Who Obama Hurts

Neutral Democratic political operatives believe the emergence of Sen. Barack Obama as a 2008 presidential candidate after his performance on NBC’s "Meet the Press" may do less damage to front-runner Hillary Rodham Clinton than to John Edwards.

Former Sen. Edwards’s campaign strategy is focused on the South Carolina primary, but Obama figures to do well with African-American voters comprising about 40 percent of that state’s Democratic primary vote. Obama also could threaten Edwards in the tip-off Iowa caucuses, where polls have shown Edwards leading Clinton.

A footnote: That Obama’s performance on "Meet the Press" would not be routine was signaled when his political adviser, veteran campaign consultant David Axelrod, flew from Chicago to Washington for the broadcast. Non-candidates do not usually bring campaign advisers from back home to such interviews.

Hastert’s Future

Friends of Speaker J. Dennis Hastert are urging him to seek the top Republican post-election leadership position, whether or not the party retains control of the House Nov. 7, so that his long public career does not end marred by the Mark Foley scandal.

The general speculation had been that Hastert, 64, would not want to be minority leader in a Democratic House and might not even desire a sixth term as speaker if Republicans keep control. But his supporters feel he should end his public career on a positive note.

A footnote: The wounds inflicted by the Foley affair have left staffers for Hastert, Majority Leader John Boehner and Majority Whip Roy Blunt all shooting at each other over who was at fault.

Bucks for Burns

National Republican strategists, who had virtually written off three-term Sen. Conrad Burns in Montana, have been sufficiently persuaded by his late rally to send his cash-starved campaign some extra funds this weekend.

Burns made a personal appeal to the White House for a late television buy against his Democratic opponent, State Sen. Jon Tester. Help was promised after new polls showed Burns had cut into his previous double-digit deficit.

The Burns comeback has been fueled by attacks on Tester for fighting tax cuts. A campaign statement assails the Democrat for opposing "permanent tax relief to 336,000 Montanans."

Madeleine Solicits

Recipients of mail from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) were surprised this past week to receive a fund-raising appeal signed by former Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright.

Secretaries of state, by tradition, stay away from partisan politics while in office. Former holders of the position generally follow the same practice. Nobody can remember fund-raising solicitations from Colin Powell, Warren Christopher or Henry Kissinger.

Albright’s letter requested "a contribution of $50, $75 or more" for the DCCC to guarantee a Democratic House majority. "The single most effective step you can take to shape the outcome of November’s elections is to support the DCCC," she said, as "the only organization whose sole mission is to win a Democratic House majority."