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updated 11/24/2003 1:25:02 AM ET 2003-11-24T06:25:02

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  1. Other political news of note
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      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

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Please note: First Read will be taking a Thanksgiving hiatus starting Tuesday, November 25th, but will be back Monday, December 1st. During the break, please consider getting your political fix by checking out MSNBC’s Politics page and the embed reports for “candidate by candidate” post-debate coverage.

November 24, 2003 / 09:30 AM ET

From Elizabeth Wilner, Mark Murray, and Huma Zaidi

Two political stories today: the MSNBC Democratic Candidates Debate in Des Moines, moderated by NBC’s Tom Brokaw, for which six candidates will be present; and Senate Democrats’ seemingly DOA filibuster of the Medicare bill, which has two more candidates debating via satellite.

Brokaw starts things off at 4:00 pm ET at the Polk County Convention Center before a live audience of 900, an Iowa audience tuned to NBC affiliates, and a national audience on MSNBC. The debate re-airs at 9:00 pm ET on MSNBC. In between, Brokaw anchors NBC Nightly News from the debate stage.

These weekend developments have the candidates loaded for bear, sights set on each other and the president they want to replace:

1. The Republican National Committee TV ad running statewide in Iowa, touting Bush’s progress and Democrats’ alleged weakness on fighting terrorism.

2. The Saturday New York Times report on Democratic frontrunner Dean’s draft deferment, including Dean saying he “was in no hurry to get into the military,” and Dean’s mother saying “about his skiing after receiving a medical deferment, ‘Yeah, that looks bad.’” Dean’s statement following the story: “I was a young man with an unfused vertebrae in my back... I presented army doctors with x-rays and a letter from my physician explaining the condition... This injury didn’t keep me from leading a normal life, but it did prevent me from serving in the Army... [W]hile I did oppose the war, I fulfilled my obligation and I told the truth.”

3. This reaction to Dean’s deferment from Kerry supporter, Vietnam vet and former Sen. Max Cleland: “Now, at a time when young Americans are being killed and wounded by President Bush’s failed policy in Iraq... Our country can not afford to have another leader who took the easy way out like George W. Bush who hid out in the Houston National Guard. We can not afford to have a leader who weaseled out of going to Vietnam on a medical deferment for a bad back and wound up on the ski slopes of Aspen like Howard Dean.”

4. Gephardt’s new Iowa TV ad charging Dean with flip-flopping on the Iraq supplemental, and his attack on Dean in Iowa yesterday on Dean’s “willingness to sacrifice social services in an aggressive effort to balance the federal budget.” — Des Moines Register

5. Dean and Kerry’s new TV ads in Iowa countering the RNC spot and attacking Bush on the war. The New York Times: “It drew the Democrats into a debate on national security, which Republican Party officials believe to be the president’s strong suit.” The Washington Post has Tom Daschle calling for the ad to be taken down on Meet the Press.

6. President Bush’s personal intervention to get the Medicare bill passed, and Democratic ire over House Republicans’ successful procedural jockeying to buy time to pass it.

Add in:

7. President Bush today, flexing national security muscle, issues a pardon (albeit just of a turkey), signs the defense spending bill, appears with soldiers and their families in Colorado, then heads to the ranch. The AP: “Bush is defending U.S. involvement in Iraq and consoling relatives of fallen troops at a Colorado Army post grieving the deaths of 27 of its soldiers.” Tuesday for Bush is Medicare day, with events in Nevada and Arizona.

8. And this Des Moines Register lead: “Nearly a year of solid campaigning by Democrats running for the 2004 presidential nomination has failed to produce a solid favorite in the race for the Iowa caucuses.”

Now view the debate this way: The anti-war frontrunner (Dean); his top competition, in some eyes (Gephardt); and the retired four-star general (Clark) will be present in the hall, along with Kucinich, Sharpton and Moseley Braun. Participating by remote: the Vietnam vet (Kerry), and the candidate with the most optimistic message (Edwards).

Lieberman, who pulled out of the debate 10 days ago to campaign in New Hampshire today, is not participating. — AP

And First Read wishes everyone a very happy Thanksgiving. We will return a week from today.

MSNBC Democratic candidates debateThe Des Moines Register has Drake University political science professor Dennis Goldford offering “the following tips to debate watchers:”

“ANSWERS: ‘Have Joe Caucus ask himself if the candidate really answered the question or did the candidate use the question as a take-off point to go ahead and give a canned speech.’”

“SUBSTANCE: ‘If you want to understand if he or she is saying anything meaningful, ask yourself if anybody in their right mind would assert the opposite. If a candidate says, “I’m for a strong defense,” ask yourself if someone would stand up there and say, “I’m for a weak defense.’”

“DEMEANOR: ‘Do you get the sense the candidate respects who you are in the way he answers the question or does it sound as though he’s answering the question in condescending terms?’”

US News and World Report’s Simon builds anticipation: “Though some of the rules and format of the debate have been negotiated among NBC, the Democratic National Committee, and the presidential campaigns, Brokaw intends to do pretty much what he wants to do. And he has set an extremely high goal for himself and the 100 or so NBC employees who are actively working on the event. ‘I want,’ Brokaw tells the group, ‘to try to make it memorable.’”

“Though some of the moderators and questioners at prior debates have been people of considerable reputation and even some fame, Brokaw is the first superstar to moderate a debate this year, the first network anchor, the first moderator more recognizable than the candidates themselves. This gives him an advantage: Viewers see Brokaw as both likable and an authority figure and will not take it well if a candidate tries to be dismissive of him or slide away from his questions. And though Brokaw recognizes the debate is about the candidates and not about him, he does intend to facilitate things by getting in the candidates’ faces when necessary.”

Clark embed Marisa Buchanan gets this statement from Clark communications director Matt Bennett on Edwards’ and Kerry’s participation via satellite: “This makes an awkward process even more awkward.” Moseley Braun embed Angela Miles says the campaign thinks some no-shows could be to their benefit, time-wise.

In a likely warm-up for the debate, embed Priya David reports Gephardt focused for the final 10 minutes of a 30-minute speech yesterday on Dean and his record of cutbacks in programs like Medicaid and special education while he was governor of Vermont. David says to expect to more of the same today.

Dean embed Felix Schein, however, notes this statement from Team Dean: “A fundamental difference is beginning to surface between myself and Congressman Gephardt. As a Governor I worked hard to make the tough choices to deliver results. As a Member of Congress for nearly three decades Dick Gephardt has delivered empty rhetoric,” Dean said. “For too long Washington has failed to deliver expanded access to health care or assistance with prescription drug costs. Faced with the most damaging legislation for American education in recent memory, Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act, my opponents stood behind the President instead of standing up and asking tough questions.”

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MedicareThe New York Times outlines: “some of the fiercest debate is focused on a section of the bill that prohibits the government from negotiating lower drug prices for the 40 million people on Medicare... Supporters of the provision say it is necessary to prevent the government from imposing price controls that could stifle innovation in the pharmaceutical industry. Critics say the restriction would force the government and Medicare beneficiaries to spend much more for drugs than they should.”

“Democrats acknowledged they did not have the votes to sustain a filibuster. But they said they would use points of order to slow the legislation, whose passage is a priority for President Bush.”

The Washington Post looks at the $125 billion over 10 years that the bill would steer to the health care industry and US businesses. “Whether this extra money, part of a $400 billion plan to redesign the program, is warranted remains a matter of intense debate. Regardless of whether the payments are needed, the bill’s generosity to employers and major sectors of the medical industry helps explain the aggressive lobbying campaigns for the legislation by groups including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the American Medical Association.”

Before the prescription-drug legislation passed the House in the wee hours of Saturday morning, Kucinich embed Karin Caifa got this statement from Kucinich on the bill: “It will privatize Medicare in order to dismantle it. It will take us back to the fifties. Our nation, and this Congress, must move forward, not backward, to improve Medicare, not tear it apart.”

The Boston Globe frames it this way: “With the White House determined to show that single-party control can get things done in Washington, Democrats, joined by a few renegade Republicans, are girding this week for the most bitter showdown of the Bush presidency over two major policy initiatives, an industry-friendly energy bill and a new Medicare drug benefit, that President Bush considers vital to his agenda.”

USA Today: “Passage would give President Bush and Republicans a significant domestic-policy victory on which to campaign next year. By delivering the long-promised coverage, Republicans hope to blunt the negative fallout from the administration’s policy on postwar Iraq and the lingering problem of joblessness in the economy. Democrats who vote against the bill could have to explain why they opposed such a popular benefit backed by the 35 million-member AARP.”

The Wall Street Journal: “Regardless of the outcome of the Medicare vote, the partisan nature of the debate will have a lasting political and policy impact. Exuberant Republicans say they are poised to deliver a huge win on what has been the Democrats’ traditional turf by expanding Medicare to cover drugs. Democrats, taking a populist line likely to be echoed repeatedly in next year’s campaign, maintain that the bill has been hijacked by profit-seeking pharmaceutical and insurance industries who will benefit more than Medicare’s beneficiaries, those who are 65 or older or have a disability.”

Kerry’s Saturday announcement that he will be in DC to help colleague and presidential backer Ted Kennedy filibuster the Medicare bill reflects Kerry’s recent rhetoric on fighting against special interests, embed Becky Diamond notes — in this case for senior citizens, who not coincidentally are the largest voting bloc in Iowa’s Democratic caucuses.

Edwards took to the Senate floor Sunday night to denounce the bill, embed Dugald McConnell says. In a rare Sunday session, the floor was almost empty, as were the galleries, except for McConnell and two Edwards aides. “He’s ad libbing a bit,” one of them said, but the speech was very similar to his stumping over the past week: “Lobbyists are popping champagne corks,” and HMO stocks and insurance company stocks are on the way up. His critique: billions in giveaways to the HMOs and insurance companies; no cost controls; and tax breaks for the wealthy that shift the burden to working families.

Lieberman announced Sunday that he plans to filibuster and vote against the Medicare bill. His Senate spokesperson told embed Dionne Scott Lieberman made his final decision over the Sabbath and told his staff Saturday night. Scott says that throughout the past week, Lieberman and staff pored over the bill language and consulted with lawmakers on both sides of the issue, including Sen. Ted Kennedy, and also spoke with unions, AARP, and the AMA. Lieberman then suggested to the Senate conferees how to fix some of the provisions of the bill he viewed as the most problematic. Per Lieberman, the bill raises the amount low-income seniors currently pay for prescription drugs under Medicaid; provides pharmaceutical companies and HMO’s with huge financial windfalls; lowers benefits for a number of seniors currently with coverage under retirement plans; and drives up costs for taxpayers to privatize Medicare. But the suggestions weren’t incorporated into the bill, so he decided to vote against.

November 21, 2003 / 09:30 AM ET

From Elizabeth Wilner, Mark Murray, and Huma Zaidi

The economy-vs.-war seesaw may shift again (and again) between now and Election Day 2004, but its clear which end is up right now. Also clear: while the Democratic presidential campaign TV ads individually may not be gaining much traction for the candidates, the televised attacks on the President collectively have spurred his party to respond in kind.

First Read is about to go all Iowa for Monday’s MSNBC Democratic Candidates Debate in Des Moines, moderated by NBC’s Tom Brokaw. And we aren’t the only ones, apparently. As all the candidates but Lieberman make their way to the first-in-the-nation caucus state, the Republican National Committee goes up Sunday with a roughly $100,000 TV ad buy that will air through Tuesday. The topic: President Bush fighting the war against terrorism.

“By indirectly invoking the Sept. 11 attacks, the commercial plays to what White House officials have long contended is Mr. Bush’s biggest political advantage: his initial handling of the aftermath of the attacks,” says the New York Times in breaking the news. The ad “will also probably be broadcast in New Hampshire about the time of the next debate, which is scheduled to take place there two weeks later.”

The ad comes in the face of still more Los Angeles Times polling showing that a majority of voters disapproves of the way Bush has handled Iraq, and doesn’t the think the outcome there has been worth the number of lives lost. Nevertheless, it finds that voters trust Bush to make the right decisions in Iraq, and that they give him high marks for his handling of the war on terrorism.

Clark and Kerry, in particular, may take this ad as vindication. Kerry takes his campaign to “a presidential level” today with a big speech in Concord, NH at 10:00 am. Clark is in South Carolina. Dean also happens to be in New Hampshire, while Lieberman is down. The two candidates focused more on the economy than the war — Gephardt and Edwards — are in Vegas and Oklahoma, respectively.

Also hot, happening, and of particular interest to Iowans:

The Medicare and energy bills on the table this week, with benefits for the state in both bills — yet some Democratic candidates slam them as catering to special interests;

The looming GOP effort to privatize/personalize Social Security, which the Washington Post writes about today, as Republicans cast their eyes beyond reforming Medicare to the mother of all entitlements; and

Trade. As most of the Democratic candidates sound increasingly protectionist, the Fed chief warns at a Cato Institute conference against “creeping protectionism.”

More 2004 notes (R)More from the New York Times on the new Bush TV ad: “The Bush campaign has sought to keep a low profile and put off overt electioneering for as long as possible. But some Republicans are worried about Mr. Bush’s popularity, and, officials acknowledge, some Bush supporters have pressed for a response to the avalanche of Democratic critiques of his performance in office, which have been extensively covered on television.”

“Still, the White House has sought to keep distance from this first commercial... Bush campaign officials have been reluctant to discuss when they intend to broadcast their own commercials, but suggest they will come in mid-March, when they expect the Democrats to settle on their nominee.”

“The 30-second advertisement gives the first sampling of the powerful array of images Mr. Bush’s campaign team will have at its disposal when it begins what is expected to be a formidable advertising campaign.”

“With somber strings playing in the background, the commercial flashes the words ‘Strong and Principled Leadership’ before cutting to Mr. Bush standing before members of Congress. Intended to call out the Democrats for their opposition to Mr. Bush’s military strategy of pre-emptively striking those who pose threats to the nation, the screen flashes ‘Some call for us to retreat, putting our national security in the hands of others,’ then urges viewers to tell Congress ‘to support the president’s policy of pre-emptive self defense.’”

“As the Democrats have seized on Mr. Bush’s tenure as a rallying cry for the party’s primary voters, some analysts and political scientists have questioned why Republicans have not responded more strongly.”

MedicareThe Des Moines Register : “Legislators met Thursday to iron out last-minute details of a Medicare prescription drug benefit, including slightly lower costs to seniors than previously estimated... Sen. Charles Grassley also announced Thursday night that he had inserted a provision in the bill that would set up a demonstration project to look at expansion of coverage of chiropractic services under Medicare. Palmer College of Chiropractic in Davenport is a leading U.S. institution of study in the field.”

“The bill was speeding toward the floor, with action in the House expected as soon as today and debate expected to begin in the Senate over the weekend, ahead of a vote early next week.”

The headline to the accompanying Des Moines Register story : “Some seniors doubt prescription savings.”

Gephardt embed Priya David says Gephardt, on a conference call yesterday getting the transport workers endorsement, again attacked the Medicare bill, saying people will be disappointed by what they actually get, and pointing out that it does nothing to lower the price of prescription drugs, which he says is the biggest problem. Gephardt said, as he has in the past few weeks, that the bill was written by the drug companies. David quotes Gephardt on Republicans: “They’re great illusionists, but they’re not very good legislators.”

David Broder, however, might take issue with that statement. His latest column marvels at how congressional Republicans are now getting things done on Capitol Hill.

Senate Democrats hold a presser to denounce the bill today at 11:15 am.

The Washington Times : “Republican leaders were still counting votes yesterday ... and trying to persuade unhappy party members to back the measure. ‘I welcome Democratic support, but at the end of the day I’m confident we’ll have the votes on our side to pass this,’ said Rep. Eric Cantor, Virginia Republican and chief deputy majority whip.”

“‘They still don’t have the votes,’ said one House Republican aide, who predicted as many as 40 Republicans could vote no, largely because conservatives think the bill inadequately reforms Medicare.”

Another Washington Times story looks at where the bill arguably falls short.

Social security. The politically risky issue of revamping Social Security is back on the table for the White House, the Washington Post reports. “Bush aides said he will make the longtime conservative goal more palatable by discussing changes to Social Security as part of a set of plans encouraging what he calls an ‘ownership society’ in which minorities receive help buying homes, seniors have a choice of health care, and employees control part of their retirement savings.”

“A Republican official said the White House has signaled Capitol Hill that Bush’s campaign ‘wants to spend a lot of money’ on advertising promoting the issue. A presidential adviser said Bush is intent on being able to say that reworking Social Security ‘is part of my mandate’ if he wins.”

The paper adds that aides to Karl Rove say tinkering with Social Security is no longer the third rail of American politics, pointing to huge victories by GOP senatorial candidates who made personal retirement accounts a big part of their campaigns.

According to the paper, Democrats are giddy that Bush wants to take on Social Security. “A strategist for [a] Democratic presidential campaign said Bush ‘might as well pour gasoline on himself and light a match.’”

Trade and the economyThe Fed chief “warned yesterday that ‘creeping protectionism’ in the United States and elsewhere threatens the world economy and will make it harder for the United States to finance its massive trade deficits. His comments came as China announced it might impose tariffs on imports from the United States in retaliation for U.S. tariffs on steel imports that have been ruled illegal by the World Trade Organization.” - Washington Times

“The outbreak of a global trade war particularly would hurt the United States, Mr. Greenspan said, because of its bloated trade deficits with China, Japan and the rest of the world, which cumulatively have hit a record $450 billion a year.”

527s We wonder if this might spur another Republican National Committee conference call: the Clergy Leadership Network, a new 527 group representing moderate and progressive clergy, will announce its goals for the 2004 election and its national committee members at 10:00 am today at the National Press Club.

Speaking of 527 groups, the Washington Times writes that Rep. Bob Ney, Ohio Republican and chairman of the House Administration Committee, yesterday summoned representatives from nine political-action groups (six Democratic and three Republican) to testify about their fundraising tactics for the 2004 election. Only the GOP witnesses showed up.

“The groups targeted by the committee fall under Section 527 of the Internal Revenue Service code. The section, created in 1975, allows groups to accept non-tax-deductible contributions without having to disclose the donors or their expenditures. Mr. Ney said Section 527 was being used as a loophole to raise soft money banned under the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (BCRA) passed by Congress last year.”

“Democrats called the hearing a ‘partisan sham.’”

More 2004 notes (D)For a key-state-by-key-state look at Dean’s organization, see Felix Schein’s embed report at

Embed Becky Diamond, on Kerry’s day in New Hampshire, says Kerry will file papers for the primary in Concord, then board the “real deal” bus. The campaign says he will ride “to every corner of New Hampshire over the next 10 weeks between now and Election Day.” Kerry is focusing on being more “real” in general, Diamond says — his tone is more conversational and personal. Meanwhile, the Iowa campaign is announcing the “Kerry Cares Food Drive,” an effort to gather canned food items for local food banks and the homeless.

A Kerry aide, on background, says “Kerry is taking the campaign to a presidential level... by unveiling an action plan to put America back on track in the first 100 days of his presidency.” Today and in the weeks ahead, “Kerry will lay out specifically the steps he believes should be taken, the changes he will make, and the issues he will fight for in the early days of a Kerry presidency. The 100 day plan offers Americans a real deal, and will change the direction of this country.” The Boston Globe has more on this 100-day plan.

Part of Kerry’s “as President” speech: “By executive order, we will reinstate the 5-year ban on lobbying so that government officials cannot cash in with influence peddling. We will end the sorry spectacle of George Bush’s campaign manager selling access for contracts to rebuild Iraq. We will shine a light on the secret deals in Washington by requiring every meeting with a lobbyist or any special interest deal inserted by a lobbyist be made public. Giving our government back to the people is something worth fighting for.”

The aide also says they “are up on the air now for good in Iowa and New Hampshire... We’re also announcing a list of national supporters on Friday who will help lead us to victory.” Diamond notes that in the last 10 days, as the campaign has decided against taking matching funds and so does not have to abide by spending caps, the campaign has released three ads. When Diamond asked Kerry what would be different about his campaign, he said last week, “increased presence.”

Kerry media advisor Jim Margolis told Diamond: “Last week John Kerry made a fundamental decision about jumping into the campaign with both feet... This guy is a fighter. He is determined that he’s going to win this thing. He’s going to demonstrate that vote by vote... that he’s the one that can win the nomination and beat George Bush.” Margolis said it was after that decision not to accept matching funds that the campaign went up with an ad buy across the entire state of Iowa.

Clark embed Marisa Buchanan reports on a Clark letter to supporters in which he implores them to contribute to keep “building this momentum:” “Friends, I’ve seen the results this week, and for the thousands of voters I have yet to meet, we need to keep these commercials on the air.” And in the postscript: “We’re halfway to our goal of $220,000. Help support this week’s ad blitz in New Hampshire.”

Moreover, Clark gave a speech to the Council on Foreign Relations yesterday stressing “preventive engagement,” in which he stated that “the United States should work with European allies to face threats from the Middle East, as it did to combat communist nations during the Cold War.” — Boston Globe

The Des Moines Register notes the 125,000-member strong Transport Workers, which endorsed Gephardt yesterday, “has roughly 80 members in Iowa.”

Embed Dugald McConnell reports from the Edwards Oklahoma bus tour: The bus tour makes his 10th visit to the state — more than twice as many as any other candidate. The campaign ran ads there in late August and early September, and is likely to run more in the final month. Out of the seven February 3 states, McConnell says, Edwards strategists rank Oklahoma and New Mexico highest on the list of targets, after South Carolina. Lieberman has also invested some travel time and resources in the state, with a staff of four, like Edwards, and a similarly ambitious effort to get endorsements. Edwards political director Sky Gallegos: “When you have this many states to play in, and you have to make resource allocation decisions, you kind of think: ‘Well, I mean, does it make a little more sense to spend more time on Oklahoma and not Delaware?’ Yes, because we have more of a natural base in Oklahoma than we would in Delaware.”

Lieberman picked up some endorsements in Oklahoma yesterday, embed Dionne Scott notes. Scott also says that as the final deadline for matching funds looms, the Lieberman campaign e-mailed supporters asking for a quick infusion of $250 contributions. In the e-mail, Lieberman says, “I may not have as much money as some of my opponents, but we will make every penny count,” and he tells supporters that their “contribution up to $250 is potentially eligible for a dollar for dollar match as long as you contribute before midnight on November 25.” The e-mail also suggests donors pledge $25 per month, which allows them to make three contributions per month before the New Hampshire primary.

On Kucinich’s USA Today comments that the Democratic party “doesn’t have a compass” and that he rejects “where the party has gone,” embed Karin Caifa gets this elaboration from the campaign press secretary: Kucinich’s remarks were “not an attack, but an attempt to reform” the party. “He believes that in order for the Democratic Party to win, it has to reclaim what Senator Wellstone called the ‘Democratic wing of the Democratic Party... Democrats are not going to excite third-party voters or attract blue-collar Republicans if they stay ‘Republican-Lite.’” Caifa notes Kucinich has been actively courting third-party voters, receiving endorsements from members and leaders of the Natural Law Party, the Green Party, and the Libertarian Party. Kucinich insists his run for the presidency will be as a Democrat and only a Democrat, but some supporters have told Caifa they hope to see him further his bid past the primaries by being an Independent.

Moseley Braun embed Angela Miles says change is likely in the works for the campaign. While the candidate was out on the trail Thursday, new manager Patricia Ireland was sitting down with the staff at the Chicago HQ. Deputy campaign manager Paula Xanthopoulou says all political plans and programs are now under review, as well as the fundraising plan. Ireland relayed to Miles that she would like to have the new fundraising plan, grassroots plan and delegate plan all within the next week.

Embed Tom Llamas reports Sharpton and his National Action Network wrapped up their South Carolina voter-registration drive late Thursday, as Sharpton told reporters that this drive is “something I’m going to do in a lot of states.” Sharpton estimated they registered some 300 students. The project took Sharpton through six colleges around the state. Llamas says he expressed surprise at the number of students he was able to speak to during the two-day effort. NAN’s executive director told Llamas they are in the process of coordinating other voter registration drives in Alabama, Mississippi and Georgia.

Llamas adds that the phrase “slap the donkey” followed Sharpton throughout his tour. It’s a line Sharpton has used in describing what he needs to do to the Democratic Party. Three students from the University of South Carolina liked the donkey reference so much they made their own T-shirts about it. Llamas says Sharpton couldn’t believe it when he saw the students wearing the shirts: “I’m going to have to start using that more cause it seems to have resonated especially among young people, which is very interesting. Maybe a lot of people have been wanting this donkey slapped for a long time.”

Dean continues to lead National Journal’s Democratic Insiders poll , which ranks the nine candidates’ chances of grabbing the nomination.

November 20, 2003 / 09:30 AM ET

From Elizabeth Wilner, Mark Murray, and Huma ZaidiYour political (and thus Jacko-free) news of the day: Earlier this morning, President Bush met with the global press in the face of yet more troubling poll numbers at home. The new Los Angeles Times Poll has Bush vs. the Democratic nominee at 38%-42%, and shows the split between the majority view of Bush “as a strong leader” whom voters personally like, versus “doubts about his performance and agenda,” which “have produced an electorate divided almost in half on whether he deserves a second term.”

”[T]he poll indicates voters are balancing the first flickers of optimism about the economy against growing anxiety over America’s progress in Iraq.”

Timed, perhaps, to Bush’s trip, Clark addresses the Council on Foreign Relations today on America’s “frayed alliances.” Embed Marisa Buchanan says Clark will use the term “collective prevention” in advocating to work with allies on North Korea and the Kyoto Protocol. The AP says Clark will call for “a new Atlantic Charter that stresses cooperation between the United States and its European allies.”

Lieberman also whacks Bush with a speech in Palo Alto in which, per the AP , he will go after “will key figures in the Bush administration” and accuse “17 regulators of protecting the corporate interests that once employed them.” Embed Dionne Scott says this is Lieberman’s next step after the “integrity” speech he first gave during the DNC fall meeting last month.

MedicareThe Washington Post tells us Newt Gingrich and the AFL-CIO have joined the fray to rally House GOP conservatives and Senate Democrats, respectively. Gingrich lays out his case in a Wall Street Journal op-ed.

The Washington Post also has the AARP tick-tock and calls the organization’s endorsement “the product of years of cultivation by the Bush administration and top Republicans on Capitol Hill.”

“Democrats say that there are equally serious flaws in this proposal that will become evident to seniors as they learn more about it. But for now, Republicans, while being careful not to gloat, reveled in the spectacle of the Democratic leaders — and many of the Democratic presidential candidates — quarreling with the nation’s largest group representing older Americans.”

But Bob Novak says many rank-and-file conservatives will be “delighted” if the prescription-drug legislation fails. Why? Because if the bill passes — despite any political benefit Bush will receive — a Republican Party that now controls the White House, the Senate, and the House will have created the first major new federal entitlement since Medicare in 1965.

The Los Angeles Times and the Wall Street Journal spotlight AARP chief William Novelli from different angles — the Times on his effectiveness on Capitol Hill, the Journal on the attack he’s now receiving from many of his members.

“Senators who back the Medicare prescription drug bill launched a hard sell Wednesday on its rural health provisions, saying it’s the best chance small-town America will ever have to catch up with the federal money going to urban areas,” the Des Moines Register reports.

Despite what’s in the bill for states like, say, Iowa, the Gephardt campaign told embed Priya David yesterday: “This prescription drug bill cheats America’s seniors. It provides a faulty prescription drug benefit and, more importantly, takes dangerous steps toward privatizing Medicare. This benefit is a sham and it doesn’t give seniors the help they need. The Republicans have been trying to privatize Medicare since it was created it in 1965 and we must have a nominee who is a clear contrast to George Bush on this issue and has a strong record of protecting Medicare from deep cuts and privatization.”

Kucinich yesterday on the Medicare bill, per embed Karin Caifa: “This so-called ‘reform’ bill could force over 150,000 Medicare beneficiaries in Ohio to lose their health retirement benefits. In addition, close to 195,000 Medicaid beneficiaries in Ohio, those with the lowest incomes will pay more for the prescription drugs they need... Medicare privatization is bad for seniors, bad for retirees, bad for employers, and bad for the economy. The only ones who benefit from this plan are the pharmaceutical companies and the HMOs who seek to continue health care for profit in this country.”

Drug importation note: “Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, a Republican, plans to tell Congress today that regardless of what it does, his state will move ahead with a program helping citizens and state workers purchase prescription drugs by mail from approved Canadian pharmacies.” — USA Today

EnergyThe AP covers Daschle’s decision to vote for the bill, which dims the prospects for a Democratic filibuster. “South Dakota is a major producer of corn-based ethanol. The bill calls for doubling ethanol production to 5 billion gallons a year by 2012.”

At the same time, this won’t help the bill’s supporters quell criticism about special interests: “One of the energy industry’s most influential lobbying groups paid for the travel to Europe last summer of several congressional aides who worked on” the bill, says the Washington Post, following on a Roll Call scoop.

Embed Dugald McConnell quotes Edwards on the energy bill: “I support any and every effort to defeat it... This bill does far too little to advance... energy independence and stemming climate change. Instead, it deregulates the same utility industry that has brought us blackouts,” and “provides special-interest breaks for energy companies that contaminated water.”

Lieberman’s statement on the bill, per embed Dionne Scott: “The energy bill that just passed the House ought to be called the ‘Hooters and Polluters Act.’ It is an abomination that endangers the environment, makes us more dependent on oil, and greases the palms of the special interests. And on top of all that, it is stuffed full of wasteful pork — including millions to help build a Hooter’s restaurant... That’s what you get from a Bush Administration that let its friends in industry write its energy policy in secret — and a Republican Congress that follows suit...”

TradeAs the Administration hammers out a compromise on steel tariffs and takes steps to boost manufacturing, the Washington Post considers the lagging textile industry, and says Union, SC residents “know it will take far more than limits on Chinese bras and dressing gowns to turn around the devastated economies of North and South Carolina towns cut off from an economic turnaround just out of reach. Nobody suggests the quotas will bring back the jobs that have been lost.”

“The Bush administration’s action [to limit Chinese textile imports] was cheered by the industry, but it was hailed only as a first step in what executives hope will be a far broader rethinking of textile trade with China. For now, the textile barons of South Carolina are not about to lift the political pressure. The leaders of Hamrick Mills Inc. in Gaffney, S.C., have organized a letter-writing campaign to the White House from employees and community leaders, and a voter-registration and education effort to drum up support for stricter import protections.”

Gay marriageThe Los Angeles Times : “President Bush doesn’t much care for ‘moralistic debates,’ said one White House advisor, who described Bush as reluctant to exploit the gay marriage issue in his reelection bid. At the same time, Democrats - who tend to be more supportive of gay rights - have their own reasons for disquiet...”

“While gay marriage may be topical at the moment, many analysts suspect the issue will fade as larger matters - namely, peace and prosperity - reassert their traditional place at the center of the presidential race.”

The Washington Times : “Gov. Mitt Romney said yesterday he was ready to work with lawmakers to craft a ‘civil union’-style law to give some marriage rights to homosexual couples, even though he also supports a constitutional amendment to preserve traditional marriage.”

Another Times story notes, “Congressional action this year” on a constitutional ban on gay marriage “is unlikely as the clock winds down to adjournment... A pending amendment in the House has not been given a hearing this year, let alone considered for committee or full floor votes, and no legislation has been introduced in the Senate.”

And the Boston Globe says that conservative groups, such as the Massachusetts Family Institute and the Alliance Defense Fund, are responding to the decision on gay marriage by “devising a legal strategy to delay the effective date of the ruling until after lawmakers and voters have acted on a proposed constitutional amendment that would define marriage as a heterosexual institution.”

More 2004 notes (D)The AP reports that having Bush, Dean, and Kerry opt out of the public financing system will mean more money for the candidates who will remain in it. “The Federal Election Commission initially estimated candidates would only get 40 cents to 50 cents of every dollar they were entitled to when the first checks are sent in January.”

“But Bush, Dean and Kerry are saving the program millions with their decision, meaning the rest of the candidates could get roughly 75 cents to 80 cents on the dollar, based on an Associated Press analysis of FEC and campaign estimates.”

Sen. Zell Miller, D-Ga., took another shot at his Democratic colleagues on CNBC’s Capital Report last night. He said the nine Democratic presidential candidates represent “the worst possible feature of the McGovern campaign, ‘Peace at any price,’ [and] the worst possible feature of a Mondale campaign, ‘Raise your taxes.’ It’s a double feature. It’s going to bomb at the box office.” Miller also called for DNC chairman Terry McAuliffe to resign.

McAuliffe, however, appeared on the show right after Miller, and he fired back at the Senator. “This isn’t shocking me, what he said. He loves George Bush. He’s voted with him on every single issue and he’s endorsed him already, so big deal, he loves George Bush. God bless him. Let him go rub George Bush. We’re going to beat George Bush.”

Meanwhile, the New York Times looks at the struggle that McAuliffe and the Democrats are having in raising money, noting that nine months into the first post-McCain-Feingold campaign, the national Democratic Party committees are being out-raised by their Republican counterparts, 2 to 1. “Faced with decreased party fund-raising, and the threat of President Bush raising at least $170 million for his re-election, Democrats have responded by forming a handful of outside groups to collect large contributions from wealthy donors, an effort that provoked sharp attacks from Republicans this week.”

Pegged to Dean’s revelations that he went through grief counseling and had anxiety attacks about his MIA brother, whose remains are believed to have just been found in Laos, the AP looks at how far presidential candidates have come in showing emotions since “misty eyes [helped] sink Edmund Muskie’s... campaign and shock treatment ended Thomas Eagleton’s vice presidential bid.”

Regarding the attacks on Dean from Clark and Lieberman yesterday over Dean’s “re-regulation” proposals, Dean embed Felix Schein notes that while Lieberman can claim to be a greater proponent of free trade than Dean, Clark’s statement was in many respects simply a summary of Dean’s positions. For example, Clark said, “I agree that we need to dramatically ramp up our efforts to hold corporate America responsible for their misconduct. I agree that we need to limit media ownership. And I agree that we need far stronger protections for workers, consumers, and our environment - going beyond where the Clinton administration went in several respects, as times and circumstances have changed, too.” Sounds familiar to the Dean crowd, Schein says.

Schein also notes that neither Clark nor Lieberman are running in Iowa, a state where many voters have adverse feelings toward free trade, and where Dean’s position plays well. So their criticisms come at little cost to them — and perhaps, Schein says, that’s why there was no comment from Kerry or Edwards, both of whom are competing in Iowa.

A Dean campaign response from the Washington Post : “‘If Democrats in this race want to side with big corporations over regular people, that’s their choice. Howard Dean is going to grow the economy and reestablish the trust of the American people.’”

Clark embed Marisa Buchanan reports that Clark’s schedule was rearranged to include the last-minute presser in Boston at which he criticized Dean (saying at the top that he was not there to criticize). The traveling press had been told to regroup in New York on Thursday and thus was not present, but Buchanan was told by a campaign source that it didn’t matter where the traveling press was — they did not want to miss this opportunity to react to Dean’s comments.

Lieberman’s campaign manager also released a statement last night: “The issue is not consumer protection... The Dean campaign is trying to change the subject from the fact the he called for the wholesale re-regulation of industries, utilities, and businesses that offer stock options. Howard Dean made a sweeping statement about economic policy that could stunt our growth and cost us millions of jobs — and he should be held accountable for it. And if he did not mean to be so sweeping, he should simply take the statement back.”

Schein notes the centrist Democratic Leadership Council took a veiled shot at Dean yesterday in a memo addressed to all the Democratic candidates saying that doubts about Democratic toughness on national security “loom large” and that victory cannot be achieved by Bush-bashing alone. Too much red meat, the memo says, “is still bad for you.”

Buchanan notes that while Clark’s campaign held a conference call yesterday to lay out to reporters why electability is the defining factor for this campaign and Clark’s candidacy, Clark himself refused to make any direct comparisons with other candidates on electability. Clark: “I don’t think that’s for the candidate to talk about. I think that’s up to the electorate to talk about. I don’t think that’s for the candidate to talk about.”

The Boston Herald reports that “Kerry met privately at the [Massachusetts] State House with state lawmakers and their aides, repeatedly saying he’s poised for a comeback” while campaign manager Mary Beth Cahill lobbied on Capitol Hill. “Officials at the meeting reported Kerry said his campaign, particularly in New Hampshire, ‘isn’t over yet’ and pleaded repeatedly for help as things heat up in the Granite State.”

Some dot-com notes: The Michigan Democratic Party votes Saturday on whether to use Internet voting in its February 7 caucuses. Traditional means of voting would also be used. All of Dean’s rivals except for Clark (whose campaign is also Internet-driven) oppose the move and have sought to use it against Dean to portray him as unsupportive of minorities. Nevertheless, the party is expected to vote in favor of it, and the Democratic National Committee expects to side with the party. — AP

On a lighter note, the WesCam is back: The Clark campaign released the third two-minute installment yesterday at www. In this round, “Clark gives a Veterans Day radio address, toasts veterans at a New Hampshire VFW with draft beer, and films a CBS interview.”

Embed Dugald McConnell says the Edwards campaign has begun posting short same-day video clips, sent in by videophone, of the Senator reporting in from on the road: . The picture quality isn’t great, McConnell says, but there’s an immediacy and intimacy to it. From a recent day’s report: “So far, everything’s gone well, except Elizabeth’s description to the television people about how we met.” Mrs. Edwards, laughing: “That is so unfair.” Also, the campaign Wednesday posted an ad for a web producer, needed to handle “a variety of HTML, Photoshop, and Flash projects in a fast-paced and informal environment.”

And Moseley Braun embed Angela Miles says the candidate has gotten coverage in the past about her previous campaign funds and her visit to Nigeria. In an attempt to do some damage control, Miles says, reporters and potential voters can now find all of this on the Carol for President web site. Moseley Braun once told Miles it’s better to get it all out there; she says the website has “the facts, just the facts, ma’am.” Meanwhile, there has been a problem with the web site: the candidate says people haven’t been able to make donations. She hopes the problem with the site will be fixed soon.

Former Amb. Joe Wilson told Sperling Breakfasters yesterday that his endorsement of Kerry “shouldn’t undermine his credibility.” - Washington Times

Embed Karin Caifa reports Kucinich Arizona campaign director Kevin Spidel says the candidate will spend Thanksgiving with the Navajo Nation, at the invitation of the tribal president Joe Shirley. Kucinich will participate in a “healing ceremony.”

Sharpton embed Tom Llamas says Sharpton’s National Action Network voter registration bus tour began yesterday — minus the bus. The bus had mechanical problems, leaving some NAN workers and one reporter temporarily without transportation. Even so, Llamas says, NAN operatives shuttled Sharpton through four colleges in four different cities. The day’s total had Sharpton speaking to about 1,000 students, over 100 of whom filled out voter registration forms. Llamas notes the events were promoted as a voter registration drive, not campaign events. But a Sharpton South Carolina campaign coordinator publicly asked students at two different universities if they wanted to join the campaign. And at one point Sharpton, after speaking, asked a group of students to talk to the SC campaign coordinator if they were interested in volunteering. That said, the campaign did seek legal counsel on FEC guidelines before embarking on this registration drive.

November 19, 2003 / 09:30 AM ET

From Elizabeth Wilner, Mark Murray, and Huma ZaidiPresident Bush’s “Reaganesque”-billed speech on fighting terrorism comes in the face of new Gallup numbers showing a “thin majority of Americans still believe the situation in Iraq was worth going to war, but most are unconvinced that the war has made the United States safer from terrorist attacks.”

The AARP, under fire from its own members as well as some Democratic presidential candidates, goes up with its promised ads supporting the Medicare bill today. Senate Majority Leader Frist said on CNBC’s Capital Report that he’ll keep the Senate in through the weekend if necessary. Congressional Democrats rally with the Alliance for Retired Americans at 12 noon; per the release, Daschle and Pelosi will address “more than 300 seniors from across the country who are opposed to the Medicare prescription drug conference proposal.”

Two months till the caucuses, and five days till the MSNBC Democratic Candidates’ Debate in Des Moines, the Dean, Gephardt and Kerry camps are at war in Iowa. The Clark campaign holds a conference call with reporters today to say Vietnam vet Kerry isn’t the only electable contender. And Dean’s “us versus them” talk takes a re-regulatory turn that may give business the jitters.

Gay marriageThe Wall Street Journal: “Gay rights is part of a long list of cultural issues — along with the death penalty, guns, abortion, affirmative action and the Confederate flag — that have in recent years sharply divided the two political parties, blocs of voters and regions. Gay marriage is one of the most potent, mixing religion, civil rights and sex.”

USA Today: “The repercussions have the potential to energize millions of conservative Christians in next year’s elections, exacerbate the political polarization evident in 2000 and make it impossible for leaders in either party to downplay the issue.”

That said, “President Bush has sidestepped questions about a constitutional amendment that would define marriage as between a man and a woman, and advisers have said in the past that he has had no appetite to make the issue a priority.” And of course, there’s Cheney’s 2000 campaign remarks that it should be left to the states, and maybe there shouldn’t be a federal policy.

The New York Times: “the issue is hardly an unambiguous gift for Mr. Bush. More than most, this issue has complicated his effort to attract moderate voters by presenting himself as a ‘compassionate conservative,’ while at the same time reflecting the views of his conservative base.”

“Beyond that, several Republicans said on Tuesday that Mr. Bush had to be wary... not to repeat the mistake his father made in 1992 and become too closely identified with conservative and religious leaders whose attacks on gay rights at the party’s convention scared off moderate voters.”

The Boston Herald: “there continue to be fears within the GOP that making gay rights an issue against Democrats could turn off suburban swing voters that Republicans need to keep the White House.”

On the other hand, the Boston Globe says, “many GOP strategists reacted with glee: In their view, the decision handed President Bush a powerful election-year issue, one destined to further divide the two parties along cultural lines.”

“The subject is especially pertinent to this race, given that the case was decided in the home state of one of the candidates,... Kerry, in the city where the Democratic National Convention will be held, and next door to Vermont, where... Dean, as governor, signed a civil union bill into law.”

“Democrats concede that, on balance, the gay marriage debate does not give them any political advantage. But they warned that Republicans could overplay their hand, especially if they come across as biased. Already, on one of the two previous occasions he has addressed the subject in public, Bush remarked that people are ‘all sinners,’ a comment that some took to mean that he thinks homosexuality is a sin.”

“Similarly, a protracted, bitter fight in Congress — over a federal constitutional amendment banning marriage, now under consideration in the House — could alienate wide swaths of the electorate.”

The Washington Times: “Republicans on Capitol Hill yesterday were focused on making sure the federal government and other states don’t have to recognize same-sex ‘marriages’ granted in Massachusetts. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, Texas Republican, said House Republicans were already moving on that point.”

And the Washington Times on Democrats’ conundrum: “Democrats are trying to find a middle ground that appeases both advocates and opponents of same-sex unions... [T]he party’s presidential candidates tried to support the decision while saying they disagreed with the principle behind it.”

MedicareThe Los Angeles Times focuses on the “small but potentially crucial band of embittered conservatives says that the compromise crafted by GOP leaders does too little to introduce private-sector competition into health care for the elderly and to control the program’s burgeoning costs.”

“Party leaders are trying to sway their right wing by touting provisions taken straight from the conservative wish list, including a new scheme for allowing Americans of all ages to save for health-care expenses in tax-sheltered accounts... But many conservatives are not buying that line, arguing that the market-oriented reforms included in the bill do not go far enough to justify the expense of $400 billion over 10 years and the creation of a new entitlement benefit.”

“The issue is so seminal that the American Conservative Union, the group whose ratings of lawmakers’ records is widely cited as a measure of ideology, has announced it will give double weight to the Medicare vote in making its assessments this year.”

“GOP leaders are confident that conservative opposition will not be so widespread that the bill will be rejected, if only because it would be a humiliating defeat for Bush.”

“Despite losing” some conservative Republicans, the Washington Post reports, “congressional GOP leaders said the bill, which would add a prescription drug benefit to Medicare, was gathering momentum. Several Democratic senators — another group crucial to the legislation’s fate — said some colleagues were leaning toward supporting it, despite fierce criticism by some party leaders.” The Blue Dog Democrats will “not decide until the lengthy bill and budget estimates are completed, perhaps today.”

On CNBC’s Capital Report last night, Senate Majority Leader Frist said the bill is “not a done deal yet... Now we have been able to deliver a bipartisan bill... But still, it’s going to be several days. We’ll probably come to the floor late this week — Friday, maybe Saturday. I’m going to probably keep people around Friday, Saturday, into the weekend in order to address Medicare.” Asked about the projected cost of $400 billion, Frist said, “Well, I can tell you the Congressional Budget Office is going to score it under $400 billion. I predict; I’ll know a little bit later tonight.”

And Capital Report guest Bill Novelli of the AARP said in response to the suggestion that the AARP “is in cahoots with the drug companies because the drug companies advertise in your magazine:” “Well, we’ve managed to make everybody angry. The drug companies are not our allies... Our policy is to support seniors. We’re not in any cahoots with anybody and we’re not cozying up to anybody.”

Novelli also said, “We’re hearing from our members. We’re getting a lot of phone calls. The majority of the phone calls so far have been critical. Of course, we haven’t really gotten out there and explained ourselves. We have an advertising campaign starting [Wednesday].”

The Chicago Tribune: “Members of the AARP... bombarded the organization with indignant missives protesting its announcement Monday that it has endorsed the measure and will spend $7 million promoting its passage... Over three days, seniors sent 6,000 e-mails, and about 80 percent were negative, an AARP official said. Many said they would cancel their memberships.”

AARP Democratic presidential forumIndeed, the Boston Globe reports the AARP “yesterday found itself being booed by its own members and criticized by several Democratic presidential contenders... The boos emanated from a sizable portion of an audience that numbered several hundred.”

Embed Becky Diamond reports that per Steve Marchand, the New Hampshire presidential primary director for the AARP, over two-thirds of Democratic voters in New Hampshire are over age 50. Marchand said they “vote in droves... and if you want to sing to the choir it’s 50-plus.” He said the AARP has even more power than the 50-plus crowd in the primary — that 40 percent of people voting in the Democratic primary in New Hampshire are AARP members.

The Wall Street Journal’s Harwood notes “none of the six Democratic presidential candidates who agreed to attend an AARP debate here ever planned to be on the wrong side of the powerful seniors’ group in a Medicare fight with George W. Bush. That made yesterday’s debate a rare, live-fire test of the instincts and agility of the six leading Democratic candidates.”

Harwood notes “Kerry can brandish a political tool that isn’t available to Mr. Gephardt in the legislative battle over Medicare:” he could filibuster the bill. “One Kerry strategist cautions that it is easier to attack a flawed bill than to defend an act of political obstruction. Aides said he was still considering his options; he gave no signal in yesterday’s debate.”

Gephardt at the forum, per embed Priya David: “This Medicare prescription drug bill was written by the pharmaceutical companies... They’re ripping you off. And the reason they don’t want all the seniors in one Medicare buying program is because then they know we can use the leverage of all those buyers to get the price down.”

David notes the battle kicked off as Dean took the first jab at Gephardt. Gephardt had started off talking about the bill: “This is a bad bill. It’s a Republican bill, so it’s a bad bill.” He waited through the laughter, then continued briefly about the lack of “good” Republicans. Dean took issue with that, David reports, saying that there are Republicans in New Hampshire who are good, “but that’s probably true in Washington” — in a seeming attempt to portray Gephardt as a Beltway insider. After that, David says, Gephardt went after Dean in nearly every answer, and Dean gave back in most of his. Gephardt brought up Dean’s record on wanting to cut Medicare in 1996, at one point wanting to push the retirement age higher. Dean pulled out his stethoscope in response to Gephardt’s comments about Medicare and said, “I’m the only one here who’s a doctor and I’m not going to take your benefits away.” Dean also said to Gephardt, “With all due respect... you had four terms to bring in a Democratic majority and you didn’t do it.” Kerry and Lieberman and Edwards all joined in along the way to either support Gephardt or bash Dean, or both.

Once again, embed Dionne Scott notes, Lieberman set himself apart in a presidential forum with a potentially unpopular position: He was the only one of the six to say he may support the Medicare bill, explaining that the bill is not perfect, but does finally provide millions of seniors with long-promised drug benefits. “I want to take a few days. I don’t want to give a knee-jerk, reflex reaction and say ‘no way.’ Today I’m working with Ted Kennedy and other members of the Senate to see if I can make this better.”

Edwards stayed out of the fray, embed Dugald McConnell reports, but said for candidates to abandon the public finance system was a mistake (which earned him a rapid-response from the Kerry folks examining the scope of his pledge to take no money from DC lobbyists). And when Lieberman said his health plan got top marks from the experts, McConnell says, Edwards tried to top that by suggesting his plan got top marks from Lieberman’s mother. But Mrs. Lieberman, 89, who was in the audience, wasn’t having any of it. “Is my son’s health care plan the best, or what?” she said afterwards in a campaign press release. “That John Edwards is a nice looking boy, but I don’t know what he was talking about.”

The Manchester Union Leader: “When moderator Gwen Ifill... asked, ‘What’s a better bill?’ only Edwards got specific.”

More 2004 notes (R)The Washington Times lines up some experts saying “Bush’s latest job-approval ratings are mixed, but still place him close to the positions shared by the last four presidents at this point in their first term.”

More 2004 notes (D)Embed Felix Schein notes Dean’s “Enron economics” speech yesterday in Houston offered little in the way of policy specifics but was heavy on vision. However, the Washington Post reports: “In an interview around midnight Monday on his campaign plane with a small group of reporters, Dean listed likely targets for what he dubbed as his ‘re-regulation’ campaign: utilities, large media companies and any business that offers stock options. Dean did not rule out ‘re-regulating’ the telecommunications industry, too.”

“Dean said in the interview that ‘re-regulation’ is a key tool for restoring trust. In doing so, he drew a sharp distinction with Bush, an outspoken advocate of free markets who wants to further deregulate media companies and other key sectors of the economy.”

“Dean also continued his clear break from Clinton’s ‘New Democrat’ philosophy of trying to appease both business and workers with centrist policies. Earlier in the campaign, Dean reversed his prior support for Clinton’s free-trade agreements with Mexico, Canada and China.”

The remains of Dean’s brother Charlie, who disappeared while traveling in Laos in 1974, seem to have been found. The Boston Globe says Dean “learned of the discovery days earlier, but waited to tell his mother in person on Monday while in DC.

The Washington Post: “In an interview with reporters on his charter airplane, Dean said he sought therapy in the 1980s for ‘panic attacks,’ which he described as bouts of ‘anxiety’ that did not interfere with his work. Dean rarely talks about his emotions, but said the incident profoundly influenced his life, including prodding him to demonstrate his feelings more toward family members.”

“Dean then reflected on how he deals with emotional setbacks in life. He said ‘when a crisis hits, I sort it out subconsciously.’ He talked about how he can work through problems without really focusing on them. But, he said, this ‘self-defensive’ mechanism did not work with his brother’s death, which he learned to cope with only through therapy.”

“Dean also said his brother’s capture and death influenced his thinking about war and sending U.S. troops to places where they could become prisoners or killed. Dean said that while it gives him pause about committing troops, his brother’s experience did not play much of a role in his decision to oppose the war in Iraq.”

Embed Dugald McConnell got Elizabeth Edwards on Dean’s brother: “Charlie Dean was at UNC when I attended; he was in the class after mine, in my dorm, and in a number of same the activist Democratic groups. He was a fine young man of principle and energy... We wish the Dean family every measure of peace that this discovery can afford them.”

The Des Moines Register notes Dean’s new TV ad, in addition to outright attacking Gephardt, “also seeks to establish the war as the central issue before Democratic caucus activists and attract anti-war Democrats who are considering other candidates to Dean’s column, observers say.”

“What you should know about the ad,” the Register’s ad watch says: “Given the opposition of many Democratic voters to the war in Iraq, Dean has tried to draw a sharp distinction between himself and his chief rivals for the party’s nomination by pointing out that he opposed the war from the beginning, and they didn’t. The former Vermont governor also wants to be seen as the anti-establishment candidate who stands apart from those contenders who serve in Congress. In Iowa, where Dean trails Gephardt in the latest polls, he has decided to go on the attack by launching this TV commercial linking the former House minority leader from Missouri in pictures and words to Bush, the Republican incumbent that many Democrats loathe. Gephardt is mentioned by name three times in the ad.”

The paper decides, “The commercial’s bare-bones statements about Gephardt’s record provide no context.”

“Dean’s salvo at Gephardt could cement his support among anti-war Democrats, but it also could lead to an escalation of the battle between the two Democratic candidates and feed a debate within the party over who is best equipped to lead the country.”

Speaking of, Clark communications director Matt Bennett holds a two-part conference call with reporters today at 1:45 pm. First, Bennett and pollster Geoff Garin tackle the electability issue (they will “discuss polling numbers and trends with an eye toward the general election match-up against President Bush), and second, he and foreign policy advisor Jamie Rubin “will discuss Senator Kerry’s claim that he is the only Democratic candidate who credibly can take on President Bush on the subjects of national security and foreign policy.”

In Plymouth yesterday, embed Marisa Buchanan says, Clark was asked about his disposition — how does he handle stressful situations and how does he deal with anger? Clark mentioned he swims every morning, and went on and told the audience about his worst day, which he said was June 11, 1999, when the Russians had crossed the Drina River headed into Kosovo. He said he had to make some tough decisions and deal with “alliance warfare at its most challenging,” with a number of officials. Clark wanted to order the British general on the ground to prepare and air assault and seize the airfield at Pristina. (Buchanan notes this is when that British general was documented as saying, “Sir, I am not starting World War Three for you.”) Clark: “Well, so what I did is, after about three hours of this, I decided I really needed to go to the restroom and then I felt a whole lot better. And sometimes you just have to get up and walk around from your desk and I guess even if it would be a desk in the oval office sometimes you just gotta get up and clear your head and that’s what I did.”

Buchanan adds that actor David Keith has joined the trail to help Clark with his “breathing.” The actor known for his role in An Officer and a Gentleman is going to help Clark maintain his voice with vocal training.

The upcoming issue of the New York Times Magazine trails Team Edwards before and during two recent Democratic debates, and examines the ups and downs of both Edwards’ campaign and the long series of debates. “Edwards has a trial lawyer’s courtly eloquence, the most coherent set of policy proposals in the field and - hands down - the best hair in politics. But unlike the voluble Sharpton or the squarish Joe Lieberman, Edwards has struggled to define himself with voters.”

Embed Becky Diamond notes Kerry has been drawing distinctions lately about his tax plan versus Dean’s. His campaign sent out an e-mail titled, “The real story on middle class taxes,” with an elaborate chart. Dean’s position is that there is no “middle class tax cut.”

CaliforniaThe Los Angeles Times on Governor Schwarzenegger’s proposed $15 billion bond issue and cap on state spending for March 2: “The flurry of proposals was designed to make maximum use of the leverage Schwarzenegger has as a popular governor elected by voters who have told pollsters they are angry with ‘politics as usual.’”

The Times analysis: “Schwarzenegger’s demand... may be just the beginning of a relentless campaign by the new governor to put public pressure on the Legislature. If legislators decline to meet the Dec. 5 deadline to put the measure on the March ballot, Schwarzenegger’s campaign team plans to mount a petition drive to get it before voters in November 2004.”

“The advisors... are already planning campaigns for other Schwarzenegger ballot measures in case the Legislature thwarts his agenda.

November 18, 2003 / 09:30 AM ET

From Elizabeth Wilner, Mark Murray, and Huma Zaidi

Today’s plate was already loaded — Medicare isn’t even off the table yet, but the GOP’s pushing Social Security reform — before word came that the State Judicial Court of Massachusetts will rule around 10:00 am on legalizing same-sex marriage, guaranteeing a slew of reactions from gay-rights and social conservative groups, probably a delayed response from the traveling President, and an interesting mix from those Democratic presidential candidates who stop short of supporting gay marriage but have played up their support for gay rights.

Democrats’ “special interest” rhetoric is back in force. Savvy bill-drafting means they risk getting crosswise with key voting blocs as well as the AARP, though overall, their charge that Bush and Republicans “don’t care about people like you” gets some validation from new Gallup numbers showing Bush with his lowest score yet on “cares about the needs of people like you.”

Away from DC, the Democratic candidates vilify the Medicare and energy bills, and general alleged White House sops to special interests. Kerry’s new Iowa TV ad touts his “courage to take on Bush and the special interests.” A Kerry spokesperson tells embed Becky Diamond, “John Kerry is telling it straight about taking on the special interests and the right wing ideologues because, frankly, that’s the real problem we face in this country, and we Democrats better have a nominee with a lifetime of fighting them tooth and nail and winning. Anything else and Karl Rove and Tom DeLay and his K Street compadres will have sweet dreams every night knowing their reign will continue.”

Dean rallies supporters one mile from Enron’s HQ in Houston at 6:00 pm today. The campaign says “Dean will use Enron as a metaphor for what’s wrong today.” A Dean e-mail to supporters says, “Today, economic power is being concentrated into fewer and fewer hands. But together we can check the power of the special interests and restore economic and political power to the American people.”

Six of the candidates — indeed, all but Kucinich, Moseley Braun and Sharpton — show in Bedford, NH at 11:30 am for, of all things, an AARP forum.

Meanwhile, the Bush campaign website and Republican National Committee chairman Ed Gillespie attack “liberal soft money groups with funding from billionaire George Soros.” An RNC release last night called Soros the “new boss of the Democratic party.”

Even Schwarzenegger, who ran as beholden to no one, got in on the act yesterday, pledging “to upend the political culture and humble the special interests through decisive action that would amount to the ‘Miracle of Sacramento.’” — Los Angeles Times

The L.A.Times also has yet another story reports on the industries who coughed up to pay for his inauguration.

Drugs and energyThe Wall Street Journal on the political obstacle for Democrats posed by the AARP: “For Democrats, it only deepens their political dilemma over the Medicare breakthrough — whether to back the changes and possibly aid Mr. Bush’s re-election bid, or to oppose the plan and run the risk of appearing against benefits for seniors.”

“Most Democrats will spend the next year arguing that the bill is a bad deal... But the seal of approval from AARP... makes that a harder debate to win, at least in the short run.”

“Senate Democrats will meet Tuesday to hash out a strategy. A filibuster remains a real threat, and opposition remains strong.”

Senate Finance Committee chairman Grassley told the Des Moines Register “in an interview that the AARP endorsement is making ‘a big, big difference’ with wavering Democrats.”

The Los Angeles Times: “With the 35-million-member AARP and powerful industry lobbies backing the legislation, the senior Democrats and the small circle of conservatives who oppose the Medicare plan now have only a shallow pool of allies to help them block the measure. They also have only days to make their case against the bill...”

The Washington Post on the Democratic candidates’ rush to judgment: “Even before many of the details were known, the candidates blasted Bush for what they view as shortchanging consumers and using the bills to reward his campaign contributors.”

“The candidates are coming together so quickly because they say the bills are bad policy. But some see a political benefit, too — Bush is on the verge of taking away two more political issues and putting Democrats in the unenviable political position of playing defense on energy costs and prescription drug costs, two key areas of great concern for voters.”

“If the bills are passed and signed into law, Republicans and some Democrats predict Bush will probably get a political boost that could resonate through the 2004 elections. Along with Bush’s tax cuts, education overhaul and defense policies, Republicans also could claim they are delivering tangible results to Americans by controlling the White House and Congress.”

“If Democrats can block the Medicare deal, in particular, they will carry with them one of the most potent political weapons in politics today: the charge that Bush and a GOP Congress cannot deliver the right medicine for the elderly, who vote in large numbers. But Democrats privately admit it is much harder to make this charge stick without AARP on their side.”

The Wall Street Journal also covers how the energy bill is “loaded with at least 50 tax breaks costing as much as $23 billion over 10 years — nearly three times the energy tax package that President Bush proposed.”

Clark may not be competing in Iowa, embed Marisa Buchanan says, but he still got the ethanol question last night on New England Cable Television: “I am going to support a variety of measures to reduce our dependence on foreign energy. And we’re gonna be coming out with an energy policy and program to move us towards energy independence here in the next two or three weeks. This energy issue’s a very important national security issue and we’ll address ethanol at that time. But in general yes I do support the use of ethanol.”

Social securityThe Columbia, SC State reports, “Sen. Lindsey Graham today unveils a Social Security plan he hopes will become the centerpiece of the Republican push next year to add private accounts to the federal retirement program. Graham... says it answers those who call any strategy that relies on private accounts ‘risky.’ His plan would cost about $1.7 trillion to implement over 15 to 20 years - costs the S.C. Republican’s aides said could be recouped largely by cutting other government spending.”

“Economists disagree on the cure, but they agree continued inaction will mean the 68-year-old federal program to guarantee senior citizens an income won’t be able to meet its obligations in 50 years.”

Graham “is trying especially hard to win the White House’s endorsement for the legislation, and spoke to President Bush about it Nov. 10 during Bush’s visit to Greenville. Bush holds that private markets must be part of any Social Security solution.”

“Washington, currently bogged down in Medicare reform, isn’t paying much attention to Social Security. But Graham said that will change, and he expects the issue to take a starring role in the 2004 elections.”

And the AP confirms: “With the stock market climbing and a reelection campaign approaching, the Bush administration is renewing its push to overhaul Social Security with personal investment accounts. The Social Security Administration, with AARP and the National Association of Manufacturers, is organizing town hall meetings across the country to increase public support for changes. Supporters of personal accounts say President Bush’s political advisers have been urging them to increase their efforts in battleground states with debates, speeches, and fund-raisers.”

“Heading into the campaign, the White House wants to be able to check off major legislation it has achieved: education reform, tax cuts and economic recovery, homeland security, and potentially an energy plan and a Medicare prescription drug benefit.”

Someone ask GOP House campaign committee chairman Tom Reynolds how his Members feel about this taking place in an election year at Reynolds’ 1:00 pm pen and pad today.

TradeThe Wall Street Journal reports, “U.S. steelmakers reluctantly agreed to end tariffs on steel imports earlier than scheduled, after the White House urged the companies to seek middle ground and help it avert a threatened trade war. But the offer likely will face a tough audience in the European Union... People close to the deliberations of the steelmakers say the industry agreed Friday to a deal...” The tariffs “would end in the autumn of 2004. The agreement also calls for accelerating the scheduled reduction of the tariff level.”

The Los Angeles Times says China is bracing for the 2004 onslaught as “U.S. labor and manufacturing groups accuse the world’s most populous nation of stealing jobs, manipulating currency and playing fast and loose with international trade rules.”

“That said, China is arguably better equipped to handle such criticism on the eve of the 2004 campaign than in any recent U.S. election, with more understanding of the American political system, its pressure points and ways to avoid becoming a whipping boy.”

FundraisingThe Washington Times considers the argument over which side benefits more from outside groups playing in elections. “Republicans say their party’s support from outside organizations has never been comparable to that of labor unions and other groups that contribute to Democrats.” That said: “Some Republicans... express confidence that the Republican Party will attract unaffiliated groups capable of raising and spending soft money on Mr. Bush’s behalf.”

The New York Times covers MoveOn.org and Soros’ donation. “Since its founding in 1998 to protest the impeachment of President Bill Clinton, MoveOn.org has grown from its founders’ anger into a bottom-up organization that has inserted itself into the political process in ways large and small... This year alone, the group has mobilized hundreds of thousands of Internet-savvy Americans to protest the invasion of Iraq, fight the Federal Communications Commission’s stand on media deregulation and lobby against judicial nominees.”

“Some political scientists say that MoveOn.org may foreshadow the next evolutionary change in American politics, a move away from one-way tools of influence like television commercials and talk radio to interactive dialogue, offering everyday people a voice in a process that once seemed beyond their reach.”

And the Times’ editorial page blasts House Majority Leader Tom DeLay’s fundraising proposal for the Republican National Convention in New York: inviting “donors to use a children’s charity as a channel to pay up to $500,000 for access to posh convention events.” Meanwhile, the Boston Herald takes its turn covering Democrats’ convention financing shortfall thus far.

More 2004 notes (R)New Gallup numbers show “President Bush’s job approval rating is sagging, and in several other categories he is at or near the lowest point of his presidency... As the war in Iraq drags on, the country is nearly split over the president’s leadership: 50% approve of the job he is doing, and 47% disapprove.”

“But the poll shows other weaknesses. Nearly six in 10 say Bush is not in touch with the problems of ordinary Americans. They’re split on whether he ‘cares about the needs of people like you’ - his 49% score on that question is the lowest since he took office. Fewer than half are confident that Bush can get the economy moving.”

“On more personal attributes, although Americans are not as admiring of Bush as they were in the days after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks or right after U.S. tanks rolled into Baghdad, his ratings are still solid. Regardless of how they rate his job performance, nearly seven in 10 like him as a person. Nearly six in 10 say he is honest and trustworthy; two-thirds rate him a strong and decisive leader.”

Yet the Washington Post reminds us: “Since the presidential primary system became influential in 1952, an incumbent president has never lost a reelection bid if he did not face significant opposition in the primaries.”

“Bush’s campaign strategists, while predicting a close outcome next year, agree that the lack of a primary opponent is a significant source of strength for the president, allowing him unchallenged access to GOP donors and unrivaled freedom to embrace swing voters.”

“History, of course, never repeats itself precisely, and unknown factors — new terrorist attacks, a shock to the economy or continued deterioration of security in Iraq — could yet overpower historical trends. And even Bush’s boosters hasten to point out that the country remains evenly divided politically.”

More 2004 notes (D)The Manchester Union Leader previews the AARP forum: “Six Democratic presidential candidates will debate in front of about 1,000 Granite Staters age 50 and older today, knowing that most want to hear more about jobs and other ‘pocketbook’ issues rather than Iraq and foreign policy.”

The latest Gephardt-Dean tiff is over Dean’s new TV ad in Iowa showing Gephardt in the Rose Garden with President Bush, supporting the Iraq resolution. The voiceover: “October 2002, Dick Gephardt agrees to co-author the Iraq war resolution — giving George Bush the authority to go to war. A week later, with Gephardt’s support, it passes Congress. Then, last month, Dick Gephardt votes to spend $87 billion more on Iraq. Howard Dean has a different view. I opposed the war in Iraq, and I’m against spending another $87 billion there.”

Gephardt embed Priya David says the ad is a $250,000 buy over seven to 10 days, and notes the Gephardt campaign is calling it “the first negative ad in Iowa caucus history.” Gephardt started fighting back before the ad even went up, David says. The latest statement, from Gephardt campaign manager Steve Murphy on Monday, accused Dean of being inconsistent on the Iraq supplemental.

The New York Daily News says, “The war is extremely unpopular among Iowa Democrats, and Dean whips liberal crowds into frenzies by trashing party leaders in Washington for rolling over for Bush.”

The Los Angeles Times: “Dean is widely viewed as the front-runner in the Democratic field. But a loss in the Jan. 19 Iowa caucuses - the first important contest in the nomination battle - would probably cost him momentum and give his rivals openings in other states.”

Dean embed Felix Schein says the ad is meant to do more than attack Gephardt — it’s also designed to pry loose some of Kerry’s support. The idea, Schein reports: place doubt in the minds of Gephardt and Kerry supporters by highlighting a key policy difference, then highlight other elements of the Dean record. Gephardt’s name is being used, but anyone who supported the war is being targeted.

Schein also notes Dean’s inroads among some important corners of the party coalition with endorsements yesterday from Reps. Elijah Cummings, chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, David Wu, and centrist Democrat Jim Moran. Schein says Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee is expected to endorse Dean today in Houston.

Remember back when Clark got in the race and said he didn’t need to rely on his military credentials? Clark’s spokesperson responded to Gephardt’s recent critique that “it’s easier to be an analyst on CNN than it is to be in the Congress, because you’ve got to make decisions,” by saying, “Clark made a few decisions during his thirty-four years in the military.” Embed Marisa Buchanan says Clark noted yesterday that he will be talking about manufacturing jobs today, and foreign policy and trade on Thursday...

The Boston Globe’s McGrory looks ahead to the Boston convention and sounds a doomsday note for Kerry: “a funny thing happened on the way to the nomination. Kerry collapsed. Howard Dean soared. Richard A. Gephardt found something of a voice. All of which means, if things stay as they are now, that one week in July may well be the most humiliating experience of Kerry’s political career.”

“Of course, we’re getting ahead of ourselves... In this case, there’s as much politics to be played in January as in the entire year before. But Kerry has to overcome huge deficits in the polls and a yawning financial chasm. He has to suffocate the prevalent notion that he is a political opportunist looking to play each side of every issue. He has to accept blame for his failing campaign, and then he has to be bold. He’s already lost control of the race. Now he risks losing control of his city.”

Kerry embed Becky Diamond says Kerry opened another field office in Newton, IA yesterday, bringing the total to 22 — after having 13 as of October 1. The staff has increased, as well; an aide told Diamond the campaign got “a wave of staff that started November 1st.” Kerry has been spending nearly half of every week in Iowa for the past month, and his days are packed with activist and retail events. Diamond says Kerry’s days in New Hampshire have numbered about two a week for the past month.

Embed Dugald McConnell says the Edwards staff in New Hampshire has increased from 17 to 24 in the last couple of weeks, and they just opened their eighth office, in Londonderry. McConnell notes Edwards has spent heavily on ads in the Granite State, and faces the state spending caps Kerry and Dean have opted out of. He’s on the air now with the TV ad promoting his policy booklet, “Real Solutions,” and he has held about 70 New Hampshire town halls to date.

Lieberman embed Dionne Scott says some of the family is relocating to New Hampshire. Lieberman: “Remember that old expression from another Democratic winning ticket — vote for one, get two. In my case, you’re gonna get an entire family. Some of us are actually gonna move up here in a while and spend most of our time here and use this as a base.”

Scott says that after filing for the New Hampshire primary yesterday, Lieberman autographed the “Notice of Primary” form, “God Bless America, Joe Lieberman,” — a marked difference from Dean’s autographed message, “Work Together or Die.”

The Hartford Courant covers Lieberman’s skipping Monday’s Des Moines debate to be in New Hampshire.

Moseley Braun embed Angela Miles says new campaign manager Patricia Ireland, former NOW president, is wasting no time making changes: She’s pushing to get more media time for the candidate and has planned a DC media avail for today; and she says the campaign has been lacking in basics such as signs and other campaign staples, and jokes she will print up buttons herself if she has to. Miles reports Ireland says she is not getting paid and that right now, only her expenses are covered. When the campaign meets matching funds requirements, she says she’ll take a paycheck.

Sharpton embed Tom Llamas reports Sharpton and his National Action Network are taking their voter registration drive to South Carolina with a two-day bus tour. Sharpton and NAN operatives will speak and try to register voters at three colleges, three universities, and two churches across South Carolina. Sharpton’s campaign claims this is not a campaign event, Llamas reports, so campaign staffers and campaign money will not be used. The tour is being funded mainly from a $250,000 donation from Black Entertainment Television CEO Robert Johnson. (We’re sure Sharpton won’t be looking to build support along the way...)

November 17, 2003 / 09:30 AM ET

From Elizabeth Wilner, Mark Murray, and Huma Zaidi

The “simple” side of the day in politics: the return of Rush, and the swearing-in of Governor Schwarzenegger at 2:00 pm ET in a ceremony billed as simple, but amounting to a global media event.

The not-so-simple side: some 2,200 pages of Medicare and energy legislation backed by the White House and not yet thoroughly perused by many Members on both sides, with votes looming and Senate Democrats ready to dig in their heels. The injection of market forces into a government program, as the Wall Street Journal describes the Medicare deal, is bigger and sexier than energy, so Medicare gets more play.

But Iowa, we’d note, where the energy bill would double ethanol production, cares about both. We’re now one week out from MSNBC’s Des Moines debate, and just over two months shy of the caucuses. The Democratic candidates are facing and making choices on spending time and effort in Iowa versus elsewhere. Gephardt and Dean take their war up another notch. Kerry kicks off an Iowa bus tour under pressure to move past his staffing problems. Lieberman, who’s not competing there, threatens to filibuster the energy bill and skips the debate to campaign in New Hampshire. Clark, also not competing there, does the debate but launches his first TV ad in New Hampshire focusing on his military service.

That ad, and his mid-December trip to The Hague, raise the question of whether Clark is too focused on the war, given how undefined he remains on domestic issues. Embed Marisa Buchanan says Clark’s December 15-16 appearance at The Hague has the campaign trying to reorganize his schedule. Since they found out the exact date just recently, they have been discussing with lawyers the role the campaign has to take both with traveling staff and publicity associated with his trip. Clark on how he will manage the campaign and the trial at the same time: “This interrupts the campaign. That’s a duty... This is an historic trial. It’s absolutely essential to make the case against Slobodan Milosevic.” The Des Moines Register (not that he’s campaigning in Iowa) headline: “Clark’s campaign to take break next month.”

And Moseley Braun embed Angela Miles reports former NOW president Patricia Ireland — who, we’d note, can raise real money — will be named the new campaign manager today; the campaign has gone without a permanent manager since August.

The Washington Post says “GOP House and Senate negotiators have decided to put the vouchers provision — and the $5.6 billion 2004 District budget to which it is attached — into a larger federal budget bill that cannot be amended.”

Drugs and energyThe Los Angeles Times: “As the mammoth bills head toward final votes, the GOP’s main challenges in the next few days are to hold party ranks in the House - especially on a $400-billion Medicare expansion that dismays many conservatives - and to fend off Democratic filibusters against both bills in the Senate.”

“Enactment of the two pieces of legislation would enable Bush to claim that Washington’s perennial gridlock on two highly controversial domestic issues has been broken by the first full year of Republican control of both the legislative and executive branches in half a century. Failure on either, or both, would reinforce Democratic claims that Bush is steering the country too far to the right to get things done.”

“Prospects for passage of both bills in the House appear good, advocates say, but battles may lie ahead in the Senate.”

On the energy bill, USA Today says Lieberman may help Schumer filibuster over concerns about water pollution. USA Today also breaks down the interests who would benefit from the bill.

The Wall Street Journal says “Democratic leaders remain unhappy with some provisions of the proposal, though it is unlikely they can block it... [T]he 1,100-page proposal was crafted to attract enough Democrats to assure passage by asserting that it will create one million new jobs in the construction and energy sectors, and emphasizing incentives that have broad appeal in farm states and in coal country.”

On Medicare, the Los Angeles Times considers the “fundamental difference - Medicare as a government program versus Medicare as a huge government-subsidized health insurance market - that underlies the deep divisions between Democratic opponents of the bill and its Republican supporters.”

The Washington Post notes the Medicare negotiators conceded yesterday “the 1,100-page bill is not entirely written and that congressional budget analysts will not determine at least until late today how the plan fits within the $400 billion Congress has set aside for it.”

“AARP, the 35-million-member group for older Americans, did not make a formal endorsement but sent positive signals.” AARP has pledged to spend money to gin up voter support for a bipartisan bill it can back.

The New York Times: “an administration official said on Sunday that that he did not expect Senate Democrats to use their ultimate weapon, a filibuster, to block the bill... ‘I don’t think anyone wants to kill drug coverage for seniors on a filibuster.’”

Edwards embed Dugald McConnell gets this from the candidate: “There’s a bill passing through Congress right now. Just to be clear to everybody, this is George Bush’s ideas. The proposal in Congress will drive seniors into HMOs. At least in my judgment, it is not the kind of prescription benefit we need in this country. There were some minor cost control provisions, but they’ve been taken out. What a surprise, you know, the drug industry has won once again.”

And on the energy bill: “It was put together by Republicans behind closed doors. The result is, we weren’t in the process. I don’t know a lot of the details, and I need to know the details. What I know about it leads me strongly to believe I will be against it, just because it sounds like it’s loaded with special interest provisions, and it’s taken out some of the conservation things that we believe in.”

Politics of warThe Washington Post notes Bush’s remarks yesterday about Saturday’s chopper crash “reflected the view of some aides that as casualties mount, he takes a risk by remaining silent, as he did after the Nov. 2 downing of a Chinook helicopter that killed 16 soldiers.”

Iowa’s currently neutral Democratic governor told the Washington Post that Dean “is vulnerable to Republican attacks that he is not tough enough to keep the United States safe in the age of terrorism, despite rising opposition to President Bush’s handling of the war to stabilize Iraq.” The comments “highlighted the unease that exists in some parts of the party over Dean’s candidacy and the importance the Iraq war is playing in the campaigns for the Democratic nomination.”

“Some leading Democrats believe the politics of Iraq have changed in recent months because of the stream of terrorist attacks there and the rising U.S. casualties. They say that leaves Dean far less exposed politically than he was when the war began and there was overwhelming public support for Bush’s policies.” Iowa Gov. Tom “Vilsack said he believes Dean may be able to overcome questions about his strength to protect the country, but not because of changing perceptions about Bush’s policies in Iraq.”

“Vilsack’s comments came just as Dean reinjected the war issue into the Iowa campaign by attacking Gephardt for supporting Bush and the congressional resolution authorizing the president to go to war. A new Dean direct-mail brochure includes a photo of Gephardt and Bush in the Rose Garden on the day the president announced a deal with congressional leaders on language for the resolution and says Gephardt stood ‘shoulder-to-shoulder with President Bush’ on the issue.”

CaliforniaThe Los Angeles Times, tongue-in-cheek, previews the quote-unquote simple ceremony: “All right, so there will be a few brass bands. Seven thousand or so invited guests. A five-story camera riser groaning with the weight of an international press corps. Live, national television coverage. A flotilla of satellite trucks. Every living former governor of California, with the sole exception of Ronald Reagan. Both houses of the Legislature. A Hollywood contingent expected to include Tom Arnold, Jamie Lee Curtis, Danny DeVito, Linda Hamilton and Rob Lowe. A few Kennedys. And Kaiser Jagdproviant (which is not someone you salute, but something you eat). Not to mention Vanessa Williams singing the national anthem.”

The Wall Street Journal on the business end of the new Governor’s day: “Scheduled among his first official acts Monday... will be to convene a special session of the California legislature to consider changes to the state’s workers’ compensation system, aides say. Premiums paid by businesses have more than tripled to about $20 billion annually from about $6 billion in 1998. State legislators say they have been advised by Mr. Schwarzenegger’s office to prepare to begin meeting on the issue as early as Tuesday afternoon.”

“Also Monday, aides say, Mr. Schwarzenegger is set to move to reduce by two-thirds the annual license fee for cars, effectively repealing an increase imposed by his Democratic predecessor, Gray Davis, to help close the state’s budget gap...”

“But rolling back the license fees won’t help Mr. Schwarzenegger deal with his biggest challenge — the state’s perilous fiscal position... Mr. Schwarzenegger is believed to be considering sponsoring a massive bond issue, of $15 billion or more, for voter approval in the March primary. But Democrats, who control substantial majorities in both houses of the state Legislature, and all other statewide offices, are skeptical.”

The Los Angeles Times, speculating on outgoing Gov. Gray Davis’ political future, says Davis “has hinted at a political comeback - sometimes in a joking fashion, at other times seriously - noting that his removal from office so early in his second term means he still could serve another term as governor, said people close to Davis, all speaking on the condition of anonymity.”

LouisianaOn the Louisiana gov run-off, the Los Angeles Times’ Brownstein writes that Democrat Kathleen Blanco’s “win will probably avert a full-scale panic among Southern Democrats unnerved when the GOP captured governorships in Kentucky and Mississippi two weeks ago.”

“Yet the overall trend in the region since President Bush took office still looks ominous for Democrats. In 2004, with Bush on the ballot, the Republicans appear to be poised for further Southern gains. Indeed, the GOP’s solidifying hold on Dixie now looms as perhaps the most imposing obstacle to Democratic hopes of regaining control of either Congress or the White House.”

“In 2004, population growth will swell the number of Electoral College votes from those 13 Southern states to 168. That means the South alone could provide Bush with more than three-fifths of the 270 Electoral College votes he needs for reelection. Even if Florida, the most competitive Southern state, slips away from him, the South could still give Bush just over half the electoral votes he needs.”

The New York Times says a late attack ad criticizing Jindal’s health-care record pushed Blanco over the finish line. The New Orleans Times-Picayune adds that Blanco was also successful in capturing support among white voters. “Jindal’s bold push to win over African-American voters with high-profile endorsements succeeded to a point: He got 9 percent of the black vote, almost twice what most Republicans typically get in the state.”

“But as much attention as that garnered, a key to Blanco’s victory was the white vote, of which she won 40 percent...”

More 2004 notes (D)Florida “party leaders voted Sunday to not hold the non-binding beauty contest at their convention near Orlando next month, succumbing to pressure from candidates who feared a time-consuming and costly battle in Florida just weeks before real votes are cast in Iowa, New Hampshire and other key states.” — Miami Herald

The Los Angeles Times says the Gephardt-Dean war “is what appears most significant in the race. By favoring one over the other, Iowa Democrats will take a first step toward selecting not just a candidate but also a whole strategy for replacing President Bush, choosing whether to mount an antiestablishment crusade or take a more conventional economic populist approach.”

“There is almost a messianic quality to Dean and his candidacy, a fervor that makes his effort sometimes seem less a political campaign than a social movement. Gephardt, like the voters he attracts, is more matter-of-fact.”

“Voters who support Dean, or at least are considering him, tend to see Gephardt as too familiar and too much a product of Washington... Gephardt voters tend to see Dean as an upstart, a media creation even, who lacks stature and seems unconvincing as president.”

The Boston Globe says “a clear theme is emerging from some corners of the Democratic establishment, that the angry rhetoric that is Dean’s trademark cannot win in a general election. Several of Dean’s rivals hope to turn that argument into a political strategy, portraying themselves as the sunny alternative.”

“In truth, Dean in his stump speech blends angry attacks on Bush with specific proposals for what he would do in office... But Dean clearly was among the first to use Democratic fury against Bush to his advantage, and it is not difficult to portray his rhetorical style — blunt, quick, sometimes defensive — as more negative than some of his opponents’.”

The Los Angeles Times reviews Clark on Meet the Press, while USA Today runs the results of its interview with Clark yesterday, and the Boston Globe continues its two-part profile: Part 1 and Part 2.

Dean embed Felix Schein reports Dean is now on the record saying public financing effectively died when President Bush opted out of the program in 2000 and that campaigns have no choice but to follow suit if they want to remain competitive. Dean noted that he remains open to the idea of voluntary spending limits during the primaries, as suggested by Kerry, but added that the idea has not yet been discussed internally and he has no position on it for now.

Schein notes that Dean, at an on-the-record brunch with reporters this past weekend, in fact did his best to avoid all questions related to Kerry, including questions about Kerry partly self-financing his campaign. However, Dean did say he is worried about agreeing to limits, along with Kerry, given that Kerry broke such an agreement in his re-election battle against Bill Weld. Asked about it in more general terms, Schein says, Dean did question the self-financing of campaigns, saying, “If this is about public support, this does raise issues... There is something that bothers me about that. It just doesn’t seem right if you have a billion dollars it seems funny to use your money.”

Edwards embed Dugald McConnell notes Edwards today becomes the first Democratic candidate to take part in a series of forums hosted by Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle called “Wisconsin Works.” “Jobs and the economy is certainly the No. 1 issue,” says Edwards state director John Kraus. “Wisconsin Democratic primary voters are not as liberal as some of the earlier states. They’re probably more moderate than Iowa and New Hampshire.”

TheRaleigh News and Observer looks at what Edwards needs to be viable.

The Saturday Boston Globe said the Edwards camp hopes “to exploit the recent turmoil in” Kerry’s campaign and “have hyped the largely negative media coverage of Kerry’s decision to fire his campaign manager and of the subsequent resignations of two top Kerry deputies.”

“Kerry advisers say they regard Edwards as a serious threat in the state, pointing out that he appears to be running low on campaign cash to purchase television advertising in January, traditionally a crucial factor.”

Roll Call says western Missouri remains fertile territory for Gephardt’s rivals looking to make inroads in a February 3 state. That said, the paper also reports on signs that Gephardt “has his Iowa campaign back on track and is given the best chance to deal Dean a blow in the state and possibly slow his momentum nationally.”

Kerry embed Becky Diamond reports Kerry’s “Real Deal” Iowa bus tour kicked off yesterday with about 20 supporters and five members of the Senator’s staff as well as five traveling press in tow. The idea, Diamond says, is that Kerry’s on the bus with those he’s fighting for: students, veterans, families and firefighters. Spokesperson David Wade says the tour will “send a ripple through Iowa” and will “reestablish that it’s a three-person race in Iowa.”

Diamond also reports Kerry talked about his recently discovered Jewish roots at a Des Moines synagogue yesterday. Diamond says he made the comment after talking about the struggle and persecution of the Jewish people — that the Jewish people understand how important it is to have good leadership. He said, “We understand [that struggle] and I say ‘we’ because of my ties to the Jewish faith and my own history.” He told reporters later, “What I was thinking was a generic we.”

Also at the synagogue, Kerry said “Dean has displayed foreign-policy inexperience through past statements about the conflict between Israel and Palestine.” — Des Moines Register

The New York Daily News describes Kerry’s “last-ditch effort to compete in Iowa.”

Kucinich embed Karin Caifa notes that halfway through November, the campaign’s effort to raise $800,000 looks out of reach. So far the total sits at $210,386. Copies of Kucinich’s book, sold through the campaign to raise money, have sold out. Good for book sales, Caifa says, but bad for the fundraising effort, with another printing not expected till mid-December. The campaign holds a fundraiser in Manhattan Friday night featuring author Barbara Ehrenreich, who wrote “Nickel and Dimed: On (not) Getting by in America,” among others.

Lieberman embed Dionne Scott gets Lieberman himself on skipping the Iowa debate: “There are three or four debates coming up in Iowa and I’m not participating in the Iowa caucuses, I made that judgment. It just seems to me that on that day I have some commitments here in New Hampshire that I wanna keep. So this is where I begin my run for the White House in the first in the nation New Hampshire primary. My guess is that I will go to one or more of the other debates in Iowa for the caucuses.”

The Des Moines Register takes the latest long look at what the Internet has done to presidential campaigning, while the Washington Post Style section covers the lighter side — the all-too-serious fighting amongst the two dot-com movements to draft Sen. Hillary Clinton into the race.

November 14, 2003 / 09:30 AM ET

From Elizabeth Wilner, Mark Murray, and Huma Zaidi

The Wall Street Journal: “Bush heads abroad with domestic priorities unresolved. The president meets staunch war ally Blair in London on a trip scheduled with the expectation Congress would be in recess. With Medicare and energy legislation still hung up in House-Senate talks, former Republican National Chairman Rich Bond concedes, ‘It ain’t the best time in the world to not be around.’ Ex-Gore strategist Donna Brazile advises Democrats to ‘seize the initiative and remind seniors that Bush is leaving town before delivering’ a prescription-drug benefit.”

At the same time, Saturday through Monday, Republicans likely shut out Democrats for the 2003 gubernatorial races, hanging onto their seat in Louisiana in the Saturday run-off, then officially claiming the governorship of California on Monday. After victories in California, Kentucky, and Mississippi, Republicans have a 29-21 edge in governors. Meanwhile, on Saturday, six of the nine Democratic presidentials must share a stage with Sen. Hillary Clinton Saturday night in Des Moines. (She may not be running for president this cycle, as she has said repeatedly, but she can repeatedly steal the limelight.)

In advance of the weekend’s events, the GOP nominee in Louisiana has a Wall Street Journal op-ed today on jobs and economic opportunity, and the Des Moines Register has a poll saying it’s jobs and the economy.

Stereotypes aside, the Washington Post offers a way to look at the Louisiana race: “‘Listen, man, we’re looking at a guy who’s not even from this country! And then we’re looking at a woman!’ said Jubal Vallot, 38, a handyman in Lafayette sporting tattoo-spangled forearms, a Chevy pickup truck and a fist-size clump of keys at his belt. He hooted and shook his head at the outlandishness of the selection. ‘I go to church, I believe in the good Lord and this ‘n’ that. I never ever dreamed in my whole life — I been right here in Louisiana — that I’d be in this kind of dilemma.’”

Also this weekend, Florida Democrats decide whether or not to hold a straw poll in early December; even if they vote to hold one, not all the candidates may participate. And on Sunday, Clark Meets the Press.

Senate “Republicans will conclude their talkfest this morning with votes seeking to break filibusters against three female judges: Priscilla R. Owen of Texas and Carolyn B. Kuhl and Janice Rogers Brown of California,” says the Washington Post.

Prescription drugsStill no drug bill: “congressional negotiators Thursday acknowledged a fresh setback,” the Washington Post reports. “A small group of House and Senate negotiators said late Wednesday they had been unable to agree to a compromise worked out this week by Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) and House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), who had intervened to try to end months of fractious haggling.”

“The lead negotiator, Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill Thomas (R-Calif.), said the sticking point remained the issue that has been most polarizing all along: how much the traditional Medicare program should be required to compete with private health plans.”

On Bush’s speech yesterday: “When White House aides scheduled Thursday’s event, there was the possibility that it could have been a victory rally if negotiators reached a deal. In an indication of that, the White House arranged for Bush’s speech to be broadcast to events in five other cities, where administration officials met with seniors.”

The Los Angeles Times reports that “while Republican and Democratic lawmakers continued to argue over the details of a compromise bill to reform the Medicare program, the leaders of” the AARP “upped the ante.”

“If the House-Senate conference committee produces a compromise bill that AARP’s board of directors could support, the mammoth organization would spend tens of millions of dollars on advertising, grass-roots organizing and other activities to promote passage of a Medicare reform bill this year, said... the group’s executive director and chief executive. And if Congress does not pass a Medicare bill? The group is prepared to empty its war chest, he said.”

“To win the group’s support, a final bill must be bipartisan...”

The Wall Street Journal notes the current “Medicare package isn’t likely to permit Americans to buy cheap medicine from Canada legally. Maintaining the ban on imports has been the top lobbying priority for U.S. drug makers. Instead, the legislation is likely to include language similar to what Congress has approved previously, which would allow importation only if the Health and Human Services secretary certifies it is safe. Citing that requirement, the Clinton and Bush administrations declined to implement previous importation legislation.”

The economy“Taxpayers’ refund checks will increase nearly 27% to an average $2,500 per family early next year, according to new forecasts from tax experts and economists, who say the windfalls will aid consumers, the economy and President Bush’s re-election campaign.” - USA Today

“An improving economy would aid Bush’s re-election hopes and blunt Democratic criticism of job losses and economic weakness during his tenure. But the cuts, along with increased federal spending, have contributed to a record federal budget deficit that is estimated to hit $494 billion this year.”

The Wall Street Journal: “Economists are nudging higher their projections for economic growth early next year, suggesting they are becoming more confident the recovery is sustainable.” The Journal’s economic forecasting panelists “expect growth to remain steady throughout 2004.”

“Economists noted that with business inventories low, companies now must turn to increased production to meet consumer demand. Robust productivity gains, they said, are expected to boost corporate profits and companies will need to replace aging equipment such as computers and software. Moreover, they said the effect of tax cuts hasn’t yet faded.”

“In a separate aspect of the survey, economists weighed in for the first time on the economic policies of presidential contenders in the Democratic Party. While... Dean, who has called for the repeal of the Bush Administration’s tax cuts, is widely seen as a front-runner for the party’s nomination, he wasn’t a favorite among the business economists who participate in the survey. Only one economist surveyed said Mr. Dean’s policies were best suited — when compared with the other Democratic candidates — to increase employment, incomes and growth.”

“Senator Joseph Lieberman won the support of 11 economists, or 29% of those who answered the question, while Wesley Clark won the support of five and John Kerry won the support of four. Eight economists indicated they felt none of the candidates could get the job done.”

More 2004 notes (R)The New York Times looks at the Bush-Cheney fundraising juggernaut, which has now raised over $100 million this cycle, yet the paper notes the team’s fundraising prowess raises “questions about whether legislative efforts to reduce the influence of money in politics are having any effect, members of both parties and campaign finance experts say.”

“Mr. Bush’s campaign says it is raising so much money just to remain competitive with what it says is a well-financed liberal political machine. Campaign aides point to George Soros, the investor and philanthropist, who has pledged $15 million to a liberal advocacy and get-out-the-vote effort, as well as to unions, interest groups and individuals who are planning expensive programs to oust Mr. Bush.”

Bush raised another $2.6 million in Florida yesterday, the AP reports, saying the campaign may have exceeded $106 million.

Iowa JJ

Saturday night at Veterans Memorial Auditorium in Des Moines, starting at 7:30 pm ET, six of the nine Democratic presidentials address the Iowa Democratic Party’s Jefferson Jackson Dinner, the state’s largest pre-caucus event, with 7,500 expected to attend. Sen. Hillary Clinton emcee’s the dinner and Gephardt, Kucinich, Edwards, Kerry, Dean, and Moseley Braun each get seven minutes to speak, in that order. The state party expects to raise over $300,000.

The Des Moines Register notes Clinton will have a book-signing in West Des Moines on Sunday.

The Register also has a new poll: “Forty percent of Iowans likely to take part in the Jan. 19 caucuses say the economy and jobs matter most to them among a list of seven issues for the next president to address.” Iraq comes second. “Health care ranks third, at 17 percent, and education is fourth, at 10 percent... Trailing in single digits as priority issues are the budget deficit, homeland security and agriculture.”

And, “Gephardt of Missouri leads the field in Iowa, with 27 percent of likely caucus participants naming him their first choice. Dean comes in second, with 20 percent, and Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry has 15 percent.”

B-roll alert. Edwards embed Dugald McConnell previews tonight’s “land rush:” When officials open the doors, five staffers from each campaign will swarm the hall to cover as much wall space as possible with their own campaign signs. Edwards staffer Micah Kagan: “I don’t want to tip our hand and give our friends in the other campaigns hints as to what we are doing, but let’s just say that since we won the Harkin Steak Fry sign war... we have a few new tricks up our sleeve.”

McConnell notes Edwards is up with a new TV ad in Iowa, focusing on jobs. The ad pledges Edwards will end tax breaks for companies who move jobs overseas; give tax breaks to companies who create jobs in the United States; and block unfair trade agreements. Edwards opposed NAFTA, but voted in 2000 for normal trade relations with China.

Embed Angela Miles says Moseley Braun consultant Kevin Lampe anticipates the format will be good for the candidate; the campaign says they welcome any opportunity for Moseley Braun to be seen with her rivals so voters can see the differences.

2003 governorsTomorrow, Democrat Kathleen Blanco and Republican Bobby Jindal face off in Louisiana’s gubernatorial run-off. Polls in Louisiana open at 7:00 am and close at 9:00 pm ET. If Blanco wins, Democrats will be able to pat themselves on the back for winning a tough race in the GOP-tilting South. But perhaps the macro theme of a Blanco victory, per Cook Political Report analyst Jennifer Duffy, will be that dissatisfied voters threw out the incumbent party in all four gubernatorial contests this year. If that’s the case, will that voter dissatisfaction carry over to the 2004 presidential race?

Duffy offers this: In the 41 governors races since November 2001, there have been 25 switches in party control: 12 have switched from Republican to Democrat, while 11 have gone the other way. (The other two were independent-held seats, one going Republican and the other Democratic.) Duffy says this proves one party isn’t really dominating — rather, what we’re really seeing is change.

That said, Republican Jindal has the momentum and seems likely to beat Blanco, in which case the Sunday and Monday papers will play up how Republicans triumphed in every 2003 gubernatorial race, including the recall, while the Democrats got shut out.

The AP: “No matter how pickup-driving conservative Southern white men vote Saturday, Louisiana will make history. The state has never had a woman governor and has not put a non-white in the office since Reconstruction.” In fact, Jindal “would be the first non-white ever popularly chosen governor of Louisiana — or any Deep South state, for that matter — in a state where a majority of white men voted for former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke just over a decade ago.”

“Jindal also would be the rare Republican to make inroads among black voters. Polls indicate him with 12 percent to 15 percent of the black vote. That is more than twice the usual GOP total.”

The New Orleans Times-Picayune on the final campaign blitzes: “Jindal leap-frogged across the state, including an appearance with NASCAR legend Darrell Waltrip, while Blanco crisscrossed the New Orleans area in a caravan that included a camper and a bus. Both candidates plan to use a combination of airplanes, buses and RVs in a final blitz today.”

And Monday brings the swearing-in of Governor-elect Schwarzenegger at an outdoor ceremony in Sacramento at 2:00 pm ET. A few thousand campaign supporters, legislators, and other dignitaries will attend — in addition to reporters from all over the world. “The governor... will give a speech and call for a special session of the Legislature to begin Tuesday,” USA Today says. “Then he’ll lunch with the Democrat-run Legislature and California’s members of Congress. He’ll mingle with Republicans later at a California Chamber of Commerce reception. That’s the extent of the celebration.”

The Los Angeles Times leads: “Aides to... Schwarzenegger presented him with a series of budget-balancing choices this week that included cuts in higher education and mental health programs, according to informed sources who spoke on the condition that they not be identified. The proposals came during five hours of confidential meetings... after which the group adjourned with no consensus on how best to begin cutting services to attack the state’s multibillion-dollar deficit.”

“For Schwarzenegger, sources said, the closed-door sessions became another lesson in just how limited his options will be in addressing the budget crisis if he is to keep his campaign promises to repeal a recent tripling of the state vehicle license fee, avoid tax increases and still not disturb education programs long championed by the governor-elect.”

“More pressure will be placed on Schwarzenegger today, when Legislative Analyst Elizabeth Hill is scheduled to reveal her latest estimate of the size of the budget problem.”

The Washington Times: “An attempt to revive accusations that... Schwarzenegger groped several women during his days as an actor seems to have fizzled on the eve of his inauguration.”

More 2004 notes (D)Kerry still hasn’t announced whether or not he’ll accept matching funds, but is expected to forgo them. Clark is sticking with the system, the AP reports. An Edwards e-mail asks potential givers to help him strengthen public financing. Walter Shapiro notes how some Democratic candidates are choosing not to “wrap themselves in McCain’s reformist aura. Instead, the 2004 New Hampshire primary is becoming a free-spending, the-sky’s-the-limit battle between two candidates who have chosen to spurn a bedrock tenet of campaign reform.”

“Campaign reform is an issue with proven appeal to New Hampshire voters. But given the complexity of the law, it is somewhat doubtful that Dean and Kerry will pay a political price in the first primary for their strategically motivated rejection of public financing.”

Dean embed Felix Schein reports Dean will further define his economic vision for the country on Tuesday with what’s sure to be a red-meat speech outside Enron’s Houston headquarters.

As Dean unveiled his higher-ed plan at Dartmouth, the New York Times says several students waved Confederate flags, “a reminder of a controversy that had dogged him for more than a week. The students said they were offended by Dr. Dean’s promise to be ‘the candidate for guys with Confederate flag decals on their pickup trucks,’ as well as by his eventual apology.” The New York Post also notes the flags.

The Boston Globe, looking at how Dean is making the most of his momentum, also notes, “for all the campaign’s seemingly upward motion, there are new challenges. As a front-runner, Dean is now the man to bring down, and scrutiny of the former Vermont governor will only intensify. With just over two months remaining until the first delegate selection, there is plenty of opportunity for derailment by a gaffe that proves less forgivable than others he has weathered...”

Also: “As the campaign’s expands — propelled by the addition of thousands of union workers — the campaign’s identity is apt to change, with its cozy intimacy, so prized by Dean supporters, more difficult to maintain.”

Gephardt’s campaign manager continues to send “Dean Doubletalk” e-mails, first slamming Dean’s alleged multiple positions on the Iraq supplemental, and now on higher education, geared toward Dean’s speech on that topic yesterday. The latest charge: Dean wants to cut student aid programs the same way, allegedly, that he proposed cutting Medicare.

Kerry embed Becky Diamond got this from the candidate on changing the dynamics of the race: “It’s going to be a combination of factors over the next few weeks — increased presence, a great deal of energy — other things we’ll be doing over the next days. You’ll just have to watch. I think the most important thing is to focus on the real issues of the campaign. People really want to know constructively what we’re going to do to help America move to a better place. And I want it to be as constructive as possible. My message is one of optimism and hope for the country. I believe that if we will deal with these issues we can have a future that’s unlimited. But we need leadership that knows how to make our country safer.”

Seems Kerry’s dismissed staff may be better-mannered than the candidate according to the AP — though the AP later reported Kerry called the staffers to apologize. That same AP report includes wife Teresa Heinz Kerry saying her husband is unlikely to run for president a second time. An e-mail to potential givers from Kerry’s campaign treasurer touts Kerry’s “positive message.”

Rep. Barney Frank (D) thinks Kerry’s campaign is lagging because of Kerry’s support of the war, the Boston Herald reports.

Kucinich embed Karin Caifa got this from PoliticsNH.com managing editor James Pindell yesterday: Kucinich has agreed to meet the winner of the matchmaking contest the website launched last week. Up until this point, the campaign hesitated to give the contest its blessing. But, Pindell told Caifa, Kucinich will have dinner with the winner during one of his upcoming visits to New Hampshire. His official statement on the matter: “I am very flattered by PoliticsNH’s offer to provide an opportunity for me to meet one of the many dynamic women who have contacted their web site. The response over the past week has been amazing. Women really like the idea of a partnership in the White House with a shared commitment for peace and prosperity... We are in a new era where true inner equality requires that a First Lady be respected for her intellect, her passion, her involvement, and her commitment to people... I look forward to our meeting. Dennis Kucinich”Lieberman’s top staff and advisors hold a conference call at 11:30 am to roll out a new TV ad for New Hampshire. Embed Dionne Scott says the spot will be in the same format as his two previous Granite State ads: Lieberman sitting down, reading the paper and speaking directly to viewers, in a casual, conversational style. That format, the campaign says, allows the Senator to continue a dialogue with voters on the current headlines.

Sharpton embed Tom Llamas says Sharpton missed a local Democratic endorsement forum in New York last night — an event that was on his schedule and that his campaign confirmed he would attend. The Broadway Democrats hosted the forum so members could choose a candidate to endorse. Sharpton was the only candidate scheduled to speak, but other campaigns sent surrogates. Sharpton’s attorney and eventual “stumper” Sanford Rubenstein said Sharpton “got caught up in a meeting.”

November 13, 2003 / 09:30 AM ET

From Elizabeth Wilner, Mark Murray, and Huma Zaidi

With the House and Senate now closing in on deal on prescription drugs, President Bush gives well-timed and -located remarks on Medicare in Florida, sandwiched between fundraisers. The Orlando Sentinel previews this presidential trip the Sunshine State. Edwards is in Florida too, but currently with no public events.

(Speaking of Bush fundraisers, according to his campaign’s Web site, the President has now raised over $100 million for this cycle.)

We’ll see if Gephardt gets in on the Medicare act; his attacks on Dean over the issue quieted when the Confederate flag flap arose. In fact, Gephardt may get his chance when he holds a media avail at the Massachusetts State House with supporter state Rep. Ron Mariano at 5:30 pm ET. In other Gephardt news, his campaign manager yesterday smacked Dean via e-mail for taking alleged various positions on the Iraq supplemental, ending with: “Putting faith in a candidate with a record of contradicting himself on fundamental issues like Iraq would lead to an electoral disaster against George W. Bush.” Kerry, meanwhile, jumped on both Clark and Bush after Clark unveiled his plan to catch Osama bin Laden.

Clark, Dean, and Kerry are all in New Hampshire.

Want more evidence about how the economy is beginning to look like a strength for Team Bush, while Iraq is maybe looking like its Achilles’ Heel? Try these figures from the latest NBC/Wall Street Journal poll: 50% approve of Bush’s handling of the economy, which is up seven points from September; and 38% say the economy has gotten better, which is up 11 points from the last poll. The Wall Street Journal reports that those numbers “helped halt the recent decline in Mr. Bush’s overall job rating. Some 51% approve of his performance as president, compared with 49% in September. The survey of 1,003 adults, conducted Nov. 8-10, has a margin of error of 3.1 percentage points.”

“‘The public feels better,’ say Republican pollster Robert Teeter and his Democratic counterpart Peter Hart, who conduct the Journal/NBC survey. ‘A rising economic tide lifts all presidential ratings.’”

But the news for Bush isn’t as good on Iraq: 60% say the Bush Administration underestimated the strength of the Iraqi opposition; 46% say ousting Saddam wasn’t worth the number of U.S. casualties and the financial cost of the war; and only 36% say the U.S. will find weapons of mass destruction. The news about a bomb in Nasiriya on Wednesday that killed 17 Italians and at least 9 Iraqis and wounded more than 105 others probably won’t do much to change those sentiments. - New York Times

Nevertheless, the polls says, most believe that U.S. was right to take military action against Saddam, and that Saddam’s regime did have weapons of mass destruction before the war.

Put all of these numbers together, and we still see a tight race in 2004. Bush, the Journal writes, “continues to run essentially even when matched with a generically identified Democratic opponent. And he draws no more than 52% of the vote, with leads ranging from 12 to 16 percentage points, when matched against Democratic challengers former Vermont governor Howard Dean, Retired Gen. Wesley Clark and Missouri Rep. Richard Gephardt.”

Which is why, as we mention above, Bush is in Florida — which probably will once again be the primary battleground state in 2004.

Finally, in case you forgot about the ongoings in California politics, Gov.-elect Schwarzenegger gets sworn in on Monday. We’ll have more on that tomorrow.

Prescription drugsThe Wall Street Journal reports on the tentative compromise that Senate and House negotiators seem to have reached on this legislation. “The compromise seeks to appease House conservatives wary of spending $400 billion over 10 years on a drug benefit, while reassuring Senate Democrats who criticize many Republican-backed changes as threats to Medicare. Central to the proposal is a pilot project beginning in 2008 that would, in select areas, link Medicare premiums — whether for the traditional government-administered program or for a private health plan — to bids from the private plans.”

“The compromise would include a trigger for congressional action if Medicare’s dependence on general revenue increases above 45%. But action wouldn’t be required, as some had wanted.”

But the Washington Post says that the compromise isn’t a done deal yet. The one “Democrat who may wield the greatest influence over the fate of Medicare legislation in the Senate, Edward M. Kennedy (Mass.), derided the offer, saying, ‘We can’t accept a proposal that is going to threaten the whole Medicare system.’ House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) called it a ‘backroom deal’ that did not meet Democratic goals for the program.’”

“The leader of the House-Senate Medicare negotiations, House Ways and Means Chairman Bill Thomas (R-Calif.), refrained from public comment but appeared to be voting with his feet. He told several colleagues he was flying home to the West Coast, but sources said he returned to the Capitol last night.”

Labor primary (D)Well, the worst-kept secret in politics is finally official, as the SEIU and AFSCME publicly announced their endorsement of Dean. According to the New York Times, the president of AFSCME promised “boots on the ground and blood and treasure” for Dean in Iowa, where the has 20,000 members — many of them tested veterans of that state’s caucus system.

The Washington Post: “Yesterday’s endorsement announcement quickly turned into a political rally as Dean, wearing a purple SEIU jacket and a green AFSCME shirt and carrying a black hard hat of the Painters and Allied Trades Union, entered the room. The painters union had endorsed Dean earlier.”

Moreover, yesterday’s union endorsements “represented not only a big victory for the insurgent Dean from the heart of the Democratic Party establishment, but also a vindication of Dean’s careful wooing of key labor leaders, an effort that is expected to continue as he seeks the support of unions of teachers and auto, electrical, and communications workers” says the Boston Globe.

And: “In a jab timed to the AFSCME announcement, Kerry campaign workers circulated letters yesterday they said Dean wrote as governor of Vermont in which he offered support for privatizing government jobs — a position opposed by AFSCME, whose core membership includes government workers.”

In other news, the RNC quickly distributed a press release asking if Gephardt was “a miserable failure” for losing out on the SEIU and AFSCME endorsements to Dean.

But Gephardt received some good news yesterday when he got the nod from Iowa United Auto Workers, which represents 36,000 union members. According to embed Priya David, that puts his total of Iowa union members at nearly 100,000. The Des Moines Register has more on the state’s UAW endorsement.

Embed Becky Diamond reports Kerry’s reaction to Dean’s union nods yesterday: “When I ran in 1984 for the US Senate I didn’t have anyone’s endorsement. I am going to have the endorsement from citizens of Iowa and New Hampshire and the states where they vote. This isn’t about endorsements — this is about vision and people and who can be president. I believe I’m ready to be president of the USA and I have a vision about how to make our country safer and stronger.” The campaign gave Diamond a letter from Iowa labor leaders supporting Kerry: “We believe Howard Dean is the wrong candidate for public employees. In the enclosed letter, Howard Dean explained to a constituent why he supported the privatization of a child-care center. Dean wrote: ‘The State of Vermont relies on the outsourcing of certain State functions in order to save taxpayers money’... Dean’s statements directly contrast with the pro-worker record of John Kerry.”

More 2004 notes (D)The Wall Street Journal breaks down the Democrats’ emerging five-point plan to defeat Bush in 2004. “Neutralize Mr. Bush’s national-security edge by fanning doubts about his Iraq policy. Craft economic attacks that can work even if the economy keeps improving. Dent the president’s reputation for honesty and competence. Mobilize Democratic partisans in 17 states that Mr. Bush barely won or lost in 2000. And maneuver around the new campaign-finance law by redirecting now-banned big donations away from the Democratic Party to a new set of groups that will coordinate attacks on Mr. Bush.”

The Los Angeles Times reports on Clark’s plan combat terrorism and oust Osama bin Laden. “With many Al Qaeda leaders being Saudi nationals - and considering the recent Al Qaeda-linked bombings in Saudi Arabia - Clark said he would first ask the Saudis to contribute special operations troops to a search for Bin Laden along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.”

“Second, he said, he would reassign intelligence specialists, linguists and others now searching for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq to the hunt for terrorists.”

“Then, Clark said, he would seek to repair relations with U.S. allies that were damaged by the Iraq war.”

The Boston Globe, meanwhile, analyzes the somewhat-struggling Clark campaign.

Embed Dugald McConnell notes the Publishers Weekly review of Edwards’ forthcoming book, “Four Trials:” “Edwards is at his best in his endearing portraits of the victims he represented in medical malpractice and personal injury lawsuits. Edwards can tell a good yarn, and at times this book works as a courtroom drama. But it suffers from shoddy, platitudinous prose.” The book does reinforce the populist theme of his campaign, McConnell says — that Edwards is fighting for ordinary people. When the Edwards and Dean books hit the shelves, every candidate but Moseley Braun will have published a book in the last few years.

The New York Times begins another round of profiles of the Democratic candidates, and it starts with a lengthy look at Gephardt. “He is ... the paradigmatic Congressional Democrat - too tactical and attuned to the polls, critics say, but battle-tested by a generation of partisan combat and hungry for one more race.”

“If he fails, Mr. Gephardt says, it is almost certainly his last campaign. If he wins, he knows what he wants to do and how to do it.”

Embed Becky Diamond notes of Kerry in New Hampshire yesterday — where he was trailed by a couple of trackers for other campaigns — that about half the questions at his environmental Q&A were on the state of his campaign (better than Monday, Diamond says, when all the questions at a veterans event were about his campaign). In answering the questions, Kerry basically asserted again that he is changing his campaign, but refused to explain how. There was more of “watch and you’ll see” tone.

The Washington Post looks at former New Hampshire Gov. Jeanne Shaheen’s role as Kerry’s national chairwoman. “Campaign-watchers say that the Jan. 27 ballot will determine the fate of the once-favored Kerry, who trails former Vermont governor Dean in all recent New Hampshire polls. But those who have followed Shaheen’s career warn not to bet against a woman who beat long odds to become the first female governor of the largely Republican state.”

“‘New Hampshire will make Kerry or it will break Kerry. I don’t think even a close second place will do it,’ said Dante Scala, a research fellow at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics at Saint Anselm College in Manchester. ‘My sense is that it will be largely up to Shaheen to revive him, and if so that is the best news that campaign has gotten in some time. One thing Jeanne Shaheen knows how to do is win elections in New Hampshire.’”

Meanwhile, after his campaign shake-ups, Kerry “returned yesterday to the safe haven of one of his signature political issues, the environment, proposing a new federal commission to stop “special interests” from influencing environmental regulators,” the Boston Globe reports.

Kucinich embed Karin Caifa says she was solicited by the campaign for donations. Caifa says the campaign is being particularly aggressive in phoning supporters for help. On Wednesday, a volunteer got her name from a mailing list and called for a donation. After informing the volunteer she was a reporter, the volunteer continued to press for a donation. The conversation went like this:

Volunteer: “Is that a law? Is it written somewhere that journalists can’t give money to campaigns?”

Caifa: “No, it’s more of a journalistic code of ethics thing, one that I strictly adhere to.”

Volunteer: “Oh, ok. So, you wouldn’t be able to send anything our way?”

The Kucinich camp, Caifa adds, is still marching towards its goal of $800,000 for the month of November, and they had tallied about $130,000 through Wednesday evening. The bid got a boost from weekend fundraisers in California, where the Santa Cruz Sentinel reported he picked up $60,000 at events in Santa Cruz.

As the Senate considers the nomination of Janice Rogers Brown for the US Court of Appeals in DC, embed Angela Miles says, Moseley Braun has sent a letter to Senate leaders opposing Brown: “Justice Brown has not demonstrated the balance and judicial temperament and prudence that are central to a respected judiciary... The extremism of her views has been publicly demonstrated time and time again, particularly concerning matters of settled law regarding the national government’s responsibility to protect civil and political rights of women and minorities... Not all black people think alike, and I have no doubt that there is a constituency that would be happy to see an African American of any political persuasion confirmed for such an important position as the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. However, it does both the black community as well as the courts a great disservice to confirm to such a position an individual who has so clearly demonstrated a disregard for the balance and impartiality required of the members of the bench.”

Embed Tom Llamas reports that the Sharpton camp, which has been struggling with fundraising, is cutting back on unnecessary travel and focusing on trips that will bring both supporters and money to the war chest. “We are going to be strategic when we travel,” said campaign manager Charles Halloran. “We are not barnstorming.” That said, Sharpton will eulogize 22-year-old Specialist Darius T. Jennings in Cope, SC on Saturday. Jennings was one of 16 US soldiers killed in the Chinook helicopter attack on November 2. Llamas says Sharpton agreed to perform the eulogy after speaking with Jennings’ mother Harriet Elaine Johnson. He will be campaigning over the weekend in South Carolina, and says politics will not play a role in remembering Jennings.

2004 notes (R)On CNBC’s Capital Report last night, Commerce Secretary Evans said he’s staying in his job, rather than moving to the Bush campaign.

November 12, 2003 / 09:30 AM ET

From Elizabeth Wilner, Mark Murray, and Huma Zaidi

The Senate talkathon, a 30-hour PR effort by Republicans to highlight alleged Democratic obstructionism on judicial nominees, starts tonight, offering possible b-roll of cots, pizza deliveries, furtive napping, etc. On a more substantive note, the Medicare conference committee could produce a bill today. Bush and Cheney have foreign policy events. Dean gets his union labels at a 1:00 pm endorsement event with the heads of the SEIU, AFSCME and the painters’ union at the Mayflower Hotel in DC. Clark, at Dartmouth, hits Bush on Afghanistan and proposes his own plan for catching Osama bin Laden: “he would press Saudi Arabia to provide commandos to accompany U.S. troops in the hunt for Osama bin Laden and other al-Qaida leaders,” per the AP.

The new NBC/Wall Street Journal poll measuring public opinion on all of the above issues will be released on NBC Nightly News at 6:30 pm.

Prescription drugsNBC’s Ken Strickland says the Medicare conference committee meets today for a potential “take it or leave it” session at 11:00 am. The Wall Street Journal on the looming deal: “Compromise now is expected to scale back one of the House’s most controversial proposals, which would have used private plans as a standard to force premium increases in Medicare’s traditional fee-for-service program. Elements of the idea remain, but negotiators have tinkered with the details in an effort to get Democrats’ support.”

“Other changes meant to appeal to conservatives that weren’t in either bill have been added during the negotiations. A proposal to charge higher premiums for Medicare’s Part B outpatient services to beneficiaries with incomes exceeding $80,000 could yield savings of as much as $14 billion after it is phased in in 2007, according preliminary estimates. Also, a provision has been added that would trigger congressional action if Medicare begins to rely on the government’s general revenue to cover more than 45% of its costs. That could be as early as 2014 with the new drug benefit, according to estimates.”

“A House proposal for tax-preferred health savings accounts also is likely to be included.”

Politics of patriotismThe Boston Globe, based in part on the previously reported memo from Republican National Committee chairman Ed Gillespie, says, “Faced with growing public uneasiness over Iraq, Republican Party officials intend to change the terms of the political debate heading into next year’s election by focusing on the ‘doctrine of preemption,’ portraying President Bush as a visionary acting to prevent future terrorist attacks on US soil despite the costs and casualties involved overseas.”

“Republican strategists maintain that this tack is consistent with Bush’s style: direct, sweeping, and bold to the point of brazenness. But by going on the offensive on Iraq — effectively saying ‘bring ‘em on’ to his potential Democratic rivals, daring them to question his fundamental foreign policy doctrine in the face of a rising body count — Bush is taking a measurable political risk. Starting with a major foreign policy address last week, Bush has begun embracing a subject that has proved increasingly problematic for him both in the public dialogue and the polls.”

“His position is designed to change the conversation from the situation on the ground in Iraq to the philosophical decision of whether to attack prospective supporters of terrorism in the first place. But some strategists and analysts in both parties say he’s unlikely to succeed unless the drumbeat of fatalities slows down.”

Embed Marisa Buchanan got Clark comparing his military background with Kerry’s: “I think the people of New Hampshire have to look and compare the difference. John Kerry served as a junior officer in the armed forces in Vietnam he had a very distinguished record there. I served as a junior officer in Vietnam, came home on a stretcher, Purple Heart, and all that, Silver Star, but I stayed with the armed forces. I believe that serving in the armed forces was a very important calling. I believe that the country needed an effective military. And I was privileged to have had a great career in the armed forces. And it took to me on to the front lines on diplomacy and in war.”

Clark staked out his position yesterday on the flag-burning amendment: he supports it. Buchanan notes this arguably conflicts with his position on the right to dissent. Clark tried to clarify, she says: his “idea is your protest should be through words and other things.” He added, “And in this case it’s just something that people hold really dear and for that reason because so many people have died for it. I think the popular opinion is we should hold that flag and not use it as a symbol of protest.”

Gephardt also supports the amendment, while Kerry, Edwards and Lieberman oppose it. Kerry issued an oddly worded statement yesterday that if he saw someone burning a flag, he would “punch them in the mouth,” but that he believes flag-burning is protected under the First Amendment.

Edwards and Clark chose Veterans’ Day to pick a fight after Edwards let it be known that he gets advice from Clark critic General Shelton. Clark’s communications director sent Edwards an outraged letter; Edwards’ signed response: “When I talk to the former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, it’s about the safety and security of our men and women in uniform, not about politics.” Clark traveling press secretary Jamal Simmons told embed Marisa Buchanan: “It is clearly a reflection on the Edwards campaign.”

Dean embed Felix Schein says Dean changed his usual stump speech a bit yesterday to reflect Veterans’ Day: he attacked the Administration’s foreign policy goals and went after Bush’s alleged ties to big business. The idea, Schein says, was to highlight how US soldiers have become pawns in a flawed foreign policy designed to enrich the President’s “cronies.”

The Dean campaign also sent an e-mail yesterday criticizing Kerry for voting for the Iraq resolution, captioned, “A Leader on National Security?” The e-mail includes side-by-side photos of Kerry in front of the USS Yorktown for his announcement speech, and Bush on the USS Lincoln. “Senator John Kerry and President George Bush seem to agree on at least one thing: A speech on an aircraft carrier is a fine substitute for leadership in the face of a failing war you supported.”

Government spendingPerhaps fiscal conservatives are placated enough by Bush’s tax cuts that they’re letting this slide. The Washington Post: “Confounding President Bush’s pledges to rein in government growth, federal discretionary spending expanded by 12.5 percent in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, capping a two-year bulge that saw the government grow by more than 27 percent, according to preliminary spending figures from congressional budget panels.”

“Bush has demanded that spending that is subject to Congress’s annual discretion be capped at 4 percent. But the Republican-led Congress has not obliged.”

“Much of the increase was driven by war in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as homeland security spending after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. But spending has risen on domestic programs such as transportation and agriculture, as well.”

“Administration officials say spending is being brought under control.” Still: “Even some Republicans have trouble squaring such comments with the evidence.”

Politics of steelWalter Shapiro: “Bush’s decision-making designed to protect the domestic steel industry from foreign competition is beginning to look like a textbook example of how not to choose politics over principle.” Given the USTR’s suggestion that the WTO ruling was “all but inevitable,” Shapiro says, “what remains baffling is why Bush chose to follow this high-risk strategy when administration legal analysts should have alerted him that he probably would have to abandon these tariffs before reaping any political dividends from steel-producing states in his re-election campaign.”

“...[W]hile Bush may still come up with some way to delay the day of reckoning over the steel tariffs, it is hard to concoct a scenario under which the president will benefit from Rove’s apparent political miscalculation. The administration is likely to face intense lobbying pressure from industries such as textiles that are set to be targeted by punitive foreign tariffs. The whole trade mess illustrates that sometimes the shrewdest political strategy is to unswervingly follow ideological principles.”

The Washington Post looks at the domestic steel turnaround since the tariffs were imposed and how the industry is lobbying the White House to keep them in place.

The WTO ruling brought reactions from industrial union-dependent Gephardt and Kucinich: Gephardt called for Bush not to repeal the tariffs, while embed Karin Caifa notes Kucinich took the opportunity to reissue his call for withdrawal from the trade organization.

Labor primary (D)Dean embed Felix Schein writes that should the theory held by many in the Dean campaign hold true, today’s endorsements are just the beginning of what will be a series of endorsements and shows of support for the Dean campaign.

The Washington Post has the tick-tock on the under-the-radar battle for the union endorsements, and the AFSCME chief’s “big bang theory” of a joint nod to “vault Dean above the rest of the Democratic pack in a way that each (union) acting alone might not.” The Post reports on how Gephardt, Kerry and Clark lost the endorsements, noting that Clark lost the AFSCME nod because of campaign disorganization and because he pulled out of Iowa.

The Los Angeles Times: “For Dean, the windfall seems equal parts the result of his own hard work at courting the SEIU... and a failure by his opponents to seize opportunities to gain favor with AFSCME, whose pragmatic president... has been focused on finding the Democrat with the best chance to beat President Bush.”

The Des Moines Register puts it this way: “Dean is expected today to solidify his front-runner status for the 2004 Democratic presidential nomination while again displaying his agility in exploiting the 21st-century political landscape.” The Register says Dean is showing “the ability to attract support from among the few growing sectors of the labor movement: government, health care and education workers... The endorsements follow Dean’s adroit use of the Internet...”

“Gephardt campaign manager Steve Murphy played down the significance of Dean’s achievement, saying Gephardt’s labor backing, which includes political heavyweights such as the Teamsters and Machinists, is larger and broader.”

“The endorsements come at a critical time when the sense of electability is beginning to coalesce around Dean, said campaign manager Joe Trippi. ‘It’s a sign of how we’re beginning to answer in a credible way: Who can beat George Bush?’ Trippi said.”

The New York Times looks at the divide between the industrial unions endorsing Gephardt, and the new, rapidly growing service- and government-sector unions that are endorsing Dean. “In some ways the split within labor goes straight to the heart of various unions’ perceptions of themselves, even union leaders acknowledge. The industrial unions backing Mr. Gephardt, like the steelworkers and machinists, see themselves as beleaguered and have embraced a candidate who has devoted much of his career to helping the industrial heartland. In contrast, the service employees union is growing and sees itself as a grass-roots, bottom-up and new type of union - just like Dr. Dean’s campaign.”

The Alliance for Economic Justice, the 16-union coalition backing Gephardt, goes up with a new ad today. The AP says the ad will run for two weeks. Embed Priya David says one ad features a Teamster who lost his job because of NAFTA; the other ad features a single mother who lost her job and health benefits.

Edwards embed Dugald McConnell says the Edwards campaign sees a silver lining in Dean’s endorsements: “It makes Dean stronger in Iowa and New Hampshire, but it hurts Gephardt and Kerry, and leaves people looking elsewhere for a candidate who can go up against Dean,” says spokeswoman Jennifer Palmieri. “Edwards has proven himself an effective adversary for Dean. Lots of people saw the two of them in a one-on-one situation in the debate [over the Confederate flag], and Edwards was a good match for him.”

(Side note: Sen. Ted Kennedy, now almost singlehandedly staffing the Kerry campaign, rolls out legislation today to help workers unionize...)

More 2004 notes (D)The Wall Street Journal’s Harwood uses Clark to lead his column on how Dean’s Democratic rivals aren’t succeeding with maverick rhetoric.

Dean embed Felix Schein says when news of Kerry’s internal troubles reached Burlington on Sunday, the initial reaction was one of surprise, speculation and uncertainty, but that has since changed to confidence, amusement and awe. It seems many in the Dean camp can smell blood in the water, and take that as affirmation of months of hard work and a positive sign after a period of ups and downs for Dean’s own campaign.

Still, Schein says not to look for a significant change in strategy from the Dean folks. No attack ads will be released; the half-hour Iowa spot will keep running, with a new policy ad rotated in. The campaign will stay dark elsewhere, including New Hampshire. Dean will keep refraining from commenting and won’t be making any additional stops in Kerry’s backyard in the coming days.

USA Today has the latest look at Dean’s temperament.

Kerry wrapped up a day in which he lost two more staffers by riding a motorcycle onto The Tonight Show set; embed Becky Diamond notes he struggled with the kickstand, but it was a strong entrance nevertheless, followed by an interview that fell flat. If you missed it, the Los Angeles Times also fills you in:. Kerry is expected to announce his decision on matching funds today.

Following up on the turmoil within the Kerry campaign, the New York Times front-pages Kerry adviser Bob Shrum and the Shrum curse. “As prominent and well-traveled a figure as Mr. Shrum is - alter ego to Senator Edward M. Kennedy, consultant to four presidential candidates and many senators - there is one thing he has never accomplished: advising a successful presidential campaign.”

“Instead, he has become known as a polarizing figure who dominates and divides a staff, a relentless player of inside politics who will sometimes steamroll colleagues to win an argument, people who have worked with him for years say.”

Edwards did a Washington Post ed board meeting and getsfront-page play for his relatively optimistic message:. Edwards “did not direct his comments at any of his rivals for the Democratic nomination in particular. But his strategic analysis of the presidential race appeared to apply most directly to former Vermont governor Howard Dean, whose early and angry assault on Bush and the war in Iraq has vaulted him to” leads in fundraising and New Hampshire polls.

Edwards “said he must finish third or a close fourth in the Jan. 19 Iowa caucuses... Edwards said he must finish at least third in the Jan. 27 New Hampshire primary... A week later, on Feb. 3, Edwards will face what he acknowledged will be the most critical early test of his campaign, one he said will determine whether he will survive deeper into the nominating process. ‘Oh, I need to win South Carolina,’ he said of the first primary in his native South.”

Excerpts from the meeting.

Howard Kurtz notes Edwards’ and Kerry’s latest ads pit policy against bio.

Gephardt Iowa press secretary Bill Burton claims to embed Priya David the Dean and Kerry camps have spent $100,000 each in what Burton calls the “sign war” for Saturday’s Jefferson-Jackson Dinner. Burton adds, “Gephardt will have hundreds of volunteers out on the streets of Des Moines knocking on over 10,000 doors. In the last five years, Gephardt has been responsible for directing more than $750,000 to help Iowa Democrats win majorities in the legislature, seats in Congress and the governor’s mansion for our party.” Burton says Gephardt would rather spend money on TV ads in Iowa than on trying to convince a “room full of people who have already made up their minds.” He says Gephardt has spent little to no money on the dinner.

The New York Post looks at Sen. Hillary Clinton’s appearance at the JJ, and at other events this week, and notes her appearances are angering some of the Democratic nominees for president. “Clinton will do three cash grabs for the Iowa Democratic Party, one for an Iowa congressman, one for her own Senate re-election, and two in Illinois.”

“The former first lady’s visit has miffed some of this year’s crop of presidential wannabes, who fear she’ll steal their spotlight, and is focusing new attention on her own political ambitions.”

Kerry embed Becky Diamond notes Kerry hasn’t filed papers in New Hampshire yet, and is told by the campaign “there will be a press event around it.”

Embed Karin Caifa says the Kucinich campaign has set another fundraising goal for the month of November. After setting and surpassing the goal of $400,000 in October, they’ve decided to double it to $800,000. So far, the campaign reports raising $117,340.

2004 notes (R)Vice President Cheney is a likable guy, new Gallup numbers show. “The survey also quells the notion set forth by persistent critics that Mr. Cheney lurks behind the scenes as a kind of White House puppet master and power broker.” - Washington Times

CaliforniaIn advance of his Monday swearing-in, the Los Angeles Times analyzes Governor-elect Schwarzenegger’s chosen staff: “his range of appointments suggests the Republican governor-elect plans to run the state much as he campaigned - as a fiscal conservative with decidedly centrist views on other matters... Both liberals and conservatives have found reason for delight and despair in the appointments announced thus far.”

LouisianaWith Louisiana’s gubernatorial run-off on Saturday, the New Orleans Times-Picayune says Kathleen Blanco (D) and Bobby Jindal (R) “zipped across the state” yesterday to rally supporters. “The candidates meet tonight in the final televised debate of the campaign on WWL-TV and then resume a nearly nonstop schedule heading into the weekend.”

The paper also says Jindal has come under fire that “65,000 people, including 30,000 children, were dropped from the health-insurance rolls while he was the state’s health secretary from 1996 to 1998.”

“Jindal dismissed the criticism as a last-minute bid by political opponents to distort his record.”


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