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“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

• Friday, January 9, 2004 | 9:40 a.m. ET
From Elizabeth Wilner, Mark Murray and Huma Zaida
Mid-week next week, less than seven days out from the Iowa caucuses and a week or so before the State of the Union, President Bush will talk about putting man back on the moon for good.  And on caucus day, per a Bush campaign source, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Republican National Committee chairman Ed Gillespie, Bush-Cheney campaign manager Ken Mehlman, campaign chairman Marc Racicot, and even better-known Bush leading lights -- the Wall Street Journal adds Rudy Giuliani -- will descend upon Iowa to get into the Democratic storyline.

We were going to go all Iowa today, anyway, in advance of Sunday's MSNBC Brown & Black Forum in Des Moines featuring eight of the nine Democratic candidates (again, all but Clark).  This final debate before the Iowa caucuses runs from 8:00-10:00 pm ET and will be moderated by NBC's Lester Holt and Telemundo's Maria Celeste Arraras.  Traditionally focused on minority issues, although it also will cover news of day and other major topics of the Democratic race, the debate by happy coincidence falls between the President's rollout of his immigration proposal and his trip to Mexico for the Summit of the Americas.  And yes, the candidates will question one another.

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Already building toward the debate: Gore's trip to Iowa to campaign for Dean, amidst buzz over a possible Dean endorsement by Sen. Tom Harkin (D), which may or may not happen.  Gore appears tonight in Des Moines and West Des Moines and tomorrow in Burlington, Davenport, Dubuque and Mason City.  Kerry, who campaigns with Sen. Ted Kennedy in Iowa this weekend, also is due today for what his campaign touts as a "big" endorsement in Davenport, IA.  Gephardt gets a visit today from House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.

Then, yesterday, policy debates over tax cuts and health care gave way to pure process, as the integrity and value of the caucus system itself became the issue.  The news cycle began with a Dean-Gephardt-Kerry war over charges of non-Iowans misrepresenting themselves to take part in the caucuses on Dean's behalf.  The Dean camp, which eventually let two staffers go, tried as usual to use the charges to further motivate their supporters.  As the Des Moines Register puts it, "Dean's campaign said it was looking into one of the charges, but had determined that the other was an outrageous attempt to smear the young supporters who are fueling his surge in Iowa and across the nation."

Then came NBC's report by Lisa Myers on the lost Dean tapes, old appearances by then-Governor Dean on a Canadian public affairs show.  With the spotlight on Dean's dissing the caucus process, it's a measure of the stakes and the competitiveness in Iowa that more attention isn't being paid to what else he said on the show -- that Bush was a moderate "in his soul," and that it's a mistake to think his presidency would last one term, or what Dean said about Hamas, which is documented in an accompanying article on MSNBC.com.

Embed Felix Schein says the Dean campaign is playing down NBC's report, noting that there are more than 100 tapes in the collection reviewed by NBC and that only a half-dozen possibly problematic quotes were discovered.  Moreover, they argue, it is exactly the honesty Dean displays on tapes that is drawing voters back into the process. 

That said, the news was big enough to warrant a statement from Dean, which reads in part: "I have spent nearly two years here in Iowa, talking to Iowans and campaigning in all 99 counties.  I believe it's time to stand together, in common purpose, to take our country back - and the Iowa caucus is where it all begins.  I support the Iowa caucus and I have already promised [state party chair] Gordon Fischer that if elected, the Iowa caucus will be first again in 2008."

Schein notes that NBC Des Moines affiliate WHO, in its 10:00 pm newscast, gave Gephardt airtime and also included sound from Kerry and Edwards.  But at the same time, in a package of sound from voters, most seemed to not care about Dean's comments and many felt his remarks had been taken out of context.  Are we seeing Teflon Dean yet again?

Embed Priya David reports that at a press conference at Elliott Airfield in Des Moines late last night, Gephardt said he thought the remarks Dean made about the caucus process were "unbelievable" and that he now believes Dean would be cynical to participate in the caucuses.  He went on to say Dean owes voters an explanation about why he feels as he does about the process.  He also asked about the special interests Dean mentioned, asking who they are -- farmers?  Union members?  Organized labor?   Workers?  Senior citizens?  Gephardt said he hasn't seen any special interest groups, just ordinary good people.  He also commented on Dean's Hamas statements, saying they demonstrate "his inability to be the president."  Gephardt charged that to say Hamas could be included in the peace process demonstrates a lack of information.  When asked if it was fair to bring up these tapes even though years have passed, David says, Gephardt said Dean knew he was in public office at the time, basically indicating that one in public office should always know he or she is on the record.  He expressed his own experience and contrasted it with Dean's, saying that to be a good president, you must be solid, and that Dean's all over the lot.

Embed Becky Diamond notes how the Kerry campaign is using Dean's words to challenge his credibility.  Kerry spokesperson David Wade: "they're as damaging as they are disappointing.  Not only have the most damaging statements to Howard Dean come from Dean himself, but it's deeply insulting to democracy at its best, which is the Iowa caucus."  (Following Dean embed Felix Schein's note about decreasing press access to Dean on the campaign plane, one campaign aide got a little breathless: "This is secrecy that would make Dick Cheney blush.  First there were secret records in Vermont, then a secret plan to repair the damage of his middle class tax increases, now secrecy on their campaign plane -- I think it's no secret that these bizarre moves coincide with voters having serious concerns about Howard Dean's judgment.")

Embed Dugald McConnell gets Edwards commenting: "I disagree with [Dean].  I think that my own experience, having been in 99 counties, met with caucusgoers all over the state, this is a very good people, they have good sense, they're grounded, and they play an important role in the democratic process."  Asked whether he intends to make an issue of it in the campaign, Edwards said, "I'm gonna keep campaigning exactly the way I am campaigning.  You know how - cause you're with me every minute."

The Des Moines Register twins process with policy, covering the Democrats' fight over tax cuts as well as Dean's lost tapes comments about the caucuses.  "Dean aides insisted Thursday that Dean could stick to getting rid of the tax cuts and provide help for middle-income earners.  Dean would be able to offer middle-class tax relief without turning to Medicare because any plan he offers would account for every dollar paid out with a dollar increase, Dean's chief policy adviser Jeremy Ben Ami said."

And: "Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin said he would decide whether to throw his coveted endorsement to any of the candidates by the weekend.  Harkin, who had been weighing backing Dean, said Thursday the longer he waited to decide, the less likely an endorsement would be.  Harkin said he didn't think his endorsement would make Democrats who have made up their minds rethink their decisions.  But it might influence those who remain strategically uncommitted, awaiting signs of momentum."

Today also brings the WTOP DC Democratic primary debate, featuring Kucinich, Moseley Braun, and Sharpton, at George Washington University at 10:00 am.  Embed Tom Llamas reports Sharpton is scheduled to go up with radio ads in DC today.  Sharpton said to Llamas, "For a campaign that has not raised a lot of money it's very significant...  You know it's like the conversation between the chicken and the pig over a ham and egg sandwich.  The chicken made a contribution the pig dropped a leg.  I dropped a leg in Washington, DC."

President Bush - who gets some more good economic news today with unemployment dropping to 5.7% (although employers added just 1,000 new jobs) -- meets with small business owners in DC at 10:40 am and makes remarks to the National Catholic Educational Association at 2:05 pm.  Clark, Dean, Edwards, Gephardt, and Lieberman are in New Hampshire; Kerry is in Iowa.

To the moon, a/k/a 2004 notes (R)
The New York Times: "the announcement, combined with Mr. Bush's call this week to revamp laws regarding immigration, would signal the second major policy initiative put forward by the White House at the beginning of an election year.  Both new policy directives would allow the president to be portrayed as an inspirational leader whose vision goes beyond terrorism and tax cuts."

The Washington Post has more.  "Even advocates within the administration said the new project is sure to be a difficult sell on Capitol Hill because of the huge costs at a time when the administration is projecting mammoth deficits for years to come, and had promised to cut the shortfall in half over the next five years."

Politics of immigration
The Boston Globe on whether Bush is alienating conservatives with his immigration proposal: "Many conservatives say Bush has done a good enough job responding to their key positions that it would take more than a few variances for him to lose the support of his base.  But others disagree, noting that immigration is a passionate issue in many parts of the country.  Former California governor Pete Wilson, who in the 1990s was thought by some to be a strong presidential candidate, supported a ballot initiative that would have blocked illegal immigrants from getting benefits in California.  A solid majority of voters in the state supported the measure, but many perceived Wilson's push for it to be tinged with racism.  Democrats rode the backlash into statewide offices."

The politics of education
The Washington Post notes that when going on the road to tout the No Child Left Behind education act, the White House seeks out schools where the law "is successful and popular." But, as the paper points out, "finding them takes some research."

"In Tennessee, 47 percent of the state's 1,650 elementary, middle and high schools failed to make what the state considers adequate yearly progress under No Child Left Behind criteria. Mary Ann Blankenship, assistant executive director of the Tennessee Education Association, said she has led 100 workshops on the program in the past year."

"'I haven't found any place where people are happy with No Child Left Behind,' she said."
 
"Blankenship did not attend Bush's 37-minute tribute at West View Elementary School in Knoxville. There he sat on stage with the principal, Melvenia Smith, and repeatedly praised her for the school's progress from below-standard to way above, with 82 percent of third-graders scoring proficiently in reading and math on last year's state tests."

Tax cuts (D)
Embed Marisa Buchanan reports on Clark's introduction, with the help of Enron whistleblower Sherron Watkins, of his four-part plan to curb corporate loopholes in the tax code. Clark would "outlaw tax shelters, double the fines imposed on companies that engage in tax-evasion, and quadruple fines for repeat offenders."  He also would "review every single corporate tax deduction on the books and decide which are serving a legitimate purpose and which are nothing but a free lunch." Clark wants to put the responsibility of not creating tax shelters onto companies, Buchanan notes.  But what is the criteria for a tax shelter?  Clark: "These are transactions without economic substance.  You simply pass a law, say, that transactions without economic substance are hereby designated tax shelters.  Tax shelters are illegal.  Companies are in business for economic purposes not to simply shelter income from taxes."

Embed Dugald McConnell notes how Edwards fortuitously was focusing on middle-class taxes in New Hampshire yesterday just as the issue heated up in the news.  The campaign's new policy booklet is 15 pages organized around kitchen-table issues: helping middle class families save and invest, pay for college, and have access to health care.  Edwards brought out three local families yesterday to illustrate the impact of the tax breaks he is proposing for buying a home, saving for retirement, or for having a child.  But, McConnell says, the press van did not get to the event - instead they spent that time (and then some) lost in central New Hampshire.  (To add insult to injury, the press van later got bumped by a reporter's car, after the reporter himself was rear-ended when a truck driver noticed too late that traffic had been stopped to allow the ABC bus, with Edwards and George Stephanopoulos aboard, to turn onto the strip in Portsmouth.)  McConnell notes that fortunately, the AP made it to the event on time.

Kerry went after Dean again on middle-class tax cuts on CNBC's Capital Report last night, but had to repeat his reversal on his initially proposed one-year payroll tax holiday.

Embed Dionne Scott notes that Lieberman's new TV ad in New Hampshire promoting his tax-reform proposal might strike some as responding to Clark's touting of his own proposal, but the ad doesn't mention or refer to Clark's plan.  But Scott also reports the ad was produced last week, before Clark promoted his.  The Lieberman camp did send out a press release yesterday announcing they were "launching a public effort to help find a working replacement for the broken 'tax calculator' on Wes Clark's website."  The Lieberman folks say Clark's calculator doesn't allow calculations for close to 100 million middle-class taxpayers -- middle class single or married taxpayers without children under 17, or for any middle class families with children making more than $100,000 a year.

Scott also gets Lieberman's reaction to Dean's upcoming effort to provide middle-class tax cuts: "We're less than two weeks away from the Iowa caucuses, less than three weeks away from the New Hampshire primary.  A candidate for president has an obligation to tell the people of the country what he's gonna do.  And therefore, I hope that whatever proposals Howard Dean has that are new on taxes come out soon.  So the voters can evaluate.  Otherwise they're going to be left with the accurate impression that I'm the only Democrat really fighting hard for middle class tax cuts."

More Iowa (1/19)
The New York Times: "Democratic leaders in Iowa say that in a contest that is notoriously difficult to measure with polls, Dr. Dean is the dominant candidate, and they are struck by the powerful commitment of his supporters.  Still, in dozens of conversations with voters across central Iowa over the past three days, it became clear that some Democrats are taking a second look at the doctor from Vermont whose candidacy has transformed the Democratic presidential contest."

"Democrats in the interviews expressed weariness about a campaign that many said had gone on too long and had overwhelmed them with mail and automatic telephone calls.  More than a few described the contest as grating in tone and texture.  And in an electoral environment where animosity toward President Bush is matched only by the sense that he cannot be defeated, many Democrats expressed concern that the warfare among the candidates was making a hopeless cause all the more hopeless.  Indeed, several Democrats praised Mr. Edwards for largely avoiding the animosity, and said they would reward him with their votes."

"Given that Dr. Dean has drawn many new Democrats into the process, and given the intensity of his supporters, no one in Iowa is suggesting he is in serious trouble now.  Among the campaigns now conducting nightly counts of supporters, there is a rough consensus that Dr. Dean is in front, followed by Mr. Gephardt, with Mr. Kerry and Mr. Edwards fighting it out for third."

The AP looks at a Gephardt campaign pressured by both Dean and Kerry.

The Des Moines Register reports on a 'Draft Clark in Iowa' movement aimed at generating support for retired Gen. Wesley Clark in Iowa's Jan. 19 presidential caucuses.  A Clark aide also said Thursday that Clark could return to Iowa for a campaign visit."  The AP weighs the risks for Clark and Lieberman in skipping Iowa; the verdict seems to be the risk is not that great.  "Both the Clark and Lieberman campaigns agree on the Iowa finish that suits their strategy best - a narrow Dean win over Gephardt with Kerry far behind."

The Boston Globe focuses on possible vote-swapping among candidates who do not, and do meet the 15-percent threshold, which "could determine the outcome of the Democratic presidential contest here, according to advisers for several campaigns who are mapping strategies to swing stray votes in the final hours."

"At headquarters for Howard Dean, advisers are working on an automated system that would let precinct captains dial in early tallies.  Knowing how Dean is faring statewide would allow the campaign to advise its supporters to throw Dean votes in some precincts to another candidate."

Most of the 2,000 caucus meeting on January 19 will occur in school gymnasiums, church basements, but a few will also take place in private homes like Cindy Paulsen's, the Chicago Tribune reports.  "Paulsen, a postal worker and lifelong [Oskaloosa, Iowa] resident, will brew coffee and bake apple streusel cake for the dozen or so people she's expecting Jan 19. If it snows, she'll ask them to take their shoes off at the door so they don't make a mess in her log cabin home."

New Hampshire (1/27)
The Los Angeles Times looks at Clark's growing momentum in this state.  "Perhaps the surest sign of Clark's improved standing is the reaction of his rivals. Dean and other Democratic contenders have begun attacking Clark directly, handing out leaflets critical of the retired Army general at his events and lambasting him in speeches. The Republican National Committee on Thursday issued a pair of statements assailing Clark."

With less than three weeks before the New Hampshire primary, the Washington Post reports, Kerry's supporters in the state "have been voicing a mixture of frustration, confusion and desperation" about the candidate's position in the polls.  "'I want him to go up in the polls so bad,' said Linda Piper, a waitress at Veano's Italian Kitchen. Kerry has visited the Concord restaurant twice, and Piper is supporting him because of his experience and because 'he's not for the rich people; he's for me.'"

Yet Kerry is convinced he's about to take off.  "'People are comparative shopping right now, and in the case of some candidates there may even be some buyer's remorse and people are beginning to look around,' he said. 'I think there's an opportunity over these next weeks to define what this race is really all about -- and I'm a fighter.'"

More 2004 notes (D)
Following a campaign conference call in which they conceded a gender gap exists for Clark, the New York Times covers Clark's efforts to appeal to more women, including changing his wardrobe and appearing with women at events.

The Times story notes Clark's "overall poll numbers have been rising, nationally and here in the first primary state, where he is concentrating his efforts, having decided to skip the Iowa caucuses.  A CNN/USA Today poll this week found General Clark in a statistical tie with Howard Dean nationally.  And for the first time in months, as he tries to establish himself as the leading Democratic alternative to Dr. Dean, the general is drawing sharp attacks from his rivals.  On Thursday the Republican National Committee also weighed in, distributing two attacks on General Clark to reporters."

Perhaps this explains the shopping trip embed Marisa Buchanan reports Clark took his press corps on yesterday.  While the Washington Post and San Jose Mercury News reporters seemed to find a few items, Buchanan says, most of the reporters were stuck in the awkward position of helping Clark pick out a sweater.

Buchanan also notes that in addition to sending an e-mail for Clark to her own fan list of 1 million or so -- a message which also is posted on the Clark website -- Madonna has agreed to appear at an event for Clark before February 3, Clark aides say. 

The Washington Times says Dean's position on civil unions and recent comments that God cannot condemn homosexuals are "a political vulnerability."

The New York Times on Kerry: "In increasingly crowded gymnasiums, meeting halls and diners, Mr. Kerry all but pleads with Democrats to see past the more electric appeal of Dr. Dean, his chief rival, to heed their brains and not their hearts, to avoid what Mr. Kerry warns would be a catastrophic mistake for the party and the country: making Dr. Dean the Democratic standard-bearer in November."

The Washington Post examines the well-known fact that as Vermont governor, Dean supported gun rights.  But the paper also notes he "feuded with some of Vermont's most ardent gun rights advocates, who saw him as unwilling to take strong stands on firearms issues, attend their candidate forums or respond to their questionnaires. The Burlington Free Press recently described his support for gun rights while governor as 'more platonic than passionate.' That was enough to earn the NRA's backing -- and A rating -- in eight consecutive elections, but it disappointed other gun enthusiasts."

Asked last night on CNBC's Capital Report whether it is a political necessity for a candidate to talk about faith, Kerry responded, "No.  And I think it's almost, you know, wrong to sort of shift what you're doing with respect to religion for political purposes."  Asked whether that's what Dean is doing, Kerry said, "If there's anything -- well, if he announces the strategy to talk about it more in the South, but he's not going to talk about it in the North.  It seems to me like sort of a Southern strategy, that you have a regionalized religion strategy.  I think you have to be who you are...  But when you suddenly announce to people, 'I'm going to talk about it more on a regional basis,' I think it raises a question in a lot of people's minds about politics as religion.  And I don't like that...  And people want to measure you as an authentic person, not as somebody implementing a political strategy, particularly with something as serious as your relationship with God." 

Embed Tom Llamas gets Sharpton saying, "I don't understand regional religion.  Where you are holy in some states and unholy in others.  I think that I preach everywhere I go.  I don't talk religion in one state and drop it in another...  I don't get the Holy Ghost on the plane to South Carolina.  I take it with me to South Carolina," said Sharpton.  "So I don't think that candidates ought to try and tailor a religion toward the crowd I think they ought to deal with their convictions everywhere if they have them or if they don't have them they should leave them be.  I don't know what Mr. Dean is doing but I can only talk about what I'm doing.  I think that is something I wouldn't play with.  I think that no candidate ought to in any way play with religion in that form.  I don't think that religion ought to be a political strategy.  Religion should either be real or not real."

Sharpton told the Washington Times he wants more than just a speaking role at the Democratic National Convention -- he wants to influence the platform.

Thursday, January 8, 2004 | 9:30 a.m. ET
From Elizabeth Wilner, Mark Murray and Huma Zaida
President Bush and the Democratic pack gear up for another few rounds on tax cuts and education amidst promising poll numbers for the President on the economy and the war and subsequent honing of Democratic rhetoric.  But in comes news of another Black Hawk down.

Bush makes another policy/political trip, revisiting No Child Left Behind in potential swing state Tennessee and fundraising in Tennessee and Florida, while the Democrats' sparring over tax cuts features "real people" cameos and increasingly rapid response.  On the D side, just about everyone's in New Hampshire -- except Gephardt, who is in Iowa, and Dean, who's down in Vermont. 

After the Boston Globe report yesterday on Dean's consideration of a middle-class tax cut, Kerry goes up with a TV ad in Iowa featuring a single mother of four trying to hold down a job and make ends meet.  Kerry in the ad: "I don't think we should be asking the middle class to be the people who are going to pick up for George Bush's mistakes."  (A Kerry staffer's e-mail to First Read: "Are you guys going to do anything with this flip flop... it's unbelievable.") 

Edwards yesterday on middle-class taxes, in a veiled shot at Dean: "It's amazing what happens when politicians get close to election day.  Those who say we can't afford it, suddenly say we can.  I have consistently proposed changes in the tax code to help working Americans buy a house, save for college or put something away for retirement...  The American people won't have to guess what I'll do as president.  They know, and I haven't changed my mind."

Edwards is in Manchester, NH today, unveiling a new policy booklet focusing on taxes.  Embed Dugald McConnell says Edwards will appear with real New Hampshire people.

All part of what the Washington Post suggests is, in the face of an improving economy, a shift in the Democratic candidates' "economic messages from a broad indictment of President Bush's economic stewardship to more targeted appeals to what they call stretched and struggling Americans."

"To be sure, pockets of economic distress remain" in states like Michigan and Ohio, and "even nationally, there are fertile economic grounds to plow, if the message is crafted correctly, Democrats say."

USA Today offers more on its new poll: "Most Americans begin this election year confident in the economy, the conduct of the war in Iraq, the battle against terrorism, and their outlook for the future."

As predicted in this space earlier, there's a good amount of ink and candidate rhetoric out there, fueled by yesterday's poll results, on Clark possibly -- or more than possibly, in some breathless accounts -- emerging as the single alternative to Dean.  USA Today's headline, for example: "Clark closes in on Dean's lead as many consider switching votes."  (The "consideration" appears to be anecdotal.)

Dean's efforts to lie low and hang onto his lead prompt grumbling among his accompanying press corps.  Embed Felix Schein reports a press request for time with Dean on the flight back to Burlington yesterday was denied, and two aides spoke with reporters for five minutes before things broke down.  The reason: insistence by the press corps that Dean should be answering the questions, not two aides who were unable or unwilling to sufficiently answer what was asked of them.  Schein notes that for many in the press corps, the difficulties associated with extracting or confirming information with Dean's traveling aides is a growing problem.  And over the past few days, he says, Dean has been kept largely away from the press corps, his staff opting to instead to deal with questions one-on-one or in prearranged settings. 

But don't fret: there's a standout Dean interview in this news cycle.  The Washington Post gets this: "Dean said Wednesday that his decision as governor to sign the bill legalizing civil unions for gays in Vermont was influenced by his Christian views, as he waded deeper into the growing political, religious and cultural debate over homosexuality and the Bible's view of it."

"Dean has been expanding on his religious views in a series of conversations with reporters, but his remarks Tuesday and Wednesday were the first time he has talked about how faith has influenced his policymaking."

Columnist Bob Novak suggests Dean might now be alienating secular Democratic primary voters by talking about religion.  And don't miss Christopher Buckley's Wall Street Journal op-ed on Googling Dean and God.

Lastly, in a six-minute speech yesterday, the Hartford Courant tells us Connecticut Gov. John Rowland (R) "asked Connecticut's people to forgive him for accepting substantial gifts from state employees and lying to cover up his actions." 

"Despite his apologies, Rowland's comments Wednesday fell on deaf ears among some Democrats who have been pushing for impeachment.  The House Democratic caucus will meet today in a closed-door meeting about Rowland's future, and House Speaker Moira K. Lyons, D-Stamford, is expected to decide as soon as next week whether to appoint a bipartisan House committee that could start the impeachment process."

And, "more than half of the state's residents think he should resign."

Politics of immigration
The Wall Street Journal says the proposed provision of Social Security benefits is "certain to further inflame the debate.  That program is expected to begin spending more than it takes in within the next 10 to 15 years, as baby boomers retire.  Without major changes, such as cutting benefits, raising payroll taxes or boosting the retirement age, the program would go broke by about 2042."

"The potential cost of the combined incentives is difficult to pin down, in large part because of the murkiness of the immigrant labor market.  Critics of the existing system say that many undocumented workers now pay Social Security taxes, providing a bonus to the government balance sheet because they don't draw U.S. benefits.  The Social Security Administration estimates the potential cost of paying out benefits under a 'totalization' agreement with Mexico would be $78 million in the first year and balloon to $650 million by 2050.  But that estimate assumes only 50,000 initial beneficiaries, a low-ball calculation, according to the General Accounting Office."

The Washington Post covers all the bases.  From its news coverage: "A presidential adviser said the immigration plan appeared to be the opening chapter of an agenda being designed by Bush aides who are planning for a general election race against [Dean]...  Dean said in a statement that Bush's plan 'would create a permanent underclass of service workers with second-class status.'  Other elements are likely to include proposals to limit lawsuits and add private accounts as part of the Social Security system."

"Business groups, made up of some of Bush's biggest financial backers, welcomed the plan as a way to create a stable workforce and alleviate labor shortages for low-wage and dangerous jobs that Americans disdain..."

The accompanying Post analysis: "With his Democratic challengers preoccupied, President Bush demonstrated the advantages of incumbency yesterday with a proposal for undocumented workers aimed squarely at the Latino community, which is destined to be one of the most important swing constituencies in the November election."

"It was the latest indicator that Bush and his political advisers plan to press their advantages to shape the general election environment well before Democrats even find a nominee."

"That general election is still a long way off, and Bush faces significant challenges, from stabilizing Iraq to restoring the jobs lost on his watch.  Nor is it clear that the guest-worker proposal will pay big political dividends...  But this president starts the year from a far more solid political foundation than did his father."

"One Bush adviser said immigration is far less a hot-button issue among conservatives than some analysts suggest.  'It's more conservative pundits than conservatives,' the adviser said...  Democrats took issue with Bush's proposal, arguing that it does not go far enough...  But a Democratic strategist, speaking on a not-for-attribution basis, described the proposal as 'brilliant' politics that could help to refurbish Bush's 'compassionate conservative' credentials, appeal to moderate swing voters and make it much harder for Democrats to win several states on their target list."

The Los Angeles Times calls it "a double political punch, pleasing his longtime business supporters while reaching out to Latino voters, whose political loyalties are up for grabs in 2004 and beyond."

"It is a measure of Bush's confidence in the support he enjoys among conservatives that he is willing to risk alienating them in an election year in order to reach out to a constituency that could help broaden the base of the GOP for decades to come."

The Times reminds everyone that "both parties may be overestimating the impact of such proposals on Latino voters: Latinos are not a monolithic voting bloc, and not all necessarily identify their interests with the plight of illegal immigrants.  On the other hand, some Latino activists are put off by Bush's plan because it does not go as far as they wanted to put immigrants on the path to U.S. citizenship."

The New York Times analysis: "The real political risk to the White House, moderate Republicans said, was whether the proposals would be as welcomed by Hispanics as Mr. Bush and his political advisers expected.  Many Hispanic leaders quickly heaped criticism on an immigration plan that they said did not go far enough, and asserted that the White House was cynically chasing their votes with an empty plan that would do them no good in the end."

USA Today: "The president's move was criticized by organized labor, groups that favor immigration curbs and congressional Democrats.  Democrats questioned whether Bush will follow through and push his idea in Congress or whether, as House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi put it, it is 'election-year window dressing.'  Democratic Party Chairman Terry McAuliffe said that rather than providing a way for guest workers to gain citizenship, Bush 'is guaranteeing their deportation' when they leave their jobs."

The Boston Herald rounds up Democratic responses.

The Washington Times, among others, addresses the dispute over whether the plan amounts to amnesty or not.  Another Times story notes "[m]ost Americans adamantly oppose both increasing the amount of legal immigration to the United States and legalizing those immigrants now here illegally."

Congressional agenda
The Washington Post notes the unusual blatancy of the Western Business Roundtable advertising a three-day junket in Phoenix for its members, featuring Members of Congress and Administration officials, as a chance for participants "to help Congress write its 'To-Do' list for next year.'  'This unique summit," the group said, 'will feature several days of events designed to give a limited number of business leaders the opportunity to share ideas, concerns and suggestions with many national policymakers.'  Each participant is to tell lawmakers 'the single most important thing' that Congress should and should not do this year." 

Tax cuts (D)
The New York Times again looks at the debate among the Democratic candidates over taxes, pegged to Dean's consideration of offering a middle-class tax cut.  Dean's statement yesterday: "As I have consistently said since November 2002, I will propose additional tax reforms that will make the tax code fairer for working families--and that will ensure that corporations and the wealthy pay their fair share."  (We'd note that while Dean may have mentioned proposing some sort of middle-class tax relief, he hasn't done it consistently.  That said, there were hints prior to the Boston Globe report yesterday that he would eventually suggest it.)

Embed Becky Diamond reports about 10 journalists joined a conference call on tax policy with Kerry yesterday, which wasn't on the schedule until after the Globe reported Dean may change his tax cut position and proposal.  Kerry started the call by drawing a line in the sand, Diamond says, talking about his plan versus Dean's as "an issue that has been a fundamental difference on this campaign from day one."  He said the issue of raising taxes on the middle class "...is a core issue to me... a bedrock position of mine during the campaign."  He also pointed out that Gephardt and Dean "would raise taxes $2,000 or more for a typical family of four... that's real money...  It's more than half a year of groceries and utility bills."  Real person Angela Runkel -- nurse, reservist, and mother of five -- was on the call to talk about how Dean and Gephardt's plans would affect her.  To faint background sound of kids playing, Diamond says, Runkel claimed Gephardt and Dean's plans would cost her $2,200 more in taxes because Dean and Gephardt would take away the child care tax credit and reinstate the marriage penalty.

Although Edwards' written statement didn't mention Dean, embed Dugald McConnell got sound from the candidate on Dean specifically: "I think that Governor Dean is not focused on the plight of the middle class, the struggles that they're having.  Raising taxes on the middle class is a mistake.  Instead we should be providing real relief for middle class families."

Iowa (1/19)
The Chicago Tribune says economic issues are on the minds of most Iowa caucusgoers: "Although rural and urban voters express concerns about many things--the war in Iraq, education and health care among them--the candidates are reminded routinely that it's the economy that really matters here."

"Since 2000, when Iowa last held its presidential caucuses, the state has lost more than 10 percent of its factory jobs, almost 30,000.  Plants that make batteries, electronics, truck trailers, farm implements and construction equipment have cut jobs in southeastern Iowa."

The Des Moines Register reports Clark's emergence as Dean's top rival in the latest national and New Hampshire polls adds "a new layer of uncertainty amid an increasingly frantic swirl of candidate activity in Iowa - including last-ditch efforts by Clark supporters."

The Los Angeles Times, in its Dean tax-cut story, says: "The airwaves in Iowa are quickly filling with commercials that knock Dean."

The AP reports a slew of b-roll possibilities: "New technology and timeworn tactics are driving Democratic ground games in Iowa."

"Dean may use sophisticated telephone technology to track caucus-night voting in a way never before possible, opening new avenues for devilish strategies.  He also is counting on a record-breaking swarm of recruits to abandon their online Internet posts and campaign off-line - door-to-door, hundreds of miles away from their homes.  Many pay their own hotel and food expenses while others feed from vending machines and sleep on bunk beds in far-flung campaign cabins."

"Rep. Dick Gephardt has hundreds of union workers, tiny computers in hand, scouring Iowa for fellow labor members who might be swayed.  Dean, Gephardt and two other candidates - [Kerry and Edwards] - have formidable get-out-the-vote operations that, collectively, may the best and most expensive in caucus history, Iowa Democrats say."

Another blurb in the same column: "If Dean campaign manager Joe Trippi has his way, he will be able to know real-time how the votes are falling during the caucuses.  Under a plan the campaign is considering, precinct captains would dial a telephone number that would prompt them to punch a series of buttons to indicate vote totals for each candidate."

"Theoretically, Dean could use the information to try to shape the field.  If, for example, Trippi finds his candidate comfortably in the lead, he may use the same phone system to instruct precinct captains to throw some Dean votes to Kerry.  A third-place showing would sink Gephardt.  A second-place finish would help Kerry muddy the waters in New Hampshire, the follow-up primary."

An Edwards campaign e-mail claims, "our Iowa office reports two nights in a row of record caucus commitments.  Each night was double the commitments received in any night prior to Sunday's debate."  Also: "while Senator Edwards called him on it during the debate Sunday night, Gephardt's campaign is still lumping everyone together on NAFTA and trade.  Let's be clear, John Edwards NEVER supported NAFTA.  Team Gephardt conveniently forgets that their guy voted for fast track - which the entire South Carolina delegation voted against and which paved the way for NAFTA.  The entire South Carolina delegation, including James Clyburn, also voted against two separate Africa trade bills that Gephardt backed in 1998 and 1999."

New Hampshire (1/27)
PoliticsNH.com has Kerry downplaying the most recent poll that has him running third in the state.  Meanwhile, the Union Leader reports on how Kerry yesterday blasted the Administration for promoting and abetting corporate greed, and said that if elected President "he would appoint a 'director of family economic security.'  The pocketbook watchdog would protect workers' pensions and retirement benefits, protect personal information from identity theft, and ensure fair lending and housing."

More 2004 notes (D)
The Washington Post's Marcus notes that "[u]nlike most of his rivals for the Democratic nomination, the former Vermont governor is running a campaign nearly devoid of autobiography."

Embed Felix Schein, on MSNBC.com analyzes Dean's off-the-cuff statements and how he's trying to curb them so they don't get him into more trouble.

Embed Marisa Buchanan reports flyers were distributed at a Clark event attacking the General on a number of issues, and the campaign says they were paid for by Dean for America.  The Clark folks were "outraged" and "appalled" and scheduled another conference call to discuss it.  Clark's New Hampshire spokesperson said, "I think the Howard Dean campaign is starting to get a little nervous, they are hearing our footsteps and they are starting to respond."  Buchanan notes another reason why the Clark campaign jumped on this was because they were equally "outraged" by an article in an Arizona paper yesterday that had reporters accidentally on a conference call listening to a Dean strategy meeting in which Dean aides discussed ways to target Clark.  All Clark himself would say on Dean's flyers was, "I guess that's what professional politicians do.  For me it's about communicating with the voters...  I guess that's what you would expect from professional politicians."

The Washington Post: "The literature included such recycled headlines as 'Clark voted Republican for Decades,' and 'Clark pro war' and 'Clark now anti-war.'"

The Post goes on to say, "Kerry, too, was taking notice of Clark's progress -- and fighting back with themes similar to Dean's...  Kerry flew from Iowa to Manchester on Tuesday night and was up early Wednesday with an anti-Clark message.  'Unlike some other candidates, I have 35 years' experience fighting for the Democratic values of the party,' he said, 'never having voted for Richard Nixon or Ronald Reagan or others.  I've been a Democrat all my life.'"

The Washington Times says the emergence of Clark as the alternative is "apparently the result of Mr. Dean's recent gaffes."

The Clark campaign is beginning to crow that Clark is the only candidate who can stop Dean, the New York Post says.   The New York Daily News says the Clark and Dean campaigns both believe that by next month, the race will be Clark vs. Dean.

Embed Priya David notes Gephardt whacked Dean, Kerry, Edwards, and for the first time, Clark in a speech on trade in South Carolina yesterday: "Trade is one issue where I have always stood up for workers, here in South Carolina and across the country.  At times I was pretty lonely.  Howard Dean described himself as a 'strong supporter' of NAFTA...  Even General Clark touted his support for NAFTA in a speech to a Republican Party dinner in Arkansas in 2001, he told the Pulaski County Republicans that he was 'pleased that NAFTA passed.'"

A Gephardt campaign e-mail asks supporters if they have friends or relatives in Vermont who could help Gephardt get onto the state's March 2 primary ballot.  The campaign also got the top slot on the Massachusetts March 2 ballot in a random drawing. – Boston Globe

NBC's Kelly O'Donnell reports on a Clark campaign conference call with pollster Geoff Garin yesterday.  Garin said Clark has a gender gap for Clark: their polling indicates more men recognize and are familiar with Clark than women.  Garin also said women are tuning in to the Democratic race later, and he sees them a "very rich target group."  He said the growth potential is there because women and men do not respond differently to Clark -- it's simply a function of awareness.  Garin also suggested there's growth potential in South Carolina, where he says one in five African-Americans know Clark.  And he said support for Clark is less about ideology and more about perceptions of Clark as a leader, which translates for voters into seeing him as a potential president.  Their polling shows that in February 3 states, Dean is identified as "liberal" and voters there don't see themselves that way.  That said, the campaign didn't poll on Clark, but believe he is not viewed as liberal.  The campaign claims Clark is ahead in Oklahoma, sees South Carolina as a toss-up, and says New Hampshire is "still fluid" with "churning" among Dean, Clark and Kerry supporters.

O'Donnell also reports the campaign expects to hit the spending cap in New Hampshire with buys in Boston and Portland, too.

Former Bush opponent and Sen. Lamar Alexander (R) told a Washington Times ed board meeting that Dean would "make a formidable challenger" to Bush.

The only applause during Kerry's 40-minute workers' rights speech in New Hampshire yesterday, embed Becky Diamond reports, came at the end.  Kerry later said the podium was low and the light was broken at the podium and he had a hard time seeing his notes.  Diamond says the populist rhetoric about "big corporations and K Street lobbyists" has become more and more prevalent in Kerry's stump and formal speeches lately. 

Embed Dionne Scott says Lieberman's "State of the Union prebuttal," as the campaign billed it, focused on Lieberman's usual theme of his electability as a centrist, but more sharply than before, with Clark -- who, we'd note, threatens Lieberman in New Hampshire, where Lieberman is trying to kick off the series of "wins" that will lead him to the nomination -- now a clear target of the campaign.  Scott says Lieberman yesterday compared his policies with what he calls the "extremisms" of Bush, Dean -- and Clark on:

-- Tax cuts: "I don't think we should have to choose between a candidate who wants to raise taxes on the middle class and a president who's given too many taxes to too many people at the highest income who really don't need it;"

-- National security: "I don't think we should have to choose between a president who's made too many enemies around the world and a Democratic candidate who seems to act as if he doesn't understand that we have enemies around the world;" and

-- Economic growth: "I don't think we have to choose between leaving our workers defenseless, our companies defenseless.  And on the other hand, building walls of protectionism again around America."

In remarks specific to Clark, Scott says, Lieberman argued that Clark's tax-cut plan abandons families making more than $100,000, all single and married middle-class couples, all business owners without kids, and all middle-class senior citizens.  When it comes to national security, he recalled Clark's contradictory statements on the war, then used the line he has used on Dean in the past -- that if Clark had his way, "Saddam Hussein would still be in power instead of in prison."  On economic growth, Scott says, the argument appeared a little less thought-out.  Lieberman simply said that a group of leading economists surveyed by the Wall Street Journal rated his plan higher than Clark's.  A campaign aide says the Clark focus was added to the speech "when it became clear there was this back-and-forth" between Lieberman and the General on their tax plans.

Embed Tom Llamas says Sharpton postponed the scheduled start of his DC campaign blitz until today so New York Assemblyman Adam Clayton Powell IV could participate.  Powell will endorse Sharpton in DC today.

Wednesday, January 7, 2004 | 9:30 a.m. ET
From Elizabeth Wilner, Mark Murray and Huma Zaida
President Bush and his aspiring challengers today focus on the American worker.  Bush rolls out a "compassionate conservative," earned legalization immigration policy aimed at winning over Hispanics, though it's unclear how hard he'll fight Hill conservatives to pass it.  Keep in mind that Bush has rarely lost a fight in Congress, especially when it involves the conservative base of the GOP.  Also keep in mind that while some Democratic candidates might attack Bush for not undertaking this earlier, they too advocate some kind of earned legalization. 

Bush also headlines a Republican National Committee event, while campaign manager Ken Mehlman details Bush's $130 million fundraising success on a conference call with reporters at 10:15 am.

Amidst the usual intense expectations-setting game in Iowa, the top three Democratic candidates there depart for other key states: Dean does a pancake breakfast in Muscatine, IA before heading home to Vermont; Gephardt hits Georgetown, SC to rally with steelworkers; and Kerry is in Bedford, NH giving a 12 noon speech on a "workers bill of rights."  A Kerry aide says the speech "will show that Kerry has a real plan to restore the economy and protect the interests of workers at the same time.  The Bush-league recovery is leaving behind average Americans and Kerry has the most comprehensive plan to bring them along."

Edwards gives a speech on limiting the influence of lobbyists in Des Moines before leaving to host a jobs forum in Spartanburg, SC. 

Lieberman gives a speech on "the choice facing New Hampshire voters in the January 27 primary" in Nashua, NH at 2:45 pm.  Embed Dionne Scott reports a campaign aide bills the speech as "the first Democratic 'prebuttal' to Bush's State of the Union address."  The campaign was short on specifics, but says the heart of the speech will focus on New Hampshire voters' choices between the alleged extremism of Bush, the alleged extremism of Dean and the alleged centrism of Lieberman (but, we'd note, the campaign also continues to tout Lieberman's progressive social positions).  One focus, Scott says: taxes.  Scott says the campaign was "very happy" the tax issue came up quite a bit during yesterday's NPR debate, giving Lieberman the opportunity to relay the message that while his rivals are talking about either keeping or repealing Bush's tax cuts, he's doing both and going a step beyond.

The Boston Globe says "Dean is moving toward embracing a tax relief package for middle-income Americans, which would amount to a major revamping of a centerpiece of his Democratic presidential campaign...  A top Dean official said yesterday that the campaign has made a 'strategic' decision for Dean to refrain during the primaries from revealing details of a proposal to trim middle-class taxes, preferring to announce it during the general election."

Beyond the buzz about Iowa tracking polls, the latest USA Today/CNN/Gallup national survey has Clark emerging as Dean's top rival: "Dean still tops the Democratic field in the national survey, at 24%, but the 21-point lead he held over Clark less than a month ago has narrowed to just 4 percentage points, within the poll's margin of error."

"Meanwhile, President Bush begins the election year with the Republican nomination assured, the national mood brightening and higher ratings for the way he is handling the economy and Iraq.  Overall, 60% of those surveyed Friday through Monday approve of the job Bush is doing.  And 55% say they are satisfied with the way things are going in the country, the highest level in nearly nine months."

"In the poll, Bush beat Dean by 22 percentage points among likely voters.  Against an unnamed Democrat, Bush won by 17 percentage points."

Roll Call reported Tuesday night that former South Carolina Attorney General Charlie Condon (R), now a candidate for the US Senate, will launch a TV ad today "that derisively refers to the 'Howard Dean Democrats'' stance on the war in Iraq.  'The Howard Dean Democrats oppose America taking the fight to Saddam Hussein and terrorist havens overseas,' says Condon...  'They're just wrong.'  The commercial, the first this cycle by a Republican Senate candidate that mentions Dean, is likely to reignite the debate over the former Vermont governor's effect on downballot races if he becomes his party's presidential nominee."  And of course, it raises issues for Southern Democrats over Dean's position on the war.

The Condon campaign holds a 1:00 pm presser on the ad today at the South Carolina State House; the ad will air statewide.

And Connecticut Gov. John Rowland (R) addresses voters tonight at 6:00 pm regarding calls for his resignation and/or impeachment.  Rowland continues to say he does not plan to resign.

Politics of immigration
The Wall Street Journal leads: "Bush is proposing a significant liberalization of immigration policy in a move that may anger some conservative supporters but potentially broaden his appeal to Hispanic voters and mend badly frayed relations with Mexico."

"Many details of the proposal are being left to Congress" -- as usual, we'd note -- "where it will face an uphill fight."

The Washington Post says "Bush's supporters in the business community have made liberalization of immigration laws a top priority because of a shortage of workers willing to take low-wage jobs.  And both political parties see Latino voters, who generally support more liberal immigration policies, as crucial to the November elections.  But some congressional conservatives object to looser immigration policies, and a Republican leadership aide predicted that opposition will be swift and loud."

"The proposal, Bush's first in his reelection year, would constitute the biggest change to the nation's immigration system in two decades.  Bush is unveiling the program five days before meeting in Mexico with President Vicente Fox, who has advocated such changes."

USA Today notes Bush "got 35% of Hispanic votes in 2000 and hopes to win more this year, particularly in Florida, New Mexico and Arizona, key electoral states with large Hispanic populations."

The Des Moines Register reports, "Several Iowa television stations are continuing to air a political ad that Iowa labor leaders have criticized for its anti-immigration message.  The president and general manager of Des Moines station KCCI-TV announced Tuesday that the station will continue running the ad, which WHO-TV pulled last week...  The ad, which calls on the presidential candidates to change their positions on allowing more immigrant workers into the United States, was purchased by the Coalition for the Future American Worker.  The coalition is an out-of-state group with no official ties to the organized labor movement in Iowa.  The image of a fist hitting a punching bag, printed with a human face, is shown while a narrator talks about foreign workers taking jobs away from Iowans."

More 2004 notes (R)
USA Today leads its poll analysis with, "To the disappointment of many Democrats, this year's presidential election no longer looks like a replay of 1992."

"Bush's courting of conservative Republicans and the brightening picture for economic growth and the stock market are delivering two advantages that his father didn't have.  Now, Bush has the approval of a 54% majority for his handling of the economy -- a signature reading of a president's political health -- and a committed core of supporters."

"Of course, the election is 10 months away.  There's time for events that could shake the political landscape, among them a faltering economy, a worsening situation for U.S. forces in Iraq or a terrorist strike.  And for a year, Dean has done better than rivals or pundits predicted."

"'From a historical perspective, we're in a pretty good position . . . which gives us a good feeling about where things are heading in this election,' says Matthew Dowd, a Bush strategist.  'But we're 300 days away from Election Day, and a lot can change.'  He said the nation's close political divide means the two candidates are almost sure to finish within 4 or 5 percentage points of each other.  A Reagan-style landslide would be 'impossible' today, Dowd says."

Campaign Finance
The Washington Post says Dean still "will have to quadruple the rate at which he is collecting money to achieve his goal of matching President Bush dollar for dollar during the primary season."

"Fundraising specialists, and academics who study political money, strongly question Dean's ability to keep pace with Bush, but Dean campaign officials say they are confident they can do it."

The Center for Responsive Politics holds a seminar today on the impact of the SCOTUS McCain-Feingold decision on the 2004 elections.  Late additions to the panel, which already includes CRP's Larry Noble, former general counsel to the FEC, and party campaign finance gurus Ben Ginsberg (R) and Joe Sandler (D): the national political director of the Sierra Club and Stephen Moore of the Club for Growth, which is airing an ad against Dean in Iowa.  At the National Press Club at 9:30 am.

Dean-Bradley
Per embed Felix Schein, Dean on what Bradley brings to the campaign: "He is a very thoughtful person and a very decent person, as you know.  I think the effect of having both Al Gore and Bill Bradley on board is -- it shows, I think, that this campaign is ready to start to bring together the disparate elements of the Democratic party should we win the nomination and of course that is going to be up to the people of Iowa and then the people of New Hampshire." 

More from Dean on Bradley: "I liked his message.  I endorsed Al Gore but I was very attracted to Bill Bradley and so were a lot of people I knew...  Bill Bradley's message was and still is one that thoughtful and honest approaches are problems are the way to go.  That it is better to stand up and say what you think than look at the polls and do whatever you think the polls tell you to do.  I think people are sick of that in politics and Bill Bradley didn't do that in politics."

Asked if this is the start of a Dean-Bradley ticket: "I hadn't thought of that.  It is an interesting idea.  Look, I am not anywhere near thinking about that and I need the Iowa voters to support us in the caucuses."

The Dean campaign wasted no time sending out an organizational and fundraising e-mail signed by Bradley. 

Clark embed Marisa Buchanan reports Bradley was looking for ice in the hotel late on Monday night, before the Tuesday endorsement and, according to Clark staffers, walked into one of their meetings asking for assistance.  Upon learning that the people gathered were Clark folks, Bradley said that Clark gave a nice speech that day (the tax reform speech) and headed out of the room.   

Iowa (1/19)
Meanwhile, the Dean campaign is accusing rivals of dirty tricks in Iowa, the New York Times reports.  "Joe Trippi, Dr. Dean's campaign manager, said that dozens of Dr. Dean's fervent supporters had each received as many as 20 computerized phone calls over the past weekend from the campaigns of Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts and Representative Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri...  Mr. Trippi accused the two rival campaigns of trying to frustrate Dr. Dean's supporters so they would not answer the phone, making it difficult for Dr. Dean to recruit precinct captains on caucus night."

"Advisers to Mr. Kerry and Mr. Gephardt instantly and vehemently denied the charge." 

Per Kerry campaign spokesperson Stephanie Cutter, the Dean and Gephardt camps are trying to raise expectations for Kerry in Iowa.  Cutter claims in an e-mail that the two campaigns are saying "we're skyrocketing and sharing their internal polls with reporters -- really driving up our expectations."  She adds that "we have our own internal information and while there's movement, we are still shooting at a strong third.  We have momentum right now, but not clear where it's going."  And: "the current real Iowa dynamic is that the doubts about Dean stopped his momentum.  More Iowans see him more as a politician and that has eroded his energy.  We can only hope that they announce one more Washington insider endorsement."  (Is she referring to Bradley as a Washington insider?)

Embed Becky Diamond notes Kerry himself said on Hardball last night he's hoping to score a surprise in Iowa.  Diamond asked Kerry what a "surprise" would be, and he told her that "a lot of people in the country wrote us off altogether and a lot of other people have just held us in third position all the time...  So I think if I was third -- close -- and close is very close to the others -- you know, that's a surprise.  Let's see where we are." 

Meanwhile, embed Priya David notes the Gephardt campaign publicly is vigorously downplaying any notion that Kerry is gaining momentum.  Campaign manager Steve Murphy has said Gephardt is the one with momentum, and got fairly heated, David notes, when questioned about Kerry.  Gephardt himself also denied he attacked Kerry during the NPR debate yesterday because of fears of a rising Kerry tide, saying he has differences with all the candidates and that it's important to discuss differences in an election.

The Des Moines Register on yesterday's NPR debate: "pocketbook issues sparked most of the contention."  The Register also covers the education speech Edwards chose to give instead of attending the debate.  Embed Dugald McConnell notes that even though Edwards did not participate in the debate, he still scored a half-hour solo interview on Iowa public radio.

The Washington Post leads its debate coverage with Kerry's attacks on Dean and Gephardt over taxes, charging "that Dean's and Gephardt's support for repealing all of President Bush's tax cuts would fall hardest on families struggling to pay higher health care and tuition costs and property taxes."

"The former Vermont governor dismissed the charge as 'hogwash,' and Gephardt said his health care plan would provide four times as much relief as the Bush tax cuts.  But Kerry pressed his attack, saying his rivals had abandoned the economic policy of protecting the middle class that proved successful for President Bill Clinton."

"Kerry's aggressiveness came amid indications from the other camps and from Iowa Democrats -- citing his larger crowds, effectiveness on the stump and signs of organizational strength -- that he has moved into a position to challenge both Dean and Gephardt."

The New York Times also looks at how tax cuts became a fault line at the debate: "The attacks were focused mostly on Dr. Dean, who moved quickly to remind listeners that he was not alone in calling for the repeal of the Bush tax cuts - or, as his opponents describe it, raising taxes.  'I'll take that and then I hope Dick responds because we're on the same side on this one as well,' he said."

"But for the most part, Dr. Dean was alone as he defended his position and scolded his opponents for promising voters all kinds of programs along with a tax cut."

That being said, Walter Shapiro found that "the opening notes of Tuesday afternoon's NPR radio debate underscored the surprising degree of Democratic harmony on most domestic issues."

"It is hard to believe that, even an hour after Tuesday's debate, many Democratic voters remembered the specifics of the latest Dean-Kerry flap over taxes or the details of Gephardt-Dean wrangling over Medicare.  This is not to deny that these are important issues, but merely to suggest that they are unlikely to dictate the identity of the Democratic nominee.  The current anti-policy-wonk mood among Democrats is in sharp contrast to 2000, when Al Gore and Bill Bradley defined themselves with their elaborately detailed (and now forgotten) health care plans."

Embed Karin Caifa says Kucinich was fairly pleased with the debate, if not with the sponsor, taking issue again with NPR's coverage of his campaign.  "It was a good debate.  I thought Neal Conan did an excellent job of keeping it moving."  That said, "NPR prior to this debate has had several areas where they've failed to cover this campaign.  My press secretary has reviewed them with your management," Kucinich told an NPR correspondent seeking comment.  "But in this debate NPR did a good job."  The Kucinich campaign yesterday also touted that they are polling ahead of "Other" in the latest Time/CNN survey. 

Diamond says Kerry and his campaign were pleased.  Kerry: "There were six people sitting around -- it was a nice discussion.  It was quiet and it was enjoyable.  It was a great way to focus on what we were saying without the distraction of lights and cameras.  I enjoy radio as a medium and I particularly enjoyed the opportunity to get at the tax issue and have a substantive discussion about it."  Kerry spokesperson David Wade told Diamond the contrast was "Howard Dean as Governor tried to make Vermont a 'snowy Bermuda' for companies like Enron while property taxes soared on working folks -- and Dean fought Bill Clinton for trying to close those unfair tax loopholes."

Diamond reports on dissed hot dogs!  Prior to the NPR debate, she says, Kerry arrived at what was billed as a "hot dog tailgate party."  About 20 Kerry staffers and volunteers were standing in the cold waiting to welcome Kerry to the debate.  Diamond says Kerry got off the bus with his hands up in the air like Rocky on the top of the steps in Philadelphia, and a volunteer eagerly walked toward him with two hot dogs in hand.  Kerry didn't touch the hot dogs -- quickly greeting the hot dog holder, shaking a few hands, then going inside. 

Diamond reports that Kerry Iowa spokesperson Laura Capps approached Diamond during the NPR debate to talk about the hot dogs.  Apparently someone overheard Diamond mentioning the dissing of the dog.  Capps told Diamond that the hot dogs were actually frozen solid and that she had called Kerry's traveling press secretary to tell him not to eat them.  Capps told Diamond that was why Kerry dissed the hot dogs -- he did not diss the volunteer.

"Very interesting," was the way Moseley Braun summed up Tuesday's NPR debate for embed Angela Miles.  Braun believes the radio format allowed for a more in-depth conversation among the candidates.  When Miles asked about some of the Dean-bashing going on during the debate and whether she likes that, she shriveled up her nose, shook her shoulders and said, "No."

Dan Savage -- the gay columnist who, in 2000, tried to lick the doorknobs at GOP candidate Gary Bauer's Iowa offices to give him the flu for his anti-gay remarks -- has an op-ed in the New York Times about how easy it can be for non-Iowans to vote in the caucuses.

New Hampshire (1/27)
PoliticsNH.com reports the new American Research Group tracking poll has Clark tied with Kerry for second place at 14 percent.  Dean leads with 37 percent. 

The AP notes Clark isn't ruling out a visit to Iowa, even though he won't be competing in the caucuses.  Still: "'I'm not concerned about that.  I'm not competing in Iowa.  I'm focused on the voters of New Hampshire,' he said.  'They're going to be the ones who make the decision on who does well in this race, and I trust the voters of New Hampshire.'"

As Iowa looms, "some political observers wonder whether Clark's decision to skip the Iowa caucuses will wind up a regret" says the Boston Globe.  "But inside the Clark campaign, many advisers insist that if Clark goes on to win the nomination, the decision to pull out of the fight for Iowa could, in fact, be seen as the key to his success," allowing him to focus on New Hampshire.

More 2004 Notes (D)
The Wall Street Journal's Seib on the new Zogby red-state/blue-state survey: "the decision many voters make about a candidate isn't based on some national-security position or economic proposal but on the answer to a gut-level question: Does this candidate believe the same things I believe?  This seems especially true in the South, but it isn't true only in the South.  There's a quiet debate building among political strategists over whether values will continue to shape the political landscape as this election year unfolds.  But for now, there is ample evidence -- including a new poll released just Tuesday -- to suggest the continuing power of values."

Embed Marisa Buchanan interviewed Clark about his faith and its role in the campaign.  Asked about his talk of faith during his stump speech, Clark said: "I think it's one of the values that is prevalent out there in America.  People in America are worried about what the country stands for and about the values that are present in the society."  Is religion a political issue?  "It's how you act and how you behave is a political issue and how the government responds is a political issue.  We recently had the case of the man in Alabama who wanted to put the Commandments in the courthouse and so these issues come up a lot in American political life.  I think what's important is what is common to so many faiths is the belief that those who are more favored in life should help those who are less favored.  And I think that's what the Democratic party above all stands for.  And that's one of the reason I'm proud to be a Democrat."

The New York Times has Al Gore's upcoming events for Dean: he spends Friday and Saturday campaigning for Dean in the eastern Iowa cities that led Gore to victory in the 2000 caucuses, then heads to South Carolina to stump for Dean later this month. 

Embed Felix Schein notes Dean has been rather sloppy with his cell phone of late, more than once leaving it on while speaking and having to stop mid-sentence in order to turn it off before resuming with a line about it being Karl Rove trying to interrupt his speech.  Schein says the routine draws laughs.  Yesterday, this scenario led to the perfect media moment.  Schein reports: "While speaking at a house party in Altoona, IA, Dean's phone rang, again bringing his speech to a halt as he dug in his ancient suit pocket to retrieve the phone and presumably turn it off.  Only this time, he didn't turn it off, saying, 'This one I'm going to get' as he reached in his pocket and answered.  'Hello?  Well, you got me in a living room full of-no, no, no, don't you dare.  Before you get off the phone --'  He held the phone up to the crowd.  'This is Vice President Al Gore.'  The room burst into cheers and applause.  'You are just as popular in Iowa as you were before,' Dean said into the phone.  He was silent for a few moments.  'I will do that.  When do you want me to call you back?...'  As Dean turned back to the crowd he told them, 'He said he loves you all, he's really grateful for all the help you were and he is looking forward-I think he's going to come out and campaign for us,' Dean said.  'I promise we did not stage this,' he added."

David Broder on Dean: "Dean is now racing the clock to see what comes first -- nomination or detonation...  It is hard to recall another challenger who has simultaneously outdistanced, out-organized and outmaneuvered the other candidates as thoroughly and swiftly as Dean has done, and at the same time has so thoroughly demonstrated a penchant for embarrassing himself."

The Washington Times notes how "[t]he press has gone on patrol, tweaking the former Vermont governor over his rhetoric and his past."

The Los Angeles Times' Brownstein, in a column heavily using a top centrist Democrat, points out how "the Democrats chasing Howard Dean are attacking the front-runner on virtually every aspect of his temperament and agenda" -- except his position on the war.  "The question for Dean's rivals is whether they can overcome his lead by raising doubts on other fronts if they fail to dent his insistence that he was right, and they were wrong, on the most emotional issue in the Democratic race."

"Kerry, who has appeared the most tortured over the war itself, has also been the most ambivalent dealing with Dean on the issue. At times Kerry has tried to narrow his difference with him on Iraq, at others to widen it."

The Washington Post has a lot on Kerry today, including his position on the war.  In addition to leading with Kerry in its news coverage of yesterday's debate, the Post's Style section checks in, and an editorial considers the candidacy that could have been (and may still be), mourning his position on the war: "Unfortunately, Mr. Kerry has shaded his support for the war when doing so seems politically convenient, and he failed to follow through on the war vote by supporting money for Iraq's reconstruction.  But he has been more resolute in his insistence that the United States must maintain a long-term commitment to 'completing the tasks of security and democracy' in Iraq.  He appears committed to the idea that the United States can't, as former Vermont governor Howard Dean sometimes seems to suggest, internationalize and run."

Embed Angela Miles reports that to date, Moseley Braun campaign manager Patricia Ireland estimates the campaign is $125,000 in debt.  But that did not stop Moseley Braun from purchasing a $750,000 townhouse on the South Side of Chicago.  Moseley Braun says she needed a place to live and the purchase has nothing to do with campaign on any level.  She does not dispute that real estate is her investment of choice.  Before buying the new house, she had bought a different home on the South Side for $500,000 and sold it for $670,000, according to reports.  She also has a condo in Atlanta said to be valued at $500,000, plus the family property in Alabama.  As for the red ink, Braun says she always pays off her campaign debts.

California
The San Francisco Chronicle does Gov. Schwarzenegger's State of the State yesterday: "Schwarzenegger pledged to create jobs, reform California's convoluted system of funding schools and shake up the state bureaucracy to save taxpayers money.  The governor reiterated his decree not to raise taxes as he tackles a projected $15 billion state budget shortfall.  He touted a new environmental program while saying that 'economic growth and the environment can coexist.'"

"Some Democrats... noted that Schwarzenegger provided few details about the budget proposal he will unveil on Friday and said the governor is making promises he won't be able to afford without raising income or sales taxes."

"The governor also used the speech ... to urge voters to support two March ballot initiatives that would allow the state to issue $15 billion in bonds to pay off debt and create extra reserves in the future.  The initiatives are a product of a deal struck last month by the Legislature and Schwarzenegger, who warned Tuesday the bond must be passed or the state would go bankrupt in June."

Redistricting
The Dallas Morning News says the three-judge federal panel yesterday approved the GOP redistricting plan in Texas.  "It could swing as many as seven seats from the Democratic to GOP column, potentially giving Republicans a 22-10 majority in the state's delegation to Congress."

NBC's Pete Williams notes, however, that the judges held their nose as they ruled in favor of the new map.  "We decide only the legality of [the plan], not its wisdom.  Whether the Texas Legislature has acted in the best interest of Texas is a judgment that belongs to the people who elected the officials whose act is challenged in this case," the court said.

A separate Dallas Morning News story says the court ruling completes the state GOP's rise to dominance.

Tuesday, January 6, 2004 | 9:30 a.m. ET
From Elizabeth Wilner, Mark Murray and Huma Zaida
Six days into the election year, we're back to old saws: education, health care, and taxes.  Yesterday yielded Bush on No Child Left Behind, Dean on NCLB, Clark on tax cuts, Edwards on tax cuts, Kerry on tax cuts, Kucinich and Lieberman on health care...

President Bush is down today amidst anticipation of his immigration policy rollout tomorrow.  Most of the Democratic candidates are heard but not seen at 2:00 pm for an NPR radio-only debate in Iowa; Edwards is in Iowa but does not participate, choosing instead to give a speech on education, and Clark stays in New Hampshire.  Embed Becky Diamond says to expect Kerry to hit Dean on temperament and judgment during the debate.

The Dean campaign is momentum-building: Along with Bill Bradley's endorsement and the duo's Iowa/New Hampshire tour today comes a new ad in Iowa touting Dean as "the only Democrat who stood up to George W. Bush on tax cuts and the Iraq war," per the release. 

A lot of Dean themes get hit in this script.  Narrator: "When some Democrats were supporting the war and defending Bush tax cuts, one candidate for President stood up to George Bush.  Howard Dean opposed the war.  He'll repeal the Bush tax cuts to provide health insurance for every American and take on the corporate special interests in Washington."  Dean: "It's not enough to change Presidents.  We have to change the way Washington works-stand up to the lobbyists and the special interests and make government work for people again.'"

Along with the ad comes a memo to the press, slugged "Dean leads in polls, fundraising," which gathers up all his good digits.

Being "the only one" is a hot claim these days: The Lieberman campaign announces a new ad in New Hampshire today titled "The Only One," which started airing yesterday.  Embed Dionne Scott notes the ad highlights what the campaign sees as Lieberman's unique policies, like being "the only one" to provide tax cuts for the middle class.

There's plenty on NCLB below.  On taxes, embed Marisa Buchanan notes that today, Clark takes the tax reform case he laid out in a well-covered speech yesterday directly to New Hampshire voters, telling them how it would affect their state.  The Wall Street Journal on Clark's speech: "Mr. Clark's announcement Monday was in part timed to keep him in the news while the spotlight focuses on the Iowa caucuses, a contest the general has chosen to skip in favor of concentrating on the Jan. 27 New Hampshire primary."  On health care, it's insurance with the usual undercurrent of Medicare.

Embed Felix Schein and various news organizations pick up on how Dean is toning down the rhetoric.  The Washington Post: "Dean is toning down attacks on his Democratic rivals and avoiding the back-and-forth criticism that has defined much of the presidential campaign."  The Post also notes how "Dean seems keen to shed his image as the angry, antiwar candidate."  (But, we'd note, he's still falling back on it with his new Iowa ad.)  The Des Moines Register also says Dean yesterday ignored his rivals' criticisms and focused on attacking Bush on No Child Left Behind.  And the Boston Globe says "for all the incoming fire Dean is taking from his presidential rivals, he remains a Teflon candidate, seemingly impervious to lasting political damage."

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger delivers his State of the State at 8:00 pm ET, with an off-camera background briefing preceding it at 5:30 pm ET.  The Los Angeles Times says the Governor in a 20-minute speech "will call for revamping California's troubled workers' compensation system and creating jobs as a recipe for reviving the economy, according to people who have seen the speech."

"While Schwarzenegger discusses general issues today, he will leave many of the difficult details of how he intends to close a $14-billion deficit for Friday, when he is scheduled to release his 2004-05 budget."

Education
The Washington Post describes Bush's St. Louis stop yesterday as "a campaign-style effort... to bolster his image on education at a time when some state governments and school districts are rebelling against his... plan, which they contend has stuck them with mandatory testing and retraining but not enough money to pay for them."

'Among the program's sharpest critics has been... Dean, seeking the Democratic nomination to oppose Bush in November.  The president, appearing Monday at an elementary school in Missouri, has said he wants to leave the sparring to the Democrats for now.  But several administration officials said they expect to join the campaign battle by the end of the month."

"The White House had expected Bush's education record to be a key part of his appeal to centrist voters in states such as Missouri, which he won by 3 percentage points in 2000.  Bush signed No Child Left Behind into law two years ago this week.  Now, Republican officials said they realize they may again find themselves on the defensive on an issue that long has favored Democrats."

"The Senate is scheduled to vote later this month on an education budget that Democrats contend underfunds the No Child Left Behind program by $7.5 billion, potentially hurting 4.6 million pupils.  Bush noted that education spending is growing..."

The Washington Times on the trip: "The event was designed to showcase the president as a moderate Republican who is willing to expand the federal government even if that means irritating his conservative base."

The Boston Globe rounds up Democratic criticism.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch: "Bush also picked Missouri - a swing state he carried by less than 79,000 votes in 2000 - as the place to lay out for the first time how he will frame his presidential policies in political terms."

Tax cuts
The Washington Post calls Clark's tax reform plan "his strongest appeal yet to working- and middle-class voters."  The Los Angeles Times says Clark "is hoping for a second-place finish in New Hampshire's Jan. 27 primary and an ensuing bounce going into the Feb. 3 primaries and caucuses in South Carolina and several other states where his tax code could resonate." 

The Wall Street Journal says Clark's point was "to shake up the Democratic Party's tax debate and bolster his claim as the strongest alternative to front-runner... Dean for the party's nomination."  And adds: "Many Democrats fear Mr. Dean's current stance on taxes would make him particularly vulnerable to attacks from President Bush as a big-tax politician.  Rivals have sought to exploit that concern in the primary debates.  In New Hampshire in particular, Mr. Clark is in a hot contest to be the leading Dean opponent defending middle-class tax cuts, against" Kerry, Lieberman and Edwards.

On the other side of the aisle, a couple of top anti-tax activists including Grover Norquist, writing in a Wall Street Journal op-ed, "believe the tax-cut package that will be the centerpiece of the 2004 economic policy of the administration and the Republican Congress should have four parts -- each with economic and political benefits."  They want all existing Bush tax cuts to become permanent; want Congress to pass the Lifetime Savings Accounts and Retirement Savings Accounts unaltered; want the death tax to be permanently repealed; and want simpler expensing for businesses.

Health care/Medicare
Kucinich embed Karin Caifa says Kucinich switched his focus Monday in Iowa to health care.  Following the discussion from the Sunday debate, Kucinich continued to bash Dean for their difference on opinion on universal health care.  Citing FDR's New Deal house-cleaning of the Capitol, Kucinich said, "If a candidate is ready to take on a challenge and is up to it you can change things.  What Dr. Dean isn't doing is, he's conceding to the insurance companies already.  What kind of position does that leave the American people in?  If someone who wants to be the Democratic nominee says, 'I surrender.  You got me.  There's nothing I can do.  I can't stop you, you're going to control Congress.'  I'll ask the American people to vote for a Congress that will give them health care.  I wish Dr. Dean had said that too." 

Even though President Bush signed the Medicare prescription-drug benefit bill into law, the New York Times says the issue is still a political hot potato: Congressional "Democrats... vowed Monday to rewrite the law to reduce the role of private health plans, to increase drug benefits and to authorize the government to negotiate drug prices.  President Bush and other Republicans plan to trumpet the law as a boon to the elderly and will oppose changes, saying the law should be given a chance to work."

"At the moment, Democrats appear to have no chance of modifying any significant provisions of the law.  Republicans said they saw no need for even technical corrections.  With their majority in the House, they can usually block consideration of Democratic amendments."

"But Democrats plan to make a political ruckus and said they hoped to put Republicans on the defensive."

More 2004 notes (R)
The Washington Times previews Bush's immigration policy rollout tomorrow.  "Under the proposal, which will come just days before Mr. Bush meets on the issue with Mexican President Vicente Fox in Monterrey, illegal aliens from Mexico and possibly other countries who pay Social Security taxes but provide false identification numbers would be allowed to collect benefits...  Detractors on Capitol Hill, even those inclined to support most administration initiatives, question the wisdom of the... proposal."  An aide to a House GOP conservative "said the president might be picking the wrong issue to kick off the campaign season."

The Los Angeles Times: "The announcement... is expected to be more of a statement of goals and principles than a detailed legislative proposal; it is unclear how hard Bush will press for congressional approval before the November elections."

"Most of the Democratic presidential contenders support "earned legalization" programs for undocumented immigrants similar to the plan expected to be offered by the White House - although in some cases their proposals would create quicker routes to citizenship...  Republican opponents of liberalizing immigration law on Monday called Bush's plan an amnesty and predicted that it would face tough going in Congress."

The Washington Post profiles Don Evans as a commerce secretary with an increasingly broad international and political portfolio due to his close ties to Bush.  "Administration officials said that beginning this month, Evans will be among the first Cabinet members to switch into an overtly political mode as the reelection campaign heats up, with Evans planning to focus his appearances on, among other groups, Hispanic business audiences that the White House believes will be receptive to his efforts to promote trade throughout the hemisphere."

The Club for Growth is up with an anti-Dean TV spot in Iowa, in which "a farmer says he thinks that 'Howard Dean should take his tax-hiking, government-expanding, latte-drinking, sushi-eating, Volvo-driving, New York Times-reading ...' before the farmer's wife then finishes the sentence: '... Hollywood-loving, left-wing freak show back to Vermont, where it belongs.'"  The Washington Times says, "The anti-Dean ads puzzled some of Mr. Bush's strategists and supporters, who see Mr. Dean as the most beatable of the major Democratic hopefuls."

Dean-Bradley
Dean embed Felix Schein reports that while the full details of how this endorsement came to pass won't be revealed until today, a former Bradley aide met with Bradley on Dean's behalf at least six weeks ago -- with one of the meetings taking place the same day Gore's endorsement news broke.  Since then, Schein says, at least one additional meeting took place, although it seems Dean himself has not recently met with Bradley. 

Schein points out that Bradley's value on the ground lies more in New Hampshire, where he lost a close race to Gore and still enjoys strong support.  Beyond the ground game, Bradley offers Dean a friendly ear and vast legislative experience, especially in the intelligence arena.  Moreover, he too, like Gore, helps Dean build a bridge between outsider and Establishment, and may play some role in Dean's discussion of race, a key element of Bradley's own presidential bid.

The AP: "Both Dean and Bradley started their presidential campaigns as underdogs running against better-known rivals.  Both stressed expansion of health care and racial healing...  Dean's rivals downplayed the impact of the endorsement, as they did with Gore's."

Clark on the endorsement, per embed Marisa Buchanan: "You know, the people of New Hampshire pick presidents, they don't need people to tell them what to do."

The Edwards campaign, per embed Dugald McConnell: not a surprise, hadn't been hoping for it.

Gephardt, per embed Priya David, said the endorsement was fine, everyone would like to get all the endorsements, but that in the end, they don't really matter.  He pointed to his own strength and momentum coming out of an Alliance for Economic Justice rally, which is ostensibly an independent organization but was formed by labor unions to back Gephardt.  David notes that was the same line Gephardt used when Gore endorsed Dean, but he then changed his tune later in that week to tout his own endorsement by Rep. Jim Clyburn.  Gephardt argued that Clyburn can and will sway voters, whereas Gore cannot.  The implication, David says, is the same with Bradley.

Embed Becky Diamond reports the Kerry campaign is downplaying the significance.   A senior Kerry aide said they are "not concerned at all" about it and that Bradley has "no money and no organization."  The aide also said that the only place the endorsement makes a difference is in New Hampshire.  Diamond asked about the impact of the endorsement on Dean's momentum in New Hampshire and was told, "The question is, can anyone keep up with Dean's momentum anywhere?"  And, "The more the spotlight is on Dean, the more he mis-speaks."  Kerry himself told reporters that he knew about Bradley's endorsement "for months" through close friends.

Lieberman, per embed Dionne Scott: "The only thought that I have is what I've felt all along, that I find as I talk to people in New Hampshire that they're not going to be told by any pundit or politician who they should vote for in the New Hampshire primary.  These folks in New Hampshire are feisty, independent-minded voters.  They want to meet the candidates themselves.  And they want to decide themselves who will best serve them and our country as president."

Iowa (1/19)
The Des Moines Register reports on Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack's taking himself out of the endorsement game, and that an endorsement from Sen. Tom Harkin is expected this week.  A close Harkin aide told First Read yesterday that Harkin has not yet decided whether and when to endorse, but that Harkin does like Dean.  The Register notes that "Harkin's time was running out to have an effect on the lead-off Iowa caucuses, should he decide to endorse.  Harkin plans to return to Iowa today to promote a school nutrition program, but could change plans to make an announcement, once he decides, aides said."

The Chicago Tribune says, "While Harkin likes Dean, two senior Democratic strategists said Monday that the senator had not decided whether to make an endorsement."

Clark communications director Matt Bennett on the outcome in Iowa, per embed Marisa Buchanan: "We are not competing in Iowa, so the impact on us is negligible."

A Kucitizen in West Branch, IA told embed Karin Caifa he's been getting regular phone calls from Dean canvassers, asking him to throw his support to "the other peace candidate" when Kucinich is "no longer viable."  Hearing this, Kucinich responded, "Dean feels he has votes to spare.  Look at his comments last night: 'If you want universal health care vote for Dennis or Carol.'  Well, maybe we should start calling his supporters."

The Washington Post on the Bradley endorsement: "While Dean basked in the latest support from within the Democratic establishment, his two main rivals in Iowa unleashed the forces they hope will derail him in the first contest of the year.  [Gephardt], who won the Iowa caucuses in 1988, welcomed almost 200 union staffers and local officials from across the nation -- the vanguard of an army of labor people who will help turn out his supporters at the caucuses.  And [Kerry] laid down his toughest and most comprehensive indictment of Dean's vulnerabilities after a luncheon where 300 female supporters promised the candidate their help."

More 2004 notes (D)
Embed Marisa Buchanan notes Clark took a direct shot at Karl Rove in his tax reform speech yesterday.  Afterward, when asked why he singled out Rove, Clark said, ""Why did I address Karl Rove directly?  Because this is an issue that goes to the heart of what the Democratic party stands for.  We stand for helping ordinary Americans.  We stand for family values...  That's why I'm addressing Karl Rove.  He wants to use the label to divide people.  We want the reality of family values to pull this country together."

The Boston Globe reports a 1993 "state auditor's report found that [Dean's administration] failed to take steps to prevent the appearance of impropriety in negotiating a contract for processing health care claims of state employees...  Ultimately, the report concluded, the state awarded the work to a firm ill-prepared to handle the administrative demands and complexities of the contract."

"Jay Carson, a Dean campaign spokesman, noted that [the company] provided the lowest bid."

The New York Times also does the story.

The Boston Herald reports "[t]he Nuclear Regulatory Commission says... Dean and other Vermont officials violated federal law by releasing secret protection plans for its nuclear power plant in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks."

Documents proving this "are included in files Dean made public - even as he opposes the release of other records on the grounds that they may include similar security or personal information."  The Herald also says that the "documents undercut Dean's argument that files should remain private and have been used by his competitors, most recently by U.S. Sen. Joseph Lieberman during a debate in Iowa Sunday."

Embed Dugald McConnell points out how Edwards has revised his stump speech, dropping many of the policy specifics and focusing more on choosing a president.  In particular, Edwards is addressing directly the issues of his youth and his relatively limited experience in government.  McConnell notes that just two weeks out from the caucuses, Edwards is still addressing people's reservations, but the campaign describes it as a planned post-holiday move, turning the corner from making his case to closing the deal.  His stump speech seems to still be a work in progress, undergoing significant change over the last 10 days.  The speech he gave Monday diverged from his prepared text; the prepared text for Saturday's speech was not even provided.

That said, McConnell reports that on Thursday, the campaign will release a new version of the policy booklet they give to voters earlier, this time focusing on what Edwards would do to help the middle class.

The AP notes how "Edwards, who trails Howard Dean and Dick Gephardt in Iowa, is betting that a strategy of staying above the fray will give a fluid electorate reasons to take a fresh look and pump new life into his campaign."

At a rally of a couple hundred union members yesterday, embed Priya David reports, Gephardt talked about trade and did not mention Dean.  He was also reticent to bash Dean to the press during media avails held before and afterward, saying only that he feels he's the best candidate to beat Bush.  David says the press asked Gephardt whether he believes Dean is unelectable, but Gephardt refused to take the bait and swing at Dean in any substantial way. 

More Kerry talk of temperament, per embed Becky Diamond: during a stump speech yesterday, Kerry said, "My friends, for us to win the presidency, we have to have a nominee who has the temperament and the experience, who has the capacity to give America confidence that we know how to make our nation secure."

Diamond notes a new sign hung above Kerry's head at the ballroom in the Hotel Fort Des Moines during his  economic speech: "A Fighter with Results."  In the speech, Kerry criticized White House ties to lobbyists as well as Bush's handling of the economy.  Again, Diamond notes a stepped-up intensity to Kerry's attacks on Dean, highlighting electability by telling voters they need to nominate a candidate who can go "head to head" with Bush and Karl Rove.  At a fundraising event in Des Moines, Kerry told activists that they can't have someone at the top of the ticket that will cost the party votes.  In an interview with David Yepsen on Iowa Public TV, Kerry said, "Howard Dean will not have the credentials [to be president]...  His judgment is called into question in these past months by the statements he's made publicly..."

The Los Angeles Times points out Kerry's new slogan "was reminiscent of the 'Reformer with results' slogan that Bush used in 2000 after he lost the Republican New Hampshire primary to Sen. John McCain of Arizona."

After the Kerry campaign's build-up to his economic speech in Des Moines yesterday, MSNBC's David Shuster reports Teresa Heinz Kerry took 10 minutes before mentioning the economy or her husband during her intro of Kerry at the speech.  On CNN last night, Kerry said he thinks polls are meaningless, though Becky Diamond points out the campaign is quick to tout their own.

Noting that Lieberman (like Gephardt) took yesterday off from attacking Dean directly, embed Dionne Scott suggests backing off Dean may not necessarily serve Lieberman well, since as attacking the frontrunner keeps Lieberman in the press.  Lieberman does have a major speech scheduled for Wednesday in which he'll continue the same extremism/choice theme.  When asked by a reporter why his and his opponents' attacks on Dean might not be working, Scott says Lieberman said it was too soon to tell what was working, but also objected to the characterization "attack:" "I'm not just going to stand back and let the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination go glide forward without saying," Hey Howard, I disagree with this position of yours.  You're taking a position that not only do I think is wrong, but is going to make it harder for you to challenge George W. Bush.'"

Third-party groups (D)
Kerry's former campaign manager, Jim Jordan, is teaming up with party Bigs Harold Ickes, Ellen Malcolm and Steve Rosenthal to set up and run a research and communications shop to serve and augment their political organizations and other progressive groups.  Jordan will coordinate opposition research and the groups' anti-Bush, anti-Republican message.

The New York Times covers the controversy surrounding the two advertisements appearing on the liberal MoveOn.org Web site that compared President Bush to Hitler. MoveOn "sponsored a contest, 'Bush in 30 Seconds,' inviting people to submit television advertisements about Mr. Bush, with the best to be determined by a vote of visitors to the site.  But two of more than 1,500 submissions have outraged Republicans and leading Jewish groups for comparing Mr. Bush, in profile and policy, to Hitler."

Republican National Committee chairman Ed Gillespie called it hate speech and urged the Democratic candidates, who probably had nothing at all to do with the ads, to repudiate them.

The Washington Times gets reaction from Jewish advocacy groups.  "The Simon Wiesenthal Center, the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Congress said the ads were beyond the pale of political discussion."

Trevor Fitzgibbon, a spokesman for MoveOn, charges to First Read that this controversy was a "set-up" by the RNC.  Fitzgibbon says the ads were removed a week ago, but that didn't stop Gillespie from blasting the ads Sunday on FOX.  "This whole thing was a setup," Fitzgibbon charges.  He adds he has no idea how the RNC was able to find these ads and then later place them on the RNC website.  He suggests the RNC has employed a team of researchers to comb through all of the more than 1,500 ads MoveOn received. 

An RNC statement this morning: "The RNC never suggested MoveOn.org produced or sponsored any of the ads submitted.  MoveOn.org ad campaign rules state, 'we're not going to post anything that would be inappropriate for television.'  MoveOn.org made the decision to post both Hitler ads for consideration by the 2.9 million people who voted in their contest demonstrating a disconcerting lack of judgment."

An RNC spokesperson: "MoveOn.org said they would not post any ads that were not appropriate for TV.  They posted two ads that compared the President to Hitler as part of their contest and took them down at the end of the contest just like all the other ads.  If they thought the ad was inappropriate for TV and didn't post it then they would have no reason to be angry at the RNC.  They did, they did and they are."

Eli Pariser, MoveOn's campaign director, tells the Washington Post: "Except for a few hundred people, no one would have seen it if the GOP hadn't picked it up and put it on their Web site."  Still, MoveOn President Wes Boyd issued a statement, saying, "We agree that the two ads in question were in poor taste and deeply regret that they slipped through our screening process. In the future, if we publish or broadcast raw material, we will create a more effective filtering system."

Monday, January 5, 2004 | 9:30 a.m. ET
From Elizabeth Wilner, Mark Murray and Huma Zaida
With the Iowa caucuses looming closer now than at this point in previous cycles, the election year is off to a picture-in-picture start.  There's the fast and furious Democratic nominating contest in which President Bush is evoked mainly as a rhetorical punching bag on special interests and as the standard for electability.  That contest is set within a larger general election picture in which every policy proposal Bush offers for the next 11 months, and every stop Air Force One makes, may be as politically motivated as they are motivated by Bush's desire to see the country safe and economically sound.

Despite the intensity of the Democratic contest, keep your eyes on both.  Eat your broccoli -- the Administration's approach to the deficit, immigration, No Child Left Behind, and federal regulation are all hot topics lately -- along with your dessert of Dean and faith, Dean and his sealed records, Dean and his two newsmag covers (Newsweek and Time), can Dean be stopped, and that cherry on top: conspiracy theories about Iowa caucus-goers switching allegiances.

Despite changes to the nominating calendar and the crush of states holding contests within the first few weeks of the caucuses, the Democratic primary remains linear because the media thinks traditionally and historically, and because the frontrunner, Dean, is contesting all the early states.  Clark and Lieberman might be skipping Iowa and hoping to score among February 3 states, but they are spending serious resources on New Hampshire, against which their performances will be judged.  Edwards may call South Carolina his must-win, but is contesting both Iowa and New Hampshire. 

In short, no candidate can argue their race begins on February 3 or use it as a backstop for earlier weak showings.  The narrative of this race starts in Iowa, with Clark and Lieberman entering in the second act.  So it is that suddenly, over the break, candidates' votes and positions on farm subsidies became hot topics.  The press corps immerses itself in questions of whether Dean's Iowa supporters will turn out to caucus, how high turnout will be, whether Edwards supporters will back Gephardt in an organized way, etc.  And for TV purposes, keep in mind this Des Moines Register ode to living rooms past: "Fewer than 4 percent of Iowa's precinct caucuses will be held in private homes when Democrats gather Jan. 19, according to party records.  Most caucuses will be held in schools, city halls and community centers."

Iowa hosts three debates this week, including yesterday's Des Moines Register forum, the NPR debate on Tuesday, and MSNBC's Brown & Black Forum on Sunday. 

Today, Bush talks about No Child Left Behind and fundraises in St. Louis (need we say: swing state, Gephardt's home state, policy speech paired with a fundraiser for free Air Force One usage...).  The AP says Bush will defend "his 'No Child Left Behind' initiative against Democrats who, in fighting for a political advantage on the education issue, argue that the law is too rigid and is being shortchanged by the administration."

Bush will meet "with fourth-graders and a roundtable-style conversation on education at Pierre Laclede Elementary School in St. Louis," and on "Thursday -- the second anniversary of the signing of the 'No Child Left Behind Act' -- Bush will hold a similar event at West View Elementary School in Knoxville, Tenn.  Both events are paired with re-election campaign fund-raisers in the two cities."

Dean campaigns in Iowa and North Dakota.  Clark rolls out his tax policy in New Hampshire; the campaign will preview on a conference call all those details Clark dodged giving on Meet the Press.  Embed Dugald McConnell says Edwards reprises his Saturday vision speech in Iowa at 12 noon.  Gephardt is in Oklahoma and Iowa.  Kerry, also in Iowa, gives a big economic speech at 1:30 pm at the Hotel Fort Des Moines.  A Kerry spokesperson tells Diamond, "Unlike Clark, Kerry building on his record of helping working Americans.  Kerry offering a real plan to build an economy that works for the American people again.  Speech will also discuss the need for responsible proposals, like those that protect the middle class instead of hurting them, that provide working families with needed relief."  Lieberman campaigns in New Hampshire while his staff holds a conference call to roll out a new ad for South Carolina, Arizona and Oklahoma.

The Washington Post on Clark and Dean: "Clark hopes to make a major splash today with a speech announcing his tax plan, which aides said would not overhaul tax brackets but would make the system more progressive, meaning that wealthier Americans would pay more in taxes and middle- and lower-income families less.  Dean, whose aides are exploring a tax plan that would likely include some reduction in payroll taxes, is unlikely to announce any new policies this month, an adviser said.  If Dean pushes tax revisions, it would likely happen during the general election."

Also today: A briefing on Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's January 6 State of the State address takes place at 1:30 pm ET.  The Los Angeles Times lays out Schwarzenegger's anticipated budgetary reckoning.

The month in politics
January 6: Schwarzenegger's State of the State at 8:00 pm ET, and the NPR/WOI Iowa Democratic presidential debate (not all candidates participate)
January 7: Center for Responsive Politics seminar in DC on the impact of McCain-Feingold on the parties and independent groups
January 10: Linn County, IA Democratic Party Hall of Fame Banquet in Cedar Rapids
January 11: MSNBC's Brown & Black Forum in Des Moines, an 8:00 pm ET debate focusing on minority issues like immigration and access to health care -- coinciding nicely with the President's anticipated rollout of a major new immigration proposal the previous week, and his trip the Summit of the Americas on January 12-13.  All candidates but Clark attend the Brown & Black Forum.  Also, MSNBC/Reuters Zogby tracking poll numbers in Iowa are released on Meet the Press; subsequent tracking polls in key early states will be released on Today and MSNBC at 7:00 am ET.
January 13: non-binding DC primary; only Dean, Kucinich, Moseley Braun and Sharpton compete. 
January 13-14: Bush attends the Summit of the Americas in Mexico
January 17: Dubuque County Democrats Presidential Candidates Forum
January 19: Iowa caucuses
January 20: State of the Union; Hill leaders Daschle and Pelosi give the Democratic response.
January 22: Hillary Clinton vs. the Democratic field, again: NARAL holds its Roe v. Wade 20th anniversary dinner, keynoted by Clinton, and ABC/WMUR host a Democratic presidential debate in New Hampshire.
January 24: New Hampshire Democratic Party dinner
January 27: New Hampshire primary
January 29: MSNBC South Carolina Democratic Debate in Greenville, SC.  (Greenville is gearing up.)
January 30: Dialogue with America's Families Democratic candidate forum, hosted by Tom Joyner, in Columbia, SC
February 3: Democratic nominating contests in Arizona, Delaware, Missouri, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, and South Carolina

The economy
On the current state of affairs:
-- The Wall Street Journal: "With the new year under way, some investors... are just weighed down by all the things that could go wrong.  There is plenty to worry about, no question: terrorism, inflation risks, the falling dollar, uncertain corporate earnings.  But quietly, without making too big a deal about it, some once-skeptical money managers are starting to feel just a little bit of a rosy glow creeping over them.  They are beginning to wonder if the new year might just turn out a lot better than many people expect."
-- The New York Timessays of the fiscal health of the states that signs indicate "the worst may be over.  But state budgets will continue to be stressed by slow job growth and rapidly rising health care costs, and battles in state capitals over taxing and spending will continue to rage, analysts say."
-- USA Today: "The economy is expected to grow in 2004 at the fastest pace in five years and add jobs, and stock prices are expected to continue to rise.  But that doesn't mean the euphoria - and the excesses - of the '90s will be back.  Companies that once spent money and hired with little thought, and investors who once pumped cash into companies with few profit prospects, have learned to be wary following the eight-month recession of 2001 and the sluggish recovery that has followed."
Over the holidays, the New York Times likened the various Democratic economic plans to "different sides of a Rubik's Cube: varying combinations of the same basic proposals."

"Most of the candidates have also proposed large new health care programs...  And none of the candidates have fully explained how to steer the federal budget back from the Bush-era deficits to the surpluses created in the Clinton administration."

"The principal differences among the candidates lie in their tone and philosophy toward business and free trade.  The debate on those issues leaves them sounding at times as if they are far more divided over Mr. Clinton's economic legacy than President Bush's, which they uniformly condemn."

"Many of his critics argue that Mr. Bush has helped create the long-term problems by cutting taxes at a time of high spending on the military and domestic security.  But the Democratic candidates have themselves avoided laying out any long-term strategies.  And though all have attacked the president for record deficits that could total $5 trillion over the next decade, none have offered more than hazy proposals for balancing the budget."

Embed Felix Schein notes Dean has faced a number of questions lately regarding his stance on the dollar.  In his answer, he says he supports a strong dollar and, despite numerous indications that the White House may in fact favor a weaker dollar (while saying it doesn't), accuses the Administration of being "inept" when it comes to regulating the dollar's strength.

National and homeland security
Over the holidays, the Boston Globe reported: "As unpleasant as it is to contemplate, a terrorist attack against the United States would rival the capture of Osama bin Laden in shaping next year's election, say some political observers, who add that the ramifications of a strike against the country could be significant and widespread."

"White House spokesman Trent Duffy said people understand the limits of any security effort...  Asked how much responsibility the administration should expect to shoulder if terrorists succeed in striking the United States again, Duffy said fighting terrorism is 'not just a federal responsibility.  It's a national responsibility.  State and local governments are responsible...'  Duffy reiterated Bush's contention that toppling Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq has also contributed to making Americans safer at home."

"But many Democrats hotly dispute that assertion."

More 2004 notes (R)
Using a New Year's Eve sighting of the Bush-Cheney campaign deputy finance chair at the Palm, the New York Times notes the Bush campaign will announce today or tomorrow that it will have raised $120 million so far, and that it could reach its goal of $170 million by March.

The Wall Street Journal's Harwood, writing as Karl Rove in a New Year's Eve column: "Did I mention the Christmas gifts from Democrats?  What a sloppy candidate Howard Dean is!   A presumption of innocence for Osama bin Laden?!  Blue-state types waste energy casting me as Dr. Evil.  But between smart-mouth Dean and what the loser-Democrats are saying about him -- well, they're doing the heavy lifting."

"At the same time, the wiseguys on our side having flashbacks of Reagan's '84 landslide re-election have no clue.  Don't they understand the ceiling that polarization places on us?  On our best day we hit 56% and 360 electoral votes, tops."

The Washington Times notes how Bush's "absence of Republican primary challengers is allowing [him] to campaign for centrist swing voters with a freedom that he lacked in 2000, when he ran to the right of... McCain."

"Bush also is taking advantage of the Democrats' lurch to the left in their protracted primary battle.  Influenced by front-runner Howard Dean, most Democratic contenders are antiwar and pro-tax."

"But the president also risks alienating purist conservatives who oppose government expansion."  Yet the paper adds that "many of the president's signature issues - including his opposition to high taxes - appeal to both conservatives and centrists."

On a more substantive front, yesterday's New York Times reported: "Facing a record budget deficit, Bush administration officials say they have drafted an election-year budget that will rein in the growth of domestic spending without alienating politically influential constituencies...  The moves are intended to trim the programs without damaging any essential services, the administration said."

"Mr. Bush's budget request, to be sent to Congress by Feb. 2, includes several tax cut proposals, including new incentives for individual saving and tax credits to help uninsured people buy health insurance.  The Democratic candidates for president have accused Mr. Bush of doing little to halt the recent rapid increase in the number of uninsured."

"As he completes work on his budget, Mr. Bush faces criticism from conservatives, who say he has presided over a big increase in federal spending, and liberals, who say his tax cuts have converted a large budget surplus to a deficit."

"White House officials deny that they have acquiesced in a domestic spending spree.  They insist, as do some liberal advocacy groups, that appropriations for domestic programs are not exploding."

Those tracking the Administration's focus on the "investor class" weren't surprised by this New York Times article from Friday: "Every four years, most federal agencies all but go underground when it comes to making controversial decisions, hoping to avoid issues that could create difficulties for" re-election seeking presidents and Members of Congress.  "But for a variety of political, financial and policy reasons, 2004 is certain to be one of the [SEC's] busiest years in recent history.  That is the expectation of both commission officials and occupants of the White House and of Capitol Hill.  They all agree that the plans of the commission's chairman, William H. Donaldson, to address some Wall Street and corporate issues are necessary to assuage the huge numbers of voters who are also investors."

The SEC's primary motivation, per the Times: "the more than two years of scandals that have yet to abate and that have plagued public companies, the accounting profession, the New York Stock Exchange and the mutual fund industry.  With so many Americans invested in the markets - one in two households owns at least one mutual fund - politicians have been pressing the regulators to continue to bring enforcement cases and to issue new rules.  That is a clear exception to the prevailing climate of deregulation that has taken hold with both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue controlled by Republicans."

"But there is much more on the table."

The New Year's Eve New York Times on Bush's seeming resort to regulation as the election year dawns: "...quietly, in ways few would notice, Mr. Bush's aides have been doing everything they could think of in recent months to inoculate Mr. Bush against accusations that the war in Iraq has led him to ignore risks and annoyances of everyday life.  The man who drew cheers in 2000 by promising to roll back government interference with the private markets has, in recent months, gladly signed legislation to restrict telemarketing and e-mail spam, and boasts at fund-raisers that he will lock up executives who abuse the public trust in their companies.  It is a line that always draws big cheers, a reflection of how the political atmospherics about big government have changed in the three years Mr. Bush has been in office."

"Election-year moves toward consumer regulation are hardly a new invention."  Still, the paper reminds us that in 2001, "there was a freeze on most Clinton-era regulations that were pending.  Mr. Bush very publicly rejected the Kyoto protocol on global warming, and environmental regulations like the one that sharply restricted commercial activity in roadless areas of national forests."

Before heading to Mexico January 13-14, the President is expected to roll out a new immigration proposal.  How strongly will the White House then push for it to pass?  From the Christmas Eve Washington Post: "Lobbyists working with the White House said Bush is developing a plan that would allow immigrants to cross the border legally if jobs are waiting for them.  The sources said the administration also wants to provide a way for some undocumented workers in the United States to move toward legal status.  Bush will try to make the plan more palatable to conservatives by including stricter entry controls, including increased use of technology at the border and steps toward better enforcement of current visa restrictions and reporting requirements, sources said."

Congressional Agenda
Roll Call: "While Republicans on Capitol Hill would like nothing better than a smooth exit before the elections, GOP strategists say the White House believes it is necessary to ensure that President Bush and his agenda hold the attention of voters through Election Day."

"For one thing, [GOP] strategists say, voters need to see that the president has a 'vision' going forward.  But just as importantly, the White House needs a diversion that will prevent Democrats from seizing the initiative."

"A prime example of this tension revolves around the expectation that Bush will press in the upcoming session for a major legislative initiative designed to encourage long-term savings, in an election-year appeal to the burgeoning 'investor class.'  GOP strategists expect such a package to clump together several proposals already floated by the White House - possibly to include first steps toward Social Security reform, an issue Bush may make a centerpiece of his re-election campaign.  Such a package, however, would be almost certain to face major logistical problems in the Senate."

Another chance for guns to re-emerge as an issue in the campaign in the form of a House-passed amendment to have all background checks destroyed after 24 hours, rather than the current 90 days.  The Washington Times said over the holidays that the Senate will take up the bill in January.

DC (1/13)
The Washington Post says Dean's expected dominance of the DC non-binding beauty contest on January 13 could cause low turnout and thus undermine efforts to play up DC's lack of congressional representation.  Dean is the only one of four candidates who will appear on the DC ballot who seems to have a shot at winning the nomination.

Embed Tom Llamas says Sharpton will head to DC on Wednesday and stay in the area until the 13th.

Iowa (1/19)
The Des Moines Register on Dean's performance during its debate yesterday: "The former Vermont governor remained unruffled and had quick answers to the challenges, which targeted his statements on national security, positions on economic policy and openness about his tenure in Vermont." 

The Washington Post says all the attacks on Dean "mostly covered ground the candidates have plowed in past debates, and Dean responded with measured answers and occasional barbs of his own that did little to change the shape of the race."  An accompanying Broder analysis noted the same, and the fact that the sharpest attacks on Dean came from the candidate not competing in Iowa: Lieberman.

The Washington Times focuses on Dean's efforts to cast himself as ganged up on.  The Wall Street Journal leads with his refusal "to back down from his claim that the U.S. was no safer with Saddam Hussein in custody."

The Los Angeles Times: "The debate also demonstrated the leftward pull of the Democratic race.  Most of the candidates tumbled over one another to express skepticism about free trade and the school accountability provisions in the Bush-backed education reform act that all of the Democratic contenders who serve in Congress voted for."

On a conference call with reporters following the debate, the Republican National Committee chairman said "the Democratic presidential candidates Sunday ignored positive economic and foreign policy developments in continuing to criticize President Bush."  -- Des Moines Register

Embed Felix Schein notes Dean prepared for the debate informally, spending just a few hours speaking with senior aides and reading up on the current issues.  The only truly rehearsed portion of Dean's performance was the question he asked the other candidates: whether they would pledge to support the Democratic nominee.  Suggested by an aide, the question was phrased in an effort to lift Dean above the fray while implying to the party that Dean will support the nominee if it isn't him.   For all the routine, however, Sunday's debate did leave Dean feeling exhausted, Schein says.  According to aides, he slept while driving between events and appeared tired while on the stump Sunday night. 

Edwards after the debate, per embed Dugald McConnell: "One of the better ones we've had.  Lasted a couple hours, there was real interchange, and a lot of issue discussion.  They actually asked questions from people around Iowa, which was a very good idea.  You know, sometimes these moderators tend to talk about a lot of inside political stuff instead of the problems that affect people's lives."

Embed Priya David reports Gephardt was pleased with the debate, noting a couple times in the afternoon and evening that the debate format was varied and he felt serious issues were discussed. 

Embed Karin Caifa says Kucinich gave himself two thumbs up for his performance: "I think we got the point across when they asked the question about electability.  People are really tuned in to our message of 'Fear ends, hope begins,'" he said.  "We can take this campaign right to the front.  We are going to surprise America."  Kucinich also touted the campaign's first TV ads, now airing in Iowa, as a sign that his bid is alive and well.  But Caifa says a press conference about the ads, held in the media area before the debate, went largely ignored, leaving ad creator George Lois hurling insults and muttering obscenities at reporters.

After the debate, embed Dionne Scott reports, Lieberman said he pulled the gimmick of asking Dean to sign a release of his sealed gubernatorial records because he wanted to challenge Dean, then he reiterated his standard line on Dean: that Democratic voters now, more than ever, face a clear choice between Lieberman and Dean. 

Embed Marisa Buchanan reports Clark didn't have much to say about the debate before his traveling press corps headed to their hotel to watch.  Asked if he was going to watch, Clark said, "Hadn't even thought about it.  Is there a debate today?  I'm on my own schedule, I'm doing preparation, we've got a big announcement we're gonna be making tomorrow and I'm gonna go back and do some of that..."  The Chicago Tribune says Clark may have benefited the most from the debate: "Instead, he spent his time doing an interview on NBC's 'Meet the Press,' with a much larger viewing audience, serving pancakes and holding small forums with potential voters in New Hampshire."

Over the holidays, the fighting over farm subsidy votes began, starting, the Des Moines Register notes, with a Dean-Kerry skirmish that got personal between the two camps' research directors.  The Register also noted: "The Democratic presidential candidates have said relatively little about long-term farm policy, focusing instead on issues that are currently hot in Iowa, like country-of-origin labeling of meat, mad cow disease and meatpacker ownership of livestock."  The Register also laid out the candidates' positions on farm issues.

Per the Boston Globe, "several hundred full-time political organizers" with labor roots headed to Iowa late last week "in the final push for... Gephardt before the Jan. 19 delegate-selection caucuses."  Meanwhile, the Des Moines Register noted again that "it remained unclear whether or when Gore, the 2000 Democratic nominee, will come to Iowa to help Dean in the waning days of the campaign for the lead-off caucuses."

New Hampshire (1/27)
The Boston Globe reports Dean will make a "surprise" visit to the Granite State tomorrow "in expectation of receiving" Bill Bradley's endorsement.

February contests
The Los Angeles Times' Brownstein yesterday wrote that Dean "appears to be building enough strength in the next wave of contests that he could virtually clinch the nomination by mid-February, even if he stumbles early."

"Even if Dean's opponents nick him in more moderate states, such as South Carolina and Oklahoma, that hold primaries Feb. 3, most analysts agree they must prevent him from dominating the mid-February contests.  Otherwise, Dean could establish an insurmountable advantage heading into the 10-state showdown March 2, which includes primaries in delegate-rich California and New York."

Embed Priya David reports on Gephardt's North Dakota stop last night: "This was the Congressman's second visit to North Dakota.  [Tonight], Howard Dean is expected there for the first time since declaring his candidacy.  Citizens came concerned about trade, particularly the Central American agreement, which has affected the local sugar beet farmer.  Gephardt spoke longingly about the need to protect the family farm, which he sees as the cornerstone for American culture.  The message resonated with the crowd, as did Gephardt's passionate tirade against 'human exploitation' in many countries the United States now trades freely with, such as Mexico.  By the end of the event, the initially quiet crowd was on their feet, cheering and applauding."  David adds that Gephardt has so far outspent his rivals in terms of time on the ground in the state.  That said, several North Dakotans told David they were still undecided, with the prospect of seeing Dean making them hesitate to throw their lot in with Gephardt.

Embed Dionne Scott reports on Lieberman's new ads going up in Arizona, Oklahoma, South Carolina and New Hampshire today.  Campaign director Craig Smith said they'll be spending just under $1 million a week combined in media for the month of January in those states.  Also in January, Scott says, the campaign plans to spend about $1 million on the ground on those states on mailings, rallies, literature, phone operations, staff and messaging operations. 

Campaign finance (D)
A Boston Globe report on Kerry's bad fundraising quarter was e-mailed around by Dean's Iowa team: the story said "the blame inside his campaign is falling on both the candidate and the competition for money among the nine Democratic presidential contenders, according to Kerry fund-raisers and campaign aides."  Kerry fundraisers told the Globe his personal loans have not inspired giving by others.

The Gephardt campaign and the candidate himself are drawing attention to Dean's spending.  Embed Priya David gets Gephardt saying: "I mean all of us want to have lots of signs and lots of people out there to cheer us on, but it costs money, and it does cost money to do that.  To me, it's not the best way to use the money.  We've got a lot of other things we need to do like run ads, put out mailers, make phone calls, volunteers on the ground and so on and so forth.  So, Howard's running through a lot of money.  He's spent a lot of money.  He's raised a lot of money, he's spent a lot of money.  There's always two sides to the equation.  How much do you raise, how much do you spend?  How fast do you spend it?"

The Edwards campaign is not disclosing its fourth-quarter fundraising, but embed Dugald McConnell was told that unlike some candidates, Edwards raised more in the last quarter than in the third quarter, and hopes to reach the goal of $20 million (without matching funds) by the caucuses, if he hasn't reached it already.  While Edwards was the #2 advertiser through October, McConnell says, spokeswoman Jennifer Palmieri concedes they are now advertising less than most of the frontrunners.  Palmieri says they have no regrets about spending early, since Edwards' name ID was low.  The campaign plans to increase ad spending in the next week or two, including some new ads to match his change in focus, from policy specifics to the theme of change and Edwards as outsider.

Embed Angela Miles reports the Moseley Braun campaign believes they may show around $150,000 for the fourth quarter, twice their previous estimate. 

Still more 2004 notes (D)
Another hot topic: Democrats' prospects among Southern states.  The Manchester Union Leader reports Clark told a New Hampshire audience yesterday that he is the only Democratic candidate who can carry the South.  "Of his slate of values, which he described as patriotism, faith, family and inclusiveness, Clark said 'It will carry the South and it will carry America. These aren't Southern values, they're American values.'"

Sen. Zell Miller (D) has a Wall Street Journal op-ed in which he:
-- bets a "steak dinner (mad cow or no mad cow) that Al Sharpton will get almost as many votes as Messrs. Edwards, Clark or Lieberman in" the South;
-- jibes that maybe Al Gore will teach Dean "how to win a Southern state.  Like Tennessee;" and
-- notes that "[m]ost Democratic presidential primaries lean liberal, even in the South, and African-Americans play a huge role.  In 2004, Democratic voters are going to be angrier than I've seen them since 1972.  Like George McGovern in '72, Howard Dean has tapped into that anger.  I think regrettably so, not only for the country but also for the party.  As this Park Avenue-born Vermont governor makes his maiden voyage South, with Southern strategist Al Gore beside him, I don't think he has to worry about pickup trucks or 'God, guns and glory,' as he puts it.  Not in the primary, not this trip.  But he should be forewarned.  These folks are called 'Value Voters.'  They go to church to seek salvation, not argue about bike paths."

Over the break, the Los Angeles Times examined Kentucky as a case study for how Democrats lost their hold on the South: "The state's 4 million residents - 91% of them white, many the direct descendants of the original 18th century pioneering landowners - have rallied behind the Republican agenda of tax cuts, a well-funded military and increased domestic security."

"Meanwhile, local Democrats say they have been hurt by the positions their national leaders take on divisive social issues, such as support for same-sex unions and abortion rights."

"Even loyal Kentucky Democrats predict that Dean, the former Vermont governor broad-brushed by Republicans as an East Coast liberal, would turn off voters here if he emerges as the party's nominee."

Part of any Democratic candidate's Southern strategy: talking about God.  Following The New Republic's lead, a lot of publications recently did Dean and religion, including:
-- the Boston Globe.
-- the New York Times.
-- and the Washington Post.

A rival campaign oppo drop leads to this AP lead: "Dean sold $15,000 in stock in five Vermont banks in 1991 after becoming governor and getting what he says was an "inside report" from the state banking regulator."  The Wall Street Journal incorporates the stock sale into a long look at Dean's personal and political ties to Wall Street.

The Wall Street Journal considers Clark's campaign to date and finds both improvement and some lingering rough spots.  A Clark aide tells First Read that Clark has gotten on all desired ballots "after getting into the game in mid-September...  All by volunteers in states like Virginia, which have crazy numbers and requirements to keep people off the ballots, Clark was first in with the largest number of signatories...  All done by volunteers.  We have huge numbers of volunteers -- in New Hampshire over 1,000; in Michigan over 5,000.  We have huge volunteer base with vets in all the states.  Now we have 25 offices; fully-operating campaigns in 14 states.  We have Draft Clark people from all over the country pouring into New Hampshire and 2/3 states -- we had one woman from Colorado who has made 2,000 calls to New Hampshire voters herself!"

Kerry continues to hit bumps over his position on the war.  The New York Times yesterday got Kerry endorser Pater Yarrow of Peter, Paul and Mary fame saying this: "Asked if the war vote had hurt Mr. Kerry's candidacy for the Democratic presidential nomination, Mr. Yarrow responded, 'Oh sure, sure.'  Mr. Yarrow said that Mr. Kerry told him had seen information that justified the war.  'He said, "Peter, I'm on the intelligence committee,"' Mr. Yarrow said.  'I know they have weaponry, nuclear weaponry, and I have the absolute assurance they'll go only with the United Nations.  He was like everybody else - lied to by people who have no honor.'"  Mr. Kerry's advisers tried to end the scene, telling Mr. Yarrow that the senator was on the bus.  Mr. Yarrow started for the door but did an about-face when he saw Mr. Kerry was still in the room.  'John is over there.  John is not done talking,' Mr. Yarrow said.  'Don't try to move me when I'm still talking.'"

Embed Becky Diamond says Yarrow will campaign with Kerry this week in Iowa.

Diamond notes Kerry is using the word "temperament" in his stump speeches and when talking about Dean (though not mentioning him by name).  At the same time, Diamond notes, Kerry refuses to say he is criticizing Dean's personality.  From his stump speech: "My friends, for us to win the presidency, we have to have a nominee who has the temperament and the experience, who has the capacity to give America confidence that we know how to make our nation secure."  And from answer to question during a press avail on the bus: "A lot of people have not made up their minds.  A lot of people are looking to see who can really do this - who can be president.  Am I sure?  Is this the person I want?  There's sort of a gut check that takes place and that's what I want - I welcome that.  That's why I think these next weeks are very important."


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