The Note: Ohio Players

WASHINGTON, May 2

Ohio's status as the center of the political universe has not diminished much since we all awaited the results from there on election night 2004 to clearly determine the winner in the presidential race. This November, Ohio and national Democrats will be seeking to break the Republican stronghold on all the statewide offices there.

Due to a toxic political environment caused by several corruption scandals, the governor's office, a Senate race, and several House races have proven more competitive than has been the case in cycles past. So Ohio is, as always, an important bellwether, but one with special circumstances in 2006. If the Democrats' anti-corruption/time-for-change message is going to work anywhere, it should be here.

Today, there will be some wispy clues for professional tea leaf readers, Magic 8 Ballers, shamans, psychics, and Gersh.

Even for less mystic readers of The Note, there are few things as exciting as Buckeyes heading to the polls.

Ohio polls opened at 6:30 am ET and will close at 7:30 pm ET. (Yes, voters are also voting in Indiana and North Carolina.)

It's expected to rain across Ohio today from the Northeast to the Southwest. Columbus, OH: LINK

Cleveland, OH: LINK

Cincinnati, OH: LINK

Ohioans heading to the polls today will vote either electronically or on optical scan ballots. (Quite a change from November 2004 when 69 of 88 counties were still using punch cards.)

The directors of the boards of elections across the state and the Secretary of State estimate 25% of registered voters will turn out. LINK

You can monitor vote totals on the Secretary of State's Web site here: LINK

Don't call us for exit polls. We ain't got 'em.

"Fewer than 15 percent of voters are expected to show up" in the Indiana primaries today, predicts Mary Beth Schneider of the Indianapolis Star. LINK

Under the header "Election Day, but will anyone vote?," Charlotte Observer's Steve Lyttle writes that "elections officials estimate that between 10 percent and 15 percent of registered voters will cast ballots today." LINK

THE MAN WHO CARRIED OHIO TWICE, President Bush has no public schedule today. Press Secretary Scott McClellan was scheduled to gaggle at 9:30 am ET and do the full briefing at noon ET.

THE WOMAN MARRIED TO THE MAN WHO CARRIED OHIO TWICE, First Lady Laura Bush, hits the road for a busy travel day, including some Ohio time. Mrs. Bush and Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings participate in a "Celebrating Teachers" event at 10:50 am ET in Columbus, OH. While in the neighborhood, Mrs. Bush will also headline a luncheon fundraiser for Rep. Deborah Pryce's (R-OH) reelection campaign at noon ET. The First Lady then heads to Ft. Smith, AR to encourage seniors to enroll in the Medicare prescription drug program before the May 15 deadline. Mrs. Bush plans to remain overnight in New Orleans, LA.

Republican and Democratic Senate caucus policy committees hold their weekly luncheons at 12:30 pm ET with stakeouts expected.

The Senate convenes at 9:45 am ET and begins a period of morning business for up to 60 minutes split between the parties. Following morning business, the Senate will resume consideration of H.R. 4939, the Supplemental Appropriations bill and immediately proceed to a cloture vote.

And you can expect Speaker Hastert and Majority Leader Boehner to criticize the other body's work in a joint statement that is drafted to read, in part: "The Senate emergency spending bill represents a huge spending spree, but the big losers will be the American taxpayers stuck with the tab. President Bush requested $92 billion for the War on Terror and some hurricane spending. The House used fiscal restraint and stayed within the President's request for truly emergency spending. We support the President's threat to veto the wayward spending bill. The American people don't deserve a special interest shopping cart disguised as a supplemental."

Minority Leaders Reid (D-NV) and Pelosi (D-CA) are scheduled to be joined with other members of their leadership teams at 11:30 am ET at the Senate swamp to "call for a real commitment to securing our nation by making America energy independent" and to decry the Bush Administration's ties to oil companies.

Majority Leader Boehner (R-OH) holds a 1:00 pm ET pen and pad briefing with reporters.

At 3:45 pm ET, a bipartisan bicameral group of congressional leaders plan to hold a press conference on the Voting Rights Act on the East Front steps of the Capitol. (Whenever you can get Rep. Sensenbrenner and Rep. Pelosi to share a stage, it's probably worth taking a look, as April Ryan surely will.)

Secretary Rumsfeld is doing a round of radio interviews later today. UN Ambassador Bolton testifies before the House Government Reform Committee at 10:00 am ET.

Dr. /Sen./Leader Frist (R-TN), Sen. Kyl (R-AZ), and Rep. Kenny Hulshof (R-MO) discussed the permanent repeal of the estate tax at the National Press Club this morning in a forum sponsored by the Seattle Times.

Gov. Huckabee (R-AR) speaks to The Advertising Council's Board of Directors about his NGA Chairman's "Healthy America" initiative in New York, NY at 9:00 am ET.

Sen. Clinton (D-NY) participates in the "Working 2 Walk Rally," a nationwide effort focusing on passage of the Christopher Reeve Paralysis Act in the Upper Senate Park at 11:00 am ET. Susan Sarandon is also expected to attend.

Sen. Byrd (D-WV) testifies before the Senate Budget Committee on the line-item veto authority at 9:30 am ET.

DNC Chairman Howard Dean will be the guest of Ohio Democratic Party Chairman Chris Redfern on the inaugural installment of "Blue Buckeye Radio Hour" at 9:00 am ET on WKTX 830 AM in the greater Cleveland area.

RNC Chairman Ken Mehlman makes remarks to the American Jewish Committee's 100th Annual Conference luncheon at 1:25 pm ET in Washington, DC.

Reps. Shays (R-CT) and Meehan (D-MA) and government watchdog groups hold a 4:30 pm ET press conference to urge defeat of the House lobbying reform bill scheduled to come to a vote on the floor this week.

Ohio votes:

A compelling character is expected to emerge victorious in the Republican gubernatorial primary. The anti-tax/pro-family values conservative African-American Secretary of State Ken Blackwell (R-OH) will likely win his contest against Attorney General Jim Petro (R-OH). You may recall Blackwell at the center of the 2004 voting controversies in the Buckeye State while serving as President Bush's campaign co-chair in Ohio.

Blackwell recently divulged he owned Diebold (the voting equipment manufacturer) stock at a time when his office was overseeing the purchasing of new election equipment that benefited the company. Blackwell denies having known that the stock (which he sold for a loss) was a part of his portfolio.

Blackwell's brand of conservatism and the color of his skin make him a very attractive candidate to national Republicans eager to expand their party's reach and appeal among black voters. (See also the GOP's efforts with Michael Steele in the Maryland Senate race and Lynn Swann in the Pennsylvania governor's race.)

The Cincinnati Enquirer profiles Blackwell here: LINK

Blackwell will likely square off against Rep. Ted Strickland (D-OH) in November in what many observers say is one of the most likely governorships to flip from Republican to Democrat this year.

That's in no small part due to the extremely tough political environment caused by the "coingate" scandal which has sent incumbent Gov. Bob Taft's (R-OH) approval ratings to the lowest for any current serving governor in the country, providing a microcosm for the "culture of corruption" message Democrats are working feverishly to nationalize this election year.

There are also two House races that will catch much of the attention today. In what the Rothenberg Political Report is calling "one of the dumber mistakes in recent memory," state Sen. Charlie Wilson's, the hand-picked candidate of national Democrats, submitted a nominating petition that, after invalid names were disqualified, came up four signatures short of the mere 50 required to get him on the ballot. Wilson's blunder has helped make the sixth district of Ohio an even more attractive target to Republicans. Ohio's 6th district, which President Bush carried over Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) by a margin of 51 to 49, has been vacated by Ted Strickland who is running for governor. Despite his failure to qualify for the ballot, national Democrats still view Wilson as their preferred candidate. In order to help ensure that he is the Democratic nominee in November, national Democrats are airing an ad that instructs voters that "there's only one choice… write-in Charlie Wilson." In an effort to influence the Democratic primary to their perceived advantage, national Republicans are airing an ad attacking Bob Carr as "too liberal" for the district. The GOP hopes that these ads will have the effect of leading Democrats to pick Carr, the untested commodity who is running his campaign on a shoestring, on Tuesday giving Republicans the easier opponent in November. The other low-profile Democrat seeking his party's nomination is John Luchansky. The Republican nominee is expected to be state Rep. Chuck Blasdel (R).

Roll Call's Lauren Whittington takes a closer look at the Ohio primaries under way today and points out that "both parties will have their eyes on the 6th district Democratic primary, where state Sen. Charlie Wilson is running as a write-in candidate after failing to qualify for the ballot."

Per Whittington, "Wilson will make 15 stops at polling locations across four counties today. On Monday, his campaign released a final field report detailing its voter education efforts, including knocking on 36,000 doors and making 50,000 calls to voters. Former President Bill Clinton also did a recorded call on Wilson's behalf last month."

With Tom DeLay retiring from Congress, Democrats would like to make Rep. Bob Ney (R-OH) the nation's #1 posterboy for corruption. Ney, the former chairman of the House Administration Committee, was once known as the Mayor of Capitol Hill. More recently, he has been dubbed "Representative No. 1" in Abramoff court documents. Those court filings have Noted the work Ney did in 2002 in trying to help one of Abramoff's Texas tribal casino clients gain federal recognition so it could reopen its gambling operations. Ney has also been scrutinized for taking a $161,000 trip to Scotland with Abramoff, conservative activist Ralph Reed, and David Safavian, the indicted former government procurement officer. Ney maintains, however, that he did not break the law and he has vowed to run for re-election, even if indicted. Ney dodged one legal bullet late on Thursday night when a statute of limitations on the portion of the case related to Abramoff's fraudulent purchase of the Sun Cruz casino flotilla passed with no indictment. On Tuesday, Ney is expected to easily defeat James Harris in Tuesday's primary. He will then square off against either Chillicothe Mayor Joe Sulzer or hotel developer Zach Space.

USA Today/Gallup:

Bad polling numbers continue into May for the GOP. USA Today/Gallup Poll reveals the President's approval rating is at 34%. The poll also showed registered voters preferring Democrats over Republicans in the generic congressional ballot match-up 54% to 39%. And Note that the 59% of respondents who say their congressmember deserves to be reelected is the lowest that number has been since 1994 in Gallup polling. LINK

Politics of gas:

The Wall Street Journal's Laura Meckler reports that Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist and Senate Republicans return to the drawing board after dropping their proposal for a multibillion dollar tax increase on oil companies and dropping their idea to eliminate a tax provision from the bill, which would have helped make up for money spent on those $100 rebate checks. LINK

The New York Times' Carl Hulse writes up the quick onslaught of rejection for Frist's proposal by many sectors of the business community -- which, apparently, had no heads up that the proposal was coming. LINK

Sen. Frist sought to move beyond the setback of having to withdraw his plan for how to pay for the $100 tax holiday rebate after realizing it had little to no support from allies in the business community. The Majority Leader took to the morning show airwaves to remind viewers that the $100 tax holiday rebate is simply just one part of a comprehensive eight-point plan aimed to increase supply and diminish demand. In addition to slamming President Clinton's 1996 veto of ANWR drilling, Sen. Frist made sure to get not one, but two references to "struggling moms" and "people who fill up their tractors" before his NBC interview concluded.

The Hill's Jim Snyder writes that high gas prices are putting pressure on the oil and automobile lobbies to break their "non-aggression" with each other. LINK

The Boston Globe's Peter Canellos columnizes that the energy crisis gives GOPers an occasion to show it can "still grapple with the big issues." LINK

"Ten states, including California and New York, plan to file suit this week to force the Bush administration to toughen mileage regulations for sport utility vehicles and other trucks," reports the New York Times. LINK

Politics of immigration:

Los Angeles Times header: "Immigrants demonstrate peaceful power." LINK

The Wall Street Journal reports that the walkout yesterday overall left more of a "symbolic" impact rather than an economic one. While construction, agriculture, and meatpacking industries suffered, many other businesses planned in advance and turnout appeared more modest in certain areas including Texas and Atlanta. LINK

The New York Post's John Podhoretz on the organizers of yesterday's rallies: "With their psychotically provocative behavior, these radical lunatics of the Left are moving the ideological goalposts of this debate toward the restrictionist Right. Unless they wise up, by the time they're through every politician in this country outside the inner cities will be paying lip service at the very least to a serious crackdown on illegal immigration." LINK

Valerie Richardson and Jerry Seper of the Washington Times reveal that the total effect of the "economic boycott" was unclear. The duo, however, Notes the President's "clear" position on the walkouts, quoting Scott McClellan: "The president is not a fan of boycotts." LINK

Big Casino budget politics:

Roll Call's John Stanton reports that Dr./Sen./Leader Frist has filed cloture on the fiscal 2006 supplemental package, "essentially limiting reformers' opportunities to whittle away at the bill's price tag." The decision to limit debate on the bill, writes Stanton, "will test the ability of GOP leaders and the White House to impose their will on the chamber's notoriously territorial appropriators."

Robert Pear of the New York Times wraps the government's report indicating that the financial well-being of Medicare and Social Security "deteriorated" over the past year and reminds his readers, once again, that the programs are "unsustainable in their current form." LINK

The Washington Post's Amy Goldstein reports that Administration officials portrayed yesterday's Medicare and Social Security report as containing some bright news, because spending on the new drug benefit appears less than expected. LINK

Keying off of the worsening outlook of Medicare and Social Security, the Washington Post's Dana Milbank Noticed that President Bush has been talking about confronting problems rather than passing them on to future generations a lot less lately. LINK

Bloomberg's Kerry Young Notes that Medicare will ask elderly people to pay "11 percent more in health-insurance premiums for doctors' visits next year." LINK

Earmark reform:

The Washington Post's Jonathan Weisman reports that while the House will try to "restrict" earmarks this week, "the Senate will likely be passing them." LINK

On the heels of Novak's column on the same subject, the Washington Post's Jonathan Weisman reports that Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-CA), the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, is not afraid to stand apart from the House GOP on earmarks. LINK

Spending hawks have been working hard to reign in earmarks, beginning with amendments to the latest emergency spending bill, reports The Hill's Jonathan Allen. LINK

Lobbying reform:

Some opponents of the House GOP leadership's ethics and lobbying reform bill believe enough Democrats may break rank to pass it this week, report Hearn and Schor of The Hill. LINK

Politics of Iraq:

Lt. Gen. William E. Odom, a former NSA director, writes in Foreign Policy magazine that the American presence in Iraq is "playing into the hands of Iran and al Qaeda and that getting out now may be the only chance there is for really setting things right in Iraq." LINK

Odom considers several of the Bush Administration's most popular arguments for not leaving Iraq, including that withdrawal will encourage the terrorists, to which Odom writes: "True, but that is the price we are doomed to pay. Our continued occupation of Iraq also encourages the killers -- precisely because our invasion made Iraq safe for them. . ."

The Fitzgerald investigation:

The AP's Locy reports that Scooter Libby's lawyers are seeking a judicial order to "several media organizations to turn over e-mails, drafts of news articles and reporters' notes (sic) they say the former top White House aide needs to receive a fair trial in the CIA leak case." LINK

Bush Administration:

The Boston Globe's Charlie Savage, a human cottage industry, reports that three leading Democratic Senators -- Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA), Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV), and Sen. Pat Leahy (D-VT) -- "blasted President Bush yesterday for having claimed he has the authority to defy more than 750 statutes enacted since he took office, saying that the president's legal theories are wrong and that he must obey the law." LINK

Politics of surveillance:

In a Bloomberg News profile of Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA), James Rowley has the Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman saying of the GOP: "The party needs somebody to stand up to the president. I do that, by the way, in a very respectful way.'' LINK

The Abramoff affair:

Judicial Watch scores a victory. The United States Secret Service is preparing to release White House entrance logs detailing each time Jack Abramoff visited the complex. The New York Times has more. LINK

The AP on the same: LINK

2006: New Orleans:

In the first debate between New Orleans mayoral runoff candidates Ray Nagin and Mitch Landrieu last night, Landrieu criticized Nagin's rough relationships will government officials at all levels, per the Times-Picayune's Krupa and Donze. Nagin said that he worries about Landrieu, "being a doer versus someone who just kind of pontificates a little bit." LINK

Nagin is set to unveil a new hurricane preparedness plan for New Orleans later today, according to James Varney of the Times-Picayune. LINK

2006: Governor:

Sen. McCain is delving into the Republican gubernatorial primary in Nebraska. "Sen. John McCain of Arizona will endorse Osborne's candidacy and join him in a telephone news conference with Nebraska news media," reports the Lincoln Journal Star. LINK

The Boston Herald reports that Lt. Gov. Kerry Healey has "flip-flopped on her past support of abortion for minors without parental consent, a reversal her gubernatorial campaign denied until confronted yesterday by the Herald with video evidence." LINK

"During a 2002 debate rehearsal, a videotape of which was obtained by the Herald, Healey said it was 'naïve' to think there was not a good reason to lower the age of consent to 16 from 18."

Des Moines Register's Tim Higgins details gubernatorial candidate Chet Culver's (D-IA) $65.5 million higher education plan designed to provide need-based scholarships for students from low- or middle-income families. LINK

Keying off of the Sierra Club's decision to endorse both Westly and Angelides for governor back in March, the Los Angeles Times reports that endorsements are losing their value as they multiply. LINK

2006: Senate:

The Miami Herald's Beth Reinhard Notes that even as "some GOP leaders are trying to convince House Speaker Allen Bense to jump in before May 12, the last day to qualify for the Senate race," Katherine Harris (R-FL) spokesperson Chris Ingram "said she plans to formally qualify next week as a Senate candidate regardless of the effort to draft Bense." LINK

The Kansas City Star reports Sen. Jim Talent (R-MO) has broken his silence on the Show-Me State's stem-cell research ballot measure by issuing a three-sentence statement expressing his opposition. His Democratic opponent, Claire McCaskill supports the measure. LINK

Although 61 percent of Connecticut voters believe going to war in Iraq was the wrong thing to do, war-supporter Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-CT) doesn't seem to be suffering too badly in his Democratic primary contest. The latest Quinnipiac University poll has him besting his opponent Ned Lamont 65 to 19 percent (margin of error: +/- 4.3%).

The most recent television campaign ad from Senate candidate Jim Pederson (D-AZ) criticizes his opponent, Sen. Jon Kyl, for supporting the "'mandatory' departure of any illegal immigrants applying for guest worker status," per The Hill's Andrew Barr. LINK

The New York Times' Davey looks at how earmark reform is being put to use in the Republican primary in Nebraska and in some other states as well. LINK

Roll Call's Nicole Duran reports that Richard Tarrant (R-VT) and the GOP are "trying to use an issue that has hurt some of their own officeholders in the past to allege that" Rep. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) has benefited from holding office in the 2002 and 2004 campaigns by hiring his wife, a former professional media buyer.

Per Duran, "The Tarrant campaign does not point out that Jane Sanders worked in her husband's House office for free at one point. She spent four years as his chief of staff, never drawing a salary"

"A new GOP poll shows both leading Democrats denying Sen. Conrad Burns (R-MT) a fourth term," writes Roll Call's Nicole Duran.

2006: House:

Roll Call's Lauren Whittington reports that after a high-profile snub of Rep. Melissa Bean last year, the Northeastern Illinois Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO, "recently reversed course and announced that it will stand by the freshman lawmaker in her re-election bid."

Per Roll Call's Kentucky Derby-loving Josh Kurtz, George Soros is raising coin Wednesday evening for attorney Judy Aydelott, one of a "half-dozen" Democrats seeking to challenge Rep. Sue Kelly (R-NY).

2008: Republicans:

With a Davenport, IA dateline, the New York Times' Pat Healy writes of a "cheerful" Rudy Giuliani ruminating more freely with the press about his decision-making process for 2008 than he has done in the past. Giuliani says he isn't sure how a McCain candidacy would affect his decision to run or not and that he believes the only way for the Republican Party to be a majority party is to continue to have a tent big enough to include him and Gov. Schwarzenegger as well as some of the more social conservative members of the party. LINK

Maggie Haberman of the New York Post Notes Giuliani's sizing up of his '08 chances from a Hawkeye State perch. LINK

The New York Daily News' Dave Saltonstall also captures the forthcoming former mayor of New York. LINK

"'I have got a lot of places to go and a lot of people to talk to and a long process of figuring out whether it makes sense to run for President in 2008,' Giuliani said. 'I don't know the answer to that yet.'"

The Des Moines Register's Ken Fuson looks at Giuliani's visit yesterday in Des Moines and concludes that "although he insisted that 'I'm not here for me today,' Giuliani's first appearance in the state since the 2004 presidential campaign, coupled with his standing in polls as a 2008 presidential favorite, raised questions about his ambitions." LINK

The Wall Street Journal editorial page continues its attacks on Governor Romney's healthcare plan. The editorial board is none too pleased with the $295-per-employee annual penalty and its increased government control. It also disputes the governor's claims of heavy costs for providing free healthcare to the uninsured. LINK

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While telling ABC News' Dianne Sawyer that the left and right need to find ways to come together in the United States, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright touted the humanitarian work of Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS) on Good Morning America.

2008: Democrats:

Showing how tough it is to get the national press corps to cover anything outside of Washington, DC, the Washington Post reports on A14 about Sen. Biden's proposal to divide Iraq into three regions based on the New York Times op-ed he penned with Leslie Gelb. LINK

Staffers of Democratic leaders Rep. Nancy Pelosi and Sen. Harry Reid made no immediate comment on Sen. Biden's proposal to divide Iraq into three separate regions, writes the Washington Times' Christina Bellantoni. LINK

The State's Lee Bandy -- who was very much listening to Sen. Biden yesterday -- writes up the Senator's firing up the crowd at the biennial Galivants Ferry stump meeting. LINK

The Washington Times writes up Bob Kerrey's praise for John Kerry in an email sent to that three million-strong subscriber list. LINK

Media:

Bill Keller, executive editor of the New York Times, takes to the editorial pages of the Wall Street Journal in the form of a letter to the editor to push back against a recent editorial slamming the patriotism of government officials who leak and the journalists who print their leaks. LINK