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T&A on the Trail?

Democrats are tweaking Larry Diedrich, the GOP nominee for the House special election in South Dakota, for placing a campaign billboard in a politically awkward spot in downtown Sioux Falls.

The “Diedrich for Congress” sign features a giant photo of the candidate next to the big, block letters “T&A” — slang for two naughty words — which

just so happens to be the name of a local business on Minnesota Avenue.

Given the uproar over Janet Jackson’s recent wardrobe malfunction, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spokeswoman Kori Bernards wondered whether this coincidence will play well for the conservative candidate.

“I am not sure what their polls are saying, but I think this message plays better on Broadway than in Sioux Falls on Minnesota Avenue,” cracked Bernards. “Having said that, this could be a new kind of microtargeting that we just haven’t picked up on yet.”

But it turns out that “T&A” is actually a well-established, upstanding auto repair shop in Sioux Falls.

“It stands for the owners — Tom and Anita,” Darrell Williamson, accessories manager for the shop, said in a telephone interview.

Williamson said employees used to get razzed about the name years ago. “When I first started here I thought it was strange,” he allowed. “But after a while, you move on. It stands for Tom and Anita. They’re good people and they probably didn’t make the connection.”

Bo Harmon, a spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee, said the DCCC was dissing a fine small business.

“Republicans and Larry Diedrich do understand small business, growing our economy and creating jobs such as those at the family business where this billboard is located,” he said.

Curb Your Political Enthusiasm. Now that Super Tuesday is over, the media can finally focus on whether Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) can beat President Bush.

But forget about their stances on national security, health care and the economy. The pundits may be missing the most pressing question dividing the parties heading into this year’s presidential and Congressional elections: Who’s funnier — the left or the right?

That burning question will be pondered by a star-studded panel of Democratic strategists (John Podesta) and Republican strategists (Mike Murphy) — as well as entertainers like Janeane Garofalo and media types like Time magazine’s Matt Cooper — at HBO’s annual Comedy Arts Festival this weekend in Aspen, Colo.

The overall comedy fest — which features the likes of Chris Rock, Larry David, Sarah Jessica Parker and Diane Keaton — will have all kinds of panels and screenings that run from today through Sunday.

Saturday afternoon’s panel examining the role of comedy and satire in politics, which is being sponsored in part by the liberal Center for American Progress, will have fair representation from both sides and will be moderated by NBC’s Campbell Brown.

There will be plenty of fireworks when liberal celebs such as Garofalo and “Doonesbury” creator Garry Trudeau, who has been raising questions in recent days about the president’s service in the National Guard, do battle with Bush media adviser Mark McKinnon and Murphy (whose experience as an adviser for California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has taught him a little something about the nexus between entertainment and politics).

The panel will also feature radio talk show host Phil Hendrie and Stephen Colbert, correspondent and writer for “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart,” whose show has been at the forefront of blending politics and comedy.

“Comedy keeps becoming an increasingly important venue for candidates so we thought it would not only be timely but a fun thing to do,” Craig Minassian, director of HBO’s comedy festival, told HOH. “Who is better at co-opting comedy and entertainment to advance their cause, candidate or agenda?”

Cooper, who covers the White House for Time and dabbles in stand-up comedy, thinks he has an answer to the mystery about which side has a better sense of humor.

“I tend to think the party out of power is funnier,” Cooper told HOH. “The right was funnier in the Clinton years because there was so much to work with. Now the left is having a ball with the president’s War on ... English.”

Cooper added helpfully, “You can capitalize ‘W’ in ‘War’ and ‘E’ in ‘English.’”

Italian-Irish Alliance. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is throwing a bash in the Capitol today to honor former Washington Post columnist Mary McGrory.

Pelosi is holding the 1 p.m. reception with Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.) for lawmakers and members of the media who want to honor the work of McGrory, a gifted wordsmith who had to give up writing her sharp and witty column last year due to illness.

One special guest will be Matt McCarthy, an aide to Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), who happens to be a cousin of the former columnist.

Pelosi noted that “everyone felt her presence” when the Pulitzer Prize winner entered a hearing room or prowled the Capitol corridors during 50 years with the Post and The Washington Star before that.

“I join Mary’s millions of dedicated readers across the country who miss reading her insights every week,” Pelosi told HOH. “I wish her much happiness in her retirement.”

Walk Down Camelot Lane. Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-R.I.) is rolling out rare photos of his late aunt, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, to kick off The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s 2004 Mission Day today.

The evening reception in Room 2105 of the Rayburn House Office Building will feature an exhibit of extremely rare photos of Jackie O, who died from non-Hodgkins lymphoma 10 years ago.

The photos were shot by family photographer Jacques Lowe, whose negatives had been housed in the World Trade Center and were destroyed during the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

“These prints,” Kennedy wrote in a letter to colleagues, “are the only reproductions of his work.”

It’s a Jungle Out There. As if this election year hasn’t produced enough monkeying around, Jim Fowler from Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom is bringing some of his animals to Capitol Hill on March 31.

“Here’s your chance to not only meet and have your picture taken with one of the nation’s most beloved animal handlers, but also see him in action!” boasts an invite to the dinner buffet in the Rayburn Building.

Fowler will be bringing along a cuddly tiger cub, a long-faced coatimundi, a giant python, an alligator, “an ornery Snapping Turtle,” and a “travel weary Spur Tortoise,” according to the invitation circulating around the Hill.

If you can’t wait until the end of the month to get your fix, the Animal Planet is inviting Members and Hill staff to a reception Thursday night honoring Jane Goodall. The event at Discovery’s Silver Spring, Md., headquarters will feature a screening of the world-renowned primatologist’s “Return to Gombe,” which is where she began her quest to raise awareness of chimpanzees more than 40 years ago.

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