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Pure Horserace: A National Caucus?

With up to two dozen states looking to hold a presidential primary next February 5, we're already looking at a national primary on that day. So why not a national caucus?

That's what organizers of the National Presidential Caucus (NPC) are aiming for as they announced plans for a first-ever national caucus. Beginning on Labor Day, anyone interested can register to become part of what organizers are billing as "thousands of local, self-organized, web-enabled, and face-to-face gatherings across the country."

Noting that some 5 million people participated in similar Meetups during the '04 election cycle, NPC coordinator Don Means says the group envisions thousands of sites across the country, in public places such as local libraries, where small groups organized as Democrats, Republicans or open, will gather twice this year and caucus.

"Our democratic process, as currently practiced, has proven unsatisfactory to the great majority of Americans," Means says in today's announcement. "Even with hopeful new signs of Internet-enabled participation, our national elections remain essentially poll-driven, mass media campaigns and little more than an ugly spectator sport, though one with enormous stakes."

Details and caucus rules will be laid out in the coming months, but the schedule for the NPC is as follows: Registration opens Sept. 4, followed by a "straw poll caucus" on Oct. 26, where participants will start to better familiarize themselves with the process. The main event, the National Presidential Caucus, is slated for Dec. 7. Organizers are urging those interested in organizing a caucus to utilize sites such as Meetup, Facebook, MySpace and YouTube.

Since 2004, political campaigns have aggressively explored social-networking tools as a way to organize and raise money but have also proven cautious about them, preferring to either create their own on their official campaign Web sites or take a hands-on approach that allows them to control the content elsewhere. Barack Obama's campaign caused a small stir earlier this year when it took over control of a MySpace page founded and maintained by a supporter.

How campaigns will view something like a national caucus could help determine the overall success of the effort. For some candidates, particular well-known front-runners, attempting to organize for it could carry more risk than potential rewards and would, at the very least, take resources that could be used elsewhere. That was the major reason cited by Rudy Giuliani's campaign for not participating in the Iowa straw poll this summer.

For others, especially candidates who have proven to have a committed, if small, group of supporters, the NPC could provide an opportunity to attract attention in a crowded field. In 2004, Howard Dean's campaign utilized Meetups effectively to raise money and organize supporters all across the country. Dean failed to win a single state during the primary process, but now most every campaign, even many at the local levels, is utilizing similar tools. How will the National Presidential Caucus fit in? We'll keep an eye on it and let you know as Labor Day draws closer. — Vaughn Ververs

Strong In The South: Hillary Clinton may be leading in the national polls, but John Edwards has retained the lead in most all of the Iowa surveys and a new poll over the weekend suggests that Obama currently has an edge in South Carolina. The Mason-Dixon survey has Obama leading Clinton 34 percent to 25 percent with Edwards, who won the state in 2004, trailing at 12 percent.

Obama's lead is built on his strength among African Americans who say they are likely to vote in the state's primary. Obama received the support of 44 percent among that group, compared with 18 percent for Clinton. African American voters are expected to make up nearly half of the Democratic primary electorate.

On the Republican side, former Tennessee senator and actor Fred Thompson, who has not officially announced his candidacy, led in the poll with 25 percent, trailed closely by Rudy Giuliani who garnered 21 percent. John McCain, who has topped previous polls in South Carolina, came in a distant fourth with just 7 percent. —Vaughn Ververs

Always Think Twice Before Hitting "Send": The Associated Press reports that an aide to Sam Brownback's campaign has been reprimanded after she forwarded an e-mail to Iowa Republican activists that contained less-than-positive statements about Mitt Romney's religion. According to the AP, the e-mail asked for help in verifying statements about the Mormon Church, such as, "theologically, the only thing Christianity and the LDS church has in common is the name of Jesus Christ."

A spokesman for Brownback's campaign said, "Sen. Brownback completely disavows himself of this and any personal attacks on religion" and vowed that such a violation of the campaign's policy would not happen again." —Vaughn Ververs

Rezco Redux: Obama's past ties to indicted businessman Tony Rezco continues to be a subject of great interest for the candidate's home-state press. The Chicago Sun-Times reports today that Obama has received at least $168,000 from Rezco and associated close to him — nearly three times as much as the Obama campaign has claimed.

Obama has returned more than $30,000 in contributions Rezco has given or raised for the campaign, but the Sun-Times says he has kept funds donated by some of his associates. The relationship between Obama and Rezco has been the subject of many stories in Illinois but thus far has made little news on the national level. It's another reminder of how closely candidates are often covered by those media outlets who know them best. — Vaughn Ververs

Sorry Arnold: In case you didn't see the update, we wanted to make sure and correct the record about an item we passed along last week. We told you Friday of a tantalizing thought for 2008 — floated by billionaire Warren Buffett — that there may be no constitutional reason why Arnold Schwarzenegger could not be president. But a helpful Pure Horserace reader promptly reminded us of the 12th Amendment to the Constitution which states, "no person constitutionally ineligible to the office of President shall be eligible to that of Vice-President of the United States." So Schwarzenegger, the Austrian-born governor of California, is constitutionally barred from becoming vice president. — Vaughn Ververs

Editor's Note: Pure Horserace is a daily update of political news as interpreted by the political observers at Click here to sign up for the e-mail version.

By David Miller and Vaughn Ververs

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