Sen. Claire McCaskill's (D-Mo.) already challenging re-election campaign was dealt a blow this week when it was first reported that she billed taxpayers for travel on a private plane. Things got worse when it was further reported that one of those flights was for a purely political trip. Her opponents haven't been shy about pouncing on the issue: Republican Ed Martin launched "airclaire.com" to attack McCaskill and raise money off the issue, while former state Treasurer Sarah Steelman (R) sent supporters an email titled "McCaskill JET-tisons Tax Payer Dollars!" Given McCaskill's image as a reformer and fiscal conservative, this scandal may take a real toll. If anyone thinks Sen. Dick Lugar (R-Ind.) is going to switch parties or run as an independent, think again. Not only has his office reaffirmed his intention of running as a Republican, but requirements for running as an independent in Indiana are especially tough. Indiana has a "sore loser" law which prohibits running again after losing in a primary for the same seat. Around 34,000 petitions are required for a candidate who does not enter the primary process, and in 2000, Ralph Nader couldn't achieve that in his presidential bid. As expected, congressional freshmen held all the cards this week as House Speaker John Boehner, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid continued to invoke the seemingly empty threat of a government shutdown. Given the uncertain political fallout associated with a shutdown, both Democratic and GOP leaders continue to work tirelessly behind closed doors for a resolution. Meanwhile, the new class continues to wield its power -- from Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) rebuking President Obama's lack of leadership in the budget talks to Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) asking for more cuts before he voted against the House CR. Watch next week for the budget battle to take center stage again -- and it could have far-reaching implications for some of the most vulnerable freshmen incumbents. Democrats are making the 87 House freshmen among their top targets going into 2012, especially those who just won narrow victories in left-leaning districts. They rode their cutting-spending mantra to victories in 2010, but many are quickly getting a sharp dose of reality -- the halls of Congress are much different than the campaign trail. This is among the first issues Democrats have already seized on and will continue to emphasize as they try to take back the House. Although tonight's Gridiron Club annual dinner will include Washington's most famous journalists and editors, C-SPAN cameras will once again not be allowed inside the event. The dinner is not off the record, but Club President Susan Page -- who also works for USA Today -- discourages attendees from taking photos or video, "blogging, tweeting, or updating their Facebook status." And there will be no shortage of newsmakers at the event: Obama and Daniels will both be in attendance.
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