W and Angela

Robert Novak
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Posted: Jul 22, 2006 12:01 AM
W and Angela

WASHINGTON -- At the G-8 conference in St. Petersburg, German Chancellor Angela Merkel emerged as President George W. Bush's new favorite among his fellow heads of government.

Bush still admires British Prime Minister Tony Blair, sympathizing with him for abuse over support of the war in Iraq. However, the president was impressed when the new German leader confronted and contradicted imperious French President Jacques Chirac.

At St. Petersburg, Bush displayed no affection for Chirac. But the president also indicated a low opinion of newly installed Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi, who defeated Bush favorite Silvio Berlusconi.

DUELING DEMOCRATS

Hostility between the House's two top Democrats has reached the point where Minority Whip Steny Hoyer's aides whisper they would rather not regain the majority if it means Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi becoming speaker of the House.

Hoyer would not challenge Pelosi for speaker. But if Democrats fail to carry the House this year for the eighth straight election, there will be pressure on Hoyer to run against her for minority leader.

A footnote: Rep. John Murtha of Pennsylvania, a Pelosi ally, has announced he will run for majority leader against Hoyer if Democrats win control. Critics of Pelosi in the House Democratic caucus say Murtha is unsuited for nuts-and-bolts duties as majority leader but would make a good speaker.

TREASURY IN CHARGE

To demonstrate he is in charge, Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson held his first weekly economic policy meeting at the Treasury instead of the White House, as was the case under his predecessor, John Snow.

Since most of the other participants are located at the White House, Paulson commented to a presidential aide that it would be more convenient to hold further meetings there. The second weekly meeting was held in the White House, but sources said Paulson will go back to the Treasury periodically. The Treasury building is a block from the White House on Pennsylvania Ave.

Former Wall Street titan Paulson has indicated he will be Bush's first Treasury chief to take charge of economic policy. So far, however, he has worked closely with National Economic Council Director Al Hubbard.

N.J. FOR GOP?

New Jersey, dominated by Democrats in recent elections, has become the best Republican prospect for winning a Democratic-held Senate seat this year. New polls last week indicated appointive Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez falling back to an even race with his Republican challenger, State Sen. Tom Kean Jr.

Quinnipiac University's poll showed Kean gaining nine percentage points in one month to take a two-point lead. The Monmouth University/Gannett poll's first Senate survey had Kean trailing Menendez by one point, but enjoying a 15-point lead among key independent voters.

Kean's edge in the Quinnipiac survey marked the first time a New Jersey Republican candidate for the Senate had led a summer poll since Sen. Clifford Case in 1972. Big Democratic July margins in the state often are trimmed in November. Sens. Bill Bradley in 1990 and Frank Lautenberg in 1994 enjoyed summer leads of 46 and 26 points, respectively, before winning by three points each.

DOVE SHOOTING RESPITE

Two days after the Senate reconvenes following its long summer vacation, Republican Sen. Jim Inhofe will be off for his second annual Oklahoma dove hunt Sept. 8 and 9 to finance his 2008 campaign for re-election.

Washington lobbyists last week received invitations to the Friday-Saturday event in Altus and Lone Wolf, Okla. The price, $1,000 for individuals and $2,000 for political action committees, does not cover staying at the Quartz Mountain Lodge in Lone Wolf.

A footnote: Inhofe is not the only Republican senator getting a head start on fund-raising for 2008 re-election campaigns. On July 25, Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky will hold a dinner at Mr. K's restaurant in Washington. On Sept. 13, Sen. Pete Domenici of New Mexico will benefit from a lunch on the ninth floor of 101 Pennsylvania Ave. in the capital.