The Note

TODAY SCHEDULE AS OF 9:00 am (all times ET):

— 7:40 am: President Bush speaks at the National Prayer Breakfast, Washington, D.C. — 8:00 am: Gov. Dean attends a town hall meeting at the Lunch Studio, Flint, Mich. — 8:30 am: Gen. Clark greets supporters at the Castle Heights Military Academy, Lebanon, Tenn. — 11:00 am: President Bush speaks about homeland security, Charleston, S.C. — 11:00 am: Rep. Dennis Kucinich attends a state Democrats pre-caucus breakfast at Howard Johnson's, Seattle, Wash. — 11:30 am: Gov. Dean attends a town hall meeting at Jack and Patti Salter Community Center, Royal Oak, Mich. — 11:30 am: Gen. Clark meets with local Democrats at Coffee County Administration Building, Manchester, Tenn. — 12:00 pm: Sen. Kerry attends a rally with local at the Boys & Girls Club Gymnasium, Portland, Maine — 12:30 pm: Gov. Dean tours the Henry Ford Hospital, Detroit, Mich. — 1:30 pm: President Bush returns to the White House — 2:00 pm: Gen. Clark meets with local Democrats at the Holiday Inn, Chattanooga, Tenn. — 3:00 pm: Rep. Kucinich attends a State Democratic Party pre-caucus lunch at the Westin, Seattle, Wash. — 3:30 pm: Sen. Edwards speaks with students and faculty at Tennessee State University, Nashville, Tenn. — 5:30 pm: Gen. Clark visits Calhoun's on the River before the University of Tennessee basketball game, Knoxville, Tenn. — 6:00 pm: Gov. Dean attends a town hall meeting at the Northwest Activity Center, Detroit, Mich. — 7:00 pm: Sen. Edwards speaks about jobs at Patrick Henry High School, Roanoke, Va. — 7:00 pm: Gen. Clark attends the Tennessee-University of Connecticut women's basketball game, Knoxville, Tenn. — 7:30 pm: Rep. Kucinich attends a rally at Gonzaga University, Seattle, Wash. — 8:30 pm: Gov. Dean attends a rally at Renaissance High School, Detroit, Mich. — 8:45 pm: Rep. Kucinich speaks at the Spokane County Democratic Jefferson Jackson Day Dinner, Spokane, Wash.


The Note likes to project an image of being disciplined, principled, tough on crime and communists, and deeply supportive of family values.

But The Note also knows that if we don't spend EVERY day (re-)defining ourselves that way, one of our opponents will define us as weak, possessed of a cable-news-like sensibility, and permissive.

For those readers who don't work in politics or political journalism directly, allow us to let you in on the biggest dirty little secret in our world right now: There is extraordinary pressure to begin covering the Bush v. Kerry general election matchup immediately.

This pressure comes from many quarters and on many fronts.

But before anyone gets all hot and bothered about what the Massachusetts Supreme Court is doing to John Kerry's life, read the end of Tom DeFrank's New York Daily News story:

"Bush political aides say the President is walking a political tightrope. Espousing traditional values is an electoral winner, Bush believes. But a constitutional amendment or legislative remedies could backfire." LINK

"'There's a live-and-let-live attitude out there,' a Bush political source noted. 'Strengthening marriage is great for us. But when you start talking about what you're going to do about it, your opponents will make it look like you're punishing gays, which isn't great.'"

Fantasizing about a 50-state election is all well and good, but as both Ellen Malcolm and Matt Dowd know, this battle is about the electoral votes of the citizens of fewer than 20 states, and, increasingly, the real players on both sides see this election coming down to one thing: defining John Kerry in the hearts and minds of people in Orlando and Cleveland and comparably vital places.

Along these important lines, there is only one must-read today -- Robin Toner's nostalgic magical mystery tour (somewhere, Lee Atwater is smiling, and Ron Kaufman is stroking his chin) -- a look at whether John Kerry (2004) can be Dukakisized.

Bernie Weinraub, Sam Donaldson, Kim Hume, Tom Edsall, and T.R. Reid are going to feel all tingly and golden oldie reading this one.

Toner writes up the Republican's "familiar" line of attack against Sen. John Kerry. LINK

Note the key phrases "out of sync," "culturally out of step" and Massachusetts liberal. Also Note the focus on the gay marriage matter.

Note also the specter of the partial birth abortion issue, and this toughest of tough gal/guy quote:

"Another Kerry adviser was more blunt. 'This is not the Dukakis campaign,' the adviser said. 'We're not going to take it. And if they're going to come at us with stuff, whatever that stuff may be, if it goes to a place where the '88 campaign did, then everything is on the table. Everything.'"

The mind boggles . . .

On many levels, John Kerry has grown so strong, and his Democratic opponents so weak, that he seems able now to be suddenly running on a Clintonesque general election message of solider/prosecutor/Gramm-Rudman-Hollings supporter.

Every BC04RNC utterance and press release is clearly intended to decimate those impressions.

And we are ALL going to need a scorecard larger and more nuanced than a Frank Luntz MSNBC focus group to keep track of how this is going each and every day.

Beyond the Toner must-read, here are the things your eyes should rest on ASAP:

1. The Los Angeles Times' David Savage and Richard Serrano have more reporting on Supreme Court Justice Scalia's previously known duck hunting trip with the Vice President -- adding narrative detail galore, most Notably that Mr. Justice traveled down with the Veep on a small government plane that served as Air Force Two, raising questions for some about Scalia's impartiality on the upcoming case on Cheney's energy task force.

"Aides to Cheney say the vice president, like the president, is entitled to travel to vacation spots on government jets and to take along guests at no cost," the Times reports. LINK

We like any story with a Red-Blue sentence this fabulous: "It was terrible…There were very few ducks killed."

2. (Note to Terry Holt: please don't think us reprehensible for including this one)…The Boston Globe's national treasure -- Walter Robinson -- finally unfurls his updated take on the President's National Guard service. LINK

Amateurs and pros alike will devour every syllabalic morsel of this one.

The heart of Robby's take: "records contain evidence that a lackadaisical Bush did not report for required Guard duty for a full year during his six-year National Guard enlistment."

3. For anyone wondering if John Kerry is tough enough to stand up to Karl Rove, check out how he did against Campbell "Cammy" Brown on Today today:









We wonder what John Sasso and Michael Whouley think of that "absolutely."

4. The exclusive, "shoe-leather" work of the AP's John Solomon, who magically obtained documents showing what John Kerry did for a big insurer (AIG) with big Big Dig problems. LINK

The story gets next to no TV or paper pickup (ask yourself why, Ed Gillespie), but, believe us, it is a sign of things to come, and to the extent that these stories define John Kerry for those battleground state voters -- instead of Vanessa and Chris town meetings -- well, it COULD be a re-run of '88.

Sen. Kerry is in Maine today.

Sen. Edwards is in Tennessee and Virginia

Gen. Clark is in Tennessee.

Gov. Dean is in Michigan.

Rep. Kucinich is in Washington.

Rev. Al Sharpton has no public events.

President Bush travels to South Carolina this morning to speak about homeland security.

The politics of gay marriage:

The Washington Post's David von Drehle writes that the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court's decision "has virtually guaranteed that the issue will be a wedge in this year's political campaigns." LINK

Pam Belluck of the New York Times also sees it in the fore this election season. LINK

And everyone, everywhere, Notes that the first marriages will likely happen two months before the Democratic National Convention in . . . Boston.

The New York Times' Stevenson reports that "conservative groups said the White House had informed them that the president would soon endorse efforts to pass an amendment to the United States Constitution defining marriage to be between a man and a woman." LINK

Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney in the Wall Street Journal today urges "my fellow governors and all state legislators to review and, if necessary, strengthen the laws concerning marriage" and that "Amending the Constitution may be the best and most reliable way to prevent such confusion and preserve the institution of marriage."

The Boston Globe's Lewis does the daily news chores. LINK

The Boston Globe's Greenberger writes about how the Bay State's court has one-upped its Vermont counterparts. LINK

Elizabeth Mehren of the Los Angeles Times writes, "The controversy may remind conservative voters that he comes from a liberal state." LINK

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

Knight Ridder's Hutcheson looks at how questions about the President's leadership have "forced him the defensive" -- the President has "reversed course on the need for an investigation into prewar intelligence in Iraq, reluctantly agreed to extend a probe into the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and fended off questions about his military service." LINK

President Bush travels to South Carolina today on an official visit that comes just two days after the Democratic primary there. LINK

AP's Lindlaw previews the President's trip to South Carolina, where he will address port safety and the decision to invade Iraq. LINK

Lee Bandy says that when the President hits Charleston today, "he will find a growing number of anxious Republicans who are worried about his re-election prospects." LINK

And the New York Post's Deborah Orin writes that GOP grassroots loyalists are grumbling that "an out-of-touch President Bush is blowing it" in the debate on the economy, jobs and the lack of WMD in Iraq. LINK

The President sat down with the Republican Party's top donors yesterday at an RNC "donor maintenance" luncheon in Washington. AP's Ashton reports that dining with the President -- "the RNC's Team 100, a roster of donors who have given at least $25,000 during the most recent two-year election cycle; and the 'Regents,' donors who have contributed $50,000." LINK

The New York Times' Tom Friedman thinks that conservatives could wake up one day "in November and find that while Mr. Bush focused on the home front, his foreign policy created the 'Islamic Republic of Iraq' and the 'Islamic Republic of Palestine.'" LINK

ABC 2004: The Democratic nomination fight:

The Wall Street Journal's Rogers reports that the next few weeks will bring "gritty internal party politics" but also offer Kerry "a window to expand his campaign beyond what has been a populist-sounding fight against Washington "special interests" and the privileged."

A Note tip to future would-be presidential candidates of either major party: if you want David Rogers to fall in love with you, make sure you fought in a war before the first interview you have with him.

Don't believe the extraordinarily misguided front-page Wall Street Journal story by some editor who slapped the names of Harwood, Cummings, and Schlesinger on a mess of a story which claims that John Kerry's chances of a general election win will be somehow reduced if he is forced to battle it out through early March and if he is forced to become slightly more rhetorically protectionist.

The story breathlessly says that Kerry's failure to sweep the Feb. 3 contents has led to "a risk that the race for the nomination could veer in a direction that damages the eventual nominee and aids Mr. Bush in the general election that follows."

CNN's Ron Brownstein (who moonlights for the Los Angeles Times) looks at lessons learned from the compressed Democratic nomination schedule: "momentum trumps money and organization." LINK

More Brownstein: "The wave propelling Kerry is so powerful that it threatens to overwhelm one of the most reliable laws of modern presidential campaigns. Since 1984, the candidate who raised the most money in the year before the voting has won each major party's presidential nomination. But Dean now appears a long shot despite collecting about $41 million in 2003 - the most by any Democrat in the year prior to primary season."

Iowa and New Hampshire -- rejoice!!!

Adam Clymer also writes of the Dems' bunched-up nomination season and the impact it has on all those states that come after Iowa. Says Clymer, "there has to be a middle ground. The perception of a Kerry steamroller may so cripple his opponents' fund-raising that there is no chance for second thoughts about the current front-runner, whose Senate record consists of 19 years of votes but few great causes." LINK

The Washington Post's Tom Edsall writes, "This is the stage in the presidential nomination fight in which money flows to winners and steadily dries up for the rest of the field. For challengers, the less money they have, the more states they must skip -- and concede." LINK

There's good color in here about Clark, Edwards, and Kerry.

"The notable thing about these three is how much they agree on -- and how willing Democratic voters are to accept their credentials," writes David Broder. LINK

The AP's Theimer looks at where the money is flowing right now. Take a guess. LINK

The AP's Ron Fournier writes that Kerry's rivals are ceding many states to the frontrunner and "covering their retreat with fresh claims that he is a flip-flopping Washington insider." LINK

The Wall Street Journal's Cummings thinks that billionaire Democratic donor George Soros is "the most important money man in the Democratic Party this election year."

With Kerry down in Boston and Dean out West, Clark and Edwards yesterday "said they would make Tuesday's Tennessee contest the next major test of this elimination contest." LINK

The New York Times' Purdum and Elder Note Edwards' success among independent voters and voters looking for a candidate who cares about people like them as they write of the possible Edwards opening in the Kerry juggernaut. LINK

The Boston Globe's Kornblut and Mishra write about how Edwards is targeting Kerry very strategically -- and optimistically, of course. LINK

The Boston Globe's Oliphant advises Kerry to not take Edwards lightly. LINK

Bob Novak has a nice, thematic overview of the Southern contests. LINK

George Will believes the Democrats still fundamentally misread the South. LINK

The Washington Post's editorial board warns of roadblocks for Kerry: "The voters' connections with him are fragile, based less on enthusiasm for Mr. Kerry than on antipathy for Mr. Bush. If Mr. Kerry falters in the days ahead, Democrats could easily switch allegiances once more." LINK

The Los Angeles Times' Glionna and Slater explore the Edwards and Clark Southern strategies and Note Clark's new line of attack focused squarely on Kerry and Edwards. LINK

The AP's Fouhy reports that in order "to catch Kerry [Clark] needs to beat Edwards in a Southern state.'" LINK

Alexander Bolton of The Hill Notes the support Dems continue to build among war veterans, especially Kerry, and the scrambling the GOP is doing to catch up in anticipation of the sway America's more than 25 million military veterans may have over November's election. LINK

Lizzie Andrews of The Hill Notes that House members from upcoming primary battleground states are heading home to stump for their presidential candidates. LINK

House of Labor:

Ah, the doors keep opening and shutting in the big House of Labor.

ABC News' Gayle Tzemach reports that Camp Edwards' sustained and earnest courtship has paid off as the fine folks at UNITE, the Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees -- who say they represent 250,000 members -- plan to endorse the North Carolina senator. Look for an event with Edwards and his first national union backers "by Saturday."

And this morning the unions formerly known as Gephardt backers will meet with pack-leading Sen. John Kerry at 8:30 am in Beantown. And look for the head of the newly pro-Kerry American Federation of Teachers, Sandra Feldman, to campaign for her candidate in Michigan Friday.

Finally, Tzemach reports that the meeting that was scheduled to take place today in Detroit among Gov. Howard Dean and the presidents of the three major unions backing him is now O-F-F. Sources involved in the gathering say the meeting has been tentatively rescheduled for Saturday in Burlington. Stay tuned . . .

The Los Angeles Times' Gerstenzang writes up labor's second look at the Democratic nomination fight:

"With the Democratic Party speeding toward anointment of a nominee to oppose President Bush, some of the most powerful unions are again shopping for a favorite. And the remaining candidates are renewing their courtship." LINK

Lawrence M. O'Rourke at the Raleigh News Observer argues that this nomination season, Big Labor has been neither right nor powerful. LINK


The Boston Globe's Sanders previews Washington, Noting that "Kerry is picking up support, according to political strategists, and his record of environmental protection -- as well as his growing campaign bankrolls and his increasing momentum -- appear to be presenting a problem for Dean in the state as they have elsewhere." LINK

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer predicts "doom" for Dean if he loses in Washington state. LINK

But Rep. Kucinich is hopeful... LINK

Packed houses, but few problems, and many crossed fingers.... the state Democratic Party hopes for a smooth caucus in Washington state. LINK

The AP quotes Washington Democratic Chairman Paul Berendt predicting a Dean win. LINK


Johnny Apple thinks Edwards would have been well served had he campaigned strongly in Michigan instead of focusing on Tennessee and Virginia, which "should help him do well but would hardly burnish his national credentials." LINK

USA Today's Kiely writes that Kerry is expected to be the winner while the losers may include Michigan and industrial unions. LINK

The Detroit Free Press and the Detroit News write that Kerry is killing the competition in Michigan -- and, sadly for the local press, all the fun too. LINK and LINK

Great Lakes water diversion is an issue on Michigan voters' minds, and here's how the candidates addressed it (sort of). LINK

The Detroit News' Ryan has what's on the minds of black voters. LINK

The AP's Pickler writes about how no one is trying to foil Kerry this weekend, and Notes that Clark considered dropping out this past Tuesday. LINK

The Detroit Free Press offers a caucus primer. LINK

Feb. 10:

Dana Hull and Tim Funk of Knight Ridder Note Clark's and Edwards' attention to the South this next week as both candidates spend time in Tennessee and Virginia campaigning to pull in support. LINK

The Washington Post reports on the candidates' efforts in Virginia. LINK

The Richmond Times-Dispatch Notes the arrival of Sen. Edwards, Gen. Clark and Sen. Kerry to the Commonwealth. Edwards is introducing Virginians to his "Two Americas," Clark is beginning a bus tour (Note: and continuing to pay his Virginia-based staff), and Kerry is advertising in the expensive Northern Virginia market. LINK

The Tennessean looked at the campaign finance filings and discovered John Edwards raised the most campaign cash in 2003 from the state. LINK

South Carolina:

Henry Eichel at the Charlotte Observer sees the South Carolina Democrats cheering a record primary turnout of 280,000. LINK


Stuart Rothenberg, writing for Roll Call, sees the end of the primary season in sight: Kerry's Mo' is unbeatable.

In the New York Post, the Boston Herald's Howie Carr lets New Yorker in on the "Do you know who I am?" thing of which John Kerry is so fond. LINK

The Boston Globe reports that three of its own reporters are working on a Kerry paperback bio set for release in April. LINK

The New York Daily News' Connor writes up the Kerry biography. LINK

Cam Kerry as plumber? Page Six peeks at his antics from the Watergate era. LINK

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

BOSTON, Feb. 4 - Sen. John Kerry was down in Boston Wednesday, making no public appearances since deboarding the Miami Air 737 which brought the Senator overnight from Seattle, Wash. to the foot of his tinted-window black Sedan idling on the tarmac.

Shielded from the traveling press, Kerry spent most of his "down" day raising funds, courting endorsements, and strategizing the campaign's next moves.

Kerry remains on the air with two ads rotating statewide in Virginia, including Washington, D.C. stations covering Northern Virginia, and Tennessee. "Del" and "Alston" each feature a fellow Kerry swift boat Vietnam veteran extolling the virtues of their former officer.

The Kerry campaign will not air ads in Washington state or Michigan, both of which hold contests this Saturday, and the Senator and his senior staff have not yet made the decision on whether or not to go up in the potential showdown state of Wisconsin.

On Thursday, Kerry makes his first trip to Maine since the Pine Tree State's Jefferson-Jackson Dinner last November, hoping prominent endorsements and momentum carry him through to victory Sunday.

Kerry will then make a quick fundraising trip to New York before positioning in Detroit for a day of campaigning in Michigan before spending the weekend in Virginia.

Read more from the trail with Kerry on LINK


The New York Post has Edwards' hoped-for $200,000 take in New York and New Jersey yesterday. LINK

The New York Times' Randy Archibold reports that the Edwards campaign is wrestling how to convince voters beyond the South of Edwards' viability as a presidential candidate, focusing on Wisconsin. LINK

Tim Funk with the Charlotte Observer observes John Edwards pressing his message about American jobs throughout the South. LINK

John Wagner at the Raleigh News Observer sees John Edwards taking his message around the South, but argues that he is not only a regional candidate. LINK

The Raleigh News Observer's Dan Kane, Lynn Bonner and John Wagner Note John Edwards running the money race and trying to connect with Joe Lieberman's supporters. LINK

Bartholomew Sullivan at the Memphis Commercial Appeal saw John Edwards come to Memphis yesterday emphasizing that he can win the South from Bush. LINK

Read more from the trail with Edwards on LINK


Dean is holding out for Wisconsin's Feb. 17 primary while "aides and supporters are privately predicting the end to one of the wildest, most unpredictable and most innovative presidential campaigns of recent times," writes the Washington Post's VandeHei and Finer. LINK

"Dean told reporters on his campaign plane yesterday that 'nobody has called me' about withdrawing. But several supporters privately said they will soon approach Dean about dropping out if the weekend goes badly. Dean remained defiant, however, telling a Seattle TV station yesterday that 'I'm not bowing out no matter what happens' on Saturday."

Though supporters say they need to see a victory soon, Dean vows to stay in the race, report the New York Times' Seelye and Wilgoren. Do see both the Jackson and Rivera comments in this one. LINK

It's Wisconsin or bust for Team Dean now, writes the Chicago Tribune's Piercin' Rick Pearson. LINK

The Boston Globe's Glen Johnson gives a prognosis of the Dean campaign, including Dean's self-diagnosis that Washington (D.C.) is hinging on Washington (state). LINK

The AP's Ammons writes about why Dean could very well find the lifeline he needs in Washington state. LINK

Johanna Neuman and Nick Anderson of the Los Angeles Times take a look at Dean's less rowdy support from his prominent endorsers. LINK

"But many on Capitol Hill who loudly supported Dean are now much harder to find for comments on the campaign. A half dozen did not return calls; an aide to one congressman said his boss would not be calling back because 'there have been a lot of changes in the campaign.'"

Winning delegates in Washington state and Michigan in the next round of caucuses on February 7 is vital to Dean's viability as a candidate, reports Thomas Fitzgerald of Knight Ridder, and the Governor is attempting to make a stand in both, though he is less optimistic about Michigan, where Democratic establishments largely back Kerry. LINK

Read more from the trail with Dean on LINK


The New York Times' Ed Wyatt picks up on Gen. Clark's attacking Kerry and Edwards by name yesterday. LINK

Jody Callahan at the Memphis Commercial Appeal calls Tennessee "make or break" for Wes Clark. LINK

From ABC News' Clark campaign reporter Deborah Apton:

NASHVILLE, TENN., Feb. 4 -- Gen. Clark has said from the very beginning that he's running a positive campaign and is avoiding attacking his fellow Democrats in the race. And throughout Clark's campaign so far, the press has been waiting for him to go negative on his opponents. So on Wednesday morning, when Clark finally went on the attack against "the Johns," accusing them of voting for congressional measures in support of No Child Left Behind, the Patriot Act, and the war in Iraq, it must have been a surprise to the campaign when the remarks made very little news.

(Except perhaps for a misguided statement that reporters picked up on in Clark's comments at a press availability: "We've done a lot of criticism about tax cuts for the wealthy -- John Edwards, John Kerry voted for tax cuts for the wealthy." Neither Kerry nor Edwards voted for the tax cuts that passed in 2001 and 2003.)

The story reporters keep coming back to is whether or not Clark can or will remain in the race.

Midday Wednesday, news began to spread among the traveling press corps that Clark campaign staffers had taken a vote in the Little Rock, Ark., headquarters to forgo their paychecks for the next week leading up to the Feb. 10 primaries in Tennessee and Virginia. The democratic vote, as chief strategist Chris Lehane said, ended in 250 staffers giving up their pay for one week to help finance a competitive campaign in Tennessee. They do not expect the paychecks to be reimbursed later. Clark campaign press secretary Bill Buck says the campaign will save around $240,000. Field staffers in Michigan, Tennessee, Virginia, and Wisconsin, however, will remain on payroll.

On the ground traveling with The General, one staffer learned he wouldn't be paid this week when press broke the news to him. Another staffer in the traveling band joked, "I guess Little Rock didn't get our absentee ballots."

As for the look of the Clark campaign -- well, Clark's physical look has changed. It seems Mrs. Clark, who is back on the road with her husband, has been helping him dress for success. Besides sporting a new hairstyle (a little less comb-over and messed; a little more volume and styled), his blue-collared shirt was a little more open around the neck and he looked a bit more casual.

On Wednesday, Clark bought ad time on TV and radio in Tennessee for $133,000 to air "Secretary." The campaign is said to be looking into buys in Virginia too, but will not go up in Michigan. Prior to Feb. 3, the Clark campaign had heavy ad rotations in Tennessee, Virginia, and Wisconsin. The campaign is unsure as to what time they will re-buy in Wisconsin.

And the Clark campaign has a new fundraising bat (or train in this case) on their Web site to raise $700,000 by midnight, Feb. 11 -- or "$700,000 in 7 days." As of last night, the campaign raised $256,398. Since the apparent win in Oklahoma yesterday, one campaign source claims to ABC News that the campaign has raised over $150,000 on Internet alone; with phone and some mail, the campaign claims to have raised over $250,000 in the 24 hours since Oklahoma.

Read more from the trail with Clark on LINK


Al Sharpton was "stunned" by his South Carolina showing, reports the New York Times' Slackman, and may lose influence at home because of it. LINK

Read more from the trail with Sharpton on LINK


The New York Times' Diane Cardwell on the Lieberman campaign's hometown end. LINK

David Lightman of the Hartford Courant eulogizes Sen. Joe Lieberman's presidential bid. LINK

The Wall Street Journal editorial page admires Joe Lieberman. In Roll Call, Mort Kondracke thinks that it's a shame for Joe Lieberman that the political spectrum no longer has a center.

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

We bet a good time was had by all last night at the we-bet-some-think-aptly-named New York Society for Ethical Culture when the Ickes-Malcolm-Rosenthal All-Star Trio met Gotham stars to talk about "what it will take to prevent the advancement of the current right-wing agenda and help Democrats win" in a presentation organized by America Coming Together and the Media Fund.

After the pre-event press conference, actor/writer Larry David and writer Eric Alterman engaged in animated conversation, producing a concentration of misanthropy not seen since Moliere's Alceste first took the stage.

Also on the horizon, the folks at Shirley & Banister tell us their own hearty line-up of Frank Donatelli, George Terwilliger and Craig Shirley of the newly formed Americans for a Better Country will be on hand when the FEC holds hearings on the group's Advisory Opinion request this morning.

We'll be watching closely. Commissioners will decide whether to use federal election activities as the "benchmark," (the phrase is lawyer James Bopp's) for determining the extent to which certain fundraising and spending laws should apply to advocacy groups set up as 527s that refer to federal candidates. Basic question: when is a 527 a bonafide political committee?

Here's the agenda: LINK

We bet we have not heard the end of this story, nor the end of the Ney Committee's discussion on this one . . .

And since we're big believers in the "understand the players" ethos, here's the Washington Post's Tom Edsall's look at new FEC commissioner Bradley A. Smith. LINK

Big casino budget politics:

Might the transportation spending bill lead to President Bush's first veto? The Los Angeles Times has a look at the collision for which the President and Republican controlled Congress are headed. LINK

Politics Live:

Even as the winnowing process has started, Note readers stay loyal to the process and need their political news just like they need water. That's why there is Politics Live, a news program to watch on at 1 p.m. ET every day. It's short, sweet, to the point, and covers the day's political developments.

C'mon, take a sip.

To watch a clip of yesterday's show, here's a link. LINK

AOL subscribers, don't you worry, you can watch it too.

But you can't tell the players without a program -- which means ya gotta sign up to have ABC News Live delivered right to your desktop. We don't underestimate the power of customer service around here. LINK

ABC 2004: The Campaign Bus Logs:

As the campaigns go national, so do our campaign buses. Here's a behind-the-scenes look at their daily logs.

From ABC News Blue Bus producer Michael Kreisel:

PAINFUL CONVERSATION OF THE DAY: Michael to Restaurant waitress: I have one question…Do you know how to get to Honest John's Bar and Grill? (We were going there to shoot a meeting of Dean supporters).

Waitress: "Yes I do" (Then she walks away)

OVERHEARD CONVERSATION OF THE DAY: Man #1: "Who are they?" Man #2: "They say they are from ABC News" Man #1: "They are probably lying!"