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AL-5: Still Just One Parker

It appears Alabama Rep. Parker Griffith, the newest member of the Republican Party, will remain the sole Parker in the 5th District race after Public Service Commissioner Susan Parker (D) decided she will not challenge him in 2010. If nothing else, Parker's decision, announced yesterday, means there will likely be less confusion than in 2008, when Parker Griffith -- then a Democrat -- ran against Wayne Parker (R).

"During the past week, I have been honored and humbled by the encouragement I have received to run for the 5th congressional seat," Parker wrote in statement, according to the Huntsville Times. "However, I have decided to continue my campaign for reelection to the Public Service Commission."

The 5th District has never elected a Republican to Congress, and Griffith's party switch makes him vulnerable now to both a competitive GOP primary and general election. With Parker not running, the Times reports other potential Democrats include: Madison County Commissioner Bob Harrison, political consultant Steve Raby, county License Director Mark Craig, state Rep. Randy Hinshaw and Anthony Daniels, a former state Senate candidate.

FEC: Candidates Raised $1.4 Billion In 2008

House and Senate candidates in the 2008 election cycle collectively raised more than $1.4 billion and spent nearly as much, according to a new report from the Federal Elections Commission. Despite a slight decrease from the 2006 cycle, those totals -- 80 percent higher than the 1996 cycle -- illustrate the increasing importance of money in federal elections.

The amount of money successful House candidates raised and spent in the 2008 cycle doubled from 1996, when winners raised $322 million and spent $297 million. During the last cycle, winning candidates raised $636 million and spent $596 million. The same is true in the Senate: winners in 2008 raised $269 million and spent $264 million; winners in 1996 raised $125 million and spent $128 million.

At $799 million, individual donors gave 56 percent of the total amount raised by congressional candidates, while PACs accounted for $380 million in campaign receipts (27 percent). Candidates for Senate raised a higher percentage of money (64 percent) from individuals than House candidates did (54 percent).

The total amount given by PACs is $30 million more than in 2006 and $180 million more than in 1996. Since that year, PACs have accounted for between 24 and 28 percent House and Senate campaign receipts.

The FEC also released lists of the Top 50 House and Senate candidate receipts for the 2008 cycle. At $7.9 million, Doug Ose, a former California congressman, raised more than any other House candidate, but didn't make it to the general election. After mostly self-funding his campaign, Ose lost the Republican primary to now-Rep. Tom McClintock (R-Calif.). Freshman Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) raised the second-most at $7.4 million, followed by Republican Sandy Treadwell ($7.0 million), who lost to then-Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.).

Then-Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.) raised $19.3 million in the 2008 cycle and was topped only by his Democratic challenger, now-Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), who took in $22.5 million. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) raised the third-most ($18.7 million) in a challenging re-election campaign.

California Rep. Radanovich (R) Retiring

Rep. George Radanovich (R-Calif.) announced today he will not seek re-election in 2010, citing the health of his wife.

"As many already know, Ethie has been valiantly fighting ovarian cancer for nearly three years. My family needs me, and I intend to be by their side to win this battle," Radanovich said in a statement.

Following a string of retirements by Democrats in swing districts, most had been watching for more on that side of the aisle to step down with a difficult political landsape next year. Although more Republicans in the House have announced their retirements than Democrats, Radanovich becomes the first to do so without seeking higher office -- most of the other 12 are running for governor or Senate.

National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Pete Sessions remains confident the seat will stay in GOP hands. John McCain won California's 19th District with just 52 percent, down significantly from George W. Bush's 61 percent take in 2004. However, 2008 was a strong year for Democrats with Barack Obama at the top of the ticket, and 2010 looks far more perilous for Dems in GOP-leaning districts.

"I am confident that the Republican nominee will emerge victorious from this race and will follow in Congressman Radanovich's legacy of fiscal responsibility and limited government," Sessions said in a released statement. "As George did for so long, the Republican in this race will also fight for the Central Valley's agricultural and water supply interests."

Radanovich endorsed State Sen. Jeff Denham in his retirement statement this afternoon. The 8-term congressman ran unopposed in 2008 and never won re-election with less than 60 percent of the vote.

The retirement of Radanovich, first elected to Congress in 1994 when the GOP took back Congress, means no more than 14 Republicans from that class will remain in the House in 2011.

AL-05: Sparks Staying In Gubernatorial Race

After considering a bid for Congress in the wake of Parker Griffith's party-switch, Alabama Agriculture Commissioner Ron Sparks told the Associated Press this morning that he will remain a candidate for governor. A formal announcement was due shortly in Huntsville.

Sparks told the Associated Press that he was more committed to running for governor than ever and that he was in the governor's race to stay.


Some Democrats in Washington had urged Sparks to change races after 5th District Rep. Parker Griffith of Huntsville became a Republican last week. Sparks said he was honored by the interest, but feels he has made a commitment to the people of Alabama to run for governor.

Sparks would have given Democrats a strong candidate in that race now that Griffith is a Republican, though Sparks would have had to move to run there. He is not alone in running for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, however, and the campaign of one of his rivals, Rep. Artur Davis (D), took aim at Sparks for flirting with the Congressional race:

"While Artur Davis is focused on a bold new agenda for our state, Ron Sparks has spent the last week trying to get permission from his political bosses in Montgomery to see if they would let him run for Congress in a district he does not even live in. This is the same Ron Sparks who said just a few weeks ago that he wishes he could run for Agricultural Commissioner again; the same Ron Sparks who was set to run for Lieutenant Governor until the special interests in Montgomery told him they had some other plans for him."

The Week Ahead: Working Vacation

Are you ready for the Eagle Bank Bowl? UCLA vs. Temple is about all that you can count on this week in the nation's capital. Here's the RCP Week Ahead.

The White House: Mahalo! President Obama is enjoying a "working vacation" in the nation's 50th state this week. It's a week away that became less of an escape when a Delta flight was subject to an attempted terrorist attack. While the Obama family hit the beach on Sunday, Obama himself is on guard monitoring the new situation in airline travel. He'll make a statement to the press on camera this morning.

Members of Congress are already talking about hearings to look into the new potential threat. From the administration, an unfortunate gaffe by Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano. "The system worked as it should," she said on CNN this Sunday, responding to the incident on a Detroit-bound flight.

The Capitol: Members of Congress are at home this week, but the leadership of both chambers is hard at work negotiating differences in the House and Senate versions of health care legislation this week. Senators claimed Sunday that the final draft will more closely resemble the Senate's version of the complicated legislation.

"If we are going to have a final law, it will look a lot more like the Senate version than the House version," Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) said on "Fox News Sunday." "I'm sure there'll be some compromises, but at the end of the day, I would expect that it will look very much like the Senate version."

Politics: As we mentioned last week, the pressure is on vulnerable incumbents and top GOP recruits to make a show of strength in their campaign fundraising for the period that ends this Thursday night. Don't be surprised to see a retirement or party switch this week, Rep. Parker Griffith's decision to become a Republican is likely the biggest blow for Democrats this month.

On "Fox News Sunday," Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chair Chris Van Hollen said Democrats are "not going to be surprised like in 1994." "We've been preparing from day one," he said. "Is this going to be a tough year? Yeah, and we're ready to fight. Is it going to be another 1994? No."

** Poll Watch
Obama Job Performance: Approve 49.5 / Disapprove 45.1
Congress Job Performance: Approve 27.4 / Disapprove 65.8
Generic Ballot Test: Republicans +2.5

** In Case You Missed It: For this final week of the decade (the '00s? the oughts?), our friends at "First Read" have a good round-up of "Best of" lists, including Best Speech, Biggest Risers, Biggest Downfalls, and Statewide Races.

--Mike Memoli and Kyle Trygstad

Obama Praises Senate Health Care Vote

President Obama gave the following remarks this morning from the State Dining Room in the White House in response to the Senate passing health care reform:

Good morning, everybody. In a historic vote that took place this morning members of the Senate joined their colleagues in the House of Representatives to pass a landmark health insurance reform package -- legislation that brings us toward the end of a nearly century-long struggle to reform America's health care system.

Ever since Teddy Roosevelt first called for reform in 1912, seven Presidents -- Democrats and Republicans alike -- have taken up the cause of reform. Time and time again, such efforts have been blocked by special interest lobbyists who've perpetuated a status quo that works better for the insurance industry than it does for the American people. But with passage of reform bills in both the House and the Senate, we are now finally poised to deliver on the promise of real, meaningful health insurance reform that will bring additional security and stability to the American people.

The reform bill that passed the Senate this morning, like the House bill, includes the toughest measures ever taken to hold the insurance industry accountable. Insurance companies will no longer be able to deny you coverage on the basis of a preexisting condition. They will no longer be able to drop your coverage when you get sick. No longer will you have to pay unlimited amounts out of your own pocket for the treatments you need. And you'll be able to appeal unfair decisions by insurance companies to an independent party.

If this legislation becomes law, workers won't have to worry about losing coverage if they lose or change jobs. Families will save on their premiums. Businesses that would see their costs rise if we do not act will save money now, and they will save money in the future. This bill will strengthen Medicare, and extend the life of the program. It will make coverage affordable for over 30 million Americans who do not have it -- 30 million Americans. And because it is paid for and curbs the waste and inefficiency in our health care system, this bill will help reduce our deficit by as much as $1.3 trillion in the coming decades, making it the largest deficit reduction plan in over a decade.

As I've said before, these are not small reforms; these are big reforms. If passed, this will be the most important piece of social policy since the Social Security Act in the 1930s, and the most important reform of our health care system since Medicare passed in the 1960s. And what makes it so important is not just its cost savings or its deficit reductions. It's the impact reform will have on Americans who no longer have to go without a checkup or prescriptions that they need because they can't afford them; on families who no longer have to worry that a single illness will send them into financial ruin; and on businesses that will no longer face exorbitant insurance rates that hamper their competitiveness. It's the difference reform will make in the lives of the American people.

I want to commend Senator Harry Reid, extraordinary work that he did; Speaker Pelosi for her extraordinary leadership and dedication. Having passed reform bills in both the House and the Senate, we now have to take up the last and most important step and reach an agreement on a final reform bill that I can sign into law. And I look forward to working with members of Congress in both chambers over the coming weeks to do exactly that.

With today's vote, we are now incredibly close to making health insurance reform a reality in this country. Our challenge, then, is to finish the job. We can't doom another generation of Americans to soaring costs and eroding coverage and exploding deficits. Instead we need to do what we were sent here to do and improve the lives of the people we serve. For the sake of our citizens, our economy, and our future, let's make 2010 the year we finally reform health care in the United States of America.

Everybody, Merry Christmas, Happy New Year.

After Passing Health Care Reform, Senators Hit the Road

By a 60-39 vote margin, the Senate passed early this morning comprehensive health care reform, just before Democrats' Christmas deadline. With the House having already passed its version of the bill, the 7 a.m. Christmas Eve vote begins the next big step in the process -- House and Senate conference.

Now, reconciling the two bills may be at least as difficult as passing them out of each chamber, and it's unclear whether it will happen before President Obama's first State of the Union Address next month or the beginning of February.

This is the closest Congress has ever come to passing health care reform, and Democratic leadership didn't take that lightly in comments following the vote.

"This is a victory for the American people," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), whose colleagues lavished praise on him for guiding the massive bill through a highly partisan Senate. "We have affirmed that the ability to afford a healthy life in America is a right and not merely a privilege for the wealthy."

Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) said Reid "navigated the waters" and Majority Whip Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) said Reid will always be remembered for making this one of the "shining chapters of the United States Senate." Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said he "watched with awe" as Reid sheparded the bill through.

Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), who presided over the HELP Committee's work on the bill in Ted Kennedy's absence, called this "probably the most important vote that every member of this Caucus will cast."

Kennedy's widow, Vicki, watched the vote from the Senate viewing gallery.

In sub-freezing temperatures in the nation's capital, Cadillacs and Suburbans lined up outside the Capitol awaiting the senators who would scurry out en route to the airport.

Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) was the first to leave, waving to his colleagues as he jogged out of the chamber. Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) skipped the post-vote press conference to make her flight. Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), no stranger to snow which is still blanketing the Capitol grounds, was wearing New Balance sneakers during the vote.

Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.), the longest serving member of the House after being elected in 1955, watched the vote from the Senate viewing gallery. Just outside the gallery doors, Dingell said, "I've been waiting for this for 54 years."

KY Sen Poll: With Bunning Out, GOP Could Hold Seat

Both Republican candidates have an early advantage over the two Democrats in the Kentucky Senate race, according to a new Public Policy Polling (D) survey (1,199 RVs, 12/18-21, MoE +/- 2.8%).

General Election Matchups
Grayson 40 -- Conway 33 -- Und 27
Grayson 44 -- Mongiardo 35 -- Und 21

Paul 42 -- Conway 36 -- Und 22
Paul 42 -- Mongiardo 36 -- Und 22

A previous PPP survey found physician Rand Paul (R) and Attorney General Jack Conway (D) leading their respective primaries.

Sen. Jim Bunning's (R) decision to retire, under heavy pressure from fellow Republicans, proves especially helpful to the party, as his job approval rating is just 29 percent. Conway and Lt. Gov. Dan Mongiardo were both considered solid Democratic candidates, but the current political environment seems to especially troublesome for the party in Kentucky.

President Obama's job approval rating is just 35 percent, while 59 percent disapprove. Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear also has net-negative approval rating, with 36 percent approving and 39 percent disapproving. Mongiardo was elected jointly with Beshear in 2007, and that unpopularity seems to spill over as his favorable rating is the worst in the field.

Favorable Ratings
Conway 19 / 18
Mongiardo 25 / 37
Grayson 19 / 17
Paul 26 / 23


Kentucky independents are overwhelmingly leaning toward the GOP, giving Grayson and Paul leads ranging from 25 to 34 points over the Democratic contenders. Republicans are also more unified, with their candidates taking anywhere from 69-75% of their party's votes in contrast to the Democrats who snag just 54-61% support from within their party.

House Republican Leaders Welcome Rep. Griffith To The GOP

House Republican leaders welcomed Rep. Parker Griffith (R-Ala.) to the party yesterday, though their statements mostly focused more on criticizing the Democratic majority than on Griffith himself. Here are excerpts from some of the statements::

Minority Whip Eric Cantor: "When a Member of Congress decides to leave a 258 seat majority to join a deep minority, it is a sure sign that the majority party has become completely disconnected from seniors, young workers, and families in America. From the massive stimulus bill that wasted billions of dollars and failed to create jobs, to a job-killing cap and trade energy tax, to a government takeover of health care - the Democrat majority has pursued an agenda far outside the mainstream."

Minority Leader John Boehner: "Democratic leaders should seize this opportunity to reevaluate their entire job-killing agenda, starting with Senator Reid's 2,733-page government takeover of health care. House Republicans will continue to offer the American people better solutions to address their everyday challenges, an effort that will surely benefit from Congressman Griffith's leadership."

GOP Conference Chair Mike Pence: "Congressman Griffith's historic decision should send a deafening message that the Obama-Pelosi agenda of borrowing, spending, bailouts and takeovers is being rejected by the American people."

Health Care Spotlight Now On Liberal House Democrats

With the Senate set for a final vote on health care reform Thursday morning at 8 a.m., the forthcoming House and Senate conference moves front stage as the two chambers figure out how to reconcile their differences.

The House bill, which passed by a slim 5-vote margin, contains the public option, which some liberal members have demanded to be included in a final bill. However, Senate Democrats are expected to have no wiggle room, as getting the necessary 60 senators on board for the less progressive Senate bill has taken months. If just one Democrat declines to support the conference report, the bill will die.

So the spotlight is on liberal Democrats and how they will react if the bill that comes out of conference does not include the public option, as well as what the abortion language will look like.

In a statement released yesterday, Congressional Progressive Caucus Co-Chair Raul Grijalva (D-N.M.) was vague on what exactly he and his 82-member group would support. He did not demand the public option be included in the merged House and Senate health care reform bills, but instead ticked off components of the House bill "that must not be dismissed": public option, strong insurance regulatory reform, affordability protection, employer mandate and a tax surcharge for the wealthy.

"I look forward to working with the House and Senate leadership to pass a final bill that will help the most people and create a realistic pathway to future improvements," said Grijalva. "My support for the ongoing reform effort is predicated on the belief that such a bill is within reach and can be passed in the short term. If a bill with these features is pursued, I will be proud to support it."

In an interview with Roll Call, Grijalva did say there would need to be changes to the Senate bill in conference for it to win enough support in the House, whether Sens. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) and Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.) like it or not. "They've had their way up to this point," Grijalva said. "For either them or the Senate to expect to send their bill as is through the House is going to be very difficult."

For their part, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer have only indicated that they are ready to work with the Senate to merge the two bills.

"We welcome the developments today in the Senate, and we look forward to reviewing the bill the Senate passes," they said in a statement Monday morning. "The Democratic Caucus is committed to middle class affordability, security for our seniors, responsibility to our children, and accountability for the insurance industry. On that basis, we look forward to working with the Obama Administration, the Senate, and our Caucus to reconcile our bills and send final legislation to the President's desk as soon as possible."

DCCC Chair Van Hollen Statement On Griffith

Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Chris Van Hollen released the following statement today just as Alabama Rep. Parker Griffith was beginning his press conference in Huntsville to announce he is switching to the Republican Party:

"House Democratic Members and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee took Parker Griffith at his word and, as a result, invested a great deal in working with Alabamans to bring Mr. Griffith to Congress. We were committed to helping Mr. Griffith deliver for his constituents and successfully helped Mr. Griffith fend off the personal attacks against him from the far right.

"Mr. Griffith, failing to honor our commitment to him, has a duty and responsibility to return to Democratic Members and the DCCC the financial resources that were invested in him. His constituents will hold him accountable for failing to keep his commitments."

UPDATE: National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Pete Sessions has also released a statement on today's news:

I am pleased to welcome Parker Griffith to the Republican Party. Congressman Griffith's party affiliation may have changed, but his conservative principles, values and commitment to Alabama families has never wavered. "I am also thankful to the Alabama Republican congressional delegation - Spencer Bachus, Robert Aderholt, Jo Bonner, and Mike Rogers - for welcoming their friend and colleague with open arms. Whether standing up for a strong Missile Defense Program or opposing a wasteful stimulus bill, a job-killing National Energy Tax, and a government takeover of healthcare - Parker Griffith put the interests of his constituents ahead of Nancy Pelosi's reckless ideological agenda that Washington Democrats have pursued at the expense of job creation. "This decision is emblematic of the message that millions of concerned citizens have been trying to send to a Democrat Party that has become increasingly unwilling to listen. Whether Democrat leaders choose to pay attention now or wait for the electorate to send them a resounding message next November, Parker Griffith's willingness to put the interests of his district first sends a positive signal to others who have grown just as disappointed with their party as the American people have."

MN-6 Poll: Bachmann Lookin' Good

Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) has been a national lightning rod since entering Congress in January 2007 and one in Minnesota long before that. But the second-term congresswoman from Stillwater still has support in her 6th District and they don't mind her focus on being a national conservative leader, according to a new poll by Public Policy Polling.

The survey finds 53 percent approving of Bachmann's job performance, including 51 percent of independents. Just more than a third of voters said they find Bachmann's political views to be extremist and about the same amount say she is too conservative. Compare that to the 54 percent who say her views are not extremist and 56 percent who think she's not too conservative -- she's about right -- and it's clear why she holds healthy leads over two potential Democratic opponents.

Bachmann leads state Sen. Tarryl Clark by a 55%-37% margin, and holds a 53%-37% lead over Maureen Reed, a doctor and 2006 Independence Party nominee for lietenant governor.

Asked about how Bachmann spends her time in Washington, 32 percent said she focuses more on advocating for the 6th District and 48 percent said her focus is on being "a leader in the National Conservative Movement."

While Bachmann enjoys majority support, Democrats and Republicans in Congress do not -- 55 percent disapprove of the job Republicans are doing and 62% disapprove of Democrats.

The survey was taken Dec. 17-20 of 719 registered voters in the district, with a margin of error of +/- 3.7%.

Diaz-Balart Brothers Un-Endorse Crist

In what could be a major blow to the Senate campaign of Florida Gov. Charlie Crist (R), Reps. Lincoln and Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.) have both withdrawn their endorsements of him. The Diaz-Balart brothers are of Cuban descent and represent Miami congressional districts with large Cuban populations that lean Republican.

From McClatchy Newspapers:

Lincoln Diaz-Balart in a phone interview Tuesday offered few details, just that Crist had "left us no alternative and he knows why.'' ... The move is a setback to the governor's campaign, which has struggled in recent weeks with sliding poll numbers. Lincoln Diaz-Balart said the withdrawal has nothing to do with Crist's recent political performance and said the decision was made weeks ago. But their names were only recently pulled off Crist's Web page.

Lincoln Diaz-Balart said the brothers are unlikely to endorse anyone else in the race -- including former House Speaker Marco Rubio.

Lincoln Diaz-Balart has represented Florida's 21st District, which at 71% has the highest Latino population in the state, since 1992. Mario has repped the 25th District, with a 67% Latino population, since 1992.

Alabama GOP Chairman Comments On Griffith's Switch

It's still unclear how Alabama Rep. Parker Griffith's switch to the Republican Party today will be received in the GOP, though conservatives -- per and Club for Growth -- don't appear enamored with it.

As for the GOP establishment, here is a statement from Alabama GOP Chairman Mike Hubbard:

"It was a pleasant surprise when Congressman Griffith called me this morning to inform me that he is leaving the Democrats to become a Republican. However, it is not a surprise that Griffith realized the Democrat Party has now become more liberal than ever - making Obama, Reid and Nancy Pelosi the gifts that keep on giving for the Republican Party. The Alabama Republican Party has a strong strategy it is implementing for 2010. We are right on the issues and our candidates will reflect our platform of lower taxes and smaller government. It is obvious that the people of Alabama are embracing our plan as the Party picked up two former Democrat seats in summer Special Elections - one of those being Griffith's former state Senate seat. The winds of change are strong in Alabama as we have raised more money than ever for 2010 and we are coming with an aggressive plan that we believe will forever reshape the political landscape. I challenge Democrats running in 2010 to make a choice. Do you want to stand with us and fight the Obama/Pelosi/Reid Administration, or do you want to stand with them and defend them? It's a choice Parker Griffith made today."

KY Sen Poll: Paul Takes Commanding Lead In GOP Race

The same grassroots energy that propelled Ron Paul from a little-known Congressman to a force in the presidential primaries now seems to be transferring to his son in his Senate run in Kentucky. Public Policy Polling's (D) latest survey shows him easily ahead of Secretary of State Trey Grayson, who was recruited by the national party after Sen. Jim Bunning (R) was pressured not to seek re-election.

Republican Primary Election Matchup
Paul 44
Grayson 25
Und 32

Some of Paul's advantage seems to come from a name-ID edge, somewhat surprising given that Grayson is a statewide officeholder and Paul is a political newcomer.

Favorable Ratings
Grayson 22 / 15
Paul 39 / 13

From the polling memo:

Paul is winning the votes of conservatives by a 47-20 margin, while Grayson holds a 36- 34 lead with moderates. Paul is having a particularly good amount of success with folks who think that the Republican Party in Washington has become too liberal- his lead with them is 54-18. Paul's support is universal across demographic lines, as he is up with men, women, voters in every region of the state, and every group of the GOP electorate broken down by age.

On the Democratic side, Attorney General Jack Conway holds a slight lead over Lt. Gov. Dan Mongiardo in what could be one of the toughest contests in the party nationwide.

Democratic Primary Election Matchup
Conway 37
Mongiardo 33
Und 30

Favorable Ratings
Conway 27 / 15
Mongiardo 40 / 27

Rep. Parker Griffith (D-Ala.) To Switch Parties

Rep. Parker Griffith (D-Ala.) is expected to become the second member of Congress this year to switch parties, according to a report by Politico. Griffith, a freshman in a historically-Democratic yet vulnerable district, will announce his decision this afternoon in Alabama and denounce the health care reform bill as a main reason for the move.

From Politico:

Griffith's party switch comes on the eve of a pivotal congressional health care vote and will send a jolt through a Democratic House Caucus that has already been unnerved by the recent retirements of a handful of members who, like Griffith, hail from districts that offer prime pickup opportunities for the GOP in 2010.

The switch represents a coup for House Republican leadership, which had been courting Griffith since he publicly criticized Democratic leadership in the wake of raucous town halls over the summer.

Although Alabama's 5th District has voted Republican in every presidential contest since 1980, it has never elected a Republican to Congress. It covers the entire northern border of the state and includes Huntsville. Griffith succeeded nine-term Rep. Bud Cramer (D) after just a 3-point victory last year, when John McCain won the district with 61% of the vote.

Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter switched from the Republican to Democratic Party earlier this year to avoid a tough GOP primary. However, Specter now faces an incredibly challenging Democratic primary, and -- should he win -- a difficult general election battle.

Griffith could face GOP primary opposition, as two Republicans had already announced they were running to challenge him -- Madison County Commissioner Mo Brooks and businessman Les Phillip, a Navy veteran.

CT Sen: Dodd, McMahon Tout Internal Polls

In a bit of pre-holiday posturing, Sen. Chris Dodd (D) and one of his Republican challengers are touting the results of internal polling that shows each, not surprisingly, running strong in the Connecticut Senate race.

Connecticut Democrats released a memo from Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research (601 LVs, 12/15-17, MoE +/- showing that the embattled Dodd tied WWE CEO Linda McMahon and just behind former Rep. Rob Simmons (R).

General Election Matchup
Simmons 51 -- Dodd 46
Dodd 46 -- McMahon 46

After voters are read "positive and negative information" about each candidate, Dodd takes a 5-point lead over McMahon, and closes to 49-48 behind Simmons. The partisan poll also claims that the partisan environment in Connecticut "remains among the best for Democrats out of any state in the country."

President Obama is viewed favorably by a 2 to 1 margin, and the Democratic Party receives a favorable-unfavorable rating of 51 to 37 percent (+14 points). By contrast, the Republican Party is viewed very unfavorably and receives a poor rating of 29 percent favorable to 49 percent unfavorable (-20 points).

Meanwhile, McMahon released results of her own poll, conducted by Moore Information (400 GOP RVs, 12/15-16, MoE +/- 5%) showing her slightly ahead in the Republican primary.

Primary Election Matchup
McMahon 37
Simmons 35
Schiff 4
Und 25

From the Moore Information memo:

In a little over three months she has gone from being a virtual unknown to now leading the GOP primary race for U.S. Senate. Despite a constant drumbeat of negative attacks by the Simmons camp, Linda is viewed more favorably than Rob Simmons and less negatively. Additionally, Simmons' image and ballot support remain flat and despite the fact the race has winnowed down to three candidates he has now fallen into second place.

SC Gov Poll: Tight Primary Battles

A new Insider Advantage/Majority Opinion poll taken of the South Carolina governor's race finds close primary contests for both parties, as each hope to succeed Republican Gov. Mark Sanford -- whose extramarital affair became one of the most talked about national stories of the year.

Republicans tested include: SC Atty. Gen. Henry McMaster; Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer (who was endorsed yesterday by Mike Huckabee); State Rep. Nikki Haley (who was endorsed by First Lady Jenny Sanford); U.S. Rep. Gresham Barrett; and State Sen. Larry Grooms.

McMaster 22
Bauer 22
Haley 13
Barrett 9
Grooms 6
No opinion 28

Democrats tested include: State Education Superintendent Jim Rex; Dwight Drake, an attorney and former top aide to governors John West and Dick Riley; state senators Vincent Sheheen and Robert Ford; and attorney Mullins McLeod.

Rex 21
Drake 15
Sheheen 8
Ford 6
McLeod 6
No opinion 44

The survey was taken Dec. 16 of 371 Republicans and 306 Democrats.

Senate Advances Health Care Bill

For the second time in 31 hours, Senate Democrats suceeded in getting 60 votes this morning -- advancing health care reform one step closer to final passage.

The successful party-line vote leaves one more procedural hurdle for Democrats, scheduled for tomorrow at 1 p.m., with a final vote on the bill coming Thursday at 7 p.m. However, with the bill appearing likely to pass and Christmas Eve falling on Thursday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said he and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid were working on a timeline that could get senators home before the holiday.

"We are working on an agreement that will give certainty to end this session and hopefully the two of us together will be recommending something that makes sense for both sides in the not too distant future," McConnell said from the Senate floor following the rare morning vote.

Before McConnell spoke, Reid had been pushing senators on both sides of the aisle to get in the Christmas spirit, despite the heated debate over health care that has kept senators working weekends for much of the past month.

"I hope everyone would keep in mind, that's a time when we reflect on peace and good things in life," said Reid. "I would hope everyone would kind of set aside all the personal animosity -- if in fact they have any -- for the next little bit, and focus on that holiday."

Giuliani Won't Run For Senate

Rudy Giuliani is expected to announce today that he will not run for the Senate next year, media outlets report, ending Republican hopes for the party's strongest potential challenger to Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.).

From the New York Post:

Giuliani's decision likely marks the end of his own electoral career.

He's expected to support Republican Rick Lazio for governor.

But Giuliani plans to continue to be a force within the party, helping to expand its base as well as speaking out on issues important to him.

New York polls have regularly found Giuliani leading Gillibrand, who was appointed to the seat a year ago after Hillary Clinton was named U.S. Secretary of State.

Gibbs' Podium Playbook Keeps White House On Message

Today's press briefing will likely be the last for Robert Gibbs in 2009, a long first year at the podium for the White House press secretary. As the year comes to a close 'tis the season for reflection, and after more than 130 jousting sessions from the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room, an informal survey of regular working members of the White House press corps provides a predictably mixed picture of the administration's chief spokesman.

To be sure, reporters are often dissatisfied with the information flow of a new administration that promised historic transparency, and confrontations were common and at times tense in the cramped quarters of the press room. But there was also a grudging respect of Gibbs' performance at the end of his first calendar year behind the podium.

Most of all, reporters credit Gibbs for having the one thing that is of perhaps most value to them: regular access to and the trust of the president himself. Gibbs has been at Obama's side throughout his rise in national politics, including most of the campaign. "I trust him completely," the president told the New York Times a year ago.

Now, he's a regular participant in Oval Office strategy sessions, and no one doubts he has the ear of the principal. "You know when he speaks, he's doing so with knowledge of the president's thinking," one longtime White House reporter said. "That's the most important thing for any press secretary."

Another correspondent speculated that while Gibbs "loves the show" and has been effective behind the podium, the preparation the regular briefings calls for has robbed him of more time "in the room," advising the president. But this White House understands the value of having a plugged-in staffer like Gibbs out front with the press. "They don't want to demean the podium," the correspondent said. "They know that helps their credibility."

The role of the press secretary is far more than just to stand behind the podium, but that is largely the way he or she is judged. To date, Gibbs has stood under the bright lights for more than 130 briefings, fielding questions, sometimes with company, for a total of more than 104 hours - the equivalent of more than four full days.

Of late, however, it seems Gibbs has scaled back ever so slightly the frequency of those televised briefings. The number, of course, varies with the president's travel schedule, but Gibbs has held just 12 briefings since November 1; he had averaged about 13 each month in the prior nine months. At the same time, Gibbs has held several invitation-only "gaggles" in his office, ensuring a smaller number of questions and a more informal give-and-take that contrasts from the often times overly choreographed briefing room affairs.

The stakes are higher when the camera is rolling, as any major gaffe could be endlessly replayed in the cable news echo chamber this White House deplores. And yet, reporters credit Gibbs for what is called a largely steady record in that setting. Of course there were screw-ups, slips of the tongue and overly-hyperbolic spin. But few rose to the level of a "flame-out" the likes of some of his predecessors that set the administration off course.

That's what Obama sought. In the Times interview before both took their current posts, the then-president-elect said that one thing that what was "underappreciated" about Gibbs was his discipline, that he "doesn't color outside the lines." Without naming too many examples of Gibbs coloring outside the lines, reporters listed a number of favored tactics and defining moments from his year behind the podium. Here are some of the highlights of the Gibbs playbook in 2009.

The Instigator

Several reporters contended that Gibbs, more so than most other recent press secretaries, has been adept at using his perch to go on offense and drive a new story line. "His ability to frame attacks on the GOP is his strength," one correspondent remarked. Early in the year, Gibbs was at the forefront of Democratic efforts to elevate Rush Limbaugh, often the administration's harshest critic, to the status of leader of the Republican Party.

And while his barbs are often directed at Republicans, he just as frequently, it seems, targets the pundit class inside and outside the Beltway. One of his more notable early moments a clash with CNBC's Rick Santelli over what was actually in the president's proposed stimulus plan. Later, he welcomed a fight against another CNBC host, Jim Cramer, over economic policy.

Link: Gibbs on Santelli

The Wise Crack

In May, Politico reported that White House transcripts of the daily briefings included more than 600 annotations of "laughter," far more than many of his superiors mustered. The jokes were commonly directed at reporters, but often it was self-deprecation -- one only needs to recall Gibbs' decision to offer himself up as a target for reporters at a dunk tank before a White House picnic.

The dark side of humor is sarcasm, and that is also a favorite tool of the press secretary's. When former Vice President Cheney targeted the Obama administration on keeping the nation safe, Gibbs retorted: "I guess Rush Limbaugh was busy, so they trotted out the next most popular member of the Republican cabal." He later amended the comment to say, "I hope my sarcasm didn't mask the seriousness of the answer," and conceded he often asks forgiveness rather than permission.

The Stonewall

Gibbs stonewalled early and often this year, and did so a number of ways. He might take a specific question and respond with general talking points, preceding that response with, "Well, let me take a broader view." If that didn't work, Gibbs might say he didn't want to "prejudge" a forthcoming decision or "get ahead of" an announcement coming from White House officials. But perhaps most often Gibbs would deftly say to a reporter, "Let me get back to you on that." If a follow up did come, it wasn't on camera.

Some of Gibbs' most heated confrontations this year came on the issue of transparency. In August, he sparred with Major Garrett when the Fox correspondent asked how the White House developed an e-mail distribution list, given that he said many who received a communication from the administration had never asked for it. "Let me go to someplace else that might be constructive," Gibbs said at the end of the exchange. In February, when ABC's Jake Tapper asked flatly if the president believed in transparency, Gibbs retorted: "Did you have another, more pertinent question?"

The Straw Men

If Gibbs found himself in a tough spot, he'd go to the bullpen and call for the straw man. He especially enjoyed pointing out when he thought reporters made a supposition that directly contradicted a previous claim. Just weeks ago, when asked why President Obama has not had a formal press conference in months, Gibbs replied: "I think the last time we got a question about the President answering questions, if I'm not mistaken, it was -- wasn't it couched in the notion that he was overexposed?"

The Ethan Bomb

Ethan refers to Gibbs' 6-year-old son, who has been mentioned throughout the year in various situations. He's generally been used in good fun, but the most common example of Gibbs crossing the line this year in the mind of White House reporters came recently, during an exchange with the American Urban Radio Network's April Ryan. Ryan was pressing Gibbs over social secretary Desiree Rogers in the wake of the State Dinner crashing, when things went off course. "April, calm down. Take a deep breath. Now see? I do this with my son and that's what happens." Days later, Gibbs again caused a stir in a gaggle as he downplayed daily tracking polls, saying a 6-year-old with a crayon could produce the same result.

The Enforcer

One lesson all reporters learned this year: don't leave your cell phone ringer on loud during a briefing. Gibbs did not hesitate to enforce the policy when interrupted.

Ultimately, while Gibbs' main constituency day-to-day is the press corps, he's playing to the larger public in trying to communicate the president's message. If a recent Clarus Poll is any guide, it seems the American public give him generally good marks as well: 50 percent approved of his job performance, behind only Obama, Vice President Biden, and Secretaries Clinton and Gates among the inner circle.

ND Sen Poll: Hoeven Could Beat Dorgan

Of all the recruiting successes Republicans have had, there might not be one bigger than if Gov. John Hoeven (R) would decide to challenge Sen. Byron Dorgan (D) in North Dakota. A new Rasmussen poll (500 LVs, 12/17, MoE +/- 4.5%) shows that the three-term governor easily could beat Dorgan if he runs.

General Election Matchups
Hoeven 58
Dorgan 36
Und 6

Dorgan 52
Sand 37
Und 8

Dorgan has a strong favorable rating, but Hoeven is immensely popular in the state; his third term as governor runs through 2012. Voters are roughly split on the best course for Hoeven -- 37 percent want him to stay governor, while 42 percent want him in the Senate.

Obama Job Approval: 41 / 58
Hoeven Job Approval: 87 / 11

Dorgan himself has a strong favorable rating, but in an anti-Democratic year could suffer as the party's health care plan is rather unpopular: only 30 percent favor the plan, while 64 oppose.

Favorable Ratings
Dorgan 61 / 36
Hoeven 82 / 15

The Week Ahead: Snowy Capital, Chilly Partisanship

The Senate worked through one of the biggest snow storms in D.C. history over the weekend, and it will continue cranking during this holiday week -- when members, staff and reporters all are wishing they could fly home. In the meantime, this is what to watch for this week in Washington:

The White House: President Obama's only scheduled public event Monday focuses on government efficiency. He'll also meet with his National Economic Council. On Tuesday, Obama will again meet with bank CEOs, this time representing small and community banks, with an eye on the economy and loosening the credit markets. Obama is due to head out with his family to Hawaii for the holidays, as is their custom. He's expected to return after the New Year.

What remains to be seen is whether health care legislation will be passed by the Senate before his departure. David Axelrod, senior White House strategist, did his best to spin the apparent compromise that should give Democrats 60 votes it needs to get there. "I think that we're going to have some work to do when we come back," he said of the conference committee process that will begin after the holidays.

The Capitol: Should things fall in line and Republicans continue to filibuster, the Senate will take a final vote on health care reform Thursday, the evening of Christmas Eve. After a procedural vote early Monday morning -- 1 a.m. -- Democrats proved they had the necessary 60 votes to end the filibuster and bring the reform bill up for final adoption.

The vote schedule this week is likely to look like this: a second cloture vote Tuesday morning at 7 a.m., a third Wednesday at 1 p.m., and voting on final passage of the bill Thursday at 7 p.m.

The party-line debate and votes has put on display the level of partisanship that still exists in Congress. As a New York Times story put it this morning: "A year that began with hopes of new post-partisanship has indeed produced change: Things have gotten worse."

After Christmas, the majority staffs from the House and Senate will begin negotiations on a conference report -- the next major hurdle for health care reform.

Politics: In the final days of 2009, there may not be much activity on the surface but it's an important week behind the scenes. There's incredible pressure on candidates to keep raising big bucks for the fundraising quarter that ends December 31. And, with all the focus on the holidays, don't be surprised in the weeks ahead to see more retirement announcements from House and potentially even Senate Democrats.

Michael Steele continues to bang the drum on his "Listen To Me" anti-health care campaign, with a conference call today with Dick Armey. And speaking of health care opposition, here's a reminder that one shouldn't make any snap judgments about anyone's political fate: Mike Huckabee drew 1,800 people in Omaha, just across the river from Iowa, for a rally on Sunday meant to pressure Sen. Ben Nelson to vote against the final health care bill. Also, its quotes like this, from an interview on "Hannity" Friday. Speaking of the president, Huckabee said: "I would almost venture to say he's broken more promises than Tiger Woods, and I'm not sure we can give him a mulligan."

** Poll Watch
Obama Job Performance: Approve 49.3 / Disapprove 44.9
Congress Job Performance: Approve 27.4 / Disapprove 65.8
Generic Ballot Test: Republicans +2.3

** In Case You Missed It: Depending upon where exactly in the Washington area you lived, you may have seen as much as 20 inches of snow this weekend in what was the worst December storm ever. How's this for a whopping stat: 25 million pounds of snow needs to be cleared from FedEx Field in Landover, Maryland, before tonight's big Monday Night Football matchup between the Redskins and the Giants. The Redskins Blog has the story on getting the field ready.

--Mike Memoli and Kyle Trygstad

Florida Is A Race To Watch

Marco Rubio, the conservative darling in the open Florida Senate race, finished last week on rocky ground for the first time in the campaign, after admitting he would have accepted the same stimulus money he's been attacking his GOP primary opponent, Gov. Charlie Crist, for taking. The stumble was a brief one. By Tuesday, Mr. Rubio was basking in a new Rasmussen poll of likely Republican primary voters that found him tied with Mr. Crist at 43% apiece. As recently as August, Mr. Crist led by 22 points. Mr. Rubio's favorable rating was also higher than Mr. Crist's and his unfavorable rating lower.

More good headlines came a day later with a Rasmussen poll of general election voters. It found that, in matchups against the putative Democratic nominee, Kendrick Meek, a congressman from Miami, Mr. Rubio led the Democrat by 49% to 35%, while Mr. Crist led Mr. Meek by a slimmer margin of only 42%-36%.

One reason the national party backed Mr. Crist from the start was his fundraising ability. However, Mr. Rubio's campaign is now fielding donations from its own national network. Club for Growth, an anti-tax group, announced Wednesday it had bundled $100,000 in a month for the upstart conservative. Florida's August primary remains a long way off and Mr. Rubio will need a lot more money to keep up with Mr. Crist, who had more than $6 million by the end of September. But Mr. Rubio's name-recognition is climbing quickly, eliminating the edge that the GOP establishment once assumed was Mr. Crist's birthright.

Mr. Crist was endorsed by the national party just minutes after announcing his candidacy in May, despite the fact that Mr. Rubio was already in the race. That move by the National Republican Senatorial Committee angered many rank-and-file conservatives, who are also upset at similar action by the national party in Senate races in California and Kentucky. The Florida race is rapidly shaping up as a classic confrontation of the establishment moderate versus the grassroots-backed conservative, with sizeable implications for the GOP as it goes toward the 2012 presidential race.

Democrats' Talking Points On Health Care

Senate Democratic leadership released the following talking points, as it hopes to drive the conversation on the health care debate -- focusing on increasing momentum for a reform package to pass, its benefits and the GOP's attempts to obstruct the legislative process, including stalling the funding of troops overseas.

•Senate Democrats are working hand-in-hand with the White House toward passing reform that will make health insurance more affordable and health insurance companies more accountable.

•With each passing day, momentum for health reform grows.
oYesterday, Former President Clinton penned a letter supporting passage of health reform legislation.
oAlso yesterday, respected advocacy groups like US PIRG and Families USA endorsed our bill.
oEarlier this week, AARP expressed support for passage of our bill.

•Like Senate Democrats, these outside voices understand what's at stake and they know the cost of inaction is too great for America's families and businesses.
oThose with insurance see premiums eat up a larger slice of their paychecks, leaving them with less money to take home to their families.
oThose without insurance experience the pain of skipping medicine, treatments and doctor's visits because it simply costs too much to go to the doctor.
oAmerican families pay a "hidden tax" of $1,100 on their health insurance premiums because of the unpaid costs of care for the uninsured.

•The American people have waited too long for affordable accessible health care and Democrats are not going to let them down.

Senate Republicans Threatened to Deny Our Troops Important Funding to Stall Health Reform

•Senate Republicans have made the calculation that it's acceptable to deny our troops critical funding so they can continue their crusade against health reform.
oRepublicans are so intent on thwarting even a debate on health reform that they would put essential funding for our troops on the line.

•At a time of war, it's inconceivable that Senate Republicans would stoop to this level.
oRegardless of their position on health reform, their actions to block the DoD bill have been inappropriate and irresponsible.

•Despite Republicans' political maneuvering, Senate Democrats remain undeterred and we will not allow important Senate business to be derailed.

•This legislation:

oFunds more than $100 billion for operations, maintenance and personnel for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and more than $23 billion for their equipment
oProvides more than $150 billion to train our troops and prepare them for battle
oFunds almost $30 billion for the health care of our service members and their families
oGives our troops a well-deserved pay raise

PA Sen Poll: Specter, Toomey Remain Deadlocked

A new Quinnipiac survey (1,381 RVs, 12/8-14, MoE +/- 2.6%) shows that Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter (D) has surpassed the critical 50 percent threshold in his first Democratic primary race, but remains in a tough race in the general election fight against Republican Pat Toomey.

Primary Election Matchup
Specter 53 (+9 vs. last poll, 10/1)
Sestak 30 (+5)
Und 15 (-13)

General Election Matchups
Specter 44 (+2)
Toomey 44 (+1)
Und 11 (-2)

Toomey 40 (+2)
Sestak 35 (unch)
Und 22 (-3)

Toomey maintains a small edge over Specter in the RCP Average.

Specter's job approval rating has ticked upward to 47 percent, from 44 percent in October, while 45 percent disapprove, down from 48 percent. President Obama's approval rating holds steady at 49 percent, though his disapproval rating jumped from 42 to 45 percent. More than 70 percent of voters say Obama's support for Specter has no impact on their preference in the Senate race.

Favorable Ratings
Specter 43 / 45
Toomey 35 / 10
Sestak 20 / 9

IL Gov Poll: Even Post-Blago, Dems Favored

A new Rasmussen survey (500 LVs, 12/14, MoE +/- 4.5%) shows that either of the Democratic gubernatorial candidates in Illinois could hold the seat for the party next fall. Of note, though, is that Gov. Pat Quinn, who replaced Rod Blagojevich after his impeachment, performs no better than his Democratic challenger, Comptroller Dan Hynes. Quinn also has a higher negative rating, and is held to the low-40s against lesser-known Republican candidates.

General Election Matchups
Quinn 41 -- McKenna 33 -- Und 15
Quinn 45 -- Brady 30 -- Und 13
Quinn 41 -- Dillard 30 -- Und 19

Hynes 43 -- McKenna 30 -- Und 21
Hynes 46 -- Brady 27 -- Und 19
Hynes 42 -- Dillard 29 -- Und 21

Favorable Ratings
Quinn 52 / 44
Hynes 52 / 30
Brady 36 / 37
Dillard 38 / 36
McKenna 42 / 34

As The Left Grumbles, Clinton Urges Health Care Support

Former President Bill Clinton has issued a strong statement in support of the Senate health care legislation, telling members of his party that letting the reform effort fail would be a "colossal blunder."

"Does this bill read exactly how I would write it? No. Does it contain everything everyone wants? Of course not. But America can't afford to let the perfect be the enemy of the good," Clinton says in the statement, which the White House swiftly posted on its own blog.

It's as high a level pitch as the White House could muster as many other key party stakeholders are making their dissatisfaction with the Senate bill very public. Hours earlier, the AFL-CIO issued a statement saying that while the bill "does some good things," the Senate version "bends toward the insurance industry." "The House bill is the model for genuine health care reform. Working people cannot accept anything less than real reform," the union says.

Clinton's statement was issued at the request of the White House. You can see it in full after the jump.

At last, we are close to making real health insurance reform a reality. We face one critical, final choice, between action and inaction. We know where the path of inaction leads to: more uninsured Americans, more families struggling to keep up with skyrocketing premiums, higher federal budget deficits, and health costs so much higher than any other country's they will cripple us economically. Our only responsible choice is the path of action.

Does this bill read exactly how I would write it? No. Does it contain everything everyone wants? Of course not. But America can't afford to let the perfect be the enemy of the good. And this is a good bill: it increases the security of those who already have insurance and gives every American access to affordable coverage, and contains comprehensive efforts to control costs and improve quality, with more information on best practices, and comparative costs and results. The bill will shift the power away from the insurance companies and into the hands of consumers.

Take it from someone who knows: these chances don't come around every day. Allowing this effort to fall short now would be a colossal blunder -- both politically for our party and, far more important, for the physical, fiscal, and economic health of our country."

Looking Ahead to the 2010 House Race Landscape

As the House winds to a close this week, it's only natural to contemplate what lies ahead in 2010. For Democrats, who for the first time in 16 years control both the White House and Congress, much of the discussion next year will focus on the midterm elections. Based on historical standards and the current political atmosphere it's almost a foregone conclusion that the party will lose seats.

Democratic leadership is publicly looking ahead as well -- Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Chris Van Hollen has scheduled a press briefing on Capitol Hill this morning to discuss the midterms, and Speaker Nancy Pelosi held court yesterday with a group of reporters. Pelosi assured them that Democrats would indeed hold on to a majority in Congress after November 2010; however, following four retirement announcements in as many weeks from congressmen in swing districts, Pelosi said she is "in campaign mode."

"A swing of 110 seats," said Pelosi, "That is really challenging to sustain. But that is our goal, is to sustain our majority. And we will have a strong majority."

While few political observers expect Republicans to pick up the 41 seats necessary to win back control of the House, a close look at the raw numbers shows exactly why the GOP feels the wind at its back.

In his 2008 bid for president, John McCain won 49 congressional districts that are represented by a Democrat in the House. Beyond that, President Obama won 37 Democratic districts that voted for George W. Bush in 2004, including New York-23. While many districts regularly vote differently at the congressional and presidential level, a total of 86 Democratic districts -- exactly one-third of the Democratic seats -- have voted Republican in at least one of the last two presidential elections.

Of the 49 McCain-Democrat districts, nearly half are represented by a Democrat serving just their first or second term, including 14 freshmen and nine sophomores. Of those 23 districts, four Democrats won by 3 points or less in a district McCain won by double-digits: Bobby Bright (AL-02), Walt Minnick (ID-01), Parker Griffith (AL-05) and Frank Kratovil (MD-01).

The retirement announcements of Dennis Moore (KS-03), John Tanner (TN-08), Brian Baird (WA-03) and Bart Gordon (TN-06) in recent weeks signals the potential for more Democrats from moderate districts to bail out of a tough 2010 political landscape. It also bumped up to seven the number of competitive open seats.

While losing seats appears inevitable, Democrats do have opportunities to play offense, and the DCCC this week began running radio ads in five GOP districts that could be vulnerable: Dan Lungren (CA-03), Mary Bono Mack (CA-45), Lee Terry (NE-02), Charlie Dent (PA-15) and Joe Wilson (SC-02). Obama won four of the five districts, and Wilson won with just 54 percent of the vote -- as did McCain.

Obama won a total of 34 districts held by Republicans. Of those, three will be open seats in 2010, as Mark Kirk (IL-10), Mike Castle (DE-AL) and Jim Gerlach (PA-06) are all running for higher office. An even bigger target for Democrats, though, is Lousiana's 2nd District, where Joseph Cao defeated longtime incumbent William Jefferson -- who was sentenced last month to 13 years in federal prison -- by 3 points. Obama won the district by 52 points.

As it was in 2008, the state of the economy is sure to be an overriding factor in the outcome of the midterms. Looking ahead to November, Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) told RealClearPolitics this week: "I think people are looking at jobs. What is going to happen with the jobs landscape?"

CA Gov Poll: Whitman Leads Primary, Trails Brown

A new survey from the Public Policy Institute of California finds former eBay CEO Meg Whitman leading the GOP gubernatorial primary field with the support of nearly one-third of Republicans, while former governor Jerry Brown (D) leads all of his potential general election foes. Other Republicans tested include former congressman Tom Campbell and state Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner.

GOP Primary
Whitman 32
Campbell 12
Poizner 8

General Election Matchups
Brown 43 - Whitman 37

Brown 46 - Campbell 34

Brown 47 - Poizner 31

Just 25% of Republicans and just 38% of Democrats said they were satisfied with their choice of candidates -- indicating a lack of enthusiasm among voters. "The lack of attention and enthusiasm suggests that people don't see this gubernatorial election as the answer to their problems," PPIC President and CEO Mark Baldassare said, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. "There's a huge undecided factor in the GOP primary, and these candidates aren't well-known at this point."

The survey of 2,004 California residents was conducted Dec. 1-8 with a margin of error of +/- 2%.

Pawlenty Slams Health Care, Won't Endorse In Primaries

I previewed Tim Pawlenty's visit to New Hampshire today, and noting that he's among the first 2012 candidates to visit the state. It appears that his trip included a stop at the conservative, flagship newspaper in the state, the Union Leader.

He offers some predictable red meat on health care, calling the Congressional legislation a "monstrosity." Of interest, given the many competitive GOP primaries for House and particularly Senate seats in 2010, is the Minnesota governor's statement that he won't endorse in any contests where there is an "open, transparent" contest. That in comparison to the flawed nominating contest he saw in the New York 23 special election, where he backed Conservative nominee Doug Hoffman.

Per the UL, Pawlenty also says the GOP "must return to its conservative base and then practice what it preaches if it hopes to regain the lost trust of Americans."

"We've got to explain using conservative principles, conservative ideas and values, why our approach, even if it may not be instant gratification, is better for families and individuals and regular working people all across this country on those kind of issues, those bread and butter, meat and potatoes issues," he told in a interview here this afternoon.

The stop at the Manchester paper came before his speech tonight in Concord for the Republican State Senate PAC. He'll have some private meetings tomorrow in the state, including one with Manchester's mayor-elect, Ted Gatsas.

White House Takes Issue With Dean Criticism

New White House communication director Dan Pfeiffer is responding directly to Howard Dean's critique of health care legislation, posting on the White House blog that the Senate bill is hardly a "dream for insurance companies."

If that's the case, though, it must be news to them. The insurance industry has been leveraging its considerable resources in a ferocious effort to defeat this bill, including producing a report the day before the Senate Finance Committee vote that was so misleading the firm behind it had to walk away from it. And that's not surprising, because this bill will finally wrest power away from the insurance industry and put it in the hands of American consumers.


It's also important to remember that, while none of us are shedding any tears for the insurance industry, the primary goal of health insurance reform isn't to punish insurers - it's to give every American the ability to find affordable coverage while controlling the unsustainable cost growth in our current health care system that is crushing families and businesses. On that front, this bill is hugely successful.

Press secretary Robert Gibbs has already taken a number of questions on Dean's comments as well. At one point in today's briefing, he argued that no "rational person" would claim that killing the bill now is a good idea. That prompted an immediate follow up to ask if Gibbs was charging that Dean is "irrational," which he said was not the case.

Dean had been largely supportive of the legislation as it worked its way through Congress this year, even if he conceded it wasn't perfect. But of late it seems there have been one too many compromises for his taste. In April, Dean did say to RCP that Obama should not back down on the public option. "If it doesn't [have the public option] all we have is the same old stuff, and I don't think it's worth spending $634 billion on what we've already got," he said.

NC Sen Poll: When Will Dems Overtake Burr?

Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) has long been considered one of the most vulnerable incumbents in the country, save for the fact that he did not have a big-name Democratic opponent. This remains true after today's Public Policy Polling survey, which finds the first-term senator continuing to hold off his three challengers -- all of whom are unknown to more than two-thirds of the state's voters.

The question is: how long will they remain unknown, especially with the national Democratic Party all but endorsing former state Sen. Cal Cunningham, who only recently entered the race. Cunningham is unknown to 81% of the state, while 80% aren't sure of attorney Kenneth Lewis and 69% of Elaine Marshall, who's serving her fourth term as North Carolina's Secretary of State.

As for Burr, nearly 30% still don't know enough about him to form an opinion, while 35% approve of his job performance and 37% disapprove. Tested against a generic Democrat, Burr holds a statistically insignificant 42%-41% lead. Here's how he tests against the three Democrats in the race:

Burr 45 - Cunningham 36 - Und 20

Burr 43 - Lewis 37 - Und 21

Burr 42 - Marshall 37 - Und 21

The PPP survey was taken of 593 registered voters in North Carolina and conducted from Dec. 11-13 with a margin of error of +/-4.0%.

Civitas Institute released a poll on the race yesterday, finding Burr leading Marshall by 8 points.

Reaction To Bernanke As Time's 'Person of the Year'

Here's one man's reaction to Fed Chair Ben Bernanke being named Time magazine's 'Person of the Year.'

Much to this person's chagrin, Bernanke was also named Foreign Policy's 'Global Thinker of the Year.'

Sen. Jim Bunning (R-Ky.):

"I find it ironic that a man who has spent the last year rewarding others for failure is now being named 'Person of the Year' for his failures. But if Time Magazine is in the business of rewarding failure, Ben Bernanke is their man -- he has certainly excelled at that.

"Under Chairman Bernanke's watch America has suffered the greatest financial crisis since the Great Depression, in large part because of his support for the easy money policies of his predecessor Alan Greenspan. Many of the problems our markets are facing right now could have been avoided had Chairman Bernanke not been asleep at the switch. His willingness to turn the Federal Reserve into an arm of the Treasury Department and print money at a breath-taking rate will have my children and grandchildren paying off the debt for years to come. Chairman Bernanke is the definition of a moral hazard."

FL Gov Poll: Sinks Narrows Gap

Rasmussen releases some more Florida numbers this morning, this time on the race to succeed Charlie Crist (R) as governor.

General Election Matchup
McCollum (R) 44 (-2 vs. last poll, 10/19)
Sink (D) 39 (+4)
Und 12 (-3)

Alex Sink, the state's chief financial officer, is viewed favorably by 45 percent and unfavorably by 31; McCollum, currently attorney general, has a 54 / 30 fav/unfav split. McCollum leads by 4.4 in the RCP Average for Florida Governor.

President Obama's job approval rating is down to 44 percent in the battleground state, while 55 percent disapprove. Crist still has a net +7 job approval rating, though it's slipped as well.

Pawlenty Trip Puts New Hampshire Back In Spotlight

The 2012 Republican field is arguably as wide open as any in recent cycles. So it's curious that Tim Pawlenty's visit to New Hampshire tonight is among the first by any would-be candidate this year, even if it is more than two years until the first-in-the-nation primary.

"People have been making phone calls, reminding people to keep their dance cards open," says Tom Rath, a Concord attorney and one of the state's leading Republican activists. "But I think in terms of an official opener, I think this is the first significant potential Republican candidate to come in for an event here since the election."

It is still early even by modern standards for the overt water-testing events White House hopefuls are expected to make. Mitt Romney, among the first candidates to visit in the 2008 cycle, made his debut at roughly the same point four years ago. But Iowa, another early nominating state, has already seen a visit from Pawlenty, two from Mike Huckabee, and others even from dark horses like Rick Santorum, George Pataki and Mike Pence.

Granite State Republicans give several explanations as to why that might be, starting with the immodest belief there that "the stakes are a little bit higher coming to New Hampshire" than any other state, former state Republican Party chair Fergus Cullen argued. When he presided over his final party gathering in January, efforts to attract would-be candidates were rebuffed because some thought a visit "carried too much import, and they weren't prepared to do anything like that at that time," he said.

Likely more of a factor is format of the contests themselves, as well as the profile of the electorate in each. Iowa's caucuses are more likely to be dominated by conservative activists with an emphasis on social issues. New Hampshire, where fiscal issues tend to be paramount, has an open primary that includes a significant independent bloc. And since Democrats will likely have just a token primary in 2012, moderate and even liberal-leaning independents will have a significant voice in that primary.

"Conservatives are a very important part of this party and have a significant presence here, but clearly the Iowa caucuses have skewed more in that direction," Rath said, noting Huckabee's caucus victory that preceded John McCain's second win in the Granite State.

It did not go unnoticed that Sarah Palin's "Going Rogue" book tour included a stop in Iowa, but not New Hampshire. A Des Moines Register poll of potential caucus-goers put the former Alaska governor near the top of the heap, while a recent poll in New Hampshire found a more lukewarm reception.

"The Iowa caucus is so dominated by the evangelical portion of the Republican base, and if you're not going to be their darling, why even bother," Cullen would advise potential candidates.

The only other national political figure of note to visit New Hampshire this year was Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, who attended a state party fundraiser in June. Former Ohio Rep. Rob Portman, a Dartmouth alumnus, also visited recently to raise money for his own 2010 campaign.

Pawlenty's trip to New Hampshire is built around a fundraiser for the state Senate Republican PAC in Concord. Mike Dennehy, a McCain campaign alumnus who organized the event, said Pawlenty was invited with an eye to his potential candidacy in 2012.

"New Hampshire Republicans pride themselves on getting involved in presidential politics," he said. "Being a relatively small state governor, one who's balanced the budget, who's focused on education and a new Republican leader for this generation -- I think those are all things that people will be interested in seeing and hearing from him."

He'll come with a message well tailored to the state. An aide says he'll focus on the spending policies in Washington, while also emphasizing his personal story and view that Republicans need to do more to reach out to independents.

Pawlenty, who campaigned with McCain in the state in the 2008 cycle, is among the first to come because he certainly has more work to do than other candidates. Ted Gatsas, the mayor-elect of Manchester, noted that Pawlenty was among those who called to wish him well on his November election; he'll meet with him privately on Thursday while he's in the neighborhood as well. It's a debut that should serve him well.

"We're still the only state that somebody can come into without a lot of name recognition, without a lot of dollars, and meet people and start understanding what the political landscape is in New Hampshire," said Gatsas, adding that his door is open to any potential candidate at this point.

Dennehy said that while there's been some intrigue about Pawlenty's visit, presidential politics still is not "front-and-center" here. Beyond the holidays, state Republicans have a great deal on their plate in the new year, including a marquee open Senate race, battles for both Congressional seats, and efforts to win back local and state offices.

"In the leadup to the 2010 election cycle, any potential [presidential] candidates will probably be seen in New Hampshire helping out the party and helping out our 2010 local and federal candidates," said Ryan Williams, spokesman for the New Hampshire Republican Party.

Many of the big races feature hotly-contested primaries, and so 2012 candidates may only visit in earnest later on, and only in a surrogate role once those nominees are chosen. The full-fledged presidential campaign, therefore, will likely wait even longer still.

"It's hard to organize anything at a serious level in the middle of a big election year, and the midterms next year are big," Dennehy said.

FL Sen Poll: Rubio Ties Crist

Big news in the Florida Senate contest: a new Rasmussen survey (431 LVs, 12/14, MoE +/- 5%) shows that the insurgent Marco Rubio is now tied with Gov. Charlie Crist.

Primary Election Matchup
Crist 43 (-6 vs. last poll, 10/19)
Rubio 43 (+8)
Und 9 (-3)

Crist led 53-31 in an August survey; his lead in the RCP Average is down to 8.4.

Rubio is viewed very favorably by a whopping one-third of these primary voters, compared to 19 percent for Crist. One-in-five voters was unsure, meaning there is still some room to grow.

Favorable Ratings
Rubio 64 / 15
Crist 61 / 38

The August 2010 primary is closed only to registered Republicans, which spells trouble for Crist as he's struggled to define himself as a true conservative. Rasmussen:

Fifty-six percent (56%) of likely GOP Primary voters approve of Crist's performance as governor. Forty-three percent (43%) disapprove of the job he is doing. These numbers are virtually unchanged from October and don't represent particularly strong support by voters for a governor from their own party. Only 11% Strongly Approve while 15% Strongly Disapprove.

Lieberman Now On Board?

After Senate Democratic leaders agreed to drop the Medicare buy-in for those 55 and older, Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) appears ready to support the Democratic health care reform package. Here is a statement the senator released today regarding his past statements on the Medicare buy-in -- of which he appeared to support just months ago, though he is now against -- and how he sees the future of the bill:

"I am encouraged that progress has been made toward passing health care reform legislation in the Senate in the very near future. As I have said all along, health care legislation must expand coverage, contain costs, reform the way health care is delivered, and impose consumer protection regulations on the health insurance industry. While I objected to some provisions that I believed would unnecessarily add to the national debt, raise taxes, or endanger the fiscal solvency of the Medicare program, there is much that is needed and worthy in the core bill that I support.

"There has been some misunderstanding about my past position on the Medicare buy-in proposal, which I would like to clarify. I have long been concerned about making health care more accessible and affordable. One idea that has been discussed for years is expanding Medicare to people younger than 65. For example, the Medicare buy-in proposal was part of the Gore/Lieberman platform in 2000, but in 2000 our nation's budget was balanced, debt levels were less than half current levels, Medicare was not on the verge of insolvency, and there was no viable proposal like the one we are debating today to provide affordable coverage to more than 30 million Americans who currently lack health insurance, including people 55 to 65.

"My comments reported by the Connecticut Post in September were related to past ideas for health care reform I have considered or supported, and were made before we had a bill for consideration on the Senate floor that contains extensive health insurance reforms, including limiting how much more insurance companies could charge individuals based on age and providing subsidies that would specifically help people between the ages of 55 and 65 to afford health insurance.

"Any inclusion of a Medicare buy-in for that same age group would be duplicative of what is already in the bill, would put the government on the hook for billions of additional dollars that are not paid for, and would potentially threaten the solvency of Medicare, which is already in a perilous state. I also had concerns that this provision would result in cost-shifting that would drive up premiums for the 180 million Americans who now have insurance.

"The process to reach agreement on a bill has often been difficult, but I sense we are now taking significant steps forward to obtain 60 votes on the Senate floor. I look forward to passing a bill that will give the American people genuine health care reform without impeding our recovery from the current recession or adding to our exploding national debt."

SD Poll: Will Midterm Wave Topple Herseth Sandlin?

A new Public Policy Polling (D) survey warns that Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (D) is "facing her toughest contest for re-election" since she first won the seat in 2004, and it's the unpopularity of national Democrats weighing her down.

General Election Matchups
Herseth Sandlin 46 -- Nelson 39 --Und 15
Herseth Sandlin 52 -- Curd 31 -- Und 17

Twenty-five percent of South Dakotans support the health care bill passed in the House last month, while 59 percent oppose it. Herseth Sandlin voted against that bill, as did 38 other Democrats. But, PPP's Debnam says, "she can't completely separate herself from the unpopularity of her national party in South Dakota and that means she could have a tough fight for reelection."

Obama Job Approval: 41 / 52
Congressional Democrats Job Approval: 28 / 60
Congressional Republicans Job Approval: 31 / 51
Herseth Sandlin Job Approval: 49 / 38

State Rep. Blake Curd (R) has a 6 / 13 fav/unfav rating, while Secretary of State Chris Nelson's split is 29 / 12.

The automated telephone survey was conducted December 10-13, surveying 702 registered voters. The margin of error is +/- 3.7%.

DCCC Hits Republicans For Voting Against Wall Street Reform

While Republican prospects in 2010 appear brighter than they've been in years, Democrats are remaining on the offensive as they remind voters who stands for the little guy. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is launching a radio ad in five districts represented by a Republican who voted against the Wall Street reform bill that passed the House on Friday.

"For years, House Republicans let big banks take huge risks that threatened our financial markets and left hard working American taxpayers holding the bill," DCCC Chairman Chris Van Hollen said in a statement announcing the radio ad blitz. "We will continue to go district by district to hold House Republicans accountable for supporting big banks at the expense of American taxpayers and consumers. Democrats will make clear that voters understand that while we stand with them, Republicans stand up for big special interests."

The ad will air in the districts of Reps. Dan Lungren (CA-03), Mary Bono Mack (CA-45), Lee Terry (NE-02), Charlie Dent (PA-15) and Joe Wilson (SC-02).

Lungren won with less than 50 percent of the vote in 2008, and President Obama won his district by a narrow margin. Obama also carried the districts of Bono Mack, Terry and Dent. Wilson, who's been a target of attacks since his "You lie!" outburst, faced his first serious challenge for re-election in 2008. He won with 54 percent (as did John McCain), which was easily his lowest winning percentage since coming to Congress in a 2001 special election.

Here is the script of the 60-second ad, titled "Remember" (this version is airing in Terry's district):

"October 2008, the last months of the Bush presidency. "The big banks and financial institutions almost collapsed, putting our entire economy at risk.


"We all know we should never let this happen again. That's why what our Congressman Lee Terry did last week is so disturbing.

"Congressman Terry voted to let Wall Street continue the same risky practices that crippled retirement accounts and left taxpayers on the hook for $700 billion dollars.

"And he voted to allow the big banks to pay high rolling executives unchecked compensation and bonuses.

"Maybe the $234,000 dollars that financial special interests have given to Congressman Terry mattered more to him than protecting taxpayers and consumers.

"Doesn't that just make you mad?

"Call Lee Terry, tell him to stop standing up for the big banks and to start standing up for us."

NRCC Playing Defense With PA-15 Radio Ad

Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.) has fended off challengers before in this moderate district, but national Democrats this year finally got the candidate they've always wanted, Bethlehem Mayor John Callahan. While most stories these days focus on the number of seats the GOP will win back in 2010, the National Republican Congressional Committee is also focused on holding on to seats like Dent's.

That's why the committee has begun airing a radio ad in the Allentown-based 15th District that knocks Callahan for raising taxes. The 60-second ad, which you can listen to here, follows the rhyming scheme of "Twas the Night Before Christmas."

Here's a sampling:

'Twas two nights before Christmas, when in Bethlehem/ John Callahan was voting, again and again/ An increase he supported on property tax/ A five point five percent increase he surely did pass

"John Callahan's record of raising taxes four times in four years shows that he has abandoned fiscal discipline and adopted big-government policies that create bureaucracy, not jobs," NRCC spokesman Ken Spain said in announcing the ad. "After voting time and time again to pile on burdensome tax increases, it is clear that middle-class families of Pennsylvania cannot afford John Callahan's reckless job-killing agenda."

Dent has won the 15th District with 59%, 54% and 59% of the vote since coming to Congress in 2004. President Obama won it with 56% last year, and John Kerry edged out George W. Bush in 2004 by just more than 700 votes. The district has voted for the winning gubernatorial candidate in the last six elections, according to the Almanac of American Politics.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is set to launch a radio ad of its own in the district, as it targets five Republicans who voted against the Wall Street reform bill Friday.

"Congressman Dent voted to let Wall Street continue the same risky practices that crippled retirement accounts and left taxpayers on the hook for $700 billion dollars," the 60-second ad will say.

Dems Slam Kirk For Earmark Hypocrisy

Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) came out swinging in a Monday morning conference call with reporters, slamming Senate candidate Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) for his "hypocrisy" on earmarking federal dollars for his district.

"His sudden outrage at earmarks comes years and years after supporting them, sponsoring them, condoning them," said Schakowsky, whose district borders Kirk's north of Chicago. "His sudden disapproval of earmarks simply doesn't pass the smell test, and he can't have it both ways."

The call was set up by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which is pushing to keep President Obama's former seat in Democratic hands. It coincided with the launch of a new website called "Two Faced Kirk." Rep. Kirk joined Republican Study Committee Chairman Tom Price (R-Ga.), one of the most conservative members of Congress, at a Capitol Hill press conference Thursday highlighting the "11 Worst Pork-Barrel Spending Projects in the 111th Congress."

An Associated Press story published Thursday centered on the fact that Kirk secured $30 million in earmarks for his district in 2007, yet was attacking their usage at a press conference. Kirk, though, has reportedly sworn off earmarks since 2008, joining most of his party leaders in the House.

"There so far doesn't appear to be anything that Mark Kirk has stood for," including earmarks, gay rights and cap-and-trade, said Schakowsky. "I think he's pandering for votes to the base of the Republican Party. But in doing so he is leaving himself completely vulnerable because you can't have it both ways on these core issues for a lot of people."

Kirk is expected to win the Republican primary in February, while a new Chicago Tribune poll finds state Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias leading the Democratic field. Kirk's moderate voting record in the House should serve him well running statewide, as Illinois has elected just one Republican to the Senate since the 1960s and hasn't supported a Republican presidential candidate since 1988.

Democrats, including Schakowsky, argue that Kirk is now attempting to win over the conservative wing of his party, while resting on his moderate record in Congress.

Republicans hit back at Schakowsky on Monday in a statement that mentioned her ties to ousted governor Rod Blagojevich and noted that Schakowsky is doing nothing to reform the earmarking process that allows for corruption.

"Schakowsky continues to buck President Obama's calls for reforming wasteful earmarks in Washington and she is still heavily involved in the culture of corruption in Illinois," said Amber Wilkerson Marchand, a spokeswoman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

When asked on the conference call about her own potential hypocrisy -- attacking Kirk's earmarks when she pulls in pork-barrel spending for her own district -- Schakowsky reminded reporters that it's Kirk's sudden change of heart (during his run for Senate) that is so troubling.

"The issue is he supports using earmarks to benefit contributors, and then suddenly is against them," said Schakowsky. "The duplicity on this and other things is the most upsetting."

RNC Launches Campaign Touting Health Care Opposition

RNC Chairman Michael Steele acknowledged today that "some folks were a little bit surprised" when he issued a strategy memo last week touting Republicans' efforts to stop or slow down the progress of health care reform legislation on Capitol Hill. But he and the RNC are reinforcing that message now in a new campaign being launched that aims to, in Steele's words, amplify the voices of an American public that is strongly opposed to Democrats' plans.

"Those town halls were about something this summer, ladies and gentlemen," Steele said at a press conference at the party's headquarters near the Capitol. "They want their leadership to listen to them. ... And there hasn't been a lot of listening going on."

To that end, the RNC's new "Listen To Me" effort will be a "grass-roots" effort aimed at pressuring wary Democrats (and potentially some Republicans) to side against the bill. Staff will be deployed to six states -- North Dakota, Nebraska, Virginia, Arkansas, Louisiana and Connecticut -- that are home to the senators and Congressmen who largely will determine the final bill's fate. There's also a new radio ad being launched Wednesday in which Steele himself says Democrats know Americans are against the bill, but are "arrogantly trying to jam it down our throats."

"The American people certainly have a right to ask these Senators and all members of Congress to listen to them. And in these states, we will do everything we can to help people get their elected representatives to listen," the prolific chairman said today.

Steele also acknowledged that while Republicans have largely held firm in their opposition to the proposed legislation, ultimately it's the unease of a number of Democrats that is holding up final passage.

"They have the lever of power in their hand, and yet at every turn they look at others to blame," he said. "While Nancy Pelosi or Harry Reid would talk about the Republicans stalling, as I've said repeatedly, you have the votes. Pass the bill. ... The fact that with a 60-40 advantage in the Senate you're looking to Republicans either to blame or to provide you with the vote you need tells me that there's something desperately wrong with the bill."

Tennessee Rep. Bart Gordon (D) To Retire

Now the fourth Democrat to announce his retirement in four weeks, Rep. Bart Gordon (D-Tenn.) said this morning in a released statement that he will not run for re-election next year.

Gordon, a moderate Democrat from a Republican-leaning district, follows three other Democratic congressmen in similar political situations -- Brian Baird (WA-3), John Tanner (TN-8), and Dennis Moore (KS-3). President Obama won Moore and Baird's districts in 2008, but both were also won by President Bush in 2004.

"Turning 60 has led me to re-evaluate what's next," Gordon said in a statement. "I have an 8-year-old daughter and a wonderful wife who has a very demanding job. I am the only child of my 83-year-old mother, Margaret. They have made sacrifices to allow me to do what I love by serving in Congress, and now it's my turn."

Originally elected in 1984, Gordon has regularly been re-elected with more than 60 percent of the vote -- including every election this decade. He is chairman of the Science and Technology Committee. According to National Journal, his voting record places him near the middle of the House.

Tennessee's Sixth District is V-shaped and located in the middle of the state. John McCain won the district with 62 percent in 2008, and Bush won 60 percent four years earlier.

"When I was elected, I was the youngest member of the Tennessee congressional delegation; now, I'm one of the oldest," said Gordon. "In fact, I have members of my staff who weren't even born when I took office. That tells me it's time for a new chapter."

The run of retirements of Democrats in swing districts is a clear sign to Republicans that 2010 is going to be a good year -- one in which the party, down and out in the last two congressional elections, will at least cut into the Democrats' strong hold on Congress.

"It's official: Democrats now have a retirement problem," said NRCC spokesman Ken Spain. "After being forced to toe the line for Nancy Pelosi's reckless agenda too many times, Blue Dog Democrats would rather roll over and retire than face the political headwind that is barreling toward them. This is evidence of the fact that the Obama-Pelosi agenda of government takeovers, permanent bailouts, and fewer jobs is taking a political and mental toll even on incumbent Democrats who were once-perceived to be firmly entrenched."

PA Gov Poll: Corbett The Early Frontrunner

Pennsylvania Attorney General Tom Corbett (R) looks to be a strong favorite in the race to succeed Ed Rendell (D) as Pennsylvania's governor. A new Rasmussen poll (500 LVs, 12/10, MoE +/- 4.5%) shows Corbett's status as a prominent statewide officeholder helps him in the race against lesser-known Democratic foes.

General Election Matchup
Corbett 43 -- Wagner 30 -- Und 20
Corbett 48 -- Hoeffel 26 -- Und 17
Corbett 44 -- Onorato 28 -- Und 21
Corbett 46 -- Doherty 23 -- Und 22

Corbett does have a primary challenger in U.S. Rep. Jim Gerlach (R). A Rasmussen survey last month showed him comfortably ahead at that point, however.

Wagner is the state Auditor General, a lower-profile post but one that does give him a slight edge in name recognition on the Democratic side.

Favorable Ratings
Corbett 59 / 18
Wagner 37 / 30
Onorato 30 / 32
Hoeffel 26 / 35
Doherty 30 / 28

Poll: Dems Want Lieberman Punished If He Joins Filibuster

An overwhelming majority of Democratic voters want to see Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Ct.) stripped of his committee chairmanship if he joins Republicans in filibustering the health care reform bill, according to a new poll.

Huffington Post reports this morning that a survey of 800 registered voters, conducted by Progressive Change Campaign Committee and Democracy for America, found that 81 percent of Democrats think Senate party leaders should remove Lieberman from his post as chairman of the Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee.

Two-thirds of Republicans say Democrats should not punish Lieberman. Thirty percent of independents agree with Republicans, while 43 percent say he should be punished.

Lieberman reportedly told Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid on Sunday that he would filibuster the current form of the health care package should it be brought up for a vote. He, as well as Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), said on "Face the Nation" yesterday that they cannot support allowing people under 65 to buy into Medicare -- a key compromise negotiated last week.

The Week Ahead: Crunch Time In The Capital

It's the last full week of business before the holidays. Here's RCP's Weekly Planner with what to watch in politics.

** This Week At The White House: On Monday, President Obama meets with representatives from the financial industry, "to discuss economic recovery, small business lending, improving lending practices for homeowners and the Administration's plans for financial reform," the White House says. The gathering comes after Obama bluntly criticized Wall Street executives in a "60 Minutes" interview Sunday night.

"The people on Wall Street still don't get it," Obama told Steve Kroft. "They're still puzzled, why is it that people are mad at the banks. Well, let's see. You guys are drawing down $10, $20 million bonuses after America went through the worst economic year that it's gone through in decades, and you guys caused the problem. And we've got ten percent unemployment. Why do you think people might be a little frustrated?"

The other main item on Obama's schedule this week is a trip back to Europe Thursday night, where he'll take part in the Copenhagen summit on climate change as it wraps up.

** This Week On Capitol Hill: The Senate had a busy weekend, working overtime to pass a $446 billion omnibus spending bill that includes six of the 12 annual appropriations bills that will fund the federal government in fiscal year 2010. The bill now heads to the White House, where President Obama is expected to sign it this week. Congress had already passed five appropriations bills, leaving only the Defense Appropriations bill, which the House is scheduled to take up this week.

The Senate went back to work on health care legislation on Sunday, and Democrats will push to complete a compromise this week. On "Face The Nation" yesterday, Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell highlighted the trouble Democrats are having coming to terms. "It's noteworthy that you had to have three Democrats on to explain the Democratic position," he said, referring to previous guests Sens. Jay Rockefeller, Ben Nelson and Joe Lieberman. "In fact, there are more Democratic positions than you'd find in a stack of newspapers, and therein lies the problem."

Be sure to check out the RCP Video page for more highlights from the Sunday shows.

**This Week In Politics: There was a noteworthy milestone in Texas this weekend, as the nation's fourth-largest city elected a lesbian as mayor. Annise Parker won Saturday's runoff with just under 53 percent of the vote. "Parker's name identification and experience as a candidate and elected official were too much for the well-connected Gene Locke," the Houston Chronicle reported. Expect that to get some national focus, coming as it did in a red state and at a time when gay marriage efforts have stalled in several states.

Also worth watching this week: Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R) makes his first visit to New Hampshire as a potential 2012 candidate. He'll speak at a fundraiser in Concord for the state Senate Republican fundraising committee. Iowa has seen its share of Republican hopefuls in this very early going, but this is one of the first big forays in the home of the first-in-the-nation primary.

** Poll Watch
Obama Job Performance: Approve 48.6 / Disapprove 45.2
Congress Job Performance: Approve 28.8 / Disapprove 63.3
Generic Ballot Test: Republicans +0.8

** In Case You Missed It: Check out Sarah Palin's surprise appearance on "The Tonight Show," where she turned the tables on William Shatner by reading portions of his autobiography.

--Mike Memoli and Kyle Trygstad

NV Sen Poll: Unpopular Reid Trailing Lesser-Known Foes

Another poll shows Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid trailing much lesser-known Republican challengers. In the Rasmussen survey (500 LVs, 12/9, +/- 4.5%), the incumbent is stuck at 43 percent in each potential matchup.

General Election Matchups
Lowden 49 (-1 vs. last poll, 9/14)
Reid 43 (+3)
Und 3 (-2)

Tarkanian 49 (-1)
Reid 43 (unch)
Und 2 (-1)

Angle 47 (no trend)
Reid 43
Und 3

Favorable Ratings
Reid 40 / 57
Lowden 46 / 32
Tarkanian 49 / 30
Angle 40 / 37

Forty-four percent of Nevada voters favor the health care plan Reid is shepherding through the Senate, while 54 percent oppose it.

President Obama's approval rating is 46 percent, while 55 percent disapprove. Gov. Jim Gibbons (R) remains unpopular, with 61 percent disapproving of his job performance while 35 percent approve.

IL Sen Poll: Giannoulias Takes Lead Over Kirk

The race for President Obama's former Senate seat remains a tossup. According to a new Rasmussen survey (500 LVs, 12/9, MoE +/- 4.5%), Illinois state Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias (D) has taken a slight lead over Rep. Mark Kirk (R), but the Republican holds on to his advantage against other potential Democratic foes.

General Election Matchups
Giannoulias 42 (+1 vs. last poll, 10/14)
Kirk 39 (-2)
Und 15 (-2)

Kirk 42 (-1)
Jackson 39 (unch)
Und 15 (+2)

Kirk 42 (-1)
Hoffman 38 (+5)
Und 17 (+1)

The primary, the first in the nation in the 2010 cycle, is just 53 days away.

Favorable Ratings
Kirk 50 / 32
Giannoulias 48 / 36
Jackson 38 / 34
Hoffman 40 / 27

Obama remains popular in his adopted home state, with 58 percent approving of his job performance and 43 percent disapproving. Gov. Pat Quinn (D) also has a solid 51 percent job approval rating. Fifty percent support the Democratic health care plan, while 46 percent oppose.

Democrats Have Yet To 'Drain the Swamp'

When the Democrats reclaimed Congress in the 2006 midterm, then-House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi pledged to "drain the swamp" of Congressional ethics violations that allegedly went uninvestigated under Republican rule. On the evening of Nov. 26, 2008 -- Thanksgiving eve - Pelosi, now House Speaker, released a statement to the press regarding the ethics investigation of Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.), in which she stated, "I have been assured the report will be completed by the end of this session of Congress, which concludes on January 3, 2009. I look forward to reviewing the report at that time."

Now, more than a year later, as the 1st Session of the 111th Congress crawls to a close, the investigation into multiple potential improprieties by the chairman of the Ways and Means Committee remains incomplete. Many, including watchdog groups like the Sunlight Foundation and Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, are left wondering how exactly the ethics situation in Congress has improved.

"I don't think things have changed in the way the ethics committee operates -- it's still very slow going, and they're loath to hold members of Congress responsible for misconduct," CREW executive director Melanie Sloan told RealClearPolitics. "The committee is nonpartisan, and in being nonpartisan they do not like to go after members of either party."

As more evidence was brought to light, the committee was forced to expand its investigation at least two times this year; in announcing an expansion of its Rangel investigation in early October, the House ethics committee said it had already issued "close to 150 subpoenas; interviewed approximately 34 witnesses resulting in over 2,100 pages of transcripts; reviewed and analyzed over 12,000 pages of documents; and held over 30 investigative subcommittee meetings."

However, Pelosi and Democratic leadership have swatted away any attempts to temporarily remove Rangel -- who among other things is being investigated for cheating on his taxes -- from his chairmanship of the tax-writing committee until the ethics investigation is complete. Republicans, who were swept from power in the 2006 elections partly because of their own ethics troubles, have continually criticized Democrats for this.

"To allow Mr. Rangel to continue to serve as Chairman of the very committee with IRS oversight...and with no end in sight to his ethics investigation, sends a clear message to the American public that this government refuses to abide by the same laws they impose on the working people of this country," Rep. John Carter (R-Texas) said in October.

Gallup's annual ethics survey, released this week, shows Americans' views of Congress are quickly turning negative. For the first time in the survey's history, a majority now say that the honesty and ethical standards of members of Congress is "low" or "very low." That is more than double the number of people who felt the same in 2000.

A recent survey of Democrats in Congress showed that a large percentage of Democrats are worried about the party's lack of follow-through on its 2006 promise "to lead the most honest, most open and most ethical Congress in history." National Journal's October poll of Democratic members found that just six-in-10 believe their party is doing enough to enforce ethics rules.

Some have attempted their own new initiatives without the approval of party leadership. A bill introduced in April by Rep. Paul Hodes (D-N.H.) and two other Democrats sought to prohibit members from taking campaign contributions from any entity for which that member sought an earmark. That bill was promptly shot down.

Pelosi also instructed her caucus this year not to comply with Rep. Jeff Flake's (R-Ariz.) attempts to launch an investigation into the relationship between earmarks and campaign contributions, an effort stemming from the FBI raid of a major lobbying group in February. Flake introduced nine privileged resolutions this year following PMA Group's closure and media reports on its connection to legislators on the Appropriations subcommittee for Defense, including Chairman John Murtha (D-Pa.).

All nine were killed on a mostly party-line vote, though at least 20 Democrats joined Republicans on most of the votes. After 27 Democrats voted with the GOP on April 1, Pelosi enlisted her California colleague Howard Berman "to consult with House Democrats on why they should continue to resist Republican demands for an ethics committee investigation," as Roll Call reported.

"It's disappointing that Congress continues to be unable to effectively self-police," said Sunlight Foundation senior writer Paul Blumenthal in a statement to RCP. "It's equally disappointing that questions of congressional ethics are bogged down in partisan politics."

GOP Numbers Improving In National Polls

After setbacks this fall, some Democratic strategists argued that the political environment is not anti-Democratic, but anti-incumbent. And for much of the year, Republicans' poll numbers have been worse than that of Democrats. But that appears to be changing.

** In a CNN poll, 40 percent say the country would be better off with Democrats in charge of Congress, while 39 percent say Republicans. In a previous survey conducted mid-summer, Democrats had a 10-point advantage on that question. At the start of the year, the margin was 56-31 in favor of the Democrats.

** In a Quinnipiac survey, voters now give similar grades to Republicans and Democrats in Congress: 30 percent approve of the GOP, while 33 percent approve of Democrats. That is down from a high of 45 percent for Democrats in March, while the GOP number has largely held steady, if not ticked slightly upward.

** In a new McClatchy/Ipsos poll, 51 percent view the Democratic Party favorably, while 46 view it unfavorably. That's down from a 61/34 split in November 2008. The GOP still has a negative net-approval, with a 44/54 split, but that's improved from 36/58 in last November. And in a series of questions on specific issues, Republican numbers are up while Democrats' are down, in some cases rather significantly.

** A new Bloomberg poll shows the GOP's net favorable rating is now -5, while the Democratic party's rating is +3. In a generic ballot test, the GOP leads 42-38.

That's quite a bit of data confirming that Republicans, after hitting bottom, are on the rebound, while Democrats are feeling the heat as the party in power.

Rubio: I Would Have Taken Stimulus Money

Did Marco Rubio just blur the lines on what had been his chief weapon against Charlie Crist in the Florida Senate race? In the words of one GOP operative, this story on the St. Pete Times' Web site "is about to explode."

We've struggled lately to get a clear answer from Marco Rubio on whether as governor he would have accepted money from the federal stimulus package about which he is so critical. Keith Cate on Tampa Bay's NBC affiliate got a clearer answer (See here):

"Ultimately I would have accepted those portions of the money that would not have put Florida in a worse position off in the future than it is right now," Rubio said.

Crist's advocacy of the stimulus package, appearing with President Obama at a Florida rally, has been the chief hammer in Rubio's insurgent effort. Only days ago, he sought to use the White House's latest jobs plans, which some call a second stimulus, against the Florida governor. "As a supporter of the first stimulus, Charlie Crist should acknowledge its failures and condemn this new call for a stimulus sequel that will grow our government and deficit at the expense of lasting private sector investment," Rubio said in a statement.

So can Rubio now continue to criticize Crist on the issue when he himself says he would have accepted money from the very same package? A Rubio spokesman has not yet weighed in.

UPDATE 2: The Rubio campaign now responds, arguing that Rubio's position on this issue has been entirely consistent, as opposed to Crist's evolving explanations on whether he did or did not support the stimulus program. They claim Crist's camp is now simply trying to "muddy the waters" in an attempt to distract from that record.

"We know Charlie Crist has been all over the map in his rationale for supporting this," Rubio spokesman Alex Burgos tells RCP. "I think that we're on strong ground in terms of what Marco would have done: he would have opposed it with every tool at his disposal, he would have rallied against it, and he would have rallied support for a conservative alternative."

UPDATE 1: After the jump, see how Democratic candidate Kendrick Meek's campaign pounces on the quote:

"While Rubio and Crist continue playing their petty political games, Kendrick Meek is proud that he supported the Recovery Plan and is consistently fighting to jumpstart the economy. Crist was for the stimulus, now he's against it. Rubio was against the stimulus, now he's for it. Kendrick has taken one position. He supports the stimulus and will lead the effort to create jobs and end Florida's foreclosure crisis.

Gingrich Praises Obama's "Historic" Nobel Speech

Reaction is trickling in to President Obama's Nobel acceptance speech this morning in Oslo, and it appears the surprising tone -- focused on the idea of just war -- is drawing praise across the ideological spectrum.

Former Speaker Newt Gingrich had this to say on WNYC radio's "The Takeaway" show:

"I thought the speech was actually very good. And he clearly understood that he had been given the prize prematurely, but he used it as an occasion to remind people, first of all, as he said: that there is evil in the world. I think having a liberal president who goes to Oslo on behalf of a peace prize and reminds the committee that they would not be free, they wouldn't be able to have a peace prize, without having force... I thought in some ways it's a very historic speech.

And the President, I think, did a very good job of representing the role of America which has been that of -- at the risk of lives of young Americans -- creating the fabric of security within which you could have a Martin Luther King Jr. or you could have a Mahatma Gandhi."

PA Senate Poll: Sestak Slipping

Pat Toomey's (R) numbers are on the rise and Joe Sestak's (D) numbers are falling in a new Pennsylvania Senate poll conducted by Rasmussen (1,200 LVs, 12/8, MoE +/- 3%). Toomey now leads both potential Democratic foes in the 2010 contest.

General Election Matchups
Toomey 46 (+1 vs. last poll, 10/13)
Specter 42 (+2)
Und 9 (-1)

Toomey 44 (+7)
Sestak 38 (unch)
Und 13 (-6)

Democratic Primary Election Matchup
Specter 48 (+2)
Sestak 35 (-7)
Und 14 (+4)

The primary sample of 442 likely Democratic voters has a margin of error of +/- 5%. Specter led Sestak by 16 in the previous RCP Average.

On health care, 44 percent support the Congressional plan while 53 percent oppose it. On the public option, 42 percent say they support creating one while 39 percent oppose. Sixty-two percent of Democratic primary voters support the public option.

GOP Attacks Health Care & Energy Bills as Job Killers

Republicans are taking every chance they get to paint Democrats' proposed policies -- any of them, but especially health care -- as job-killing measures. And recent polling shows the tactic could be paying off.

With 10 percent unemployment in the country, even President Obama's meeting with a bipartisan, bicameral group of congressional leaders Wednesday at the White House did little to bridge the divide among the parties on how best to create jobs. While the purpose of the meeting was job creation, Republican leadership from both chambers left arguing that passing health care or climate change legislation -- as Democrats are trying to do -- will actually lead to fewer jobs.

"At the same time we're having a jobs summit -- talking about creating jobs -- you're trying to pass a job-killing health care bill, a job-killing cap-and-trade bill, a runaway EPA administrator imposing heavy costs on the economy," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.), who attended the White House meeting, said at an afternoon press conference at the Capitol. "Health care, cap and trade, all of that imposes heavy cost on job creation."

"You see one job-killing idea after another coming out of the administration and Washington," added John Cornyn (R-Texas), chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

At the meeting, House Republican leaders John Boehner (Ohio), Eric Cantor (Va.), Mike Pence (Ind.) and Dave Camp (Mich.) handed Obama a letter of criticisms for his job-creating plans, as well as a list of their own proposals they say will create more jobs. The leaders later vocalized their criticisms of the administration and Democrats in Congress during a post-meeting press conference.

"Look at the national energy tax. You look at their health care proposal. It's going to raise the cost of employment and make it more difficult for employers to bring people back to work," said Boehner.

In emphasizing this point -- tying nearly every major policy initiative of the Democrats to a negative effect on the economy -- the GOP has raised its standing on handling the economy in the voters' eyes. A new survey out Wednesday by Ipsos-McClatchy found that congressional Democrats' 21-point lead over Republicans in November 2008 in the handling of economic issues has now dwindled to a statistical tie.

At the White House meeting, Republicans did say they were open to new legislation that could help create jobs. White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said Boehner indicated he would like to support a bipartisan job-stimulating bill, and McConnell told reporters that he would like to as well.

However, don't expect GOP attacks on other Democratic policies to let up in the near future.

"We're willing to talk about some kind of job-creating measure," said McConnell, "But the best thing we could do to get the economy rolling again would be to stop these [health care and cap-and-trade] measures from becoming law."

Rep. Baird (D-WA) Announces Retirement

Rep. Brian Baird (D-Wash.) became the third Democrat in as many weeks to announce he will not seek re-election next year. Baird and Reps. Dennis Moore (D-Kan.) and John Tanner (D-Tenn.) hail from competitive districts that Republicans are targeting as prime pick-up opportunities next year. Their exits also signal what could be a tough 2010 midterm election cycle for Democrats.

Baird's released statement: "The time has now come to pursue other options, other ways of serving. Hence, I am announcing today that I do not intend to seek reelection to Congress in 2010. This is not an easy decision to be sure, but I believe it is the right decision at the right time."

Baird has represented the 3rd District of Washington since 1998, and his winning percentage has increased in each election since. However, President Obama carried the Olympia-based district in the southwest corner of the state with just 53% of the vote. Four years earlier, President Bush won the district with 50% of the vote.

In a released statement, NRCC Chairman Pete Sessions said Baird's retirement "speaks to the shifting political environment" and "it is clear that members of the Majority are feeling the ground shaking beneath them."

Giannoulias Wins Labor Endorsement, Cuts 2nd TV Ad

Alexi Giannoulias, running for President Obama's former Senate seat, began airing his second TV ad of the campaign today in an effort to highlight his plan to create more jobs. The ad is airing in the Chicago and Springfield-Champaign-Decatur markets.

The Giannoulias campaign also announced today the endorsement of the Illinois chapter of the AFL-CIO, which has 1 million members. This latest support adds to his list of two dozen labor groups in the state that have already endorsed him, including the SEIU.

On Second Thought, Cunningham Sees Winnable Race In N.C.

At a time when some Democrats look ahead nervously to 2010, Cal Cunningham is diving right in.

The North Carolina Democrat had ruled out challenging incumbent Richard Burr next fall, but changed his mind this week and entered a race national Democrats feel could be one of their top pickup opportunities. In an interview with RCP Tuesday, Cunningham acknowledged Democratic setbacks this fall, but said the story was different in the Tar Heel State.

"We saw what happened in Virginia. We saw the results in New Jersey. But did you see our results in Charlotte?" he asked. "We elected a new, young, African-American, Democratic mayor for the first time in over 20 years. ... We won a number of the key municipal races, Democrats did, here in North Carolina. We think that there is a lot of good stuff happening."

Those results, combined with the reception he received as he toured the state in his exploratory phase, that led Cunningham to reconsider his earlier decision not to run.

"It's really not in my nature to sit on the sidelines when the challenges we're facing are as serious as they are," Cunningham said, citing the economic challenges nationally and in North Carolina, as well as the continued conflicts overseas involving many in the state. And Burr, elected to the Senate in 2004 after five terms in the House, has no significant accomplishments to show for his time in Washington, he argued.

"He hasn't really been doing his part to move us forward," he said. "To the contrary, he's voted down the party line to put us in the ditch, drive the country into the ditch. So I know we can do better."

Cunningham, a former state senator and a veteran of the Iraq war, is the latest Democrat to enter the race, joining Secretary of State Elaine Marshall among others. His decision to enter the race after initially turning it down emboldened Washington Democrats, who see Burr as vulnerable but were skeptical of Marshall's chances. Cunningham himself has some catching up to do now, particularly on the fundraising front. But he says he's been encouraged by the early support.

"We will work hard. We will have the resources to communicate with voters. And I think we've got a really good shot," he said.

The environment is shifting against Democrats nationally, but Cunningham argues that the state's changing demographics make this a favorable environment for the party. Though he praises the direction President Obama has taken, however, he says he plans to run a "North Carolina campaign."

"I'm going to have differences of opinion with the administration. And I'll have differences of opinion obviously with the way Republicans have conducted themselves," he said. "I look forward to working with [Obama] on many issues, both here and in Washington. But also from time to time making sure that we hold him and the administration accountable to make sure that North Carolina's voice is being heard."

Cunningham emphasized his military service in announcing his campaign, and will likely continue to do so in a state with a sizable population in the armed services. He said his experience in Iraq at "the peak of the surge" there leads him to support Obama's recent decision to send an additional 30,000 troops into Afghanistan.

"I know firsthand that it's going to take more boots on the ground for us to regain the initiative, break the back of the insurgency, and establish the security in Afghanistan that's going to really come back and protect our homeland," he said. "Let me also say, though, when he gives the order he just gave, it's North Carolinians that are going to carry it out. ... So I'm going to hold the administration accountable for success in the policy that the president just proposed."

Asked about criticism of the President by former Vice President Dick Cheney, who claimed Obama showed weakness in "dithering" on a decision, Cunningham did not mince words.

"I spent 900 days, since March of 2003, as a reservist on active duty as a result of the decisions the Bush administration made in Iraq, at a great cost to my family," he said. "So I don't give the former Vice President a whole lot of credibility on the issues. If I'm not mistaken, he exercised more than a few deferments of his national service."

OH Gov Poll: Kasich +9

Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland's (D) re-election hopes are growing dimmer if the new Rasmussen poll (500 LVs, 12/7, MoE +/- 4.5%) is any indication. The incumbent, who looked safe only a year ago, now trails Republican challenger John Kasich by 9 points in the battleground state.

General Election Matchup
Kasich 48
Strickland 38
Und 11

Job Approval
Obama 46 / 53
Strickland 48 / 50

Kasich's lead was just 46-45 in the previous Rasmussen survey in September. Kasich leads by 2.7 in the RCP Average of Ohio, a reflection of how the tide has seemingly turned in a short time. Rasmussen's take:

Unemployment in Ohio has jumped to 10.5%, the state is wrestling with an $851 million budget shortfall, and Governor Ted Strickland has proposed delaying a tax cut approved in 2005. Add it all together, and it's a tough environment for the incumbent Democratic governor.

Obama To GOP: Stop Scaring American People

Today's meeting with Congressional leadership at the White House was intended to be a demonstration of bipartisanship as officials look to stimulate the economy. To President Obama, bipartisanship came in the form of a request to GOP lawmakers to quit knocking what he feels is an economy that is in recovery.

"One of the things he told my Republican friends, is stop trying to frighten the American people," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid told reporters after the meeting. "He said it would help a lot if people would talk more positively about what is going on."

Republicans said that they came to the meeting with their own proposals for the White House to consider. House Minority Whip Eric Cantor said the meeting was actually "more in depth than usual," and that the president promised to consider them. But the party held firm to its view that any new jobs plan not include new spending.

"He challenged us to bring an economist to make the case that we ought not to be spending right now. We think that we've spent enough," Cantor said. "We think that spending money we don't have brings uncertainty, and in fact small and large businesses have reacted to that and have a whole lot of hesitancy about job creation."

To the point Obama made about scaring the public, House Minority Leader John Boehner said it's Obama's agenda that concerns business.

"The president wants to blame us for informing the American people about what's happening here and how it will effect them. But it's not what we're doing," he said. "It's the policies that they're promoting here in Washington."

A Democratic Schism In North Carolina

New Jersey Sen. Robert Menendez, chairman of Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, recently passed on to reporters the advice he gives to candidates in primaries -- save your negative campaigning for the general election. Just one day into what could be a tough primary race in North Carolina, that rule was already broken.

Democrats officially got their man Monday when former North Carolina state senator Cal Cunningham announced he will indeed challenge Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) next year. About a month ago, Cunningham opted against a bid despite the encouragement of the national party, but Rep. Bob Etheridge's (D-N.C.) subsequent decision not to run propelled Cunningham back into the race.

Already running was Secretary of State Elaine Marshall, who has been elected statewide four times, and attorney Kenneth Lewis. Much to the chagrin of Marshall's campaign, the DSCC was unimpressed with her and continued to recruit candidates it felt had the best chance of upending Burr and continuing the seat's perpetual turnover streak --no one has won re-election to the seat since the early 1970s.

Shortly after Cunningham's announcement Monday, the DSCC released a statement on the race that criticized Burr and touted Cunningham's resume, but made no mention of Marshall or Lewis.

"Richard Burr remains one of the most vulnerable Republicans in the United States Senate. ... [I]t has become clear that Richard Burr is beholden to the special interests in Washington," said DSCC spokesman Eric Schultz. "In contrast, Cal Cunningham served with distinction in Iraq; has a record of cracking down on waste, fraud and abuse; and is already building an exciting grassroots coalition on the ground in North Carolina."

Schultz added that "Burr's ongoing obstruction of health care reform is the latest reason why he's going to have a real race next November."

While it has not officially endorsed Cunningham, the DSCC's snub of Marshall led the campaign to release a statement Monday that was critical of Cunningham's ties to the national party, as well as his refusal to join the race until he was assured of the DSCC's backing.

"He's kind of the hokey pokey candidate -- he's in one minute and out the next. He's in the race because Washington wants to choose who North Carolina's nominee is going to be," said Thomas Mills, a Marshall consultant. "Cal Cunningham apparently is scared of a primary or he would have gotten in earlier. The only way he got in was with the support of the Washington power brokers."

Intraparty battles aren't just a Democratic worry in 2010. The Republican Party is facing similar situations in a few states where national leadership has given preferential treatment to certain candidates -- often the more moderate candidate, whom the party thinks has a better chance to win statewide.

In Florida, the National Republican Senatorial Committee quickly endorsed Gov. Charlie Crist despite the presence of conservative Marco Rubio in the race. Conservatives have also been up in arms over the assistance Carly Fiorina has received in her Senate bid in California, where Chuck DeVore is running as well. Both Rubio and DeVore have centered campaign attacks on their establishment-backed primary opponents, something Menendez had hoped to avoid in North Carolina, as well as other states like Pennsylvania, Colorado and Ohio, where more than one Democrat is running.

"Obviously we always prefer not to see primaries because we want to focus on the general election," Menendez told reporters during an off-camera briefing in late September. "My one admonition, generically, to all who may be in a race in a primary is that there is plenty to talk about on the Republican side. Focus on your assets and on the target; don't focus on each other.

"To the extent that people play out of bounds, we may get engaged and be referee and say, 'Hey, this is not useful, not helpful, inconsequential.' But so far, so good."

That was more than two months ago, and things may not be all good anymore. The DSCC's involvement in the race and last week's leak of Cunningham's imminent entrance happening on the same day as Marshall's husband's funeral has caused some anger in North Carolina Democratic circles.

Reached for further comment Tuesday, Mills told RealClearPolitics he does not anticipate "this being an especially nasty campaign" for the Democratic nomination.

"That being said I think that primaries should be determined by people who live in their state, and candidates should not be chosen -- I don't believe in coronations," said Mills. "We look forward to working with national Democrats when Elaine Marshall is the Democratic nominee in North Carolina."

For its part, the state party is staying completely neutral in the three-candidate race as it focuses its efforts on defeating Burr, and Chairman David Young is downplaying the role of the DSCC in the race.

"Now it's show me the money time -- it's about who can raise the money, who can generate the enthusiasm," Young told RCP. "I really believe if one of those three candidates starts showing big fundraising reports, that will be the chosen one."

CT Sen Poll: Dodd Trails All Foes

A new Rasmussen poll (500 LVs, 12/7, MoE +/- 4.5%) has more troubling signs for Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), with his numbers slipping against the three potential Republican foes.

General Election Matchups
Simmons 48 (-1 vs. last poll, 9/10)
Dodd 35 (-4)
Und 11 (+5)

McMahon 44 (N/A)
Dodd 38
Und 9

Schiff 40 (unch)
Dodd 39 (-3)
Und 14 (+4)

Favorable Ratings
Dodd 40 / 58
Simmons 48 / 30
McMahon 45 / 35
Schiff 35 / 31

President Obama remains popular in Connecticut, with 57 percent approving of his job performance and 43 percent disapproving. Forty-eight support the health care plan in Congress, while 51 percent oppose it. Rasmussen finds the sentiment on health care more favorable in Connecticut than other states.

SC Poll: DeMint Safe, For Now

Without a significant challenger, South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint (R) looks to be safe as he seeks a second term in 2010. But there are some warning signs in a new Public Policy Polling (D) survey (570 RVs, 12/3-6, MoE +/- 4.1%).

In a hypothetical mathchup, DeMint gets 47 percent of the vote, compared with 38 percent for a generic Democrat, with 16 percent undecided. DeMint's approval rating is also under 50 percent -- with 44 percent approving and 29 percent disapproving. President Obama actually has a slightly higher approval rating with 46 percent, but 49 percent disapprove of his job performance.

If there is a challenge to be made, a Democrat could run on the notion that DeMint is giving his constituents short shrift. Forty-one percent of those surveyed agreed with the notion that DeMint is more focused on "being a national leader in the conservative movement," while 29 percent thought he's advocating for South Carolina. DeMint recently said he wished he'd shouted "You Lie!" at Obama, as his Congressional colleague did. And Democrats also seized on a quote from DeMint, saying, "Every vote I take is not about South Carolina. It's about the United States of America."

In the Palmetto State, 35 percent say they support the health care bill while 53 percent oppose it.

UPDATE: Rasmussen also has some numbers in South Carolina today, in a survey of 500 likely voters. In South Carolina, voters said the Republican Party should be more like DeMint than his Republican colleague, Lindsay Graham, by a 38-32 percent margin.

DeMint's favorable rating in this survey is 63 percent, while 25 percent have an unfavorable view. That number is certainly in the range where incumbents can be considered safe.

KS Sen Poll: Moran +3

In the race to replace Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.), who's running for governor, Republican Reps. Jerry Moran and Todd Tiahrt continue to find their separation in the polls within the margin of error. A new SurveyUSA poll finds Moran leading by 3 points (Dec. 4-7, 466 GOP LV, MoE +/- 4.6%). Nearly three in 10 likely Republican primary voters remain undecided.

Moran 37
Tiahrt 34
Und 29

Tiahrt has the more conservative voting record and was favored 40%-33% in the poll among voters who identified themselves as conservative. Among moderates, 46% chose Moran and 25% favored Tiahrt.

Moran was first elected in 1996 and Tiahrt came to Congress in historic 1994 freshman class. Both are leaving behind mostly safe districts to run for higher office -- Moran never won with less than 73% of the vote (which came in his first election to Congress), while Tiahrt has held off underfunded challengers this decade with more than 60% each time. The primary will take place in August 2010.

Hoyer Calls Out 'Party of No'

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer called on Republicans in the House and Senate to step up to the historical standard of bipartisanship and begin debating major pieces of legislation in good faith.

"One of our two great parties is now an organization committed to an unprecedented level of lockstep opposition to the president," said Hoyer. "A 'Party of No,' whose political strategy is an investment in failure for our country and paralysis for its institutions."

In a 30-minute speech yesterday to the Center for American Progress, Hoyer cited a number of instances in which both parties in the last half-century worked toward compromise on major legislation: civil rights in 1964, Medicare in 1965, Social Security in 1983, tax reform in 1986, No Child Left Behind in 2001. He also included environmental legislation under Richard Nixon, welfare reform under Bill Clinton and the 1956 interstate highway bill.

"No one expects Republicans to roll over for President Obama," said Hoyer. "But the 'Party of No' strategy is so disappointing because the history of Congress is full of loyal oppositions that shared responsibility for governing in trying times and shaped some of the most important legislation of their eras."

Hoyer's comments come as the Senate engages in bitter floor debate on comprehensive health care reform -- debate that has seen Republicans use tactical, parliamentary tools to slow the progress of the bill. Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.), who is retiring at the end of next year and turned down the Commerce Secretary position in the Obama administration, became the face of the GOP's maneuvers when his memo to colleagues on how to slow debate was leaked to the press.

Senate Majority Whip Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) said in an MSNBC interview yesterday that Republicans have used "91 different efforts to stop and slow down debate" this year.

House Republicans scoffed at Hoyer's comments. When reached for comment, the office of Republican Conference Chairman Mike Pence (R-Ind.) directed RealClearPolitics toward a website that houses the GOP's alternatives to the Democrats' legislation for stimulating the economy, energy, health care and the budget (

"House Republicans have brought forth several plans to lower health care costs, create jobs and bring our fiscal house to order," Pence said in a statement to RCP. "Unfortunately, Democrats and the Administration have refused to work across party lines to create common-sense solutions that help our nation's hard-working families. Republicans will continue to put politics aside to move our country in the right direction."

While Hoyer admitted that Democrats have not been perfect, the speech centered on the failings of Republicans in the current Congress -- as opposed to Democrats and Republicans in years past that worked together to craft legislation.

"It is easy to understand why the Majority Leader is more eager to attack Republicans than defend his own Leadership's record," Michael Steel, spokesman for House Minority Leader John Boehner, said in a statement to RCP. "Every time out-of-touch Washington Democrats have chosen to go it alone on some liberal scheme this year, Republicans have offered a better solution, rooted in our principles. Democrats need to stop whining about us and actually get something done to help the American people."

No "Silver Bullet" In Obama Jobs Speech

Though reluctant to "step on" his own speech President Obama today offered some hint of his planned remarks on the economy tomorrow, saying it'll focus on the need to ensure job growth "matches up with economic growth."

"What we've seen is, is that companies shed jobs very quickly, partly induced by the panic of what was happening on Wall Street, and they are still tentative about hiring back all those people who were laid off," Obama told reporters after an Oval Office meeting with Turkey's prime minister. He also said companies may have become more efficient after doing more with less for so long "that they may feel that they can produce the same amount of goods or services without as many employees."

Press secretary Robert Gibbs said that the president also intends to send a message to Main Street that "help is on the way." To that end, Obama is expected to call for using some funds originally allocated for the TARP program for new stimulus measures.

"It sends the message that your economic vitality is just as important as anybody that lives or works or breathes on Wall Street. That's the message the President has hoped and wanted to send for his entire administration, and that's what he's done in the recovery plan; that's what he'll continue to do tomorrow in his speech," Gibbs said.

Don't expect to hear any grand cure-all for the nation's persistent unemployment problem, however.

"The President is not going to unveil the silver bullet idea ... [where] all the jobs that will be made up by the loss in the economic downturn and then some," Gibbs said. "If there was one idea to do this, I assume it would have been done sometime in the intervening 22 months."

Gibbs also declined to call any new programs announced tomorrow a "second stimulus." Meanwhile, some have questioned whether Obama can and should use funds originally allocated for the TARP program for any new initiatives. Gibbs said that the White House "is looking at" that possibility, especially given the unexpected $200 billion coming back to the Treasury coffers as financial institutions repay their federal bailout.

"The president again, and the team, as well as members of Capitol Hill are looking at these questions to see what are the important and necessary next steps, some of which, but not all of which, the president will discuss tomorrow," Gibbs said.

SC Gov Poll: GOP Favored To Hold Sanford Seat

A new Rasmussen poll in South Carolina (500 LVs, 12/2, MoE +/- 4.5%) shows Republicans generally well-positioned in the race to succeed Gov. Mark Sanford (R). State Education Superintendent Jim Rex is the strongest Democrat, and actually leads Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer in one matchup.

General Election Matchups
Barrett 39 -- Rex 33 -- Und 21
Bauer 35 -- Rex 36 -- Und 16
McMaster 39 -- Rex 32 -- Und 19

Barrett 45 -- Sheheen 23 -- Und 20
Bauer 39 -- Sheheen 29 -- Und 19
McMaster 43 -- Sheheen 26 -- Und 21

Favorable Ratings
Barrett 51 / 20
Bauer 46 / 38
McMaster 50 / 27
Rex 36 / 37
Sheheen 30 / 34

Clinton For Coakley In MA Sen

Bill Clinton is rewarding another supporter of his wife's presidential campaign with an endorsement, recording a robo-call for Massachusetts Senate candidate Martha Coakley.

"Martha Coakley will go to Washington to fight every day to create good jobs with good benefits and to get health reform with a strong public option. You can trust her to get results in the Senate just as she has as your Attorney General," Clinton says in the call.

Coakley's campaign says the call will reach 500,000 voters before Tuesday's Democratic primary election.

Coakley, the Massachusetts Attorney General, backed now-Secretary of State Clinton while other statewide officials, most notably the late Sen. Edward Kennedy, backed President Obama. With his wife unable to politic in her new role, the former President has been active on behalf of her supporters.

NV Sen Poll: Reid's Ads Do Little To Improve Numbers

A new Mason Dixon poll (625 RVs, MoE +/- 4%) for the Las Vegas Review-Journal shows Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D) trailing two potential GOP opponents.

General Election Matchups
Lowden 51 (+2 vs last poll, 10/6-8)
Reid 41 (+2)
Und 8 (-4)

Tarkanian 48 (unch)
Reid 42 (-1)
Und 10 (-1)

The showing should be of concern since this poll shows little movement after Reid hit the airwaves making the case for re-election. "It just shows that Reid has reached a point where people aren't listening to him anymore," Danny Tarkanian consultant Jamie Fisfis tells the Review-Journal.

Former state Republican Party chair Sue Lowden edges Tarkanian, son of the former UNLV hoops coach, in a nine-person primary (six of the candidates polled at just 1 percent or less).

Republican Primary Election Matchup
Lowden 25 (+2)
Tarkanian 24 (+3)
Angle 13 (+4)
Other 5 (+2)
Und 33 (-11)

Favorable Ratings
Reid 38 / 49
Lowden 33 / 13
Tarkanian 32 / 12

Tanner's District May Not Be Bellwether GOP Hoped For

Republicans are touting Democratic Rep. John Tanner's retirement announcement as a troubling sign for Democrats nationally, as well as a home-run pick-up opportunity for the GOP. However, Tennessee's 8th District is hardly a place Republicans should be feeling overconfident, and Democrats there have withstood even stronger national GOP headwinds.

"The moment they put it up on those betting sites as a Republican takeover, I'll certainly start betting," Harrison Hickman, a Democratic pollster who worked on each of Tanner's election efforts as well for Al Gore, said in an interview with RealClearPolitics.

Those close to Tanner maintain he did not retire out of fear of losing re-election.

"Congressman Tanner thought about not running two years ago -- it has nothing to do with whether he thought he could win re-election," said Hickman. "We did a poll this summer and he was in very good shape."

Hickman notes that Tanner won the district "when Bill Clinton was less popular than Barack Obama is right now," as well as "when Republican candidates like George Bush were really popular." Tanner also won 64 percent in 1994, when the GOP won back Congress, and 70 percent in 2002, another good year for Republicans.

Democrat Harold Ford Jr. won the district in his unsuccessful 2006 Senate race, and Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander lost it in his first election to the Senate in 2002. John McCain won 56 percent of the district's vote last year, while Tanner ran unopposed. At the state government level, 14 of the 20 state representatives and senators within the 8th District are Democrats.

"It is a district that is Democratic in the way that Arkansas-1 is with Marion Berry," said Hickman. "It's a rural, agricultural district just like Marion's and is about 20% African American. It's a place that has a history in making the distinction between local Democrats and national Democrats they don't like."

Tanner's exit has brought a flurry of interest from state and local Democrats who see a golden opportunity to head to Congress. However, one reason for the GOP's giddiness is Stephen Fincher, a farmer and member of a gospel singing group who quickly raised $300,000 by the end of the 3rd fundraising quarter.

This provided Republicans with an apparent credible challenger to Tanner, though the congressman had more than $1.3 million in the bank at the end of September. When he was recruited by the National Republican Congressional Committee, Fincher was nowhere on state Democrats' radar screens and he has yet to undergo scrutiny from the party or the press.

Democratic State Sen. Roy Herron announced his candidacy less than a day after Tanner's Tuesday night retirement announcement, and three days later remains the only candidate to step forward. Herron, who left the governor's race to run for the seat, has nearly $500,000 dollars in his gubernatorial account, according to Tennessee Democratic Party Chairman Chip Forrester.

Forrester told RCP he believes Herron, through a process of returning contributions and asking donors to re-contribute to his federal campaign, will be able to convert at least 90 percent of the money within the next month.

"The fact that he will be able to convert almost a half-million dollars to a congressional bank account...I think certainly puts him as the lead dog at this juncture," said Forrester. "But it is still early."

Other Democratic names currently being circulated in Tennessee include: Matt Kisber, Tennessee's commissioner of Economic and Community Development; state Sen. Doug Jackson; former state Rep. Phillip Pinion; and current state Reps. Craig Fitzhugh and Mark Maddox. State Sen. Lowe Finney, the Democratic Caucus chairman, is opting not to run, Forrester said.

The NRCC quickly moved to paint Herron as someone in line with liberal Democrats in Washington. "Lawyer-politician-professor Roy Herron's 23-year Nashville record is a veritable smorgasbord of Obama-style liberalism," read one statement.

However, as Hickman, who's also doing polling for Herron, says, "Herron is a former preacher -- they can't out-God him," even with a gospel singer.

Sign Of The Times: Hostettler To Challenge Bayh

In perhaps another indication of Republicans' growing confidence about the 2010 landscape, former Indiana Rep. John Hostettler (R) announced today that he will challenge Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.).

In a YouTube video, Hostettler ties Bayh closely to the national Democratic Party, repeatedly mentioning Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid as he criticized the steps taken to address the economic downturn, and claims Bayh and Reid are now blaming others "for their years of failed leadership."

"What do they have to show for it? Unemployment is the highest that it has been in a quarter century," Hostettler says. "We can't afford to allow Harry Reid and Evan Bayh to have six more years to bankrupt our children's future."

Hostettler, a member of the GOP class of 1994, was a victim of the 2006 Democratic wave, losing to Brad Ellsworth. His entrance makes him the biggest name in the GOP field of candidates, and could give national Republicans reason to look more closely at a race that had not necessarily been thought of as a pickup opportunity.

It may be too soon to predict how the former Congressman will perform in a statewide race against a longtime officeholder in Bayh, especially given the nature of his 2006 defeat. He has an interesting profile as one of only a handful of Republicans who voted against the Iraq resolution in 2002.

The announcement could be bad news for Democrats for another reason, though, coming at a time when Reid needs every vote in his caucus to pass health care legislation. The moderate Bayh has been a target of independent issue campaigns already.

"Evan Bayh has been very popular historically in Indiana, from secretary of state to governor and ultimately to senator," St. Joseph County Republican Party chairman Chris Riley told RCP today. "However, the changing political landscape may create more vulnerability than one might have previously expected, and certainly the way he comes down on health care is going to be a major factor in the 2010 elections."

Can Artur Davis Make History in Alabama?

One after another, speakers at the Democratic Governors Association meeting yesterday in Washington said how tricky 2010 would prove for just about anybody seeking to gain or hold office. One example is Alabama, where Republican Gov. Bob Riley is term-limited -- and a young, Harvard-educated, Democratic representative in Congress is seeking to replace him.

Should he win the Democratic primary and general election, Rep. Artur Davis would become the first African American governor in a state still dogged by its bleak civil rights history. Mr. Davis's polling shows that Alabama voters are increasingly willing to elect a black to state-wide office.

Still, he would be giving up a safe Congressional seat for what many consider a high-risk, though potentially history-making, venture. Mr. Davis has repeatedly held his current seat with at least three-fourths of the vote since coming to Congress in 2002. The district is 64% black.

On the other hand, though two of the last four Alabama governors have been Democrats, Barack Obama -- Mr. Davis's friend in law school -- did abysmally there, losing the state by 21 points after pretty much writing it off from the start.

"More than a few people have asked me: Why are you giving up a safe seat in the U.S. Congress to run in a pretty red state?" Mr. Davis said yesterday at the DGA event. "Something is stirring in the state of Alabama right now."

Mr. Davis said that in the 19 polls he has seen on the race since September 2007, "We have been ahead of or within the margin of error of every Republican in every poll."

For its part, the DGA less sanguinely lists Alabama as a second-tier pick-up opportunity for Democrats, along with Alaska, Georgia, Hawaii and Utah. Top-tier opportunities outlined yesterday by DGA Executive Director Nathan Daschle include Arizona, California, Connecticut, Florida, Minnesota, Nevada and Vermont.

DE Sen Poll: Castle Holds Lead Over Biden

A new Public Policy Polling (D) survey in Delaware gives Rep. Mike Castle (R) a 6-point lead over Attorney General Beau Biden (D) in the 2010 special election to fill Vice President Biden's unexpired term. That is only slightly changed from a March survey also showing Castle ahead.

General Election Matchup
Castle 45 (+1 vs. last poll, 3/5-8)
Biden 39 (+3)
Und 16 (-4)

Castle leads by 1.7 in the RCP Average for the race.

Castle has a stronger favorable rating -- 55/28 -- than Biden -- 43/35. Castle, an established moderate Republican who has won a dozen statewide races in Delaware, also has a stronger hold on his own base with 79 percent of the Republican vote, compared to Biden's 65 percent draw among Democrats. Castle leads among independent voters 52-23 percent. Asked about his ideology, 19 percent of Delawareans say Castle is too liberal, 26 percent say he's too conservative, and 55 percent say he's "just right."

"Mike Castle has more appeal to Democrats and independents than any other Republican Senate candidate in the country and that's allowing him to hold the early lead in this race," said PPP's Dean Debnam.

President Obama's approval rating in the state is down to 53 percent, while 41 percent approve. The survey was conducted November 30-December 2 among 571 registered voters, and has a margin of error of +/- 4.1%.

Sen. Corker's Daughter Carjacked Last Night

Sen. Bob Corker's (R-Tenn.) daughter was carjacked last night in Northwest Washington. Corker's chief of staff Todd Womack released the following statement:

On Wednesday evening around 9:15 p.m., Senator Corker's daughter, Julia, 22, was involved in a carjacking in Northwest Washington. She was driving to the apartment she shares with her father approximately nine blocks from the Capitol and stopped at an intersection when she was pulled from her vehicle, a Chevy Tahoe, and thrown to the ground. She did not suffer serious injuries. She is a bit sore and shaken up but doing well. Senator Corker was nearby and able to get to the scene of the incident very quickly. The perpetrators were caught shortly after, were positively identified, and are in custody in Seat Pleasant, Maryland. Senator Corker is very grateful that Julia was not seriously injured, that those who committed the crime were quickly apprehended, and he is extremely appreciative to the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department, the Capitol Police, the FBI, and the Seat Pleasant Police Department for their quick response and professionalism.

AR Sen Poll: Lincoln Trailing GOP Foes

Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) continues to trail in her bid for re-election, a new Rasmussen poll (500 LVs, 12/1, MoE +/- 4.5%) finds today.

General Election Matchups
Hendren 46 (+2 vs. last poll, 9/28)
Lincoln 39 (-2)
Und 9 (-1)

Baker 47 (unch)
Lincoln 41 (+2)
Und 7 (+1)

Coleman 44 (+1)
Lincoln 40 (-1)
Und 9 (-2)

Cox 43 (unch)
Lincoln 40 (unch)
Und 10 (-1)

Lincoln's numbers have not changed dramatically since she cast a key vote to bring health care legislation to the floor of the Senate. But Rasmussen finds that 56 percent of Arkansans are strongly opposed to the Democrats' plan; 9 percent somewhat oppose, while only 32 percent strongly or somewhat favor it. Lincoln leads her potential challengers among voters who support the plan, but trails by more than 50 points among voters who strongly oppose it.

Favorable Ratings
Lincoln 43 / 52
Hendren 41 / 19
Baker 40 / 19
Coleman 37 / 22
Cox 41 / 19

President Obama also fares poorly in the state, with just a 34 percent approval rating. A potential boost to Lincoln could be the strong performance of Gov. Mike Beebe (D) who'll be at the top of the ticket -- he has a 70 percent approval rating.

Running In His Father's Shadow, Reid Zeroes In On Economy

His father is one of the most powerful Democrats in Washington. But Rory Reid said he's running for governor in his home state because, in his words, "We're not going to solve all Nevada's problems here in Washington."

"We've been kicking the can down the road for decades in Nevada," Reid told a group of reporters in Washington Wednesday. He talked about a 1955 Colliers Magazine story that discussed Nevada's "boom-and-bust revenue cycle, an education system with tremendous problems, and gaping holes in its social safety net." " If you erased the date on that story and typed in today's date, it would be exactly the same. And I'm running because we need to change the end of the story."

The story almost everyone else wanted to talk about, though, was the political spectacle that will take place in the Silver State next year when Reid shares the ballot with his father, the Senate majority leader and one of the top GOP targets. The younger Reid, who resembles his father both in appearance and temperament, said he was happy to discuss what he conceded was a "curious" situation. And he came armed with a number of one-liners.

"I love my father more -- than any of you," he deadpanned. "Lots more."

But he says he took the decision to run very seriously, doing "every kind of qualitative and quantitative research that you can do."

"That data and my personal experience lead me to believe that, while it's interesting to talk about, in a race that's yet unformed ultimately I'm going to be running against somebody," he said. "It's a binary decision -- people are going to vote for me or the other person. As they make that decision they're going to consider the thing that any voter does when they make that decision - which one of these candidates will make my life better. That's why they're going to vote for me or not vote for me."

Reid had a relentless focus on the state's economy in the meeting, which took place at the office of the Democratic Governors Association just before the organization's winter meeting. The Clark County Commissioner is being touted by the organization as one of its top candidates in a top-tier race. Reid said he thinks he'll win because he's the only candidate so far whose outlined a detailed plan to reverse Nevada's slide.

"I'm trying to have the campaign of ideas," he said. "The day I announced I challenged the others in this race to either propose something themselves, or I would assume that they agreed with me. So far, everybody agrees with me."

Nevada's incumbent governor is Jim Gibbons, who limped over the finish line in the 2006 race despite a series of scandals that broke on the eve of the election. Since taking office, his woes have continued, and he faces several Republican challengers. It's a situation that should have Democrats bullish over their chances, and Reid, a former state party chairman, said the landscape on paper is very "fertile ground" for Democrats in part because of the impact of the 2008 presidential caucus.

But some are skeptical, citing 'the Reid factor.' The younger Reid refused to speculate about his father's campaign for re-election to the Senate, saying, "I don't want to play in anybody else's sandbox but mine," and again pivoting the question to the economy.

"Every candidate in Nevada should be talking about what he or she is going to do to put Nevadans back to work," he said. "Our unemployment rate is unacceptable. It's doubled in a year. And if somebody isn't talking about putting Nevadans back to work, if they're not waking up a at 2 in the morning staring at the ceiling worrying about it, then they're confused."

This Reid, who said he's running the ideas campaign and criticized earlier politicians who "tend to say nothing," also dodged questions on a number of national issues, including health care and the fresh announcement that President Obama was deploying 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan.

"I have an opinion that isn't relevant to what the policy will be, so I'm going to work on the things that will matter for Nevadans, that I can affect directly," he said.

Rep. Jones: Democrats Not Alone In Wanting War To End

When four members of Congress joined Tuesday afternoon for a press conference outlining their displeasure with President Obama's commitment of 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan, it was not surprising to see Republican Rep. Walter Jones (N.C.) standing alongside three liberal Democrats. However, his remarks to a few reporters following the event offered further insight into Jones's opposition.

About a month ago, Jones said, a retired general -- whom Jones would not name, but said he was well known enough to be instantly recognized -- told him the military cannot withstand another increase in troops.

"We are about to break the military. Tell your colleagues not to support the president in sending 45- or 50,000 more troops. Because I don't want to make the same mistake I made in Iraq," Jones said the general told him.

The eight-term congressman then said if Congress were able to vote on whether or not to send troops, he would not be the only Republican to vote against it.

"There are seven to 10 Republicans that believe we need to have an end to this policy," said Jones, who emphasized that they would only vote no on the policy, not necessarily a vote to fund the troops.

Jones's 3rd District covers most of the North Carolina coastline and is home to the Marine Corps's Camp Lejeune and Cherry Point air station. Fifteen percent of the district's population is military veterans -- one of the highest percentages in the country.

After voting to authorize the use of force in Iraq in 2002, Jones became deeply affected by the mounting combat deaths and decided he no longer could support the war effort. He joined Democrats in pushing Bush for a timetable for withdrawal in 2005 and in the 2007 vote disapproving of Bush's troop surge in Iraq. He has also written thousands of letters to the families of soldiers that were killed in Iraq.

So it was no surprise to see Jones standing next to three of the most liberal members of Congress in opposing the latest troop surge: Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wisc.), Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) and Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.). They all agreed that Congress should be able to debate the surge before troops are deployed, though that is not expected to happen.

New Chair Markell Outlines DGA Offensive For 2010

Delaware Gov. Jack Markell is just 11 months into his first term, but takes a high-profile leadership post in the Democratic Party today as the new chairman of the Democratic Governors Association for 2010. A formal announcement is to be made shortly at the organization's Holiday Meeting here in Washington.

Markell had already been serving as the DGA's finance chairman. As incoming chair, replacing Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer, he now cements his status as a rising figure in the national Democratic Party and is charged with the difficult task of heading up the party's efforts to hold its majority of governorship in 2010. It's a quick rise, too -- consider that just over a year ago, Markell was not even the choice of many establishment Democrats in Delaware as he ran for the office. Retiring Gov. Ruth Ann Minner (D) was among those backing the then-lieutenant governor, John Carney, in the September gubernatorial primary. Markell, then state Treasurer, won that race by under 2,000 votes before cruising to a general election win.

In an exclusive op-ed for Real Clear Politics, the new DGA chairman lays out the challenges his party specifically faces in 2010, particularly after two defeats this past November. But he also previews the offensive effort they'll be making against the Republicans.

Admittedly, history's headwind is working against us. Since 1978, the President's party has traditionally lost an average of five Governor's offices during the first mid-term election. And though Republicans may outspend us, the DGA is better prepared than at any point in our history to help our candidates. We helped recruit strong candidates around the country and are making early investments in key states.

In fact, we are starting some of those investments today, with a new effort to put our opponents on notice. The DGA will hold them accountable for any attempt they make to block our nation's return to greater prosperity. This new initiative, The GOP Accountability Project, will remind people in critical states that the same Republicans who are pledging progress now helped create the national recession which we have had to work so hard to reverse.

Rep. Woolsey: Majority Of Dems Will Vote Against War Funding

Here is an excerpt from my story this morning on liberal reaction in Congress to President Obama's troop surge in Afghanistan:

For most of the public policy decisions in the first 10 months of his presidency, President Obama has enjoyed the backing of the liberal wing of his party. However, Obama's latest move -- sending 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan -- places him at odds with many of his most ardent supporters in Congress.

The two co-chairs of the 82-member Congressional Progressive Caucus -- the largest subgroup in Congress -- oppose the troop surge and are just two of a sizeable number of Democrats who are likely to vote against its funding.

"I believe that the majority of Democrats are going to vote against funding for an escalation in Afghanistan," Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif.) told RealClearPolitics in an interview last night following Obama's speech at West Point.

You can read the rest here.

Perry: Cross Me Off 2012 List

Rick Perry's national profile has been boosted this year, owing to his strong support of the Tea Party movement and vociferous criticism of the policies coming out of Washington. That's just one reason we put the Texas governor on our list of potential dark horses in the 2012 presidential election. But in an interview with RCP Tuesday afternoon, Perry said to cross his name off.

"No," he said bluntly when asked if he had any interest in a White House run in three years "My interest is in Texas."

Perry argued that "a successful, focused" governor in a major state like his can do just as much to put the nation on the right path.

"I hope that 2010 will not only see a substantial number of Republican governors who share those values elected across the country, but that in 2012 we put forward a candidate and elect that individual to be the president of the United States to be a partner with those states as we build this country back to the strong economic power that it needs to be," he said.

Perry had high praise for a former colleague, Sarah Palin, saying she would be a "very, very talented and incredibly focused candidate" should she decide to run. But, "I think it's a bit premature for us to be proclaiming her - I'll allow her the privilege of making that decision," he added.

In the interview, Perry also offered his thoughts on President Obama's planned announcement on Afghanistan, saying the commander in chief needed to heed the request of the commanders on the ground.

"We have the ability to continue to keep the fight against the Taliban and al Qaida in that part of the world," he said. "Those military leaders have spent a lifetime studying tactic and politics, and they are substantially better qualified, in my opinion, than the president [who's] trying to make a decision to placate those on the left who want him to unilaterally cut and run."

We'll have more of the interview with Perry later this week.

Excerpts of President Obama's Afghanistan Speech

Fresh from the White House, here's what they want network news audiences and reporters to focus on in the 90 minutes before the full speech is delivered:

"The 30,000 additional troops that I am announcing tonight will deploy in the first part of 2010 - the fastest pace possible - so that they can target the insurgency and secure key population centers. They will increase our ability to train competent Afghan Security Forces, and to partner with them so that more Afghans can get into the fight. And they will help create the conditions for the United States to transfer responsibility to the Afghans."


"Because this is an international effort, I have asked that our commitment be joined by contributions from our allies. Some have already provided additional troops, and we are confident that there will be further contributions in the days and weeks ahead. Our friends have fought and bled and died alongside us in Afghanistan. Now, we must come together to end this war successfully. For what's at stake is not simply a test of NATO's credibility - what's at stake is the security of our Allies, and the common security of the world."


"Taken together, these additional American and international troops will allow us to accelerate handing over responsibility to Afghan forces, and allow us to begin the transfer of our forces out of Afghanistan in July of 2011. Just as we have done in Iraq, we will execute this transition responsibly, taking into account conditions on the ground. We will continue to advise and assist Afghanistan's Security Forces to ensure that they can succeed over the long haul. But it will be clear to the Afghan government - and, more importantly, to the Afghan people - that they will ultimately be responsible for their own country."

Obama and His Speechwriters Tackle Another High Stakes Address

In both his campaign for the presidency and his first year in office, Barack Obama has made countless speeches billed as "major addresses." There is no doubting that tonight's speech outlining a long-awaited policy decision on America's engagement in Afghanistan rises to that level, and marks another test of his, and his speechwriting team's, reputation for rhetorical flourish.

According to the White House, President Obama worked throughout the weekend on tonight's speech with Ben Rhodes, his top wordsmith on national security issues. Polishing the speech will continue throughout the day today -- something not necessarily uncommon for this kind of speech, veterans of presidential speechwriting say -- but particularly so for this president.

"There aren't that many speeches in the course of a year that rise to the level of the speech that the president's going to give [Tuesday]," said one former speechwriter for President Bill Clinton. "There is a much more careful weighing of the words in a speech like this than in just about any other speech that a president will give."

Tonight, Obama faces the pressure of not only announcing a complicated strategy to an increasingly skeptical public, but also explaining the decision, and most likely outlining an end game as well.

"The president now not only needs to explain his case, but to try to rally public support and hold off criticisms in his own party," said Peter Wehner, a member of the speechwriting team for President George W. Bush as the Afghanistan war was launched in 2001. "It's politically complicated as well as morally important. When you take all of those things together, it's a pretty high stakes speech."

Any speech must be written mindful of the audience it's being delivered to. A speech outlining military strategy as this one will has arguably the most complicated audience, including lawmakers, the American people, international allies, and the enemy itself. Setting this one at West Point rather than, say, having an Oval Office address, was a wise move, Wehner said.

"You have the capacity to give a longer speech when you have an audience as opposed to an Oval Office speech," he said. President Bush's address to a joint session of Congress in the wake of the 9/11 attacks ran nearly an hour. "There's no way you can give an Oval Office speech of anything like that. So you have the capacity in these speeches to explain it better."

Special steps will likely have been taken to ensure that any leaks are kept to a minimum with this kind of speech. And the circle of advisers who weigh in, though dependent on the style of each administration, would be kept tighter as well, with the national security and foreign policy arms playing the biggest role.

In Obama's case, he has tended to take an even larger, more personal role in the process, which has a significant impact on the team crafting the speech with him. Ultimately, the job of the speechwriter is to "explain the president's case in the best way possible," and to do so "in a way that captures his voice and hopefully elevates it ... makes it stronger, better and more persuasive," Wehner said.

One thing to be wary of in a speech of this magnitude is overreaching, said Wehner. "There are certain moments where you understand that you're writing speeches for history," he said. "You're cognizant of that and you want to take that into account, and that hopefully spurs you to do a better job. But there's often a temptation among speechwriters in key moments to overwrite. Everybody wants to become Churchill, and there's only one Churchill."