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Private face time and a photo with Karl Rove will cost a select few campaign donors a cool $4,000 when the senior White House adviser swoops in to Scottsdale, Ariz., this weekend to boost freshman Rep. Rick Renzi (R).

In all, about 200 people have already committed to have lunch with Rove at the swank Camelback Inn resort, a pretty remarkable draw considering the circumstances.

“It’s a Saturday in Arizona in September,” one GOP strategist said, referring to the inevitable triple-digit temperatures. “It’s still hot, don’t forget.”

Maybe Arizona Republicans just want to get out of the sun and enjoy the air conditioning at the Marriott

resort. Or maybe it’s access to President Bush’s top political adviser that led nearly 50 of the 200 donors to shell out $1,000 for a quick “VIP photo” with Rove as well as a seat at the widely attended lunch. A ticket to just the lunch, which will include remarks and a Q&A with Rove, costs $250.

Ten donors, meanwhile, have already agreed to pony up the maximum $4,000 for a 30-minute roundtable chat and photo with Rove that precedes the lunch. Renzi is looking for 10 more people to dig deep into their pockets for the Cadillac plan.

Rove is expected to rake in more than $100,000 for Renzi, who secured just 49 percent of the vote in 2002 and is on the GOP watch list for next year. This is further evidence that Rove will not be shy about wading into key House races and doesn’t plan to be pinned down in D.C. fretting about Bush’s sliding poll numbers.

The National Republican Congressional Committee might not be as eager as Rove to save Renzi this time around, especially since the lawmaker charged last year that the NRCC’s negative ads nearly backfired on him. He also publicly called for the ouster of then-NRCC Chairman Tom Davis (Va.).

But Renzi has always had an amicable relationship with the White House, which let him tag along on Air Force One during a Bush visit to Arizona on the eve of the ’02 election. He raved to The New York Times about the Oriental chicken salad at the time and added, “They gave me a toothbrush afterward, which I kept.”

Lotta Irony. With Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) under heavy fire for charging that the Iraq war was a “fraud” and claiming that Bush is bribing foreign leaders to rustle up support, a strange bedfellow is leaping to the liberal lion’s defense.

Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.) was holding court for reporters in a Capitol hallway, commenting on any number of subjects when the issue of Kennedy’s remarks came up.

Lott sounded a sympathetic tone, saying he understood, in general, how incendiary remarks can sometimes spill out of a pol’s mouth and take on a life of their own.

“I’ve been through these things over the years, when you misspeak,” Lott said, before pausing as it suddenly appeared to dawn on him that there was a very specific case involving the late Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.) that the media spent a fair bit of time covering.

“Did you know?” he asked with a smile.

There was laughter all around, though HOH is not sure that those were the kind of yuks that Kennedy is hoping to generate these days.

If I Had Been There. Thanks to the magic of modern technology, it seemed for a brief moment Tuesday that Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.) had managed to simultaneously make public appearances on both coasts of the country.

The presidential candidate, who has been threatening to filibuster the nomination of Environmental Protection Agency Administrator-designate Mike Leavitt, had to skip Tuesday’s confirmation hearing in D.C. because he was in California stumping with Gov. Gray Davis (D).

But at the very moment that cable television networks showed the press conference with Lieberman and Davis appearing together in California, an e-mail arrived from the Senator’s office. It was headlined, “Lieberman Statement At Leavitt Confirmation Hearing,” as if he had actually attended.

The first paragraph of the actual statement, thankfully, disclosed that Lieberman “submitted the following statement for the record” to the confirmation hearing of the Republican governor of Utah.

Lieberman’s statement, however, made it sound a bit like he was actually at the hearing and firing questions directly at Leavitt.

“America’s elected leaders and public officials have a moral responsibility to protect public health, to preserve our environment, and to provide future generations with a world better and cleaner than we found it,” Lieberman said. “I am committed to meeting this responsibility; President Bush is not. Governor, are you?”

Bainwol’s Star Turn. Though he never appeared on camera, the star of episode two of HBO’s “K Street” was former Senate aide Mitch Bainwol, the new president of the Recording Industry Association of America.

The plot revolved around James Carville, Mary Matalin and their lobbying cohorts trying to get a sit-down with Bainwol to pitch him on the firm reeling in some big bucks in exchange for working to improve the RIAA’s image.

The episode also featured cameos by songwriting Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), who was hamming it up in all of his arm-waving glory (of course) and even got to plug a new CD of Christmas songs to boot. There were also cameos from Reps. Mary Bono and David Dreier — two California Republicans who were rumored to be up for the RIAA job that eventually went to Bainwol.

Media heavies such as CNBC’s Alan Murray (whose Wall Street Journal column got a plug) and The Washington Post’s Howard Kurtz (who filmed a scene in a Starbucks) were also featured.

The show that tries to blend fact and fiction closed with Bainwol canceling the pitch meeting because he’s new to the job and wants to stay under the radar for a while — and because Hurricane Isabel was bearing down on the city, forcing him to flee the office.

“He’s got a weather problem, he’s got a timing problem,” Matalin said on the show.

The real-life Bainwol told HOH, “Even in Washington, it’s Mother Nature who holds the real power. Besides, we’re on Connecticut Avenue,” not K Street.

And notably, the fictional office of Carville-Matalin’s firm is on I Street.

Lady PAC-Man? Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) has always sworn off political action committee money, but that vow appeared to be softening when she sent out an invitation for a fundraising lunch today.

The invite for the event honoring Cantwell, who’s still trying to pay off the $4.2 million in debt left over from her 2000 campaign, charged PACs $1,000 and individuals $500 for the lunch at La Brasserie.

But a Cantwell fundraiser told HOH that the PAC reference was an “error” because the Senator still “does not take PAC money.”

“There’s been no change in policy,” she added of the event, which is being hosted by Timmons & Co. lobbyists Alan Hoffman, Rich Tarplin and Dan Turton.

Sad Passing. Colleagues are rallying around Judy Pensabene, the GOP’s chief counsel on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, who lost a son to cancer last week.

Matt Pensabene, 26, passed away on Friday night surrounded by family members, according to a statement from the office of Energy and Natural Resources Chairman Pete Domenici (R-N.M.).

In lieu of flowers, the family has set up the Matt Pensabene Memorial Fund, which will benefit young people with cancer and other life-threatening illnesses.

The visitation will take place from 5 to 8:30 p.m. today at the Fairfax Memorial Funeral Home in Virginia.

The funeral Mass will take place at 11 a.m. Thursday at the Nativity Catholic Church in Springfield, Va.

Suzanne Nelson contributed to this report.

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