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First glance

From Elizabeth Wilner, Mark Murray, Huma Zaidi, and Jennifer Colby.
With 25 days yet to go before the 2006 midterm elections, a serious contender has dropped out... of the presidential race in 2008.  For anyone who has dared take their eyes off of 2008 for a few months to focus on the midterms, let former Virginia Gov. Mark Warner's announcement yesterday serve as a reminder of just how early this open-seat contest for president has begun.  Warner took months to test the waters as seriously as any candidate, attracted some presidential-caliber personnel, and opted out -- all before the 2006 elections have even take place.  Other contenders on both sides are queued up like planes at the airport to start signaling their intentions to run once the dust settles after November 7.

The first candidate out, Warner may also be the last one to exit the race entirely on his own terms.  Once the midterms are over and the national media zeros in on the 2008 candidates, the pressure will only intensify on those who are faltering to drop out. 

Warner, who told supporters and the media that the effort would require him to spend too much time away from his family, also faced difficulties in distinguishing himself, as a successful red-state Democrat, from other successful red-state Democrats who want to be president, like former governor turned Sen. Evan Bayh of Indiana (who, incidentally, was the first candidate to issue a press release praising Warner yesterday).  His departure leaves Bayh and two current governors, Iowa's Tom Vilsack and New Mexico's Bill Richardson, in the Democratic field to try to capitalize on the good karma for governors who run for president.

Speaking of, former President Clinton is about to do a little surrogate work for his wife.  Tomorrow night, he'll keynote the Iowa Democrats' Jefferson-Jackson dinner in Des Moines.  Sen. Hillary Clinton has yet to make a campaign stop in Iowa, where the occasional poll has shown her trailing former Sen. John Edwards.  (Edwards, incidentally, is currently on his 13th trip to Iowa since the 2004 campaign.)  But lest you think Iowa has cornered the market in presidential business for the weekend, Sen. John Kerry keynotes New Hampshire Democrats' Jefferson-Jackson Dinner in Manchester tonight.  Kerry's office says he'll focus on the Iraq war, which means he may repeat for the cameras a recent blog posting he wrote that there's nothing he regrets more than his vote for the war.

President Bush himself has his eye on the 2006 ball, as the White House likes to say.  Recalling his party's original game plan for these final weeks before the midterm elections, today he signs a port security bill amid GOP fanfare.  House Republicans, after being too distracted by the Mark Foley scandal to tout the bill-signing last week that authorized a down payment on the border fence, don't plan to let another opportunity pass by.  Bush also has two photo ops with a group of WWII veterans and the Air Force Thunderbirds, a demonstration squadron.

At a fundraiser in Topeka yesterday, Vice President Cheney echoed Bush's comments from the previous day that the most important issues in the election are the economy and security, and sought to draw sharp contrasts between Republicans and Democrats on both.  "If the Democrats take control, American families could face an immense tax increase, and the economy would sustain a major hit."  He also cast Democrats as weak on security for allegedly opposing, en masse, the Patriot Act, the NSA warrantless wiretapping program, and the CIA program for questioning detainees.  As a general shot, he added, "I don't need to tell you what kind of legislation would come to us by way of committee chairmen like Joe Biden, Ted Kennedy, John Conyers, Henry Waxman, Barney Frank, or Jay Rockefeller."

Ethics remain at the forefront, however.  House page board chair and Rep. John Shimkus will testify before the Ethics Committee about what he knew of Foley's inappropriate behavior toward pages.  And Rep. Bob Ney (R) of Ohio, the only member of Congress so far to face criminal charges in the Jack Abramoff scandal, is scheduled to enter formal guilty pleas to accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars in trips and other gifts in exchange for taking official action on behalf of Abramoff's clients, NBC's Joel Seidman points out.  Prosecutors have recommended that Ney be sentenced to 27 months in prison.

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