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First Read: Security, economy & strippers

Security, economy & strippers. “First Read” is an analysis of the day’s political news, from the NBC News political unit.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006 | 9:20 a.m. ET
From Elizabeth Wilner, Mark Murray and Huma Zaidi

In today's issue:
A second security day for Bush
Nevada's suddenly interesting primaries
A "macaca" on '08 contender George Allen's back
Republican help for Lieberman, who says no, thanks

First glance
President Bush devotes a second day to security before switching gears to focus for the rest of the week on the economy.  He spends much of today at the National Counterterrorism Center in McLean, VA, where he'll take part in a National Security Council and Homeland Security Council briefing at 9:55 am.  He'll also meet separately with the counterterrorism and homeland security teams.  In between those meetings, he'll offer a statement at 11:45 am and have lunch with both teams.  A White House release reminds us, "In August 2004, the President established the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) to serve as the primary organization in the United States Government for integrating and analyzing all intelligence pertaining to terrorism and counterterrorism and to conduct strategic operational planning by integrating all instruments of National power."

Vice President Cheney is out West today, headlining a fundraising luncheon for the Arizona GOP in Phoenix and a reception for the New Mexico GOP in Roswell.  Another reason to look West: Nevada, which is slated to host the Democrats' second presidential nominating contest for 2008, holds its primaries today.  The top draws are the nominating contests in the race to succeed term-limited Republican Gov. Kenny Guinn.  The Democratic field is led by state Senate Minority Leader Dina Titus and Henderson Mayor Jim Gibson, while the GOP field is topped by Rep. Jim Gibbons and state Sen. Bob Beers.  (A Jim Gibson-Jim Gibbons could be challenging for voters and journalists alike.)  With the Democratic National Committee expected to vote at the end of this week to give Nevada a presidential caucus just days after Iowa's in 2008, the party and its presidential candidates have even more reason to want to capture this seat from Republicans.

For those who got a kick out of stripper Mary Carey's gubernatorial bid in the 2003 California recall, another female adult entertainer, porn star Melody "Mimi Miyagi" Damayo, is also on the GOP ballot for governor.  Per her website, Damayo's campaign slogan is, "For the bare and honest truth."  Other notable contests include the GOP race for the nomination to fill Gibbons' House seat, and the Democratic primary for the right to face GOP Rep. Jon Porter this fall.  Tessa Hafen, a former staffer for Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, is favored to win the nomination and analysts believe a Porter-Hafen match-up would be competitive.  Polls in Nevada open at 10:00 am ET and close at 10:00 pm ET.

If you're a Northeastern Republican governor who is seeking the presidency, and you use a phrase like "tar baby," as Mitt Romney (R) of Massachusetts did recently to describe the Big Dig to crowd in Iowa, then despite all signs pointing to your being extremely well educated, you can get off relatively easy by saying you didn't know that some find the phrase offensive.

But if you're a Republican from a Southern state seeking the presidency, you don't get off so easy.  Sen. George Allen (R), who is seeking re-election this year and has his eye on 2008, had to apologize yesterday for calling an aide to his Democratic opponent Jim Webb a "macaca."  The aide, who is of Indian descent, had been assigned to follow Allen on the campaign trail, and Allen singled him out with that remark at an event last Friday.  Per the Webb campaign and press reports, the term "macaca" can mean either a certain type of monkey, a town in South Africa, or a racial slur against African immigrants.  Allen says he didn't know what the word meant and did not intend to malign the aide.

Several factors compound the problem for Allen.  He's under intense Democratic scrutiny right now because his Senate race has the potential to become competitive.  Virginia's proximity to Washington means that political journalists and pundits who are watching his campaign with an eye toward 2008 are paying closer attention to every gaffe and misstep.  (When Allen makes the front page of the "local paper," it's the Washington Post.)  And, he has some history on this front.  A few months ago, a New Republic cover story noted that a young Allen wore a Confederate flag pin in his high school yearbook photo and drove around his then-hometown of Los Angeles with the flag on the front of his Ford Mustang.

We'd also point out that this marks the second time in recent weeks that a Senate Republican seeking re-election has gotten in trouble for taking too light an approach toward the young Democratic operatives assigned to tail them.  Sen. Conrad Burns (R), one of the GOP's most vulnerable Senate incumbents on the ballot this year, recently got himself in a jam with some caustic remarks which were caught on tape by the young aide dispatched by his Democratic rival.  Maybe a refresher course on how to handle such situations is in order...

Have you checked out's political calendar lately?

Security politics
The Washington Times covers Bush's Q+A with reporters yesterday, in which he said "that Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon had suffered a defeat in their monthlong war with Israel, and he again lashed out at Syria and Iran for sponsoring the terrorist group."

"Despite his optimism, Bush appeared to concede that the struggle against terrorism is shaping up to be a long one.  Defeating terrorism requires 'solid will' on the part of the U.S. and its allies.  And he referred to the global war against terrorism as 'the challenge of the 21st century.'" – Wall Street Journal

The Los Angeles Times observes how the Administration seems to have ratcheted down its expectations on what can be achieved in the Middle East.

But "Michael O'Hanlon, a Middle East specialist with the liberal-leaning Brookings Institution, said labeling a winner and loser in Lebanon was not a simple matter.  'It was a five-week war with lots of destruction to relearn what we already knew,' O'Hanlon said.  'Israel cannot decisively defeat Hezbollah on their home turf, while Hezbollah and Iran have learned Israel is not a paper tiger.'" – Houston Chronicle

From a new Democratic web video entitled "Feel Safer?" to Tennessee Senate nominee Harold Ford (D) hitting the Administration on the fact that it closed a CIA unit dedicated to hunting bin Laden, the New York Times writes that Democrats are determined not to cede the issue of national security to Republicans in 2006 as they did in 2002 and 2004.

As of today, Democratic Rep. John Murtha's supposed 41-candidate tour seems to be more myth than reality.  Murtha communications director Megan Grote says of the previously reported number of 41 candidates or districts, "We don't know where that number came from."  Per Grote, Murtha is planning to campaign for Democratic candidates, but the office doesn't yet know for whom or when.  It could be around 40, she says, or it could be less.  She notes that "plans have been changing," that "nothing is set in stone," and that it's all being done "last minute."  Either way, Murtha won't be campaigning anytime soon -- Grote says he has nothing planned for the next two weeks.  The Democratic House campaign committee says they have no knowledge of Murtha's campaign/travel schedule.

Roll Call says that per one legal expert, the civil lawsuit pending against Murtha is likely to be dismissed under a regulation which "protects lawmakers from being sued for actions related to their official duties."  Murtha is being charged with libel and invasion of privacy by a Marine who served in the unit Murtha accused of committing "cold-blooded murder and war crimes" against Iraqi civilians.

Amid scrutiny of how the money is being spent, "US officials are racing to allocate $1.17bn in Iraq reconstruction funds by September 30 to prevent the funds from expiring and being diverted back to the US Treasury," says the Financial Times, which also notes that "there is new evidence to suggest that the US-funded reconstruction of Iraq could soon be hit by further complications, with the expected transition of projects from US control into the hands of the Iraqi government."

Lieberman vs. Lamont
While the Republican Party campaign committees have been trying to put Democratic candidates on the spot by calling for them to choose between Sen. Joe Lieberman and Democratic nominee Ned Lamont, prominent Republicans are squirming a bit over the question of whether or not they support their longshot nominee in the race, Alan Schlesinger.  Last week, national party chairman Ken Mehlman dodged the question on MSNBC's Hardball.  Then on NBC's Meet the Press, Mehlman said he was told to stay clear of the race: "The way I do it is to work with our leadership in the states, and what my leadership in the state has said to me is, 'You ought to stay out of this one.  You ought to focus on the House races and focus on the governors' races.'"

And at yesterday's White House briefing, spokesperson Tony Snow was unwilling to state whether Bush is backing Schlesinger.  All he would say is that Bush "supports the democratic process in the state of Connecticut and wishes them a successful election in November."  Further pressed for an answer, Snow said, "I think you know the situation in Connecticut."

Meanwhile, the Lieberman campaign is distancing itself from a GOP-backed veterans' group that's advertising on his behalf.  The Hartford Courant reports that a "new 'Vets for Freedom' group with ties to the GOP advertised its backing of" Lieberman in a "full-page ad" in the paper yesterday.  "Former Democratic State Chairman George Jepsen, a top adviser to [Lamont], said the ad showed that 'national Republicans... clearly have a well-laid-out strategy to attack Ned Lamont.'"  Lieberman's campaign says it has nothing to do with the group, which has "high-level Republican connections," including "Taylor Gross, a former White House official, and... GOP strategist Dan Senor.  But its executive director, Iraq war veteran Wade Zirkle, said its members are both Democrat and Republican."

"'It's been very clear since Election Day that a top priority for Dick Cheney, Karl Rove and George Bush is that Joe Lieberman is re-elected,' said Tom Swan, Mr. Lamont's campaign manager." – New York Times's Tom Curry reports that Lieberman "will be able to raise the funds necessary to mount a campaign to keep his Senate seat" with contributions from Jewish and even GOP donors.

Despite his independent bid, Roll Call reports that Lieberman's Senate colleagues and staffers don't expect any signs of friction when they return to work in September -- except between Lieberman and the party's presidential candidates, perhaps.

The Bush/GOP agenda
President Bush yesterday signed legislation giving the federal government ownership, by eminent domain, of a memorial in San Diego that features a 29-foot cross and has been the subject of controversy and legal battles for 17 years.  "The signing rendered moot two lawsuits seeking to remove the Mount Soledad Cross...  The Justice Department will head up efforts to retain the [Cross] and the surrounding 170 acres as a military war memorial." – Washington Times

The Miami Herald says the "'offensive' tone over immigration from a minority of Republicans" has many in the party wondering if the debate could affect the gains they've made within the Hispanic community.  "Polls show Hispanics nationwide moved 32 percentage points in the GOP's favor over the past three presidential elections -- the nation's largest demographic electoral shift...  This trend could slow or perhaps reverse after this campaign season's debate over immigration, which the Republican-controlled Congress raised amid bad news of lobbying scandals and Iraq.  One Democratic poll says that, for the first time, Hispanic voters rank 'discrimination' as their second-highest concern, behind immigration."

The Washington Post's Milbank notes in his column that "Bush has traveled out of the Washington area at least seven times this year without a press plane, including four times in the past month to fundraisers closed to the press.  This development, devised by a secretive White House and enabled by cash-strapped media outlets, has helped Bush to stage a series of father-protector photo ops with few of those pesky questions that reporters tend to ask."

The Democrats
Democratic National Committee chair Howard Dean addresses the iron workers' national convention in Washington today at 3:30 pm.

EJ Dionne says in his column that "Karl Rove's greatest victory is how much he has spooked Democrats about themselves."  Dionne uses the current intraparty brawl over how to spend its money this fall as a means to get at the party's shortcomings in acting like, well, a party rather than a collection of campaigns and causes. – Washington Post

More on the midterms
The Los Angeles Times says that James Dobson's Focus on the Family is heading up "a massive registration drive that could help counter the malaise" among evangelical conservatives "and mobilize new religious voters in battleground states...  The effort builds on the aggressive courtship of evangelical voters in 2004 by President Bush's reelection campaign, even as the Internal Revenue Service has announced renewed scrutiny of nonprofit organizations, including churches, that engage in political activities."  The program will focus especially on "eight states with key Senate, House and state-level races:" Maryland, Montana, Tennessee, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Minnesota.

The Washington Post compares the congressional records of the two leading candidates for Maryland's Democratic Senate nomination, Rep. Ben Cardin and former Rep. Kweisi Mfume, who entered the House in the same class.  "The many contrasts in their House careers suggest that the front-runners... would make different senators in style and substance."

In Massachusetts, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Tom Reilly is denying any involvement in a ploy to bring to light his primary rival Deval Patrick's work for Coca Cola and Texaco.  Even so, Reilly says the questions are justified.  Ray Rogers, "the founder of the New York-based Campaign to Stop Killer Coke, a group that seeks to combat what it calls the corporate sins and human rights abuses of the Coca-Cola Co., for which Patrick served as corporate counsel from 2001-2004," has "raised valid questions about Patrick's corporate past, and he called on Patrick to publicly discuss his work as a former executive for Coca-Cola and Texaco." – Boston Globe

The Daily Inter Lake in Montana previews Vice President Cheney's stop there tomorrow, when he'll fundraise for Sen. Conrad Burns (R).  Per the Great Falls Tribune, other prominent Republicans will be fundraising for Burns this month, including Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist on August 28 and First Lady Laura Bush on August 30.

The Review-Journal reports that "political watchers say there hasn't been a primary season as competitive in recent memory" in Nevada.  "More than half of primary voters may have already cast their ballots.  When the early voting period ended Friday, 15 percent of Clark County voters had voted early or by mail, a slight increase from previous years.  Primary day turnout has been about 11 percent in recent election years."

Republican National Committee chair Ken Mehlman is in New Jersey today raising money and support for the state GOP and Senate candidate Tom Kean, Jr. at a bunch of closed-press events.

Embattled Rep. Bob Ney (R) formally removed his name from the Ohio ballot yesterday, ensuring that a special primary election will be held to replace him as the GOP nominee.  A spokesperson for the Ohio Republican party tells NBC's Joel Seidman that he expects several candidates to enter this primary, which will likely be held in mid-September.  The Democratic nominee is Zack Space.  Although Ney's withdrawal improves the GOP's chances of hanging onto the seat, the race is still expected to be competitive.

More evidence that Pennsylvania’s Senate race is tightening.  Per a new Quinnipiac University poll, Bob Casey (D) leads Sen. Rick Santorum (R), 47%-40%.  Back in June, the poll had Casey with a 52%-34% advantage.  Despite the narrowing of the race, voters by a 49%-42% margin say Santorum doesn't deserve re-election.

The Washington Post reports that Allen apologized for the "macaca" remark "hours after Allen's campaign manager dismissed the issue with an expletive and insisted the senator has 'nothing to apologize for,'" while the Webb aide "said he suspects Allen singled him out because his was the only nonwhite face among about 100 Republican supporters...  Virginia Commonwealth University politics professor Robert Holsworth called Allen's comments a gaffe that probably wouldn't change the Senate race but could hurt his presidential ambitions."

The Richmond Times-Dispatch says that Allen manager Dick Wadhams "said the Allen staff had begun calling [the Webb staffer] 'mohawk' because of his haircut.  'Macaca' was a variation of that, he said.  He noted that Allen was praising the Webb staffer for being there."

USA Today notes the similarities, and some key differences, between Allen's political circumstances and those of Sen. Hillary Clinton (D), who is also seeking re-election this year and is expected to seek the presidency after that.

The New York Times notes how Clinton has been keeping a much lower profile in her 2006 race than she did in 2000.  "The difference between then and now, of course, is that Mrs. Clinton is an incumbent with solid approval ratings, huge sums of campaign cash, a record of accomplishments in the Senate - and a deeply divided Republican opposition."

And Sen. Evan Bayh (D) was in Iowa yesterday attending the state fair where he, along with gubernatorial nominee Chet Culver (D), "touted his plan to increase the use of renewable fuels as a way to help the country's economy," reports the Des Moines Register.  Bayh's PAC has  also "dispatched 25 workers to Iowa to help Democrats campaign during this fall's elections."

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