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updated 12/8/2003 9:25:39 AM ET 2003-12-08T14:25:39

“First Read” is a daily memo prepared by NBC News’ political unit, for NBC News, analyzing the morning’s political news. Please let us know what you think. Drop us a note at FirstRead@MSNBC.com.

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

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

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

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December 8, 2003 / 9:30 AM ET

From Elizabeth Wilner, Mark Murray, and Huma Zaidi

Medicare dominates today’s political news. Bush signs the prescription-drug bill at Constitution Hall at 11:10 am, while Kennedy and Pelosi lead a group of congressional Democrats and seniors in opposition on Capitol Hill at 2:30 pm. In addition, a new survey is out in today’s USA Today showing many employers, especially at small businesses, shifted health care costs to their employees last year.

Dean flexes his fundraising muscle with a series of events with Hollywood types in New York; gets endorsed by the head of the City Council, per embed Felix Schein; and addresses a Boston holiday party via videoconference (much of this post-Nightly). Clark campaigns in New Hampshire and does Hardball from Harvard, while his economic policy staff does a conference call with the press at 2:30 pm. Edwards does a town hall in Oklahoma City tonight. Kerry talks up job creation and high-tech investment at Stanford at 3:00 pm. And Lieberman is in New Hampshire.

Tuesday brings the final Democratic National Committee-organized presidential debate, and final Democratic debate of the year, in Durham, NH, produced by ABC and WMUR. The debate comes after a particularly acrimonious weekend, and much of the heat (surprise, surprise) was focused squarely on Dean. The RNC chair went after Dean for “reckless and irresponsible” public comments on whether or not the President “had prior information about the September 11 attacks but allowed them to occur. He says he does not believe this, but remarkably, in floating this incendiary theory last week on a national radio program, he deemed it ‘most interesting.” Edwards, mindful of his must-win South Carolina, said that Dean’s heading South and speaking “during the Sunday church hour to tell Southerners what they should believe is not the way to reach out to Southern Democratic voters.”

Moreover, on Saturday and Sunday, the Democratic presidential hopefuls took turns blasting the Bush Administration in their speeches before the Florida Democratic Party. And in case you missed it, the White House scolded Kerry for saying the F-word.

Dean, meanwhile, touted endorsements from two African-American congressmen this weekend, and he issued this statement on his records: “Last week, Judicial Watch filed a lawsuit that presented this question to the court. A judge will now decide which documents should be released. This removes the issue from the context of a political campaign and puts it in the hands of an unimpeachable third party which is where it belongs.”

Tuesday also brings the mayoral runoff in San Francisco, where a Democrat can represent the center and a Green, the left. Will voters’ penchant for taking chances this year extend to electing a Green to the party’s highest-profile office yet? And there’s a Fed meeting, with many economists expecting the Fed to leave interest rates as is despite signs of an improving economy. - USA Today

Court watch: Tuesday or Wednesday (or December 15), we could see a SCOTUS decision on McCain-Feingold. Wednesday brings SCOTUS oral arguments in the Pennsylvania gerrymandering case. A federal court may also decide this week what to do about the GOP’s attempted redistricting in Colorado now that the proposed map has been rejected by the Supremes. Thursday brings the federal trial on the GOP’s attempted Texas redistricting in Austin. Roll Call says “while the decisions in Colorado and Texas are likely to be narrowly tailored, the Supreme Court’s upcoming ruling in the Pennsylvania redistricting case could have far-reaching implications.”

And Rep. Bill Janklow’s manslaughter trial continues. Lawyers will present their closing remarks this morning, and then the jurors will begin their deliberations. “Their decision could put Janklow in jail - the maximum penalty for the felony is 10 years in prison and a $10,000 fine - and possibly end the career of one of South Dakota’s most enduring and controversial politicians,” writes the Sioux Falls Argus Leader.

The costs of Medicare

Sunday’s New York Times spotlighted that “Medicare beneficiaries will not be allowed to buy insurance to cover their share of prescription drug costs under” the bill Bush signs today; “a little-noticed provision of the legislation prohibits the sale of any Medigap policy that would help pay drug costs after Jan. 1, 2006, when the new Medicare drug benefit becomes available.”

“This is one of many surprises awaiting beneficiaries, who will find big gaps in the drug benefit and might want private insurance to plug the holes - just as they buy insurance to supplement Medicare coverage of doctors’ services and hospital care.”

USA Today, running through flashpoints like timing, complexity, and the MediGap issue, calls the bill “a major political achievement for [Bush’s] party” — but “also a big gamble for Bush and the congressional Republicans who wrote it, a double bet that it will work and that politically active seniors will like it.”

Spending and the deficitThe New York Times Week in Review featured Medicare in the big picture of the Bush Administration’s “audacious — some would say reckless” effort to have both guns and butter. “Many a government has been impaled on the horns of the guns and butter issue. In the runup to Thanksgiving, however, two measures symbolized the Bush administration’s conviction that it can grab those horns and take a ride:” Congress’ approval of the biggest-ever military spending bill, and of the Medicare bill.

“But these are only two parts of a wider guns and butter policy. Consider the administration’s commitment to spend $87 billion on the reconstruction of Iraq and Afghanistan ... on top of the initial military costs of ‘regime change’ in both countries.” While “some costs of Iraq’s recovery will be borne by other foreign donors and by sales of Iraq’s oil ... no one seriously believes these other sources will cover the entire costs of ‘nation building.’”

“After decades of decline in relation to gross domestic product, the combined economic and military budget looks set to rise in relative terms under President Bush. Yet this is the same president who pushed through three big tax cuts.”

The Des Moines Register considers how Dean and Gephardt “fundamentally disagree” on how to reduce the deficit. Gephardt says he can do it “without cutting spending on entitlement programs. Instead, the Missouri congressman says he can turn the red ink to black through a combination of increasing taxes and pumping hundreds of billions of dollars into domestic programs aimed at sparking the economy.” Dean criticizes Gephardt for that approach. But at the same time, the paper says, “Dean has declined to lay out a specific plan to balance the budget but has given some clues,” such as limiting the growth of entitlement programs. Dean “has declined to name programs he would consider cutting and has not ruled out curbing Medicare’s growth to balance the federal budget.”

The politics of electionsAdd Washington State to the list of states — Michigan, Colorado, Kansas, Maine, North Dakota and Utah — who have canceled their presidential nominating contests.

More 2004 notes (R)The Wall Street Journal looks at some of the likely policy proposals that President Bush, with his eyes focused on his upcoming re-election battle, might unveil in the coming year. “Among them are expanding a tax credit for workers without health insurance, creating a special Commerce Department team to blunt unfair foreign-trade practices and boosting funding for a missile-defense shield.”

“The State of the Union address in late January — and the budget submission to Congress that follows it — also will a provide a big opportunity for the president to put his stamp on the election year. Work already has begun on the Jan. 20 speech, which falls between the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary and will give Mr. Bush a big political splash at a time when Democrats will likely be dominating the political scene.”

More 2004 notes (D)Ron Brownstein of the Los Angeles Times notes how polarizing and expensive the 2004 presidential election is shaping up to be.

Clark is gaining traction in NH says the Boston Globe. “In part, specialists say, the good news is a function of the time Clark has spent on the ground in the Granite State and the television ads that started running in the state last month. And in part, some say, they detect a shift in Clark’s message as he strays from what had been a liability: his even-keeled, steady demeanor.”

The Washington Post writes about Dean’s own “southern strategy.” “Dean — who only weeks ago infuriated some African Americans by saying he wanted to be the candidate of whites with Confederate flags — is increasingly going after President Bush on race issues as part of his own ‘southern strategy’ to win support in the region.”

The Los Angeles Times has more: Dean “stressed that his domestic agenda is based on human need, not race... ‘This is not about race,’ he continued. ‘It’s about poverty. It’s not about ethnicity; it’s about the ability to get decent medical care.’”

“‘There are no black concerns, there are no white concerns, no Latino concerns,’ Dean said. ‘They are human concerns.’”

Despite his front-runner status, Dean lacks the backing of fellow Democrats, the Washington Times notes. And the Sunday Boston Globe pokes holes in Dean’s claimed tax-cutting record.

After putting his online organization to work for Rep. Leonard Boswell of Iowa (D) last week, Roll Call reports Dean is raising money for Democrats in the special House election to replace new Kentucky Gov. Ernie Fletcher (R), and Gephardt’s campaign is peeved. “Dean’s attempt to transfer the fundraising potency he has displayed on his own behalf to vulnerable down-ballot candidates is the latest in a series of moves aimed at quickly establishing a hammerlock on the party nomination and turning his attention to a general election campaign against President Bush.”

The AP says that the White House wasn’t too impressed with John Kerry’s F-bomb in the latest issue of Rolling Stone, in which Kerry said, “When I voted for the war, I voted for what I thought was best for the country. Did I expect Howard Dean to go off to the left and say, ‘I’m against everything?’ Sure. Did I expect George Bush to f—- it up as badly as he did? I don’t think anybody did.”

Said White House Chief of Staff Andy Card: “I’m very disappointed that he would use that kind of language. I’m hoping that he’s apologizing at least to himself, because that’s not the John Kerry that I know.”

Embed Becky Diamond gets this response from Kerry spokesman David Wade: “Good for John Kerry... The Democratic Party and the nation need a leader who tells it like it is... I think the American people would be a hell of a lot better off if Andy Card and the rest of the White House staff spent less time reading Miss Manners and more time fixing Bush’s flawed policy in Iraq.”

A Kerry campaign memo to the press notes “Kerry is competing for the top three spots in Iowa and top two in New Hampshire.”

Embed Dionne Scott reports on Lieberman’s speech yesterday before the Florida Democratic Party, in which he blasted the Bush administration for breaking numerous promises to the American people - promises on economic prosperity, fiscal stewardship, and corporate responsibility. And as the other candidates did the previous day, Scott adds, Lieberman criticized the Bush-Cheney team’s behavior during the 2000 election as an example of what he often calls the current administration’s lack of integrity. “They stretched the truth to suit their purposes. They demonized their opponents. They used every trick in the book to get their way.... And that’s the way they’ve governed,” he said.

The Washington Post examines Lieberman’s past crusades against the entertainment industry. “It helped define him politically and personally, as he often says in Democratic debates and other forums, as the candidate who ‘took on Hollywood.’... Yet Lieberman’s pop-culture bashing has also raised suspicions and criticism. Some in the entertainment industry have labeled him a censor.”

In addition, the New York Times profiles Lieberman, as does the Boston Globe.

And in case you missed SNL this past Saturday, Sharpton embed Tommy Llamas notes Sharpton got to bust a move, sing a song, and show America that he can be funny outside of politics. Sharpton was in numerous skits that had him playing a variety of roles — from Johnnie Cochran to one of the three wise men searching for Jesus.

December 5, 2003 / 9:45 AM ET

From Elizabeth Wilner, Mark Murray, and Huma ZaidiWith unemployment at its lowest level in eight months but hiring still weak, President Bush hits a suburban Maryland Home Depot for 1:15 pm remarks on the economy. Beforehand, he has an anti-terror event at Fort McHenry and a fundraiser in Baltimore.

Republican envelope-pushing: Voters may decide it’s one thing to run a deficit because of a war, a fight against terrorism, or a recession — but another to exacerbate the deficit for costly albeit feel-good projects to bolster the President’s re-election prospects, like putting man back on the moon. Bush’s move to lift steel tariffs marked the first time his attending press corp en masse calculated the electoral votes at stake in a presidential decision. Now the Washington Post says Karl Rove is leading the charge for big, pricey new ideas to burnish Bush’s image for 2004.

Further, after Democrats cried that House Republicans went too far in defying procedure to get those necessary Medicare votes, the press may now decide House Republicans went too far in allegedly trying to bribe a GOP Member to vote for the bill — a federal offense if true.

And the Wall Street Journal generally covers Administration hardball on Medicare and other fronts, noting the list of plaintiffs “extends from government whistleblowers to maverick lawmakers and former Republican cabinet secretaries,” and that “prominent Democrats and Republicans say [Bush] and his team early on showed a penchant for political smack-down.”

Among the Democratic presidential field today, Clark is in Tennessee. Dean tours Iowa. Edwards is down. Gephardt is in Missouri and Florida. Kerry is in Pittsburgh and New Hampshire, where he expects to pick up the Manchester, NH mayor’s endorsement, per embed Becky Diamond. Lieberman has an announcement in New York.

Attention, Republican National Committee: George Soros explains why he pledged $12.5 million to progressive groups in a Washington Post op-ed. And an environmental group aiming to spend $5 million against Bush rolls out its plan today in Florida. - USA Today

Speaking of, seven or eight (depending on Sharpton) of the candidates converge on Orlando this weekend to speak at the state party convention, just shy of three years since the December 12, 2000 SCOTUS decision on Bush v. Gore. The RNC and the Florida GOP host a prebuttal conference call today at 10:30 am.

More Dean action again today; see below.

On TV this weekend: Sharpton does Saturday Night Live and Sen. Hillary Clinton does Meet the Press. Embed Tom Llamas previews SNL (with musical guest Pink): alumnus Tracey Morgan returns to do some sketches with Sharpton, and Hardball fans should expect a Darrel Hammond whammy with Sharpton, but not as himself. Who will Sharpton play? “An extremely prominent African American politician who on some level he may have been identified with at some point,” said a grinning Hammond. And as a tease, Llamas adds, consider this exchange between cast member Horatio Sanz playing driver Vazquez Gomez Vazquez and Sharpton:

Sanz: “Are you running against an albino transvestite Professor Sharpton?”

Sharpton: “No but I welcome the albino transvestite vote.”

Executive producer Lorne Michaels: “I think he’ll be really good on the show. I’m sure he’ll come through for us.” That said, NBC’s four affiliates in Iowa won’t be carrying it. - Des Moines Register

The economyThe Los Angeles Times covers the latest report of the National Governors Association and the National Association of State Budget Officers saying state fiscal pain is easing, though “budget pressures would continue to force governors and state legislators to make tortured political choices.”

Clark, per embed Marisa Buchanan, says this “is going to be primarily, I predict, a foreign policy election. The economy’s going to bounce a little bit and move up but what can’t be changed is the record of this administration in foreign policy.” But Lieberman in a statement carps on the news that unemployment claims rose last week at a higher level than Wall Street forecasts.

Steel

A Wall Street Journal editorial dubs Bush’s steel tariff undertaking a “mulligan,” while Commerce Secretary Evans declares victory in an op-ed.

The Washington Post: “The action, although expected, marked a rare about-face for an administration not noted for reversing course... Administration officials had signaled that the tariffs would be lifted as far back as mid-September. Bush’s economic team had united in a push to lift them, arguing that they had cost more jobs among steel users than they had saved among steel producers. Even Bush’s political advisers, who had been instrumental in imposing the tariffs last year, had concluded that they may have backfired politically.”

The New York Times analysis is that “Bush had little choice.” “For the first time in his nearly three years in office, the president... finally met an international organization that had figured out how to hit back at the administration where it would hurt... Not surprisingly, the Europeans pulled out an electoral map and proudly announced they would single out products made in the states Mr. Bush most needs to win a second term.”

The Los Angeles Times: “Minutes after Bush’s announcement on lifting the tariffs, European Union officials canceled their plans for retaliatory levies.”

Another Los Angeles Times story looks at Democrats’ attempt to seize an opening, charging Bush with political motivations. “Some political analysts cautioned that Democrats were overestimating the potential of one issue to influence the outcome of the presidential contest in the steel-producing states. They noted that Bush’s stances on gun control, abortion and gay rights still resonate with socially conservative blue-collar voters in the region. And since becoming president, Bush has visited each of the states several times.”

And the Los Angeles Times analysis further weighs the political ramifications of the entire saga: “As many jobs were lost in industries that buy steel as were saved in mill towns like Cleveland, analysts say. The administration undercut its own credibility in the broader push for free trade while alienating other nations. And steelworkers ended up endorsing a Democrat for president anyway.”

The Washington Times notes ”[t]he watchdog group Council for Citizens Against Government Waste said the tariffs shored up the U.S. steel industry on the backs of average Americans.” Another Times story determines the decision politically will prove to be a wash.

The costs of MedicareThe Justice Department yesterday said “it would review complaints from political watchdog groups that Republican House leaders tried to bribe Rep. Nick Smith (R-Mich.) to vote for a Medicare bill,” per the AP. The retiring Congressman says GOP leaders said they would help or hurt his son’s campaign to succeed him in Congress, depending on how Smith voted. DNC chairman McAuliffe also complained to the DOJ. - USA Today

The Washington Times says the political fallout from the Medicare vote has begun. “The Republican Main Street Partnership began running a radio ad Wednesday against Rep. Patrick J. Toomey, Pennsylvania Republican, for voting with 24 other conservatives against the $395 billion bill President Bush is set to sign Monday. Mr. Toomey, who said the bill didn’t adequately reform Medicare and was too costly, is running in the Republican primary for the Senate seat of Sen. Arlen Specter, whom the partnership backs.”

“In House races, National Republican Congressional Committee spokesman Carl Forti agreed the Medicare vote will be a key issue next year. He said House Democrats who already were vulnerable will be more so because they voted against the bill... But Democrats say they still maintain credibility with voters on the Medicare issue and predict it will be Republicans defending themselves.”

2004 notes (R)The Washington Post: “President Bush’s aides are considering a new lunar exploration program and other unifying national goals, including a campaign to promote longevity or fight childhood illness or hunger, as they sift ideas for a fresh agenda for the final year of his term, administration officials said yesterday.”

“Several government agencies and task forces have been assigned to determine the cost and feasibility of a variety of major ideas, which could cost billions of dollars at a time when the nation is running a substantial budget deficit.”

“The development of big ideas for Bush’s 2004 agenda is being led by the president’s senior adviser, Karl Rove, the officials said. Administration officials said options have not been presented to the president, let alone decided, but the search is active for ambitious initiatives to flesh out a reelection agenda that also includes limiting lawsuits, making the tax cuts permanent and adding private investment accounts to the Social Security system.”

One SAO “said Bush’s closest aides are promoting big initiatives on the theory that they contribute to Bush’s image as a decisive leader even if people disagree with some of the specifics.”

“Advocates have argued that the moon could be useful in many other ways, as a base for developing technologies, for astronomical observations and for human rehearsals for operating in space. One person consulted by the White House said officials think a renewed push into space would fuel the manufacturing and technology sectors of the economy. Bush aides and advisers said that separately from his space plans, he is also looking for ideas for next month’s State of the Union address that would not rely solely on the government but would also rally business, volunteers and other parts of society.”

Florida Democratic conventionSeven or eight Democratic presidential candidates gather at Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort in Orlando; Sharpton is TBD, and embed Angela Miles reports Moseley Braun will not attend due to cold/flu-like symptoms. These appearances are a result of a compromise between the Florida Democratic Party and the Democratic National Committee, struck after the state party tried to stage a straw poll to bring attention and money to the state, since its March 9 primary happens relatively late in the nominating game. Critics, including the DNC, complained such a poll would divert candidate resources away from the actual race. In the end, it was agreed that the party’s entire presidential field would show up for the convention. (And after all, Florida’s kind of important for symbolic and fundraising reasons...)

The schedule remains somewhat in flux, but on Saturday, candidates will speak between 9:00 am to 12 noon, and between 2:30 pm and 4:30 pm. Also on Saturday, candidates will participate in a Q&A forum from 12:30 pm to 2:00 pm, and from 8:00 pm to 10:00 pm. Lieberman, due to the Sabbath, has the convention all to himself on Sunday morning.

Again, the RNC/Florida GOP prebuttal conference call is today at 10:30 am.

A Lieberman e-mail to potential donors reads, “Al Gore and Joe Lieberman would have won the state of Florida with just 538 more votes. It’s time to set things right. Join us in our campaign to raise $538,000 by December 12, 2003 - that’s $1,000 for every vote that cost us the 2000 election.”

The Miami Herald says of Bush, “voters in the nation’s most populous swing state are increasingly concerned about his leadership on Iraq, according to a new poll,” and in another story, anticipates Dean will be the star of the show.

Environment 2004 “hopes to spend up to $5 million in about six states where the vote margin was close in 2000 and where issues such as water and air quality are particularly important,” USA Today says. First target: Florida. Clinton EPA chief Carol Browner “will unveil the campaign today at the state Democratic convention in Orlando. She will release a report detailing what she contends are Bush’s environmental failures that most affect Florida. Among them: slowing the cleanup of toxic waste sites, weakening safeguards against water pollution by agriculture and easing emissions rules for power plants.”

The Chicago Tribune notes the group is comprised of a “raft of former Clinton administration environmental officials.”

More 2004 notes (D)The Hotline offers a session this morning on delegate selection for the Democratic nominating process. Hotline Editor Chuck Todd moderates the discussion with delegate selection experts Dr. Elaine Kamarck, Phil McNamara of the Democratic National Committee, and grassroots organizational expert Laurie Moskowitz.

As Dean solidifies Establishment support, the grassroots rhetoric gets louder. The Dean camp is trumpeting his being the target of “the first known ad by a Republican group attacking a Democratic candidate by name,” after the fiscal conservative Club for Growth announced it would launch a relatively $100,000 ad buy in Iowa and New Hampshire charging Dean will raise taxes. (Edwards’ spokesperson issued a statement noting Dean was not, in fact, the first to be attacked by Republicans by name, and welcoming Dean to the club.) Dean’s campaign manager used the occasion to say the GOP clearly views Dean as the frontrunner and “that the Republicans are beginning to understand that the greatest grassroots campaign in modern politics poses a serious threat to their special interest friends.”

The forthcoming Dean response ad accuses Bush of “hiding behind negative ads that falsely attack Howard Dean.” Dean’s kicker: “I approved this message because they’re not trying to stop me, they’re trying to stop you.” The Boston Globe says a Republican National Committee spokesperson “sought to distance the president from the ad, saying, ‘We do not coordinate our ads with outside groups. If people want [our] message we have our own ads.’”

Dean embed Felix Schein notes that three months ago, Club for Growth chief Stephen Moore praised Dean in the Weekly Standard, calling him a “charmer,” “policy savvy,” and, “believe it or not, a friend of free markets — at least by the standards of the Tom Daschle-Dick Gephardt axis of the Democratic party.” Moore also said “the charismatic doctor had made believers of several hardened cynics. Nearly everyone agreed that we had finally found a Democrat we could work with,” and said Dean “is Bill Clinton, but without the skirt-chasing... [and] could be George W. Bush’s worst nightmare.” Asked whether he still stands by those comments, Schein says, Moore suggested much had changed since his encounter with Dean.

Schein also notes Dean will soon go on TV with ads in Wisconsin; he already has hit the air in Arizona, South Carolina, Texas and New Mexico.

The Boston Globe editorializes against Dean’s sealed records: “one of Bush’s glaring vulnerabilities is the excessive secrecy in his administration, and Dean will lose traction on the issue if he allows the impression to take hold that he, like Bush, believes that a great deal of information should be available to the governors but not the governed. This is a fundamental matter, going to the question of whether Dean sees the nation as having a government of and by the people or only, at best, for the people.”

Rep. Leonard Boswell (D) of Iowa is staying neutral in the presidential race despite benefiting from Dean’s e-mail to supporters seeking contributions on his behalf, the Des Moines Register reports. Another Democratic member, from New York, declined Dean’s offer of such help in order to avoid looking like he was endorsing Dean.

Kerry also comes under the microscope today. The Washington Post, focusing on his lag in recent polls in his must-win New Hampshire, gets Kerry offering “several reasons for the state of his campaign, particularly in New Hampshire, saying the biggest problem is that he has been overshadowed by heavy publicity given to Dean and Clark and to the California recall.”

“He acknowledges that Dean’s opposition to the war helped coalesce the antiwar constituency within the party, but there is also the matter of his own position on Iraq. He supported the resolution authorizing President Bush to go to war, which caused dismay among many longtime Kerry friends and supporters, but before and after the vote offered sharp criticism of Bush’s foreign policy.”

“Kerry critics, and even some supporters, say that an equally serious problem has been the absence of a clear and compelling message from the candidate, despite his impressive biography and experience. To remedy that, Kerry has begun... outlining what he would do in his first 100 days as president and, in doing so, push voters to draw their own contrasts between his and Dean’s experience, particularly in the area of national security.”

And the Boston Globe examines Kerry’s “seven-state, 14-fund-raiser tear in hopes of erasing doubts about his chances in 2004 and persuading donors that his candidacy remains a good, smart bet.”

The Washington Post also looks at Lieberman’s fight to gain ground in the Granite State.

On the eve of his SNL appearance, the New York Times profiles Sharpton.

The HouseWitnesses for the defense in GOP Rep. Bill Janklow’s manslaughter trial said Janklow “passed up several chances for food the day the Cadillac he was driving collided with a motorcycle near Trent, [and] he was driving only 64 mph when the accident occurred.” — ArgusLeader.com

“Testimony on his failure to eat a meal Aug. 16 conflicted with what Janklow told emergency workers who interviewed him at the crash scene. But it reinforced the defense’s position that Janklow, an insulin-dependent diabetic, suffered from dull reflexes when he ran a stop sign at the scene of the collision.”

The paper adds: “U.S. Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle testified for four minutes in Janklow’s defense, explaining how the two of them spoke at an event in Aberdeen three hours before the collision.” The Washington Post on Daschle’s testimony: “Daschle offered little substantive support for Janklow’s defense... but his presence alone lent an aura of amity and bipartisanship to the trial of a defendant who has always been a polarizing political figure in this state.”

Former Rep. Bob Dornan (R) has until 8:00 pm ET today to complete his filing to primary GOP Rep. Dana Rorabacher. — Los Angeles Times

December 4, 2003 / 9:45 AM ET

From Elizabeth Wilner, Mark Murray, and Huma Zaidi

President Bush lifts the steel tariffs through surrogates and meetings with steel execs and lawmakers, talks war with the King of Jordan, and marks the holiday season in DC. He looks forward to economic remarks tomorrow amidst more encouraging data: yesterday’s productivity report and Friday’s new unemployment stats.

Clark promises to get domestic next week but talks war today in New Hampshire; Lieberman also campaigns in New Hampshire. Dean campaigns in Dallas and Chicago. Edwards stumps across Iowa then heads to New Mexico. Gephardt fundraises in California. Kerry has a Heinz event in Pittsburgh. USA Today, noting how Clark and Kerry are intensifying their attacks on Bush over homeland security, says “Clark is scheduled to call today for a renewed emphasis on finding Osama bin Laden and destroying al-Qaeda, which he calls ‘the most significant threat to our homeland.’” A GOP spokesperson tells the paper Kerry is angry over losing his lead to Dean.

Time for the good folks at the University of Wisconsin to start tallying up campaign and interest group ad buys; the Wisconsin ad project releases its first round of data today. The verdict: no offense, New Hampshire, but “Iowa is the center of the television advertising storm,” per the release. The Democratic candidates “have aired more than three times as many spots in Cedar Rapids, Des Moines, Davenport and Omaha and spent twice as much than in markets that include New Hampshire voters.”

Here’s what the Republican National Committee will trumpet as it makes its case for a Democratic third-party spending onslaught: despite some predictions that the Bush campaign would go up early to crush the opposition, “left-leaning interest groups have already started spending money on intense national advocacy campaigns, and promise to continue to do so throughout the election. Led by MoveOn.org and the Sierra Club, these interests groups, combined with the DNC, have so far outspent right-leaning interests by a huge margin.”

On the candidates themselves: “To date, the Dean campaign has spent the most money and run the most ads of any of the candidates running for the Democratic nomination for president. Dean has spent an estimated $2.8 million in total, airing over 7,000 ads in the process... Edwards comes in second overall, with an estimated $2.2 million in broadcast television advertising, running over 5,300 spots... [Kerry] has spent an estimated $1.8 million in running nearly 2,900 ads. Coming in fourth, [Gephardt’s] campaign has spent over $900k so far, running nearly 2,300 ads to date. [Lieberman] has spent just under $250k so far, running a little over 500 spots. [Clark] has spent just over $200k, running about 180 ads to date.”

The New York Times covers the report with a Des Moines dateline. “Matthew Dowd, a pollster and chief strategist of the Bush campaign, said advertising is often ineffective in early states, where candidates campaign so hard that many voters get to meet them personally.”

On that note, though we don’t devote much of this space to individual polls since there are so many and since they tend to fluctuate, the latest Zogby polls in Iowa and New Hampshire appear to not only confirm Dean’s frontrunner status, but spell trouble for candidates like Kerry and Edwards — who have advertised for weeks in both states, only to see themselves now lagging far behind. Dean embed Felix Schein says the Dean campaign is quick to call his huge New Hampshire Zogby lead somewhat inflated, but concedes Dean’s seemingly comfortable lead there means he will spend more time in other key states.

Schein also notes that after discussing openly for days the issue of his sealed gubernatorial records, Dean and his campaign clammed up Wednesday as Judicial Watch promised to file suit in Washington County Superior Court in Montpelier, VT, arguing that the sealed records should be opened to the public. The campaign suddenly had “no further comment.” Dean and some of his spokespeople had indicated earlier they were exploring ways to resolve the issue, including possibly releasing some of the documents, but no formal decision was made before Judicial Watch hit the scene.

The Washington Post front-pages Dean’s outsider, anti-Establishment rhetoric versus the serious inroads he has made among the, well, Washington Establishment. The article contains this nugget: “A former Clinton Cabinet secretary is expected to endorse Dean this week, and one friend of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) said the former first lady sounds increasingly intrigued by Dean. Clinton did not want to discuss her relationship with the candidates, her spokesman said.”

And this: “Rep. Robert T. Matsui (Calif.), chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said he believes Dean would not hurt the party’s chances of winning back the House. ‘He’ll find a way to run a national campaign everyone can run on,’ said Matsui, who has endorsed Rep. Richard A. Gephardt (Mo.) in the race.”

Meanwhile, a seemingly grateful Rep. Leonard Boswell (D) of Iowa, now benefiting from campaign contributions due to Dean’s e-mail to supporters, logged on Dean’s website: “WE ARE GOING TO TAKE AMERICA BACK!!!” And looking ahead to the Florida Democratic convention this weekend, Gwen Graham Logan, daughter of former candidate and Sen. Bob Graham and now a Dean supporter, left this message: “We are one America.”

Also today, embed Tom Llamas covers Sharpton’s SNL rehearsal this afternoon.

SteelThe AP: “The White House asked key lawmakers on the steel issue to return to Washington on Thursday, and a formal White House announcement was expected to come after they had been briefed.”

The Wall Street Journal: “Bush officials spent much of Wednesday trying to formulate a package that would both avert a threatened trade war and blunt criticism from the domestic steel industry and its tens of thousands of workers.”

The New York Times: “President Bush will not make a formal public appearance to announce the decision, officials said, though he may answer questions from reporters about it during the day. Instead, he will send members of his cabinet, including Commerce Secretary Donald L. Evans, to confirm the shift in policy, which the White House has been signaling is likely to come this week.” The Times notes “the decision ... represents a rare turnabout in policy by the Bush White House, and could give the president’s re-election campaign trouble in crucial states ...,” but “the administration plans to make a case that the tariffs are being lifted because they have accomplished their goal.”

“The decision is likely to be packaged with promises by the administration to monitor imports to protect steel makers from any surge in competition from abroad, industry officials said. The administration is also likely to reiterate previous vows to press other nations to reduce their overcapacity in steel production and to help domestic steel companies with pension costs that the companies say they can no longer afford.”

“Still, the decision is sure to bring condemnation from labor unions and the Democratic presidential candidates... The administration’s turnabout on the issue is a rare case in which either party has moved away from trade protectionism in the last few years.”

The economyUSA Today: “There are similarities between the economy today and the economy of the 1980s:

* The Federal Reserve has slashed interest rates.

* Tax cuts and military spending are helping.

* President Bush is eager for the economy to improve before an election, as Ronald Reagan was.”

“But that’s where the similarities end. Economists say unlike in 1983 and 1984, when the economy raced ahead for more than a year, the current period will see more modest — albeit healthy — growth. That’s because the economy suffered one of the worst recessions in recent history from July 1981 to November 1982 after a downturn in 1980 and, therefore, had a long way to go to return to solid ground... By contrast, the recession from March-November 2001 was one of the mildest in the postwar era.”

“With less ground to make up this time around, Wall Street economists and Fed officials see the economy slowing significantly this quarter. They attribute last quarter’s blockbuster showing largely to a one-time boost in consumer spending ignited by tax cuts.”

“However, growth is still expected to be fast enough to create jobs without triggering inflation going into next year.”

Speaking of: The New York Daily News says Team Bush is officially giddy about the economy as it prepares for the 2004 presidential race. “A surging stock market, low inflation, rising consumer confidence and robust economic growth have prompted Bush’s campaign managers to conclude the economy will prove a political asset to Bush - despite a huge net decline in the labor force since 2001, especially in manufacturing jobs.”

“‘As a general matter, the economy is going to be a plus for us now,’ a senior Bush political adviser told the Daily News. ‘The worst is over, and the trend is in the right direction.’”

“He added, ‘There’s a 95% chance that this trend will continue.’”

2004 notes (D)Gephardt embed Priya David reports national Gephardt vice chair and longtime aide Joyce Aboussie is being accused of threatening Missouri SEIU and AFSCME labor officials if they continue to campaign for Dean. Missouri is Gephardt’s home state and holds its nominating contest early, on February 3.

On December 1, David says, Aboussie met with the Missouri governor, his chief of staff, the Gephardt campaign’s Missouri director, and reps from SEIU and AFSCME. According to a letter of protest from national union presidents Gerald McEntee and Andrew Stern, Aboussie said at that meeting that the “unions should not: 1) send Missouri members or staff to Iowa to work on the caucuses; 2) make independent expenditures in support of Howard Dean in Missouri; and 3) communicate with our members in Missouri about our support for Howard Dean.” Per the letter, Aboussie said “if AFSCME and SEIU engage in any of these activities, she threatened to send a letter signed by no less than 18 House Democrats and four Senate Democrats to the Missouri Speaker of the House and the President of the Senate, both Republicans, calling for repeal of the Governor’s Executive Order allowing for state employee collective bargaining. This would take away union protections for thousands of state employees.”

The Gephardt campaign tells David that Gephardt had no prior knowledge of the meeting and did not authorize it. They also say Aboussie was not acting as a Gephardt representative at the meeting. They have not denied the allegations, however. The union chiefs’ letter asks Gephardt to “dissociate yourself from Ms. Aboussie, immediately remove her from your campaign and issue a written retraction of her threats.” But the campaign tells David Aboussie faces no disciplinary action and will remain on staff. Late Wednesday, Aboussie issued a statement of apology.

David reports Ethan Rome, AFSCME communications director, argues that the meeting took place at a Gephardt campaign office with the state campaign director in attendance. Rome says this will not slow down the union’s efforts on Dean’s behalf. Dean embed Felix Schein says the Dean campaign has no official reaction.

But we did get this reaction from AFSCME folks in Iowa. “There is just no room for those kind of tactics,” said Jan Corderman, the president of AFSCME Council 61, which represents all of Iowa. “It’s just shocking.”

“The buck has to stop with Dick Gephardt. I’ve always had a lot of respect for Dick. He needs to take responsibility for what happened, and he needs to take action,” she added. Gephardt’s hometown paper also covers this labor dustup.

The Washington Times does demographics. One story notes “black voters have yet to unite behind a single Democratic challenger to President Bush - something that hasn’t happened in 20 years... More than half the members of the [Congressional Black Caucus] have withheld their endorsements; another 16 have dispersed them among eight of the nine candidates in the field.” Still, the Times also says the non-partisan African American Ministers Leadership Council is “disgruntled with the Bush administration” and has “teamed with People for the American Way to conduct a national voter-registration drive in states where the president won by slim margins in 2000... The drive will be conducted in seven states - Illinois, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Ohio, Florida and Missouri - from Dec. 19 through November.”

(And in another story, the Times says “America’s 275 active bishops are gearing up a new task force that could bring Catholic politicians in line in a way not seen before in American politics.”)

Embed Marisa Buchanan says the Clark campaign will make a big push on domestic issues next week. The campaign is promoting Clark’s past successful efforts to turn around some troubled military units in what they are calling the “Turnaround Plan for America.” Next week’s schedule: “On Monday, during an RV tour of New Hampshire, Clark will focus on the economy. On Tuesday, ... Clark will discuss the environment. On Wednesday, Clark’s final day on the RV, he will concentrate on family income. On Thursday, in New York City, Clark will offer his ideas for children. Finally, on Friday, in Tennessee, Clark will explain his health care goals.”

On Edwards’ lobbying reform speech at Iowa State last night, embed Dugald McConnell says students heard a focused policy address. When Edwards stands behind a podium in a suit, with his policy speech in a binder, McConnell notes, he doesn’t match the relaxed ease with which he speaks to smaller gatherings in diners, living rooms, and event halls. During the question period, the head of the student Republicans challenged Edwards on the fact that a majority of his contributions come from lawyers or their families or employees. Edwards countered that he took no money from lobbyists or PACs, and is no tool of the lawyer lobby because he proposes having the legal profession regulate itself. The Des Moines Register on the speech: .

Kerry embed Becky Diamond notes that during the Q&A following his foreign policy speech yesterday (for more on the speech, see this and also this by MSNBC.com’s Tom Curry), Kerry said that “thanks to some friends in New York - I was invited to come up and meet with the Security Council. I wanted to know what the real readiness and willingness of our partners was. I sat with the French and Germans - we talked about what they saw as the path to deal with Saddam Hussein.” Kerry said he thought there was a path through patience - “patience could have said to the French or Germans - what do you need?” That, Kerry said could have bought time for a coalition effort - “even if it took an extra month or more.”

Diamond adds that Kerry said he spoke yesterday with former Presidents Clinton and Carter about the possibility of their serving as envoys in the Middle East. In his speech, Kerry mentioned they would welcome the opportunity. Diamond was told by a senior Kerry aide that the first time Kerry referenced using Clinton as an envoy was back in April 2002. And Kerry aide David Wade said that “when Howard Dean says Kerry stole his idea that Clinton should be Middle East envoy you were given proof preemptively that John Kerry was arguing this back when Howard Dean wasn’t even a glimmer in Karl Rove’s eye.”

But the New York Post notes that some Jewish leaders weren’t too impressed with Kerry’s proposal of sending either Clinton, Carter, or James Baker as a special envoy to the Middle East. “‘I don’t know whether to laugh or to cry. None of those three would be on my list,’ said Abe Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League.”

“‘Two are biased on the side of the Arabs - Carter and Baker - and Clinton tried and failed, so why would we use him again?’”

As word spread on Wednesday that Ralph Nader OKed a presidential exploratory committee, embed Karin Caifa says the Kucinich campaign seemed caught off-guard. But in the short term, campaign aides say they aren’t worried. “Voting in a primary and voting in a general election are two different things,” campaign press secretary David Swanson said. “Our campaign has received a lot of support and endorsements from Greens. These are people who are ready to switch their party affiliation and vote for Dennis Kucinich in a primary.”

Caifa reminds us that in late October, members of New Hampshire’s Green Party endorsed Kucinich and encouraged its members to switch their allegiances to the Democratic Party to vote in the January primary and switch back for the general election. The Granite State endorsement rankled the national party, which issued a release noting the New Hampshire arm is not recognized by the national group. Swanson told Caifa that supporting Kucinich in the primaries puts Greens in a win-win situation: “If you’re a supporter of the types of positions held by both Dennis Kucinich and Ralph Nader, there’s a lot of overlap,” he said. “If you support Dennis Kucinich in the primaries and he wins the nomination, then you have a terrific candidate from a major party. If he loses you’ve done everything you can to bring the Democratic Party back to its roots.”

Swanson described Kucinich as “a longtime close friend, ally and associate of Ralph Nader,” and added that Nader has thrown a lot of support their way. The feeling appears to be mutual, Caifa writes. When she asked Nader back in October his feelings on Kucinich he said, “I think he’s an authentic progressive Democratic candidate for President. He doesn’t just say things that are progressive. He’s done ‘em. He’s got a record going back 30 years first as a city councilman, then mayor of Cleveland, all the way to the House of Representatives, where he has ‘walked the walk,’ as they say.” After the interview, Nader showed Caifa a photocopy Kucinich had handed him — a letter that Kucinich had written to him in 1975, on Cleveland City Council letterhead, praising him for his work on several consumer initiatives.

Embed Dionne Scott notes this week Lieberman yet again puts forth a theme staking out a position as the candidate running on the high ground. Back in October, Lieberman “relaunched” his campaign with the theme, “Leading With Integrity.” This week, a four-day swing in New Hampshire has been dubbed the “Valuing Families Agenda” tour and is intended to emphasize values by connecting them to hot topics. A campaign adviser tells Scott the campaign believes this is “a unique positioning” within the field of Democratic candidates and will resonate with voters. Lieberman today unveils a proposal aimed at corporations who allegedly undermine how families raise their children by promoting sex, violence, and unhealthy food.

Scott notes Lieberman’s prom date Ellen Stiskin, formerly Ellen Hurwitz, is now the president of New England College, where Lieberman held a town hall meeting yesterday. Hurwitz says she doesn’t remember much from prom night, but does recall that Lieberman asked her to the prom over the telephone; she believes she wore a pastel dress, and that Lieberman could cut a rug. There was no real love story behind the date: “We were together at some parties,” Hurwitz said, but “we were all a group of friends. We were not formally dating.”

Finally: “National Democrats planning to launch their presidential nominee from the home state of the historic gay marriage decision either want to recast the issue as one of basic civil rights or to ignore gay marriage entirely during next summer’s convention” says the Boston Globe.

“In interviews this week, top Democrats were struggling with how to handle the gay marriage decision at next year’s convention, with the party’s chairman saying he would like to avoid what he called ‘wedge issues’ and to remain focused on the Democrats’ traditional message of the economy, jobs, and health care.”

The house and the courts

The prosecution rested its case yesterday in the manslaughter trial of Rep. Bill Janklow, R-S.D., after an ambulance worker testified that Janklow said his blood sugar was “fine” following his accident that killed a motorcyclist, writes the Sioux Falls Argus Leader. “Janklow’s lawyers contend the congressman’s reflexes were dulled by low blood sugar as a result of diabetes, causing him to run the stop sign at a rural intersection. But, the lawyers say, the symptoms of hypoglycemia were masked by a heart medication he was taking.”

The Wall Street Journal looks ahead to Wednesday’s SCOTUS consideration of gerrymandering and Pennsylvania’s congressional map. Democrats, “though they have engaged in their own creative redistricting around the country,” sued because they lost a couple of seats during the GOP-run redistricting in 2002. “Pennsylvania Republicans are asking the Supreme Court to reconsider whether political gerrymandering claims should even be heard by courts. They also assert that the high re-election rate in Congress is caused by other factors prized by elected officials... They say that ‘there is no evidence that safe districts produce unresponsive incumbents.’”

December 3, 2003 / 10:00 AM ET

From Elizabeth Wilner, Mark Murray, and Huma Zaidi

The President has a 10:40 am enviro event, as the Washington Post reports the “administration is working to undo regulations that would force power plants to sharply reduce mercury emissions and other toxic pollutants, according to a government document and interviews with officials.”

On the D side: presidential candidate policy speeches ranging from foreign policy to lobbying and “special interests” to paid leave to education, plus more liberal Democratic Internet muscle-flexing. Dean’s e-mail to supporters urging them to contribute to a Democratic member of Congress (from Iowa) has been out there now for a day. Dean himself has no public events today, but more than 140,000 of his supporters are set to MeetUp. The Chicago Tribune says one recent bride “asked her wedding guests to forgo buying gifts in favor of contributing to... Dean’s presidential campaign through her Dean Team Web page.”

And the founder of MoveOn.Org and pollster Stan Greenberg roll out a new, approximately $2 million TV ad campaign today. MoveOn says the new ad is “similar” to the TV ad on the Iraq supplemental they ran a few months ago.

Kerry whacks Bush as inexperienced and unilateralist on foreign policy the Council on Foreign Relations in a 2:00 pm speech titled “Making America Secure Again: Setting the Right Course for Foreign Policy.” Embed Becky Diamond notes Kerry often says on the stump that if President Bush wants to make national security and foreign policy a dominant campaign theme for the election, he has three words for him: “bring it on.” An aide tells Diamond Kerry in his speech will show “he intends to win the foreign policy primary.” The campaign holds a conference call to preview.

Edwards calls for sweeping lobbying reforms in a 9:00 pm speech at Iowa State University; Kerry has proposed similar though less sweeping reforms. Edwards embed Dugald McConnell notes Edwards already has called for a ban on campaign contributions by lobbyists, a proposal he adheres to voluntarily. The Raleigh News and Observer says “the speech advances themes Edwards has been sounding for months. He has told audiences in rural Iowa that ‘an unholy alliance’ exists between special interests and the Bush administration.”

The Los Angeles Times, calling Edwards’ proposals “unprecedented,” notes the “plan comes as several Democratic contenders are intensifying their efforts to portray themselves as outsiders committed to reforming government.” “Edwards will argue that the recently passed Medicare prescription drug legislation, and the energy bill that died in a Senate filibuster, were larded with provisions to benefit powerful industries and showed ‘Washington at its worst.’”

Lieberman, in New Hampshire today, proposes a new payroll deduction allowing workers to take paid leave to care for themselves or family members. The New York Times says the plan “would expand on the Family and Medical Leave Act, a hallmark of President Bill Clinton... By offering a plan for paid leave, Mr. Lieberman... is taking a page from Mr. Clinton’s efforts to stake out an agenda on family issues as a way to reach out to moderates.”

Clark campaigns across New England and, in Rochester, NH, announces “a $70 billion early childhood education plan... that calls for universal access to preschool for 4-year-olds, an expansion of Head Start, and improvement in preschools’ academic standards.” - Boston Globe

And Gephardt pickets with striking grocery workers at 1:30 pm at Pavilions in West Hollywood.

Republican National Committee chairman Ed Gillespie zeroes in on Dean again at 7:00 pm at St. Anselm’s in New Hampshire; an RNC spokesperson says Gillespie may talk some about Dean’s gubernatorial record. The Washington Post says Gillespie’s critiques of Dean yesterday for sealing his gubernatorial records came “as Dean campaign officials scrambled to decide whether to take action to address the controversy, and as he offered contradictory statements about his intentions, saying at one point that ‘transparency is important’ but adding that ‘executive privilege is a serious issue.’”

“Dean said his campaign considered issuing a statement condemning the GOP chairman but decided to refrain. ‘We thought we were going to take a whack at him but we’re not going to take a whack at him,’ he said. Asked his view of the party leader’s trip to Vermont, Dean said: ‘We’re delighted that he’s making it an issue. Obviously it belies the notion that they’re very interested in having us oppose Bush.’”

The New York Times says Dean is now considering unsealing some of his records, but notes, however, that Dean “might be legally constrained from unsealing the records because he is no longer in office, and the decision might be up to the current governor.” Dean also said the 10-year seal was his lawyer’s doing.

SteelThe Los Angeles Times, among others, covers Bush’s refraining from mentioning steel tariffs at his Pittsburgh fundraiser yesterday. The AP works in the AFL-CIO chief’s letter of protest in anticipation of a likely Bush decision to repeal.

“Hours after mixing with steel company executives at a political fund-raiser in Pittsburgh,” the Wall Street Journal says, “President Bush convened a top-level meeting in the White House to weigh whether to scrap the protective steel tariffs he imposed last year. Administration officials declined to say what the result of the meeting was, but an announcement is expected in coming days.”

“The unscheduled session in the Oval Office included Vice President Dick Cheney, Commerce Secretary Don Evans and Trade Representative Robert Zoellick.”

“Far from a late-night leak, U.S. officials said the administration is planning a formal, elaborate roll out of its decision, involving top cabinet members and ample statements on how the tariffs have helped the ailing steel industry.”

The costs of MedicareThe Washington Post, among others, covers Administration Medicare chief Tom Scully’s resignation, announced last night and effective as of December 16, shortly after Bush is scheduled to sign the bill into law on December 8.

The Washington Times: “Republicans who voted against the expansion of Medicare are telling the White House and congressional leaders not to retaliate.”

The Wall Street Journal’s Harwood considers how the bill was passed and says that ”[h]idden in Mr. Bush’s (Medicare) victory... is a big political setback. While the Medicare bill takes him closer to a second term, it takes him further from achieving one of his most important second-term goals. The substance of the deal, and the manner in which he achieved it, make fixing Social Security during his presidency harder — perhaps even impossible.”

“There are at least three reasons for this. The first is the way Republican leaders steamrolled their Democratic counterparts... A veneer of bipartisanship provides critical political cover for changes in entitlement programs. But Mr. Bush was left with a thin veneer — and the price for recreating one on Social Security has gone way up.”

“A second complication is the way Mr. Bush’s party lashed its fortunes on Medicare to AARP. That alliance shielded Republicans from attack, and burnished AARP’s credibility for independence from Democrats. If AARP followed up by backing Mr. Bush on Social Security, that would be a huge Republican coup. Well, guess what? AARP opposes Mr. Bush’s ideas on Social Security — strongly.”

“If Republican warriors on Capitol Hill were primed for battle, Mr. Bush might prevail in the wake of a partywide 2004 sweep. But they aren’t. Rep. Tom Davis of Virginia, who defended the House Republican majority in 2000 and 2002 as chairman of the party’s campaign committee, calls Mr. Bush’s Social Security plans ‘a bridge too far.’ His successor, Rep. Tom Reynolds of New York, says neither the House nor Senate is ready for ‘a quick-fix solution on Social Security.’”

“Bush advisers insist that after two decades of public fretting, most Americans believe Social Security needs reform. The stock market’s recovery, adds campaign strategist Matthew Dowd, has helped bring support for private accounts back up to pre-bust levels. Mr. Bush himself is far too invested in the issue to drop it.”

2004 Notes (R)

David Broder on the President’s Thanksgiving visit to Baghdad: “As Election Day approaches, Bush will face increasing political pressure to demonstrate that his strategy is working. The eagerly awaited hallmarks of success would be significant cuts in U.S. troop strength in Iraq and the creation of a representative Iraqi government. Absent either of those things, Iraq is likely to be a political drag on the president next November.”

“But the visit to Baghdad and the resulting coverage are reminders of the huge advantage Bush holds as the incumbent over any Democratic challenger. Because he is the head of state, the man who speaks and acts for all Americans in his ceremonial role, he has a claim on the voters’ emotions that no challenger can match. The opportunities for that bond to be strengthened are endless — and as he has demonstrated, notably during the 10 days following the Sept. 11 attacks, Bush can rise to the occasion.”

“The contrast is clear. The Democratic aspirants are debating in serious and sensible terms whether further international help can be obtained in Iraq and whether current troop levels are adequate. They are challenging the administration’s policy judgments. It is all very rational — and appropriate. But none of it packs the emotional wallop of the president’s flight to visit to the troops. By occupying the symbolic heights as commander in chief, Bush puts himself in the catbird seat politically. And the Democrats can’t even complain.”

For what it’s worth, the Washington Times reports the “National Annenberg Election Survey compared polling from the four days before Thanksgiving with the four days following the holiday and found significant changes” — i.e, improvement — “on everything from Mr. Bush’s personal likeability to his job performance to the country’s direction.”

USA Today on the fundraising Vice President: “Cheney is collecting millions in campaign contributions... for the Bush-Cheney re-election bid and other Republican candidates. But his cool, all-business approach to the task, with little attention to the communities he visits, risks reinforcing an image Democrats are pushing of an administration insensitive to the concerns of ordinary people.”

“As he travels, Cheney does not hold news conferences. His meetings with business and community leaders are private. He rarely makes time to meet voters outside the fundraisers, which often results in news reports and commentary that suggest he’s indifferent to the people and problems of the cities he visits.”

“Protesters often get equal coverage. Traffic tie-ups caused by his motorcade and extra police costs bring complaints that sometimes overshadow the visit.”

“A high-ranking Cheney aide who spoke on condition of anonymity dismisses the idea that negative news stories are obscuring the vice president’s message of staying the course in Iraq, pressing the war on terrorism, defending tax cuts and passing an energy bill. The aide says newspaper coverage is often more negative than radio and TV reports but the overall message is positive. Local stops other than fundraisers have seldom been a part of the schedule recently because the 2004 campaign hasn’t begun in earnest, and the focus has been on raising money, the aide says.”

2004 Notes (D)

As USA Today covers the solid prospect of a Green mayor of San Francisco after Tuesday’s election, the Los Angeles Times reports the possibility of a Nader presidential candidacy, again.

The Boston Globe says Gephardt and Kerry “are scrambling for funds in an effort to avoid being overwhelmed by the free-spending [Dean], whose torrid fund-raising pace shows little sign of cooling off.”

“Gephardt, who polls show is locked tightly with Dean in the first delegate contest, the Iowa caucuses on Jan. 19, will limit public appearances as he attends about two dozen fund-raisers in at least eight states and Washington, D.C., in the first 18 days of this month. Kerry has 10 fund-raisers in five states over the next eight days.”

The Los Angeles Times reports on how Democrats’ big Hollywood donor confab last night came under fire from conservatives who “attacked it as a symbol of excessive liberal rage toward President Bush.”

“Campaign finance reform advocates, meanwhile, worried that it exemplified efforts to dodge new campaign finance laws banning unlimited political contributions.”

“With the Democratic National Committee likely to have far less money for such activities in 2004, the two groups that held the meeting in Los Angeles are hoping to fill the gap, partly by tapping the same wealthy donors who provided soft money to the party.”

Clark embed Marisa Buchanan reports on Clark’s endorsements from some Hispanic leaders yesterday, despite voters’ unfamiliarity with Clark’s positions on the community’s pet issues. Buchanan says one can check them out on the campaign website, where one would also discover Clark suddenly has positions on a flurry of different domestic issues. Today in yet another campaign conference call, reporters will get a preview of a rollout of five domestic policies, with goals that will be met during Clark’s first term in office. Think accountability, Buchanan says.

The Chicago Tribune says the Bush Administration “has imposed heavy secrecy and censorship measures” on Clark’s testimony in The Hague for Slobodan Milosevic’s war crimes. UN prosecutors are upset, but Clark has agreed to the conditions. “The administration’s action will blunt the drama of what many expected to be a crucial moment in Milosevic’s lengthy trial and dim the international spotlight for Clark as he confronts the Yugoslav leader he defeated in the Kosovo campaign. At the insistence of State Department’s legal office, the courtroom’s public gallery will be cleared when Clark is called to testify Dec. 15-16 in The Hague. Cameras that normally broadcast the proceedings on closed-circuit television and the Internet will be blacked out.”

“There also will be a 48-hour delay on the release of the trial transcript that will enable State Department lawyers to examine Clark’s testimony and request the deletion of portions they deem harmful to national interests.”

Walter Shapiro contemplates Dean’s surge and reminds us: “No modern candidate has won a contested nomination without enduring a few difficult weeks when his hero’s halo was badly dented and his dreams of victory seemed a cruel mirage.”

“Dean seems in many ways to be the first Teflon-coated Democrat. Unable to make any charge stick, the other Democratic presidential contenders and the press keep searching for that secret vulnerability. But there is no consistent theme to these challenges... The attacks are all over the ideological map, as critics can’t decide whether Dean is a states-rights ally of the gun lobby or a kamikaze liberal.”

On the sealed records, Shapiro writes: “It is much harder to defend Dean on his decision to wall off from public view for a decade almost half of his records as Vermont governor. Because Dean made these arrangements for the custody of his public papers as he was leaving the governor’s office in January, his goal was obviously to keep potentially embarrassing documents under lock and key until his political career is over. This was not exactly a high-minded stance. And, if Dean is the nominee, it may limit the Democrats’ ability to assail the Bush administration for its own penchant for secrecy in matters such as Vice President Cheney’s energy task force.”

“Yet, once again, it is difficult to see how Dean’s Democratic challengers get much traction on this issue.”

Edwards embed Dugald McConnell has seen a lot of corn and cows lately, as Edwards has campaigned from one end of Iowa to the other in the past two days, with a demanding, sometimes hurried schedule in his bid to visit all 99 counties by the end of the month. McConnell notes the eight counties Edwards visited Tuesday are among the 10 poorest in Iowa, and one of them was also the smallest. (The Dean camp recently e-mailed some words of advice for other candidates seeking to hit all 99 counties in the state...)

Embed Becky Diamond notes the Kerry campaign is improving their use of the photo op. Kerry has taken to giving his stump speeches with “real people” standing behind him. At his Boston University rally yesterday, about 20 students stood behind him on the stage holding Kerry “real deal” signs. Some of the students also stood behind him during a quick press avail with signs right in line with the camera shot.

Diamond says the campaign also is charging Clark with copying their “courage” theme in Clark’s latest TV ad. Aide David Wade: “Not to say they’re plagiarizing, but does this look just frankly ridiculously similar to John Kerry’s ‘courage to do what’s right?’ As you can see, it is a complete lift of our message down to “courage” and “the right thing to do.”

The Edwards staff — not, as Howard Kurtz notes, the candidate himself — is “taking issue with a new Clark ad that says the Arkansan ‘fought for better schools’ and, given his military background, ‘will make an extraordinary American president.’ Clark communications chief Matt Bennett said his candidate tried to improve schools for 44,000 military children under his command and will roll out an education policy beginning today.”

Embed Karin Caifa notes Kucinich told reporters Tuesday he’s ready and willing to be the number-two choice of the major unions who endorsed other candidates early on, should candidates like Gephardt and Dean drop out. Caifa also says the once-planned, then postponed concert series featuring celebrity endorser Willie Nelson is back on the table. According to the campaign, Willie Nelson will join guitarist Tim Reynolds of the Dave Matthews Band and “numerous special guests from the worlds of music, film, and politics” at the Austin, TX Music Hall on January 3. Tickets go on sale this Saturday.

When a Kennett Senior High School student asked Lieberman yesterday to say one good thing about the Bush Administration, embed Dionne Scott reports, Lieberman was at a loss for words. For two minutes, he stood before more than 100 students at the Conway, NH school auditorium, stumped. Scott says he started off stumbling, “A good thing about... that’s very good.” Then he took the high road: “I think there’s a way here where you can... the bashing shouldn’t get to be a reflex. You gotta do it for a reason... uh... and um, uh... if you don’t, you begin to turn people off.” Next he changed the subject, looking into the audience reading some sort of student logo, “I like that ‘Never stop exploring.’ That’s exactly what I’m doing in this campaign. When you run for office against somebody who’s in, you’ve got to convince the public to fire him, let him go from the job... then you gotta convince them to hire you, convince them you can do a better job. That’s why I always try to be positive.” Then he attempted again with a smile, “One good thing...” But no dice. Lieberman finally apologized, “I’m working at this... Give me awhile and I’ll come up with something.” He then proceeded to bash Bush’s environmental, education, health care and homeland security policies. Scott says the student who asked the question looked disappointed.

Embed Angela Miles notes the Moseley Braun campaign missed the deadline to get a matching funds check in early January despite new campaign manager Patricia Ireland making that her mission from day one.

USA Today says, “In a season when almost all the Democratic contenders are relying on the personal to enhance the political, Gephardt is running perhaps the most personal campaign of all.” And the Washington Post Style section: “It’s official: Now there is at least one book either by or about every one of the nine announced Democratic candidates for the 2004 presidential nomination.”

JanklowThe Sioux Falls Argus Leader covers Day Two of GOP Rep. Bill Janklow’s manslaughter trial. Prosecutors replayed a videotape containing comments from Janklow right after his accident in which a motorcyclist died. In the tape, “Janklow told trooper Jeffrey M. Lanning that he swerved to miss a vehicle shortly before the Cadillac he was driving collided with Scott. The tape also indicated that Janklow expressed shock and dismay when he learned personal details about the accident victim.”

One of Janklow’s main defenses is that he’s a diabetic and his lack of food that day contributed to the accident. Yet a coroner “testified that Janklow showed no signs of low blood sugar after the Aug. 16 accident that killed Scott. ‘I think Mr. Janklow was appropriate in that he was clearly shaken by the events that just occurred, very remorseful. At that time he seemed alert.’”

December 2, 2003 / 09:30 AM ET

From Elizabeth Wilner, Mark Murray, and Huma ZaidiWith a repeal of the steel tariffs expected, but not until after he raises campaign cash with the unhappy chief of US Steel in Pittsburgh, Bush faces another news cycle of political debate over positive economic data vs. manufacturing job losses, and more specifically, Florida/Michigan/Wisconsin vs. Pennsylvania/Ohio/West Virginia.

We may get a SCOTUS decision on McCain-Feingold today — or it may come next week or December 15, per the folks at the Center for Responsive Politics, who note speculation has it being the 15th. Today’s Wall Street Journal considers “a shadow Democratic Party — an alliance of nonprofit groups that hopes to raise $200 million to mobilize voters and run ads slamming Republicans. It took months of struggle for the Democrats’ allies to figure out how to coordinate the left’s efforts, while abiding by the new law and not offending the party’s unruly constituencies.” Note that a lead coordinator of the “shadow” effort has joined the Dean campaign.

Speaking of Dean, he’s in Iowa talking about the economy at 12:30 pm while his Democratic rivals and Republicans carp that his sealed gubernatorial records belie his professed penchant for straight talk. USA Today on the heart of the argument: “Dean, who has criticized President Bush for too much secrecy in government, is facing criticism himself for sealing some of his gubernatorial records for the next 10 years.”

Dean on Hardball last night: “Our motivation was complying with the law. The law says that some records are to be sealed and that some aren’t. The extension of the six to 10 years, we negotiated 10 instead of six, certainly was with an eye toward protecting ourselves against the kind of stuff that has been going on up there the last six months... What we did was to comply with Vermont law which has a very strong open records component, and if you go up there right now more than half my records are open to the public and believe me people from the Republican campaigns and all the Democratic campaigns are rummaging through them. It is great for the Vermont economy.”

Cementing Dean’s frontrunner status from the GOP side, Republican National Committee chairman Ed Gillespie in Vermont tonight will challenge Dean to unseal the records, based on Dean’s “I’ll unseal mine if Bush unseals his” comment. Gillespie speaks at 7:00 pm at the Champlain Valley Exposition in Essex Junction. An RNC spokesperson says Gillespie will challenge Dean on policy at St. Anslem’s in New Hampshire Wednesday night, also at 7:00 pm.

Putting his Internet success to the greater use of the party while also helping himself, Dean today will urge his e-mail list of supporters to contribute to Rep. Leonard Boswell (D) of Iowa. Clark’s campaign follows up on his Univision appearance yesterday with a conference call on his involvement with the Hispanic community; embed Marisa Buchanan notes daughter-in-law Astrid is Colombian and may play a role in Clark’s outreach. Gephardt does The Tonight Show. Kerry addresses a 2:00 pm rally at Boston University. And Lieberman campaigns in New Hampshire.

The economyThe Washington Post on Bush’s Michigan visit yesterday: “Bush suggested Monday that positive economic indicators have become a trend, as he traveled to a state with stubborn unemployment to declare his economic program a success... Bush has generally avoided trumpeting specific economic statistics, even as they began turning upward in recent months, because he wants to convey the message that he will not be satisfied until every person who wants a job can find a job.”

“The White House is energetically showcasing the signs of prosperity that have been absent much of Bush’s term. Bush has planned an economic event Friday near Baltimore to coincide with the release of November’s unemployment report. Administration officials expect it to show that jobs were added to payrolls for the fourth month in a row.”

“Several nonpartisan analysts in [Michigan] said an economic recovery would leave Bush well positioned to pick up the state in 2004, which would be a huge blow for the Democratic nominee.”

The Los Angeles Times on the “highly orchestrated event” itself: “each speaker briefly discussed his personal circumstances in a way that allowed Bush to tout his priorities, such as making the two across-the-board tax cuts permanent to imposing caps on medical liability awards.”

The Washington Post plays up the Institute for Supply Management report “that new orders, production, deliveries and other manufacturing activities achieved their best combined performances since December 1983,” but has one expert saying he doesn’t expect manufacturing jobs to have increased when the unemployment numbers come out on Friday.

USA Today: “When unexpectedly good job numbers suggested the long U.S. economic slump was finally over, it looked as if Democrats would lose one of the weapons they had planned to use to unseat President Bush next year. But persistently weak job markets in a handful of crucial states still pose a serious threat to Republicans.”

“The laggards include seven of the 14 most tightly contested states in the very tight 2000 presidential election: Iowa, Michigan, Missouri, Ohio, Oregon, Tennessee and Wisconsin. Bush lost three of those states to Al Gore by less than half a percentage point in 2000, and he beat Gore in three others by margins of less than 4 percentage points. Those states could all be close again in 2004, and if Democrats rally behind a strong nominee, Bush may need every edge to prevail.”

Despite the Institute for Supply Management report, “an influential New York Federal Reserve Bank study last summer said many lost factory jobs are gone for good, lost to cheaper overseas workers or to huge efficiency gains that have allowed factories to cut payrolls. Economists say that while manufacturing orders and production are bouncing back, hard-hit job markets in states such as Michigan could lag for years while other states rebound.”

“Republicans say voters will look at the broader picture. Bush campaign strategist Matt Dowd says voters’ reaction to the economy is driven by other factors besides job losses or gains in their states.”

“But for now, it’s not... Charles Cook, an independent political analyst, says that what happens to employment around the Great Lakes ‘could be critical’ in determining the outcome of the 2004 election.”

SteelThe New York Times zeroes in on Thomas J. Usher, chairman and chief executive of the United States Steel Corporation, who is upset with the expected repeal and may speak his mind today as a host of Bush’s $1 million fundraiser. “‘I will be quite anxious to see the president,’ Mr. Usher said. ‘I haven’t heard anything from him of a decision. I intend to ask him where he stands on this.’”

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette says Sen. Arlen Specter (R) of Pennsylvania, who will be travel with the President, “said he too would urge Bush to keep the tariffs in effect despite the WTO ruling and the threats of retaliation from the European Union and other U.S. trading partners.”

“If that lobbying doesn’t get the president’s attention, he may notice a small band of steel workers who intend to make their pro-tariff position known from the street outside the hotel’s entrance, said Leo Gerard, president of the United Steelworkers of America.”

The Washington Post editorial page says that in theory, Bush’s fundraiser in Pittsburgh today and his forthcoming move to repeal the steel tariffs “should have nothing to do with one another... But in practice, the steel tariffs had everything to do with fundraising and everything to do with winning votes in Pennsylvania.”

“While debating whether to repeal the tariffs, once again no one in the administration pretended that any economic or trade principle was at stake. When faced with a choice between Florida orange growers, Michigan car manufacturers and Pennsylvania steel workers, the president simply made a political decision in favor of Florida and Michigan.”

The Wall Street Journal editorial page: “Presidents rarely admit their mistakes, so Mr. Bush may well claim that he can now afford to repeal the tariffs because they have worked as planned.”

“Whatever global steel glut existed in 2002 has vanished as a booming Chinese economy sucks in more steel imports. U.S. Steel, Nucor and other companies have all signaled price increases for 2004 shipments. By the way, yesterday’s blowout November report from the Institute for Supply Management shows that U.S. manufacturing is rebounding nearly across the board... This will help Mr. Bush in the swing industrial states of the Midwest far more than will continuing steel protection.”

“All of which brings us back to the misguided politics that persuaded Mr. Bush to impose these tariffs in the first place. The illusion is that a President can somehow mute domestic calls for protectionism by indulging in a bit of it, as if getting a flu shot. The reality is that unless an American President stands up for the broader national interest in free trade against narrow business and regional interests, no one else will. Certainly none of the Democratic Presidential candidates is giving Mr. Bush any credit for helping the steel industry.”

Speaking of. Clark on the expected move to roll back the tariffs, per embed Marisa Buchanan: “This is yet more evidence that President Bush does not have a strategy to reverse the massive declines in American manufacturing jobs.” And: “Our economy has hemorrhaged manufacturing jobs each and every month of this administration, adding up to a total of more than 2.5 million manufacturing jobs lost.”

Gephardt, per embed Priya David: “I am alarmed by reports that President Bush intends to lift the relief that was granted to our nation’s steelmakers and their workers. The industry and its workers are living up to their side of the bargain and are taking the tough steps to consolidate and become more competitive and the president should live up to his side of the bargain by allowing the steel relief program to run its course.”

Embed Karin Caifa says Kucinich, of hard-hit Rust Belt state Ohio, chastised Bush for “buckling” to the WTO.

Lieberman, per embed Dionne Scott: “He did something that was essentially a grandstand political pledge by imposing these tariffs on steel. And the fact is that they haven’t work. The fact is that independent reports have shown that they have cost more American jobs in steel consuming industries, like automobiles than they’ve saved in the steel industry.” In New Hampshire yesterday, Lieberman named three possible ways Bush could have addressed the difficulties within the industry: dealing with the retirement plans for steel workers; jawboning other countries to open their markets to American steel; and/or providing financial assistance to the steel industry to modernize the plants to make them more competitive.

Scott notes Lieberman did say Bush would be making the right decision by repealing the tariffs, despite the political consequences: “He should’ve made it a year ago. And now we ought to work together to do some of the things that are less politically productive for the president, but actually would do more to help American steel.”

More 2004 notes (R)Looking at the electoral map, the New York Times notes that if “President Bush carries the same states in 2004 that he won in 2000, he will win seven more electoral votes... In 2000, after Florida’s 25 electoral votes were awarded to Mr. Bush, he won the presidency with 271 - 5 more than Al Gore’s 266. Since then 18 states have either won or lost electoral votes, with 7 states that Mr. Bush won last time gaining a total of 11 electoral votes: Florida picked up 2, as did Texas, Georgia and Arizona. North Carolina, Nevada and Colorado each gained 1.”

“The Republican electoral cushion by no means guarantees Mr. Bush a victory. After all, Mr. Gore outpolled him by nearly 550,000 votes in 2000. More important, voting patterns may not repeat themselves. And notable demographic shifts are occurring within the states.”

“Because of those shifts, both sides predict that 15 states may be up for grabs: Oregon, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Missouri, Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, New Hampshire, Maine and Florida.”

More 2004 notes (D)Candidates taking public matching funds “will get their first taxpayer-financed payments Jan. 2,” the AP notes. “Wesley Clark expects the biggest check, about $3.7 million, followed by rival Joe Lieberman with about $3.6 million.”

“Among the other hopefuls accepting public financing, Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina expects about $3.4 million in his January payment; Rep. Dick Gephardt, $3.1 million to $3.2 million; Lyndon LaRouche, $840,000; and Al Sharpton, $100,000. A total was not immediately available for Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio.”

“One candidate still trying to qualify in recent weeks, Carol Moseley Braun, was wrapping up her paperwork Monday and did not expect to make the deadline. That means she would get her first government payment in February; Braun’s campaign hopes for about $300,000 then.”

Embed Felix Schein notes that on Hardball last night, Dean laughed often and sat back comfortably as he exchanged barbs with Chris Matthews. Dean wouldn’t talk about being ahead in the polls or about the possible taste of victory, but did go so far as to say, “I have to admit I have enjoyed myself a bit more in the last two of three weeks.”

Nevertheless, Schein says, Dean did make news. First, after repeated questioning about his medical deferment, Dean said that not only was he less than eager to serve in the military, but that he was in some respects looking to avoid being drafted altogether. Second, Dean was asked whether or not he would seek to break up media conglomerates should he become president, and initially responded in a roundabout affirmative way. However, Schein says, when questioned after the broadcast about whether it was indeed his intention to re-regulate the media and limit media ownership, Dean said media organizations “are going to have to be confined by size to certain penetrations in the market. That doesn’t mean you need to break up media organizations, but we do need to limit media penetration in particular markets so you can get all points of view in a democracy. That is critical for a democracy.”

Also on Hardball, per the Boston Globe: “Asked whether Osama bin Laden or Saddam Hussein should be tried in the United States or the Hague should they be captured, Dean responded that the issue was premature for discussion because ‘the president can’t find either one of them.’” (Cue this morning’s reports on the possible US capture of a Hussein deputy...) The Boston Herald and the AP focus on Dean’s draft deferment comments.

The Washington Post front-pages a look at Dean’s staff and what it reflects about the candidate: “as much as Dean and his staff insist that he is open to consulting others before making decisions, Dean’s reliance on just a few key aides plays to one of Dean’s weaknesses: his tendency to speak first and apologize later.” Another Post story rounds up Dean’s formal and informal advisors.

Edwards embed Dugald McConnell reports that after Edwards focused Monday on jobs and trade, his campaign policy director suggested Edwards has laid out more specifics on trade deal standards than most of his rivals. Nevertheless, Gephardt told the AP Edwards is “a Johnny-come-lately” on trade. While it would be hard to out-protectionist Gephardt, McConnell notes (especially if you say in a debate that it may be time to ease off the tariffs on steel), both candidates are using a populist message to appeal to working-class voters, and Gephardt also saw fit to respond to Edwards on trade last week and in one of his recent Iowa mailings.

“The dispute between the candidates, both of whom campaigned in Iowa on Monday, shows that the economy remains a key issue in the race for the nomination, despite signs that the manufacturing sector is growing,” says the Des Moines Register.

Edwards’ latest Iowa ad, running outside Des Moines, focuses on taxes and kitchen-table issues. McConnell says the Edwards media team filmed him Monday for future ads, though without a script or specific message — they simply shot a town hall.

Clark’s latest New Hampshire ad opens with the question, “What kind of leader will he be?” and features these lines: “He was never a yes man,” and, “He fought for better healthcare and better schools for those he led.” Kerry yesterday, per embed Becky Diamond: “I’m going to compete for every vote in the state of Iowa and I think we’re doing extremely well here... And I’m going to campaign on the leadership that I offer the country at a time when America needs real leadership. We’re in a dangerous time. We’re in a war that many people understand us being badly managed without a plan for peace. I have a plan for peace and I can provide leadership that makes us safer and not weaker in the world. I think Americans want leadership at home so we’re not driving up the deficit and losing jobs... The voters in this state will decide who’s going to win.”

The Des Moines Register covers Gephardt and Kerry’s homeland security proposals and criticisms of Bush, outlined yesterday in various corners of Iowa.

Clark campaigned in “Lieberman country” yesterday, “drawing hundreds to hear him talk about his Jewish roots and his support for Israel” in Florida, where he also called “the Bush administration’s approach to the Middle East ‘halfhearted,’ and said he supports Israel’s right to establish security through preemptive strikes” says the Miami Herald . “Local Democratic leaders said Monday the turnout for Clark illustrates potential weaknesses for Lieberman’s campaign in what was once considered a stronghold.”

Lieberman embed Dionne Scott notes that on Monday at a New Hampshire day care center where Lieberman planned to focus on expanding health care for kids, 3-year-old Becca out-talked the candidate, redirecting the conversation onto umbrellas she saw at the mall, her ponytails and her friends. When Lieberman asked if the tots wanted him to read a book, Scott says, Becca halfheartedly agreed, while playing in her hair, saying, “Yeah, sure.” At one point, Lieberman observed, “I was just thinking, that these other four... with Rebecca know what it’s like to be one of nine candidates in a presidential debate.”

The centrist New Democrat Network offers reporters a sneak peek at new TV ads at 1:30 pm. NDN is keeping quiet on the subject matter, but says the ads are the “next step” in its Campaign for a Better America — its campaign to enact an agenda for the nation and more clearly define the differences between the two parties.

Like Republicans, Democrats now are also considering a theater-in-the-round set-up for their Boston convention. - Boston Globe

The House and the courtsNow on trial for manslaughter and arguing he was suffering a diabetic reaction as his defense, Rep. Bill Janklow (R) would not have to quit the House if convicted, but he could not vote in committee or on the floor, and polls have shown South Dakotans think that if convicted, he should resign. A resignation would trigger a special election Democrats could win. The Sioux Falls Argus Leader notes Janklow “was in good spirits” yesterday in court. “Although he looked pale, Janklow greeted people he knew... He also made a point of greeting members of the news media, often saying, ‘Longtime no see.’”

The Colorado Supreme Court yesterday struck down the GOP’s attempted mid-decennial realignment, saying “redistricting can be done only once every 10 years in response to new census data.” The Washington Post: “The ruling had no immediate impact on a similar effort in Texas, where the state constitution says nothing about redistricting. But Democrats hope the spirit of the Colorado decision will impress judges there.”

The Austin American-Statesman: “The [Colorado] ruling gave Texas Democrats encouragement, although Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott’s office said it has no bearing on the redistricting lawsuits in Texas.” The Texas case will be heard on December 11.

CaliforniaConfronted with tough choices on budget cutbacks yesterday, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) said now he understands the fiscal pain past governors warned him about, the Los Angeles Times reports. “Schwarzenegger said Monday that he would compromise on the details of his proposed spending cap so long as the final version proves tough enough to end a worrisome string of budget deficits. Schwarzenegger also sought to assure reelection-minded legislators that he was not working for their defeat, inviting them to join him this week on a campaign-style swing through Democratic districts up and down the state intended to rally support for his package of spending controls and bond proposals.”

“State Treasurer Phil Angelides, a Democrat expected to run for governor in 2006, is scheduled to launch a campaign against [Schwarzenegger’s] $15-billion borrowing plan at a Sacramento elementary school this morning.”

December 1, 2003 / 09:30 AM ET

From Elizabeth Wilner, Mark Murray, and Huma Zaidi

Win at the margins. As President Bush heads to Michigan today and Pennsylvania tomorrow, the White House weighs both and hopes they’ll gain more than they lose by dropping steel tariffs. Also tomorrow: a Bush photo op made for NASCAR dads. The Sunday Washington Post reeled off numbers that may have as much to do with a Bush second term as economic data or polling: 6 million (on the e-mail list), 3 million (hoped-for new registered voters), and of course, $200 million. And some in the press clearly spent Thanksgiving taking stock of the state of the Hill, determining all those party-line votes and procedural moves in the narrowly split Congress have fostered a lot of anger and partisanship.

Dean wants to teach Bush about defense; we hear Republicans say bring it on, Dean’s rivals cry “unelectable,” and liberals cheer. On the D side today, Clark makes remarks in Florida on World AIDS Day. In Iowa, Dean goes up with a bio ad; Gephardt gives a 10:30 am speech on homeland security in Cedar Rapids; Edwards tours, meets with activists, and touts his book; and Kerry at 7:00 pm announces a five-point plan for protecting individual liberties while fighting terrorism. In Iowa tomorrow, Dean gives an economic speech at a union hall in Cedar Rapids. Lieberman spends today and tomorrow in New Hampshire. Wednesday, embed Becky Diamond says to expect a major Kerry speech on foreign policy at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Rep. Bill Janklow (R) goes on trial for manslaughter in South Dakota today, facing up to 10 years in prison and a $10,000 fine if convicted. The Sioux Falls Argus Leader says it will be “the most-watched trial in recent South Dakota history.” Jury selection begins at 10:00 am. Roll Call notes Senate Minority Leader Daschle will be called to testify later this week. “Daschle was at a public event in Aberdeen, S.D., with Janklow” on the afternoon of the accident, “before the Congressman drove off for the deadly crash... Daschle was subpoenaed to appear on Janklow’s behalf, indicating that Janklow’s attorneys may want the Senator to talk about Janklow’s demeanor or what he might have seen the Congressman do or eat at the event... Sources said Daschle would not be a character witness for Janklow.”

And the Boston Globe notes US Supreme Court “justices appear ready to decide whether they will hear an appeal by Vice President Dick Cheney, who is defending his refusal to disclose files of the task force that he headed in developing the administration’s energy policy, which is now stalled in Congress.” If they do grant a review, though, a decision wouldn’t come for months.

Politics of steelThe Washington Post says the White House will drop the steel tariffs. “Bush advisers said they were aware the reversal could produce a backlash against him in several steel-producing states of the Rust Belt — including Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio. That arc of states has been hit severely by losses in manufacturing jobs and will be among the most closely contested in his reelection race. The sources said that Bush’s aides agonized over the options to present to the president and that they considered it one of the diciest political calculations of this term.”

“Officials said the repeal could help Bush in Michigan, where automakers and parts factories are heavy consumers of steel and were hurt by the tariffs, but they said that was not the reason for the decision. In 2000, Bush won Ohio and West Virginia... He lost Pennsylvania and Michigan, and they are among his top targets in 2004.”

“Bush travels today to Michigan to make remarks on the economy. Tomorrow he flies to Pittsburgh, headquarters of U.S. Steel Corp., which... led efforts to pressure the administration to retain the tariffs. Bush is going there for a fundraiser for his campaign. One of the organizers is Thomas J. Usher, U.S. Steel’s chairman and chief executive.”

“A trade war could be used to bolster Democrats’ claims that Bush has been a poor steward of jobs and could force his campaign to focus on manufacturing states where he would otherwise be safe.”

The Wall Street Journal: “The White House declined to comment about its plans, but some steel-industry representatives say they believe the president will scrap the tariffs while reserving the right to reimpose some protections if imports of important steel products begin to surge. Industry representatives also expect Mr. Bush will promise to redouble efforts to get other nations to slash excess steel-producing capacity and to swear off subsidies.”

“Bush plans to address political supporters in Pittsburgh Tuesday and some industry officials said they don’t expect him to announce his decision until after that. Otherwise, an adverse steel decision would cloud his trip to Pennsylvania, one of the foremost steel states and one he lost to former Vice President Al Gore in the 2000 election.”

Politics of IraqUSA Today notes a “triumphant trip to Baghdad doesn’t guarantee President Bush soaring poll ratings, the permanent defanging of his opponents or an end to his problems.” The report starts with Iraq — “Bush’s visit highlighted his concern for troops there. But his quick, secret trip to Baghdad’s airport also underscored the lack of security” — then broadens out: “The Republican-controlled Congress hasn’t given Bush everything he wants. Last week’s big win on Medicare obscured a loss on another Bush priority: A package of energy reforms was postponed until next year. Bush would like to begin the election year with more successes, but much of what happens in December is out of his control:”

“Congress will be in session briefly, but only to act on routine spending bills.”

“Democrats running for president will get attention as they campaign. Bush plans to hold off on campaign rallies until after his State of the Union speech in late January. But he’ll continue to raise money, beginning today in Michigan and Detroit.”

“Holiday parties at the White House will keep Bush in Washington and out of public view for much of the month.”

“Bad news gets more attention than good news, so the improving economy could be overshadowed by whatever happens in Iraq.”

The kicker: “If violence continues, the wisdom of Bush’s Thanksgiving public-relations coup may be eventually called into question.”

Dean’s reax to the President’s trip, per the Washington Post: “‘I think he’s made us weaker. He doesn’t understand what it takes to defend this country, that you have to have high moral purpose. He doesn’t understand that you better keep troop morale high rather than just flying over for Thanksgiving,’ as Bush did in visiting Baghdad. At another town hall meeting, in Manchester, Dean added: ‘Mr. President, if you’ll pardon me, I’ll teach you a little about defense.’”

“Blaming the war in Iraq on Bush’s ‘bullheadedness,’ he said the president is ‘incapable’ of winning international support for reconstruction efforts because ‘he managed to insult all the people whose help we need, gratuitously.’ And he took a swipe at Wesley K. Clark, lumping him in with rivals Sen. John F. Kerry (Mass.), Rep. Richard A. Gephardt (Mo.), Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (Conn.) and Sen. John Edwards (N.C.) as someone who ‘recommended’ the war.”

A Republican National Committee spokesperson said “‘Dean has chosen to attack the president rather than put forth a single proposal of his own that would make our nation a safer place.’”

The New York Daily News has Clark saying he would make a better wartime commander in chief than his Democratic rivals. “Clark, a West Point graduate and Vietnam veteran, took a whack at former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean’s anti-war stance, saying that a dove can’t beat Bush at war. ‘If the country wants a lawyer to lead it, elect a lawyer. If you want a doctor, elect a doctor,’ Clark told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, alluding to the fact that Dean is a physician.”

Embed Dugald McConnell gets Edwards charging Bush may have had politics in mind with his trip to Baghdad: “I think it was a good thing for the President to see the troops. I think it’s like a lot of things the president is doing now, it looks like it’s politically motivated. I think the public generally is happy that the president has gone to see the troops in Iraq at Thanksgiving. And they should be happy about that. But he should be doing more. More for the families, more for the troops whose families are struggling...”

Kerry’s statement, per embed Becky Diamond: “The President’s trip to Baghdad was the right thing to do for our country. We should all be giving thanks for the sacrifices our men and women in uniform give each and every day. But, when Thanksgiving is over, I hope the President will take the time to correct his failed policy in Iraq that has placed our soldiers in a shooting gallery, and, when they return home, treat them with the respect, dignity, and benefits they deserve.”

Another USA Today story focuses on the war-inspired surge from the left: “The sudden emergence of an outspoken left wing may be the most surprising political development of the year. Until recently, liberalism could not have been more out of vogue. But in the six months since Bush appeared under a ‘Mission Accomplished’ banner on a Navy aircraft carrier, the political dynamic has changed.”

The costs of MedicareThe Los Angeles Times’ Brownstein lists Medicare as a prominent factor in Bush’s “sticking the bill to the next generation,” but doesn’t leave Democrats out. “Several reliable analysts project the federal deficit will soar past $500 billion this year - and then remain near that unprecedented level for the indefinite future, even if the economy recovers.”

“Is anyone speaking for the next generation? At the national level, Democrats have condemned Bush’s deficits and highlighted the costs of his tax cut. But they’ve undercut their credibility by repeatedly demanding more spending on their favorite causes; it’s telling that the principal criticism from Democrats about the new Medicare bill is that it doesn’t spend enough to subsidize drugs for seniors.”

Sen. Trent Lott yesterday voiced fears the Medicare package will contribute to the deficit, though the Washington Times notes he cast the 60th vote to move things along.

The Wall Street Journal ties Medicare to the increasing partisanship on the Hill: “After a brief return next week to try to finish fiscal 2004 appropriations bills, now two months overdue, the Republican-led Congress resumes work in late January. Time won’t heal the wounds. Rather, both parties will use the time off to start crafting strategies to batter their opponent in the coming election year. Meanwhile, the landmark Medicare legislation, touching nearly every American family, becomes just the latest national policy to become law without anything near the bipartisan backing that could help ensure public support to last the decade in which the new program is to unfold. For the future, Congress’s ever-more-poisonous polarization bodes ill for action to bolster Social Security, or reduce deficits fast-approaching dangerous levels.”

“House Republicans, struggling to pass a conservative agenda with their slim margin, have junked internal reforms they promised when they took power in the so-called revolution of 1994. Instead of open debate, Republicans block Democrats from even offering amendments. Rather than end pork-barrel projects, Republicans have begun to allow only themselves at the spending trough.”

On the legislation itself, USA Today: “The Medicare legislation that passed Congress last week could speed the move by employers to boost the share workers pay toward their own health care.”

“Supporters say the law will allow more people to save for health costs and might reduce the number of uninsured. Critics say it mainly benefits the rich and could eventually lead to employers offering only savings accounts, not insurance, just as some dropped pensions in favor of 401(k) plans.”

Politics of gay marriageBob Novak says Bush Administration officials, and the GOP overall, are split on the issue. “Charlie Cook, a respected campaign handicapper, has called this issue ‘frivolous and insignificant’ when compared with casualties in Iraq and unemployment in America. Not in the opinion of Bush’s social conservatives, who over the last two weeks have made clear to the White House that this is their great concern.”

“These Bush backers see the president under worldwide assault as a Christian, particularly in Europe, where atheism is on the rise and religion on the decline. They cannot imagine he will not endorse a constitutional amendment. They cannot understand why he has not done so already on an issue that has been percolating for months.”

More 2004 notes (R)Detroit Free Press on Bush’s trip to Michigan today: “The Dearborn lunch is Bush’s 12th visit to Michigan as president, and it underscores the state’s electoral importance for the 2004 election.” The last time Bush was in Michigan, he raised $2.6 million, less than his Democratic contenders have raised collectively.

From the Sunday Washington Post story: “Bush’s campaign has an e-mail list totaling 6 million people, 10 times the number that... Dean has, and the Bush operation is in the middle of an unprecedented drive to register 3 million new Republican voters.”

“The entire project, which includes complementary efforts by the Republican National Committee (RNC) and state Republican parties, is designed to tip the balance in a dozen-and-a-half states that both sides believe will determine the winner in 2004.”

“The Bush team hopes to build on techniques first employed in 2000 and honed in 2002 through what is called the ’72-hour project,’ which is shorthand for mobilization operations during the final days before the election. Democrats acknowledge these techniques proved highly effective as a counter to their mobilization efforts in earlier campaigns.”

US News says, “As the first primaries near next year, look for the campaign to send out a surrogate team of national, state, and local officials to defend President Bush, under assault by the crowd of Democratic presidential hopefuls... The plan is to use influential pols and headliners like New York Gov. George Pataki and ex-NYC Mayor Rudy Giuliani to talk for the campaign while Bush remains above the fray... Starting in January, ‘supersurrogates’ will join the team. They’re mostly former administration big shots like Karen Hughes, Mary Matalin, Ari Fleischer, former Pentagon spokesperson Torie Clarke, the veep’s daughter and ex-State aide Liz Cheney, and outgoing strategist Tucker Eskew... There’s a simple goal, says campaign spokesperson Nicolle Devenish: ‘It allows us to create on a national level, a state level, and a local level an echo chamber for the president’s agenda.’”

Roll Call’s Rothenberg “can’t help but believe that things are lining up pretty well for the president:” “No, the nation isn’t going to replace 2.7 million manufacturing jobs before Labor Day, but the White House may well be able to make the case quite credibly that the economy - and the job market - is on the upswing.”

“Iraq certainly is a mess now, and there is no alternative to using U.S. military personnel and billions of dollars in the effort to stabilize the situations there and in Afghanistan. The United States may be part of a ‘coalition of the willing,’ but this country will certainly carry the overwhelming military and financial burden - and absorb most of the casualties - in the region for many months. Still, if (and it is a big ‘if’) Bush can make the case before Labor Day that Iraqi security personnel and governmental authorities are starting to shoulder increasing responsibilities in that country, then he can argue that the worst is over for the United States.”

“Of course, there are dangers for the White House. Increased casualties or terrorist attacks in Iraq will make it more difficult for the president to claim progress. And if the situation deteriorates toward civil war or the United States appears to cut and run from Iraq, Democrats will score more foreign policy points.”

“Whatever ultimately happens with the energy bill, the passage of a Medicare/prescription drugs bill means that Bush will seek re-election next year with two major tax cuts, a major education bill and a new prescription drug benefit for seniors to his credit.”

“Yes, Democrats will complain about the administration’s accomplishments, insisting that Republicans have underfunded education or sold out to the energy, insurance and drug companies. But Republicans begin with the advantage in that debate, especially with the AARP giving their seal of approval to Medicare reform.”

That said, the Boston Globe focuses on Bush’s 2000 campaign pledge to “change the tone in Washington,” and the hard feelings resulting from the battles to pass the President’ agenda and gain the GOP some political advantage: “an exceptionally bitter atmosphere in the nation’s capital, far from the harmonious world Bush promised as a candidate, and one that is widely expected to influence the dynamics of next year’s presidential race.”

On Democratic charges of a divisive White House: “Republicans mostly dismiss such criticism as the grumblings of a losing party, and say that the president’s legislative victories have been achieved with support from at least a few Democrats. Members of both parties also agree that the ‘tone’ was never quite as collegial as congressional veterans like to recall, despite nostalgic stories of disputes resolved over golf games and cigars smoked in back rooms... At the same time, said Amy Walter, who covers the House for the Cook Political Report,. there is little precedent for the current makeup of Congress.”

“But it is the manner in which Bush and Republican leaders have used their majority status that Democrats say irritates them most.”

New York Times outlines Clark’s $30 billion plan — twice what Bush has vowed to spend — to fight AIDS and other diseases in the developing world. Gephardt embed Priya David, previewing the homeland security speech today, notes Gephardt has been critical of Bush in campaign stops across Iowa and has often alleged Bush has not made the nation any safer. He criticizes Bush’s lack of action on the Mideast and with North Korea. “If we’re worried about an A-bomb in a Ryder truck in New York, or Los Angeles, or Des Moines, which is what we’re worried about,” Gephardt has said on the stump, “I’m more worried about it coming from North Korea than from the Middle East.” He also argues there’s a continuing major security gap with the current Administration not looking into cargo containers coming into the United States. Gephardt previewing his own speech: “I think they’ve not gotten the job done in that as they’ve not gotten the job done in Iraq and a lot of other places. We’re not looking in the cargo containers that are coming into the country, at least many of them. We haven’t done what we need to do by the local police and fire departments. I’d set up a trust fund... so there’s a level amount of funding coming to state and local governments.” David notes Gephardt calls this time “stretchpole,” meaning the last leg of the race. David says Gephardt now adds a couple lines to his stump speech about how it all begins in Iowa, and how Iowans need to come out to the caucuses: “Iowa will likely decide who the Democratic nominee will be,” he now says, before adding a list of reasons why he is the best candidate to beat Bush.The Des Moines Register looks at a couple of Iowans whose personal circumstances have factored prominently in Democratic presidential campaigns. The Washington Post Style section considers New Hampshire’s potentially fragile first-in-the-nation primary status. And Roll Call calls Oklahoma Lieberman’s “last best chance to notch a win in his increasingly complicated route to the Democratic nomination... His decision to skip the Iowa caucuses on Jan. 19 and his inability so far to improve his standing in New Hampshire’s Jan. 27 primary put even more pressure on Lieberman to win resoundingly in Oklahoma” on February 3. But Dean and Edwards have advertised there, and Gephardt also is contesting the state.The Hartford Courant looks at the “big ideas” employed by the Democratic contenders to woo voters, noting those “big ideas in the 2004 campaign are like that - matters of style, not substance.”The Los Angeles Times considers his rivals’ criticism of Dean’s fiscal record as governor — that he “balanced his state’s budget by scrimping on key social programs for old, needy and disabled Vermonters — and determines that Dean was a pragmatist who “made economic stability his top priority. More than anything else, this focus on fiscal responsibility characterized his record... To the consternation of many, he all but ignored issues such as civil unions for gays and lesbians as he steadfastly based decisions on the bottom line.”The Raleigh News & Observer outlines the “aggressive strategy that Edwards has crafted that makes book-hawking a fund-raising tool:” “You can plunk down the list price of $24 and stand in line at a book signing, as about 60 people did on a sleepy Sunday afternoon in this college town. Or you can get on the Internet and get one free — provided you first make a $250 contribution to Edwards’ presidential campaign.”November 24, 2003 / 09:30 AM ETFrom Elizabeth Wilner, Mark Murray, and Huma ZaidiTwo 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 Register5. 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. — APAnd 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.”For our non-NBC friends in the broadcast media, the usage rules (web use prohibited): 1. An unobstructed, onscreen credit “MSNBC” must appear during each excerpt and remain on screen for the entire excerpt. 2. Each excerpt must be introduced with an audio credit to MSNBC. 3. No excerpt may air in any medium until the live debate concludes at approximately 6:00 pm ET. 4. No more than a combined total of two minutes of excerpts may be chosen for use during the period from the end of the live debate (approx. 6:00 pm ET) until 4:00 am ET on Tuesday, November 25. After 4:00 am ET Tuesday, a total of 10 minutes may be selected (including any excerpts aired before 4:00 am). The selected excerpts may air as often as desired, but the total of excerpts chosen may not exceed the limits outlined. 5. No excerpts may be aired after 6:00 pm ET on Wednesday, December 24. Excerpts may not be archived. Any further use of excerpts is by express permission of MSNBC only.6. All excerpts must be taped directly from MSNBC’s cablecast or obtained directly from MSNBC, and may not be obtained from other sources, such as satellite or other forms of transmission. No portions of the live event not aired by MSNBC may be used. 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.

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