The Note

TODAY SCHEDULE (all times ET):

—7:00 am: Polls open in Florida and Louisiana —8:00 am: Polls open in Mississippi and Texas —8:00 am: Ron Klain, Steve Elmendorf, Jon Haber, Craig Smith and Jim Margolis attend a debate sponsored by Fleishman and Hillard about the presidential primary season at the Mayflower Hotel, Washington, D.C. —9:00 am: Sen. John Kerry makes a local campaign stop, Tampa, Fla. —9:00 am: Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist holds at news conference on obesity at the Capitol, Washington, D.C. —9:00 am: Council on Foreign Relations-sponsored independent task force "Iraq: The Day After" holds a press conference on its third report assessing progress in Iraq, Washington, D.C. —9:00 am: House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi addresses the Executive Council of the AFL-CIO to kick off the federation's winter executive council meeting, Bal Harbor, Fla. —9:20 am: Sen. Hillary Clinton delivers remarks at the American Legion Conference at the Hyatt Regency Hotel, Washington, D.C. —9:30 am: CIA Director George Tenet testifies in a hearing on threats to National Security before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Washington, D.C. —9:30 am: Treasury Secretary John Snow delivers a speech to America's Community Bankers' Annual Government Affairs Conference, Washington, D.C. —9:30 am: The Senate convenes for legislative business —10:00 am: The National Association of State Treasurers hosts a conference to the fiscal health of the states, Washington, D.C. —10:00 am: The Senate Appropriations Committee, Homeland Security Subcommittee holds a hearing on FY2005 appropriations for border and transportation security, Washington, D.C. —10:00 am: The Senate Finance Committee holds a hearing on international trade issues, Washington, D.C. —10:00 am: Washington-area sniper John Allen Muhammad faces sentencing, Manassas, Va. —10:25 am: President Bush speaks at the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Awards Ceremony at the Marriott, Arlington, Va. —11:00 am: Laura Bush tours the Capital Breast Care Center, Washington, D.C. —11:25 am: Rep. Tom DeLay hosts a pen and pad briefing, Washington, D.C. —12:30 pm: The House of Representatives convenes for legislative business —12:30 pm: Sen. Frist attends a Republican Senate policy luncheon at the Capitol, Washington, D.C. —12:30 pm: AFL-CIO leaders, including President John Sweeney, hold a press conference to mark the beginning of the federation's winter meeting, Bal Harbor, Fla. —1:00 pm: Politics Live on ABC News Live and AOL —2:00 pm: The American Civil Liberties Union holds a news conference to discuss the government's post-9/11 policies, Washington, D.C. —2:45 pm: Sen. Kerry and Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D-Ill.) host a dialogue with seniors on drug re-importation at the Levy Center, Evanston, Ill. —6:00 pm: Sen. Frist attends a Senators and Spouses dinner at the National Archives, Washington, D.C. —7:00 pm: Polls close in Florida —8:00 pm: Polls close in Mississippi —8:00 pm: Sen. Kerry attends an election night party at the Great Hall at Chicago Union Station, Chicago, Ill. —9:00 pm: Polls close in Texas and Louisiana —11:00 pm: RNC Chairman Ed Gillespie appears on the Daily Show with John Stewart


Today voters cast their ballots in primaries in Florida, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas. Polls close in Florida and Mississippi by 8:00 pm ET and in Louisiana and Texas by 9:00 pm ET.

For all the bad news that President Bush has had over the last few months -- the politically weakest of his presidency -- one development is worst of all, as it bears particularly heavily on his chances of re-election.

We aren't talking about the economic report trifecta (outsourcing = good, burger-flipping = manufacturing, expected jobs = many many); the David Kay report; the Halliburton shenanigans; the Mars-on-steroids State of the Union flop; the irrational cut-spending-Mr.-President-but-sign-the-highway-bill congressional wing of the Republican Party; or the 9/11 ad flap.

No, what's really enhanced the prospects of 43 repeating the fate of 41 is the consensus view among the Gang of 500 that George Walker Bush can lose this election.

From the men's room in the editorial offices of the Weekly Standard, to the brains of the chiefs of staff to incumbent Republican governors, to some surprising quarters of the leadership on Capitol Hill, to even (dare we say it) some member of the President's own reelection team -- not to mention -- but here we do -- many of the journalists whose "abandonment" of his father sticks in the presidential craw -- the Gang's all here, united in the belief that while George Bush will probably win, he just might lose.

And that is the psychological and practical opening John Kerry needed in what feels, to the Chattering Class, like it's going to be the longest general election in forever.

And yesterday's direct engagement by Bush of Kerry -- which the Washington Post's Dana Milbank brilliantly Notes is unusually early for an incumbent ("by far the earliest time an incumbent president has invoked the name of his opponent)" LINK -- just might suggest that Mr. Bush himself believes that he COULD lose.

With John Kerry -- like a blind squirrel -- feeling his way toward it'stheeconomystupidchangeversusmoreofthesameanddon'tforgethealthcare, the Bush-Cheney-Matalin campaign is sounding a lot like the Bush-Quayle-Matalin campaign.

Sure, a lot has changed between 1992 and 2004 -- for instance none of these things even existed in our daily lives back when Bob Dornan, Guy Vander Jagt, Phil Gramm, and Mary Matalin were major Bush re-elect campaign surrogates:

The Note, TiVo, "The Real World," CGI, Blackberries, IM (and "btw" "gok" "lol" "imho"), the Getty Museum, Planet Hollywood, Oprah's Book Club, "Chicken Soup for the Soul," Cargo pants, Tae-bo, Beanie Babies, Tickle-me Elmo, day trading, SUVs, Starbucks, Macarena, "The Matrix," "Austin Powers," Tiger Woods, Britney Spears, Friendster, DV, Jet Blue, iPod, hybrid cars, the Emerald Aisle, MP3s, Napster, Harry Potter, TV crawls, or eBay.

And/but quick, are these quotes Bush the Elder on Clinton or Bush the Junior on Kerry?

"And my argument with him is you cannot be on all sides of every issue. You cannot flip-flop. You cannot turn the White House into the waffle house."

"We cannot put him in the White House. He's like a struggling Little League manager wanting to go to the Atlanta Braves."

"When you are president you cannot try to please everyone."

"Mr. and Mrs. America, when you hear him say we're going to tax only the rich, watch your wallet because his figures don't add up."

"He said -- here's what he said at the time of the war. He said, . . . 'I agreed with the minority, but I guess I would have voted with the majority.' What kind of decisive commander in chief would that be?"

The Democrat's health care plan "would slap at least a 7% payroll tax on middle-income Americans . . . My plan would provide tax relief to Americans, to help them pay for their own health care." If my opponent wins, Bush continued, "within a year the government will run health care in this country. Our health care system will combine the efficiency of the House post office with the compassion of the KGB."

(OK, some anachronisms in that last one might give the answer away. Go ask your interns if they know what either the KGB or the House post office are . . .)

Without much competition to speak of, John Kerry has spent the last four days campaigning in the four states holding primaries today.

And he picked up 3 delegates Monday in the American Samoa caucus, where he took 85 percent of the vote to Rep. Dennis Kucinich's 15 percent. However, even if the Massachusetts Senator wins all 465 delegates up for grabs Tuesday he would still end the day just shy of formally clinching the Democratic nomination for president according to the ABC News delegate estimate. (And just in case you are wondering, a Blagojevich endorsement won't put him over the top either.) LINK

Delegates so far (pledged delegates and superdelegates combined)*: Kerry 1,537 (roughly 71% of the total delegates needed to secure the nomination) Edwards 506 Sharpton 23 Kucinich 23

Delegates needed to win the nomination: 2,162

Delegates at stake today (March 9): 465

*The totals in the "delegates so far" estimate include both pledged delegates who are allocated according to their home state's primary and caucus results as well as "unpledged" delegates, known as "superdelegates," made up of state party leaders and activists, Democratic governors, members of congress, former presidents, vice presidents, and national party chairmen.

President Bush is Arlington, Va. to speak at the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Awards Ceremony.

First Lady Laura Bush will visit the Capital Breast Care Center and its soon-to-be-opened mammography suite in Washington, D.C.

Sen. Kerry is in Florida this morning and Illinois this afternoon and evening.

Rep. Kucinich is in a Cleveland area hospital being treated for gastroenteritis.

Rev. Sharpton is in New York.

Ralph Nader is in Washington, D.C.

Many of you have asked us where we first heard the story of the famous orange we shared with you last Friday.

The basic architecture and moral of the tale came from one Dana Carvey, explaining to an interviewer why viewers value celebrity and exposure, even if there's nothing substantive behind the curtain. (The good-natured ribbing of Jeff Zucker was entirely our invention.)

Our failure to cite Carvey was based on our usual attempt to get someone to sue us for the sake of generating publicity.

Florida Presidential Primary Polls Open: 7:00 am ET Polls Close: 8:00 pm ET* *95 percent of voting age population lives in portions of the state where polls close by 7:00 pm ET.

There is probably little need to remind you of the role Florida played in 2000.

Suffice to say -- Gore: 48.9% / Bush: 48.9%, with 537 votes separating the two. Karl Rove has already declared Florida the "ground zero" of the 2004 presidential campaign, and the Sunshine State will once again be a pivotal battleground state with its 27 electoral votes up for grabs in November.

But before John Kerry has to sweat out a long evening of Florida vote counting, he will likely rack up another primary victory Tuesday night and collect the great majority of Florida's delegates, considering his lack of competition.

There are 3.9 million registered Democrats in Florida who (if they choose to go to the polls) will see the names Dean, Edwards, Sharpton, Kucinich, Gephardt, Clark, Moseley Braun, and Lieberman on the ballot, in addition to Kerry. Florida's primary is closed -- only registered Democrats can vote in the Democratic presidential primary.

A total of 177 delegates will be apportioned according to the results of the presidential preference primary. Delegates are apportioned according to the vote in each congressional district (Florida has 25 of them) as well as the statewide results. Candidates must receive at least 15 percent (either within a congressional district or statewide) of the vote to be eligible to be apportioned delegates.

Gone are the butterfly ballots. As in 2002 and 2003, Floridians will be casting their ballots by using optical scan paper ballots or direct record electronic touch-screen voting. As in other states, critics of touch-screen voting are concerned about the lack of paper trail they feel are needed to verify votes. Elections officials are convinced that the machines are secure and have been tested many times over to make sure no vote goes unrecorded. You can look up each of the 67 counties' voting technology of choice here. LINK

Florida uses a mix of electronic touch screen (15 counties representing about half the voting age population) and optical scan machines (the rest) to tabulate elections.

Watch, as in 2002, Alachua, Broward, Miami-Dade, Polk, and Palm Beach counties for any sign of irregularities. And not those kind of irregularities.

Miami-Dade, in particular, wants to avoid a three-peat. The primary election in 2002 was marred by a lack of trained polling staffers and malfunctioning voting equipment, and a lack of communication between the county and the voting system manufacturer, ES&S.

For example, The manufacturer designed a trilingual ballot but allegedly did not tell the county that it would therefore take longer to boot up the machines. Or maybe it did -- but the county didn't tell poll workers. Or maybe it did, but the poll workers didn't show up early enough. You get the picture.

The general election went slightly more smoothly.

In Florida, Supervisors of Elections keep track of the process. LINK

The supervisors appoint two bipartisan election boards for each precinct in their county. These boards conduct the election and then collect the results of the vote (by canvassing the returns from the electronic and optical scan machines). In the 2002 election, several counties had trouble training people on these boards to use the new equipment, and that contributed to sporadic problems on election day.

Counties are required to station a sheriff's deputy or appointee in each precinct to monitor irregularities. The county canvassing board, comprised of the Supervisor of Elections, a county judge, and the chair of the county commission, certifies the result. They have until noon the day after the election to send their results to the state. If there are problems with the software, the county canvassing board can request an immediate audit by the Secretary of State's office.

The State Elections Canvassing Commission is the final certification authority. The Elections canvassing commission is made up of the Governor and two members of his cabinet, one Democrat and one Republican.

Secretary of State Glenda Hood will be only happy to answer any questions you may have should something go awry. LINK

The state has set up a voter hotline to respond to complaints and problems: (850) 245-6518.

Florida has an automatic recount: margins of one-half of 1 percent or less trigger an electronic recount (i.e., re-tallying the machines). The state requires a manual recount if the margin is one-quarter of 1 percent or less, and permits one if the margin is between one-quarter and one-half of 1 percent.

How does one manually count touch screen ballots? Not technically possible. There is no individual audit capacity. The individual machines can be disaggregated, and votes can be counted by what the machine shows as its return. But you can't visually or manually inspect each screen to determine whether the computer has correctly tabulated the vote.

To grossly oversimplify, a proposed solution would attach a printer to the touch screen machine, which would print two copies of the return -- one for the voter, and one for the canvassers. Widespread fraud is unlikely because the machines are so complex and so numerous. But critics of the machines worry about malfunction. What happens if there's a quirk in the software and a vote for candidate "X" is ultimately registered in the computer for candidate "Y?"

Thirty Florida counties use Diebold's machines, which have come under scrutiny as of late. New machines in San Diego, Calif., were unable to be used on election day last week because so-called "precinct control modules" didn't work when polls open.

The touch screen machines in Miami-Dade and Broward counties are manufactured by E S and S. Sequoia manufactures the system used in Palm Beach County.

For all the problems and concerns, voters seem to really like the touch screen machines, and with every successive election, election officials make fewer and fewer human errors with the equipment.

Incidentally, state law requires that a random sampling of 2 percent of touch screen machines and 5 percent of optical scan machines per county be publicly tested at least two days prior to the election.

The state's voter database, which came under intense scrutiny in 2000, has been completely redone. Under federal law, voters will be allowed to vote provisionally if they forget their identification or show up at the wrong polling site. Complaints are jurisdictionally directed to the Divisions of Elections, which has 30 days to respond to them.

ABC News Vote 2004: Bush vs. Kerry:

John Kerry begins the general election battle with an advantage on issues and his emotional appeal, but President Bush, while facing some serious challenges, enjoys a stronger commitment from his supporters and stabilized approval ratings, ABC News Polling Director Gary Langer reports. LINK

However, the state of play of the deeply divided nation remains virtually unchanged over the past four years, "split evenly on Bush's overall performance since his razor-thin electoral college victory."

"Beneath the divisions, though, are serious challenges for Bush," Langer writes. "Fifty-seven percent of Americans say it's time for a "new direction" in the nation's leadership, fewer than at this point in his father's presidency but a majority nonetheless. Anger with his administration has risen, and now exceeds enthusiasm. His personal popularity more closely resembles a re-election loser's (his father's) than a winner's (Bill Clinton or Ronald Reagan's)."

The Washington Post's Rich Morin and Dana Milbank have their take on the same numbers: "President Bush, bloodied by months of criticism during the Democratic primary season, has seen public support fall to the lowest level of his presidency for his performance on the economy and the situation in Iraq, a new Washington Post-ABC News poll has found." LINK

The latest USA Today/CNN/Gallup poll has Kerry leading Bush 52 percent to 44 percent in a head to head matchup. "Bush rates higher in the poll on foreign affairs and national security, but Kerry tops him on the economy, health care, education and Social Security," USA Today's Benedetto Notes on the poll. LINK

"The first skirmishes between President Bush and Sen. John Kerry are unfolding on the only turf on which Bush has an advantage: foreign affairs, the Iraq war and terrorism," writes Jill Lawrence of the USA Today. LINK

The AP's Jesse Holland reports that Sen. Ted Kennedy is questioning whether a recent Bush judicial recess appointment is constitutional. LINK

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

President Bush attacked John Kerry yesterday as being "dangerously indecisive and accused him of a 'deeply irresponsible' effort to weaken the nation's intelligence services before Sept. 11, 2001," writes Mike Allen of the Washington Post. LINK

The New York Times' Stevenson and Wilgoren report that President Bush attacked Kerry Monday on his position on a 1995 piece of legislation on intelligence, which led to back and forth counters attacks between the two candidates. Previously the Bush campaign has stated that it would use Kerry's record in the Senate to show his "waffling on the issues." LINK

The Los Angeles Times' Reynolds and Gold on Bush's day of fundraising and rodeo: LINK

BC04 campaign manager Ken Mehlman sat down with reporters yesterday and pointed out the "defensive kind of reactive approach" of Sen. Kerry's campaign. LINK

Vice President Cheney spoke at a Sioux Falls fundraiser for Senate candidate John Thune last night, where he spent much of his speech "defending President Bush's tax cuts and the decision to go to war," writes the Associated Press. LINK

And even First Lady Laura Bush got in on the campaign action yesterday, defending the use of 9/11 images in BC04 ads, report New York Daily News' Saul and DeFrank. LINK

The Los Angeles Times' Hook looks at the "foundering of Bush's tax cuts," a central theme to the President's re-election campaign. LINK

The Bush administration, "citing budgetary concerns," has proposed new Superfund toxic waste sites "at a much slower rate than previous administrations, a practice criticized by state environmental officials who say it masks the true demand for toxic cleanup in the country," reports the New York Times' Jennifer 8. Lee. LINK

(Providing all the more energy for those Sierra Club, League of Conservation Voters, and Environment 2004 efforts now in the hopper, eh?)

The Washington Post's Dan Eggen reviews the debate and the record regarding the White House and their cooperation with the Sept. 11 commission. LINK

The Boston Globe's Tom Oliphant writes about what he sees as the shared troubles President Bush and the NRA are having with handling their "wedge" issues. LINK

The Boston Globe's James Carroll has some advice for the President about same-sex marriage and some thoughts on exit strategies for waging culture wars. LINK

The AP's Liz Sidoti and Sharon Theimer report on the Bush campaign's request to the FEC to look into the legality of's television spots. LINK

ABC 2004: the nostalgia:

We belong to the group of people who would (if we didn't have expense accounts) pay zillions to hear, say, Ron Klain, Steve Elmendorf, Jon Haber, Craig Smith and Jim Margolis debate the presidential nomination season that was.

But in these lean times, we don't have to -- and you don't either.

Those five, representing their respective campaigns -- Elmo is donning his Gephardt hat for the morning -- will break bread with the interested on Thursday beginning at 8:00 am ET at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington.

For more info, check this really neat animation: LINK

The economy:

The Wall Street Journal's ed board warns congressional Republicans this is "no time" to go "wobbly" on the campaign to make the President's tax cuts permanent. Goes the piece, "the last thing Mr. Bush needs is sniping from backbenchers trying to pose as fiscal 'hawks.'"

Today, political columnists turn to jobs, jobs, jobs:

Alan Murray continues to insanely push the President to embrace the happiness of outsourcing in his Wall Street Journal column.

Paul Krugman of the New York Times questions whether America can believe that Bush's tax cuts will soon provide many more jobs. LINK

The Washington Post's David Ignatius wonders if the American economy is doing so well, where are the jobs? LINK

If it wasn't for the public sector, there would not have been no new job growth last year, writes the Washington Post's E.J. Dionne. LINK

The Associated Press writes that according to the Congressional Budget Office, the Bush tax cuts would have little impact on the economy. "The analysis attributed the budget's scant effect largely to the small scale of the policies Mr. Bush proposed compared with the nation's annual $12 trillion economy. For example, its proposed tax cuts would total only three-tenths of 1 percent of the size of the economy over the next five years and the spending cuts would be four-tenths of 1 percent." LINK

ABC News' Ramona Schindelheim takes a look at the effects of higher oil and gas prices -- larger home heating bills, higher costs at the gas pump, and, estimates Merrill Lynch, the equivalent of billions lost in consumer spending, which would slow the economy and could ultimately lead to squeezed corporate products and layoffs. LINK

Consider this:

"Merrill Lynch estimates that every penny increase at the pump is equal to $1 billion in lost consumer spending. Using that equation, the 20-cent-a-gallon increase at the pump this year is taking $20 billion in spending out of the economy," Schindelheim writes. And while federal tax refunds this year will total $55 billion from February through May -- 30 percent higher than last year -- "Merrill Lynch believes the higher pump prices will wipe out as much as a third to half of the economic impact of federal refunds."


The New York Times' Stevenson and Wilgoren report on the Kerry-Bush and Cheney and the RNC to-and-fro Monday on Kerry's votes on intelligence funding and the President's appearance before the Sept. 11 commission. LINK

In Florida Monday, John Kerry promised to protect Social Security and make sure votes are counted, a clear reminder of the 2000 election and its importance this November, writes Jim VandeHei of the Washington Post. LINK

The Los Angeles Times' Slater and Barabak on Kerry's effort to rally African-American voters. Writes the duo, "Kerry must persuade them to vote in greater numbers to tilt the race in his favor, especially in states such as Louisiana and Florida, where the general election could be close." LINK

Paula Diane Harris, founder of the Andrew Young National Center for Social Change, "wants Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry to apologize for saying he wouldn't be upset if he could be known as the second black president," writes the Associated Press. LINK

The Florida recount works for Kerry, reports the Los Angeles Times' Gold, who says "the recurring specter of the 2000 recount speaks to how the battle of the last campaign is shadowing this year's contest." Candidate Kerry promises he is "putting together a legal team to study historically troubled voting precincts, as well as the new Diebold voting machines, which have been criticized as vulnerable to manipulation." LINK

The Chicago Tribune's Jeff Zeleny reports that in the Sunshine State, Kerry brought up the 2000 recount "again and again," promising that no person would not be able to vote and have their vote counted. He also announced that teams of lawyers have begun to study election law in key states in preparation for November. LINK

The AP reports that Kerry is preemptively getting things in place to challenge any Florida voting irregularities this year, including having a legal team in place to monitor. "'We're going to take injunctions where necessary ahead of time. We'll pre-challenge if necessary,' the four-term U.S. senator said" yesterday at a town hall meeting. LINK

The New York Post picks up on Kerry's comments that some "foreign leaders'" have told him they want him to win. LINK

The Boston Herald's Andrew Miga also reports on Kerry's assertions that some foreign leaders are rooting for him. LINK

And Deb Orin follows up on her own reporting on Kerry's past quotes on Arafat. LINK

The AP's Mike Glover recounts Kerry's thoughts on Arafat as well. LINK

Kerry has "gone out of his way to appeal for" Arab votes, who "constitute a sizable voting bloc in states such as Michigan and Pennsylvania," Knight Ridder's Kuhnhenn reports. LINK

Knight Ridder's Kuhnhenn looks at how some Jewish Americans and Arab Americans are perplexed by Kerry's positions on Middle East issues, where Kuhnhenn Notes Kerry is playing a "political high-wire act." LINK

The Boston Globe's Joan Vennochi looks at Kerry's sometimes muddled demands to the President to bring it on, Noting "Kerry's specific criticism of the Iraq war remains difficult to follow." LINK

The AP's Liz Sidoti takes a look at the new television spot by Citizens United. LINK

The Boston Herald's Noelle Straub has David Wade's thoughts on that ad and the campaign. LINK

From ABC News' Kerry campaign reporter Ed O'Keefe:

WEST PALM BEACH, FLA., March 8 -- Sen. John F. Kerry ventured into the heart of the 2000 recount drama Monday, embarking on a three-city, one-day tour through the battleground Sunshine State.

The Massachusetts Senator played defense against President Bush while courting votes for Tuesday's primary and, ostensibly, the general election.

But, more importantly, two words: Jimmy Buffet.

In a West Palm Beach tarmac office seemingly far from Margaritaville, Kerry received the Parrothead seal of approval, meeting with beach rocker Jimmy Buffet to discuss how the singer/author/pilot could aid Kerry's campaign for the White House.

According to senior Kerry aides, Buffet asked to speak with Kerry, hoping to "actively campaign in Florida." The Kerry campaign also welcomed N'SYNC's Chris Kirkpatrick to the star circuit Monday. The pop singer joined Kerry on the trail from Hollywood to West Palm Beach, Fla.

When not chumming with stars or greeting voters, Kerry continued to lay the groundwork for his 20-city, $80 million fundraising blitz, set to extend from late March into early April.

Florida Sens. Bob Graham and Bill Nelson helped the Senator and Teresa Heinz Kerry entertain just over 50 fundraisers in one of two such meetings Monday.

In Hollywood, Graham joked that the main reason he supports Kerry is his wife. During Kerry's turn at the mic, the candidate admitted, "Bob, you gotta compete with Al Sharpton. He runs around the country calling my wife his girlfriend. They've actually struck up a terrific relationship, I must say."

The ever-vigilant Heinz Kerry emphasized, "Debate relationship."

Opening a rally in Ybor City, Fla., Kerry heaped praise on his Floridian Senate colleagues, teasing the odds-making veepstakers by saying, "I know you want me to tip my hand tonight but no, no, no, no."

The surprisingly energized Kerry, who prior to speaking to the crowd of over 1,500 devoured a "great, big, thick strawberry milkshake" at a local store appropriately called "Fresh Mouth," wasted no time in blasting Vice President Dick Cheney.

At a fundraiser in Des Moines, Iowa, the Vice President questioned the Senator's vote against the $87 billion Iraq supplemental, calling it an example of Kerry's "indecision."

Kerry retorted mockingly that he was "just quaking up here" in light of Cheney's attack, then said, "I thought (the money) ought to come out of the $680 billion tax cut for the wealthy. I thought that was pretty decisive."

Kerry continued to the meat of his counter-offensive, remarking, "He even invoked the motto indecision kills. Well, let me tell you something Mr. Vice President and Mr. President: bad, rushed decisions kill, too."

The occasion marked the second time Monday Kerry preserved the top of his stump speech to tersely respond to or challenge Bush-Cheney.

Aside from the serious business of the Bush-Cheney-Kerry struggle to "define" John Kerry, Florida seemed to re-introduce the Iowa concept of trying to add weight to John Kerry.

In Iowa, the Senator's already high metabolism combined with an exhaustive schedule left him, in the words of Teresa Heinz Kerry, "too skinny." At various points, Kerry staffers fed the ever-thinning candidate increasing pasta portions of lasagna or spaghetti and never refused Kerry's frequent requests for a Hostess cupcake or the occasional milkshake.

On Monday, the candidate enjoyed the aforementioned milkshake while lunch consisted of a Poppies Deli corned beef and pastrami on seeded rye with potato salad and extra coleslaw, a likely combination for a politician of heavier stature.

Nevertheless, the true test comes when the candidate, for the first time since spending barely 24 hours in Ketchum, Idaho, for Christmas, heads on vacation later this month with Mrs. Kerry.

Will the notoriously veggie-conscious, nutrition-minded spouse prevent the cupcake-loving, staff-reduced candidate from finding his favorite snacks? Or, will she continue to encourage a weight-gaining Kerry?

Read more from the trail with Kerry on LINK


In a "Web exclusive" for the Boston Globe, Scot Lehigh writes about the art of angling for the vice presidency, including a tale of Kerry's own pitch in 2000. LINK


In a New York Times op-ed Charlie Cook warns of a potential 2004 "Nader Effect." Citing the recent Associated Press and Ipsos Public Affairs poll that showed Nader at 6 percent, he says: "While surveys that test a two-way contest between President Bush and Senator Kerry generally show the senator ahead by a few points, those that add Mr. Nader to the mix put the race at a dead heat."

Cook says it's unlikely Nader will garner the same number of votes as 2000, but his effect may still be enough to tip the balance in key states.

"Barring some cataclysmic political upheaval, the Republicans have a solid hold on 23 states with 200 electoral votes; the Democrats can probably count on 11 states and the District of Columbia for 168 votes. This leaves 16 states in play -- states where Mr. Nader, at least based on 2000, could shift the balance in favor of Mr. Bush." LINK

Maria Recio of Knight Ridder Notes that Ralph Nader maybe tapped by both the Green AND Reform parties as their candidate. LINK


The Boston Globe's Pat Healy saw Kerry seize upon some voter uneasiness in Florida while stumping yesterday in the Sunshine State. LINK

The Miami Herald's Peter Wallsten and Lesley Clark report that Kerry "said Monday that he is building a legal team to prevent any voting irregularities this year" in Florida. LINK

The Palm Beach Post's Brian Crowley Notes that Kerry even broke out his favorite Katherine Harris joke. LINK

Palm Beach Post columnist Frank Cerabino saw a lot of symbolism in Kerry's Monday stumping, and even deconstructs the Coldplay lyrics he heard on the loudspeaker. LINK

The St. Petersburg Times' Adam Smith previews primary day in Florida and the anticipation for the general election. LINK

The St. Petersburg Times' Matthew Waite reports that things could be kind of boring today. LINK

The Tampa Tribune's William March writes, "Florida Democrats -- a few of them, anyway -- will vote today in a presidential primary with little apparent impact but at least a bit of intrigue." LINK

The Orlando Sentinel's Mark Silva reports that Kerry "is pulling no punches." LINK

House of Labor:

Sen. Kerry will visit with the House of intrigue via satellite Wednesday as he addresses the AFL-CIO Executive Council's Bal Harbour gathering. (The weather is SO much better there than here, we sigh...even if you do have to attend meetings all day.)

Lots of talk about the upcoming campaign there in Florida we hear -- and we bet the Wednesday John Sweeney/ Karen Ackerman newser on Labor 2004 provides fodder for even more stories on the Bush-Cheney camp vs. the Dems' bench of outside supporters.

The New York Times' Steven Greenhouse reports on the labor leaders' meeting in Florida to try to prevent "the union movement from sinking further after it suffered several recent setbacks" with major job loss, declining membership and a splintered and bruising primary season. Greenhouse Notes that "to increase labor's political warchest, the executive council will vote on Wednesday for a 4-cents-a-month increase in the assessment on the federation's nearly 13 million members, union leaders said. This move would add $6 million to the $38 million the A.F.L.-C.I.O. has allocated to politics for this election cycle." LINK

Next week Kerry keynotes the Firefighters annual legislative conference in Washington, with Gov. McGreevey and Rep. Chris Cox also addressing the assembly.

The land of 5-plus-2-equals-7:

The Media Fund, a group allied with Democratic Party King Fixer Harold Ickes will be on the air by Wednesday with its opening salvo: a television spot criticizing the President's agenda and priorities.

The Fund will spend more than $4.5 million to air two weeks of the ad in 18 swing states. The Fund folks say they plan to spend as much as $40 million by the time the Democratic National Convention comes around in late July.

The AP reports the President's campaign will "file a complaint with the FEC accusing the Media Fund of violating a broad, new ban on the use of "soft money" -- corporate, union and unlimited contributions -- for federal election activity." The AP's Sidoti writes that according to the Bush campaign, the Media Fund is "trying to influence the presidential election and should have to register with the FEC as a political committee, which would limit it to accepting only donations of up to $5,000 from individuals and other political committees, and require it to disclose its fund raising and spending to the commission." This, we at the Note humbly posit, is just the beginning -- from both sides. LINK

Roll Call's Amy Keller writes, "The fight over the future of so-called 527 groups is headed for a potential showdown in the Senate Rules and Administration Committee on Wednesday, when opponents of the groups are slated to square off with lawmakers favoring a hands-off approach to the controversial entities."


The San Francisco Chronicle's Marc Sandalow states that California is not likely to be a battleground state in November. "Any scenario in which California is closely divided . . . involves Republicans easily winning the national contest. Any scenario in which the national contest is closely divided involves Democrats easily winning California." LINK

The politics of national security:

Hans Blix charges that the United States unsuccessfully tried to pressure him to tell the Security Council that Iraq was in violation of U.N. resolutions just two weeks before Baghdad was attacked, reports Walter Pincus of the Washington Post. LINK

The New York Times' ed board wants subpoena power for the commission investigating intelligence failure leading up to the war in Iraq. LINK

The Los Angeles Times covers a report saying that public impatience may hurt the U.S. effort in Iraq. LINK

The politics of same-sex marriage:

David Kirkpatrick of the New York Times profiles the "gay Republican voter," who despite the argument over same-sex marriage, remains loyal to the Republican Party and President Bush. LINK

USA Today/s Fred Bayles reports, "An obscure 1913 law may trip up a wedding march of gay couples from around the country who hoped to come to Massachusetts and get hitched in May." LINK

The New York Times' Andrew Jacobs writes on the battle over same-sex marriage, profiling Georgia State Rep. Karla Dreener "Georgia's only openly gay legislator, who has become the most visible -- and derided -- opponent of an effort to enact a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage." Ms. Drenner speaks on the public upheaval over this issue. LINK

Seattle Mayor Greg Nickles said the city would now recognize same-sex marriages which were conducted elsewhere, reports the New York Times' Sarah Kershaw. This comes after six same-sex couples filed a lawsuit which challenged Washington's State laws. On Monday, Nickels indicated gay workers employed by the city would receive the same benefits and rights as heterosexual couples. LINK

Democratic National Convention:

The Boston Globe's Rick Klein reports, "Boston's largest employee unions said yesterday they would not be influenced by recent settlements reached by smaller labor groups, and several made plans to turn up the heat on Mayor Thomas M. Menino in the days to come." LINK

Big casino budget politics: Medicare:

Despite his previous position on the issue, Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration Mark McClellan "said Monday that he would work with Congress on bipartisan legislation to assure the safety of prescription drugs imported from Canada, reports the New York Times' Robert Pear. LINK


Howard, the Duck.

Last evening, on a roundtable on "Inside City Hall," New York 1's fab political program, Democratic consultant extraordinaire Howard Wolfson, who has been known to mock others for using animal props in conjunction with political debates, brandished a squeaking yellow rubber ducky to illustrate his charge that Mayor Bloomberg has been "ducking" the issue of same-sex marriage. LINK

Trust us: this has become a HUGE cause celebre in Gotham campaign circles.

Check out what people are saying on the new hot blog LINK:

TROY03: Wolfson and the duck!!! Probably was Hillary's idea.

Badmissy: I heard that in the green room, he was wearing one of Hank Morris' sweaters.

Boisk8terboy: So thin!!! Doesn't the guy eat anymore? :0)

Randompervert: Quackers, anyone?

Gagglehenry: Kirtzman would never have allowed the use of props. The New York Post reports Chuck Schumer isn't so generous with his campaign cash, while the Junior Senator from New York has donated "$65,000 to help other Democrats. The former first lady also has pumped money into other party causes through her political action committee and a separate campaign fund she established to help other senators." LINK

The New York City Board of Elections will test out electronic voting next year, reports the New York Post. LINK

"A little-known Washington court that oversees the investigations of presidents has approved more than a million dollars in legal-fee reimbursements for Republican administration officials caught up in the probes while rejecting similar requests from Clinton-era officials," writes the Washington Post's Carol Leonnig. LINK

The politics of Martha:

Sen. Hillary Clinton will donate to charity the Domestic Diva's $1000 contribution, reports the New York Post's Orin. LINK