The Note

"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.

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