Morning Political Note: Knots

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. ( )

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