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The Situation: Tuesday, January 31

Editor's Note: The Situation Report is a running log of dispatches, quotes, links and behind-the-scenes notes filed by the correspondents and producers of CNN's Washington Bureau. Watch "The Situation Room" with Wolf Blitzer on CNN 4 p.m. ET to 6 p.m. ET and 7 p.m. ET to 8 p.m. ET weekdays.

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Posted: 9:53 a.m. ET
From Mark Preston, CNN Political Unit

Expectations game

Republican and Democratic political operatives are spinning expectations for President Bush's State of the Union address, as both parties prepare to take the battle over their dueling legislative priorities to the voters.

The Republican National Committee sent a memo to its membership yesterday urging them not to expect Bush to receive a "bounce" in his approval rating following the speech, noting that historically this number actually drops slightly.

"Even the 'Great Communicator' President Ronald Reagan's average poll movement after State of the Union addresses was negative (-2.6%), and in fact Reagan only had one SOTU speech with positive poll movement," Matthew Dowd, a senior RNC advisor, wrote to his fellow Republicans.

Dowd emphasized that "this is important to keep in mind as pundits analyze and analyze and analyze the effects of President Bush's speech.

"Context is everything in politics," he added.

Within hours of the memo being distributed, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee issued a news release charging that Dowd has a history of downplaying what the public's reaction might be to a major political event involving the president.

"Before anyone takes Dowd's memo too seriously, flashback to the 2004 campaign when he regularly tried to manipulate expectations," said DSCC spokesman Phil Singer, who noted this was a tactic Dowd used at the nominating conventions and presidential debates.

But Dowd is correct to state that unlike a "bounce" political candidates usually enjoy following a primary victory or political convention, a SOTU speech does not have the same effect.

"Since 1952, presidents have lost about half a percentage point, on average, from their approval ratings after State of the Union speeches," said CNN's Polling Director Keating Holland. "Approval ratings went up after 17 addresses and down after 24 of them ... while the approval rating remained unchanged after three addresses."

While not providing specific examples, White House spokesman Scott McClellan said Bush will unveil four key initiatives and present a "hopeful agenda for the future" during his 9 p.m. ET national address.

To promote the initiatives, Bush will visit four cities in three days starting tomorrow to "directly engage the American people" on his proposals, McClellan said.

Bush is scheduled to visit Nashville, Tennessee, tomorrow; Maplewood, Minnesota and then Albuquerque, New Mexico on Thursday and Friday; and Dallas, Texas on Friday. Today, Bush has no public schedule before his speech before a joint session of Congress. RNC Chairman will also hit the road with a visit to Raleigh, North Carolina, tomorrow; Chattanooga, Tennessee, on Thursday; and St. Louis, and Kansas City, Missouri on Friday.

Democrats vow to greet Bush at every stop during this week's tour. The Democratic National Committee will run a television ad in Nashville tomorrow titled "Broken Promises" before he arrives in that city. And the liberally funded Americans United said it plans protests at each of Bush's events. Inside the Beltway, the DSCC releases a new web ad today (www.dscc.org) attacking Bush for the Medicare prescription drug plan and House Democrats have already been issued talking points to criticize the president on healthcare, energy, national security and the economy. Senate Democrats released separate research reports yesterday claiming Bush's policies fail to address the needs of Hispanics and blacks.

"Democrats will continue to aggressively focus on the cost of Republicans' corruption on the American people, the complex and expensive Medicare prescription drug plans, sky rocketing gas and home heating costs, and the failure to listen to the 9/11 Commission's recommendations to keep American more safe," said Jennifer Crider, spokeswoman for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-California).

But before Bush delivers his speech, Congress must address other business. The Senate is expected to approve Ben Bernanke to replace outgoing Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan as well as Judge Samuel Alito to join the U.S. Supreme Court. While Bernanke was a non-controversial nominee, Bush drew sharp criticism from Democrats for nominating Alito, who was the subject of a filibuster led by Sen. John Kerry (D-Massachusetts).

Speaking of Kerry, his political adviser released a memo late last night detailing what the Massachusetts Democrat has done for his party since losing the 2004 presidential election. "Between raising money for other candidates and giving away funds in direct donations, Kerry has helped steer $7 million into the Democratic Party and Democratic candidates' coffers," Jenny Backus, Kerry's political consultant stated in the memo. Backus noted that of the $7 million, $3 million was directly given by Kerry to candidates and party committees. She also estimates that Kerry "helped 90 candidates for the House, Senate and State office," last year.

"Kerry continues to serve as a key national leader for the Democrats --traveling the country, raising a record amount of money for Democratic candidates and parties and using his email list to promote policies and hold the Republicans and President Bush accountable for their failure to lead," she stated.

Meanwhile, CNN's Deirdre Walsh reports that Rep. Dan Lungren (R-California) will indeed call for new elections for every member of the GOP leadership team, except the speaker, when House Republicans meet tomorrow to begin the two-day process to select a new majority leader. Candidates to replace Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas) as majority leader will speak tomorrow and a vote will occur Thursday. But Lungren said he plans to make a motion to open up all the leadership slots at tomorrow's meeting.

"It is my intention to try and get these positions all opened up," he said. "It would be my hope that we have secret ballots as we often do in votes of that sort."

Lungren said he has no plans to run for any of the leadership positions if his motion calling for new elections passes.

"I want this to be fully discussed within our conference," he said. "If a majority don't believe that we ought to have everybody up because it's too distracting, so be it. I'm carrying the burden of the argument that actually it will be cleansing effort for us."

And Rep. Jim Davis (D-Florida), who is running for governor, just added a well respected veteran operative to join his campaign team. Josh Earnest, Democratic National Committee press secretary, moves to the Sunshine State at the end of the month to be Davis's campaign communications director.

Political Hot Topics

Posted: 9:53 a.m. ET
From Stephen Bach, CNN Washington Bureau

ALTERNATIVE FUELS WILL BE FOCUS OF SPEECH: President Bush will renew a call for the development of alternative fuel for automobiles and promote the construction of new nuclear power plants in his State of the Union address on Tuesday night, White House officials said Monday. After years of partisan arguments over the administration's efforts to open new parts of the country for oil and gas drilling, Mr. Bush will cast his discussion of nonoil sources of energy as an economic imperative for the United States and a national security necessity to reduce dependence on Middle Eastern oil. The issues have been part of Mr. Bush's agenda for years, but never a top priority. He will use his address to refocus attention on them at a time when oil is selling at more than $68 a barrel, close to its all-time high, and Americans are worried about the cost of fueling their cars and heating their homes. New York Times: Bush Will Use Address to Focus on Alternative Fuels and Nuclear Plantsexternal link

LISTEN CLOSELY FOR THE POTS AND PANS: Make noise, not war. Liberal activists -- among them graying leftovers from the Vietnam-era antiwar movement -- plan to gather near the Capitol tonight, banging pots and pans to drown out President Bush's State of the Union address. Yesterday, opponents of the Iraq war kicked off their latest round of demonstrations with an "Impeachment Forum" held downtown in a private dining room at Busboys and Poets. Featured speakers were 78-year-old former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark; longtime war protester Marcus Raskin, 71, who is head of the Institute for Policy Studies; and Cindy Sheehan, mother of an American soldier killed in Iraq. Mrs. Sheehan -- who became famous last year for staking out the president's ranch in Crawford, Texas, and just returned from a visit with Venezuelan anti-American President Hugo Chavez -- plans to speak tonight to protesters at the Capitol Reflecting Pool. Washington Times: Liberal activists promote a ruckus to silence Bushexternal link

KAINE WILL STRESS BIPARTISANSHIP IN RESPONSE: Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine, tapped to deliver the State of the Union response for Democrats, has sharp words for both parties in Washington: Stop being so partisan, negative and irrelevant. "There's a better way," he said Monday. Less than three weeks after taking office, Kaine is a rising star inside his party because he succeeded last November where many other Democrats have failed -- in a Southern state and in the fast-growing exurbs. "I want to contrast what I consider to be an administration that is super partisan and not really able to deliver results with a different model, a better way, which is what we've been doing in Virginia and other states," Kaine said, previewing his Tuesday night speech in an interview with The Associated Press. AP via Yahoo! News: Kaine Plans Positve Bush Speech Responseexternal link

FRACTURED DEMS? 19 VOTE AGAINST ALITO FILIBUSTER: Republican senators, aided by 19 Democrats, cleared the path yesterday for Samuel A. Alito Jr. to join the Supreme Court and for President Bush to put his stamp firmly on the nine-member bench. The Senate voted 72 to 25 to end debate on Alito's nomination and to allow a roll call on his confirmation today, shortly before noon. Alito's supporters garnered a dozen more votes than the 60 they needed to choke off a Democratic filibuster effort, which would have allowed debate to continue indefinitely. Leaders of both parties said Alito, 55, will comfortably win confirmation today, although not by the 78 to 22 margin that Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. received last fall. Washington Post: Senate to Vote On Alito Todayexternal link

"WOMEN OF THE STORM" DROP IN ON DC: Carrying umbrellas the same bright blue as the tarps that cover thousands of Katrina-ravaged homes, 140 women from the New Orleans area went to Capitol Hill on Monday and invited members of Congress to visit their ruined city. The "Women of the Storm" said they wanted to pressure politicians to see the storm's devastation in person and send more recovery money south. The group included the wives of some of the city's major business leaders and several women from New Orleans' Vietnamese community. Monday's visit by the women comes as the Senate homeland security committee is in the midst of two weeks of Katrina-related hearings as part of an investigation into the government's storm response. "Not enough senators and congressmen have come and seen the biggest natural disaster in the United States," said Caroline Reily of Metairie, whose home was flooded with 6 feet of water. USA Today: 'Women of the Storm' push for more Katrina fundingexternal link

LUNCH WITH LAURA? THAT WILL BE $50K: The latest fundraising pitch of the Congressional Club, a venerable organization of lawmakers' spouses, asks donors for $50,000 apiece in exchange for lunch, a reception with first lady Laura Bush and a private reception with members of Congress and their spouses... In the club's Jan. 19 letter, which several sources read to The Hill, organizers tell potential donors that $50,000 buys 12 tickets to the lunch and admittance to the receptions with Bush and the lawmakers. The Hill: Wives club asks $50,000 for lunch with first ladyexternal link

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