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First the Majority, Now This?

Senate Minority Leader Thomas Daschle (D-S.D.) poked fun at President Bush’s long-ago drunken driving arrest and even joked about some ambulance-chasing by Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.) at “The Funniest Celebrity in Washington” contest last week.

Daschle, however, inexplicably finished second to James Rosen of Fox News Channel in a controversial turn of events that has already led to talk that the judging system will be radically changed for next year’s show. But that was only one of the two major stories coming out of the laughfest.

The second head-turner involved comedian Lewis Black going “blue,” as they say in the business, by delivering an off-color routine. He simultaneously won laughs and raised eyebrows at the event being carried live by C-SPAN, leading attendees to jokingly speculate about the heartburn it caused Brian Lamb.

Daschle had a routine that appeared to get the most laughs from the large crowd, and even several prominent Republicans in attendance (who are no friends of the Senator) told HOH they felt that he had the best stand-up act. But the Minority Leader finished second to Rosen, a White House correspondent for Fox.

Rosen won despite some questionable material and the fact that he went past the allotted time limit, which competition officials had warned would lead to a loss of points.

“I think Daschle was robbed,” said one of the celebrity judges, Kathy Kemper. “It was a miscount, I am sure. He was the only person I gave [the maximum of] 60 points to.”

(Roll Call was one of the sponsors of the event, which benefited the WAVE charity, but played no role in the judging of the contest.)

Daschle’s camp said the Senator was satisfied with the evening and happy that he could participate for a good cause, though they couldn’t resist one zinger.

“We didn’t consider asking for a recount,” said Daschle aide Jeff Nussbaum. “The very fact that George W. Bush is president proves that sometimes second place really is a win.” [IMGCAP(1)]

Judlyne Lilly, an anchor at WTOP radio, was a last-minute contestant, subbing for AOL executive Ted Leonsis (who obviously had other things on his mind). The weekend news anchor was terrific (and should have finished higher than fourth), delivering her routine like a newscast.

She joked that Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.) thinks that the media has exhibited a double standard by not going after Arnold Schwarzenegger. She said the pronunciation of the actor’s name “insults black people twice.” She added that wrongdoers at WorldCom are “expected to get unlimited nights and weekends in jail.”

Columnist Cal Thomas, who finished third, wondered why helping “regular people” is the basis of Edwards’ presidential campaign. “What about the irregular vote?” he asked. “Is he giving up Florida already?”

Daschle raised doubts about the Republican efforts at health care reform. “The only way you’re going to get coverage is if Bill Frist drives by,” he said of the Majority Leader, adding, “At least John Edwards gave up chasing ambulances when he came to the Senate.”

As for his own decision to skip a presidential run, Daschle said, “I don’t know who’s more disappointed — my family or Rush Limbaugh.”

He defended the decision to trot out senior citizens like Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) and ex-Sen. Walter Mondale (D-Minn.) as candidates again. “It demonstrated our commitment to recycling, senior citizens and the New Deal,” he joked.

He finished up by noting that Bush, Vice President Cheney and new Treasury Secretary John Snow had all been “arrested for drunk driving” earlier in life.

“Screw Saddam Hussein,” Daschle said, holding up a large photo of a bottle of Scotch whiskey. “Here’s the real evil Dewar’s.”

Most of the routine by Black, a pro who appears regularly on the “Daily Show,” was unprintable. For example, there was the joke about ex-Tyco CEO Dennis Kozlowski’s $16,000 umbrella stand, with the punch line having something to do with design diva Martha Stewart’s anatomy.

One of the printable sections involved his demand that Bush at least get photographic evidence, even if it’s doctored, before going to war with Iraq. “Send two 15-year-olds down to Kinko’s,” he cracked. “I need a picture of a camel with a nuclear weapon!”

A past winner, Matt Cooper of Time magazine, warmed up the crowd with some chatter about Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and some of the other White House hopefuls.

“It always seems to me he’d be more comfortable at home in a powdered wig watching C-SPAN2,” said Cooper. “I think John Kerry being a rebel would be having red wine with fish.”

Stevie, Don’t Lose That Number. Reporters at ESPN were desperate to reach former Rep. Steve Largent (R-Okla.) on Thursday night after a report that the former NFL star declared interest in becoming the next general manager of the Seattle Seahawks.

The sports network didn’t have Largent’s telephone number, however, so they hurriedly called Congressional staffer Brad Keena at home. Largent’s former spokesman is now working for Rep. Dennis Rehberg (R-Mont.), but he graciously offered to place a call to the Oklahoman.

“I haven’t gotten in touch with him yet,” Keena told HOH on Friday.

While Largent once seemed on the fast track to the top of the Republican Party, his stunning defeat in the Oklahoma governor’s race in November seems to have derailed his political career. The mighty Largent seems to have fallen pretty far to be offering himself up for NFL jobs now, but Keena said the election defeat may have been a blessing in disguise.

“Maybe it was the best thing,” he said. “He might have more fun.”

For his part, Largent told The News Tribune in Tacoma, Wash., that he’s been paying close attention to the team that he once starred for. “Don’t think because I haven’t been in Seattle I haven’t been paying close attention to the Seahawks or to what is taking place in the National Football League,” he said. “Because I have.”

Maybe that’s why his gubernatorial campaign was on auto-pilot in the final days.

House Smackdown. Will the world be treated to a steel-cage wrestling match between House Administration Chairman Bob Ney (R-Ohio) and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.)?

Yes, according to Ney, if the World Wrestling Entertainment helps him meet this goal: Get 1 million more 18-to 30-year-olds to cast their votes in the 2004 presidential election than did in the presidential race of 2000.

“If they register a million people, Nancy and I will do that,” Ney joked to HOH, adding that the tough Pelosi might prevail in such a showdown.

For now, Ney is just appearing at a press conference today at the National Press Club with WWE superstars Kurt Angle, Bradshaw, Mavey and Ivory. They will unveil the “A Million More in 2004” initiative in conjunction with the League of Women Voters, MTV’s Rock the Vote, Freedom’s Answer and many other organizations.

Ney noted that he and Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) got $10 million in last year’s election reform bill for a program to have pre-voting age teenagers serve as volunteers at polling places, in hopes that they will be more likely to vote when they get older. The chairman believes that Major League Baseball and the National Basketball Association are among the other groups likely to add star power to the effort down the road.

WWE spokesman Gary Davis, meanwhile, told HOH that the wrestling promoters would give careful consideration to a Ney-Pelosi matchup.

“I don’t know if we’ll put that on TV,” he said. “We’ll have to see what the rules are. But if it involves folding chairs, we may get them on television.”

Loose Lips Sink Polls? At the Republican National Committee’s winter meeting at the Mayflower Hotel on Thursday, GOP leaders were touting poll numbers from — gasp! — Democrats.

Since the exit polling of Voter News Service collapsed on Election Night and will no longer be used by the big television networks, Republican strategists said, the best post-election numbers were compiled by Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg. Greenberg uses his polling data to craft the periodic, oft-quoted “Democracy Corps” memos with Democratic strategists James Carville and Bob Shrum.

Of course, many of the numbers — especially those showing a growing Hispanic affinity for Republicans — were favorable for the RNC.

“This is Clinton’s pollster,” Matthew Dowd, Bush’s chief pollster, said of Greenberg. “No one’s going to critique those numbers.”

Later, White House Political Director Ken Mehlman said the Republicans had to consider the favorable numbers in “the Carville poll” reliable.

Despite the use of Democratic data, GOP strategists didn’t want to be too charitable to the opposition. When officials finished a presentation to Republican committee members on the GOP’s successful 72-hour get-out-the-vote plan in the last election, RNC Political Director Blaize Hazelwood lamented, “We just gave our whole presentation to the Democrats” — an apparent reference to the fact that two-dozen reporters were in the room.

Based on what happened last summer with the vaunted PowerPoint presentations of Mehlman and White House aide Karl Rove, Hazelwood’s presentation might have leaked anyway.

Take It Any Way You Can Get It. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) picked up a $250 check Friday for his upcoming charity golf tournament in Key Largo, Fla., from an unlikely source.

Reform gadfly Fred Wertheimer of Democracy 21, who has criticized a DeLay-inspired House rules change that allows lawmakers to take free trips to posh resorts in the name of charity, sent the check and renewed a call for DeLay to fully disclose all the contributors to his charity that helps abused children.

Wertheimer was responding to a challenge issued by DeLay’s spokesman, Stuart Roy, who offered to disclose any donation to the DeLay Foundation for Kids from Wertheimer.

“In accordance with the remarks of your spokesperson, I request that you publicly disclose the receipt of this contribution to your foundation. I also request that none of this money be used to finance the expenses of Members of Congress at your three-day golfing event in April,” Wertheimer wrote in a letter accompanying the check.

Wertheimer also renewed his call on DeLay to live up to a position advocating full disclosure that the Texas Republican adopted in 1995 when he was attempting to defeat the rule banning charitable junkets.

“In soliciting contributions for your foundation in amounts as large as $25,000, $50,000, $100,000 and $250,000 in connection with the Florida golfing event, you have opened the door to the possibility and appearance that such donors in return may receive undue access and influence regarding government matters of importance to them,” Wertheimer wrote.

Another DeLay spokesman, Jonathan Grella, said Wertheimer’s check was accepted. “We’re glad that Fred’s facility for self-promotion has not only benefitted him, but now needy children. It’s the best money he ever spent: a good story in Roll Call and a good deed to boot.”

Meet the New Exhibit. NBC’s Tim Russert and House Majority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) are among the VIPs who will unveil a new exhibit, “FREEDOM: A History of US,” on Tuesday night at the Decatur House.

The exhibit, underwritten by General Electric, features everything from an original letter from George Washington opposing slavery to a rare printing of the Declaration of Independence.

A few blocks away on the same night, Senate Judiciary Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) will be feted at the offices of Baker & Hostettler for the publication of his recent book, “Square Peg: Confessions of a Citizen Senator.”

And on Wednesday night, House Democratic Caucus Chairman Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) and freshman Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.) are among the dignitaries who will be honored at the Organization of American States by the Cuban American National Council.

Josh Kurtz and Damon Chappie contributed to this report.

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