I'm not a cold-weather fan, but I do love going to New Hampshire every four years to watch actual candidates meet actual voters, sometimes in actual living rooms.

That system, it seems to me, is about to get blown up.

No one is abolishing the New Hampshire primary or the Iowa caucuses, but with a bunch of mega-states about to move up right behind them, the whole, quaint notion of retail campaigning is going to take a huge hit.

Every political reporter knows that the day after New Hampshire, it becomes a tarmac campaign of money, media and quick-hit airport news conferences. Voters become a mere backdrop. And the journalistic opportunity to watch the contenders close up quickly fades.

With California, Florida, New Jersey and Illinois angling to hold their primaries two weeks after New Hampshire, the candidates would have to divide their time between the early, small states and the delegate-rich states, and spend even more time raising the big bucks required for major-market advertising. Forget about up-close-and-personal campaigning where you meet, and maybe even listen to, individual voters.

I know that Iowa and New Hampshire are unrepresentative of the country as a whole, but the solution is not to cram so many big states behind them that it becomes like a national primary. The result: a campaign that's all about attack ads and online videos and staged visits to health clinics and diners in L.A. and Tampa and Newark.

Such an approach totally tilts the playing field toward established, better-known, better-financed candidates. Forget about anyone pulling a Jimmy Carter. And forget about anyone surviving the first couple of contests and gathering momentum later. The thing will be over by early February of 2008, with no chance for voters to give someone else a second look, and many months until the conventions for everyone to get sick of the two nominees. Not the world's most rational way to pick a president.

Dick Polman{vbar}http://dickpolman.blogspot.com/2007/01/greasing-skids-for-richest-candidates.html says it better than I can:

"Any presidential candidate who lacks star power and celebrity cache will not be happy about the momentous changes soon to be wrought upon the '08 primary season.For those hopefuls without deep pockets or high name ID (Democrats Tom Vilsack and Christopher Dodd, for instance), it's not good news that four big, delegate-rich states -- New Jersey, Florida, Illinois, and California -- now seem poised to move their primaries to the earliest possible date on the calendar, Feb. 5, hard on the heels of the opening contests in Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina . . .

"This latest manifestation of the phenomenon known as 'front-loading' means that all White House aspirants will be forced to run a punishing gauntlet that seems guaranteed to kill off virtually everyone who is not prodigiously financed and universally known."

But E.J. Dionne{vbar}http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/01/29/AR2007012901446.html sees more pluses than minuses:

"It's time the method we use in selecting nominees bear some resemblance to how we elect them. It's time the polyglot cities and the great exurban tracts gain a voice commensurate with their importance to the nation.

"And it's time that our candidates get tested early by broader electorates. Was it really good for the country that South Carolina's Republicans put an effective end to the battle between George W. Bush and John McCain so early in 2000, on Feb. 19 to be exact? Was it helpful that the Democratic battle between Al Gore and Bill Bradley that same year effectively ended after New Hampshire voted on Feb. 1, or that John Kerry wasn't tested harder in more places after his Jan. 27, 2004, victory there?

"The revolt of the big states may not slow the process and might even enhance the importance of the outcomes in Iowa, New Hampshire and the two other early states. But by forcing themselves forward, California, Illinois, New Jersey, Florida (and who knows who else?) will definitely let many more voters, and many more kinds of voters, in on an important choice. The legislatures in those states should ignore the complaints and let their people join the action."

But one big state could solve that problem. And the national party ought to use its clout to come up with a voting process that makes sense. Otherwise, every state but Hawaii may want to move things up and the primary system will be shattered.

When word broke of Joe Biden's dumb remarks about Barack Obama, Betsy's Page{vbar}http://betsyspage.blogspot.com/2007/01/biden-dishes-on-his-rivals.html opined:

"I have to wonder if the media will pay half as much attention to this gaffe by Biden as they do to Republican gaffes. Will the Washington Post run as many stories on it as they did on George Allen saying macaca? Will every story about Biden and his resolution against the war have comments about Biden, the man who spoke so demeaningly of Barack Obama? Will this be taken as some sort of verbal expression of what Biden really thinks about blacks? Will reporters tie together these other racist-tinged gaffes that Biden has made and draw some grander generalization? Or will it be laughed off by all the reporters who just think that Joe Biden is such a nice guy? I think we know the answers to these questions."

Well, guess again. The media have given really big play to a Democrat's idiotic remark--much bigger than macaca at first. All the network newscasts did Biden pieces, and "NBC Nightly News" led with it. The New York Times put it on the front page (and The Post should have). You couldn't turn on a cable channel yesterday without seeing a dissection of "Biden's Blunder."

Michael Crowley{vbar}http://www.tnr.com/blog/theplank?pid=76473 x

"Joe Biden is, naturally, saying he only meant that Barack Obama is a fresh new face. Unfortunately the problem he faces is that the nature of his gaffe--for those who assume the worst--can't be explained away. It's a less-extreme version of George Allen's macaca crack: Allen's defenders said it was ludicrous to consider 'macaca' a slur and not, say, a meaningless goofy nickmame, because clearly no politician would slur someone in public even if he was thinking such vile thoughts. But the charge in that case, as in Biden's, is that it was the subconscious talking in some unintentionally revealing way. And no amount of spin or contrition can undo that."

The aforementioned Mr. Polman has a non-PC analysis{vbar}http://dickpolman.blogspot.com/2007/02/joe-biden-and-perils-of-candidate.html:

"Biden inadvertently uttered a truth when he implied that Obama, unlike his predecessors, was at least 'clean.' It happens to be a matter of record that Jackson fathered a love child, Sharpton championed a young black girl who made false rape charges against a white guy (Sharpton was successfully sued for defamation as a result), and Moseley Braun lost her 1998 re-election race amidst charges of financial improprieties. But for Biden, there was no percentage in implying (albeit unwittingly) that those preceded Obama lacked cleanliness."

Biden, meanwhile, and Chuck Hagel, sign on to the John Warner anti-surge resolution{vbar}http://www.nytimes.com/2007/02/01/world/middleeast/01cnd-cong.html?hp&ex=1170392400&en=bbee1a5ceaf08fe7&ei=5094&partner=homepage. This thing is starting to look like a steamroller.

Three Republican senators send a letter{vbar}http://powerlineblog.com/archives/016669.php to Washington Post CEO Don Graham, objecting to William Arkin, a military analyst who writes a blog for washingtonpost.com, describing the volunteer Army as a "mercenary force."

Arkin's response{vbar}http://blog.washingtonpost.com/earlywarning/2007/02/the_arrogant_and_intolerant_sp.html to such protests: "I was dead wrong in using the word mercenary to describe the American soldier."

How much do we need to like our candidates? Roger Simon{vbar}http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0107/2562.html tackles that question in the Politico:

" 'Hillary has a great belly laugh,' Terry McAuliffe said. 'Have you ever heard her belly laugh?'

"Hmmm. Lemme think.

" 'She's tanned, she's rested, she's...'

"Gimme a second, gimme a second. OK, no. I have never heard Hillary Clinton's belly laugh. Though I am looking forward to it.

"I was talking to McAuliffe about how important likability is in presidential elections. Short answer: Very . . .

"In this personality-driven age of ours, candidates can't seem to win the presidency without likability.

"Al Gore is likable now -- the planet isn't the only thing that has warmed up -- but when he ran for president in 2000, his demeanor became such an issue that his staff made up buttons that said, 'I'm Al Gore and I don't like you either.' (Gore occasionally wore one under his lapel.) . . .

"I recently asked John Edwards about the importance of likability, and he said: 'If people have a positive response to you, then they are willing to listen to what you have to say. If the reaction to somebody is "I don't like them," it colors everything. If I like them, I will look and see: Do I want him to be my president? Likability is an initial screen.' "

Slate's John Dickerson{vbar}http://www.slate.com/id/2158157/entry/0/ has this take on the Libby trial:

"My former Time colleague Matt Cooper took the stand Wednesday and faced what no journalist wants to--a display of his notes and e-mails on a big TV screen. It's not just journalists who don't want this: I'm sure Scooter Libby doesn't like seeing his notes up there either. But for us, who obsess about crafting our final product, it's never pretty to look at the scraps we put into making it. So, while Cooper was mostly calm and measured, it was excruciating to watch him talk through the notes he took while talking on the phone with Scooter Libby on July 12, 2003.

"Cooper contends that he asked Libby if he knew Wilson's wife worked at the CIA, and that Libby answered, 'Yeah I've heard that, too,' or words to that effect. "Nowhere in his notes though, is there a reference to that exchange.

"The defense spent a great deal of time making Cooper go through the notes, deciphering the typos and explaining his style. Lawyer William Jeffress seized on a single sentence and started a line of inquiry that led to a moment that was part Perry Mason revelation, part Doug Henning magical illusion. The passage as it appeared in Cooper's typewritten notes read: 'had somethine and abou the Wilson thing and not sure if it's ever.' Jeffress suggested this referred to Libby's answer to the question about Wilson's wife. Could Cooper really have meant to type: 'heard something about the Wilson thing and not sure if it's even true'? That wasn't Cooper's recollection."

Time's Ana Marie Cox{vbar}http://time-blog.com/swampland/2007/01/the_comedian_and_the_mommas_bo.html is titillated by the notion of the veep being called to the stand:

"We in the press gallery are in near universal agreement that calling Cheney would be both hugely exciting and a real gamble for the defense. One the one hand, Cheney is less popular with the American people than torture. On the other hand, if he can make torture seem pleasant by comparison, then he should have no trouble making Scooter seem sympathetic. Then, yet a third option -- if he's a hostile witness, can they waterboard him?"

Sometimes you can't make this stuff up. Rep. Loretta Sanchez quits{vbar}http://www.latimes.com/news/politics/la-ex-latino1feb02,0,2534149.story?coll=la-home-headlines the Hispanic Caucus, charging that the chairman, Joe Baca, called her a "whore."

Well, that didn't take long. No sooner does Al Franken say he's leaving Air America--to run for the Senate--than Scott Johnson{vbar}http://powerlineblog.com/archives/016665.php has this post:

"Can Franken's long career in show business be reconciled with a carrer in politics? In the oral history of Saturday Night Live assembled by James Miller and Tom Shales, Franken talks (pages 119-120) about using cocaine while pulling all nighters writing for the show: 'I only did cocaine to stay awake to make sure nobody else did too much cocaine. That was the only reason I ever did it. Heh heh.' Franken was discussing his cocaine use during his first stint writing for the show from 1976-1980, a relatively long time ago. The jocular attitude he expressed toward his drug use would have occurred in his comments for the book (published in 2002), considerably more recently . . . "

On the other hand, anything you write in a book is more than fair game. Unless you argue you were too high to be held responsible.

Another politician who can't keep his zipper zipped. The Chronicle had the definitive account of the San Francisco sex scandal{vbar}http://sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2007/01/31/BAGM3NSFGQ7.DTL:

"San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom's re-election campaign manager resigned Wednesday after confronting the mayor about an affair Newsom had with his wife while she worked in the mayor's office, City Hall sources said.

"Alex Tourk, 39, who served as Newsom's deputy chief of staff before becoming his campaign manager in September, confronted the mayor after his wife, Ruby Rippey-Tourk, told him of the affair as part of a rehabilitation program she had been undergoing for substance abuse, said the sources, who had direct knowledge of Wednesday's meeting.

"Rippey-Tourk, 34, was the mayor's appointments secretary from the start of his administration in 2004 until last spring. She told her husband that the affair with Newsom was short-lived and happened about a year and a half ago, while the mayor was undergoing a divorce from his then-wife, Fox News host Kimberly Guilfoyle, said the sources, who spoke on condition they not be identified.

"Alex Tourk 'confronted the mayor on the issue this afternoon, expressed his feeling about the situation in an honest and pointed way, and resigned,' said one source close to Tourk and his wife."

Newsom held a press conference and said he was "deeply sorry."

Silver lining for the man who presided over all those gay marriages? Well, says Chronicle columnist Chuck Nevius{vbar}http://sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2007/02/01/BAGNCNT86S12.DTL, "At least any rumors that Newsom is gay have been put on the back burner."

This morning the Chronicle asks{vbar}http://sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2007/02/02/POLITICS.TMP, "has he also wounded his party by handing Republicans juicy evidence of 'San Francisco values' that are outside the mainstream?" Although when it comes to pols having affairs, there was also the governor of New Jersey, the governor of West Virginia, the governor of Kentucky, the president from Arkansas, the speaker from Georgia . . . Maybe, for once, San Francisco is in the mainstream.

Arianna{vbar}http://www.huffingtonpost.com/arianna-huffington/by-what-definition-is-gav_b_40201.html is offended: "Why is this a public matter?

"Despite my less-than-stellar opinion of much of the media, I am still shocked that with Iraq continuing to implode (with January setting a deadly record for Iraqi civilian deaths, and another 61 killed today), and all the other problems facing the world, the media are willing to use up their precious air-time oxygen with pointless crap like this."

Memo to Ms. Huffington: The guy's campaign manager quit because the mayor was doing his wife. The mayor called a press conference to apologize. That is, he invited journalists to come to a place where he stood before microphones so his message could be heard. You can hardly blame the press for showing up.