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The Friday Line: Ten Republicans To Watch

The Fix is spending his Friday ensconced in the Capital Hilton as the Republican National Committee chooses its new leader.

Friday Line

That election, which you can read much more about here, got us to thinking about the men (and women) who will have leading roles in the re-formation of the Republican party over the next four years or so.

We took a first crack at this Line right after the 2008 election ended but the picture is significantly clearer today with some stars ascending (former Ohio Rep. Rob Portman) and others waning (California Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner).

To be clear: this Line should not be taken as a proxy for the 2012 Republican presidential race. The goal is rather to highlight ten folks who will play a major role in leading Republicans out of the electoral wilderness in which they currently find themselves.

Agree or disagree with our picks or rankings? Offer your critique in the comments section below.

10. Rob Portman: The former head of the Office of Management and Budget in the Bush Administration, Portman is the odds-on GOP nominee for the opening created by Sen. George Voinovich's (R) retirement. Ohio is going to be a central battleground in the Senate fight and will be a focus of national attention due to its critical role in presidential politics. Portman is beloved among the Washington Republican establishment and, if he wins next fall, will immediately become a national player. (Previous ranking: N/A)

9. Eric Cantor: Cantor, as demonstrated in the ongoing fight over Obama's economic stimulus package, will be a high-profile voice for congressional Republicans for the foreseeable future. Cantor is affable and telegenic; he is also the rare Jewish Republican, which gives him a national platform and fundraising base. House members tend to struggle as voices for the national party as they get too bogged down in procedure and minutiae. Can Cantor break that pattern? (Previous ranking: 7)

8. Rush Limbaugh: Finding the right spot for "El Rushbo" on the Line was tough but not including him was never an option since every operative we talked to mentioned his name. Limbaugh is absolutely a player in defining what the party stands for and what its focus should be going forward and, as the only non-elected official on the Line, has the luxury of being able to speak hard truths. While Republican politicians would do well to avoid the appearance that they take their marching orders from Rush, discounting him entirely would be a mistake. (Previous ranking: N/A)

7. Mike Huckabee: No candidate in the 2008 GOP presidential field exceeded expectations more than Huckabee. He went from a little known southern governor to a national celebrity with his own show on the Fox News Channel. Many Republican strategists believe he should stop there and not think about running again in 2012. But, at the moment that seems unlikely as Huckabee is working to position himself (again) as the voice of social conservatives in the party. The question for Huckabee: can he move beyond the perception that he is enormously amusing as a candidate but lacks the gravitas to occupy the Oval Office? (Previous ranking: N/A)

6. Tim Pawlenty: In retrospect, T-Paw being passed over as John McCain's vice presidential pick might have been the best thing that ever happened to the Minnesota governor. He can now make a clean break from the GOP of 2000-2008 and offer his Wal-Mart Republican message as the cure for what ails the party. Pawlenty allies point to his state of the state address as a blueprint for where the party could go nationally in these tight economic times: increased funding for education, a cut in business taxes and a shrinking of state government. (Previous ranking: N/A)

5. Mark Sanford: Sanford is using his national platform as the current chair of the Republican Governors Association to its hilt -- penning a series of op-eds touting his unapologetic fiscal conservatism. Sanford is THE spokesman of the Club For Growth and, in case you forgot, he comes from South Carolina -- a state with a big say in the early days of the GOP presidential nominating contest. (Previous ranking: 6)

4. Bobby Jindal: Jindal continues to insist he will not run for president in 2012 and we believe him -- to a point. Since he is up for reelection in 2011, he has NO choice but to say the presidential race doesn't interest him. And, in truth, how Jindal manages the next few years will be critical in determining whether or not he will keep up the momentum built in late 2008. The state faces massive budget problems and how Jindal deals with it will be a MAJOR test for the youthful governor. (Previous ranking: 1)

3. Mitt Romney: Romney is the party's smartest and best messenger on the economy and therefore will be front and center in the debate over the way forward. Romney will be at the Homestead Resort this weekend to speak at the House GOP retreat, and is keeping his political operation running through his Free and Strong America PAC. Will Romney's Mormonism keep him from grabbing the brass ring again in 2012? Maybe. But that's debate for down the road. For now, Romney is a force to be reckoned with. (Previous ranking: 3)

2. Haley Barbour: Barbour is the rare combination of keen party strategist and elected official. (Trust us, there aren't that many out there.) And, he has the added bonus of not being a serious candidate in 2012 since a guy who helped invent lobbying in Washington isn't exactly the right profile to challenge President Obama in four years time. Barbour is the early favorite to chair the Republican Governors Association in 2010 and from that perch will have a huge opportunity to influence the party's message in the midterm elections. (Previous ranking: 9)

1. Sarah Palin: Like her or hate her, anything Palin does is big news. Her coming to Washington this weekend for the Alfalfa Dinner drew big coverage on the cables and even on the local news. What other Republican in the country can draw that sort of attention? Answer: None. Palin's formation of a PAC -- and her hiring of Becki Donatell -- suggest she is starting to get what she needs to do (rehab her image among the party's chattering class) if she wants to be taken seriously. (Previous ranking: N/A)

By Chris Cillizza  |  January 30, 2009; 2:30 PM ET
Categories:  The Line  
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Next: Steele Elected RNC Chair


Anyone who has watched Huckabee more than casually knows stirring up various forms of bigotry is an important part of his mode of operation. He's not a bigot himself - far from it. He's just a cynical narcissist who cultivates and thrives on the support of bigots. And that seriously limits his appeal beyond the few parts of the country where White supremists don't have to skulk around in shame.

Posted by: WakeWashington | February 5, 2009 2:50 AM | Report abuse

Mitts religeon will stop him, and seriousely Rush? Now let them try to put Palin in there again, and really republicans are pissed at her already. Jindel is just a little to ratical for those old white republican people. I can't see him getting along with steele either or Mccain for very long, an certainly him an Palin woul clash. now Pawlenty if he can get past the republicans strangle hold on the party, could possibly be not only make a good run of it, but could bring some change to the party right when they need it. But, I just don't think the party is ready to llisten to his changes yet, and Steele has already caved into the party and isn't talking about change any more! That cave in came pretty darn fast. But, than I already knew steele was chosen for his skin color and not leadership. Steele is a follower,not leader. Poor guy!

Posted by: abbytreadway | February 2, 2009 3:36 PM | Report abuse

I agree with the other blogger: I think Justice Roberts diliberatly did that to President Obama. All of America and the world saw what he had done and it just shows how screwd up the Republicans are. I'm glad it happened so now the Republicans will never ever be back. That was a total major mistake on the Republicans.

Posted by: mattadamsdietmanager1014 | February 2, 2009 2:31 PM | Report abuse

Eric Cantor, Rush Limbaugh are a Joke Period!! Republicans might have a Chance with Mike Huckabee because Huckabee is noticably likable and a nice guy. Huckabee can be liked by both Democrats, Republicans as well as Independants. If he were the Republican nominee instead of McClain I think the outcome of the election 2008 would have been different.

Posted by: mattadamsdietmanager1014 | February 2, 2009 12:13 PM | Report abuse

SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Banks collecting billions of dollars in federal bailout money sought government permission to bring thousands of foreign workers to the U.S. for high-paying jobs, according to an Associated Press review of visa applications.

The dozen banks receiving the biggest rescue packages, totaling more than $150 billion, requested visas for more than 21,800 foreign workers over the past six years for positions that included senior vice presidents, corporate lawyers, junior investment analysts and human resources specialists. The average annual salary for those jobs was $90,721, nearly twice the median income for all American households.

The figures are significant because they show that the bailed-out banks, being kept afloat with U.S. taxpayer money, actively sought to hire foreign workers instead of American workers. As the economic collapse worsened last year — with huge numbers of bank employees laid off — the numbers of visas sought by the dozen banks in AP's analysis increased by nearly one-third, from 3,258 in fiscal 2007 to 4,163 in fiscal 2008.

The AP reviewed visa applications the banks filed with the Labor Department under the H-1B visa program, which allows temporary employment of foreign workers in specialized-skill and advanced-degree positions.

It is unclear how many foreign workers the banks actually hired; the government does not release those details. The actual number is likely a fraction of the 21,800 foreign workers the banks sought to hire because the government limits the number of visas it grants to 85,000 each year among all U.S. employers.

During the last three months of 2008, the largest banks that received taxpayer loans announced more than 100,000 layoffs. The number of foreign workers included among those laid off is unknown.

Foreigners are attractive hires because companies have found ways to pay them less than American workers.


Posted by: lucygirl1 | February 1, 2009 2:42 PM | Report abuse

I'm ready to contribute to a Palin campaign now, in the same way that rightwingers contributed to Nader...she can't get more than 40% ever...Limbaugh is a setup, he can be destroyed by his own biography...Romney won't get by the religious right, cult accusations and all that...Huckabee can't win the general w/o deserting his base, me thinks he won't...Jeb Bush not on the list?...He seems skilled enough to run away from his brother. The Repub stand on the stimulus reads like this...if it fails to improve things they can claim to be right...if things get better they're screwed anyway, nobody on the scene stops their continued shrinkage.

Posted by: mfkpadrefan | February 1, 2009 2:31 PM | Report abuse

That address is
Please do yourselves a favor and take a look at media Matters site. They point out the unbalanced leanings of the Corporate media when it comes to priviledging the Republican lies and false agenda

Posted by: need4trth | January 31, 2009 10:55 PM | Report abuse

I have a question Chris. Why are you guys in the media jumping on the Republican bandwagon? Why are you pushing Republican discent, Republican ideology, Republican talking points, failed Republican policies? This is the party of obstructionist, and the party that the American populace voted against this past election. Yet, the media allows them to use itself as a bully pulpit. The Republicans use you to spread their lies. It's disgusting man. These crooks, these war criminals, these liars. They deserve to be completely ousted from pretending to serve. They serve their best constituency the right wing religious nut jobs and the wealthiest 1%. They serve corporate lobbyist and special interest. They do not care about the American populace that isn't lining their pockets. The Republicans are crooks yet the media privildges their lies. and

Posted by: need4trth | January 31, 2009 10:52 PM | Report abuse

Among the Republicans to watch, there's a very important one that should be on the radar of anyone, JUSTICE ROBERTS. It's an undisputable fact that the man intended and perhaps even succeded, at blurring President's OBAMA's image (Historically speaking) during the taking of the OATH. Can anyone in his/her right man believe that the Chief Justice, a brilliant man, exceptional lawyer, who's only line to deliver was a few sentences long oath, would not be able to repeat it to a perfection? PLEASE!! It's all about history, decades from now, kids or grown ups alike, will go online and when they watch the taking of the oath of the first African American President, they will see the mess up, and unable to understand who's mess up it had been, would probably blame it on President OBAMA. It never fails to surprise me, how sneaky EVIL CAN BE.

Posted by: Pedayba | January 31, 2009 9:25 PM | Report abuse

Eric Cantor is no fool but I believe he thinks the average American voter is. He has offered no constructive plan to get the economy moving again other than the usual vague Republican orthodoxy of cutting taxes and zeroing out that line item called "waste, fraud and abuse." I don't see this playing well in the long run, since his personal story won't be enough to overcome the lack of ideas. I've seen almost nothing about what he is doing for his district, and I live there. He may have a national audience, but if the Democrats capture the Virginia House Of Delegates this year he will be redistricted out. None too soon by my book.

Posted by: lpryluck1 | January 31, 2009 3:56 PM | Report abuse

I disagree about all of the people on the list with the exception of Huckabee and, maybe, Pawlenty.

All of these people are working along the same fault lines that got the Repubs into the predicament that they are in right now. They are still working on the old axis even as that paradigm has been shattered. Problems cannot be solved by the same level of thinking that created them.

None of these people see issues with Republican ideas as they are, they just see it merely as a marketing/brand problem. They think all they need to do is repackage the poo with a pretty bow and America will once again buy it. The only thing is: Americans now recognize that they are selling poo.

The Repubs are in such bad shape that the first person that stands up and tells the truth about their party - that their ideas suck and have been proven false and rejected by the American people as such - will be slaughtered but only by recognizing and internalizing that truth do they have any shot of coming out of their electoral wilderness.

As a progressive, I have no issues with them taking all the time they need.

Posted by: lawyerinthemaking | January 31, 2009 1:50 PM | Report abuse

Gov. Huckabee did an amazing job in Arkansas despite the huge Democrat majority in the state. He was laughed at for saying we were facing problems in our economy during the primary debates.

Gov. Huckabee spoke out against the bailouts from the very beginning - unlike some of the others that changed their minds after they realized how many Americans were against it. Even people that don't agree with him on some of the issues still like and respect him.

Posted by: GrannyT53 | January 31, 2009 1:47 PM | Report abuse

As a resident of Minnesota, I firmly disagree with your assessment of Tim Pawlenty. (By the way, you keep trying to get T-Paw to stick as a nickname. It is stupid and no one here uses it.) Tim is losing ground here. His budget recommendations offer nothing more than the standard republican "help the already rich with business & personal tax cuts and hope it all trickles down".

When the media finds out that he is more religiously dogmatic than Huckabee and more rigid than Romney, he'll be done. By the way, neither time that he ran for governor did he reach 50%+ of the vote.

The democrats defeated themselves in 2006. That won't happen here next year.

Posted by: SteveBurns1947 | January 31, 2009 1:05 PM | Report abuse

Sarah Palin struggled because she is stupid. That isn't going to change. She will continue to embarrass herself every time she goes out in public without a script. She has no future other than as a representative of the stupid, which isn't nearly broad enough to have any significant influence.

Posted by: pj5106 | January 31, 2009 11:54 AM | Report abuse

Gotta question Portman being on the list since he is unlikely to be elected to the Senate. The Republican Party is still in bad shape in Ohio right now thanks to failed and scandalized former governor Taft, and popular Democratic Governor Strickland will be seeking reelection in 2010, so that shapes up as a Democratic year in Ohio.

I realize he's K Street's favorite Republican. Don't exactly know why as he is rather dull. He's from the small town of Lebanon about 30 miles north of Cincinnati, though he now lives in the Cincinnati suburbs. Therefore, he'll run well in the Western Ohio Republican base counties and in swing Hamilton County which includes heavily Democratic Cincinnati. Obama won 70% of the vote in Cincinnati and 53% in Hamilton County as a whole, but Portman may be able to carry the county. However, Portman is likely to get crushed in Northeast Ohio and in Columbus.

Posted by: OHIOCITIZEN | January 31, 2009 6:25 AM | Report abuse


Team Obama must immediately join with GOP defenders of the Constitution to dismantle the nationwide extrajudicial punishment network -- authoritarian bureaucrats and security/intel officers and their nationwide network of citizen vigilantes fronted by federally-funded volunteer programs.

This nationwide, Gestapo-like operation has made a mockery of the judicial system for the past eight years and has claimed many victims from all strata of society.

Crimes against humanity are being committed across the nation via the use of so-called "directed energy (radiation) weapons" which the Bush D.O.J. recently confirmed are being widely deployed to police forces nationwide.

These RADIATION weapons emit silent, pulsed bursts of various forms of radiation -- and are degrading and damaging the health of those on the receiving end as well as their operators.

This weaponry has NO PLACE in civilized society -- much less in the hands of security personnel who interact with the public.

The widespread deployment of this weaponry virtually assures its misuse. Imagine if rogue actors tried to use its silent, deadly force to induce illness or to disable our political leaders.

Perhaps they already have.

Victims of this extrajudicial punishment network also see their finances and livelihoods expropriated and destroyed by coordinated "multi-agency action" "programs of personal destruction" that deny them due process of law while degrading their lives and destroying their families. A parallel system of transaction processing has been established with the aid of the private sector -- a program that victims say amounts to a fascistic theft by deception.

The IRS, under Bush-Cheney, has been transmogrified into an ideological weapon of social control and recrimination by this covert "multi-agency action."

Obama administration officials must address these abuses IMMEDIATELY, before these affronts to the Constitution destroy more American families -- and subvert the Obama presidency.

The bureaucrats and officers behind these "programs of personal destruction" remain entrenched. They cannot be co-opted or reformed. They must be removed from power and brought to justice.

Posted by: scrivener50 | January 31, 2009 12:31 AM | Report abuse

Joe the Plumber--you forgot Joe the Plumber. Come on now, if you include Palin, you gotta include Joe the Plumber. Using your analogy, love him or hate him, everything Joe the Plumber does makes big news. Heck, during the most recent Gaza Strip conflict the unlicensed, uneducated plumber was sent to the Middle East to be a foreign policy/war correspondent--and everyone reported on him. Hell, even Huffington Post reported on his exploits. Who knows, old Joe may give Rush Limbaugh a run for the money.

Posted by: txgall | January 30, 2009 11:55 PM | Report abuse

Tito The Builder! You forgot Tito The Builder!

Posted by: rfpiktor | January 30, 2009 8:27 PM | Report abuse

I generally agree with Blarg, bsimon, and mnteng. For a R to keep the base and appeal to the right center as well is becoming difficult. Huck seems such a skilled and likable pol that I have to assume he will continue to be the one most likely to shine.

Posted by: mark_in_austin | January 30, 2009 7:19 PM | Report abuse

If this list is really supposed to be about re-formation of the GOP over the next four years, then I think some on The Line should be replaced.

To have an impact, one must have a message that is heard and have political skills to back it up. That would be Barbour, Sanford, Huckabee, Limbaugh, and Cantor. Palin? She's a celebrity, but has no strong underlying message and her political skills are unrefined.

I'm with Blarg and bsimon1 about Romney and T-Paw. Portman needs a pulpit, so we may or may not hear from him depending on the 2010 OH Senate race. Jindal, if he's smart (and he clearly is), will probably keep his head down and do an excellent job at Governor of LA before he even tries to play in the big sandbox. Frankly, he'll still only be 41 or so in 2012 so he has plenty of time to make his mark.

I think that skipperdawg has it right -- The Newt will play an important role at least in developing the message for the new GOP.

Posted by: mnteng | January 30, 2009 5:43 PM | Report abuse

I agree with Blarg on Romney having the Edwards problem.

Pawlenty is all talk, with no action. He hits all the talking points when the cameras are on, or in the state of the state address, but when it comes to delivering a budget, he produces garbage. The budget he delivered this week is chock full of accounting gimmicks and plugging holes with one time funding sources. In other words, its just like his prior budgets. He demonstrates zero leadership in addressing systemic problems with the MN budget. When he eventually leaves office, MN will have nothing to show for it - the same budget problems we had 6 years ago are the same ones we have today. Is that what modern fiscal conservatism amounts to? If this guy is a rising star in the GOP, they'd better get to work on building a bench for 2016.

Posted by: bsimon1 | January 30, 2009 5:18 PM | Report abuse

Hey, you forgot Joe Lieberman and Joe the Plumber!

Yes I'm obsessed. :)

Posted by: StoptheSpin | January 30, 2009 4:56 PM | Report abuse

I think it would be a mistake to underestimate what Michael Steele brings to the table. Winning the RNC chairmanship is no small feat, and I just like the guy. He grew up where I did, and has the same ideas that I do.

Congrats to Michael Steele on his win!

Posted by: playfair109 | January 30, 2009 4:52 PM | Report abuse


Let me guess, your a Huckabee supporter, right?

Any positive mention of Romney, always elicits these kinds of unnecessary attacks from Mike Huckabee's legions of followers.

Posted by: Ci2Eye | January 30, 2009 4:42 PM | Report abuse

John15 does raise a great question. But, I remember 1994 when the G.O.P. came out with the Contract With America. It did set the policy for years to come. I think that the best strategy for the G.O.P. is to come up with a new contract. This would only work if (1) the economy has not improved significantly by the midterm elections, and (2) a belief that the actions of Congress and the administration are not working (or are making things worse).

This seems like a stretch to me. But, this approach would not play well with Palyn or Huckabee. It would play best with Jindal, Sanford or Pawlenty.

Palyn is very popular with a relatively small part of the population - in terms of vote pulling, more like Ron Paul than, say, Jindal. It depends on how much she can grow in substance. Huckabee has less to grow. And, I know the G.O.P. are much more likely to re-use those who failed before, but I just don't see Romney doing it. McCain branded him soundly as a flip-flopper, and given the G.O.P. reliance on ideology, I think that will hold him back as much as his religion.

Posted by: Kili | January 30, 2009 4:38 PM | Report abuse

We could watch these GOPers or we could watch 100 other GOPers but what is the point?

It hasn't been proven that these 10 or the next 100 offer anything that resonates with the majority of Americans. They might offer something to the rump-GOP that exists today but that and a dime will get 'em... a friggin' dime!

Posted by: Roofelstoon | January 30, 2009 4:26 PM | Report abuse

Seriously I think you should look at the Senate in 2010.. I can see five seats in states that Obama won (two of them the incumbent is retiring). I see more Republican blood on the ground in 2010 and a positlitiy of picking up 7 seats. I say you give Susan Collins the chairmanship of Homeland Security for changing parties and get rid of Liberman... so call it 8.

Posted by: bradcpa | January 30, 2009 4:02 PM | Report abuse

Brilliant post! Cuts right to the heart of the paucity of relevant political ideas in the Republican Party! Except for the now moribund construct of "Free Market Capitalism" that has become,suddenly, passe.The Republicans have nothing to say but no,to the "New, New Deal".
You need only turn to the New Majority website, to watch as David Frum and Company search for an answer to the question:How can we win again? An eight year binge of plunder is the only blind spot in their vision of a "New Republican Party"

Posted by: stephenkmack | January 30, 2009 4:00 PM | Report abuse

Where's Newt Gingrich? Those of us who thankfully live outside of the beltway are well aware that the former Speaker intends to remain fully engaged in the national debate over domestic and foreign policy, all the while his fund raising/e-mail list grows larger each month. His America's Solutions project will continue to give him an unmatched national platform over the next four (three actually) years to lead the intellectual opposition to Obamamania combined with his ability to reach across every segment of the Republican party makes him not only one of the leaders of the Republicans but the most formidable contender if he seeks the nomination.

Posted by: skipperdawg89 | January 30, 2009 3:53 PM | Report abuse

Cantor?! That guy voted for all the banker bailouts up until the most recent one when he finally realized his base had eroded. Talk about a first class hypocrite.

Posted by: millionea7 | January 30, 2009 3:37 PM | Report abuse

As a resident of south Carolina. I can testify that Mark Sanford is an unmitigated disaster who will only lead the Republicans over a cliff. Witness the following:
In 2003, he marched into the SC State House with 2 pigs("pork barrel spending" get it?) In an attempt to shame the legislature into cutting the budget. I tfailed and Sanford wound up as a laughingstock.
In 2004, he vetoed the entire state budget and threatened to campaign against any legislator who voted to override. He was very busy. The legislature did so unanimously.
He lately has announced that he would not accept any stimulus money. Fortunately, Rep. Jim Clyburn(D-SC) put an amendment in the stimulus bill vesting that power in legislative leaders (both of which say they will accept such funds) if Sanford carries through on his threat.
Shortly before Christmas, Sanford threatened to cut off unemployment benefits unless the Employement Security Commission provided his office with certain information. With lesds than an hour to spare, Sanford signed the necessary papers to keep tjhose benefits flowing.
God save the United States of America from Mark Sanford, idiot-in-chief of South Carolina!

Posted by: dsteimle | January 30, 2009 3:29 PM | Report abuse

What? No John Cornyn?
I think you are underestimating him. He is making a push to be the leading opponent of the Obama administration on Capitol Hill.

Posted by: MikeThomas87 | January 30, 2009 3:25 PM | Report abuse

How about Mike Steele The RNC Magic Negro! That fits their new agenda of spin meister.


Posted by: patmatthews | January 30, 2009 3:22 PM | Report abuse

When you say Limbaugh is able to "tell hard truths", I suppose that includes divisive lies

Posted by: realitycheck23 | January 30, 2009 2:55 PM | Report abuse

I don't disagree with any of the people on your list, but I would challenge you to consider the concept of this list itself.

In my opinion, it isn't leaders that the Replublican Party lacks right now -- leading ideas.

What do you think are the 10 ascendant Republican ideas? Or are there any? And do you think that Abraham Lincoln himself could lead Republicans back to power on the basis of their current set of values and prescriptions?

Posted by: john15 | January 30, 2009 2:42 PM | Report abuse

Mitt Romney doesn't belong anywhere near a list of Republicans to watch. (Neither does Rush Limbaugh, but that's hardly worth mentioning.)

Romney lost the nomination in 2008. He lost for various reasons: His phoniness, religion, lack of accomplishments in his single term in office, etc. In 2012, he'll have the same problems, except that he'll be 4 years farther from office. The voters didn't like Romney in 2008, and he won't have anything more to offer them in 2012. He'll fail just like John Edwards did in 2008, and for the same reasons.

Posted by: Blarg | January 30, 2009 2:41 PM | Report abuse

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