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Warner builds '08 operation through PAC

By Mark Preston
CNN Political Editor

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Just look at former Virginia Gov. Mark Warner's (D) fundraising as of late and there is no question he is running for president.

Warner raised more than $1.1 million last month for his Forward Together political action committee and he has $4 million in the bank to help pay for travel, staff and make strategic contributions to candidates in key states such as Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina as he explores a White House bid. (See below for the Latest 2008 PAC rundown).

He also unveiled a new networking effort Wednesday that will eventually give 10 Democratic candidates $5,000 each with one of them getting the "grand prize" of having Warner host a fundraiser. Modeled after the NCAA March Madness college brackets, Warner's political supporters will choose five winners each from the East and West and from this pool a grand prize winner will be announced.

"Mark Warner is building a presidential campaign that involves raising a lot of money early and spending some money," said Stuart Rothenberg, publisher of the non-partisan Rothenberg Political Report and a columnist for Roll Call. "This is the only vehicle for Mark Warner to raise money so this is where we see he is running for president and putting together a national operation."

Rothenberg is referring to the fundraising efforts by other potential 2008 Democratic candidates such as Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-New York) and Sen. John Kerry (D-Massachusetts), who are raising money in other federal accounts. For example, Clinton only has $100,000 in her PAC, but she has about $20 million in her Senate campaign account. And while Kerry's PAC shows a balance of $500,000, he has more than $14 million in other federal accounts.

On the Republican side, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tennessee) and Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona) have most actively employed their leadership PACs to explore presidential bids. (See below for the Latest 2008 PAC rundown).

Rothenberg describes these "leadership" PACs as "getting around money ... to help collect chits and show the flag around the country."

Getting around is precisely what Warner needs to do in the coming months as he tries to build a national base and position himself as the alternative to Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-New York). Today, Warner kicks off the NDN's annual meeting in Washington.

The latest 2008 PAC rundown

Federal political action committees are often used by potential presidential candidates to help pay for travel, staff and as a pool of money to make donations from to candidates in key states such as Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina. CNN's Robert Yoon gives Grind readers the latest look at some possible 2008 candidates' leadership PACs.

Raised in May 2006

Democrats:

Wesley Clark (D) - WesPAC: $25,544

Hillary Clinton (D-NY) - Hill PAC: $122,479

Russ Feingold (D-WI) - Progressive Patriots Fund $270,968

John Kerry (D-MA) - Keeping America's Promise $270,848

Mark Warner (D-VA) - Forward Together PAC $1,129,893

Republicans:

Bill Frist (R-TN) - Volunteer PAC $466,211

Rudy Giuliani (R-NY) - Solutions America $159,022

Chuck Hagel (R-NE) - Sandhills PAC $19,469

John McCain (R-Arizona) - Straight Talk America $488,214

Spent in May 2006

Democrats:

Wesley Clark (D) - WesPAC: $57,805

Hillary Clinton (D-NY) - Hill PAC: $150,235

Russ Feingold (D-WI) - Progressive Patriots Fund: $112,402

John Kerry (D-MA) - Keeping America's Promise $256,897

Mark Warner (D-VA) - Forward Together PAC $508,060

Republicans:

Bill Frist (R-TN) - Volunteer PAC $449,052

Rudy Giuliani (R-NY) - Solutions America $141,390

Chuck Hagel (R-NE) - Sandhills PAC $60,400

John McCain (R-Arizona) - Straight Talk America $803,517

Cash on hand as of May 31, 2006

Democrats:

Wesley Clark (D) - WesPAC: $16,101

Hillary Clinton (D-NY) - Hill PAC: $100,240

Russ Feingold (D-WI) - Progressive Patriots Fund: $545,628

John Kerry (D-MA) - Keeping America's Promise $501,869

Mark Warner (D-VA) - Forward Together PAC $4,079,249

Republicans:

Bill Frist (R-TN) - Volunteer PAC $659,490

Rudy Giuliani (R-NY) - Solutions America $241,294

Chuck Hagel (R-NE) - Sandhills PAC $138,617

John McCain (R-Arizona) - Straight Talk America $761,845

Knitting together the Democratic factions

Once a political action committee dedicated to electing centrist Democrats, the NDN has transformed itself in recent years into a center to bring the various factions of the Democratic Party together. Today, the organization kicks off a two day conference and will hear from three potential presidential candidates: former Virginia Gov. Mark Warner (D), Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-New York) and Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack (D) as well as liberal blogger Marko Moulitsas and Service Employees International Union official Eliseo Medina.

"We believe the only way we are going to succeed as modern progressives or new Democrats is by the whole progressive movement succeeding," NDN President Simon Rosenberg said in an interview with the Grind earlier this week. "We are really trying to help everyone work together. Our ideas and values are not going to win the big debate right now unless the whole progressive movement wins."

And Rosenberg said he thinks Democrats want to hear potential presidential candidates explain their plan of "how we are going to get back into power."

"Democrats want to win and there is a lot of optimism about '08 being a good year," he said.

Lincoln saves Clinton

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-New York) owes Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Arkansas) a bowl of Senate bean soup for helping her dodge questions last night about a possible 2008 presidential run. Clinton and Lincoln appeared alongside the seven other Democratic women senators to discuss politics and policy on CNN's "Larry King Live." But when King asked the senators if they would support Clinton if she decided to run for the White House, the New York Democrat unsuccessfully tried to steer the conversation in another direction. That is when Lincoln stepped in.

"She wants to take one step at a time and get it right," Lincoln said, referring to Clinton's Senate re-election campaign.

The comment gave Clinton the split second time she needed to regroup.

"We want to focus on what we can get done in this Congress," Clinton said. "And then we need to focus on our elections in November because, as you say, we're running for re-election."

But we must note, Clinton never ruled out running for the White House in 2008.

Edwards poverty crusade

Former Sen. John Edwards (D-North Carolina) continues his crusade to end poverty today outlining a plan to do so over the next 30 years during a lunchtime speech at the National Press Club. Edwards, who is considering another run for the White House, will also speak to the current debate among Democrats about the future direction of the party.

"I believe in a party willing to take stances that are right, whether or not they are popular," Edwards will say, according to advanced excerpts of his speech provided to CNN. "This is the tradition of America, fighting for what is right regardless of the odds, regardless of the power of those on the other side. It is what the Democratic Party I believe in is all about. We do not have to posture or to accept mediocrity or compromise our values. We can decide to be great, we can address great problems, we can see great possibilities."

Edwards will also say that if Democrats want to be leaders, "we have to represent something greater than our own self-promotion.

"We have to believe that our country is more important than ourselves," Edwards will say. "These times are critical, so let me be clear: in this battle for the soul of our Party, no less than the future of America and the future of the world are at stake."

The vote to pull out of Iraq

The Senate is scheduled to vote around 11 a.m. on two different Democratic proposals concerning U.S. troops in Iraq. The first amendment -- that is supported by the Democratic leadership -- calls for the beginning of redeploying troops by year's end and requires President Bush to submit a more detailed redeployment plan to Congress. The second plan -- being advanced by Sens. John Kerry (D-Massachusetts) and Russ Feingold (D-Wisconsin) -- calls for the withdrawal of troops by July 1, 2007. Both amendments are expected to fail with the leadership backed plan getting close to 40 votes and Kerry-Feingold attracting as many as 15 supporters, Democratic sources tell the Grind.

"Today, the real choice facing this body is a choice between doing nothing Čthe so-called 'stay the course' option the President and his supporters advocate Čor changing the course and providing our troops and the Iraqi people a way forward," Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) will say just before the vote, according to excerpts of his speech provided to the Grind. Reid will not vote for the Kerry-Feingold amendment.

DAYAHEAD/Events making news today...

  • President Bush is in Budapest, Hungary, meeting with political leaders and making a speech commemorating the 50th anniversary of that country's uprising against the Soviet Union's occupation. He returns to Washington, D.C. tonight.
  • The Senate gaveled into session at 9:30 a.m. ET and resumed debate over the Defense Authorization bill. The Senate will vote on two Democratic amendments, one that calls for the withdrawal of troops from Iraq by July 1, 2007 and another that requires the beginning of a redeployment of troops by the end of the year. The House comes into session at 10 a.m. ET.
  • House Majority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) holds an on-camera Q&A with reporters at 10:30 a.m. ET in the House Radio & TV Gallery.
  • House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-California) holds an on- camera Q&A with reporters at 10:45 a.m. ET in room H-206 of the Capitol.
  • The Democratic organization NDN kicks off its annual meeting at 12 p.m. ET with a speech by former Virginia Gov. Mark Warner (D), who is considering running for president.
  • Vice President Cheney delivers a 12:20 p.m. ET speech at the U.S.-India Business Council's 31st Anniversary Leadership Summit being held at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
  • Former Sen. John Edwards (D-North Carolina), a potential presidential candidate, discusses his plan to end poverty in a 12:30 p.m. ET speech at the National Press Club.
  • Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman addresses the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials at 1 p.m. ET at the group's annual conference being held in Dallas, Texas. Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean addresses the group later in the day.
  • The DNC's Rules and Bylaws Committee holds a 1 p.m. ET conference call to discuss the presidential nominating calendar.
  • House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Illinois) holds a 2:15 p.m. ET news conference on border security in the House Radio & TV Gallery.
  • Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R), a potential presidential candidate, addresses the "South Carolina Upstate Republican Run-Off Rally" in Spartanburg, South Carolina, at 5:30 p.m. ET.
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    Compiled by CNN's Stephen Bach

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