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Hastert Draws … Gathering

It’s a good thing Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) still has that “regular guy, high school coach” mind-set.

The Wisconsin Republican Party held what could well be the tiniest fundraiser ever in Nowheresville, USA, early this month, featuring Hastert as the headline attraction. About 15 people showed up to the event in Marinette, Wis., on April 1, despite the fact that roughly 700 invitations were issued, according to Wisconsin GOP Executive Director Rick Wiley.[IMGCAP(1)]

The event was hosted by Rep. Mark Green (R-Wis.), who is running for governor, and state Assembly Speaker John Gard (R), who is expected to run for Green’s House seat.

At least Hastert didn’t travel out of his way for such a lackluster fundraiser. He was scheduled to be in the area anyway to celebrate the launch of a new Coast Guard cutter.

Still, one Wisconsin Republican told HOH that the small attendance was “a black eye” for Green, the Assembly speaker and the state party.

Nevermind that Wiley said the state party alerted everyone on its major donor list — about 700 people. Green’s campaign manager, Mark Graul, said the fundraiser was intended to be small.

Hastert’s office — and, ultimately, Wiley, presumably after he was contacted by aides to Hastert and Green — agreed that the event was always designed to be small. It was a Friday night, after all, he said. And you know how wild it gets in Marinette on Friday nights.

“The wildest thing that goes on in Marinette is probably somebody ordering the cod rather than the perch at a fish fry,” Graul joked.

Memogate Update. Brian Darling, who resigned from the staff of Sen. Mel Martinez (R-Fla.) after admitting that he wrote the politically exploitative Terri Schiavo memo, has called HOH and insisted that he alone wrote the memo. Darling’s call came after HOH reported on Monday that a Republican source close to the situation knew “for certain” that two other senior Martinez staffers helped Darling craft the Schiavo document and circulate it to other GOP Senators.

“I wrote the document. I wrote it alone,” said Darling, the 39-year-old former legal counsel. “I had no help in writing that document.”

But writing and thinking are two different things, so HOH asked Darling whether the two senior staffers in question helped him craft the political message and contents of the memo. “I’ll leave it at what I said,” Darling said, adding that he did not want to “engage in a debate with anonymous sources.”

Sorry, Darling, but you called HOH.

Meanwhile, Floridians continue to criticize Martinez for paying more attention to Washington insiders than to his constituents, and for hiring mostly entrenched Washington insiders and few of his Florida campaign aides.

The St. Petersburg Times ran an editorial on Tuesday with this opening line: “If Sen. Mel Martinez’s staff is truly to blame for his gaffes, he would do well to go about hiring a new one.”

The paper went on to criticize the Senator for hiring a legislative director who used to work for the Heritage Foundation; a chief of staff who came not from Florida but from the office of Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.); a legal counsel (Darling) who came from the Alexander Strategy Group, a lobbying shop with close ties to House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas); and a state campaign director who is a protégé of GOP guru Karl Rove.

“He has yet to explain how a self-proclaimed centrist Senator is best served by a staff of 30-somethings with connections to some of Washington’s most conservative groups,” the editors wrote, adding that Martinez has now “used the staff-blunder excuse on at least three prominent occasions.”

But don’t look for changes any time soon. HOH’s source — who stands by his original account that Darling collaborated with others on the memo — said the feeling in Martinez’s office is that “they’ve dodged a bullet.”

Thump, Thump. Yep, it’s that time of year again, folks — time for the annual U.S. Capitol Bible reading marathon, the event’s 16th year running.

It’s scheduled to start May 2, but with the bells and white smoke emanating from the Vatican on Tuesday in celebration of the new pope, HOH thinks the Bible reading marathon is worth hawking early.

This is that epic event in which Christians of all denominations, as well as Jews and others who read the Bible, flock to the West Lawn of the Capitol. There, they take turns reading from the Holy Book around the clock, front to back, until every single word and every last verse has been covered.

Michael Hall, executive director of the International Bible Reading Association, nonchalantly said that reading the Bible cover to cover with no break takes about 90 hours. Hall, who is leading the event with his wife, is trying to finish in less than that this year, beginning at 8 a.m. on May 2 and ending the afternoon of May 5.

Angling for those religious night owls, Hall said, “We always have space available, especially from midnight to 6 in the morning.” (We bet.)

Hall, pastor of the People’s Church on Capitol Hill, said his group is “not proselytizing, not raising money, not getting into politics. … It’s just a wonderful celebration of our First Amendment rights.”

The politics could come courtesy of the Members who participate. Hall doesn’t have a list of Members who plan to read this year, but he said last year’s Bible marathon featured Reps. Marion Berry (D-Ark.), Robert Aderholt (R-Ala.), Zach Wamp (R-Tenn.), Virgil Goode (R-Va.) and Marilyn Musgrave (R-Colo.). One year, he said, Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.), an Orthodox Jew, read for a while.

One Senate aide apparently didn’t know about Lieberman’s past participation in the Bible marathon. After receiving the e-mail invite, the aide jibed, “I think I’ll bring my Torah with me. I can’t imagine they will mind.”

It seems highly unlikely that Republicans will use the “nuclear option” to shut down this particular filibuster.

Nicole Duran contributed to this report.

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