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Conversational Wisdom

Forget Zogby — here’s a true insiders’ poll: A group of former staffers to ex-Vice President Al Gore gathered last Friday for an informal reunion.

Amid the catching up and reminiscing, the dozen Gore alums lunching at downtown eatery Acadiana decided to have a little fun with numbers. Seven said they thought Gore wouldn’t leap into the 2008 presidential race, while five speculated that he would, one of the lunchers spilled to HOH. [IMGCAP(1)]

Clearly, Gore is keeping the decision close to his (eco-friendly, we’re sure) vest. Attendees included Chris Ulrich with the Japanese embassy, Matt Bennett with Third Way, Thurgood Marshall Jr. of Bingham McCutchen LLP, Jeff Nussbaum with West Wing Writers, freelance speechwriter Eric Schnure, David Thomas of Mehlman Vogel Castagnetti, and Joel Velasco of Stonebridge International.

Results aside, HOH couldn’t help but think that only a group of true-blue political geeks would think to entertain themselves with straw polling. And did no one demand a recount?

Franken-friends? HOH tipsters called in reports of funny-on-purpose Minnesota Senate hopeful Al Franken (D), who was spotted around the Capitol complex on Thursday.

Franken, who’s seeking to unseat Sen. Norm Coleman (R), had just found out the day before that he has a primary opponent in Minnesota attorney Mike Ciresi (D). HOH wondered if Franken, spotted in the company of some unidentified Members, was trolling for support among the Minnesota delegation.

A Franken spokesman said his boss was on a two-day whirlwind tour of D.C. in which he met with four of the five Democratic Members in the delegation (scheduling conflicts prevented a planned confab with Rep. Betty McCollum). But he said the meetings were just business as usual, not courting sessions.

Still, the spokesman sounded suspiciously like he was buttering up the Minnesotans. “You’ve got one of Speaker [Nancy] Pelosi’s [D-Calif.] leadership team [McCollum, who is a Senior Deputy Whip], the chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee [Rep. James Oberstar], the chairman of the Agriculture Committee [Rep. Collin Peterson], and two of the statesmen of the freshman class [Reps. Keith Ellison and Tim Walz],” the Franken flack said. “That’s a resource Al likes to call on.”

Oh, and he reeeally likes that tie.

Even Trump Couldn’t Fire Him. It might not be the sexiest job in the world, but it sure can’t be beat for job security. The Comptroller General — who runs the Government Accountability Office (sort of like a green eyeshade-wearing geek in chief) — gets a salary for life and can’t easily be removed from his position, a little-known fact that drew scrutiny at a hearing last week.

Current Comptroller David Walker, appearing before the House Appropriations subcommittee on the legislative branch, explained the $312,000 in GAO’s budget by disclosing that the agency had to pay the salaries of the two past comptrollers who are still alive.

Subcommittee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), though, wasn’t impressed, questioning how getting a salary for life kept one independent.

Walker proceeded to give Members a little history lesson to explain his secure post. In 1921, Congress decided to make the position a for-life appointment, with tougher standards for removal, like a judge, to keep the GAO insulated from the whims of Congress or administration types, he explained. Comptrollers who serve a 15-year term continue to get an annual salary.

But don’t be too jealous: Walker told Members — who may have been a bit envious, since they have to run every two years to keep their jobs — that 30 people in his agency make more than he does. Walker will make $168,000 in fiscal 2008 — which ought to keep him in eyeshades.

A Little Parody. As if real-life politicians weren’t cartoonish enough, Comedy Central is debuting an animated series in June titled “Lil’ Bush,” which is set during the presidency of George H.W. Bush and chronicles the antics of Lil’ George, Lil’ Condi, Lil’ Rummy, et al. “They’re like the Lil’ Rascals with access to the A-Bomb,” according to a promo.

Although the current Bush administration is obviously a prime target of the show’s funnies, look for plenty of bipartisan swipes. “We’re poking fun of everyone and everything,” a Comedy Central rep told HOH. Congressional characters will include junior versions of Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) and Barack Obama (D-Ill.).

An upcoming episode will spoof on the “Live Earth” concert masterminded by former veep Al Gore, we hear, so expect “guest voice” appearances by some of the green rockers lined up for the performance.

The “It” Document. How are all the most stylish socialists accessorizing this season? A Senate GOP staffer had a chuckle on Thursday when he spotted Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) on the escalator in the Capitol basement, clutching a stack of papers labeled “Poll Data on Taxing the Rich.” Sanders was on his way to the Senate floor, where he gave a statement on the topic, an aide said.

HOH hears Republicans, in addition to whale-embroidered belts, are complementing their ensembles with briefing papers on “Why Tax Cuts Are Awesome.”

On the Mend. Rep Steve Israel (D-N.Y.) wants pals to know that rumors of his death are greatly exaggerated. Well, not exactly, but the Congressman is reassuring friends that he’s A-OK, despite a news report that had him being wheeled out of the Capitol to go to the hospital after feeling dizzy on Thursday.

In an e-mail circulated last Friday, Israel said he is “100 percent fine.” He picked up a nasty case of bronchitis on a recent Congressional trip to India and Pakistan and visited the hospital out of caution.

John McArdle contributed to this report.

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