Hillary's bucks

Robert Novak
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Posted: May 28, 2005 12:00 AM

WASHINGTON -- Sen. Hillary Clinton has cornered Eastern and Midwestern Democratic contributors, helping to make her the prohibitive early favorite for the 2008 presidential nomination.

 Party insiders are amazed at the extent to which the former first lady's agents have secured promises of financial backing. Assuming that Clinton actually becomes a candidate, lesser known Democrats will find it difficult to raise sufficient money.

 A footnote: An exception to Sen. Clinton's support is Hollywood, where some of the entertainment industry's big givers question her electability. Sen. Evan Bayh of Indiana has scored points with movie moguls on recent trips to California.

DOWN ON DEAN

 Democratic National Chairman Howard Dean recently came to New York to dine with prominent party members and reassure them about his performance, but he totally failed with former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin.

 Rubin, an icon in Democratic circles, left the meeting appalled by Dean. In contrast, party insider Vernon Jordan was impressed by the national chairman. That left Rubin wondering aloud whether he and Jordan had been at the same event.

 A footnote: Dean's performance on NBC's "Meet the Press" last Sunday did not help him. Moderator Tim Russert noted that Dean said in December 2003 "that we shouldn't prejudge Osama bin Laden" and asked how Dean could "prejudge" House Majority Leader Tom DeLay by saying he should be in jail. "I don't think I'm prejudging him [DeLay]," Dean replied, without reneging on his old bin Laden remarks.

ARNOLD VS. LABOR

 The massive referendum that California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger may put on the November ballot could contain a "paycheck protection" provision that would cripple organized labor's overwhelming political power in the Golden State.

 The provision would sharply restrict unions in making political contributions using money withheld from workers' paychecks. Schwarzenegger is supporting spending limits and state legislative redistricting but has not yet signed off on paycheck protection.

 Republican Schwarzenegger would prefer to work with the Democratic-controlled legislature to enact his reforms, but advisers tell him he will have to use the referendum process. He has until June 13 to get the reforms on this year's ballot.

FALLEN STAR

 Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, considered a rising star in conservative Republican ranks, may have throttled his chances as a 2008 presidential dark horse by advocating a 75-cents-a-pack "fee" on cigarettes.

 Anti-tax advocate Grover Norquist called Pawlenty's proposal a tax increase. A week before the governor made this proposal, Norquist's Americans for Tax Reform had designated Pawlenty as a "Hero of the Taxpayer" for promising to veto any tax increases.

 Pawlenty has made friends among influential national conservative circles and is considered a real possibility in a wide-open 2008 GOP presidential race. Norquist is urging the governor to drop the cigarette fee to rehabilitate himself with the anti-taxers.

DEGRADED DEMOCRAT

 Rep. Gene Taylor of Mississippi, one of the last remaining white Democratic congressmen from the Deep South, found out how difficult life is for the minority when the House considered the Defense Department authorization bill Wednesday.

 Taylor's amendment to give reservists permanent access to the same health care provided to the active duty military passed the House Armed Services Committee, 32 to 30 (with seven Republicans supporting him). But Committee Chairman Duncan Hunter, viewing Taylor's amendment as too expensive, made it impossible for Taylor to make a necessary technical change in his proposal -- thus keeping it from the House floor.

 Hunter also prevented Taylor from expressing his frustration, as he did in May 2002 when he was upset by the Defense bill's base closure provisions. At that time, Taylor made 12 motions to force dilatory floor votes over an eight-hour period. The "Taylor Rule," arranged by Hunter, now permits only one such motion per bill for any House member, unless it is made by Hunter himself or someone chosen by Majority Leader Tom DeLay.