The stature gap could be back.

Back in 1988, the pundits dismissively described the Democratic presidential field as the Seven Dwarfs.

Now, in the wake of last week's Democratic wipeout, the party's slate of '04 aspirants is being dissed again.

Let's just say they're not viewed as giants.

(For the record, the dwarfs were Dick Gephardt, Al Gore, Michael Dukakis, Bruce Babbitt, Joe Biden, Gary Hart and Paul Simon. Funny, four of them may be running again. Maybe they've grown.)

With George W. riding high this week on the cover of Time and Newsweek, the conventional wisdom (yes, the same CW that forecast a Democratic Senate) says no one is going to beat him. What's more, according to the press, the potential field seems to fall into two categories: Those who were tarnished by the election, and those who lack the gravitas for a serious run.

Al Gore, of course, is in a category all his own: The ex-veep obviously has the stature that comes from working in the White House and winning the popular vote last time, but is widely depicted as unloved by a party that feels he blew his best shot.

Any member of Congress, particularly Dick Gephardt and Tom Daschle, is seen as damaged goods for their connection to the no-message loss in the midterms. Joe Lieberman gets less blame but has vowed not to run if Gore does. John Edwards is a fresher face but lacking in foreign policy experience (which is why he's heading overseas next week). Howard Dean is viewed as an interesting long shot.

What all these analyses miss is that candidates are uplifted and enlarged by the media when they do well in the primaries. Ex-dwarf Dukakis was actually leading in the polls after the '88 convention until he rode around in that tank and withered under an assault from Bush 41's team. Bill Clinton was a little-known governor of Arkansas before his political skills and tabloid life combined to make him the front-runner. John McCain was a maverick languishing at 3 percent in the polls before he caught fire in New Hampshire.

For now, though, the early press reviews matter, if only because they have an impact on potential donors, political organizers and other players of the inside game. And no Democrat is generating particularly good buzz at this juncture. It may be harder than usual for the candidates to break through the static, not only because the president has a huge megaphone but because he's leading a war on terrorism.

Roger Simon of U.S. News isn't exactly high on the field:

"As the Democrats prepare to wander in the desert without control of the House or Senate, they do so without a Moses: Bill Clinton is off building his presidential library, the Democratic leader in the House just resigned his post, the Democratic leader in the Senate is tainted by defeat, and many in the party are grumbling that the current field of possible presidential aspirants -- the 'Six Pack' of Al Gore, Richard Gephardt, John Edwards, John Kerry, Joe Lieberman, and Howard Dean -- is just a bunch of would-be has-beens. .{sbquo}.{sbquo}.

"The problem for the Democrats is that after last Tuesday's defeat many in the party want to throw all the babies out with the bath water and search for new babies. .{sbquo}.{sbquo}.

"As a sign of how difficult it is, none of the names being mentioned -- among them Governors Ed Rendell of Pennsylvania, James McGreevey of New Jersey, and Mark Warner of Virginia -- is a very realistic contender. And though some would like to see Hillary Rodham Clinton run, she almost certainly would rather face the possibility of Jeb Bush in '08 rather than the reality of George W. Bush in '04."

Time looks at who's up and who's down:

"If Gore is best positioned for a postelection bounce, Gephardt and Daschle appear the most bloodied. The day after the election, when reality set in, Daschle conceded he had to carry the blame for Democratic losses in the Senate.

"John Edwards, the Senator from North Carolina, was also hurt by the midterms. He campaigned hard for Erskine Bowles' unsuccessful Senate campaign in his home state, and now his own poll numbers look soft. .{sbquo}.{sbquo}.

"Kerry, has fewer problems. He coasted to victory on Tuesday, and his criticism of last year's Tora Bora battle in Afghanistan, which failed to capture Osama bin Laden, and his credentials as a Vietnam War hero give him an edge. Kerry is a ferocious campaigner, and his wife Teresa Heinz is the widow of the late Senate Republican and Heinz ketchup heir John Heinz, giving Kerry access to a considerable campaign war chest."

The Wall Street Journal's John Harwood gives Edwards a mixed report: "The former trial lawyer drew only 51% of the votes against bumbling GOP incumbent Lauch Faircloth four years ago, and Republicans pointed to his vulnerability even before Elizabeth Dole won North Carolina's other Senate seat last week.

"Yet if he decides to seek the White House, as advisers expect, he'll begin with significant advantages in a party whose last two presidents have hailed from Georgia and Arkansas. Ideologically, Mr. Edwards's Senate voting record is barely distinguishable from that of rival John Kerry of Massachusetts. But in politics, as the 2000 and 2002 elections both proved, geography matters."

But Edwards has another problem: being ridiculed by Chris Matthews. "Would somebody tell me what John Edwards stands for besides cute?" the MSNBC man said the other day.

National Journal's Chuck Todd mentions some other possible contenders: Chris Dodd. Bob Kerrey. Dianne Feinstein. Russ Feingold. Bill Richardson and Ed Rendell (you get elected governor of New Mexico and Pennsylvania, respectively, and immediately start running for the White House? We don't think so.) John McCain (the cross-dressing rumors are back). And Tom Vilsack (Robert Reich has predicted that the Iowa governor will be the nominee).

A top White House operative, meanwhile, is taking his victory lap, says the New York Times:

"Karl Rove, the Bush administration's chief political strategist, said today that the midterm elections that gave Republicans control of the Senate and expanded their hold on the House showed that the electorate was no longer evenly split, as it was two years ago.

"Speaking at a political forum on the American presidency at the University of Utah, which he attended in the early 1970's, Mr. Rove said 'something is going on out there' that is drawing more voters to Republicans than to Democrats. He said he was not sure why, but cited various polling data that suggested voters were steadily warming to Mr. Bush and Republican candidates who echo Mr. Bush's views on foreign policy and important domestic issues like education."

On the Hill, it's meet the new boss, same as the old boss:

"The full impact of the GOP's new political clout swept across Capitol Hill yesterday, as House and Senate Republicans chose a phalanx of conservative leaders for the new Congress and pushed to finish the current lame-duck session by week's end," says the Los Angeles Times.

"In the House, Republicans promoted Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas), already one of the most powerful members in Congress, to the No. 2 post of majority leader. They also installed several of his deputies in other key posts.

"In the Senate, Republicans prepared to assume control in January by picking Trent Lott (R-Miss.) as majority leader. That gives him another shot at a job he lost in mid-2001 when Sen. James M. Jeffords' decision to defect from the GOP and become an independent gave Democrats control of the Senate.

"The newly empowered GOP leadership pledged to work shoulder-to-shoulder with the White House. .{sbquo}.{sbquo}. 'No excuses now; we have it all,' said Sen.-elect Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.). 'We have nobody to blame but ourselves.'",0,7182475.story?coll=la%2Dheadlines%2Dpolitics

No blame needed for the moment, as USA Today has the details on Bush's latest victory:

"The White House geared up for a yearlong task of building a department of homeland security yesterday as Congress neared approval of the biggest Cabinet-level bureaucracy in more than a half century.

"The House of Representatives voted 299-121 last night to create the department. The vote came just one day after the White House and key lawmakers reached a deal on how to treat the estimated 170,000 employees. The Senate also voted along party lines to reject an earlier Democratic version of the bill. That paved the way for the Senate to vote on the new homeland-security bill within the next few days."

The Philadelphia Inquirer tackles the Pelosi Problem:

"When Rep. Nancy Pelosi's name is written these days, the label 'San Francisco liberal' inevitably is somewhere nearby. The question that follows is whether someone with that divisive label can lead the bickering Democrats in the House back into power.

"The answer is that it will be tough, say supporters and detractors of Pelosi, who is all but certain to be elected House minority leader today. The challenge does not necessarily stem from her leftward political leanings, even in a year when the country appeared to shift to the right.

"The bigger difficulty is the job itself. Pelosi, 62, will be taking the reins of a party in desperate need of a message, a party that must rediscover its core values just when the Republicans are more unified -- and powerful -- than ever, members of Congress and political experts say."

Psst! Want to read a fascinating tale of stock-market manipulation that absolutely reeks? Check out this Wall Street Journal story:

"Former Citigroup analyst Jack Grubman said yesterday that he fabricated a story that Citigroup Inc. Chief Executive Sanford I. Weill had pushed him to upgrade an investment rating on AT&T Corp. in an effort by Mr. Weill to curry favor with the chairman of the telecommunications giant.

"The assertion by the star analyst about Mr. Weill's motivation had caused a stir inside the company and across Wall Street, prompting Mr. Weill to issue a strongly worded denial yesterday.

"Hours later, Mr. Grubman followed with his own statement: 'Regrettably, I invented a story in an effort to inflate my professional importance and make an impression on a colleague and friend. My research on AT&T was always done on the merits.'"

He lied. Regrettably, of course.

"For his part, Mr. Weill yesterday acknowledged that he had asked Mr. Grubman to 'take a fresh look' at AT&T but denied he was trying to get support from AT&T CEO C. Michael Armstrong. .{sbquo}.{sbquo}.

"Mr. Grubman had made his assertions about Mr. Weill's motivation in a series of e-mail messages in January 2001, which were sent to an analyst at a money-management firm. According to the e-mails, Mr. Weill had pressured Mr. Grubman because Mr. Weill wanted to gain the support from Mr. Armstrong, a key Citigroup board member, to help 'nuke' Citigroup's former co-chairman, John Reed, in early 2000, people close to the matter say."

And here's another selection from Grubman's grubby way of doing business, from the New York Times:

"Jack B. Grubman, a former star telecommunications analyst, told a friend in an e-mail message early last year that his boss, Sanford I. Weill, the chairman of Citigroup, helped to secure spots in an exclusive Manhattan nursery school for Mr. Grubman's twin daughters after he began recommending that investors buy AT&T stock."

Bored by '04? Let's look at the landscape four years hence. Drudge plays up this piece from the Michigan site

"Condoleezza Rice will defeat Hillary Clinton for the presidency in 2008, New York Times political columnist William Safire predicted during a stop in Ypsilanti Monday.

"Safire was the featured speaker at an annual fund-raiser of the Jewish Federation of Washtenaw County at the Ypsilanti Marriott Hotel. Asked if he, a political columnist, misses Bill Clinton in the White House, Safire answered: 'Desperately.'

"'He enlivened my life,' said Safire, who awaits the day Hillary Clinton stops being a quiet, respectful freshman senator. He then predicted she will run for president in 2008, but will be defeated by Rice, who is now Bush's national security adviser and will by then be governor of California, he said."

National Review's Ramesh Ponnuru would like to show some GOP senators the door:

"It's not too early for conservatives to start compiling to-do lists for the 2004 election.

"In Pennsylvania, Arlen Specter is up for reelection. Economic and social conservatives both have reasons to seek better representation: Specter voted to shrink Bush's tax cuts last year, and after vowing to oppose embryo cloning for research purposes in 2001 he's become a major proponent of it this year. Pat Toomey, a conservative who is entering his last term in the House (he promised to serve no more than three), should consider running against Specter. Even if Toomey didn't win, the prospect of a primary challenge will keep Specter from making much mischief at the Judiciary Committee. A winning challenge would keep Specter from being the committee chairman in 2005. .{sbquo}.{sbquo}.

"John McCain is up for reelection in '04. His intentions for that year are not known, but conservatives are seeking to have Rep. Jeff Flake -- like Toomey, another Club for Growth favorite and a self-term-limiter -- run against him."

Andrew Sullivan sees hints of British royalism in our political class:

"More evidence that America is as much an aristocracy as a democracy. Forget the Bush dynasty. Both candidates for the Democratic House Minority leadership post [Pelosi and Rep. Harold Ford (Tenn.)] are essentially scions of well-established political dynasties. A reader points out:

"'Pelosi's father was a Congressman for a decade, then mayor of Baltimore for a dozen years while she was growing up. Her brother later was elected mayor of Baltimore. She graduated from Trinity College in Washington, DC, which was established as a finishing school for Catholic girls. Ford's father, Harold Ford, Sr., was elected to Congress from Memphis in 1974 and the youngster spent most of his time in Washington. He attended the tony St. Albans prep school on the grounds of the Episcopal National Cathedral, then went on to the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Michigan Law School. He took over his father's seat when the elder decided not to seek reelection.'

"Not exactly a populist alternative, eh?"

The Boston Globe has the inside scoop on the Dems's convention decision:

"Senator Edward M. Kennedy and Mayor Thomas M. Menino had been dialing for dollars for days, asking corporate chieftains to pledge up to $1 million apiece to support Boston's bid for the Democratic convention, and showing no qualms about soliciting money from companies directly affected by their political power.

"But when the deadline came last week for assembling the city's $20 million package of corporate commitments, Kennedy learned to his dismay that they were still $500,000 short.

"So Kennedy authorized his staff to add one more entry to the donor sheet: Senator Kennedy, $500,000."

The New York Post's Deborah Orin also finds a unique angle:

"Looks like the Bill Clinton era is over.

"Democrats, led by Clinton's handpicked chairman, Terry McAuliffe, decided yesterday to take their 2004 national convention to Boston instead of New York -- where Bill and Hillary Clinton could relive their 1992 glory days and be the stars of the show.

"'There was a question of, "You don't want this to be about the Clintons. You want this to be about the future," ' says a site selection insider who insists the arguments in favor of Beantown weren't just bigger bucks."

If we got a dollar every time someone declares the Clinton era over, we'd soon be as rich as Kennedy.