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The Situation: Friday, February 24

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.

The Morning Grind






White House
New Orleans (Louisiana)
George W. Bush
Hillary Rodham Clinton

Posted: 10:00 a.m. ET
From Mark Preston, CNN Political Unit

The 2008 contests

If there is any doubt the presidential election season is in full swing, one only needs to review a 72 hour block of time that began last night and ends on Saturday.

No fewer than seven potential 2008 candidates are either: visiting key primary states, delivering high profile policy addresses or raising money for likeminded lawmakers who could prove to be key allies in the primaries two years from now.

Political analysts and strategists agree the need to raise tens of millions of dollars early in the contest to show political strength is one of the main reasons why the presidential campaign calendar gets longer with each new election. And two wide open presidential nominations in two years have added a new level of intensity to the process not seen in recent memory.

"It used to be the presidential race didn't start until after the midterm elections, but clearly you have close to a dozen candidates out there in what appears to be a full sprint to the finish," said Stuart Rothenberg, publisher of the non-partisan Rothenberg Political Report and columnist for Roll Call. "The problem is the finish is two years away."

A political strategist to one of the Democrats considering a 2008 bid said the emergence of Sens. Hillary Rodham (D-New York) and John McCain (R-Arizona) as early favorites puts pressure not only on them to "maintain their frontrunnerness" but also the "10 percent and under crowd" who are jockeying to position themselves as viable alternatives. For Clinton, she is seeing possible rivals position themselves on both the left and right, while McCain's challengers are vying to be the choice of conservatives who look upon the Arizona Republican with skepticism.

Potential candidates are being very conscious of their travel schedules, in an attempt to gain as much political capital in short visits to key states. For example, former Sen. John Edwards (D-North Carolina) will attend four separate fundraisers in Iowa tomorrow, and another on Sunday as he weaves political events and his new mission to end poverty into his schedule. Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R) spent yesterday in South Carolina, speaking first at the Citadel Military College and then at a fundraiser for the Lexington County Republican Party. Tonight, Romney travels to New Hampshire for the Carroll County Lincoln Day Dinner.

As for the perceived frontrunners, Clinton and McCain will have visited Florida to deliver speeches and be the main attractions at political fundraisers during this 72 hour period. McCain attended a joint fundraiser for Reps. Lincoln Diaz-Balart (R-Florida) and Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Florida) yesterday before speaking on the issue of immigration reform in Miami.

Clinton is scheduled to speak this morning at the Miami Chamber of Commerce, and will headline a fundraiser for Florida Democrats tomorrow in Tampa. The New York Democrat is also raising money for her own 2006 re-election contest at events in Florida and in Charlotte, North Carolina.

"We are extremely excited that the Senator is coming to Florida to help us win in 2006," said Mark Bubriski, spokesman for the Florida Democratic Party. "She is one of the most popular Democrats nationwide and Florida Democrats love her."

A new Quinnipiac University poll released this morning shows that Florida Democrats clearly favor Clinton, 41 percent, over any of the other candidates mentioned as potential 2008 candidates. Sen. John Kerry (Massachusetts), the 2004 Democratic presidential nominee, and his running mate Edwards tied for second with 14 percent followed by Sen. Joseph Biden (D-Delaware) who scored 8 percent. Biden delivered a speech yesterday on "Recapturing the Totality of America's Strength" at the LBJ Library in Austin, Texas.

The Quinnipiac poll also showed former New York Gov. Rudy Giuliani leading McCain, 47 percent to 29 percent, as Florida Republicans' pick for their party's 2008 presidential nominee. No other Republican registered in the double digits. While McCain is viewed warily by some conservatives, it is widely believed that Giuliani would have a difficult time winning a Republican primary because of his social views.

As for Kerry, he helped raise money for Minnesota Democrats yesterday and today appears at fundraisers for the Colorado Democratic Party, Colorado House Majority Fund, Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, and Ed Perlmutter, who is running for the 7th District seat. And Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-Colorado) headlines the Pottawattamie County Lincoln Day Dinner tomorrow in Council Bluffs, Iowa.

While many people suggest this early campaign activity by 2008 aspirants is hurting candidates running in the midterms, a House Republican leadership aide suggested it actually has been a help.

"It is one thing to have an administration that is involved in helping our incumbents and key challengers, but to have this additional group of headliners is a huge plus," said the aide, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Speaking of the administration, President Bush appears to have dodged a political bullet with the Dubai Ports World decision to delay its plan to take control of six major U.S. ports. Republicans and Democrats, alike, have spent the past week questioning why Bush would allow this deal to go through.

"We need to understand the concerns of the people in the U.S. who are worried about this transaction and make sure they are addressed to the benefit of all parties," Ted Bilkey, the company's chief operating officer, said in a statement released Thursday night. "Security is everybody's business." Bilkey said the company would work with the administration and Congress to "address concerns" about security at the ports.

CNN's Dana Bash reported last night that the White House favored such a scenario, but Bush continued to support the decision to allow the company to take control of the ports. Today, the president delivers a 10 a.m. ET speech on the "Global War on Terror" at the Capitol Hilton Hotel. At 1:15 p.m. ET he meets with the President of El Salvador in the Oval Office.

Political Hot Topics

Posted: 10:00 a.m. ET
From Stephen Bach, CNN Washington Bureau

PORTS DEAL DELAYED: Facing unrelenting political and national security concerns, an Arab maritime company offered late last night to delay part of its $6.8 billion deal to take over significant operations at six U.S. ports, after White House aide Karl Rove suggested that President Bush could accept some delay of the deal. The surprise announcement should give Bush extra time to try to convince lawmakers from both parties that the port deal does not present an avenue for terrorists to exploit the nation's vulnerable and heavily populated seaports. Earlier in the day, Republican and Democratic senators questioned whether the Bush administration followed federal law when it approved Dubai Ports World's purchase of London-based Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Co., also known as P&O. Washington Post: Arab Firm Offers to Delay Deal On Seaportsexternal link

CHERTOFF ALSO UNAWARE OF DEAL: Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff was not aware a Dubai-owned company was seeking to operate terminals in six U.S. ports and that his agency was leading the review until after the deal's approval, an administration official said yesterday. Mr. Chertoff's spokesman, Russ Knocke, told The Washington Times the issue rose no higher than the department's assistant secretary for policy, Stewart Baker. "[Chertoff] was not briefed up to this until after this story started appearing in the newspapers," Mr. Knocke said. Mr. Chertoff is the third Cabinet official to acknowledge he did not know his agency had signed off on the plan as a member of the interagency Committee on Foreign Investments in the United States (CFIUS). Both Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and Treasury Secretary John W. Snow have publicly said they were unaware of the deal. Washington Times: Chertoff unaware of ports deal until after OKexternal link

EMIRATES GAVE $100M FOR KATRINA RELIEF: The United Arab Emirates gave the Bush administration $100 million to help victims of Hurricane Katrina weeks before a state-owned company there sought U.S. approval for its ports deal. The White House said Thursday the $100 million for storm victims demonstrates the relationship between the two governments caught in a firestorm over the potential security risks of state-owned Dubai Ports World running significant operations at six major U.S. ports. The administration said the request for U.S. approval of the $6.8 billion ports deal and the UAE contribution were not related. "There was no connection between the two events," said Adam Ereli, the deputy State Department spokesman. The U.S. government the money it received from the United Arab Emirates was nearly four times as much as it received from all other countries combined. AP via Yahoo! News: UAE Gave $100M for Katrina Reliefexternal link

DOES PORTS DEAL HURT BUSH'S NATL SECURITY IMAGE? The political furor over President George W. Bush's decision to let an Arab company manage facilities at six American ports strikes at the heart of his greatest strength: his argument that he can do a better job protecting the nation than the Democrats. Bush first raised the theme in the congressional elections of 2002 and reprised it in his 2004 re-election campaign. His chief strategist, Karl Rove, last month made it clear the strategy would continue in this year's elections. Even as Bush's approval ratings have plunged, he has maintained a decisive lead over Democrats on the question of who could better fight terrorism -- 45 percent to 32 percent in a Bloomberg/Los Angeles Times poll last month. Bloomberg: Bush's National-Security Image Undercut by Dubai Port Decisionexternal link

FITZ "IMPROPERLY APPOINTED," SAY LIBBY LAWYERS: Attorneys for Vice President Cheney's former top aide argued yesterday that a federal court should dismiss all charges against him because a special prosecutor lacked the legal authority to bring the charges. Lawyers for I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby argued that Special Counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald was improperly appointed by the Justice Department instead of the president to investigate the leak of CIA operative Valerie Plame's identity. That means his work and the charges of perjury, making false statements and obstructing justice brought against Libby in October are invalid, they said in court papers filed yesterday. Washington Post: Special Counsel in Plame Case Invalid, Libby Contendsexternal link

LONDON'S MAYOR SUSPENDED OVER NAZI REMARK: London's mayor has been suspended from office for four weeks for comparing a Jewish journalist to a concentration camp guard. The Adjudication Panel for England ruled Ken Livingstone had brought his office into disrepute when he acted in an "unnecessarily insensitive" manner. The ban is due to begin on 1 March, but Mr Livingstone's representative said he may appeal to the High Court. The mayor said: "This decision strikes at the heart of democracy." "Elected politicians should only be able to be removed by the voters or for breaking the law." The hearing followed a complaint from the Jewish Board of Deputies, which had not called for the mayor to be suspended over the comment he made to the Evening Standard's Oliver Finegold outside a party. BBC: Mayor is suspended over Nazi jibeexternal link

BUSH RAISES $1.6M FOR GOP CANDIDATES: President Bush plunged into the 2006 midterm elections on Thursday, headlining back-to-back fund-raising events for Republican candidates in states where his party is vulnerable. Mr. Bush's sprint through Indiana and Ohio brought in at least $1.6 million, party officials said, underscoring his standing as a major fund-raising draw, even as his job-approval rating suffers. The Republican National Committee said that Mr. Bush was kicking off a year of fund-raising for candidates in the 2006 elections and that the president's schedule would accelerate over the next months. New York Times: On Campaign Trail, Bush Raises Money for Midterm Racesexternal link

FEC TO VOTE ON INTERNET ADS, BLOG EXEMPTIONS: The Federal Election Commission announced today that it will hold a final vote March 16 to determine the rules governing political communications on the Internet. The issue drew widespread controversy last year, especially from Web loggers, who have argued vehemently that they, like traditional print or broadcast journalists, should fall under a press exemption when it comes to campaign finance laws. In the initial regulations the FEC adopted as part of implementing the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, the commission gave a blanket exception to all Internet communications, including paid political advertising on the Web. That regulation, in addition to several others, was thrown out by the courts, which have required the FEC to draft new guidelines. The FEC is expected to vote on whether paid Internet advertising should be subjected to campaign finance laws and whether bloggers will get the press exemption. Roll Call: FEC Sets March 16 Vote on Internet Regulationsexternal link

HILLARY BRINGS IN CARVILLE AND BEGALA: Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton has turned to two of the masterminds behind her husband's 1992 presidential victory -- James Carville and Paul Begala -- to raise money needed to keep her in the Senate and possibly help finance a White House run of her own. A spokesman for Clinton's likely GOP Senate race opponent, former Yonkers Mayor John Spencer, sought to portray the development in a potentially favorable light. "To bring in Carville and Begala at this early stage shows the panic behind the scenes of Senator Clinton's campaign," said Christian Winthrop. Polls have shown Clinton far ahead of Spencer. The tag-team money appeal began Wednesday when potential Clinton donors received an e-mail from Begala warning that "Election Day is eight months away, but the Republican attack machine is going after Hillary Clinton big-time." AP via Yahoo! News: Sen. Clinton Turns to Veteran Fundraisersexternal link

ARNOLD'S "OBSTACLES": Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger faces dismal poll ratings, an empty campaign treasury, a peeved Republican base and other troubles as his new political team plots his campaign for a second term. The governor has yet to recover from his November special-election debacle, which squandered more than $45 million of his campaign money and drew a withering ad assault from organized labor. Adding to his difficulties is the poor national political climate for Republicans. Public anger at President Bush and the GOP over the Iraq war, a lobbying scandal, a botched Medicare drug plan and other issues could hurt Schwarzenegger and other Republicans on the California ballot in November, said Tony Quinn, co-editor of the nonpartisan California Target Book election guide. "The great danger is that's the way this year is starting to look," said Quinn, who sees signs of a "great Democratic landslide" nationwide in November. Los Angeles Times: Gov. Faces Reelection Obstaclesexternal link

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