing down.

-- Still, it can't be very energizing to see that Obama raised not $30 million, as we suggested the other day, but $40 million in March (what's $10 million among friends?) while Clinton pulled in just $20 million (Just?!?). Despite being her second-best month of the campaign, after February, Clinton is in a hole that's getting wider by the minute. After about fourteen months on the trail, Obama's pulled in a whopping $237 million to Clinton's $193 million, the Times writes today. That's $400 million already. Add in John McCain's money -- somewhere north of $55 million, probably higher than $60 million -- and that of Rudy Giuliani (to say nothing of Mitt Romney or John Edwards) and the race has already easily topped half a billion dollars.

-- On the Republican side, McCain campaign manager Rick Davis will speak to the Republican National Committee today, his third day at the party's meeting at a resort just north of Albuquerque. Yesterday, RNC chief Mike Duncan and victory committee chair Carly Fiorina addressed members, expressing their excitement at the prospect of a protracted Democratic fight. In an interview with Politics Nation, Davis said he doesn't think McCain's biography tour is being drowned out by the Democratic squabbling, and expressed surprise that such a soft news tour had garnered such good press. Check back for more from Davis in the coming days.

-- Portent Of The Day: There should be a question mark there. Did Barack Obama smoke a cigarette in August? Jake Tapper thinks so, and though his campaign denied it, Obama did tell Hardball last night that he's had a few since trying to quit in February. No big deal, right? Tapper thinks the incident, like the Austan Goolsbee meeting with a representative of the Canadian government incident, is another example of Obama's team trying to cut a few corners and deny the truth. Hell hath no fury like a press corps scorned, and no curiosity like an untrusting press corps.

-- Today On The Trail: Obama starts his day in Fort Wayne, Indiana before heading to Grand Forks to address the North Dakota Democratic Party convention. Clinton is in Memphis this morning to remember Dr. King, and tonight she will also head to Grand Forks to speak to delegates. Bill Clinton, meanwhile, holds four campaign stops throughout North Carolina. McCain gives remarks at the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, formerly the motel where King was shot, and lays a wreath in memory.

Spinning ME Wheels

Senator Susan Collins, a Maine Republican, is not supposed to be where she is today. Facing Democrats' top candidate in her bid for a third term, polls for months have shown her leading by a wide margin, and though she's running for re-election in what looks like a favorable year for Democrats, in an increasingly Democratic-leaning state, Collins is one of the top Democratic targets to remain a heavy favorite to keep her job.

Polls this Fall showed Collins with double-digit leads, hovering near 20-point margins. A McLaughlin & Associates poll, conducted for the Coalition for a Democratic Workforce 3/6-9, surveyed 400 registered voters on horse race matchups and questions about the rights of union workers to vote on organizing by secret ballot. Collins and her Democratic rival, Rep. Tom Allen, were surveyed, with a margin of error of +/- 4.9%.

General Election Matchup
Collins 54
Allen 31

Both congressional districts in Maine are seen as safely Democratic; the winner of the crowded Democratic primary to replace Allen is highly likely to be sworn into Congress next year. But Collins, like several other targeted Republicans, has successfully distanced herself from the Bush Administration, and her close working relationship with Independent Senator Joe Lieberman bred an endorsement that will help her among independent voters.

An overlooked factor working in Collins' favor is the state's senior senator, fellow Republican Olympia Snowe. Together, the two are among the most popular senators in their home states.

Allen, though, has a chance to make this race competitive. He's well-funded, and if he can bring Collins' favorable ratings down while tying her to the White House and Republicans as a whole, he should benefit from higher turnout during a presidential year, especially as the Democratic nominee is expected to take the state's four electoral votes. Still, his strategy at this point has to be taking votes away from Collins, and getting her below 50% has to be Allen's top priority.

MN Neck And Neck

In the increasingly bitter battle over a Senate seat both parties feel is rightfully theirs, Democrats and Republicans can each use a new poll as a platform to rake in more money for the two leading candidates. Polls in recent months have shown the fight between incumbent Republican Norm Coleman and his likely Democratic rival, comedian Al Franken, a razor-thin contest, and both have raised millions for the November showdown.

The survey, conducted for the Coalition for a Democratic Workplace by the Republican firm McLaughlin & Associates, was conducted 3/6-9 among 500 registered voters, for a margin of error of +/- 4.5%. Coleman and Franken were tested.

General Election Matchup
Coleman 46
Franken 40

In one of the last truly union-heavy states in the country (Franken actually hopes to represent the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party on the ballot), the difference could come from union households, depending on their turnout. Franken leads by nine points, 48%-39%, among voters living in a union households, while Coleman has a wider 12-point lead among those who live in non-union residences, 49%-37%.

Each camp's fundraising appeal will focus on how close the contest is likely to be, and on how personal the other side will make it. The poll has Franken within striking distance, as he has been for months, though Coleman retains a distinct advantage, both in the horse race and in money in the bank. Franken has outraised the incumbent several quarters in a row, and with fundraising numbers due in two weeks -- and likely to leak out sooner than that -- another Franken victory could start to worry national Republicans.

Coleman has worked hard to distance himself from President Bush and the Republican Party. But while the GOP convention, held in St. Paul, where Coleman served as mayor, will provide big fundraising opportunities for Coleman at the beginning of the final eight-week sprint to Election Day, is being associated with a national Republican Party whose brand name is in the dumps really what Coleman wants?

Franken still has to get through the June nominating convention, where he faces little competition after a top rival dropped out. Anticipating the challenge, Coleman used his announcement speech last week to light in to his likely Democratic foe, accusing him of being a divider. By the end of this race, though, it is likely that both candidates will be bloodied virtually beyond recognition.

Andrews Making Surprise NJ Bid

After hinting he wasn't happy with his state's senior senator all week, south New Jersey Rep. Rob Andrews confirmed yesterday he will challenge fellow Democrat Frank Lautenberg in a primary. With just a week to go before the filing deadline, Andrews will have to work fast to get the necessary signatures to get on the ballot, and he knows he faces an uphill fight. "I am David and he is Goliath, but I think the country is ready for some Davids," Andrews said, per the Newark Star-Ledger.

Andrews raised eyebrows earlier this week when he didn't attend Lautenberg's official announcement, and a spokesman later confirmed that he was scouting a potential bid of his own. And the issue on which Andrews hopes to draw the biggest contrast between the two led news accounts: The fact that Andrews is just 50 years old while Lautenberg is 84.

Polls have repeatedly shown that the senior senator's age could be a factor when voters head to the polls for either the June 3 primary or the November general election. Republican have had a difficult time finding a candidate, while other Democrats have hinted at, but passed on, a run themselves. At his announcement speech last week, Lautenberg was endorsed by the rest of the state's Democratic congressional delegation as well as Governor Jon Corzine and Senate colleague Bob Menendez.

But a survey conducted over the weekend suggests Andrews faces a hugely uphill battle. The survey, conducted by the Benenson Strategy Group 4/1 on behalf of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, tested Lautenberg and Andrews among likely Democratic primary voters.

Primary Election Matchup
Lautenberg 57
Andrews 22

The DSCC may have seen the primary challenge coming. In a poll conducted 3/28-30 by the Benenson Strategy Group, 61% of the 503 likely Democratic primary voters surveyed said they would vote to re-elect Lautenberg, while 28% said they might do so and just 11% said they would vote against him. Among Democratic voters, Lautenberg held favorable ratings and job approval numbers north of 70%.

The poll, DSCC spokesman Matt Miller told Politics Nation, was not in response to a threat from Andrews but focused on potential challenges from former state Democratic Party chairman Tom Byrne and others. Byrne decided earlier this week that he would not challenge Lautenberg.

Andrews has long coveted a statewide spot, and by challenging Lautenberg now may surprise potential future rivals with a win. When Corzine won the governor's mansion in 2005 and appointed Menendez to take his place in the Senate, many thought Andrews, who had also been in the running for the job, would try to take on Menendez. Instead, he held his fire, and Menendez won in November by a wide margin.

But Menendez is not Andrews' only potential rival for a top spot. Fellow Democratic Reps. Frank Pallone, Steve Rothman and Bill Pascrell have also been mentioned as interested in a statewide run, and each of them have more than $1 million in the bank, according to recent FEC filings. Rep. Donald Payne is also said to be intrigued by the thought of a statewide race, and his cash on hand floats just below the magic seven-figure mark. Any primary against all or a combination of those candidates could leave Andrews at a distinct disadvantage.

Instead, he's taken his $2.4 million haul through the end of 2007 and will put it towards a two-month sprint against Lautenberg. The incumbent Democrat has just over $4.3 million in the bank, as of the last filing period, and begins with a serious leg up, but he's never been terribly popular. A survey conducted for Fairleigh Dickinson University showed just 38% of Garden State voters had a favorable impression of Lautenberg, while 22% held unfavorable views.

Running in a primary against an incumbent of the same party is rare, though it is hardly unprecedented. Six years ago, then-Rep. John Sununu beat incumbent New Hampshire Senator Bob Smith, an ultra-conservative Republican, in the Granite State's primary before narrowly beating Democratic Governor Jeanne Shaheen in November. And two years ago, Hawaii Rep. Ed Case came close to knocking off incumbent Senator Daniel Akaka, who survived his challenge.

The Expected CO Poll

Given his lackluster performance in the 2004 Republican Senate primary, many expected that former Rep. Bob Schaffer's bid to replace retiring Senator Wayne Allard would fall similarly flat. Schaffer is assumed to be too far right for the increasingly-Democratic Colorado, and his opponent, Democratic Rep. Mark Udall, has a great name and a fat bank account.

But in poll after poll, Schaffer has trailed Udall by exceedingly small margins, virtually always within the margin of error. In December, Schaffer trailed by two points. In October, the gap was just one point. Was labeling Udall as a Boulder liberal finding success? Is Colorado still a red state? Or is Schaffer manager Dick Wadhams, a former top aide to Virginia Senator George Allen, the next Karl Rove?

A new poll, conducted by a prominent Republican polling firm for the Coalition for a Democratic Workplace, finally provides Democrats with the news they wanted to see, as Udall boasts a big lead. The survey, conducted 3/6-9 by McLaughlin & Associates, surveyed 400 registered voters and tested both Udall and Schaffer. The margin of error is 4.9%.

General Election Matchup
Udall 44
Schaffer 32

Before Democrats get too thrilled and claim they are guaranteed to pick up the seat, they might want to wait for a few more surveys to come out. Schaffer has a talented political team, led by Wadhams, and Udall remains well under 50%. But a twelve-point lead is what most Beltway politicos expected to see, and the McLaughlin survey proves that Schaffer, who has trailed in every poll Politics Nation has seen on the race, has a ways to go to climb out of a hole.

The CDW, which sponsored the poll, is a group working to promote secret ballots in union elections. 44% said they would be less likely to support Udall after hearing he opposed private ballots in union elections.

Morning Thoughts: It's 3am, I Must Be Lonely

ALBUQUERQUE, New Mexico -- Good Thursday morning. We stand by our Matchbox 20 reference, even though it seriously dates us and will probably lead some to question our sanity. Here's what Washington is watching today:

-- The Senate will take a key test vote on legislation designed to address the housing market crisis when they meet this morning. Meanwhile, the House takes up a bill to reauthorize the U.S. Fire Administration. President Bush faces a day of meetings with NATO allies in Bucharest, Romania, after losing a bid to move the Ukraine and Georgia toward membership, a major diplomatic setback. On the Hill today, Attorney General Michael Mukasey heads to the testify before the Appropriations subcommittee with jurisdiction over the Justice Department's funding this morning, while Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez heads to the same committee later this afternoon to address the coming census.

-- On the campaign trail, if we learn anything at all from this year, it's that no president is ever asleep at 3 a.m., apparently, because they're all too busy on the phone. In a replay of an effective ad she ran against Barack Obama in Texas, Hillary Clinton is back in Pennsylvania with another ad suggesting her rival is not ready to answer the early-morning call. But it's not Obama Clinton is targeting: "There's a phone ringing in the White House and this time the crisis is economic," the narrator intones. "John McCain just said the government shouldn't take any real action on the housing crisis, he'd let the phone keep ringing." (Script and video here)

-- The ad will run in Pennsylvania, which, sure, is a swing state in November, but the motive smells fishier and more immediate than that. Clinton spokesman Howard Wolfson told reporters on a conference call unveiling the new ad that he thinks it's the first spot to hit McCain. In fact, in recent days, Clinton's entire tone toward her rivals has changed. She's focusing more on McCain now than on Obama, perhaps to show she can beat McCain in the Fall. Obama, likewise, is taking aim at his perhaps future GOP foe, both on McCain's alleged "100 years" comment and on his economic background. Are the orders to hit McCain instead of each other coming from on high -- leading to the question, What Democrat is on high enough to force a change? -- or is the battle for Democratic votes now all about who can beat up McCain more?

-- Not to be outdone, McCain's campaign fired back at Clinton and Obama with an ad asserting their guy is perfectly capable of waking up at all hours as well. McCain's ad hits the two Democrats for wanting to raise taxes to solve the increasing economic crisis. "John McCain has a better plan: Grow jobs, grow our economy, not grow Washington," the narrator tells the audience. The ad will be emailed to McCain's list and featured on his website, but the campaign hasn't decided whether to put it on the air yet, waiting to see how many points Clinton puts behind her own ad in the Keystone State, Marc Ambinder reports (see the ad there too). In fact, the preliminary version released yesterday isn't ready for air; it doesn't have a disclaimer from McCain himself saying he approves the message.

-- In search of a good way to forecast the state of the race in November, one need look no farther than the cross-tabs. Usually, for a reasonably-sized poll, that's dangerous: Characterizing the views of union households, or any minority group, with a tiny sample size can be very misleading. But when there are 19,000 interviews in your survey sample, you'll be alright (For the record, the margin of error on a sample size of 19,076 would be +/- 0.71%. Remember that the next time you see a 400-person sample.). That's about the number of interviews Gallup has conducted between the first week of March and last week, and, while polls change, those interviews showed Obama leading McCain 46%-45%, while McCain led Clinton 47%-45%. That's essentially tied.

-- But both Democrats take very different paths to being tied. Obama does have slightly more appeal to independents and those who lean Republican. He outperforms Clinton by six points among independents and by four points among moderate and liberal Republicans. But Clinton's success comes more from conservative Democrats, who would favor her over McCain by a wider margin than they would favor Obama over the Republican.

-- The thing to worry about, if you like Obama or Clinton: McCain holds big leads among independent voters against both candidates, and his crossover appeal is stronger. Among all segments of Democratic voters, liberal, moderate and conservative, McCain draws a higher percentage than the number of Republicans either Democratic candidate would bring. But more survey respondents are telling pollsters they favor Democrats, and on the whole, that's a bigger problem for the national Republican Party.

-- In fact, McCain still needs to work on his base, and we're not just referring to conservative activists. Campaign manager Rick Davis is spending three days in Albuquerque, where Republican National Committeemembers and state chairmen are meeting to go over their rules and glad-hand each other. Davis spoke with state party executive directors yesterday, and he will meet chairs today, in advance of a keynote address at a luncheon tomorrow. That a national presidential campaign chief has to spend three days at a resort where cell phone service is spotty at best is telling, and more than a few attendees, who nonetheless swear they will work hard on McCain's behalf, are in grumbly, critical moods.

-- Temper Of The Day: "Five times to my face [Bill Richardson] said that he would never do that," a red-faced Bill Clinton yelled in a meeting with California super delegates, the San Francisco Chronicle reported. Richardson's endorsement of the upstart Illinois senator, in hindsight, could have been the straw that broke the camel's back, or at least robbed said camel of his sanity. Hillary Clinton put her own spin on an endorsement to Richardson: Obama "cannot win, Bill. He cannot win," Clinton told the New Mexico Governor, per ABC's George Stephanopoulos. If McCain wins in November, is that the only way Hillary Clinton can come back and run for president again -- by doing four years of the "I told you so" dance? Then again, breaking this morning per Halperin's The Page, it might have been Richardson making that very argument to the Clintons.

-- Today On The Trail: It's a slow day of few actual events. McCain heads to Jacksonville, Florida, as he continues his biography tour. Hillary Clinton hits a fundraiser in Beverly Hills, while husband Bill tries to avoid any more tirades in trips to Altoona, Pennsylvania and Pikeville, Kentucky. Obama, having wrapped up a six-day tour of Pennsylvania, has no public events scheduled.

The Exchange: April Edition

It's the first of April, the first quarter filing deadline has passed and the national Senate landscape is beginning to shake out. Since our last look at the races up for election this year, several tiers are becoming evident. Three first-tier targets, look almost certain to flip to the opposing party's control. Four second-tier seats are in serious danger of flipping control. And two third-tier seats have the incumbent party favored, but at least vulnerable. If either party benefits from a huge wave this year, a few other seats could provide close races, but it will take a massive wave to dislodge anyone below the ninth spot.

All this can, and will, change in the months to come. But seven months before election day, here's where the exchange stands:

Races We Considered For The 10 Spot: Mississippi, where appointed Senator Roger Wicker could face a tough contest against Democratic ex-Governor Ronnie Musgrove. But Musgrove's tangential involvement in a lawsuit in Georgia that alleges corporate executives improperly funneled money to his campaign could be a big problem. Kentucky, where Mitch McConnell, the most visible Republican not employed in the White House or named McCain, could face a backlash from voters who just kicked out a GOP governor. Ironically, McConnell could be better suited by associating himself with Washington Republicans than with anything that looks like Ernie Fletcher's GOP, regardless of the fact that the Bluegrass State's Republican Party is more McConnell's than anyone else's. And New Jersey, where Frank Lautenberg could conceivably have a bad moment in a debate and shake Garden State voters' confidence enough to elect a Republican. Lautenberg would have made the ten spot had businessman Andrew Unanue, who entered the race last week, not had such a difficult launch.

Races we dropped since December: Mississippi.

Races we added since December: North Carolina.

10. North Carolina (R-Dole): Republican Elizabeth Dole has not had the easiest first term on record. Her stint as chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee was nothing short of disastrous, and though she has fundraised well, some believe she could be vulnerable, especially against a top-tier challenger. Democrats tried to woo Governor Mike Easley and his wife, Mary, but neither were interested. Instead, national strategists hope State Senator Kay Hagan makes it through the primary against investment banker Jim Neal. Hagan has raised good money and could at least keep Dole off the trail on behalf of other Republicans. Still, Hagan faces a serious uphill battle. (Last: Not ranked)

9. Oregon (R-Smith): Republican Gordon Smith should, by any account, be in a heap of trouble. He represents an increasingly Democratic state in what should be a heavily Democratic year. But thanks to a primary in which State House Speaker Jeff Merkley and attorney Steve Novick are forcing each other to the left, Smith could end up winning another term by a wider margin than had Democrats succeeded in avoiding a primary. Smith himself has moved to the middle, voicing opposition to the war in Iraq and distanced himself from the Bush Administration, making him more palatable to his state's war-opposing moderates and independents, a bloc that plays a bigger role than in most states. (Last: 6)

8. Maine (R-Collins): At the opening of the third tier, Democrats are going to need a wave to take out Susan Collins. The Republican incumbent is very popular, though she has a few important factors working against her: The presidential contest will likely bring out Maine's generally Democratic electorate, and Democrats signed their top potential recruit, Rep. Tom Allen. But Collins leads by a wide margin in the only two polls conducted in the state, and support from her close friend Joe Lieberman can only help among the plethora of independents around Maine. Collins is ranked ahead of Gordon Smith, of Oregon, only because of Allen's apparent strength as a candidate. (Last: 8)

7. Minnesota (R-Coleman): Running against a former Saturday Night Live comedian isn't supposed to be this hard. But Republican Senator Norm Coleman will not have an easy time against Al Franken, especially now that the Democrat's path to the nomination is mostly clear. Recent polls have shown the two rivals within the margin of error against each other, and both are raising big bucks. Coleman kicked off his campaign by taking aim at Franken, signaling that the race will be one of the more contentious in the country this year. If Coleman keeps the spotlight on Franken, Coleman can keep his job. One gets the sense that if the race becomes more about the Republican Party that will hold its convention in St. Paul to nominate John McCain, Coleman will win. If the race becomes more about the GOP that elected President Bush twice, Franken could be a Senator. (Last: 7)

6. Louisiana (D-Landrieu): Incumbent Mary Landrieu is virtually the only Democrat on the GOP's target list. While recruits from several other states passed on their races, the GOP got the candidate they want with State Treasurer John Kennedy. Still, Republican voters in the state might not be wedded to Kennedy; he only switched from the Democratic Party last year. And Landrieu's performance after Hurricane Katrina has even won her endorsements from some Republicans. Landrieu remains the favorite in the race, but, given the state's new GOP nature, not by much. (Last: 4)

5. Colorado (R-Open): Poll numbers continue to show the race closer than conventional wisdom suggests. Democratic Rep. Mark Udall continues to lead every survey, but Republican former Rep. Bob Schaffer is keeping the race tight. Udall has a cash advantage, and Democrats have made big gains in the states in recent years. Independents in the state have broken left lately, and if they continue to head that way, the Democrat will win. In a competitive state during a competitive presidential year, the Senate race to replace outgoing Republican Wayne Allard could determine whether Colorado has turned blue, or whether it's still a purple state. (Last: 5)

4. Alaska (R-Stevens): Since our last ranking, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has landed its top recruit, Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich. The party has high hopes for taking out incumbent Stevens due to his involvement in a scandal surrounding an oil services corporation, and a December poll showed the Democrat leading by six points. That poll also showed Stevens with a seriously upside down approval rating. Thanks to Begich's entry, the race moves to the head of the second-tier pack, but only because of Alaska's hard-Republican tilt and the nagging feeling that Stevens may not be the Republican on the ballot in November. (Last: 9)

3. New Mexico (R-Open): Republican Reps. Heather Wilson and Steve Pearce are increasingly moving right as Democratic Rep. Tom Udall, with a cleared primary field, is already talking to general election voters. Pearce, largely seen as the candidate farther to the right and less electable statewide, took a victory in a recent party convention. With help from Governor Bill Richardson, who is widely popular in the state, Udall should be the next senator from New Mexico. (Last: 2)

2. New Hampshire (R-Sununu): Despite a few American Research Group polls that showed the race between Senator John Sununu and former Democratic Governor Jeanne Shaheen close, recent surveys, including a new one from ARG, shows Shaheen well ahead. Given that Democratic Governor John Lynch has avoided any serious Republican challenger, the GOP will have a more difficult time motivating their voters. The x-factor for Sununu: John McCain is virtually the state's third Senator, and his presence at the top of the ticket could help. But New Hampshire gets ranked ahead of New Mexico because 2006 showed a bigger swing toward Democrats in the Granite State than in the Land of Enchantment. (Last: 3)

1. Virginia (R-Open): Despite some Republican efforts to find another candidate with a shot at beating former Democratic Governor Mark Warner, the party still looks like it will go with former Governor Jim Gilmore. Polls have shown Warner leading his gubernatorial predecessor by a two-to-one margin. Without a major slip from Warner -- his lead in that poll was twice as large as George Allen's over Jim Webb in a Mason-Dixon poll when Allen called a Webb campaign staffer a "macaca" -- Democrats will win the Commonwealth. (Last: 1)

Politics Nation Radio

Check out the audio from this week's Politics Nation on XM Radio, broadcast live on Saturday mornings from 10 a.m. Eastern to noon, and repeated again from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Eastern.

In the first hour, listen to Reps. David Price, of North Carolina, and Jason Altmire, of Pennsylvania, discuss where the votes will come from as Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama fight it out for delegate supremacy. Veteran pollster Fred Yang, an expert on all things Indiana, joins us as well:

In the second hour, Rolling Stone associate editor Ben Wallace Wells joins us to talk about his mammoth look at the National Republican Congressional Committee, a piece that appeared in this week's New York Times Magazine. Later, we're joined by David Drucker, of Roll Call, to chat about the battleground state that is New Mexico. All that and our Final Four picks in the second half:

Join us every week for Politics Nation Radio, Saturdays from 10 to noon and again from 6 to 8 p.m. Eastern. Don't have an XM subscription? Just log on to PoliticsNation.com on Saturdays to find the link to the free feed!

Morning Thoughts: Coat Tails

Good Wednesday morning. Politics Nation is headed westward toward the RNC meeting in Albuquerque, so your morning thoughts are coming to you from Tuesday evening. We've got a couple more hot posts in the can for today, but look for breaking news updates that no one else is giving you as the week continues. For now, here's what Washington is watching today:

-- The Senate continues consideration of a bill that serves as a vehicle for housing legislation. Meanwhile, the House deals with funding for global HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria programs, named for the late Reps. Tom Lantos and Henry Hyde. President Bush is in Romania, where he will meet with local officials and with NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer. Defense Secretary Gates and Secretary of State Rice are both on the trip with the president.

-- On the White House trail, Democratic fundraising severely slowed in March, Time's The Page reports, with the two candidates bringing in around $50 million total -- $30 million for Barack Obama and $20 million for Hillary Clinton. That's significantly less than the $85 million the two brought in, combined, in February, perhaps signaling some donors' sickness of the intra-party squabbling, or at least a ceiling that both candidates are close to reaching. Of course, the April 15 filings will show how many of their donors are maxed out, or close to, and just how much each candidate has to spend between yesterday and the Pennsylvania primaries three weeks from today. And by the way, silence from the John McCain campaign...

-- The Clinton campaign has acknowledged for the first time that the Rev. Jeremiah Wright is a serious issue in their efforts to convince super delegates to come their way. Super delegate wooer extraordinaire Harold Ickes told TPM, in an interview published yesterday, that Wright has come up as a hot talking point in his conversations with uncommitted party big wigs. Ickes called the campaign so far "genteel," a statement with which Obama backers will likely disagree.

-- Still, if private conversations are the only way Wright is brought up in a general election, isn't that fantastic news for Obama? How seriously can he expect John McCain, notably against negative campaigning in any form, to ride herd among every Republican interest group that might just want to put some of Wright's comments in a television ad? There are at least a few prominent right-leaning groups around Washington that are already considering just how to use those statements most effectively against former Wright parishioner Obama.

-- Meanwhile, Obama has virtually dispensed with Clinton as an opponent. He spent Tuesday focusing on McCain's positions on Iraq, trade and taxes in a town hall meeting in Wilkes-Barre. Referring to McCain's current biography tour, Obama was curt: "Most of us know his biography, and it's worthy of our admiration. My argument with John McCain is not with his biography, it's with his policies," Obama said, per the Associated Press. Obama, though, is toeing a line on McCain's "100 years" comment from a few months back that is already gaining notice from some columnists for its lack of context. Keep a watch on that developing controversy for a look at how Obama handles his forthcoming attacks on other candidates.

-- Some Republican strategists are starting to agree with Hillary Clinton on the notion that Barack Obama could be a bigger drag on the Democratic ticket than the former First Lady, the Weekly Standard's Michael Goldfarb writes, citing a Roll Call column from today. But is that true? Obama and McCain are different than Clinton, though; Republican strategists tell Politics Nation they are convinced McCain can go into largely Democratic districts, while Democratic strategists tell us they are more confident in Obama's ability to go into Republican districts on behalf of their candidates.

-- Obama and McCain have always set themselves up as post-partisan politicians, and if they succeed in keeping their reputations like that, a general election matchup will likely yield a mixed bag. Republicans continue to face difficult times with their campaign committees, and as the Illinois special election last month proved, the landscape decidedly favors Democrats. But McCain brings voters out in Arizona, where Republicans are defending an incumbent and an open seat and actively targeting two Democratic incumbents. Add in open seats in neighboring New Mexico and McCain may end up saving more GOP seats in Congress -- win or lose -- than Obama will.

-- In fact, McCain has already changed the map Democrats hoped to achieve in 2008. At the beginning of the cycle, Arizona, New Mexico and Colorado were Democratic targets. The latter two remain on the list, but after President Bush won the Land of Enchantment by 6,000 votes and the Mile High State by a few more percentage points, neither looks like a sure thing. And forget the fact that Democrats won two Congressional seats in McCain's home state and have a good shot at another one; the party's chances of taking the Copper State's electoral votes in November have already evaporated.

-- Back And Forth Of The Day: "While I certainly will not stoop to the low level of Mr. Carville, I feel compelled to defend myself against character assassination and baseless allegations," New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson writes in today's Washington Post. The article comes after James Carville, the Clinton adviser, took after Richardson in an op-ed of his own last week. Richardson may not want to "stoop" to Carville's level, but by responding, he already has. One of the most interesting side notes from the 2008 campaign will be Richardson's future. Does he become a Gore-like party elder, or does he have a higher Cabinet-level future?

-- Today On The Trail: McCain continues his biography tour with a stop at his alma mater in Annapolis, followed by a speech to voters in Pensacola, Florida. Clinton has an economic summit in Pittsburgh, after which she will receive policy briefings from top advisers. Obama has plans to attend a town hall meeting in Wallingford, Pennsylvania, before joining MSNBC's Hardball for a live shot from West Chester University. Bill Clinton is in Indiana, while Michelle Obama has a rally scheduled with Teresa Heinz Kerry in Stiller City, better known as Pittsburgh.

GOP Bashing GOP For Being GOP

"I want to introduce myself to many of you because, frankly, you don't know who I am," former Rep. Doug Ose told audience members at a candidates' forum in Auburn, California yesterday, according to the Sacramento Bee. Ose, who is running for retiring Rep. John Doolittle's Fourth District seat along with State Senator Tom McClintock and attorney Suzanne Jones, all have a surprising element in common: None of them actually live in the district they hope to represent.

Ose used to represent a neighboring district before leaving Congress after the 2004 elections. Jones, once a resident of the district, was drawn into the next district during the 2002 redistricting. And McClintock has a real trek ahead of him: He represents a State Senate district based in Thousand Oaks, about 400 miles south of the Sacramento-based Congressional District.

The candidates' forum provided an opportunity not only for the three Republicans to introduce themselves, but also to preview attack lines against their opponents. One like McClintock used against Ose perfectly sums up the trouble Republicans face this year: The State Senator criticized the former member of Congress for being a part of the "Republican Congress that voted for the biggest entitlements since the Great Society."

Members of the GOP will have a tough time convincing voters that they remain good stewards of fiscal responsibility, especially after the last session Republicans controlled the House, when Reps. Duke Cunningham and Bob Ney went to prison for their roles in appropriations issues and tight relationships with lobbyists, and after two other California members, Rep. Jerry Lewis and Doolittle himself, are said to be under scrutiny from authorities over their roles in doling out earmarks.

Ose fired back that McClintock has accepted pay raises as a legislator in Sacramento, and that McClintock has accepted a per diem living expense, which McClintock says is not unusual.

But two Republicans duking it out over fiscal spending, and with a Republican-held Congress as the punchline for one of those attacks, is a serious commentary on the state of the party. If McClintock's attacks work, it could be a sign that even being a Republican minority in Congress will not excuse some members who secure their own pork from being labeled a free spender.

The winner of the state's June 3 primary will face 2006 nominee Charlie Brown, a Democrat who came close to knocking off Doolittle last year and actually lives in the district.

MS Votes In Runoffs

Mississippi voters head to the polls today to cast ballots to pick nominees to replace now-Senator Roger Wicker and Rep. Chip Pickering in districts highly likely to favor Republicans in November. Republicans Greg Davis, the mayor of Southaven, and Glenn McCollough, the former mayor of Tupelo, are fighting over Wicker's First District, while former State Senator Charlie Ross and attorney Gregg Harper are battling over Pickering's Third District, where the incumbent is stepping down.

Wicker's seat, based in the northeast corner of the state, gave President Bush 62% of the vote in 2004 and 59% in 2000. The new senator never had a problem winning election after the retirement of Democratic Congressman Jamie Whitten in 1994. McCollough held a narrow 39%-37% lead after the March 11 primary and got the endorsement of third place finisher Randy Russell.

On the Democratic side, Prentiss County Clerk Travis Childers and State Rep. Steve Holland are fighting for the runoff victory. Childers took a 41%-31% lead on March 11 and appears favored to reach the general election. Whichever candidate wins will have a steep hill to climb to even come within ten points of beating the GOP nominee. Both parties will hold another primary on April 22 to determine nominees to fill the remainder of Wicker's term, a contest that will be decided in a May 13 runoff.

Pickering's Third District, which stretches diagonally from the northeastern border with Alabama, just south of Wicker's seat, to the southwestern border with Louisiana, is similarly Republican. The seat is home to Philadelphia, Mississippi, where Ronald Reagan stopped on his announcement tour. At the time, a Democrat represented the area, but after Rep. Sonny Montgomery stepped down in 2006, Pickering easily won the increasingly heavy Republican district.

In the bid to replace Pickering, Ross narrowly led the primary field with 34% over Harper, who chairs the Rankin County Republican Party and clocked in with 28%. The winner will face Democrat Joel Gill, an alderman from the town of Pickens, in a seat where voters gave President Bush a 31-point win in 2004 and a 29-point win in 2000.

Democrats have other opportunities in the South, most notably this Saturday when voters choose runoff winners in Louisiana's First Congressional District. But for now, it appears that candidates who come out of today's Mississippi Republican runoffs should be safe bets to join Congress in January.

Superdels Nervous, Neutral

Pressure is mounting on super delegates from upcoming primary states to make their endorsements now, and two members of Congress, thus far uncommitted, say their endorsements could come soon. Still, they worry the Democratic nominating contest has already gone on too long, and that it could permanently harm the party.

Speaking on Politics Nation Radio on Saturday, North Carolina Rep. David Price and Pennsylvania Rep. Jason Altmire maintained they have not made their decisions final, but that a choice could come shortly. "I'm thinking about [an endorsement]. There's certainly a good argument for going ahead in this kind of situation and doing what seems best in terms of trying to influence the outcome here," Price said. But, he said, "I may have an announcement fairly soon."

Price's district comprises the Tar Heel State's so-called Research Triangle, which encompasses several major universities and is about one-fifth African American. "Obama has a good lead here, but it's a hard-fought situation," Price said of the whole state and of his own district. Despite reports on Sunday and Monday that North Carolina Democratic members of Congress were moving toward endorsing Obama en masse, Price said he didn't think the group would make a joint announcement. "We have not moved as a delegation, and probably won't in any one direction," he said.

Altmire, whose western Pennsylvania district includes several Pittsburgh suburbs, is more worried about the effect the contest will have on the party. "Whenever I attend one of these rallies for one of the candidates and it shows up in the paper, we get flooded with calls in our office with people who have supported me saying, 'If he votes for that candidate or endorses that candidate I'm never going to support him again,'" Altmire said on Politics Nation. "And that's my biggest fear, is that this is starting to become so tense between the two campaigns and there's such animosity that it's driving a wedge between people who should be all focused on the same goal, which is winning back the White House."

After attending one rally last week, at which Senator Bob Casey endorsed Obama, Altmire still hasn't made up his mind. "I'm taking advantage of the opportunity that both candidates and their surrogates are spending a lot of time in western Pennsylvania and in my district," he said. Still, his largely blue collar suburbs are likely to go heavily for one candidate. "If the election were held today, in my district and in my region, ... Senator Clinton would win," he said. "But I think Senator Obama is certainly working hard and going to do everything he can to at least minimize the margins if not win outright."

The Obama campaign has "I think a more global strategy with regard to the state than just focusing on regions," Altmire concluded. Obama "does have the chance to [win], although I would say again that Senator Clinton is the favorite." Regardless of the outcome, Altmire said he will attend the Democratic National Convention in Denver in late August.

While Altmire's Pennsylvania has gone Democratic in recent decades, Price's North Carolina remains more solidly Republican. Altmire said his district is likely to go heavily for John McCain, so that electability is less of an issue for him, but it's something that is at least on Price's mind. "It's certainly a consideration that unpledged delegates, including myself, need to take into account," Price said.

Listen to Price's and Altmire's comments in this space tomorrow, when we post the full two-hour audio of XM Radio's Politics Nation.

NRCC Rid Of Debt

While the National Republican Congressional Committee hasn't seen much good news lately, chairman Tom Cole finally has something to brag about: Nearly a year and a half after the 2006 elections, the committee has finally paid off its debt, Cole told members in a letter yesterday, Politico's Patrick O'Connor reports.

The party still faces a mountain to climb, especially given Democrats' huge head start in the fundraising department, but getting into the black for good after incurring a $19 million debt is a first step.

Cole used the letter to again solicit members for donations from their campaign accounts, another area of fundraising where Republicans have lagged behind their Democratic counterparts. This month, the NRCC will likely outraise the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee thanks to a benefit dinner hosted by President Bush that raised somewhere around $8.6 million.

At the end of last month, the NRCC reported $1.9 million in remaining debt, with about $5.1 million cash on hand. That trailed far behind the DCCC, which reported $38 million in the bank with just $762,000 owed to outside vendors. Even assuming the party did not spend a penny beyond paying off the debt, Republicans will still trail Democrats by at least a three-to-one margin after this month, though the gap is likely to be wider when the committees report their March fundraising totals on April 20.

Republicans on Capitol Hill have been grousing that Cole's fundraising abilities were insufficient, and public spats with Minority Leader John Boehner nearly led to Cole's exit earlier this cycle. Cole has said he is unsure if he will seek a second term as NRCC chair, as has been custom in recent years. Democratic strategist Paul Begala, meanwhile, sent out a fundraising email (apparently from his BlackBerry) before last night's midnight deadline suggesting the DCCC will report about $5 million raised this month.

Morning Thoughts: In It To Win It

Good Tuesday morning. Official opening day brought rain to Yankee Stadium and another 9th inning victory for the Washington Nationals. Our hometown team even won their opener. If yesterday is any indication of how the season's going to go, Politics Nation will be a very happy camper. Here's what Washington is watching today:

-- The Senate meets for morning business before party lunches early this afternoon. After they adjourn, the chamber will take up the House-passed housing bill. With President Bush in the Ukraine, the House will vote on a resolution expressing support for that country and Georgia's entry into NATO. Later, the House takes up a resolution on the 40th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, an anniversary coming up on Friday. In Ukraine, President Bush met with President Viktor Yushchenko and his prime minister today, then visited St. Sophia's Cathedral and a local school in Kiev.

-- As recently as last week, key Barack Obama supporters in Pennsylvania were convinced that their candidate wasn't taking the Keystone State seriously. Pennsylvania again offers Obama the chance to knock Hillary Clinton out of the race, as did California, Texas and Ohio. She won each of those, and she leads Pennsylvania by 16 points, per the latest RCP Pennsylvania Average. But with the contest taking place three weeks from today, Obama has the chance to actually compete, and it looks like he's doing so: Later this week he'll finish up a six-day swing through the state, and his campaign has bought 2000 points of advertising in Pittsburgh and Harrisburg and 1700 in Philadelphia, according to Time's Mark Halperin.

-- A little context: 2000 points of television is saturation level. That means the average viewer will see the ad something like 20 times. The ad buy far outpaces Clinton's financial commitment to Keystone television so far. One point in Philadelphia, a source tells Politics Nation, comes out at $535, while a point in Pittsburgh is $235 and a point in Harrisburg is $138. That means Obama is spending about $1.65 million on Pennsylvania television stations this week, just about comparable to pre-Iowa and New Hampshire levels. Lest any backers think Obama is abandoning the state, they may want to reconsider. Then again, it would be better for the campaign's expectations game if they were to appear to take a stronger-than-expected finish. Don't be fooled, Obama wants a Pennsylvania win.

-- He wants the win so much he's even changing the way he talks, the New York Times' Michael Powell writes today. Traveling with Pennsylvania Senator Bob Casey, whose family ties to blue collar workers go back a generation, Obama is talking about corporate profiteers to crowds who are watching their jobs disappear. Bowling and chowing down on a hot dog alongside Casey in State College, Obama's even starting to look the part, less a professor than a candidate who feels working class pain, as the Baltimore Sun writes.

-- The message from Johnstown yesterday and State College this weekend sounded more John Edwards than Barack Obama, and perhaps the goal is two-fold: First, woo the middle income families whose jobs are going overseas and who would be predisposed to vote for Clinton. If Obama scores a win in Pennsylvania, the Democratic race is over. If not, he'll wait a while longer to be coronated as the Democratic nominee. The second goal may be to make an inroad or two with Edwards heading into the North Carolina primary, where an endorsement could again lock away the nomination. Job number one on that front: Repair relations with Elizabeth.

-- But if the race continues, make no mistake that Clinton has a shot. That's because she could end up with a popular vote majority while Obama leads among delegates, US News' Michael Barone writes. To play by the rules, Obama would still have an advantage going into the convention, but leading among all voters is a compelling reason for Clinton to stay in the race. If the contest goes to Denver, her chances depend less on the candidate herself than on enforcers like Harold Ickes and James Carville, two veterans who know their way around a deal and have plenty of chits to call in. Ickes has been cutting super delegate deals already, while Carville's op-ed slamming Bill Richardson was a marker for any other super delegate who owes the Clintons.

-- Meanwhile, John McCain continues his biography tour today with a stop at his old high school in Alexandria, just across the river from Washington. McCain will describe himself as a "rambunctious" kid who flaunted the rules. Tomorrow he heads to his alma mater, the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. And he's seriously up on television, as well: That ad we told you about recently will be running in New Mexico at about 750 points a week, Jonathan Martin writes, coming to a two-week total of $250,000.

-- McCain is running the same ad in Spanish, CBS' Dante Higgins reports. It's the first time his campaign has run a Spanish-language ad, and Republican strategists around the nation's capitol have to be breathing a sigh of relief. McCain's more moderate stance on immigration could help slow, if not stem, the tide of Hispanic voters abandoning the GOP, an epidemic the party is facing more urgently in recent years. On the other hand, what does it say to conservative activists, especially anti-immigration hardliners, that McCain is willing to spend campaign money on Spanish language advertisements right in the middle of the "conversation" that was supposed to bring Republican voters firmly back into the fold?

-- Guest Of The Day: Hillary Clinton will appear on Jay Leno's Tonight Show Thursday, the third time she's appeared on the comedian's couch, as NBC's First Read reports. More immediately, John McCain will take a break from his biography tour to sit down with his favorite late night host, David Letterman, for air this evening. Remember the number one rule, politicians: Don't be the funny guy! They pay the guy sitting next to you millions to fill that role.

-- Today On The Trail: Clinton tours a company and addresses the state AFL-CIO in Philadelphia before hitting a town hall meeting in Wilkes-Barre and rallying in Erie. Obama swings through town hall meetings in Wilkes-Barre and Scranton, Bob Casey's home base. McCain visits his old high school in Alexandria before sitting down with Letterman.