The Note

Today's Schedule (all times Eastern):

—8:00 am: Senator Joe Lieberman makes remarks at a breakfast sponsored by the Voter Education Project, Columbia, S.C. —9:00 am: Congressman Dennis Kucinich officially announces his presidential candidacy, St. Louis —9:30 am: Senator Lieberman holds a roundtable discussion with single mothers, Columbia, S.C. —9:30 am: Senate convenes for legislative business —10:30 am: Senator John Kerry makes remarks on senior issues, Mason City, Iowa —11:45 am: Governor Howard Dean meets with Van Buren County Democrats, Keosauqua, Iowa —12:15 pm: Congressman Kucinich speaks at the Willkie House, Des Moines —1:00 pm: Senator Lieberman meets with customers at Hyman's Seafood Company, Charleston, S.C. —1:50 pm: President Bush participates in a roundtable discussion on the economy and housing at Ruiz Foods, Dinuba, Calif. —2:00 pm: Governor Dean meets with Marion County Democrats, Knoxville, Iowa —2:00 pm: House convenes for legislative business —2:15 pm: President Bush makes remarks on the economy and housing at Ruiz Foods, Dinuba, Calif. —4:00 pm: AARP Iowa Democratic presidential candidates forum, Des Moines —4:00 pm: Reverend Al Sharpton speaks to students at Claflin University, Orangeburg, S.C. —5:00 pm: General Wesley Clark holds a media availability with Governor Bill Richardson, Santa Fe —5:45 pm: General Clark tours a non-profit that provides meals for disabled and chronically ill people, Santa Fe —4:15 pm: President Bush attends a Bush-Cheney 2004 luncheon fundraiser, Fresno, Calif. —6:45 pm: Governor Dean meets with Story County Democrats, Story City, Iowa —7:00 pm: Senator John Edwards meets with Jasper County Democrats, Newton, Iowa —7:00 pm: Congressman Dick Gephardt meets with Polk County Democrats, Des Moines —7:30 pm: Senator Kerry meets with Mahaska County Democrats, Oskaloosa, Iowa —8:00 pm: Ambassador Carol Moseley Braun attends a town hall forum at Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa —8:30 pm: Senator Edwards meets with Democratic activists at Grinnell College, Grinnell, Iowa —9:00 pm: General Clark attends a private campaign fundraiser, Las Vegas —9:05 pm: President Bush attends a Bush-Cheney 2004 reception fundraiser, Riverside, Calif.

NEWS SUMMARY

We find it positively extraordinary the amount of planning that is going on in the Bush campaign, at the DNC, on 527 Row, and in the presidential campaigns on the assumption that a Democratic presidential nominee will be chosen by the first week of March at the latest.

Of course, we also find it extraordinary that people act as if there IS a de facto nominee by then that it will mean that front-loading the caucus/primary calendar will have produced a nominee far earlier than usual (when, in fact, presidential nominees are usually determined by the third week of March at the latest).

All the Bush fundraising/spending stories; all the Dean "busta cap" stories; all the network budget planning; all the anchor vacation schedules; all the (public) Democratic candidate calendar strategizing — all of that seems to assume a world in which there is an early Democratic nominee.

As we have long argued, every cycle in the modern (post-"Chico and the Man") era has featured a nominating process in which Iowa and New Hampshire are solely about wins/momentum/expectations (and not delegate accumulation), and the impact on determining the nominee of subsequent contests moves along a continuum, with each successive day of elections increasingly less about wins/momentum/expectations, and more about delegate accumulation — moving with more speed on the Democratic side because they don't have winner-take-all events.

So before the president's impending trip to Asia gets everyone back to making inevitable (and inevitably haunting) 41/43 comparisons, stop what you are doing and read all of Walter Shapiro's brilliant, nearly-accessible-to-normal-people explanation of (as they say on the Upper West Side) why this presidential election cycle just might be different than all other presidential election cycles.

Shapiro has a thoughtful and slightly introspective must-read about conventional wisdom regarding the significance of: winning Iowa and New Hampshire, having the most money, and trying to fit circle-peg candidates into square-hole historical models. LINK

(But Walter, Walter, Walter: busting the caps for Dean is SO much more about the general election than about the nomination! YOU of all people. In a piece otherwise so comfortingly brilliant … .)

Then read Congressman Rahm Emanuel's (D-Wrigley Field) important op-ed in the Wall Street Journal on how the Democratic presidential candidates should be for tax reform and tax fairness and stop being tricked by the president into a debate on the past and the Bush tax cuts.

Funny there is no mention here that Emanuel supports Wes Clark, and no indication that Clark is taking this seemingly smart advice.

As for the president, he is only two or so news cycles away from being faced with comparisons to his dad (and threatened with the possibility that in this Punk'd/Internet word, someone might actually show the video of 41 losing it on the Japanese PM, at least streamed on the Web).

And if BC04 Republicans can't believe their delight at how nasty and negative things are getting between the Democrats, the Democrats can't believe how much morphing of 43 into 41 is still going on.

There's the notion that the election day economy is already "baked in the cake" (both Will and Gigot have now trotted that out on Sunday mornings), and there ain't nothing a President can do.

There is the resistance to open campaigning, beyond the Rose Garden (They will laugh and laugh and laugh about that at Olive's today.)

John Snow IS starting to look a bit like Nick Brady around the eyes.

And the globe-trotting Don Evans is turning positively Mosbacherian in the eyes of Democrats.

On the other hand, we think The General said it best in the desert:

" … I think it's a little — I think it's really embarrassing that a group of candidates up here are working on changing the leadership in this country and can't get their own story straight."

In candidate rhetoric and campaign e-mail, the gloves are SO off on the donkey side, with Dr. Dean's particular brand of "I'm not going to attack my opponents like they are attacking me, at least not in this sentence, but get ready for a shift in the next sentence" getting the "hypocrisy" label from some rivals.

Nobody is predicting (yet) that Bush will open the Good Doctor up like a soft peanut, but it sure feels like we will be at that rhetorical level by the time we get to Dick Clark's New Year's Rocking Eve.

It's one of our patented political three-ring circuses today, with the AF1/Cali POTUS road show; Democratic candidates talking to the 30-something-but-thinks-like-an-old-person Chuck Todd at an AARP event in Iowa; and wherever George Clooney is at any given time.

President Bush heads to the Golden State today to make a speech on the economy and housing and attend a pair of Bush-Cheney 2004 fundraisers.

General Clark appeared on ABC's Good Morning America and CBS' Early Show today in New York City. He heads to New Mexico for another public service speech and then on to Las Vegas for a private campaign fundraiser.

Senator Kerry, Governor Dean, Congressman Gephardt, Senator Edwards, Representative Kucinich, and Ambassador Moseley Braun all campaign in Iowa today.

The six of them will take part in that AARP presidential candidates forum in Des Moines. The candidates will be on the stage together and thus able to engage one another and (if they're up to it) maybe Mr. Todd too. A good chunk of the forum will focus on Medicare.

While we are on the topic of healthcare (kinda sorta with Medicare being a big topic at today's forum), here's a quick programming Note: ABC News is devoting next week to a comprehensive series looking at the state of healthcare in America across all of its broadcasts and platforms. That's next week on ABC News.

Senator Lieberman and Reverend Sharpton campaign in South Carolina today.

And needless to say for all of you squirming in your seats waiting to count da money … .today is the deadline for FEC third quarter filings. Who will post first? Who will post last?

And who will post sixth? (You can read that last one in two different ways of course.)

The suspense is too intense!!!

And how many news organizations will actually obtain and analyze disbursements?

Every year on Rick Berke's birthday, we silently apologize to him for ever doubting for even a minute that he could make the transition from world-class, Marriott-point-acquiring political reporter to world-class editor.

How wrong we were.

Happy birthday, from The Note to the Pride of Walt Whitman High School, who still (despite what we wrote above) has never topped his Nixon scoop.

ABC News Vote 2004: The Invisible Primary:

A new ABC News/ Washington Post found that if the 2004 presidential election were held today, 46% of Americans say they would vote for President Bush, while 47% would favor an unnamed Democratic candidate — a statistical dead heat and the president's weakest showing in a generic horse race poll.

One thing that might have the folks out in Courthouse breathing a tiny sigh of relief — the president's approval ratings stabilized after steadily declining over the last few weeks. President Bush has a 53% job approval rating — a career low but far better than the nadir of previous Presidents (Bill Clinton, 43%; Bush 41, 33%; Ronald Reagan 42%; Jimmy Carter, 28%.)

The poll also found that nearly six in 10 Americans consider U.S. casualties in Iraq "unacceptable" — twice as many than in April when Baghdad fell.

Other key numbers:

-- Fifty-one percent disapprove of President Bush's work on the economy and 47% disapprove on Iraq.

-- The president's 67% approval rating on handling terrorism matches the lowest since 9-11.

-- On the leak story (remember that one?) 39% say that the White House is "fully cooperating" in the investigation and more than eight in 10 still call it a serious matter; two thirds favor a special counsel to look into it.

Note to BC04: we hope you Noticed how leading Filter member the Washington Post played the poll as good news for y'all!!

Mark Simon of the San Francisco Chronicle writes up the Field Poll results, taken during the height of recall mania, and attempts to cast the presidential contest in pro-recall, pro-Schwarzenegger context. LINK

"The poll showed Bush running slightly behind the Democrats' newest candidate, retired Gen. Wesley Clark, among all California registered voters — and neck-and-neck with the other four major Democratic presidential candidates."

"Among nonpartisan voters, who strongly backed the recall and Schwarzenegger in last week's election, Bush is behind all five Democratic candidates."

In the Democratic horse race: Clark garners 17%, Dean and Lieberman are at 14%, Kerry's at 9% and Gephardt gets 5%.

The Des Moines Register 's Tom Beaumont previews today's AARP forum in Des Moines and examines how much these candidates seem to like the over-50 crowd in Iowa. LINK

David Broder argues that all the talk about tax cuts — either rolling back the Bush measures or repealing certain taxes in California — may just be hot air. The candidates who advocate them almost never acknowledge the legislative hurdles, or just plain hostile legislatures, that in the end, keep the talk only talk. The real debate, Broder (wackily) Notes, is trade policy. LINK

Clark:

The New York Times ' Seelye shows her reportorial dexterity by getting this into her story on Wesley Clark's "call to service."

Clark's "character has been questioned by some top military officials, notably Gen. Hugh Shelton, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who said at a forum in California last month that he had reservations about General Clark's character and integrity. General Shelton has declined to elaborate."

"Representative Charles B. Rangel, a Manhattan Democrat who has helped spearhead support for General Clark, accused General Shelton yesterday of 'character assassination.'" LINK

Ron Brownstein covered Clark's New York speech on his national service plan all the way from Washington and gets Clark policy director Jason Furman to put a $100 million/year price tag on the initiative. LINK

Howie Kurtz was there too. LINK

In calling for a civilian reserve force, The General said: "In the 21st century, we've learned that armies alone aren't enough." LINK

Deborah Orin leads with Clark's Yankees joke. On his national service plan: "His shortage of specifics didn't seem to bother his fans," Orin writes. LINK

Michael Blood of the Daily News does the Clinton-Clark connection story and walked away from a post-speech interview with this precious quote. LINK

"When asked if the Clintons would be part of his campaign effort if he wins the nomination, Clark didn't speculate."

"'I wouldn't even know how to answer a question like that,' he said."

Perhaps Al Gore could provide some advice to The General on that topic.

From ABC News' Clark campaign reporter Deborah Apton:

"The General sat down with Charlie Gibson on Good Morning America today."

"In reaction to a question about Mideast peace, Clark blamed the Bush Administration for waiting 'over a year without any serious effort to move forward with Mideast peace. It only started being concerned when Israel had to take action in the West Bank and then only because the administration claims to go to war with Iraq.' Clark said if he were in office, he would put somebody very high level in charge."

"When asked about his Katrina Swett/Iraqi resolution comments, The General borrowed a line from the Schwarzenegger handbook: 'Well, I don't remember all the specifics.'"

"After the interview, The General seemed confused about why he had been booked on the morning shows. It seems he thought he would have a chance to talk about his new book, 'Winning Modern Wars.'"

As mentioned above, Clark stopped by the Early Show as well — where he was asked, as someone who campaigned for Gray Davis in California, to discern the meaning of Arnold Schwarzenegger's victory.

Clark said: "I think the voters in California were angry. They were angry about budget deficits and angry about an economy that's not going anywhere and angry at people in power. I think it's a threat to the administration because this year the Americans are upset."

Kerry:

The Boston Globe 's Glen Johnson reports that Kerry "yesterday repeatedly questioned both [Dean's] and [Clark's] readiness to be president, as he closed out his most concentrated period of campaigning in New Hampshire yet." LINK

Johnson Notes: "After spending 90 minutes ticking through his efforts to block drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, unravel the scandal at the former Bank of Credit and Commerce International, and run for office without taking special-interest donations, the senator expanded his criticism to the Republican incumbent."

The Des Moines Register 's Tom Beaumont thinks it sounds like Kerry won't vote for the $87 billion. LINK

We never even pondered the concept of staking out "Buchanan and Press," but we would have suggested it to Paul Farhi if we had known that the elusive Bob Shrum was guest hosting yesterday.

And was that the Heinz cable debut??!!!

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

"On Tuesday in New Hampshire, Senator Kerry didn't proclaim himself the underdog; instead the four-term Senator labeled himself an underhorse."

"Speaking with reporters outside the Adult Learning Center in Nashua, NH, Kerry was asked if he relished running from behind; Kerry dismissed the analysis, expressed confidence in his campaign and said, 'Seabiscuit Kerry — that's me!'"

Dean:

Give-'Em-Hell-Howard ratchets up the politics of S.E. Hinton — Ponyboy, eat your heart out.

(And we gotta ask, who you calling a cockroach?) LINK

Roll Call 's Chris Cillizza reports that despite bashing his opponents as "Washington insiders," Howard Dean is "relying on a group of seasoned lobbyists and other Washington political operatives to help guide his own inside-the-Beltway efforts." LINK

"The group, which meets every two to three weeks, was organized by former Clinton administration official Maria Echaveste and Nikki Heidepriem, a former staffer to Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.). It includes roughly 25 people who assemble in an informal gathering of Capitol Hill staffers, lobbyists, lawyers, and employees of nonprofit and advocacy organizations."

"Among those who regularly attend the meetings are former Rep. Toby Moffett (D-Conn.), now a lobbyist affiliated with the Livingston Group; former" DNC vice chair "Lynn Cutler of Holland & Knight; and Christine Varney, a Hogan & Hartsen attorney who served as the general counsel on the first Clinton presidential bid and as a Federal Trade Commissioner from 1995 to 1997."

"Terry Lierman, a former Hill staffer, lobbyist and House candidate who now serves as Dean's national finance co-chair, is also a regular participant."

From ABC News' Dean campaign reporter Marc Ambinder:

"The campaign will release its official third quarter haul at noon ET Wednesday. Watch those cash on hand figures, but don't read too much into them — look at the money spent on polling and direct mail, tally up the media buys (into the several millions?) and try to figure out how much they spent flying nearly 500 Texans to Iowa and New Hampshire for a weekend of campaigning."

"A man considered by some to be the father of the Iowa caucuses is now lending his organizational expertise and his rolodex of Carter supporters to the Dean campaign."

"Tim Kraft, who ran Jimmy Carter's Iowa campaign in 1976 and 1980 said he hasn't visited Iowa since 1980 — (well, once, for a reunion dinner, in 1995) but he was immediately drawn to Dean because 'he was the only guy to question [the president's] insane Iraq policy.'"

"Carter came from nowhere, parked himself in Iowa, and won the caucus. By doing so, transformed the importance of that voting event and propelled his candidacy toward the nomination. Dean's surge is altogether different, but the governor likes to campaign his quest to Carter's."

"Kraft, who now lives in New Mexico and runs political campaigns for candidates in Latin America, said got a call from Dean's Iowa campaign manager Jeani Murray and jumped at the chance to help. Kraft will liaise with Carter's old supporters and advise them on caucus building."

Lieberman:

The Hartford Courant's David Lightman reports on the discussions within the Lieberman camp about whether or not to pull out of Iowa. LINK "The Lieberman camp has long been split over how much to contest Iowa. There has been talk that the state should be all but ignored, because Lieberman's pro-Iraq war stand and moderate views are a bad fit for the liberal, anti-war voters who tend to dominate the caucuses."

But many in the Lieberman camp believe that there is little to lose in Iowa. With expectations so low — he trails badly in the polls — even a modest showing would be noted. And the 'free media' he gets by showing up occasionally in a state where reporters are ubiquitous can't hurt either."

The Forward's Kessler writes, "In an echo of an earlier staff shake-up, Lieberman's finance operation lost the services of senior fundraising adviser Shari Yost and is losing Mid-Atlantic fundraising director Stephanie Friedman Schneider to a job at Jewish Women International, the campaign confirms."

" … Strategists said, however, that the losses may indicate that Lieberman's fundraising has hit a wall, because it is unusual for fundraisers to leave a campaign in midstream if it is going well."

ABC News' Lieberman campaign reporter Talesha Reynolds reports the campaign says Schneider's departure is in no way indicative of controversy, but that doesn't mean Lieberman's team isn't pursuing belt-tightening ways. LINK

(We bet the Lieberman camp is particularly pleased with the Lehane comments at story's bottom.)

Kucinich:

The Star Tribune's Bob von Sternberg writes that Kucinich received a rock-star style reception in Minneapolis. LINK

Kucinich made a pit stop in Oklahoma Tuesday, blasting international trade compacts and promising to end American involvement in Iraq. LINK

The AP's J.R. Ross wonders if the swing states will matter to Kucinich in next year's primary as he tries out his maverick image in Madison, Wisconsin. LINK

From ABC News Kucinich campaign reporter Melinda Arons:

"Kucinich continued to hopscotch the country Tuesday with a big smile on his face, regardless of his chances for the nomination. He started day two of the tour with several events in Albuquerque, including a fund raiser and speeches focusing on his main theme of 'getting the UN in and the U.S. out' of Iraq. Some within the campaign worry the phrase is too simplistic and people will be turned off by the idea of no U.S. participation in Iraq whatsoever, but Kucinich refuses to modify his stance, saying 'I want the U.S. out of Iraq period. We have no legitimate role there.' And there was another ancient Native American tribal dance, which is becoming something of a daily campaign event."

Edwards:

Sam Youngman reports that Edwards "continued to turn over every orange leaf in the Granite State Tuesday as he maintains his goal of 100 town hall meetings … ." LINK

"The basic elements of Edwards's campaign speech have remained consistent: Healthcare costs are way too high because of HMO and drug company lobbyists, President Bush has no strategy for getting out of Iraq, most of the Patriot Act is bad and civil rights are good."

The Boston Globe 's Susan Milligan reports on Edwards' decision to say "no" to the $87 billion. LINK

So does the News and Observer. LINK

From substitute Edwards campaign reporter Mark Halperin reporting from the Senator's Tuesday Concord High School town meeting:

"Using the precise words a post-presidency Bill Clinton once asked this reporter upon seeing him at the Delta Shuttle gate in Washington, Edwards asked me yesterday after the event: 'What are you doing here?"'

"I coulda/shoulda/woulda gone with a version of the famous Dan Rather/Richard Nixon exchange LINK, with something like, 'Senator, I was thinking of asking you that very question,' but instead I went with:"

"'Covering presidential politics.'"

"Best student question: 'What's your position on skateboarding?'"

"Best student hair: the guy who asked the final question (I think Hunter has a photo.)."

Sharpton:

From ABC News' Sharpton campaign reporter Beth Loyd:

"The biggest stars in hip-hop came out in force Tuesday night at Jay Z's club 40/40 to support Al Sharpton's candidacy. Rap mogul Russell Simmons showed first, saying he supports Sharpton and everything he stands for, but that he's given money to many Democratic candidates."

"Former Atlanta mayor Bill Campbell was there and vowed his support to the Sharpton campaign. Jay-Z arrived in his black Bentley and wouldn't talk to the press. P. Diddy, however, had some things to say."

"'I seen him out there on a rainy day,' he said of Sharpton. 'I seen him when it wasn't about votes. I seen him with the same type of passion when the cameras weren't around … Some of these candidates, I never heard of these people in my life. You know, Al Sharpton, you heard of him, whether you like what you heard or didn't like what you heard, you at least respect that he was doing something to help somebody out.'"

"Sharpton's campaign manager Charles Halloran, who orchestrated this event, wouldn't say how much they raised for the campaign. He said many people sent money (at $500 a head) and weren't able to come. He said he would be happy with $50,000."

New Hampshire:

Tentative no more: New Hampshire's primary is officially set for January 27, 2004. LINK

A UNH poll released Tuesday shows Dean with a 13 point lead over Kerry in New Hampshire. LINK

The poll shows Dean with 30, Kerry with 17, Clark with 10.

"All other candidates are in the single digits, but with" Lieberman "beating" Gephardt "for the first time in several months."

"Edwards also improves in this poll to tie with Gephardt."

Here's the link to the UNH poll: LINK

John DiStaso reports that "the percentage of undecided voters hasn't dropped from its mid-summer level of about 30 percent" despite an intensifying race. LINK

"Two prominent New Hampshire pollsters say" Dean "is doing the best job among the Democratic candidates attracting independent voters. But, say Dick Bennett and Rich Killion, the majority of independents remain undecided."

"Both pollsters say" Clark "has a resume that may attract independent voters, especially moderates who supported Republicans in other elections. But they say he appears to have already lost momentum generated by his entry into the race on Sept. 17."

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

The Washington Post 's Mike Allen and Claudia Deane look at the latest collaborative polling effort and also report that BC04 Campaign Manager Ken Mehlman held a meeting of trusted lobbyists, pundits, and pollsters (oh my!) last week at the campaign headquarters to talk strategy. The message to emerge from the meeting of the minds was "'Don't believe the stories that the sky is falling on this presidency.'"LINK

43/T3:

As President Bush meets Governor-elect Arnold Schwarzenegger in California, the Los Angeles Times team of Reynolds and Nicholas report "both sides have been carefully negotiating what each can deliver politically" but "neither man can be sure the other will deliver." LINK

AP's Scott Lindlaw looks at the potential gains for President Bush from the Golden State, where the 55 electoral votes are not an unrealistic goal for Republicans. LINK

Speaking of '04 and the GOP's golden egg, the Wall Street Journal 's Harwood says not so fast when it comes to putting all the southern states in the Red column — those governor's races are closer than you'd think, and Kentucky is no California.

President Bush speeds through Southeast Asia next week, visiting six countries in six days, on a trip that one official calls "'the trip from Al Qaeda hell.'" The New York Times reports that Bush will be moving even faster than he usually does (a 7-minute mile!) "because the Secret Service will not permit Mr. Bush to stay past dinner in a country whose army officers are sometimes of dubious loyalty and where terrorist groups still strike with audacity." LINK

For trip-goers, this is a must-read.

A group of Senate Democrats will try to add an amendment forcing Vice President Cheney to give up his financial stake in his former company Halliburton to the $87 billion Iraq reconstruction measure. The amendment "would also bar companies with current financial ties to the president, the vice president, or cabinet secretaries from receiving government contracts in Iraq." LINK

Is Pat Buchanan asking for Vice President Cheney to be removed from the 2004 ticket? Liz Smith says yes, indeed. LINK

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

The money, the money — the staggering amounts of money.

From Bush-Cheney '04 campaign reporter Karen Travers:

"The Bush-Cheney campaign reported its 3rd quarter fundraising figures yesterday — a whopping $49.5 million raised since August 1."

"The campaign has raised a total of $85.2 million to use toward the re-election effort and has about $70 million in cash on hand at the start of this month. Of the total raised, $70.2 million came from campaign events with the president, vice president, and First Lady and $12.5 million from direct mail."

"Campaign Manager Ken Mehlman told reporters on a conference call Tuesday that the campaign had no plans to start running television ads yet or how it would spend the large war chest it has amassed, but defended the drive to reach its fundraising goal of $170 million. 'I think we are likely to face a very strong barrage of soft money from special-interest groups that are already out there' and supporting the Democrats, Mehlman said. 'The president is not focused on politics. There is obviously a large number of people, volunteers who are raising resources but the president is not spending a huge amount of time on politics.'"

"The campaign has raised about $2.1 million on the Internet, but Mehlman was confident that the campaign has a strong network established on the Internet, with over six million 'e-activists' working at the grass roots level online."

"The campaign posted the updated list of Rangers, Pioneers and newly-created Mavericks on its Web site yesterday. There are about 100 Rangers who have raised at least $200,000 and 184 Pioneers who have raised at least $100,000. The Mavericks are a new group that is made up of about 20 supporters under the age of 40 who have raised $50,000."

"While these top donors' full names and states are listed, the amount they raised will not be on the Web site. 'The full disclosure we provide is above and beyond the law of what is required,' Mehlman said."

Other national political reporters weigh in on the $70 million in spending money and what the White House (we mean: "the campaign") plans to do with it:

Los Angeles Times: LINK

New York Times : LINK

Washington Post : LINK

Wall Street Journal : LINK

New York Post : LINK

AP: LINK

Battleground state Florida has produced more Rangers for the Bush campaign than California, New York and even the president's native Texas. The St. Petersburg Times reports Florida already has raised about $6 million for the Bush-Cheney re-election effort, compared to $5.7 million in 2000. LINK

Building on their Sunshine State support, President Bush and Vice President Cheney will hit up donors in southwest Florida in the next few weeks, reports the Bonita Daily News. LINK

The politics of national security:

Last eve's "Capital Report" featured Tucker Eskew waxing poetic on The Filter and its failure to tell the Truth in Full.

We ask, in the most earnest tone we know (and we know many!) are we "some of the press?"

BORGER: But lots of Democrats are saying to us, the filter if you will, in the press, that we have given George W. Bush a free ride on this, that we have not been critical enough of this president. What do you say to that?

Mr. ESKEW: Well, we're not going to engage in the partisan back-and-forth. I will say there are plenty of times where we disagree with the press and disagree with their perspective … There was some concern in some of the press today that perhaps the president had questioned the truthfulness of the press … I think what's wrong here, though, is that the full story is not told. There are specifics. There are hospitals open, hundreds of them throughout the country … .every university and nearly every school in the country are now open. Those things serve our national security interests by making Iraq appear safer.

A Democratic proposal to take $5 billion of the $87 billion and shift it for domestic — that's U.S. — programs went down hard yesterday, the Washington Post 's Jonathan Weisman and Dan Balz report. It's the first round of the bantam-weight fight that's expected this week over the spending request that the House and the Senate hope to pass by Friday. LINK

Weisman and Balz Note the Democratic presidential candidates' interpretive dance on the vote, from Edwards' opposing the request to Kerry saying he wants an amendment attached to reduce the Bush tax cuts by $87 billion.

We know Jim Jordan will like this paragraph:

"That puts Kerry in about the same position as former Vermont governor Howard Dean, whose opposition to the Iraq war helped catapult him to the top tier of the Democratic presidential race. Last week in a New York Times interview, Dean declined to take a position on the spending request. But the next day, in a debate in Arizona, he said he would oppose the $87 billion request unless Bush accepted an equivalent reduction in his tax cuts."

The AP's Nedra Pickler reports the five White House candidates in Congress are "divided" on whether to support President Bush's postwar plan for Iraq. LINK

Lieberman says "he will support it, while" Edwards and Kerry "said they will oppose it."

Gephardt "has not said how he will vote … . Kucinich — the only candidate in Congress who voted against going to war — plans to oppose the package."

Senator Edwards will not vote for the president's $87 billion supplemental request, report Ron Brownstein and Janet Hook of the Los Angeles Times. They too explain the divide over the spending bill within the members of Congress running for president. LINK

"Public opinion surveys have found rising hostility among Democratic primary voters toward the aid request. In a CNN/ USA Today /Gallup Poll released this week, 74% of Democrats, and 57% of Americans overall, said they opposed the bill."

"In that environment, the campaigns of Edwards, Lieberman, Kerry and Gephardt have expected that if they backed the spending request, they would come under fire from rival Howard Dean, and perhaps Wesley K. Clark."

"'Dean will certainly use this as a way to try to define himself against the field,' said a senior aide to one of the contenders."

"But the campaigns of the four candidates in Congress also have believed that if they opposed the request, Republicans would charge them with abandoning the troops on the ground."

House Democrats do their best impersonation of Twisted Sister and vow to vote against the president's $87 billion request. And John Edwards breaks out of the nine-pack by getting ahead of the news cycle and announcing his opposition to the president's plan. LINK

California's new governor:

Marc Sandalow previews the upcoming Bush-Schwarzenegger summit. LINK

"Hundreds of reporters will be on hand Thursday when Bush and Schwarzenegger sit down in the president's hotel in Riverside for a meeting of two improbable leaders who are now among the best known politicians in the world."

Sandalow goes on to write how both men have used their "fraternity-like social skills" to advance their careers before highlighting what each one might hope to get out of a new formed relationship.

"If Schwarzenegger, who won nearly a quarter of the Democratic vote, can convince moderate Californians that Bush isn't so bad, Republicans may have a shot at picking up the state's 55 electoral votes in 2004. By the same token, if Bush can help Schwarzenegger raise California from its fiscal crisis, he may provide the new governor with a strong political platform."

The Schwarzenegger/Bush dance is being choreographed with great care reports the Los Angeles Times' Reynolds and Nicholas. LINK

"When President Bush shakes hands with California Gov.-elect Arnold Schwarzenegger on Thursday in Riverside, the event will be as scripted as if Bush were meeting a foreign head of state."

That H.D. Palmer fellow seems to be having a good time.

" … one Schwarzenegger aide downplayed specific issues that might come up, describing the meeting as a chance for the two men to build an enduring relationship. 'He looks forward to laying the foundation for a solid, positive working relationship with the president,' said H.D. Palmer, a spokesman for the Schwarzenegger transition team."

Politics: As if true-believing Democrats didn't already think the Supreme Court moved in mysterious ways. Mickey Kaus quotes us quoting him with analysis we had last night on a story that moved yesterday. Yes indeedy, we agree, the Pledge of Allegiance case, which the Supreme Court will hear next year, is "God's gift to the Bush reelection campaign." LINK

The Philadelphia Inquirer reports that the bugging of Mayor Street's office lasted only two weeks and that the bug was turned off and on depending on who was meeting with the Mayor, suggesting that "the FBI, either by tailing suspects or relying on an informant, knew when the selected list of people would arrive for meetings at City Hall Room 215, the spacious mayoral office." LINK

More: "The new information about when the bug was planted shows that federal authorities took the highly unusual step of bugging an American mayor's office about six weeks before what was shaping up to be a razor-close election."

The Boston Herald's Elizabeth Beardsley reports on the trouble brewing between Democratic lawmakers and Governor Romney over naming a section of the Big Dig after Tip O'Neill. LINK