The Note

TODAY SCHEDULE (all times ET):

—8:30 am: Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Sen. Orrin Hatch and Sen. Susan Collins speak before the National League of Cities' annual Congressional City Conference, Washington, D.C. —9:15 am: Sen. John Kerry attends a town hall meeting at the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Center, Hollywood, Fla. —9:30 am: Former White House Press Secretary Mike McCurry and former Rep. J.C. Watts discuss the election before the National League of Cities' annual Congressional City Conference, Washington, D.C. —10:00 am: Laura Bush speaks to the American College of Cardiology, New Orleans, La. —10:00 am: The Supreme Court meets to release orders and hand down decisions, Washington, D.C. —10:00 am: The National Council of Churches holds a news conference with families of detainees being held in Guantanamo, Washington, D.C. —10:30 am: Laura Bush speaks to the media following her speech, New Orleans, La. —10:30 am: Teresa Heinz Kerry speaks to supporters at a house party, Fort Lauderdale, Fla. —12:00 pm: The Senate convenes for debate on the budget resolution, Washington, D.C. —12:00 pm: Treasury Secretary John Snow speaks before the National Association of State Treasurers' legislative conference, Washington, D.C. —12:00 pm: The House of Representatives convenes for a pro forma session, Washington, D.C. —:00 pm: Sen. Kerry attends a rally at West Palm Beach Public Library Plaza, West Palm Beach, Fla. —1:05 pm: President Bush attends a Bush-Cheney 2004 luncheon fundraiser at the Fairmont Hotel, Dallas, Texas —1:15 pm: National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice speaks about foreign policy at the University of Louisville, Louisville, Ky. —1:25 pm: Vice President Cheney speaks at a luncheon for congressional candidate Stan Thompson at the Embassy Suites, Des Moines, Iowa —2:00 pm: Sen. Debbie Stabenow, Transportation Secretary Norm Mineta, and Reps. Don Young, Michael Turner, Jim Turner and Elijah Cummings speak before the National League of Cities' annual Congressional City Conference, Washington, D.C. —3:45 pm: President Bush attends the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo at the Reliant Arena, Houston, Texas —6:35 pm: President Bush attends a Bush-Cheney 2004 fundraiser at the Hilton Americas, Houston, Texas —7:00 pm: Sen. Kerry attends a rally at Centro Ybor, Tampa, Fla. —7:25 pm: Vice President Cheney speaks at a reception for John Thune at the Ramkota Hotel, Sioux Falls, S.D. —10:30 pm: President and Mrs. Bush return to the White House

NEWS SUMMARY

Despite what you'll hear in some quarters, the prospects for the President's re-election are NOT just about the incumbent.

America's judgment on the job Mr. Bush has done is key, but John Kerry has to clear a series of bars on national security credibility; likeability; character; and being a potential good steward of a good economy if he is going to have a chance to win -- no matter what kind of campaign BC04 runs or what people think of the President.

So -- as we have written before -- the talking points, the surrogates, the Web sites, the research and (soon) the campaign ads from the GOP side are largely geared toward making sure that Kerry gets nowhere near those bars in the eyes of the American people.

Late winter and early spring, in other words, are the times to strangle the baby in the crib. (How's that for a Monday metaphor to get your attention?)

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