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First Read

First Read is a daily memo prepared by NBC News' political unit, for NBC News, analyzing the morning's political news and giving readers an inside look at NBC's plans for covering the day in politics.
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From Elizabeth Wilner, Mark Murray, and Huma Zaidi

On war-versus-economy, war naturally takes precedence as President Bush and the Democratic presidential field commemorate Veterans' Day. Bush signs the Fallen Patriots Tax Relief Act at 10:10 am, lays a wreath at Arlington National Cemetery at 10:55 am, makes remarks on Veterans' Day at 11:10 am, makes remarks at the Heritage Foundation President's Club luncheon at 1:15 pm, and signs the National Cemetery Expansion Act of 2003 at 2:10 pm.

Clark, in New Hampshire, visits a VA medical center and a VFW post. Dean gives a foreign policy address and meets with veterans in Iowa. Kerry breakfasts with veterans in Phoenix and does a veterans' event before taping The Tonight Show in Los Angeles. Lieberman, in Oklahoma, keynotes a Veterans' Day ceremony and hosts a roundtable discussion with veterans. The two candidates generally focused more on the economy, Gephardt and Edwards, are down.

Campaign stories run thick. That EU has some sharp political analysts: The WTO ruling yesterday that Bush's steel tariffs violate international trade rules leaves the White House with a dicey choice between repealing the tariffs and ticking off voters in battleground states, or not repealing and facing sanctions targeted at battleground states.

The Washington Post sets up Thursday as the day Bush may crack the $100 million fundraising mark. Bush advisors use Dean's forgoing matching funds as justification to fundraise even more. Dean uses Bush's expected "$200 million from corporate special interests" to justify forgoing matching funds, while George Soros dumps a couple mil into an Internet-driven advocacy group out to beat Bush. Kerry is likely to use Dean's opting out to announce shortly that he will, too.

And then, there's Kerry. Typically, we don't devote much space to campaign staff changes. Kerry, however, says he let his campaign manager go to change the dynamics of the race. Well then.

The dynamics changed, alright. It's Veterans' Day. Kerry's driving rationale is that his Vietnam background best positions him to take on Bush in a time of war and threats to homeland security. Clark competes with him for that slot, while the national security-lite Dean has overtaken him in his must-win state. Yet Kerry has flushed his own Veterans' Day opportunity.

Yesterday, we wrote, "Kerry's chance to tout his Vietnam credentials today will get stepped on by the firing of his campaign manager." This morning's Des Moines Register headline after Kerry's day of campaigning with veterans in that key state: "Kerry fires manager in plan to move campaign forward." The nation's newspaper leads with Kerry's "fall from front-runner to underdog." The Boston Herald leads: "insiders contend Kerry himself has been the campaign's real problem." The Boston Globe gives it THREE stories. The Manchester, NH Union-Leader runs the AP account.

This short-term pain may yield longer-term gain. But changing campaign managers doesn't typically change the dynamics of a race. And emphasizing that it will, as Kerry is, only ratchets up the pressure.

The campaign's change-the-subject TV ad also emphasizes how much they are reacting to Dean. Embed Felix Schein says that per the Dean campaign, the Boston Globe report suggesting Dean was going to launch a TV ad using Bush on the USS Lincoln was wrong; no such ad is in the works. Yet the report promoted the Kerry campaign to put their own such spot out there -- an undercurrent which may get as much media attention as the message in the ad itself.

The Wall Street Journal reports: "Congress's year-end budget squeeze threatens one of President Bush's top foreign-policy initiatives, an incentive approach to U.S. aid that rewards poor countries that shed corrupt one-party governments and move toward democracy and market economies. The so-called Millennium Challenge Account program, announced in March 2002 and highly touted during Mr. Bush's trip to Africa in July, has yet to be authorized by Congress and appears increasingly in competition with a second Bush priority: more money to fight AIDS overseas."

Veterans' Day
"Mired in a complicated, unfinished mission in Iraq," says the AP, Bush will honor the nation's veterans with a wreath laying and speech at Arlington National Cemetery today, right after signing the Fallen Patriots Tax Relief. Later this afternoon, Bush plans "to talk about the high stakes in Iraq in a speech at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center, an event sponsored by the conservative Heritage Foundation. He'll talk about his assessment of the current situation in Iraq, both the security situation and our strategy to prevail."

Bush will also sign the "Fallen Patriots Tax Relief Act, which doubles the tax-free death gratuity payment given to the families of fallen soldiers from $6,000 to $12,000; and the National Cemetery Expansion Act to help establish new national cemeteries for deceased veterans in southeastern Pennsylvania and in and around Birmingham, Ala., Jacksonville and Sarasota, Fla., Bakersfield, Calif., and Greenville and Columbia, S.C."

Despite the scrum over his own campaign shake-up yesterday, Kerry apparently elicited a response from the normally quiet Bush campaign: "Kerry, in remarks at Paralyzed Veterans of America, accused President Bush of failing to meet the health-care needs of veterans. Bush's campaign fired back that Kerry was spreading falsehoods about the president's treatment of veterans," says the Des Moines Register.

Kerry embed Becky Diamond says the campaign yesterday touted support from over 1,000 Iowa veterans. Kerry spokesperson David Wade said veterans are "a core constituency" that "if mobilized could make a huge difference" in Iowa and New Hampshire. The campaign estimates 281,000 veterans live in Iowa. Of those, 158,359 are registered to vote and 142,185 have never caucused before. The Kerry campaign pointed out to Diamond that many of their veteran supporters are new to the caucuses.

Yesterday in New Hampshire, embed Dionne Scott reports, Lieberman played up how his Veterans' Bill of Rights includes eliminating "don't ask, don't tell:" "You shouldn't prohibit somebody from being in the military because of a status that they have. You should judge them based on their conduct as soldiers. And therefore, I thought that the 'don't ask, don't tell' policy was not fair." Lieberman opposed the policy when it was introduced during the Clinton Administration.

Also yesterday in New Hampshire, the Boston Globe says, "Clark said he would establish a national memorial in Washington, D.C., to honor the soldiers who fought in Panama, Iraq, and Somalia; fully fund veterans' health care and extend it to reservists and National Guardsmen; and eliminate the Disabled Veterans Tax, which reduces some veterans' retirement benefits by the amount they receive in disability pay. Legislation is pending in Congress to eliminate that tax. Clark will campaign today at several Veterans Day-related events in New Hampshire."

The Columbia, SC State reports, "Clark's status as a former four-star Army general has piqued the interest of some military veterans in this key primary state, but that doesn't mean the Democratic presidential hopeful will automatically get their vote."

"Still, a number of veterans find Clark's sharp criticism of the Bush administration's policy in Iraq too much to swallow."

Politics of steel
The Washington Post: If Bush "abides by the WTO ruling and rolls back the steel tariffs, he would anger voters in key steelmaking states such as Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia. But if he maintains the tariffs, he would risk angering industries in other states that would be hurt by the retaliatory duties."

"White House spokesman Scott McClellan said Bush has not yet made a decision. But sources close to the White House say the administration's economic team has united in imploring Bush to scrap the tariffs rather than let them stay in effect until their scheduled expiration in March 2005. Perhaps more important, one source said, Karl Rove, the president's top political adviser, now believes the tariffs have cost Bush more political support among steel-using industries and conservative free-trade advocates than the political goodwill he gained from their imposition."

The Los Angeles Times: "The Europeans have targeted some of their promised sanctions to inflict symbolic and political pain for the president and GOP lawmakers, including citrus grown in Florida and garments made in the Carolinas."

The Chicago Tribune spells it out: "If Bush does not repeal the tariffs, the European Union has said it will impose $2.2 billion in punitive tariffs on American goods produced in states critical to Bush's re-election chances, including citrus fruit from Florida, where his brother, Jeb, is governor."

The Wall Street Journal notes the "administration's initial response was defiant... But internal dissension makes it unclear what the White House's next move will be."

Politics of the economy
The Columbia, SC State on Bush's fundraising and speech-making stop yesterday: "Bush raised a record $1.6 million for his re-election bid Monday in a South Carolina visit also intended to show his concern for unemployed textile workers." A local poli sci professor says, "'The people who attended his fund-raiser ... are well-heeled... That's a stark contrast to what the president said at BMW today, that some people should get "a little drive." That may not sit well.'"

"The president said his tax cuts have helped spur the economy. He called on Congress to make them permanent."

The story notes, "Bush delivered something of a mini State of the Union address, ticking off his accomplishments and challenging Congress to finish acting on his agenda. The president drew his biggest applause when he called for an end to frivolous lawsuits that he said are driving up the cost of medical care."

The Los Angeles Times:"Bush's comments marked a shift in both emphasis and tone over the last few days - from reticence Friday in response to improving economic indicators to near-exuberance Monday in proclaiming that his agenda, most notably two across-the-board tax cuts, have set the nation on the road to recovery."

The Washington Post reports, "With President Bush's reelection fundraising nearing the $100 million mark, several advisers said Monday that the new financial threat posed by... Dean should encourage the president's donors to vault his campaign well past its ambitious fundraising goal of $170 million."

"When Bush passes the $100 million mark, possibly Thursday, he will eclipse the amount he spent in 2000 and break the record for political fundraising."

"Republican officials said that if Dean becomes their opponent, his campaign-financing decision could dramatically change the landscape for Bush in the months between clinching the nomination and the Democratic National Convention in late July. Bush's strategists had assumed the Democratic nominee would be low on money, or broke, during that period and would have to rely on advertising by outside interest groups, which cannot legally coordinate their messages with the campaign."

"Republican officials have said they expected to be able to use that time to run a flood of advertising -- with separate waves promoting Bush's record and bashing the Democrat, with little direct opposition on the air. Bush, who is pouring much of his money into elaborate get-out-the-vote operations, now faces the prospect of an ad war with a well-funded competitor through the spring and summer."

"Bush is still likely to far out-raise any competitor."

First Lady Laura Bush has done 13 fundraisers since June and has raised "more than $5 million so far." – Washington Times

Just days after Dean justified bowing out of the matching fund system because Bush will raise hundreds of millions from "corporate interests," the Washington Post covers George Soros' gift of $5 million to to help defeat Bush, which brings "to $15.5 million the total of his personal contributions to oust" the President.

"Soros's contributions are filling a gap in Democratic Party finances that opened after the restrictions in the 2002 McCain-Feingold law took effect."

"In an effort to limit Soros's influence, the RNC sent a letter to Dean Monday, asking him to request that [Soros beneficiary groups] follow the McCain-Feingold restrictions limiting individual contributions to $2,000."

The press release explains that Soros and fellow financier Peter Lewis "have given a challenge grant to the Voter Fund as it seeks to raise millions of dollars from its members and others to support a television campaign to tell the truth about... Bush. Two weeks ago the Voter Fund kicked off a fundraising effort aimed at producing $10 million to be spent on TV advertising in selected battleground states in the 2004 election. The spots will begin shortly and run steadily through next March." Soros and Lewis "have committed to give as much as $5 million to match grassroots contributions to the fund on a one-to-two basis. Thus, if the fund succeeds in reaching its $10 million goal it will reap an additional $5 million from the matching gift."

More 2004 notes (D)
Kerry embed Becky Diamond says Kerry yesterday repeated over and over again that he was "changing the dynamics of the race" by changing campaign managers, but refused to elaborate on what those dynamics were. (Watch the press avail video, Diamond says, and you will count "change the dynamic" numerous times with no explanation of what it means.) Kerry would not answer questions as to whether it is "too late" to change the dynamic or whether he would be attacking Dean more aggressively. Traveling press secretary David Wade also said new campaign manager Mary Beth Cahill "can change the dynamic."

Per Diamond, a Kerry Iowa staffer says she got a phone call with the news at 4:30 am CT on Monday. The staffer said the campaign's Iowa operation had to "put it on the shelf" because Kerry was in town.

The Washington Post: "Kerry told his staff in a contentious phone call Sunday night that he was under pressure from donors and key supporters to dramatically shake things up, according to sources. Several aides told the senator his problems are much bigger than Jordan's leadership and suggested Kerry had to make personal changes, too, the sources said. Several aides said Kerry's campaign has been too muddled and mean-spirited."

"Kerry's decision to sack his campaign manager midcourse is likely to only reinforce his image as Gore-like."

On Dean: "Several aides are lobbying Kerry to strike a balance: Attack Dean, but not so personally, and offer a clearer alternative to the front-runner."

"Kerry also has had a tough time capitalizing on what was once seen as his greatest asset: his highly decorated service in Vietnam. Veterans still flock to his events, but his wavering position on the war in Iraq has left many Democrats confused and frustrated."

Boston Globe Story #1 (the news): "By taking the personally painful step of ousting one of his most trusted lieutenants, Kerry is acknowledging that something has gone badly wrong with his campaign."

Boston Globe Story #2 (the analysis): "Kerry offers a vivid snapshot of the anguish spreading through some corners of the Democratic field as Howard B. Dean barrels toward the presidential nomination with increasing velocity."

"While other Democrats are clearly feeling the effects of Dean's insurgency -- Representative Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri is facing a serious challenge in his backyard, in Iowa, home to the first caucuses -- Kerry is locked in a must-win battle for New Hampshire, where Dean has shown a double-digit lead in recent polls. And although all the major candidates in the race are working to derail Dean's candidacy -- [Edwards, Lieberman and Clark] have all taken turns attacking Dean over various issues -- the Dean-Kerry rivalry has drawn the most attention, in part because Kerry grappled so publicly months ago with the question of whether to home in on Dean or not."

Boston Globe Story #3 (Dean): looks at "how Dean's campaign has been able to overshadow moves by Kerry's time and again, making deft use of the political process to build momentum for the former Vermont governor."

Diamond also says to expect word on whether Kerry will forgo matching funds as early as today; he already has pledged to stick to the $45 million overall limit if he forgoes the match, and has challenged Dean to do the same.

Dean embed Felix Schein notes the Dean campaign's response to that challenge and Kerry's criticism of Dean's decision to forgo matching funds: Yesterday, the Dean campaign released a series of Kerry quotes meant to demonstrate that he is on the verge of committing the same re-evaluation Dean did in deciding to opt out. Schein also says Dean's top aides leave little doubt that he will not adhere to the $45 million limit. According to senior Dean officials, adhering to the limit would give Clark a massive advantage since he got into the race late, has spent less, and consequently has more room under the cap than the campaigns who have been spending money all year.

Kucinich embed Karin Caifa reports that since launching "The Dr. is Out" late last week, a campaign designed to attract Dean supporters, the Kucinich folks have posted over 100 "testimonials" on their website from those who have allegedly dropped off of the Dean bandwagon.

The New York Timeslooks at a surging Team Gephardt which, it notes, is now leading Dean in Iowa. "As he darts from town to town, Mr. Gephardt is drawing larger crowds and is increasingly described by some Democrats as the most potent adversary to Dr. Dean." (Pretty impressive work, we'd note, for a labor-reliant campaign that just lost two big union endorsements.)

Edwards embed Dugald McConnell says the campaign's new TV ad yesterday in Iowa and New Hampshire ---- is the campaign's 11th. The already released policy booklet touted in the ad, reminiscent of Bill Clinton's, is more extensive than the efforts of other candidates, McConnell notes, reminding us that this campaign relies more on policy and bio than on characteristics like leadership. Edwards' style in New Hampshire also seems geared more toward issues than toward themes. "Most of the town hall meetings, he doesn't have a stump speech anymore," said New Hampshire spokesman Colin van Ostern. "He'll talk about the policy of the day, and then open it up for questions."

Lieberman plans to spend most of January in New Hampshire, says the Courant.

The lead Boston Globe online story isn't about Kerry, actually -- it's about the Democratic convention host committee and the fact that "organizers have attracted only about $3 million in cash donations, including just two worth more than $250,000, according to a list of corporate sponsors posted on the host committee's website."

The AP reports jurors in GOP Rep. Bill Janklow's trial for manslaughter "will hear testimony about a close call Janklow had at the same intersection, but not about three accidents and 12 speeding tickets in his driving record, a judge ruled Monday."

From Elizabeth Wilner, Mark Murray, and Huma Zaidi

President Bush spotlights the economy in South Carolina, in between fundraisers there and in Arkansas, while Veterans’ Day plays big in a Democratic nominating contest where the CW is that electability means support for, and prior service in the US military. Base appeal, however, still means opposition to the President.

So Clark, Kerry and Lieberman flex their pro-military records and talk about helping veterans, while frontrunner Dean (again) stands out for his consistent opposition to the war. The says Dean plans to air TV ads of Bush landing on the USS Abraham Lincoln “— images Bush deployed as a triumphant visual coda to the Iraq conflict but which Dean says are now powerful reminders of a war gone wrong.”

Kerry’s chance to tout his Vietnam credentials today will get stepped on by the firing of his campaign manager. (Note that Kerry’s statement highlights the incoming manager’s work for Sen. Ted Kennedy and “progressive causes.”) Embed Becky Diamond says Kerry will play up his military experience as he meets with veterans groups in Iowa and New Hampshire. Per the campaign release: “Kerry will embark on an Iowa bus tour with Iowa veterans on Monday, November 10, the eve of Veterans Day. Kerry will be joined by veterans from all across Iowa as well as members of his Veterans for Kerry Leadership team. John Kerry is proud to have the support of over 1000 veterans in Iowa and an unprecedented Iowa Veterans for Kerry grassroots organization.” (Affiliate coverage.)

Embed Marisa Buchanan says Clark today unveils his “vision” to assist vets. A Clark e-mail to supporters asking for clothes for wounded soldiers in Germany says: “In 1970, I as being flown on a stretcher to Saigon after being hit by enemy fire in Vietnam. I missed the birth of my only son while I was recovering in Japan. I know something about how the young men and women who were wounded in Iraq feel, because I experienced it myself. If there is one thing that can make those tough days of recovery easier, it’s having support from home.”

And Lieberman embed Dionne Scott reports on Lieberman’s proposal of a US military “bill of rights” to: ensure gays won’t be denied a chance to serve; enlist NATO troops to help US troops in Afghanistan and Iraq; demand more rigorous training for peacekeeping and nation-building missions; and arm US troops with advanced technology. Lieberman over the weekend was endorsed by a Manchester, NH alderman who is a Vietnam vet and is now Lieberman’s senior advisor for veterans’ affairs. The outlines Lieberman and Kerry’s pro-vet proposals.

On Tuesday, Clark has Veterans’ Day-themed events in New Hampshire; Dean speaks on foreign policy at the Iowa City of Foreign Relations Council and meets with veterans in Ottumwa; and Kerry breakfasts with veterans in Phoenix before taping The Tonight in Los Angeles.

The other dynamic out there: The Dean versus Someone Else concept really took root over the weekend. An e-mail from Gephardt’s campaign manager to supporters calls Gephardt “The Deanslayer,” while Kerry’s Face the Nation appearance was all about Dean. Again, AFSCME, along with the SEIU, is expected to endorse Dean on Wednesday.

Next weekend brings the Louisiana gubernatorial run-off and the Florida Democratic Party’s decision on a straw poll, and Schwarzenegger gets sworn in a week from today.

heralds Bush’s visit: “When President Bush arrives today in Greenville, he will be visiting the manufacturing hub of a state that has lost 91,100 jobs since the Republican won election three years ago.”

“Bush arrives in the wake of positive economic news... That may be small comfort for the 400 workers who lost their jobs when Georgetown Steel closed last month, and for the 600 workers at Greenville’s General Electric gas turbine plant who expect to lose their jobs by next summer.”

“Bush won’t be speaking at either plant. Instead, he’ll speak at 4 p.m. at BMW’s Greer plant that makes Z4 roadsters and X5 sport utility vehicles. BMW has been one of the state’s brightest spots in the recession, adding more than 400 jobs in the past year alone.”

“The president‘s visit to Arkansas comes just days after reports of lagging Arkansas state revenue collections and the highest state jobless rate in ten years, signaling a sluggish state economic recovery.” —

reports. The Wall Street Journal says the latest battle within the committee is over “rapid growth of physician-owned specialty hospitals:” “Critics say these facilities target the most profitable procedures under Medicare, such as heart and orthopedic surgery, leaving community hospitals with less revenue to support emergency services. Supporters counter that specialization increases the effectiveness of physicians, providing quality care more efficiently.”

The says Senator Kennedy remains the Democratic heavy on the legislation, even though he’s not on the conference committee. “Some Democrats worry that his deal-making could make possible passage of a Republican-leaning bill that they believe would permanently weaken Medicare. None was willing to speak on the record about disagreements with the senator, but many have shared their concerns with him.”

reports on Gore’s critique yesterday, “Bush’s reelection campaign referred calls on the speech to the Republican National Committee. RNC officials did not return a call seeking comment.”

Beyond President Bush, the one person drawing the most ire from the Democratic field is Attorney General Ashcroft, says the .

covers Democratic governors’ efforts to save their states’ presidential primaries from the budgetary chopping block.

The says former state officials responsible for implementing election reforms, like California’s ex-secretary of state, are now working for the companies making the new voting equipment. “Out of the tumultuous 2000 presidential election has come a national initiative to replace punch-card voting devices with modern optical-scanning and touch-screen systems. And in California, where 54 counties are expected to buy about $400 million in new equipment, some voting machine makers are hiring former government officials... to supply prestige, entre or expertise for a competitive edge.”

considers the possibility that the Democratic state attorney general’s reversal on the probe into the Schwarzenegger groping charges is politically motivated. “In California, the post of attorney general is among the best stepping-stones to higher office... But at age 62, Lockyer’s best shot for running for governor is in 2006. He already has $10 million for his next campaign.”

The contemplates the role NBC’s Maria Shriver may assume as a top adviser to her husband.

Bush’s reelection team is eyeing New Hampshire, reports. “Matthew Dowd, the senior strategist for Bush-Cheney 2004, said in an interview... that New Hampshire was among a half-dozen or so top-tier targeted states by the re-election campaign. Thus, while Dowd suggested Bush could visit the state again before January’s presidential primary, Bush would very likely campaign harder for Granite State votes for November’s general election.”

“In 2000, New Hampshire was a state Bush barely won over Al Gore by 7,211 votes in the general election. Green Party candidate Ralph Nader’s 22,000 votes no doubt help give New Hampshire to Bush. It was the only state in New England that he won.”

Which adds poignance to this New Hampshire-datelined story: “Times are relatively good in New Hampshire. The unemployment rate is more than a point below the nation’s - even in Franklin, a blue-collar town that has struggled since the textile mills shut down 30 years ago. Now it’s the war that is making some New Hampshire voters nervous...”

The story goes on to say: “Ambivalence about the situation in Iraq helps explain why former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, who questioned the war from the start, has staked out a strong lead among the Democratic candidates in state polls. In just one sign of his popularity, he is drawing such large crowds to house parties that some people have had to park three blocks away.”

says Pakistani-Americans are now lining up to support his opponent, Democrat Kathleen Blanco. “The support culminated during an Oct. 21 fund-raiser for Blanco in Lake Charles sponsored by the Pakistani-American Business Association of Louisiana, which gave Blanco $50,000 for her campaign.”

“One attendee said Jindal’s Indian heritage has some Pakistanis worried, given the decades of animosity between India and Pakistan.”

In the Democratic presidential race, Edwards embed Dugald McConnell says Edwards in Atlanta today picks up the endorsement of former Gov. Roy Barnes (D) of (South Carolina neighbor) Georgia.

The notes that since Edwards’ attack on Dean at Rock the Vote last week, “some voters have been thinking more about [Edwards’] calls to heed the South.” McConnell says Edwards on Sunday addressed 250 supporters dubbed “African Americans for Edwards,” telling them they put him in the Senate, asking for their help, and vowing to fight for civil rights, like-minded judges, and affirmative action.

That said, Edwards is among the four Democratic candidates skipping the DC beauty contest (though that’s probably more about making Iowans happy). Sharpton embed Tom Llamas notes Sharpton opened his DC campaign office on Sunday with a lot of show, though not a lot of show of support. Subtract the Bowie State University marching band and members of the media, Llamas says, and that left around 20 people in attendance.

says, Kerry has fired his campaign manager. The decision came Sunday night from the Kerry camp, who has since replaced Jordan with “Democratic operative” Mary Beth Cahill.

Edwards embed Dugald McConnell got this from the candidate on his return to Meet the Press: “I think it went well. Tim was tough as always, but it was an honest discussion. I thought it was good. There are always questions you haven’t thought about, so you have to be able to think on your feet. I think the mix was good. Felt like about 70 percent policy, 30 percent politics. This show has a huge audience, so we’ll talk to people who are activists in Iowa and New Hampshire, and obviously the Beltway crowd pays close attention.” Dean embed Felix Schein adds that staffers at a certain Burlington, VT HQ conceded Edwards did very well.

As noted above, the Dean-vs.-Democrat TBD concept really took root over the weekend. The had Democratic quotes that the next few months will be a referendum on Dean, and that Kerry is now the underdog in New Hampshire.

The : “The path to victory may look brighter inside the Dean campaign because of what happened in the past seven days, but he still faces a serious obstacle course. His opponents will both gang up on him in attacks and attempt to isolate him into a series of one-on-one battles in various states. With his profile as high as it is today, the other question is whether Dean has the temperament and candidate skills to go with the grass-roots energy his campaign has aroused. The former governor’s penchant for making comments he later has to clean up could cause him further problems.”

“Many Democrats, including key figures in Congress and at the Democratic National Committee, say they worry Dean may be too liberal or too abrasive to defeat President Bush. They are scrambling to stop the former governor before it is too late. Yet with so many candidates from which to choose, it is unlikely that the Democratic establishment, which Dean spends much of his time bashing at campaign events, could coalesce around an alternative. Several Democrats said they hope former President Bill Clinton, his wife, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) and former Vice President Al Gore will intervene to help thwart Dean, but that appears unlikely, too.”

Embed Felix Schein notes the Dean campaign seems to be spending heavily to ensure nothing changes. The Burlington HQ is officially full. Security has been upgraded, with a magnetic door that is always locked, a receptionist who screens visitors, and ID badges around all necks. In Iowa, the press operation has expanded.

Dean explains his matching funds move in a Wall Street Journal op-ed: “A Democratic nominee with no money is exactly what the Bush campaign is hoping for. A nominee who has no opportunity to fight back against the onslaught of the Bush attacks between March and August — spending caps would leave a publicly financed Democrat broke by next spring. But we found a third way — for the people to change the system themselves.”

“I knew that this decision was not mine to make. Many of my supporters made those small-dollar contributions expecting that they would be doubled when the federal government matched them in January of 2004. But more importantly, this campaign has become larger than the candidate; it belongs to the community of more than 500,000 people who have built it. I concluded that this decision must be placed in their hands.”

The (again) calls for Dean to abide by the overall $45 million spending limit, as Kerry and Gephardt have challenged him to do. Schein also reports that the campaign’s online vote on matching funds, which required voters to enter their names and some personal information, turned up a Gephardt staffer and several DNC staffers signing on as Dean supporters.

Kerry and Clark now may shortly follow suit and forgo matching funds. -

Some teachers hold a grudge against Dean, who “backed a school-funding scheme when he was governor of Vermont that turned teachers there against him and is now being used to try to sway powerful teachers unions in key primary states.” —

“Dean’s support for a plan that would have seized control of teacher salaries, ending local collective bargaining in a gambit to cut property taxes . . . Now, Bay State teachers backing U.S. Sen. John F. Kerry are trying to make sure the decade-old issue haunts Dean’s White House run.”

The Gephardt campaign got some good news over the weekend after a string of press hits like the SEIU/AFSCME news and the report that top staffers are taking pay cuts; also, word that UAW won’t endorse a candidate is a mixed blessing for Gephardt, who can now go for support of UAW locals. The good news: A poll puts Gephardt in the lead over Dean in Iowa at 27% to Dean’s 20%, with Kerry third at 15%.

A story today looks at how candidate ads haven’t gained much traction yet.

Clark embed Marisa Buchanan says the campaign is confident they will raise at least $6 million by the end of the year, on top of the $3.5 million raised the first two weeks of the campaign. The looks into Clark’s post-military business activities, which the paper notes has put him in “the enviable position of having $2 million in checking accounts and an annual income that topped $1.6 million last year.”

Another top military general has blasted Clark, per the “Gen. Tommy Franks, who retired after leading the first stage of this year’s war against Iraq, says in a new report that Wesley Clark, another former general, would make a lousy president.”

“‘Absolutely not,’ said Franks, when asked if Clark, who recently joined the pack of presidential wannabes, would make a good commander-in-chief.”

Buchanan reports the campaign holds a conference call on Internet initiatives today at 12:15 pm. One initiative, Buchanan says, is the “WesCam,” which is the brainchild of a friend of the family’s to get the behind-the-scenes of the campaign and get at “the General’s essence across to a broad web community.” “The Wescam will run on the campaign’s website on a regular basis to show the ‘in-between moments.’” It’s being billed as “the ultimate grass-roots approach to video coverage of the presidential race.”

Kucinich embed Karin Caifa says the campaign is planning a billboard ad blitz in Iowa and New Hampshire, at $800 a month per board; the campaign also is encouraging supporters to get together to buy billboards on their own.

Moseley Braun embed Angela Miles reports the candidate will be burning up the phone lines this week, with no public events on her schedule until Saturday.

Embed Tom Llamas asked Sharpton if he’s going to take any acting classes to prepare for his appearance on Saturday Night Live. Sharpton told Llamas his SNL appearance will bring America together: “I see me doing Saturday Night Live as the same as Bill Clinton doing Arsenio Hall. When Bill Clinton was running for President he did Arsenio Hall and people said he reached out. Well this is me reaching out on the other side,” Sharpton said. “So Al Sharpton on Saturday Night Live is my answer to Bill Clinton on Arsenio Hall. I’m meeting them half way across the divide bringing America together.” And on those acting lessons: “I don’t need acting lessons to be witty, I have to act to be dull. I need acting lessons to be dull.”

The does Sharpton in South Carolina.

From Elizabeth Wilner, Mark Murray, and Huma Zaidi

A Black Hawk down and a second day of good economic news, with unemployment dropping to 6%, have the President and his aspiring Democratic challengers again shifting their feet on the war versus the economy, the tectonic plates of the 2004 campaign. Bush gives job training remarks in Edwards’ home state of North Carolina, while a Democrat-produced summary of textile industry “discontent” with the Administration makes the rounds. Democrats — like the trio in New Hampshire today and Clark down South — are likely to focus on the war; Veterans’ Day may start early for this field.

Special interests are at the fore: Dean began the week under fire for the flag flap but ends with (at least) two big union endorsements coming his way. As he awaits word from supporters on whether or not to take matching funds, with that verdict coming Saturday, he charges that Bush will get hundreds of millions from “corporate special interests.” (A Republican party spokesperson reminds Dean that corporations can’t contribute...) Kerry, meanwhile, attacks Dean for pandering to “special interests like the NRA.”

On Sunday, Edwards makes his first Meet the Press appearance in a year and a half, and Al Gore comments on the Administration’s response to terrorism at a Constitution Society event in DC at 2:00 pm.

And in California, revival of the Schwarzenegger groping charges was not unexpected, but for the Governor-elect, came from an unexpected source. -

The writes up the White House e-mail to the Hill stating it “will not entertain any more questions from opposition lawmakers.” “The director of the White House Office of Administration... sent an e-mail titled ‘congressional questions’ to majority and minority staff on the House and Senate Appropriations panels. Expressing ‘the need to add a bit of structure to the Q&A process,’ he wrote: ‘Given the increase in the number and types of requests we are beginning to receive from the House and Senate, and in deference to the various committee chairmen and our desire to better coordinate these requests, I am asking that all requests for information and materials be coordinated through the committee chairmen and be put in writing from the committee.’”

“He said this would limit ‘duplicate requests’ and help answer questions ‘in a timely fashion.’ It would also do another thing: prevent Democrats from getting questions answered without the blessing of the GOP committee chairmen.”

Also: “Senior Senate Republicans said yesterday that unless Democrats disavow a plot to use the traditionally nonpartisan intelligence committee to wage political attacks on the Bush administration, they would consider taking away Democrats’ power-sharing privileges,” the reports.

on the unemployment numbers: “The Labor Department also made substantial upward revisions to payrolls for August and September, a sign sizzling economic growth in the third quarter translated into more jobs.”

rounds up yesterday’s positive economic news: Greenspan’s optimism on job growth, increased productivity, and Gallup numbers showing “53% of those surveyed earlier this week said the economy was getting better, up from 47% two weeks ago. That’s the highest in 19 months and more than double the 23% who said it was getting better in March, a low point in the Bush presidency.”

Forsyth Tech is thrilled about their presidential visit. —

on Bush’s speech yesterday: “A senior administration official familiar with the speech’s preparation said the purpose was to ‘elevate the president’s foreign policy to a moral cause, and remind people why they’re fighting.’ The official said such a discussion ‘takes the whole thing out of troop levels and border patrols,’ subjects that have been vexing for the administration during the deadly Iraqi insurgency...”

“The speech came after some division within the administration about how best to cast the hostilities in Iraq. A Republican source said some of the more politically minded of Bush’s advisers argued ‘that the whole issue must be framed only in terms of American security.’”

The reports Clark called yesterday for reconstruction chief Bremer to be replaced and suggested more US troops in Iraq. He had more to say about Iraq on CNBC’s Capital Report: “I’m concerned that the administration doesn’t have a strategy. And if it does, it hasn’t shared it. And I keep asking, why won’t they come forward with a strategy?”

Lieberman embed Dionne Scott reports that before Clark laid out his post-war Iraq points yesterday, Lieberman said, “From what I’ve heard about them, they sound a lot like what I’ve been saying for more than a year now... Wes Clark’s plan sounds a lot like the plan I put out last October and then again in February, so I would say it’s a good plan... About a month or so ago, I welcomed Wes to the Democratic party and to this campaign, so I guess I should welcome him to my plan.”

says California Attorney General Bill Lockyer yesterday called for an independent probe into the allegations that Governor-elect Schwarzenegger groped women over the years. That move angered Schwarzenegger’s aides, who “responded that the governor-elect had already decided to hire a private investigation firm to look into the allegations. They accused Lockyer of violating ‘attorney- client’ privilege by publicly disclosing discussions about the matter.”

“The accusation of a breach of trust and of professional ethics marks a strange twist in the relationship between the Republican governor-elect and the Democratic attorney general. Democrats were stunned when Lockyer said after the election that he had voted for Schwarzenegger and downplayed the groping allegations as ‘frat boy behavior.’”

The : “Schwarzenegger spokesman Rob Stutzman refused to reveal the name of the investigative firm he is hiring and said the scope of the investigation had yet to be determined.”

“Despite skepticism that a prominent public official can pay for an investigation of himself, Stutzman said the ‘impeccable reputation’ of the firm chosen would allay any concerns about the credibility of the investigation.”

: ‘Republican strategists are planning to make gay marriage an issue in the 2004 political race if the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court rules that same-sex couples can legally wed in the Commonwealth.”

“Under pressure from social conservatives who want President Bush to campaign against gay marriage in 2004, GOP officials say they are studying battleground states where same-sex unions could be a wedge issue in national and state races, and they are weighing endorsement of a proposed federal constitutional amendment sanctioning only heterosexual marriage.”

“At the same time, conservative groups are raising money to spend on campaigns next year, assembling volunteers to press candidates to oppose gay marriage, and organizing petition drives and ballot initiatives in favor of the constitutional amendment.”

The : “The sudden convergence of the SEIU and AFSCME, two unions that appeared headed in opposite directions on their choice of a Democratic nominee earlier this year, is one of the most surprising turns in the race and would give Dean critical political manpower and infrastructure in Iowa, New Hampshire and a number of key states that hold primaries or caucuses in the weeks after those two contests.”

“If AFSCME joins the SEIU, as expected, labor will find itself badly divided between industrial unions and those in the service economy.”

The : “For Dr. Dean, the S.E.I.U. is especially significant because about 35 percent of its members are black or Latino and, as former governor of a nearly all-white state, he lacks a political network in minority communities. With 755,000 health-care workers among its members, Dr. Dean also hopes S.E.I.U. will help sell him as the health-care candidate.”

The : “labor and political sources said they thought the power of a possible combined endorsement was worth the awkward moment of SEIU not formally backing Dean despite calling a news conference in Washington for that purpose.”

Embed Dugald McConnell got Edwards on Dean’s forthcoming SEIU nod: “Actually it was a remarkable turn. For example, when I appeared in front of the SEIU meeting in September it was clear they came in planning to endorse Howard Dean. They had basically already made the decision. And I appeared before them, and that appearance was what stopped the endorsement that day.”

Embed Priya David reports the Gephardt staff on Thursday, upon hearing the news of AFSCME’s likely Dean endorsement, was taken aback. An SEIU endorsement of Dean was expected, but deputy press secretary Kim Molstre said they hadn’t received any notification from AFSCME that this was in the works. Gephardt senior advisor Steve Elmendorf: “We’re happy with the level of labor support we have... there’s going to be other unions that support us and other unions that support other candidates. I mean it’s a big field with nine candidates, so we’re not going to get everyone. We’d like to get everyone but you never get everything you want.” Elmendorf told David they feel good about where they are with labor because they have a message that resonates on health care, trade, and the economy. “We’ll go up against Howard Dean or anyone else with that message.”

More Elmendorf: Dean “has some labor unions. We have a lot more. John Kerry has some labor unions. Other people are going to get labor unions. He doesn’t have near as many as we have... You know, the national polls, sometimes he’s ahead, sometimes Clark’s ahead, Lieberman’s been ahead, we’ve been ahead, everybody’s been ahead one time or another in the national polls. I don’t think they’re particularly meaningful. I think what’s meaningful is where you are in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, the early states. And we’re very competitive.”

An official Gephardt statement and an accompanying one-pager outline their union support to date: “We are always disappointed when a union does not decide to endorse us, but we have the support of 20 international labor unions, representing 5 million members nationwide and more than 54,000 Iowans and with that solid grassroots support we will win the Iowa caucuses and go on to win the nomination.”

Kerry manager Jim Jordan, per embed Becky Diamond: ’”Obviously we’re disappointed, and obviously we’re surprised that the major unions are backing a candidate who through his career has proposed raising the retirement age of working Americans, of slashing social security, and who now supports big tax increases on middle class families. Nonetheless, we look forward standing side by side with these same unions against George Bush when we’re the Democratic nominee.”

Race, guns and the southon the Confederate flag flap: “However clumsy he may have appeared, Dean was addressing a real problem that confronts Democrats in the South: the loss to Republicans of white male moderate and conservative voters. It’s a problem for Democrats nationally as well, since Democratic presidential nominees in modern times haven’t won election without carrying at least part of the South.”

The : “It remains to be seen whether Dean will be damaged politically by his comments about Confederate flags, pickup trucks and the people who drive them. But what’s certain is that a candidate whom many here know little about is beginning to be defined by some South Carolina voters by his stance on the Confederate flag. Talk radio stations are crackling with chatter about his remark, with hosts questioning whether Dean — a northerner with liberal leanings on many issues — was unflatteringly generalizing southerners.”

Dean told the regarding his decision to apologize over his flag remarks, “that after mulling the matter into the wee hours, he realized at ‘about 3 o’clock in the morning’ that he needed to make amends.”

“Dean says he also decided that North Carolina Senator John Edwards had a point. During the debate, Edwards angrily told Dean that he had stereotyped Southerners. And that the South didn’t need ‘somebody like you coming down and telling us what we need to do.’”

“At first, Dean said, he thought Edwards was only trying to embarrass him. ‘But after I thought about it, I realized he really was reacting as a Southerner,’ Dean said. ‘I thought Edwards really meant that. He wasn’t just doing it to yank my chain.’ Dean added that ‘we need to talk about race, but we also have to go about it in a measured way and be careful and thoughtful.’”

Gephardt and Lieberman statements yesterday suggested they are putting the flag flap behind them. Embed Becky Diamond reports Kerry, on the other hand, said of Dean’s remarks: “It was not an effort to reach out and have a dialogue about race. It was his response to my comments about his support for the NRA and his opposition to assault weapons. It was his effort to justify his appeal to the NRA for support. It was his effort to talk about why he thinks we need to reach out to people with guns. This is not straight talk when you stand up and try to translate your appeal to the NRA into a glorious discussion of race relations in America... Falling in line with the most extreme elements of the NRA, Howard Dean did not offer not straight talk but he offered a pander to one of the most powerful special interests in America. He has been endorsed more times by the NRA than the NEA.”

A Dean spokesperson e-mailed a response: Kerry’s “desperate attacks have reached a new low and they represent the type of politics the American people are sick of... [and] John Kerry, accusing someone of pandering is like Ken Lay accusing someone of cooking the books.”

Kucinich embed Karin Caifa says the campaign has launched a new initiative to attract Dean supporters, titled, “The Doctor is OUT.” In a statement Thursday, Kucinich said, “Dr. Dean promised to make it a campaign issue if any of his opponents opted out of public funding. I’m making it an issue now. Dr. Dean may feel that he can drag his supporters into agreeing with his preconceived decision because in the end he believes they have no other place to go. Well, he’s wrong. Our campaign is reaching out to them. They don’t have to give up hope.” Caifa notes the campaign website includes about 25 “testimonials” from former Dean supporters who say they’ve switched to Kucinich.

The makes the same argument that the Washington Post did yesterday — that while Dean’s expected decision to opt out of public financing is understandable, “Dean should show his commitment to principle by pledging right now that he will voluntarily spend no more than the $45 million limit in campaigning against other Democrats, and save the rest of his private funds for challenging Mr. Bush.”

notes the party is under big pressure to pull off a smooth caucus night given the debate over Iowa’s first-in-the-nation role.

The reports Clark will get former Gov. Jim Hodges’ endorsement today. Some Clark campaign e-mails: one titled “URGENT: CAMPAIGN APPEAL,” saying that all money raised online in the next two days will go to the New Hampshire campaign; and another touting an “urgent need for campaign housing in NH!”

“Edwards yesterday scolded rivals running lackluster Iowa and New Hampshire campaigns, vowing not to rely only on key primaries in his native South to make him a contender,” the says.

The takes its turn questioning Dean’s temperament: “as Mr. Dean himself recognizes, the very characteristics that appeal to many Democratic voters — his confrontational, even angry attitude — could also be his downfall. That, and not bogus suggestions that he is a racist, is the real concern raised by Mr. Dean’s flag remarks and their aftermath.”

For the third week in a row, Dean tops of 50 Democratic insiders who rank the candidates on their chances of winning the nomination. But this week’s poll also ranks which candidate would be the strongest challenger against Bush, and Gephardt leads the pack with 16 votes, Clark follows with nine, and Kerry gets five. Dean got four, tying him with Lieberman and Edwards. (Eight of the poll’s 50 insiders did not cast a vote on this question.)

The says things are looking “grim” for Kerry’s campaign. “He doesn’t lead in a single primary state. In New Hampshire, his own backyard, he trails Howard Dean by double digits. In South Carolina, a state he considers so key that he staged his formal campaign announcement there, his numbers are so bad that he’s being beaten by the Rev. Al Sharpton.”

Nevertheless, his campaign remains optimistic. “‘We’re still in the phase of courting activists,’ said campaign spokesman David Wade. ‘The wholesale campaigning begins in earnest about now. He always says things get real when the weather starts changing.’”

“Kerry’s camp is hoping for more incidents like Dean’s Confederate flag imbroglio this week... They believe the hotheaded Dean will self-immolate, leaving the field to the less exciting but steadier Kerry.”

Sharpton embed Tom Llamas reports that after the Washington Times yesterday said Sharpton was breaking ranks with his party over a potential filibuster of Bush judicial nominee Janice Rogers Brown (the Times quoted Sharpton from an interview he did yesterday with Sinclair Broadcasting: “I don’t agree with her politics. I don’t agree with some of her background. But she should get an up-or-down vote”), the Sharpton campaign then said Sharpton did not convey what he really meant. The “Reverend was talking about a vote in the committee not on the Senate floor. An up and down vote means on the Senate floor. To a Reverend and a lifetime civil rights activist an up or down vote means where you stand,” said campaign manager Charles Halloran. Llamas says Sharpton made it clear he is not in favor of any vote that would help a Brown appointment: “I asked the Senators to do everything within their means to prevent her from gaining a lifetime appointment to this important Court, and call upon the full Senate to take the same steps to ensure that she is not confirmed,” said Sharpton. The covers.

From Elizabeth Wilner, Mark Murray, and Huma Zaidi

President Bush signs the Iraq supplemental at 1:05 pm and Clark gives a national security policy speech at South Carolina State University at 2:00 pm. Yet the political news cycle once again is all Dean. The quasi-apologetic (per the media and his rivals) Dean expects to claim a Big endorsement from the Service Employees International Union, further solidifying his frontrunner status by making inroads with a key interest group; an AFSCME endorsement may follow, though that union is still considering others. You have to wonder how Dean’s bumpy transition from underdog to frontrunner — including these plays for traditional party support, his clear itch to ditch matching funds, and the flag flap - are going over with his Internet-driven base.

But that quasi-apology over the Confederate flag still dominates the news, and now Dean’s temperament for office is getting more broadly questioned. Says a : Dean “is going to have to demonstrate that his Confederate flag moment was a one-shot, recoverable gaffe and not a symptom of something more haunting, like a pattern of misspeaking or a hardheaded combativeness that makes it impossible to give way with grace.”

The real big Dean news, though, concerns his move to opt out of the public financing system. More on that below.

says that yesterday’s signing was “a validation” of the Right-to-Life movement’s “long-term strategy of incrementalism, restricting abortion step by step as part of the larger battle to turn public opinion against Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that recognized a constitutional right to abortion.”

“Regardless of how the courts ultimately rule on the new legislation, several of its advocates described the long fight for passage as a ‘teaching moment’ that will endure.”

: “Bush faces a delicate political challenge. He opposes abortion, but he said last week that the nation is not ready for a total ban. He wants conservatives who oppose abortion and are his most loyal supporters to know he’s on their side, but he doesn’t want to alienate everyone else.”

Meanwhile, although last night’s Planned Parenthood forum in New Hampshire occurred just hours after Bush signed the ban, abortion surprisingly wasn’t the dominant issue discussed by the Democratic candidates who were present. In fact, Kerry embed Becky Diamond reports only two of the candidates got a chance to answer the first question about Bush’s signing of the partial-birth abortion ban.

has more on last night’s forum, which it says was “tamer than the face-off the candidates had a night earlier. However, the forum did have “an undercurrent of conflict between Dean and Kerry, as the two clashed over tax and education policy.”

The six Democratic candidates in attendance “courted women voters last night, touching on prayer, parenthood and the military draft while blasting President Bush for seeking to roll back abortion rights.” —

The reports that Dean will receive the SEIU’s endorsement today after meeting with the union’s executive board. “SEIU spokeswoman Sara Howard said Dean is the only candidate being considered, but the board could decide not to endorse anyone.”

“But other officials said it was a done deal.”

Gephardt embed Priya David says the Gephardt campaign is keeping quiet in the face of Dean’s expected SEIU nod. Gephardt has met several times with both the SEIU and AFSCME. The SEIU has said their number one priority is health care; Gephardt undoubtedly has the most in-depth health care plan, and also the most expensive, but several other candidates including Dean have detailed health care plans. AFSCME has said their priority is electability, David says, and for awhile there was buzz that Clark was in high favor, being close to AFSCME chief McEntee, but while there’s no strong Clark vibe right now, Gephardt doesn’t seem to be closing in, either.

Mike Fitzgerald, business manager of Chicago’s 18,000-member IBEW Local 134, endorses Moseley Braun today and commits to running as a delegate at 4:00 pm in Chicago.

Race, guns and the south (D)writes that for the first time yesterday, Dean “expressed remorse” for his remarks about the Confederate flag. “‘I regret the pain that I may have caused either to African American or southern white voters,’ he said in New York. What he had hoped to do, Dean said, was provoke a ‘painful’ dialogue about race among all voters, including those displaying Confederate flags. But, he said, ‘I started this discussion in a clumsy way.’”

But the paper adds that “Dean’s rivals believe they have exposed what they consider among his greatest flaws: his temperament, obstinacy and propensity for making controversial or conflicting statements. Dean has brushed off most attacks, which seem to only intensify by the day, frustrating the other Democratic candidates, who are testing several themes to thwart his momentum.”

The has more. In an interview at the Times, Dean “said that his main mistake had been not immediately condemning the flag during the debate, and that he had decided to change course as he came to understand that his comments had been personally offensive to two of his rivals, the Rev. Al Sharpton, who is black, and Senator John Edwards of North Carolina.”

“‘When people get in my face, I tend to get in theirs,’ Dr. Dean said ... ‘Al Sharpton was in my face last night and I was not going to step one step, half a step, backwards, and I don’t care who’s in my face.’”

“‘I tend to be reflective rather later than sooner,’ he added. ‘Now, unfortunately, we all know that nobody’s personality is perfect. So the things that make me a strong candidate are also my Achilles’ heel.’”

For Edwards, the flap over the Confederate flag is closed, reports Edwards campaign embed Dugald McConnell. “I think he should have said last night that he was wrong,” Edwards said. “He had an opportunity to do it and he didn’t several times. But he’s done it today, and needs to be applauded for that.”

Embed Tom Llamas reports Sharpton’s response to Dean’s acknowledgement Wednesday that he offended some with his comments on the Confederate flag: “I think it is about time. I asked him to do that from the beginning and I think if he had done it from the beginning he wouldn’t give people the perception that he was forced or in some way pushed to do it,” Sharpton said. Sharpton said he had asked Dean to apologize more than once. “I think the apology is the right thing, I think I told him that last night that he must apologize, he said he wouldn’t, I told him in private he must apologize he said he wouldn’t. Maybe at midnight the Lord spoke to him.”

In addition, Sharpton is asking Senate Democrats not to filibuster African-American Bush judicial nominee Janice Rogers Brown, who gets a committee vote today. The says Edwards plans to vote against Brown in committee today.

reports on Dean’s possible move to opt out of the public financing system. “Dean appealed to his supporters for permission to become the first Democrat ever to reject public funding, charging that President Bush is ‘selling our democracy’ to wealthy contributors. He said the only way to compete against the $170 million Bush plans to raise is to forgo public financing, as Bush has done, and try to raise an equivalent amount from an army of small contributors. Those who accept public money must limit total spending on primary elections to $45 million.”

“Many Democrats, including Dean, have come to believe that acceptance of public financing has turned into a financial trap in light of Bush’s decision to reject the money and the limits. A candidate who takes public money in the primaries faces the prospect of being outspent by Bush by 4 to 1 or more between now and early September 2004, when Bush is formally nominated.”

But if Dean walks away from public financing system, the Post notes, “the estimated $18.6 million in federal matching money that he would forfeit on Jan. 1, 2004, might be desperately needed in the caucuses and primaries of January and February — unless his supporters quickly sent more contributions.”

Dean campaign embed Felix Schein says that the idea of opting out of the public financing system was the top issue discussed at the more than 800 Meet Ups the campaign held on Wednesday. And judging from the early results, Schein notes, it appears that Dean backers will support his move to opt out.

The says that Dean’s move to opt out of the public financing system is perhaps “a rational response to an outdated, unfair system.” But it makes this proposal: “...if Mr. Dean’s goal is to level the playing field with Mr. Bush, not to gain an edge over his Democratic competitors, there’s an easy way for him to prove it: He — and any Democratic competitors who follow suit — can pledge to abide by the spending limits until they emerge as the Democratic nominee.”

The Kerry campaign yesterday sent out an e-mail highlighting what they allege is a Dean’s flip-flop on accepting federal matching funds, pointing to a recent Los Angeles Times article and saying, “Last week, while campaigning in California, Dean told potential supporters he had already decided to forgo public financing, according to people who attended the closed-door sessions...”

The Lieberman campaign also weighed in, embed Dionne Scott reports. Campaign spokesperson Jano Cabrera says the polling of Dean’s supporters is clearly a ploy: “The bottom line here is that Governor Dean is using his supporters as political cover for changing his position on public financing. Let’s be honest - this is just political gimmickry, not an honest survey.”

, Clark lays out a seven-point strategy for success in Iraq. “For the sake of every member of our armed forces, we need a plan to end the conflict in Iraq. Retreat is not an option. Withdrawal would be a disaster for America, a tragedy for Iraq, and a crisis for the world. It would destroy our credibility, give terrorists a new haven, and throw the Middle East into greater turmoil. No matter how difficult it will be, we need a ‘success strategy.’”

Clark adds, “Bush keeps saying we need to ‘stay the course.’ We need to change the course.”

Edwards files his candidacy for the New Hampshire primary at 2:00 pm in Concord.

Embed Tom Llamas reports on Sharpton’s symbolic move yesterday in filing for the DC primary though his name would have been on the ballot anyway. Sharpton: “There’s nothing automatic about participation. Yes we would’ve been on the ballot, but that doesn’t give a declaration from the candidates that they would participate and they regard this primary as they regard any other primary,” said Sharpton. Llamas reports the campaign has set up their largest operation to date in DC, with a staff of around seven campaign veterans and other volunteers.

warns, “Tuesday’s Republican victories mask a larger message, a warning to incumbent officeholders of both parties. Voters are fractious, and many are demanding change, particularly when it comes to politicians struggling with a rocky economy. And a wider look at the record shows they aren’t picky; they can target the GOP as well as Democrats.”

The, looking at fading Democratic hopes of regaining a majority of governorships anytime soon, says, “Democrats say the Republican victories are only a trend of voters bucking the status quo and they hope it will continue through next year’s presidential election.” The gets former Gov. Doug Wilder (D) venting about the state of Democrats in Virginia and saying the GOP is likely to dominate there for the foreseeable future.

More trouble in Iraq and now for the prescription drug bill, but post-election day, post-Rock the Vote, and pre-partial-birth signing, we’re full up on the purely political. President Bush signs the partial-birth abortion ban at the Reagan Building at 1:40 pm, while six Democratic presidential candidates take part in a post-Nightly Planned Parenthood forum in Manchester, NH. Dean looks evermore like a frontrunner with the beating he took last night and moves to forgo public matching funds today. Republicans gloat some about their gubernatorial wins, with a Republican National Committee presser at 2:00 pm, but the post-election CW is the Kentucky and Mississippi outcomes will have little impact on 2004. Technically, that’s probably true.

Last night’s Sharpton-Edwards tag team on Dean over his Confederate flag comments at the Rock the Vote forum may have been as much about tearing down the frontrunner as the Republicans’ own problems on race. But Democrats’ losses of two Southern governorships underscore the urgency for them to puzzle out how to talk about race and guns and hang on to those poor and working white Southern voters to whom Dean struggled to explain his outreach.

Today, Dean hopes to change the subject from the Confederate flag to public financing by announcing in a 12 noon Cooper Union speech that he’s letting his supporters decide whether or not he’ll accept matching funds. Dean and most of his rivals just signed a pledge committing to reforming the public financing system; Gephardt yesterday challenged Dean and others to commit to sticking with the system. If Dean forgoes the match, Kerry (probably) and Edwards (possibly) will follow. Embed Felix Schein notes Dean’s plan will demonstrate his grassroots support.

Edwards gives an economic policy speech in New Hampshire today; embed Dugald McConnell says Edwards will add to his policies on savings, proposing measures “to help families save and ... to curb predatory lenders and irresponsible credit card companies.” Edwards has already proposed tax credits for buying a first home, and matching retirement savings. At the same time, the Wall Street Journal reports the “Bush administration is crafting a sweeping election-year proposal to boost individual savings through two new tax-exempt accounts, which together would allow family members each to sock away as much as $15,000 a year.”

“Both new accounts would work like Roth IRAs: contributions wouldn’t be deductible, but interest and investment income would build up tax-free and wouldn’t be taxed on withdrawal. Unlike current IRAs, however, there would be no income caps; for instance, married couples that have adjusted gross incomes of more than $160,000 don’t qualify for Roth IRAs.”

NARAL Pro-Choice America is up with a TV ad. says it’s a $500,000 buy in DC, Manchester, and Des Moines. The script: “Medical privacy is a basic American freedom. That’s why the government stays out of the doctor’s office. But now President Bush just signed the first federal law that will criminalize safe medical procedures. A law with no exception to protect a woman’s health. And once government is in the door... Who knows what they’ll do next. It’s time to stand up for a woman’s right to choose.”


“Republicans swept to victories in elections for governor of Kentucky and Mississippi yesterday, ending 32 years of Democratic control in the Bluegrass State and ousting the only Democratic chief executive of a Deep South state in Mississippi.” -

“The predictive nature of off-year elections is decidedly mixed,” the says. “For all the interest in possible national trends, Tuesday’s results were expected to have little practical effect on the presidential contests in either Kentucky or Mississippi.”

Republican National Committee chairman Ed Gillespie issued statements that the Democratic strategy in Kentucky “was negative attacks and [tying] Ernie Fletcher to President Bush and making this race a referendum on the President’s economic policies. The democrats had their referendum and got their answer. The people of Kentucky support Ernie Fletcher and they support President Bush and his positive agenda.” Gillespie also said of Mississippi, “The addition of three Republican governorships means we move into 2004 with the wind at our backs and momentum on our side. These victories in three very different states reflect the fact that voters want candidates with a positive message and a positive agenda and are rejecting the protest and pessimism that have characterized Democrat campaigns at all levels and in all parts of the country.”

We recall a pen-and-pad briefing Gillespie gave on October 27, in which he said — in reference to a question on whether victories by Fletcher and Barbour would signal an anti-incumbency message — that the gubernatorial races were specific to their own region.

Street wins the Philadelphia mayoral race on the “back of a bug,” which “Street addressed . . obliquely in his acceptance speech,” says the . “Late returns, with 95 percent of the votes tallied, showed Street winning by a ratio of roughly 3-2.”

There were some reported incidents at polls yesterday. The reports that ”[a]llies of Republican Katz alleged that supporters of Street, a Democrat, beat up, shoved or otherwise confronted voters or Katz campaign workers perhaps a half-dozen times during the day. The Katz campaign also complained that the Street workers had tampered with voting machines.”

“Polls had been open barely half an hour when Democratic ward leader Kevin Fassett, 45, slapped physician Frank W. Cornett, 46 in a confrontation over campaign signs . . . The doctor had confronted Fassett outside a University City polling place after he spotted the ward leader covering Katz posters with a Street poster. The slap opened up a bloody welt on the doctor’s cheek. Police were investigating last night.”

“Police, meanwhile, had recorded 84 incidents at polling places by last night. They included assaults, disturbances, threats, harassment, vandalism - and the polling-place brawl.”

says of the forum last night, “Dean’s most persistent foil was the Confederate flag, his favored response the non-apology.”

Embed Tom Llamas quotes Sharpton campaign manager Charles Halloran: “I think the exchange speaks for itself. I think Howard Dean still hasn’t apologized for his remarks and the Reverend believes he should, as some of the other candidates.” More Halloran on the issue: “I rather get it out of the way right now and work together as a team next fall, and that’s why we have the primary process, and we will be united in Boston in the late summer.”

Llamas also notes Sharpton files papers for the DC beauty contest today — the first test to see if he can truly mobilize the African-American vote. The campaign opens a DC office on Sunday. Llamas says this will be Sharpton’s second campaign office; he has a fundraising office in New York, but no obvious HQ yet.

No split screen last night, but Kerry embed Becky Diamond reports Kerry’s smile was from ear to ear while Sharpton and Edwards hit Dean on his Confederate flag comments. Kerry manager Jim Jordan said Dean’s comments at the forum were “a campaign changer.”

Kerry stayed out of that exchange but went after Dean on guns, repeating he’d rather be the candidate of the NAACP than the NRA. Diamond reports the Kerry campaign distributed the “NRA Candidate 1992 Questionnaire” as filled out by Dean. In the questionnaire, Dean said he would not support any additional state legislation regulating firearms; that he does not support state legislation prohibiting private possession, sale and/or future acquisition of firearms; that he opposes a statewide waiting period for all firearms sales; and that he would oppose restrictions on semi-automatic weapons. Again, we’d note that all the candidates’ positions on guns are (now) pretty much the same.

Embed Marisa Buchanan says Clark, in a rare spin room appearance after the forum, responded to the Confederate flag issue by focusing on voters in the South: “I hope they will really look at the record of the Republican party and particularly this administration. And not make the decision on false issue like guns.” Clark said he wants to “get rid of that so-called Republican Southern strategy that pitted one group against another even in the same state.”

Gephardt wasn’t present last night, but Roll Call reports Gephardt supporter and Rep. William Lacy Clay (D) “fired off a letter to [Dean] on Monday seeking an explanation” of his Confederate flag comments. “Clay also attacked Dean for what the Congressman alleged was past opposition to affirmative action programs and a generally pro-Second Amendment stance.”

Embed Felix Schein notes of Dean’s Tallahassee speech yesterday that despite its billing as recalling Florida, it turned out to be little more than another rendition of his stump speech. Little if any of it had to do with Florida. Overall, Schein says, the speech fit a pattern: Dean’s apparent inability (or unwillingness, we’d note) to tailor his message to specific audiences.

The considers Dean’s temperament as shown last night: “The force and fury of the attack from fellow Democrats was notable, but perhaps more striking was Dean’s response. Dean... fired back with determined insistence that his reference to the controversial flag was appropriate and refused to concede its problematic potential — much less apologize. It is that stubbornness that may prove most difficult for the Dean candidacy.”

“Dean’s response to the Confederate flag flap followed other impromptu comments that have proven troublesome for his campaign — comments born, some say, of a decisive air that borders on impulsiveness. Dean is not one to gather experts and mull a question for hours, as Clinton did. With Dean, his aides say, information is requested and a decision supplied.”

Dean’s has this quote from Dean manager Joe Trippi: “They’re trying to kill us. That’s what happens when you become the front-runner.”

Supporters of Bush judicial nominee Janice Rogers Brown go up with a TV ad today (buy size TBD) dinging Edwards in Edwards’ must-win South Carolina, the reports. “The picture of Justice Brown, who is black, then switches to a picture of Mr. Edwards, a member of the Judiciary Committee, and the female announcer informs viewers of Democratic opposition to the nominee.”

“Edwards’ office said last night that he hasn’t decided how he will vote on the nominee tomorrow.”

and .

The notes “a small page in American political history may have been turned Tuesday when three Democratic presidential contenders casually told an audience of young people that they had smoked marijuana in the past. What’s more, some almost seemed uncomfortable admitting that they had not.”

Edwards embed Dugald McConnell gets the candidate — the trial lawyer who arguably is at his best in town halls, we’d note —saying, “We ought to be doing much more of this town hall format... When reporters ask the questions... they tend to be insider oriented, instead of focused on things that people deal with in their lives.”

Kerry embed Becky Diamond reports that outside the forum, a few Vietnam vets chanted “Howard the Coward” and “Coward Dean.” Two of the vets held signs saying “Gov. Dean: What is his name?” The Vets explained that they wanted to know the name of the person who went to Vietnam in Dean’s place. Diamond says the vets claimed Dean got a deferment because of a bad back. One said, “How do you have a bad back and hit the moguls?” referring to Dean’s affinity for skiing.

Kerry stepson Chris Heinz told Diamond the family was “laughing” at Sharpton’s comments about partying with Teresa Heinz Kerry. Heinz said his mom has spoken highly of Sharpton in the past and “it didn’t surprise me to hear that they had met.” He quipped, “I haven’t seen my mom a lot lately — now I know.”

Embed Angela Miles reports some Moseley Braun staffers raised the time issue, feeling she did not get enough. Spokesperson Michael Mannino said everyone attacks Dean, then Dean gets a chance to respond, and nobody attacks Moseley Braun, and it gets to be a problem with the format. But consultant Kevin Lampe said the moderator did a better job than other hosts to make sure the time was even among the candidates.

Kucinich embed Karin Caifa notes 27 minutes went by before Kucinich got a question of his own last night, but the campaign consoles itself with the notion of “quality over quantity” — that judging from the applause Kucinich got for his answers, his ideas were well received.

Caifa also reports that post-forum, Kucinich exchanged words with Time columnist Joe Klein. The campaign was miffed that Kucinich was not tapped for a live follow-up interview with Paula Zahn, as some other candidates were, and in a misunderstanding, campaign staffers erroneously believed Klein was at fault. Continuing the campaign’s crusade against “biased” media coverage, Caifa says, Kucinich sought Klein out and confronted him. Klein: “Whaddya mean? Listen, your people got this absolutely wrong. I was a guest on CNN. I have absolutely no say over who goes on the air.” Kucinich then turned to his staffers and said, “He says he had no say in it,” but the staffers continued to goad Klein for ignoring the Congressman. “Cut the crap,” Klein cut them off. “What I said was I have say over what goes in my column and I’m not going to interview you for my column. I’m sorry. I’ve got only so much space for so many candidates.” “I’m not confronting you,” Kucinich said, but continued to press for an answer on why he was being shut out from CNN and, now, Time...

Between today and midnight Friday, Dean’s supporters will hold their own Internet contest to decide which course to pursue.

The quotes Dean’s pollster on the campaign’s Internet success: “‘The great irony is, because of unanticipated consequences, this campaign is on the horns of a real dilemma... From the very beginning, it has trusted the people who fuel it.’”

Kerry spokesman Robert Gibbs told embed Becky Diamond, “We are in the process of determining whether to opt in or out of the public finance system and will make that decision in the near future.” On Dean, Gibbs said, “My guess is that Dean will spend tomorrow talking about the flag and I don’t mean the American one.”

More 2004 notes (D) writes of the early start to the Democratic nominating contest, “the Democratic field is essentially leaderless, which means that whoever is chosen by March to carry the banner will be someone largely unknown to voters today. That is a heavy burden to carry into a race against an incumbent president.”

“You can see the tear-down cycle beginning already for Dean. Even in his seemingly advantageous position, he has so little political capital in the bank that it will be difficult for him to defend himself... This schedule may be the best possible break for a vulnerable-looking president.”

cautions, “there is a danger in overemphasizing this fixation on electability. We have not yet reached that moment in politics when every voter is his or her own campaign consultant. Democrats who will attend caucuses or vote in primaries are not likely to spend long hours digesting national polls to determine the odds on each candidate defeating Bush.”

“Regardless of the identity of the Democratic nominee, the Bush campaign is likely to depict its opponent as someone who wants to raise taxes and jeopardize the war on terrorism. Whether these predictably partisan charges stick will say far more about Bush’s residual popularity than anything else.”

 on Bush’s visit yesterday: “The presidential visit was designed partly to make the case that the federal government was doing its part” on the wildfires.

: “Bush’s visit had political overtones. His advisers say Schwarzenegger’s victory in the Oct. 7 recall election gave them new hope that he can compete for the state’s 55 electoral votes, 20% of the 270 needed to win the presidency. Ken Mehlman, Bush’s campaign manager, met Friday with Schwarzenegger’s political advisers to begin mapping strategy.”

From Elizabeth Wilner, Mark Murray, and Huma Zaidi

Bush tours wildfire damage in California, accompanied by the outgoing Governor and the Governor-elect, while voters weigh in on over 400 mayoral races, including Philadelphia’s; legislative races in three states; and gubernatorial races in Kentucky and Mississippi. Questions: will Mississippi’s gubernatorial outcome go to the legislature for the second time in a row, and how widespread, and serious, will reports of voter intimidation in Philadelphia be? Overall, Democrats face a conundrum in the South, where Sen. Bob Graham’s retirement news came one day before the party faces losing probably one, and possibly two Southern governorships. Meanwhile, young voters get courted in Boston, culminating in Rock the Vote’s Democratic presidential town hall on CNN at 7:00 pm — Sharpton one-ups by announcing an SNL gig — while Dean woos African-American voters with remarks on Florida 2000 in Tallahassee.

“This could very well prove to be a passing moment in the larger struggle of whether the course of this campaign will be determined more by foreign policy or by the economy. Still, over the last few days there has clearly been an across-the-board recalibration by Democrats and Mr. Bush as they try to keep up - and capitalize on - the changing landscape.”

The focuses more on the Democratic presidential field’s efforts to keep one foot on each of those shifting tectonic plates of the economy and the war.

The reports on the memo by Bush-Cheney strategist Matthew Dowd, who predicts the 2004 campaign will be close, and that Bush will at some point trail his Democratic rival.

“One reason for the eroding support is that the Bush administration hasn’t been able to clearly articulate who it is fighting in Iraq or show that it is making any progress against them.”

The on the supplemental heading to Bush’s desk: “The bill provides almost everything Bush had sought to support Iraq - and omits the provision he found most objectionable, which would have required Iraq to repay up to half the reconstruction aid. Having wrested that provision from the bill over strong objections from Congress, including many fellow Republicans, Bush has shouldered more clearly than ever the responsibility for the outcome of U.S. policy in Iraq.”

Another Los Angeles Times , among others, notes that in his appearances yesterday, Bush “made no specific reference to the 16 U.S. soldiers who were killed when their Chinook helicopter was shot down Sunday... Instead, Bush delivered versions of his standard stump speeches, proclaiming the start of an economic recovery and reaffirming U.S. resolve in the war on terror.”

“White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan disputed the notion that Bush was pursuing a strategy of avoiding comment on the ups and downs in Iraq on a daily basis, particularly when it comes to U.S. casualties.”

On Hardball last night, Gephardt said “Bush blundered by failing to bring more countries into the war in Iraq, in part by refusing to listen to a wider circle of advisers.” Read the account.

Election day has your boilerplate preview, while the considers whether there’s any national message to be read in the outcomes of the 403 mayoral races taking place today.

In Kentucky, the race to replace scandal-plagued Gov. Paul Patton (D) pits Republican Rep. Ernie Fletcher against Democratic Attorney General Ben Chandler. Polls open at 6:00 am and close at 7:00 pm ET. (Note that the state has two time zones: polls open at 6:00 am and close at 6:00 pm ET in the east, and open at 7:00 am and close at 7:00 pm ET in the Central Time Zone).

The writes up the last day of campaigning, and also reports in that a judge refused to block the state GOP’s plan to station vote challengers at 18 precincts in predominately black areas in Jefferson County.

In Mississippi’s toss-up race for governor, incumbent Ronnie Musgrove (D) faces challenger Haley Barbour (R), long one of Washington’s most powerful political insiders, who has billed that influence as an asset. Polls open at 8:00 am and close at 8:00 pm ET. The again warns the tight race for governor might not be decided tonight: “The Mississippi Constitution requires statewide candidates receive a majority of the popular vote and the 122 House districts, which work like electoral votes, to be declared the winner. If neither candidate wins a majority, the election will be thrown to the Democratically-controlled House to decide.”

“With three third-party candidates in the race, garnering a majority could be difficult... In 1999, Musgrove was 8,342 votes ahead of Republican Mike Parker, but failed to win a majority of the popular vote. The two tied on electoral votes, and the election was decided by the House members who voted for Musgrove 86-36.”

And in Philadelphia, Mayor John Street (D) faces Sam Katz (R) in a repeat of their 1999 contest in which Street edged Katz by fewer than 10,000 votes. The bug may help Street increase that margin today. Polls open at 7:00 am and close at 8:00 pm ET.

Katz says he’s “nervous” about today’s election but feels confidant with 7,000 strong volunteers out on the streets for him today. The also reports that yesterday, “three people were spotted defacing Katz signs elsewhere on the boulevard. They were affixing stickers calling Katz an ‘embezzler’ - a reference to the Republican candidate’s legal woes with three former business partners who have accused him of embezzlement and defrauding investors.” Katz stated that had been going on “all weekend.” “Democrats warned that the GOP poll workers may move beyond oversight to intimidation of voters in African American precincts, where Street’s support is strong.”

Another : “The Katz campaign, fearing that union members will drive off Republican voters and poll workers, plans to have lawyers and trained observers out today. But the Democrats painted Katz’s teams as potential intimidators possibly aiming to suppress the black vote.”

With a zero tolerance attitude, “Philadelphia police say they are prepared in case things get out of hand. In an Election Day first, police will have a special, mobile unit prepared to monitor and address problems at the polls.”

Forum organizers are using the Internet and other means to draw young viewers tonight. Viewers can ask the candidates questions and send comments through text messages from their wireless phones, and are encouraged to organize “watch parties” (with a “watch party kit” available online) at their homes.

The forum is the latest in a series of events involving the Democratic candidates or the party targeted to young adults. Last week, the Democratic National Committee held a packed fundraiser headlined by Bill Clinton at a DC nightclub.

The Republican National Committee held a presser yesterday in Boston to show they too are with the program in addressing the youth vote. In an ensuing release, RNC chairman Ed Gillespie noted a “recent Harvard University study and a CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll” that showed “more than 60 percent of college students approve of the job President Bush” is doing. Gillespie said, ”[o]n Election Day” their 1,000 RNC student “massive, grassroots army” would “turn out Republican voters, leading to Republican victories nationwide.” The , covering the presser, says Gillespie “was blistering, condemning what he said were Democratic attacks on President Bush as ‘a new low,’ terming their criticisms of the president ‘political hate speech.’”

The highlights that polling. “Gone are the days when most college campuses were liberal strongholds, awash only in principles of the Democratic Party.”

The Democratic convention folks, who host a forum-watching party tonight, are issuing an open letter to voters ages 18-24 from Democratic National Committee chairman Terry McAuliffe: “Think about it this way: If you’re between the ages of 18-24, the President’s tax cut agenda has not only undermined America’s fiscal health, it has made you personally responsible for an additional $13,000 of America’s debt. If you’re concerned about your nation’s priorities, consider that the $87 billion a year President Bush has proposed for rebuilding in Iraq includes $30 million for Iraqi colleges, while Pell Grant loans are being frozen here at home. If you’re looking for a job, or plan to be looking for one soon, your search is going to be harder than ever before. Unemployment for people under 30 is one-third higher than for everybody else, while wage growth for young people has slowed to almost nothing...”

A new organization, PunkVoter, which seeks to “engage young and disenfranchised voters on how bad the Bush administration has become,” per a spokesperson, is bringing musicians to Boston for the event. The group plans a “Rock Against Bush” tour with bands such as Green Day, Good Charlotte, Blink 182, and the Foo Fighters, and also plans to release a CD with voter education tools. PunkVoter has a media avail from 3:00 to 5:00 pm at Faneuil Hall today.

The : “if history is any guide, this and other efforts underway to interest young people in the presidential campaign and increase their turnout at the polls next year face an uphill struggle.”

“The core reasons that young people avoid the polls, experts say, mirror the complaints heard among some older voters - a sense that both parties are more alike than not; a belief that one vote will make little difference; a distaste for the confusing thicket of rules for registering. Above all, there is a distrust of political rhetoric.”

Another effort seeking to capitalize on the Boston scrum: at 4:00 pm today, a bunch of good-government groups, including Democracy 21 and Public Citizen, announce a “National Campaign to Fix the Presidential Public Finance System” at the Wyndham Boston Hotel.

Clark embed Marisa Buchanan reports Clark’s son is attending tonight’s forum with his father.

“I think you’ll see a candidate who not only looks young, but has the issues tailored towards young people in a way that’s different from the other candidates,” said College Democrats head and Edwards supporter Ashley Bell to embed Dugald McConnell. McConnell notes a recent poll of college Democrats by Harvard University had Edwards in sixth place, but look for him to highlight his “College for Everyone” plan, which pays the first year at a community college for any qualified student willing to work ten hours a week. As their 30-second videotaped message, McConnell reports, the Edwards camp is supplying a dialogue between Edwards and Bell, taped last week.

Gephardt embed Priya David says Gephardt related another reason why he won’t be there tonight: he’ll be attending an AFSCME meeting. AFSCME will be meeting soon to discuss an endorsement, whereas the SEIU is going for Dean or no one, but more likely the former, on Thursday.

Teresa Heinz Kerry, out of the media spotlight for awhile, gives an interview to the and reminds us why: she “skewered” the series of nine-way Democratic candidate forums and debates “on the eve of her husband’s hometown face-off at Faneuil Hall.”

“Heinz Kerry said she has suggested Democrats focus on smaller group debates that alternate among all candidates or pick three or four candidates leading in particular states - though she conceded the latter idea might not be fair to all candidates.” The Rock the Voters, of course, disagree.

“Heinz Kerry gave voice to complaints made repeatedly by her husband. Kerry has said the face-offs are not ‘real debates’ and he has challenged front-runner Howard Dean of Vermont to one-on-one debates. Dean’s campaign said the complaints are further efforts by Kerry to winnow the field before any voting and prop up his weakened campaign. But Dean’s chief spokeswoman backed Heinz Kerry’s central complaints.”

. Clark advisor Chris Lehane tells embed Marisa Buchanan the Dean campaign is “fueled by the Internet,” whereas the Clark campaign is a “product” of the Internet. The surge in Internet communication is “something that we are trying to tap into, harness and leverage,” he said. Although the campaign is aware of the lack of Internet access related to income, race and geography, they counter with their efforts at traditional ways of outreach. Lehane: “The Internet is not designed to be a substitute to the types of campaign activity that have traditionally or historically taken place whether its town halls or going door to door.”

Dean embed Felix Schein reports on Dean’s donning a stethoscope yesterday for remarks on nursing policy and a rebuke to Gephardt’s Medicare attacks. Schein says this marked the first time in months that Dean opted to highlight his medical rather than his political experience — a shift in strategy for his campaign. Dean: “I spent 13 years of my life with this and with senior citizens and I can promise you that as President of the United States, not only will Medicare not be cut but every senior citizen will have adequate healthcare, Medicare will be shored up and every senior citizen will have a prescription benefit. I spent thirteen years of my life doing this and I am not going to let us backslide now.”

Suggesting those Medicare attacks may have resonated, Dean is on the air in Iowa with a 30-minute TV ad on all three networks in the major media markets, featuring Dean at a town hall meeting in Sioux City last month and showing him answering questions on his plans and record on health care and the economy.

Once again, several of Dean’s rivals are talking — this time to figure out how to block his likely SEIU endorsement — and once again, the Dean campaign is playing it up as a sign he’s the outsider. But the notes, “The opposition leveled at Dean is no greater, however, than what past front-runners have experienced.”

Edwards embed Dugald McConnell notes that after tonight’s forum, Edwards starts a 25-stop tour of New Hampshire aboard the “Real Solutions Express,” which last hit the road in August for two weeks in Iowa and two weeks in New Hampshire. Aides say an economic policy address is scheduled for Wednesday, followed by new proposals on health care and education over subsequent days, capped by a speech to the Coos County Democrats’ Truman Dinner on Saturday. The campaign is calling this “phase one” of the “Plan for Change” month in New Hampshire, with phases two, three, and four over subsequent weeks.

Gephardt embed Priya David notes of Gephardt’s Hardball appearance last night that Gephardt put a figure to his desired minimum wage hike: he’d like it to be $8 to $9, rather than at the current $6. And second, Gephardt said he is not in favor of right-to-work laws many states have which discourage unions. Gephardt said that as president, he would be willing to sign legislation to repeal labor-unfriendly section 14B of the Taft-Hartley Act. Overall, staff says they’re pleased with his appearance, and Matthews himself said Gephardt was “looser” than he’s seen him in the past. From the students’ perspective, David says, Gephardt was compared several times to Dean, and was described as “calmer,” “more of a politician,” and “less intense.” Several students shared the concern that Gephardt was too far left for the country, while others who’d come specifically to hear him speak on gay rights left pleased with his comments.

The first Democratic candidate to host Saturday Night Live for this political season will be... drum roll, please... Sharpton, the reports. Sharpton will host on December 6, and show’s producers selected him because they believe “his many one-liners at the televised debates have already made him the undisputed king of campaign comedy.” Sharpton embed Tom Llamas gets Sharpton manager Charles Halloran saying, “It could be good be for the campaign, it could be bad for the campaign, it depends on how it goes.”

Overlooked yesterday: the Democratic National Committee’s to the USA Today editorial against the party’s early-starting nominating process.

 leads with a new, national security-motivated Administration press for oil and gas leasing on the Rocky Mountain Front to illustrate how sportsmen who voted for Bush are getting irked: “Rumbles of renewed resource extraction along the Front are echoing across the country — with prime hunting and fishing habitat coming under threat in the federal forests, plains and wetlands of Alaska, Wyoming, Idaho, Colorado, South Dakota, New Mexico and elsewhere. The gathering din has begun to worry — and, in some cases, infuriate — America’s fishermen and hunters, many of whom are Republicans who voted for Bush.”

“When it comes to politics, a long-standing lament among American sportsmen is that Democrats want your guns and Republicans want your land. Leaders of the country’s major fishing and hunting organizations agree that concern about gun-control laws was a key factor in their members’ support for Bush in the last election. Yet, with the exception of the National Rifle Association, these leaders say they are hearing from members upset about what the Bush administration is doing to federal land.”

 scrutiny, and his choice of Richard Riordan for education secretary also gets  treatment.

The also reports that “Schwarzenegger, who as a candidate vowed not to take special interest donations, has scheduled his first fund-raiser as governor aimed at tapping contributions from Capitol insiders, an invitation sent to Sacramento lobbyists Monday shows.”