WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Even before Sen. John McCain got mixed up by saying Sunni al-Qaida terrorists have been brought out of Iraq to be trained in Shiite Iran, Republican insiders felt he was in the wrong place at the wrong time on his visit to the war zone.
GOP critics disapproved of McCain even making the trip to Iraq accompanied by two of his closest Senate colleagues, Republican Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Independent Democrat Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut. They felt that no political purpose was served by the prospective Republican presidential nominee going halfway around the world to praise President Bush's troop surge.
Democrats, disheartened by the bitterness of the Clinton-Obama struggle, seized on McCain's mistake as good news. They say he messed up a key play in his strong suit.
While Sen. Hillary Clinton's campaign could not actively join in the attack on the radical rhetoric of Sen. Barack Obama's pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, her aides stressed their familiar theme that Obama had not been sufficiently "vetted" to be the Democratic presidential candidate.
Tuesday's conference call between Clinton aides and reporters was mostly about her campaign's demands for primary election re-votes in Michigan and Florida. But senior adviser Harold Ickes briefly changed the subject to say "the past two weeks have cast more doubt" on "whether Sen. Obama is going to be able to stand up to the Republican attack machine."
Ickes added that the Republicans "may not be able to run a country, but they can sure run an attack on the opposition candidate." That fit the Clinton campaign tactic, sounded for nearly a year, of claiming that an un-vetted Obama will be easy prey in the general election.
John McCain's team that is taking over the Republican Party has decided on Bobbie Greene Kilberg, a liberal Republican from Virginia long detested by conservatives, to run the party's national convention in St. Paul, Minn., in August.
Kilberg, as an aide to President George H.W. Bush in 1990, promoted White House overtures to gay activists. She won an internal power struggle over gay politics with fellow Bush assistant R. Douglas Wead, who was fired as White House liaison to religious conservatives.
When Kilberg appeared on television by McCain's side the night of Feb. 12 after he won the Virginia primary, her presence was resented by conservatives as a sign of contempt for them.
JINDAL FOR VP
The latest possible Republican vice presidential prospect pushed by Washington-based conservative activists is newly elected Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, fresh from a triumphant six-day special session of the state legislature.
In Baton Rouge, Jindal won approval of several tax cuts and funding for transportation, hurricane protection and higher education. He was elected last October in a landslide.
Jindal, the son of immigrants from India and a Catholic convert, is at age 36 the nation's youngest governor. He has been praised by conservative activists, including Rush Limbaugh and Grover Norquist. The major argument against him for vice president is that he should not be taken from Louisiana so soon after assuming office.
POLL ON PORK
In the face of a continuing quest for pork-barrel spending by most of Congress, pollster Frank Luntz in a recent survey found that the public disagrees with their lawmakers.
On tax policy, Luntz found that 40 percent of a national sample of swing voters are opposed to higher taxes and prefer "fewer earmarks and no more bridges to nowhere." The compromise proposal of making earmarks "transparent" received 23 percent backing. Only 14 percent supported a rollback of President Bush's tax cuts.
With Congress in recess, the Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call reported, the demand for earmarks by more than 90 percent of House members required the House Appropriations Committee to extend its March 19 deadline for requests to March 24.