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RealClearPolitics Politics Nation Blog

 

Blog Home Page --> November 2008

Hank Williams Jr. For Senate?

It was reported recently that country music singer Hank Williams Jr. plans to run for a U.S. Senate seat in Tennessee in 2012 -- the next time a Senate seat is up in the state. An intriguing notion to say the least, but no announcement has been made yet, according to Williams's publicist.

When reached for comment by RealClearPolitics, a spokesman for Williams's publicist, Kirt Webster, said Williams "has talked about it, but no announcement has been made."

Should he run, Williams would likely need to mount a primary challenge to Republican Sen. Bob Corker, who defeated Democrat Harold Ford Jr. for the open seat in 2006. Williams was an active campaigner for the Republican ticket this year, appearing with both John McCain and Sarah Palin in the months leading up to the presidential election. He even wrote a reworked version of his hit tune, "Family Tradition," that he performed at campaign events.

McCain To Run For Re-election In '10

Arizona Sen. John McCain, fresh off a losing presidential bid, announced today that he's planning to run for re-election to the Senate in 2010. From the Boston Globe's write-up of McCain's Phoenix press conference:

Asked about getting over a crushing loss, he said "you really have to take an attitude" that it was an honor to run as the GOP nominee and that the American people rendered their verdict.

"We worked hard and inspired a lot of people," he said. "We look back with pride on the campaign we ran."

Politico's Josh Kraushaar notes that the person seen as McCain's greatest competition for re-election has been tapped to serve in the new administration -- Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano, who will lead the Department of Homeland Security. Others, Kraushaar writes, who could take on McCain include: Phoenix mayor Phil Gordon, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and Attorney General Terry Goddard.

Palin To Stump For Chambliss

Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin will appear with Sen. Saxby Chambliss at four rallies across Georgia next week, the Chambliss campaign announced today. Palin and Chambliss will stump together on Dec. 1 in Augusta, Savannah, Perry and north metro Atlanta.

Palin's visit comes after other prominent Republicans who have also swung through the state, including John McCain, Mike Huckabee and Mitt Romney. Rudy Giuliani is scheduled to appear with Chambliss today.

Strategy Memo: What's The Deal

Two days until Thanksgiving. Seven days until the $621 million Capitol Visitors Center opens (it looks pretty nice from the outside). 37 days until New Years Day. 56 days until the Inauguration.

**President-elect Obama announced his economic team at a press conference yesterday. The names include...
-Treasury Secretary: Timothy Geithner
-National Economic Council director: Lawrence Summers
-Council of Economic Advisers director: Christina Romer
-Domestic Policy Council director: Melody Barnes

**Today, Obama is scheduled to outline budget details -- presumably how he intends to pay for the half-trillion-dollar stimulus plan aimed at spurring job growth. Also believed to be on the agenda at the noon ET press conference is the announcement that Congressional Budget Office director Peter Orszag has been appointed director of the Office of Management and Budget. National Journal's Alexis Simendinger got the scoop on this last week.

**Politico's David Rogers writes today about this "Newer Deal": "Democrats are thinking in terms of two-year investments and a mid-February deadline for passage of an economic stimulus bill sought by the incoming Obama administration." This longer-term commitment, he writes, "could open the door to capitalizing a new, more permanent "national infrastructure bank" that could be a source of revolving loans for future joint public-private projects."

**In other transition news, Vice President-elect Biden's longtime Senate aide Ted Kaufman will take over Biden's Senate seat for the next two years until a special election is held to fill in the remaining four years of the term Biden just won. Gov. Ruth Ann Minner announced her choice for the seat yesterday, saying "I believe Ted Kaufman meets every test I set for this office. His political views are close to Sen. Biden's, and he has agreed to focus solely on doing the people's work, not seeking re-election," the Wilimington News Journal reports. Many are speculating that Kaufman, who has no interest in running in two years, will hold the place for Biden's son, Beau Biden -- Delaware's attorney general who is headed to Iraq -- to run in the 2010 special election.

**The race for chairman of the Republican National Committee got a little more crowded yesterday, when South Carolina GOP chair Katon Dawson officially announced his bid. Of course, yesterday's announcement only made things official for Dawson, who has been rumored to be eyeing the slot since the Republican convention in early September. Dawson joins Michigan GOP chair Saul Anuzis and former Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael Steele as the three officially-announced candidates. The Fix takes a look today at each candidate, and also notes that the race so far "has been defined so far by a cavalcade of announced and potential candidates and a dearth of individuals with the star power to emerge as the frontrunner."

**It remains a mystery who will win the two undecided Senate races in Georgia and Minnesota. Some 2.1 million ballots had been counted in Minnesota as of last night, the AP reported, leaving only about one-fifth of the ballots to be recounted. Of course, there are still problems with both campaigns challenging ballots, which will be decided upon by the state Canvassing Board. In Georgia's Dec. 2 runoff, a new Politico/Insider Advantage poll out today shows Chambliss up 3 points, 50%-47% -- almost identical to the 49.8%-46.8% finish in the general election. Chambliss currently leads by 4.8 points in the RCP Average.

Georgia Senate Runoff Update

The list of big names swinging through Georgia continues to grow, while a poll released today shows the incumbent senator leading by 6 points.

Former Vice Pres. Al Gore spoke in Atlanta last night on behalf of Democratic challenger Jim Martin, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution writes. Gore folllows Bill Clinton, who campaigned in the state for Martin last week. President-elect Obama likely won't turn up in Georgia, but he recently cut a radio ad for Martin.

Sen. Saxby Chambliss has brought in some top Republican names as well, with Sen. John McCain and former governors Mike Huckabee and Mitt Romney all stumping for the Republican incumbent. Rudy Giuliani is scheduled to show up tomorrow.

Chambliss currently holds a 6-point lead over Martin, according to a PPP poll released today. The survey of 871 likely voters was taken from Nov. 22-23 and has a margin of error of +/- 3.3%. To pull out a victory, Martin is banking on the large number of African American and young voters who turned out on Election Day to return to the polls almost one month later.

Strategy Memo: Turkey Week

It's Turkey Week already, and here on Capitol Hill things are pretty quiet. After a week of bustle inside the Capitol, most of the news for now will be coming out of Chicago...

**The President-elect is set to announce this morning key members of his economic policy team, whose goal it will be to lead the country out of its financial slump. The noon ET press conference, being held in Chicago, will introduce New York Federal Reserve president Timothy Geithner as Treasury Secretary, former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers as National Economic Council director, and University of California - Berkeley economics professor Christina Romer as chair of the Council of Economic Advisers, ABC News reported this morning.

**Those advisers may oversee a stimulus package totalling as much as $700 billion over the next two years -- more than the U.S. has spent in Iraq over the last six years, the Washington Post reports. "This is as big of an economic crisis as we've faced in 75 years. And we've got to do something that's up to the task of confronting that," Goolsbee said on CBS's "Face the Nation." "I don't know what the exact number is, but it's going to be a big number."

**Over on the RCP Blog, Tom Bevan welcomes readers to "another week in our brave new world." As the New York Times reports, Federal regulators yesterday "approved a radical plan to stabilize Citigroup in an arrangement in which the government could soak up billions of dollars in losses at the struggling bank."

**While Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), the House Financial Services Committee chairman, is upset with the plan, as Politico reports, it's already produced some results. The Dow Jones is reportedly up 300 points so far this morning, though the Wall Street Journal's Benoit and Curran note a key point: "That the U.S. government felt compelled to backstop a bank of Citi's scale shows how fragile the financial system is, and how limited the success from the drastic measures already implemented by governments and central banks."

Check back later for updates on the Senate elections still going on in Georgia and Minnesota, as well as updates on all things political.

What A Cycle

The 2008 election season has largely come to a close. Only Georgia and Louisiana voters have ballots left to cast, and only elections officials in Ohio, Minnesota, California and Virginia have counts to complete. For those of us who have spent the better part of two years covering the people, parties and politics, it's time to decompress a bit.

It's time to look back on the burning hot sun at the Iowa Republican Party straw poll, where this reporter had two barbeque sandwiches in a day and felt like a pig, only to witness a fellow reporter down five sandwiches.

To recall an orange rolling down the center of the aisle as Air Huckabee took off from Des Moines, victorious, en route to Manchester. The candidate was so excited that his press conference lasted the majority of the flight. Using the exit row for an impromptu press conference is not comfortable for reporters.

At-large caucus sites in Las Vegas casinos, the initial maneuverings toward a bid for RNC chair taking place before the Sandia Mountains north of Albuquerque and debates in Hanover, Philadelphia, Orlando and Oxford, Mississippi are indelible memories.

But it's also time for some of us to move on. After this post, I'll be moving over to The Hill to serve as a staff writer after more than a year and a half with the best political website out there.

Thanks to John McIntyre and Tom Bevan, creators of Real Clear Politics, for providing the forum in which to write and analyze what's turned into one of the greatest election seasons in American history. There are those behind the scenes who deserve credit as well -- Blake Dvorak, Nick Nordseth, Greg Bobrinskoy, Anand Ramanujan and Anna Lindow have all endured more complaints from me than they deserved. Thanks also to my colleague Kyle Trygstad, who took on important parts of Politics Nation (No one knows congressional districts better than Kyle).

Most importantly, thanks to you, the reader, who made Politics Nation possible, who sent feedback (Well, thanks for most of the feedback. You know who you are) and who pointed out the occasional flub. It's been a pleasure sharing this incredible year with you. Stay with RCP throughout the next cycle, which will be historic in its own right, and keep up to date on every bit of must-read political journalism out there.

Thanks again, and best wishes for a happy Thanksgiving.

-- Reid Wilson

Towns Next In Line At Oversight

In his quest for the chairmanship, Rep. Edolphus Towns (D-N.Y.) has won the support of at least three subcommittee chairmen on the Oversight and Government Reform committee, his office announced today. Towns, who's served on the Oversight committee since coming to Congress in 1982, finally publicly announced his interest Wednesday in chairing the full panel. His office had refused to comment on the potential vacancy prior to then.

Reps. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio), Danny Davis (D-Ill.) and William Lacy Clay (D-Mo.), all Oversight subcommittee chairman, publicly backed Towns today in an open letter. "Ed Towns maintains good relations with committee members from both sides of the aisle, and we expect that he will be quite effective in enacting important government reforms in cooperation with the Obama Administration," they wrote.

The chairmanship became officially vacant yesterday when Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), who took the lead at the committee following the 2006 elections, was elected chairman of the Energy and Commerce committee. With Waxman's exit, Towns holds the most seniority on the oversight panel, followed by Reps. Paul Kanjorski (D-Penn.), Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) and Elijah Cummings (D-Md.). The latter two had expressed deep interest in the job, though according to Towns' office, no challenge has been announced.

"I am excited about the opportunity to pursue constructive oversight and a legislative reform agenda that the chairmanship offers," said Towns, in a statement released today. "I plan to work in close cooperation with Speaker Pelosi and the elected leadership of the caucus in the 111th Congress."

--Kyle Trygstad

LA 04: Dueling Polls

Going through poll withdrawal? Get your daily fix with two new polls out of Louisiana's hotly contested Fourth Congressional District, where both parties show their candidates leading the race to replace outgoing GOP Rep. Jim McCrery.

Democratic candidate Paul Carmouche, the Caddo District Attorney, leads his own poll, conducted by The Kitchens Group 11/18-19 among 400 likely voters for a margin of error of +/- 4.9%. Carmouche and former Webster Parish Coroner John Fleming were tested, along with independent candidates Chester "Catfish" Kelley and Gerard Bowen.

General Election Matchup
Carmouche.......48 (+3 from last, 11/7)
Fleming.............37 (+2)
Kelley................ 1 (-1)
Bowen.............. 0 (-1)

Not to be outdone, Fleming has his own poll showing him with a small lead. The Public Opinion Strategies poll was conducted 11/17-18 among 400 likely voters for an identical 4.9% margin of error. Fleming and Carmouche were tested.

General Election Matchup
Fleming.............43
Carmouche.......42

The divergent results are interesting especially given the district's high African American population. The Democratic poll included a sample of just 22% African American voters, while the Republican poll included a sample assuming 30% black turnout. One-third of district residents are black.

Though it is ordinarily heavily-Republican territory, a high African American turnout could put Carmouche, whose Caddo Parish is at the heart of the Shreveport-based district, over the top.

Waxman Beats Dingell

In a surprise move, the House Democratic Caucus has stripped its longest-serving member of a top committee post in favor of a more liberal challenger. California Rep. Henry Waxman topped Michigan Rep. John Dingell by a 137-122 vote in the battle over the House Energy and Commerce Committee, according to a top Democratic aide.

Dingell, the dean of the House and the second-longest serving member in Congressional history, lost his post after nearly three decades as either the chairman or the committee's ranking member. Dingell had sparred recently with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi over global warming and auto industry issues.

Waxman, the committee's second-ranking Democrat, chairs the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee and is seen as more liberal. He is an ally of Pelosi's, and many suggested the Speaker played a role in the surprise challenge, especially as top lieutenant George Miller whipped votes on Waxman's behalf. Pelosi aides have denied any involvement and expressed as much surprise at the challenge as anyone.

It's the second round of voting in two days in which Waxman has emerged on top. The Democratic Steering and Policy Committee voted by a 25-22 margin for Waxman on Wednesday, though some suggested that because that body is largely loyal to Pelosi and regionally tilted toward the West, Dingell would be in better position to win a vote amongst the full caucus.

Update: Politics Nation is told Iowa Rep. Bruce Braley, just elected to his second term, made an impassioned speech on Waxman's behalf, blaming Dingell for blocking progress on a number of bills. Braley has been involved in the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, co-chairing the Frontline program, but it's still unusual to see such a junior member of congress question a more senior member, especially one who was serving his second term in Congress when Braley was born.

Strategy Memo: Smooth Sailing

Good Thursday morning. Take that, Tony Kornheiser! The popular ESPN host watched his Binghampton Bearcats go down to the mighty George Washington University Colonials here in Washington last night. Here's what the rest of the Beltway is watching today:

-- Barack Obama is speeding up the Cabinet picks, with Eric Holder tapped earlier this week as Attorney General, Tom Daschle reportedly planning to take over the Department of Department of Health and Human Services and Bob Gates negotiating his continued tenure at the Pentagon. Last night, Politico's Mike Allen added another name to the list in Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano, who will be tapped to lead the Department of Homeland Security. The two-term Democrat has long been an Obama backer and wanted a position in the Cabinet. Her name was also floated for Attorney General.

-- Most of the early picks Obama has made are likely to sail through the Senate. Holder could present a bit of a problem given his involvement in the controversial pardon of Marc Rich toward the end of Bill Clinton's term, but Daschle, Gates and -- should she be named -- Hillary Clinton are not going to face hurdles in confirmation hearings (In fact, one thing that might give Obama pause is just how many Republicans have praised Clinton lately). But the Obama team is going to have to keep answering questions about some possible conflicts of interest, like Daschle's work on the board of the Mayo Clinic and with a law firm that has big health care clients, as the New York Times' David Kirkpatrick notes.

-- Meanwhile, on Capitol Hill, Senate Democrats slapped colleague Joe Lieberman on the wrist for publicly backing John McCain this year, revoking the Connecticut Independent's chair of an Environment and Public Works subcommittee but letting him keep the top job on the Homeland Security and Government Affairs panel. In an interview with CBS News, Lieberman backpedaled on some of his attacks on Obama but didn't admit that he owes the newly-minted president-elect a big one.

-- Democrats on the House side are less forgiving, taking the first step toward stripping a key committee from the hands of the lower chamber's most senior member. The Democratic Steering and Policy Committee voted by a narrow margin in favor of California Rep. Henry Waxman, who is challenging Michigan Rep. John Dingell for the top slot on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, the New York Times' John Broder writes. The surprise challenge from Waxman had support from a number of close allies of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, though Pelosi maintains she had nothing to do with the challenge and has told George Miller, one of her top lieutenants, not to use her name when making calls on Waxman's behalf.

-- The final verdict on Dingell's chairmanship will come during a vote of the full caucus today, and the Michigan Democrat is likely in better position than he was on the Steering Committee. That panel, which has more Californians and environmentalists on board than the caucus as a whole, is largely controlled by Pelosi allies. The battle will come down to advocates of strong climate change legislation, something Dingell has resisted, and those who worry about the collapse of the seniority system, which Dingell represents. Watch the Congressional Black Caucus, many of whose members voiced strong support for the seniority system earlier this week. Thanks to that system, CBC members Charlie Rangel, Bennie Thompson and John Conyers hold chairmanships of prominent committees.

-- House Republicans named their own slate of new leaders yesterday, with everything going to plan. Minority Leader John Boehner beat back a weak challenge from California Rep. Dan Lungren, while NRCC chairman Tom Cole dropped his ill-fated re-election bid just before the votes were cast, handing the party's campaign arm to Texas Rep. Pete Sessions. But look to Minority Whip Eric Cantor and Conference Chair Mike Pence to make the biggest noise this cycle, as both bring an influx of new blood the conference desperately needs. Still, their appointments have some wondering where all the moderates have gone.

-- But there are still races left to be concluded, as counters in Minnesota started going back through the state's ballots in an effort to conclude the Senate election. Republican incumbent Norm Coleman held a 215-vote lead going into yesterday's counting, but that lead shrank to 174 by the end of the day. Both Coleman and Democrat Al Franken are challenging more than 100 ballots across the state, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune notes, meaning the outcome might not be known until well after the December 5 target for finishing the recount. Those disputed ballots will head to the state Canvassing Board for resolution in mid-December.

-- Though NRSC chair John Ensign said he was optimistic about Coleman holding onto his lead, some of Coleman's Republican colleagues aren't feeling as positive. One Senate Republican told the Washington Times that Coleman might be a good pick to head the Republican National Committee, before clarifying that he hopes Coleman would win. Ask Mel Martinez how serving as a senator and a chairman at the same time works. Hint: Not well. If Coleman, who just said no to a run for NRSC chair, were to lose and run for the RNC spot, he might join defeated New Hampshire Senator John Sununu, whose name has been floated by some Northeastern Republicans.

-- Brawl Of The Day: First, he wanted to boot Ted Stevens out of the Republican conference. Now, Senator Jim DeMint is behind proposals to impose term limits on leadership and on tenure on the Appropriations Committee, Politico reports today. Both proposals were defeated, but DeMint and a few other Senate conservatives are starting to assert themselves more, leading to what could be a repeat of the rise of the right in the House.

Stevens Concedes

Faced with an insurmountable vote deficit, Alaska Senator Ted Stevens conceded the race today to Democratic challenger Mark Begich. By last night, Stevens trailed by more than 3,700 votes with only some 2,500 still left to count.

"Given the number of ballots that remain to be counted, it is apparent the election has been decided and Mayor Begich has been elected," said Stevens, in a statement released by his campaign office.

Seeking a seventh full term after being appointed to the Senate in 1968, Stevens was convicted on seven felony corruption counts in federal court just days before the election. Had he won, Stevens faced possible expulsion from the Senate, which would have allowed Gov. Sarah Palin to appoint a successor.

With Stevens leaving the Senate, Alaskans may come to miss the "Stevens money" -- federal dollars for local projects -- he brought home.

"I am proud of the campaign we ran and regret that the outcome was not what we had hoped for," Stevens said. "I am deeply grateful to Alaskans for allowing me to serve them for 40 years in the U.S. Senate. It has been the greatest honor of my life to work with Alaskans of all political persuasions to make this state that we all love a better place."

--Kyle Trygstad

Cornyn Elected NRSC Chair

Senate Republicans put the rubber stamp on Texas Senator John Cornyn's bid to head the National Republican Senatorial Committee this cycle, rounding out the party's uncontested leadership elections for the 111th Congress.

Republicans kept Mitch McConnell, Jon Kyl and Lamar Alexander in their positions as top party leaders, while John Ensign moved from the NRSC to serve as Policy Committee chair. South Dakota Senator John Thune moves to fifth on the leadership ladder as vice chairman.

Cornyn was expected to face Minnesota Senator Norm Coleman, but Coleman dropped his expected bid as he continues to face a statewide recount in his race for re-election. Cornyn will lead the NRSC in recruiting and assisting campaigns in at least 35 states in which voters will cast Senate ballots.

The Texan, who has been angling for the job most of the year, tapped top aide Rob Jesmer to serve as executive director of the Republican campaign arm. Jesmer has been a regional political director for the RNC, the National Field Director for the NRCC and as Cornyn's campaign manager.

Strategy Memo: Gambling On GM

Good Monday morning. If anyone had any doubt that Winter was on its way, doubt no more. Here in Washington, the old man has definitely arrived. Here's what else the Beltway is watching today:

-- Congress returns to session this week for a lame-duck meeting Democrats hope may lead to a bailout of the auto industry. The language will come from the Senate, but many Republicans are opposed to a bailout, and the White House has signaled its own reluctance, CNNMoney's Chris Isidore writes. Some wonder if General Motors will be able to survive more than eight months without federal money. What happens if GM goes under? The Center for Automotive Research, an industry-affiliated group that backs the bailout, estimates about 2.5 million jobs lost and perhaps hundreds of billions in lost tax revenue.

-- The Senate Banking Committee will hold hearings on automaker bailouts on Tuesday (Ranking Republican Richard Shelby remains the most outspoken opponent of the plan) and the House Financial Services Committee will chat about it Wednesday. And even though Barack Obama supports the measure, he won't be voting for it; in fact, Obama's Senate voting days are over after resigning from the body yesterday and writing a letter to the people of Illinois, published in newspapers across the state including the Sun-Times. Governor Rod Blagojevich has not yet laid out a timetable for naming an Obama successor beyond saying a name will come out by the end of the year.

-- Obama spent the weekend naming a few more top posts in his White House, including Washington power lawyer Greg Craig as counsel and Pete Rouse as a senior adviser, the Washington Post's Michael Fletcher reports. Craig is a former Clinton loyalist who played John McCain in Obama's debate prep this year, while Rouse is a former top aide to Tom Daschle who served as Obama's Senate chief of staff before moving over to the campaign. Jim Messina, the campaign's chief of staff, and Mona Sutphen, a foreign policy expert currently with a business consulting firm located in Washington, will serve as deputy chiefs of staff.

-- No Secretary-level Cabinet positions have yet to be confirmed, though that doesn't mean the Obama team is dragging their heels. Obama advisers are actively vetting Hillary Clinton for Secretary of State, and rumors flying around all weekend claim she is a finalist along with Bill Richardson and Chuck Hagel for the job. But, as the New York Times' Baker and Cooper write, vetting Hillary means vetting Bill Clinton, a process that requires a team of attorneys sifting through information and data that has never been required in public disclosures.

-- Today, the Illinois Democrat will sit down in his transition office in Chicago with John McCain, his erstwhile enemy, as both former presidential candidates pledge to work together to help the country. They each have something to gain, the Wall Street Journal's Weisman and Meckler write. For Obama, it's the opportunity to build his bipartisan credentials, especially among independent voters who still like McCain. McCain can rebuild his national standing as a maverick with independent appeal. It won't matter for a future presidential run, but even longtime senators have legacies to attend. Senator Lindsay Graham and Rep. Rahm Emanuel will also be there.

-- Republicans will have a say in this week's special session, but it may be the last time for a while. The party is still searching for a direction and a purpose two weeks after big electoral defeats, and GOP meetings in Miami and Myrtle Beach late last week sought to answer those questions. The Republican Governors Association showed off some of the party's new talent, while the Myrtle Beach meeting, of prominent Republican National Committeemembers, served as a post-mortem and an argument about the future of the party.

-- One thing many GOP strategists are recognizing is that their party has serious outreach to do among black and Hispanic voters, as the Washington Times' Gary Emerling writes. Obama won a number of swing states in part because of his overwhelming margins among minority voters, and Republicans, facing the prospect of needing similarly huge margins among white voters, are rightly concerned. The real trouble, as activists meeting in Myrtle Beach showed this weekend, is that any move to the middle on immigration, an issue that has caused an especially deep fissure between the GOP and Hispanics, will be greeted by a revolt on the right.

-- Meanwhile, there remain races to call, and this week the long and arduous process of counting more than 2.5 million ballots in Minnesota will commence, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune writes. By Wednesday, volunteers from around the country will begin counting ballots in the state, where Republican Senator Norm Coleman leads by just over 200 votes. Just to infuriate Republicans (Well, okay, and to ease his own possible transition), Democrat Al Franken will be in Washington on Wednesday for meetings with Senate Democratic leaders, though he won't attend freshman orientation. His spokesperson said that would be "presumptuous," per CNN's Chris Welch.

-- Power Play Of The Day: Question Sarah Palin's fitness to lead the Republican Party, now or in four years, and you're likely to get angry looks and a fair amount of derision (That's what Politics Nation got this weekend in Myrtle Beach). But it's not just the media, and don't forget that other Republicans want a shot at the leadership title. Former Speaker Newt Gingrich is the first to cut the Alaska governor down to size. "She's going to be one of 20 or 30 significant players. She's not going to be the de facto leader," Gingrich said this weekend on Face the Nation, per The Hill's Alexander Bolton. Don't forget, Gingrich himself may not be finished with his own political ambitions.

GA Sen: Chambliss +3

Democrats must win the Georgia Senate runoff if the party wants sixty seats in the upper chamber. A new poll shows that scenario isn't entirely out of reach.

The DailyKos/Research 2000 poll, conducted 11/10-12, surveyed 600 likely voters for a margin of error of +/- 4%. Republican Senator Saxby Chambliss and Democrat Jim Martin were tested.

Runoff Election Matchup
(All / Dem / GOP / Ind)
Chambliss....49 / 13 / 85 / 47
Martin.......46 / 84 / 11 / 44

General election polls unanimously showed Chambliss ahead, but the race tightened to single digits after the Republican voted in favor of the bailout legislation. Now, these results are almost identical to those of the general election, when Chambliss scored 49.8% to Martin's 46.8%.

Little-known as the race started, Martin now has an almost identical approval rating as Chambliss. Martin is seen favorably by 55% of Georgians, while 42% see him unfavorably; Chambliss' ratings are 54% favorable to 44% unfavorable.

RNC Files BCRA Challenges

The Republican National Committee waited scarcely a week after the presidential contest ended to lauch a lawsuit striking at the heart of one of their former nominee's signature achievements. The committee filed two lawsuits today challenging aspects of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, more commonly known as McCain-Feingold after its two lead sponsors.

The committee is challenging the constitutionality of the Act's prohibition against unlimited corporate donations, known as "soft money," and the ban on close coordination with candidates in separate suits filed in Washington and Louisiana district courts.

The Act "is an infringement on my constitutional right, I think, both on freedom of association and free speech," RNC chairman Mike Duncan said on a conference call earlier today. Duncan said the elimination of soft money contributions cost the RNC about 40% of its resources, money the committee frequently passed to states to assist with electing candidates to statewide and state legislative offices.

That money would be especially important when it comes to redistricting after the 2010 elections. Most states give legislatures at least some power to draw new legislative and congressional district lines. The RNC has historically used soft money to influence legislative races, but BCRA prohibits that use. "We will be at a severe disadvantage if the Republican National Committee is not allowed to do what we have done in past elections," Duncan said. "The money that we have is not sufficient to help us [assist GOP redistricting efforts] the way we have in the past."

After the 2008 elections, Democrats hold majorities in at least 60 of the nation's 98 partisan legislative chambers (Nebraska has a unicameral, non-partisan legislature). Several others are tied, putting Republicans at a distinct disadvantage when redistricting comes around in two years. Perhaps most significantly, Democrats won a majority in the New York Senate, meaning the party will have complete control to draw new districts when the Empire State loses two seats following the 2010 Census, assuming they keep the governor's mansion.

The RNC is also challenging the $84,000 limit for coordinated expenditures the party is allowed to make in conjunction with candidates. Currently, any expenditure above that limit must come out of the party's independent expenditure wing, which must be separate from the main body of the organization and cannot coordinate messages or themes. "These [independent expenditure] units are very difficult to work with. You give them the money and you're not sure what the message is going to be," Duncan said.

During his presidential run, John McCain tried to make an issue of his adherence to the $84 million spending limit in the general election and Barack Obama's decision to forgo public financing. Many have pointed to the amount of money Obama raised and spent as heralding the end of the public financing system, which is also regulated in part under BCRA. With the RNC so publicly repudiating McCain's stands and positions he took during the campaign, renewed questions about McCain's relationship with the party are bound to crop up.

The Democratic National Committee, which is likely to oppose the lawsuits, has yet to issue a statement. Phone calls and emails to McCain's Senate office went unreturned.

Site, Quote Of The Day

Michigan GOP chair Saul Anuzis, a candidate for the top post at the RNC, announced his candidacy via Twitter, Facebook and other cutting-edge technological methods before sending the announcement to the media. "I tweet my way around on a regular basis," Anuzis told a conference call yesterday.

And anyone looking to waste an hour should visit RahmFacts.com, a tribute to the incoming White House chief of staff. "Rahm Emanuel did not fight in the Israeli Army as rumored but he probably would have been awesome at it if he had," says our favorite.

Strategy Memo: A Will And A Way

Good Thursday morning. Does anyone think Alabama and Texas Tech can hold on through the next few weeks? Here's one fan who's hoping so. Here's what Washington is watching today:

-- Remember when Democrats were excitedly hinting that a filibuster-proof 60 Senate seats might be attainable this year? Those hopes were seemingly dashed on Election Day when the party picked up only -- only -- six seats, putting them at 57 votes. But with three races in recounts and runoffs, with at least one all but guaranteed to go to court, Senate Democrats are suddenly thinking about that magic number once again. And if they don't get to 60 this year, 2010 is definitely a possibility.

-- More than a week after Election Day, with 60,000 early and absentee votes finally counted, Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich leads Alaska Senator Ted Stevens by a narrow 814-vote margin, erasing Stevens' 3,200-vote lead, the Anchorage Daily News reports. Begich was leading among early voters, but the fact that he gained so many votes means he's leading among absentee voters as well, a good sign for the Democrat. There are still about 35,000 ballots to count, meaning neither Stevens nor Begich should start packing their bags for Washington. Counting will continue over the next week.

-- In Minnesota, where a recount of Republican Norm Coleman's 206-vote lead over Democrat Al Franken will commence next week, the parties are getting lawyered up, per the Star Tribune's Kevin Duchschere. A Coleman attorney estimates the GOP will send out 120 lawyers to the 100 recount sites around the state, while Democrats promised a similar number. Republicans are already on edge, alerting the media to what it says is fraudulent vote counting, but media outlets have noted similar trends in Senator Amy Klobuchar's blowout win in 2006 and in several earlier contests.

-- Finally, the impending runoff in Georgia's Senate race is dredging up old skeletons for Republican Saxby Chambliss. Six years ago, Chambliss won after running an ad that put opponent Max Cleland's photo next to those of Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein. Now, Cleland is fundraising for Democrat Jim Martin while recalling that ad, and Democrats are keeping the pressure on by reminding voters that even John McCain called the ad "reprehensible." And what timing, given that McCain will be in Cobb County stumping alongside the freshman Republican. The Gwinnett Daily Post's Camie Young reports that's not the only big-name Republican headed down there; on Sunday, Chambliss will campaign with former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee. Martin is still trying to woo Barack Obama to the Peach State.

-- Democrats have better than a 50-50 chance in Alaska, while the parties are running even in Minnesota. Republicans are the favorites in Georgia, where a lower turnout general election will benefit Chambliss. Democrats need all three seats to reach the magic 60 number, and it will take the party catching serious breaks to accomplish that. But more than a week after Election Day, the story remains that Democrats still have a chance to block Republican filibusters.

-- No matter what happens to Senate Democrats, Joe Lieberman faces the fight of his political life next week. The Connecticut Independent Democrat who campaigned with McCain and backed two Republican senators this year faces a secret vote among the Democratic caucus next week as to whether to strip him of his chairmanship of an influential committee. Barack Obama wants Lieberman to remain in the Democratic caucus, writes the AP's Andy Miga, and Lieberman has a group of senators including Ken Salazar, Tom Carper, Bill Nelson and Chris Dodd, whipping votes on his behalf, Politico's Grim and Kady report. But will those efforts be overcome by Democratic anger at Lieberman's efforts and by the netroots, furious at Lieberman? The pressure may be too much for some Democrats to bear.

-- Meanwhile, Republicans are trying to rebuild and everyone has something to say. Perhaps the most important gathering is taking place in Miami, where the Post's Robert Barnes wraps up the Republican Governors Association meeting. There will be just 21 GOP chief executives left come January, but the hardy few who survive are going to be the next generation of national candidates -- names like Bobby Jindal, Tim Pawlenty, Mark Sanford, maybe even Rick Perry; and Sarah Palin will definitely play across the front pages in Iowa and New Hampshire four years from now. Republican governors helped their party come back in the early '90s, while Democratic governors did the same for their party earlier this decade. How quickly the GOP can get back on the horse remains in the hands of this crop of state leaders.

-- Palin, for now the most famous woman in American politics (Sorry, Senator Clinton) has someone skilled in the dark arts of communication giving her some pretty good advice. Instead of returning to Alaska to govern and remaining in the media cocoon built by McCain's campaign, Palin has come out for virtually every interview that's been requested, the Post's Howard Kurtz writes. She took care of her local media, then hit CNN twice and NBC once before holding a press conference at the RGA meeting in Miami. Don't let anyone tell you Palin's not considering a 2012 bid. Whether she runs and wins or not, she'll be around for a while.

-- Job Of The Day: Looking for a new gig? Ever consider being one of the thousands of political appointees who works in Barack Obama's White House? If so, prepare to get personal, the New York Times' Jackie Calmes writes. The incoming administration wants to know if you've ever sent a text message that could be embarrassing, while they'd like to page through your diary as well. The huge questionnaire is only for top-level appointees, but in order to achieve Obama's promise to run the most open government in history, apparently everything about everyone in it has to be open as well.

Jefferson Headed To Trial

The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals today upheld a grand jury's indictment of Louisiana Rep. William Jefferson on 16 counts of corruption, allowing the trial to begin in early 2009 unless Jefferson appeals the ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court, the New Orleans Times-Picayune reports.

It's been more than three years -- August 2005 -- since the FBI taped the Democratic congressman accepting a briefcase filled with $100,000 in marked bills and four days later found $90,000 of it in his Capitol Hill home freezer. He was indicted in June 2007 for the alleged bribery scheme.

Despite his trouble, Jefferson was re-elected in his solidly-Democratic 2nd Congressional District by a 14-point margin in a December 2006 nonpartisan runoff against State Rep. Karen Carter, a Democrat. He's likely to be re-elected once again in the Dec. 6 general election after winning last week's Democratic primary by the same margin.

-- Kyle Trygstad

Anuzis Makes It Official

After months of speculation surrounding his intentions, Michigan GOP chair Saul Anuzis has become the first big-name candidate to jump into the RNC chair's race, according to MSNBC's First Read.

"The comeback starts now!" screams a website, AnuzisForChair.com, that trumpets his candidacy. Anuzis "is running for Chairman of the Republican National Committee to bring back the party of ideas, bring it to every neighborhood in America and harness every tool of the digital age to lead an historic comeback for the GOP in 2010 and beyond."

Anuzis had been coy about his intentions in multiple conversations with Politics Nation, but most RNC watchers expected the Michigander to make a race. His formal decision comes just in time for him to take advantage of a gathering of RNC members in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina this weekend.

The meeting is hosted by Katon Dawson, the Palmetto State GOP chief who is also widely expected to make a run for chair. Dawson is expected to make his own announcement next week. Having so many RNC members in the same place will provide a target-rich environment for anyone thinking of making a run.

Yob-Thompson Coalition Floated

The buzz around a potential Fred Thompson candidacy for Republican National Committee chair is growing, thanks to The Tennessean's Jennifer Brooks, who speculates today on Thompson's thirst for the position.

Meanwhile, a source close to former Michigan national committeeman Chuck Yob tells Politics Nation that Yob is floating the possibility of Thompson serving as general chair and as the public face of the party while Yob manages the day-to-day operations of the committee. Both candidates would gain advantages, Yob by attracting some star power and Thompson by associating with someone well-known among RNC members.

One side game RNC members and observers are watching is which potential 2012 presidential candidate the RNC chair hopefuls are most closely aligned with. But politics makes strange bedfellows: Take Chip Saltsman, Mike Huckabee's former campaign manager. He's hired Stephen Smith, Mitt Romney's former online communications guru, to help him out.

A Romney guy working to elect a Huckabee guy? It gets more complicated: Saltsman and Smith both worked with former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, who is also seen as a potential White House candidate at some point down the line.

RNC Chair Notes

The race for RNC chair is starting to feel like the run-up to the Iowa caucuses. Some notes on the latest developments:

-- The Washington Times' Ralph Z. Hallow, plugged in to the RNC as he is, floats Newt Gingrich as holding a passive interest in the gig while ex-Maryland Lieutenant Governor Michael Steele, now chair of GOPAC, sports a much more active interest.

-- Steele has some sort of organization backing him already, as a DC-based communications firm passes along the new DraftMichaelSteele.com website. The site looks grass-roots, and the folks at Marsh Copsey & Associates, the Republican consulting firm who shot it around to reporters, say they're not behind it. Steele is making calls to RNC members to gauge support but he hasn't made a final decision yet, says one friend of the GOPAC chairman.

-- One source who follows the race closely tells Politics Nation that Gingrich may not want to actually run for the position, but that if it is offered, he'd take it. Hallow reports Gingrich is letting others make the calls for him. Gingrich, yet again, declined a request for an interview with RCP.

-- Michigan Republican Party chairman Saul Anuzis has started making phone calls to gauge support, Hallow writes and multiple sources confirm to Politics Nation. Anuzis has been coy about his hopes for the chairmanship, but observers have said all along not to count him out.

-- South Carolina party chair Katon Dawson's big gathering in Myrtle Beach this weekend will be the lowest-profile of three prominent GOP get-togethers -- the other two being the Republican Governors Association meeting in Miami that kicks off tomorrow and House leadership elections slated for next week. But it'll be a coming-out party for Dawson and other RNC insiders who want to run for chair (Remember, there are only 168 votes that matter, and neither Gingrich nor Steele has one). Anuzis, Florida GOP chair Jim Greer and others will be there.

-- Mike Huckabee is injecting himself into the race, making phone calls on behalf of ex-manager Chip Saltsman, who told Politics Nation a few weeks back that he's taking a hard look at the contest.

-- And while some Republicans complain they're falling far behind Democrats on the technological front, at least they know something about Facebook. Gingrich, Steele, Huckabee, Saltsman, Mitt Romney, Fred Thompson, ex-Rep. Jim Nussle, Sarah Palin and John Sununu each have Facebook groups dedicated to their candidacies, real or imagined.

Dean Done At DNC

Four years after taking over the helm of the Democratic National Committee, former Vermont Governor Howard Dean is calling it quits, multiple news organizations are reporting.

Elevated to the top DNC slot after his failed but ground-breaking presidential campaign, Dean enraged some Washington insiders but thrilled state party activists by investing resources in even heavily-Republican territory through his 50-state strategy. That strategy, some now say, helped propel Democrats to unlikely victories over the last two cycles.

Dean can also claim credit -- or take the blame, depending on one's perspective -- for elevating the liberal netroots to new prominence in the party. During his watch at 430 South Capitol Street, Dean involved groups like the DailyKos community to an extent previously unmatched in politics.

Meanwhile, Dean maintained a contentious and at times bruised relationship with top Congressional Democrats like Rep. Rahm Emanuel and Senator Charles Schumer, who headed their party's campaign efforts in the House and Senate in 2006. At one well-publicized meeting, Emanuel, whose DCCC offices were in the same building as Dean's, huffed out of Dean's office after a loud disagreement over party spending.

Dean's tenure saw a downturn in fundraising but a dramatic uptick in electoral results after disappointing cycles in 2000, 2002 and 2004. While the national atmosphere, President Bush's low approval ratings and strong performances from both the DCCC and the DSCC deserve most of the credit for Democratic successes of late, the national party did help build state and local organizations in areas that were previously the sole domain of Republicans.

With the Vermont governor no longer in the picture, early speculation about a long list of potential replacements will begin. President-elect Barack Obama will have a hand in the selection, which has historically been used either to reward big-name backers or install fundraising and political powerhouses.

Bill Clinton did both, installing 1992 campaign manager David Wilhelm and political operatives like Steve Grossman, Joe Andrew and Terry McAuliffe for some periods and well-known public officials like former Colorado Governor Roy Romer and Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell.

If Obama chooses the big-name route, he might tap a governor who faces term limits, like Tim Kaine or Bill Richardson. On the other hand, Obama could throw his support behind campaign manager David Plouffe, who many have floated as bound for bigger and better things after steering Obama's campaign to an historic win.

Democrats will meet early next year to elect a new chair.

Strategy Memo: A White House Welcome

Good Monday morning. Our email inbox is surprisingly quiet just a week after press releases were coming in every three seconds. All the easier to clean out said mailbox, we suppose. Here's what Washington is watching today:

-- President-elect Barack Obama owes one man a debt of gratitude for his winning the presidency, and today he'll get the opportunity to offer thanks when the two meet. Obama is headed to the White House, where the Illinois Democrat with sky-high approval ratings will meet the Texas Republican with approval ratings in the tank. It could be an awkward meeting, writes the New York Times' Sheryl Gay Stolberg; during the campaign, if there was a shot to be taken at President Bush, Obama took it. Bush and Obama have met before, Fox News' Bill Sammon writes, and their first encounter was less than pleasant. Still, today's meetings have upsides for both men: Obama can look more presidential and Bush is actually being praised by Democrats for his work on the transition.

-- Obama will kick off his administration with a bang as he considers using executive orders to reverse Bush Administration policies on stem cells, drilling and other issues, the AP's Stephen Ohlemacher writes. Obama is going through Bush's executive orders in the hopes of having an immediate impact while Congress works more slowly on his other priorities, transition chief John Podesta said on morning shows yesterday.

-- Meanwhile, expect some of Obama's first cabinet appointees to be rolled out this week, as the president-elect spends his political capital to fill important posts dealing with the economy and security first. Obama's economic advisers are split between former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers and New York Fed president Tim Geithner, the Wall Street Journal writes today. Washington insider types are backing former U.S. Attorneys Eric Holder and Jamie Gorelick for Attorney General, as others suggest Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano or Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick would be better suited for the AG post, Politico's Chris Frates writes.

-- But some names aren't likely to change any time soon. An Obama administration will still include Admiral Mike Mullen, who chairs the Joint Chiefs of Staff until late next year; Ben Bernanke, who is still at the helm of the Federal Reserve Board and FBI director Robert Mueller, the Washington Post's MacGillis and Tyson write. Buzz around Washington is that Obama would like to keep Defense Secretary Robert Gates at the Pentagon, as well. Then again, has anyone asked Gates whether he'd be interested in staying?

-- The new administration hasn't even been named and already preparations are being made for 2010. Not happy with Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chairman Chris Van Hollen's decision to step down as House Democrats' top campaigner, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has successfully talked the Marylander into serving for another cycle, the Post's Chris Cillizza writes. Van Hollen also gets a more prominent role of coordinating policy communications between House Democrats and the White House, a more prominent role that could be compensation for not getting the Conference Chairman's position vacated by Rep. Rahm Emanuel.

-- In the Senate, Democrats have picked up at least six seats, with races in Minnesota and Alaska still to be counted. That's giving Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid an excuse to cut the number of seats the minority GOP gets on committees, The Hill's Alexander Bolton writes. Republicans will lose one seat on most committees and two seats on some prominent committees including Appropriations. Reid's plans aren't final, according to a spokesperson, especially given the two outstanding races, but Democrats are modeling their efforts on the 103rd Congress, the last time the party held 57 seats. (Side note: No one's losing their seat on Approps, though; even after chopping two seats, at least three and perhaps four Republicans on the panel stepped down this year, meaning as many as two younger members get a shot at the prestigious committee)

-- Meanwhile, Reid is also dealing with an increasingly delicate situation surrounding Homeland Security and Government Affairs chairman Joe Lieberman, the bane of his existence for the past year. Lieberman's support for John McCain and GOP senators Norm Coleman and Susan Collins have not won him friends or influence in the Democratic caucus -- even after giving a little over $200,000 to the DSCC -- and he's going to have to fight for his chairmanship. Reid wants to keep Lieberman in the Senate, but given the hard feelings among many in the caucus, that may not be possible. "Joe Lieberman votes with me a lot more than a lot of my senators," Reid said on Late Edition yesterday. Lieberman will face the Democratic caucus in a few weeks and plead his case.

-- Finally, it's not only the House and Senate contests and structure that are shaking out this week. Buzz is actually beginning around the 2012 presidential race as well. Close associates of former Speaker Newt Gingrich have told Republicans that Gingrich would chair the Republican National Committee if asked, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution writes today. The news comes after a weekend float from Bob Novak suggesting Gingrich will be a likely White House candidate.

-- Party Of The Day: While Gingrich considers mounting his own comeback, other possible 2012 contenders are making their own first forays into the pool. Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee dips his toe in this week with a return to Iowa for two book tour stops, while Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, the GOP flavor of the moment, will keynote the conservative Iowa Family Policy Center's annual dinner this month, KCCI-TV first reported back in October. Mitt Romney spent the weekend on a cruise sponsored by National Review, while other incumbent governors will head to Florida this week for an RGA meeting. Thought you were done with the presidential contest? The next round is just starting.

Yob Making RNC Calls

A former top Republican National Committee official is the latest to throw his hat in the ring for his party's top job. Chuck Yob, a Grand Rapids businessman who served as Michigan's national committeeman for nearly two decades, has begun making phone calls to gauge support for the position, multiple GOP sources tell Politics Nation.

A call to Yob's home was not immediately returned.

Yob was first elected to the RNC in 1989 and served as state chair or co-chair for most recent Republican presidential nominees in Michigan, including President Bush and John McCain. On the RNC, Yob served as vice chairman for the Midwest. He decided not to run for national committeeman again last year as he faced a spirited challenge from 2006 Senate candidate Keith Butler, who now represents the state to the national body.

A close ally of McCain's -- son John Yob served as one of the Arizona senator's deputy political directors -- Yob was widely rumored as one of the front-runners for the RNC job if McCain had won the White House. Now, though, Yob will run against what could be a crowded field that may include as many as five state party chairmen and a host of outside candidates, rumored to include GOPAC chairman Michael Steele, former Mike Huckabee campaign manager Chip Saltsman and others.

Along with the crowded field, Yob faces the prospect of having to start his campaign without the full support of his home-state delegation, either. Michigan GOP chairman Saul Anuzis is considered a top contender for the RNC post, though Anuzis has tamped down speculation that he will seek the post. Still, RNC watchers are not counting Anuzis out as a candidate.

Hensarling Backs Pence For Chair

Republican Study Committee chairman Jeb Hensarling has dropped out of the race to chair the House Republican Conference and has thrown his support behind Indiana Rep. Mike Pence, a fellow member of the conservative RSC who once chaired the body.

"Mike Pence was always my first choice for this position," Hensarling said, according to a released statement. "I asked him to run several times, and pending his final decision I was prepared to run for Conference Chair should he have chosen not to. If we are to begin the process of rebuilding a bigger, better, and stronger Republican Conference, we must make decisions based upon the good of the team rather than ourselves."

Hensarling managed Pence's long-shot run for minority leader following the 2006 mid-term elections. Minority Leader John Boehner, who defeated Pence by a wide margin to keep his leadership slot two years ago, has also announced his support for the Indiana Republican. The Conference chairmanship became vacant when Florida Rep. Adam Putnam announced he would be stepping down.

"I've encouraged Mike to run for the job of Conference Chairman because there is no one in our ranks who does a better job of articulating the GOP message of freedom and smaller government, and he's also proven himself to be a team player with the ability to bring our members together," Boehner said.

--Kyle Trygstad

Dawson Surveys RNC Members

Just a day after Republicans suffered major losses for a second day in a row, South Carolina GOP chair Katon Dawson is making his most overt moves toward a campaign for the top slot at the national committee. Dawson yesterday mailed an eight-page survey to all 168 members of the Republican National Committee in which he asks for feedback about how the committee can better operate.

The survey covers everything from the effectiveness of the national committee's vaunted 72-hour program to the new and emerging technologies the party might use. Under Dawson's slogan, "Renew, Reform, Restore," RNC members are also asked to rate the relationship between the national party and its staff and state parties.

"Let's be honest and say it together: last night was a rough night for Republicans. Democrats now have the White House and a commanding majority in the House and the Senate," Dawson wrote in a letter to fellow RNC members.

"After every election, it is important that we learn from the results and make necessary changes. And sometimes that requires that we look in the mirror and ask some tough questions," Dawson's letter reads. "[M]ay I humbly propose that to find the answers, we should not look toward Washington pundits and poll-driven analyses, but rather, we need to hear from activists like you who were on the ground and saw what happened."

Fed-Exed to national committee members, Dawson writes the survey's results will be shared with attendees at his "Reform Renew Restore Conference," which will be held in Myrtle Beach next weekend. An invite to the conference was also included in the packet.

Dawson is considered one of the front-runners for the RNC chair position, along with several other state party chairs and assorted Republican activists, including current chairman Mike Duncan, who is seeking another term.

Waxman Seeks E&C Chair

California Rep. Henry Waxman built a reputation in the 110th Congress as a fierce watchdog, exercising his authority as chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. In the 111th Congress, Waxman wants to be known as chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

Waxman today began campaigning for the prominent post, mounting a bid against incumbent chairman John Dingell of Michigan. Waxman, the second-ranking member of the committee, has a small cadre of early backers making phone calls to whip on his behalf. Tennessee Rep. Jim Cooper is one member who has called several members on behalf of the Californian.

But Dingell will be hard to unseat. The Michigan congressman, just elected to his 27th full term in Congress and the dean of the Democratic caucus, has served as chair or ranking member of the committee since 1981, becoming one of the most powerful members of Congress while irritating some environmentally-friendly Democrats with his fierce defense of the automobile industry.

A top Democratic leadership aide told Politics Nation that Waxman's decision to challenge his senior colleague caught party leaders by surprise. The leadership aide also said Waxman's challenge appears to be serious.

Strategy Memo: Still Counting

Good Wednesday morning. The difference between waking up on Monday and waking up on Thursday: About 100 emails no longer received over night. Here's what Washington is watching today:

-- The Obama Administration continues to take shape, as a new transition team launched yesterday is already considering candidates for top positions. The team will be headed by former Clinton chief of staff John Podesta, Obama's Senate chief of staff Pete Rouse and close Obama confidante Valerie Jarrett. The names are already spilling out: Democratic Conference Chairman Rahm Emanuel is considering an offer to become chief of staff, while former Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers is leading the buzz to serve in his previous capacity again, the New York Times' Baker and Zeleny write.

-- Other names include current Defense Secretary Robert Gates, former Deputy Defense Secretary John Hamre and former Navy Secretary Richard Danzig to lead the Pentagon. John Kerry is a top pick for Secretary of State, as sources tell several news outlets that he's actively seeking the job, while Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean might be a candidate to lead the Health and Human Services Department. Top Obama aides like finance chair Penny Pritzker, former Clinton counsel Greg Craig and Susan Rice, among others, could be in line for prominent positions as well.

-- Meanwhile, the 2008 elections aren't over, and those in the Obama campaign still don't have a perfect picture of the Congress with which they'll be working. At least two Senate races have yet to be called, along with at least four prominent House races. Late last night, The Oregonian projected state House Speaker Jeff Merkley would beat out Republican Gordon Smith to narrowly capture Democrats' sixth Senate seat. With 85% of the votes counted, a disproportionate number still have to come in from Portland-based Multnomah County, where Merkley is leading better than two to one (County-by-county results available here).

-- It should be no surprise that the Minnesota Senate race is getting ugly, as Republican incumbent Norm Coleman led the latest unofficial count by just 477 votes, the Star Tribune reports this morning. That's out of 2.9 million cast. And while the National Republican Senatorial Committee sent out every statement they could yesterday congratulating Coleman for his victory, the statement Coleman sent out announced the legal team he would be using to represent him in a recount, something Democratic opponent Al Franken will push for.

-- Alaska Senator Ted Stevens still leads Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich by about 3,300 votes out of more than 208,000 cast, and with just 1% of precincts left to report, things aren't looking good for Democrat Begich. Absentee ballots have yet to come in, and even the state's House race, in which Don Young leads by a 52%-44% margin, hasn't been called yet. Other races still hanging out there include California's Fourth District, where Republican Tom McClintock leads by 400 votes out of more than 310,000, and Virginia's Fifth District, where Tom Perriello leads GOP Rep. Virgil Goode by 80 votes out of 314,000 cast. In Washington's Eight District, Rep. Dave Reichert sports a 2,000-vote lead with 45% of the ballots left to count.

-- If all leads stand, Democrats would end the election with 257 seats in the House, a pickup of 21, and 57 seats in the Senate (with Georgia's seat to be decided in a December 2 runoff). That looks like a big majority, but Democratic leaders in Congress are already managing expectations, The Hill's Mike Soraghan writes. Any legislation that gets through the Senate will need to win some Republicans over, making moderate senators like Arlen Specter, Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins some of the most powerful forces on Captiol Hill.

-- Back to the election, in which more voters cast ballots than ever before, and in a higher percentage than in any election for forty years, the Associated Press' Seth Borenstein writes. About 133.3 million people cast ballots, or about 62.5% of eligible voters, according to Geroge Mason University expert Michael McDonald. American University vote-watcher Curtis Gans expects the total to be slightly lower, between 126.5 and 129 million. Either would be the highest turnout for any election since 63.8% voted in the 1960 contest between John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon.

-- Divisions Of The Day: All the dirty little secrets always come out of the losing camp, and John McCain's campaign is no different. The war between the Palin and McCain factions has spilled into the pages of the New York Times thanks to Elisabeth Bumiller, who reports on strife between the Arizonan and the Alaskan. Palin went so far as to consider her own speech on Election Night, only to be told no by McCain aides Mark Salter and Steve Schmidt. Watch for more leaks in the days and weeks to come.

-- Editor's Note: With the election drawing to a close, Strategy Memo is going to slow down as well. We'll be publishing Mondays and Thursdays until the action heats up. In the meantime, stay with Politics Nation for the latest on House leadership races, freshmen members of Congress and their first trip to Washington and the latest news on the Obama Administration's new hires.

GOP Leadership Races Begin

Just hours after the party suffered unprecedented back-to-back losses in the House, two Republicans launched challenges to incumbent party leaders, intent, they say, on turning around a flailing party.

Virginia Rep. Eric Cantor began making phone calls today seeking to line up support for minority whip, the post currently held by Missouri Rep. Roy Blunt. Cantor, who serves as chief deputy whip, quickly secured several public endorsements and is seen by some conference watchers as the future face of the House GOP.

Blunt has yet to announce whether he will run for re-election as his party's number two in the House, and his spokesperson could not immediately be reached.

After the GOP lost more than twenty seats, Texas Rep. Pete Sessions has told colleagues he will run to chair the National Republican Congressional Committee for the 2010 cycle. Sessions lost a three-way battle to head the committee this year to Oklahoma Rep. Tom Cole.

Many had assumed Sessions would skate to election two years after Cole took over what ended up to be a disastrous cycle. But in a surprising move, Cole has told colleagues he will seek re-election to head the committee, as reported by Politico and confirmed by Real Clear Politics.

Cole, whose resume includes tenures as a top staffer at both the NRCC and RNC as well as a career as a successful political consultant, nonetheless has come under intense criticism for poor candidate recruitment and lackluster fundraising.

Cole may point out his party only lost 22 seats this year, arguing that the number could have been much worse given the unprecedented amount by which Democrats outspent Republicans in key races. Whether colleagues will buy his argument that he beat expectations remains to be seen. Top Republican watchers say Sessions is the early favorite. "I can't come up with a scenario where Cole could get re-elected," one well-connected Republican tells RCP.

The two competitive races come as another race for conference chairman is beginning. Late on Election Night, Florida Rep. Adam Putnam announced he would not seek another term as chair, and early speculation is centering on Texas Rep. Jeb Hensarling as an early front-runner for the post.

So far, Minority Leader John Boehner appears as the only top Republican leader without a challenger. Boehner sent a letter to House Republicans this morning outlining his plans for the future and asking for their continued support for another term. Though other Republicans are anxious for a shot at the top slot, strategists agree a serious candidate to challenge Boehner is unlikely to emerge.

Van Hollen Done With DCCC

Claiming credit for bucking historical trends after his party netted 22 seats last night, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chairman Chris Van Hollen nonetheless told reporters today he is through after one term as the House party's chief political strategist.

Asked about his future at a post-election press conference, Van Hollen said he wouldn't seek a new term as chairman. "I'm exploring all my options. An option I'm not exploring is continuing as chairman of the DCCC," Van Hollen said. "It's been a great two years, it's been a wonderful experience working with my colleagues."

With rumors swirling that Democratic Conference chairman Rahm Emanuel may head to the White HOuse as chief of staff, Van Hollen may be looking for a promotion in Democratic leadership. Van Hollen said he had not talked to Emanuel about the Illinois congressman's plans, and he was circumspect about his own future. "I look forward to continuing to be a part of the discussion," was all Van Hollen would say.

With Van Hollen vacating the top post at the DCCC, speculation will center on Florida Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who with Van Hollen co-chaired the party's "Red to Blue" program in 2006. This year, Wasserman Schultz co-chaired the program, which targeted vulnerable Republican-held seats, with Rep. Artur Davis of Alabama and Iowa Rep. Bruce Braley. Both Davis and Braley have also been mentioned as potential future chairs of the DCCC.

A spokesman for Wasserman Schultz said she is traveling today.

Unlike Republicans, who have to run to head their party's campaign arm, Democrats give sole power to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to decide who will head the DCCC. A spokesperson for Pelosi could not be immediately reached.

Strategy Memo: Historic Moment

Good Wednesday morning. No big news today, right? Did we sleep through something? Here's what Washington is watching this morning:

-- Illinois Senator Barack Obama, four years removed from the State Senate and a dramatic speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, will serve as the 44th President of the United States, becoming the first African American to hold the office and the first Democrat to win more than 50.1% of the popular vote since Lyndon Johnson in 1964. In all, Obama won 52% of the popular vote and at least 28 states, for a landslide 349 electoral votes. As of the early morning, Obama also led by a small 50%-49% margin in North Carolina and trailed by the same margin in Missouri, the last two uncalled states.

-- Obama won election by fundamentally altering the electorate, the Los Angeles Times' Mark Barabak writes. About one-tenth of all voters cast ballots for the first time, most of them younger, and a good portion of whom were African Americans and Hispanic voters. And even as pundits warned of a possible Bradley effect, which would keep white voters from backing a black candidate, Obama won a larger portion of the Caucasian vote than John Kerry did in 2004. Obama won across the spectrum of voters, according to exit polls, taking majorities among those who never went to high school to those who hold post-graduate degrees, won moderates by a 60%-39% margin, and won every religious denomination other than Protestants.

-- Obama's victory came largely in states in which the Democratic Party has not seriously competed in a generation. While Obama won traditional swing states like Ohio, Florida and Pennsylvania, the Democrat also won electoral votes from Indiana, Virginia and Nevada, states that traditionally give their votes to the GOP. Obama lost other heavily Republican states by a narrow margin, falling less than ten points short in states like South Carolina, Georgia and the Dakotas. Even in Arizona, John McCain's home state, Obama lost by a narrow 54%-45% margin. In all, the 2008 electoral map is fundamentally unique and could lead to dramatic and long-term changes.

-- In his victory speech to hundreds of thousands of people in Chicago's Grant Park, Obama warned of the long road ahead and echoed his themes of change, the Associated Press' Terence Hunt writes. Facing treacherous economic terrain and two wars abroad, Obama said change might not come "in one year or even in one term." But, he said, "I have never been more hopeful than I am tonight that we will get there. I promise you, we as a people will get there."

-- Obama's process of transitioning to the Oval Office has already begun, 76 days before he will take the oath, the Washington Post's Shailagh Murray writes. Headed by former Bill Clinton chief of staff John Podesta, the transition team will be quick but not hasty, sources tell Murray. Obama advisers are debating whether to ask Defense Secretary Robert Gates to continue to serve and are tossing around names for other prominent Cabinet posts.

-- One post Obama is likely to fill sooner rather than later is that of chief of staff. Obama has offered the job to Rep. Rahm Emanuel, the hard-nosed Illinois congressman who served as a top aide in the Clinton White House and later guided Democrats to the majority as chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, NBC's Mike Viqueira reports. Sources tell multiple news outlets that Emanuel is either seriously considering the position or has already accepted, and that an announcement will be made shortly. Emanuel's office would not speculate on the congressman's future, though neither did they deny the rumors.

-- Obama will enter the White House three weeks after the 111th Congress convenes with a dramatically expanded Democratic majority in both chambers. The party beat at least two GOP incumbents, though ballots are still being counted in Oregon and Alaska, and snapped up three open seats. Results in Minnesota remain too close to call (Check out the Times' Grynbaum and Herszenhorn for more on the Senate races). The party also expanded its majority in the U.S. House, picking up at least 20 seats while others are headed to recounts or still counting (More via the AP).

-- The bigger majorities mean one thing: Democrats now have to get something done. And the party doesn't face the easiest playing field on which to advance their cause. With two wars abroad, a global economic crisis and myriad other issues, Obama, as many others said this evening, will know neither prosperity nor peace as he enters office, the first president in such a precarious position since Franklin Roosevelt. The challenges will require superhuman effort, the Times' Peter Baker writes, and the new president-elect will face more obstacles than he may know.

-- Long Term Of The Day: House Republican losses came across the country on Tuesday night, from the lone Republican representing the Northeast, Rep. Christopher Shays, to at least five seats in the Southwest. But just two of their losses came in the old Confederacy. In fact, the South has become even more of a bastion for the GOP, making some moderates in the party wonder whether looking elsewhere for party leadership might help grow the tent. As Florida Rep. Adam Putnam announced he would not seek a new term as Conference Chairman, another sort-of-southerner, Texas Rep. Jeb Hensarling, prepared his own campaign. Can a Texan bring the party a new direction? The smaller minority had better hope so.

First GOP Casualty: Putnam

Republican Conference Chairman Adam Putnam, long seen as potentially vulnerable should he run for re-election to the leadership post, announced late Tuesday night he would not run for re-election.

"I have enjoyed every minute as Conference Chairman, but I believe it is time to step off the leadership ladder and return my focus to crafting public policy solutions for America's generational challenges -- the very reason I ran for Congress in the first place," Putnam said in a statement.

An aide to Rep. Jeb Hensarling, chairman of the conservative Republican Study Committee, says Hensarling is "inclined" to run for the post and will talk with Putnam in the morning. House watchers say Hensarling is the front-runner for the position, though other Republicans, including Rep. Mike Pence, may take a look at the position.

Minority Leader John Boehner is reportedly making calls to shore up support for his position, while Minority Whip Roy Blunt will decide whether he wants to seek another term as the party's top vote-counter. Speculation has swirled that Blunt may not run, paving the way for Virginia Rep. Eric Cantor, who is said to be considering his own run.

Election Results!

Well, maybe not here yet. Check out the Real Clear Politics blog to follow the latest results. We'll have more in-depth analysis on Politics Nation throughout the night. (Seriously, we're not going to be sleeping tonight. Join us at 4 a.m. if you're still awake)

Strategy Memo: Curtain Call

Good Tuesday morning, and happy Election Day. We've been waiting for this for two solid years, and we're going to have some fun with it. Tune in tonight for our analysis and live results on XM Radio's POTUS '08, which you can listen to here for free. We'll be on from the time the first polls close at 6 p.m. ET to the time the last results are known. Here's what Washington is watching today:

-- The first results are in, and Barack Obama has a serious lead, with 32 votes to John McCain's 16 in Dixville Notch and Hart's Location, New Hampshire. The two tiny towns in the north country really don't serve as indicators; instead, the tradition of voting right after midnight is just another of the symbolic moments of the day. Obama's win in Dixville Notch, the New Hampshire Union Leader points out, is the first time a Democrat has won the town since 1968, when Hubert Humphrey beat Richard Nixon there by an eight to four margin.

-- As voters across the country head to the polls, they are considering two key differences between the candidates, Gallup's Frank Newport writes. Obama stands for change, and the vast majority of voters who are looking for a change are going to pick the Illinois senator. McCain is the safer, more experienced pick, and his voters overwhelmingly cite experience when they give their reasons for choosing him. If McCain goes down tonight, watch for ample criticism that he didn't play up his experience enough. Sure, the strategy didn't work for Hillary Clinton in the primaries, but for a much older, more conservative electorate in the general election, it might have made a difference.

-- Meanwhile, the traffic on the way to Obama's final rally just outside Washington was horrific, we're told. But for those denizens of the District who hadn't seen the Democrat before got a special treat, as the candidate reached back to the primaries for his old "Fired up! Ready to go!" bit, per The Swamp's John McCormick. As McCain drew smaller crowds in the final days of the campaign, Obama ended his campaign with a rally for 90,000 in Manassas, Virginia, telling the crowd they have to go vote even if it rains.

-- That's a concern for both campaigns, especially in eastern North Carolina and Virginia, where a coastal storm is expected to dump rain and wind on voters heading to the polls. Voters in the Pacific Northwest will have to contend with rain and, in some higher elevations inland, snow, which might hurt Republican turnout, though in Washington and Idaho, two states that aren't expected to be close either way. But it's going to be a beautiful, warmer than average day around the Midwest, a perfect time to stand outside in four-hour lines with your closest friends. Keep updated on the day's weather with the Weather Channel's election coverage.

-- McCain, never willing to throw in the towel, is eschewing his normal movie-going tradition on Election Day to head to Grand Junction, Colorado, a Republican area where he is hoping to gin up turnout. McCain will stop by Albuquerque, New Mexico for a last-minute rally before returning home to Phoenix.

-- Just in time for absolutely no one to hear about it, McCain running mate Sarah Palin has been exonerated of wrongdoing in the so-called Troopergate scandal, the Anchorage Daily News' Lisa Demer writes. An independent investigator hired by the state Personnel Board sharply disagreed with a special counsel representing the state legislature, saying the counsel used the wrong state law under which to base his conclusions. The only thing the Personnel Board investigator found fault with was the use of personal email accounts, which are less secure than official email accounts.

-- Finally, even if he wins it will be a bittersweet day for Barack Obama. Madelyn Dunham, the woman who helped raise Obama in Hawaii and served as what he called his "rock" passed away in the early morning hours Monday, the campaign announced late yesterday. Obama saw Dunham a week and a half ago, leaving the campaign trail to say goodbye. Obama learned of her passing early yesterday. Win or lose, it would have been nice for Obama's grandmother to be able to see Election Day take place.

-- Predictions Of The Day: After more than a year running Politics Nation and almost two years covering the campaign trail, it's time to finally lay down our predictions. Tragically, someone's already done that for us: Turns out our projected map looks exactly the same as Karl Rove's, which Marc Ambinder posts, giving Obama 338 electoral votes and the White House for at least four years. So we'll have to stick with the House and Senate predictions. Democrats will net no fewer than eleven seats in the House and no more than 47 seats, though our prediction is a net gain of 26 seats (30 Democratic wins, while four of the party's incumbents lose). Republicans will lose a net of eight seats in the Senate. Are we right? Or are we crazy? Check in tomorrow to find out.

-- Today On The Trail: Obama will hit polling places in Indianapolis to talk with voters before heading back to Chicago for a game of basketball. Tonight, he holds his election night celebration at Grant Park in Chicago. McCain will vote in Phoenix this morning before rallying in Grand Junction and Albuquerque. McCain's big party tonight is at the Biltmore Hotel in Phoenix. The last polls in the country will close at 1 a.m Eastern. Thanks for joining us during this incredible run; now, go vote.

KY, MS, OR: KosBomb!

DailyKos has sure kept our year interesting with myriad polls. Here's the final look at three top races, all conducted by Research 2000 for the leading liberal blog:

Kentucky Senate

Conducted 10/27-29, surveyed 600 likely voters, margin of error +/- 4%. Senator Mitch McConnell and businessman Bruce Lunsford were tested.

(All / Dem / GOP / Ind)
McConnell....47 / 14 / 87 / 46 (+1 from last, 10/16)
Lunsford.....44 / 77 / 6 / 41 (+2)

McConnell seems to have turned a corner after the economic stimulus package brought him into a virtual tie with Lunsford, and he looks far less endangered than he did only a week ago. Still, his 45% favorable to 49% unfavorable rating gives Democrats reason to hope.

Mississippi Senate

Conducted 10/27-29 among 600 likely voters. Margin of error +/- 4%. Senator Roger Wicker and Democratic ex-Gov. Ronnie Musgrove were tested.

(All / Dem / GOP / Ind)
Wicker......51 / 8 / 90 / 49 (+4 from last, 10/15)
Musgrove....44 / 87 / 5 / 47 (-2)

Unlike McConnell, most of Wicker's constituents -- 54% -- see him favorably, with 43% seeing him unfavorably. The early race everyone thought would be a sleeper looks like it's trending toward Wicker.

Oregon Senate

Conducted 10/27-29 among 600 likely voters for a margin of error of +/- 4%. Senator Gordon Smith and state House Speaker Jeff Merkley were tested.

(All / Dem / GOP / Ind)
Merkley.....48 / 83 / 6 / 46
Smith.......42 / 6 / 86 / 42

Smith hasn't led a live-call poll since the middle of September, putting him dangerously close to losing his seat. Merkley spent his final Sunday on the trail campaigning with Howard Dean and the state's senior senator, Ron Wyden.

MN: Divided Polls

A heated debate, as Josh posted below, two court cases about a $75,000 payment that is ethically murky at best and a party activist calling a sitting U.S. Senator a "lying sack of crap." What happened to that "Minnesota Nice" thing we've heard so much about?

Just hours before voters head to the polls, two surveys show Republican Norm Coleman and Democrat Al Franken running neck and neck, with each trading leads. The Star Tribune Minnesota Poll surveyed 933 likely voters 10/29-31 for a margin of error of +/- 3.2%. Coleman, Franken and Independence Party candidate Dean Barkley were tested.

General Election Matchup
Franken........42 (+3 from last, 10/17)
Coleman........38 (+2)
Barkley........15 (-3)

While the Star Tribune hasn't showed Coleman leading since early September, other polls are showing the freshman Republican making a comeback. A Research 2000/DailyKos poll surveyed 600 likely voters 10/27-29 for a margin of error of +/- 4%.

General Election Matchup
(All / Dem / GOP / Ind)
Coleman....43 / 10 / 89 / 41 (+4 from last, 10/16)
Franken....40 / 74 / 4 / 30 (-1)
Barkley....15 / 13 / 6 / 28 (-3)

Franken leads by a wide 45%-33% margin among those who have already voted, but Barkley, the least-funded of the three candidates, is clearly taking a toll on what has become the most expensive race in the country. The Star-Tribune estimates an incredible $40 million will be spent on the race by both candidates and outside groups.

The race has been roiled in the last week by a lawsuit -- now joined by a second suit, Minnesota Independent reports -- that alleges a prominent Coleman backer funneled thousands to the senator's wife, charges Coleman loudly denies.

Coleman has even used a television ad to accuse Democrats of waiting until the last week of the election to leak the story. "What a lying sack of crap," Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor chairman Brian Melendez said, per the Associated Press. (Just to clear up any confusion, Melendez added: "You can quote me on that.") Melendez later apologized.

The picture is muddled in Minnesota, but one thing's for sure: Neither Coleman nor Franken will win Mr. Congeniality.

NM: Dems Lead

In a year of change, no state will get more of it than New Mexico, as Senator Pete Domenici's retirement set off a chain of dominos that left all three of the state's congressional seats open. Domenici may have picked the wrong year, though, as Democrats lead in a new poll in all three districts.

The Research & Polling Inc. polls conducted for the Albuquerque Journal surveyed 400 registered voters in the First District and 401 in the Second District, both with margins of error of +/- 4.9%. In the Albuquerque-based first district, GOP Bernalillo County Sheriff Darren White and former Albuquerque city councilman Martin Heinrich, the Democrat, were tested. In the southern Second District, it was Republican businessman Ed Tinsley matched up against ex-Lea County Commissioner Harry Teague.

In the heavily Democratic Third District, 201 voters were surveyed for a margin of error of +/- 7%. State Public Regulation Commission chair Ben Lujan was tested against Republican Dan East and independent Carol Miller in the northern district.

General Election Matchup
(All / Dem / GOP / Ind)
Heinrich.......47 / 73 / 12 / 44
White..........43 / 20 / 81 / 30

Teague.........45 / 77 / 9 / 32
Tinsley........41 / 13 / 79 / 36

Lujan..........51
East...........23
Miller.........12

The First and Second districts are currently held by Republicans Heather Wilson and Steve Pearce, both of whom ran for Senate. No Democrat has ever held the First District as it currently exists, while the last Democrat to hold the Second District, Harold Runnels, passed away in 1980.

Both Democrats who now hold statistically tiny leads will benefit from a pro-Barack Obama wave. Heinrich is doing best among lesser-educated voters, while White's appeal among Democrats is indicative of his reputation as a strong candidate. Teague is performing well in the eastern part of the district, traditionally a more Republican area and the Democrat's political base.

Lujan, running in the most Democratic district in the state, is likely to succeed Rep. Tom Udall, who is the heavy favorite to win Domenici's Senate seat.

Strategy Memo: The Airport Tour

Good Monday morning. The Washington Redskins are favored by less than a field goal in their matchup tonight against the Pittsburgh Steelers, their final home game before the election. Here's what else Washington is watching today:

-- Barack Obama and John McCain are spending the final 24 hours of the campaign with a final fly-around, getting their last-minute face time with voters in key swing states. Those swing states have tightened a bit, but in the last days Obama remains ahead in Florida, Virginia, Ohio, Colorado and Nevada. That tightening has cost Obama some electoral votes on the latest RCP Map -- he sits at 278, still eight more than he needs to win. Still, McCain has a long way to go; he's got just 132 votes on the latest map.

-- The ten tossup states, stretching from Montana and Arizona in the West to Georgia and Florida in the south, have one thing in common that will become the enduring legacy of the 2004 election: They are all states President Bush carried in both 2000 and 2004. As the election comes to a close, Bush is ultimately proving he's been a bigger factor than Republicans have wanted to admit, even as he stayed on the sidelines for most of the campaign season.

-- Nationally, Obama is closing out the campaign on an upward swing, Gallup's Jones, Newport and Saad write. Thanks to more voters expected to turn out this year, a Democratic advantage in the number of voters willing to self-identify with the party, Obama's huge lead among Hispanic voters and his success at attracting independent voters over McCain by a five-point margin, the Illinois senator is leading by a 53%-42% margin in both Gallup's likely voter models. We keep reminding that the national popular vote doesn't mean anything if you can't get to 270, and just ask Al Gore. But Gore won the popular vote by a little over 400,000 votes out of 100 million cast. If Obama becomes the first Democrat since LBJ to clock in above 50% and his margin looks anything like the final Gallup poll of the cycle, Obama's margin in the popular vote will be considerably higher than 400,000.

-- McCain is trying a final angle in the last hours, blasting Obama for a taped recording of an interview the Democrat conducted with the San Francisco Chronicle. In the interview, Obama suggests building new coal-powered plants would "bankrupt" the owners given new regulations. At a rally in Marietta, Ohio, vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin went on the attack, blasting Obama for "talking about bankrupting the coal industry," CBS's Scott Conroy writes. Some in coal-heavy states like Pennsylvania, Ohio, Virginia, North Carolina and West Virginia are outraged, as the West Virginia Record's Chris Dickerson writes, but is it too little, too late?

-- Ohio is an interesting example of what's gone wrong for McCain this year. Some of it isn't his fault, as white working class voters who were resistant to an African American in the primaries feel just fine paying more attention to the "D" after his name than what he looks like once the economy tanks. Other parts of McCain's current Ohio position are his fault, as Obama simply out-hustles the Republican on the ground, the LA Times' Drogin and Abcarian write. From a lack of volunteers to a late-starting canvass program, the McCain campaign finds itself far behind and with little time to catch up.

-- It's the same thing that's happening across the country, the New York Daily News' Michael McAuliff writes. Despite a Friday conference call in which McCain strategists professed an enhanced ground operation even from four years ago, it is Obama's final push that looks more like Karl Rove's 72-hour program than McCain's. They estimate volunteers in the hundreds of thousands, offices in the thousands and voter contacts in the millions per day, numbers no Democrat has ever achieved.

-- Back to the number twos for a moment: Palin and her Democratic counterpart, Joe Biden, have played an outsized role in this year's contest. Future vice presidential nominees should take that as a warning. In both 2000 and 2004, Dick Cheney was the less noticeable running mate as both John Edwards and Joe Lieberman played more prominent roles on their ticket. Both of Cheney's tickets won. This year, Palin has been more outspoken, and she may be a bigger drag on her ticket, per CNN's Paul Steinhauser, but Biden's done his part, providing the GOP with a number of gaffes on which to build. Note to next presidential nominees: Remember that the choice of a veep is like the oath a doctor takes, and above all, do no harm.

-- People Of The Year: As we wrote above, this presidential race will come down to voter feelings about two people, Barack Obama and President Bush. The Bush albatross is giving voters a reason to take yet another look at the Democratic candidate and robbing McCain, ironically never close with the president, of voters who might naturally vote Republican. McCain's made plenty of mistakes, including Sarah Palin, but that which will ultimately doom his candidacy will be the factor he couldn't control.

-- Today On The Trail: McCain starts his day in Tampa before heading to an airport rally in Blountville, Tennessee (No, it's not another swing state; Blountville is just south of the Virginia border in an area McCain needs to seriously boost turnout). Later, McCain hits airport rallies in Moon Township, Pennsylvania, Indianapolis, Indiana, Roswell, New Mexico, Henderson, Nevada and Prescott, Arizona. Obama is in Jacksonville, Florida, Charlotte, North Carolina and Manassas, Virginia.

-- So many stops today we need a second graph for Palin and Biden. The Republican vice presidential nominee starts the day with a rally in Lakewood, Ohio before hitting the Missouri State Capitol in Jefferson City. Stops in Dubuque, Iowa, Colorado Springs, Reno and Elko, Nevada end her day. Biden starts off in Lee's Summit, Missouri before holding rallies in Zanesville and Copley, Ohio and ending his day in Philadelphia, where Democrats will work to overwhelm Republicans with high turnout.

Strategy Memo: The Long Road

Good Sunday morning. With just hours to go before residents of Dixville Notch, New Hampshire head to the polls, here's what Washington is watching today:

-- For weeks, we've preached a devotion to state-by-state polls instead of the national average. Remember, it's not a race for a majority of the popular vote, it's a race for 270 electoral votes. Then, as the national race appeared to tighten, polls showed Barack Obama leading by wider margins in battleground states. Now, as the national race is favoring Obama by wider margins, a rash of late polls are showing swing states tightening. A series of Mason-Dixon polls conducted for NBC News and a number of newspapers show John McCain closing gaps in Ohio, North Carolina, Virginia and other must-win states.

-- Is it natural tightening? Or is John McCain staging a comeback? Despite the latest polls, most political watchers think it's neither. The Washington Post's Broder, Balz and Cillizza, leading the paper's must-read coverage today, write Obama is on his way to an historic win. Obama has significant leads in every state John Kerry won in 2004 and sizable leads in Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Iowa, four states President Bush won that year. Obama also maintains narrow leads in Virginia, Ohio, North Carolina and Florida, any one of which would be a virtually impenitrable wall between McCain and the presidency.

-- Looking back on this election, we could find more parallels with 1992 than any other election. A younger and energetic Democrat is benefiting from a struggling economy while an older Republican hasn't yet found the proper weakness to exploit. In 1992, James Carville's famous claim that it's the economy explained why voters overlooked Bill Clinton's flaws and elected him. This year, concerns that Obama is a socialist or too inexperienced or any of the many angles McCain has tried are sticking in people's minds, but none of them are overtaking the economy in the minds of voters, the Boston Globe's Lisa Wangsness writes.

-- Wangsness writes from Rochester, Pennsylvania, a town like the ones McCain must win for a shot at the White House. In the last several weeks, the race has closed in Pennsylvania by a significant margin, down from a high of 14 to today's 7.0-point margin for Obama in the latest RCP Average. But seven points, fueled by a groundswell of voter turnout in Philadelphia and the so-called collar counties, is still a formidable lead, and McCain still has a big hill to climb.

-- McCain's troubles were evident yesterday when Vice President Dick Cheney appeared at a rally in his home state of Wyoming to endorse the GOP ticket. Cheney's kind words for his longtime intraparty rival made easy fodder for a new ad the Obama campaign has launched, the latest salvo in their largely successful effort to tie McCain to the current administration, the Wall Street Journal's Amy Chozick writes. President Bush's job approval rating is at just 25%, while a shocking 9.8% of Americans think the country is headed in the right direction. That's the albatross that could sink McCain's campaign.

-- In fact, the entire election is coming down to two people -- and John McCain isn't one of them. Undecided voters who walk into the booth have yet to make up their mind about Barack Obama. Most Americans have made up their minds about McCain, but many have yet to come to a conclusion about Obama. Weighing on those voters' minds will be President Bush and his singular unpopularity. For months, Republicans have insisted the president's absence from the ballot would mitigate any negative impact he might otherwise have. Now, that no longer appears to be the case. In spite of Bush's absence from the trail, the plummeting economy is enough of a reminder to voters to hurt Republicans.

-- Leaks Of The Day: Yet again today, Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin was absent from the Sunday shows, skipping out completely during her candidacy. A serious grilling from the late Tim Russert could have given Palin a huge opportunity to prove herself, though she emerged on the national scene after Russert passed away. So who's next as host of NBC's Meet the Press? Speculation swirls around internal talent like Chuck Todd (Full disclosure: This reporter used to work for Todd), David Gregory and Andrea Mitchell, and external names like Gwen Ifill, Katie Couric and Ted Koppel, the New York Times' Jacques Steinberg wrote on Friday.

-- Today On The Trail: Obama rallies in Columbus, Cleveland and Cincinnati with wife Michelle today, while McCain focuses on events in Wallingford and Scranton, Pennsylvania, Peterborough, New Hampshire and Miami, Florida. Biden is in Tallahassee, Gainesville and Daytona Beach, Florida, and Palin has her own events in Canton, Marietta, Franklin County and Batavia, Ohio.

Strategy Memo: 72 Hours

Good Saturday afternoon. We're taking a break from obsessive football-watching to engage in obsessive politics-watching. Here's what Washington is taking note of today:

-- Rashes of new polls show a remarkably static race just over 72 hours before the first polls close. Barack Obama leads by 6.5 points nationally, slightly under his high of 8 points in early October, but his lead in critical swing states remains formidable. Obama leads John McCain by 6.5 points in Virginia; by 5.8 points in Ohio; by 6.6 points in Colorado; and by a whopping 7 points in Nevada. All four states voted for President Bush twice.

-- Spend some time today playing with the RCP Electoral College Map and McCain's herculean task becomes evident. While the Republican focuses his crucial time and resources on Pennsylvania, the actual climb ahead of him is far steeper. Assume for the moment that McCain wins every swing state -- neither candidate leads in Montana, Arizona, North Dakota, Missouri, Indiana, North Carolina, Georgia or Florida by more than five points -- and that he somehow stages a Keystone comeback. Thanks to Obama leads in five red states, McCain would still fall two electoral votes short.

-- But the McCain campaign is staying as upbeat as possible, holding a conference call Friday to talk up their chances. An accompanying memo, which Marc Ambinder posts, bragging they will outspend Obama in late television buys and that their volunteer and voter outreach programs are far ahead of 2000 and 2004 levels. Polls in Iowa, the Southwest, Colorado and the Rust Belt are tightening, they argue, and Obama has yet to reach the crucial 50% mark in many states. They do have at least one point: Voters will be thinking of Barack Obama when they go into the booth, meaning undecideds are more likely to break away from him. Still, the memo sure sounds like wishful thinking.

-- McCain campaign strategists aren't dumb. In fact, the memo serves an important purpose. If McCain has any chance at all, he'll need his supporters to show up at the polls, and the enthusiasm gap has the potential to dramatically hurt Republicans. 43% of Obama supporters are enthusiastic about their candidate while just 13% of McCain supporters say the same, according to a new AP poll. Meanwhile, a much higher number of McCain supporters say they are frustrated with the way their campaign is going. If those voters decide to skip out on the long lines, McCain has no chance of winning. Keeping Republicans vaguely interested in the race and convinced they have a chance will ensure they actually turn out to vote.

-- It doesn't help morale when Republicans are badmouthing their own party. Forget the anonymous quotes of McCain loyalists and aides to Sarah Palin slamming each other, the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee was very much on the record when he took shots at the presidential ticket. "I do not think that Barack Obama or her are experienced enough to be president of the United States -- neither one of them," John Ensign said on a Nevada television program, per the AP's Kathleen Hennessey. Ensign added that Palin's rollout was "completely mishandled." The comments weren't Ensign's first critical of the Republican ticket, and GOP strategists are increasingly willing to criticize their presidential ticket.

-- October Surprise Of The Day: Okay, so it's November, but revelations that Barack Obama's aunt is in the country illegally have inflammed the right-wing blogosphere. Obama didn't know Zeituni Onyango was in the country illegally, the Associated Press reports today, but that doesn't mean the conspiracy theories aren't flying. As damaging as late revelations that President Bush was arrested for drunk driving in the 1970s? Probably not. But it's not going to win Obama any converts on the right.

-- Today On The Trail: We missed the early events thanks to Politics Nation radio, but McCain has one more event, a rally in Perkasie, Pennsylvania. Obama holds rallies in Pueblo, Colorado and Springfield, Missouri. Palin has events in Ocala, Florida, Raleigh, North Carolina and Glen Allen, Virginia, while Joe Biden is in Marion and Bowling Green, Ohio. Tune in to Saturday Night Live this evening to check out McCain's last-minute cameo.