The Note: "The Opening Bell"

WASHINGTON, Feb. 21

The center of the political universe today locates in Carson City, Nevada when ABC News' George Stephanopoulos moderates a forum sponsored by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union beginning at 3:00 pm ET. All of the Democratic Party's 2008 presidential candidates will participate, except for Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL).

In the Carson City Community Center, the candidates will serially take questions, in the following order of appearance determined by lot: Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT), Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY), former Gov. Tom Vilsack (D-IA), former Sen. John Edwards (D-NC), Gov. Bill Richardson (D-NM), Sen. Joe Biden (D-DC), Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH), and former Sen. Miake Gravel (D-AK)

Note readers and children of all ages can watch gavel-to-Gravel coverage on ABC News' digital channel ABC News Now LINK and on abcnews.com's "Political Radar" LINK, as well as on the C-SPAN. ABC News Now's pre-game show will be anchored by ABC News' Kate Snow and Sam Donaldson.

There will be an 2:55 pm ET pre-program candidates photo op to which all are invited.

It is no accident that this forum is taking place in Nevada. Thanks in part to the efforts of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), the Silver State will play host to an early nominating contest currently slated to take place in early 2008 in between the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary.

Each candidate will deliver a two minute opening statement and then answer three questions from Stephanopoulos, one of which will have been submitted by an inquisitive AFSCME member. The candidates will have three minutes to respond to each question and will be allowed to deliver one-minute closing statements.

When print big dogs Tom Beaumont, Jill Lawrence, Mark Z. Barabak, Dan Balz, and Tom Beaumont all gather in one place, you know it is a mega-major event. They will all afford Jon Ralston the respect he deserves.

As Barabak correctly observes in his topical must-read Los Angeles Times' curtain-raiser, the elephant in the room with the Democratic donkeys will be the war in Iraq. LINK

Beaumont's Des Moines Register scene setter focuses on Obama's absence, and the Notion that maybe Saint Barack might actually be making a mistake by skipping the event. LINK

"Democrats will notice his absence at what is considered a key national event, and the first of the campaign centered on issues important to politically influential union activists."

"Hosted by ABC News' George Stephanopoulos, the AFSCME forum is a sort of opening bell for the 2008 campaign."

Jill Lawrence in USA Today raises the Silver State flag. LINK

The AP: LINK

ABC News' Mark Halperin offers a preview: LINK

The local press is all atwitter.

Molly Ball of the Las Vegas Review Journal: LINK

Steve Timko of the Reno Gazette-Journal reports on the busy preparations being made by the Carson City community for the presidential forum today. LINK

Kelli Du Fresne of the Nevada Appeal writes that Carson City is in the national spotlight for the first time since 1897, when it was host to the world championship fight between James J. "Gentleman Jim" Corbett and Robert Fitzsimmons. LINK

Unlike today's forum, however, the 1897 boxing match was fought without "brutality."

Before the on-air program begins, Sen. Reid, AFSCME President Gerald McEntee, and Nevada Speaker Barbara Buckley make welcoming remarks to the audience.

After the forum, Sen. Clinton addresses the Nevada State Education Association at 8:20 pm ET in Las Vegas, NV and Former Gov. Vilsack deliver remarks to the Nevada AFL-CIO Members at 7:00 pm ET in Carson City, NV.

Sen. Obama – the lone Democrat skipping today's forum -- holds a 8:45 pm ET town hall meeting at the Polk County Convention Complex in Des Moines, IA. (Gov. Vilsack offered to fly back to Iowa to debate Sen. Obama in front of an AFSCME local in the Hawkeye State – but the high-flying Obama campaign brushed the entreaty aside.)

Armed and ready, and cognizant of just how major a news peg the Carson City form is, the RNC's nimble research shop is using the moment to unload on the Democratic '08ers with a series of "Meet the Candidates" pieces. The RNC's Lisa Miller, Tracey Schmitt, and Shawn Reinschmiedt are also holding a 12:30 pm ET conference call with reporters.

The RNC's hit pieces won't be released until later today. But here's an early look at the flavor and "substance" to what amounts to rhetorical framing, rather than any smoking guns:

Joe Biden: "An Undisciplined, Self-Described Northeast Liberal, In Love With The Sound Of His Own Voice"

Hillary Clinton: A Calculating, Divisive, Lifelong Liberal With Political Baggage" (Note to the RNC: how come the female candidate is referred to by her first name in work?)

Chris Dodd: "A New England Liberal, Past His Prime, On An Unrealistic Vanity Run For The White House"

John Edwards: "A Hypocritical, Inexperienced Liberal With A Negative Attitude"

Barack Obama: "An Inexperienced, Insulated, Arrogant, Unabashed Liberal"

Bill Richardson: "A Self-Promoting, Washington Insider With a Controversial Record"

Tom Vilsack: "A Tax-Hiking, Mismanaging, "Blip" Candidate With No Foreign Policy Experience"

See below for additional calendar items.

ABC News-Brookings Partnership:

As part of its continuing coverage of the 2008 presidential race, ABC News has partnered with the Brookings Institution to help presidential candidates and the public focus on critical issues facing the nation.

The new Opportunity08 project and its website, www.opportunity08.org, will provide policy choices and information on a broad range of issues facing America's next president. It will also serve as a forum for discussing solutions.

As part of the project, more than 20 experts from the Brookings Institution will publicly present policy ideas for America's next president on a wide array of domestic and foreign policy questions, including tax policy, energy security, the deficit and Iraq. Those ideas will also be featured on the ABC News website at www.abcnews.go.com/politics and on ABC News Now, which provides live 24/7 news coverage online, on television and on mobile devices.

Political analysis will also be posted on the Opportunity08 website as a way of covering the policy dimension of the presidential race, rather than simply the "horserace" aspect of the campaign.

Opportunity08 will be launched on Wednesday, Feb. 28 and will feature three panel discussions focused on a variety of issues that will influence the 2008 campaign. The first panel will be moderated by ABC News' George Stephanopoulos and will include Opportunity08 advisory committee chairs Kenneth Duberstein, former chief of staff to President Reagan and an advisor to every Republican president since Nixon, and Thomas Donilon, former chief of staff to Secretary of State Warren Christopher and a Democratic presidential advisor for more than 20 years.

The second panel on foreign policy will be moderated by former Pentagon spokeswoman and ABC News consultant Torie Clarke, and a third panel will cover domestic policy.

Sign up at LINK

Gang of 500 impression watch:

William Saletan of Slate – apparently not under Mark Penn's spell -- says Hillary Clinton's refusal to say her war vote was a mistake is a mistake, a potentially fatal problem LINK

Ruth Marcus of the Washington Post – apparently not under Kevin Madden's spell – says Mitt Romney is a soulless, unprincipled freak, a potentially fatal problem. LINK

2008: Democrats: Obama:

For "Good Morning America," ABC News' Jake Tapper looked at Sen. Obama's star-studded fundraiser which took in $1.3 million, according to the Obama campaign.

Watch the video: LINK

In attendance: Eddie Murphy, Jennifer Anniston, Zach Braff, Laurence Bender, Morgan Freeman, and Ron Howard. Each of whom were supposed to have paid the maximum of $2,300 to the Obama campaign.

Under the header, "Obama's Big Screen Test," the New York Times' Maureen Dowd pens a must-read look at the rivalry between Sens. Obama and Clinton as they try to rake in Hollywood cash. The Hollywood mogul David Geffen used to be tight with President Clinton, Dowd writes, but "(n)ow the Dreamworks co-chairman calls the former president "a reckless guy" who "gave his enemies a lot of ammunition to hurt him and to distract the country." LINK

The Geffen quotes will be the talk of the Coasts today. We can hear Andy Spahn now, uttering the classic three-part explanation of Geffen's alleged remarks: (1) He didn't say those things. (2) It was off the record. (3) He was taken out of context.

Geffen said, "Obama is inspirational, and he's not from the Bush royal family or the Clinton royal family. Americans are dying every day in Iraq. And I'm tired of hearing James Carville on television."

(Over to you, Mr. Matalin.)

Also getting coastal attention: the New York Post's Page Six reports: "According to our source, an angry call was made to Geffen by someone in Clinton's office. 'They were very angry [the movie moguls] were holding this event,' our source said. 'They calmed down after an assurance was made that there would still be support and money left over for [Clinton].'" LINK

The New York Post's Niles Lathem writes that the Obama fundraiser "resembled an Oscar party more than a political fund-raiser." LINK

If you're dying to know everyone who attended last night, you're just going to have to wait. ABC News' Justin Rood reports that while Sen. Obama says he will be keeping his widely-publicized pledge to release the names of all his bundlers, his campaign tells us they don't intend to do so until the end of the quarter. LINK

Coverage of Obama's Hollywood fundraiser from the AP's Michael Blood: LINK

"[Obama's] stop in the predominantly black Crenshaw area was part of his effort to build support among African Americans, a mainstay of the Democratic Party," writes the Los Angeles Times' Michael Finnegan on his side trip in Los Angeles. LINK

The Houston Chronicle's Bennett Roth and Kristen Mack offer a story on Sen. Obama's fight for the black vote in Houston, TX where he will be stumping on Thursday. While Obama appeals to a younger generation of voters, some of the city's older citizens think the nation is not ready for a black president. LINK

In an op-ed for the Philadelphia Inquirer, Claude Lewis looks at the changing political dynamics for the "new generation of black politicians," and writes, "Since no state is majority-minority, to win statewide elections, you must have broad, transracial appeal. Perhaps no one is more aware of that than [Sen.] Obama." LINK

2008: Republicans:

Under a "Romney Hits McCain on Abortion" header, the Politico's Jonathan Martin reports in a must-read that Romney aide Gary Marx sent an e-mail last night to "more than 100 influential social conservatives highlighting various news clips about McCain's stance on abortion, bolding and italicizing those lines that call into question the senator's commitment to ending the practice." LINK

"Matt David, spokesman and rapid response guru for McCain, responded by noting his candidate's long record of opposing abortion. 'Senator McCain ran as a pro-life candidate, was elected as a pro-life senator and serves as a pro-life senator,' he said."

Before you get all excited thinking that the gloves are permanently off, it just might be that Gary Marx free-lanced with some on the record analysis that went beyond his advocacy brief, according to one knowledgeable source.

Politics of Iraq:

British Prime Minister Tony Blair will cut U.K. forces in Iraq from 7,100 to 5,500 by the summer, the AP reports. LINK

Blair's announcement would appear to be bad news for the Bush Administration, writes ABC News' Jonathan Karl from Tokyo, Japan.

But in an exclusive interview with ABC News, Vice President Cheney said the move was actually good news and a sign of progress in Iraq. LINK

"'Well, I look at it and see it is actually an affirmation that there are parts of Iraq where things are going pretty well,' Cheney told ABC News."

Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA) reacted to Blair's announcement by calling it "a stunning rejection of President Bush's high risk Iraq policy."

Libby trial:

ABC News' Jason Ryan covers the closing arguments in the Libby trial, as the prosecution paints Libby's memory failures as "ludicrous," and the defense warns that Libby's life "will be destroyed" if he is convicted. LINK

Robert Mintz analyzes the implications of the Libby trial's eventual outcome for ABC News, writing that the stakes are high not only for Libby, but for Patrick Fitzgerald, Vice President Cheney, and the First Amendment. LINK

Bloomberg's Carol O'Reilly on the Libby Trial's closing arguments. LINK

More from the Washington Post's Carol Leonnig and Amy Goldstein: LINK

Dana Milbank of the Washington Post writes in his Washington Sketch column on the odd goings-on in the penultimate chapter of the Libby hearing. LINK

2008: Republicans: Giuliani:

The New York Observer's Jason Horowitz on Giuliani's quest to go from "hot dog" to "corn dog" and his journey to find his "icy right center." LINK

The Hill's Alexander Bolton on South Carolina testing Giuliani's line on judges. LINK

2008: Republicans: McCain:

In a must-read, Politico's Mike Allen picks up on Vice President Cheney chastising Sen. McCain in his interview with ABC News' Jonathan Karl.

"Cheney: 'I just fundamentally disagree with John. John said some nasty things about me the other day, and then next time he saw me, ran over to me and apologized. Maybe he'll apologize to Rumsfeld.'"

The State of South Carolina reports that Sen. McCain has picked up the endorsement of South Carolina's Senate Finance Chairman Hugh Leatherman who said, "I have concluded that I can confidently entrust the security of my family's future and our country's future to John McCain." LINK

2008: Republicans: Romney:

"Mitt's a hit with Utahns," reports the Salt Lake Tribune of the state's "adopted son." LINK

On Gov. Romney's television ad going up in early caucus and primary states, the New York Times' Adam Nagourney writes, "(t)he advertisements, 10 months before the first nominating contests next year, are an early move to inform Republican primary voters about his views and record at a time when he has come under some criticism by opponents for shifting his views on several issues." LINK

"Mitt Romney, behind in early New Hampshire polls but flush with campaign cash, will launch a television commercial in New Hampshire and Iowa today, becoming the first major presidential candidate to take to the airwaves in those early battleground states," writes the Boston Globe's Lisa Wangsness, as her paper continue to play Romney as a metro story.

Boston Herald's Emma Ratcliff on the Romney ads: LINK

AP: LINK

2008: Democrats:

In The Hill, Lanny Davis, author and Clinton pal, offers an op-ed on three questions on Iraq that he wants asked of Edwards and Obama. LINK

2008: Democrats: Clinton:

Sen. Clinton showed that "she won't forfeit black voters" in the Sunshine State and she received the endorsements of Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-FL) and Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL). LINK

Molly Ball of the Las Vegas Review-Journal has Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's take on his son's chairmanship of Sen. Clinton's Nevada campaign. "I work with Sen. Clinton, Sen. Obama, Sen. Biden and Sen. Dodd every day, so it wasn't the easiest thing in the world to go to each one of them and say, 'My son's going to come out for Clinton tomorrow.'" LINK

The New York Post's Ian Bishop picks up on Sen. Clintons "vow to end arrogance as president." LINK

"When I'm president, I'm going to send a message to the world that America is back - we're not the arrogant power that we've been acting like for the last six years, " she said. The Orlando Sentinel's Kathleen Parker calls Clinton's bid for the White House, "once in a lifetime." LINK

Sen. Clinton should apologize for her Iraq war vote after President Bush, Vice President Cheney and former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld pens New York Daily News columnist Mike Lupica. LINK

ABC News' Teddy Davis pays homage to Jennifer Loven's analysis of President Bush's habit of going after political straw men and has Wayne Fields of Washington University, a specialist in presidential rhetoric, calling Sen. Clinton's Monday comments in South Carolina "disingenuous if not dishonest." LINK

Fields was responding to Sen. Clinton saying ". . . some people may be running who tell you we don't face a real threat from terrorism. I'm not one of them. We have serious enemies who want to do us serious harm."

2008: Democrats: Edwards:

Sen. Edwards wants you to know, whatever Variety might tell you, that he doesn't consider Israel a threat to world peace, reports the Associated Press.

LINK

ABC News' Jennifer Parker on the same: LINK

2008: Democrats: Richardson:

John L. Smith, in an op-ed for the Los Vegas Review-Journal, wonders at the lack of buzz over Gov. Richardson's candidacy, writing that "no declared Democrat can match Richardson's work experience." Smith adds, "On the upside, to date I know of no sober political pundit who has wondered aloud whether Richardson is 'Hispanic enough.'" LINK

John Farrell of the Denver Post on the grilling Richardson received while on his swing through New Hampshire. LINK

2008: Democrats: Vilsack:

Radio Iowa's Kay Henderson recaps Vilsack's campaign stop last night in Winterset. A lot of people may like Vilsack based on the job he did as governor of Iowa, but for many, it's still too early to decide who they will back. LINK

2008: Democrats: Clark:

Retired Army Gen. Wesley Clark told a crowd at Colgate University that the Bush Administration's plan in Iraq is wrong because it's short on dialogue and diplomacy and heavy on violence. LINK

2008: Democrats: Dodd:

Campaigning in Iowa, Sen. Dodd is counting on the traditions of retail politicking to level the presidential playing field, reports the Associated Press. "I don't think you can come in here and do sort of a wholesale political operation from 35,000 feet with a pit stop here and there and a media campaign behind you," said Sen. Dodd. LINK

2008: Democrats: Biden:

ABC News' Jake Tapper interviewed Sen. Biden on his podcast: LINK

The Associated Press reports on Sen. Biden's efforts to trumpet his national security resume. "The first thing is, you don't get to discuss any of the issues that the majority of Americans are with us on -- domestic issues -- unless you can, to use a Nevada phrase, ante up with unimpeachable credentials on national security," said Sen. Biden to Nevada Democrats. "I don't think you even get in the game." LINK

Bush Administration agenda:

In a victory for the Bush Administration, a federal appeals court ruled Tuesday that Guantanamo detainees do not have the right to challenge their imprisonment in federal court.

The AP's Hope Yen: LINK

The Washington Post's Josh White: LINK

Democratic agenda:

Juliet Eilperin and Michael Grumwald of the Washington Post on Rep. Ellen Tauscher (D-CA) coming under fire from net-roots activists. LINK

"So far, Pelosi and her leadership team seem determined to protect Tauscher and her 60 New Democrats -- up from 47 before the election. In fact, the day after Working for Us, the new progressive political action committee, targeted Tauscher, Pelosi sought her out at a caucus meeting and assured her: 'I'm not going to let this happen.' House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) spent 20 minutes complaining to Working for Us founder Steve Rosenthal, who swiftly removed the hit list of "Worst Offenders" from the group's Web site."

Casting and counting:

A Rutgers and Ohio State University study for the FEC found that states that imposed identification requirements on voters reduced turnout in the 2004 presidential election, especially among minorities reports, the New York Times' Christopher Drew. LINK

Political potpourri:

Mark Katz of the Soundbite Institute explains to politicos how to ace their comedy couch tests, on the Politico. LINK

McClatchy's Steven Thomma reports on the new Democratic efforts to woo the West. LINK

In his Political Punch blog, ABC News' Jake Tapper asks his 'provocative question of the day' concerning the GOP-contributer-turned-terrorist-camp-funder, and assembles a 'frontrunner roundup' of stories from this weekend's campaign adventures. LINK

Other calendar items:

The Scooter Libby case is handed over to the jury and verdict deliberations are scheduled to begin. Meanwhile, Vice President Cheney is in Japan.

President Bush participates in a 11:30 am ET tour of Erlanger Hospital-Baroness Campus in Chattanooga, TN. Following the tour, Bush takes part in a 12:10 pm ET conversation on health care initiatives in Chattanooga.

Sen. McCain becomes the latest GOP presidential hopeful to visit the Golden State when he joins Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R-CA) for a 1:30 pm ET press conference and aerial tour of the 710 Freeway, shipping terminals, and the Port of Long Beach.

Giuliani holds a 4:00 pm ET town hall meeting with first responder in North Spartanburg, SC.

Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA) makes an announcement concerning the South Carolina Republican Presidential Primary at 11:30 am ET at a press conference in the State Capitol in Columbia, SC.

The Supreme Court hears 10:00 am ET oral arguments in the patenting case Microsoft Corporation v. AT&T Corporation.

Intern for the ABC News Political Unit:

The ABC News Political Unit is now seeking full-time unpaid summer interns in Washington, D.C.

There are a few requirements you should know about before applying for the internship.

-- You must be either a graduate student or junior or senior in college.
-- You must be able to work long days, starting early, Monday through Friday.
-- If your school gives credit for internships, you must receive credit.
-- The internship begins May 29 and runs into August.

Not only will you get to write for The Note and help us manage ABC's Political Radar, but ABC News Political Unit interns also help us by conducting research, maintaining contact lists, and attending political events.

If you write well, don't mind getting up early, and have some familiarity with web publishing, send a cover letter and resume to teddy.davis@abc.com as soon as possible, with the subject line: "INTERN" in all caps.