— From NBC's Chuck Todd and Mark Murray
*** Rudy Obama? Barack Giuliani? If a focus group of 12 Baltimore County voters could build the perfect 2008 candidate, it's likely they would choose Giuliani and Obama as their main prototypes. Both candidates scored very well in an Annenberg-sponsored focus group (evenly split between Dems, indies and GOPers) conducted by veteran Democratic pollster Peter Hart. One could sense the focus group was torn between wanting a president with a hopeful vision (Obama in their minds right now) and a president who will keep them safe (Giuliani).
*** Other Observations: From the focus group, Clinton has a LOT of work to do. Eight of the 12 said they couldn't support her under any circumstance, and seven of the 12 said she has the "furthest to go" in winning their trust. Edwards has gone from a "fresh face" to a "pretty boy" (one had even seen that YouTube parody). McCain was seen as presidential but also "disappointing" and "old school." There was an openness to Romney and Fred Thompson but, frankly, the group didn't know a lot about the two. Something Dems should worry about, by the way, is the fact that when the group was asked who would be the "safest choice" for president, 10 of the 12 picked Republicans (four for Rudy, four for McCain, two for Romney and one each for Obama and Edwards). That's right, no one picked Clinton. Look for more insights from this focus group in Chuck's weekly column, which will be posted later today.
*** Not Moving On: Now that congressional Dem leaders have decided to drop their call for a withdrawal timeline in the Iraq supplemental, expect to see MoveOn and other anti-war groups go after these Democrats. Hard. In the past few months, these groups and their allies helped push the Democratic leaders into a position that's supported by a strong majority of Americans. But a strong majority in the polls doesn't necessarily translate into veto-proof majorities in Congress. Will the anti-war crowd be able to forgive the Dems? Do note that Pelosi says she will vote AGAINST the deal.
*** The Daily Kos Crowd Will Love This: Edwards, who has certainly been gunning for the MoveOn/antiwar vote, told NBC's Matt Lauer on TODAY that the Democrats "should be standing their ground" and not back down on the withdrawal timeline. "This should not be about politics at all," he said. "This is about life and death… We need to stand our ground." Edwards also gives a speech today on national security and the military to the Council on Foreign Relations in New York. In last month's presidential debate, he was one of four Democrats (Biden, Gravel, and Kucinich were the others) who said he doesn't believe there is such a thing as the "Global War on Terrorism." In his speech, Edwards calls for a comprehensive strategy to replace the GWOT.
*** Winning the Battle But Not the War? Monica Goodling, the former DOJ aide who pleaded the 5th in the US attorneys controversy but later struck an immunity deal, testifies before the House Judiciary Committee. Is Gonzales' job now safe -- no matter what new revelations come out? If so, the White House may very well have won its showdown with Congress over Gonzo's fate. But what happens the next time the White House needs its attorney general to go to bat for the Administration in a prickly matter on Capitol Hill? Does he strike out?
*** It's Fletcher vs. Beshear: Scandal-plagued GOP Gov. Ernie Fletcher got a surprising majority -- 50% -- in last night's Kentucky gubernatorial primary, but that means he has to win over the 50% or so of GOPers who didn't vote for him to survive in November, which won't be easy. Perhaps more surprisingly, former Lt. Gov. Steve Beshear (D) was able to avoid a costly run-off by grabbing 41% of the vote. Beshear seems to have the edge going into the general election. Can he keep it?
*** On the Trail: Giuliani campaigns in Vermont and New Hampshire; Huckabee, in Houston, meets with the anti-income tax group Fair Tax and later appears on FOX's Hannity & Colmes; Hunter continues to stump in South Carolina; McCain raises money in Forth Worth, TX and holds a media avail afterwards; Obama holds a young professionals fundraiser in DC; Richardson raises money in New Mexico; and Romney fundraises and holds a media avail in Oklahoma.
Countdown to the Ames Straw Poll: 79 days
Countdown to Election Day 2007: 166 days
Countdown to Iowa: 235 days
Countdown to Tsunami Tuesday: 257 days
Countdown to Election Day 2008: 530 days
Countdown to Inauguration Day 2009: 607 days