The Note: Gradual Push-Me-Pullback

WASHINGTON, Nov. 30

We think it was The Note that once wrote "politically, American involvement in the Iraq war is over." That is more true today than it was yesterday, and it will be even more true next week when the Iraq Study Group dog-and-pony-with-a-purpose turns on the TV lights, and even more so when the Democratic majority rules the roost come January.

For those who want to chronicle every jot and tittle of the kabuki, December will be a great month. For those who want to keep your eye on the prize, get ready for an earlier-than-usual State of the Union. And for those who really want to understand the future of American politics, watch the policy proposals and fundraising totals of McCain-Romney-Clinton-Obama-Edwards-(and Gore).

We know most Note readers go step by step, so: After wrapping up his Middle East trip, including his meeting with Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, President Bush is scheduled to arrive back at the White House via Marine One at 4:05 pm ET. ABC News' Karen Travers reports that President Bush said at his overnight press conference with Maliki that U.S. troops will remain in Iraq at the request of the sovereign government there and he expressed confidence in the Iraqi leader.

Nearing the end of his term as UN Secretary General's Special Envoy for Tsunami Recovery, President Clinton begins his travels to Asia today. President Clinton, whose foundation has a major AIDS initiative, is scheduled to attend a World AIDS Day event in Delhi, India.

Presidential hopeful Tom Vilsack "speaks the words" at Iowa Wesleyan College in Mt. Pleasant, IA at 10:30 am ET. The Democratic governor of Iowa also travels to Concord, NH, the home of the first-in-the-nation primary, today. In the coming days, he will also travel to his home state of Pennsylvania as well as Nevada and South Carolina.

When outgoing RNC Chairman Ken Mehlman takes the stage to address the Republican Governors Association today, he is expected to not only continue to tout the importance of firm dedication to the mechanics of campaigning (Ken's love for metrics is well documented), but also make an appeal for the Republican Party to recommit itself to developing good policy.

According to a copy of Mehlman's prepared remarks obtained by The Note, the RNC Chairman is expected to say, "If 2006 taught us anything, it is that a good ground game alone cannot be depended upon to push us over the top."

"We need to remember. . . all of us. . . that it is good policy that makes good politics."

"For Republicans, this must be a time for self-examination."

"It must be a time for growing and learning."

"We must do better. . . and we must be better."

"We can start by recommitting ourselves to be the party of reform."

One White House hopeful who would like to be the candidate of reform is Sen. John McCain (R-AZ). He is not expected to formally address the RGA, but he and his wife Cindy are hosting an reception at Don Shula's Hotel in Miami Lakes, FL from 5:00 - 7:00 pm ET. When Sen. McCain sought the GOP nomination in 2000, one of the first roadblocks he hit was the wall of Republican governors surrounding and supporting their colleague then-Gov. George W. Bush (R-TX).

And/but going up against a soon-to-be ex-governor of Massachusetts and outgoing RGA Chairman clearly doesn't appear to give McCain any pause in seeking support from the Republican Party's gubernatorial ranks, writes ABC News' David Chalian. LINK

Justice Stephen Breyer is scheduled to keynote a Generation Engage event, which will be held in the newly-built Embassy of Sweden on the Potomac River in Washington, DC at 7:30 pm ET.

First Lady Laura Bush speaks at the press preview of the 2006 White House holiday decorations at 10:00 am ET.

Sen. Joe Biden (D-DE) delivers 8:30 pm ET remarks to the National Black Caucus of State Legislators annual conference and reception in Jackson, MS.

Former Sen. John Edwards (D-NC) delivers the keynote address at the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy's City of Justice Awards Dinner at the Center at Cathedral Plaza in Los Angeles, CA at 9:30 pm ET.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) gives the keynote address at a fundraiser for the Virginia Conservative PAC at a private residence in Alexandria, VA at 5:30.

Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA) meets with Robert Gates to discuss his nomination to become the next Secretary of Defense and holds a 2:00 pm ET photo op.

At 2:00 pm ET the Kennedy School of Government hosts a conference on energy and national security for the new members of Congress in Cambridge, MA at 2 pm ET.

The 9th Annual American Democracy Conference begins today at the Ronald Reagan Building in Washington, DC. At 9:00 am ET, Larry Sabato of the University of Virginia's Center for Politics delivers opening remarks before James Carville's keynote address. At 9:45 am ET Sabato moderates: "ReDEMption -- Analyzing the 2006 Midterms." The Hotline's Chuck Todd moderates "The 2008 Republican Presidential Contenders" at 11:00 am ET. At 12:15 pm ET, the Hotline's John Mercucio moderates "The 2008 Democratic Presidential Contenders."

Vice President Dick Cheney had a 9:30 am ET scheduled photo opportunity with the 2006 U.S. Nobel Laureates in the White House's Roosevelt Room in Washington, DC.

Politics of Iraq:

The New York Times' Sanger and Cloud report that when the Iraq Study Group presents its report next week, it will call for the gradual pullback of American forces in Iraq. LINK

More from the Washington Post: LINK

Senate Democrats are calling for a special envoy to help Iraq quell the violence in Baghdad, reports the New York Times. LINK

Tom DeFrank's New York Daily News analysis of Maliki snubbing President Bush yesterday includes this: "'Depending on what happens next,' said a gloomy Republican political operative, 'this could be viewed as the week the wheels came off.'" LINK

Los Angeles Times' Peter Wallsten and Solomon Moore write that yesterday's cancellation "hinted at diplomatic tensions between the two countries." LINK

The Washington Post's Dana Milbank sees a lot of meetings, lots of talk, and even a photo shoot, but no real answers on Iraq. LINK

Vilsack makes it official:

According to excepts of his remarks obtained by the AP's Mike Glover, Gov. Vilsak will say this morning: "I am running for president to replace the America of today with the hope of tomorrow and guarantee every American their birthright -- opportunity." LINK

Radio Iowa's O. Kay Henderson reports that Gov. Vilsack presented the always dapper Mark "Z." Barabak of the Los Angeles Times with a birthday cake. LINK

Thomas Beaumont of the Des Moines Register discusses Gov. Vilsack's kick-off announcement tour with today's speech being representative of his planned campaign, "speak plainly and say what you believe." LINK

Ed Tibbetts of the Quad City Times believes that "by now, Iowans who think, talk and write about Vilsack's presidential ambitions inevitably attach the words 'long shot bid' to his candidacy." LINK

The New York Sun's Josh Gerstein has Park Avenue's Lewis Cullman, a New Yorker who gave $2.7 million to Democratic causes in 2004 and who is now straddling between Vilsack and Clark, saying of Iowa's governor: "This guy is a Democratic governor in a red state. To have a Democratic candidate from that section of the country would change the whole dynamics." LINK

While in West Des Moines, IA for a book signing, the Associated Press has Edwards saying Vilsack would be "a force" in Iowa's caucuses but that it wouldn't scare anyone off. LINK

Obama faces criticism from conservatives for abortion position:

The Rev. Rick Warren's decision to invite Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) to speak from the pulpit to the 20,000-strong Saddleback Church in Orange County, CA is drawing criticism from some conservative Christian radio hosts and pundits, as well as some evangelical preachers.

Saddleback Church responded to the criticism by defending Obama's appearance at the conference while Noting Warren's disapproval of some of his political beliefs.

"Let it be made very clear that Pastor Warren and Saddleback Church completely disagree with Obama's views on abortion and other positions he has taken, and have told him so in a public meeting on Capitol Hill," the statement said.

In a story that quotes radio host and blogger Kevin McCullough asking "Why would Warren marry the moral equivalency of his pulpit -- a sacred piece of honor in evangelical traditions -- to the inhumane, sick and sinister evil that Obama has worked for as a legislator?," the Los Angeles Times Seema Mehta refers to Obama as a "liberal black politician". LINK

The Washington Post on the fracas: LINK

The Orange County Register includes the statement from Rob Schenck, president of the National Clergy Council, describing Obama's political views as "the antithesis of biblical ethics and morality, not to mention supreme American values." LINK

The AP's Ned Pickler writes that "Obama declined an interview request. But in a statement, he said while he respects differing views on abortion, he hopes for unity 'to honor the entirety of Christ's teachings by working to eradicate the scourge of AIDS, poverty and other challenges we all can agree must be met. It is that spirit which has allowed me to work together -- and pray together -- with some of my conservative colleagues in the Senate to make progress on a range of key issues facing America,' Obama said." LINK

"Brownback, who has close ties to conservative Christians, responded to the dispute with a statement also calling for unity. 'To win the fight against AIDS we must each set aside our differences and join together as human beings from all political, religious, and nonreligious walks of life, fighting for the lives of people who are suffering and dying,' he said."

2008: Democrats:

Ian Bishop of the New York Post Notes Sen. Clinton has been largely out of sight during the current Obama boomlet -- which includes tomorrow's appearance on The Tonight Show, the upcoming New Hampshire Democratic rally, and a keynote address for an anti-child poverty benefit in New York City on Monday. LINK

Abby Simons of the Des Moines Register covers former Senator John Edward's (D-NC) book tour stop in Des Moines where he answered questions in front of hundreds. One audience member commented, "he did pretty good. It's tough for anyone not to sell out. I think there's a lot of people who want to see John Edwards make it. We're hungry for something new." LINK

Frist bows out:

As always when someone doesn't run for president who was considering it, the question arises: why is Bill Frist not going for it?

Based on his exclusive interview with the Wall Street Journal's David Rogers and ABC's own reporting with Republicans both close to Frist and familiar with presidential politics, he was not gung-ho about the time-consuming nature of running for the highest office in the land, especially the work required to raise the necessary money.

Add in that several sources say the public relations and political gaffes he made in the Senate were going to make it much tougher for him to reach the $20-30 million table stakes by next June. Some donors were put off by things such as his Terri Schiavo stance, but many more seemed concerned about electability. Without the majority leader's perch, Frist was going to be largely reliant on his Tennessee base to raise money, and that wasn't enough.

There are also, you will recall, twin SEC and DOJ investigations into his family health care business, which sources close to Frist do not believe will result in any tsuris (as we say in Tennessee) for him.

The New York Times' Kate Zernike writes that Frist's exit is "likely" to "clear more room for other candidates to run to the right," which The Note respectfully submits is made up analysis. The New York Times includes Sen. McCain's kind words about Frist from his statement yesterday. LINK

The Washington Post's Michael Fletcher, also making it up, writes that Frist's exit creates an opening on the party's right flank. LINK

"His departure, along with the election loss of Virginia Sen. George Allen, boosts Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, but insiders say it still opens a large hole in the GOP field for a candidate more satisfying to the right and acceptable to the center," writes the New York Daily News' McAuliff, making up the same thing. LINK

Chuck Raasch of Gannett News Service on how Frist's exit may bolster John McCain because of the importance of reaching populist conservatives. LINK

The Los Angeles Times' Joel Havemann concludes that Frist's exit means Romney, Brownback, Huckabee, and Gingrich are the strongest beneficiaries in the game to court social conservatives. LINK

Frist's decision to not run in 2008 could have a great impact of support for Gov. Romney with Christian conservatives if he chooses to run, but it may be too early to do "cartwheels" yet, reports Susan Miligan of the Boston Globe. LINK

Looking at Frist's effort to position himself as the champion for Christian conservatives and how that backfired, Bloomberg News has Norm Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute saying, "there is no natural constituency for Bill Frist." LINK

The Memphis Commercial Appeals looks back on Frist's career: LINK

Will there be a Frist comeback down the road? The Nashville Tennessean takes a look: LINK

The most significant fallout from outgoing Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist's (R-TN) decision not to run for president may be the donors who now become available to other White House hopefuls.

One such heretofore Frist donor is cardiologist Zachariah P. Zachariah of Ft. Lauderdale, FL.

In 2004, Zachariah raised $200,000 from friends and colleagues for President Bush's re-election, making him one of the Bush-Cheney campaign's vaunted "Rangers."

Now that Frist, a fellow M.D., has taken himself out of the 2008 race, Zachariah told ABC News' Karuna Seshasai that he has to choose among his "three friends": McCain, Romney, and Giuliani -- and he's hoping to make his choice by Christmas. LINK

Billy House of the Arizona Republic writes that with Frist's decision not to run leaves McCain, Romney, and Giuliani as the "biggest GOP names considering a presidential bid." LINK

The Arizona Republic's Robbie Sherwood and Amanda Crawford discuss the "small-time" election of Phoenix's GOP chairman which was a "referendum on McCain that shows opposition to his expected presidential bid among grassroots Republicans in Arizona." LINK

2008: Republicans:

After the Clarion Ledger of Mississippi reported that Mitt Romney said he had the support of the Rev. Jerry Falwell, the Boston Globe's Scott Hellman reports that the Falwell issued a statement saying: "If Governor Romney becomes the Republican candidate, I could certainly support him. However, I have not endorsed or offered support for Governor Romney or any other candidate and have no plans to do so in the immediate future." LINK

The Romney camp explained that the governor was taken out of context and that he never implied that Falwell had endorsed him.

The Boston Herald's Laura Hipp reports that "sources tell the Herald that Romney likely will forgo an exploratory committee entirely, taking a different approach than fellow GOP presidential front-runners Arizona Sen. John McCain and former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani by declaring his candidacy outright sometime after Christmas." LINK

Kimberly Atkins of the Boston Herald on Team Romney staffing up with the likes of Kevin Madden. LINK

Adam Smith of the St. Petersburg Times reports that Florida's GOP party is planning a "President IV" straw vote convention next year in October. LINK

Today's Union Leader carries Newt Gingrich's full comments about freedom and terrorism after comments he made in New Hampshire, which were reported in the Union Leader, stirred national attention. LINK

Larry Lipman of the Palm Beach Post discusses Gov. Jeb Bush's (R-FL) response to Rep. Tancredo's comments that Miami was a Third World country, "what a nut…first of all, he's from my own party. He's a Republican. He doesn't represent my views or the views of most Republicans in this state." LINK

Gov. George Pataki (R-NY) made his second trip to Iraq this week and found a much more troubling security situation on the ground there than he did during his February 2004 visit when he recalled he was able to eat ice cream strolling the streets of Baghdad. The Associated Press' Marc Humbert has the story. LINK

GOP agenda:

In his pricey New York Times column, David Brooks provides seven tips to the Republican Party on how he thinks it can best woo independent/swing voters to the GOP -- primarily with a focus on policy over philosophy. LINK

Carl Hulse of the New York Times takes a look at incoming Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and his apparent willingness and desire to work cooperatively with Democrats -- especially on ethics reform and a minimum wage increase early in the 110th Congress. LINK

Democratic agenda:

Breaking a campaign pledge, Democrats say they will not implement one of the suggestions from the 9-11 panel -- the reorganization of the committee oversight structure. And the Washington Post has the story -- including the family reaction. LINK

The incoming majority:

Steve Tetrault of the Las Vegas Review Journal reports that Sen. Harry Reid's (D-NV) chief of staff Susan McCue is leaving for the ONE campaign and Gary Myrick will fill the spot. LINK

Calling Jim Webb's remarks to President Bush at a White House function "patent disrespect for the presidency," the Washington Post's George Will hammers Senator-Elect Jim Webb (D-VA) for his recent exchange with President Bush. LINK

Imus and Fineman batted this one around as well this morning.

RGA:

Google's CEO offered some advice on Wednesday to GOPers looking ahead to 2008: "make better use of the Internet's electioneering power if you want to win next time," Reuters reports. LINK

New Hampshire:

John DiStaso of the Union Leader reports that a New Hampshire judge limited the amount of damage Democrats could seek in their phone jamming case "to the extent that they can establish a direct link between the precluded communications and the hindered (voter turnout) activity." LINK

NC-08:

Ending one of the nation's last unresolved races, Democrat Larry Kissell conceded Wednesday to Rep. Robin Hayes (R-NC) in North Carolina's 8th Congressional District, the AP reports. LINK

Politics:

ABC's Jake Tapper writes on the media's reaction to Al Sharpton's and Jesse Jackson's involvement in the Michael Richards Laugh Factory incident. Boycott Seinfeld, Jackson says. LINK

Concerned that apron parking makes it dangerous for the disabled to use sidewalks, former Gov. Michael Dukakis (D-MA) has been hammering Los Angeles city officials to crack down on the practice in Westwood. "In a few weeks, parking enforcement officers are expected to begin aggressively ticketing cars that block streets and sidewalks," reports the Los Angeles Times. LINK

Casting and counting:

The Wall Street Journal's June Kronholz reports that the House "seems likely to quickly pass a long-stalled bill that would tighten the security of touch-screen voting." Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), who will head the rules committee in the new Democratic-controlled Senate, has announced hearings on an "identical measure."

"That legislation would require that touch screens provide a paper record of each ballot and a random audit of a fraction of those records to verify that votes are being counted correctly. Seventeen states already use paper trails, and a dozen require random audits. But some of this month's closest elections -- including for House seats in Florida, Pennsylvania and Indiana -- were in states that don't use either."

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