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Friday, June 3, 2005 | 9:15 a.m. ET
From Mark Murray and Huma Zaidi

First glance
The fascinating Deep Throat story has begun to fade at the same time when there’s mostly silence from the three branches of government. Congress is still out on its Memorial Day recess; the Supreme Court won’t be handing out any opinions today; and Bush, at his Crawford ranch, has no public events. All of this -- for now -- has the makings of your classic quiet-before-the-storm day (even though it’s been raining here in DC). When Congress and Bush return next week, there will be a flurry of activity on the same issues that have dominated Washington for the last several weeks: Social Security, judges, and stem cells. And we’re still bracing ourselves for the first Supreme Court retirement in more than ten years.

There are plenty of other stories, too: the highway bill (which Bush has threatened to veto), immigration reform, and those always-pesky appropriations bills.

Speaking of Social Security, remember the Bush Administration’s transition from phase one of its Social Security tour (educating the public about the program’s problems) to phase two (selling its plan)? Well, NBC’s Rosiland Jordan reports that Democrats appear to be embarking on their own phase two -- by heading into the reddest of districts in the reddest of states. Among the targets is none other than Tom DeLay. Meanwhile, per the New York Times, Bush seems headed for phase three: the endless Social Security campaign. More on all of this below.

Also, today marks the last day of the liberal Campaign for America’s Future “Take Back America” conference. Among the major events: a speech by journalist Bill Moyers at 9:00 am, and closing remarks that begin at 1:15pm by Jesse Jackson Sr. and liberal evangelical Jim Wallis. At 2:45 pm -- rain or shine -- CAF and anti-private accounts Americans United sponsor a “Hands Off My Social Security” march that leaves the conference and heads toward Lafayette Park, across from the White House.

Howard Dean gets plenty of ink about his comment yesterday at the CAF conference that many Republicans “have never made an honest living in their lives.” While we certainly notice all the scrutiny Dean’s remarks receive on cable, radio, and the blogs, we’ve got to ask: Do normal Americans actually care? Will the press continue to care after several more Dean speeches? Or -- will this criticism truly affect his job? (We were there yesterday, and all we can say is that the crowd ate up every word he said.)

On Sunday, Dean’s counterpart -- Ken Mehlman -- does Meet the Press, his first Sunday-show interview since becoming RNC chairman. In addition, some potential 2008 candidates are also out and about today. Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney travels to nearby Manchester, NH, where he makes remarks at 7:00 pm at the New Hampshire Federation of Republican Women Lilac Dinner. And Rudy Giuliani speaks in DC to the National Association of Real Estate Editors at 11:20 am. Also, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson heads to New Hampshire next week for events on Tuesday and Wednesday.

With those appearances, with Edwards’ speech yesterday (more on that below), and with the public frustrated at Congress and Washington, we devote our Friday look at the great oh-eight presidential race to all of the outsiders who might run. Even though most of the current frontrunners hail from the US Senate, do the Washington outsiders -- Romney, Giuliani, Edwards, Richardson, and others  -- have a better chance than we currently think to win their party’s nomination?

Finally, today is Judy Woodruff’s final day at CNN, and although she and Inside Politics (which will cease altogether later this summer) are our rivals, we have always enjoyed the program’s outstanding political coverage. We wish Judy and her CNN colleagues the very best.

Social Security
Americans United spokesman Brad Woodhouse tells NBC’s Rosiland Jordan that his anti-private accounts group is wrapping up its “Take A Stand Campaign” -- which publicly challenges members of Congress to take a position on Bush’s Social Security plan -- and will next begin targeting 80 members who support Bush’s plan, hoping to change their minds. Woodhouse also says his group plans to campaign in the reddest districts of the reddest states, where people still support the President's Social Security ideas. This “Go Red” campaign includes community rallies, door-to-door canvassing, and email outreach. Woodhouse argues that as long as Bush is committed to changing Social Security, his group and others want Bush's supporters to hear their message, too.

In fact, Woodhouse tells Jordan that this “Go Red” campaign will target Tom DeLay, to get under his skin and to show that Democrats are serious about opposing Bush’s Social Security plan.

Democratic consultant Erik Smith, who’s handling the TV advertising for the Democrats opposing Bush’s Social Security plan, also tells First Read that they’ve been off the air for a while -- and are instead raising money to be able to run ads if a Social Security bill begins to move in Congress later this summer. Smith says these ads will be tailored to target individual members.

  1. Other political news of note
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      House Speaker John Boehner became animated Tuesday over the proposed Keystone Pipeline, castigating the Obama administration for not having approved the project yet.

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

Meanwhile, on the Republican side, the New York Times notes that the Bush Administration might be heading on an endless Social Security campaign. “After explaining that he was going to visit his ranch in Crawford, Tex., he said: ‘But after that I'm going to head back out again, and I'm going to spend time talking about Social Security every week until something gets done - because that's my job.’” The paper adds that at yesterday’s town hall in Kentucky, Bush emphasized the benefits his Social Security plan would have for rural populations.

Even though people are already whispering (or shouting) the L-word -- lame duck, that is -- both the Los Angeles Times and the Christian Science Monitor have presidential scholars saying it would be foolish to count out Bush on Social Security and other issues. and

However, as the Washington Post writes: “with midterm election campaigns approaching, some of the president's aides say privately that his most ambitious initiatives, including restructuring Social Security, must win broader support soon if they are going to be enacted this year.”

Another obstacle: A Social Security bill that doesn’t include private accounts might not go anywhere. The Washington Times says that Pat Toomey, president of the conservative Club for Growth, argues that as many as 100 House Republicans will oppose any Social Security bill that doesn’t include private accounts.

And what would be the result if the all the income of the richest Americans were subject to the Social Security payroll tax? The Wall Street Journal notes that someone like Tiger Woods, who made $80 million last year, would pay $10 million in Social Security taxes. “In fact, if the wealthy paid 12.4% payroll taxes on all their income but kept their current benefits, Social Security's deficit immediately would become a projected $540 million surplus, the Social Security Administration estimates. But this strategy has consequences, such as the fact that high-paying earnings might start trying to dodge taxes under such a system.”

More Bush agenda
The Bush Administration is prepared send a slew of new judicial nominations to the Senate in the next few weeks, the Washington Post says. “The Bush administration has been vetting candidates for 30 more federal district and appeals court vacancies that have been left open for months while the Senate battled over previous nominations stalled by Democrats. Now that Democrats have agreed not to filibuster any new candidates except in ‘extraordinary circumstances,’ Republicans are eager to test the proposition.”

The Wall Street Journal’s Washington Wire also notes that White House aides aim for quick action on a CAFTA accord and predict to smooth over any cost differences on a highway bill. But there is still no headway in the Senate for Bush’s nomination to head the Food and Drug Administration, Lester Crawford.

It's the economy
The AP notes this morning that employers added just 78,000 jobs in May - “the most sluggish pace of payroll expansion in nearly two years.” The unemployment rate, however, dipped to 5.1%, down just slightly from last month's 5.2%.

Reuters covers Commerce Secretary Gutierrez, on his first official trip to China, slamming that country’s counterfeiting of American products, which the Chamber of Commerce says costs the US economy an estimated $250 billion per year. “‘Intellectual property rights violations are a crime, and we don't believe we should be negotiating crimes with our trading partners.’”

The Wall Street Journal’s Washington Wire says that the liberal group Wal-Mart Watch has placed “thousands of automated phone calls to Bentonville, Ark., seeking whistle-blower help from ‘anyone who knows of wrongdoing’ inside the company. A Wal-Mart spokeswoman derides the effort as an ‘unfortunate’ infringement on employees' personal time.”

Ethics and institutions
The Washington Post notes in a front-page article that Republicans weren’t the only beneficiaries of the campaign contributions that GOP lobbyist Jack Abramoff directed from Indian tribes. So were Democrats. “Democrats are hoping to gain political advantage from federal and Senate investigations of Abramoff's activities and from the embattled lobbyist's former ties to House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.). Yet, many Democratic lawmakers also benefited from Abramoff's political operation, a fact that could hinder the Democrats' efforts to turn the lobbyist's troubles into a winning partisan issue.” These Democrats deny, however, that any of the contributions they received had anything to do with Abramoff.

The Washington Post notes that the nomination of Christopher Cox (R) to head the Securities and Exchange Commission sets “the stage for a dramatic shift in the agency's priorities, which over the past two years have been focused on new regulation and stepped-up enforcement… In selecting Cox, the administration chose a candidate whose background is far different from his predecessor's. William H. Donaldson, who said he will leave the agency June 30, was a Wall Street titan pressed into service toward the end of a long, distinguished career as an investment banker and head of the New York Stock Exchange.”

The Wall Street Journal makes a similar point. “Mr. Cox's appointment is a victory for the business lobby, led by institutions like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which has been arguing that it needs relief from what it considers to be heavy-handed securities regulation. In the past year that message has been getting attention.”

And Lehman Brothers Washington office notes that while Donaldson worked hard to forge bipartisan agreement at the SEC, Cox hails from the House of Representatives, which operates on majority rule to pass bills. Cox “would be expected to emulate this approach which

The Democrats
USA Today writes about Dean’s controversial remark at yesterday’s “Take Back America” conference. “Dean's comment came as he recalled conditions at crowded Ohio polling stations last fall. He wondered who could expect voters to work all day and then stand in line for eight hours to vote. ‘Well, Republicans, I guess, can do that because a lot of them have never made an honest living in their lives,’ he said, drawing some surprised ‘oohs’ from his audience… ‘He's got a lot of pluses, and he fires off the occasional errant missile,’ [Democratic] consultant David Axelrod said. Axelrod and other Democrats counted Thursday's incident as a missile. ‘That kind of language doesn't exactly improve our chances of making the case’ to Republicans that they should vote Democratic, he said.

The Washington Times: “Mr. Dean's comment was reminiscent of when Teresa Heinz Kerry, during the 2004 presidential campaign, questioned whether first lady Laura Bush had ever worked.”

The RNC issued this release blasting Dean’s remark: “Howard Dean’s diatribe today illustrates that the Democrat Party not only lacks leadership but is overflowing with anger. His comment that a lot of Republicans have never made an honest living in their lives makes it clear that Dean’s priority is to generate mudslinging headlines rather than engage in substantive debate.”

The Washington Post focuses on Dean’s criticism that Bush has failed to protect Americans’ private pensions. “Dean sought to broaden the debate over Bush's proposal to restructure Social Security to include the issue of private pensions, citing Labor Department statistics estimating that private companies underfunded their pension plans by $450 billion last year… The only solution that Dean suggested is to make pensions portable, saying pension plans ‘ought not to be controlled by companies, they ought to be controlled by the people who those pensions belong to.’”

First Read’s other observations of Dean’s speech:
-- He referred to Frist as the Senator of "videotaped diagnosis fame.”
-- He said he wouldn't "go there" regarding DeLay.
-- He (ironically, some may say) urged Democrats to offer positive rhetoric for America instead of simply criticizing Bush Administration policies.
-- He also spoke about election reform calling for instant run-off voting, moving Election Day to a holiday, ensuring that people don't have to wait hours in line to vote, and making sure that all electronic machines can be counted by hand. The latter comment drew Dean's loudest applause and a standing ovation.

Meanwhile, during his speech at the conference, John Edwards bashed “yappers” - i.e., TV pundits -- who criticize the Democrats for having "lost their way." "I know what the soul of this party is," he said. Edwards also gave a modified version of his "Two Americas" speech, touching on the military, education, poverty, and retirement security. Moreover, Edwards called the budget a "moral document" because it affects millions of Americans who get shortchanged on things like education and health care. And he said America should focus on promoting Democracy in other countries while at the same time promoting it at home. "Freedom does not belong to one political party.”

The values debate
Knight-Ridder says that an effort to legalize same-sex marriage in California “fell short in the state Assembly early yesterday after a small group of moderate Democrats rebuffed the measure." The measure was proposed by San Francisco Assemblyman Mark Leno. "The bill's fate ultimately came down to a small group of moderate Democrats who were torn between often-competing personal and political views. Five Democrats joined 32 Republicans in opposing the bill, and seven others declined to take a stand... The issue is likely to end up in the California Supreme Court."

Washington state
Democrats and Republicans make their closing arguments today in the trial over the outcome of last year’s gubernatorial contest between Christine Gregoire (D) and Dino Rossi (R). The Seattle Times notes that a ruling by Judge John Bridges is expected on Monday, and it also covers yesterday's trial testimony.

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer reminds us that "whatever Bridges decides Monday, the losing side is virtually certain to appeal to the state Supreme Court."

In other news, the AP picks up on a Spokesman-Review report yesterday that the Spokane County Republican Party will ask embattled Mayor Jim West to resign. Also, a "hearing will be held next Wednesday to determine if the allegations against West are sufficient to justify a recall petition. If they are sufficient, then citizens can begin collecting the more than 12,000 petition signatures needed to put the matter to a public vote."

Oh-eight
At this very, very early stage in the 2008 race for president, political observers of all stripes are already placing their bets on a group of US Senators. In the Democratic field, politicos and pundits agree that Hillary Clinton, if she runs, seems like the clear favorite. Among Republicans, Bill Frist (despite any recent setbacks in the Senate) still is a CW favorite, while insiders seem to think George Allen’s chances are even better. And then there’s John McCain who has a shot if -- and it’s a big if, as we wrote last week -- he can survive the GOP’s conservative primary calendar.

But history certainly isn’t on their side (in the past 100 years, only two sitting US Senators, Harding and Kennedy, have won the White House). And neither is public opinion (according to the last NBC/WSJ poll, only 33% say they approve of Congress’s job, its lowest rating since 1994). Given that, is there an opening here for a Washington outsider -- say John Edwards, Rudy Giuliani, Mike Huckabee, Bill Richardson, Mitt Romney, Mark Sanford, or Mark Warner -- to beat these early frontrunners?

Democratic consultant Steve McMahon, who served as one of Howard Dean’s strategists during his own outsider bid for the presidency, thinks they have a shot. McMahon explains that outsider candidates are able to list more concrete accomplishments than their congressional brethren, they don’t have to cast troublesome votes, and they don’t really have to be team players who must weigh how their actions and votes will impact their party. “Let me give you an example,” McMahon says. “When Howard Dean wanted to come out against the Iraq War, he didn’t have to check with anyone.”

In today’s current climate, moreover, outsiders are better positioned to promise reform and also criticize Congress for failing to deliver on issues that Americans care about, such as health care, gas prices, and the deficit.

Yet McMahon says the great equalizer is money. “There’s an enormous advantage from being outside the Beltway. But there’s an equal advantage being an established candidate who has a significant financial advantage.” In other words, outsiders will have a difficult time if they can’t match the money Beltway politicians can raise.

Scott Reed, who managed Bob Dole’s 1996 presidential campaign, also believes an outsider has a chance. He breaks down the GOP field into three categories: the popular pols who could have problems with the base (Giuliani and McCain); the congressional insiders (Allen and Frist); and the governor outsiders (Romney, Huckabee, and Sanford). And in that last category, Reed likes Romney’s chances. “Romney seems to be the leading governor,” he says, adding that he could really take off if he wins nearby New Hampshire.

And Reed throws one more governor into the mix: Jeb Bush, who once again on Wednesday said he wasn’t going to run. “Jeb is really the 600-pound gorilla,” Reed says. Of course, with that last name, it’s hard to label him an outsider. “I’d put him in a different category,” Reed admits.

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