Monday, August 21, 2006 | 9:30 a.m. ET
From Elizabeth Wilner, Mark Murray and Huma Zaidi

  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:
Bush holds his 26th solo news conference
The premier website for political coverage launches in just over two weeks
More from the DNC meeting in Chicago
Presidential campaign coverage like it's 2008

First glance
President Bush is back in Washington today with a just-added 10:00 am press conference on his schedule. He also has an interesting itinerary of campaign-trail events tomorrow and Wednesday before heading to Kennebunkport on Thursday for a long weekend. Tomorrow, he heads to Minnesota, where Rep. Mark Kennedy, the Republican Senate candidate facing a slightly uphill race, has been trying to distance himself from Bush. That might make Kennedy a "weenie" in Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty's book; Pawlenty, who's also looking at a potentially competitive race, told First Read recently that when candidates distance themselves from Bush (he did not name Kennedy), it's a "weenie" maneuver. Bush will raise money for the state GOP and for the party's candidate for Kennedy's House seat. The fundraiser will be closed-press.

And on Wednesday, he'll attend another closed-press fundraiser for GOP Sen. George Allen of Virginia, whose race just got a bit tougher when he -- unintentionally, he claims -- maligned a young Indian American aide to his Democratic opponent on camera.

And yet another incumbent may get toppled in his primary tomorrow: Alaska Gov. Frank Murkowski (R), whose problems only just started when he appointed his daughter to replace him in the Senate in 2002, faces two strong challengers in his battle to get renominated.

When it comes to political news, there's no such thing as too much of a good thing. Breaking news, analysis and trend stories, rankings of hot races, polls, fundraising and spending data, candidate bios, ads, state and district stats... Only sports rivals politics for the breadth and depth of information there is to track, and the varying levels of accessibility it offers to followers who range from the casually interested to the diehard political junkies who need their five-poll rolling average and need it now.

No matter what your interest level, MSNBC.com and National Journal Group are teaming up to offer your premier online destination for political coverage, in time for the fall campaign season and the historic presidential campaign that lies just beyond November. Starting on September 7, a newly expanded Politics page of MSNBC.com will make available the following content from National Journal's staff and publications:

-- State, district, and candidate information for the key House, Senate and governor races, including content from the Almanac of American Politics;
-- Weekly columns by National Journal's Charlie Cook and The Hotline's Chuck Todd;
-- Rankings of the competitive races by the widely respected, nonpartisan Cook Political Report and The Hotline;
-- The latest polling on key races; and,
-- The latest campaign ads.

The content, which will be updated daily, will appear alongside the website's already matchless political coverage from NBC News, including NBC Nightly News and Today, Meet the Press, NBC's Washington bureau (home to your humble team at First Read), MSNBC's Hardball, and MSNBC.com itself. The alliance also enhances the contributions Cook and Todd already make as analysts for NBC News and MSNBC.

The page launches at politics.msnbc.com on September 7 -- just over two weeks from now and right after Labor Day, the traditional kickoff of the fall campaign season. More information will be provided here at that time.

In the meantime, have you checked out MSNBC.com's political calendar lately?

It's the economy...
As wages versus inflation becomes a growing economic issue, USA Today reports on a new study showing that "[e]mployees can expect raises next year that are only slightly better than years past, and much of the gains will be eaten up by inflation. Employers plan to grant average pay raises of 3.7% in 2006, just up from the 3.6% average in 2005, according to a study by benefits consultants Mercer Human Resource Consulting."

The immigration debate
The Washington Post uses the wide-open race for Arizona's 8th district, being vacated by moderate GOP Rep. Jim Kolbe, to look at how "a hard line against illegal immigration is the safer position in a GOP primary" -- and also how "many Republicans believe, in a year when many national trends are not blowing their way, that it is also the safer position in a general election."

Lieberman vs. Lamont
The Hartford Courant rounds up the Senate-race news from yesterday morning: Lieberman continued to try to distance himself from Bush, including by calling for Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's ouster; Democratic nominee Ned Lamont and Sen. John Kerry (D) criticized him; and Sen. John McCain (R) offered more praise for Lieberman from the GOP side on NBC's Meet the Press.

Last Friday, Lieberman announced he's hiring a Republican pollster who currently works for Connecticut's GOP governor and an endangered local member of Congress, and a Democratic media consultant who has worked for New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg (R).

The Republicans
As Bush prepares to visit Minnesota tomorrow, Bloomberg used Senate candidate Mark Kennedy (R) as the lead for its "Republicans distancing themselves from Bush" story last Friday: "Kennedy's 2006 survival strategy has him running away from the president he once embraced... There's hardly a mention of the president in Kennedy's television commercials or on his Web site; his ads depict him as an independent amid a sea of partisanship." Not that long ago, however, Kennedy "reveled in his presidential connections. A TV ad from his 2002 House re-election campaign opened with images of Kennedy and Bush walking in the Rose Garden."

The pressure is on Karl Rove heading into the fall campaign, USA Today says. "At stake is more than Rove's reputation as a canny tactician. A Democratic takeover of the House or Senate would not only jeopardize President Bush's ability to pass legislation but also enable Democrats to launch the sort of inquiries and subpoenas that Republicans used to bedevil the Clinton White House. Losing control of Congress would undercut Rove's vision of building a durable Republican majority."

The Sunday Washington Post looked at how Bush is losing support among the conservative Chattering Class. "While most conservative media figures have not abandoned Bush, influential opinion-makers increasingly have raised questions, expressed doubts or attacked the president outright, particularly on foreign policy... In some cases, they have complained that Bush has drifted away from their shared principles; in other cases, they think it is the implementation that has fallen short."

The Democrats
The Democratic National Committee voted on Saturday to add two new contests to the early weeks of their 2008 presidential nominating calendar. The addition of Nevada caucuses and a South Carolina primary will, in theory, give a more geographically and demographically diverse electorate greater say over who becomes the party's nominee. Assuming the candidates campaign in those states, that is. The party also voted to punish candidates who campaign in states which schedule their contests earlier than the DNC intends for them to be held. As the proposed means of punishment, candidates who make certain moves defined as "campaigning" in any state holding too early a contest will become ineligible to receive delegates they win in that state.

There's some question as to whether this will deter candidates from campaigning in, for example, New Hampshire, should that state decide to hold its primary earlier than the DNC's identified date of January 22. But what this move represents is a rare, and indeed uncharacteristic example of Democrats seeking to instill some top-down party discipline, something Republicans have tended to do better at. (The irony is that as a party, Republicans have shown themselves to be highly disciplined in most things -- organizing, fundraising, message -- except when it comes to enforcing the rules of their nominating calendar.)

In an effort to stave off a frontloaded calendar, the DNC's rules and bylaws committee also proposed a provision to give bonus delegates to states who hold late contests. But the DNC elected to hold off considering that proposal until their next meeting in February.

There were a few notes of discord at the meeting, and not only over the vote to insert a second caucus ahead of the 2008 New Hampshire primary, which has been loudly protested by New Hampshire Democrats. The DNC's busy rules and bylaws committee also adopted a provision to call on states to use the necessary means to ensure that minorities and members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community have better representation in the party's presidential delegate selection program. Panel member Harold Ickes questioned the necessity of the changes, which irked his fellow panelist Donna Brazile, who managed the Gore presidential campaign in 2000: "I was personally offended... I was offended as an American. I was offended as a Democrat." Brazile argued that the country is still dealing with "the systematic exclusion of people of color" in the voting process.

Clarification: In today's issue, we mentioned a disagreement this past weekend between DNC members Harold Ickes and Donna Brazile over proposed changes to the party's delegate selection process. DNC rules and bylaws panel members wanted to add language reinforcing rules that call for states to adopt affirmative action programs to ensure the inclusion of certain minority groups, and wanted to add another rule to support the inclusion of people with disabilities and members of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community, as delegates. The new language explains why such programs are necessary.

We wrote that Ickes questioned the necessity of such additions. To clarify, Ickes was only questioning the necessity of the clarification language to the rule applying to minorities, and only because, he said, he thought the existing language already made it clear.

DNC chair Howard Dean, meanwhile, previewed the Democrats' message in the upcoming midterms. During the general session on Saturday, he criticized the Bush Administration for its handling of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and said Democrats will not allow Republicans to define their position on national security. And in speaking to the DNC's executive committee the night before, Dean asserted that if the elections were held today, the Democrats would take back Congress. But he warned not to get too "giddy" and "optimistic" but should work hard and hope for the best.

Dean also pledged "that Democrats will balance the U.S. federal budget should they take control of Congress in the November midterm elections." - Bloomberg

The meeting wasn't all work and no play. DNC members were wooed by the three cities vying for the chance to hold the Democratic convention in 2008. New York held a reception at Millennium Park, where Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich and Chicago Mayor Richard Daley endorsed the city's bid. The Twin Cities, Minneapolis and St. Paul, held an evening cocktail reception and gave delegates a plethora of goodies. Denver held a breakfast for delegates.

Although there's cause for dispute over just how many campaign trips he's actually making, as recently reported by First Read, the Sacramento Bee reports on anti-war Rep. Jack Murtha's help for Democratic candidates this fall. "In recent weeks he's raised money for Democrats campaigning in New Hampshire, Connecticut, New York and California. In Tennessee, he was former Vice President Al Gore's guest at a fundraiser for local Democrats. After Labor Day, Murtha will head back out on the road, helping up to four dozen of his party's candidates."

The Chicago Tribune covers Sen. Barack Obama (D), in his tour of Africa, visiting the South African prison that housed Nelson Mandela.

Texas
"Friday is the filing deadline for five special elections for Texas congressional seats that were redrawn by a Federal judicial panel," business and government strategist Billy Moore (D) writes to his Texas clients. "While all are likely to have opponents, only [GOP Representative Henry] Bonilla faces the prospect of a serious challenge. [He] will face Democratic former Representative Ciro Rodriguez, who lost to [Representative Henry] Cuellar in the March primary, and Rick Bolanos, the Democratic nominee before the lines were redrawn. As Democratic Party officials mull investing up to $2 million in the campaign, Bonilla is redoubling his fundraising to top off his $2.3 million cash on hand. Democrats could make the race competitive, but will wait to see who else files by Friday."

"In the race to fill the congressional seat vacated by former Majority Leader Tom DeLay, the advantage for Democrat Nick Lampson grew larger as Republicans maneuvered over who should make the race as a write-in candidate," Moore writes. "A meeting of Republican precinct officials anointed Dr. Shelley Sekula-Gibbs, a Houston city councilwoman," but party leaders may not be able to keep others from running.

USA Today looks at the congressional race in President Bush's home district, in which Iraq war veteran Van Taylor (R) is hoping to topple Democratic Rep. Chet Edwards.

More on the midterms
The Washington Times reminds us that recent polling, while grim for Republicans, doesn't look so rosy for Democrats, either.

At the GOP convention in California on Saturday, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) used some of his toughest language yet on illegal immigration, failed to quiet his critics on spending, and kept his distance from the more conservative candidates on his party's ticket this fall. – Los Angeles Times

The Sunday New York Times pointed out, "No Republican candidate for governor or president since the 1970's has won in California without getting at least one-third of the Hispanic vote, which Mr. Schwarzenegger" achieved in 2003. "In his bid for re-election in November, he faces the difficult task of courting both Latino voters and his core conservative supporters, two groups that are often far apart on immigration."

The Los Angeles Times' George Skelton asks challenger Phil Angelides (D) in an interview the questions Democrats are starting to ask out loud about whether Angelides can pull out a win.

The Washington Post endorses Rep. Ben Cardin over former NAACP chief and Rep. Kweisi Mfume in the Maryland Democratic Senate primary.

In Michigan today, Teamsters president James Hoffa and other Change to Win union leaders appear with vulnerable Gov. Jennifer Granholm (D) for a "major Michigan political election announcement," per a release -- which we assume means some kind of endorsement.

The Washington Times reports that internal campaign polls in the Rhode Island Republican Senate primary show that conservative Cranston Mayor Steve Laffey's attacks on Sen. Lincoln Chafee's "liberal voting record -- including the incumbent's opposition to President Bush's tax cuts and to Supreme Court Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr.'s nomination -- have struck a responsive chord among Republican voters." The primary is a toss-up.

The Sunday Washington Post, still covering fallout from GOP Sen. George Allen's "macaca" remark, looked at how it has reminded Virginia's increasingly politically active Indian-American community of slights received after September 11, and how some see an opportunity in it to expand their political reach.

Oh-Eight
Timed to the launch of her re-election campaign, we guess, Time magazine offers a Hillary Clinton smorgasbord, with a cover story, a photo essay, a "love her" or "hate her" vote, and a (real) poll analysis. The upshot: She's uncertain about running for president, but if it were up to her husband, she'd do it. The poll has her topping the Democratic field and trailing Sen. John McCain (R) by two points.

The New York Daily News, covering the Time coverage, has New York Gov. George Pataki (R) calling Clinton too polarizing. "'I fear that Sen. Clinton has focused more on the negative and on attacking, as opposed to coming up with any positive solutions,' Pataki told the Concord Monitor. 'In fact, as I sit here I can't think of something where she's said, "Let's do this together. Let's set this as a positive agenda." It's been more from the outside criticizing,' he said."

The New York Times front-pages how McCain has already roped in several former Bush aides for a possible presidential bid, and has signed up other GOP heavy hitters -- like Richard Armitage, Brent Scowcroft, and former CBO director Douglas Holtz-Eakin -- as informal advisers.

On NBC's Meet the Press yesterday, McCain talked about his recent trip to the Iowa state fair and made a joke about his encounter with a pig named Waldo and pork-barrel spending. McCain is smoothing things over with Iowa Republicans after skipping the caucuses in his 2000 presidential bid.

"Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney told the California GOP convention Saturday that the United States should encourage foreigners with skills to immigrate and discourage those who come illegally 'with no education and no skills.' Romney... also criticized gay marriage, praised President Bush's foreign and military policies and said that by 'using too much oil' the United States is pouring billions of dollars 'down black holes in countries who don't like us.'" – USA Today

"After the speech, the audience of nearly 700 erupted in chants of 'Run, Mitt, Run'... He worked the room for nearly an hour as chattering Republicans said things like 'What a realist.'" – Washington Times

The AP, meanwhile, covers GOP Sen. Chuck Hagel's comment yesterday that his party has lost its way in both international and domestic affairs.

The new early states are already getting showered with attention from presidential candidates, says USA Today.

The Sunday Boston Globe took the latest look at how some presidential contenders are using websites like Facebook.com to expend their outreach to younger people and the netroots. And a New York Times Week in Review piece says the Allen "macaca" incident "serves as a warning to politicians: Beware, the next stupid thing you say may be on YouTube."

And, "Political observers say they've noticed more Iowa-centric political blogs than ever before - and they expect that number to continue to grow as the 2008 caucuses near," reports the AP, which offers a sampling of some of those new site.

“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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