I pledge allegiance to the . . . candidate?

Political campaigns are always eager to keep hecklers out of their pep rallies, but the Republican National Committee took that desire to a new level last week, requiring supporters to sign an oath of loyalty before receiving tickets to Saturday's New Mexico rally featuring Vice President Cheney.

The Albuquerque Journal reported on Friday that people seeking tickets to the Cheney event who could not be identified as GOP partisans -- contributors or volunteers -- were told they could not receive tickets unless they signed an endorsement form saying "I, (full name) . . . do herby (sic) endorse George W. Bush for reelection of the United States." The form warns that signers "are consenting to use and release of your name by Bush-Cheney as an endorser of President Bush."

The paper quoted a Republican official saying a "Democrat operative group" was trying to infiltrate the limited-seating event -- although the party apparently turned away uncommitted voters who simply wanted to hear Cheney speak.

RNC communications director Jim Dyke defended the practice on Friday. "Maybe we should start having joint fundraisers with the DNC," he mused. "Please."

John F. Kerry's campaign has charged that the Bush campaign routinely screens attendees of Bush's speeches, and the Democrats say they do not impose loyalty requirements on crowds for their nominee's speeches. This much is certainly true: If the Democrats are trying to keep crowds loyal, they aren't doing a very good job. When Kerry visited New Mexico a few weeks ago, a group of young men in the crowd waved flip-flops in the air during his speech and chanted, "Viva Bush!"

Uncorking a Distribution Fuss

Karl Rove might wish to employ a wine taster after the Justice Department let a deadline pass Thursday without filing a brief before the Supreme Court supporting direct shipments of wine across state lines.

The unusual case has former Whitewater prosecutor Ken Starr and President Bush's brother-in-law on the side of wine producers and evangelical Christians on the side of states and liquor distributors trying to block sales.

Thursday's decision pleased religious-conservative groups who oppose such shipments on the grounds that they could ease underage drinking. "The administration is going to remain neutral," said a content Richard Cizik, top lobbyist for the National Association of Evangelicals.

But the wine industry is in ferment, and grape growers are turning their wrath on Bush's top political adviser. "My understanding is they had a brief drafted in the can, ready to go . . . and my understanding is they got political pressure from the White House, that Karl Rove suddenly got engaged, possibly because of the evangelicals," said David P. Sloane, president of the trade group WineAmerica. Sloane said Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy G. Thompson also turned against the Justice brief at the last minute.

"Not true," replied Rove.

Maybe They Share a Speechwriter

Newly minted Democratic presidential nominee Kerry would be in a Boston jail cell today if rhetorical theft were a crime. In his acceptance speech, Kerry pilfered Bush's 2000 refrain "Help is on the way." And his promise to "restore trust and credibility to the White House" had a slight echo to Bush's acceptance-speech promise to "uphold the honor and dignity of the office."

But the grandest larceny involved a Bush line about weapons proliferation. "We must deny the world's most dangerous leaders from having and harboring the world's most dangerous weapons," is Bush's version, used in various forms since 2002. Compare that with Kerry's line on Thursday night: "We need to lead a global effort against nuclear proliferation -- to keep the most dangerous weapons in the world out of the most dangerous hands in the world."

Discord in the Show-Me Crowd

Democrats are crowing about the uncharacteristic unity the party demonstrated at its convention in Boston. But the Missouri delegation apparently didn't drink the Kool-Aid.

The state's Democrats are engaged in a fratricidal battle in advance of Tuesday's gubernatorial primary. Gov. Bob Holden is being challenged by state auditor Claire McCaskill. The two are in a dead heat as they fight for the right to run against the GOP candidate, Secretary of State Matt Blunt. The two Democrats have been trading attack ads; she has accused him of taking illegal campaign contributions, and he has accused her of taking illegal loans.

That Would've Been Some Announcement

A day late and Osama short:

" 'It would be best if the arrest or killing [of a senior al Qaeda official] were announced on twenty-six, twenty-seven, or twenty-eight July' -- the first three days of the Democratic National Convention in Boston."

-- The New Republic, July 19 issue, quoting an unnamed official with Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency describing instructions from a White House aide to ISI's director.

"Pakistan has arrested a top al Qaeda suspect wanted by the United States, Al Arabiya satellite news channel quoted Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf as saying."

-- Reuters news service, July 29, 3:19 p.m.

Only card-carrying GOP supporters need show for Vice President Cheney's New Mexico rally.