Friday, July 7, 2006 | 9:30 a.m. ET
From Elizabeth Wilner, Mark Murray, Huma Zaidi andAlexIsenstadt

  1. Other political news of note
    1. Animated Boehner: 'There's nothing complex about the Keystone Pipeline!'

      House Speaker John Boehner became animated Tuesday over the proposed Keystone Pipeline, castigating the Obama administration for not having approved the project yet.

    2. Budget deficits shrinking but set to grow after 2015
    3. Senate readies another volley on unemployment aid
    4. Obama faces Syria standstill
    5. Fluke files to run in California

In today's issue:
The first of many Bush news conferences outside DC?
Bush touts the economy; the jobs report doesn't cooperate
Lieberman vs. Lamont reviews
Tom DeLay: House-bound in Texas?

First glance
When it comes to convincing the public that the US economy is strong, President Bush is like Sisyphus, the guy in the Greek myth who's forever rolling the boulder up the hill.  The president seems destined to tout evidence that the economy is performing well, only to see some other common indicator -- usually gas prices -- turn sour and undermine his efforts.  Today in Chicago, at a breakfast with business leaders and in a presidential news conference at 10:50 am ET, he will once again try pushing the rock up the hill.  Other Administration officials also participate in a carefully choreographed day of interviews and other events to promote the economy.  The jobs report that Bush and his team had hoped to tout is not cooperating, however.  It shows a mere gain of 121,000 jobs in June, not enough to keep up with population growth, along with a steady unemployment rate.

Why Chicago? White House spokesperson Tony Snow told reporters yesterday, "The President likes going into a place -- and I think you're going to see a little bit more of this -- likes to go in and spend a little bit of time there, talk to local leaders, also build some events around a central theme...  And one of the other things is to do a press availability, and this will be a press availability, obviously, for local and national press."  (The White House pool reporter noted last night of Bush's dinner with Mayor Richard M. Daley that Daley is "one of the nation's most prominent Democrats and a man who once compared Bush to Franklin D. Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy.")

Remember what's at stake for Bush in convincing Americans that the economy is doing well.  His call for additional tax cuts is based on the argument that his initial tax cuts have boosted the economy.  His goal of private accounts for Social Security -- which he and other Administration officials have begin to revive, at least rhetorically -- hinges upon a stable stock market.  His call for a guest-worker program is grounded in his belief that immigrants fill jobs Americans don't need.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid's office is circulating a list of national security-related questions for Bush pegged to his news conference today.  The questions focus on the status of the hunt for Osama bin Laden, the capabilities of the US missile defense system, and the intensity of the Administration's approach to other national security hotspots beyond Iraq.  Underscoring the party's constant grappling with how to approach the war in Iraq, the list does not include any questions on that topic.

Also underscoring Democrats' grappling with the war was last night's Democratic Senate primary debate in Connecticut, in which Sen. Joe Lieberman used the standard Republican attack on Democrats, casting anti-war challenger Ned Lamont as indecisive on Iraq and his own consistency in support of the war as a virtue.  Lamont used the standard Democratic line against Republicans by accusing Lieberman of not asking the right questions about the war at the right time.

Also today, Bush devotes an event today to his competitiveness agenda, touring Cabot Microelectronics in Aurora, IL at 3:00 pm ET, followed by a statement about the agenda at 3:25 pm ET.  And he takes a break to fundraise for Illinois gubernatorial nominee Judy Baar Topinka (R) at 1:15 pm ET.  Topinka is waging an uphill fight to unseat Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D).  Conservative columnist George Will wrote in early April, "Topinka says Karl Rove urged her to run, hoping to offset in Illinois a probable gubernatorial loss in New York.  Would she like President Bush to campaign for her?  An aide says not exactly: 'We just want him to raise money.'  Topinka does not demur as the aide adds: 'Late at night.'  Pause.  'In an undisclosed location.'"  A follow-up AP article had the Topinka campaign insisting that the candidate was indeed looking forward to having Bush come.

Vice President Cheney heads to Norfolk, VA to speak at a rally for the returning Expeditionary Strike Group 8 at 3:15 pm.  He'll be joined by the moderately vulnerable Sen. George Allen and the quite vulnerable Rep. Thelma Drake.

Congress comes back next week.  As business and government strategist William Moore has pointed out, they have fewer than 30 scheduled voting days left before the midterm elections.  Their return means a return to the debate over Bush's executive powers that was sparked by the Supreme Court's decision about the Guantanamo detainees, and a re-engagement of the ongoing debate over immigration reform and, possibly, further progress toward a compromise that would result in a vote on border security measures before the midterm elections.

And in our regular Friday look at the great oh-eight presidential race, we'd like to remind you of "The Contenders," a can't-miss resource for the presidential candidates on MSNBC.com.  Today in First Read, we run a forthcoming addition: the page on Democratic Sen. Chris Dodd of Connecticut, who recently has let it be known that he's, well, interested in pursuing national office.  See below.

Your favorite, constantly updated political calendar is always available on MSNBC.com.

Security politics: Lieberman vs. Lamont
Based on reviews in the media and on liberal blogs, Lieberman last night either proved himself to be the more polished contender -- or turned Connecticut viewers off with an overly aggressive approach.  Either way, he clearly got Lamont off-kilter.  MSNBC.com's Tom Curry covers the debate from the studio.

The hometown paper notes, "Unlike the collegial tone employed in his vice presidential debate with Dick Cheney in 2000, Lieberman was alternately caustic and dismissive, leaving Lamont wide-eyed and visibly rattled in the opening minutes."

The Boston Globe says "Lieberman struck a sometimes dismissive tone, referring to his opponent as 'Ned' and 'this man' throughout the debate," while Lamont "was more deferential in the way he addressed Lieberman -- he called him 'senator' throughout the debate -- but was no less direct in his criticism of his record."

"Just as Republicans are feeling heat throughout the country for supporting an increasingly unpopular war, Lieberman and moderate Republicans from the Northeast are finding that backing the president's Iraq policy can cost them substantial support within their traditional base," says the Washington Post, which notes that three moderate Republican House members face very competitive races this fall.

The Washington Times looks at who among Lieberman's Senate colleagues has endorsed him and who's biding his or her time.

More security politics
Add Australian Prime Minister John Howard to the list of world leaders with whom Bush has spoken in the last few days about North Korea.  White House spokesperson Tony Snow told reporters last night that Howard "made some specific offers that I will not go into now, but he fully supports the efforts that the President has led with the other members of the six-party talks."

The Washington Post looks at how North Korea has complicated the national security discussions expected to take place at the G8 next week.

The AP rounds up Bush's comments yesterday about the war from his Larry King interview and his meeting with the US Ambassador to Iraq, including his condemnation of the alleged rape and murder of an Iraqi girl by a US soldier, if the allegations prove to be true.

Other people's elections
"Leftist candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador refused to concede defeat Thursday after an official recount showed conservative candidate Felipe Calderón won Mexico's presidential race" and Calderón declared victory.  López Obrador has called for a recount and for a rally of his supporters tomorrow.  He "says he will present a legal challenge to the Federal Electoral Tribunal.  By law, he must file this challenge within four days of an official declaration by IFE of the final results.  The tribunal, which has the final word, must certify a winner by Sept. 6.  A legal challenge would present a major test to Mexico's electoral system." – USA Today

Per the AP, Mexican expatriates are worried that López Obrador's refusal "to accept the official results could spark violent protests back home."

The Houston Chronicle: "Calderon, saying his thin margin of victory signaled the need for a 'new stage of national reconciliation,' called on his political opponents to negotiate 'for the good of Mexico.'"

Don't mess with Texas
Add yet another layer of irony to the results of then-Rep. Tom DeLay's mid-decade redistricting in Texas in 2003, a venture which netted his party six seats but more recently cost DeLay his own.  Not only was DeLay forced to quit his seat in part because of the campaign finance charges brought against him over that redistricting, but Democrats now have a real shot at netting a Texas seat this fall -- DeLay's own.  To keep the seat out of Democrats' hands, he may have to decide whether or not to run for it again.

In perhaps the best news that Texas Democrats have gotten in some time, a federal judge has ruled that DeLay must remain on the ballot this November.  DeLay and Texas Republicans had figured that because DeLay changed his residency from Texas to Virginia, that would allow another Republican in his GOP-leaning Texas district to face Democratic challenger Nick Lampson.  But federal judge Sam Sparks ruled that although there's testimony and evidence DeLay has moved to Virginia and taken steps to become a resident, "there is no evidence DeLay will still be living in Virginia tomorrow, let alone on November 7, 2006."  (And indeed, the Houston Chronicle today reports DeLay answering his door at his home in Sugar Land.)

Assuming the decision is upheld, it could greatly improve Democrats' chances of winning the seat, handing them an opportunity where they hadn't expected one, and broadening their pool of targeted races at a time when every addition brings them a step closer to winning the 15 they need to take back control of the House.  The Texas GOP says it will appeal Sparks' decision, and Republicans aren't ready to admit that the seat is now Democrats' to lose.  "There's a long way to go before that hypothetical becomes true," says Carl Forti, spokesman for the GOP House campaign committee.  Regardless of what happens with the appeal, Democrats like Lampson's chances of picking up DeLay's seat.  "Try as they might and as much as they would like to, unfortunately Texas voters just can't seem to get rid of Tom DeLay," Rahm Emanuel, chairman of the Democratic House campaign committee, told First Read.

The Houston Chronicle notes that "even if the GOP ultimately wins the appeal, the party's eventual nominee will have lost precious time to raise money and organize a campaign for the Nov. 7 election."

More on the Bush agenda
The Chicago Tribune covers last night's "bipartisan meal" for Bush and Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, "in which in which both men had one thing in common to chew over: the work of federal prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald.  Reporters were only briefly allowed into the dinner at the Chicago Firehouse Restaurant on a day in which Daley's former patronage chief, Robert Sorich, and three others were convicted on federal corruption charges."

The Tribune also profiles the company Bush will visit today, Cabot Microelectronics, a firm Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman "played a big role in creating."

The New York Times says that two kinds of celebrities "go on 'Larry King Live' on CNN: those with something to sell and those with something to hide...  On Thursday, the president was fighting to improve his battered image."

The AP on Bush's expected road trips this summer in an effort to boost his sagging poll numbers: "It's part of a public-relations effort aimed at boosting President Bush's low standing in polls and bolstering the chances of the Republican Party he leads in this fall's midterm elections.  The idea is to place Bush in more freewheeling settings where he comes across best and before local media that tend to give softer coverage."

The San Francisco Chronicle looks ahead to Congress' return next week, and says that "Republican leaders plan to press their election-year 'American Values Agenda,' a 10-point program that includes such conservative goals as bans on same-sex marriage and Internet gambling, a further crackdown on abortion and more protection for gun owners."  More: "...Republican leaders, fearful they could lose control of either house of Congress -- or both -- in the Nov. 7 elections, are trying to rally their conservative base, which so far this year appears unmotivated about the elections, analysts say."

The Wall Street Journal reports that the Administration "plans to press ahead with a proposal to allow greater foreign control of U.S. airlines, betting they can push the change through before Congress has the chance to stop it...  The foreign-control proposal has come under fire in Congress, much more than the administration had predicted.  Labor unions oppose it, fearing that foreign managers would send the best jobs overseas...  But administration officials said Thursday that they plan to finalize the regulation by the end of August."

Bush's deputy attorney general in charge of hedge fund oversight tells Bloomberg in an interview that hedge fund fraud poses an "emerging threat" to investors.

With Iraq, Iran, and North Korea all in the news, the man who in 2002 labeled them the "axis of evil," former Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson, talked with reporters yesterday about the White House's speechwriting process, which he called a collaborative effort.  Aside from his own team of speechwriters, Gerson said, Vice President Cheney and First Lady Laura Bush are key influences.  Cheney is "deeply trusted" by Bush and asserts his influence on issues of his choosing -- such as foreign policy, national security, energy, and broad economic policy.  The First Lady has added her input on issues affecting Africa, something she and their daughters have taken an interest in lately.  But the most important contributor, per Gerson, is the President himself.  While some might disagree, Gerson said Bush is a "passionate communicator" and a "good, aggressive editor."  Bush also "hates" passive construction and repetitive points and wants to hear his voice in the speeches written for him.  For example, Gerson said that on the campaign trail in 2000, he wrote many "vicious" things about Bush rival John McCain -- but couldn't get Bush to say any of them.

More on the midterms
In California, Democratic gubernatorial nominee Phil Angelides is going after Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) on the state of the state's prison system, committing "to declare a state of emergency for corrections" if he's elected governor.  "Though crime and sentencing are perennial topics with candidates, few spend much campaign time on lawbreakers and the conditions they face behind bars.  But analysts said the crisis besetting California's correctional system had become so severe that Angelides was viewing it as an inviting target." – Los Angeles Times

Meanwhile, Schwarzenegger vowed not to raise taxes if he wins a second term, "establishing a fundamental contrast in his November race against [Angelides], who wants to boost taxes on the state's highest earners and corporations to balance the budget.  In an hourlong interview with The Bee editorial board, Schwarzenegger did not promise to balance the budget but said he would 'chip away' at the state's structural spending gap by controlling costs and expanding California's economy."

The Miami Herald observes that Florida Senate candidate and Rep. Katherine Harris (R) took a different approach yesterday with a "high-profile, big-city event" in Miami, as opposed to the small campaign stops she's more used to.  "For Harris, smaller campaign venues with fewer television cameras allow the controversial candidate to avoid tough questions, like those raised in this month's Vanity Fair magazine about a defense contractor who pleaded guilty to funneling illegal contributions to her and bribing another member of Congress."

Bloomberg looks at how GOP Sen. Rick Santorum is so severely trailing his Democratic challenger that he's in "try-anything mode."

The Washington Times looks at the track record of the media consultant hired by VIRGINIA Sen. George Allen (R) for his re-election campaign.  The consultant has a history of producing particularly hard-hitting attack ads on national security, including the ads that helped Republicans take down Vietnam war veteran and Sen. Max Cleland (D) in 2002, and he also played a role in the Swift Boat ad campaign from 2004.  Allen faces former Reagan Navy Secretary Jim Webb (D) in the general election.

Oh-eight
Here's the skinny on Sen. Chris Dodd (D), the next addition to "The Contenders", your can't-miss resource for the presidential candidates on MSNBC.com.  For the current line-up, check out The Contenders .
Pros:
As a five-term senator, a former member of the House, and a onetime chair of the national party, Dodd certainly has the skins on the wall to mount a serious presidential bid.  Moreover, like Hillary Clinton, his service on the Foreign Relations Committee gives him clout on security and international issues in this post-9/11 world.  His position on Iraq -- he voted for the war resolution, but now says he would have voted differently knowing what he knows today -- would help him with a Democratic primary base that's increasingly against the war.  So would his strong advocacy for Head Start and the Family and Medical Leave Act.
Cons:
After 2004, Democrats might not be too giddy about nominating another liberal New England senator.  There's the money issue: He has $2 million in his Senate campaign war chest, but can he raise enough to compete against the likes of Clinton and the multi-millionaire Warner?  Then there's his strong support for opening up trade and travel to Cuba: Would that doom his chances of winning Florida in a general election?  And there's his past: As the Hartford Courant has noted, Dodd was quite the ladies' man after a divorce in the 1980s.  Could that come back to haunt him?
Bio:
Senator, Connecticut
Born: May 27, 1944
Education: B.A., Providence College, 1966; J.D., University of Louisville, 1972
Religion: Catholic
Married: Jackie Clegg
Elected office: U.S. House, 1974-80; U.S. Senate, 1980-present
Noteworthy nuggets:
Dodd's father, Thomas, was a former US senator, making him one of six senators who are children of former senators.  He served in the Peace Corps in the Dominican Republic (from 1966-1968), and speaks fluent Spanish.  He also served in the Army Reserves (1969-1975).  In 1994, he made a bid for Senate Democrat leader but lost to Tom Daschle by one vote.

“First Read” is an analysis of the day’s political news, from the NBC News political unit. Please let us know what you think.  Drop us a note at FirstRead@MSNBC.com.  To bookmark First Read, click here.

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