The Note




When Bush vs. Kerry is fought out on national security terrain (as it was yesterday and as it will be today), four things seem to happen:

1. The election is framed as "steady" vs. "risky change" — and we know who wins that, at least for now.

2. Kerry strains, with the BC04RNC boot on his neck and the conservative echo chamber swarming like wasps all over his face, to clear the national security bar (essential if he is to have a chance to win).

3. In straining to clear the national security bar, Kerry tends to say things that sound like a sort of combination of the worst tendencies of Bill Clinton, Al Gore and Howard Dean.

Yesterday's (latest) example, in responding to the Bush ad on the $87 billion supplemental appropriation ("I actually did vote for the $87 billion before I voted against it.") is sure to be exploited in this news cycle by the Bush campaign.

Besides turning off the press corps and the rest of the Gang of 500, these types of statements keep Kerry from clearing another bar he must clear to win: the Do-Americans-Want-This-Guy-In-Their-Living-Rooms-For-Four-Years? bar.

Bill Clinton WAS, on one level, justified in pointing out that the word "is" has several particular meanings; Al Gore DID sort of take the initiative to create the Internet; international war criminals ARE entitled to a presumption of innocence, as Howard Dean said.

And John Kerry's meandering, on-the-one-hand-on-the-other-hand-on-the-other-other-hand justifications often do have some intellectual and policy justifications — but even some of Mr. Kerry's own advisers recognize that they sure as heck don't win the rat-tat-tat sound bite wars of a presidential campaign.

4. When we're all talking national security, we're not talking jobs, the economy and health care, and, as both campaigns are learning, the best offense is often to stress Defense — as in the Rumsfeld kind.

And by exploding new campaign ads in the local and national news cycle as Kerry travels, BC04 is sure to get deep into framing the news debate on the day of release.

And, ABC News has observed and learned, the secondary explosions might be cleverly designed to go well BEYOND the day of release.

Various Senate officials tell ABC News that the use of footage from the Senate floor in yesterday's new ad is an apparent violation of the chamber's rules. More on that below.

A Bush adviser concedes that courting controversy by including edgy images (the 9/11 stuff, the French Job, and, now, the Senate floor material) is a great way to ensure days and days of free media coverage to amplify the campaign's message and fight things out on their terms.

The President's admakers didn't sit around for months, spending millions of dollars before a single ad aired, twiddling their collective thumbs. And they don't casually choose the images they use — or fail to consult lawyers and communications experts about them.

Today's two-ring circus takes us from Sen. Kerry at noon on the Right coast to Vice President Dick Cheney on the Left coast at 1:30 pm.

Here are the details:

Sen. John Kerry Speaks On National Security The George Washington University Washington, D.C.

Kerry's speech today may first be noticed for the accoutrements. Democrats are starting to put some of their heavy national security artillery pieces on the deck behind Kerry to buttress them. Former Defense Secretary William Perry, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and others (including some billed as "special guests") will join Sen. Kerry on stage today.

Key excerpts:

"We are still bogged down in Iraq — and the administration stubbornly holds to failed policies that drive potential allies away. What we have seen is a steady loss of lives and mounting costs in dollars, with no end in sight. The lesson here is fundamental: At times, conflict comes, and the decision must be made. For a President, the decision may be lonely, but that does not mean that America should go it alone."

"If I am President, as part of a Military Families Bill of Rights, we will fully fund veterans health and veterans benefits — and our veterans will no longer be the neglected soldiers of America. America entered into a covenant with those it drafted and those who enlisted, but the truth is that, with every story of a veteran who goes without adequate health care every day, that covenant is broken. There are countless veterans who fought our wars who are now fighting year after year for the benefits they earned. Last year they had to defeat a Bush Administration proposal to increase fees and co-payments, which was nothing more than a thinly veiled attempt drive an additional one million veterans from the VA health care system. The president then came back with a plan to drive 500,000 from the system by 2005. And then he submitted a similar proposal this year."

Incidentally, ABC's Kate Snow has been given the following information about the mystery guest: He or she "1. is someone my mom would know 2. is bigger than a breadbox 3. 'looks cute in a uniform' 4. 'stepping into politics for the first time.'"

The Note guessed: Jessica Lynch?

But we actually think it's former Joint Chiefs Chairman John Malchase David Shalikashvili.

In an story discussing the Bush ad's impediment on Kerry's West Virginia visit yesterday, USA Today's Jill Lawrence subtly let's the cat out of the bag on the super secret guest appearing with Kerry today: Shalikashvili, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who has never been involved in politics. LINK

And then the Republican response …

Vice President Cheney Speaks On National Security Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum Simi Walley, California

Key excerpts obtained by ABC's Kate Snow:

"We must support those around the world who are taking risks to advance freedom, justice, and democracy — just as President Reagan did. American policy must be clear and consistent in its purposes. And American leaders — above all the commander in chief — must be confident in our nation's cause, and unwavering until the danger to our people is fully and finally removed."

"The American people will have a clear choice in the election of 2004 — at least as clear as any since the election of 1984."

While the excerpts do not specifically mention Kerry by name, a source familiar with the speech tells ABC News that "a significant portion of the speech will be more direct and specific."

An aide tells ABC's Snow that Cheney "will talk about 'the clear choice that Americans face in the year ahead between the president's strong leadership in the war on terrorism and contrast that with views and track record of Kerry.' In explaining 'the choice', Cheney will be specific and will talk about Kerry by name quite a bit. It will be more explicitly anti-Kerry than Cheney has been to date. But, the aide quickly assured me, this is 'not an attack speech' and not a campaign stump speech, but a foreign policy speech (that just happens to be riddled with political criticism)."

Elsewhere today, President Bush participates in St. Patrick's Day festivities in Washington, D.C.

Rev. Sharpton is in New York.

Rep. Kucinich's schedule is TBD.

Ralph Nader is in Washington, D.C.

And someone somewhere is bound to put out a release urging senators to grill Justices Kennedy and Thomas on some topic unrelated to their testimony today.

ABC News Vote 2004: the new ad and the politics of national security:

Welcome to Bizarro Kerry world!

Bush-Cheney '04 campaign manager Ken Mehlman yesterday described a "parallel universe" where Sen. Kerry says one thing but his actions say another and to allow a glimpse into this universe, the campaign introduced a new ad in West Virginia, hitting the airwaves just in time for Kerry to arrive in Charleston.

The new ad, titled "Troops," questions Kerry's commitment to military funding and brings up the familiar chorus that Kerry is a flip-flopper.

Howard Kurtz describes the new ad: "'The ad features pictures of soldiers — who are either actors or appear in stock footage — while a narrator says that Kerry voted in October 2002 for military action in Iraq but "later voted against funding for soldiers.' Over the sound of a Senate clerk calling 'Mr. Kerry,' the ad says: 'No body armor for troops in combat. No higher combat pay. No to better health care for reservists and their families. No — wrong on defense.'" LINK

In 1986, the Senate drafted regulations for televising floor proceedings and passed a resolution sponsored by Sen. Byrd.

Under the rules, the Senate "prohibits the use of tape duplications of radio coverage for political purposes. Prohibits the use of tape duplications of television coverage for any purpose outside the Senate unless the Senate provides otherwise."

Does the use of the Senate floor footage for political purposes by a presidential re-election campaign count under this legislation?

ABC News' Tom Shine reports that the Senate Rules Committee chief legal counsel and staff director were told yesterday about the improper usage of the Senate floor video and this morning Sen. Byrd's office confirmed that the use of the video is against the rules as it interprets them.

Shine Notes that there are no fines or penalties for violation this resolution.

Bush-Cheney campaign spokesman Scott Stanzel said that all the video used in the ad was either stock footage, SAG actor or in the public domain. "We believe that the ads appropriately examine Senator Kerry's vote against body armor, higher combat pay and better health care for reservists. The images and materials we use in ads is carefully examined and used appropriately." And the voice of the Senate clerk in the ad is the actual Senate clerk, according to a senior Bush adviser.

We'll see where this one goes.

As of now, the ad will rotate in with the other BC04 ads, but only in West Virginia. Chief strategist Matt Dowd said that the campaign is open to the possibility of extending the ad beyond West Virginia and with a campaign war chest of over $100 million, the Bush-Cheney campaign can afford a strategy of targeting ads to states and markets that Kerry travels to or states that will be competitive in November.

But can an ad top a visit from the Democratic challenger?

Kerry's visit to the Mountaineer State yesterday made the top billing in the Charleston Gazette, Dave Gustafson Notes the presence of Bush supporters outside the Kerry rally yesterday in the capital but only briefly mentions the ad that is geared to West Virginia voters. LINK

"A year after ordering the invasion of Iraq, President Bush is moving the war to the forefront of his re-election effort with a weeklong barrage of speeches, an orchestrated set of interviews with senior Pentagon officials and a new television advertisement questioning Senator John Kerry's support of the troop." This after "the bombings in Spain stirred more criticism of Mr. Bush's Iraq policy," write the New York Times' Stevenson and Nagourney. LINK

"The moves were part of what aides described as a new chapter in the political campaign against Mr. Kerry. But they came as the bombings in Spain stirred more criticism of Mr. Bush's Iraq policy, underlining the extent to which the campaign had become subject to the unpredictability of overseas events, and pointing up the complications Mr. Bush faces in trying to balance the demands of the presidency with a re-election effort."

"In the Oval Office on Tuesday, Mr. Bush showed a flash of how confrontational he planned to be on Mr. Kerry's foreign affairs record. With the Dutch prime minister, Jan Peter Balkenende, at his side, Mr. Bush demanded that Mr. Kerry provide evidence to support his suggestion last week that foreign leaders want to see Mr. Bush defeated."

"'If you're going to make an accusation in the course of a presidential campaign, you've got to back it up with facts,' Mr. Bush told reporters on Tuesday.'"

"A senior White House adviser who would only discuss the details of Mr. Bush's campaign planning on condition of anonymity noted that polls showed strong public support for the war and asserted that Mr. Kerry was making a mistake criticizing the conduct of the war."

"The adviser said: 'You ask them this: The Bush campaign is absolutely willing to have this conversation carried on for the next 216 days. Are you?' It should be one of the big discussions between us.'"

"Other Bush aides said they were not altering their plans to blanket the nation with a message that Mr. Bush was a tested leader while Mr. Kerry could not be counted on."

If President Bush really wants to figure out who Sen. Kerry was referring to when he said he had talked to more leaders that supported his campaign, perhaps he could start with a new poll by the Pew Research Center for guidance.

The poll found "negative views of the United States in all foreign countries polled except Britain," and "also broadly supported Kerry's charge that foreign opinion — if not foreign leadership — is decidedly anti-Bush," reports Dana Milbank of the Washington Post.

"Majorities in seven of the eight foreign countries said the war in Iraq hurt or had no effect on the war on terrorism, and only in the United States did a majority believe that the ouster of Saddam Hussein will make the Middle East more democratic."LINK

The New York Times' Sachs Notes that "One question that was not asked by the Pew pollsters was whether foreigners considered it dangerous for their countries to be allied with the United States and its Iraq policy. After the Madrid bombings last week, many Spaniards expressed the belief that their government's closeness to the Bush administration had made their country a terrorist target." LINK

The New York Times reports that next Tuesday CIA Director George Tenet, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and his predecessor, Madeleine K. Albright; Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and his predecessor, William S. Cohen; and President Bill Clinton's national security adviser, Samuel R. Berger will all testify before the 9/11 commission. LINK

ABC News Vote 2004: Bush vs. Kerry:

With his victory yesterday in the Illinois presidential primary, Sen. Kerry locked up the Democratic nomination by collecting a total of 2,177 delegates to date which is beyond the 2,162 required to secure the Democratic presidential nomination, according to our ABC News delegate count.

Outside the back-and-forth over the new ad, the candidates continued to deal with the political repercussions of Spain:

Gov. Howard Dean courted controversy by declaring in his surrogates' conference call yesterday that "The president was the one who dragged our troops into Iraq, which, apparently, has been a factor in the deaths of 200 Spaniards this weekend."

Later asked to explain his comments, he said:

"I'm making the same link that was made in the tape that was seen over the weekend after the bombings."

This morning, Kerry said that Dean had "backed off" his remarks.

Kerry added, according to ABC News Ed O'Keefe: "He's been great. He's really been superb. It's hard to just switch gears like that."

The Washington Post's John Harris writes: "In an interview with a local radio station, Kerry said he disagrees with the decision of Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, Spain's newly elected prime minister, to withdraw Spanish troops from Iraq after terrorist attacks that killed more than 200 people. 'In my judgment, the new prime minister should not have decided that he was going to pull out of Iraq,' Kerry said. 'He should have said this increases our determination to get the job done.'"LINK

The Wall Street Journal editorial board perhaps missed this when it wrote in a must-read lead editorial that the recent events in Spain are "a splendid chance for Mr. Kerry to step up and defend American interests. At the very least, he might call Mr. Zapatero's remarks unfortunate."

Glen Johnson of the Boston Globe summarizes Kerry's day yesterday — complete with the back-and-forth with Bush over the military. LINK

The AP's Mike Glover writes up how the Bush campaign has made this a tough week for Kerry — as has Kerry himself. "The primary win was one bright spot during a series of tough days for Kerry. He came under a choreographed assault from Republicans from Bush on down after refusing to name the world leaders he says privately support his campaign. At the same time, Bush launched negative campaign ads that seek to define Kerry in harsh terms for the many voters to whom he is still unfamiliar. Both moves have made it difficult for Kerry to get his message out to voters."LINK

The New York Daily News' Helen Kennedy scores the wood with her campaign wrap of the fully joined battle. LINK

"President Bush and Senator John Kerry all but called each other liars yesterday as the presidential campaign continued to gather both steam and venom."

Roll Call's Ethan Wallison and Chris Cillizza report that the Bush campaign has stepped up its use of congressional surrogates recently. "Republican lawmakers are turning on the heat everywhere the Democratic candidate goes nowadays — and even in places he's already been." They do Note, though, that Kerry's campaign is attempting to organize a similar system, "but so far their communications apparatus has not evolved to a point where it can match the GOP blow-for-blow."

ABC News Vote 2004: Sen. John Kerry:

Hanna Rosin of the Washington Post profiles Mary Beth Cahill, Kerry's campaign manager and "motor" of his campaign. LINK

The profiles has the obligatory Jim Jordan e-mail, nice details about the early morning conference meeting, dozens and dozens and dozens of quotes about Cahill's steely reticence and rightly Notes the prominent role of one John Martilla.

Stephen Koff of the Cleveland Plain Dealer reports on Teresa Heinz Kerry and her speaking out against Wal-Mart, a business she claimed last month "destroys communities." However, Notes Koff, that does not stop her from investing at least $1 million in stock in the company she so despises. LINK

Sharon Theimer of the AP writes up the $10 million in 10 days Internet money drive lead by the Clintons and other members of the Democratic elite for the Kerry campaign.. "The former president, taking up his longtime role as the Democrats' fund-raiser in chief, sent prospective donors an e-mail Tuesday urging them to help meet the online fund-raising oal."LINK

Glen Justice's version: LINK

Ken Bazinet of the New York Daily News writes up Bill Clinton's electronic fundraising appeal and looks ahead to your next Clinton e-mail. "Senator Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) plans her own E-mail appeal in the next few days," writes Bazinet. LINK

The Los Angeles Times' La Ganga explores the pros and cons of utilizing Bill Clinton in this campaign and includes this: "In an e-mail sent to 2.3 million Democrats — the combined mailing lists of the Kerry campaign and the Democratic National Committee — Clinton called on the party faithful to respond to Republican attacks by "flooding" Kerry headquarters with donations." LINK

A Texas Republican (not that one!) is selling "imaginary foreign leader endorsements" on eBay according to Rush & Molloy. LINK

And make sure you don't miss the cartoon on Page Six today on the same topic.

Dick Morris offers up some free advice to Kerry, who Morris thinks is making a tactical error by only rebutting the president's $900 billion tax hike claim and allowing the national security attacks to go unanswered. LINK

"Kerry is making a huge mistake in letting Bush hit him without a response on this critical issue. But to respond puts Kerry in the position of engaging with Bush over the Republican's strongest issue and distracting attention from the economy, which the Democrats would rather debate. The Bush attack puts Kerry on the spot. Either he lets this attack stand and suffers the consequences or he makes terrorism the central issue of the campaign and hurts himself that way. "

At on the "Today" show this morning, former Secretary of State Madeline Albright defended Kerry's statement that he has spoken with leaders who have told him they want President Bush to lose the election.

"I think that he believes this and I believe it because I have done a lot of traveling," Albright said, adding with a shrug, "maybe some people say to us what we want to hear."

But when challenged by Matt Lauer about whether she would want to know if leaders of countries considered her a poor Secretary of State, she considered it and said, "Well, yes, I guess."

Albright, who will appear next to Kerry for the Senator's speech about military families today, then returned to message: "But basically what we do know is that most of the people in Europe and other leaders want to see a change in direction. People like Americans … they do not like American policy."

Jeff Zeleny of the Chicago Tribune reports on Kerry's victory speech last night following the Illinois primaries, when he thanked the state for allowing him to secure the final number of delegates he needed to formally clinch the party's presidential nomination. LINK

The Hill's Nichols writes, "A handful of House Democrats who look vulnerable in November's election, plan to run away from their party's presumptive presidential nominee, Senator John Kerry (D-Mass.), and will not endorse him." LINK

"Reps. Rodney Alexander (D-La.), Allen Boyd (D-Fla.), Jim Marshall (D-Ga.), Jim Matheson (D-Utah) and Dennis Moore (D-Kan.)" are all on the list.

In the other chamber, Democratic senators are lining up to host fundraisers for their colleague and nominee. "The effort could indicate that Senate Democrats are focusing most of their energy and resources on capturing the White House — which they see as the party's best shot to break the GOP's lock on unified control of federal government," writes The Hill's Earle. LINK

Roll Call's Cillizza reports on the DCCC memo and movement to take back the House. Despite the Democratic push, Cillizza Notes, "Conventional wisdom throughout the cycle has dictated that House Democrats have little chance of picking up the 12 seats necessary to retake the majority."

Marking St. Patty's Day, Roll Call's Preston writes of a fight for Irish-American voters. With Ed Gillespie riding in today's parade, and Kerry with supposed Irish heritage, who's got the luck of the Irish this year?

The New York Sun's Josh Gerstein Noticed, as we did, that the U.S. Secret Service's protective blanket around Sen. Kerry far exceeds protection afforded to other presidential candidates at the same point in previous cycles, largely a consequence of Sept. 11. Included: larger details, magged crowds, TSD room sweeps, a uniformed division presence and more. LINK

ABC News Vote 2004: Bush-Cheney re-elect:

AP's Sidoti (with a Fournier assist) looks at the Bush-Cheney campaign strategy of focusing an ad on a single state.

"In 2000, Bush's campaign primarily stuck to a single nationwide theme at a time in its TV advertising. This year, it will pair the global ads with spots crafted for specific states, according to campaign advisers, speaking on condition of anonymity."LINK

The Los Angeles Times' Anderson and Gold Note that the familiar refrain: "Bush, with his ad, essentially resumed a line of attack first raised by Democratic rivals in the presidential race — they accused Kerry of trying to straddle pro- and antiwar views."LINK

Vice President Cheney traveled to Denver yesterday for the third time in five months to headline a fundraiser at Coors Field for GOP Rep. Bob Beauprez.

In his speech, Cheney continued his criticisms of Kerry, Noting: "We are the ones who get to determine the outcome of this election, not unnamed foreign leaders."LINK

Haven't had your fix of polls yet — wait, there's more:

The Wall Street Journal's Murray examines a new Zogby International poll in the battleground states of Florida, Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania which shows "Arab-Americans strongly disapprove of Mr. Bush. Only 28% favor his re-election, while 65% want someone new."

The Washington Times' Hallow looks at the president's support among Jewish-Americans and reporting, "Jewish leaders say President Bush's gains among heavily Democratic Jewish voters for his support of Israel and the Iraq war could be offset by policy initiatives influenced by evangelical Christians, who many Jews think are anti-Semitic despite their support of Israel"LINK

A Boston Globe editorial criticizes President Bush for his allegedly not-so-feminist policies and for marking International Women's Day with crediting intervention in Afghanistan and Iraq for helping women's lives. "But the speech actually obscured actions the Bush administration was taking almost simultaneously in Santiago, Chile, where it dropped its commitment to the health and survival of millions of poor women abroad." LINK

Not surprisingly, Mark Mellman delivers his analysis in The Hill of President Bush's alleged growing credibility gap. LINK

ABC News Vote 2004: the battlegrounds:

Valued Note Reader Paul A. Burkett noticed something interesting about the volume and placement of ads in a key battleground state. It's worth sharing in full and will certainly have some campaign ad gurus checking with their ad buyers to make sure stuff like this doesn't happen.

"As I am privileged to live in a 'battleground' state, I get to see the BC04 ads, as well as the anti-Bush 527 ads. I recently moved from Washington, DC and lived through my first New Hampshire primary season and so am somewhat inured to political ads. However, I Noticed something funny/bizarre/interesting last night that puts both the five frame pause and the current debate about 527 ads in some context. Towards the end of WMUR's 11 o'clock news broadcast last night, they ran an anti-Bush 527 ad immediately before a BC04 ad in which the president gave his required "Stand By Your Ad" language at the beginning. Thus, to someone not paying a lot of attention (me), it almost sounded like the president had endorsed the prior ad. I don't know whether the BC04 ad had the five frame delay, but it did seem that the president's approval could easily have been ascribed to either the ad it followed or the ad it preceded, and I think any pause would only exacerbate this problem. I don't know who decides how ads are placed or juxtaposed for WMUR, but it must be someone with a sense of humor!"

In their story about yesterday's to and fro, Nick Anderson and Matea Gold of the Los Angeles Times include three tailor-made paragraphs for those of you preparing those little blue index cards network anchors like to use.LINK

"Bush won the state's five electoral votes in 2000 by a surprising margin of 6 percentage points, the first time since 1928 that a Republican who was not an incumbent president had carried West Virginia. President Reagan last claimed it for the GOP in 1984."

"Bush has worked diligently to keep the state in his column. Early in his term he imposed tariffs on steel imports to help protect industry here. He also has sought to promote coal-mining interests that drive the local economy."

"Kerry hopes to win the state back with a Vietnam War resume he believes will appeal to veterans and their families. West Virginia, with 15.4% of its adult population having served in the military, is home to more veterans per capita than all but Alaska, Montana, Nevada and Wyoming."

The Tampa Tribune reports "Trying to deny Democrat John Kerry the crucial Florida Cuban-American vote, President Bush's campaign on Tuesday accused the senator of lying and denounced him as soft on dictator Fidel Castro." LINK

Peter Wallsten of the Miami Herald analyzes the same conference call and observes that Bush surrogates U.S. Reps. Mario Díaz-Balart of Miami and Mark Foley of West Palm Beach may have crossed the line. "But even in a time of torrid attacks from both sides, the piercing language lumping together Cuba's dictator with the winners of a legitimate election in Spain veered far off the Bush campaign script." LINK

Staunch Florida GOP supporters are already lining up for tickets to President Bush's big campaign event in Orlando this Saturday.LINK

Jim Ragsdale of the St. Paul Pioneer Press sums up the AARP's power in the upcoming race. "72 percent of U.S. citizens in the 65-to-74 age group voted in 2000 — the highest percentage of any age group." LINK

The AP reports that a new poll as Bush and Kerry in a virtual tie in Pennsylvania.LINK

In Ohio, the Cleveland Plain Dealer's Ansler profiles what he calls the average Ohio swing voter.LINK

Ralph Nader:

The Washington Times' Steve Miller writes on the recent CBS-New York Times poll showing Nader at 7 percent. While the Nader camp stubbornly resists the poll's implications, it seems certain that it "is a continuation of a pattern of Mr. Nader dipping into the well of votes Mr. Kerry is expected to secure." LINK

In Salon, Joe Conason ponders the propriety of the Nader campaign sharing office space in D.C. with Citizen Works, non-profit group founded by Nader. Conason questions the legality of the arrangement given that federal law prohibits tax-exempt organizations from participating in campaigns. So is there a problem?

"If there's an arms-length transaction — meaning a payment process and a lease that actually exists — then perhaps it is legal. But whether it's legal or not legal, it looks questionable, particularly for a candidate and a group devoted to good government. It's questionable at best. You know, it's the old 'I Love Lucy' line: They've got some explaining to do." LINK

Meanwhile, Nader still faces the daunting task of getting on the ballot in states nationwide. He has said he plans to be on the ballot in all 50 states, a goal many see as onerous, but possible. He is focusing his efforts now on Texas, one of the most challenging states in the nation for independents, requiring 65,000 signatures gathered in a 60-day period that started on March 10, as well as North Carolina and Oklahoma.

ABC News Vote 2004: the House races:

The Hotline's Chuck Todd kicks off his biennial March Madness style look at the 64 hottest House races in the nation. Today's installment looks at the 16 top contests in the West. LINK

"Conventional wisdom says it's nearly impossible for the Republican Party to lose control of the House in 2004, thanks to the controversial redistricting in Texas that should net the GOP anywhere from four to six seats. That said, retirements have been trending in the wrong direction for Republicans, and the mood of the electorate isn't exactly ideal for incumbents in general."

ABC News Vote 2004: the Senate races:

Linda Rush at the Southern Illinoisan reports that turnout at the primary varied from "fairly high" to "light" by county. Contested local races and ballot initiatives are seen as having contributed and 3-1 Democratic turnout through the southern part of Illinois.LINK

David Mendell of the Chicago Tribune reports on the landslide victory Barack Obama claimed in the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate in the state, where he beat out six eclectic competitors for the for the nomination. LINK

John Chase and Liam Ford of the Tribune report on Jack Ryan's victory in the Republican wing of the Senate race, where he stole the show as a political newcomer. LINK

The Tribune's John Chase and David Mendell offer a comparison for readers of the two elected nominees for Senate, Noting that after you count their Harvard educations, charisma, and good looks, the similarities end. LINK

The Hill reports that Rep. Mark Udall's chief of staff "Alan Salazar blamed much of the tumultuous, behind-the-scenes jousting — and Democrats' near-failure to settle on a consensus candidate in a Republican-friendly state — on the campaign committee." LINK

"'I don't want to disparage the political skills of the DSCC, but I really believe they were about 72 to 100 hours behind what was going on on the ground in Colorado,' Salazar said."

Cute back and forth, incidentally, between the NRSC and DSCC yesterday over whether the DSCC can adequately fund its races.

One downside in having Obama as the nominee in Illinois instead of Blair Hull: Mr. Obama will not be a self-funder …

But we're reliably told that the DSCC is quite happy with State Sen. Obama's upsides.

The land of 5 plus 2 = 7:

The folks at and Win Without War will gather today at 12:30 pm ET on the Hill with "families of soldiers serving, injured, or killed in Iraq to call on Congress to censure President George W. Bush for misleading the American people in the lead-up to the war."

In addition to pushing for censure of the president ""for misrepresenting the truth about intelligence concerning nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and links between Al Qaeda and the government of Saddam Hussein," look for the groups to unveil an ad campaign that goes up Friday in what we are told is a $150,000 print and TV buy.

And in our ongoing effort to give you this weekend's news today, we offer you a sneak peek at the television spot slated to begin airing Friday: 30 second TV "Censure"

AUDIO ANNOUNCER VOICE OVER: If George Bush had told the truth a year ago, here's what he might have said:

BUSH IMITATOR: My fellow Americans, we have no evidence that Iraq has stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction. No connection to 9/11. No nuclear capability. They pose no imminent threat to us.

AUDIO ANNOUNCER VOICE OVER: If he said that, would we have gone to war, spending $125 billion dollars and losing more than 500 American lives?

AUDIO ANNOUNCER VOICE OVER: When a President misleads us, he must face the consequences. Congress should censure President Bush now.

The economy:

ABC News business editor Ramona Schindelheim explains the Fed's decision to keep interest rates where they are.LINK

The Clintons of Chappaqua:

Frank DiGiacomo and Josh Benson deliver a must-read in the New York Observer exploring the role Bill Clinton's upcoming memoirs will play on the 2004 presidential campaign. LINK

"Certainly, as Mr. Clinton's former deputy chief of staff and current Democratic political adviser, Steve Ricchetti, put it: 'There are few people, if anyone, better than Clinton at framing and describing the substantive challenges facing our country domestically and internationally.' And if Mr. Clinton manages to convert the nostalgia for the flush days of his administration into votes for Mr. Kerry, he could prove an excellent asset to the candidate from Massachusetts."

"On the other hand, there are those Democrats who envision Mr. Clinton mounting the modern equivalent of Elvis Presley's 1968 NBC comeback special, replete with swooning women at the local Barnes and Noble and a tumescent tabloid media revisiting their greatest hits, from Whitewater to Monica Lewinsky to whether the resulting impeachment scandal distracted the nation from the looming threat of terrorism."

Lloyd Grove writes up a Hillary anecdote from a new book by Joseph Califano, Jr. in which he describes an anti-Establishment "potty mouthed protestor" named Hillary Rodham circa 1970. Don't miss Philippe's Clintonian response, which he explains to The Note is a polite version of, "This assertion is f@!&%*g b#%%!&*t"LINK

Big Casino budget politics: Medicare:

The Wall Street Journal ed board has a very tough must-read editorial, grudgingly agreeing with those (mostly Democrats) who say that the failure to come forward with the full facts on the Medicare cost estimate only compounds the Administration's credibility problems and (in their view also) flawed Medicare gambit.

The Los Angeles Times' Vicki Kemper reports Secretary Thompson's decision to move ahead with a formal investigation looking into allegations that the Bush Administration withheld from Congress the accurate cost of the Medicare prescription drug bill. LINK

"Thompson's decision to order a formal investigation, which several Democratic lawmakers demanded last week, was part of an effort by the administration to regain control of the public political debate over the Medicare law and to restore its credibility, which also has been damaged by Democratic attacks on its media campaign to promote the law."

The New York Times' Robin Toner examines the partisan war over Medicare with Democrats demanding an investigation as to whether the Bush administration threatened the chief actuary of Medicare not to reveal the true cost of the program. LINK

TODAY SCHEDULE (all times ET): —8:30 am: The Labor Department releases the Consumer Price Index for February —9:00 am: The House Democratic Caucus holds a closed meeting, Washington, D.C. —9:30 am: The Interfaith Alliance Foundation holds a forum on religion in the 2004 elections at the National Press Club, Washington, D.C. —9:45 am: Off-camera gaggle by White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan —10:00 am: The House of Representatives convenes for legislative business —10:00 am: Supreme Court Justices Anthony Kennedy and Clarence Thomas speak to the Commerce, State, Justice and Judiciary House Subcommittee, Washington, D.C. —10:30 am: President Bush participates in a Shamrock Ceremony, the White House —10:55 am: House Majority Leader Rep. Tom DeLay holds a pen and pad briefing at the Capitol, Washington, D.C. —11:00 am: The League of Conservation Voters holds a news conference to announce a survey on the national energy bill at the Holiday Inn, Washington, D.C. —12:00 pm: Sen. John Kerry speaks about "Protecting our Military Families in Times of War" at the George Washington University, Washington, D.C. —12:00 pm: The Cato Institute holds three luncheon seminars on Social Security, Washington, D.C. —12:00 pm: House Speaker Rep. Dennis Hastert holds his annual St. Patrick's Day luncheon at the Capitol, Washington, D.C. —12:30 pm: President Bush participates in a St. Patrick's Day Luncheon at the Capitol, Washington, D.C. —12:45 pm: On-camera briefing by McClellan —1:00 pm: Politics Live on ABC News Live and AOL —1:00 pm: FBI Director Robert Mueller speaks to the Commerce, State, Justice and Judiciary House Subcommittee, Washington, D.C. —1:00 pm: Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chairman Rep. Robert Matsui holds a pen-and-pad briefing on Democratic efforts to win control over the House at the Capitol, Washington, D.C. —1:30 pm: Vice President Cheney delivers remarks at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum, Simi Valley, Calif. —2:05 pm: Vice President and Mrs. Cheney tour the Lewis and Clark Exhibit at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, Simi Valley, Calif. —4:10 pm: Vice President Cheney appears live on Fox News' "Your World" with Brit Hume