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THERE'S A RIP IN THE BIG TENT: Media consultant Arthur Finkelstein, who counts Gov. George Pataki as a client, raised a bit of a stir when he said that moderate Republicans will have a difficult time running for national office because the "party's political center has disappeared." Pataki, considered a political moderate in some circles, said, "au contraire." Well, he didn't actually say "au contraire," but we don't know how to translate "you're stupid" into French.

"I think the Republican Party is a big tent, and everyone from the president on down understands that," Pataki said this week. Coincidentally, Michael Long, the head of the state's Conservative Party, said it might not endorse the governor if he runs again. The party, which has endorsed Pataki in the past, recently has criticized the governor over a range of fiscal and social issues.

Pataki's "big tent" comment and Long's threat to withhold conservative endorsement came on the same day. Don't you hate it when that happens?

THIS MAKES SENSE -- REALLY: The conventional wisdom is that the Democrats lost the White House, and fell further behind in the House and Senate, because they couldn't connect with the conservative, evangelical Christian vote throughout the heartland, South and West.

So in one of his first moves as incoming Senate minority leader, Harry Reid decided he would address that problem by turning to (drumroll here) -- a Northeastern liberal.

New York Sen. Charles Schumer accepted Reid's offer to head the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which also carries the added responsibility for shaping the day-to-day message of the Democratic Party.

OK, we know it sounds weird. But Schumer, as his travels throughout the urban, rural and suburban parts of New York demonstrate, knows what moves people. He understands that Democrats, even if they disagree with the political stands of the Christian right, need to respect how religion informs people's lives. It'll be interesting to see how this Brooklyn boy gets that message across to his fellow Democrats.

THE MAN HAS NO FLAIR: Secretary of State Colin Powell tendered his resignation this week, but the letter he sent to President Bush shows that he has no idea of the proper way to take his leave. That is, the John Ashcroft way, as in the outlandish way the outgoing attorney general claimed during his tenure to have tamed both crime and terrorism. If Ashcroft had been the nation's chief diplomat he'd have quit with more dash:

"Dear Mr. President: Having single-handedly established a righteous peace in the Middle East, brought to heel the evil-doers in Iraq and eliminated the nuclear threat of the heathens in North Korea, I hereby resign from office, effective immediately, before you realize this is all a crock. Thanking God you don't read the newspaper, I remain, undiplomatically yours, Johnny."

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