Miller Time

Posted January 20, 2004 at 6:26pm

The senior staff at President Bush’s re-election headquarters in Northern Virginia had a special guest at their morning meeting Tuesday: comedian Dennis Miller, who’s about to launch a new show on CNBC.

“I went to ask if anybody else saw Howard Dean go crazy [Tuesday] night,” Miller cracked to HOH about the former Vermont governor’s bizarre performance after finding out he had finished third in the Iowa caucuses. “I wondered if I was hallucinating.”

After the meeting with the Bush staff, Miller was on Capitol Hill for a series of courtesy meetings with potential guests for his interview program, including Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.).

The man who used to have ABC’s “Monday Night Football” as the platform for his wry commentary will continue the charm offensive tonight at a cocktail party for VIPs at the Occidental Grill.

Barkin’ at Harkin. Dean raised plenty of eyebrows with his raging and rambling speech after finishing third in the Iowa caucuses.

But allies of Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), who introduced Dean at the rally, were also flabbergasted by the way he seized the microphone from Harkin’s hands.

Dean topped it all off by then handing his coat to Harkin, who appeared as if he didn’t know quite what to do with it.

Harkin shook it all off yesterday when he attended a press conference with Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), who stumped for the winner in Iowa.

“My guy was doing fine until Kennedy showed up!” Harkin joked.

Water Torture. When Frist and Sen. John Sununu (R-N.H.) headed up to the Granite State over the weekend to stump for Bush, the evening at the famed Wayfarer Inn in Bedford turned into a comedy of errors.

First, part of the ceiling in the hotel lobby caved in after a frozen pipe burst. Then as Sununu delivered his remarks to the state Republican Party dinner in a banquet room, a TV light grew so hot that it set off some of the sprinklers.

Sununu’s speech was delayed by about five minutes as staffers tried to clean off some of the dinner tables that were soaked. “It certainly didn’t damper the spirits of the crowd,” Frist spokesman Bob Stevenson insisted to HOH.

Frist faced hardship of his own when the water issues led to a little trouble with the electrical system. As the Majority Leader began his attacks on the Democratic presidential candidates, some of the lights went out.

The Senator noted that he had been told that the Democratic-connected Dunphy family owned the hotel. “But I didn’t believe it until now,” he quipped.

Kerry’s E-Mail Surge. Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) wasn’t even the presidential frontrunner for 24 hours before he started ruffling some feathers in the media.

Kerry’s e-mail server just so happened to crash on the night he won the Iowa caucuses, so the pace of press releases being distributed to reporters got thrown out of whack. And the security mechanism on the server was briefly dislodged, so reporters who hit “reply” to e-mails from the Kerry campaign had the responses sent to everyone on the distribution list. As a result, hundreds of people were eavesdropping in on the nasty little tiff that ensued.

This led to an annoying moment for Chip Scutari, a reporter for the Arizona Republic, who didn’t know that his sunny response to a Kerry press aide was copied to other journalists: “Congrats on the big Iowa win. It will be interesting to see how your candidate does in Arizona!”

But the person who really got his shorts in a bunch was Mark Casey, news director for KPNX-TV in Phoenix. “Please stop clogging my e-mail box with these messages,” Casey demanded, adding that he wanted the campaign to “cease this SPAM immediately.”

Jim Vesely, a reporter for The Seattle Times, then picked up on Casey’s rant by declaring in his own e-mail: “boy, amen to that, Kerry’s campaign is not doing anybody any favors.”

But Nancy McCord of The Financial Times couldn’t help but note that her colleagues were only adding to the spam by writing that “your messages to the entire email group are not helping the email group — nor the kerry campaign … so stop it please!”

It was only appropriate that a reporter from New Hampshire, site of the next showdown for the presidential candidates, stole the show. “Can’t we all just get along?” wrote Sherry Hughes of the Keene Sentinel.

Kerry spokesman David DiMartino apologized about the server problem but didn’t seem psyched about Casey’s comments. “We never imagined that a news director would be so disinterested in news,” he said. “After using our system to get his message out to thousands of reporters we figure he owes us some free airtime on his station.”

Move Over Martha. With Martha Stewart in hot water, House aide Melissa McKay may be ready to fill her shoes. Or at least her cookie sheets.

McKay, spokeswoman for Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), is featured in this month’s issue of Better Homes and Gardens. She won first place (along with $400) in a recipe contest with her original “Peanut Butter and Chocolate Cookie Sandwiches.” (No, they’re not low-carb.)

“I was trying to keep it on the down-low,” McKay joked to HOH. “Unfortunately, some people saw the magazine.”

Now that her baking skills have been revealed, the bachelorette’s stock can only rise. She has previously been seen about town on the arm of rocker Pete Yorn and tennis ace Bob Bryan.

“It is one of my biggest priorities in the 108th Congress to marry Melissa off to a good old-fashioned Midwestern boy, but, alas, she seems to be content with her rock stars and athletes,” King quipped.

Star Is Born. The star turn continues for Luke Albee, chief of staff to Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), who won major kudos in a nonfiction book published last year about the anthrax scare of 2001.

Now comes word that Albee’s fourth-floor office in the Russell Senate Office Building is the model that author Brad Meltzer used for the stomping grounds of the main character in his new novel, “The Zero Game.”

It’s a Washington-based thriller about a friendly wager between a couple of Hill staffers that mushrooms into the misappropriation of funds for terrorist activities against the United States.

Meltzer, who will host Leahy and other VIPs at a D.C. book party tonight, stressed that the lead character’s situation is not based on Albee’s life. “He gets into far more trouble than Luke would ever want to be in,” said the author.

The idea for the book came after Meltzer heard about two aides who got so tired of fetching their Senator’s laundry that they decided to get even by tossing the words “dry cleaning” into one of the boss’ speeches. (“Although many people think of the environment as an issue that is dry, cleaning it should be our top priority,” the obtuse Senator declares.)

Albee, who does not gamble on Congress or try to sneak tricky phrases into Leahy’s speeches, was hailed in Marilyn Thompson’s book “The Killer Strain: Anthrax and a Government Exposed” for his calm response to the biological scare. And he’s taking his second literary connection in stride.

“You can accurately report that I’m speechless,” Albee told HOH.

Gephardt Out, Tanner In? While Rep. Richard Gephardt (Mo.) officially dropped out of the race for the White House on Tuesday, he may pop up on your television screen as a presidential candidate again next month.

That’s because the Sundance Channel has decided to re-air all 11 original episodes of “Tanner ’88,” a groundbreaking docudrama about the fictitious 1988 presidential candidacy of Jack Tanner, who faced off with real ’88 candidates such as Gephardt, Al Gore and Michael Dukakis.

Like HBO’s recent flop “K Street,” “Tanner ’88” blends real-life footage into its script, including cameos by ’88 contenders such as Bob Dole and Gary Hart.

The new run will air at 9 p.m. Tuesdays from Feb. 3 through April 13.

The Gamblers. Bet you never thought you’d read about Pete Rose and Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) in the same sentence.

Rose and Jeff Nussbaum, former speechwriter for Daschle, have both cracked The New York Times bestseller list with new tomes. Nussbaum co-wrote “Had Enough,” a book that beats up on the Republican Party, with some guy named James Carville.

“They’re both about gambling,” Nussbaum said. “It’s just that James and I are talking about Republicans gambling America’s future.”

Emily Pierce and Paul Kane contributed to this report.