The 46-second video shows Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Tex.) hugging -- twice -- with pair of cheek rubs thrown in for good measure.
This was no undercover effort to document secret bipartisanship. The clip was recorded and e-mailed by supporters of Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R), who is likely to be challenged by Hutchison for the GOP nomination when he runs for reelection next year.
One statewide Republican incumbent trying to smear another is unusual, even in today's few-holds-barred political culture. The tape was made March 3 at Capitol Hill's Sewall-Belmont House, a landmark of the women's suffrage movement, during a Women's History Month event.
"I'm delighted that Kay is my partner on so many important fronts," Clinton told the audience, to applause. At one point in the crudely spliced video, Clinton purses her lips to plant a smacker on the Texan, who leans in. One frame shows the two rubbing right cheeks.
Aides to the senator said that when reporters from the Austin American-Statesman and Fort Worth Star-Telegram both called Hutchison's office on the same day last week to report that they had received the video from Republicans, it was pretty obvious who was behind it. Event organizers said only two cameras had been on hand: one from Home and Garden Television, the event's sponsor, and the other from a hired team based in Arlington, Va., that said it was working for Perry.
Chris Paulitz, Hutchison's spokesman, called it "stalking a U.S. senator."
Luis Saenz, Perry's campaign director, said the campaign provided the video to four or five "key supporters and consultants," and that somehow it got on the Web. "The campaign did not distribute it," said Saenz, who was unapologetic. "Any good campaign operation monitors what potential opponents say and do," he added. "Any potential opponent is not going to get a free ride."
Now, the Hutchison forces have turned up an artifact of their own. It's a letter signed by Perry in 1993, when he was Texas agriculture commissioner and Clinton was first lady, presiding over the ill-fated Task Force on National Health Care Reform.
"Dear Mrs. Clinton," the letter begins. "I think your efforts in trying to reform the nation's health care system are most commendable."
Keeping It Clean in Arizona
In a display of western justice, Arizona officials have voted to throw a state legislator out of office because he allegedly violated campaign finance laws.
The state's "clean elections" commission voted unanimously recently to remove Rep. David Burnell Smith (R) because, it said, he spent too much money -- about $6,000 -- on his 2004 campaign. The lawmaker has vowed to fight the decision, which experts said was the first of its kind.
The clean-elections program, one of only a few nationwide, offers public money to candidates running for the legislature and statewide offices who agree to abide by certain restrictions -- including how much they spend on their races. The program, which is voluntary, stipulates that those who overshoot its spending limits by more than 10 percent be removed from office. The commission of five appointees said Smith exceeded those limits by 17 percent.
Smith has rejected the charges, blaming the imbroglio on a series of accounting disputes. Moreover, his lawyer said, the commission does not have the right to remove an elected official. "It's a separation-of-powers question -- whether a group of unelected, unconfirmed political agnostics, acting all by themselves, can contravene the will of . . . the folks who voted to have Mr. Smith as their representative," Lee Miller said.
Miller said the lawmaker, who remains in office while contesting the decision, has asked to meet with the commission this week in hopes of settling the issue. But, he said, Smith is prepared to take the case to the state Supreme Court.
Clean-elections advocates say the fight is a critical test of the program's credibility. "We might as well not have the program if this doesn't get upheld," said Doug Ramsey of the advocacy group Clean Elections Institute. "What that's going to say is: All you have to do is pay a token fine and get slapped on the wrist, and you can spend whatever you want."
"You get to be retirement age, whether you want to or not."
-- President Bush, discussing Social Security with a radio host during an interview last week at a diner in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.