The Note: Electoral Strategy

WASHINGTON, Dec. 12

NEWS SUMMARY

Focus on the holidays at your peril.

The White House might be dreaming of a boffo January, but there is a lot going on politically at this precise moment.

The Gang of 500 remains surprisingly congregated -- nearly at capacity.

So clip out our handy guide to everything and take it to your next festive lunch or raucous holiday party. You will be more informed than Howard Fineman, more insider than Mike Allen, and a bigger hit than Tammy Haddad. (Note: we kid about all three because we LOVE. . . . .)

What we really mean is: you'll be more informed than Joe Hagin, more insider than Eric Cantor, and a bigger hit than Mitch Bainwol LINK. (Note: we are kidding about only ONE of those.)

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President Bush and Iraq: At 11:15 this morning, POTUS on Iraq, Part III will likely get road-blocked cable TV coverage. Before then, read the Los Angeles Times from yesterday on the goals and stakes LINK

and the Washington Post on the Iraq election long-term strategy. . LINK

As for Brian Williams day of rolling interviews with Mr. Bush LINK, may we remind you, Brian, of the First Rule of Interviewing Presidents: don't ask anything for which the staff has prepared him.

So:

I know you don't read polls, Mr. President, but did anyone mention to you the new ABC News/Time survey of Iraqis? LINK

Has 2005 been the best year of your presidency? (If not, where would you rank it among the 5?)

Do you have any New Year's resolutions that involve Congress?

Are the stories about your snapping at aides true?

How would you rate America's reconstruction in Afghanistan -- has the nation kept its promises?

Democrats say every family worth eight million in assets should be exempt from inheritance or death taxes but that families with more than 8 million in assets should have to pay taxes. What's wrong with that position?

What is your definition of torture?

How much does a liter of Diet Coke cost?

Why has the national poverty rate gone up under your tenure after it decreased in the 1990s?

(Note to Brit: if Brian doesn't get these in time, feel free to use them in your Wednesday interview.)

The newsweeklies do POTUS: Like millions of Americans, you might be tempted to skip Time and Newsweek, dismissing them as irrelevant dinosaurs. That would be foolish. Check out the Bush pieces in each, for stunning reporting and analysis. LINK and LINK

Pirro?: It must be pretty hard to raise money when the entire Empire State politico-media establishment thinks the debate is: are you getting out of the Senate race against Hillary Clinton today, this week, or (for some reason) in January? Read all about the latest betting, including who might end up as the GOP nominee. LINK, LINK, LINK, and LINK

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First-in-the-nation: Don't book your satellite time, fiber lines, Wayfarer rooms, 801 private tables, or winter 2008 vacations just yet. The candidates themselves, Ken Mehlman, and (perhaps most of all) Secretary of State Gardner LINK

, LINK, and LINK

Alito: Ron Brownstein meta-dares Democrats NOT to filibuster Alito over abortion LINK; Senators Snowe and Collins remain AWOL; Sen./Dr./Leader Frist stays in nuclear mode LINK, LINK, and LINK; and Ken Starr and Ronald Cass did a better job explaining Alito on voting rights than we have seen in their Boston Globe op-ed piece over the weekend. LINK

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Centering our day: President Bush remarks on the war on terror will be delivered at the Park Hyatt Hotel in Philadelphia, PA.

Congressman John Murtha (D-PA) responds to the President's speech at 1:30 pm ET from the Ritz Carlton in Philadelphia, PA.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R-CA) will announce his decision in the clemency decision of Stanley Williams by press release.

The Club for Growth PAC endorses Steve Laffey, the Republican Mayor of Cranston, R.I., in his primary challenge against Sen. Lincoln Chafee (R-RI).

Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) kicks off the Democrats' Energy Independence by 2020 agenda with a forum on the urgent need to take action to achieve energy independence at 1:45 pm ET at the NASDAQ Market Site in New York City. She will be joined by Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), and Gov. Ed Rendell (D-PA).

The White House Conference on Ageing formally opens today at the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel today. The opening plenary with Health and Human Services Secretary Leavitt and others will be held from 9:00-11:00 am ET. A briefing on the Corporation for National and Community Service's "Boomer Recruitment Campaign Launch" will be held from noon-1:00 pm ET.

Discussion of policy tracks with Mark McClellan, the administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, and Gov. Dick Kempthorne (R-ID) will be held from 1:00-5:00 pm ET.

The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee holds a 2:30 pm ET oversight hearing on new security screening procedures and changes to the prohibited item list announced by the Transportation Security Administration in Dirksen 562. The same Senate panel holds a 10:00 am ET forum on decency issues with Jack Valenti and Kyle McSlarrow, president and CEO of the National Cable and Telecommunications Association.

Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D-IL) holds a 1:30 pm ET event with Families USA at the National Press Club to discuss his All Kids health care plan which provides every uninsured child in the State of Illinois with comprehensive health care.

First Lady Laura Bush participates in a "Toys for Tots" distribution to children affected by the hurricanes in Metairie, LA at 11:25 am ET. She also participates in a holiday celebration with military children at 1:25 pm ET in Gulfport, MS.

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) signs books in Houston, TX

The Democratic Governors Association holds its holiday reception in Washington, DC.

At 10:00 am ET, the Supreme Court will issue orders, but not decisions. The Court is on hiatus and does not return for oral arguments until Monday, Jan. 9, 2006.

The Energy Information Association releases its gas price survey at 4:30 pm ET.

AFSCME President Gerald McEntee will announce plans to run ads against seven GOP House members on the budget plus a version to run nationally targeting President Bush and the Republican congressional leadership at the National Press Club at 10:00 am ET (See the Big Casino section for more.).

Politics of Iraq:

Per Sunday's Los Angeles Times, "More than a year before President Bush declared in his 2003 State of the Union speech that Iraq had tried to buy nuclear weapons material in Africa, the French spy service began repeatedly warning the CIA in secret communications that there was no evidence to support the allegation." LINK

Elisabeth Bumiller of the New York Times explores the Administration's use of the word "caliphate" and wonders if it accurately describes the threatened result of American defeat in Iraq. LINK

The New York Times ledes with Edward Wong's reporting of Iraqi and American forces finding mistreated prisoners in a raid on an Iraqi government run detention center. LINK

The Wall Street Journal's editorial board portrays Senator Lieberman as the heir to Arthur Vandenberg, the GOP Senator from Michigan who "stepped forward" to support a president of another party during another "long, twilight struggle." It's a must read.

In a Saturday Web exclusive, Time Magazine's Joe Klein writes: "The President is finally using the right words to describe the nature of the enemy, the difficulties on the ground and the more pragmatic steps needed for counterinsurgency and reconstruction. But he remains weak -- to the point of being purposely deceptive -- on the time and resources needed to succeed with those plans." LINK

Note: Klein opines that Gen. Wesley Clark and Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI) are the two most responsible Dems on Iraq.

The newsweeklies:

Time Magazine's Karen Tumulty and Mike Allen have priceless color and forward-looking material in a story that looks at White House plans to make January "a critical month in what the President's aides hope will be a turning-point year." LINK

"The White House expects a quick victory on Bush's Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito, and the State of the Union speech will nod to big goals. But when it comes to fresh and concrete ideas, the list of what Bush will actually try to accomplish in 2006 is so modest that one bewildered Republican adviser calls it 'an insult to incrementalism.'"

"White House advisers tell TIME that the agenda for 2006 is in flux and that senior aide Karl Rove is still cooking up ideas. But the initiatives they have settled on sound more like Clinton's brand of small-bore governance: computerizing medical records; making it easier for workers to take their health benefits with them when they leave a job and--an idea that captured Bush's imagination in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina--giving a boost to Catholic and other private schools as an alternative for inner-city children. While Bush still hopes to sign an immigration bill by summer and plans to talk a lot about the subject next year, his program to offer temporary legal status to illegal immigrant workers remains a tough sell with the conservatives in Congress."

And be sure to read the way White House strategists are pushing reporters to write about the Bush "comeback":

"White House strategists believe they have ended the slide in Bush's approval ratings, which lately have been topping 40% again. 'It's time for the Bush comeback story!' one coached TIME for this article. 'The perfect storm has receded. We have better news in Iraq, oil prices are down, and Katrina has kind of fallen off the radar screen in terms of public concern.'"

The "Bush in the bubble" Newsweek package doesn't have a ton of news in it, but leans heavily into some shaking up of the staff in the new year and paints the President as one of the most isolated in history. The story's color lives up to the newsweekly tradition of excellence which makes it a must-read indeed: LINK

Bush agenda:

Per the Wall Street Journal, investigators have concluded that Treasury Secretary John Snow's past ownership of more than $10 million in bonds of government-sponsored enterprises didn't represent a conflict of interest.

Richard Schmitt of the Los Angeles Times reported on Sunday that although the library provision of the Patriot Act has received the most attention, it was rarely used by authorities. "Instead, the tool of choice for federal agents has been a more obscure measure, a form of administrative subpoena known as a national security letter." LINK

The New York Times reports that Sen. McCain and the White House are still trying to reach a deal on the torture ban amendment. LINK

2006: Pirro:

The New York Times' Pat Healy tees up today's meeting of the 62 Republican county chairmen in New York who will gather to try and hammer out their 2006 statewide ticket, which may include providing Jeanine Pirro a face-saving strategy to switch from the Senate to the Attorney General race. LINK

Sunday's New York Daily News reported that Pirro is expected to drop her bid for the United States Senate as early as today. LINK

But the AP's Humbert gets a Pirro spokeswoman to deny any dropping out for today. LINK

Fredric Dicker and Kenneth Lovett of the New York Post report that Pirro won't make her decision to withdraw from the Senate race till next month, despite the urgings of GOP party leaders. LINK

The Fitzgerald investigation:

Think of the best and most must-readest Ken Auletta piece you ever read in your whole life. Now: think again.

This week's New Yorker tour de force on the state of the New York Times is not to be missed, with plenty of new news on the Judy Miller angle (which is why we place this citation in this section).

But it also has amazing Howell Raines answers, Bill Keller responses, analysis, insider stuff, and deft writing beyond belief.

Also, a reminder: The Note's Holiday Fundraising Drive for Jennifer Steinhauer begins this week!!!

Viveca Novak's first-person account of her recent testimony: LINK

The Wall Street Journal's Cooper and Hagan write up V. Novak's first-person account thusly: "In a 1,500-word, first-person piece in this week's magazine, Viveca Novak suggested a conversation she had with attorney Robert Luskin in the first half of 2004 may have prompted Mr. Rove to modify his testimony before a federal grand jury that he never discussed Ms. Plame with Time reporter Matt Cooper."

"Time Reporter May Have Tipped Rove's Lawyer to Leak," reads the Washington Post headline. Note the Post reporters' confusion about what (if anything) this all means. LINK

"Ms. Novak's testimony appeared to bring Mr. Fitzgerald close to an end point in his deliberations about whether to charge Mr. Rove," writes David Johnston of the New York Times. LINK

The Los Angeles Times highlights this from Viveca Novak: "Novak said she was unable to discern the effect her testimony might have on the case. 'Will it make the difference between whether Rove gets indicted or not? I have no idea,' she said." LINK

Alito for Associate Justice:

Bob Novak reports of efforts to buck up the Alito nomination including an Internet ad to be distributed this week by the Judicial Confirmation Network hitting back on opponents claim that Alito supported a strip search of a 10-year old girl. LINK

Paul Kane of Roll Call writes of Progress for America's latest pro-Alito television ad campaign which is aimed at providing some cover to Sens. Snowe, Collins, and Chaffee as well as applying a little pressure to Sen. Nelson (D-NE).

"The state-based ad campaign by Progress for America makes up about half of its budget in this week's $150,000 campaign, with the other half of the funds going toward cable stations in the District of Columbia -- an effort to influence Senators during what is likely their final week in Washington this year," writes Kane.

The Los Angeles Times' Schmitt writes up Sen. Frist's Sunday promise to use the nuclear/constitutional option should he need to and includes a Jim Manley curious time frame of "months" before such procedural options need to be considered. LINK

The AP LINK

Ron Brownstein's Los Angeles Times column wisely looks at the most clearly anti-Roe candidate to be nominated to the Supreme Court since Robert Bork and writes, "If this ammunition allows opponents to stop Alito -- either by a majority vote or a filibuster -- it will surely push future presidents back toward stealth nominees with limited public records. But if opponents can't generate full-scale resistance to Alito -- at a time when nearly two-thirds of Americans tell pollsters they don't want Roe overturned -- Bush and his successors may conclude they can risk more ideologically aggressive nominees, so long as the public considers them qualified." LINK

Big Casino budget politics:

AFSCME President Gerald McEntee will announce at 10:00 am ET at the National Press Club that AFSCME and ECAP will be running paid television ads in Washington, DC and in the districts of 7 moderate GOPers. The ads urge these Republicans to "redeem their wrongheaded votes and oppose the final budget and tax cut bills."

The targets include: Rep. Joanne Emerson (R-MO), Rep. Steve LaTourette (R-OH), Rep. Jerry Weller (R-IL), Rep. Jim Nussle (R-IA), Rep. Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY), Rep. Mike Castle (R-DE), and Rep. Joe Schwartz (R-MI). Ads will run in Washington, DC on CNN and on cable and network broadcast channels in the targeted districts.

Today's announcement is part of ECAP's national week of action entitled "A National Week of Prayer and Action for Compassionate Priorities."

Sounding very much like Sojourner's Jim Wallis, ECAP's Brad Woodhouse says: "The week of action is intended to highlight the budget as a moral document."

Spending on the "first run" of the ad will be in the "mid six figures," according to ECAP.

Roll Call's Whittington previews the ad campaign to be unveiled at the event, and has this on the Republicans being targeted by the ad campaign: "Of the group, only a few currently face potentially competitive re-election contests next year. Nussle is running for governor of Iowa, while Boehlert and Schwarz face primaries from more conservative Republican challengers."

As he is want to do, Robert Pear of the New York Times excellently breaks down the current Medicaid reform debate focused on the competing approaches between the House (backed by the Bush Administration and the NGA) and the Senate to rein in the "explosive growth" of the program. LINK

The New York Times editorial page sides with the Senate approach: LINK

"Senate backers of oil and natural gas drilling in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge haven't made much progress in finding enough House votes to ensure the issue is included in any budget reconciliation package that passes Congress this year, but insist they still have a few cards to play this week," writes Roll Call's Emily Pierce.

Dean's Democrats:

For Sunday's Washington Post, Dan Balz summed up where the DNC is on its nominating calendar. LINK

The Union Leader has the Granite State reaction to additional caucuses being added in front of New Hampshire in 2008. LINK

The Union Leader has New Hampshire representatives blasting the caucus decision. LINK

After flirting with the idea of booting Iowa from its position at the head of the pack, a DNC panel voted not to shake Iowa from its position, the Des Moines Register reports. LINK

DNC Chair Howard Dean commissioned a confidential poll suggesting that the party frame its politics (and attacks against the GOP) with the larger goal of fostering community, the AP reports. LINK

2008:

Roll Call's Suzanne Nelson writes of the push to reform the presidential campaign finance system in light of the trend of candidates opting out and some very prodigious fundraisers on the potential horizon.

2008: Democrats:

The Chicago Tribune's Jeff Zeleny was in Orlando over the weekend as a bevy of Democratic presidential hopefuls tried out in front of Florida Democratic Party activists and he got this priceless kicker from Gov. Mark Warner (D-VA): "As he ascended a hotel escalator, trailed by people still trying to catch a moment of his time, he quipped: 'I'm surprised at how many people know me!'" LINK

Warner's flavor seems to be lasting more than a month. The New York Times' Hernandez was down in Orlando over the weekend and focuses his coverage of the Florida Democratic Party's convention on the reception received by Warner. LINK

The AP's Ron Fournier writes of the Democratic messaging efforts in Orlando of a need to rebuild community in America. LINK

The Washington Examiner gives up its front headline to Gov. Warner and his mounting southern Presidential appeal in 2008.

In his look at Sen. Clinton's "centrist stance on the war," the Washington Post's Dan Balz Notes that Clinton has "taken no explicit position on the plan put forward by the liberal Center for American Progress that Dean endorsed last weekend calling for withdrawing about half of U.S. forces in 2006 and the rest by the end of 2007." LINK

Asked how she differs with Lieberman on Iraq, Clinton adviser Howard Wolfson said, "That's a briar patch I choose not to throw myself into."

Gov. Bill Richards meets with NFL commission Paul Tagilabue about luring a professional team to New Mexico. LINK

2008: Republicans:

John Heilemann uses the pages of an ever-better New York magazine to look at the presidential campaign trajectories of John McCain and Rudy Giuliani. There is a lot of analysis here that is spot on and must-ready.

The AP writes up Sen. Frist's comments on Fox News Sunday when he said that he has not (yet) testified in the SEC investigation into his sale of HCA, Inc. stock. LINK

The liberal bloggers at Think Progress are hyped up about Frist's assertion that he has had "no earthly idea" of the level of his HCA ownership for the last 10 or 11 years. LINK

Gov. Sanford says he WILL NOT run for the presidency in 2008 and focus his intentions on his upcoming gubernatorial race. LINK

Iowa:

The Des Moines Register reports that by 2010 Iowa may lose a seat in the US House of Representatives. LINK

2006:

The Washington Post's Fred Hiatt sees chinks in the Republican armor and reminds his readers that not long ago, the talk was all about "the self-perpetuating machine the Republicans were constructing in Washington." LINK

Bob Novak's weekend column reported Jeanine Pirro may not be the only Senate candidate soon to abandon her bid. Novak points to troubled fundraising figures for Katherine Harris and suggests Rep. Mark Foley may soon replace her as the Republican candidate to take on Sen. Bill Nelson. LINK

Rahm Emanuel's DCCC chairmanship also garners some Democratic praise via Novak.

Tom Golisano continues to play coy on his 2006 intentions, according to Pat Healy's Saturday New York Times story which concluded with this detail, "Next Wednesday, Mr. Golisano plans to meet with former President Bill Clinton in Buffalo, where they will watch a Sabres game. Mr. Golisano has contributed to Mr. Clinton's causes in the past." LINK

The Tribune Review picked up on Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA) agreeing to an invitation from FNC's Sean Hannity and Alan Colmes to debate Bob Casey on their program. LINK

In Sunday's Washington Post, Chris Cillizza looked at Democratic efforts to nationalize the 2006 mid-term elections and Republican efforts to localize them. LINK

Emanuel urges his fellow Democrats in a recent memo to portray GOPers as a "rubber stamp"

Congress, the NRCC's Carl Forti charges that Emanuel is "spinning more than when he was a ballerina," and the DNC's Karen Finney charges that if "personal attacks helped us fight terrorism, Osama bin Laden would be dead right now instead of recruiting new terrorists."

The Schwarzenegger era:

In his column, George Skelton of the Los Angeles Times seems to admire Gov. Schwarzenegger for taking his time on the Stanley "Tookie" Williams clemency decision and urges him to allow the execution to take place. LINK

Politics of immigration:

In Sunday's Washington Post, Jonathan Weisman looked at House Republican efforts to push ahead with "tough legislation to tighten control of the nation's borders and clamp down on the hiring of illegal immigrants -- without offering new avenues for such immigrants to find lawful employment."LINK

Politics:

Roll Call's McArdle looks at a draft of legislation being shopped around by Rep. Bob Ney (R-OH) aimed at diminishing Chief Terrance Gainer's administrative responsibilities as the head of the Capitol Police.

In a USA Today op-ed discussing the relationship between religion and politics, former President Jimmy Carter writes that the only potential conflict between his personal beliefs and his official duties while in office was with abortion. LINK

"I have never thought that Jesus Christ would approve of abortions unless, perhaps, the mother's life or health were endangered, or the pregnancy resulted from rape or incest. However, being willing to accept the Supreme Court ruling on Roe v. Wade, I did everything possible to reduce the desire for abortions. More than two-thirds of women who have abortions state that they are not financially able to support the child."

Week ahead:

On Tuesday, President Bush makes a statement on Medicare and prescription drugs at a senior center in Springfield, Virginia at 10:10 am ET. Sen. Clinton holds a fundraiser in East Brunswick, NJ where she will be introduced by Gov.-elect Jon Corzine and a fundraiser in New York City where she will be introduced by former President Clinton. The State of Arkansas holds a special election on bond issues. Gov. Vilsack celebrates his birthday.

On Wednesday, the President makes 11:05 am ET remarks on the War on Terror at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, DC.

On Thursday, the RNC holds its holiday party in Washington, DC. Gov. Warner celebrates his birthday.

On Friday, former Amb. Joseph Wilson headlines a Minnesota DFL fundraiser in St. Paul, MN. Sen. McCain signs books in Kansas City, MO.