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Chariot of Fire

Every little boy dreams of owning his own real-live fire truck, but only a few — including Rep. Adam Putnam (R-Fla.) — ever make the childhood fantasy a reality. Putnam scored a shiny vintage fire engine from none other than Rep. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), who apparently decided he no longer needs the antique wheels for parades and campaign events since he’ll be retiring soon. [IMGCAP(1)]

HOH’s interest was piqued by a $23,000 check cut to “Hastert for Congress” that showed up on Putnam’s most recent financial reports with the explanation that the transaction was for the “purchase of campaign equipment.” Turns out, the “equipment” in question was a truck that Putnam, like Hastert before him, plans to cruise on in parades and community events.

The engine, which was among Hastert’s fleet of vintage autos, was shipped from Illinois to Putnam’s hometown of Bartow, Fla., and made its debut last week at the world-famous Bartow Halloween Parade. Putnam couldn’t make the event, since he was stuck back in Washington casting votes, but his brother took his place and drove the truck.

Putnam had taken a shine to Hastert’s nifty vintage wheels and when the former Speaker decided to retire, the transfer of the unusual campaign transport came up in a conversation between the two Congressmen, Putnam spokesman Keith Rupp tells HOH. The purchase seems to be a natural fit for flame-haired Putnam, who earned the nickname “Red” from President Bush and whose political action committee is called RedPAC. After all, he has something in common with his new toy.

“I guess there’s a certain logic to him owning something red,” Rupp says.

Oppo Research. Rep. Christopher Shays took the mantra “know thy enemies” to heart last week as he passed out copies of Chicago Tribune deputy D.C. bureau chief Naftali Bendavid’s book, “The Thumpin’,” on the House floor Thursday. The Connecticut Republican isn’t taking any chances in 2008 and doesn’t want his GOP colleagues to, either.

“I think some of my colleagues need to not be naive,” Shays said of his attempt to get his fellow GOP lawmakers to read the book, which documents the tactics that Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.) used to pull off Democrats’ capture of the House majority in 2006.

“Somehow because it’s a Democrat and Rahm, nobody paid much attention to it. It’s an outrage,” said Shays. Shays isn’t the first Republican to try to use Bendavid’s book against the Democrats. Last month, National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Tom Cole (Okla.) passed out a couple dozen copies of the tome to staffers to help them gear up for the upcoming elections. Seems like Republicans are following the maxim of keeping your friends close and your enemies closer — like on your bedside table.

Shoot the Press. Sen. Patrick Leahy tried out the time-honored strategy of turning the tables in an effort to fend off an aggressive press corps on Wednesday. Cornered by a pack of scribes anxious to query the Vermont Democrat about the troubled nomination of Michael Mukasey to be attorney general, Leahy was attempting to exit the Capitol through a second-floor exit.

Leahy first tried begging off. “I want to take two little kids trick-or-treating,” he explained, unsuccessfully playing the sympathy card. Still, the reporters’ questions kept coming. And they were clearly ones that Leahy didn’t feel like answering at the time.

Finally, he resorted to outright evasion, grabbing a camera away from Washington Post photographer Melina Mara, who had been shooting close-ups of the Senator as he parried with the reporters. Leahy, who’s an amateur shutterbug himself, frequently chats up the photographers in the press corps about lenses, lighting and other snappy subjects. But this time, his sudden interest in Mara’s equipment seemed motivated by a desire to avoid questions. He turned the camera on the reporters and began snapping away. “Is there auto-focus on this?” he asked, continuing to shoot.

“He’s avoiding the question,” complained one notebook-bearer. “Quite adeptly,” another chimed in.

Finally, the Senator answered the questions — sort of — before beating a hasty retreat. Mara tells HOH that the photos Leahy took “actually were pretty good.”

The (Philanthropic) Gambler. Here’s a chance to see who on the Hill knows when to hold ’em and when to fold ’em: A poker tournament on Tuesday night to benefit Horton’s Kids will feature Members and staffers among participants vying for the big prize: a seat at the 2008 World Series of Poker Main Event, the Olympics of the gamblin’ world. The “Holiday Hold ’Em” event is taking place at the National Building Museum, and proceeds go to Horton’s Kids, a charity popular with Hill types that provides tutoring and mentoring to local kids.

Newbies to the game, fret not. There’ll be a poker clinic for first-timers at 6:30 p.m. to kick off the event, along with cocktails for all.

Bathroom Humor. On Friday, an aide to Sen. Larry Craig (R-Idaho) sent a mass e-mail to administrative Senate staffers. The good Samaritan staffer had found a men’s watch and wanted to help locate its owner, apparently not realizing that his missive would prompt snickers.

“Watch found in the men’s room on the 5th floor in the NW Corner of the Hart Building,” the e-mail reads. “It is not working, but if someone from your office lost it, please let me know.”

Matthew Murray, Emily Pierce and Lauren W. Whittington contributed to this report.

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