POLITICAL WIRE’S HEADLINES – 1/26

Blair Never Got Congressional Medal

CQ Politics: “In the summer of 2003, in the afterglow of the successful invasion of Iraq, Congress voted to award a gold medal, the nation’s highest civilian award, to British Prime Minister Tony Blair, a close ally in the war. He has never, however, actually received his medal.”

Bennet Dodges Strong Opponent in 2010

Although newly-appointed Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO) has never run for political office before, Colorado Attorney General John Suthers (R) announced he will seek re-election and not run against him for U.S. Senate in 2010, the Denver Post reports.

The Hotline: “Suthers is the only GOP statewide office holder in CO, so his loss as a SEN candidate is something of a blow to the NRSC’s recruiting efforts in what could potentially be a vulnerable Dem seat.”

Meanwhile, the Washington Post runs a must-read profile of Bennet and his “unlikely ride.”

Paterson Denies Kennedy Leaks

New York Gov. David Paterson (D) “tried to distance himself from members of his administration who have been quoted anonymously in recent days saying that various problems with Caroline Kennedy sank her bid to become a senator,” the New York Times reports.

“Paterson at first denied that his administration was the source of the leaks, but he then backtracked somewhat, saying he was unaware where the leaks originated.”

The Kennedy family is said to be “furious” at Ms. Kennedy’s treatment by Paterson’s office.

Meanwhile, the New York Daily News says New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg “sharply condemned the smearing” of Kennedy, calling it “as good an example of cheap dirty politics as you could ever find.”

RNC Race Up for Grabs

Though the RNC leadership “will meet in Washington this week to elect a chairman tasked with rebuilding the floundering party, even at this late date there is no clear frontrunner for the job,” according to a recent phone and email survey of the RNC’s 168 members conducted by The Hotline.

“While incumbent chairman Mike Duncan has an advantage among the six candidates hoping to lead the GOP, more members said they were undecided than supporting Duncan. And even more declined or did not respond to requests for comment.”

Minnesota Recount Turned Over to Judges

This afternoon a three-judge panel “will begin what could be a weeks- or months-long trial to decide who won Minnesota’s U.S. Senate race,” the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports.

The judges “will hear testimony and inspect evidence on the recount, which ended three weeks ago when the Canvassing Board certified results” showing Al Franken (D) with a 225-vote lead over Norm Coleman (R).

TPM: “One thing is clear going into today’s election trial in Minnesota: The Franken and Coleman camps really don’t like each other.”

Few Think Dole Will Go “Home”

A new Public Policy Polling survey finds that only 15% of voters in the state believe former Sen. Elizabeth Dole (R-NC) will make North Carolina her home now that she is no longer representing the state as a Senator.

Bunning Gets Serious Challenger in Kentucky

Just a few days after Sen. Jim Bunning (R-KY) filed a lackluster campaign finance report, Kentucky Lt. Gov. Daniel Mongiardo (D) announced that he will run for U.S. Senate, the Evansville Courier Press reports.

“Mongiardo is the first to formally announce his intentions to challenge Bunning, although at least two others have said they are considering the race… Bunning eked out a win in 2004 when Mongiardo, then a little-known state senator, came within about 23,000 votes of unseating him.”

According to the Louisville Courier Journal, Bunning filed a campaign finance report last week that listed only $27,357 in financial contributions in Q4 2008 — leaving him with less cash on hand than he had last fall.

Paterson Vulnerable to Primary Challenge

New York Gov. David Paterson’s (D) lead over Attorney General Andrew Cuomo (D) in a possible 2010 gubernatorial primary fell from 23 points in December to just two points today, according to a new Siena New York Poll.

Also, Cuomo now has a better favorable/unfavorable rating than Paterson.

Said pollster Steven Greenberg: “Whether because of the prolonged Senate selection situation or on-going budget issues, voters are less inclined to support Governor Paterson for election today than they were only one month ago. While the Governor’s favorability rating remains strong, it is now lower than the Attorney General’s, who has his highest favorability rating ever.”

Interestingly, a new Quinnipiac poll finds more New Yorkers blame Caroline Kennedy for the messy Senate appointment process than blame Paterson.

Quote of the Day

“This may be tantalizing but vague. I don’t think the nanny or household tax problems and so forth are over for the Obama administration…”

— Washington Post investigative reporter Bob Woodward, appearing on the Chris Matthews Show yesterday, but refusing to give more details.

Defining Stimulus

Democrats and Republicans “are in a race to define the $825 billion stimulus bill before the other can — wielding poll-tested words and carefully polished talking points to cement their vision of the plan in the public mind,” Politico reports.

President Obama promises to “modernize” 10,000 schools, “weatherize” 2.5 million homes, and “computerize” health records in five years — action words straight out Madison Avenue, says one expert. Republicans counter that it’s a “trillion dollar spending plan,” bureaucrats throwing money at “government programs.”

Meanwhile, Bloomberg says Obama is still wooing Republicans to support his plan.

Blago Considered Oprah for Senate

Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D) told ABC News “that when he was deciding who would take President Obama’s Senate seat he considered appointing talk show queen Oprah Winfrey.”

Said Blagojevich: “She seemed to be someone who had helped Barack Obama in a significant way to become president,” adding that “she had a much broader bully pulpit than a lot of senators.”

Update: Oprah responds: “If I had been watching from the treadmill I probably would have fallen off the treadmill.”

Republicans Approve of Gillibrand Pick

new poll suggests New York Republicans are happier than Democrats with the selection of Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) as the state’s next senator — “a fact that could forestall primary peril for the centrist lawmaker.”

“More than half — 56% — of Republicans approved of the appointment, while just 27% disapproved. Meanwhile, slightly more Democrats approved than disapproved, by a 41% to 35% margin.”

Blagojevich Impeachment Trial Opens
“Setting the stage for a momentous act of political repudiation,” the Illinois state Senate “prepared to open the first impeachment trial of a governor in Illinois history on Monday and disgraced Gov. Rod Blagojevich acknowledged his days in office were numbered,” the Chicago Tribune reports.

Said Blagojevich: “I think what you’ll see is a roll call that will be pre-designed, and we’ll see whether or not I even get one vote.”

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