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Office Politics

As far as photos go, the snapshot of Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) and political adviser David Axelrod in The New York Times Magazine last week, accompanying a profile on Axelrod, looked pretty tame. [IMGCAP(1)]

But to political dorks (like HOH), it might have been the Washington, D.C., equivalent of a paparazzi gotcha of a disheveled Lindsay Lohan leaving a Los Angeles hotel with her latest crush.

See, Chicago-based Axelrod is Obama’s chief political and media adviser, and the photo was shot in

the Senator’s Capitol Hill office. Obama, well, he’s the guy running for the Democratic presidential nomination as a reformer and a political “outsider.” And Congressional ethics rules forbid the use of federal office space for political and campaign activity.

Not that the photo is evidence of any wrongdoing, mind you. Ken Gross, an election law expert, said that while ethics rules are very specific that fundraising activities using federal resources is a no-no, there is no law per se that prohibits talking shop.

“It’s OK to have a political discussion in your Capitol Hill office,” Gross said.

Still, Gross notes that having a photo taken of a lawmaker’s top political strategist in his official office might not be the most desirable image. “I suppose he could have considered a better backdrop,” he added.

A spokeswoman for the Obama camp declined to comment.

“Appearance matters,” agreed one Democratic strategist who isn’t affiliated with a presidential contender.

Obama and Axelrod are old buddies whose relationship dates back years and they could have been having an innocuous conversation, the strategist noted. But it does raise some flags, he added, which is the last thing a contender in a competitive race with a polished, practiced vet such as Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) wants to do. “It could be seen as a rookie mistake,” the consultant said.

And as any Hollywood star or starlet could tell you, if you’re going to make a mistake, make sure there aren’t any cameras around.

Squirrel Patrol. So this is what the Capitol Police do when the halls of Congress have emptied for recess. Maybe the cops can’t play solitaire on their computers and take long lunches like the rest of Capitol Hill’s denizens. But they can tend to the urgent security threat presented by … squirrels.

Last week, an address went out over the police radio system that “officers responding to the squirrel incident” were to come to the West Front of the Capitol. There, apparently, a nest of squirrels had fallen from a tree near the Grotto, leaving one dead and several injured.

Capitol Police arrived on the scene, and spokeswoman Sgt. Kimberly Schneider tells HOH that “the suggestion was to put the nest near the tree in the hopes that the mother squirrel and her young would return to it.” But that proposal was a no-go. “There were police around and she wouldn’t go back to the nest,” Schneider said.

And, sadly, the story has a tragic ending: according to the police account, by the time D.C. Animal Control arrived on the scene, all the squirrels were dead, she added.

HOH would like to propose that the squirrels be allowed to lie in state in the Capitol. Why not? It’s recess.

Ben-jaya. President Bush first tagged Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) with the nickname “Nelly,” then “the Benator.” But he might have to change his tune yet again, since the music-dabbling Senator has his sights set on “American Idol” contestant-turned-pop-icon Sanjaya Malakar.

HOH humbly suggests referring to Nelson from now on as “Ben-jaya” — at least for the next 15 minutes of the mop-topped Idol wannabe’s fame.

“Next stop is ‘American Idol.’ I think I can carry a tune better than Sanjaya and my wife thinks I have better hair,” Nelson said last week in an interview with KHUB radio in Fremont, Neb.

And as the Nelson-Sanjaya battle heats up, HOH also suggests a peace treaty. Nelson — whose recording of the Nebraska tribute “Western Town” is on the soundtrack to the yet-to-be-released film “Out of Omaha,” starring Lea Thompson — could give the cute but pipe-deficient Sanjaya a singing lesson.

But maybe the “American Idol” contestant, who inexplicably has managed to avoid being cut from the show, could offer some advice to Nelson and his fellow politicians — on ballot-rigging.

Good Timing. Ever notice how some people have really great timing? Newborn John Alexander Paulitz — son of Chris Paulitz, an aide to Sen. George Voinovich (R-Ohio), and his wife, Diane — had the good sense to wait until the Senate was in recess to make his big debut. The little Paulitz, nicknamed “Alex,” was born Wednesday, clocking in at 7.7 pounds and 20 and a half inches. Dad Paulitz, who is Voinovich’s communications director, said mom and baby are doing great.

And schedule-sensitive Alex left his mom just enough time to recuperate before hitting the books — Diane is a law student at The Catholic University of America and has her last finals the first week of May. “Having a first child wasn’t enough, we really wanted a challenge!” Chris told HOH.

Those Senate staffers, such high achievers.

Lauren W. Whittington and John McArdle contributed to this report.

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