Morning Political Note: Knots

For some reasons we can put our fingers on, and others we can't, the conflict in the Middle East doesn't seem like an issue on the verge of becoming political, or a political problem, for President Bush.

News Summary

Even as the papers say the president is coming "under growing pressure" (the Los Angeles Times ) and facing a "quandary" (the New York Times ), this pressure doesn't seem to be coming from Democrats, making this story atypically nonpolitical, even as it's likely to be the dominant Washington story all week.

Maybe this is because:

1) Both parties are, and always have been, split over the Mideast, with many Republicans as well as Democrats being staunchly pro-Israel, and others within each party not so much. As a result, there's no clear line of sight for an attack on the president, making this unlikely to become a partisan debate — unless it evolves into a question of competence.

Which, arguably, it could — we'll leave it to foreign policy experts and Bush national security team watchers to better explain why — but we'd suggest that the chances that a popular wartime president could be considered incompetent on an issue that has been boiling for lifetimes are pretty slim. Leading us to …

2) This possibly being yet another demonstration of Bush's wartime untouchability. His national security team has gotten so many plaudits for their handling of the war against terror, right down that that Vanity Fair spread, that any charges that they might have mishandled the Mideast aren't likely to resonate in any way that would result in electoral harm to the president or his party.

And/or 3) the images coming out of the Mideast — that bloody restaurant floor from the Passover bombing, for instance — are simply too grim for any lawmaker to feel like taking the risk of making this into a political issue.

As one sage New York Jewish Democrat noted to us Friday evening over a Sabbath meal of Vietnamese food, almost no Americans will vote according this issue. So to extrapolate from that, if you're serving in public office, why chance making it a political issue?

We'd venture to say that increased US involvement in the Mideast might even have some positive, if indirect impact on Bush, and possibly the GOP heading into the 2002 elections. It doesn't take a cynic assigning political motives to realize that the effect of increased Administration involvement in the Mideast, especially if US troops are sent in to keep the peace, is to draw Americans' attention to yet another war right about when the fighting in Afghanistan is falling off the front pages. (

Still, as one smart, clear-eyed long-time Bush watcher points out: "One of the things, in addition to his comments, that struck me about Bush is the slovenly body language during that presser at Crawford (over the weekend). It all suggested a lack of serious purpose, a detachment, almost a bored indifference to the issue. I know the White House attitude is essentially, 'We don't want to look too seriously identified with all of this because then … we run the risk of a deeper involvement that could fail.' But that pose is looking un-presidential. This is the time that Bush/Rove/Hughes are getting truly exposed for the highly political nature of their foreign policy. It also exposes their naiveté in believing — perhaps still believing — that the Middle East can be spun the way, say, the South Carolina primary was."

Offering a complementary take, another close observer points out, "Bush has no one to blame for the fecklessness and shortsightedness of this policy but himself. Rove and Hughes are simply not players on this stuff. Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice and Powell (in descending order of hawkishness) are. The sad thing is it's not politics driving this debacle; it's considered (or ill-considered) policy."

"The lack of seriousness in Bush's demeanor is, I believe, also a cover for deep insecurity. This is a subject mastery of which cannot be faked, and which is not susceptible to bald platitudes and simple categories. You have to know stuff to get the Middle East right. Bush doesn't. It makes him overly reliant on advisers (who disagree among themselves, resulting in what Zbig Brzezinski called 'strategic incoherence'), and arrogantly insouciant about his own inadequacies."

None of this necessarily means the president's heart is in the wrong place — just that no one seems happy with the status quo, or can say when the status quo will change, either through US leadership or turns of events beyond US control.

The Los Angeles Times ' Robin Wright notes Bush's relative quiet: "Unlike the many world leaders who weighed in on the mounting crisis, Bush was silent Sunday. His only public appearance was at Easter services at a Baptist church near his Texas ranch, and aides said he made no calls to Mideast leaders." ( )?coll=la%2Dheadlines )%2Dfrontpage )

We are sticking to our brief and focusing on the politics of all of this — not in a cynical way, but showing how our democracy is responding to it all (or not responding) — but some of the national political press corps' sharper minds are going to look at this issue this week. The Los Angeles Times ' Ron Brownstein gets the ball rolling. ( ) )

The latest on the Mideast from ABCNEWS's London Bureau: Israeli tanks have moved into two Palestinian towns in the West Bank, hours after Prime Minister Sharon declared war on what he called Arafat's "terrorist infrastructure." Israeli forces are now in control of Qalqilya, close to the Israeli cities of Tel Aviv and Netanya, both of which have been targeted by Palestinian suicide bombers. Earlier this morning, Israeli tanks and troops entered Bethlehem, but later withdrew to the outskirts of the town.

In Qalqilya, the Israeli military said it is conducting searches for militants and weapons. Power and water supplies were cut off as at least 60 tanks took up position, and some exchanges of fire were reported. In Ramallah, Arafat remains stranded at his office for a fourth day.

In the West Bank, Palestinian gunmen have killed 11 men suspected of collaborating with Israel. The dead include eight who were taken by militants from a temporary jail and shot in the streets in Tulkarem. The others were killed in Bethlehem and Qalqilya.

Retreating to our forte, domestic political tangles, we're now into April, and political strategists in both major political parties are feeling enough election day heat to get a little bit panicky and loopy.

Clearly, the consensus is true: Democrats ARE in worse shape nationally at this point, although some party strategists argue that they can and will win the cycle race by race, without the need for, or benefit of, a big dynamic.

Still, as we've written for weeks, the Democrats are in search of an election message, with the traditional advantages of momentum and issues that the party not occupying the White House normally has in the midterm elections seemingly absent.

There have been some news stories and news analyses along those lines in the last few weeks, but New York Times columnist Frank Rich, writing for Saturday as much in sadness as in mockdom, went further and better along these lines than anyone else has. We'll excerpt a bit, but if you are interested in politics and/or the Democratic party, read the whole thing. ( )

"If the Democrats stand for anything in a time of rapidly expanding war, it's not clear what it is. Hours before the Passover massacre in Netanya, President Bush could assert that the latest diplomatic foray by Gen. Anthony Zinni was 'making very good progress' with little worry that any Democratic leader would challenge him. The incoherence and indolence of the Bush 'policy' in the Middle East … has been more forcefully dissected by conservatives like George Will than anyone in the administration's opposition. At home, the Democrats can't even offer a serious alternative to the Bush budget for the simple reason that they helped give away the store by abetting the administration's mammoth tax cut last summer and made no legislative push for even partial rollbacks after the fiscal world changed on Sept. 11."

"The explanations for this fecklessness start, of course, with the president's poll numbers. Democrats are so intimidated by them that a recent open memo co-written by James Carville found hope that Mr. Bush was 'falling back to earth' in a survey showing that his approval rating had tumbled from 82 percent in December to a March low of . . . 75."

"It's an index of the general sheepishness of Democratic leaders that such sporadic tough talk as there is usually emanates by default from either the clownish Mr. McAuliffe or the cranky Senate octogenarians Robert Byrd and Ernest Hollings."

Rick Berke summed up the Democrats' problems in his Week in Review piece yesterday — ( ) — but he went where no one else has gone before in his Friday New York Times story on the cracks in the Republicans Up with People happy face. It's worth going back to, if only because of the remarkable on-the-record quotes.

"'One of the things the White House will find is that the nature of Congress is not to stand up and applaud every time the White House does something,' Mr. Hastert said. 'Do we need to send a birthday card every time?'" ( )

"'If they try to make one candidate the anointed one, that can get you in trouble,' Mr. Lott said. 'It could backfire on them like it did in California. In states where you've got more than one credible candidate, they need to be careful. Eventually, you keep piling up those negative chits, and it gets to be a problem."

"Nicholas E. Calio, the White House legislative liaison, said Republican members of Congress were never satisfied that the president was doing enough. 'If they had their way,' he said, 'we'd have the president standing in the elevators and at the steps waiting to talk to people on their way to vote.'"

"Dan Bartlett, the White House communications director, … [a]sked about feelings among Republican lawmakers with the White House, … said, 'I have not sensed that there is dissatisfaction beyond just the typical nervousness during an election year.'"

"Most recently, many Republicans expressed concern that Mr. Bush did not veto the campaign finance bill, which Democrats hailed as an important victory. 'Some people were hoping they'd be more aggressive,' said Senator Don Nickles, the No. 2 Senate Republican. 'In a perfect world he would have vetoed it,' Mr. Lott said."

And today brings another semi-strong criticism of President Bush from the right. Bob Bartley uses his Monday The Wall Street Journal column to question just how much the president has learned from 41. In "Bush: Beyond the Bad Patch," Bartley gags over the steel and campaign finance decisions (naturally), but offers an array of other criticisms, including that the administration isn't fighting hard enough for its judicial nominees and, significantly, questioning the president's toughness and consistency in prosecuting the war on terror.

Democrats are irked by some of President Bush's recess appointments, particularly RNC counsel Michael Toner to the Federal Election Commission and Gerald Reynolds as assistant secretary of education. Roll Call gets Senators Feingold and Kennedy on the record, as well as this: "[S]everal sources said the White House decided to temporarily bypass the uncertain Senate confirmation process specifically to make sure Toner is in place for the critical drafting of new campaign finance regulations." ( )

That story, and a The Wall Street Journal editorial celebrating the recess appointment of Reynolds, reminds us to make a point we've been meaning to make: it used to be that a presidential recess appointment of a controversial nominee would kick up a much bigger dust storm, but Bush and Rove have made this practice so routine that such events have become non-events, except (mostly) to the conservative constituencies who applaud them on substantive and symbolic grounds (ibid, Frank Rich's point).

Today in New York, Senator Joe Lieberman will speak at New York University's business school on "Ethics in the Post -Enron Era." See below for details.

And Senator Ted Kennedy, chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, will be in Chapel Hill, NC (home state of a junior Senator who votes with him an awful lot of the time) today for a series of events on early childhood education.

On Tuesday, President Bush will take part in a Rose Garden photo op with the Super Bowl champion New England Patriots, then head to Philadelphia for a fundraiser for the GOP candidate for governor of Pennsylvania, and a roundtable discussion and speech on early childhood education.

First Lady Laura Bush and Queen Noor will attend the Washington Ballet's 25th anniversary celebration at the Kennedy Center.

On Wednesday, Bush will make remarks on early childhood education at the White House. Out in Denver, Vice President Cheney will headline a fundraiser for Senator Wayne Allard (R) and the Colorado GOP.

Thursday's presidential events remain TBD; Bush may do some traveling. Vice President Cheney will star at another fundraiser, this one for Senator Tim Hutchinson (R) in Little Rock. And First Lady Laura Bush will attend a cancer event in Dallas with Cherie Booth (Blair), wife of the British Prime Minister; Britain's First Couple will arrive at the Crawford ranch on Friday.

Also on Thursday, Tennessee GOP Senate candidate Lamar Alexander will host a fundraiser for New Hampshire Senate candidate and Rep. John Sununu in Nashville, and Senate Majority Leader Daschle will head to New York for two days of fundraising there.

On Friday morning, President Bush will head for the Crawford ranch, getting there in time to greet British Prime Minister Tony Blair and his wife; the visit will last till April 7.

Also on Friday, Senator John Edwards will keynote a Buchanan County, IA Democrats fundraiser. On Saturday, Edwards will head home to North Carolina to appear with Senator John Breaux at the North Carolina Democrats' Jefferson-Jackson dinner in Raleigh.

And on Sunday, Vermont Gov. Howard Dean will march in the Greek Independence Day Parade in Boston.

Also from the ABCNEWS London Bureau: US authorities reportedly are holding a man captured in Pakistan who is believed to be a senior member of the al-Qaeda network. The man is thought to be Abu Zubaydah, a key lieutenant of Osama bin Laden and the biggest catch yet in the war on terrorism. Abu Zubaydah is a senior al Qaeda operational planner and is believed to be in charge of an attempt to reconstitute the al Qaeda network. The man believed to be Zubaydah was apprehended in an overnight raid on Wednesday when about 60 people, including 29 mostly Arab and Afghans, were arrested by Pakistani security forces. Unclear whether Americans participated in the raid.

The Middle East

David Sanger's New York Times piece presents the Bush "quandary" this way: "To build Arab support for his impending confrontation with Iraq, Mr. Bush knows he cannot afford to alienate other Arab nations, whose anti-Israel declarations have grown in vehemence and urgency, along with their demands that Mr. Bush restrain the Sharon government." ( )

Sanger displays a rare "voice," with a smart take on why the Middle East is particularly tough for this President: "Perhaps Mr. Bush's constant readjustments on the Middle East are so striking because he usually tends to be the most scripted of presidents and rarely changes the script. He likes to speak in certainties and contrasts, of 'good and evil,' of countries that are either 'with us or against us.'"

"[T]he divisions about what to do next are becoming increasingly apparent, even in a White House that prides itself on hiding internal dissent."

"Others note that Mr. Bush has a gut sense that Mr. Arafat, whom he has never met, is deeply untrustworthy."

"As Mr. Bush weighs those choices this week, he is also facing another debate within the conservative wing of his party, one that focuses on the question of whether he is allowing himself to be pulled into the daily management of the Mideast conflict — a charge that the conservatives leveled against President Clinton. That is the critique that cuts closest to the quick for the Bush team."

"On Friday The The Wall Street Journal 's editorial page, closely read in the White House, maintained that the Middle East 'quagmire' could distract the president from his broader war on terror. The Weekly Standard, another conservative beacon, made a parallel argument this weekend, calling the last two weeks 'amateur hour in American diplomacy' marked by a patently cynical effort to curry favor with the Saudi royal family, and thus theoretically buy a few months of relative quiet in the Middle East.'"

ABC 2004: the invisible primary: Joe Lieberman did Imus this morning, celebrating the women Huskies' NCAA win, but mostly espousing his pro-Israel views. Lieberman also said, regarding Frank Rich's weekend column, that after reading such Richian efforts, he wants to send Frank some Zantac.

He also said that he thought Frank's column was "unfair," ladling on some criticism of the tax cut and the budget, and claiming that Democrats have offered conflicting plans on the environment. Lieberman joked around with Imus on the question of whether he'll run if Gore does, but he didn't move the ball any further down the field.

He also got to tee up his Enron speech a bit. Our peek at the advanced text of the speech, as viewed from a political (dare we say 2004?) standpoint, shows that he finds that line between pushing corporate responsibility but taking care not to alienate business, helped by his trademark, politically difficult to reproach argument for better morals: "We cannot put the business ethics police on every corner that might be cut — nor would we want to. Government will never be able to legislate or regulate morals into every part of our markets. Businesspeople and businesses must do that themselves."

South Carolina's The State ran this editorial on Sunday: "U.S. Senator Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., has staked out the center-right; House Democratic Leader Dick Gephardt, D-Mo., the center-left, with the others Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., Senator John Edwards, D-N.C., and Senator John Kerry, D-Mass. — somewhere in between. Right now, Lieberman seems best poised to capitalize on the conservative political climate in South Carolina. He's a self-proclaimed moderate with strong pro-business views and an outspoken supporter of traditional values, all of which resonate well with state voters." (

Vermont Gov. Howard Dean is in his issue-testing phase, telling doctors in Iowa late last week that universal health coverage would be a top priority for him should he run for president. ( )

Wearing his political handicapper hat, Dean "said U.S. Sens. John Edwards of North Carolina, John Kerry of Massachusetts and Joe Lieberman of Connecticut and House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt of Missouri have a national following and are better financed than he is."

Dean makes a pro-business/populist appearance in Robin Toner's New York Times piece suggesting (still and again) that the high cost of prescription drugs will be a big political issue this year, even as some of the action and energy moves from Washington to the state legislatures. ( )

Senator Chris Dodd has been sending mixed signals lately about whether or not he'll run for president. Roll Call sums up the causes of the confusion, then compounds it with yet more iffy quotes from Dodd from a few weeks ago: "'People ask, but I don't know,' he said in a brief interview during the election reform negotiations. 'I guess I should be more introspective about it. I enjoy what I am doing … I enjoy representing Connecticut in the Senate. The idea of coming back to the Senate for another term is a very real possibility to me.'" ( )

The junior Senator from Massachusetts got this huzzah in that Frank Rich column: "[E]xcept for a speech given in New Hampshire by John Kerry, a presidential candidate inoculated against charges of treason by his own Vietnam heroism, no Democrat has articulated a muscular alternative wartime political vision to the president's."

Politics: Newsweek's Bill Clinton cover story has a lot of priceless must-read stuff, but no Code Red, screaming headlines. ( )?cp1=1

As the New York Post and others suggest, some of the FPOTUS' pardon answers take what some would see as his usual license with the facts, or at least present a worldview and a recollection not wholly supported by the views and memory of others.

Despite the focus on the Marc Rich stuff, Clinton's answers on North Korea (both his account of how potentially close to conflict the United States was with the Hermit Kingdom during his presidency, and his criticism of the Bush Administration) are more newsworthy, we think.

The main effects of the story will be to cause 1) a media frenzy over the competition to break the story of the name of the president's new dog (we are pretty sure it won't be "Luke" or "Wolf"); 2) more conservative direct-mail fundraising, excerpting from the story; and 3) sighs of relief galore on 125th Street that the story wasn't "worse" and is hitting the street amidst enough Middle East news to mostly drown it out.

Here's what might be the beginning of an interesting trend: police and fire departments who can't get the money they need (or want) from their municipal authorities are turning instead to local ballot measures, hoping to capitalize on their newly re-gained status as community protectors and heroes. ( )

The Washington Post reports that Democratic "[p]olling expert Anna Greenberg told the Women's Vote Center at the Democratic National Committee that women without a college degree, who once reliably supported Democrats, have drifted toward the Republican Party in recent presidential elections and are now quintessential swing voters. At this point, the party's base lies more with college-educated and minority women." ( )


Early voting for the Democratic Senate run-off between Victor Morales and Ron Kirk — and other local races which may boost Hispanic turnout — begins today. The run-off will take place on April 9.

CALIFORNIA The Sacramento Bee finds many a Richard Riordan donor who intends to vote for Bill Simon, but who won't give Simon any money. ( )

FLORIDA A new poll shows that education spending tops the priorities of likely voters. And Gov. Jeb Bush's disapproval rate has increased a bit to 51 percent. (

But against Janet Reno and Bill McBride, the two most likely Democratic gubernatorial nominee, Bush still runs strong.

All of this comes as the national political press corps and Democratic party activists in the state shift their attention to the state party convention in Orlando next week.

Error rates in Palm Beach County during March 12's municipal elections reached 3 percent. (For purposes of comparison, in 2000, the error rate for punch-card ballots in Palm Beach reached as high as 10 to 15 percent in certain precincts.) And, yep, that's with touch-screen ballots for election day voters and optical scan sheets for absentees. One conclusion: voter education is almost as important as technological improvement — and maybe more so. (

The Washington Times looks at the Democrats who have lined up for the decidedly uphill effort of taking on Secretary of State Katherine Harris (R) as she runs for Congress, implicitly questioning the motives of one candidate, "Washington lawyer" Jan Schneider, who "won't say what brought her from a prospering practice in the District of Columbia to Sarasota," and noting that Schneider "last week secured her first voting bloc: the Hillary Rodham Clinton Fan Club." The story suggests that Schneider will ask former President Clinton to come campaign for her, but we can't tell whether that's actual reporting, or not. As for the other Democrats running, Candice "McElyea promised she will approach activist/actor Alec Baldwin at next week's Florida Democratic Party convention and request an appearance here on her behalf," while Rev. Charles "McKenzie has asked [Jesse] Jackson for some help." (

NORTH CAROLINA Republicans are crying double standard because the Democratic governor did not allow Elizabeth Dole to speak on board the battleship USS North Carolina because it's an historic site, but Democratic Senate candidate Erskine Bowles spoke at an event at Roanoke Island Festival Park, another historic site. ( )

NEW HAMPSHIRE Ordinary readers, bear with us on this one; extraordinarily inside readers (a status to which you all should aspire), revel in the details. Tim Lennon, the campaign manager for GOP gubernatorial candidate Craig Benson, was reported to have regular contact with John McCain's 2000 state field director, and contracted with a direct mail firm founded by McCainiac John Weaver. Last week, Lennon lost his job.

The Nashua Telegraph 's Landrigan raises the notion that Lennon was "Bush-whacked" after his ties to McCain folks were revealed. ( )?FromHome=1&TypeID=1&ArticleID=53711&SectionID=30&SubSectionID=86

IOWA The Washington, DC-based Club for Growth's giving Iowa Rep. Greg Ganske one of its "RINO" — Republican In Name Only — awards makes the big local paper. ( )

MASSACHUSETTS "Republican lieutenant governor hopeful James Rappaport is unleashing a television ad blitz this week," the Boston Herald reports. "Rappaport's $100,000-plus TV ad campaign, slated to start tonight and run for two weeks, is designed to dispel doubts by some party leaders about his bid to serve as businessman Mitt Romney's running mate. The ads don't mention (lieutenant governor rival) Guerriero or acting Gov. Jane Swift by name but they indirectly challenge the current administration. 'It will take new leadership to get Massachusetts back on track. Not the same old State House crowd,' the ads say." (

NEW YORK Roll Call raises an interesting question, both budget-wise and ethics-related: how will New York pay for the expected but not-yet-confirmed "field" meeting of the joint session of Congress? "Congressional ethics rules limit the extent to which corporations and foundations could pitch in to help the city defray the costs, but there will certainly be opportunities for prominent New Yorkers to help." ( )

"Mayor Michael Bloomberg (R) has expressed support for the session and has proposed a date of Sept. 6, but his office has not yet put together any comprehensive plan to pay for it."

Fred Dicker's New York Post column is composed of two items. First (aided by opposition research), Dicker suggests a shared Cuomo/Pataki agenda in trying to explode the "myth" that Carl McCall's upbringing was as humble as he likes to suggest. Second, Dicker foreshadows what is likely to be a debate-less (again) general election in the gubernatorial race. (

Ninety-nine bucks a vote, for a total of $73.9 million. That's how much New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg spent this fall, according to disbursements filed by his campaign, although it's rough math, counting only general election votes and overall (primary too) spending. ( )

Bush Administration strategy/personality: If you REALLY want to understand the Bush political machine, here's a must-read for you: the Washington Monthly's Joshua Green takes a look at Jan van Lohuizen, the president's Nexus-unfriendly pollster. ( )

Here are our two favorite parts of Elizabeth Bumiller's "everything you ever wanted to know about the president's love of running" piece: ( )

She (mis)indentifies Washington's Tenley Sport & Health as "the gold standard of Washington health clubs," ignoring the L.A. Sports Club's obvious superiority. ( ) ( )?Club=WashingtonDC

And although she snags an interview with Bloomberg's Richard Keil, who ran with the president on the morning of September 11, the best she can do with the president is to get Ari Fleischer to take some e-mailed questions into the Oval for a few answers.

"Mr. Bush said he began running in 1972 and lifting weights in 1989, for cross-training purposes, and he works out at different times of the day — late morning, afternoon or evening. His workouts usually last an hour, he has no personal trainer, he watches his diet, but he likes desserts."

"Mr. Bush did not answer a question about whether his exercise regimen helped him manage angry or bad moods. 'I have never seen him be in either,' Mr. Fleischer intoned," ignoring, perhaps, that whole alleged Daschle meeting thing.

The The Wall Street Journal has a semi-lengthy piece highlighting congressional concern about linking the war on terror to the war on drugs, with worry about what it might do to human rights in Colombia.

Legislative agenda: The Washington Post picks further at the White House's proposed welfare reform plan and its incentives to encourage marriage: "The White House also wants to require states, for the first time, to include in the welfare plans they must submit to the federal government 'explicit descriptions of their family-formation and healthy-marriage efforts.' And in a subtle but potent shift, the administration proposes rewording part of the 1996 law that overhauled the welfare system, amending a basic purpose of the program, 'formation and encouragement of two-parent families,' so that it contains the extra words: 'healthy, two-parent married families.'" ( )

"These ideas … delight social conservatives — who regard Bush's plan as the first significant infiltration of their 'marriage movement' into federal policy. Liberals, including women's groups, are horrified."

"The issue has put Democrats in an awkward position — uncomfortable with the president's plans but reluctant to sound as if they oppose marriage. It is unclear how much political capital they will expend on an issue that is divisive but, budgetarily, relatively minor."

Campaign finance: Because every state has its own campaign finance laws, some more restrictive than McCain-Feingold, the impact of the new law will have more effect in some states than others, the Boston Globe writes out. Overall, though, one result of the law is likely to be the increase of influence of state and local parties, which can "create thousands of neighborhood offshoots, each of which could solicit soft money, Republicans and Democrats agree. Because each local committee can accept up to $10,000 per donor — and each donor could give to every committee — specialists say the amount of soft money coursing through the political system will not be limited." ( )


Pennsylvania's 15th Congressional District is getting some national attention, including an upcoming (previously postponed) fundraising visit from Vice President Cheney on behalf of the incumbent, Rep. Pat Toomey (R), because Toomey is being challenged by a steelworker, Democrat Ed O'Brien. ( )


Adam Buckman rightfully mocks Paul "Longhorn Lefty" Begala, and other "Crossfire" nicknames, pegged to the show's revamped, 7:00 p.m. debut tonight. (

Check out the ominous photos of the show's new (liberal) and returning (concervative) hosts on the website, which "suggests" that Senator Daschle, along with party chairs Racicot and McAuliffe (who takes that whack in that Frank Rich column), are the guests. We write "suggests" however, because here at ABC (at least) it's Monday, not Wednesday, as the "Crossfire" site seems to believe. (

And we bet Bob Novak thinks the Maryland game is a bigger deal than the relaunching of the show.