THE NOTE: Fred's Fumbles

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Domenici joins Republican senators John Warner (Va.), Chuck Hagel (Neb.), Wayne Allard (Col.), and (maybe) Larry Craig (Idaho) in retirement -- and no formal word yet from scandal-plagued Ted Stevens (Alaska). Toss in close races that are expected over GOP-held seats in New Hampshire, Maine, Oregon, and Minnesota, and suddenly a Democratic caucus that counted 45 members just a year ago can almost see a day of a filibuster-proof majority. Pity poor Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., the man left with the mess at the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

You don't see this every day: Political Wire's Taegan Goddard notices that 2008 could have three first cousins running for the Senate on the same day: Sen. Gordon Smith, R-Ore., Rep. Mark Udall, D-Col. (running for Allard's seat), and Rep. Tom Udall, D-N.M., who "is considered the early favorite for the Democratic nomination" in Domenici's seat.

Also in the news:

The front page of The New York Times offers up a bombshell that will have political reverberations. While the Justice Department was publicly declaring torture to be "abhorrent," Alberto Gonzales issued a secret legal opinion that was "an expansive endorsement of the harshest interrogation techniques ever used" by the CIA, the Times' Scott Shane, David Johnston, and James Risen report. The opinion "for the first time provided explicit authorization to barrage terror suspects with a combination of painful physical and psychological tactics, including head-slapping, simulated drowning and frigid temperatures."

Don't miss this line (and you know the Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee won't went hearings begin for the president's choice to succeed Gonzales): "The 2005 Justice Department opinions remain in effect, and their legal conclusions have been confirmed by several more recent memorandums."

Giuliani is facing a fresh challenge from social conservatives. The archbishop of St. Louis "is threatening to deny Holy Communion to Rudy Giuliani over his support for abortion rights, spotlighting the ex-mayor's break from his church -- and his political party -- on an issue of critical importance to both," Newsday's Craig Gordon reports. The comments by Archbishop Raymond Burke -- who issued a similar threat against Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., in 2004 -- "come as Giuliani tries to forestall a defection by religious conservative leaders to a possible third-party candidate."

With Giuliani running a new radio ad in New Hampshire, the former mayor yesterday advised his New York Yankees not to look past the Cleveland Indians in their pursuit of a title (and that series starts tonight). "But when it comes to Giuliani's strategy for winning the presidency, he's already skipped the playoffs for the big show," Joelle Farrell writes in the Concord Monitor. "Instead of drawing distinctions between himself and his Republican rivals, Giuliani tells voters that he's the best Republican to go toe-to-toe with New York Sen. Hillary Clinton, who leads in the Democratic primary polls."

"It's my intention not to attack any other Republicans, absolutely," Giuliani tells Politico's Mike Allen and Jonathan Marin.  "The whole focus of my campaign is I'm going to run against a Democrat."

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