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Blog Home Page --> May 2008

FL, MI Deals Reached

After a three-hour lunch meeting in which Rules and Bylaws Committee members privately argued over solutions by which delegates from Michigan and Florida will be seated at the Democratic National Convention in Denver this summer, committee members surprised observers by returning two quick verdicts.

The committee agreed unanimously with a proposal offered early this morning from Florida DNC member Jon Ausman, under which the Sunshine State will send a full compliment of 185 delegates to Denver, all of whom will have one half of one vote. An initial motion to seat every Florida delegate with a full vote failed, though by a surprisingly narrow 12-15 margin.

Michigan, which initially moved its primary to January 15 in violation of DNC rules, caused significantly more consternation during deliberations today. But after extended negotiations, a motion from Virginia committee member Mame Reiley, a Clinton backer, allocated 69 delegates to Hillary Clinton and 59 delegates to Barack Obama, each delegate with half a vote, passed by a 19-8 margin.

Dissenting members, largely backing Clinton, criticized the motion for what they said was a violation of a party rule known as fair reflection, arguing that by removing four delegates from the 73 Clinton would have gained out of Michigan, the process was unfair.

Overall, Clinton earned nineteen net delegates from Florida and five from Michigan, before super delegates from both states will be included. With the additional delegates allowed seats in Denver, the magic number Clinton and Obama strive for will be 2,118, up from the 2,026 delegates needed before today.

Not everyone left the hall happy, though. As co-chairs James Roosevelt and Alexis Herman attempted to gavel the meetings to a close, protests erupted in the back of the hall. "I'm not voting for Barack Obama!" shouted one woman, while others chanted, "Madam President!"

But ten hours after the committee convened, the specter of a nomination by just 48 states has been excised. The Rules and Bylaws Committee will next meet to offer their final report to the convention credentials committee in late June, a meeting Roosevelt promised to arrange by telephone.

MI Deal In The Works?

Nearly three hours after the Rules and Bylaws Committee broke for lunch, the meeting has not resumed, as committee members work to resolve delegate messes in Florida and Michigan. Multiple sources tell Politics Nation that a Florida compromise is largely finished, while one source tells Politics Nation that committee members remain in closed session working on a Michigan deal. Other media outlets are reporting the discussions continue.

At issue: Whether to accept the Clinton campaign's scenario, under which the New York Senator would get 73 delegates to Barack Obama's 55 (a proposal that is virtually dead on arrival), the Obama camp's plan, which would split the delegates along an even 64-64 line, or a compromise plan that would hand Clinton 69 delegates to Obama's 59.

If the committee can hash out their differences behind closed doors, they could finish their public deliberations relatively quickly. With a Florida compromise ready to go, the Wolverine State remains the only sticking point, and one on which, so far, neither campaign has been willing to budge.

Ickes And "Fair Reflection"

As the Rules and Bylaws Committee prepares to break for lunch in advance of debate over solutions to the Michigan and Florida conundrums, Hillary Clinton backer Harold Ickes has signaled that his argument on Michigan will center on the concept of "fair reflection." By invoking Rule 13 of the Democratic Party's delegate selection rules, Ickes hopes to win delegates beyond the 69 of 128 a group of prominent Michiganders have proposed.

"Delegates shall be allocated in a fashion that fairly reflects the expressed presidential preference, or uncommitted status of the primary voters or, if there is no binding primary, the convention and/or caucus participants," Rule 13(a) says. Clinton's campaign is defending the 56% of the vote she won on January 15, arguing that any allocation of delegates below the 73 that amount gives her would violate the fair reflection rule.

An important second point about Rule 13: Should the remaining delegates, allocated when voters cast ballots for the "undeclared" option on the ballot, be seated, the committee will then have to decide who controls selection of those delegates.

"If a presidential candidate (including uncommitted status) has qualified to receive delegates and alternates but has failed to slate a sufficient number of delegate and alternate candidates, then additional delegates and alternates for that preference will be selected in a special post-primary procedure," Rule 13(c) states. Whether the Obama campaign controls access to that post-primary procedure, in which delegate slots become named delegates, will be hotly contested by the Clinton campaign.

However, it is highly unlikely that the Rules and Bylaws Committee will adopt any plan that would not hand full control of at least 59 delegates -- or 29.5 total delegate votes -- to Obama.

MI's Case: Electability, History

Michigan Democratic Party Chairman Mark Brewer, himself a member of the Rules and Bylaws Committee, relied heavily on the importance of the state's electoral votes to a Democratic candidate's chances in November. Acknowledging their case is weaker than Florida's, especially given that a Democratic governor signed the legislation, Brewer still asked the committee to reseat all of the state's 128 convention delegates. That re-establishment of full voting rights, some committee members told Politics Nation, is unlikely.

Under a compromise plan agreed to by four prominent Democrats in the state -- Senator Carl Levin, Rep. Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick, DNC member Debbie Dingell and United Auto Workers chief Ron Gettelfinger -- Brewer asked the committee allocate 69 delegates for Hillary Clinton and 59 delegates to Barack Obama. That is a smaller number for Clinton than the 73 delegates she would have won from the January 15 primary, and a smaller number for Obama than the even 64-64 split his campaign had advocated.

"The Michigan Democratic Party has achieved unity. We're asking you to preserve it," Senator Carl Levin told committee members. "There is no scientific way to reach the conclusion that we reached. But there is a fair way."

Such a division, though, would create a problem for the Rules and Bylaws Committee. Several members questioned whether the committee even had the authority to do so, given that Michigan's appeal is based less on established rules than on political consideration. "Are you relying on any rule?" asked committee member Eric Kleinfeld, a Clinton backer. "No, but we have to do something in this situation," Brewer responded. "I wish it were more. I wish it were better. It's all we have."

Brewer faced a withering assault from Clinton supporters who questioned whether allocating uncommitted delegates to Barack Obama. Under party rules, "uncommitted" is a legitimate choice for primary voters. Obama backers on the committee suggested the assumptions made to allocate delegates severely underestimated the Illinois Senator's potential in the state.

While Florida's case has won sympathy from some committee members, given the Republican tilt of the state legislature, Michigan's move to the head of the pack is a prime reason the committee sits in a hotel ballroom on a Saturday. Introducing Levin as the "grandfather" of the revised calendar commission, committee co-chair Alexis Herman said the senator has been the "most spirited" advocate of calendar changes.

Levin, after all, has been the most vociferous agitator for a new set of calendar rules, and his efforts propelled the date change. "Michigan decided years ago that no state should have the right to go first and second in every election. No state," Levin declared. "We're not going to sit by and do nothing for another decade or two," he said later.

FL's Case: Blame The GOP

Representatives from the Florida delegation finished their presentations to the Democratic Rules and Bylaws Committee meeting this morning by acknowledging they had broken party rules but that their primary should count anyway, both to put the state in play in November and because Republicans were truly to blame.

DNC member Jon Ausman, Senator Bill Nelson and representatives from both presidential campaigns urged the adoption of a plan that would return the 185 seats at the Denver convention in August and award each delegate half a vote. The state's super delegates would be given their full votes under Ausman's petition.

But to convince Rules and Bylaws Committee members to accept the proposal, presenters relied on blaming the GOP. Nelson, in a sharp exchange with one committee member, pointed out that the vehicle for moving the primary ahead of the pre-approved February 5 window was a bill pushed through the Republican-controlled state legislature, and that the party had neither the time nor the money to hold their own later contest.

"We recognize in fact that Florida has violated the timing rule," Ausman admitted. But, he and others argued, by not counting the 1.75 million votes cast in January, national Democrats would essentially take the state off the table in November. Refusing the count the votes, State Senator Arthena Joyner argued, would be comparable to Apartheid South Africa.

Joyner represented the Clinton campaign while Rep. Robert Wexler spoke on the Obama campaign's behalf. While Ausman's plan would hand Clinton a net gain of 19 additional delegates, Wexler said the Obama campaign would accept the compromise. "Senator Obama offers this concession in order to promote reconciliation among all Florida voters," Wexler said, pointing to the broad support for the plan. "If we in Florida can get it together and be unified, if we can keep our eye on the ball in November, so can you."

While some RBC members are hesitant to reinstate votes, mindful of the consequences in four years, most seem willing to accept the argument that Republicans were to blame. Votes on a solution to the Florida problem are expected after an early afternoon lunch break, followed by what is expected to be a more contentious debate over Michigan's delicate delegate situation.

FL Compromise Close

Rules and Bylaws Committee members reached a tentative agreement on a solution for seating Florida's delegates, the Huffington Post reports this morning. Three Rules and Bylaws Committee members confirm to Politics Nation that parts of an agreement were reached at a meeting that lasted late into the evening on Friday, though two caution a fight could still loom.

Under the agreement, the entire Florida delegation will be seated and will be given one half of one vote. That compromise, which would net Hillary Clinton a net gain of nineteen delegates over Barack Obama, is agreeable to both campaigns and a majority of committee members. An agreement on whether super delegates will be given a full or a half vote has yet to be reached.

Florida DNC member Jon Ausman, who has brought two challenges before the Rules and Bylaws Committee today, will address members in moments, along with Senator Bill Nelson, Florida Democratic Party Chair Karen Thurman and Rep. Robert Wexler.

Despite a late night -- committee members reportedly remained in informal session until 1:30 a.m. Saturday morning -- no compromise has been reached on a solution to Michigan's delegate crisis. Senator Carl Levin and other top Michigan officials will speak to the committee this morning, seeking a full reinstatement of the state's delegation with their full allocation of votes.

That solution, which would produce 73 delegates for Clinton and 55 uncommitted delegates, is highly unlikely to garner the votes necessary to pass. Committee members are expected to fight over whether Barack Obama's campaign will have control over the state's uncommitted delegates, whether they have full or half votes. Top Democrats in the state have proposed a solution by which Clinton would control 69 delegates and Obama would control 59 delegates.

RBC Member Clip-And-Save

A quick clip-and-save: Below are the members of the Rules and Bylaws Committee and the candidates they are supporting:

Clinton Backers
Tina Flournoy (DC)
Donald Fowler (SC)
Jamie Gonzalez Jr. (TX)*
Alice Huffman (CA)
Harold Ickes (DC)
Ben Johnson (DC)
Elaine Kamarck (MA)
Eric Kleinfeld (DC)
Mona Pasquil (CA)
Mame Reiley (VA)
Garry Shay (CA)
Elizabeth Smith (DC)
Michael Steed (MD)

Obama Backers
Martha Fuller Clark (NH)
Carol Khare Fowler (SC)
Janice Griffin (MD)
Thomas Hynes (IL)
Allan Katz (FL)
Sharon Stroschein (SD)
Sarah Swisher (IA)*
Everett Ward (NC)

Uncommitted
Donna Brazile (DC)
Mark Brewer (MI)
Ralph Dawson (NY)
Yvonne Atkinson Gates (NV)
Alice Germond (WV)
David McDonald (WA)
Jerome Wiley Segovia (VA)

Notes: Gonzalez is not in attendance at the meeting. His proxy goes to fellow Clinton backer Flournoy. Swisher's daughter is getting married today, and her proxy goes to fellow Obama backer Martha Fuller Clark.

Committee co-chairs James Roosevelt, of Massachusetts, and former Labor Secretary Alexis Herman, of Virginia, are both neutral super delegates. They vote only in case of a tie.

Dems Meet In DC Hotel

Thirty Democratic National Committee members who hold the fates of Florida and Michigan delegates in their hands are meeting this morning at a Washington hotel at what is expected to be the final meeting of the Rules and Bylaws Committee before the August convention. Committee members will hear testimony on three challenges to party rules that seek to reverse an earlier decision that stripped the two states of their delegates.

A few hundred protesters, mostly from Florida, bussed to the Wardman Park Marriott this morning to show their support, while dozens of reporters are crammed into a mezzanine overlooking the meeting room. Prominent Florida super delegates, among them Senator Bill Nelson, a Clinton backer, and Rep. Robert Wexler, a Barack Obama supporter, and Michigan super delegates packed the room as well.

Stay with Politics Nation all day as we bring you live gavel-to-gavel coverage of the Rules and Bylaws Committee meeting. For background and what's expected of today's event, check out our primer from yesterday.

Dem Up In OH Open Seat

Having come within 1,100 votes of knocking off incumbent Republican Deborah Pryce in 2006, Democrats had high hopes this year for Franklin County Commissioner Mary Jo Kilroy in a district based in the western suburbs of Columbus, Ohio. A new poll conducted for Kilroy's campaign shows the Democrat leading her opponent by a wide margin, though the race is likely to finish as one of the most closely contested in the country.

The survey, conducted by Benenson Strategy Group for Kilroy's campaign, polled 516 likely voters between 5/20-22 for a margin of error of +/- 4.3%. Kilroy, State Senator Steve Stivers, her likely GOP opponent, and independent candidate Donald Eckhart were tested.

General Election Matchup
Kilroy..................47
Stivers................37
Eckhart.................5

Generic Dem......45
Generic GOPer...37

That Kilroy is ahead is good news for her campaign, but better news is that, in a climate that heavily favors Democratic candidates, she actually runs ahead of the generic Democrat in her district. After a nasty campaign last time around, Kilroy finished the race with upside down favorables; Benenson reports 40% of the district had a favorable impression of her and 43% had an unfavorable view. Now, those views are reset, and 44% see her favorably compared with 34% who view her unfavorably.

Still, it's never good when a candidate starts off a race with 34% of the district viewing her unfavorably. And Stivers is a very strong candidate: Ask most national Republican strategists who their best House recruit is and his name is close to the top.

The race will be expensive for both candidates. Kilroy had already raised north of $1.2 million, through the March 31 filing deadline, and held $944,000 in reserve. Stivers, who jumped in the race considerably later after Pryce announced her retirement, had already banked $788,000 and kept almost $600,000 on hand through the same period. In 2006, Kilroy and Pryce spent a combined $7.4 million on the seat, and it could cost that much again this year.

While President Bush won the seat by a wide eight-point margin in 2000, he managed just a 2,300-vote win in 2004. As the district continues to trend Democratic, it might be difficult for Republicans to hold on, though with Stivers they certainly gave themselves the best shot to do so.

VA GOP Set To Pick Gilmore

Virginia Republicans will hold a state convention in Richmond this weekend to choose a nominee to fight for retiring Senator John Warner's Senate seat. Delegates will choose between former Governor Jim Gilmore, who briefly ran for president this year before dropping out to pursue the Senate contest, and State Delegate Bob Marshall, with Gilmore the heavy favorite.

The winning candidate will go on to face another former governor, Mark Warner, in November. The Democrat, who left office widely popular and is credited by some with almost single-handedly reviving his party in the Commonwealth, considered a presidential bid and has even been mentioned as a vice presidential prospect, even as he seems poised to take a Senate seat back for Democrats. Warner has led Gilmore in every public poll by wide margins.

Gilmore will also face a big financial hurdle. Through the pre-convention filing deadline, on May 11, he had raised $983,000 and spent $779,000 to keep just $204,000 in the bank. Warner, on the other hand, had pulled in an astounding $6.36 million through March 31 and retained nearly $4.4 million on hand.

The state party's decision to hold a convention instead of a primary has proven beneficial to Gilmore. Without a convention, in which the universe of voters is a relatively tiny 5,000 or so, Gilmore would have faced more moderate Northern Virginia Rep. Tom Davis, who had already banked $1 million by last October. But Davis, who has arguably the best political skills of any Republican in Congress, knew he couldn't win a convention and dropped his bid.

Even if Gilmore pulls out a big win and consolidates the GOP electorate early, Warner will still be the heavy favorite. Since Warner won the governorship in 2001, just one of the state's top three elected offices has been carried by a Republican, when John Warner won his fifth term in 2002. Since then, Democrat Tim Kaine was elected to succeed Mark Warner in the governor's office in 2005 and Democrat Jim Webb upset Republican Senator George Allen in 2006.

NC Is New Gov Target

As Politics Nation catches up from vacation, a poll we missed earlier this week shows national Democrats have a new seat to worry about. After holding the North Carolina Governor's mansion since Jim Hunt won election in 1992, the party now faces the serious threat of a neck-and-neck race as incumbent Democrat Mike Easley finds himself term limited.

The poll, conducted by the Republican firm Tel Opinion Research for the Civitas Institute, surveyed 800 likely voters between 5/14-17 for a margin of error of +/- 3%. Lieutenant Governor Beverly Perdue, the Democratic nominee, and Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory, the Republican candidate, were tested.

General Election Matchup
(All / Dem / GOP / Ind / Men / Wom)
Perdue.....43 / 64 / 16 / 39 / 37 / 47
McCrory...42 / 23 / 70 / 37 / 46 / 39

Both candidates show impressive abilities to siphon votes away from the other party, though in a state that still has its share of Southern Democrats it is understandable that some might migrate to the Republican Party. Perdue won a surprisingly easy 56%-40% victory over State Treasurer Richard Moore in the Democratic primary, while McCrory, the more moderate Republican, won 46% of the vote, nine points ahead of his nearest rival, State Senator Fred Smith.

Both primaries turned contentious, though Perdue and Moore, who each had more money than their Republican rivals, spent more on television ads lambasting each other (Perdue took her negative ads down unilaterally a few weeks before the primary).

In a national environment with few truly contentious governors' races, both parties are looking for places to spend their money. Democrats will target Republican-held seats in Missouri and Indiana, while Republicans only had a close race in Washington State to go after before polls began to show a close contest in the Tar Heel State. Watch for both parties to play heavily in North Carolina this Fall.

Franken Plagued By 2000 Playboy Article

A Playboy article written in 2000 by current Minnesota Democratic Senate candidate Al Franken has caused a maelstrom of outrage -- and not just from the opposing party.

With just a week before the state convention, where Franken was all but assured of winning the DFL endorsement (which is often tantamount to the nomination), the endorsement could now be in question because of a sexually explicit article he wrote eight years ago on the future of pornography.

Democratic Rep. Betty McCollum, who represents St. Paul and Ramsey County, has been particularly perturbed by the piece. "As a woman, a mother, a former teacher, and an elected official, I find this material completely unacceptable," McCollum said, according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune. McCollum had supported wealthy attorney Mike Cerisi in the primary before he dropped out earlier this year.

The Star Tribune also quoted other Democratic congressmen from Minnesota who found the article to be inappopriate, including Reps. Keith Ellison and Tim Walz, both of whom are freshmen. McCollum also stated that during a weekly meeting the Minnesota Democratic delegation holds, "The overwhelming majority of us thought it was a serious political problem," while "others thought it was a problem but that it would blow over."

The article was first circulated by the Minnesota Republican Party last week, The Hill reported then.

The Franken campaign has responded, saying that the work was merely satire. And Franken spokesman Andy Barr also directly responded to McCollum, saying "it's unfortunate that she's trying to create divisions in our party rather than working with other DFLers to take on [Coleman]," according to the Star Tribune.

In general election polling, Sen. Norm Coleman currently holds a 6.3-point lead over Franken in the RCP Average for Minnesota.

--Kyle Trygstad

Johanns Leads Kos Poll

Democrats have gotten so much good news lately, whether it's encouraging poll numbers out of Mississippi, North Carolina or even Kentucky, that their luck was bound to change. While the party once had high hopes for former Senator Chuck Hagel's seat, a new poll conducted for the liberal DailyKos shows Democrats have a mountain to overcome before they can win in Nebraska.

The survey, conducted 5/19-21 by Research 2000, polled 600 likely voters around the state for a margin of error of +/- 4%. Republican Mike Johanns, the former U.S. Agriculture Secretary and Nebraska Governor, and 2006 congressional candidate Scott Kleeb, the Democratic nominee, were tested. Party ID breakdown: 33% Democratic, 47% Republican, 20% independent.

General Election Matchup
(All / Dem / GOP / Ind / Men / Wom)
Johanns.....58 / 19 / 86 / 56 / 61 / 55 (-1 from last, 11/14)
Kleeb..........31 / 65 / 7 / 32 / 30 / 32 (+3)

Johanns starts off with a significant name recognition advantage. 61% of likely voters in the state have a favorable impression of their former governor, while 27% view him unfavorably. Kleeb is known by just about half the state; 33% view him favorably while 16% don't care much for him.

The Republican also has more money in the bank. Through the April 23 pre-primary reporting period, Johanns had nearly $1.36 million in the bank while Kleeb kept $243,000 in reserve. Kleeb beat businessman Tony Raimondo by an unexpectedly wide 69%-25% margin in the May 13 primary, while Johanns had little opposition in his own contest.

While national Republicans have had limited success in recruiting top-notch candidates this year, the party convinced Johanns to leave the Cabinet to return home and make a bid, landing what is probably their best candidate of the cycle. Democrats originally tried to recruit former Senator Bob Kerrey, now the president of The New School, a New York university. Kerrey demurred, and Kleeb, who attracted netroots attention in his Congressional race last year, stepped up.

Despite respectable fundraising on Kleeb's part, though, Johanns remains a heavy favorite to keep Hagel's seat in Republican hands.

Strategy Memo: Outplay, Outwit, Outlast

Good Friday morning. In case you missed it on Morning Joe recently, we're told Chuck Todd does his own stunts. For that and more Chuck Todd Facts, click here. Here's what Washington is keeping an eye on this morning:

-- The House and Senate are still taking it easy for Memorial Day recess. President Bush is off, too; the White House reports no public events today. Vice President Cheney is raising money for the Republican Party of Virginia at a reception this evening in Richmond, while a number of other Cabinet officials travel overseas. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff is in the United Kingdom, Defense Secretary Robert Gates is in Singapore for a defense forum, Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson is in the middle of a swing through Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates, and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is on the last day of a trip to Sweden and Iceland.

-- Barack Obama has yet another pastor problem, causing more distractions for a campaign that has proven less than completely adept at refocusing the debate. The Illinois Senator distanced himself yesterday from the Rev. Michael Pfleger, a Catholic priest whose weekend sermon at Obama's own Trinity United Church of Christ mocked rival Hillary Clinton for being "entitled" to the nomination. Pfleger, who is white and has been one of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright's biggest supporters in Wright's own time of trouble, has apologized, the Sun Times' Lynn Sweet writes. The second pastor problem offers Obama another opportunity to prove to super delegates that his campaign can get over a hot flap. He's had those opportunities before, though, and missed each one.

-- Meanwhile, this is not what Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid need right now. The House Speaker and Senate Majority Leader have begun to dip their toes in the presidential nominating swamp, contacting uncommitted super delegates to urge them to get off the fence, the New York Times' Carl Hulse writes. At the end of Tuesday's contests in South Dakota and Montana, Congressional Democratic leaders, as well as DNC chief Howard Dean, want this thing over one way or the other. Reid and Pelosi spoke about the matter a week ago, likely meaning that Clinton has just a few days left before major pressure from Democratic leaders comes to bear on the New York Senator to drop out of the race.

-- This weekend presents Clinton's last hurrah. When the DNC's Rules and Bylaws Committee meets Saturday to decide how to seat contested Florida and Michigan delegates, it likely presents the final opportunity for Clinton to gain a substantial number of delegates at one time. Make no mistake, both states will be seated in some form or another, as this author writes this morning. But Clinton's favorite scenario -- that both states' delegates should be seated by their primary results, handing Obama a big fat zero in Michigan, isn't going to happen. Still, with thirteen of twenty-eight RBC members backing Clinton and just nine backing Obama, the Illinois Senator has some hustling to do.

-- At the last RBC meeting, held late last Fall in Vienna, Virginia, just two reporters showed up. This time around, over 400 have made credentials requests, per a party source, and hundreds of Clinton-backing protesters will surround the Wardman Park Marriott in Washington demanding their right to vote (The list of speakers, including "Rep." Eric Massa, who is running against incumbent Rep. Randy Kuhl, comes from OnCall). While he once voted to strip both states of their delegates, Harold Ickes will lead the charge for Clinton's campaign, while the Detroit Free Press reports former John Edwards campaign manager David Bonior will represent Obama's team at the meeting. High profile appearances on both sides are expected.

-- The Associated Press points out what has become the fundamental truth of the Democratic race so far: For all their vaunted political talent, and for all the talk of Bill Clinton being the best political strategist in the Democratic Party, the Clinton campaign simply missed the boat when it came to party rules and the Obama campaign continues to run circles around them. In states like Nevada and Texas, even as Clinton won, Obama won more delegates. In caucus states, Obama beat out the New York Senator by wide margins while reducing his margins elsewhere, like Ohio and Pennsylvania. The Obama campaign got the rules. The Clinton campaign did not; Ickes, who played a role in shaping the rules by which the game was played, was flustered by other top strategists' failure to grasp the concept (like Mark Penn). Had the campaign listened to Ickes more, perhaps the nominating fight would be different.

-- For John McCain, so much as a sniffle is going to be a major news story this year. The Arizona Senator released hundreds of pages of medical documents covering the past eight years (Obama released one page covering the last twenty) showing him in very good health, but the moment the campaign canceled today's planned events in Pennsylvania, rumors flew that the 71 year old had a cold. Not so, press secretary Brooke Buchanan told reporters at yesterday's town hall meeting in Wisconsin, per the New York Times. Her logic was pretty sound: "He's not sick," she said. "Otherwise, we would have canceled this," referring to an event in Greendale, where McCain again slammed Obama for not having traveled to Iraq. Still, justified or not, health is a concern the McCain campaign is going to have to deal with.

-- Smart Move Of The Day: Few independent voters will be persuaded to McCain's economic positions, or by some other, more generically Republican views. But the war in Iraq is still an issue, most polls indicate, on which McCain wins more trust than Obama does. The argument this week has been driven back to Iraq, thanks to McCain's allies, and that's where it will stay if Republicans are smart and lucky. This week's shots at Obama, the Washington Post's Jonathan Weisman writes, come after 870-something days of Obama not visiting the country, a fact on which McCain pounced and Republicans everywhere incorporated into their talking points. Next week, it will be something else.

-- Today On The Trail: McCain's only event for the day is a media availability in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Clinton rallies this evening at the Plaza de la Darsena in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico, while Barack Obama holds a rally with voters at the Four Seasons Arena in Great Falls, Montana. The arena is usually home to rodeos and the Montana State Fair, but today people will cram into the 50,000 square feet of space to hear Obama. By the way, in Montana, are white working class voters more like those in the Ohio River Valley, or more like those in Oregon? We'll find out on Tuesday.

Schweitzer, Baucus Look Safe

Two years after one of the closest Senate contests in the nation, polls conducted for one of Montana's top news agencies shows Governor Brian Schweitzer and Senator Max Baucus, both Democrats, are likely safe this coming November. Democrats don't get all the good news, though; the same survey showed Republican Rep. Denny Rehberg in good position to cruise to his fifth term.

The poll, conducted by Mason-Dixon for Lee Newspapers, surveyed 625 likely voters between 5/19-21 for a margin of error of +/- 4%. Schweitzer was matched up with State Senator Roy Brown, Baucus with State Rep. Mike Lange and and engineer Kirk Bushman, and Rehberg was paired with attorney Jim Hunt and 2006 libertarian candidate Mike Fellows.

General Election Matchup
Schweitzer....55
Brown............30

Baucus...........65
Lange.............26

Baucus...........61
Bushman........26

Rehberg.........52
Hunt................20
Fellows............5

The news for challengers is not good. Baucus' name identification is at 99%, while Rehberg, a two-time Lieutenant Governor who narrowly lost to Baucus in 1996, is known by 98% of Montanans. Schweitzer, meanwhile, is viewed favorably by 52% of the state's voters, while 22% see him unfavorably. Brown's favorable rating is at just 21%, while 15% see him unfavorably.

Montanans may be targeted by an initial advertising blitz from Barack Obama if the likely Democratic nominee thinks he can seriously expand the presidential playing field westward. Whether Montana voters will actually cast ballots for the Democratic presidential ticket remains to be seen, but if they don't, the Big Sky State will have to wait until junior Senator Jon Tester runs for re-election in 2012 to see an interesting contest.

Another Close NC Poll

After winning the Democratic primary by an easy margin earlier this month, North Carolina State Senator Kay Hagan has enjoyed a few weeks of increased attention from national observers. A new poll from a conservative-leaning North Carolina-based think tank shows that new attention could be merited, as many begin to anticipate a close re-election race for incumbent Republican Senator Elizabeth Dole.

The poll, conducted for the Civitas Institute by Tel Opinion Research, a Republican firm based in Virginia, surveyed 800 likely voters between 5/14-17 for a margin of error of +/- 3%. Dole and Hagan were tested.

General Election Matchup
(All / Dem / GOP / Ind / Men / Wom)
Dole......45 / 23 / 78 / 35 / 48 / 42
Hagan...43 / 65 / 13 / 47 / 37 / 49

Both candidates have room to grow among their own base, but Dole has significant ground to make up among independent voters. Hagan, too, could benefit from Barack Obama at the top of the Democratic ticket; while the Illinois Senator is unlikely to win the Tar Heel State, he could boost African American turnout, a group that backs Hagan by a huge margin, according to the poll.

This isn't the first poll showing a close race. A late April poll showed Hagan down just seven points, while one automated dial poll had the Democrat leading by a single point. Dole, though, has a long way to go before national Republicans need to start panicking. Just a few weeks before the primary, Dole held a commanding ten-to-one financial lead over Hagan, with $3.16 million on hand compared with Hagan's $317,000.

Dole has started using her financial advantage early. The campaign released a positive advertisement touting Dole's work on immigration in cities around the state. The spot, which features town and county sheriffs praising Dole's efforts to find and deport illegal immigrants, serves another purpose as well. Hagan's campaign has already signaled that they will criticize the incumbent for being out of state too much, but Dole "went all over North Carolina," says one sheriff in the ad.

While immigration may not be the number one priority of North Carolina voters, using the geography shows Dole's team is working to build an impression that the senator is always in town. "On one level, the Dole ad is not about immigration at all," said one Washington Republican with extensive experience in North Carolina. The subtle message: From Beaufort to Raefort, Greensboro, Hendersonville, Lexington, Mocksville and Salisbury, Dole has spent significant time in the state.

Polls continue to show a close race, and that will likely fuel strong fundraising performances for both candidates in the months to come. But while Dole remains a favorite ahead of November, the contest will be one to keep an eye on.

McConnell Leads Own Poll

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has been advertising since late last year in advance of this November's vote, and he is determined not to find himself in dire straits come the Fall. While former Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle fell victim to the rival party a few years ago, McConnell looks like he's in much better position than his erstwhile colleague, a new poll for the incumbent's campaign shows.

The Voter/Consumer Research poll, conducted for McConnell, surveyed 600 likely voters between 5/21-22 for a margin of error of +/- 4%. McConnell and two-time gubernatorial candidate and businessman Bruce Lunsford, the Democratic nominee, were tested.

General Election Matchup
McConnell....50 (-2 from last, 1/9)
Lunsford......39 (+2)

While it is a partisan poll, VCR is a well-respected firm, and McConnell's lead shouldn't be surprising. A robo-poll company released a survey last week showing the two virtually tied, and to be fair, an 11-point lead is not a huge one for the top Senate Republican to have. But McConnell is well-liked; 55% of state voters have a favorable opinion of him, compared with just 32% who see him unfavorably, and 57% approve of his job performance.

Both the favorable rating and job performance rating are down slightly since January, but one would expect that given Democrats' slamming him throughout the primary season. Lunsford has shown some growth, as 34% of the state has a favorable image of him, up eleven points since January. Just 20% have an unfavorable view.

With 46% of voters undecided about Lunsford, McConnell has a big opening through which to define his new rival. While Lunsford will have plenty of money to spend given his own deep pockets and willingness to use them, McConnell could further dip into the $7.7 million war chest he had on hand at the end of April to run Lunsford's negatives through the roof.

National Democrats could use some of their financial advantage to cut McConnell's money advantage, and Lunsford will likely be well-funded himself. But causing the incumbent serious heartburn may take a lot more work.

Kerry Foe Misses Ballot?

While he may be a long shot, national Republicans are excited that farmer and businessman Jim Ogonowski is taking on Massachusetts Senator John Kerry. The candidate, who came within five points of stealing a special election late last year in what is ordinarily heavily Democratic territory, was in Washington a few months ago meeting with reporters at the National Republican Senatorial Committee, and his gregarious personality would at least keep Kerry on his toes come November.

But all is for naught if Ogonowski can't make the ballot in the first place. Ogonowski's campaign is 82 signatures short of the 10,000 required to make the Massachusetts Republican Party primary ballot, the Boston Globe reports, meaning another high-profile GOP recruit could spend November on the sidelines instead of on the ballot.

Ogonowski's campaign maintains they have enough signatures that have yet to be sent from local elections offices to the Secretary of State's office. And the campaign has another few days to return extra signatures to the commonwealth's top elections official.

Even if Ogonowski reaches the 10,000 signer mark, not all of those signatures will be accepted. Campaigns, both for candidates and for ballot initiatives, know that not all the signatures they collect will be ruled valid. It is common for voters who are not registered in the proper party, or at all, to sign petitions erroneously, requiring candidates to collect extra signatures above the threshold.

And given that Ogonowski is not alone in the GOP primary field, any single bad signature will cause massive headaches. Businessman Jeff Beatty could challenge any signature at a hearing before the ballot law commission, forcing his opponent from the race and setting up what would likely be a much easier path to a Kerry victory. Beatty, who gained the required number of signatures, has already charged that some of Ogonowski's signatures are forgeries, the Boston Herald reported last week.

House Republicans have been taking all the heat lately for their mishandled efforts at clearing the primary field. But if Ogonowski can't make it to November after the NRSC backed him so openly, it will be another black eye for the Senate committee, which has already missed opportunities to recruit top challengers to Democratic senators in South Dakota, Arkansas, Iowa and Montana, among other states.

Strategy Memo: Follow The Lawsuit

Good Thursday morning. Politics Nation is tanned, rested and ready for the sprint to the national conventions in Denver and St. Paul. But before we get to late August, here's what Washington is watching today:

-- The Senate will hold a brief pro forma session in order to prevent recess appointments from being made, while the House remains on Memorial Day recess. President Bush is in Salt Lake City on the heels of a fundraiser there for the RNC, one held with former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney. Today he meets with the new president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, then flies to Kansas City for a fundraiser with Nick Jordan, a state senator taking on Democratic Rep. Dennis Moore. Vice President Cheney will address the New York State GOP's committee meeting tonight in the Big Apple.

-- All eyes on the Democratic side are turned toward a Washington hotel ballroom, where on Saturday the party's Rules and Bylaws Committee will meet to take into consideration several scenarios by which delegates from Florida and Michigan might be seated. Lawyers working for the DNC, in a memo to committee members, float a plan by which 50% of the two delegations are seated, the New York Times writes this morning. That's a solution, but not the Clinton campaign's best option. One of Clinton's last real hopes at the nomination had been a big boost from the two states, and now that appears unlikely.

-- A lawsuit isn't going to work either, it appears. A federal judge based in Tampa ruled yesterday that the Democratic National Committee's primary practices were not discriminatory and that parties have every right to choose how their nominees are decided, the Washington Post notes. That ruling is consistent with previous Supreme Court decisions on both parties' First Amendment right of association. The suit, filed by Democratic political consultant Victor DiMaio, is the second of three suits brought against the DNC by a Floridian. The first suit was similarly dismissed. The clear message to Clintonites and anyone else feeling litigious: Success is a very long shot, at best.

-- Clinton's not completely finished, though. Without Florida and Michigan completely counting, her appeal to party super delegates has to be spot-on, and she's now dropped all pretenses that her goal is anything but victory in Denver. Clinton's campaign issued a letter to the nearly 200 remaining uncommitted super delegates arguing that, based on recent wins, she is the strongest candidate to take on John McCain in November, as the Boston Herald writes. Clinton's letter (viewable here) needs to be very persuasive; not only are there fewer super delegates left than delegates Clinton needs to get to the half-way mark, but she's going to need some to switch from Barack Obama back to her camp. Obama has 1,979 delegates, just 47 away from securing the nomination; Clinton is at 1,781, 245 away from grabbing the nod.

-- With Obama so close to the nomination and the final three contests set to be decided on Sunday and Tuesday, it's no wonder the Illinois Senator is growing more confident by the day. "Once we've got the number of delegates needed to secure the nomination, then I am the nominee. If we're short of that, then we'll have more work to do. But I think once we achieve that, we'll be the nominee," Obama told reporters on his plane last night, per the Wall Street Journal's Amy Chozick. Asked if the race will be over by June 3, when voters in Montana and South Dakota cast ballots, Obama gave a one-word response: "Yes." His June 4 plans? A fundraiser to benefit the beleaguered Democratic National Committee, the New York Observer reports. It won't be a victory party in Clinton's back yard, but a "reality check," one organizer notes.

-- So with Obama so close he can taste it, why would Clinton stick around? Two opposing views: One, she's right. Her general election argument, as Chris Cillizza writes, is spot on, as she runs better than Obama in the latest RCP Averages out of Pennsylvania, Ohio and Florida. Oh, and even by losing, fighting it out, The Fix notes above, gives her the chance to make a comeback in four years. On the other hand, as the Washington Times' Donald Lambro writes, Clinton's hanging around might actually bolster her stature in Democratic circles. But wouldn't an Obama loss be blamed, rightly or wrongly, at least in part on the Clintons' refusal to quit? If so, that's a big damper on any 2012 plans.

-- Not to be completely left out, John McCain has proven effective in recent weeks at forcing Obama's campaign to respond. Now he's done it again, pointing out that Obama has not been back to Iraq in two years, and hasn't even chatted with David Petraeus about the situation on the ground. Earlier this week, talk was of a joint trip, though the Obama campaign dismissed that as a political stunt. But yesterday, Obama said he is considering a trip to Iraq, during an interview with the New York Times while visiting a school in Thorton, Colorado. Iraq would be "at the top of the list" for a stop on a foreign trip Obama would take, much like McCain took earlier this year, the candidate said. How hard with the Obama team have to work to make sure the visit doesn't look like a sham?

-- Fallout Of The Day: Former White House press secretary Scott McClellan's book is reverberating around Washington, and some wonder, is it the first in a wave of disloyal ex-aides, or a one-of-a-kind event? So far, the only other negative book from within the administration came from Richard Clarke, who started at the White House under Clinton, and old Bush aides like Dan Bartlett, Karl Rove and others are rallying around the president. Any impact in November? The only fallout the book will have on the 2008 race is to give the Obama campaign another chance to attempt to tie McCain to the president, which they did in a statement yesterday.

-- Today On The Trail: McCain has a town hall meeting set for Greendale, Wisconsin. Clinton has rallies set for Huron and Watertown, South Dakota. Obama landed in Chicago last night and has no public events set for today.

Strategy Memo: Is It Finito In A Week?

Good Hump Day morning. Reid should be back for tomorrow's Strategy Memo, but here is what Washington is watching today:

--Both the House and Senate continue their Memorial Day week recess.

--A week from now it could all be over. Believe it or not, with just three primary contests remaining, Barack Obama is within about 50 delegates of reaching the magic number of 2,026 needed to secure the nomination, according to the RCP Delegate Count. Of course, that magic number could change this weekend, when the DNC Rules & Bylaws Committee meets in Washington, D.C., to hear oral arguments and decide the fates of the Michigan and Florida delegations.

--Marc Ambinder offers some notes about what the results of the bylaws committee meeting could mean for the race. As he writes, it's likely Clinton will receive some of the delegates she feels she won in both states, but the candidate probably won't be happy with the outcome, especially if the committee decides to seat half of the delegates.

--Clinton's use last week of Robert Kennedy's June 1968 assassination as a historical reference was not the only thing some saw wrong with her argument for why she is still in the race. She also stated that Bill Clinton did not wrap up the 1992 Democratic nomination until June of that year. The New York Times noted this inaccuracy in an article yesterday, and quoted campaign strategists who said the race was over well before the California primary, despite what Clinton now says.

--Carl Cannon, who covered Bill Clinton in the 1992 campaign, also noted Clinton's flawed reasoning in his Reader's Digest blog, and even offered a far more tactful argument for her. Here's a portion of what Cannon states she should have said: "This is the closest primary campaign since 1952 -- maybe the closest ever. If the person who's running second in the closest nominating contest in history is supposed to give up as soon as they fall a little behind, why were these primaries scheduled for May or June in the first place?"

--Clinton apparently had a great weekend campaigning in Puerto Rico. NBC/NJ reporter Mike Memoli had the tough assignment of following Clinton as she toured the entire tropical U.S. Territory, and he gave a stop-by-stop rundown of the weekend. "With a downsized traveling press corps offset by the friendly greetings of local supporters, Clinton enjoyed a short but seemingly reinvigorating trip, likely one of the last of her campaign," Memoli writes.

--McCain held a fundraiser with Pres. Bush yesterday in Scottsdale, Ariz., that was closed to the media. It's a delicate balance McCain is attempting not to upset: Bush still can raise lots of money for you, but the president has some of the lowest approval ratings in the country's history, so you don't want anyone to see you with him. Obama jumped on the moment during remarks yesterday in Las Vegas: "Today, John McCain is having a different kind of meeting. He's holding a fundraiser with George Bush behind closed doors in Arizona. No cameras. No reporters. And we all know why. Senator McCain doesn't want to be seen, hat-in-hand, with the President whose failed policies he promises to continue for another four years."

--Politico's Mike Allen reports that former White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan's new book offers some "explosive revelations" about his time in the Bush administration. According to Allen, McClellan states that Bush used "propoganda" to sell the Iraq war, and that "the White House press corps was too easy on the administration during the run-up to the war."

--Today On The Trail: Obama continues his Western state tour in Thornton, Colo. Clinton will visit Kyle and Rapid City in South Dakota, while Bill Clinton remains in Puerto Rico. McCain will speak in Reno, Nev.

--Kyle Trygstad

Strategy Memo: Raising The Barr

Happy welcome-back-to-work day. Reid is still on hiatus, so if you'll bear with me as you recover from an always much-needed three-day weekend, here is what Washington is watching today:

--Both the House and Senate remain in recess. As Josh Kraushaar wrote Friday, a conservative advocacy group is running a robo-call campaign in the districts of vulnerable Democrats during the Memorial Day recess. The call's narrator says that Democrats left town for vacation without passing a bill funding the war. "Congress this week passed resolutions honoring a college basketball team, Arnold Palmer and Frank Sinatra...but went home for Memorial Day without funding our troops," the narrator states.

--The trend among major newspapers appears to be speculating about Clinton's future, assuming she loses the nomination. Yesterday the New York Times looked at a possibly awkward return to the Senate for Clinton. The Washington Post today also noted Clinton's relatively low seniority in the Senate, and therefore the unlikliness of a quick ascent in leadership. With Majority Leader Harry Reid, as well Richard Durbin and Charles Schumer clogging up Senate leadership, it appears there will not be openings at the top for quite a while. "Clinton faces few options for quick advancement should she give up her presidential bid, prompting some to speculate that she may look elsewhere for a prominent political post, possibly the governorship of New York," the Post's Murray and Kane write.

--Former Georgia congressman Bob Barr won the Libertarian Party endorsement Sunday at the party's convention in Denver. Barr, who served four terms in Congress before redistricting led to his ouster, won after six rounds of balloting, and endorsed Wayne Allyn Root as his running mate. Root had been eliminated from competition for the nomination after the fifth round of balloting.

--Will Barr be a spoiler? That question could certainly loom over the next few months and quite possibly until November, if Barr begins to build a large groundswell of conservative support. The states John McCain would probably worry about most are those that Pres. Bush won by small margins in 2004, especially in the Western portion of the country. States such as New Mexico, Nevada and Colorado (the three states Barack Obama just happens to be touring this week), as well as Barr's home state of Georgia, which voted for Bill Clinton in 1992 after supporting George H.W. Bush in 1988.

--Veepstakes Story of the Day: The New York Times' David Brooks looks at veepstakes, and notes the fallacy in much of the speculation so far of who McCain and Obama will pick as their running mates. As he notes, one shouldn't choose a running mate by what state or constituency they can help win, since recent running mates have not had any effect on the electoral math. While they won't likely help one get elected, a strong vice president could help one stay in office. "Therefore, a sensible presidential candidate shouldn't be selecting a mate on the basis of who can help him get elected," Brooks writes. "He should be thinking about who can help him govern successfully so he can get re-elected."

Today On The Trail: Obama heads to Las Vegas to discuss the housing crisis, as he continues his tour of Western states that should be in play in the general election. Clinton will attend events in Pablo and Billings, Montana. Bill Clinton remains in Puerto Rico. And McCain attends events in Denver and Phoenix. At the latter, he will appear at a fundraiser with Bush.

--Kyle Trygstad

Strategy Memo: Memorial Day Style

Good lazy Memorial Day morning. Reid continues to work hard while out of town, we're sure, but he's taking a Strategy break. So, without further ado, here's an abbreviated look at what the vacated Washington is watching today:

--Both the House and Senate are in recess. For those of us who remain on Capitol Hill, this means no lines at the coffee shops in the morning or sandwich spots at lunch time.

--In its usual amazing fashion, Rolling Thunder took over Washington again yesterday. The annual Memorial Day weekend motorcycle rally along the National Mall honors all war veterans, specifically those of the Vietnam War. What seems like an infinite number of Harley Davidsons parade down Constitution Ave. And throughout the weekend you see the participants everywhere -- at hole-in-the-wall pubs as well as fancy hotel bars. For lack of a better word, it's awesome.

--What will life be like for Hillary Clinton when she returns to the Senate, as it appears she may have to eventually do? As the New York Times' Carl Hulse points out, after winning about half of the primary popular votes, Clinton will still be ranked No. 36 of 49 senators by seniority. And then there's the fact that so many of her colleagues publicly backed Barack Obama. "Though the Senate is a place where rival lawmakers daily work side-by-side, this family feud was more public and pronounced than usual," Hulse writes.

--Speaking of who their congressional colleagues are backing, Roll Call has an excellent list of who each member of Congress is publicly supporting. The score, as of today, is Obama 110, Clinton 99. According to the list, Obama has the backing of 16 senators, while Clinton has 13 Senate endorsements.

--Obama picked up three Hawaii superdelegates yesterday, the AP reported. According to the latest RCP Delegate Count, Obama now leads Clinton by 35 superdelegates, and 193 delegates overall.

--This is the week the DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee meets to decide if and how the delegations from Michigan and Florida will be seated at the convention in Denver at the end of August. In a conference call last week, Clinton communications director Howard Wolfson and senior adviser Harold Ickes made a point of stating that the campaign would be going after the 55 delegates from Michigan that were won by the "Uncommitted" candidate on the January 15 primary ballot. There has been talk that the committee, in trying to reach a compromise, could slate those delegates for Obama. But the Clinton camp will be aggressively arguing against that, and will also be campaigning those 55 delegates to support Clinton.

--Politico's John Harris has, as usual, an interesting piece up. This one is on the media's ability to make a small story seem big. We'll never know exactly what Clinton meant last week when she mentioned the assassination of RFK when explaining why she has continued her campaign. But she once again tried to explain her comments, writing an op-ed for the New York Daily News yesterday.

--John McCain had a few prospective running mates over for a barbeque this weekend. But as the Washington Post reports, the campaign noted that this was just a "social" event. Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, Florida Governor Charlie Crist and Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal are all considered possible choices for McCain, but the press so far learned nothing of what kind of discussions took place. "During an unseasonably mild Arizona weekend, McCain grilled barbecue for three possible running mates at his Sedona vacation house, but said nothing to reporters staked out at the bottom of a dirt road leading into the valley where his compound is located," the Post's Eilperin and Shear write.

--Today On The Trail: Both Obama and McCain are spending Memorial Day in New Mexico. Obama in Las Cruces, McCain in Albuquerque. Meanwhile, Hillary and Bill Clinton are jointly touring Puerto Rico, which holds the most delegate-rich nominating event remaining on the calendar.

--Kyle Trygstad

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:

-- Despite promises to field a more diverse group of candidates, Republicans haven't come up with a single African American or Hispanic candidate. GOPAC Chairman and former Maryland Lieutenant Governor Michael Steele joins Politics Nation to take a look at the GOP's candidates.

-- He surprised state Democrats with his decision to challenge incumbent Senator Frank Lautenberg. Now Rep. Rob Andrews joins Politics Nation to tell us why he can beat his fellow Democrat, and why he should be the next senator from New Jersey.

-- And McCain's already making his first vice presidential moves, inviting everyone down to Sedona for a weekend meet and greet. Who's up, who's down in the race to be the Maverick's number two? Josh Kraushaar, Chris Frates and Susan Davis chime in.

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 6:00 p.m. Eastern.

FEC Impasse Over

The Federal Election Commission is about to get a bunch of new faces as three new appointees cleared a key Senate hurdle yesterday, the Washington Post reports. Nominees Cynthia Bauerly, a Democrat, and Caroline Hunter and Donald McGahn, both Republicans, successfully cleared the Senate Rules Committee yesterday and will head to the floor, where they will be voted on alongside previous nominee Steven Walther, a Democrat.

The votes come after months of deadlock while Republicans demanded a vote on nominee Hans von Spakovsky, a former Justice Department official who Democrats believed was unacceptable because of his advocacy for identification requirements at polling places. Von Spakovsky withdrew his nomination last week. In his place, President Bush will nominate Matthew Petersen, the chief Republican counsel for the Rules Committee.

Should the four nominees currently on the Senate floor win confirmation, which they are expected to do, they will join Democrat Ellen Weintraub, who currently sits on the panel.

The FEC requires four members for a quorum, and because it has only two members now (McGahn will replace outgoing Republican David Mason), the agency cannot author advisory opinions or issue judgment on pending matters. Crucially, had the dispute lasted into the Summer, the body would not have been able to authorize federal funds for John McCain's presidential bid, which would have forced the campaign to go to court to get their money.

McCain's Veep Meet

About two dozen people will join John McCain at his Sedona ranch this weekend, and though not all of them are potential vice presidential candidates some are certainly on McCain's short list. Word of who was invited continues to spread, so here's a quick look at the guest list and what they might bring to the party:

Governor Bobby Jindal: Jindal's youthful experience -- he's been an official at the Department of Health and Human Services, ran Louisiana's health care program and served as governor and he's only 36 -- would be a marked contrast, and he'd likely add to the impression McCain is trying to convey that this is no longer President Bush's Republican Party. He could also bring a good jambalaya recipe.

Governor Charlie Crist: Not a creature of Washington, Crist would bring a fresh, and very tan, face to the Republican ticket. He's only been governor for a year and a half, but he's hugely popular in Florida and would likely guarantee the crucial swing state for the GOP. He's got maturity, at 51, but he's not too old, and executive experience, and he's got a tough-on-crime reputation that earned him the nickname "Chaingang Charlie." But can he barbeque?

Ex-Governor Mitt Romney: We always thought Romney's biggest mistake in his presidential campaign was not playing up his business credentials more. If the economy's an issue come November, McCain could benefit from a running mate who can brag about turning around a number of companies and the Olympics. Romney is 61, but he looks 50, and vetting would be a cinch. Still, is the water completely under the bridge between the two old rivals? Romney seems like the type to bring a side dish to the barbeque to compliment the host's cooking. He might compliment the host's presidential aspirations nicely too.

Senator Joe Lieberman: He's been mentioned by a few for the short list, but the Independent Democrat is more at McCain's side for moral support than anything else. Picking Lieberman, a pro-choice Senator with a long history of a pretty liberal record, would inflame McCain's conservative base, so it's probably best if the Connecticut Senator plays ambassador to independent voters. Plus, no good barbeque comes from Connecticut.

Senator Lindsey Graham: McCain's closest friend in the Senate will be at the gathering this weekend, but it's not likely he will find his way to a short list. Graham would help with social conservatives, and at 52, he's young enough to be a pleasant but not jarring contrast with McCain. But two Senators on the same ticket could hurt a candidate needing to appear not of Washington. Then again, Palmetto-style barbeque sauce is tough to beat.

Governor Tim Pawlenty: Invited, but he won't be there (He's attending a wedding this weekend). Pawlenty has all of the above: A two-term governor who's young enough to contrast with McCain, a base in what could be a swing state, and a positive reputation in Washington conservative circles. Perhaps most importantly, Pawlenty was one of McCain's first backers, through thick and thin, and loyalty is a consideration in McCain's mind. Pawlenty is the guy who calls on his way to the barbeque to see if McCain needs anything picked up. "Like, maybe, a vice presidential candidate? I got one of those."

Ex-Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge: Invited, but he's got a prior commitment in Europe. The one-time governor of Pennsylvania brings a background in a swing state that has trended Democratic in recent years, and as the first head of a department dedicated to protecting the country he could help focus the debate more on national security, an issue on which McCain thrives. Added bonus: He was governor during the 1990's, when the economy was doing just fine, meaning he can take credit for adding jobs. Plus, he would be able to remind McCain not to order swiss cheese on the inevitable cheese steak.

Ex-Governor Mike Huckabee: Invited, but his anniversary is this weekend (Probably a wise choice to stick close to home, given that wife Janet likes grenade launchers). With impeccable credentials among social conservatives and an affable personality, Huckabee is conservative but not in a way that would scare anyone. A two-term governor, he doesn't bring any electoral votes, but he could serve as ambassador to the conservative base better than most. And imagine him debating any Democratic rival; Huckabee could run circles around most. But fiscal conservatives in Washington (especially at the Club for Growth) loathe him, which could cause trouble. In lieu of attendance, Huckabee could send a gallon of barbeque sauce from Sims' in Little Rock, makers of the best 'que we've ever eaten.

Sorry, Condoleezza Rice fans: Despite the most organized efforts of backers advocating a veep pick, the Secretary of State doesn't look like she was on the guest list. Interestingly, though, she happens to be in California, just a hop, skip and a jump away from Arizona, with British Foreign Secretary David Miliband, who might just want to meet this McCain character.

Congress: Not Popular

Republicans, facing a difficult electoral landscape come November, still maintain their ace in the hole is the general unpopularity of Congressional Democrats as well as the GOP. A new poll shows they have a point, but to voters it's not necessarily enough to kick the new majority out of power.

The George Washington University Battleground poll, conducted 5/11-14 by the Tarrance Group, a Republican firm, and Lake Research Partners, a Democratic firm, surveyed 1,018 likely voters for a margin of error of +/- 3%.

General Election Matchup
(All / Dem / GOP / Ind / Men / Wom / Wht / Blk / Lat)
Generic Dem......49 / 92 / 6 / 47 / 47 / 51 / 40 / 97 / 65 (+3 from last, 12/07)
Generic GOPer..40 / 3 / 82 / 27 / 43 / 36 / 46 / 3 / 28 (nc)

Both parties have upside down favorable ratings. Congressional Democrats are viewed positively by 42% of voters, while 46% see them unfavorably. It's worse for Republicans; just 31% view them favorably, while 56% see them unfavorably.

Watch Republicans make a big deal of Democrats' low job approval rating as evidence that this year will be a change election as opposed to an anti-Republican election. Just 31% approve of Congressional Democrats' job performance, while 57% disapprove. But Democrats will point out that the GOP has a worse reputation: A dismal 21% approve of the job John Boehner's caucus is doing, while 68% disapprove.

Both parties will use the poll to make the case that their opponents are unpopular, but the true test will be the next time someone releases a poll including a question on whether voters would re-elect their member of Congress or choose someone new. Usually the number of people who back their own member runs significantly higher than the number who say most members deserve re-election. Republicans' arguments for a change election could be validated if that number drops.

Still, is it enough to prevent a Republican massacre in November? Democrats certainly don't think so.

Strategy Memo: Clean Bill

Good Friday morning. If you happen to be on a flight to Phoenix today, you'll probably be sitting next to a governor making his way to Sedona, Arizona. If you do, tell him not to be nervous. Here's what Washington is watching today:

-- The House and Senate begin a week of recess today to observe the Memorial Day holiday, but they didn't leave empty-handed. Before breaking, the chambers passed most of the farm bill, dealt with the emergency supplemental (final negotiations coming soon) and made headway on a bill to provide veterans with new education benefits. At the White House, President Bush will make more remarks on World Trade Week before heading off to Camp David, while Attorney General Mike Mukasey gives the commencement address at Boston College Law School.

-- After the Rev. Jeremiah Wright buffeted Barack Obama for months, pressure mounted on John McCain to do something about his own pastor problem. McCain scored a coup during the GOP primary by earning support from Texas Pastor John Hagee, but now the two are through. Hagee has made controversial comments in the past, from insulting the Catholic Church, as CNN writes, to insinuating the Holocaust was part of God's plan, as Bloomberg reports. After the comments came to light, McCain rejected Hagee's endorsement and that of another controversial religious figure, Minister Rod Parsley, who had insulted Islam.

-- Yesterday, the New York Times spent time detailing the story of some Florida Jewish voters who don't think Obama is serious enough about Israel's security. Is it fair to assume that there's something deeper to their worries if they consider voting against Obama and for a candidate who had been backed by a minister who said Hitler was doing God's work? But McCain has always had a longer record on foreign policy than Obama, giving him many more opportunities to describe his support of Israel. Too, we wonder, is this part of the generational divide that will play a big role in this campaign? The older but wiser candidate for them, perhaps?

-- An emerging trend: Every candidate has their weaknesses, and one of McCain's could be bubbling to the surface. Obama's weakness, over the past year or so, has been the continuing trend of throwing staff members under the bus when embarrassing questionnaires emerge or questions arise (fourteen times since becoming a presidential candidate). On the other side, when staff ties to lobbyists began to embarrass the campaign, McCain instituted a conflict-of-interest policy that some supporters and advisers grumbled went too far. When the pastor problem emerged, McCain nixed support from two backers on the same day. Does the candidate have a tendency to overreact? Keep an eye on those developments.

-- One more emerging trend: Even as gas prices surge and the economy tanks, Obama has yet to seriously shift the debate to pocketbook issues. Instead, McCain has driven the debate toward the war in Iraq, the war on terror and foreign affairs involving Hamas, Iran and other countries. Obama's team thinks they can win on those arguments, and that's all well and good. But McCain is driving the debate, and that's not where Obama's campaign needs to be. If they want to argue about Iraq, or Iran, or, for that matter, gas prices and the economy, they need to start the argument and pick the fight. If not, they will have little control over the course of the campaign, and that's going to hurt come November.

-- Iraq, too, could prove a worse issue for Barack Obama than he thinks. During confirmation hearings yesterday, soon-to-be CentCom chief David Petraeus said he expects to recommend further troop withdrawals from Iraq this Fall. Could that possibly come at a better time for McCain? The chief legislative champion of the surge strategy will, just weeks before a crucial Election Day, be able to point to Petraeus's recommendation and argue that only he was correct, as The Hill writes this morning. Even better for McCain, Petraeus's recommendations are like a get-out-of-jail-free card he can use to pivot away from any other issue that might be hurting him.

-- McCain isn't the only one preparing for the general election. Obama has begun the vice presidential vetting process, to be headed by Washington Uber-Democrat Jim Johnson, is preparing to install aide Paul Tewes at the Democratic National Committee, and is in the middle of a three-day trip through swing-state Florida, as the Los Angeles Times writes. Next week, Obama is headed to purple states west of the Rockies, with stops planned for New Mexico, Colorado and Nevada, TPM's Greg Sargent writes. He can't, or won't, say it, but so much for Hillary Clinton's chances, Obama's looking completely to November.

-- But in what may prove to be a gaffe, Obama decided to launch a broadside at McCain from the Senate floor yesterday, a no-no akin to, but not as dramatic as, President Bush's shots at Obama from a foreign country. Speaking on behalf of a bill that would boost education funding for veterans, Obama said he respects McCain's service, but "I can't understand why he would line up behind the president in opposition to this GI Bill. I can't believe why he believes it is too generous to our veterans. I could not disagree with him and the president more on this issue." McCain issued a biting response, calling Obama's comments "typical, but no less offensive." Jonathan Martin has the exchange, which has opened a new front in the bitter feud the two will take to November.

-- Story Of The Day: Fair or not, John McCain is going to have to answer questions about whether he is too old to serve. In newly released medical files, McCain took major steps toward achieving that goal. The Associated Press got an advanced look at 1,173 pages of records the campaign will release to a select group of journalists today. The conclusion: McCain is cancer-free, has a strong heart and will probably not show any new symptoms from his experience in Vietnam. Still, these aren't the last records McCain will have to divulge, especially not when he's forced to run against a 46-year-old who plays basketball with the University of North Carolina team.

-- Today On The Trail: Obama begins the day at a Cuba Independence Day celebration in Miami before rallying in Sunrise, Florida. Clinton has events focusing on the economy scheduled for Brandon (population 5,600) and Brookings (population 18,500, the fifth-largest city in the state), South Dakota. McCain begins meeting with vice presidential prospects today in an informal get-together at his Sedona, Arizona ranch.

DCCC Targets GOP Over War Vote

Flexing their financial muscle, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is launching a new round of radio and web advertisements slamming eight Republicans for voting "present" on the supplemental appropriations bill for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The DCCC is targeting two members of leadership, House Minority Leader John Boehner, of Ohio, and Conference Chairman Adam Putnam, of Florida, along with eight members they see as vulnerable. Those potentially vulnerable members include Reps. John Shadegg of Arizona, Lincoln Diaz-Balart and Tom Feeney, of Florida, Randy Kuhl of New York, Thelma Drake of Virginia, Joe Knollenberg of Michigan, Illinois' Mark Kirk and Steve Chabot, of Ohio.

In a conference call with reporters, DCCC chair Chris Van Hollen slammed Republicans for what he called failing the troops. "The new Congress has been working hard on behalf of our troops in Afghanistan and Iraq as well as for veterans," Van Hollen said. "Our colleagues on the other side of the aisle have said one thing and done nothing."

"I was shocked last week when I saw what happened in the House," said Jon Soltz, an Iraq war veteran and chairman of VoteVets.org. "To vote present, that's a complete sellout." Soltz said military members were not permitted to skip a decision or a mission, and that members of Congress should not be allowed to do so either.

Republicans voted "present" on the bill to protest the fact that Speaker Nancy Pelosi bypassed the appropriations committee and instead brought the bill straight to the floor, a complaint Van Hollen dismissed as a common tactic Republicans used "countless times" when they were in the majority. "These members essentially decided to take a walk," he said. The measure will head to the Senate after the Memorial Day recess.

Van Hollen refused to disclose how much the committee would spend on the ads, saying those decisions had yet to be made. In many cases, this is the second time the DCCC has targeted members for votes they have cast this year; earlier, Democrats targeted members over their votes on the State Children's Health Insurance Program.

Updated: Boehner spokesman Michael Steel sends this comment: "This would be laughable if the issue weren't so serious. Democrats have repeatedly voted for defeat for our Armed Forces overseas, as they did again last week. Republicans have fought for the troops, and everyone knows that. These political attacks are beneath contempt and will be completely ineffective."

Dems Neck And Neck In VA

Two leading Democratic candidates fighting for a congressional seat in the Washington, D.C. suburbs are neck and neck, a new poll for one of those candidates shows, as both, national Democrats hope, would give their party a good chance to take back yet another Republican-held seat.

The poll, conducted by Global Strategy Group for ex-Rep. Leslie Byrne, surveyed 400 registered voters who were likely to cast ballots in the Democratic primary for a margin of error of +/- 4.9%. Byrne and Fairfax Board of Supervisors Chair Gerry Connolly were tested.

Primary Election Matchup
(All / Men / Wom)
Connolly....37 / 42 / 32
Byrne........34 / 30 / 37

The tight race is contrary to what many had assumed that Connolly held a wide lead. Byrne, who held the seat before Republican Tom Davis beat her in 1994, has since run for Lieutenant Governor and retains good name recognition in the district, but most establishment Democrats are backing Connolly, including Governor Tim Kaine, who endorsed him yesterday. Connolly released a March poll that showed himself up twenty points.

The survey, conducted by Lake Research Partners for Connolly between 3/24-27, surveyed 500 likely voters for a margin of error of +/- 4.4%. Connolly, Byrne and two less-well known candidates, Doug Denneny and Lori Alexander, were tested.

Primary Election Matchup
Connolly....45
Byrne........25
Denneny.....1
Alexander...1

Both candidates had raised reasonable amounts of money through the end of March. Connolly had pulled in just over $500,000 and retained $422,000 on hand, while Byrne had raised $346,000 and kept $237,000 in the bank. In advance of the state's June 10 primary, both candidates are likely to spend a hefty portion of their remaining balances.

That could be a problem in the general, as Connolly and Byrne both trail their likely Republican foe, businessman Keith Fimian, who pulled in $838,000 by the same March 31 deadline and kept $742,000 on hand. Of that amount, Fimian, who was handpicked by Davis to run as his replacement, had loaned his own campaign $325,000.

Bush Still Raising Money

President Bush will hit fundraisers in three Southwestern states next week, getting back on the trail after spending most of his time around Washington. Bush will raise cash in Phoenix, with John McCain, then appear twice with former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney in Utah. But before raising big bucks for the head of the ticket, Bush will land in Albuquerque to fill the coffers of Bernallilo County Sheriff Darren White, one of a few Republicans with a good shot at winning an open seat this year.

Tickets to the event for White, held this coming Tuesday at a Los Ranchos de Albuquerque private home, run from $1,000 to attend to $5,000 for a photo with Bush. KOB-TV reports the event's goal is just $300,000, which seems low for an evening with the commander in chief. Still, a fundraiser with Vice President Dick Cheney held for Senator Pete Domenici before he announced his retirement netted just $400,000.

The event comes just a week before the state's June 3 primary, in which White is a heavy favorite over State Senator Joe Carraro.

But Bush's visit could come back to haunt the relatively moderate sheriff as he seeks to replace Republican Rep. Heather Wilson in a marginal district that gave more votes to the last two Democratic presidential candidates than to the incumbent. White will likely face questions from the eventual Democratic nominee about his fondness for a very unpopular president, and the leading Democratic candidate has already gone on the attack.

"The president knows that Darren White is a George Bush Republican who will continue to advocate for endless war in Iraq and for economic policies that have left middle class families behind," Albuquerque City Councilmember Martin Heinrich told the Las Cruces Sun-News. Heinrich will face former state Aging Secretary Michelle Lujan Grisham and former Secretary of State Rebecca Vigil Giron in the June 3 Democratic primary.

Smith, Merkley Tight

Two polls showing Democratic challengers running close to or ahead of their Republican rivals in Mississippi and North Carolina, which were once thought to be third-tier hopes at best, could be a coincidence. Then again, a third could be a trend. And here it is: A new poll conducted for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee shows the new Democratic nominee running barely behind two-term GOP Senator Gordon Smith of Oregon.

The survey, taken by the Feldman Group for the DSCC between 5/12-16 -- that is, before the state's May 20 primary in which State House Speaker Jeff Merkley narrowly defeated Portland attorney Steve Novick -- tested 800 likely voters for a margin of error of +/- 3%. Questions pitting Smith and Merkley were released to the public.

General Election Matchup
Smith.......45
Merkley...42

If President Bush is going to have any impact on an election this year, it could well be in Smith's state, where a highly motivated electorate that came out in huge numbers this week very much dislikes the nation's chief executive. Only 22% of Oregonians see Bush doing an excellent or good job, while 78% call his performance fair or poor. Just 17% of the state sees the country headed in the right direction, while 71% say things are going in the wrong direction.

One number that should make observers wonder, though, is Smith's rating. Just 29% of poll respondents say he's doing an excellent or good job, while 55% say his performance is only fair or poor. That job approval rating is much lower than any numbers published on Smith yet, suggesting the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee's advertisements slamming the incumbent may be working well, or that this particular sample just happens to really dislike him.

Then again, this is the first live-call poll made public that we've seen. Don't be surprised if Smith fires back with his own poll showing a much wider margin between the two candidates in coming days. Often the biggest impact a poll like this has is to force the other side to release their own internal numbers.

For more on the contest between Smith and Merkley, check out our backgrounder from last summer.

Strategy Memo: Back To The Front

Good Thursday morning. It's only cute because it's Washington, but NRCC spokesman Ken Spain proposed to Emily Kryder, a spokeswoman for California Democrat Lois Capps, atop the Capitol Dome yesterday. Sorry ladies, Emily said yes. Welcome, new bipartisan power couple. Here's what else Washington is watching this morning:

-- The Senate today will vote on an emergency war funding supplemental using the House version as the initial vehicle. The White House has signaled its unwillingness to sign the House version, so expect the final product to look significantly different than the one their colleagues in the lower chamber provided them. President Bush is at Fort Bragg, North Carolina today to participate in a memorial ceremony, while Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice heads to California to show off environmentally-friendly initiatives to new British Foreign Secretary David Miliband.

-- If you're ever not getting enough media attention, John McCain has come up with an easy way to solve the problem: Just let word leak that you're having a few potential vice presidential candidates over to your house to chat, for what you insist is a "social" occasion. Word leaked late yesterday to the New York Times and the Associated Press that McCain will host Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, Florida Governor Charlie Crist and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, as well as about twenty others, at his ranch in Sedona, Arizona. Senators Joe Lieberman and Lindsey Graham, McCain's body men, will be there as well.

-- All three governors have been mentioned as top candidates for the number two job, and while McCain has kept the selection process closed to all but a very small number of people, the fact that he's so publicly having people over must mean the process is stepping toward a new, faster phase. What perfect timing, as well. With Democratic candidates engaged in some sort of death spiral, McCain can heighten his own profile, which has suffered from lack of media attention, using the media attention to hop back to the front page. But wouldn't it be interesting if this first round was simply a feint: each potential veep heading to Sedona tomorrow has a very good reason not to be on the ticket. Jindal has been in office only since December. Crist, too, has headed his state for only a year and a half. And Romney and McCain were never close. Don't be surprised, in short, if none of these three wind up on McCain's ticket.

-- On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton is just trying to keep her campaign alive. The New York Senator headed to Boca Raton, Florida yesterday to argue that not seating delegates elected by voters in the Sunshine State's January 29 primary is akin to the civil rights movement, the suffragist movement and even the fight for voting rights in Zimbabwe, as CBS's Fernando Suarez writes. The campaign is planning stops in Michigan, as well as an online petition and will heap on as much symbolism as possible in the run-up to the May 31 Rules and Bylaws Committee meeting here in Washington. It's no accident, Politico's Ken Vogel writes, that yesterday's stops were in Palm Beach, Broward and Dade Counties. Fortuitous, as well: HBO's new movie "Recount" is coming out soon.

-- The new, sharper tone focused on Florida and Michigan delegates is the only hope Clinton has of continuing her campaign past June 3, and even then it is unlikely to work. RBC members meeting in Washington will hear two proposals that would seat delegates from both states while punishing them in different ways. In neither case will the fundamental math of the race change, and it's unlikely that Clinton will net more than a handful of delegates. But to advance her argument to super delegates that she actually won the popular vote, and that she's the only candidate capable of beating McCain in November, it's the case she needs to make stick.

-- Wait, did we really just write "campaign past June 3"? You bet. Clinton told AP reporter Brendan Farrington that she will support Florida and Michigan if they continue to press their case to the convention in late August, if that's what they decide to do. The situation with the rogue states might not take place until after Montana and South Dakota cast their ballots in two weeks, leaving party elders to consider the what if scenario of a divided convention fighting over delegate seating on national television.

-- In Barack Obama's campaign, despite being an inch from locking up the nomination, it has to feel like some days he just can't win. While McCain and Clinton don't wear flag pins, it's Obama who is picked on for being somehow unpatriotic. While McCain is associated with a pastor who has made inflammatory comments, it is Obama's association that, many believe, could sink his campaign. Enter the grandfather. A World War II veteran, Obama's grandfather will serve as the jumping-off point for an effort to rebrand the grandson as the ultimate American success story when Obama visits his grave in a Hawaii military cemetary, as Time's Jay Newton-Small reports.

-- Marginalization Of The Day: For only the second time in his presidency, President Bush saw his veto overridden by the House last night, which voted by a wide 316-108 margin to make the $300 billion farm bill law, the Los Angeles Times writes today. The Senate is expected to follow suit, and it's not likely to be the last time Democrats and a growing number of Republicans express their dissatisfaction with a presidential veto. But, thanks to a clerical error, the House may have to try again: One non-controversial 34-page section of the bill was left out of the text sent back to the White House. Still, the big defeat for the White House signals another effort some national Republicans are making to back away from the Bush Administration.

-- Today On The Trail: Clinton is back in Washington today, where General David Petraeus is beginning confirmation hearings for a position atop U.S. Central Command and Lieutenant General Ray Odierno will be grilled in preparation to take over for Petraeus in Iraq. Clinton, who sits on the Senate Armed Services Committee, will be among the senators able to question both men. Obama is in the second day of his Florida swing, with a town hall meeting set for West Palm Beach. And McCain holds events in Union City and Stockton, California, after his interview with Ellen DeGeneres, taped yesterday, airs this morning.

Musgrave, Again, In Trouble

Third-term Republican Rep. Marilyn Musgrave is headed for yet another contentious and costly election, a new poll conducted for her Democratic opponent shows. Musgrave, who replaced Rep. Bob Schaffer in 2002, won just 46% of the vote in 2006, making her the lowest-scoring winner of the entire cycle (A Reform Party candidate took 11%). It's not Musgrave's first close call; after taking 55% in her initial election, Musgrave won just 51% in 2004.

The poll, conducted by Bennett, Petts and Normington, a Democratic polling firm, surveyed 400 likely voters in the Fourth District between 5/13-15, for a margin of error of +/- 4.9%. Musgrave and Betsy Markey, a former top aide to Senator Ken Salazar, were tested among a sample which included 40% self-identified Republican voters, 29% Democratic voters and 31% independents.

General Election Matchup
Markey.......43
Musgrave...36

A poll taken for Musgrave in March showed her leading, though her campaign could not be reached for comment. When Politics Nation gets in touch with them, find those results in this space.

Musgrave has always had trouble with voters in the district, just 37% of whom view her favorably, while 48% view her unfavorably. 40% say her job performance in Congress is excellent or good, while 51% say it's "not so good" or poor. For an incumbent, none of those are good positions in which to be. She's not helped by national factors either; President Bush has just a 39% job approval rating in the district, with 60% who disapprove.

To keep her seat, which is based north and east of Denver in Colorado's High Plains and includes Fort Collins, Musgrave will not be able to rely on the heavy spending national Republicans did on her behalf in 2006. Musgrave is preparing for the challenge, having raised $1.38 million through the end of March and maintaining just over $1 million in the bank. But Markey is no pushover; she's raised $594,000 so far this year and still had $376,000 on hand, not an insignificant amount.

National Democrats will pay close attention to the race come November, hoping to snag yet another piece of GOP territory. President Bush won the seat by a 58%-41% margin over John Kerry, and by a wider 21-point margin over Al Gore.

Lunsford, McConnell To Face Off

As the pledged delegates were being divvied up between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama in Kentucky last night, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell learned who will be challenging him in November.

Entrepreneur Bruce Lunsford, who has lost the last two Democratic primaries for governor, defeated Greg Fischer 51%-34% and now faces an uphill battle against McConnell. A recent poll showed Lunsford trailing McConnell by 12 points, though McConnell was held below 50%. While McConnell enjoys a substantial fundraising lead, as well as the advantages of incumbency, his ties to President Bush could prove troubling in the general election.

Both Democratic candidates are wealthy and spent much of their own money on the race. Lunsford held the advantage of key union endorsements and high name recognition, as well as the endorsement of former candidate Andrew Horne following his departure from the race. Fischer ran a last-minute TV attack ad against Lunsford that called him the "Mud Man" and noted Lunsford's 2003 endorsement of Republican Ernie Fletcher, who went on to a scandal-plagued governorship.

Another competitive race was crystallized in the Louisville-based Third District, where the 2006 election was decided by just 6,000 votes. For the second cycle in a row, freshman Rep. John Yarmuth will face Anne Northup, the former congresswoman whom he knocked out of office. Northup easily won the Republican nomination with 77% of the vote. Yarmuth begins the general election race with a $300,000 cash advantage, according to the latest FEC reports.

In Western Kentucky's vast Second District, State Senator David Boswell defeated Daviess County judge-executive Reid Haire 59%-41% to win the Democratic nomination. In the general election for the open seat, Boswell will take on Republican State Senator Brett Guthrie, who ran unopposed in the GOP primary. Both Boswell and Guthrie hope to replace the retiring GOP Rep. Ron Lewis, whose May 1994 special election victory foreshadowed the Republican takeover of Congress later that year.

Lewis had attempted to choose his successor by announcing his retirement just before Kentucky's January filing deadline, ensuring that Daniel London, his chief of staff, would be the only Republican on the ballot. However, Guthrie caught wind of the retirement and filed his paperwork at the last minute; and London dropped his bid a week later.

Despite the district's Democratic-leaning tradition, it has been solidly Republican since Lewis entered Congress and gave President Bush his best winning percentages in the state in both 2000 and 2004.

-- Kyle Trygstad

Obama At $31, McCain's Best Month

As Hillary Clinton bounded to the stage after a mammoth win in Kentucky last night, Barack Obama spokesman Bill Burton did his best to steal her thunder. In an email to reporters, Burton announced details of the camp's fundraising numbers for April, a month in which Obama again outraised both his rivals.

Obama raised $31.9 million in April, though $600,000 of that money has to be saved for the general election. The campaign attracted 200,000 new donors, bringing their fundraising base up to 1.475 million, and still has $37.3 million on hand for the primary election. A staggering 93% of the donations were in amounts under $100 (94% were under $200, leading one to believe the Obama campaign doesn't ask for a lot of $150 checks).

Clinton came in second with a not-unimpressive $22 million raised in April, much of it from her campaign's big win in Pennsylvania on the 22nd. That victory brought in $10 million in 24 hours, the campaign reported, and the total amount does not include the $5 million Clinton loaned her own campaign that month, as Ben Smith points out. It's the second-best month Clinton has had this year.

Bringing up the rear, but with good news of his own, John McCain raised $18 million in April, his best month of the campaign, as ABC News reported yesterday. The Republican is on pace for another good month, after raising an impressive $7 million in one event in early May. He has already hit fundraisers in Illinois, Georgia and Florida, and he travels to California later this week to raise more coin.

Next week, McCain will host an event in Phoenix with President Bush, and the president will also hold fundraisers with former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney in Utah.

So far this cycle, Obama has raised $264 million, while Clinton has pulled in $193 million to date. McCain's campaign lags far behind, having raised just $89 million to date, a figure almost three times less than Obama's totals.

DCCC Up Big, RNC Only GOP Bright Spot

In the wake of a victory in an Illinois special election, and in the run-up to two more special contests in early May, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee again outraised their Republican counterparts in April and widened the already outsized financial disparity between the two parties' House campaign arms.

The DCCC raised $5 million in April -- including $15,000 from Major League Baseball's political action committee -- and spent $4 million, leaving itself a hair under $45.3 million in the bank. The party still owes $700,000 to vendors. National Republican Congressional Committee coffers actually declined in April; the party brought in $4.25 million and spent $4.68 million, leaving just $6.7 million for later contests.

Those numbers don't reflect major spending by both parties in the few days of May leading up to special elections in Louisiana, on May 3, and Mississippi, on May 13. The NRCC spent about $800,000 through May on both specials, while the DCCC spent more than $1 million on both contests this month.

On the Senate side, the National Republican Senatorial Committee outraised Democrats for the first time this cycle, pulling in $4.3 million to the DSCC's just under $4.2 million in April. But Democrats still have a huge cash advantage, with $37.6 million in the bank compared with $19.4 million for Republicans. Democrats are already flexing their muscles, running advertisements in several states; the party spent $4.5 million in April, compared with $2.3 million expended by the NRSC. DSCC spokesman Matt Miller told Politics Nation the party "made investments in 16 states this month as we ramp up the field programs that delivered victories in close states last cycle."

Republicans' one bright spot comes at the national level, where donors are still forking over more money than they are to Democrats.The Democratic National Committee continues to trail the Republican National Committee in fundraising, too, having pulled in just $4.75 million in April and spending $5.6 million. Howard Dean's DNC has just $4.4 million left in the bank, though that number will likely grow in next month's report, after party officials announced joint fundraising agreements between itself and the two remaining presidential candidates.

Mike Duncan's RNC raised an impressive $19.8 million in April, leaving it with $40 million on hand. To put that number in perspective, that's $15 million more in the bank than the DNC has raised, total, during this cycle.

In total, the three top Democratic committees boast $87 million cash on hand, while Republicans have approximately $66.7 million left over.

Merkley Survives Sen Primary

Oregon State House Speaker Jeff Merkley narrowly squeaked by a Portland attorney and activist in the race to face Republican incumbent Senator Gordon Smith last night. In a primary that left both candidates lurching to the left, Merkley, the favorite of most of the party establishment, won by wide margins in most of the state's counties to overcome attorney Steve Novick's big lead in Portland-based Multnomah County.

With 85% of the vote counted, Merkley had 45% to Novick's 41%, and realtor Candy Neville took 7%. The Associated Press and others have called the race for Merkley, who won all but four out of the state's thirty two counties and every metropolitan area save the state's largest city and Corvallis, where Oregon State University is based.

Merkley will now face Smith in November, a tough and well-funded opponent who knows that 2008 is going to be a difficult year for his Republican Party. Therefore, Smith is taking no chances, and don't be surprised if ads begin hitting the airwaves defining Merkley as the product of a liberal legislature. Given his heavy ad spending in the last several weeks of the primary, Merkley finds his warchest depleted, a disparity national Democrats have tried to mitigate by running ads slamming Smith.

In the state's other hot race, businessman and 2006 nominee Mike Erickson beat out two-time gubernatorial nominee Kevin Mannix in the race for the Republican nomination in the state's open Fifth District. Erickson took 50% to Mannix's 44%. The Republican contest turned nasty in the final week as Mannix dropped a mail piece accusing Erickson of paying for an abortion, a charge that some suggested would likely backfire on its source.

On the Democratic side, State Senator Kurt Schrader easily outpaced his nearest rival, Steve Marks, who served as the top aide to a popular former governor, by a 54%-18% margin and will carry the mantle in the race to replace retiring Democratic Rep. Darlene Hooley. The district, which takes in some southern Portland suburbs and stretches from the Cascades to the coast, scooping up state capitol Salem on the way, is marginal, and Hooley won by small enough amounts to guarantee her a spot on the GOP target list.

National Democrats had favored Schrader, but this contest, in a district President Bush won narrowly twice, is likely going to be one on which national Democrats have to spend money. Erickson has already poured more than $2.1 million into his two bids, while Schrader raised just over $100,000 between filing on March 7 and the end of the reporting period in Oregon, April 30.

In other Oregon election news, Portland selected its first openly gay mayor, as Sam Adams took 58% of the vote, beating a dozen other candidates, the closest being businessman Sho Dozono, who took 34%. Adams is a city councilmember and had served as the top aide to the highly popular former mayor, Vera Katz, the Oregonian reports this morning. Katz stepped down after three terms when she was diagnosed with cancer, though four years later she remains a volunteer at a Portland-area literacy program.

Strategy Memo: Bluegrass, Beavers And Bostonians

Good Wednesday morning. After contests in Oregon and Kentucky last night, Puerto Rico remains the only sizable prize left. Surely one of the candidates will venture to San Juan, right? (Don't forget, Bill Clinton and Michelle Obama have both taken trips to the island) Aside from tan lines, here's what Washington is watching today:

-- The House today votes on expiring tax provisions, a defense authorization bill and the conference report on the contentious budget resolution. The Senate, which began debating the latest war supplemental yesterday, will hold a procedural votes on the bill. In advance of Memorial Day, President Bush meets with George Lisicki, national commander in chief of the Veterans of Foreign Wars. Later, Bush signs a bill banning discrimination based on genetic information and sitsdown with the Maronite Patriarch of Lebanon, Nasrallah Sfeir. Also today, Vice President Cheney gives the commencement address to cadets at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in New London, Connecticut.

-- Before we get to the news of the day, even elections yesterday couldn't overcome word that Senator Ted Kennedy had been diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor. Long the icon to liberals everywhere, and preferred whipping boy of the right, Kennedy actually works more across party lines than most people know, as evinced by the kind words that came yesterday from even the most conservative Republicans. Perhaps the most effective legislator in the upper chamber, he has his name atop at least one of the major battles of each Congress, and no one in the country is untouched by his work over the last four and a half decades in the Senate. He'll be back soon enough.

-- In ballot box news, both Democratic candidates gave victory speeches last night (in which they acknowledged Kennedy's influence on the nation and their party) focusing on very different themes. Hillary Clinton, who won the Kentucky primary by a whopping 65%-30% margin, sees that as an indication that she should stay in the race and intends to be there until Florida and Michigan delegates are seated at the convention, in some fashion. Barack Obama, who won Oregon's mail-in primary by a 58%-42% margin (with just 88% reporting so far), subtly made the point to a crowd in Des Moines, Iowa, and in an email to supporters last night, that the two performances have given him half of the pledged delegates available in primaries and contests, which will put new pressure on super delegates to break to his side.

-- The race, Obama is saying without saying, is over. And at the rate super delegates are deciding, he's probably right. He's got 1,652 pledged delegates, according to the latest RCP Delegate Count, and 305 super delegates so far, putting him just 69 delegates from the 2,026 he needs to secure the nomination. At five super delegates a day, the rate he's been averaging, that mark is a mere fourteen days away. Then again, watch for the Obama campaign to get close to that mark, then encourage other super delegates to pause so that he can grab the mantle with an actual electoral win, likely in Montana and South Dakota on June 3. (As a measure of how confident the Obama team is, top aide Paul Tewes is in talks preparing to take over the DNC, USA Today writes)

-- So why is Clinton still in the race? She's rebuffed suggestions from some friends and allies that her continued presence in the race hurts the party, the New York Times writes today (The fact that people have begun to say that to the candidate herself is remarkable as it is), thinking she can either still win the nomination or that she can accomplish more of the goals she set out to achieve. Clinton has also told close friends that she believes sexism is a larger factor than racism in the primary, and that she is continuing to show young female supporters that she's not a quitter.

-- Also, Clinton doesn't buy the fact that Obama needs 2,026 delegates to secure the nomination; he needs 2,210, she said in her victory speech in Louisville last night, a number that includes full delegations from Florida and Michigan. Winning the remaining three primaries, Clinton's team believes, could put them in a stronger position to influence the outcome of a May 31 Rules and Bylaws Committee meeting in Washington, at which the two states will have a final chance to make their case and committee members will have the chance to vote on a number of proposals to allocate delegates. At the moment, twelve committee members back Clinton, eight back Obama and ten are neutral.

-- On the other side of the aisle, John McCain, who is nearing the end of his not-so-self-imposed media exile, is making a major effort to build a more colorful Republican coalition than before. McCain spent yesterday talking Cuba policy before audiences in Miami, slamming Barack Obama for what McCain said was a promise to meet with Raul Castro, per the Miami Herald (bonus shot of McCain's new guayaberas). Cuban Americans have a long history of voting Republican, though their fidelity to the GOP has slipped of late, and McCain hopes to bring Hispanic voters as a whole more his way. McCain will also reach out to African American voters, most prominently by addressing the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People's national convention in Cincinnati this July, the Associated Press reports. Last year, McCain declined the group's invitation to speak.

-- Campaign Moves Of The Day: As promised, McCain ad guru Mark McKinnon will step down from the campaign as Barack Obama locks up the nomination, The Fix reported first yesterday. McKinnon, a former Democrat who worked for President Bush and stuck by McCain through the darkest moments of his campaign, has said he could not bring himself to work against Obama. He's the sixth top McCain staffer to leave in a little over a week, though the others left thanks to ties to lobbyists. Three top GOP ad men -- Fred Davis, Chris Mottola and Mike Hudome -- will take over for McKinnon, and though there was some speculation that Mike Murphy, insider extraordinare, would be back on the team, especially after Murphy and McCain met this weekend. No dice, though, says Murphy.

-- Today On The Trail: Both Democrats are in Florida today to campaign, though we bet Obama will focus more on John McCain while Clinton pays more attention to seating delegates. Obama has events planned in Tampa, where he will rally, and in Kissimmee, where he hosts a town hall this afternoon. Clinton will campaign in Boca Raton, Sunrise and Coral Gables, Florida. McCain, meanwhile, has no public events planned today.

OR Primaries Tight

Oregon voters are mailing in their ballots today not only to allocate the state's 52 convention delegates but also to pick candidates to take on incumbent Republican Senator Gordon Smith and to replace outgoing Democratic Rep. Darlene Hooley. In both races, candidates are dealing with a hugely expanded universe of voters -- Oregon election officials expect 70% of registered Democrats to cast ballots -- that may change the outcomes.

In the race to beat Smith, State House Speaker Jeff Merkley, initially seen as the odds on favorite to win the primary, has faced a surprisingly strong challenge from Portland attorney and activist Steve Novick. Running to the left, Novick has characterized Merkley as politics as usual, while asserting he can draw the best contrasts with Smith. Polls have showed the two running neck and neck, though with more than 40% of the electorate undecided.

Should Novick win, it will be the first time a candidate handpicked by Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee chairman Chuck Schumer failed to make it out of a primary. Schumer recruited Merkley, albeit after several other better-known state Democrats refused to enter the race, and while the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee hasn't explicitly endorsed or advocated on his behalf, aides have made known that they believe Merkley would have the best chance to beat Smith in November.

In the state's Fifth District, Rep. Darlene Hooley dropped her bid for a new term citing health reasons, and her life couldn't have been made easier by the fact that her seat is a perpetual Republican target. The district, south of Portland stretching from the Cascade Mountains to the coast, voted twice for President Bush, though Hooley has usually won by ten points or more.

Running to replace her, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee recruited State Senator Kurt Schrader, though Steve Marks, a former chief of staff to ex-Governor John Kitzhaber, is also running. Schrader has a political base and more money, though Marks has backing from Kitzhaber and former Governor Barbara Roberts. Both candidates jumped in the race late, given Hooley's late exit, in early February. Three other Democrats are also running, though none look like serious threats to Schrader and Marks.

The Republican side of the primary, in which turnout will be significantly lighter, has turned into one of the ugliest contests so far this cycle as late mail drops accused one candidate of paying for an abortion for a former friend. Mike Erickson, a businessman who ran in 2006, denied the story, as asserted in a letter sent to voters who hadn't cast ballots yet paid for by Kevin Mannix, a former state Republican Party chairman and candidate for other offices.

Erickson has name recognition from running in the district two years ago in one of the few seats Republicans thought they might pick up. Mannix, who has run for governor twice and served in the 1990s as a State Senator, has high name recognition as well. And while Erickson has vastly outspent Mannix, who got a late start in the race, the last-minute allegations -- true or not -- could have an impact.

After two competitive primaries in advance of the November elections, the eventual Democratic and Republican nominees are going to receive a lot of attention from their national parties. In such a swing district, in a presidential year, the seat could prove to be one of the tightest in the country.

Bluegrass Voters Pick Nominees

Down-ballot from the presidential primaries in Kentucky are three congressional races that will decide the players for what could be competitive general elections. Two incumbents are awaiting their challengers, while Democrats will decide their candidate for an open House seat.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is still favored to retain his seat in November. However, recent polls have backed up national Democrats' view of this race as an upset possibility. McConnell's strong support for President Bush, including on the Iraq war, is his biggest liability; and with his wife still serving as Bush's Labor Secretary, McConnell, some Democrats might argue, is quite literally married to the administration.

Leading the pack of seven Democratic challengers are wealthy businessmen Bruce Lunsford and Greg Fischer, who both hail from Louisville. A recent poll showed Lunsford leading Fischer by 20 points, while both candidates trailed McConnell by 12 points in general election matchups. Both Democrats have spent more than $1 million on the primary, while McConnell has spent closer to $4 million so far, despite a cake-walk primary. The four-term incumbent spent about $5 million in each of his last two re-election campaigns, but he is already close to eclipsing that figure with more than five months remaining until the general election.

In Kentucky's Third District, freshman Democrat John Yarmuth will likely be defending his seat in a grudge match with former Rep. Anne Northup, whom he knocked out of office in 2006 by about 6,000 votes. This marginal Louisville-based district -- both John Kerry and Al Gore defeated Bush by 2 points here -- offers the possibility for competitiveness almost every year. Northup herself won more than 53% just once in her five-term House career. In her attempt to win back the seat, Northup will first need to defeat three GOP primary opponents, though she is likely to do so.

In the 2nd District, which GOP Rep. Ron Lewis is retiring from after seven full terms in office, two Democrats are vying to take on state Senator Brett Guthrie, the Republican nominee. The filing deadline offered some last-minute drama for the GOP, as Lewis attempted to select his successor -- his chief of staff -- by announcing his retirement just before the deadline. However, Guthrie, whom the NRCC calls an "A" candidate, rushed in his paperwork, just in time.

The Democratic nominee will be either State Senator David Boswell or Daviess County judge-executive Reid Haire. Both come from the Owensboro area in Daviess County, the large district's western-most county. Through the end of April, Haire had outspent Boswell two-to-one. Either candidate will face steep odds in the general, as Bush scored his best winning percentages in the state here in both 2000 and 2004. This formerly Democratic district has been in GOP hands since Lewis took over in a 1994 special election that many believe was the first visible crack in the tidal wave that swept Republicans to power that November.

-- Kyle Trygstad

Dem Leads In MS?

As hard as it might be to believe, former Mississippi Governor Ronnie Musgrove, a Democrat, leads incumbent rookie Senator Roger Wicker, according to a new poll conducted by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. A week after Democrats captured Wicker's old House seat in the northern part of the state, the poll shows good news as Democrats look for new ways to expand the playing field.

The survey, conducted 5/15-18 by Hamilton Campaigns for the DSCC, polled 600 likely voters for a margin of error of +/- 4%. Musgrove and Wicker were tested.

General Election Matchup
Musgrove.......48
Wicker............42

Musgrove has a higher favorable rating, of 57% compared with 30% who see him unfavorably, than Wicker does, at 42% favorable and 14% unfavorable. Having represented the Senate only since the end of 2007, that shouldn't surprise Wicker's people. In fact, the DSCC polling memo points out that Musgrove is much better known in the Southern part of the state, far away from Wicker's home base of Tupelo.

But the upper chamber's most junior member is taking nothing for granted, either: He raised more than $2.5 million in the First Quarter alone and transferred another $500,000 from his House committee, giving him plenty of funds to use to bolster his name identification.

But the poll is bad news for Republicans, already dealing with a cycle in which most expect the party to lose between four and six seats. Just 23% of Mississippians see the country heading in the right direction, while 58% think the country is going in the wrong direction, and voters are blaming Republicans, the DSCC concludes. "Last week, Mississippi voters showed they are tired of business as usual in Washington and ready for a change, and this poll shows that they are ready for a new Senator to replace Roger Wicker," DSCC spokesman Matt Miller said.

Wicker remains a favorite for retainment at the moment, given his cash advantage and the state's GOP tilt, both for federal offices and in presidential years. But beating Musgrove in a second-tier race could suck up still more resources that national Republicans simply don't have. On the other hand, if similar poll results continue to leak out of the state, perhaps the depth of the pit in which the GOP finds itself hasn't yet been reached.

RSC To Pitch Plan

Concerned with the lack of positive message their party is offering, the conservative Republican Study Committee will offer a new platform today they hope will bolster their image with voters, and that may boost the RSC's profile in the House Republican conference. After three straight special election losses, some Republicans are worried that calling Democrats liberal tax-and-spenders simply won't work.

Last night, RSC chairman Jeb Hensarling sent a memo to committee members urging them to attend today's conference meeting in order to make their voices heard. "Collectively, the Republican Conference needs to unify behind a handful of policy proposals that are bold, simple, and are truly part of our core identity," Hensarling wrote. Hensarling and the RSC will urge fellow Republicans to adopt an "action plan" around easy-to-swallow bullet points that can serve as the framework for the party's larger message heading into November.

The plan calls for Republicans to accept an immediate, unilateral earmark moratorium; holding the line on spending and cutting taxes; reforming health care; dropping gas prices by increasing domestic production; prohibiting interstate abortion; and reforming certain welfare work requirements.

Fiscal policy comes first on the list, Hensarling told the New York Times, because that's where the party is hurt the most. After bridges to nowhere and record numbers of earmarks when they ruled Congress, the GOP image has suffered significantly. Fortunately, the Times writes, that dovetails nicely with John McCain's hardline stand on spending policy.

Hensarling's proposals come as House Republican leaders have started crafting their own message for November, under the slogan "The Change You Deserve." Other groups, too, plan to offer their own slogans and themes, but Republicans in Congress have figured one thing out: Running against the incumbent party rarely works, as it requires the incumbents to make a big mistake. The last time that happened, it hurt Republicans, leading into one of those rare occurrences, in 2006.

Coleman Leads MN Poll

After a difficult two months in which he took heat for failing to pay taxes in some states and for not providing worker's compensation through his company, entertainer Al Franken now finds himself at a significant disadvantage to incumbent Senator Norm Coleman in Minnesota. Franken, who once led or was tied with Coleman, has faced such a difficult time lately that one candidate who dropped out of the Democratic primary has even considered returning to the race.

The poll, conducted by the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, took place 5/12-15 and surveyed 1,203 adults, with a subsample of 1,117 registered voters. Both samples have a margin of error of +/- 3%. Coleman, Franken, attorney Mike Ciresi and college professor Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer were surveyed.

General Election Matchup (RVs)
Coleman.................51
Franken..................44

Coleman.................51
Ciresi......................43

Coleman.................53
Nelson-Pallmeyer...38

The income tax filing issue has affected Franken, the poll shows. 28% of respondents said the issue made them less likely to vote for the entertainer, including 20% of Democrats and 26% of independents. The fact that the Star-Tribune included Ciresi, who dropped his bid in early March, is another sign of Franken's ills. When he first jumped into the race, Franken made some Democrats worry about missing the chance to seriously challenge Coleman.

But the incumbent isn't in much better position. Just 45% approve of the job he's doing as a senator, as 31% disapprove, and 45% of respondents said Coleman changes his mind for political advantage. Only 34% said they thought Coleman has a core set of political principles.

Take note of the poll's source, too. The Star-Tribune poll has been a favorite whipping boy for Republican Party officials in recent years, as they criticize results for skewing too much towards Democrats. The final survey in 2006 showed Democrat Amy Klobuchar leading Republican Mark Kennedy by about twenty points, and though Republicans again called for polling director Rob Daves' head, Klobuchar won by a nearly identical margin. When surveys closer to November show a tight race, remember that no Republicans complained about Coleman's lead way back in mid-May.

Fossella Drops Bid

Embattled Republican Rep. Vito Fossella will not run for re-election, the New York Times reported last night, relieving at least a small burden on House Republicans nervous at the prospect of another scandal-tainted member hurting their party's national image. Arrested for driving while intoxicated on May 1 in Alexandria, Virginia, Fossella was bailed out of jail by his girlfriend, with whom he has a young daughter. Fossella also has three children with his wife in New York.

"This choice was an extremely difficult one, balanced between my dedication to service to our great nation and the need to concentrate on healing the wounds that I have caused to my wife and family. Despite the personal mistakes I have made, I am touched by the outpouring of support and encouragement I have received from so many people," a statement from Fossella's office said. "While many have urged me to run for re-election, I believe this course of action is best for my family and our community."

Fossella, who at 43 is serving his fifth full term, had been under increasing pressure from Republican leader John Boehner in recent days to end his bid. Boehner unsubtly began making phone calls to potential candidates who might replace Fossella, most notably Staten Island District Attorney Daniel Donovan, while Democrats in Washington and New York began to pay new attention to a race they already believed they had an outside shot of winning.

Other Republicans considering a bid include State Senator Andrew Lanza and New York City Councilmembers Vincent Ignizio and James Oddo. 2006 Democratic nominee Steve Harrison is running again, as is councilmember Domenic Recchia, who represents a council district in the Brooklyn sliver of the Congressional seat. Democrats are also working on potential candidates who live on Staten Island, which makes up most of the district, including State Senator Diane Savino, Assemblyman Michael Cusick and councilman Michael McMahon.

Fossella's ouster is a mixed blessing for Republicans. Boehner is uninterested in seeing scandal-plagued members stick around and has taken a much harder line with trouble-makers than previous Republican leaders. But the party now has an additional seat in play: Al Gore beat President Bush in the district by eight points, though four years later security voters handed Bush a ten-point win. The district, by any measure, is marginal, and while Republicans have good prospective candidates to take over, this year has not proven favorable to the GOP.

Strategy Memo: The Rove Primary

Good Tuesday morning. Giving hope to Washington State natives everywhere, Jon Lester of the Boston Red Sox, born in Tacoma, overcame a battle with lymphoma to pitch a two-walk no hitter against the Kansas City Royals last night. Some of us couldn't believe we were actually rooting for the Sox as Lester struck out the final batter. Here's what the rest of Washington is watching this morning:

-- The Senate meets today to consider the nomination of Steven Agee to the Fourth Circuit, the first of three judicial nominations Majority Leader Harry Reid says he hopes to deal with before the chamber heads off on Memorial Day recess. Later, the Senate will consider the Iraq and Afghanistan supplemental appropriations bill. The House is back in session today to take on a number of bills dealing with veterans' concerns. President Bush is at the White House where he will deliver remarks on World Trade Week, and Veterans' Affairs Secretary James Peake makes his first stop at the National Press Club since being confirmed just months ago.

-- On the campaign trail, today is Oregon and Kentucky's day to shine. A total of 103 delegates are at stake -- 52 in Oregon, 51 in Kentucky -- as the last two states with more than one member of Congress get to vote. The last polls in Kentucky close at 7 p.m. Eastern, and the final drop-boxes close in Oregon's all-mail-in election at 11 p.m. Eastern. In both states, there is a clear leader -- Barack Obama is up 12 points in the latest RCP Oregon Average, while Hillary Clinton leads the final RCP Kentucky Average by a whopping 29 points. Expect a quick call out of the Bluegrass State early in the evening and no news out of Oregon until tomorrow morning -- mail-in voting means there will be no exit polling as there was in other states.

-- With a shrinking number of delegates needed to clinch the nomination, Obama will earn the last he needs to reach a majority of the pledged delegates when voters are done today. He needs just 17 more delegates to hit the halfway point, and he is likely to secure that number from Kentucky, even without a win in Oregon. Obama has been careful of late not to declare victory, but once his campaign reaches the milestone, he'll be pointing it out every chance he gets, the Washington Times' Christina Bellantoni writes. For its part, the Clinton campaign says Obama will not have actually earned a majority of delegates, given that he is not counting contests in Florida and Michigan. Both candidates will be in Florida tomorrow.

-- Clinton says she has a majority as well, but in the popular vote. She is using parts of her rallies to explain in detail that she has earned more votes than "anybody ever running for president before" (a slight exaggeration, and we're sure she meant "in the primary"), and by her campaign's calculations, they do indeed lead Obama, but by 26,000 votes out of 33 million cast, the New York Times writes. Those calculations include Florida and Michigan and do not include four caucus states that have not reported official numbers. Like the electoral college, DNC rules care nothing for the popular vote, but it's one of the last arguments Clinton has in her arsenal.

-- Another that still has some Democrats concerned: According to analyses by several organizations, Clinton is running better, on a state-by-state basis, than Obama is against John McCain. The last organization to reach that conclusion: Karl Rove & Co., as ABC's Jake Tapper reports. Charts Rove's new consulting office has compiled show McCain leading Obama, based on polling averages, with 238 electoral votes to Obama's 221, while the Republican trails Clinton by a 259-206 margin. The difference: Clinton makes states like Missouri, New Hampshire, Ohio and West Virginia competitive, not to mention Florida and Arkansas. That's something we've witnessed in RCP Averages for a number of states; Clinton just outpolls Obama against McCain in a number of key states.

-- While Clinton will get a win tonight -- and she's likely to net what could be a dozen delegates or more -- and while she might be looking better against McCain come November, the simple fact is that the nominating contest is close to finished, and both Obama and McCain have turned to each other. Their first feud that will continue through November will be over lobbyists and their connections to each campaign. Several of McCain's top officials, including senior adviser Charlie Black and campaign manager Rick Davis, are or were lobbyists, and Obama says they've bought and paid for McCain's campaign, as the Post's Mosk and Shear write today. McCain has, and will, hit back hard and fast. Every time Obama's camp accuses McCain of ties to lobbyists, the Republican shoots back with assertions about William Ayers, the Weather Underground activist in whose home Obama held a fundraiser a decade ago.

-- But we could be witnessing round one of the mistakes that change the campaign. McCain is in the midst of implementing new policies that would prevent conflicts of interest, requiring employees to disclose past lobbying clients and associations with other countries. Some advisers, though, worry they're shooting themselves in the foot; five aides, including a national finance co-chairman, a deputy campaign manager and others have left in the past week alone. Why fire good people, the skeptical advisers ask, especially over this issue? "When asked to name the 10,000 things people think are the most important issue, this doesn't make the list," one anonymous adviser told the Post.

-- Disappointment Of The Day: Turnout so far this primary season has been high, with more than 35 million Democratic and 19 million Republican votes cast so far. In 23 of 34 states, according to an analysis [pdf] by the Center for the Study of the American Electorate at American University, turnout has reached new record highs (USA Today's highlights here). But, as director Curtis Gans predicts, turnout is going to fall just short of the 1972 primary season, when 30.9% of eligible voters went to the polls, barely above this year's 30.2%. And while some argue that high turnout in the primary is indicative of high turnout in the general, be skeptical: Gans points out that the 1972 election -- that is, after the record-setting primary season -- showed the largest decline in turnout of any presidential contest since World War II.

-- Today On The Trail: It's a slow day on the campaign trail. McCain is in Miami, where he will give a speech, hold a town hall meeting and tour La Casa Del Preso, the House of Prisoners, dedicated to former political prisoners in Cuba, in the city's Little Havana neighborhood. Obama returns to where it all started with a rally in Des Moines this evening, while Clinton is in Louisville for an election night party right after Oregon polls close.

No GOP Shakeup Imminent

Despite calls in some Republican corners for a leadership shakeup, House Minority Leader John Boehner told ABC's George Stephanopoulos yesterday that he and National Republican Congressional Committee chairman Tom Cole were safe, for now.

"I know what needs to be done to deliver real reform here in Washington. I'm staying. My job is to help bring our members together and lead them," Boehner said. "Tom and I had a very good meeting on Friday. We had several conversations last week. Frank and constructive and positive. And I expect we're going to have more conversations next week. He's staying."

Boehner's declaration comes on the heels of three consecutive Republican losses in special elections, losses that have sounded serious alarm bells within the beleaguered party. "When my members want to moan and groan, I understand it," Boehner said. "Things haven't been real happy for them, losing three special elections. But we all have to look in the mirror. We all have to decide, 'Alright what are we going to do today in order to show the American people that we're serious about doing the kind of things they want done?'"

Some Republicans last week suggested that Cole, whose leadership of the NRCC has been second-guessed for months, might be replaced by Virginia Rep. Tom Davis, who increased the party's majorities during his tenure at the helm. Davis, who is not running for re-election himself, issued a memo to fellow Republicans last week in which he called for his party to distance itself from President Bush, and has repeatedly spoken frankly about the GOP's injuries to various media outlets.

One knock on Cole has been his refusal to get involved in primaries to ensure the eventual nominee is the strongest possible candidate. Washington Republicans lay significant blame for the three lost special elections at the feet of the losing candidates, including Jim Oberweis in Illinois, Woody Jenkins in Louisiana and Greg Davis in Mississippi. But Cole told Roll Call's David Drucker he would not change his policy of staying out of competitive primaries. "At this point the last thing a candidate would want is to be the hand-picked candidate of Washington, D.C.," Cole said Friday.

That's not an approach Boehner follows himself. The House Minority Leader, Drucker writes, has endorsed Republican candidates in competitive primaries in Kansas, New Hampshire and New Jersey. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee uses the practice of getting involved in primaries, and Tom Davis and other previous NRCC chairs have done so as well.

With most analysts expecting double-digit losses for national Republicans come November, Cole's and Boehner's jobs could be in jeopardy. NRCC chairs have recently headed the committee for two cycles, though Cole has made clear his indecision about whether to run for another term at the helm. And both parties have made a practice of retiring their leaders after big losses, potentially putting Boehner's position in play as well.

-- Reid Wilson and Kyle Trygstad

FEC Divide Bridged?

Offering a potential solution to a conflict that has neutered the Federal Election Commission, Republican Hans von Spakovsky withdrew his name from consideration to the panel late last week. Von Spakovsky, a former Justice Department official, was involved in several contentious decisions that angered Senate Democrats, who promised to block his nomination.

The White House and Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell had insisted that all the nominated commissioners be voted on in a package, as has been traditional, while Democrats demanded a separate vote on von Spakovsky's name, a prospect that would have likely doomed his chances.

With von Spakovsky out of consideration, both sides are working on new nominees to fill the remaining slots on the commission. McConnell said he was "deeply disappointed" by the nominee's decision to withdraw, while Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid called it "a victory for our electoral process" in separate statements.

The FEC, left with just two commissioners, two short of a quorum, was unable to issue rulings on cases before the commission. If the argument over the FEC cannot be resolved by late Summer, the impact could be more dramatic: While John McCain apparently plans to seek public financing, the disbursement of the $84 million his campaign would receive must be voted on by the commission. Lacking a quorum, McCain would likely have to go to court to get his money.

Democrat Cynthia Bauerly and Republicans Caroline Hunter and Donald McGahn still await Senate confirmation. Democrat Ellen Weintraub and Republican David Mason are the two current commissioners, though McGahn will replace Mason.

Strategy Memo: Tightrope To Victory

Good Monday morning. College graduations near airports that back up constantly are not recommended. Here's what Washington is watching this morning:

-- The House and Senate meet for morning business today, though no roll call votes will be cast. President Bush, back from his Middle East trip, meets with Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson in the Oval Office, while Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice meets with the prime minister of the Kurdistan Regional Government, followed by a sit-down with Miguel Angel Moratinos, the Spanish foreign minister.

-- Twenty-four hours from now, Kentuckians will be headed to the polls and Oregonians will be dropping off the last of their mail-in ballots. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are making their final stops in the two states, where a combined 103 delegates will be allocated, and their itineraries are telling. Clinton will hit four stops in Kentucky, while Obama spends today in Montana, which holds its contest on June 3. Clinton's victory night rally will happen in Louisville, while Obama spends his Tuesday in Des Moines, Iowa, where general election voters have already gotten a visit from John McCain.

-- Obama has consistently polled ahead in Oregon, and it shows: His campaign attracted 75,000 -- not a typo -- to a rally in Portland yesterday, which included kayakers on the Columbia River, a la those who used to wait in McCovey Cove for a Barry Bonds home run, the New York Times reports. He will do worse in Kentucky, where polls have showed Clinton leading by wide margins and where the demographics mirror eastern and southern Ohio and West Virginia, both areas where Obama got stomped. Much like two weeks ago, when voters in North Carolina and Indiana rendered a split decision, voters in the two states will likely pick different winners, but this time the split may favor Clinton, if only slightly.

-- As his campaign claims to be little more than a dozen delegates away from outright victory, though, Obama does not plan to say he's won just yet, Politico writes. Not wanting to appear presumptuous or to anger Clinton backers, Obama will continue campaigning in the few remaining primary contests while spending significant time in general election states, focusing on John McCain. For the first time in months, Obama will spend time in Florida, a state in which polls show him seriously trailing McCain and one he needs to make at least somewhat close if he's to have a chance in November.

-- When the history books are written, authors will try to explain how a young upstart beat out one of the giant political families in decades. But often overlooked is the assumption that the Clintons are the Democratic establishment. Given their path to power, built not in Washington but in Little Rock, the Clintons remained outsiders, at times triangulating Bill Clinton's presidency over the fortunes of Congressional Democrats. That creates hard feelings, as the Boston Globe's Susan Milligan writes today. There's a reason Clinton never received more than a third of the pledged super delegate votes: Washington Democrats don't want to cede the party to Bill or Hillary, and they, not the Clintons, are the establishment.

-- On the other side of the aisle, a new conventional wisdom is building: John McCain has a very good chance to win the general election, but if he does, he will do so with a hugely reduced minority in the House and the Senate. Regardless of what happens at the top of the ticket, Republican chances in Congressional races are grim, at best, as McClatchy's Thomma and Talev write. If McCain heads to his own inauguration facing a sixty- or seventy-seat deficit in the House and a near-super majority in the Senate, bipartisanship will be the only way he gets anything done. McCain makes the case that he's spent a career working across the aisle, but he may be forced to make that argument to the chattering classes in order to convince them his administration would be hamstrung from the beginning.

-- Meanwhile, McCain will use a speech that starts just moments from now to hit both his Democratic rivals on taxes and trade, according to prepared remarks released by his campaign. And previewing a new line of attack that could crop up in November, McCain will mention the controversy over an Obama adviser's purported comments to a Canadian official that the Democrat's promise to renegotiate NAFTA was just election year talk. McCain will accuse Obama of practicing "the kind of politics that exploits problems instead of solving them, that breeds resentment instead of opportunity." Driving the point home further still, McCain will give the remarks in Obama's home town, Chicago.

-- Scandal Potential Of The Day: A new type of government information -- known as controlled unclassified information -- has been established via presidential memo, as the Washington Post's Walter Pincus writes today. That new classification, open government advocates say, creates an additional layer of secrecy, while proponents argue it is necessary in sharing information about terrorism suspects with those inside and outside the government. In the myriad investigations sure to follow the Bush Administration out of office, remember the CUI designation. It may come up more than once.

-- Today On The Trail: McCain addresses trade and taxes in a speech to the National Restaurant Association in Chicago before heading to Georgia; he will meet the media in Savannah this evening. Obama is in Montana, stumping in Billings, Crow Agency and Bozeman, Montana, while wife Michelle spends the day stumping in Kentucky. Clinton has rallies planned for Maysville, Prestonsburg, Lexington and Louisville, in the Bluegrass State, while husband Bill stumps elsewhere in the state.

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:

-- Newly elected Democrat Travis Childers won a special election this week that sent shockwaves through the GOP establishment. We talk with Democratic pollster John Anzalone, who helped Childers win, to find out if the victory can foreshadow big things in November.

-- Along with the Democratic presidential primary, Oregonians are going to choose a candidate to battle incumbent Republican Senator Gordon Smith in November. We'll talk with State House Speaker Jeff Merkley and Portland lawyer and activist Steve Novick, the two front-runners, about why they are best to beat Smith in November, even as public polls have showed both trailing.

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 6:00 p.m. Eastern.

Obama's Tattoo

A perfect Friday moment: As Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton head to Oregon to woo voters, they are also wooing a new local press corps, showering time and attention on local reporters and editors. The Oregonian gets its turn, as do daily papers in Eugene, Salem and other significant locals. But when a candidate gets to some of the smaller outlets, the questions can get downright weird.

In perhaps the strangest interview front-running Obama has ever had to go through, Willamette Week, an alternative weekly in Portland, hit on the key issues important to voters in the City of Roses. Obama told the interviewer he would stop federal agents' raids on Oregon's medical marijuana farms and he would negotiate with counties affected by a wounded timber industry.

Obama had nice things to say about the state's Republican Senator, Gordon Smith, who could face a tough battle for re-election this year. But the candidate stayed on message: "I think Gordon Smith's problem is that he rarely breaks away from George Bush and the Republican agenda that I think has done this country great damage," Obama said. "But personally I think he's a perfectly decent person." Obama professed to have no opinion on the race's Democratic primary.

To finish, the paper put the really tough question to Obama: What kind of tattoo would he have? Take a look at the transcript:

Willamette Week: If you had a tattoo, what would it be and where would you put it?

Barack Obama: Uh, I cannot imagine any circumstances in which I would get a tattoo.

W.W.: If you were under duress.

B.O.: If a gun was put to my head?

W.W.: Yes.

B.O.: Then I suppose I'd have to have [his wife] Michelle's name tattooed somewhere very discreet.

Funny enough, in the twenty minutes the paper got with Clinton, early in April, she too indicated she would only get a tattoo under duress. "If I was under duress? Gosh, I have been asked millions of questions, and no one has ever asked me that. I have so little interest in having a tattoo, that I just am going to have to ponder this," Clinton said. "It can be really, really small, right? I think it would be really, really small, like under a microscope, and it would say 'love.'" Clinton declined to say where her body art would be featured.

We wonder if either candidate has seriously thought about a plan to fight what must apparently be the rampant rash of vicious gangs marauding through American streets putting guns to people's heads and forcing them to get tattoos.

Crist, Pawlenty Stay Popular

As John McCain lets a number of rising Republican stars take their turns in the vice presidential speculation spotlight, two front-runners are getting more involved in other states, a sure sign the media will descend upon them next as speculation runs rampant.

Florida Governor Charlie Crist will host two invitation-only events in Tampa and Fort Lauderdale in early June, inviting national Republicans to discuss ways to vault the wounded GOP back to the top of the pile, the Associated Press reports. Crist's top adviser and former chief of staff, George LeMieux, will be heavily involved, and to add party weight Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour is co-hosting.

Barbour took himself out of the running for the number two slot earlier this month in an interview with the Washington Times. But Crist's name has long been floated, despite his denials and demurrals, as someone with a future in the national GOP. Bringing Republican leaders together for a summit on the future of the party is a sure way to keep the vice presidential buzz going.

Meanwhile, Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, one of McCain's earliest backers, will give the keynote speech at a huge gathering of Wisconsin Republicans, the Wausau Daily Herald reports. The state hasn't voted Republican since 1984, but with McCain on the ballot, Badger Republicans are optimistic about their chances. (The latest RCP Wisconsin Average shows Barack Obama running just 1.6 points ahead of McCain there.)

State and local parties around the country now have a plethora of choices for fundraising dinners large and small. Whether it's Crist, Pawlenty or any of the dozen or so serious contenders interested in the number two slot, no local party should have trouble lining up talent, especially if they're a swing state. Pawlenty, too, has serious appeal in the upper Midwest, a place McCain could make inroads in the search for new electoral votes, and heading to Wisconsin could be the beginning of his time in the sun.

Good News For NY GOP

In a district Republicans thought might be out of reach for the foreseeable future, the GOP has recruited a potential self-funder to take on freshman Democrat Michael Arcuri. Republicans got their candidate yesterday when wealthy businessman Richard Hanna announced his candidacy, the Associated Press reported. Incumbent Democrat Arcuri won the seat in 2006, following the retirement of Republican Sherwood Boehlert, who represented the district for 24 years.

Hanna has been considering a run for a number of months now. He formed an exploratory committee in November, but had been non-committal about the race until this morning. Like Arcuri, Hanna grew up in Utica, the largest city of the J-shaped 24th District, located in central New York.

Boehlert had a moderate voting record in the House and eventually retired in 2006 after consistently facing primary challenges from more conservative candidates. Likewise, the district has swing potential: President Bush won 53% of the district's vote in 2004 and won it by just 1 point in 2000. In 2006, Arcuri defeated Republican Ray Meier 54%-45%, spending $2.2 million. Through the end of March, Arcuri raised $900,000 and has $600,000 left in the bank. Hanna has yet to file a finance report with the FEC.

"We believe there is an opportunity here," NRCC press secretary Ken Spain told the Utica Observer-Dispatch. "This is a moderate district that wants moderate representation that will embody change, and so far Michael Arcuri has offered none of the above."

While Arcuri will go into November as a strong favorite, Hanna's entrance into the race shows Republican potential on two fronts: First, given his independent wealth, Hanna could largely self-fund his race, something the underfunded party needs at a time when their cash disparity with national Democrats is so large.

Second, Republicans won't win seats back if they don't compete in districts like Arcuri's. The GOP has had some recruitment successes this year, but dozens of Democratic members in what are, or could be, swing districts will run in November without serious opposition. The NRCC can't commit financial resources everywhere, but just by running a strong candidate, they could get lucky in a few contests.

-- Kyle Trygstad

To Be Young And In Trouble

As the scandal surrounding VECO Corp. threatens to take down the biggest fish in the state, Senator Ted Stevens, Democrats are also optimistic about their chances to beat Alaska's lone congressman, Republican Don Young. Young has been in office for seventeen full terms, but his bid for an eighteenth could fall short thanks to the problems state Republicans have faced.

The poll, conducted by independent pollster Research 2000 for DailyKos, was conducted 5/12-14 among 600 likely voters for a margin of error of +/- 4%. Young and former State Rep. Ethan Berkowitz, who leads the Democratic primary, were tested. The survey sample was 32% Republican, 20% Democratic and 48% independent or otherwise affiliated.

General Election Matchup
(All / Dem / GOP / Ind / Men / Wom)
Berkowitz 50 / 85 / 18 / 57 / 46 / 54
Young 40 / 6 / 71 / 34 / 45 / 35

If Young is the Republican nominee in November, it is unlikely Republicans will be able to save his seat. Just 38% of Alaskans view him favorably, while 58% say they have an unfavorable impression of him. On the other hand, Berkowitz, the Democratic nominee for Lieutenant Governor in 2006, is seen in a favorable light by 49% of voters, compared with 23% who think of him unfavorably.

For the GOP, though, there may be hope. Faced with a highly unpopular governor running for re-election in 2006, Alaska Republicans instead nominated a reformist candidate who beat a popular Democrat. Young, too, faces the prospect of losing his primary fight after Lieutenant Governor Sean Parnell made his surprise entry into the race last month. State Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux is also running for the Republican nod, and should either score an upset in the August 26 primary, their party might have a much better chance at holding the seat come November.

Berkowitz faces Diane Benson, an activist who has run for several offices before, including against Young, in the Democratic primary. Benson trailed Young by a 57%-40% margin in 2006, though that was the slimmest margin by which the incumbent won since 1994.

Is AK A First-Tier Race?

Public corruption investigations, which have brought down a number of state lawmakers in Alaska over the past few years, are having their effect on races higher up on the ticket, a new poll shows. Perhaps more importantly, national Democrats now have a fifth race to put in their own top tier, seats they could win from Republicans in November.

The poll, conducted by independent pollster Research 2000 for DailyKos, was conducted 5/12-14 among 600 likely voters for a margin of error of +/- 4%. Incumbent Republican Ted Stevens and Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich, the likely Democratic candidate, were tested. The survey sample was 32% Republican, 20% Democratic and 48% independent or otherwise affiliated.

General Election Matchup
(All / Dem / GOP / Ind / Men / Wom)
Begich 48 / 84 / 14 / 56 / 44 / 52
Stevens 43 / 7 / 76 / 36 / 48 / 38

Stevens, whose home was raided by the FBI in connection to a corruption case surrounding an oil services company, has been tarnished by the scandal. Just 38% of Alaskans view him favorably, while 58% see him in an unfavorable light. On the other hand, Begich is widely viewed positively; 52% of voters see him favorably, with just 25% saying they have an unfavorable impression of the mayor of the state's largest city.

If President Bush is to have an impact on down-ballot races, Stevens could face even more trouble. Just 39% of Alaska voters approve of Bush's job performance, while 61% disapprove, in a state that gave Bush a twenty-five point margin of victory in 2004. But Stevens, who has been a senator since 1968 and is lauded as the third leg of the Alaskan economy, is known widely enough that he can likely avoid the president's coattails.

The question national and Alaska Democrats will push now, though, is whether Stevens can avoid the coattails of VECO Corp., the company that has already sent a good number of GOP legislators to jail.

Strategy Memo: Sweet Relevance

Good Friday morning. Yesterday, Alaska crossed the $4 per gallon of gas mark. Today, it's Chicago and Hartford. Watch those economic conditions poll numbers sink progressively lower. Here's what Washington watches this morning:

-- After a week in which Congress passed the farm bill and the House narrowly approved a war funding measure, both chambers are in pro forma session today. President Bush has already arrived in Riyadh for meetings with King Abdullah, during which he will talk about those very gas prices we mentioned earlier. It's not often that the increasingly sidelined president gets to make news, but he sure did yesterday.

-- That news came on the floor of the Israeli Knesset, when President Bush attacked those who "seem to believe that we should negotiate with the terrorists and radicals," calling that approach the "false comfort of appeasement." Barack Obama's campaign took that as an insult and slammed the president for politicizing the 60th birthday celebrations of the Jewish state, and for bringing Nazis into the picture, as AP's Liz Sidoti writes. Obama has said he would meet with leaders of some countries, most notably Iran, that the current administration has not. White House spokeswoman Dana Perino told reporters the line wasn't a shot at Obama, but it certainly looked that way. Reports this morning suggest Obama will offer a strong response today.

-- Obama wasn't alone in his outrage. Virtually every key Democrat in Congress issued a statement defending their party's likely nominee (Tracked down in the hall, Delaware Senator Joe Biden called the comments "bull" something, while a release from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called the comments beneath the dignity of the presidency). In Rapid City, South Dakota, even Hillary Clinton got involved: "President Bush's comparison of any Democrat to Nazi appeasers is both offensive and outrageous on the face of it, especially in light of his failures in foreign policy," she said, defending Obama per Ben Smith. John McCain, on the other hand, would not disassociate himself with the comments and said Obama "needs to explain" why he would meet with Iran, the New York Times' Elisabeth Bumiller writes from the bus.

-- Meanwhile, McCain's comments weren't the only shot the Arizona senator took at his colleague from Illinois yesterday. On a conference call with conservative bloggers, McCain previewed what is likely to be the harshest argument to come out of the candidate's own mouth during the campaign: "Senator Obama does not have the knowledge, the experience, the background to make the kind of judgments that are necessary to preserve this nation's security," he said, per TPM's Greg Sargent. The old tactic of making an opponent's biggest strength, in this case youthful energy, into a weakness, in this case inexperience, is McCain's best chance at winning in November.

-- But the candidate spent most of yesterday in a positive mood, telling a Columbus audience that the war in Iraq can be won by the end of his first term and previewing the intervening four years' developments on taxes, national security and the sort of post-partisanship that McCain asserts he represents, the AP's Glen Johnson writes. But forget those other issues, all reporters wanted to talk about was this new timeline for ending the war: Was this the same thing McCain blasted Mitt Romney for in advance of Super Tuesday? Was this McCain's version of a "Mission Accomplished" banner, as some Democrats suggested? Neither, McCain insisted. Most polls show voters don't approve of the war but trust McCain to handle it better, though it's clearly an issue around which he needs to tiptoe lightly. The first hurdle: Ending speculation over his "100 years" comments. Does this accomplish that goal? In the DNC's minds, it does not.

-- Meanwhile, we wrote yesterday about the loss of several McCain aides due to their lobbying efforts on behalf of the military junta in Myanmar. Also yesterday, the campaign had to ask GOP strategist Craig Shirley to step down due to his involvement in a 527 organization, and manager Rick Davis heard questions about his ties to a pro-Moscow political party in Ukraine. To stem the bleeding, McCain's team is re-vetting the entire staff, Marc Ambinder reports. Each staff member is filling out a lengthy questionnaire in coordination with a new policy on conflicts of interest, and anyone not in compliance will be shown the door.

-- Finally, from the West Coast, in a four-to-three decision the California Supreme Court struck down two state laws that define and limit marriages to those between a man and a woman, the New York Times writes. If no stay is granted within thirty days, same-sex partners will be allowed to marry, the second state, after Massachusetts, in which such unions will be recognized. Anti-gay marriage initiatives were on the ballot in a number of swing states in 2004, though some argue their presence did not actually hurt John Kerry that year, but this time around, marriage is not likely to be a hot issue. Neither Obama nor McCain are on the extremes of their party -- Obama won't support marriage, and McCain voted against a national ban because of federalism concerns. In this instance, it appears an issue that gets fringe groups worked up will not be in play come November.

-- Criminals Of The Day: On the do-not-call list? This campaign doesn't care, and now they've admitted wrongdoing in Oregon. Which campaign so brazenly runs afoul of, nay, openly scoffs at, the Beaver State's laws regarding robo-calling those on the federal register? Well, actually it's both Hillary Clinton's and Barack Obama's campaign that are making the illegal calls, as the Oregonian reports today. Both campaigns have stopped and are scrubbing their lists in accordance with Oregon law, but if the state's attorney general had decided to bring charges, the campaigns might have been on the hook for a whopping $5,000 per call.

-- Today On The Trail: Obama will join former Senator Tom Daschle for a town hall meeting in Watertown, South Dakota, to talk about rural issues. Former Senator George McGovern will join the two for a rally in Sioux Falls later this afternoon. Clinton will stump in Springfield, Oregon before heading to Salem and a town hall meeting in Portland. McCain addresses the annual meeting of the National Rifle Association in Louisville, Kentucky, and ends the evening in Newark, New Jersey, ahead of weekend plans.

Chambliss Leads Big

While some polls have showed bad news for their incumbents around the country, Georgia is a state where the Republican brand is doing just fine. A new survey from a Republican-leaning independent firm shows incumbent Senator Saxby Chambliss leading all his potential rivals by wide margins.

The poll, taken by Strategic Vision, surveyed 800 likely voters between 5/9-11 for a margin of error of +/- 3%. Chambliss was tested alongside DeKalb County CEO Vernon Jones, former television reporter Dale Cardwell, former State Rep. Jim Martin, and businessmen Rand Knight and Josh Lanier. A subsample of 400 likely Democratic primary voters pitted the Democrats against each other for a margin of error of +/- 4.9%.

Primary Election Matchup
Jones 28
Cardwell 20
Martin 15
Knight 11
Lanier 5

General Election Matchups
Chambliss 58 (+1 from last, 12/9/07)
Jones 29 (+2)

Chambliss 57 (nc)
Cardwell 27 (+2)

Chambliss 57 (no trend)
Martin 27

Chambliss 58 (nc)
Knight 25 (+2)

Chambliss 57 (-1)
Lanier 24 (+2)

President Bush still has upside down approval numbers in the state, but most Georgia voters approve of Chambliss' job performance, by a 54%-32% margin. National Democrats were excited when Martin, the party's 2006 lieutenant governor candidate, jumped in the race, but early surveys don't show him with any breakout potential just yet.

While national Republicans struggle to get beyond their current unpopularity, it appears, so far, that Chambliss is not in jeopardy.

A side note that's interesting to observe: In every poll out of Georgia we've seen in the last four years, be it from Strategic Vision or from another organization, Chambliss is slightly less popular than his junior colleague, Johnny Isackson. Both are Republicans, and both were elected by wide margins. Anyone in Politics Nation from Georgia able to describe the phenomenon?

OH AG Steps Down

After weeks under pressure, Ohio Attorney General Marc Dann has resigned, the Associated Press reports. Dann, a Democrat in his first term, stepped down just over a year into his job after acknowledging an affair with an aide and after several reports of sexual harassment in the Attorney General's office.

Dann, along with Governor Ted Strickland and other statewide Democrats, swept into office last cycle on an anti-corruption platform, and few had shown any pause in calling for Dann's departure. Strickland and several other elected Democrats had called for Dann to step down, and when he made the announcement last night, the governor was by his side.

Others, including two Democratic congressional candidates, called on Dann to resign, and a resolution passed by the state party stripped him of his party membership. The lesson comes from state Republicans, who after several scandals -- including one in which then-Governor Bob Taft pleaded guilty to four misdemeanor counts -- lost big in the Buckeye State.

The affair, which Dann admitted earlier this month, led to a climate in which two young women were harassed. Three employees in the office were forced from their jobs as a result of the investigation. At first the incumbent refused to resign, though news reports indicated his attorney was trying to seek a deal with state legislators who were moving forward with impeachment proceedings.

Farm Bill A Sign?

Despite a presidential promise to veto the measure, the House yesterday passed a conference report compromise on the massive $307 billion farm bill. The margin by which the measure passed was enormous; 100 Republicans voted against their party, for a total of 318 ayes, a veto-proof majority. Just fifteen Democrats voted against the measure.

That whole-sale abandonment of the party, Politico's David Rogers writes, could be trouble for Minority Leader John Boehner moving forward. While the GOP chief did not try to whip his party in line on the farm bill, future defections could hamstring the party's efforts to wound rival Democrats.

If Boehner loses control of his caucus, and if Republicans start thinking only voting with Democrats will save them, President Bush could face a very difficult final seven months of his term. The president has issued veto threats on bills ranging from the State Children's Health Insurance Program to measures relating to the war in Iraq, and if Democrats start recruiting Republican support, he could lose more battles in the future.

Strategy Memo: Edwards Returns

Good Thursday morning. Any idea what all the cable networks will be focused on today? "Hello, Senator Edwards' booker?" Here's the rest of what Washington is watching today:

-- The House will take up a bill to appropriate supplemental funding for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, along with some money for domestic spending, while the Senate could start to vote on the conference committee's report on the farm bill, a report that passed the House with limited opposition. President Bush, on his first full day in Israel, visited Masada this morning and will address the Knesset today, before meeting with Quartet Representative and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

-- But the big news today is John Edwards, the former candidate and one-time Iowa front-runner who stood on stage in Grand Rapids, Michigan last night to offer some very kind words for Hillary Clinton before announcing his endorsement of Barack Obama. In the heart of Reagan Democrat country, Edwards talked about working-class issues, and the healing between Obama and white working class voters begins. Expect Edwards to get out on the campaign trail a lot for Obama in the coming months to start doing that repair work.

-- Edwards' support drives another nail in Clinton's coffin in a meta sense, but practically, he doesn't even officially bring the 16 delegates already named to Edwards-backing seats at the convention. They're free to vote for whomever they like, though given the number of ex-Edwards supporters who have migrated to the Obama campaign it's pretty likely they will be in his corner too. Notice that Edwards waited until after his state's primary; he likely couldn't have helped Obama, not only because of Obama's large margin in North Carolina but also because Edwards, who only ran once in the state, doesn't have much of an organization there. Still, more than Joe Andrew or George McGovern or Roy Romer, Edwards' backing has an air of finality, and of the party coalescing around the winner, about it.

-- Practically speaking, Edwards' was on the second-most important nod bestowed upon Obama yesterday. NARAL Pro-Choice America also gave the young senator their blessing, with the president of the abortion rights group saying they were backing the candidate who would likely win the Democratic nomination, again while praising Clinton. It's the first major women's group to abandon Clinton, and it's another sign that the Washington establishment is deciding that the race is over. (For more, check out The Fix's extensive look at the reasoning and timing behind an Edwards nod)

-- NARAL's backing of Obama prompted an angry reply from more than a dozen Clinton-backing female members of Congress, who in an evening press conference called the endorsement all kinds of ugly names. Florida Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz said she felt "abandoned," while California Rep. Jane Harman called it a "betrayal," per Politico. EMILY's List President Ellen Malcolm issued a strongly-worded statement blasting NARAL, as Marc Ambinder writes. The endorsement's real fallout: Strife in the abortion-rights community, and further rending of the Democratic fabric.

-- Over on the GOP side, look for this story to be repeated ad nauseam: A John McCain aide is in trouble for lobbying connections. McCain has already lost two aides over their ties to the repressive regime in Myanmar, and now the Wall Street Journal reports that campaign manager Rick Davis had helped a Ukrainian political party that had the support of Vladimir Putin, the former Russian president who had a habit of meddling in nearby countries' elections. McCain, meanwhile, has publicly voiced support for the incumbent party of Viktor Yuschenko. Davis still owns a portion of the lobbying firm, Davis Manafort, but he's not earning any income, a spokesman reports. With former lobbyists involved in McCain's campaign, this story is going to return.

-- Meanwhile, McCain has designated one aide as his top attack dog already. Former chief of staff Mark Salter, frequently referred to as the senator's alter ego, has honed his skills in the art of the attack memo, and the Journal, profiling him today, suggests that could be a prelude to a campaign not inclined to pull punches. If Salter is pushing for an aggressive line against Obama, McCain is going to hear about it, and from a voice he trusts. How influential is Salter in McCain's inner circle? Three campaign aides who had quit smoking took up their habits again thanks to time spent around him.

-- Buyouts Of The Day: As the deadline for accepting a buyout from the Washington Post passes today, expect a few more names to leak out. But few could compare with yesterday's news, both in the news and entertainment divisions. On the funny side, sportswriter Tony Kornheiser, an ESPN and Washington staple, will take the buyout, he announced on his show yesterday. On the serious side, David Broder will too, as Politico reports. The man long called the dean of the Washington press corps will become a contract writer after 2008.

-- Today On The Trail: Obama is down today, spending time in Chicago. Clinton has a town hall meeting in Bath, South Dakota, before heading out west to California for a fundraiser. McCain has a major speech ready for Columbus, Ohio, and he will end the day in Washington.

Cole Spins MS Loss

National Republican Congressional Committee chairman Tom Cole held a rare conference call with reporters and conservative bloggers today, just hours after a Republican-held Congressional seat fell into Democratic hands, the third such instance in three months and the second in under two weeks. In that election, Democrat Travis Childers defeated Republican Greg Davis to capture the seat once held by Senator Roger Wicker, a seat that has not been in Democratic hands since 1994.

As in his statement after the defeat last night, Cole was honest about his party's struggles. "When you lose 3 of these in a row, obviously you have to get beyond campaign tactics and you have to take a long hard look. Is there something wrong with your product?" he asked.

Still, in the wake of some GOP calls for a staff shakeup at the NRCC, Cole said he would resist the pressure. "I think it would be a great mistake to think that this is a question of tweaking a few things here or there or staff changes," he said. "What we've got right now is a deficiency in our message and a loss of confidence from the American people."

"That's something we need to be honest with ourselves about, look in the mirror about," he said. But, he pledged, "We continue to have offensive opportunities based on both individual issues that involve candidates and their voting records" and what he described as a do-nothing Democratic Congress.

Cole repeatedly maintained that the two Democrats who have won seats this month -- Don Cazayoux in Louisiana and Childers in Mississippi -- won by following a fundamentally Republican playbook. Nationalizing the elections, though, and associating Cazayoux and Childers with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and likely Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama can still work, he said.

The NRCC spent more than $1.7 million trying to tie Cazayoux and Childers to national and more liberal Democrats, though unsuccessfully. "I think that's still, you know, a useful tool. Do I think that's a substitute for a substantive agenda? No," he admitted. But nationalizing the election seems to be the path to which Cole is committed, raising the specter of repairing the Republican brand by November. "What we have to do is look in the mirror a little bit and say, 'How have we lost our way?'"

OR Primary Goes Insane

As two top Republicans battle it out to score their party's nomination to replace retiring Rep. Darlene Hooley, the race has blossomed into one of the ugliest of the cycle thanks to a last-minute attack that will go down as one for the ages. Kevin Mannix, the Republican gubernatorial nominee in 2002 and a failed candidate for the same office in 2006, has charged his opponent with paying for an abortion after getting a woman pregnant several years ago.

Mannix's charge came in a letter to 60,000 Republican voters in the district who have yet to mail in their ballots, and is based on a 2006 email the woman sent to several media outlets with the story. The 33 year old woman told her story to the Portland Tribune's Steve Law, and though she didn't want to be identified for fear of retribution, but a friend confirmed the story on the record.

The opponent accused, 2006 GOP nominee Mike Erickson, a businessman from the Portland suburb of Lake Oswego, has vehemently denied the allegations, calling them "false allegations" and a "desperate smear that Kevin Mannix resorts to," in a statement posted by the Oregonian's Steve Mayes.

Erickson, who has been endorsed by Oregon Right To Life, spoke with the group about the incident in 2006, the Tribune reported, though the group found his denials credible. "These unsubstantiated and untrue allegations are from an email from 2006 that no news media reported at the time. They are just as untrue today as they were then," Erickson said in the statement.

This is not the kind of feuding Republicans need in their efforts to take back what will likely be a competitive House seat in November. Erickson lost to Hooley by eleven points in 2006, and President Bush carried the district narrowly in both his races. If Republicans field a good candidate, they would have a chance at winning the open seat, which stretches from the Cascade foothills, south of Portland and including Salem and west to the Pacific Coast.

Erickson has raised more than $900,000 this cycle after spending $1.8 million last time out, amounts that have largely come from his own checkbook. Mannix has been less prolific in his fundraising, but he has name recognition that Erickson might not, given his long history in Oregon Republican politics. Steve Marks, a former chief of staff to Governor John Kitzhaber, and State Senator Kurt Schrader are running on the Democratic side, though both started late and have raised significantly less money than the two Republicans.

Both parties are going to spend money in one of the few swing districts available on the West Coast, but if the Republican primary devolves into these kinds of allegations and rumors, Democrats might have an easier time than they thought retaining the seat.

McCain Goes Green

Fresh off a two-day swing to the Pacific Northwest, where he talked up his climate change plans and focused on the importance of the environment, John McCain wants you to know he's going green, and he wants you to join him. "This week our campaign is promoting John McCain's long-term commitment to providing market-based solutions to climate change and highlighting ways we can all protect our environment," campaign manager Rick Davis emailed supporters yesterday.

But that's not all: "We're also taking this week to launch a new section of our store - complete with eco-friendly items."

Fill those Chirstmas stockings early with an embroidered polo shirt or t-shirt, 70% of which is bamboo and the other 30% of which is cotton. Take your support to the grocery store, with an organic cotton tote bag woven in the United States. And it's never too early to head back-to-school shopping, especially not with a recycled notebook with pages lined and colored with organic-based inks.

On Monday, McCain gave an address on climate change in Portland, and even the state's Democratic governor, Ted Kulongoski, showed up to take a listen. Yesterday, McCain went to North Bend, Washington, just east of Seattle and at the foot of scenic Mt. Si, to continue touting his green plans and to take a quick hike in the woods (an outing that traveling press secretary Brooke Buchanan looks very unhappy with, as Jonathan Martin's photo shows).

Had he been wearing one of his new shirts, McCain might have rethought wearing them. What's the point, Politics Nation is left to wonder, of wearing a shirt that's biodegradable? Wouldn't it just fall off? Such environmentally-conscious fashion considerations are not exactly our forte. Perhaps it's time to invest in a biodegradable polo shirt.

Indecisive Oregonians

Despite candidates who have been stumping across the state for months, Oregon Democrats just can't seem to make up their mind, a poll for the Portland Tribune and KPTV shows. Voters are casting their ballots already, in advance of next week's primary, and while national Democrats have made clear which candidate they want to take on Republican incumbent Gordon Smith in November, the front-runner at the moment is anyone's guess.

The survey, taken by Davis, Hibbitts & Midghall, tested 400 likely primary voters between 5/8-10 for a margin of error of +/- 5%. State House Speaker Jeff Merkley and Portland attorney and activist Steve Novick were tested, alongside realtor Candy Neville.

Primary Election Matchup
Novick 29
Merkley 23
Neville 3

With a huge turnout expected, boosted by the long and contentious Democratic presidential primary which will be decided the same day, the 43% of the electorate that remains undecided could break either way. Add to that the fact that Oregon elections are conducted entirely by mail and turnout could approach off-year general election levels.

A separate robo-call poll conducted for a different television station shows Merkley ahead by a 31%-27% margin, though again undecided voters dominate the sample.

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which has already run ads in the state slamming Smith for his ties to the Bush Administration, has made clear their preference for Merkley, who has outraised Novick and has what they believe is a larger political base. Through the end of April, Merkley had raised $1.86 million and spent all but $151,000, while Novick had managed to raise just over $1 million and had $65,000 left to spend.

Novick has proven a solid campaigner, and he seems determined not to be shaken loose so easily. More liberal than Merkley, Novick, once overlooked, now finds himself with a significant shot at the nomination. Whichever candidate wins the all-mail primary next Tuesday will have a chance at defeating Smith, thanks to what is likely to be a big DSCC investment in the state. But Smith is used to being targeted. He's already raised nearly $5 million and still has $4.88 million in the bank in preparation for what could be another tough fight.

Kleeb, Johanns Match Set

In a surprisingly easy victory, 2006 congressional candidate Scott Kleeb captured the Democratic nomination to replace retiring Senator Chuck Hagel over industrialist and former Republican Tony Raimondo. Kleeb, who lost to Republican freshman Adrian Smith by a 55%-45% margin in 2006, beat Raimondo last night by a wide 69%-25% margin. Two other candidates captured a total of 3% of the vote.

Kleeb will face a steep uphill climb in a GOP-leaning state as Republicans turned to former Governor Mike Johanns, who won his primary with 78% of the vote. Johanns left the governor's mansion to take over the U.S. Department of Agriculture, before leaving late last year to return to Nebraska and seek to fill Hagel's seat. He's raised a lot of money and is well-liked around the state, giving Republicans at least one reason to be confident about an open Senate seat.

Through April 23, Johanns had raised $2.16 million and retained $1.35 million for later. Kleeb had pulled in $399,000 and still had $243,000 left over. Johanns will also likely benefit from big turnout for GOP nominee John McCain; President Bush won the state by twenty-nine points over Al Gore in 2000 and by thirty-three points over John Kerry in 2004. Kleeb is a magnetic personality and, by all accounts, a talented politician, but Johanns may just prove to be too much.

The state also held its presidential primary, allocating delegates to John McCain, who won by an 87% to 13% margin over Texas Rep. Ron Paul. On the Democratic side, no delegates were at stake; they had all been allocated at the February 9 caucuses, and by a two-to-one margin went for Barack Obama.

In the state's primary, though, Obama beat Clinton by just 2,600 votes, outpacing her 49%-47%. Similar discrepancies between Obama's overperformance in caucuses versus Clinton's much better showings in primaries has happened in other states as well, including Washington State. There, Obama won two out of every three delegates in the state, though ten days later, he won by a narrower 51% to 46% margin in the primary.

Strategy Memo: Two Wounded Parties

Good Wednesday morning. Hoping to show he's just a normal guy, Barack Obama headed to a Charlestown billiard parlor a few days ago and performed much better than he did in a Latrobe bowling alley a few weeks back. But the bowling alley haunts him, as Ben Smith screen-grabs. In previous Clinton speeches, she had boxing gloves behind her. Now's it's a bowling pin. Here's what a chuckling Washington is watching this morning:

-- The House begins considering a supplemental war funding bill as well as a measure on food and energy security, while the Senate continues work on other measures. President Bush left Washington for a Middle East tour yesterday evening and this morning he arrives at Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv, before heading to Jerusalem to meet with President Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, the latter of whom could be knocked from office by a bribery indictment in a matter of days.

-- In the latest primary contest, the fifty-first this year, Hillary Clinton won West Virginia by a hefty 67%-26% margin, with John Edwards winning the remaining 7%. Clinton will take home about 20 of the state's 28 delegates, and the victory could provide the campaign with a fundraising bump -- they sent out the email and a text message last night -- and a new excuse to call for the seating of delegates from Michigan and Florida. As campaign chairman Terry McAuliffe told the New York Times last night, a mantra he's taken to repeating, the win means Clinton will have the political and financial wherewithal to continue through June 3, though he won't say anything about June 4.

-- But West Virginia's election had racial undertones that neither candidate can find comforting. Exit polls show 22% of voters said the race of one of the candidates was important, and of those voters, 81% backed Clinton over Obama. Clinton won the remaining three quarters of the electorate by a much smaller 59% of the vote. Half of voters said Obama shares the views of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, and 54% would be dissatisfied if Obama wins the Democratic nomination. In short, there is a segment of the Democratic electorate that will not vote for an African American, and enough of them live in West Virginia to show up in exit polls.

-- Those voters, less-educated, lower-income whites who dominate the state, as ABC News' Gary Langer finds in the exit polls, were similar in many regards to voters around the country -- they want change more than experience, the vast majority has been hit by hard economic times, and the majority thought Clinton had attacked Obama unfairly. In most other states, Obama has won the first and third categories, which Clinton has taken the second. In West Virginia, Clinton split change voters with Obama, with 47% to his 48%, while actually winning 54% of voters who said she had attacked unfairly.

-- Obama is still the likely nominee, but as Clinton pointed out last night, since 1916 no Democrat has won the White House without winning West Virginia. That could spell trouble for Obama come November, not just in West Virginia but among like-minded voters in Pennsylvania and Ohio. Those three states alone make up 44 electoral votes that can't be made up simply by being competitive in Virginia, Colorado and a few of the new states Obama's team thinks he can put on the table. And to make matters worse, there are other states that look more like Appalachia than like the Potomac area, especially in Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota and the rest of the Upper Midwest and Rust Belt.

-- John McCain had something of a bad night yesterday as well. In Mississippi, Southaven Mayor Greg Davis, a Republican, lost a special election seat to Prentiss County Chancery Clerk Travis Childers in a district that gave President Bush a 25-point win in 2004, making Childers the third Democrat to steal a special election from Republicans in the past three months. (See our write-up of the race here -- "GOP Stunned By Loss In Mississippi") McCain is running significantly ahead of his party in national polls, but if the GOP can't even win a seat in the heart of the Deep South, they're going to be able to lend their top of the ticket virtually no support come November.

-- How badly has the loss in Mississippi shaken the House GOP? "The political environment is such that voters remain pessimistic about the direction of the country and the Republican Party in general," National Republican Congressional Committee chair Tom Cole said in a shockingly forthcoming statement. "I encourage all Republican candidates, whether incumbents or challengers, to take stock of their campaigns and position themselves for challenging campaigns this fall by building the financial resources and grassroots networks that offer them the opportunity and ability to communicate, energize and turn out voters this election." One House leadership aide told Politics Nation: "To lose two Southern seats in two weeks, I mean, oh my God."

-- Rebound Of The Day: The morning after Clinton's big win in West Virginia, the two Democratic candidates are acting in very opposite roles, speaking to the larger status of the race as a whole. Clinton returned to Washington to sit with top members of her finance committee, while Obama has picked up backing from two super delegates, including Indiana Rep. Pete Visclosky and the chairwoman of Democrats Abroad. Inching closer to the 2,025 delegates needed the day after getting smacked in West Virginia, or holding a pep rally among top advisers the day after winning big? Shouldn't those roles be reversed? Not this year.

-- Today On The Trail: Obama meets workers at an economic discussion in Warren, Michigan before rallying in Grand Rapids later tonight. It's Obama's first visit to Michigan in ten months after skipping the state's delegate-stripped contest in January. Wife Michelle, meanwhile, makes stops in San Juan and Old San Juan, Puerto Rico. Clinton is doing several television interviews today, including all three evening news programs and a spot on CNN. Husband Bill is in the Great Plains, stumping in Missoula, Montana before holding an event at a school in Pine Ridge, South Dakota. McCain, who was in Washington State yesterday, has no public events yet today.

Lookin' Kuhl In NY

While upstate New York Republicans are struggling in several districts, at least one incumbent could be safe come November, a poll conducted in late January shows. Facing the same opponent who came within 6,000 votes of pulling a stunning upset in 2006, Republican Rep. Randy Kuhl looks to be in much better position this year.

The survey, taken 1/27-28 of 300 likely voters, was conducted by the GOP firm McLaughlin & Associates for Kuhl's campaign. The survey has a margin of error of +/- 5.7%. Kuhl and Eric Massa, a former aide to General Wesley Clark, were tested. The sample was 46% Republican, 34% Democratic and 20% independent or other, smaller parties.

General Election Matchup
Kuhl 46
Massa 26

Kuhl's favorable rating is probably not where he wants it to be -- 47% said they had a favorable impression of him, while 33% viewed him unfavorably. But Massa's numbers are anemic, with just 20% saying they view him favorably compared with 17% who see him unfavorably. Aiding Kuhl in November, John McCain led Hillary Clinton in trial heats in the district by 11 points; President Bush won the seat in 2004 by 14 points and in 2000 by 10.

Kuhl faces a fundraising gap, though, having raised $627,000 to Massa's $898,000 by the end of March. Massa had $565,000 left over, while Kuhl held just $365,000 in reserve. Massa has won attention lately for helping spearhead a group of Democratic challengers who are promising to make Iraq a central part of their campaign.

Empire State Republicans outside New York City lost three Congressional seats in 2006, when Reps. Sue Kelly and John Sweeney lost to Democrats John Hall and Kirsten Gillibrand, respectively, and when Democrat Mike Arcuri took over for retiring Republican Sherwood Boehlert. This year, Republican Reps. Jim Walsh and Tom Reynolds are retiring after close calls in 2006, giving Democrats two more opportunities to take over seats. But as upstate Republicans reel from retirements, forced and otherwise, Kuhl's big early lead could prove at least one point of optimism heading into November.

McConnell Leads, But Under 50

As polls show some Republican senators potentially in trouble, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is in better position heading into November. The GOP leader has a truly enormous bank account, and a new poll shows Democrats may have to look elsewhere when hoping for an expanded map.

The survey, from Research 2000 for the Lexington Herald-Leader and WKYT-TV, was conducted 5/7-9 among 500 likely Democratic primary voters, for a margin of error of +/- 4.5%, and among 600 likely general election voters, for a margin of error of +/- 4%. Democrats tested include health care executive Bruce Lunsford, who has twice run for governor, businessman Greg Fischer, physician Mike Cassaro, attorney Ken Stepp, retired postal worker David Wylie and frequent candidates James Rice and David Williams. McConnell was the only Republican surveyed.

Primary Election Matchup
(All / Men / Wom)
Lunsford 43 / 45 / 41
Fischer 23 / 22 / 24
Cassaro 5 / 6 / 4
Wiliams 5 / 6 / 4
Rice 4 / 3 / 5
Stepp 4 / 4 / 4
Wylie 2 / 1 / 3

The real race is between Lunsford and Fischer, both of whom have lent their campaigns significant amounts of money. Despite his two runs for governor, Lunsford has a relatively light 42% favorable rating among Democrats, while 23% view him unfavorably. Fischer is seen favorably by 37% of Democrats and unfavorably by 16%.

General Election Matchups (46% Dem, 39% GOP, 15% Ind)
(All / Dem / GOP / Ind / Men / Wom)
McConnell 48 / 16 / 86 / 49 / 52 / 44
Lunsford 36 / 61 / 6 / 36 / 33 / 39

McConnell 47 / 15 / 86 / 47 / 51 / 43
Fischer 35 / 60 / 5 / 35 / 32 / 38

Though he has a big lead, McConnell is taking nothing for granted. He's been running advertisements on television since late 2007, and through April 30, when pre-primary reports were due, McConnell had banked $7.7 million. That's much more than Fischer's nearly $1.2 million or Lunsford's $1.46 million raised. The two Democratic candidates, though, have lent themselves plenty of money; Fischer had given himself a little over $500,000, while Lunsford has given just over $1 million.

Ahead of next week's primary, Lunsford looks to be in the best position to give McConnell a real race, but the incumbent is what NRCC chairman Tom Cole might call a paranoid candidate. Unlike some members who lost in 2006 who were largely caught unaware, McConnell is not going to be surprised that he has a real race.

Huck Starts Star Turn

Is MSNBC your choice for election night coverage this evening? If so, you'll see a familiar face on the air as Mike Huckabee co-anchors the coverage. Huckabee will join Chris Matthews, Keith Olbermann and a host of network commentators on what should be a relatively easy and early night of coverage.

It has long been rumored that Huckabee might be in line, or at least interested in, a television gig, though after his surprisingly strong performance in the GOP primary he's now said to be in line for a spot on the GOP ticket. John McCain might be watching tonight as Huckabee does battle with fellow guest-host Harold Ford, a smart politician likely akin to someone McCain's vice presidential nominee would have to debate.

A report from US News yesterday, citing a top McCain fundraiser close to the campaign's inner circle, suggests Huckabee is at the top of the vice presidential selection list.

The appearance comes after a Bob Novak article yesterday suggesting Huckabee may benefit from evangelical conservatives who hold back from supporting McCain in hopes of a Huckabee re-run in 2012. Huckabee smacked down that notion in a post on his website, as Jonathan Martin reports, calling the concept that he would do anything less than campaign at full tilt for McCain "absurd."

But Huckabee also pointed out that he will be speaking to graduates of a college for home-schooled students in Virginia. The head of that school, Mike Farris, is said by Novak to be Huckabee's chief cheerleader and has yet to endorse McCain's candidacy.

Checkmate: PN Radio Plays Chess

This week on Politics Nation, live on Saturday mornings on XM Radio's POTUS '08, we chat with prominent Washington journalists about their thoughts on important, and overlooked, turning points in the Democratic primary battle. Guest host Tim Sahd and this writer interview CongressDaily's Erin McPike, The Hill's Sam Youngman and the Associated Press' Phil Elliott in the first hour:

And in the second hour, we take a look ahead to this Fall's likely matchup between John McCain and Barack Obama. The two candidates have said they can expand their party's electoral map. Is it true, and if so, what states are newly in play? Hear McCain campaign manager Rick Davis and Obama national co-chair Eric Holder's take on the November battleground:

Be sure to tune in this Saturday, from 10 a.m. to noon Eastern and replayed from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Eastern, on XM Radio's POTUS '08 for Politics Nation, live from the nation's capitol. You can find the listen free link, along with a preview of the show, in this space every Friday afternoon.

Strategy Memo: Losing My Religion

Good Tuesday morning. As has been remarked, baseball is a lot better in high definition. That is, unless your team blows a five-run first inning to lose in ten. Aside from celebration of the Nats' win over the Mets last night, here's what Washington is watching:

-- The Senate is in session this morning, resuming roll call votes on a bill to reform flood insurance. The House takes up a number of measures under suspension, as well as a measure regulating credit and debit card receipt information and a bill on human rights in North Korea. The House Rules Committee meets today to formulate a rule on the farm bill, which is likely to cause a huge fight and will make its way into the presidential campaign. President Bush is off to the Middle East today, stopping first in Israel. It's the first day of a six-day tour.

-- Voters in West Virginia head to the polls today, and when the bell chimes at 7:30 p.m. Eastern time all the cable networks are likely to immediately call the state for Hillary Clinton. But even a huge win may not be enough. Yet again, the media is buying into Barack Obama's spin of expectations, thanks in some measure to those in Clinton's own camp. "Just wait 'til we win, like, 80-20," State Senate Majority Leader and Clinton-backer Harry Truman Chafin said yesterday, per CNN. That echoes Bill Clinton's own 80% comment over the weekend, as ABC captured it. This has been an issue with Team Clinton all along: Even when they try to manage expectations, they get so excited they predict bigger wins than they end up with. Meanwhile, anything over about 65% would be a big win for the candidate, but at this point it's probably too late to reset expectations.

-- Democrats have taken to warning Clinton not to smash her intraparty rival anymore, and the tone has in fact changed markedly. ABC News' Jake Tapper takes a look at some of those concerned with the final zingers Clinton might hit Barack Obama with, but West Virginia, and next week's election in Kentucky, is more of a final lap instead of a dogfight. The releases her campaign has issued haven't mentioned Obama by name since Friday, when she hit his health care plan during a stop in Oregon. The target yesterday was John McCain's climate change plan, like shooting fish in a barrel for a Democratic constituency, and perhaps the first serious step in an audition for a slot on the ticket.

-- McCain's plans offered a pretty serious split with the Bush Administration, including a cap-and-trade system that was first proposed by Democratic candidates early on in their primary. McCain also wants tough diplomacy targeting China and India, urging them to join global efforts to stop climate change, as AP's Glen Johnson wrote from Portland. Something to consider: Not only is the environment a favorite subject of granola-eating liberals in hiking boots and flannel in Oregon and Washington, it's also an emerging concern in the evangelical community. And as evangelical voters take a look at Barack Obama, McCain is reminded he's still got some work to do. (Sidenote: There were about four articles this weekend on evangelical voters leaving the GOP, including this one from the Seattle Times.)

-- Obama, though, has his own emerging religious problem. For many Jewish voters, U.S. support of Israel is perhaps the most crucial issue, and some still don't trust Obama. That's a large reason the McCain campaign thinks Florida is safely in their column. But Obama isn't going to give up such a crucial Democratic voting bloc that easily, and he spent a long time with The Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg going over his feelings on Zionism, on settlements and several international issues affecting the Jewish state. As McCain struggles to be embraced by what should be his natural base, so too is Obama fighting to get what should be his own team in his corner.

-- The less-reported, but probably bigger, story today: Voters in Mississippi's First Congressional District head to the polls for the third time in two months today to elect a replacement for Senator Roger Wicker. The district is a heavily Republican area where the Democratic candidate, Prentiss County Chancery Clerk Travis Childers, came within about 400 votes of winning the April 22 preliminary round outright. Childers is facing Republican Southaven Mayor Greg Davis, who joined Vice President Dick Cheney at an Election Eve rally last night. Read all about the battle for the seat, including interviews with Childers and Davis, here.

-- By itself, a congressional special election, even one in which Democrats have the chance to pick up a GOP-leaning seat, isn't a huge story. But if Childers wins today, it will be the third special election this year that Democrats have won from Republicans, and it will leave the House GOP caucus reeling. As John Boehner and Tom Cole look toward their future in leadership, they can't afford another year of staggering losses. And if the Republican Party is losing seats that voted for President Bush by 25 points, every indication points to a disastrous environment for the party that hasn't caught a break for several cycles. A loss tonight could start some younger Republicans actively contemplating a challenge to Boehner's status at the helm of the House GOP. Oh, and it doesn't help that New York Rep. Vito Fossella may resign as well, forcing a special election in a seat that voted once for Al Gore and once for George Bush.

-- Gadfly Of The Day: Bob Barr is in the race for the Libertarian Presidential nomination, and some Republicans are already upset, the Washington Times reports today. The former Georgia Congressman and impeachment manager made his announcement yesterday at the National Press Club even as Republicans worried he could tilt a few states towards the Democrats. Over at the RCP Blog, Kyle Trygstad takes a look at just how much a threat Barr really is.

-- Today On The Trail: Obama starts his day in Washington before heading to a town hall meeting on the economy in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, south of St. Louis. Clinton is also waking up in Washington before heading to a victory rally in Charleston tonight. John McCain is still on his West Coast swing, hitting an environmental roundtable and a media availability in North Bend, about forty minutes east of Seattle. McCain will later fundraise with Republican gubernatorial candidate Dino Rossi.

Lynch A Cinch?

New Hampshire Governor John Lynch won re-election in 2006 by a nearly three-to-one margin, boosting his Democratic Party so much that it took back the state legislature for the first time in almost 100 years and won both the state's congressional seats. A new poll out today suggests the second-term governor could be in for another big win this November.

The Granite State Poll, taken 4/25-30 by the University of New Hampshire Survey Center, surveyed 456 likely voters for a margin of error of +/- 5%. After Manchester Mayor Frank Guinta said he would not run for the governor's mansion, Lynch is left facing State Senator Joe Kenney.

General Election Matchup
(All / Dem / GOP / Ind / Men / Wom)
Lynch 68 / 89 / 44 / 65 / 67 / 69
Kenney 17 / 3 / 36 / 9 / 19 / 15

Lynch is viewed favorably by a hefty 74% of Granite State voters, and the same number approve of his job performance as governor. And while a vast majority of the national public sees the country as headed off on the wrong track, 65% of New Hampshire voters say their state is headed in the right direction.

Plus, any time a candidate is beating his or her opponent by eight points among their opponent's own party, the challenger has a pretty steep, and likely impossible, climb. Republicans have a likely strong candidate in Guinta, if he decides to run a few cycles down the road, but for now, Lynch looks like a safe bet for re-election.

If he wins by a similarly large margin as he did two years ago, Lynch could hurt Republican candidates down the ballot. When Democrats swept to power, they did so after promising to eliminate the ability to pull one party's lever, requiring people to vote on each contest individually. That eliminates at least some of the coattails Lynch will have, but if the top of the statewide ticket wins by a massive margin, that will swing a few percentage points away from incumbent Senator John Sununu and candidates running against the two freshmen Democratic House members.

Then again, the best friend Sununu and others have this year will be John McCain, who is hugely popular in the state. In a duel of coattails, that might give the Republican Senator, who trails former Governor Jeanne Shaheen in all recent public polls, at least one reason to hope.

Committee Politics

One thing we forgot to mention from our earlier post: Both parties are so serious about winning the special election tomorrow in Mississippi's First District that congressional leaders have promised specific committee assignments to both candidates should they win. The moves could benefit each candidate heading into tomorrow's election.

Democratic candidate Travis Childers will win a seat on the Agriculture Committee, party leaders said last week. The First District has plenty of farms in it, and Childers would be in Washington right as Congress finishes work on the farm bill. That means one of Childers' first opportunities in the House would be to secure money for rural farmers whose votes he would need to stay in office come the 111th Congress.

Meanwhile, GOP sources tell Politico's Patrick O'Connor that should Republican candidate Greg Davis pull out a victory, he'll join members of the Veterans' Affairs Committee when he arrives in Washington. The district has a major Air Force base and much of its population are veterans.

To promise a committee assignment is rare, though not unheard of. Occasionally, congressional leadership will allow a promising candidate on the brink of a win to brag that he or she will be able to sit on a certain committee with local importance to their home districts.

Committees that handle transportation, agriculture, commerce and science are good ways to bring home the bacon. Committees with jurisdiction over the armed services, defense, foreign policy and veterans' issues are great ways to boost credentials. Few freshmen get appointed to top committees like Appropriations, Ways and Means or Rules.

Sometimes, though, party leader promises don't work out. In 2006, Republican Senator Conrad Burns made an issue of the fact that his perch on the Appropriations Committee would help him bring more money back to Montana. Democrats blunted that criticism by promising his opponent, Democrat Jon Tester, a seat on the same panel as soon as possible. Tester won by a very narrow margin, but he still doesn't have his seat.

Clarification: We wrote Tester was promised a seat on the panel. He was promised a seat "as soon as possible," according to news accounts at the time. We regret any confusion.

All GOP Hands In MS

Republicans desperate to notch a win in their belt are calling in all available hands in their battle over a Mississippi House seat that will be awarded in a special election tomorrow. The party, wounded by two special election losses in Illinois and Louisiana, can ill afford another defeat in their own backyard; the Tupelo-based district, which extends west to the Memphis suburbs on the state's northern border, gave President Bush a 25-point margin in 2004.

As a measure of how conservative the seat truly is, Vice President Cheney will hold a rally on behalf of Southaven Mayor Greg Davis tonight. Other top Mississippi Republicans, including Senators Thad Cochran and Roger Wicker (whose old House seat is the one being filled) and Governor Haley Barbour have stumped with Davis for the past several weeks. Cheney gave an interview to a Memphis radio station late last week talking up Davis.

But the party remains concerned that they could lose. Some Republican congressional staffers are heading to the National Republican Congressional Committee offices to make phone calls into the district today, while others have made their way to Mississippi to knock on doors. The NRCC's offices are across the street from the House office buildings. Republican money is flowing into the district as well; recently filed FEC reports show ten state parties, from Washington State to Florida, have contributed the maximum $5,000 to Davis, and dozens of Republican incumbents are also handing over checks.

One big problem Republicans face is that there will be no party designation on the ballot. Casual voters intending to vote Republican will have to know Davis' name instead of being able to simply vote for the Republican candidate. It also works to the advantage of Prentiss County Chancery Clerk Travis Childers, the Democratic candidate who has gone to extraordinary lengths to portray himself as a conservative.

Davis pulled in 46% of the vote in the April 22 first round, while Childers won 49% of the vote, falling just a few hundred votes short of the 50% necessary to avoid a runoff.

Vito In, Or Out

Conflicting reports about the future of embattled New York Republican Vito Fossella suggest the five-term Congressman either will run for re-election or could resign from office as early as today. Fossella, who was arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol a week and a half ago in Virginia and later admitted to a long affair with a woman with whom he fathered a daughter, has maintained through a spokesperson that he has not decided his future yet.

"I got every indication that he plans to run again," Fossella's political mentor, former Rep. Guy Molinari, told the New York Post. "He's not just inclined to run. He plans on running." Molinari said virtually the same thing to the Staten Island Advance. "Congressman Fossella appreciates the support of so many people, including Guy Molinari, but he has not made any decision yet," said a statement from his crisis communicator early Sunday morning. "And he continues to spend time with his family."

The statements came after Republican leaders showed little sympathy for Fossella, with Minority Leader John Boehner telling the New Yorker to make a decision on his future this weekend. And while the public posturing looks bold, Molinari's comments may just be a trial balloon to see if Fossella can stay in office until his term expires at the end of the year. If Fossella is forced out by July 1, New York Governor David Patterson could call a special election to fill the rest of the unexpired term, with the winner likely heavily favored heading into November.

A special election would allow party leaders in New York to select a candidate to face off. Republicans, the Advance writes, are looking at District Attorney Daniel Donovan, State Senator Andrew Lanza and New York City Councilmember James Oddo; Donovan, who took a call from Boehner and NRCC chair Tom Cole last week, appears to be the favorite. Democrats are eying State Senator Diane Savino, Councilmember Michael McMahon and State Assemblyman Michael Cusick, though Councilmember Domenic Recchia and an attorney are already in the race.

Recchia is from Brooklyn, which only contributes a small number of voters to the mostly Staten Island-based district. Conventional wisdom holds that the best candidate for the seat will come from the population base on the island.

National Republicans don't need another special election, especially one in the New York media market, sapping their coffers. The party has already spent millions unsuccessfully defending seats in Louisiana and Illinois, while also spending money in special elections in Ohio and Virginia. The party has spent more than $1.3 million on a Mississippi seat that will be decided tomorrow, as well. But while Democrats have won in increasingly strong Republican districts, Fossella's is marginal, at best, and the opposing party would have a very real chance of picking it off in an open seat contest.

Strategy Memo: Moving On

Good Monday morning. The storm system that hit the Midwest this weekend is blowing through Washington at the moment, and campaign events in West Virginia could be rained out as a result. Here's what a wet Washington is watching today:

-- The Senate today meets for a period of morning business, with no roll call votes planned. The House has a pro forma session scheduled as well. Two days after seeing his daughter married, President Bush is back at the White House, where he will hand out Preserve America Presidential Awards in the Rose Garden. Vice President Cheney will rally the troops in Mississippi on behalf of Republican congressional candidate Greg Davis, a measure of just how conservative that district is.

-- A day before West Virginia's crucial (we jest) primary, in which twenty-eight delegates will likely go heavily for Hillary Clinton, the New York Senator will spend her time in the Mountain State. As evidence of his commitment, or lack thereof, Barack Obama has one stop in West Virginia today before quickly jetting off to Louisville, Kentucky, in advance of next week's primary. Obama's performance might begin to worry some of his advisers -- West Virginia is to Democrats as Ohio is to Republicans: If the candidate doesn't win the state, they're not winning the White House. And, the Financial Times reports, of the twenty-something people interviewed at a rally with Bill Clinton, none would say they'd vote for Obama in November, were he the nominee. The question to be determined: Is it Obama's problem if he loses the state to John McCain, or is it more evidence that the state is becoming like Alabama or North Carolina (willing to vote Democratic locally, but not federally)?

-- Why won't those voters back Obama in November? It's a Republican's dream, with voters citing flag pins and Jeremiah Wright and religions other than their own (one would think those last two are mutually exclusive). But as John McCain and Clinton continue to not bedeck themselves in flag memorabilia (Most of the media doesn't either, even as they ask Obama and his surrogates about the "issue;" campaign communications director Robert Gibbs pointed that out to the MSNBC gang this morning. None of the four people on set had pins on.), and as Obama maintains serious distance between himself and Wright, one has to consider that some voters may just be looking for an excuse to vote against Obama. McCain can't touch any of those controversies with a ten-foot pole, and he won't, but he's already benefiting from a bank of voters who just won't consider Obama.

-- Meanwhile, it's pretty obvious that Obama's got the nomination all wrapped up. Clinton will do well in West Virginia and in Kentucky, which votes a week from tomorrow, while Obama's probably got a healthy lead in Oregon. But with just over 130 delegates available in all three of those states combined, even then it's not enough for Clinton to catch up. Too, it's hard to continue a campaign that's $20 million in debt, as communications director Howard Wolfson said Clinton's is, per the Washington Post's Anne Kornblut. Still, maybe wins in the two Appalachian states help Clinton retire those campaign debts and exit the race with her head held high and her status in the Democratic Party largely intact. Most Clinton advisers, Kornblut writes, are privately asking the when, not if, question.

-- Obama continues to maintain that Clinton can stay in the race as long as she wants, but he's already looking ahead to November. Missouri proved crucial in both 2000 and 2004, and though their primary happened way back on Super Tuesday (a narrow Obama win, after a call reversal by the AP), Obama will hold a town hall meeting on economic issues in the state this coming Tuesday, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch learned in an interview with Senator Claire McCaskill, one of Obama's biggest backers. An ironic footnote: Obama will head to Cape Girardeau, birthplace of the man whose Operation Chaos might have delivered Indiana's narrow margin to Clinton, Rush Limbaugh.

-- Obama and McCain are already turning toward each other and targeting important blocs of voters, primarily independents and Latino voters, the New York Times wrote yesterday. And the two may even campaign together; McCain's team floated the idea of joint town halls last week, and this weekend in Oregon Obama called the concept "a great idea." But the battle will come down to traditional battlegrounds, like Ohio and Pennsylvania, as well as a newly-competitive field atop and west of the Rocky Mountains. And despite promises of a high-minded campaign, both already have ads defining their opponents shot, chopped and ready to go. Per the ads, Obama is young and inexperienced and McCain represents the third term of the most unpopular president in history.

-- John McCain is out west to start the week, stumping in Oregon and Washington State where he will unveil his views on environmental issues and climate change (a mixed record, the Post writes today). Throughout the campaign, McCain has spent time on climate change issues, and that may put the two Northwest states in play, if not in McCain's column. Remember, despite a liberal reputation, three of Oregon's five districts are Republican-leaning, and Al Gore won the state by just 7,000 votes out of a few more than 1.4 million cast. John Kerry did little better, winning by just four points. If Obama has to spend time on the West Coast for anything other than fundraising come October, that could be a sign McCain has the race completely wrapped up.

-- Word Of The Day: Now entering the political lexicon: Saltergram. In response to a Newsweek story that he saw as a little harsh on the GOP ("The Republican Party has been successfully scaring voters since 1968, when Richard Nixon built a Silent Majority out of lower- and middle-class folks frightened or disturbed by hippies and student radicals and blacks rioting in the inner cities."), top McCain aide Mark Salter fired off an angry letter to Newsweek chief Jon Meacham, as Jonathan Martin reports. Salter has long been closer to McCain than virtually anyone else, but he's gaining prominence and taking some heat off his candidate. If Karl Rove was Bush's Brain, maybe Salter is McCain's Temper. Perhaps that would absolve the candidate of having to demonstrate his own.

-- Today On The Trail: Politickin' in West Virginia, Clinton hits events in Montgomery, Clear Fork, Logan and Fairmont. Obama stops in Charleston for a rally before heading to a similar event in Louisville. And John McCain starts his day with an economic speech in Portland.

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:

-- McCain campaign manager Rick Davis and Obama national campaign co-chair Eric Holder join Politics Nation to preview a possible general election matchup between two candidates who claim they can expand the map. What states are really in play this November?

-- Mississippi voters head to the polls to pick a new member of Congress. Is this another nail in the GOP's coffin, or can they use a win, even in heavily Republican territory, to start clawing their way back to the top?

-- And a host of top political writers sound off on the less appreciated moments that changed the Democratic primary race. Clinton's driver's license gaffe? Obama's "likable enough" fumble? We'll look back on the craziest sixteen months in American politics we've seen in generations.

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 6:00 p.m. Eastern.

Interview With The Candidates

In advance of next week's special elections in Mississippi, candidates Greg Davis and Travis Childers joined Politics Nation Radio, live every Saturday morning on XM Radio's POTUS '08.

Prentiss County Chancery Clerk Travis Childers, the Democratic candidate, is performing well, coming just 400 votes away from avoiding the runoff. But recent attempts to link Childers to Barack Obama and Nancy Pelosi may be reaping results. How does he get around being associated with national Democrats?

Southaven Mayor Greg Davis, the Republican candidate, came in three points behind Childers in the April 22 first round. Some national Republicans complain that he's from the wrong part of the district, but he retains a strong chance at winning on Tuesday, especially after Vice President Dick Cheney shows up for him on Monday:

Check out more coverage of Tuesday's special election in Mississippi here.

Competition In Texas?

Despite a huge name-recognition advantage and a hefty bank account, is there a possibility that Senator John Cornyn could be in jeopardy come November? A new poll shows Cornyn could face a difficult fight for re-election, though he maintains a decent lead. If Cornyn finds himself in trouble, he won't be the only one, as the national landscape would need to boost Democrats enough to give them reasonable shots at other second- and third-tier targets.

The poll, conducted by Research 2000 for DailyKos, surveyed 600 likely voters from 5/5-7 for a margin of error of +/- 4%. Cornyn and his Democratic opponent, State Rep. Rick Noriega.

General Election Matchup
(All / Dem / GOP / Ind / Men / Wom)
Cornyn 48 / 11 / 81 / 45 / 53 / 43
Noriega 44 / 82 / 13 / 45 / 40 / 48

Cornyn is known by a huge majority of Texas voters. 50% say they view him favorably, while 41% say they see him in an unfavorable light. By contrast, just 42% have a favorable view of Noriega, while 31% view him unfavorably.

To become better known, or to reduce Cornyn's margin, Noriega will have to be competitive with Cornyn financially. That could be nearly impossible; Cornyn has raised $9.1 million so far and still has almost $8.7 million in the bank, compared with just $329,000 on hand for Noriega. The Democrat had raised a total of just under $1.5 million before the March 31 FEC deadline.

Noriega still has a big hill to climb come November, but the Research 2000 poll shows at least the possibility that Democrats could seriously expand the playing field this year.

Losing Candidates Under The Bus

Today, we wrote about the troubling scene inside the House Republican Conference just days before a special election in Mississippi to replace now-Senator Roger Wicker. After special election losses in Illinois and Louisiana in recent weeks, tension between House Minority Leader John Boehner and NRCC chairman Tom Cole are said to be running at an all-time high.

But even though generic congressional ballot questions show Democrats running more than a dozen points ahead of Republicans -- the latest survey, from CBS and the New York Times, had it at 18 points, the same gap as before the 2006 elections -- the NRCC has been reluctant to admit a national problem.

GOP strategists have excused their party's poor performance in previous special elections by blaming flawed candidates. After the loss in Illinois, Boehner reportedly told members at a closed conference meeting that Jim Oberweis, the Republican candidate, lost his home precinct by a four-to-one margin. That statistic was repeated religiously by Republican members and staff in subsequent conversations with the media. The problem, though, is that Oberweis won his home precinct by an approximately three-to-two margin.

After Republican candidate Woody Jenkins lost his special election, the NRCC pointed to the fact that previous polls had shown Democrat Don Cazayoux leading by ten points, and he won by just three after advertising sought to link him to Barack Obama and Nancy Pelosi. Nationalizing the race, they said, had closed the gap. Still, Republicans on Capitol Hill said Jenkins, who has a long history in Louisiana politics, had too much baggage.

Even the GOP candidate in neighboring Mississippi is getting in on the act. "Greg Davis [the mayor of Southaven, Mississippi and the party's candidate in that special election] and Woody Jenkins are two completely different candidates," Davis manager Ted Prill told Politics Nation.

But Davis is also being touted as a less than perfect candidate, and sources throughout Washington already have the talking point down: Davis is the mayor of a town in the Memphis suburbs, far away from the district's population center, in Tupelo. Childers' home county is just north of Tupelo, and in the South, several top Republicans pointed out, georaphy matters. If the GOP loses again, they will point to the fact that Davis was simply a candidate from the wrong part of the district.

Fair or not, that's how Republican leaders in Washington are casting their losing candidates, instead of taking blame themselves. It's probably a wise solution, given that a devastating loss in November could lead to both Cole and Boehner's ouster from their leadership posts. "The two offices are positioning themselves to avoid blame or to lay blame," one top Republican leadership aide outside of Cole's and Boehner's office told Politics Nation. "The rest of leadership is just trying to avoid a family fight."

Strategy Memo: Little Help From His Friends

Good Friday morning. If we brawled half as well as the Seattle Mariners, we'd have already taken out a few fellow political blogs here in Washington. JMart, watch your back. Here's what Washington is watching this morning:

-- The House and Senate are not in session, and the President is in Crawford, Texas, where daughter Jenna will be married this weekend. Looking out the window, we understand that this is just one of those days when no one wants to be in Washington. After next week, Congress takes a Memorial Day recess.

-- Before the sun even rose, Barack Obama's campaign had sent out two emails pointing to new support from super delegates Donald Payne, a member of Congress from New Jersey, and Peter DeFazio, who represents southwest Oregon. That puts Obama at just six super delegates shy of a majority of those votes, according to the latest RCP Delegate Count, and today could very well be the day he finally surpasses what had once looked like an insurmountable lead for Hillary Clinton -- in fact, a lead so big she had hoped it would propel her to the nomination. Her advantage now gone, it's another sign that Democrats have effectively, if not quite actually, chosen their nominee.

-- The super delegates in the bag, the pledged delegates in the bag, the popular vote in hand and the momentum on his side, Obama plans to declare victory after polls close in Kentucky and Oregon on May 20, Politico's Washington Times article yesterday on documents from the Whitewater case came from seemingly nowhere, and last night NBC's David Shuster reported that RNC opposition researchers had 1,200 pages of documents on Clinton, should she have won the nomination. Even though she's not going to be their opponent in November, the RNC can still have a little fun with the notion that the then-First Lady was nearly indicted. Obama's oppo file, by the way, is a pretty hefty 1,000 pages on its own.

-- Out on the trail on his own, John McCain's chances at the electorate uninhibited by an actual Democratic nominee could be coming to an end. He's taking the chance now to shore up that conservative base, aiming a speech yesterday squarely at social conservatives. The address, in Rochester, Michigan, focused on sex trafficking, freedom of religion and child pornography, all battles he said would be a priority in his White House, the New York Times' Elisabeth Bumiller. Those are all issues Southern Baptist Convention head Richard Land had urged McCain to speak out on, and later yesterday the religious conservative icon told Bumiller he was "delighted" with the speech.

-- Meanwhile, it's good to have friends in high places, especially when you can exert a little pressure on them. McCain, some Democrats close to negotiations over the Federal Election Commission believe, has been pressuring the White House to get something done, and in recent days President Bush offered three new commission appointees and backed away from demands that one specific Republican be approved, the New York Times' Michael Luo writes. That's because, without a functioning commission, John McCain can't get his publicly financed $84 million for the general election. One Republican who already serves on the panel, David Mason, has been withdrawn, and it's probably just coincidence that Mason has raised questions about McCain's withdrawal from public financing in the primary (Top McCain lawyer Trevor Potter says that's not the case).

-- A spat is brewing between Obama and McCain, and it could provide a serious preview of the larger battles and wars heading into November. In the back and forth over a Hamas spokesman's comments on Obama, McCain has said the group's position is fair game. Obama called that "disappointing" before going a step farther: "For him to toss out comments like that I think is an example of him losing his bearings as he pursues this nomination," Obama said of his future rival on CNN yesterday. A biting memo from McCain Consigliari Mark Salter accused Obama of an intentional but "not particularly clever way of raising John McCain's age as an issue." Ben Smith has the whole memo.

-- A theory about why McCain wins arguments in the mud: Obama the Outsider comes to the general election seeking high-minded discourse and putting himself on a higher plane than those around him. McCain the Reformer comes to the debate not because he's naturally better than all of Washington, but because he's been tarnished by the Keating Five scandal and he not only bounced back but showed he learned something, hence the drive toward the McCain-Feingold campaign finance bill. McCain is human; Obama is set up as something more. Bring Obama down, and the fall is all that much harder. McCain, in truth, is harder to bring down because he's been down before.

-- Bad News Of The Day: Thanks to a little-understood provision in the McCain-Feingold bill, Hillary Clinton has just about three months to repay the $11.4 million she has loaned her campaign. After an "election day," as the nominating convention would be, Clinton would be able to recoup just $250,000 from contributors, US News' Bret Schutle writes. That means a loss of about $11.15 million for the Clintons, and that's a tough pill to swallow. And don't forget the millions in debt to vendors, including a plurality of it to Penn, Schoen & Berland. Will conservatives change their minds on McCain-Feingold now that, in the end, it's come around to cause the Clintons some serious headaches?

-- Today On The Trail: Clinton starts her day in Portland with a discussion on health care before flying back to a fundraising dinner for the Kentucky Democratic Party in Louisville. Obama makes stops in Beaverton, where he will talk about the economy, before heading to Albany for a town hall meeting and to Eugene for a rally. Tomorrow morning, Obama will stop in increasingly Democratic Bend, in the center of the state, before heading back to Chicago. McCain spends today in South Carolina raising money; he will talk to the media in Columbia.

GOP Looks To Hispanics

Reprinted from today's Wall Street Journal Political Diary:

The fast-growing Hispanic population in America has also proved a growing political problem for the Republican Party. The GOP's share of the Hispanic vote plummeted after the last Republican Congress's angry debate on immigration reform. That episode, which quickly focused on fence-building and deportations, created a portion of the electorate that now holds the Republican Party in increasing contempt.

Exit polls from the 2004 election show Hispanic voters favored Democratic candidates in Congressional elections by 55%-44% margin. Two years later, that margin more than doubled, with Hispanics favoring Democratic candidates by 62%-37%. In some states, several enforcement-only hardliners lost what had been Republican districts to more moderate Democratic challengers. In Arizona alone, Rep. J.D. Hayworth lost his seat to Democrat Harry Mitchell, while State Senator Gabrielle Giffords, also a Democrat, won an open seat previously held by a senior Republican when she beat an anti-illegal immigration activist.

This year, GOP strategists have warned that their party is in danger of categorically ruling out competing among Hispanic voters for perhaps a generation to come.

At least one state Republican Party is trying to engage Hispanic voters before it's too late. This weekend, the Florida GOP will host a Hispanic Leadership Council Conference featuring keynote addresses from Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez, Rep. Luis Fortuno of Puerto Rico, and home-state Senator Mel Martinez -- three of the leading Hispanic voices in the party today.

"The Hispanic vote and the African American vote is the future of the Republican Party," Florida party chair Jim Greer says (Mr. Greer held a similar event aimed at African American voters late last year). To get the groups involved, he adds: "We ensure that they have a seat at the table, and wherever [the Republican Party has] failed in the past, we correct that."

It is a help to the GOP that John McCain is the party's standard-bearer in this year's presidential contest. Mr. McCain is far more moderate on immigration issues than most of his primary rivals were, several of whom proposed steps just short of outright deportation of undocumented aliens. And while Mr. McCain has recently backed off his support for a comprehensive approach that would include a guest-worker program, telling conservative voters in his own base that he understands their concerns about rewarding illegal behavior, his legislative and political record could prove more appealing to Hispanic voters, or at least less damaging to the party's chances with those voters, than anything his erstwhile rivals could have offered.

If Mr. Greer's efforts to woo Hispanic voters works (and he says the Hispanic constituency is "critically important" to a successful GOP presidential campaign in Florida), the idea could be exported to other states in time for Congressional elections in 2010. But if others choose the route of ex-Rep. Hayworth and the immigration hardliners, the damage to party's reputation with Hispanic voters could be severe and long lasting.

Boehner, Cole Form Cmte

Buffeted by recent losses in special elections in Republican-held seats in Louisiana and Illinois, House Minority Leader John Boehner has formed a new advisory committee to assist and monitor the National Republican Congressional Committee. The new body, which includes NRCC chair Tom Cole, will keep an eye on political and financial progress at the GOP's House campaign arm.

The twelve-person group is largely made up of Republican members already involved in the NRCC. Along with Boehner and Cole, the other nine members all sit on the NRCC's executive committee, and several have served as lead organizers on major fundraising dinners benefiting the NRCC.

Committee members include Reps. Devin Nunes, Kevin McCarthy and Darrell Issa, of California; Michigan Reps. Thad McCotter, who chairs the Republican Policy Committee, and Candice Miller, who is in charge of candidate recruitment on the executive committee; Virginia Reps. Eric Cantor, the chief deputy whip, and Tom Davis, a former NRCC chair himself; and Reps. Jeb Hensarling, of Texas, John Kline, of Minnesota, and Pat Tiberi, of Ohio.

NRCC chair Cole has come under increasing criticism in recent weeks following his party's special election losses and as the committee continues to face a serious financial shortfall against their Democratic rivals. In a meeting earlier this week, Cole blamed some fellow Republicans who have yet to contribute to the committee and who have not donated to Greg Davis, the mayor of Southaven, Mississippi who is carrying the party's banner in next week's special election to fill Senator Roger Wicker's House seat, according to The Hill.

The Ol' Cheap Gas Trick

Despite the storms and tornadoes plaguing Tupelo, Mississippi today, Prentiss County Chancery Clerk Travis Childers is making three stops around the First District today to offer a few lucky motorists some relief at the gas pump.

Childers, the Democratic candidate in Tuesday's special primary runoff election, plans to pump gas at stations in Grenada, Columbus and Tupelo, charging the first fifty drivers at each location just $1.25 a gallon, for up to 10 gallons of gas. According to a state Democratic Party press release, that was the price of gas on March 5, 1997, "the day Republican Greg Davis voted in the state Legislature to increase the state tax on a barrel of oil produced in Mississippi."

The tactic comes from a Democratic challenger in North Carolina's 8th District, who ran one of the more unique races of 2006. Larry Kissell, who lost by only 329 votes to GOP Rep. Robin Hayes, may be best-remembered for the campaign mascot he brought to events -- a goat he named CAFTA to highlight Hayes's vote in support of the issue. But Kissell also sold gas to voters at $1.22 a gallon, the price when Hayes took office in 1998. The move gave Kissell, who was outspent four-to-one, the kind of media attention he needed, though without the DCCC's help he fell just short of an upset.

Childers finds himself in far better position to win the seat than Kissell in 2006. Despite the Republican tilt of the district, Childers led Davis 49%-46% in the April 22 special primary, but was forced to a runoff because he didn't win more than half the votes. Childers is also enjoying strong support from the DCCC, which sees another great opportunity to pick up a Republican seat before the 2008 elections even take place.

-- Kyle Trygstad

Fossella Out?

After being arrested for driving while intoxicated, New York Congressman Vito Fossella may have a difficult time sticking around, and he could be preparing to announce he will not seek re-election as early as today, the Washington Post's Sleuth writes. Add another headache for beleaguered House Republicans: Fossella's Staten Island district is prime swing territory.

Busted a week ago after running a red light in Alexandria, just outside Washington, Fossella's troubles have only mounted in recent days. After originally telling officers he was on the way to take his daughter to the hospital, Fossella later said he was simply going to visit friends, at 12:15 a.m. He was later sprung from jail by a retired Air Force Lieutenant Colonel, Laura Fay, whose house is just a few miles from where Fossella was pulled over.

Fay divorced, according to The Sleuth, with no children, though she now has a young daughter. The congressman's lead communications expert, who has widely been described as a crisis communicator, has refused to answer questions about whether the girl is Fossella's daughter. Fossella and his wife have three children.

Republican insiders are buzzing at the possibility that Fossella will announce his plans to retire after this Congress, and if he does, the National Republican Congressional Committee will have to add another prime Democratic target to their list of seats to defend. Fossella already trailed in fundraising, with just $248,000 in the bank at the end of March compared with New York City Councilman Domenic Recchia's $325,000, and was likely to face a tough race.

Fossella beat attorney Steve Harrison, who will face Recchia in the state's primary, by a fourteen-point margin in 2006, and his winning percentages have decreased since peaking at 70% in 2002. The district voted for Al Gore over President Bush by eight points in 2000, but favored Bush by ten points in 2004 after his response to the September 11 terrorist attacks.

Democrats may consider a candidate other than Harrison, who has limited fundraising abilities, and Recchia, who represents a city council district in Brooklyn, where the Congressional district takes in just a small piece. But the party has for several cycles coveted the last remaining Republican seat that touches any part of New York City, and should Fossella vacate the position, he will give them their best chance to date.

Strategy Memo: Grace Under Fire

Good Thursday morning. As candidates make plans to hit West Virginia in the lead up to their primary, how many places will they visit with undecided super delegate Robert Byrd's name on them? It should be more than a few; the whole state has something to do with the country's longest-serving current senator. Back here in Washington, here's what's on people's minds today:

-- Not much going on today, sort of a lethargic day to match the gunmetal-grey sky in Washington. The Senate continues its work on a bill to reform flood insurance programs, and the House will finish its week today as well. President Bush is at his ranch in Crawford, while Vice President Cheney is meeting employees at a financial institution in Philadelphia before making a speech marking the 60th anniversary of the state of Israel.

-- On the presidential campaign trail, it appears to be all over but the crying. The serious pressure on Hillary Clinton officially kicked off yesterday with a one-time backer, former Senator George McGovern, abandoning Clinton, offering his backing to rival Barack Obama. McGovern is not a super delegate, but some other prominent party leaders who back Obama are super delegates, and McGovern's support for Obama was worth some news. All told, Obama picked up four backers with convention votes yesterday, while Clinton gained two and lost one (to Obama).

-- Clinton has heard calls for her exit before. Had she not won New Hampshire, those calls would have been cacophonous. They began again in the run-up to Super Tuesday, and to primaries in Texas, Ohio and elsewhere. But she's always had the argument that she's still got a chance with the super delegates. But the latest RCP Delegate Count shows Clinton leading among that group by just eleven, and the moment Obama overtakes her can't be more than a few days away. When that happens, the negotiations about how to exit the race will only increase.

-- It's one thing to begin to call for Clinton's ouster. It's quite another to get the candidate to go along with it. Clinton was back on the trail yesterday, having hastily scheduled a campaign stop in West Virginia, and today she takes a long trip from Washington to Charleston to Sioux Falls and tiny Central Point, Oregon, just north of the California border. Clinton held a big fundraiser here in Washington last night with about 1,500 people, and yesterday she met with four super delegates who have yet to decide on a candidate, including Reps. Tim Mahoney, Ciro Rodriguez, Jerry McNerney and Chris Carney, according to Ben Smith. Those aren't the signs of a candidate ready to drop out. Then again, John Edwards didn't act like he would be dropping out in the days before he did.

-- Obama, on the other hand, isn't quite the nominee in waiting, but he's going to start acting like it, the LA Times' Peter Nicholas writes today. Obama will stop by in remaining primary states like West Virginia and Oregon, but he's also going to start hitting events in swing states that will be important in the general election, and that have already held their primaries. The Clinton campaign calls it hubris, but Obama will take more direct aim at John McCain in coming days and weeks, while ignoring the rival he doesn't believe has a shot to win anymore.

-- One key factor Democrats would have to face that McCain might have been able to avoid is starting to look worse for the Arizonan. In 2000, McCain's local paper, the Arizona Republic, went pretty easy on him. This year, Obama faces a tough Chicago media, led by the Sun-Times' Lynn Sweet, while Clinton has to deal with the screaming headlines of the Post and the Daily News and face down the New York Times, one of the few organizations left that sends multiple reporters on the trail. But McCain gets rough treatment this morning from the Republic, which writes that, just maybe, his maverick image isn't all it's cracked up to be. If McCain actually gets a tenacious press on his heels, even if from the hometown paper alone, it might put a new spin on his national image.

-- Obama and McCain are going to do this one a little differently, though. Strategists for both sides have long said that the 2000 and 2004 map will be inoperative; whereas President Bush, John Kerry and Al Gore fought over perhaps a dozen states, McCain and Obama are going to be looking at perhaps twice that many (as McCain chief Rick Davis told us last month). Obama, during his victory speech in North Carolina on Tuesday, promised he would carry the state in November; the state has voted Republican since 1980, the Wall Street Journal writes today.

-- Are new states really in play? Of course every four years campaigns say theirs is the one that can operate a real 50-state strategy (and of course no one ever does), but Republicans are confident that they can make a play for states like Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New Hampshire, Michigan and the West Coast -- though they're aware that California is monetary black hole, they have yet to decide if it's in play. Democrats, on the other hand, still have high hopes for the Mountain West, states like Colorado and New Mexico, which President Bush won last time around, and some southern states like Virginia, Arkansas and elsewhere. McCain, with his unique appeal to independent and moderate voters, and Obama, with his ability to turn out new voters, are ideally suited to build a map that will thoroughly flummox political scientists for years to come.

-- Deal Of The Day: Clinton has now loaned her campaign a total of $11.4 million, and she's probably added another $10 million or so in unpaid expenses, as Huffington Post's Tom Edsall writes today. Could she be waiting for an Obama offer to help pay down that debt? A graceful withdrawal would vastly improve Clinton's standing in the party, and there may be a future waiting for her in Senate leadership. How Harry Reid and Dick Durbin feel about that, though, is another question.

-- Today On The Trail: Clinton makes stops in Charleston, West Virginia, Sioux Falls, South Dakota and Central Point, Oregon, where she ends her evening after holding a fundraiser in Ashland, just south. Obama is in Washington for the day, a second day off the trail. And John McCain wakes up in New York, fresh off his appearance on the Daily Show, for a major fundraiser.

Dems Spend In OR Primary

One knock on National Republican Congressional Committee chairman Tom Cole is that the Oklahoma Republican has not gotten involved in key GOP primaries this year to ensure the party has the candidate of their choice when a general election roles around. Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee chairman Chuck Schumer is not following that rule, getting directly involved in the race to oust Republican Senator Gordon Smith, of Oregon.

The DSCC has dropped thousands of dollars on an advertisement of unknown content, the Oregonian's Harry Esteve reported yesterday. Schumer's committee has been pushing State House Speaker Jeff Merkley, without officially endorsing his candidacy, though no one has seen the content of the advertisement. The size of the buy is unknown, but the committee plunked down $44,000 on one station in Portland, leading some to believe it will be a sizable purchase statewide.

Merkley is engaged in a tougher-than-expected primary battle with attorney and activist Steve Novick, who has forced Merkley to the left during primary debates and has criticized the establishment choice for votes he took to support the troops (a vote Novick says backed the war in Iraq) and for being, well, the establishment choice. Both candidates are appealing to heavily liberal Democratic primary voters in advance of the May 20 deadline for voters to mail in their ballots.

Neither candidate was the party's top choice, as several potential gorillas, including former Governor Ted Kulongoski and Rep. Peter DeFazio said no to the race. And despite Merkley's position as head of the State House, Novick has won some key endorsements, from both big unions in the state as well as the Portland Oregonian, the state's largest newspaper. He also got attention when top grunge artists from REM, Pearl Jam, Nirvana, the Decemberists and others endorsed his campaign, a big positive in a hipster city like Portland, from which much of the Democratic vote will come.

If either candidate were to knock off Smith, it would probably qualify as the upset of the year. Merkley and Novick have both raised only a fraction of what Smith had on hand, with $1.37 million and $889,000 pulled in, respectively. Through the end of March, Merkley had $473,000 left in the bank while Novick had $197,000 on hand. Smith, who has spent the past year distancing himself as much as possible from the Bush Administration and has a reputation as a moderate Republican, has $5.16 million on hand to start defining his Democratic opponent immediately after the nomination is decided.

But Schumer, to his credit, is not afraid to get involved in a primary, and this isn't the first time he's waded into a contested primary. Schumer effectively shoved several candidates out of the way to make a hole for ex-Governor Jeanne Shaheen in New Hampshire, and helped push Albuquerque Mayor Martin Chavez out of the race in New Mexico. Now, in Oregon, national Democrats apparently believe they will be better served with Merkley heading their ticket than with Novick doing so. Perhaps Tom Cole is watching.

Updated: We wrote earlier that the ad specifically backs Merkley. That is not known yet, given that the spot has yet to hit television stations in Oregon. We regret any confusion.

Dole, Hagan To Face Off

State Senator Kay Hagan easily bested her primary opponents last night in the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate, taking 60% of the vote to just 18% for her closest rival, developer Jim Neal. Hagan will now face what could be a monumental struggle to unseat first-term incumbent Republican Elizabeth Dole in November.

Hagan was not the initial choice of Washington Democrats, who pursued outgoing Governor Mike Easley and several other potential candidates before coalescing around her. But during her time on the trail, Hagan has showed a prolific fundraising ability, raking in a whopping $1.5 million so far. She spent most of that during the primary season, reporting just $317,000 on hand as of the middle of April, but her ability to raise money should keep her at least competitive with Dole.

But Dole has advantages of her own. With $3.15 million in the bank, she starts the general election contest with a huge head start, and Dole is virtually universally known throughout the state. Polls have showed most voters have a favorable opinion of her and say she's doing a good job in office, making Hagan's task that much more difficult.

National Democrats, replete with money to spend on Senate races, might wade in to North Carolina if they see encouraging poll numbers. If Democrats are to have a chance to win a huge Senate majority, they will need to do so on the backs of states like North Carolina, where second-tier contests will be a serious challenge. Dole remains a heavy favorite at the moment, but she will have to pay attention to her state's political winds to make sure she stays that way.

House Incumbents Still Alive

Down-ballot from the presidential and gubernatorial races, three House incumbents started yesterday unsure of their respective fates. But all three exited the primaries unscathed and with a good chance of returning to Congress in 2009.

Less than two months after winning a special election to serve out the remaining term of his late grandmother, Rep. Andre Carson held off a seven-candidate field of challengers yesterday to secure his place on the November ballot in Indiana's 7th District. Carson's top challenger, former state Health Commissioner Woody Myers, spent more than $1 million of his own money, but was unable to overcome Carson's advantages; the incumbent won 46% to Myers's 24%. State Reps. David Orentlicher and Carolene Mays finished with 21% and 8%, respectively. In the November general election, Carson will face Republican state Rep. Jon Elrod, whom he defeated 54%-43% in the March special election.

In North Carolina, GOP Reps. Walter Jones and Patrick McHenry yesterday overcame what should be their toughest challenges of this election cycle. Jones, serving his seventh term in the House, became vulnerable to a challenge from the right after becoming outspoken about his opposition to the Iraq war. Representing a district that votes heavily Republican and includes two large Marine Corps bases, Jones was one of only two Republicans to co-sponsor the February 2007 resolution opposing Bush's troop surge. However, Jones held off Onslow County Commissioner Joe McLaughlin, who was not able to raise a large sum of money, defeating him 60%-40%.

McHenry, the youngest member of Congress, is serving his second term in office and represents one of the most conservative districts in the state. He was challenged by Air Force officer Lance Sigmon, but ended up with a comfortable 67%-33% victory. McHenry faced some controversy when video surfaced of him calling a contractor in Iraq a "two-bit security guard." Sigmon used the video in an ad, but the issue apparently was not enough to knock the incumbent off.

-- Kyle Trygstad

Perdue-McCrory Set In NC

Front-runners pulled off wins in both parties' primaries heading into November's election last night, setting up a battle between two big-name candidates in the race to replace outgoing Democratic Governor Mike Easley. Lieutenant Governor Beverly Perdue won a surprisingly wide victory over Treasurer Richard Moore, by a 56%-40% margin, to claim the Democratic nomination, while Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory won the Republican nomination with 46%; his nearest opponent, State Senator Fred Smith, scored 37%.

Perdue and Moore's Democratic contest had devolved into an expensive exercise in name-calling and insinuations of links to white supremacist groups. The Republican side, while less acrimonious, was no less competitive, with Smith and two more candidates splitting the conservative vote, allowing the moderate McCrory to sneak through.

The Democratic candidate remains the likely favorite come November, and Republican McCrory has history holding him back as well. Several recent Charlotte Mayors, including Harvey Gantt and now-Rep. Sue Myrick, have sought and lost elections for statewide office. And while the state will likely vote heavily for John McCain come November, Democrats have won the governor's mansion in recent presidential years; the GOP has not controlled the executive office since 1993.

Long Thompson Eeks Out Win

Ex-Rep. Jill Long Thompson appears to have won an incredibly narrow victory over architect Jim Schellinger for the Democratic nomination to take on Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels in November. With fifteen precincts left to count, Long Thompson has a 50.2%-49.8% lead over Schellinger, a margin of about 5,000 votes.

Schellinger left his campaign's after-party around midnight, the Indianapolis Star reports, and he will wait until this morning to review results. He had trailed throughout the evening before overtaking Long Thompson late last night, but, as in the presidential contest, late returns from Lake County provided the winning margin, going for Long Thompson with 54% of the vote. Long Thompson spent her final hours on the primary campaign trail in Lake County, the Star reported.

With her victory comes another steep climb before November. The one-time member of Congress, who lost her seat in the 1994 Republican Revolution, will face Daniels; polls have shown either a close race or a Daniels blowout. But Long Thompson spent much of her money winning the primary, while Daniels was able to stockpile his own. Finance reports through the end of March showed Daniels had just under $5.3 million in the bank, while Long Thompson had just $484,000 in reserve a full month before her primary.

Though he remains ahead in most polls, Daniels is not the most popular incumbent. And some outside groups have shown a willingness to get involved on Long Thompson's behalf; she was endorsed by EMILY's List, the prominent Democratic fundraising organization, and received a $100,000 contribution from the Service Employees International Union just two days before the primary. Still, she will likely need all the help she can get to overcome Daniels.

Strategy Memo: As A Doornail

Good Wednesday morning. If you're anything like Politics Nation, you've had close to no sleep since Monday night. That, friends, is what a good Election Night is all about. Here is what a groggy Washington is watching this morning:

-- The Senate meets today to consider a bill on flood insurance, while the House will take up bills aimed at muting the housing crisis. House Republicans head to the White House early this morning to meet with President Bush, after which he will make a statement. Later, Bush addresses an annual meeting of the Council of the Americas, as will several other Cabinet members. Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez holds a roundtable discussion with several GOP senators on the importance of the Colombia Free Trade Agreement on Capitol Hill, continuing to put pressure on Congressional Democrats to bring the measure to a vote.

-- On the campaign trail, yesterday's voting may have slammed the door on the Democratic nomination. Results from Indiana and North Carolina trickled in throughout last night, and they were not good for Hillary Clinton. After a drubbing in North Carolina -- late results indicate Obama won by sixteen points -- Clinton saw an early lead in Indiana shrink throughout the night, despite appearing on stage and declaring victory when only one media outlet had called the race for her. In the end, late results from key Obama strongholds helped the senator from the neighboring state pull within 25,000 votes.

-- Clinton's victory speech, which came about three hours after polls closed in Indiana, contained the defiant "full speed ahead" message advisers said she would project. But it did seem to include a vaguely concessionary note. She mentioned her website just a few times -- a tough night isn't going to bring in the money like her post-Pennsylvania haul -- and promised a unified Democratic Party once the contest is complete. Advisers probably became aware of that fact, and in order to project a new sense of optimism and haste, Clinton will now hold a rally in Shepherdstown, West Virginia, today, instead of spending the day down in Washington.

-- But appearances aside, after the last chance she had to seriously make up the delegate count, the calls for Clinton's withdrawal from the race will grow in coming days. More importantly, Clinton's last opportunity to persuade super delegates to stay on the sidelines has fallen flat. Of the 200-something super delegates who have yet to announce their support for a candidate, how many come out today in support of Obama? Early delegate tallies estimate that Obama netted an additional ten delegates out of last night's contest, bringing him to 1,842, just 162 short of the 2,024 needed to clinch the Democratic nomination without the assistance of Florida and Michigan.

-- Meanwhile, the media has come to the same conclusion. Bloggers started buzzing when NBC Washington bureau chief Tim Russert dropped a gem: "We now know who the democratic nominee is going to be and no one is going to dispute it." The New York Times' Adam Nagourney writes that Clinton's newfound energy and economic populism, built up after a big win in Pennsylvania, has left the building. Even Clinton's own team, the Post's Perry Bacon and Anne Kornblut write, was disappointed at the results, leading to a renewed focus on counting delegates from Michigan and Florida (Audible during Clinton's speech: Chants of "Count the votes! Count the votes!"). With no solution on the horizon, and no reason for the Obama campaign to acquiesce to one that won't benefit them, even that argument has become harder for Clinton to make.

-- But why quit now? Clinton faces contests in West Virginia and Kentucky in the next two weeks, races she is expected to win easily. It is unlikely that even huge wins in those states will do any good: Delegate breakdowns were not available this morning, but after a big win, Obama is likely to net a number of delegates out of North Carolina, and after such a close race in Indiana, no one is likely to emerge with more than a one- or two-delegate advantage. Kentucky has 51 delegates up for grabs, which is one fewer than Oregon has, a state likely to go as heavily for Obama as the Bluegrass State will for Clinton. Even with West Virginia, Clinton will not make up many more delegates than she lost tonight. Expectations for wins are one thing, but the underlying fact remains that Obama, after tonight, is extremely unlikely to lose the Democratic nomination.

-- The man who can claim he kept Clinton in the race, at least for a little while: El Rushbo. Limbaugh's "Operation Chaos" had an effect in Indiana, the Obama campaign claimed, delivering a little under 7% of the primary electorate for Clinton. Based on exit polls, 41% of voters who would back John McCain in a November matchup between the Arizona Senator and his colleague from New York cast ballots yesterday for Clinton, meaning they turned out specifically to keep Clinton's hopes -- and the non-stop Democratic contest -- alive. ABC News polling director Gary Langer disagrees that Limbaugh's encouragement gave Clinton her margin while Huffington Post's Sam Stein takes the opposite view. But lack of concrete credit hasn't stopped Limbaugh from crowing before, and it won't today.

-- Fissure Of The Day: As the Democratic race concludes, many have contemplated just who can give Clinton the news that her race is futile. The combination of close advisers and strategists will include husband Bill, but would it be Terry McAuliffe, her campaign chairman? DNC uber-member Harold Ickes? Perhaps retired General Wesley Clark, one of Clinton's biggest backers. Clark called Clinton last night, prominent liberal blog AMERICAblog reported early this morning, to become the first major Clinton backer to break the news. The question today: Will any of Clinton's other major backers follow suit?

-- Today On The Trail: Clinton hosts a town hall meeting in Shepherdstown, West Virginia before raising money at a Washington hotel. Obama is spending today down in Chicago. And John McCain has a town hall meeting set for Rochester, Michigan, before heading to New York for a guest appearance on The Daily Show. McCain's appearance tonight will make him the most-frequent guest Jon Stewart has had on the show.

Down-Ballot Drama

While Hoosier voters are probably praying the descended media storm leaves them alone after today's voting, they will have to pick a gubernatorial nominee as well as vote for a presidential candidate. And a final survey taken before the polls opened shows the race between two front-running Democrats is wide open.

The poll, conducted by Suffolk University, surveyed 600 likely Democratic primary voters, for a margin of error of +/- 4%, between 5/3-4. Architect Jim Schellinger and former Rep. Jill Long Thompson were surveyed.

Primary Election Matchup
(All / Men / Wom)
Thompson 35 / 34 / 36
Schellinger 27 / 26 / 28

Turnout is likely to be a huge factor in deciding the gubernatorial race. The two Democratic candidates are essentially tied among supporters of Barack Obama -- 34% of Obama backers said they would vote for Long-Thompson while 33% said they would choose Schellinger. But among backers of Hillary Clinton, Long Thompson runs away with it, leading by a big 39%-23% gap. If Clinton wins big in Indiana today, she might just bring Long-Thompson with her.

Still, the large number of undecided voters is a problem for both candidates. Pols have consistently shown Long-Thompson ahead, but with so many who haven't made up their mind -- as well as a big turnout of new voters expected today -- the race will remain in flux right up to the time the polls close.

As results come in tonight, take advantage of our handy clip-and-save of recent polls, updated with the Suffolk numbers. The results, from oldest to newest (Selzer & Co.: 4/20-23; Research 2000: 4/21-24; Howey-Gauge: 4/23-24; Suffolk: 5/3-4):

Sel R2K H-G Suf
Thompson 26 48 45 35
Schellinger 28 42 27 27
Margin -2 +6 +18 +8

Dems' Mixed Results In NH

Few states saw a greater shift toward Democrats in 2006 than New Hampshire. Along with both chambers of the legislature, the party out of power also took back both House seats, beating incumbent Republicans Charlie Bass and Jeb Bradley in the process. This year, while Democrats are committed to keeping those two seats, a new poll shows Republicans might have a good shot at displacing at least one of those freshmen.

Freshman Democratic Rep. Paul Hodes' Second District encompasses the state's northern reaches and western border with Vermont, as well as virtually all of Merrimack County, including the state capitol in Concord, and the southern city of Nashua. Rep. Carol Shea-Porter's First District is smaller geographically, stretching from Manchester to the Seacoast city of Portsmouth and north through Carroll County and Laconia.

The Granite State Poll, taken by the University of New Hampshire Survey Center between 4/25-30, tested both of the state's districts. In the First District, where the sample size of 249 led to a margin of error of +/- 6%, Rep. Carol Shea-Porter was surveyed alongside ex-Rep. Jeb Bradley and former Health and Human Services Commissioner John Stephen.

General Election Matchup
(All / Dem / GOP / Ind / Men / Wom)
Bradley 45 / 13 / 80 / 41 / 51 / 40
Shea-Porter 39 / 78 / 8 / 21 / 39 / 39

Shea-Porter 43 / 80 / 10 / 32 / 46 / 40
Stephen 35 / 5 / 69 / 22 / 40 / 30

Shea-Porter has so far refused help from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, preferring to run her campaign as she did in 2006, when the national party saw her as a sure loser and focused instead on the Second District. And Bradley remains a popular figure -- 43% view him favorably to just 23% who see him unfavorably. That's much better than Shea-Porter's ratio of 39%-28% favorable to unfavorable.

Bradley and Stephen faced off in the 2002 Republican primary, which Bradley narrowly won. This year, they will meet in the September primary, and if the race turns ugly, Shea-Porter could be the beneficiary. But if Bradley emerges as a relatively unscathed winner, he could reverse what may have been a fluke to win back his seat in Congress.

The neighboring Second District poll surveyed 251 residents for the same 6% margin of error. Along with freshman Rep. Paul Hodes, State Senator Bob Clegg and radio talk show host Jennifer Horn were surveyed.

General Election Matchup
(All / Dem / GOP / Ind / Men / Wom)
Hodes 51 / 84 / 9 / 42 / 46 / 55
Clegg 24 / 2 / 58 / 18 / 27 / 22

Hodes 52 / 82 / 21 / 33 / 45 / 58
Horn 25 / 4 / 49 / 29 / 29 / 21

Hodes, who beat out moderate Rep. Charlie Bass to win the more Democratic of the two seats, looks like a safer bet for re-election than Shea-Porter, not only because of his superior fundraising -- at nearly $1.3 million through March, he's outraised Shea-Porter ($662,000 raised) and Bradley ($566,000 raised) combined -- but also thanks to his lack of serious opposition. Neither Clegg nor Horn are competitive financially.

Shaheen Still Up In NH

The rematch between former New Hampshire Governor Jeanne Shaheen and incumbent Republican Senator John Sununu has reached a consistent plateau, as a new poll shows. Shaheen is clearly ahead, and by a wide margin. Both candidates are raising huge sums of money, and Sununu, who has been conspicuously absent from the campaign trail, can take solace from the fact that voters have yet to seriously tune in.

The Granite State Poll, conducted by the University of New Hampshire Survey Center between 4/25-30, surveyed 456 likely voters for a margin of error of 4.9%. Both Shaheen and Sununu were tested.

General Election Matchup
(All / Dem / GOP / Ind / Men / Wom)
Shaheen 52 / 86 / 14 / 52 / 48 / 57 (-3 from last, 2/08)
Sununu 40 / 10 / 78 / 33 / 47 / 35 (+3)

Despite the movement toward Sununu, it's now been nearly a year since the first time the two candidates were matched up, and in all four surveys Shaheen has led by double digits and scored more than 50% of the vote. Sununu is the least popular of the three politicians tested -- 48% view him favorably, while 37% see him unfavorably. That compares with senior Senator Judd Gregg's 52%-27% favorable to unfavorable ratio, and Shaheen's 56%-29% number.

Shaheen, too, has out-campaigned the incumbent so far. With frequent stops throughout the state, Shaheen has stood in marked contrast to Sununu, who has yet to establish a serious campaign presence. Even calls from the media are returned by a spokeswoman in Washington. Sununu has time to claw back, but he had better start soon.

Strategy Memo: The Blue Collar Belle

Good Tuesday morning, and happy Election Day, for the seventeenth time this year. From January 3rd's Iowa caucuses to Super Tuesday to early March contests in Texas and Ohio and now to Indiana and North Carolina, nearly everyone's gotten a turn to vote. If the race does end today, how mad will voters in Oregon, Kentucky and West Virginia be that they didn't get a chance to play Iowa? Aside from the feelings of Beaver, Bluegrass and Byrd-staters, here's what Washington is watching today:

-- The Senate gets back to the Federal Aviation Administration Reauthorization measure this morning, to which the upper body is debating amendments. The House takes on consumer product safety, as well as a bill that would exempt Nelson Mandela's African National Congress from inclusion in the terrorism category. The lower chamber also takes up a bill on coin modernization. At the White House, President Bush will sign a bill awarding the Congressional Gold Medal to Myanmar pro-democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi, who remains in her home country, and then meets with Martin Torrijos, the president of Panama. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings will be at the Edward Brooke Charter School in Roslindale, Massacusetts today. The school is named for the former Massachusetts Senator who had a torrid affair with Barabara Walters, as the media icon writes in her autobiography.

-- Back to the campaign trail. First, the basics: Polls close in Indiana this evening at 7 p.m. Eastern Time. It's looking like a beautiful day in the Hoosier State, with highs approaching 80 degrees. It's the perfect weather for massive turnout as Hillary Clinton leads the latest RCP Indiana Average by five points. In North Carolina, polls are open until 7:30 p.m., and the weather in Tar Heel land looks equally inviting for a massive turnout.

-- Thousands of voters got their civic duty out of the way a long time ago, and as in other states, early voting numbers are indicative of what will probably be a big showing at the polls. In North Carolina, nearly 500,000 voters have already made their voices heard -- that's 13% of eligible voters, the Boston Globe reports, and almost a fifth of the Democrats who were registered to vote in 2006. Fewer voters have cast ballots in Indiana, where 159,000 voters have already punched chads. That's 4% of eligible voters. By tonight's end, election boards in both states are going to report the highest turnout for a presidential primary in their state's history.

-- The battle today will determine the future of the Democratic race, as we write today, but the future will be determined by which candidate has achieved a more down-home style. With a series of interviews, a slight tweak of the accent and a laser-like focus on economic pocketbook issues that white working class voters say they most care about, Clinton has tried to turn herself into the hero of the average man, as the New York Times writes today. And after unsuccessfully bowling in Pennsylvania, Obama has taken to appearing at VFW halls for a beer, at a labor temple for a breakfast and virtually everywhere that screams the opposite of "elitist," as another Times piece contemplates.

-- On the other hand, the race today could be decided based on both campaigns' execution of their gas tax strategy. Clinton wants to save you a few bucks with a Summer gas tax holiday, sticking the oil companies with the bill after they reported record profits for the first three months of the year. Obama wants you to look beyond a plan he says won't fix anything, or save anyone much money, and toward a serious solution farther down the road. The Post's Chris Cillizza takes a look at both approaches, and the accompanying advertisements that are flying around both early states. It's a difference, Cillizza says, of one candidate trying to be in touch with the everyman and another struggling to keep his campaign in the "movement" category, about moving beyond the politics of the past. It's old-style campaigning versus a new style of soaring rhetoric. One thing to remember, though, is that it's the old style for a reason: It works.

-- But when polls close tonight, one of three things will happen, and the fallout determines the future. Compare three looks at the possible outcomes, one by Politics Nation, one from the Post's Dan Balz and one from the Times' Adam Nagourney (not that we put ourselves in the same ballpark as the other two, but shameless self-promotion never hurt). Two Clinton wins means big momentum swings to her, especially given that two out of the three coming contests are West Virginia and Kentucky. Two Obama wins shut the door on the presidential nominating contest, and John McCain will finally have an opponent. A split of delegates and states means Clinton would lose what is likely her last chance to make a big stride toward catching up with the popular vote or delegate lead Obama has amassed.

-- Speaking of McCain, the Arizona Senator will share space with Democrats today, offering a big speech on his philosophy on judicial appointments at Wake Forest University in North Carolina. Judicial appointments are a topic ripe with opportunity for McCain to drop key code words the conservative base will pick up, furthering his efforts to calm what had been choppy waters. Simultaneously, McCain is wooing Hispanic voters, calling them an important part of the GOP's future that has been neglected in recent years, the Washington Times writes today. McCain used Cinco de Mayo to launch his website's Spanish-language version, and as manager Rick Davis told RCP, most of the campaign's ads will have Spanish-language equivalents.

-- Omen Of The Day: Obama's biggest electability argument -- that he can bring new voters to the process and, in turn, the Democratic fold -- could have a serious coattail effect in November, the LA Times' Mark Barabak writes today. But the coattails could go either way, especially for endangered incumbents in key swing states. Share a ticket with Obama, and Democratic members of Congress will get new, younger voters. But they might also face a backlash of associating too closely with the national party, as Mississippi Democratic congressional candidate Travis Childers is finding out right about now.

-- Today On The Trail: Obama spends his election night at a rally at North Carolina State University in Raleigh. Clinton will hit the Indianapolis Motor Speedway (Why didn't Obama have a mega-rally there?) before holding her own election night evnt in Indianapolis. McCain's only event today is his speech on judicial nominees in Winston-Salem.

Having Fun With Franken

After weeks of bad news for Al Franken, even other state Republican Parties are getting into the act. Franken, who earlier this year agreed to a $25,000 fine for failing to cover workers' compensation insurance for his employees, has also been stung in recent days by an acknowledgment that he owes up to $70,000 in back taxes in several states in which he performed.

In a letter to the South Carolina Department of Revenue, Palmetto State GOP chairman Katon Dawson last week asked director Ray Stevens to make sure their state received full payment from Franken's company, Alan Franken Inc., which received payment for services there.

"South Carolina faces an uncertain economic environment," Dawson wrote. "It is incumbent upon us to ensure that every individual and corporation lives up to its obligations to report its income, and pay its fair share of taxes." In the letter, Dawson requests a full review of the company's activities in South Carolina since its inception in 1991.

"I don't think people are going to believe Al Franken's good enough or smart enough to be a U.S. Senator because, doggone it, he doesn't pay his taxes," Dawson told Politics Nation. "But I have a punch line for the Democrats' star comedian-turned-candidate: show some personal responsibility and pay your fair share."

Franken last week said the blunder came when his company's accountant overpaid taxes in New York and Minnesota, where the comedian and satirist has lived, instead of paying taxes to the states in which Franken performed and was paid. Still, if even other Republican Party chairmen are having fun with Franken's lax accountant, one can bet the Minnesota Republican Party won't let the issue go so easily.

NC Primary Eyes Iraq

Few members of the Republican caucus have more irritated those who support the war in Iraq than North Carolina's Walter Jones. The seven-term Republican is staunchly conservative and is known for his efforts on behalf of U.S. servicemembers -- Camp Lejeune, a major Marine base, is within Jones' district, and it was he who first proposed the notion of "freedom fries" in the House cafeteria, following the lead of a restaurant in his district.

But after attending a funeral of a Marine, Jones abruptly changed his position on the war in Iraq, and lately he has joined with Democrats in efforts to remove troops from the country. The Republican who keeps a copy of the Ten Commandments in his office in Washington now spends his Saturdays writing letters to families of those killed in combat.

Jones' changed position on the war, ultimately, is why he will spend tomorrow's primary election campaigning against a real opponent. Onslow County Commissioner Joe McLaughlin is running to replace Jones, citing what he told the Rocky Mount Telegram was Jones' "betrayal of the troops." Others in the district see it the same way: At Cubbie's, the diner that inspired "freedom fries," the owners support McLaughlin, as Politico's Josh Kraushaar found out last year.

McLaughlin and Jones have each spent most of their funds, FEC reports filed in late April show. Through April 16, Jones had raised just $432,000 and spent all but $42,000 of his war chest, leaving him with $40,000 in debt. McLaughlin had raised nearly $125,000 and spent all but $14,000 of it.

The race has generated plenty of interest in local and national media, but Jones has been surprisingly unavailable for interviews. Jones' chief of staff talked with the Telegram, while both Jones and his campaign spokesperson declined interviews for a Wall Street Journal article last week. Jones' office did not return Politics Nation's calls either.

Jones is not the only Republican incumbent with anti-war feelings who is getting heat this year. Maryland Rep. Wayne Gilchrest, long a more moderate Republican than Jones, was ousted in February after his opponent lambasted him, especially for his opposition to the war in Iraq. And Democrats who don't follow Party orthodoxy on the war can get in trouble as well; Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman had to run on an independent line after losing his primary in 2006, while Washington State Rep. Brian Baird has been the target of some blogosphere attacks after saying the surge is working last year. Baird, though, has yet to get a serious primary challenger.

While Jones might be in trouble in tomorrow's balloting, Republicans are likely to keep the heavily-GOP Third District. The seat spans the state's Outer Banks, with tentacles that reach toward the center of the state but which remain solidly conservative. President Bush won by 36 points in 2004 and by 29 points in 2000. Two Marine veterans are running for the Democratic nomination, but, for all intents and purposes, the battle between Jones and McLaughlin is likely to determine the winner come November.

Hagan The Next Webb?

On a day when Mark Warner declares his candidacy for a Senate seat in Virginia that appears to be his for the taking, one might recall Senator Jim Webb's upset of incumbent Republican George Allen as the biggest surprise in 2006. This year, if Democrats are to achieve any measure of massive majority in the Senate, they will need at least one more Jim Webb to come along and upset someone thought to be an entrenched incumbent.

Two new surveys in North Carolina show that the state may be this year's answer to Virginia in 2006, especially given what is likely to be a blowout in the Democratic primary. The first, a Mason-Dixon poll, surveyed 400 likely Democratic primary voters between 4/28-29 on behalf of WRAL-TV, for a margin of error of +/- 4.9%. Hagan, investment banker Jim Neal, attorney Marcus Williams, truck driver Duskin Lassiter and Howard Staley, a doctor, were tested.

Primary Election Matchup
(All / Men / Wom)
Hagan 42 / 34 / 48
Neal 17 / 21 / 14
Williams 5 / 5 / 5
Lassiter 2 / 2 / 2
Staley 1 / 2 / --

Initially, Hagan and Neal were polling neck and neck, but after a blitz of television advertising and stronger than expected fundraising numbers, Hagan has pulled out to a big lead. If Hagan pulls off a big win in tomorrow's primary election, it could give her a boost as she begins to target incumbent Republican Elizabeth Dole.

A Dole-Hagan matchup could prove a close contest, as a new poll from Research 2000 suggests. The survey, taken 4/28-30 on behalf of DailyKos, tested 600 likely general election voters for a margin of error of +/- 4%. Hagan, Neal and Dole were tested.

General Election Matchups
(All / Dem / GOP / Ind / Men / Wom)
Dole 48 / 15 / 87 / 47 / 52 / 44 (+2 from last, 12/07)
Hagan 41 / 70 / 8 / 39 / 38 / 44 (+2)

Dole 49 / 16 / 87 / 49 / 53 / 45 (+2)
Neal 39 / 67 / 8 / 38 / 36 / 42

In a general election match, Hagan would start as a distinct underdog. Through the April 16 filing deadline (later because the state's primaries are so close to the end of the quarter), Hagan had just $317,000 in the bank, a tenth of Dole's $3.15 million. And in a state John McCain is likely to carry no matter the Democratic presidential nominee, convincing down-ballot voter to split their tickets could be difficult.

But Hagan has raised an impressive $1.52 million, much of which she has spent on making the primary with Neal a blowout. And trailing by just seven points in public polls is on par with Webb and others from the 2006 cycle; a Democratic poll taken in late June, 2006, showed Webb trailing Allen by a 46%-39% margin, and a Mason-Dixon poll in late July had Allen leading by a whopping 16 points. And Hagan's campaign brags that only Missouri's Claire McCaskill and Ohio's Sherrod Brown have raised more money through the First Quarter of 2006.

Beating Dole, a well-known incumbent, will be difficult. But Hagan starts out with relatively high name recognition -- 44% view her favorably, while just 25% view her unfavorably and 31% have no opinion. Dole has the same 44% favorable rating, though 41% say they view her unfavorably, which could be a problem for the incumbent down the line. Barring any mistakes, Dole will remain the favorite heading into the fall. At the moment, though, Hagan looks poised to capitalize on any slip up, and there's a long way to go before November.

Warner Declares For Sen

Former Virginia Governor Mark Warner launched a bid for U.S. Senate yesterday, with the first day of a four-day tour around the Commonwealth, including a stop in Alexandria, just outside Washington and seemingly designed to lure the media, tonight, the Washington Post reports. After bypassing a potential White House bid, Warner gives Democrats perhaps their best shot at capturing a Republican-held Senate seat this year.

Warner will face either former Governor Jim Gilmore or Delegate Bob Marshall in the November general election. Gilmore appears to be the heavy favorite heading into the state Republican convention, though every public poll so far has showed the Democrat easily outpacing Gilmore among likely general election voters.

Along the trail in his first week of official campaigning, Warner will be joined by current Governor Tim Kaine, who served as Warner's Lieutenant Governor, and freshman Senator Jim Webb, who beat George Allen in 2006. Both incumbents owe their seats, at least in some part, to Warner, who was first elected governor in 2001 after serving as state party chairman and virtually rebuilding what was once a beleaguered Democratic Party.

Though it has not voted for a Democratic presidential candidate since Lyndon Johnson, Virginia is no longer the bastion of southern conservatism it once was. An influx of new voters into the northern Virginia suburbs of Washington, plus Democrats' recent forays into the southwestern corner of the state, have caused Republicans serious heartburn in recent years, as the party has not won one of the top three posts since retiring Senator John Warner's big win in 2002 and Allen's election in 2000. Mark Warner did not run for re-election to the governor's mansion because of the state's one-term limit for the chief executive spot.

Should he win the Senate seat this year, a scenario that appears highly likely, Warner could find himself in prime position to make a future run for national office. If John McCain wins the White House this year, look for freshman Senator Warner's name to be floated as a potential presidential candidate four years down the line.

Strategy Memo: Everybody GOTV

Good Monday morning. It's the Fifth of May, a day when some regions in Mexico celebrate their victory over French forces at the Battle of Puebla in 1862. It's also the day makers of Corona celebrate by selling half their yearly stock to Americans. In Washington, here's what folks are watching this morning:

-- With two weeks to go until recess, the House today will take up bills to amend the Foreign Service Act and a series of resolutions, including one that favors Mother's Day and one that chastises the military junta that controls Burma, despite a typhoon that slammed the impoverished and autocratic Southeast Asian nation this weekend, killing hundreds. Most importantly today, the House takes up a Senate-passed measure to extend some programs under the Higher Education Act, which expired last week. The Senate is out of session today, though the Senate Appropriations Committee will be in Eagle, Colorado, to hear testimony about the national bark beetle epidemic. President Bush holds a Cinco de Mayo dinner in the Rose Garden.

-- Indiana and North Carolina voters head to the polls on Tuesday after a whirlwind campaign that has given them the opportunity to see each of the candidates once and Bill Clinton, given his schedule lately, two or three times each. The poll momentum heading into Tuesday's vote is hardly with either candidate: Barack Obama has closed the gap to just 4.6 points in Indiana, per the latest RCP Indiana Average, while Hillary Clinton has narrowed the gap by half a point, to 6.5 points, in the Tar Heel State, per the latest RCP North Carolina Average. The geography in both states is complex, but Obama needs good performances in Clinton's territory -- western North Carolina and southeastern Indiana -- while Clinton needs to close the gap in Indianapolis and the Research Triangle if she's going to have anything like a good day.

-- Then again, what do polls know? "In Poll, Obama Survives Furor," the New York Times writes, displaying numbers that have Obama leading Clinton nationally by a 50%-38% margin. Or, if you believe USA Today, "Flap over pastor hurts Obama." Their numbers have Clinton ahead, 51%-44%, after Obama led by ten points in the last survey. The dates conducted are identical, meaning one is likely an outlier (the latest RCP National Average shows Obama leading by just over a single point, suggesting that perhaps both are outliers). So the test on whether Jeremiah Wright and the fallout from Obama's public divorce from the pastor will have an impact will, once again, wait until tomorrow.

-- Both candidates are doing their star turns this morning, appearing on local and national morning shows to reach as many listeners as possible, and yesterday both appeared on Sunday shows -- Clinton on ABC's "This Week" and Obama on NBC's "Meet the Press." No major gaffes, yet Clinton sure made George Stephanopoulos uncomfortable by standing up a few times. Each had their moments: Obama, speaking directly to super delegates on the topic of Rev. Wright: "When you're in national politics, it's always good to pull the Band-Aid off quick." If he can convince supers that the lesson has stuck, and that he really won't be swift-boated, their steady trickle toward his campaign last week could become a rush. More transcript highlights at MSNBC's First Read, and video here at RCP.

-- Clinton's moment came when Stephanopoulos asked her to name an economist who thought her gas tax idea was a good one. "I'm not going to put my lot in with economists," she said, later calling it part of "elite opinion." ("Off with her head!" wrote one former Fed and IMF employee with an economics Ph.D. Politics Nation happens to know, and Robert Reich wasn't too happy either) It's part of Clinton's recent anti-elitism kick, in which she implicitly tells voters she understands them in a way Obama does not. But Clinton, like Obama, went to an Ivy League school, and she's demonstrating one problem that Democrats like John Kerry, Al Gore and others have struggled with for a generation: "Elitism" isn't about intelligence, it's about smugness. People don't mind if a candidate is smarter than they are -- in fact, they probably prefer it that way. People mind when the candidate thinks he or she is smarter than they are. The New York Times found an audience member who agrees with Clinton's new anti-expert populism, and they wonder, just how far will all this anti-elitism go?

-- Clinton's team, no group of neophytes they, is looking beyond Indiana and North Carolina, given that neither candidate is likely to achieve the delegates necessary to win the convention outright without the intervention of a serious number of the remaining uncommitted super delegates. Obama needs somewhere around 271 delegates to secure the magic 2,024 number, while Clinton has 418 left to go. The eight remaining primaries put a total of 404 delegates up for grabs. Of course, both numbers change if someone is able to manipulate a late-May meeting of the DNC's Rules and Bylaws Committee, a course of action HuffPo's Tom Edsall calls "the nuclear option." But the May meeting is unlikely to solve crises in Florida and Michigan -- of the body's thirty members, twelve back Clinton and eight back Obama, while the remaining ten are uncommitted. It is likely that the uncommitteds, led by co-chairs James Roosevelt and Alexis Herman and by committee members David McDonald and Donna Brazile, will stay out of such a potentially explosive topic.

-- On the Republican side, John McCain is set to make speeches in recent weeks that focus more closely on his own conservative base. But once he gets to the general, McCain will have openings to exploit in the middle, especially if he's to face Obama. McCain questioned his potential rival's foreign policy credentials in lieu of Obama's promise to meet with foreign dictators, McClatchy writes today. That's something swing Jewish and Cuban voters, two huge voting blocs in Florida, may not be terribly comfortable with, giving McCain a leg up in a key swing state. McCain already leads the latest RCP Florida Average over Obama by nine points. State-level politics play a key role in any presidential race, and McCain's team is demonstrating an early flare.

-- Sad Realization Of The Day: The honeymoon is over, Mr. Obama. That's the conclusion Washington Post's Howard Kurtz comes to this morning as he takes a look at Obama's increasingly uneasy relationship with the media. Compare that to John McCain's friendly, boisterous and always available reputation and the natural media bias towards Obama -- at least as the Clinton camp sees it -- could evaporate before our very eyes. One thing to consider: Kurtz points out that the Wright controversy erupted immediately after skits on "Saturday Night Live" lampooned the media for their excessive kindness to Obama. Does SNL remain the only outlet able to shame reporters? Does that mean someone actually watches SNL?

-- Today On The Trail: McCain, who caught the Arizona Diamondbacks game yesterday in Phoenix, holds a media availability in his home town this morning before zipping off to a town hall meeting with the Charlotte, North Carolina, Chamber of Commerce. Obama hits a campaign event in Evansville, meets workers in Durham, North Carolina, then holds a get out the vote rally in Indianapolis. Clinton has get out the vote events in Greenville and High Point, North Carolina, before heading to similar rallies in Merrillville, New Albany and Evansville, Indiana.

Dems Win LA, GOP Sees An Opening

State Representative Don Cazayoux defeated a former state legislator in Louisiana's Sixth Congressional District last night, marking the second time in two months that Democrats have won a special election seat previously held by Republicans. Cazayoux took 49% of the vote to newspaper publisher and longtime political hand Woody Jenkins' 46%.

Cazayoux won Baton Rouge, the southern and western suburbs and most of West Feliciana and St. Helena Parishes, as well as the precincts surrounding Lake Pontchartrain. Jenkins took more traditionally Republican territory south and east of the city, as well as most of Livingston Parish. The two candidates split East Feliciana Parish, north of Baton Rouge along the Mississippi border.

The special election win marks the first time in three decades since 1975 that a Democrat will represent the district, based around Baton Rouge and east to Livingston Parish, near the northwest shores of Lake Pontchartrain. More importantly, Cazayoux's win offers further evidence that Republicans may face another Congressional landscape as difficult as the 2006 election, when the GOP lost thirty seats and the majority. A CBS News/New York Times poll out this week suggested 50% of Americans prefered a generic Democratic candidate for Congress, while just 32% prefered the Republican contender.

The election contest had turned unpleasant in recent weeks, with both parties spending heavily on advertising that painted unflattering pictures of their opponents. The National Republican Congressional Committee spent nearly $440,000 on the race, according to Federal Election Commission reports filed yesterday, while the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee expended nearly $1.2 million by the end of the contest.

National Democrats focused on Jenkins' tax issues and previous associations with some of Louisiana's more unseemly politicians. Republicans, on the other hand, sought to make the election national by running advertisements linking Cazayoux to Illinois Senator Barack Obama and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

"Don Cazayoux's victory this evening proves once again that Americans across our country want real solutions and reject Republicans' negative attacks," Pelosi said in a statement. "Democrats are winning in solidly Republican districts because the country agrees it's time for a change from the status quo in Washington," House caucus chair Rahm Emanuel added in his own statement.

Republicans, though, said their strategy of linking Cazayoux and other Democrats to Obama and Pelosi can work. GOP polls showed Jenkins trailing by nearly ten points before the two major Democratic figures were introduced into the race. Though Jenkins never broke 45% in internal polls, making the race a national contest kept it close despite Jenkins' own high negative ratings.

"When Barack Obama and Nancy Pelosi were introduced into this campaign, Don Cazayoux was leading by a large margin in the polls," an NRCC memo released last night said. "Since then, Republicans saturated the Baton Rouge airwaves in an effort to nationalize this contest and make the election about the real life consequences of a Barack Obama presidency and a continued Pelosi-run Democratic Congress. In that time, Republicans made substantial ground."

The NRCC has also made Pelosi and Obama an issue in neighboring Mississippi, where voters head to the polls to select a replacement for Senator Roger Wicker's House seat. Similar advertisements as those that ran in Louisiana caused the Democratic candidate running there, Prentiss County Chancery Clerk Travis Childers, to respond, characterizing the association between himself and Obama as attacks. "This election speaks to the potential toxicity of an Obama candidacy and the possible drag he could have down-ballot this fall," the NRCC memo said.

Whether Obama and Pelosi become an effective issue for national Republicans is a question that could be answered when Mississippi voters head to the polls on May 13. But given that Democrats were able to win a congressional seat long held by Republicans, and one that gave President Bush a nineteen-point victory in 2004 and a generic ballot deficit similar to that the party faced a week before the 2006 elections, Republicans will need any help they can get.

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:

-- House Minority Leader John Boehner has an optimistic outlook on his party's prospects in November. Boehner joins Politics Nation to talk up his bid to retake the majority.

-- Louisiana voters head to the polls today to elect a replacement for Rep. Richard Baker. Can Democrats take a second special election in a row? We'll join Republican candidate Woody Jenkins and top Louisiana political analysts to find out.

-- And we tackle the week that was, including whether Hillary Clinton is on her way back from the political grave.

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.

Gregoire Low In WA Poll

The top pollster in Washington State is out with a new survey that paints a grim picture for first-term incumbent Christine Gregoire, a Democrat. But the survey isn't universally good news for Gregoire's Republican opponent-in-waiting, former State Senator Dino Rossi, either.

The poll, conducted by respected independent pollster Stuart Elway, surveyed 405 registered voters around the state between 4/21-22 for a margin of error of +/- 4.9%. Gregoire and Rossi were tested.

General Election Matchup
(All / Sea / KCO / EWA / P/K)
Gregoire 43 / 54 / 41 / 27 / 35
Rossi 38 / 28 / 35 / 54 / 45

(Note: "Sea" is the city of Seattle; "KCO" is King County excluding Seattle; "EWA" is Eastern Washington; "P/K" is Pierce and Kitsap Counties)

Both candidates are under-performing in their base and setting up for a re-run of the 2004 race. Gregoire needs to do very well in heavily-Democratic Seattle, while Rossi needs a similarly large margin in heavily-Republican districts east of the Cascade Mountains.

Rossi ran so close to Gregoire in 2004 -- he lost by just over 100 votes after multiple recounts -- because of his strength in King County, traditionally Democratic territory where he still performed well. Rossi represented a State Senate district in the Cascade foothills, on the county's eastern edge. If Rossi can overtake Gregoire in the parts of King County outside of Seattle, he will have a great chance to take back the governor's mansion for Republicans for the first time since John Spellman was elected in 1980.

Fossella Busted For DUI

The last Republican member of Congress whose district includes any part of New York City was arrested early Thursday morning on suspicion of driving while intoxicated in the Washington suburb of Alexandria, Virginia. Rep. Vito Fossella, whose Thirteenth District includes Staten Island and parts of Brooklyn, will appear in court on May 12 for a hearing.

Fossella's district voted for Al Gore by an eight-point margin in 2000, but in 2004 it gave a ten-point win to President Bush. The seat is heavily ethnic; nearly 30% of the population is of Italian descent. After winning just a 57%-43% margin in 2006 against a Democrat he outspent more than eleven to one, Fossella now finds himself in Democrats' crosshairs.

Steve Harrison, the Democrat who ran in 2006, is making another bid, though national party leaders prefer city councilmember Domenic Recchia. Recchia raised $350,000 through the First Quarter, retaining $325,000 in the bank. Fossella surprised some with a disappointing fundraising quarter, pulling in enough to keep just $248,000 on hand. The incumbent Republican has already spent $615,000 this year, worrying some backers.

Fossella released a statement to some news outlets apologizing for the incident and admitting his error, the Staten Island Advance reported. Whether Democrats use the incident in November, it's not the kind of thing an underfunded incumbent running in what looks like a strong Democratic year needs hanging over his head.

NC Gov Is Race To Watch

While national Republicans have their favorite candidate and Democrats would be happy with either of their top two contenders, both primaries to replace outgoing North Carolina Governor Mike Easley look like close races, a new survey shows. With few governors contests truly contested this year, both parties are going to play in the Tar Heel State, and the primary could have a dramatic impact on which party retains a leg up in November.

The survey, from Mason-Dixon for WRAL-TV, polled 400 likely Democratic primary voters and 400 likely Republican primary voters for margins of error of +/- 4.9% each. The Democratic side included Lieutenant Governor Beverly Perdue, Treasurer Richard Moore and retired Air Force Colonel Dennis Nielsen. The Republican slate was made up of State Senator Fred Smith, Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory, attorney Bill Graham and former Supreme Court Justice Bob Orr.

Primary Election Matchups
Perdue 45
Moore 34
Nielsen 1

Smith 32
McCrory 31
Graham 7
Orr 5

McCrory is by far the most moderate of the Republicans, and many had speculated that a divided conservative base could help McCrory take the nomination. But with Orr and Graham failing to gain serious traction, Smith has steadily gained in a number of polls. No matter the incumbent, the Mayor of Charlotte always seems to have a rough time winning different jobs.

The Democratic race has been ugly for months, and though both candidates would likely outraise their Republican opponents, the winner of Tuesday's primary will have to spend some time healing the base before they get down to appealing to independents. If Perdue pulls out a big win, it would make that job easier, but a tight contest will only lead to bitter feelings.

Parties Even In Walsh Seat

Despite starting late and facing a well-known challenger, a top Republican candidate in New York's Twenty-Fifth District is polling even, giving his party reason to hope that retiring Rep. Jim Walsh's seat isn't as good as gone just yet. The poll, released on Wednesday, came out the day before the Onondaga County GOP chose Dale Sweetland for the party endorsement.

Taken between 4/26-27 on Sweetland's behalf by Maxwell School Professor Jeff Stonecash, the survey quizzed 405 likely voters for a margin of error of +/- 4.9%. Sweetland, the former Onondaga County Legislature chair, and 2006 Democratic nominee Dan Maffei were tested.

General Election Matchup
Maffei 37
Sweetland 36

Neither candidate is particularly well-known; just 28% rated Maffei favorably to 27% for Sweetland, and only 8% viewed the Democrat unfavorably, while 9% said they didn't favor the Republican candidate. Sweetland still has to get by Assemblyman Bob Oaks, a local official and a Ron Paul organizer to win the GOP line, while Maffei has avoided any serious challengers for the Democratic nomination.

The district, centered around Syracuse and Palmyra in upstate New York, narrowly re-elected Walsh over Maffei, giving the incumbent Republican just 3,000 more votes than the upstart challenger. This year, with the presidential contest expected to boost Democratic turnout still further, Maffei starts the race as the front-runner -- Walsh was one of just a handful of Republicans who represents a district that never voted for President Bush.

The Republican candidates have yet to file reports with the FEC, though Oaks says he will soon break the six-figure mark. Through the First Quarter, Maffei had raised $853,000 and kept $675,000 in the bank.

Strategy Memo: Breaking Now

Good Friday morning. With the NBA and NHL playoffs going on, it's getting harder just to watch a little baseball. Still, when you like the teams Politics Nation likes, it's probably best not to watch anyway. Speaking of cities with terrible teams, here's what Washington is watching today:

-- The House and Senate will not take votes today. President Bush is in Missouri, where he will tour a technology company and make remarks on the economy. He will spend the night at his ranch in Crawford. Vice President Cheney is fundraising for the 2008 Victory Committee in Tulsa, Oklahoma today. Meanwhile, committees advising the U.S. Census Bureau on surveying African American, Native American, Hispanic and Asia Pacific Islander communities will hold meetings today to discuss their progress, which could have a huge impact on redrawing congressional boundaries in 2010.

-- On the presidential campaign trail, yesterday we were convinced that Barack Obama had turned a corner, given the number of super delegates who came out to endorse him over the past few days. That was before we saw numbers that show Hillary Clinton building a large and convincing lead in Indiana. The latest RCP Indiana Average has the New York Senator up 4.8 points after a series of polls starting Friday showed her steadily gaining. Now, the state's polls are resembling, perhaps unremarkably, Ohio and Pennsylvania, with Obama hovering in the low-40s and Clinton near 50%. Cast as the state with an even playing field, a big Clinton win would be a big blow to Obama. It feels, in short, like undecided voters have started to break, and they're breaking for Clinton.

-- The pressure has got to be particularly awful for Senator Evan Bayh, the state's senior Democrat and one of Clinton's biggest backers, as both the Boston Globe and Indianapolis Star write today. Clinton has always done well in states where she has strong institutional support, most recently from Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell and Ohio Governor Ted Strickland. Earlier, she had support from the organizations that back Governor John Lynch and former Governor Jeanne Shaheen in New Hampshire and from Mayors in most major California cities (and senior Democrat Dianne Feinstein). Now it's Bayh's turn to deliver, and though Clinton's poll numbers are going up, Indiana super delegates like Joe Andrew and Rep. Baron Hill have turned to Obama instead of Clinton. At least Rendell was able to keep many, like Rep. Jason Altmire, on the sidelines instead of in Obama's camp.

-- Who could really make the Indiana difference? Voters who don't even like Bayh. Indiana's open primary means Republicans and independents can choose a Democratic ballot and pick their favored candidates. In earlier elections, those groups have leaned toward Obama. Republicans could make up between 5%-15% of the Democratic primary vote, campaigns and analysts say, per WSJ's Chris Cooper. Obama's support among the groups slipped in Ohio and Pennsylvania, but today he will roll out three top Republicans who are backing him, including a top aide to incumbent Governor Mitch Daniels.

-- In North Carolina, too, the gap has narrowed. Obama, who once led by nearly 16 points, is now up 8.4 points in the latest RCP North Carolina Average, thanks largely to an outlier that shows him up 16, though another potential outlier has Clinton up two. The state presents opportunities for both candidates. For Obama, it's the chance to halt the forward progress of a returning foe, as Clinton did in Pennsylvania. For Clinton, it's the chance to once again be the Comeback Kid and make the argument that she narrowed the gap significantly, assuming she loses by just a few points. (A quick note: Written at 8 a.m., those RCP Averages will change during the day as new polls are added, so be sure to click those links)

-- Surprisingly, and in a very good sign for Clinton, both states, not just Indiana, have become battlegrounds. In North Carolina, the candidates are fanning out today and will both address the state Democratic Party's Jefferson Jackson dinner tonight, the Winston Salem Journal writes this morning. On Sunday, the two will do the same in Indianapolis, filling coffers of the Indiana Democratic Party. Meanwhile, money is flying out of third-party coffers and onto the Indiana airwaves, to the tune of $1.1 million for the American Leadership Project, a pro-Clinton organization and $500,000 from SEIU, which is backing Obama, TPM's Greg Sargent writes.

-- John McCain, meanwhile, keeps building a foundation from which to run in the Fall. After tours focused on parts of forgotten America and on health care, McCain's going back to scratch his base behind the ears with major speeches on the Second Amendment and judges, two issues with plenty of code word opportunities to signal to conservatives that he's really one of them. The judges speech will come on Tuesday in North Carolina, while the gun rights speech will come in mid-May at a convention in St. Louis, USA Today writes. The extent to and speed at which the conservative base, which once loathed McCain, has coalesced is impressive, but as McCain is forced to the center in October and November, he's going to need a reservoir of good will to keep those voters in line.

-- Democracy-Building Sign Of The Day: Since January 2007, the three leading contenders have raised more than $160 million from donors giving fewer than $200, according to a USA Today analysis, well more than double the amount raised by ten Democratic candidates in 2004. Obama leads by far, with $101 million raised compared with $44 million for Clinton and $16 million for McCain. Donors who gave the maximum of $2,300 made up just a third of both Clinton's and McCain's fundraising and about 20% of Obama's.

-- Today On The Trail: Obama starts his day with a press conference in Indianapolis and a town hall meeting focused on the economy in Munster, Indiana. Later he will rally in Charlotte before attending the state party's Jefferson Jackson Dinner in Raleigh. Clinton has events planned for Kinston, Hendersonville and Greensboro before heading to the same Raleigh dinner. McCain has a town hall and press availability in Denver. Michelle Obama is stumping at two events in North Carolina, while Bill Clinton will hold four events in Indiana.

DC Gets A Bowl Game

Not content with a mere 32 bowl games, the NCAA is expanding again, this time into the nation's capital. For the first time, two teams will meet this December in the Congressional Bowl in either RFK Stadium or the new Nationals ballpark. An NCAA committee also approved a new bowl game in St. Petersburg, Florida.

The additions were based on historical analysis speculating on the number of teams that are bowl-eligible, according to an NCAA statement. Last year, 1.6 million people went to a bowl game, which generated more than $200 million in revenue for the NCAA and the schools involved.

Most importantly for D.C. football fans, though, is which teams travel to the nation's capitol in the middle of December to play. Bid organizers told the Washington Post that the Naval Academy is likely to face a team from the Atlantic Coast Conference, setting up a matchup that might attract a President-elect McCain, a Navy grad himself.

Organizers will have to reapply for status in 2009, but Army has already agreed to play in the game that year, assuming they are bowl-eligible, and bid team members Sean Metcalf and Marie Rudolph told the Post they hope to have a service academy involved every year.

For the record, the rest of the bowls to get excited for, from the historic Rose Bowl to the ridiculously named San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl, according to the NCAA's release:

Allstate Sugar, AT&T Cotton, AutoZone Liberty, BCS National Championship, Bell Helicopter Armed Forces, Brut Sun, Capital One, Champs Sports, Chick-fil-A, Emerald, Fed Ex Orange, Gaylord Hotels Music City, GMAC, Roady's Humanitarian, Insight, International, Konica Minolta Gator, Meineke Car Care, Motor City, New Mexico, Outback, Pacific Life Holiday, Papajohns.com, PetroSun Independence, Pioneer Las Vegas, R+L Carriers New Orleans, Rose, San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia, Sheraton Hawaii, Texas, Tostitos Fiesta and Valero Alamo.

Lautenberg In Trouble

With just over a month to go before the state's June 3 primary, incumbent Senator Frank Lautenberg is running ahead of Rep. Rob Andrews, who surprised political observers by declaring his intent to run for the seat last month. But within a new poll, many Garden State voters tell Monmouth University pollsters that Lautenberg may be in trouble, either in June or in a November matchup with likely GOP nominee Dick Zimmer.

The survey, conducted for Gannett between 4/24-28, surveyed 720 registered voters for a margin of error of +/- 3.7%. 396 voters were tested in the Democratic sample, for a margin of error of +/- 4.9%, and 230 Republicans were included in their party's sample, for a margin of error of +/- 6.5%. Lautenberg and Andrews were tested, and on the Republican side Zimmer, State Senator Joe Pennacchio and college professor Murray Sabrin were matched up.

Primary Election Matchups
Lautenberg 35
Andrews 20

Zimmer 25
Pennacchio 5
Sabrin 4

New Jersey voters are notoriously reluctant to share their opinions with pollsters, and the high number of undecided voters should come as no surprise. Voters there tend to break heavily only in the final days of polling leading up to an election.

But the fact that a sitting U.S. Senator can only garner a third of the votes in his own primary should be unsettling. And despite his strong name recognition, just 26% of voters say Lautenberg should be re-elected, while 61% say it's time for someone else. That gives Andrews a big opening; even 56% of Democrats think someone else should be representing the state.

Still, Lautenberg's biggest benefit is his name recognition and voter perceptions that he's doing a good job. 48% approve of his job performance while 31% disapprove, and 43% view him favorably, compared with 30% who see him unfavorably. That's not a great number, but given that his name is recognized by a total of 94% of the state is a positive; just 43% recognize Andrews' name, and he boasts just a 13% favorable to 12% unfavorable rating.

As a side note, New Jersey voters also maintain a historically low opinion of their incumbents. Governor Jon Corzine has just a 36% job approval rating, while 53% disapprove. That's dramatically worse than his already upside-down 40% approval to 44% disapproval rating from January. Junior Senator Bob Menendez's ratings are also an anemic 41% approval to 31% disapproval.

In this year's Senate contest, the Democratic candidate, whoever that may be, remains a strong favorite in the Garden State. 54% of respondents said they were more likely to vote for that party, while just 24% said they would likely vote for the Republican winner.

Dems Lead Generic By 18

A new poll conducted for CBS News and the New York Times shows that as Democrats rack up huge fundraising advantages, the public favors the party in congressional elections by margins as wide as before the landslide 2006 elections. The survey showed 50% of respondents favoring a generic Democratic candidate, while 32% said they preferred the Republican candidate.

That eighteen-point gap is the same as the last CBS/NYT poll taken before the 2006 elections, conducted in late October of that year. Democrats now lead the RCP Generic Ballot Average by 13 points, two points higher than the final pre-election average.

Republicans acknowledge the challenge that lies ahead of them, but the party is still staying optimistic. House GOP leader John Boehner laid out his read on the November contests for colleagues at a Republican caucus meeting Wednesday, in a presentation colleagues called hopeful, but realistic.

Lowering The MS Boom

Money is certainly not everything in politics. After all, dozens of Republican members who outspent their opponents in 2006 still wound up without a job after losing in November. But when one party has more than six times the cash on hand of another, the disparity can actually matter, and in the special election happening in Mississippi's First Congressional District on Saturday, that disparity is becoming apparent.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee had already spent north of $400,000 in the race to replace now-Senator Roger Wicker, but in the last half-week Mississippians will see little else on television except the DCCC's newest advertisement. The committee reported it has purchased $700,000 in advertising in the district, an incredible expenditure that brings the party's total spending on the seat to just over $1.1 million.

According to one media watcher, a single point of television costs $124 in Memphis, on the western end of the district, and $40 in Tupelo, on the eastern side. That means Democrats are on television with more than 4,200 gross rating points, more than double saturation level.

Republicans are on the air with their own advertising, hitting Democratic candidate Travis Childers over his associations with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and potential presidential nominee Barack Obama. The GOP has put about $592,000 into keeping the seat, which gave President Bush a 25-point margin in 2004. Those ads must have been working, as Childers himself put up a response.

Make no mistake, Childers should be considered the front-runner over Southaven Mayor Greg Davis, the GOP nominee. Childers won more votes in the April 22 first round, and Democrats are spending hugely to win over the seat. While Davis still retains a solid opportunity to keep the district in Republican hands, he's being outspent and out-advertised, and as we wrote last week, he's from the wrong part of the district.

Results from Saturday's elections will prove telling either way: On one hand, Republicans could win the seat and prove Democrats still can't win in the Deep South, that they have at least one region in which their wounded party is safe. On the other, Democrats could send a stark message to political analysts and animals everywhere: No GOP district is safe, and when it counts, the DCCC will wade in with the financial equivalent of Thor's hammer.

Sometimes the expectations game gets back to a state of equilibrium, in which a win is a win, no matter the margin. That's the case in Mississippi, given Democrats' financial investment and Republicans' inherent advantage.

Strategy Memo: Weight Of The World

Good Thursday morning. The Washington Wizards actually won a playoff game last night, recalling the old joke, back when they were called the Washington Bullets, that they would change their name to stop their association with crime. From thenceforth, they would be known only as the Bullets. Here's what that city of crime is watching today:

-- The Senate is still working on the Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization, while the House takes up several smaller bills today. President Bush plans remarks at the National Day of Prayer before attending a celebration of Asian Pacific Islander American hertiage. Transportation Secretary Mary Peters will participate in a news conference and demonstration on responsible motorcycle riding, which we can only hope means she gets on a hog herself.

-- Out on the campaign trail, this cycle, perhaps more so than any other, has been about people other than the candidates. Each candidate has been plagued by their supporters' dumb statements, be they a state Republican Party or radio host, making life difficult for John McCain by making his party look vaguely racist, or an economic adviser who tells an interested party that his candidate is only playing politics, making Barack Obama's campaign miserable for a few days, or loud-mouthed surrogates who just can't help bring up drugs, electability and Jesse Jackson, raising the specter that perhaps Hillary Clinton's team, too, is populated by racists. Every campaign has their one chief problem -- in these three cases, all chief supporters -- and November's election may come down to which albatross is the lightest.

-- For Barack Obama, the albatross of Jeremiah Wright looks like it's slowly receding. After his press conference on Tuesday, Obama's Wednesday was filled with three super delegate endorsements, and he will win a few more today. A public spat with a minister could even be a good thing for Obama, in the meta sense, who has been plagued by rumors that he's some kind of plant. But Wright is likely to hang around as an issue, as underhanded organizations and backers of his rivals use him to their advantage to suggest that Obama is somehow out of the mainstream. And Wright doesn't look like he's willing to help anymore, as the New York Times writes, blaming Obama strategist David Axelrod, and by extension the campaign as a whole, for his troubles.

-- Hillary Clinton has had to deal with a chief surrogate who has clearly not lived up to expectations. Bill Clinton was supposed to be the best political operator in the Democratic Party, the answer to the GOP's Karl Rove, and early in the race the Clinton team worried that the husband would outshine the wife with his soaring rhetoric. A year later, Bill Clinton has proven to be nothing but a burden, having effectively destroyed any good will African American voters had for his wife and relegated to the D list of small towns (stops today include Whiting, Schererville and Crown Point, Indiana) with media markets too small for the candidate herself. At the beginning, the question was how much Bill would hurt Hillary by overshadowing her with his charisma. Now, it's how much he's hurt her by overshadowing her with his blunders.

-- John McCain's albatross isn't going anywhere. President Bush's job approval rating is in the dumps, hovering in the low 30s in the RCP Average for the past several years. McCain likely won't put Bush on the trail, except to fundraise, and while the presidential contest may push him into the wings more, he still resides in the White House, meaning he has a platform on which to make news unlike Wright or Bill Clinton possess. And despite McCain's distance from the administration, lingering from the 2000 race and breaks on torture, climate change and other issues, 43% of registered voters still worry he's too closely associated with the president, a new NBC/Wall Street Journal poll shows. McCain, as it turns out, may have to deal with the biggest burden of all. In fact, it's something of a miracle he's anywhere near tied in the White House contest as of now.

-- Obama's going to get more good news today, at the expense of rival Clinton, when an Indianapolis lawyer endorses his candidacy. That lawyer, Joe Andrew, had once contemplated a run for governor of the Hoosier State, which makes him known to local Democrats in advance of next week's primary, but perhaps more importantly, he also chaired the Democratic National Committee when Bill Clinton was in the White House. Until now, Andrew had been on Hillary Clinton's side, but he's changing his tune, and his super delegate vote, in order to unify the party, as he casts it, per the Associated Press. Andrew is the fourth super delegate to endorse in the last twenty-four hours, and he won't be the last. As we wrote yesterday, this almost has a feeling of finality about it, as if the end is just around the corner.

-- Some of the most honest talk on the campaign trail has come from Clinton surrogates explaining why their candidate is the better choice to take on McCain in November. Whatever aspect it may be, from the most offensive made up tales, as emails making the rounds for a year and more have contained, to the most innocuous anecdotes of high school and college experimentation, Republicans will attack Barack Obama in the Fall. Forgive Billy Shaheen and Mark Penn for bringing it up, they're not saying anything Republicans won't agree with. And forgive Ed Rendell, but there are, in fact, still people who will not vote for an African American candidate. Today, it's Evan Bayh's turn, as he says during an interview with the Washington Post that Obama's association with Wright will get November play . Though by this time, given that he's merely pointing to GOP statements, Bayh probably won't get in trouble.

-- Super Dude Of The Day: Heyyyyy! The Fonz says he thinks Obama is the guy to back, per an interview published in L.A. City Beat. How is it, though, that one of the coolest people in the world doesn't have a super delegate vote? The California Democratic Party has a few add-on slots open, and party chair Art Torres could do worse than adding Henry WInkler to their roster in Denver. Want to be fair to the Clinton campaign and make sure someone equally cool gets in on her behalf? Call on New York Democrats to give Quincy Jones, a Clinton backer, a ticket to the convention as well.

-- Today On The Trail: Obama will meet with seniors in Columbia City before heading to a town hall meeting in Middlebury and a rally in Lakeport, Indiana. Clinton's in the same state, with rallies in Indianapolis and Terre Haute followed by a town hall meeting in Jeffersonville. John McCain is in neighboring Ohio for a town hall meeting and media availability in Cleveland before hopping over to Iowa, where he may have a seriously tough job convincing voters that he didn't really mean to insult them by skipping their caucuses. He'll start that long, slow road to recovery with a town hall meeting in Des Moines.