Outgoing Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist is giving up on his presidential aspirations, at least for 2008, he announced yesterday. Frist sounded ready to quit Washington altogether as he sticks to his self-imposed two-term limit in the Senate (in an e-mail to supporters, he calls himself a "citizen legislator"). His record as leader is mixed and his second term, particularly since he began eyeing the presidency, has been marked by clumsy moves such as his "diagnosis" via videotape of Terri Schiavo and his flip-flop in favor of expanded federal funding for embryonic stem cell research. He also took a hit from an ongoing SEC investigation into allegations of insider trading after he sold his shares in hospital chain HCA, which his father founded. To the extent that he had gained any ground among social conservatives, his exit from the field leaves that much to be claimed by another candidate.
As for the candidate angling to become the mainstream conservative alternative to frontrunning Sen. John McCain (R), Romney has signed up former top Bush economic advisors Greg Mankiw and Glenn Hubbard. "They have respect," one Washington-based economic analyst tells First Read. "Remember that Mankiw was Mr. Outsourcing, so he's a little toxic politically. But they have respect among economists (what a vital interest group they are!) and to a somewhat lesser extent on Wall Street (just because they aren't identified with markets, not because of their association with Bush)." This analyst adds, "I do think Wall Street is important as a source of funds and credibility, so Romney is signaling that he's a serious player, especially since he's not identified with economic (any?) issues."
Romney aides might dispute that point, arguing that he turned Massachusetts' budget deficit into a surplus, or that his new health care coverage plan was done without tax increases.
The Boston Herald reports that Romney "likely will forgo an exploratory committee entirely, taking a different approach than fellow GOP presidential front-runners Arizona Sen. John McCain and former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani by declaring his candidacy outright sometime after Christmas."
Like other potential candidates lately, Vilsack will say this morning that he's taking some cues from the midterm election results: "We sent a clear message that we wanted our country led in a new and better direction. But our job is not done. We have more work to do." The draft of his speech emphasizes vision over specifics, focusing on the importance of community and opportunity. And he'll confront head-on the fact that he's an underdog.
"Today's speech, which is expected to last little more than 10 minutes, will be a metaphor for his campaign, aides said. That is: Speak plainly and say what you believe."
"Antiabortion groups are assailing one of the nation's most influential evangelicals, the Rev. Rick Warren, for inviting" Obama to address his conference on HIV/AIDS at his Southern California megachurch this weekend, the Washington Post reports. "Warren, author of the bestseller 'The Purpose Driven Life,' responded yesterday by asserting that he and his wife, Kay, are 'staunchly pro-life' and 'completely disagree' with Obama's position in favor of abortion rights," but he said he won't disinvite Obama, one of 60 scheduled speakers.
The AP reports that Obama will take a HIV test during his appearance and will encourage others to do the same. (Obama took an AIDS test when he visited Kenya earlier this year.)
Obama also met yesterday with rapper Ludacris, who "was in town to launch the YouthAIDS 'Kick Me' campaign to raise HIV/AIDS awareness during a stop at Northwestern University in Evanston," the Chicago Tribune says.
Former Sen. John Edwards delivers the keynote address at the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy's City of Justice Awards Dinner tonight, in which he'll talk about "the many ways we can move more Americans out of poverty and into the middle class," per the release. Before his remarks, Edwards will join a group of labor leaders, including SEIU President Andy Stern, for an announcement about the living wage campaign for Century Boulevard hotel workers.