One of the odder tales floating around these days comes from the press in India, which reports that the Republican National Committee has outsourced its fundraising and voter canvassing call centers to Noida and Gurgaon, that is, India.

A recent Hindustan Times story said an Indian company owned by HCL Technologies Ltd. ran the phone banks. It cited "HCL sources" and detailed how many teams were involved, the contract dates, how many GOP voters were called (8 million) and even what the callers were paid per hour.

The RNC flatly, totally, completely denied the allegations, which had been heavily peddled by the Democrats, saying it was an "untrue urban legend." The contract signed by the RNC and telemarketer Capital Communications Group Inc. of Mesa, Ariz., explicitly states all calls be made in the United States. And the RNC, we're told, closely monitored the contract.

Also, Sumit Bhattacharya, HCL BPO executive vice president for marketing and strategic planning, told our colleague Rama Lakshmi in New Delhi last week that "HCL BPO neither worked nor solicited contributions for any political party. We have no further comments on this matter."

But the Hindustan Times, a rather conservative, 1 million circulation English daily, is standing by its story, an account reporter K.A. Badarinath told us he spent weeks working on.

The oddest thing is that Capital Communications, a key player in this strange yarn, which received nearly $500,000 from the Republicans last year and nearly $3.5 million in the 2002 election cycle, appears to have gone out of business. Its phone number is "no longer in service," the recording says, and there's no new one. Efforts to locate its president, Bill Tierney, so far have been fruitless. The RNC says it doesn't know where he is.

Still, while the Hindustan Times may be writing more on this, absent some additional documents, on-the-record sources or some other corroboration, this story appears headed for the dustbin.

Path Looks Like Dead End

Everyone talks about how crucial the Latino vote is going to be in November. Both parties are putting out literature and Web pages in Spanish in an effort to communicate better with this huge constituency.

The Republicans have a sign-up page -- called "Abriendo Caminos" or opening paths -- that promises Spanish-speaking folks that President Bush and the GOP will "send you weekly news about the topics that most interest you."

The sign-up page asks the usual stuff -- name, address, telephone number and e-mail address. You are to check which of many listed topics -- immigration, health, Social Security, corporate responsibility, crime prevention and so on -- are of most interest.

Then it asks what you are. There are four options: war veteran or retired military; teacher or educator; senior citizen; or farmer or rancher. That's it. Nothing for lawyers, doctors, engineers or corporate executives to check.

Not even a box for "otro?"

Sworn In, Sworn At

Freshman, very freshman, Rep. Stephanie Herseth (D-S.D.), just elected Tuesday, showed up in the House yesterday as ecstatic Democrats hailed her as the greatest thing since sliced bread. The Dems had picked up a Republican House seat.

Then she cast her first vote against some GOP proposal on unemployed workers.

Ka-Boom! The National Republican Congressional Committee immediately put out an attack news release headlined: "Herseth's first vote puts politics ahead of people." What's more it's a flip-flop of her pledge just the day before "to put partisan politics aside," the NRCC said.

She's only 33, but the Republicans say her memory's already shot. She "forgot who elected her, and she's only been in Congress for a few hours," NRCC communications chief Carl Forti said. She's "more concerned with appeasing . . . liberals."

Man, these guys are good. A perpetual-motion attack machine. Only five months to go to the next election.

Homeland Security Puts Notch in Belt

Congress cobbled the Department of Homeland Security from a number of agencies but never bothered to rework its oversight activities: some 88 congressional committees with jurisdiction over pieces of the new organization.

Yesterday marked a historic moment for DHS: It had its 100th hearing of this year. DHS Assistant Secretary for Science and Technology Penrose C. Albright carried the honor as the witness before the House Select Committee on Homeland Security.

Given that Congress really didn't get rolling until February, and subtracting recesses, that puts DHS officials on the Hill on a lot of Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays.

So let's have a big Happy 100th for the DHS.

It's All Right for Ike to Have a 'Crusade'

Let it not be said that Bush and his team don't learn from past mistakes -- not that they've ever made any. Bush took a lot of heat shortly after 9/11 when he talked about a "crusade" against terrorism. Folks in the Arab world took umbrage.

So Wednesday, Bush, at the Air Force Academy commencement in Colorado Springs, compared the war on terrorism to World War II and quoted President Dwight D. Eisenhower's words to the troops just before D-Day.

" 'Soldiers, sailors and airmen of the Allied Expeditionary Force,' " Bush quoted then-Gen. Eisenhower as saying. " 'The eyes of the world are upon you. The hopes and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you.' "

Bush cut Ike's line: "You are about to embark upon the great crusade, toward which we have striven these many months."