The Note: Elections Are About Choices

NEWS SUMMARY

As the old saw goes, the first step in solving your problems is to admit you have one.

The President's party is seen as stronger on national security and values than the Democrats are by the American people.

That means the Democrats have a problem. Or, two of them. At least.

In this week of the State of the Union, the President's hard sell on Social Security, and the Democrats moving toward picking a new chairman, we leave it to others to decide: which Democrats are part of the problem and which Democrats are part of the solution?

Was Evan Bayh's appearance on "This Week" good for the party? How about John Kerry on "Meet"? Will the outcome of the chair race be?

OK, it is POSSIBLE that, based on our reporting, that there are some hints below.

Like -- hint: opposing success is probably not smart.

Today at 10:00 am ET, House Democratic leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid hold a "pre-buttal" news briefing to the State of the Union at the National Press Club. (Part of the problem or part of the solution?)

At 10:00 am ET, the full complement of Democratic state party chairs were gathering by teleconference to decide if they want to endorse the executive committee's choice of Donnie Fowler to be party chair. To paraphrase Bob Dole: the DNC has never had a party chair named "Donnie" before. (Is this call and its result part of the problem or part of the solution?)

Scott McClellan gaggles at 9:45 am ET and briefs at 12:30 pm ET.

At 10:45 am ET, President Bush participates in new Education Secretary Margaret Spellings' swearing in ceremony, and has a photo op with the Detroit Pistons at 3:00 pm ET. Leave your brawl remarks at the door.

Acting New Jersey Gov. Richard Codey holds a news conference at 11:00 am ET, where he is expected to announce he will not seek election to a full term helming the Garden State, and according to AP, will endorse Sen. Jon Corzine.

Corzine holds a press conference at 10:30 am ET to talk about his rail security bill.

John Podesta will unveil the Center for American Progress' tax reform plan at a 12:30 pm ET. (Again: part of the problem or part of the solution?)

The Press Club hosts a luncheon address by New York State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer at 12:30 pm ET.

Tomorrow, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee holds hearings to look at U.S. policy toward Iraq and the Middle East.

On Wednesday at 9:01 pm ET (February sweeps, anyone?), the President delivers the State of the Union address.

Reid Pelosi deliver the Democratic response.

Also on Wednesday, confirmation hearings begin on the nomination of Michael Chertoff to be secretary of Homeland Security.

The Senate Finance Committee holds a hearing on the long term outlook for Social Security.

And Sens. John Kerry (D-MA) and Chuck Hagel (R-NE) talk about climate change at the Brookings Institution.

On Thursday, the President speaks at the National Prayer Breakfast at the Washington Hilton before heading to Fargo, ND, and Great Falls, MT, to talk about overhauling Social Security. He continues the conversation on Friday in Omaha, NE, Little Rock, AR, and Tampa, FL.

On Thursday, Sens. Corzine and Sununu join the New York Times' Paul Krugman and Stephen Moore of the Cato Institute at the National Press Club to talk about Social Security.

First Lady Laura Bush is in Philadelphia on Thursday and New York on Friday.

On Saturday, John Edwards is in New Hampshire for the state party's annual dinner.

Iraq:

The Washington Post's Robin Wright looks at the political implications of the election to the Bush Administration -- and what we're likely to hear in the State of the Union address this week about the goal of spreading democracy through the Middle East. LINK

"For the Bush administration, Iraq's election surpassed expectations -- and offered a rare moment of relief after two years marked by intense debates at home, a bitter international divide, the failure to find weapons of mass destruction, billions in mounting costs and far more bloodshed than ever anticipated."

David Sanger of the New York Times on the mixed emotions at the White House: "Even on the heels of Mr. Bush's re-election, the past month has been tense and politically risky for the president. On Sunday, the broad strategy of spreading freedom in the world that he described in his Inaugural Address faced its first test since that speech. But Mr. Bush has acknowledged that a successful election is just the first step." LINK

"With televised images showing jubilant Iraqis, filling out ballots and participating in the first truly free election in more than 50 years, Mr. Bush and his aides were clearly concerned that the imagery would add to the pressures at home to set a clear timetable for withdrawing the 150,000 American forces now based there. So even while hailing the accomplishment, they spent much of the day tamping down expectations, issuing reminders that the American-led effort to remake Iraq was still at a precarious stage."

And Sanger describes the consequences for states like Egypt and Jordan, both recipients of presidential phone calls.

The Los Angeles Times' Paul Richter writes that the Iraq vote was a hopeful sign for a White House slammed by critics and facing dropping support among Americans for the U.S. mission, "there were signs that allies would judge the election positively, possibly conferring the international legitimacy that has been a prime U.S. goal" -- but the Administration was careful not to be overly jubilant about the idea of a turning point. And even positive reviews may not bring more than grudging on-the-ground support from Europe. LINK

On Sunday, the Washington Post's Bradley Graham and Peter Baker reported that though the Bush Administration has at least temporarily declined to come up with a timetable for withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq, military commanders are beginning to plan for Iraqi security forces to be on the front lines in some parts of the country by spring. LINK

Bush agenda:

From the New York Times' Robert Pear: "The Bush administration has touched off a furious debate with new rules allowing employers to collect billions of dollars in federal subsidies for prescription drug benefits less generous than what many retirees were expecting under the new Medicare law In theory, those retiree benefits should be at least equal in value to the new Medicare drug benefit. But that will not always be the case, according to Medicare officials, labor unions and specialists in employee benefits." LINK

The Los Angeles Times' Ron Brownstein takes a look at how the White House is trying to connect President Bush's agenda, both domestic and international, to the legacies of Democratic presidents like Wilson, Roosevelt, and Clinton (ponder that last one for a minute). The analogies don't hold up, Brownstein reasons. LINK

"In each case, to put it mildly, the connection is a stretch. In fact, in each instance, the Bush team is citing the Democrats to sell policies that reverse the strategies those presidents pursued. It's as if General Motors were using a testimonial from Ralph Nader to sell an updated Corvair."

And it gives Brownstein another chance to rail against war-time tax cuts.

Will the Fed's propensity to raise interest rates all year, as the New York Times' Edmund Andrews suggests they will, affect the president's ability to sell his agenda? LINK

Is there any White House reporter who hasn't yet digested Natan Sharansky's book? LINK

Matt Dowd and Joe Lockhart try to divine what will happen in a Bush second term for USA Today's Susan Page. LINK

"Education Secretary Margaret Spellings for the first time acknowledged 'errors of judgment' by the Bush administration in paying a prominent black pundit to promote its education policies, saying she has halted work on the contract," writes USA Today's Greg Toppo. LINK

Sunday's Washington Post had a Tommy Edsall/John Harris must-read on how the President's policies just might help build a GOP majority. There's a lot of blah blah blah back and forth about if the policies drive the politics or vice versa, but we think that that is beside the point. LINK

Social Security:

The Washington Post's Mike Allen writes that President Bush appears to have gotten the buy-in that he sought from congressional Republicans on his Social Security plan, even including some shaky members who may be looking at a credible Democratic challenge, and examines the playbook on Social Security that congressional Republicans are taking away from their weekend retreat, which "urges lawmakers to promote the 'personalization' of Social Security, suggesting ownership and control, rather than 'privatization,' which "connotes the total corporate takeover of Social Security.' Democratic strategists said they intend to continue fighting the Republican plan by branding it privatization, and assert that depiction is already set in people's minds." LINK

Yes, Mike, we Noticed you had verbatim quotes from all the closed-door meetings.

Note well that Mr. DeLay is now fully on board and that Rudy Giuliani was there to calm nerves.

Newsweek's Richard Wolffe, Tamara Lipper and Holly Bailey contextualize the Greenbriar meetings as reflective of "the extraordinary sight of congressional Republicans sniping at the re-elected President for allowing the Social Security debate to drift out of his control." LINK

Jackie Calmes' Wall Street Journal assessment of the state of the President's Social Security plan among Republicans includes references to Hillary Care, a SOTU preview, a sense that some, but not all, Republicans were cheered by the President's cheerleading in West Virginia, and these choice paragraphs:

"Some Republicans privately doubt that all members of their congressional conference understand the sensitive issues involved, such as the estimated $2 trillion transition cost for private accounts, future benefit reductions and possible payroll-tax increases for upper-income workers."

"According to attendees, Mr. Bush did most of the talking; the few questions from lawmakers dealt not with still-sketchy details of his plan, but the political cover he plans to provide personally. That also was the focus of separate sessions between lawmakers and Mr. Bush's political advisers, led by Karl Rove. The emphasis on politics over substance demonstrated lawmakers' fears about re-election; Mr. Bush won't face voters again, while all House members and a third of the senators will do so next year."

"Mr. Bush and his team detailed what they will do to advance Social Security overhaul through presidential campaigning and media advertising by the party and outside fund-raising groups. Also, consultants Richard Thau and Frank Luntz advised Republicans on how to talk about Social Security changes without alienating voters -- or giving fodder to Democrats, as House Ways and Means Chairman Bill Thomas of California recently did by suggesting benefits might differ by gender or race."

Our favorite sentence from David Kirkpatrick's weekend wrap-up of the GOP in West Virginia: "In another presentation, Senator John Thune of South Dakota introduced senators to the meaning of "blogging," explaining the basics of self-published online political commentary and arguing that it can affect public opinion." LINK

By the way, when will "blogging" become simply blogging . . . in the Times stylebook?

Admit it -- some of you didn't read the Los Angeles Times both Saturday AND Sunday this weekend.

The failure to do that shows you don't really have much of a commitment, but we are here for you.

You see -- there were cognitive-dissonance-causing, cross-cutting must-read pieces over the weekend on Social Security.

On Saturday, Ron Brownstein wrote about how some conservative strategists see reform now as a long shot -- with or without the broadened tact floated by Bill Thomas. LINK

The included Grover Norquist quotes cause us to paraphrase the cliché: If Grover Norquist is quoted in the Saturday Los Angeles Times, and no one but us reads it, did it really happen?

Norquist didn't seem to be giving up, but he sure seemed downbeat and pessimistic.

"'It's like you're in one of those mazes where you say, "I know I'm in a dead end with this path, so I'll try the other fork," said Grover Norquist, a leading conservative activist close to the White House. 'That may be a dead end too. But he thinks that as long as it is going forward, he has a chance to bring life to it . . . '"

"'It makes sense to allow a conversation to go forward about different ways to get Social Security reform,' Norquist said. 'Within the next two years, it may be impossible to cut this deal [to restructure Social Security]. But if anyone can do it, Thomas can. Not only do I think that, but he thinks that.'"

But on Sunday, Janet Hook took her usual smart look at how conservative thinkers and activists have given the President a huge intellectual and tactical foundation on which to base his push. LINK

But back on the "trouble brewing" side of things, the Los Angeles Times' slick Joel Havemann yesterday deftly broke down the "benefit cuts"/"no benefit cuts" schools within the GOP. LINK

Moneyman Steve Rattner (not fully ID'ed in the view of some) wrote a Washington Post Outlook piece saying that Democrats shouldn't just be in denial say "no crisis" on Social Security but should come up with and put forward ideas. LINK

On Sunday, the Boston Globe's Michael Kranish looked at President Bush's tactic of talking in racial terms about his plan to overhaul Social Security, selling it at least partly by saying the system is unfair to blacks. LINK

"Under a system based on wages, the average monthly Social Security retirement benefit received by African-Americans is $775, compared with $912 for whites. In addition, many blacks never receive the benefits because a disproportionate number die before they are eligible. On average, black males die six years sooner than white males."

"But some groups representing African-Americans say that Bush's logic is faulty and that creating private accounts would hurt blacks rather than help them. They maintain that Bush is playing a race card to boost his plan."

Health care:

The Los Angeles Times' Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar writes that health care, and citizens' ability to, as the Administration will put it, "own" their health care policies with high-deductible catastrophic plans and health care savings accounts, is on the table. And expect to hear loads more from former House Speaker Newt Gingrich on the subject. LINK

"Critics say the Republican approach is really an attempt to shift the risks, massive costs and knotty problems of healthcare from employers to individuals. And they say the GOP is moving forward with far less public attention or debate than have surrounded Bush's plans to overhaul Social Security."

"Indeed, Bush's health insurance agenda is far more developed than his Social Security plans and is advancing at a rapid clip through a combination of actions by government, insurers, employers and individuals."

The cabinet: Michael Chertoff:

The Washington Post's Michael Powell and Michelle Garcia profile Michael Chertoff, President Bush's nominee to head the Department of Homeland Security, and offer up a preview blueprint of the questions he will face as his confirmation hearing begins on Wednesday, Noting that Chertoff's manner could bring focus to an agency struggling to bring together a myriad of different interests, and will also draw questions regarding his support of detaining immigrants and his role in writing the USA Patriot Act and his guidance to the CIA on interrogating al Qaeda suspects. LINK

Intel:

The Washington Post's Walter Pincus looks at what a tough job the National Intelligence Director is to fill. LINK

DNC's special, private 2004 post-mortem:

When we learned that the Democratic Party was having a semi-secret party post-mortem with all expenses paid in Washington this week, we asked around. But it turns out that lots of folks we thought would know about it had no idea what we were asking about:

So here's what we know:

From an excerpt of a letter written by DNC chair Terry McAuliffe to program participants:

"After discussions with many of you and with staff of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and Kerry/Edwards Campaign, I cordially invite you to attend .

"Moving Forward: The 2004 Election Forum." We have invited 2004 campaign staff, as well as representatives from ACT, America Votes and the Labor community."

"As an invited guest, your air fare, transportation to and from the airport, hotel accommodations (if you live outside of the D.C. area), breakfast, lunch and dinner will be paid for by the DNC."

Here's another sentence from the agenda: "Please note: This material is confidential until further notice."

Heh.

We've learned that these events take place at the Sheraton Four Points hotel (home of the yummy Corduroy restaurant) from January 31st through February 2nd.

Among the more interesting schedule items:

---------------

TUESDAY February 1st

7:30am - 8:30am Breakfast

8:30am - 9:00am Introductions, Agenda Overview

9:00am - 10:00am DNC 2004 Overview

10:15am - 11:15am ACT 2004 Overview

11:15am - 12:15pm America Votes 2004 Overview

12:15pm - 1:30pm Lunch

1:30pm - 3:30pm State Breakout Session: Field, Base Vote and Voter Contact Programs

3:45pm - 5:00pm State Breakout Session: Communications, Research an Surrogate Programs and Budget

5:30pm - 7:00pm Cocktail Reception

7:30pm Participant Dinner

WEDNESDAY February 2nd

8:00am - 9:00am Breakfast

9:00am - 10:00am Election Analysis

10:15am - 12:15pm State Presentations: Lessons Learned and Best Practices

---------------

It's perfectly legal, but we bet the RNC will have fun with the America Votes and ACT sessions.

DNC chair's race:

Call Monday the day of new math in the DNC chair's race.

(Time's Viveca Novak calls the putative ASDC endorsement of Donnie Fowler a dent in Howard Dean's armor, but did anyone really expect Dean to get an ASDC endorsement?) LINK

Four separate accounts of what happened during yesterday's ASDC executive committee deliberations tell a similar story: that Dean won the first round of balloting by one vote, receiving six to Fowler's 5 to Frost's 3 to Rosenberg's 1.

Then, some unknown tempest (or simply normal procedural adjustment) occurred, and one member left, and a revote aggregated the votes to Fowler -- he won 8 to 6.

So what actually happened? And does it matter?

On one hand, it would mean more if the vote were binding on the chairs and vice chairs and if a good number of chairs had followed Mr. Brewer's request to hold off on an endorsement.

On the other hand, it clearly advances Donnie Fowler's candidacy and shows an institutional oomph heretofore missing from his campaign.

According to the ASDC, the executive committee holds a conference call with the entire body of state chairs at 10:00 am ET tomorrow, at which point the executive committee's recommendation will be "announced."

There will then be a roll call vote:

From an ASDC e-mail describing the process: "State Chairs, Vice Chairs and Executive Directors only will be allowed on the call. Chairs and Vice Chairs have one vote each. A Chair will be permitted to cast two votes if his/her Vice Chair is not on the line and Vice Chairs will get two votes if their Chair is not on the call. Executive Directors may not vote for their Chairs/Vice Chairs. If neither the Chair nor the Vice Chair from a state or territory is on the call, that state/territory will not have a vote."

Depending on the results -- and we think, because of anecdotal accounts of how Sunday's executive committee vote took place, the Fowler recommendation will not be greeted with uniform praise -- the ASDC executive committee will either then announce to the public that it has endorsed Fowler . . . or, if they can muster a majority of the full ASDC, announce that the ASDC itself has endorsed Fowler. Or they might announce a slate of candidates they like.

Some of this will be moot, because many state chairs will endorse whomever they want and the endorsements are non-binding.

But it certainly makes Fowler a central player in the next two weeks. Several of his top supporters say that without the endorsement, Fowler would probably have been pressured to drop out before the DNC meeting.

One thing to watch: whether the dispute between the DNC and Brewer over the 2004 election disbursements trickles over to the chair's race.

And in the eyes of one Martin Frost backer, all this makes it less likely that big labor unions will endorse Frost this week.

Fowler, Dean and Frost all claim to be on the verge of releasing many chair commitments, so we'll see.

Adam Nagourney wraps the endorsement and quotes an unnamed Dean ally as believing it easier to run against Fowler than Frost. LINK

Ron Brownstein lays out the "to Dean or not to Dean" choice that Dems face. LINK

"Some senior Democratic operatives say unease about a Dean chairmanship is widespread among congressional leaders and many governors. But almost none of those grumbling privately have expressed their concerns publicly -- in part, some believe, because they fear crossing the ardent grass-roots, Internet-activist community still backing Dean."

"One insider suggested that Dean's endorsement Friday from Bill Clinton's aide Harold Ickes may have backfired, just as his endorsement from Al Gore did in Dean's losing 2004 bid for the Democratic presidential nomination," Deb Orin suggests. LINK

Bob Novak structures his column along the anti-Dean concerns of one prominent Democratic fundraiser. LINK

The Boston Globe's Nina Easton on the now-public Stop Dean movement in evidence in New York. LINK

Dick Morris's column today is either insightful, amusing, or pitiful, depending on your point view. LINK

Over the weekend, Adam Nagourney and Anne Kornblut shared their first byline, which we find quite cute! LINK

On Sunday, the Washington Post's Dana Milbank looked at the parallels between Howard Dean's campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination and his campaign for the chairmanship of the Democratic National Committee, Noting that Harold Ickes decided on Friday to back the former Vermont governor, and checking out the view from the hospitality suites at this weekend's regional meeting in New York. LINK

"Perhaps the main distinction between Dean and his rivals for the chairmanship is Dean's relatively cheerful view about the party's prospects despite its current powerlessness. Dean's prescription for the party -- that its problem is mechanical, not ideological -- may or may not be true, but it is certainly the message the party faithful in New York want to hear."

Lee Bandy obviously does not hold Donnie Fowler's San Francisco pad (or movie star good looks) against him. LINK

Dems regroup:

Today, Rep. Nancy Pelosi and Sen. Harry Reid will deliver a prebuttal to the State of the Union at the National Press Club.

The New York Times' Carl Hulse has an analytical review: LINK

Excerpts from their remarks:

Reid: "There is a gap between saying we are a global leader and standing on the sidelines as new international institutions and alliances take shape without us."

"There is a gap between saying to reformers that 'the United States will not ignore your oppression, or excuse your oppressors' and an Administration that stands by in virtual silence as Saudi dissidents disappear."

"And nowhere is the gap between rhetoric and reality greater than in Iraq."

Pelosi: "So it is right that we are having a discussion about the future of Social Security, but it is also right that Democrats stand up for our values the values that created, defended, and will strengthen Social Security."

"First, Democrats insist any changes not begin by cutting benefits. The average Social Security check today is $950 a month. That is not a great deal of money for those who depend on that check to pay for food, rent, heat, and medicine. "

"Under the leading privatization plan proposed by the President's Social Security commission, the Social Security benefit could be cut by more than 40 percent."

"Democrats will not allow this Administration to turn this proud, entrepreneurial achievement of the New Deal into a raw deal for millions of Americans."

"Social Security is a promise, kept from generation to generation a guarantee of dignity and independence the closest thing our government has to a sacred trust."

"Mr. President, do not betray this trust."

Roll Call's Erin Billings looks at the "faith agenda" that Pelosi is developing with the assistance of religious leaders and consultants (including Mike McCurry) -- and is now trying to figure out how to put into practice.

Sheryl Gay Stolberg in Sunday's New York Times Noted how important defeating Bush's plan to change Social Security is for Democrats. LINK

Today, John Podesta will unveil the Center for American Progress' tax reform plan at a 12:30 pm ET panel with economists. New York Times Magazine readers saw it previewed in Nick Conefsorre's Jan. 16 piece.

To say John Podesta is emerging as his party's Grover Norquist is to risk insulting both of them, but Podesta's attempt to marry ideas and activism has few parallels in Washington on either side these days.

CAP describes the plan as offering "comprehensive tax reform that rewards hard work and promotes shared prosperity." According to CAP, its plan for tax reform "would restore fairness to our tax code by equalizing the treatment of all income-wages and capital income alike."

"The plan would tax each kind of income according to the same rate schedule, whether the income is derived from wages, salaries, capital gains, or dividends."

CAP says the plan would generate nearly $500 billion in new revenue and shift the share of taxes away from the regressive payroll tax and onto a restructured income tax while providing new incentives for retirement savings and an average tax cut of $600 for the overwhelming majority of Americans making under $200,000 annually."

"The net result of the plan -- a more progressive tax system that reduces taxes on the middle class and strengthens Social Security's financial foundation by closing half of the current long-run shortfall in the trust fund."

Sen. John Kerry:

The Washington Post's John Harris wraps Sen. Kerry's "Meet" appearance yesterday, putting up high Kerry's rather confounding "popular vote in the battleground states" rationale and his desire to keep his options open for 2008. Read it all the way to the end. LINK

"'Did we make some mistakes? You bet we did,' Kerry said of his presidential campaign. But the thrust of his comments was to argue that the mistakes were at the margins, and that his campaign deserves credit for challenging a war president with imposing political advantages."

"'I believe that 9/11 was the central deciding issue in this race,' said Kerry, who noted that when a taped message from Osama bin Laden surfaced days before the Nov. 2 polling, 'we flat-lined the day the tape appeared and went down on Monday.'"

The Boston Globe's Rick Klein leads with the "9/11 hurdle" supposition and Notes Kerry's willingness to talk about abortion, his break with Sen. Kennedy on Iraq, and his slams on the President's Social Security plan. As well as RNC chairman Ken Mehlman's tsk-tsk response. LINK

Which we bring to you in its entirety!

"On a day when all Americans, regardless of party affiliation, are celebrating the growth of freedom and honoring the sacrifices of American and Iraqi troops with elections in Iraq, it's sad that John Kerry has chosen once again to offer vacillation and defeatism. Even after the first free elections in Iraq in more than 50 years John Kerry still believes Iraq is more of terrorist threat than when the brutal tyrant Saddam Hussein was in power and even more remarkably Kerry is now once again for funding our troops, after being for the funding before he was against it."

The Mehlman statement was accompanied by several Kerry statements from yesterday and during the campaign designed to show Kerry as a "flip flopper" on Iraq -- and assure us that as he tries to keep his profile high looking toward 2008, Republicans will keep their campaign-style operation on the Senator up and running as well.

The second-least-controversial Note sentence ever: Steve Schmidt was not convinced by John Kerry's appearance on "Meet" that Kerry would be a better president than George W. Bush.

(The least-controversial Note statement : George W. Bush and Brian Lamb do not have identical senses of humor.)

Judicial politics:

On Sunday, the Washington Post's Chuck Lane took a look at the idea of a Chief Justice Scalia -- and Scalia's alleged subtle public campaign signaling his openness to the gig. LINK

2005:

AP reports that Acting New Jersey Gov. Richard Codey has decided not to run for his own term, and is expected to endorse Sen. Jon Corzine. LINK

2006:

Fred Dicker and deputy Kenneth Lovett have the front page in today's New York Post: "The state Republican Party has secretly funded a personal servant for Gov. Pataki's wife, Libby, at the Pataki family mansion on the Hudson River, The Post has learned." LINK

"The servant -- whose shocking existence on the party payroll was unknown even among the state's highest- ranking GOP officials -- was described to The Post by two Republican insiders as Mrs. Pataki's 'maid' and 'personal valet.'"

"The employee, Michelle Stubbs, 56, of Chester, -- less than 20 miles from Pataki's sprawling Putnam County estate -- is being paid $36,650 a year, plus expenses, out of the 'housekeeping account' of the state GOP, records show. The account is supposed to fund routine party operating expenses."

"Pataki chief spokesman David Catalfamo said, 'She works out of an office in the Patakis' home and her own home.'"

"Catalfamo said Stubbs' duties were 'primarily' secretarial as well as 'travel and helping coordinate the first lady's schedule.'"

We wonder, again, how the Post got this . . .

So how will Gov. Pataki be received by the Conservative Party tonight? LINK

Roll Call's Ben Pershing has more details from the West Virginia retreat, Noting in particular NRSC chair Tom Reynolds' presentation on the necessity of keeping GOP retirements to a minimum in 2006.

"Once again, the NRCC plans to depend on the 'Battleground' program to raise money from incumbent Members. Last cycle, the program set a goal of raising $16 million and exceeded that target by $5 million. That success helped the committee spend more than $61 million directly on races, according to the chairman."

Yet while he lauded the amount of money the NRCC was able to raise and spend in the previous cycle, Reynolds complained, 'Unfortunately, some of that money had to be directed away from offense and had to be spent on defense.'"

2008:

Lee Bandy, writing in the State about GOP jockeying in the Palmetto State for 2008 shows that not everyone has gotten into the Karl Rove/John Weaver spirit of L-O-V-E. LINK

The piece is a must-read because of all the indications of early efforts to establish beach heads in the first-in-the-South contest, but look at what the Bushies are saying about John McCain:

"'If he enters the race, he'll bring more baggage into South Carolina than Delta Airlines,' said Heath Thompson, Bush's state campaign director in 2000."

"Consultant Warren Tompkins, who has close ties to the Bush White House, says he could back anybody but McCain. 'He's always first out of the box to criticize the president.'"

Time magazine's Viveca Novak offers up a quick run-down of the early angling for 2008, including Gen. Clark's "dialing for donors." LINK

Howard Fineman has his own front-of-the-book '08 squib, focusing on the early efforts of Edwards and Bayh. LINK

Sen. Tom Harkin defends the Iowa caucuses in today's Des Moines Register. LINK

Hillary Clinton's abortion gambit is looking smarter every day (and not just because various pro-choice Senators praised her yesterday).

More and more, it looks like one of those "good politics/good policy" moves in which Clinton can (rightfully) claim that she didn't shift her position one iota, but is getting credit all around for an intellectually muscular and tactically clever repositioning of the party. Expect more of this from her.

In the meantime, Sunday's New York Times ed board had the hard-to-please pro-choice chorus singing HRC's praises. LINK

And the Daily News had two columns doing the same -- by John Leo and E.R. Shipp . LINK and LINK

Leo's lede: "Hillary Clinton is likely to be the 2008 Democratic presidential nominee because she is so much smarter than rivals now on the horizon."

Shipp's conclusion: "When one reaches out one's hand in good faith, one hopes to connect with a hand reaching back. Clinton is doing that, and setting an example for how we proceed in the next four Bush years on any number of difficult issues."

Roll Call's Chris Cillizza sizes up the effects of a possible presidential bid by Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback, Noting that Brownback would claim significant chops if he were regarded as a serious contender, his role as an outspoken (read: "loud") conservative "could significantly complicate the hopes of better-known aspirants such as Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (Tenn.), Sen. George Allen (Va.) and Senate GOP Conference Chairman Rick Santorum (Pa.)"

Mort Kondracke leads by trying to read the tea leaves on Sen. Bayh's elevated national security stance, and calls Sen. Clinton's speech on abortion and family planning "a political masterstroke."

Newsweek's Eleanor Clift likened Clinton to "Moses leading her party to the Promised Land," and all but crowned her the savior of the Democrats. LINK

Bob Novak's weekend column claimed that some Republicans were mad at Dr./Sen./Leader Frist for doing Davos instead of the beginning of West Virginia.

Novak also wrote about Evan Bayh and Dr. Rice -- which leads us to say that we thought Bayh's explanation of why he voted as he did (making it about accountability) was quite strong.

Maureen Groppe of the Indianapolis Star gives Sen. Bayh top billing in the Sunday talk show duel between Indiana's Senators. LINK

The Boston Globe's Scott Greenberger details how business-friendly Gov. Romney has collected $210 million, and is seeking another $170 million -- by closing corporate loopholes. LINK

Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) told a group of Florida Dems he is figuring out whether or not he wants to launch a 2008 presidential bid. LINK

On Sunday, the Washington Post's Hanna Rosin looked at "Newtonia." LINK

Politics:

George Skelton Notes that using the word "reform" too much -- particularly in the case of Gov. Schwarzenegger -- dilutes the meaning of the word and obfuscates what's actually going on in Sacramento. LINK

David Broder quoting George Skelton on Arnold Schwarzenegger -- for us, it doesn't get any better than that. LINK

Do read the Wall Street Journal's excoriation of Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels for his tax hike proposals.

Gloria Feldt explained her departure from Planned Parenthood in Newsweek. LINK

"Here's the thing about what Hillary had to say, from my perspective: duh," Feldt told Debra Rosenberg. "Throw us back in the briar patch. What's our name? Planned Parenthood. We have been doing prevention for years. If the Democrats think this is something new, fine. The issues have become too polarized, too much about abortion and really have overlooked the fact that reproductive rights are really human rights, not just about abortion . . . If this is what it takes to get their attention, fine."

The Boston Globe's Susan Milligan on Sunday took an interesting look looked at the decline in the number of women candidates for office. LINK

USA Today's Jim Drinkard reports that the NAACP says it will not cooperate with an IRS audit investigating whether or not the group engaged in improper political activity when chairman Julian Bond went after President Bush in a July 2004 speech. NAACP leaders allege the probe is politically motivated. LINK

Congratulations to former NRSC political director/South Dakota GOP ED Patrick Davis, who's busted outta town to form Patrick Davis Consulting, LLC in Colorado Springs, CO.

In memoriam:

Leo Meidlinger, an immeasurably talented producer for ABC News in Washington, died over the weekend. Leo made his Note debut in 2004 by writing arch production bus vignettes, but his presence at ABC News was of course far larger. He was a key part of ABC News' coverage of virtually every major event since 1972. Kind, patient, generous to younger workers and possessed of a wonderful sense of humor marinated by life experiences few had, Leo was truly an original. And he was a fabulous and fair news producer. We will miss him, and our thoughts and prayers are with his family and our colleagues.