Robert Novak

 Republican Senate staffers and outside conservative groups were caught off guard Tuesday when Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer of California suddenly brought up a proposal to undo the Mexico City language. It passed 52 to 46, thanks to eight Republican defections and unanimous Democratic support.


 Republican National Chairman Ken Mehlman attended last Wednesday evening's reception in Washington by the National Urban League, but Democratic Chairman Howard Dean was not there.

 A Democratic National Committee spokesperson said Dean missed the prestigious African-American organization's major event because he had a schedule conflict with the annual black-tie dinner of the Washington Radio and Television Correspondents Association. However, Mehlman was able to attend both events.

 A footnote: Dean so far has avoided mini-debates with Mehlman. NBC's "Meet the Press" has failed in several efforts to pin down Dean for a joint appearance with Mehlman.


 National Republican leaders, seeking to elect a Republican senator from Maryland for the first time since 1980, privately express confidence that Lt. Gov. Michael Steele next year will run for the seat left open by the surprise retirement of Democratic Sen. Paul Sarbanes.

 Steele, who is an African-American, is considered the strongest Republican candidate but was thought to be more interested in running for another term as lieutenant governor. The only announced Democratic contender, former Rep. Kweisi Mfume, also is black.

 A footnote: National GOP leaders are hoping to win a seat in another Democratic stronghold, New Jersey, with State Sen. Tom Kean Jr. (son of the former governor). The Senate vacancy is being created by Democratic Sen. Jon Corzine, who is leaving to run for governor.

Robert Novak

Robert Novak (1931-2009) was a syndicated columnist and editor of the Evans-Novak Political Report.

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