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Heard on the Hill: He Said What?

Former Rhode Island Sen. Lincoln Chafee is known for being a friendly, mild-mannered guy. But the Republican-turned-Independent’s good nature isn’t because he lacks the tough-talk ammo, as he proved Tuesday while promoting his latest book, “Against the Tide: How a Compliant Congress Empowered a Reckless President,” at the New America Foundation.

[IMGCAP(1)]Chafee (a supporter of Democratic presidential nominee Sen. Barack Obama) was discussing how GOP vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin’s speech at the recent Republican National Convention energized the party’s base. While he said it was impressive, Chafee thinks the Alaska governor also energized the left, as Democrats were outraged “to see this cocky wacko up there.”

Chafee’s comment drew gasps from the audience, who apparently were not expecting to hear such relatively feisty language from the normally genteel former Senator. It even shocked event moderator Steve Clemons, who responded, “Did you just say, ‘cocky wacko?’”

Chafee just smiled.

Although he lost his re-election bid nearly two years ago, Chafee remains a popular figure in Rhode Island. He quietly left the Republican party in 2007, doing so with little fanfare by filling out a form at a local government office.

But making the switch was a bit dramatic, Chafee recalled, as the government worker in charge of receiving the form recognized him.

“The woman said, ‘You can’t change. You can’t leave the Republican party,” Chafee said. “She wouldn’t let me sign the paper.”

It’s All Greek to Them. Remember the backdrop of faux columns for Sen. Barack Obama’s (D-Ill.) big nomination acceptance speech at Denver’s Invesco Field at Mile High that Republicans so gleefully mocked? HOH detects shades of the much-derided stage scenery in the newly renovated Senate Radio-TV Press Gallery.

The podium from which many Senators hold press conferences and media availabilities got a much-needed makeover during the August recess, and Senators this week got their first taste of the new digs.

Where a cheap navy-blue curtain once provided the backdrop, now impressive-looking wood paneling lines the wall. New plush carpeting, a matching paneled podium, a large Senate seal and tall American flags complete the made-for-TV set.

But it’s the columns flanking the podium platform we noticed first.

Et tu, Senators?

Phone Sex? Wrong Number. Charlie Summers, who’s running for the seat now held by Rep. Tom Allen (D-Maine), is getting more attention from his connection to a telephone sex line than he is for his policy platforms. Summers, whose campaign office phone number was mixed up with that of a phone-sex service in a local phonebook, told HOH that the snafu — which local press pounced on — is proving to him the truth behind the old adage that any press is good press.

“Are you sure you don’t want to talk about my ‘30 jobs’ plan?” he asked us hopefully when we called to talk phone sex. Summers was referring to a campaign initiative in which he will try out 30 different jobs in his district to get a feel for the daily lives of his would-be constituents. But, of course, HOH is blissfully unconcerned about such weighty matters.

“OK,” he said resignedly, when we appeared uninterested. “I guess I’ve gotten a lot of publicity out of it,” he said of the sexy crossed lines.

It’s easy to see why local radio and print reporters picked up on the juicier story: If one dialed the toll-free number for Summer’s campaign office in Saco, Maine, which is listed in the newest Talking Phonebook for the Portland, Maine, area, you heard a woman’s voice. The sultry lady wasn’t talking politics, though; she invited callers to call another toll-free number — for a racy phone-sex business.

Summers said the number listed was from an old phone line he hadn’t used in 14 years, which was apparently recycled and mistakenly listed as still belonging to him. The error is being corrected, he assured us.

Summers, though, is running with the joke — which he thinks might land him more support. “I had one guy tell me this morning that he was trying to call a sex line and accidentally got my office,” he told us.

Phelps Has Hill Phans. Uber-Olympian Michael Phelps is everywhere these days: hosting Saturday Night Live, gabbing with Oprah and snapping up product-endorsement deals. All that exposure (and this from a guy used to wearing nothing but Speedos in front of millions of people) has led some to call the winner of eight gold medals this summer a diva.

Even Congress has gotten in on the Phelps swoon. There’s legislation pending in the House congratulating all of America’s Olympians on their performance in the 2008 games, but Phelps also has the honor of his very own bill. A House resolution sponsored by Rep. Ted Poe (R-Texas) would congratulate all athletes wearing the stars and stripes in the Beijing games, while another authored by Rep. John Sarbanes (D-Md.) calls out Baltimore native Phelps in particular for his wins this summer and for “becoming one of the most highly decorated athletes in Olympic history.”

Bet those pint-sized gymnasts — who racked up a couple medals of their own — are steaming.

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