GOP Lawmakers Head For The Exits

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Capitol Hill is no picnic when you're on the losing team. So it shouldn't be such a huge surprise that 16 Republican lawmakers have announced their plans to take their ball and go home.

What is surprising, the Los Angeles Times reports, is that only two Democratic lawmakers have decided to call it quits so far - and they're both seeking higher office.

The disparity underscores "the sharply different moods in the two parties," according to the Times: Democrats are still reveling in last November's power grab, while Republicans, reduced to minority status in the House and Senate, "see more allure in private life."

"I don't like being in the minority," said Rep. Ray LaHood, R-Ill., who was first elected in the 1994 landslide and will retire this term. "It's not that much fun, and the prospects of the future don't look that good."

GOP woes are compounded by the fact that they have a much smaller pool of money for next year's congressional election, meaning they're likely to be stuck defending more House and Senate seats with less money. To give you some sense, the GOP House congressional committee has a measly $1.6 million compared to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee's $22.1 million.

"If I was talking to my favorite brother-in-law and he was thinking about running for Congress, I would say, 'Why would you want to do that now?'" said Eddie Mahe, a former GOP official. "If anybody's not smart enough to figure that out, I don't want them around anyway."

Hillary Crosses The 50 Percent Threshold, Enthusiastically

Some of the same partisan "enthusiasm gap" that's tempting Republican lawmakers to retire showed up today in a USA Today/Gallup Poll.

It found that, for the first time, Hillary Clinton wins the support of 50 percent of Democrats and Democrat-leaning independents, and that she commands the most enthusiastic backing of any contender in either party. In addition, it found that Democratic voters are more committed to and energized by their field than Republicans are.

Regardless of whom they support, 64 percent of Democrats say they would "enthusiastically" vote for Clinton as the nominee; 49 percent say that of Barack Obama. In the GOP, 51 percent would enthusiastically back Giuliani, 38 percent McCain, 37 percent Thompson and 25 percent Romney.

Meanwhile, Clinton continues to widen her lead over Obama, now 50 percent to 21 percent, her biggest edge since spring. The paper points out that for Clinton, reaching the threshold of 50 percent may have some value. Only once has a presidential candidate received as much as 50 support in a Gallup Poll and then gone on to lose his party's nomination. That was Massachusetts Sen. Edward Kennedy in 1980.

So, basically, USA Today is saying that if Clinton can manage to avoid drunkenly driving off of any piers, she'll be on the ballot in November.

Is Sarkozy's Marriage On The Skids?

The New York Times reports today what it admits France's more self-respecting newspapers won't deign to touch: Paris is ablaze with rumors that President Nicholas Sarkozy and his ex-model wife, Cecilia, are about to get divorced.

One can see how the groundwork for such rumors was laid. The first lady of France has been remarkably invisible from official functions since her husband was elected in May. She even stood the Bushes up for a lunch date this summer, when the couple was vacationing in New England.

Except for "a daring and successful" diplmotic mission to help win the release of Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor imprisoned in Libya, the Times notes, she has largely stayed offstage.

And the Sarkozy's relationship was turbulent from the start. They were both married when they fell in love, and married each other in 1996 after they had lived together. She left him for another man in 2005 and returned several months later. Absent during most of the campaign, she did not even vote in the second and decisive round of the election.

Asked to describe her role in an interview last month with the regional newspaper L'Est Republicain - the only interview she has given since being first lady - she said: "There is no role. I do not believe in having a particular role."

"Perhaps because of that interview," the Times muses, "the newspaper's report on Friday (citing sources close to the Elysee Palace) of an imminent divorce on its Web site was given some credibility." Tabloids have had been having a field day ever since, with reporters barraging the presidential spokesman with questions about the first marriage at a recent press conference.

"The absence of outright official denials has fueled both speculation and calls for the truth," the Times writes. That, and some healthy newsstand sales, no doubt.

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