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Blog Home Page --> January 2010

GOP To Obama: Pelosi's The Problem

BALTIMORE, Md. -- President Obama and House Republicans had a rather candid, at times combative, but overall a fascinating and rare public exchange on the successes and failures of the administration's first year in office here today. Republicans came in determined to show that they in fact have been more than the "party of no" that Democrats portray them as, while Obama called on the opposition to tone down what he deemed as hyperbolic attacks.

In the end, what emerged from the session was a clear sense of how Republicans could potentially frame this year's midterm elections. Multiple Congressmen rose to hail the president's promises and intentions but argued that he has been ill-served by an obstinate House Democratic leadership, and specifically Speaker Pelosi.

That point was driven home most effectively, perhaps, by Rep. Pete Roskam (R-Ill.), a former colleague of Obama's in the Illinois state Senate. He said he had enjoyed collaborating on tough issues with Obama in Springfield, but wondered what had changed.

"You've gotten the subtext of House Republicans that sincerely want to come and be a part of this national conversation toward solutions, but they've really been stiff-armed by Speaker Pelosi," Roskam said. "The obstacle is, frankly, the politics within the Democratic caucus."

Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.), the GOP conference chairman, was more blunt, waving a compilation of his party's ideas, and saying to the president that the summary "is backed up by precisely the kind of detailed legislation that Speaker Pelosi and your administration have been busy ignoring for 12 months."

That tactic might be especially appropriate if the president's numbers, while not as high as the early days of his administration, remain in positive territory as November approaches. They did, though, manage to extract some more concessions from Obama that he has failed to live up to some of his promises. For instance, he again conceded that he broke a pledge to hold all health care negotiations on C-SPAN, while hedging somewhat to say doing so might have been logistically impossible.

For his part, Obama said he appreciated Republicans' show of ideas today, but that the party made any real compromise impossible by inflaming the debate with heated rhetoric, particularly on health care.

"Frankly, how some of you went after this bill, you'd think that this thing was some Bolshevik plot," Obama said. "We've got to close the gap a little bit between the rhetoric and the reality. You've given yourselves very little room to work in a bipartisan fashion because what you've been telling your constituents is, 'This guy's doing all kinds of crazy stuff that's going to destroy America.'"

The president also castigated Republicans for consistently criticizing a stimulus bill they voted unanimously against, and yet appearing to take credit for potentially popular projects it made possible in their home districts. And as some of the Republicans' statements wandered on, Obama showed some uncharacteristic fire.

"I've just got to take this last question as an example of how it's very hard to have the kind of bipartisan work that we're going to do, because the whole question was structured as a talking point for running a campaign," he told Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas).

In the end, both sides felt the session worked to their advantage. For Obama, it played as a genuine effort to follow through on this State of the Union pledge to work harder at changing the tone of Washington. For Republicans, they got a televised airing of their ideas in a largely respectful confrontation with the president.

"We've been trying to convince the public that we have alternatives, we have ideas, we have solutions, and the White House hasn't wanted to acknowledge that. The president was forced to acknowledge that today," Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) told RCP after the session. "For the president to say I've read your proposal, it's a substantive proposal, that's huge for us."

The fact that the session was televised was a last-minute change. The Republican leadership that organized the event said it had always been their hope to allow reporters and cameras to show the full session, but they worked with the assumption that the White House would not allow it. Similar opportunities in the past were not open, nor was a Q&A the president had with members of his own party at their recent getaway. That changed with a late night call from the administration on Thursday.

A White House spokesman said that version of events was not entirely accurate, and said simply that they were gratified that the session was broadcast for the public's consumption.

How Many Dems Would Support Reconciliation?

While job creation is said to be the legislative priority this year, the president and Democratic leadership in Congress say health care reform must be completed. With Senate Democrats down to 59 votes after losing the late Senator Edward M. Kennedy's Massachusetts seat, compromising the House and Senate reform bills got a lot more complicated.

Conversations between the two chambers now focus as much on the process by which the bill will get through, as on what's in it.

"We're going to do health care reform this year," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said Thursday. The only question, he said, "is procedurally how do we do it."

One option being considered is a two step process where the House would pass the Senate version of the bill and the Senate would then pass budgetary changes to the bill using reconciliation -- a parliamentary move that would require only 51 votes. The House would also vote on the changes.

It was a struggle for Reid to find the 60 votes necessary to pass the Senate bill early Christmas Eve morning. By changing the bill, some Democrats are expected to drop their support, either because they don't like the changes or are against using the reconciliation process, which allows the majority to circumvent the filibuster on matters pertaining to the budget.

So far, Senators Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) and Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) have announced they would not support this process. Both are running for re-election this year, and Lincoln particularly is in danger of losing her seat. Meanwhile, a poll released this week showed Bayh trailng Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.) in a hypothetical match-up, though Pence said shortly thereafter he was running for re-election and not interested in challenging Bayh.

Still, that knocks the Democratic votes in favor of reconciliation down to 57, with just seven to spare. (They would need only 50 votes, as Vice President Biden could break a tie.)

Other Democrats who could join Lincoln and Bayh are Senators Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) and Mark Pryor (D-Ark.), although both said this week they're not necessarily against using reconciliation.

"If I support a bill, I would vote for it whether it takes 50 or 60 votes. I'm not focused on the process," Nelson told the Lincoln Journal Star.

According to the Arkansas News, Pryor said reconciliation was not his first choice but "he was not necessarily opposed to the idea." Pryor also indicated doubts that it would be attempted.

On Wednesday, Politico identified a total of eight Democrats (including Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., who caucuses with Dems) who were wary of reconciliation, including Senators Mary Landrieu (La.), Mark Begich (Alaska) and Claire McCaskill (Mo.). Nelson was included in that count as well.

As Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad said this week, reconciliation is no easy fix for health care. Unlimited amendments and the necessity of cutting the annual deficit by $1 billion represent two possible bumps in the road.

Democrats could turn to breaking the bill up and voting on pieces of it separately, leaving comprehensive reform for the future.

Pence: Obama To "Get An Earful" From Republicans

BALTIMORE, Md. -- Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.) told reporters today that he expects not another "lofty speech," but a honest dialogue between President Obama and House Republicans that will leave him with a clearer sense of the party's vision.

"There has been a perception greatly propagated by the majority in Congress and many in the administration to suggest that we are the party of no ideas," Pence told reporters this morning ahead of Obama's speech. "We will take this opportunity to respectfully but firmly remind the president of our alternatives. ... [He] won't leave here today without having a much clearer idea that Republicans have had will continue to offer our responsible alternatives to the big government policies of the liberal Congress."

He said Republicans stand ready to work with the Democrats and argued that it is the majority party, not the GOP, who has acted as the party of no. Pence said he may remind the president that the last time he met with the Republican conference was the day before the stimulus vote nearly a year ago. It was in good faith that they invited him to speak with them again today.

"The issue of compromise has to begin with the Democrats and the White House abandoning their practice of reflexively saying no to every Republican proposal, which is in fact the history of the last year in Washington," he said.

Despite that, Pence reacted strongly to a small businesses jobs initiative that Obama plans to unveil elsewhere in Baltimore before his speech at the retreat, calling it the "Jimmy Carter tax credit."

"I don't think we should be looking to the economic policies of the Carter administration to get us out of the worst recession in 25 years," he said. "In terms of economics, this administration and Congress have been playing small ball for a year." The proposal is "another boutique tax credit" he said that might actually create a "perverse incentive" to hold off on hiring until it would take effect.

Asked about the 5.7 percent growth in GDP announced today, Pence argued that those who continue to be hit hard aren't satisfied with symbolic growth. He said during a visit to a Baltimore Salvation Army shelter yesterday, "families didn't ask me if there was something we can do to raise the GDP. [They said] there are no jobs."

Indiana Rep. Buyer (R) Retiring

Indiana Rep. Steve Buyer (R) will reportedly announce today that he not seeking re-election this year. WISH-TV in Indianapolis reports Buyer is retiring because his wife is ill.

Buyer's retirement leaves Republicans with 15 open seats to protect next year. That's a few more than Democrats, however more Dem seats are considered competitive.

Buyer has represented Indiana's 4th District since 1992 and won with at least 60 percent of the vote in each re-election since. John McCain carried the district by 13 points in 2008; four years earlier, George W. Bush won it by 39 points.

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The Campaign Begins

President Obama ended his state of the union address Wednesday by lamenting the state of affairs in Washington, where he said it seems that "every day is Election Day."

"We can't wage a perpetual campaign where the only goal is to see who can get the most embarrassing headlines about the other side -- a belief that if you lose, I win," he said.

The irony is that the president's entire speech was perceived by some as a campaign speech more than a traditional state of the union message. It seemed tailored for independent voters, with a hodgepodge of policy announcements one might not have expected to hear from a liberal Democrat. Even the reaction inside the august House chamber - occasional hooting and hollering instead of simple applause -- added to that sense.

Now, Obama has embarked on the traditional post-State of the Union road show. But if there was any doubt about the political nature of the president's travels, his early itinerary speaks volumes: a stop Thursday in the ultra-important I-4 corridor of central Florida, and next week a visit to the first-in-the-nation primary state of New Hampshire.

"I seem to remember coming to Tampa two weeks before the election," Obama recalled at Thursday's town hall meeting. The St. Petersburg Times lead on the event said Obama had "returned to campaign mode," and was "revving up an adoring crowd." Vice President Biden joined him, the first time they were together in a setting like this since they traveled to Denver to sign the stimulus bill in Denver last February.

Much has changed since then, particularly the political environment. Thursday's State of the Union was seen as a chance to hit the "reset" button and strike a new tone. But Obama bristled at the notion, lambasting press coverage that claimed he was. He recalled a quote from that October 2008 rally in Tampa: "I said, 'Change never comes without a fight.' That was true then. It's true now."

If there is a change in approach, it's the belief on the part of the White House that the constraints of the White House itself has diminished the Obama brand, that he's less of an extra-Beltway change agent behind an East Room podium than he is at a town hall in Tampa.

"It's always nice to get out of Washington ... and spend a little time with the people who sent me to Washington," Obama told the Florida audience.

Today, rather than rolling out more details of a small business lending initiative from the West Wing, he's making a short trip to an actual small business inside the other Beltway in Baltimore. Obama is expected to make more such stops in the weeks ahead, as are members of his Cabinet. He's also dipping back into the new media playbook, with a plan to field questions submitted through YouTube next week.

Alluding to the Massachusetts result in Wednesday's speech, Obama said that it's "clear that campaign fever has come even earlier than usual." Clearly.

Hayworth Robo-Calling In Arizona

Former Republican congressman J.D. Hayworth is launching a robocall campaign in Arizona prior to the formal announcement of his Senate candidacy. The call, which the Hayworth campaign says is going out to "tens of thousands of Republicans statewide," takes direct shots at Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) for his length of service and voting record.

Here is the script, as provided by Hayworth:

Hi, this is JD Hayworth calling. If you share my opinion that John McCain has admirably served our country but that 28 years in Washington is just too long, then I want you to know that I will soon be announcing my candidacy for the United States Senate. Arizona's Republicans deserve a choice and an alternative to Senator McCain¹s moderate record on taxes, social issues, the border, and bailing out the banks. I will be a consistent, faithful conservative that you can rely on to put Arizona first. This is going to be a great debate, and I need you. Please get involved by going to JD2010.com . (Disclaimer)

Crist: A "DeMint Republican"?

When President Obama arrives in Florida today, he'll be greeted by Gov. Charlie Crist (R). The governor's last appearance with Obama, at an event rallying support for the stimulus bill in February 2009, is at the heart of his troubles now in a primary race for U.S. Senate. He skipped the president's last visit to Florida. But today he says he's meeting the president to send him a message.

"I'm also going to tell them ... that I'm disappointed that not enough bipartisanship has occurred," he told a Florida radio station this morning. "He talks about it and he gives a great speech, but he's got to follow through on the action, and not just have Republicans come to the table."

Former House Speaker Marco Rubio has pulled ahead of Crist in a recent Quinnipiac poll, capitalizing on the unease conservatives have with Crist's record. Crist attributed some of that to the "angst" among voters nationwide and especially in Florida, and also his opponent's full-time campaign.

"I've got a day job, a pretty important one, actually," he said. "When you're out there campaigning all the time you can build up support, and obviously that's happened and I understand that. My focus, however, is on being the bets governor I can be."

There was a bit of a stir this morning online about a claim that Crist had called himself a "DeMint Republican" in the interview. In fact, listening to the audio it's clear the governor never uttered those words. But he did seem to agree with the questioner that he should not be painted as a "McCain Republican." Here's the exchange:

Q: "Why do you think you've been painted as a moderate Republican as opposed to -- a John McCain-like Republican -- as opposed to someone like a Jim DeMint, for example?"

CRIST: "I really don't know. I mean, you know, probably because it's a political season. And, you know, somebody's trying to win a primary, so they try and paint you into a particular picture that doesn't really meet reality. Listen, it's a long way until this primary happens. We got about seven months to go. And what I love about a campaign, it's an educational opportunity for the whole truth to come out. And it will.

For the record, Crist also called himself a "a pro-life, pro-gun, pro-family conservative Republican with common sense." Asked for a reaction, a spokesman for DeMint passed along the senator's thoughts: "I'm a Marco Rubio Republican."

In fact, DeMint's PAC has organized a "money bomb" to drive money to Rubio's campaign, built around the anniversary of the Obama-Crist "embrace."

Pence Discusses Decision Not To Challenge Bayh

Indiana Rep. Mike Pence (R) turned down this week a chance to challenge Sen. Evan Bayh (D) in what appears to be a good year for GOP challengers. A poll released Monday even found Pence, the third ranking Republican in the House, leading Bayh, a former two-term governor who's running for his third term in the Senate.

"It was easily the hardest political decision of my career," Pence said this morning on MSNBC's "Morning Joe." "We ultimately came to the decision -- I'll leave it to people like you whether or not we would've been able to succeed in that race -- but for us in my role as chairman of the House Republican Conference, I just believe that my duty was right where I am right now, working with our team to restore a conservative majority to Capitol Hill."

Bayh's father, Birch Bayh, served three terms in the Senate before being defeated for re-election in 1980. Evan Bayh has won five statewide elections -- secretary of state in 1986, governor in 1988 and 1992, and senator in 1998 and 2004.

Meanwhile, Pence has moved up to the upper ranks of the House Republican Conference and would be giving up a chance to move even higher if he challenged Bayh -- especially if the GOP wins back the House this year, something Republicans believe they can do.

"I really believe that Republicans will retake the majority in 2010," Pence said this morning. "So it was really a choice for me of where could I make the most difference for the things that are most important to me this year, and our family believed that was to stay in the House."
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Obama Targets A Deadlocked Senate

President Obama's first State of the Union had many messages for many audiences, and one of the ones he seemed to target Wednesday night was none other than his former home, the United States Senate.

On at least four occasions, the president made specific mention of the Senate for its failure to act on a piece of legislation approved by the House.

On jobs:

"Now, the House has passed a jobs bill that includes some of these steps. As the first order of business this year, I urge the Senate to do the same, and I know they will. They will. People are out of work. They're hurting. They need our help. And I want a jobs bill on my desk without delay.

On cap and trade:

And, yes, it means passing a comprehensive energy and climate bill with incentives that will finally make clean energy the profitable kind of energy in America. I am grateful to the House for passing such a bill last year. And this year I'm eager to help advance the bipartisan effort in the Senate.

On a deficit commission:

Now, yesterday, the Senate blocked a bill that would have created this commission. So I'll issue an executive order that will allow us to go forward, because I refuse to pass this problem on to another generation of Americans.

And on pay-go:

And when the vote comes tomorrow, the Senate should restore the pay-as-you-go law that was a big reason for why we had record surpluses in the 1990s.

In a speech where Obama conceded that he has come short thus far in his mission to change the nature of politics, he also targeted the Senate in particular for the kinds of delaying tactics that have stymied his agenda.

And if the Republican leadership is going to insist that 60 votes in the Senate are required to do any business at all in this town -- a supermajority -- then the responsibility to govern is now yours as well. Just saying no to everything may be good short-term politics, but it's not leadership.

Knowing full well that he faces hurdles in both chambers on health care, he instead made an appeal to his own part at large, making the argument his former campaign manager articulated in a weekend op-ed - no "bed-wetting" - with a bit more presidential gravitas.

"To Democrats, I would remind you that we still have the largest majority in decades, and the people expect us to solve problems, not run for the hills. And if the Republican leadership is going to insist that 60 votes in the Senate are required to do any business at all in this town -- a supermajority -- then the responsibility to govern is now yours as well. Just saying no to everything may be good short-term politics, but it's not leadership. We were sent here to serve our citizens, not our ambitions.

The tone was not unnoticed by members in both chambers of the Congress.

"I think he was sending a message that it's important that the Senate end the gridlock and the obstruction," said Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D). But while the failure for the Senate to act on these bills could fall squarely on the shoulder of Democrats who have had 60 votes, Van Hollen instead argued that Obama "is spotlighting the fact that because of Republican obstructionism on the Senate side, you're not moving forward" on various issues.

Sen. Ben Nelson (D), whose vote is seemingly always in doubt for the Democrats, said it's easy for the House to be "more monolithic," and responded to the president's message by saying he was joining the House in "having fun jabbing the Senate." Would the Senate listen?

"I think it was heard, but I don't think it's going to rally the Senate to take action," Nelson said.

The State of the Union

The State of the Union address, as delivered by the president tonight, can be read in full after the jump. For the record, it ran about 7,500 words and took one hour and nine minutes to deliver, including applause.

THE PRESIDENT: Madam Speaker, Vice President Biden, members of Congress, distinguished guests, and fellow Americans:

Our Constitution declares that from time to time, the President shall give to Congress information about the state of our union. For 220 years, our leaders have fulfilled this duty. They've done so during periods of prosperity and tranquility. And they've done so in the midst of war and depression; at moments of great strife and great struggle.

It's tempting to look back on these moments and assume that our progress was inevitable -- that America was always destined to succeed. But when the Union was turned back at Bull Run, and the Allies first landed at Omaha Beach, victory was very much in doubt. When the market crashed on Black Tuesday, and civil rights marchers were beaten on Bloody Sunday, the future was anything but certain. These were the times that tested the courage of our convictions, and the strength of our union. And despite all our divisions and disagreements, our hesitations and our fears, America prevailed because we chose to move forward as one nation, as one people.

Again, we are tested. And again, we must answer history's call.

One year ago, I took office amid two wars, an economy rocked by a severe recession, a financial system on the verge of collapse, and a government deeply in debt. Experts from across the political spectrum warned that if we did not act, we might face a second depression. So we acted -- immediately and aggressively. And one year later, the worst of the storm has passed.

But the devastation remains. One in 10 Americans still cannot find work. Many businesses have shuttered. Home values have declined. Small towns and rural communities have been hit especially hard. And for those who'd already known poverty, life has become that much harder.

This recession has also compounded the burdens that America's families have been dealing with for decades -- the burden of working harder and longer for less; of being unable to save enough to retire or help kids with college.

So I know the anxieties that are out there right now. They're not new. These struggles are the reason I ran for President. These struggles are what I've witnessed for years in places like Elkhart, Indiana; Galesburg, Illinois. I hear about them in the letters that I read each night. The toughest to read are those written by children -- asking why they have to move from their home, asking when their mom or dad will be able to go back to work.

For these Americans and so many others, change has not come fast enough. Some are frustrated; some are angry. They don't understand why it seems like bad behavior on Wall Street is rewarded, but hard work on Main Street isn't; or why Washington has been unable or unwilling to solve any of our problems. They're tired of the partisanship and the shouting and the pettiness. They know we can't afford it. Not now.

So we face big and difficult challenges. And what the American people hope -- what they deserve -- is for all of us, Democrats and Republicans, to work through our differences; to overcome the numbing weight of our politics. For while the people who sent us here have different backgrounds, different stories, different beliefs, the anxieties they face are the same. The aspirations they hold are shared: a job that pays the bills; a chance to get ahead; most of all, the ability to give their children a better life.

You know what else they share? They share a stubborn resilience in the face of adversity. After one of the most difficult years in our history, they remain busy building cars and teaching kids, starting businesses and going back to school. They're coaching Little League and helping their neighbors. One woman wrote to me and said, "We are strained but hopeful, struggling but encouraged."

It's because of this spirit -- this great decency and great strength -- that I have never been more hopeful about America's future than I am tonight. (Applause.) Despite our hardships, our union is strong. We do not give up. We do not quit. We do not allow fear or division to break our spirit. In this new decade, it's time the American people get a government that matches their decency; that embodies their strength. (Applause.)

And tonight, tonight I'd like to talk about how together we can deliver on that promise.

It begins with our economy.

Our most urgent task upon taking office was to shore up the same banks that helped cause this crisis. It was not easy to do. And if there's one thing that has unified Democrats and Republicans, and everybody in between, it's that we all hated the bank bailout. I hated it -- (applause.) I hated it. You hated it. It was about as popular as a root canal. (Laughter.)

But when I ran for President, I promised I wouldn't just do what was popular -- I would do what was necessary. And if we had allowed the meltdown of the financial system, unemployment might be double what it is today. More businesses would certainly have closed. More homes would have surely been lost.

So I supported the last administration's efforts to create the financial rescue program. And when we took that program over, we made it more transparent and more accountable. And as a result, the markets are now stabilized, and we've recovered most of the money we spent on the banks. (Applause.) Most but not all.

To recover the rest, I've proposed a fee on the biggest banks. (Applause.) Now, I know Wall Street isn't keen on this idea. But if these firms can afford to hand out big bonuses again, they can afford a modest fee to pay back the taxpayers who rescued them in their time of need. (Applause.)

Now, as we stabilized the financial system, we also took steps to get our economy growing again, save as many jobs as possible, and help Americans who had become unemployed.

That's why we extended or increased unemployment benefits for more than 18 million Americans; made health insurance 65 percent cheaper for families who get their coverage through COBRA; and passed 25 different tax cuts.

Now, let me repeat: We cut taxes. We cut taxes for 95 percent of working families. (Applause.) We cut taxes for small businesses. We cut taxes for first-time homebuyers. We cut taxes for parents trying to care for their children. We cut taxes for 8 million Americans paying for college. (Applause.)

I thought I'd get some applause on that one. (Laughter and applause.)

As a result, millions of Americans had more to spend on gas and food and other necessities, all of which helped businesses keep more workers. And we haven't raised income taxes by a single dime on a single person. Not a single dime. (Applause.)

Because of the steps we took, there are about two million Americans working right now who would otherwise be unemployed. (Applause.) Two hundred thousand work in construction and clean energy; 300,000 are teachers and other education workers. Tens of thousands are cops, firefighters, correctional officers, first responders. (Applause.) And we're on track to add another one and a half million jobs to this total by the end of the year.

The plan that has made all of this possible, from the tax cuts to the jobs, is the Recovery Act. (Applause.) That's right -- the Recovery Act, also known as the stimulus bill. (Applause.) Economists on the left and the right say this bill has helped save jobs and avert disaster. But you don't have to take their word for it. Talk to the small business in Phoenix that will triple its workforce because of the Recovery Act. Talk to the window manufacturer in Philadelphia who said he used to be skeptical about the Recovery Act, until he had to add two more work shifts just because of the business it created. Talk to the single teacher raising two kids who was told by her principal in the last week of school that because of the Recovery Act, she wouldn't be laid off after all.

There are stories like this all across America. And after two years of recession, the economy is growing again. Retirement funds have started to gain back some of their value. Businesses are beginning to invest again, and slowly some are starting to hire again.

But I realize that for every success story, there are other stories, of men and women who wake up with the anguish of not knowing where their next paycheck will come from; who send out resumes week after week and hear nothing in response. That is why jobs must be our number-one focus in 2010, and that's why I'm calling for a new jobs bill tonight. (Applause.)

Now, the true engine of job creation in this country will always be America's businesses. (Applause.) But government can create the conditions necessary for businesses to expand and hire more workers.

We should start where most new jobs do -- in small businesses, companies that begin when -- (applause) -- companies that begin when an entrepreneur -- when an entrepreneur takes a chance on a dream, or a worker decides it's time she became her own boss. Through sheer grit and determination, these companies have weathered the recession and they're ready to grow. But when you talk to small businessowners in places like Allentown, Pennsylvania, or Elyria, Ohio, you find out that even though banks on Wall Street are lending again, they're mostly lending to bigger companies. Financing remains difficult for small businessowners across the country, even those that are making a profit.

So tonight, I'm proposing that we take $30 billion of the money Wall Street banks have repaid and use it to help community banks give small businesses the credit they need to stay afloat. (Applause.) I'm also proposing a new small business tax credit -- one that will go to over one million small businesses who hire new workers or raise wages. (Applause.) While we're at it, let's also eliminate all capital gains taxes on small business investment, and provide a tax incentive for all large businesses and all small businesses to invest in new plants and equipment. (Applause.)

Next, we can put Americans to work today building the infrastructure of tomorrow. (Applause.) From the first railroads to the Interstate Highway System, our nation has always been built to compete. There's no reason Europe or China should have the fastest trains, or the new factories that manufacture clean energy products.

Tomorrow, I'll visit Tampa, Florida, where workers will soon break ground on a new high-speed railroad funded by the Recovery Act. (Applause.) There are projects like that all across this country that will create jobs and help move our nation's goods, services, and information. (Applause.)

We should put more Americans to work building clean energy facilities -- (applause) -- and give rebates to Americans who make their homes more energy-efficient, which supports clean energy jobs. (Applause.) And to encourage these and other businesses to stay within our borders, it is time to finally slash the tax breaks for companies that ship our jobs overseas, and give those tax breaks to companies that create jobs right here in the United States of America. (Applause.)

Now, the House has passed a jobs bill that includes some of these steps. (Applause.) As the first order of business this year, I urge the Senate to do the same, and I know they will. (Applause.) They will. (Applause.) People are out of work. They're hurting. They need our help. And I want a jobs bill on my desk without delay. (Applause.)

But the truth is, these steps won't make up for the seven million jobs that we've lost over the last two years. The only way to move to full employment is to lay a new foundation for long-term economic growth, and finally address the problems that America's families have confronted for years.

We can't afford another so-called economic "expansion" like the one from the last decade -- what some call the "lost decade" -- where jobs grew more slowly than during any prior expansion; where the income of the average American household declined while the cost of health care and tuition reached record highs; where prosperity was built on a housing bubble and financial speculation.

From the day I took office, I've been told that addressing our larger challenges is too ambitious; such an effort would be too contentious. I've been told that our political system is too gridlocked, and that we should just put things on hold for a while.

For those who make these claims, I have one simple question: How long should we wait? How long should America put its future on hold? (Applause.)

You see, Washington has been telling us to wait for decades, even as the problems have grown worse. Meanwhile, China is not waiting to revamp its economy. Germany is not waiting. India is not waiting. These nations -- they're not standing still. These nations aren't playing for second place. They're putting more emphasis on math and science. They're rebuilding their infrastructure. They're making serious investments in clean energy because they want those jobs. Well, I do not accept second place for the United States of America. (Applause.)

As hard as it may be, as uncomfortable and contentious as the debates may become, it's time to get serious about fixing the problems that are hampering our growth.

Now, one place to start is serious financial reform. Look, I am not interested in punishing banks. I'm interested in protecting our economy. A strong, healthy financial market makes it possible for businesses to access credit and create new jobs. It channels the savings of families into investments that raise incomes. But that can only happen if we guard against the same recklessness that nearly brought down our entire economy.

We need to make sure consumers and middle-class families have the information they need to make financial decisions. (Applause.) We can't allow financial institutions, including those that take your deposits, to take risks that threaten the whole economy.

Now, the House has already passed financial reform with many of these changes. (Applause.) And the lobbyists are trying to kill it. But we cannot let them win this fight. (Applause.) And if the bill that ends up on my desk does not meet the test of real reform, I will send it back until we get it right. We've got to get it right. (Applause.)

Next, we need to encourage American innovation. Last year, we made the largest investment in basic research funding in history -- (applause) -- an investment that could lead to the world's cheapest solar cells or treatment that kills cancer cells but leaves healthy ones untouched. And no area is more ripe for such innovation than energy. You can see the results of last year's investments in clean energy -- in the North Carolina company that will create 1,200 jobs nationwide helping to make advanced batteries; or in the California business that will put a thousand people to work making solar panels.

But to create more of these clean energy jobs, we need more production, more efficiency, more incentives. And that means building a new generation of safe, clean nuclear power plants in this country. (Applause.) It means making tough decisions about opening new offshore areas for oil and gas development. (Applause.) It means continued investment in advanced biofuels and clean coal technologies. (Applause.) And, yes, it means passing a comprehensive energy and climate bill with incentives that will finally make clean energy the profitable kind of energy in America. (Applause.)

I am grateful to the House for passing such a bill last year. (Applause.) And this year I'm eager to help advance the bipartisan effort in the Senate. (Applause.)

I know there have been questions about whether we can afford such changes in a tough economy. I know that there are those who disagree with the overwhelming scientific evidence on climate change. But here's the thing -- even if you doubt the evidence, providing incentives for energy-efficiency and clean energy are the right thing to do for our future -- because the nation that leads the clean energy economy will be the nation that leads the global economy. And America must be that nation. (Applause.)

Third, we need to export more of our goods. (Applause.) Because the more products we make and sell to other countries, the more jobs we support right here in America. (Applause.) So tonight, we set a new goal: We will double our exports over the next five years, an increase that will support two million jobs in America. (Applause.) To help meet this goal, we're launching a National Export Initiative that will help farmers and small businesses increase their exports, and reform export controls consistent with national security. (Applause.)

We have to seek new markets aggressively, just as our competitors are. If America sits on the sidelines while other nations sign trade deals, we will lose the chance to create jobs on our shores. (Applause.) But realizing those benefits also means enforcing those agreements so our trading partners play by the rules. (Applause.) And that's why we'll continue to shape a Doha trade agreement that opens global markets, and why we will strengthen our trade relations in Asia and with key partners like South Korea and Panama and Colombia. (Applause.)

Fourth, we need to invest in the skills and education of our people. (Applause.)

Now, this year, we've broken through the stalemate between left and right by launching a national competition to improve our schools. And the idea here is simple: Instead of rewarding failure, we only reward success. Instead of funding the status quo, we only invest in reform -- reform that raises student achievement; inspires students to excel in math and science; and turns around failing schools that steal the future of too many young Americans, from rural communities to the inner city. In the 21st century, the best anti-poverty program around is a world-class education. (Applause.) And in this country, the success of our children cannot depend more on where they live than on their potential.

When we renew the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, we will work with Congress to expand these reforms to all 50 states. Still, in this economy, a high school diploma no longer guarantees a good job. That's why I urge the Senate to follow the House and pass a bill that will revitalize our community colleges, which are a career pathway to the children of so many working families. (Applause.)

To make college more affordable, this bill will finally end the unwarranted taxpayer subsidies that go to banks for student loans. (Applause.) Instead, let's take that money and give families a $10,000 tax credit for four years of college and increase Pell Grants. (Applause.) And let's tell another one million students that when they graduate, they will be required to pay only 10 percent of their income on student loans, and all of their debt will be forgiven after 20 years -- and forgiven after 10 years if they choose a career in public service, because in the United States of America, no one should go broke because they chose to go to college. (Applause.)

And by the way, it's time for colleges and universities to get serious about cutting their own costs -- (applause) -- because they, too, have a responsibility to help solve this problem.

Now, the price of college tuition is just one of the burdens facing the middle class. That's why last year I asked Vice President Biden to chair a task force on middle-class families. That's why we're nearly doubling the child care tax credit, and making it easier to save for retirement by giving access to every worker a retirement account and expanding the tax credit for those who start a nest egg. That's why we're working to lift the value of a family's single largest investment -- their home. The steps we took last year to shore up the housing market have allowed millions of Americans to take out new loans and save an average of $1,500 on mortgage payments.

This year, we will step up refinancing so that homeowners can move into more affordable mortgages. (Applause.) And it is precisely to relieve the burden on middle-class families that we still need health insurance reform. (Applause.) Yes, we do. (Applause.)

Now, let's clear a few things up. (Laughter.) I didn't choose to tackle this issue to get some legislative victory under my belt. And by now it should be fairly obvious that I didn't take on health care because it was good politics. (Laughter.) I took on health care because of the stories I've heard from Americans with preexisting conditions whose lives depend on getting coverage; patients who've been denied coverage; families -- even those with insurance -- who are just one illness away from financial ruin.

After nearly a century of trying -- Democratic administrations, Republican administrations -- we are closer than ever to bringing more security to the lives of so many Americans. The approach we've taken would protect every American from the worst practices of the insurance industry. It would give small businesses and uninsured Americans a chance to choose an affordable health care plan in a competitive market. It would require every insurance plan to cover preventive care.

And by the way, I want to acknowledge our First Lady, Michelle Obama, who this year is creating a national movement to tackle the epidemic of childhood obesity and make kids healthier. (Applause.) Thank you. She gets embarrassed. (Laughter.)

Our approach would preserve the right of Americans who have insurance to keep their doctor and their plan. It would reduce costs and premiums for millions of families and businesses. And according to the Congressional Budget Office -- the independent organization that both parties have cited as the official scorekeeper for Congress -- our approach would bring down the deficit by as much as $1 trillion over the next two decades. (Applause.)

Still, this is a complex issue, and the longer it was debated, the more skeptical people became. I take my share of the blame for not explaining it more clearly to the American people. And I know that with all the lobbying and horse-trading, the process left most Americans wondering, "What's in it for me?"

But I also know this problem is not going away. By the time I'm finished speaking tonight, more Americans will have lost their health insurance. Millions will lose it this year. Our deficit will grow. Premiums will go up. Patients will be denied the care they need. Small business owners will continue to drop coverage altogether. I will not walk away from these Americans, and neither should the people in this chamber. (Applause.)

So, as temperatures cool, I want everyone to take another look at the plan we've proposed. There's a reason why many doctors, nurses, and health care experts who know our system best consider this approach a vast improvement over the status quo. But if anyone from either party has a better approach that will bring down premiums, bring down the deficit, cover the uninsured, strengthen Medicare for seniors, and stop insurance company abuses, let me know. (Applause.) Let me know. Let me know. (Applause.) I'm eager to see it.

Here's what I ask Congress, though: Don't walk away from reform. Not now. Not when we are so close. Let us find a way to come together and finish the job for the American people. (Applause.) Let's get it done. Let's get it done. (Applause.)

Now, even as health care reform would reduce our deficit, it's not enough to dig us out of a massive fiscal hole in which we find ourselves. It's a challenge that makes all others that much harder to solve, and one that's been subject to a lot of political posturing. So let me start the discussion of government spending by setting the record straight.

At the beginning of the last decade, the year 2000, America had a budget surplus of over $200 billion. (Applause.) By the time I took office, we had a one-year deficit of over $1 trillion and projected deficits of $8 trillion over the next decade. Most of this was the result of not paying for two wars, two tax cuts, and an expensive prescription drug program. On top of that, the effects of the recession put a $3 trillion hole in our budget. All this was before I walked in the door. (Laughter and applause.)

Now -- just stating the facts. Now, if we had taken office in ordinary times, I would have liked nothing more than to start bringing down the deficit. But we took office amid a crisis. And our efforts to prevent a second depression have added another $1 trillion to our national debt. That, too, is a fact.

I'm absolutely convinced that was the right thing to do. But families across the country are tightening their belts and making tough decisions. The federal government should do the same. (Applause.) So tonight, I'm proposing specific steps to pay for the trillion dollars that it took to rescue the economy last year.

Starting in 2011, we are prepared to freeze government spending for three years. (Applause.) Spending related to our national security, Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security will not be affected. But all other discretionary government programs will. Like any cash-strapped family, we will work within a budget to invest in what we need and sacrifice what we don't. And if I have to enforce this discipline by veto, I will. (Applause.)

We will continue to go through the budget, line by line, page by page, to eliminate programs that we can't afford and don't work. We've already identified $20 billion in savings for next year. To help working families, we'll extend our middle-class tax cuts. But at a time of record deficits, we will not continue tax cuts for oil companies, for investment fund managers, and for those making over $250,000 a year. We just can't afford it. (Applause.)

Now, even after paying for what we spent on my watch, we'll still face the massive deficit we had when I took office. More importantly, the cost of Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security will continue to skyrocket. That's why I've called for a bipartisan fiscal commission, modeled on a proposal by Republican Judd Gregg and Democrat Kent Conrad. (Applause.) This can't be one of those Washington gimmicks that lets us pretend we solved a problem. The commission will have to provide a specific set of solutions by a certain deadline.

Now, yesterday, the Senate blocked a bill that would have created this commission. So I'll issue an executive order that will allow us to go forward, because I refuse to pass this problem on to another generation of Americans. (Applause.) And when the vote comes tomorrow, the Senate should restore the pay-as-you-go law that was a big reason for why we had record surpluses in the 1990s. (Applause.)

Now, I know that some in my own party will argue that we can't address the deficit or freeze government spending when so many are still hurting. And I agree -- which is why this freeze won't take effect until next year -- (laughter) -- when the economy is stronger. That's how budgeting works. (Laughter and applause.) But understand -- understand if we don't take meaningful steps to rein in our debt, it could damage our markets, increase the cost of borrowing, and jeopardize our recovery -- all of which would have an even worse effect on our job growth and family incomes.

From some on the right, I expect we'll hear a different argument -- that if we just make fewer investments in our people, extend tax cuts including those for the wealthier Americans, eliminate more regulations, maintain the status quo on health care, our deficits will go away. The problem is that's what we did for eight years. (Applause.) That's what helped us into this crisis. It's what helped lead to these deficits. We can't do it again.

Rather than fight the same tired battles that have dominated Washington for decades, it's time to try something new. Let's invest in our people without leaving them a mountain of debt. Let's meet our responsibility to the citizens who sent us here. Let's try common sense. (Laughter.) A novel concept.

To do that, we have to recognize that we face more than a deficit of dollars right now. We face a deficit of trust -- deep and corrosive doubts about how Washington works that have been growing for years. To close that credibility gap we have to take action on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue -- to end the outsized influence of lobbyists; to do our work openly; to give our people the government they deserve. (Applause.)

That's what I came to Washington to do. That's why -- for the first time in history -- my administration posts on our White House visitors online. That's why we've excluded lobbyists from policymaking jobs, or seats on federal boards and commissions.

But we can't stop there. It's time to require lobbyists to disclose each contact they make on behalf of a client with my administration or with Congress. It's time to put strict limits on the contributions that lobbyists give to candidates for federal office.

With all due deference to separation of powers, last week the Supreme Court reversed a century of law that I believe will open the floodgates for special interests -- including foreign corporations -- to spend without limit in our elections. (Applause.) I don't think American elections should be bankrolled by America's most powerful interests, or worse, by foreign entities. (Applause.) They should be decided by the American people. And I'd urge Democrats and Republicans to pass a bill that helps to correct some of these problems.

I'm also calling on Congress to continue down the path of earmark reform. Applause.) Democrats and Republicans. (Applause.) Democrats and Republicans. You've trimmed some of this spending, you've embraced some meaningful change. But restoring the public trust demands more. For example, some members of Congress post some earmark requests online. (Applause.) Tonight, I'm calling on Congress to publish all earmark requests on a single Web site before there's a vote, so that the American people can see how their money is being spent. (Applause.)

Of course, none of these reforms will even happen if we don't also reform how we work with one another. Now, I'm not naïve. I never thought that the mere fact of my election would usher in peace and harmony -- (laughter) -- and some post-partisan era. I knew that both parties have fed divisions that are deeply entrenched. And on some issues, there are simply philosophical differences that will always cause us to part ways. These disagreements, about the role of government in our lives, about our national priorities and our national security, they've been taking place for over 200 years. They're the very essence of our democracy.

But what frustrates the American people is a Washington where every day is Election Day. We can't wage a perpetual campaign where the only goal is to see who can get the most embarrassing headlines about the other side -- a belief that if you lose, I win. Neither party should delay or obstruct every single bill just because they can. The confirmation of -- (applause) -- I'm speaking to both parties now. The confirmation of well-qualified public servants shouldn't be held hostage to the pet projects or grudges of a few individual senators. (Applause.)

Washington may think that saying anything about the other side, no matter how false, no matter how malicious, is just part of the game. But it's precisely such politics that has stopped either party from helping the American people. Worse yet, it's sowing further division among our citizens, further distrust in our government.

So, no, I will not give up on trying to change the tone of our politics. I know it's an election year. And after last week, it's clear that campaign fever has come even earlier than usual. But we still need to govern.

To Democrats, I would remind you that we still have the largest majority in decades, and the people expect us to solve problems, not run for the hills. (Applause.) And if the Republican leadership is going to insist that 60 votes in the Senate are required to do any business at all in this town -- a supermajority -- then the responsibility to govern is now yours as well. (Applause.) Just saying no to everything may be good short-term politics, but it's not leadership. We were sent here to serve our citizens, not our ambitions. (Applause.) So let's show the American people that we can do it together. (Applause.)

This week, I'll be addressing a meeting of the House Republicans. I'd like to begin monthly meetings with both Democratic and Republican leadership. I know you can't wait. (Laughter.)

Throughout our history, no issue has united this country more than our security. Sadly, some of the unity we felt after 9/11 has dissipated. We can argue all we want about who's to blame for this, but I'm not interested in re-litigating the past. I know that all of us love this country. All of us are committed to its defense. So let's put aside the schoolyard taunts about who's tough. Let's reject the false choice between protecting our people and upholding our values. Let's leave behind the fear and division, and do what it takes to defend our nation and forge a more hopeful future -- for America and for the world. (Applause.)

That's the work we began last year. Since the day I took office, we've renewed our focus on the terrorists who threaten our nation. We've made substantial investments in our homeland security and disrupted plots that threatened to take American lives. We are filling unacceptable gaps revealed by the failed Christmas attack, with better airline security and swifter action on our intelligence. We've prohibited torture and strengthened partnerships from the Pacific to South Asia to the Arabian Peninsula. And in the last year, hundreds of al Qaeda's fighters and affiliates, including many senior leaders, have been captured or killed -- far more than in 2008.

And in Afghanistan, we're increasing our troops and training Afghan security forces so they can begin to take the lead in July of 2011, and our troops can begin to come home. (Applause.) We will reward good governance, work to reduce corruption, and support the rights of all Afghans -- men and women alike. (Applause.) We're joined by allies and partners who have increased their own commitments, and who will come together tomorrow in London to reaffirm our common purpose. There will be difficult days ahead. But I am absolutely confident we will succeed.

As we take the fight to al Qaeda, we are responsibly leaving Iraq to its people. As a candidate, I promised that I would end this war, and that is what I am doing as President. We will have all of our combat troops out of Iraq by the end of this August. (Applause.) We will support the Iraqi government -- we will support the Iraqi government as they hold elections, and we will continue to partner with the Iraqi people to promote regional peace and prosperity. But make no mistake: This war is ending, and all of our troops are coming home. (Applause.)

Tonight, all of our men and women in uniform -- in Iraq, in Afghanistan, and around the world -- they have to know that we -- that they have our respect, our gratitude, our full support. And just as they must have the resources they need in war, we all have a responsibility to support them when they come home. (Applause.) That's why we made the largest increase in investments for veterans in decades -- last year. (Applause.) That's why we're building a 21st century VA. And that's why Michelle has joined with Jill Biden to forge a national commitment to support military families. (Applause.)

Now, even as we prosecute two wars, we're also confronting perhaps the greatest danger to the American people -- the threat of nuclear weapons. I've embraced the vision of John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan through a strategy that reverses the spread of these weapons and seeks a world without them. To reduce our stockpiles and launchers, while ensuring our deterrent, the United States and Russia are completing negotiations on the farthest-reaching arms control treaty in nearly two decades. (Applause.) And at April's Nuclear Security Summit, we will bring 44 nations together here in Washington, D.C. behind a clear goal: securing all vulnerable nuclear materials around the world in four years, so that they never fall into the hands of terrorists. (Applause.)

Now, these diplomatic efforts have also strengthened our hand in dealing with those nations that insist on violating international agreements in pursuit of nuclear weapons. That's why North Korea now faces increased isolation, and stronger sanctions -- sanctions that are being vigorously enforced. That's why the international community is more united, and the Islamic Republic of Iran is more isolated. And as Iran's leaders continue to ignore their obligations, there should be no doubt: They, too, will face growing consequences. That is a promise. (Applause.)

That's the leadership that we are providing -- engagement that advances the common security and prosperity of all people. We're working through the G20 to sustain a lasting global recovery. We're working with Muslim communities around the world to promote science and education and innovation. We have gone from a bystander to a leader in the fight against climate change. We're helping developing countries to feed themselves, and continuing the fight against HIV/AIDS. And we are launching a new initiative that will give us the capacity to respond faster and more effectively to bioterrorism or an infectious disease -- a plan that will counter threats at home and strengthen public health abroad.

As we have for over 60 years, America takes these actions because our destiny is connected to those beyond our shores. But we also do it because it is right. That's why, as we meet here tonight, over 10,000 Americans are working with many nations to help the people of Haiti recover and rebuild. (Applause.) That's why we stand with the girl who yearns to go to school in Afghanistan; why we support the human rights of the women marching through the streets of Iran; why we advocate for the young man denied a job by corruption in Guinea. For America must always stand on the side of freedom and human dignity. (Applause.) Always. (Applause.)

Abroad, America's greatest source of strength has always been our ideals. The same is true at home. We find unity in our incredible diversity, drawing on the promise enshrined in our Constitution: the notion that we're all created equal; that no matter who you are or what you look like, if you abide by the law you should be protected by it; if you adhere to our common values you should be treated no different than anyone else.

We must continually renew this promise. My administration has a Civil Rights Division that is once again prosecuting civil rights violations and employment discrimination. (Applause.) We finally strengthened our laws to protect against crimes driven by hate. (Applause.) This year, I will work with Congress and our military to finally repeal the law that denies gay Americans the right to serve the country they love because of who they are. (Applause.) It's the right thing to do. (Applause.)

We're going to crack down on violations of equal pay laws -- so that women get equal pay for an equal day's work. (Applause.) And we should continue the work of fixing our broken immigration system -- to secure our borders and enforce our laws, and ensure that everyone who plays by the rules can contribute to our economy and enrich our nation. (Applause.)

In the end, it's our ideals, our values that built America -- values that allowed us to forge a nation made up of immigrants from every corner of the globe; values that drive our citizens still. Every day, Americans meet their responsibilities to their families and their employers. Time and again, they lend a hand to their neighbors and give back to their country. They take pride in their labor, and are generous in spirit. These aren't Republican values or Democratic values that they're living by; business values or labor values. They're American values.

Unfortunately, too many of our citizens have lost faith that our biggest institutions -- our corporations, our media, and, yes, our government -- still reflect these same values. Each of these institutions are full of honorable men and women doing important work that helps our country prosper. But each time a CEO rewards himself for failure, or a banker puts the rest of us at risk for his own selfish gain, people's doubts grow. Each time lobbyists game the system or politicians tear each other down instead of lifting this country up, we lose faith. The more that TV pundits reduce serious debates to silly arguments, big issues into sound bites, our citizens turn away.

No wonder there's so much cynicism out there. No wonder there's so much disappointment.

I campaigned on the promise of change -- change we can believe in, the slogan went. And right now, I know there are many Americans who aren't sure if they still believe we can change -- or that I can deliver it.

But remember this -- I never suggested that change would be easy, or that I could do it alone. Democracy in a nation of 300 million people can be noisy and messy and complicated. And when you try to do big things and make big changes, it stirs passions and controversy. That's just how it is.

Those of us in public office can respond to this reality by playing it safe and avoid telling hard truths and pointing fingers. We can do what's necessary to keep our poll numbers high, and get through the next election instead of doing what's best for the next generation.

But I also know this: If people had made that decision 50 years ago, or 100 years ago, or 200 years ago, we wouldn't be here tonight. The only reason we are here is because generations of Americans were unafraid to do what was hard; to do what was needed even when success was uncertain; to do what it took to keep the dream of this nation alive for their children and their grandchildren.

Our administration has had some political setbacks this year, and some of them were deserved. But I wake up every day knowing that they are nothing compared to the setbacks that families all across this country have faced this year. And what keeps me going -- what keeps me fighting -- is that despite all these setbacks, that spirit of determination and optimism, that fundamental decency that has always been at the core of the American people, that lives on.

It lives on in the struggling small business owner who wrote to me of his company, "None of us," he said, "...are willing to consider, even slightly, that we might fail."

It lives on in the woman who said that even though she and her neighbors have felt the pain of recession, "We are strong. We are resilient. We are American."

It lives on in the 8-year-old boy in Louisiana, who just sent me his allowance and asked if I would give it to the people of Haiti.

And it lives on in all the Americans who've dropped everything to go someplace they've never been and pull people they've never known from the rubble, prompting chants of "U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A!" when another life was saved.

The spirit that has sustained this nation for more than two centuries lives on in you, its people. We have finished a difficult year. We have come through a difficult decade. But a new year has come. A new decade stretches before us. We don't quit. I don't quit. (Applause.) Let's seize this moment -- to start anew, to carry the dream forward, and to strengthen our union once more. (Applause.)

Thank you. God bless you. And God bless the United States of America. (Applause.)

Gov. McDonnell's GOP Response Excerpts

Here are excerpts from Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell's offical Republican response, which he will deliver from the Virginia Capitol following President Obama's State of the Union address. The excerpts were distributed by the governor's office.

JOBS

"Good government policy should spur economic growth, and strengthen the private sector's ability to create new jobs. We must enact policies that promote entrepreneurship and innovation, so America can better compete with the world. What government should not do is pile on more taxation, regulation, and litigation that kill jobs and hurt the middle class."

**********

SPENDING

"The amount of this debt is on pace to double in five years, and triple in ten. The federal debt is already over $100,000 per household. This is simply unsustainable. The President's partial freeze on discretionary spending is a laudable step, but a small one. The circumstances of our time demand that we reconsider and restore the proper, limited role of government at every level."

**********
HEALTHCARE
"All Americans agree, we need a health care system that is affordable, accessible, and high quality. But most Americans do not want to turn over the best medical care system in the world to the federal government."

**********
ENERGY
"Advances in technology can unleash more natural gas, nuclear, wind, coal, and alternative energy to lower your utility bills. Here in Virginia, we have the opportunity to be the first state on the East Coast to explore for and produce oil and natural gas offshore."

**********
EDUCATION
"The President and I agree on expanding the number of high-quality charter schools, and rewarding teachers for excellent performance. More school choices for parents and students mean more accountability and greater achievement.

A child's educational opportunity should be determined by her intellect and work ethic, not by her zip code."

**********
NATIONAL DEFENSE
"We applaud President Obama's decision to deploy 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan. We agree that victory there is a national security imperative. But we have serious concerns over recent steps the Administration has taken regarding suspected terrorists."

**********
THE ROLE OF GOVERNMENT
"Here at home government must help foster a society in which all our people can use their God-given talents in liberty to pursue the American Dream. Republicans know that government cannot guarantee individual outcomes, but we strongly believe that it must guarantee equality of opportunity for all.

That opportunity exists best in a democracy which promotes free enterprise, economic growth, strong families, and individual achievement."

**********
OUR SYSTEM OF GOVERNMENT
"Top-down one-size fits all decision making should not replace the personal choices of free people in a free market, nor undermine the proper role of state and local governments in our system of federalism. As our Founders clearly stated, and we Governors understand, government closest to the people governs best."


SOTU Excerpts: Obama "Will Not Walk Away" From Health Reform

The White House has released excerpts from tonight's State of the Union address. One of them signals how the President intends to frame health care. It's the shortest of the passages they've released, but in it, President Obama talks about the fact that more Americans will have lost insurance by the time he finishes his remarks.

"I will not walk away from these Americans. And neither should the people in this chamber," he will say.

More excerpts after the jump.

"We face big and difficult challenges. And what the American people hope - what they deserve - is for all of us, Democrats and Republicans, to work through our differences; to overcome the numbing weight of our politics. For while the people who sent us here have different backgrounds and different stories and different beliefs, the anxieties they face are the same. The aspirations they hold are shared. A job that pays the bill. A chance to get ahead. Most of all, the ability to give their children a better life.

You know what else they share? They share a stubborn resilience in the face of adversity. After one of the most difficult years in our history, they remain busy building cars and teaching kids; starting businesses and going back to school. They are coaching little league and helping their neighbors. As one woman wrote to me, "We are strained but hopeful, struggling but encouraged."

It is because of this spirit - this great decency and great strength - that I have never been more hopeful about America's future than I am tonight. Despite our hardships, our union is strong. We do not give up. We do not quit. We don't allow fear or division to break our spirit. In this new decade, it's time the American people get a government that matches their decency; that embodies their strength. And tonight, I'd like to talk about how together, we can deliver on that promise."

...

"By the time I'm finished speaking tonight, more Americans will have lost their health insurance. Millions will lose it this year. Our deficit will grow. Premiums will go up. Co-pays will go up. Patients will be denied the care they need. Small business owners will continue to drop coverage altogether. I will not walk away from these Americans. And neither should the people in this chamber."

...

"Rather than fight the same tired battles that have dominated Washington for decades, it's time for something new. Let's try common sense. Let's invest in our people without leaving them a mountain of debt. Let's meet our responsibility to the people who sent us here.

To do that, we have to recognize that we face more than a deficit of dollars right now. We face a deficit of trust - deep and corrosive doubts about how Washington works that have been growing for years. To close that credibility gap we must take action on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue to end the outsized influence of lobbyists; to do our work openly; and to give our people the government they deserve.

That's what I came to Washington to do. That's why - for the first time in history - my Administration posts our White House visitors online. And that's why we've excluded lobbyists from policy-making jobs or seats on federal boards and commissions.

But we cannot stop there. It's time to require lobbyists to disclose each contact they make on behalf of a client with my Administration or Congress. And it's time to put strict limits on the contributions that lobbyists give to candidates for federal office. Last week, the Supreme Court reversed a century of law to open the floodgates for special interests - including foreign companies - to spend without limit in our elections. Well I don't think American elections should be bankrolled by America's most powerful interests, and worse, by foreign entities. They should be decided by the American people, and that's why I'm urging Democrats and Republicans to pass a bill that helps to right this wrong.

I'm also calling on Congress to continue down the path of earmark reform. You have trimmed some of this spending and embraced some meaningful change. But restoring the public trust demands more. For example, some members of Congress post some earmark requests online. Tonight, I'm calling on Congress to publish all earmark requests on a single website before there's a vote so that the American people can see how their money is being spent."

Report: Boozman Challenging Sen. Lincoln

Arkansas Rep. John Boozman (R) will challenge Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) this year, Roll Call reports. Boozman said last week he was considering a bid, but the new report states he's definitely in.

"Boozman already has much of his Senate campaign team in place, and the announcement is expected to take place in Arkansas before the weekend is out," Roll Call reports.

Considered one of the most vulnerable Democrats in the Senate, Lincoln announced yesterday she raised $1.3 million in the 4th fundraising quarter of 2009 and has $5 million in the bank to begin the year. A Mason-Dixon poll released Friday showed Lincoln within 6 points of five different potential challengers, none of which were Boozman.

Boozman, serving his fourth full term in the House, is the lone Repbulican in the state's six-member congressional delegation. Two other Arkansas congressmen, Democrats Marion Berry and Vic Snyder, have already announced they are not seeking re-election this year, meaning three of the four congressional districts will have new representation next year.

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Senate Republicans Have High Hopes For Speech

Just out of their annual conference, Senate Republican leaders told reporters they hope to hear several things from President Obama tonight during his first official State of the Union address: that he's putting the health care bill "on the shelf" to focus on jobs, not letting the Bush tax cuts expire this year and clearing up confusion about prosecuting terror suspects.

"What we're hearing is the hope of the American people that tonight the president concentrate on jobs, on debt, on terror," said Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), the Senate Republican Conference chairman. "And if he stopped right there and focused on that until he got all three on a better track, we believe most Americans would be happy with that."

Asked what grade they would give Obama on his first year in office, all seven senators on stage at the press conference remained quiet and none stepped forward to the microphone. After a few moments of silence, Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) said, "We're pretty tough graders."

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) professed his preference that Obama rethink his plans for Guantanamo, saying it was the best place to hold military commissions and house terrorists.

He also referenced an NPR poll out today that found Republicans leading the generic congressional ballot by 5 points. It's a far cry from Election Day 2008, when Democrats led it by 12 points and increased their majorities in both chambers of Congress.

"People are much more open to voting for Republicans -- and we saw that in New Jersey and Virginia and Massachusetts -- certainly than they were in November 2008," said McConnell.

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SC-5 Poll: Good News For Spratt

South Carolina Rep. John Spratt (D) received some good news today in a new PPP poll of 5th District voters, which finds him leading two Republican challengers despite a poor political climate for incumbent Democrats.

Spratt leads state Sen. Mick Mulvaney 46%-39% and Albert Spencer 46%-37%. Meanwhile, President Obama holds an upside down approval rating (46%/49%), 55% disapprove of congressional Democrats and 51% oppose the health care reform plan Spratt supported in November.

However, congressional Republicans are even less popular than Democrats, with just 27% approving of them and 58% disapproving.

"John Spratt is going to have to fight for reelection but he's in better shape than a lot of southern Democrats in conservative districts," said Public Policy Polling president Dean Debnam. "Most of his constituents still see him as a centrist, even as they see his Congressional Democratic brethren as too liberal."

The survey was conducted Jan. 22-24 of 600 SC-5 LV with a margin of error of +/- 4%.
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Speech Tests Obama's Ability To Set Agenda

With interest in the new president still high, more than 50 million Americans watched Barack Obama deliver his first speech to a joint session of Congress last February. That audience will likely slip some as he makes his first official State of the Union address tonight, but it still represents his best opportunity in some time to speak directly to a wide audience. The question is: for how long will Americans be listening?

According to CBS News' Mark Knoller, President Obama delivered remarks of some length 411 times in his first 365 days in office, including not one but two speeches to joint sessions of Congress. He also was made available for 158 interviews, far more than his recent predecessors, and held four prime-time news conferences. It's part of a communication strategy based in the belief that Obama is the administration's best advocate, and that the press and the public would pay attention.

The risk now is that as Americans grow more skeptical of the administration and its policies, they may start to tune out that messenger. A CNN poll released Tuesday found that six in 10 Americans believe Obama to be a strong leader, but only 45 percent say he has the right priorities. The State of the Union address is seen as an opportunity for the president to better communicate those priorities, something Obama has conceded recently he has failed to do.

"We've been so focused on just getting things done that I think that we stopped giving voice to the frustrations that people have about the process here in Washington," Obama told ABC's Diane Sawyer Monday.

Tonight may be the last chance Obama gets to set the agenda in a way that commands the attention of lawmakers, the press, and voters watching at home. Part of the rationale for the "big bang" approach of the first year was the recognition that the reality of politics sets in during the second. Sure enough, Democrats and Republicans have already spoken critically of new proposals that have been leaked before the speech, most notably a freeze on discretionary spending. How well Obama uses the bully pulpit tonight, and when he hits the road after, will test whether he can still convince the public at large.

Obama's effectiveness in selling the message has indeed declined throughout the year. He saw only a modest bump on health care after his last address before Congress in September. A new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll out Tuesday night found that only 31 percent of those surveyed thought Obama's health care plan was a good idea, while 46 percent said a bad idea. In September, it was a closer 39/41 split. Forty-four percent also said Obama has paid too much attention to health care, while more than 50 percent say he hasn't focused enough on the economy, despite assurances of a "hard pivot" to the economy.

On the stump, Obama has also failed to seal the deal. Thousands jammed venues to see the commander in chief, but each of the three Democrats he's campaigned for since October losing. Obama conceded to an audience in Ohio last Friday that he had hit a "buzz saw," particularly after a defeat in Massachusetts. He's expected to accept some responsibility for the missteps that led to leaving unfulfilled some of the promises he made for his first year. The challenge tonight is to give Americans reason to follow along to avoid an even worse outcome this fall.

State of the Political Landscape

As President Obama prepares to deliver his first State of the Union address tonight, few Democrats expected the first year of his presidency to end with the party in such poor shape politically heading into this year's midterm elections. So before we hear about the overall state of the country, here is a quick rundown on the state of its politics:

• House Democrats hold a 256-178 majority in the House, with one vacant seat (Rep. Robert Wexler, D-Fla., resigned this month), while Senate Democrats hold a 59-41 seat advantage following the Massachusetts special Senate election of Scott Brown (R).

• Nearly 20 percent of Democrat-held congressional districts (49) are listed as competitive races by the Cook Political Report; 5 percent of Republican seats (10) are competitive.

• After losses in New Jersey and Virginia last November, Democrats' advantage in governors' offices is down to 26-24. In the 2010 elections, 11 Democrats are retiring or term-limited, as are 11 Republicans. Of 14 races rated as "toss-up" by the Cook Political Report, 10 are Republican-held seats.

• In 2008, John McCain won 49 congressional districts where a Democrat was elected to the House; one such Democrat, Parker Griffith, recently switched to the Republican Party. Barack Obama won 34 districts that elected a Republican.

• Ten Democrat-held congressional districts are competitive open-seat races, where the incumbent is retiring. Republicans so far have two such seats.

• Seven of Democrats' 18 Senate seats up for re-election this year are considered competitive, according to Cook; four of 18 Republican seats are competitive.

• Democrats are in serious danger of losing both President Obama's and Vice President Biden's former Senate seats. In both cases, the appointed senator is not running for re-election (in Illinois, that's a good thing), and the party failed to recruit its top choice candidates -- Attorneys General Lisa Madigan of Illinois and Beau Biden of Delaware.

• Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is in deep electoral trouble, trailing two Republicans who may not even end up on the general election ballot. The GOP is reportedly still seeking a top-flight candidate to take on the vulnerable Reid.

• Arkansas is a microcosm of Democrats' troubles. Its congressional delegation currently stands at five Democrats and one Republican. With Reps. Marion Berry and Vic Snyder retiring and Sen. Blanche Lincoln facing a potential GOP knock-out, Republicans could hold four of the six seats in the 112th Congress.

• Democrats' best news this year has been the retirement of five-term Connecticut Sen. Chris Dodd, who was likely to lose in November. Attorney General Richard Blumenthal currently holds big leads over his potential GOP opponents.

• Pennsylvania is one of the more awkward situations, as the White House and Democratic leadership promised Sen. Arlen Specter significant support if he switched parties. Now, he's up against Rep. Joe Sestak in a bitter Democratic primary and trailing Republican Pat Toomey in early polls. Plus, he no longer represents the 60th vote.

• Democrats are looking at four GOP-held Senate races in particular as potential pick-up opportunities, all of which the Republican incumbent is retiring: Kentucky, Missouri, New Hampshire and Ohio.

• The national Democratic House and Senate campaign committees had great fundraising years, outpacing both Republican counterparts. This will certainly help in protecting its many incumbents in GOP-leaning districts, while some Republican challengers may not get significant monetary assistance from the national party.

While the landscape looks rough for Democrats, party leaders say they were not caught by surprise as they were in 1994, when Republicans dominated the midterm elections two years after Bill Clinton won the White House. Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, maintains that the party was expecting a tough political environment, as history shows the party that wins the White House often loses congressional seats in the following midterms.

"Even as the president was being sworn in -- and we were all still celebrating the election of President Barack Obama and even bigger majorities in the Congress -- we told our members to prepare for a very challenging cycle," Van Hollen told reporters in December, adding, "This is not going to be 1994 all over again."

Some Republicans, however, think it could be, and put the blame squarely on Democratic congressional leaders who "overreached" on their agenda last year. In a memo last month, Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas), chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, said the party expects "to make significant, if not historic, gains" in the House this year.

PA Sen Poll: 30% Support For Specter

Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter (D) is now polling at 30% against former congressman Pat Toomey (R) in a general election matchup and against Rep. Joe Sestak in the Democratic primary, according to a new Franklin & Marshall survey (Jan. 18-24, 993 RV, MoE +/- 3.1%). While Toomey and Sestak remain largely unknown to the statewide electorate, Specter, running for his sixth term, has just a 35% favorable rating, and 34% think he's doing a good job as senator.

Democratic Primary
Specter 30
Sestak 13
Und 50

Specter leads Sestak by 20.3 points in the RCP Average

General Election
Toomey is tied with Specter among registered voters but jumps out to a significant lead among those considered likely to vote in November:
Registered Voters
Toomey 30
Specter 30
Und 35

Likely Voters
Toomey 45
Specter 31
Undecided

Toomey leads by 7.7 points in the RCP Average

We see the same dynamic in a Toomey vs. Sestak match up:
Registered Voters
Toomey 28
Sestak 16
Und 51

Likely Voters
Toomey 41
Sestak 19
Und 37

Toomey leads Sestak by 11.7 points in the RCP Average

Meanwhile, the governor's race is still up in the air, as seven-in-10 Democrats and Republicans don't know yet who they will vote for in the May 18 primary. However, with Rep. Jim Gerlach (R-Pa.) now out of the race, Attorney General Tom Corbett (R) is expected to win the GOP primary.

Democrats
Dan Onorato 10
Jack Wagner 4
Chris Doherty 4
Joe Hoeffel 4
Tom Knox 2
Other 4
Undecided 72

Republicans
Tom Corbett 23
Sam Rohrer 5
Other 3
Undecided 69

Biden And The Supermajority

You can take the man out of the Senate, but you can't take the Senate out of the man.

Vice President Biden seems to be quite concerned with the state of his former stomping grounds of late, particularly the requirement of 60 votes to move most legislation of late. At a Florida fundraiser last week, Biden decried the supermajority requirement.

"As long as I have served ... I've never seen, as my uncle once said, the constitution stood on its head as they've done. This is the first time every single solitary decisions has required 60 senators," he said.

Biden took a somewhat different approach today at another event for the DNC.

"I'm not so sure what a blessing 60 votes was," he said, with Democrats now having lost that margin. "When we had 60 votes there was the expectation left, right, and center that we could do everything we wanted to do, which was never realistic. Never."

He also noted that the party only got to 60 midway through 2009, when Al Franken was finally seated after a protracted recount dispute. Before then, "no one though that somehow we were destined to fail ... Nobody thought we would not be able to get anything done."

But with the party heading back to 59 seats as soon as Scott Brown is seated, he spun it as a positive, that now Republicans "are going to have to be accountable as well."

Pence Won't Challenge Bayh, Says GOP Will Take Back House

Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.) has decided not to run for U.S. Senate this fall, despite the urging of fellow Republicans and a new poll that showed he could beat incumbent Evan Bayh.

In a letter to supporters and colleagues, Pence cites his duties as the House GOP Conference chair "to shape the Republican comeback," and his belief that Republicans will regain control of the chamber this fall.

"I am not going to leave my post when the fate of the House hangs in the balance," Pence writes. "My place is here, in that fight, with the brave men and women who will be winning that victory for the American people."

Pence would leave a high-profile position in the House, with countless TV appearances and weekly off-camera press briefings, to become a junior member of the Senate. He's the No. 3 man in the GOP Conference with a chance to move up even higher, depending on leadership elections in future Congresses. He'd be giving all of that up to take on not just Evan Bayh, but the Bayh name -- an institution in Indiana. Despite the poll showing him with a slight edge, the race would be anything but a sure thing.

"Mike's decision is good news for our conference and good news for the nation - and very bad news for the Democratic majority in the House of Representatives," House minority leader John Boehner said in a statement. "It sends an unmistakable signal that Republicans are intent on doing everything possible this year to end the Democratic monopoly in Washington, build a lasting majority, and renew the drive for smaller, more accountable government." 

It's good news for the Democratic majority in the Senate, though, on the heels of bad news in Delaware yesterday.

You can read Pence's full letter after the jump.

Open Letter to Friends and Supporters As many of you are aware, I have been approached about running for the United States Senate in 2010. Karen and I have been humbled by the outpouring of support and encouragement which we received from across Indiana, especially since there are several capable and qualified candidates already seeking the Republican nomination.

After much prayer and deliberation, I have decided to remain in the House and to seek reelection to the 6th Congressional District in 2010.

I am staying for two reasons. First because I have been given the responsibility to shape the Republican comeback as a member of the House Republican Leadership and, second, because I believe Republicans will win back the majority in the House of Representatives in 2010.

One year ago I was unanimously elected chairman of the House Republican Conference, the third ranking position in House Republican leadership. I accepted that responsibility because I believed that if Republicans returned to their conservative roots, they could win back the confidence of the American people. And I see it happening every day.

As a Republican leader, I have the opportunity to shape the policy and strategy that will return a Republican majority to the Congress in 2010. So my duty is here, in the House, serving my constituents and my colleagues as we fight to restore a conservative majority to the Congress of the United States. I am not going to leave my post when the fate of the House hangs in the balance. My place is here, in that fight, with the brave men and women who will be winning that victory for the American people.

I also am staying because I believe we will win back the majority in the House of Representatives in 2010, and I am excited to be a part of it. While the opportunity to serve in the United States Senate is significant, I believe the best chance this nation has to restore fiscal discipline, common sense and common values to Washington, D.C., is for conservatives to retake the House in 2010. When we win back the House, we will make history and we will have the power to stop the big government plans of this administration and to steer our nation to a more secure, free and prosperous future.

Last fall, Karen and I completed our first full marathon. We finished the 26.2 miles in just under seven hours despite the rigors on this 50 year-old body and despite many opportunities to step off the track and call it a day. Our inspiration for the day came from a verse in the Bible that reads, "let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us."

I believe the race marked out for me in 2010 is in the House of Representatives. I believe that if we run that race with conviction and endurance, we can win back the Congress for the common sense and the common values of the American people, turn this tide of big government back and set the stage for a boundless American future.

Thanks to you all who prayed our little family through this difficult decision. I hope that God will someday permit me to perform some wider service to the people of Indiana and the country, but for now my focus must remain on finishing the job I was elected to do by my constituents and my Republican colleagues; representing conservative values in Congress and winning back the House of Representatives.

Crist Raises $2M In 4th Quarter

Florida Gov. Charlie Crist's Senate campaign has not gone according to plan, with a conservative primary challenger now leading him in the polls. However, the Crist campaign just announced another successful fundraising quarter, bringing in $2 million from October through December, to end the year with $7.5 million in the bank.

"We have received phenomenal and broad support from Florida voters," said Crist campaign manager Eric Eikenberg. "We continue to get unwavering fundraising donations as our supporters help us spread Governor Crist's positive message of less government, low taxes, and a market based approach to health care."

A Quinnipiac survey released this morning found former state House speaker Marco Rubio leading Crist in the GOP primary by a 47%-44% margin. In the RCP Average, Crist now holds just a 2.4-point lead.

Rubio announced today raising an impressive $1.75 million in the 4th quarter, and ends the year with $2 million on hand. At the end of the 3rd fundraising quarter, Crist had $6.2 million on hand to Rubio's $900,000.

Rep. Kendrick Meek (D-Fla.), the likely Democratic nominee, will report raising $1.2 million in the 4th quarter. He's raised a total of $4.5 million since the start of the campaign and begins the year with more than $3 million in the bank.

(This post was updated two hours after originally published to show Rubio's numbers.)

In Speech, Obama May Set Reaganesque Path

There's considerable theater surrounding President Obama's first State of the Union address tomorrow night, coming as polls reflect increasing skepticism about his presidency and the Democratically-controlled Congress. With a fresh rebuke from the voters of Massachusetts, Obama will enter the House chamber seemingly humbled, and also very much aware of the political stakes.

"I'd rather be a really good one-term president than a mediocre two-term president," the president told ABC's Diane Sawyer in an interview Monday.

Exactly what tone he'll set from the rostrum is yet to be seen. But there are two interesting parallels to be drawn with two of his predecessors with whom he's compared often.

In 1995, President Clinton delivered his second State of the Union address before the first majority-Republican Congress in generations. He immediately set a conciliatory tone, with a line that bears striking similarity to the sentiment Obama expressed after Scott Brown's victory last week.

"If we agree on nothing else tonight, we must agree that the American people certainly voted for change in 1992 and in 1994," he said. "As I look out at you, I know how some of you must have felt in 1992."

Reflecting on a political climate that is often compared to today's, Clinton also said that the American people were not "singing," but "shouting. "And now all of us, Republicans and Democrats alike, must say, 'We hear you. We will work together to earn the jobs you have given us. For we are the keepers of a sacred trust, and we must be faithful to it in this new and very demanding era.'"

Along those lines, Obama has said in recent days that his administration has hit a "buzz saw," and taken some responsibility for failing to acknowledge as much as he said he should the frustrations Americans continue to feel. But the similarities may stop there, as administration officials are reportedly determined not to mirror the incrementalist path that Clinton set forward in the rest of his speech.

"I know that last year, as the evidence indicates, we bit off more than we could chew," Clinton said. "So I'm asking you that we work together. Let's do it step by step. Let's do whatever we have to do to get something done."

Obama himself seemed to flatly rule out that approach in yesterday's ABC interview, saying: "I will not slow down in terms of going after the big problems that this country faces."

Some Democrats prefer to compare the current political environment not to 1994 but to 1982, when Republicans lost more than 20 seats in the House but maintained a majority in the Senate. As he delivered the State of the Union address in 1983, President Reagan was suffering what proved to be the lowest numbers of his presidency. And yet in that speech, he immediately set the tone by hailing an agreement reached just days earlier with Democratic leaders on steps to be taken to reform Social Security.

"Pundits and experts predicted that party divisions and conflicting interests would prevent the Commission from agreeing on a plan to save social security. Well, sometimes, even here in Washington, the cynics are wrong," Reagan said.

It's that sort of statement Obama would liked to have uttered on health reform, and perhaps still might in some form if Democrats can nail down a last-minute path toward salvaging the plan. But the administration instead is teasing the speech with new proposals on two critical economic issues: jobs and the deficit. Monday morning, the president announced some jobs programs, and later the administration announced a proposed spending freeze in the 2011 budget.

Reagan himself spoke extensively on both subjects in 1983, most notably saying: "The deficit problem is a clear and present danger to the basic health of our Republic."

"We need a plan to overcome this danger -- a plan based on these principles," he said. "It must be bipartisan. ... It must be fair. ... And finally, it must be realistic. We can't rely on hope alone."

On that final count, surely the Obama administration would agree.

Arkansas Democrat Berry Announces Retirement

Arkansas Rep. Marion Berry (D) announced today he will not seek re-election this year, leaving two of Arkansas' three Democratic House seats open. Berry's colleague Vic Snyder (D-Ark.) announced his retirement 10 days ago.

"The people deserve a representative who has the ability to rise to the numerous challenges that face our state and our nation," Berry said in a brief released statement. "As a lifelong farmer, time has taken its toll on my health and I am no longer able to serve the district with the vitality I once possessed. Therefore, I have decided not to seek reelection in 2010."

Berry was first elected to the 1st District, which covers the northeastern part of the state, in 1996. He never won re-election with less than 60 percent of the vote, and ran unopposed in 2008.

The retirement leaves open a competitive seat for Republicans. John McCain won the district by 21 points in 2008 -- four years earlier, George W. Bush won it by 5 points. With other Democratic retirements and congressmen seeking higher office, there are now at least nine open Democratic seats in competitive districts.

"We are confident that this district will continue to elect a Democratic candidate who shares Representative Berry's values and commitment to standing up for the middle class in these challenging economic times," said DCCC Chairman Chris Van Hollen (Md.).

Beau Biden Won't Run For Senate

(UPDATED with Vice President Biden's statement below.)

So maybe there was some truth to this after all.

In an e-mail to supporters this morning, Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden announces that he will run for re-election in 2010, and not seek his father's former Senate seat as had long been expected. From the e-mail:

As many of you know, since returning home from Iraq, I have been giving serious consideration to running for the United States Senate. I have received strong encouragement both here in Delaware and all across the country to undertake this effort - and this outpouring of support has truly been humbling.

I understand why people care so deeply about this election. The challenges we're facing as a country are extraordinarily difficult. The economy. Jobs. Health care. Energy. Education. Climate change. Financial regulation. Foreign policy. These are not only the issues of the moment - they're the issues that will determine our children's future. And as someone who has had the privilege of serving with the bravest men and women on this planet, I care deeply about how we treat our returning veterans and how we resolve our involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan.

I feel strongly about these issues. However, my first responsibilities are here in Delaware. I have a duty to fulfill as Attorney General - and the immediate need to focus on a case of great consequence. And that is what I must do. Therefore I cannot and will not run for the United States Senate in 2010. I will run for reelection as Attorney General.

This can only be seen as a major blow to Democrats' chances not just of holding this seat, but holding onto its increasingly precarious majorities in Congress. You can just imagine the conversations Democratic incumbents and potential recruits are having with their staff, and themselves: "Well, if the Vice President's son doesn't want to run, what does that say about the environment?" The symbolism of Democrats potentially losing Vice President Biden's seat, when the seats of President Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid are also at risk, is also troubling for Democrats.

Biden's decision not to run will have many questioning yet another appointment made in late 2008. Then-Gov. Ruth Ann Minner (D), a close ally of Vice President Biden, chose longtime Biden aide Ted Kaufman to fill the seat with the idea of keeping it warm for Beau Biden, who was en route to Iraq at the time. Former Lt. Gov. John Carney (D) had been lobbying for the appointment, and would have certainly run again in 2010 as the incumbent. Now, Democrats have no clear favorite, while Republicans have a strong candidate in Rep. Mike Castle.

One potential candidate for Democrats is New Castle County Exec. Chris Coons. Carney, who had decided to run for the U.S. House, could still potentially switch races at this point. Calls to aides for Beau Biden and Carney were not immediately returned.

UPDATE: Vice President Biden released this statement about his son's decision:

"I know I sound like the proud father I am, but all of his life, Beau has put duty above any personal ambition, and this decision today is another example of that exceptional character trait. Jill and I are so proud of our son and feel fortunate as Delawareans that he is our Attorney General."

The Week Ahead: State Of The Presidency

Championship Sunday in the NFL gives way to a very busy week in the world of politics. Congratulations to the AFC Champion Indianapolis Colts and the NFC Champion New Orleans Saints, who will face off in Miami in Super Bowl XLIV. Hard not to root for the Saints, whose first-ever Super Bowl appearance comes less than five years after Hurricane Katrina devastated the city of New Orleans.

** White House: The main event in Washington is on Wednesday, when President Obama delivers his first official State of the Union address. It's actually his third address to a joint session of Congress; a year ago he delivered a "budget address," and then a September speech on health care. Obama hunkered down at the White House this weekend working on drafts.

We always tend to say these are critical moments, but in the wake of the Massachusetts Senate result and with health care in the balance, it's safe to say this is. The White House is clearly feeling the heat, as shown by the announcement this weekend that David Plouffe, campaign manager of Obama's successful 2008 campaign, is taking a more formal role in the White House's political operation. In Sunday's Washington Post he wrote: "If Democrats will show the country we can lead when it's hard, we may not have perfect election results, but November will be nothing like the nightmare that talking heads have forecast."

Obama starts the week with a meeting with the Middle Class Task Force today. The hoopster-in-chief will also meet with the NBA Champion Lakers this afternoon. After Wednesday's address, the president and vice president will have a rare joint event outside Washington, in the key swing state of Florida. Friday, Obama will head to Baltimore to join Republicans at their issues conference.

** Capitol Hill:: The House will only be in session two days this week, with Monday off and Republicans holding their issues conference Thursday and Friday. The Senate this week will continue work on raising the debt limit, and also is expected to vote on the confirmation of Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke, who's four-year term is up at the end of the week. Both chambers will, of course, welcome the president on Wednesday evening.

** Politics:: Another busy week in politics. The RNC is meeting in Obama's home state of Hawaii starting today, where Michael Steele's leadership will be a hotly-debated topic. On Thursday, the House GOP's Issues Retreat kicks off in Baltimore, with the title of "Winning Back America." There will be considerable focus Obama's visit on Friday, but former House Majority Leader Dick Armey also gives a keynote on Thursday. Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, who delivers the GOP response to Obama's State of the Union address, will also speak at this retreat.

Democrats are reeling with yet another retirement, this time Arkansas Rep. Marion Berry. It's the first such retirement since Brown's victory. Another potential sign of Democrats' midterm anxiety is in Delaware, where some in the party fret that Beau Biden may not seek his father's old Senate seat as expected. A Wilmington News Journal report quoted Joe Biden as saying he thought his son would not make the race, but the VP's office said the author misquoted him.

And don't look now, but there's another election on the horizon. This is the final week of campaigning in Illinois, where voters head to the polls to choose nominees for the Senate and gubernatorial races on February 2. A Chicago Tribune poll out Sunday showed Alexi Giannoulias and Mark Kirk leading in the Senate primaries.

** Poll Watch:
Obama Job Performance: Approve 49.6 / Disapprove 44.9 (+4.7)
Congress Job Performance: Approve 26.0 / Disapprove 66.2 (-40.2)
Generic Ballot Test: Republicans +2.5

** In Case You Missed It: Is this the first time someone has ever used, "I'm giving the State of the Union address this week" as an excuse to get out of jury duty? AP reports that President Obama received a summons at his Chicago home to appear at a suburban courthouse Monday. "A White House official said Sunday that the president has alerted the court he won't be able to make it," the report says.

--Kyle Trygstad and Mike Memoli

Biden's Office Disputes Report On Son's Campaign

The Wilmington News Journal seemed to have quite a scoop in today's paper: Vice President Biden, unprompted, saying that his son was reluctant to run for the Senate seat he once held. Here's how columnist Harry Themal reported the news:

Our conversation ended with a surprising request from the vice president as he hurried off to a national security meeting. Spontaneously, he turned to the possible Delaware senatorial campaign of his son Beau.

Biden: "If you run into Beau, talk him into running; he respects you."

Me: "I don't think he wants to run, though."

Biden: "I don't think he does either. I know he doesn't want to. ... I'm so proud of the job he's done [as attorney general]."

Me: "Would you campaign for him [against Republican Mike Castle]?"

Biden: "Hell, yes. I told him I'd give him my sixth-born grandchild."

I doubt Beau Biden "respects" me, but it was quite startling to hear the vice president confirm what many Democrats fear -- that Beau does not want to be the candidate.

The appointment of Ted Kaufman in 2008 had seemingly paved the way for the younger Biden, Delaware's attorney general, to run for the seat after a tour in Iraq with the National Guard. But he has made no overt moves since returning last summer, fueling the concerns Themal alludes to.

Here's the catch: a transcript of this exchange as provided by Biden's office seems to make it clear that Biden was not referring to his son at all, but instead Kaufman.

BIDEN TO THEMAL: "Always a pleasure of seeing you buddy. Talk Ted into running, if Beau doesn't. Talk him into running - he respects you. I wish I had the power of appointing Senators. I'd appoint him from Maryland if he wouldn't do Delaware."

THEMAL: "I don't think he wants to run, though."

BIDEN: "No I don't think he does either. I know he doesn't. I'm so proud of the job he's done. God."

THEMAL: "Would you campaign for him?"

BIDEN: "Oh hell yeah, man. I tell you what - I was joking if Beau didn't run - I told him I'd give him my 6th-born grandchild. And you know, he said 'I have enough of those.' Alright, buddy, thanks."

It seems odd that Biden would even make the suggestion about Kaufman running in Beau's place unless he had doubts about his son's intentions. But if he is sincere in saying later he was joking about that scenario, then it would seem we're still on track for a tough race between the son of the VP and Rep. Mike Castle.

The vice president's office says it is seeking a clarification from the News Journal.

Obama Meets The "Buzz Saw"

During a town hall meeting in Ohio this afternoon, President Obama will acknowledge the new political challenges he faces in the wake of the Massachusetts Senate special election, but promise to keep "fighting" for those struggling in a tough economy. Framing his struggles in populist terms, he says the hurdles he's run into are a result of the strength of "special interests" and "their armies of lobbyists," as well as "partisan politics."

"I have to admit, we've run into a bit of a buzz saw along the way," the president will say, according to prepared remarks released by the White House. "The longer it's taken, the uglier the process has looked."

And while "folks in Washington" are in "a little bit of a frenzy" over the victory of Republican Scott Brown, Obama will downplay to some extent the impact of the race on his goal of health care reform.

"I didn't take up this issue to boost my poll numbers or score political points - believe me, if I were, I would have picked something a lot easier than this," he will say. "No, I'm trying to solve the problems that folks here in Elyria and across this country face every day. And I am not going to walk away just because it's hard."

The visit to Ohio is part of Obama's "White House to Main Street" tour. In his remarks, the president follows up on a point he made in an interview with ABC this week, that perhaps his administration has not communicated sufficiently its efforts to help Americans.

"The truth is, being President is also a little confining," he'll say. "I can't just walk around and visit people like I used to. I can't just go to the barber shop or sit at a diner."

To that end, Obama's trip included an unscheduled stop at a local diner, where he picked up the tab for one man's chili. A reminder of days on the campaign.

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Senior RNC Member Defends Chairman Steele

At the 2009 Republican National Committee winter meeting, it took six ballots for Michael Steele to be elected chairman. Morton Blackwell, a senior committeeman from Virginia, didn't vote for Steele on any of the ballots, but after a string of successful election wins for Republicans and amid continued criticism of the party chairman, Blackwell is coming to Steele's defense.

"I will make you a prediction -- in future years, people will look back and credit Michael Steele with being one of the most successful national chairmen in history," Blackwell said in an interview with RealClearPolitics. "I have to tell you that I and everybody I know in the Republican Party of Virginia are really delighted at the massive support and assistance that the RNC gave in helping us to win our statewide elections here in Virginia last November."

Republicans swept the elections for Virginia's statewide offices, and also won the governor's race in New Jersey and, improbably, a special Senate election in Massachusetts this week. However, the outspoken Steele continues to be criticized for overexposure, speaking gaffes, fundraising and spending, and a self-promotional book tour.

The Washington Times reported last week that senior RNC members were preparing a motion barring Steele from holding any more book promotion events. The 168-member committee would vote on the motion during next week's winter meeting in Honolulu. Blackwell, who's serving his sixth four-year term, says he was unaware of the motion.

On handling the committee's finances, Steele's been criticized for spending more than the committee is taking in. In a press release today, the RNC announced raising $6.6 million last month, leaving it with $8.4 million in the bank to end the year. However, that's far less than the party had just six months ago, when it ended June with $23.7 million on hand.

There has been tension between Steele and congressional Republicans for months now. Among other issues, House Republican leaders bristled at a recent Steele statement that he didn't think the GOP could win back the House in 2010. Also, House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said Thursday that he was not in favor of the RNC holding its annual meeting in Hawaii.

"Do I want voters to think that Republicans do nothing but go to beach resorts in January? No," Cantor told reporters.

The meeting is being held at the lavish Hilton Hawaiian Village Beach Resort and Spa. Although the RNC pays for its staff to attend, the 168 members are required to pay their own way. Due to the cost, the other two committee members from Virginia are not able to attend, and have charged Blackwell with voting for them next week.

Blackwell, who knows and likes Cantor, defended the decision to go to Hawaii, and said it was nothing new for there to be some tension between the party's separate organizations.

"The case was made that we have never met in Hawaii, at least not in living memory," said Blackwell. "Hawaii has a Republican governor and the Hawaii party very much wanted to host it at least once -- because they've traveled many, many times for the meetings here."
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AR Sen Poll: Lincoln Faces Stiff Challenge

Sen. Blanche Lincoln's (D-Ark.) re-election campaign is running into some stiff headwinds. Once thought to be relatively safe, a new poll from Mason Dixon (625 RVs, 1/18-20, MoE +/- 4%) commissioned by the Arkansas News Bureau and Stephens Media shows that Lincoln trails tw potential Republican foes, and scores just above 40 in matchups with others.

General Election Matchups
Baker 43 -- Lincoln 39 -- Und 18
Holt 43 -- Lincoln 37 -- Und 20
Lincoln 40 -- Coleman 39 -- Und 21
Lincoln 41 -- Reynolds 38 -- Und 21
Lincoln 43 -- Hendren 38 -- Und 19
Lincoln 41 -- Cox 38 -- Und 21

"If we stopped the game today and held the election even though nobody knows who all the Republicans are, I think she'd be hard-pressed to get 45 percent of the vote," Mason Dixon's J. Brad Coker tells the ANB.

Lincoln is also facing some potential primary challenges, from Lt. Gov. Bill Halter and state Senate Pres. Pro Tem Bob Johnson. She leads both potential matchups among a smaller sample (303 RVs, MoE +/- 6%)

Primary Election Matchups
Lincoln 52 -- Halter 34
Lincoln 63 -- Johnson 22

(Post updated to correct numbers in Holt-Lincoln matchup)

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AZ Sen Poll: McCain Opens Primary Lead

Sen. John McCain (R) has known from an early stage that he could face a tough primary in his bid for re-election this year, and acted on it. He already launched radio ads touting his effort to block President Obama's "extreme left wing crusade." And just this week, Sen.-elect Scott Brown (R) recorded robocalls that went out to voters in Arizona.

Now, a Rasmussen poll (502 LVs, 1/20, MoE +/- 4.5%) shows the Maverick just over 50 percent in a potential matchup against former Rep. JD Hayworth -- not the best position for an incumbent to be, but an improvement over the dead heat Rasmussen found in November.

Primary Election Matchup
McCain 53 (+8 vs. last poll, 11/18)
Hayworth 31 (-12)
Simcox 4 (unch)
Und 8 (+1)

Hayworth has not entered the race yet, but been publicly flirting with it for some time. Meanwhile, McCain's camp announced this week that his former running mate, Sarah Palin, will campaign for him in late March.

Favorable Ratings
McCain 74 / 23
Hayworth 58 / 25
Simcox 28 / 23

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Who Won and Lost In The Supreme Court Decision

If there was any question which political party was the winner and loser in the Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United v. FEC, just take a look at the instant reactions by congressmen and senators. Although the 2002 McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform bill was technically bipartisan, many Republicans have been against it from the beginning and were overjoyed following the 5-4 decision that overturned key parts of the bill.

"Freedom won today in the Supreme Court," said House GOP Conference Chairman Mike Pence, who's considering a run for Senate in Indiana. "In 2003, the Supreme Court unwisely supported the oppressive restrictions on free speech that were part of the 2002 campaign finance law. At the time, I was honored to stand with Senator Mitch McConnell and various state and national organizations in challenging this historic error in court."

McConnell, now the Senate minority leader, was similarly approving of the decision. "For too long, some in this country have been deprived of full participation in the political process," he said. "Our democracy depends upon free speech, not just for some but for all."

The "deprived" McConnell mentioned are corporations, whose limitations on political donations were lifted with this ruling. As Michael Waldman, executive director at the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU law school, wrote today in an op-ed in the Washington Post, "An immediate question raised by the...decision is whether this will flood elections with suddenly legal corporate money."

Democrats absolutely think it will -- and don't like it. Democratic National Committee Chairman Tim Kaine said the decision "will allow the money of corporate interests to flood the political process, will undermine free and fair elections and further erode voters' confidence in our system of Democracy." He called it "a major victory for oil companies, banks, health insurance companies and other special interests that already use their power over Washington to drown out the voices of regular Americans."

Some political operatives aren't so sure it's a win-lose situation for the parties just yet. Roy Behr, a Democratic consultant in California, says, "Predicting the long-term impact on a decision like this is a lot like trying to predict the weather six months from now -- the truth is we really don't know." However, Behr said, for candidates with a few deep-pocketed donors, "this could be an incredibly liberating decision."

"There could be hundreds of thousands if not millions in spending that candidates wouldn't have seen before," he said.

In his Daily Beast column and in an e-mail to RCP, Mark McKinnon, a former adviser to John McCain and George W. Bush, notes that big donors from both parties are the real winners -- and there's one main loser.

"It's great for labor. It's great for business. It's lousy for voters," McKinnon told RCP.

Senate Race A Warning For Patrick

Do you think Deval Patrick is feeling the heat after Scott Brown's victory on Tuesday?

"Be angry -- but channel it in a positive direction," the Massachusetts governor told lawmakers and, more importantly, voters in his state of the Commonwealth address last night. "It's easy to be against things. It takes tough-mindedness and political courage to be for something," he said.

Brown's historic upset in Tuesday's special election for U.S. Senate is being seen as a harbinger of things to come for officeholders, particularly Democrats, across the country. But arguably nowhere is that outcome more significant than in the Bay State, where the party has near-total control of state government. And the tone of Patrick's speech Thursday, coming so soon after Martha Coakley's humbling defeat, reflected the political predicament he's in.

Patrick was elected with a substantial margin in 2006, ending a long streak of Republican control of the governor's office in Massachusetts. The themes he ran on in that campaign presaged ones that led to Barack Obama's historic election two years later. The two men shared some common traits, and also some of the same campaign advisers. But the goodwill that saw Patrick into office was quickly replaced by skepticism over his leadership, to the point where he was considered one of the more vulnerable incumbents in the country even before Tuesday's result.

"What happened on Tuesday - I don't know if it makes it worse for him or not - but it sure highlights what we already believed, which was that he's in trouble," said Tim Murtaugh, spokesman for the Republican Governors Association.

With an approval rating of just 41 percent in the most recent Boston Globe/UNH survey, some even speculate that the well of dissatisfaction that Brown tapped in to was in part Patrick's doing. As one of the statewide elected officials elected with the governor in 2006, Coakley was held responsible for the voters' unhappiness with the course of the state.

Though Patrick's woes resemble that of many other governors across the country, his numbers are among the weakest of those planning to seek re-election. Still, his ties to the White House and the fact that his road to office mirrors that of the president are among the reasons why administration officials have not overtly sought to push him aside like they have in other states. David Plouffe, Obama's campaign manager in 2008, is advising Patrick in his re-election bid.

Two Republicans have lined up to challenge Patrick: Christy Mihos, a businessman who ran as an independent in 2006, and Charlie Baker, the former CEO of Harvard Pilgrim insurance company. Baker is considered the favorite of state and national Republicans, and has raised considerable funds already. He's also tapped into the enthusiasm for Brown in recent weeks and will be following his successful playbook in the months ahead.

"I think Scott won because he was talking about what people were worried about: jobs and spending and taxes and their ability to pay the bills that they're racking up on Beacon Hill and Capitol Hill,'' Baker told the Boston Globe this week. "I think that's a reasonably consistent message that I've been talking about, as well.''

Patrick's one saving grace at this point is that he faces not just a strong Republican opponent, but a third challenger in Tim Cahill, the state treasurer and a former Democrat. Early polling has shown Patrick ahead, but only because the anti-incumbent vote has been split among Baker and Cahill.

Obama Blasts Campaign Finance Decision

A strong statement from President Obama on today's Supreme Court ruling that frees corporations to spend unlimited sums on political campaigns:

With its ruling today, the Supreme Court has given a green light to a new stampede of special interest money in our politics. It is a major victory for big oil, Wall Street banks, health insurance companies and the other powerful interests that marshal their power every day in Washington to drown out the voices of everyday Americans. This ruling gives the special interests and their lobbyists even more power in Washington--while undermining the influence of average Americans who make small contributions to support their preferred candidates. That's why I am instructing my Administration to get to work immediately with Congress on this issue. We are going to talk with bipartisan Congressional leaders to develop a forceful response to this decision. The public interest requires nothing less.

It's worth noting, of course, that as a candidate Obama broke a pledge to stay within the matching funds program for presidential candidates. Sen. John McCain (R) had this warning when he made that decision:

"Barack Obama is now the first presidential candidate since Watergate to run a campaign entirely on private funds. This decision will have far-reaching and extraordinary consequences that will weaken and undermine the public financing system."

NC Sen Poll: Race Remains Frozen

Public Policy Polling's (D) latest survey in North Carolina (678 RVs, 1/15-18, MoE +/- 3.8%) continues to see little movement in the Senate race there, even though Sen. Richard Burr's (R) approval rating remains in a vulnerable state.

General Election Matchups
Burr 45 -- Cunningham 36 -- Und 19
Burr 46 -- Lewis 34 -- Und 20
Burr 44 -- Marshall 37 -- Und 18

Only 36 percent of voters approve of Burr's job performance, while 33 percent disapprove and another 30 percent are unsure. His lead can be attributed to the fact that each of the Democrats have low name ID in the state.

Favorable Ratings
Cunningham 6 / 8
Lewis 7 / 10
Marshall 19 / 12

National Democrats had worked to recruit Cal Cunningham into the race. You can read our recent interview with him here.

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Sestak: Democrats Considering Other Reform Options

In the wake of stalled health care negotiations between the House and Senate, House Democrats are considering alternatives in an attempt to get at least something done. Democrats met this morning in a closed-door caucus.

"There is discussion still going on between the Senate and the House, but there is also talk about other alternatives," Rep. Joe Sestak (D-Pa.) said after the meeting in an interview with RealClearPolitics. "Let's scale down, get something through, that truly at least helps in what we wanted to get done. Or, let's just vote on single, individual pieces at a time."

Many assumed the loss of the Massachusetts Senate seat Tuesday meant the end for health care reform, as Senator-elect Scott Brown gives Republicans enough votes to filibuster the bill. However, Democratic leaders indicated yesterday that they were moving ahead as planned.

Still, the Massachusetts race has left Democrats more worried about their own necks come the November midterm elections. Asked whether members of the House Democratic Caucus were increasingly nervous about keeping their jobs, Sestak said, "Yes. Without a question."

UPDATE: Speaker Pelosi backed up Sestak's comments this morning, saying there are not enough votes in the House to pass the Senate bill as is.
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MO Sen Poll: Blunt Takes First Lead

The bellwether Show Me State may have another indication of the shifting political wins. Secretary of State Robin Carnahan (D) has held a consistent but narrow lead over Rep. Roy Blunt (R) in the state's Senate race. But a new Rasmussen survey (1/19, 500 LVs, MoE +/- 4.5%) shows that Blunt has now jumped out to a 6-point lead.

General Election Matchup
Blunt 49 (+5 vs. last poll, 12/15)
Carnahan 43 (-3)
Und 5 (-1)

Favorable Ratings
Blunt 56 / 34
Carnahan 49 / 46

President Obama has an approval rating of 41 percent, down six points since the December survey. His disapproval is up to 58 percent, from 53 percent last month. Only 37 percent of voters say they support the health care legislation, while 62 percent oppose.

Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon, also elected in 2008, boasts a strong 61 percent approval rating.

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CA Sen: Campbell Leads GOP Primary Field

In the race for only a week, former congressman Tom Campbell has taken the lead in the Senate Republican primary in California. According to a new Field Poll (Jan. 5-17, 958 LV, MoE +/- 3.3%), Campbell jumps out front against previous front-runner Carly Fiorina, while conservative Assemblyman Chuck DeVore trails by a significant margin.

Campbell 30
Fiorina 25
DeVore 6
Und 39

Matched up against Sen. Barbara Boxer in the general election, all three Republicans trail the three-term senator by double digits. Campbell is the only candidate that keeps Boxer under 50% support.

Boxer 48 - Campbell 38 - Und 14

Boxer 50 - Fiorina 35 - Und 15

Boxer 51 - DeVore 34 - Und 15

In October, Fiorina trailed by a similar 49%-35% margin, as did DeVore, whom Boxer led then 50%-33%.

The three Republicans remain mostly unknown to Californians, with at least a third of voters saying they have no opinion about them. The Fiorina campaign, out with a statement before the poll was released, chalks up Campbell's lead to his high name recognition, though it's fairly similar to Fiorina's.

"Once voters learn that Tom has spent the last five years supporting increased government spending, higher taxes and now refuses to commit to not voting for more tax increases in the Senate we expect his numbers to fall fast," said Fiorina's deputy campaign manager Julie Soderlund.
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House Republicans Tout New Leverage

Along with holding a Capitol press conference, House Republican leaders hit the TV rounds yesterday in the wake of the GOP's Senate win in Massachusetts on Tuesday. The win, they said, was evidence that Americans don't want the health care reform currently being negotiated by House and Senate Democrats.

"While it was a lot about health care, it's not just health care. It's all the spending and debt that's being accumulated here. It's their national energy tax. It's their -- bringing the terrorists to America to put him on trial," Minority Leader John Boehner (Ohio) told Greta Van Sustren on FOX News. "The American people are opposed to all of these policies, and they are saying, stop."

Minority Whip Eric Cantor (Va.) appeared on at least three TV shows on CNBC, FOX News and CNN, while Mike Pence spoke with Dylan Ratigan on MSNBC.

"The American people are tired of the borrowing, the spending, the bailouts, the takeovers that have been accelerated under now Democrat and previously under Republican administrations," said Pence. "They want us to put our fiscal house in order in Washington, D.C., and want us to set aside all these big government schemes and focus on the kind of measures that are going to get this economy moving again."

Meanwhile, Democrats indicated that health care reform was moving forward. Speaker Nancy Pelosi said as much yesterday during her speech to the mayor's conference on the Hill. Majority Whip Jim Clyburn concurred during his appearance alongside Cantor on CNBC.

"I do believe that we will have a health care reform bill, and we will have one that the American people can be proud of," said Clyburn.

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PA Sen Poll: Specter Widens Gap Over Sestak

Sen. Arlen Specter, who switched parties on the eve of President Obama's 100th day in office, maintains a strong lead over Democratic primary foe Joe Sestak in a new Rasmussen poll (421 LVs, 1/18, MoE +/- 5%) released on this one-year anniversary of Obama's taking office.

Primary Election Matchup
Specter 53 (+5 vs. last poll, 12/8)
Sestak 32 (-3)
Und 11 (-3)

On the topic of health care reform, Rasmussen finds this interesting nugget inside the poll:

While Sestak opted to challenge Specter from the political left, arguing that he was the "real" Democrat in the race, 70% of those who Strongly Favor the health care plan support Specter, while 56% who Strongly Oppose it support his opponent.

Favorable Ratings (Democrats Only)
Specter 67 / 31
Sestak 54 / 24

Specter had a 16 point lead over Sestak in the RCP Average prior to this poll's release.

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Pelosi: Still Moving Forward With Health Care

Speaker Nancy Pelosi said today that Democrats in Congress were watching last night as Republican Scott Brown won the special Senate election in Massachusetts, but that Democrats will still move forward with health care reform.

"The President's agenda is one that we will continue to push forward for the creation of jobs," said Pelosi, delivering the opening remarks to the United States Conference of Mayors winter meeting on Capitol Hill. "As I said, health care, again, heeding the particular concerns of the voters of Massachusetts last night, we heard the people and hopefully we will move forward with their considerations in mind. But we will move forward in the process."

Obama's First Year By The Numbers

CBS Radio White House correspondent Mark Knoller, considered the unofficial historian of the press corps, has a must-read story giving a detailed review of President Obama's first year in office.

One number Knoller flags as "striking" is the number of interviews the president has done over the course of the year: 158 in total, including 90 televised Q-and-As. Knoller claims that this is "far more than any of his recent predecessors in their first year," and reflects a strategy of the White House that Obama "can best respond to questions in an interview setting." He also conducted 42 news conferences, compared to 21 in President Bush's first year.

Some other notable stats:

  • Obama attended 28 fundraisers this year, far more than the six Bush held in his first year. But Bush raised more money at those events: $48 million, versus just under $28 million for Obama.
  • 52 of his 411 official remarks this year focused on health care, or about one of every eight. All this for a legislative initiative that hangs in the balance after Scott Brown's shocking win in Massachusetts yesterday. The TelePrompter was used for 178 of those statements.
  • He's traveled to 58 cities in 30 states, covering less ground than Bush (38 states) but more than President Clinton (22) in their first years.

You can read more from Knoller's accounting here.

MD Gov Poll: O'Malley Maintains Lead Over Ehrlich

When we last heard from former Gov. Bob Ehrlich (R), he said the results of the New Jersey governor election were encouraging to him as he considered a potential rematch in 2010 with Gov. Martin O'Malley. Surely the result in Massachusetts last night give him further reason to jump back into the fray in equally blue Maryland. But a new poll from Gonzales Research (816 RVs, 1/13-17, MoE +/- 3.5%) shows that Ehrlich would start with some ground to make up.

General Election Matchup
O'Malley (D) 48 (-1 vs. last poll, 9/8-17)
Ehrlich (R) 39 (+1)
Und 13 (unch)

Independents, which have swung overwhelmingly to Republicans in the elections in Massachusetts, New Jersey and Virginia, still narrowly favor O'Malley by a margin of 39-36 percent. When Ehrlich was elected governor in 2002, he received support from 30 percent of Democrats. This poll shows only 16 percent would cross and support the Republican this time.

Both President Obama and O'Malley have maintained positive job approval scores, though O'Malley remains below 50 percent -- a red flag for any incumbent. Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D), also facing re-election this fall, remains immensely popular.

Job Approval
Pres. Obama 56 / 30
O'Malley 46 / 36
Mikulski 64 / 23

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What Now For Health Care?

The electoral fallout of the Massachusetts special Senate election won't crystallize for several months, but its effect on health care could be known as soon as today.

Before the polls closed last night, House Democrats were steadfast in their belief that Congress would pass health care even if Republican Scott Brown won. However, Senate Democrats will meet today to discuss their options going forward.

There were rumors before Tuesday that Democrats could attempt to ram through a bill before Brown's election became official, which could take at least 10 days. However, there does not appear to be support for that within the Democratic Caucus.

"It would only be fair and prudent that we suspend further votes on health care legislation until Senator-elect Brown is seated," Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.) said last night.

Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), no moderate, agreed with Webb: "I feel strongly that the Democratic majority in Congress must respect the process and make no effort to bypass the electoral results."

Senate Republicans are holding a press conference at 11 a.m., and will likely say the same thing.

Mass. Win Ripples Through Blue State Races

I wrote today about the repercussions of Republican Scott Brown's Senate seat win yesterday in Massachusetts. Here is an excerpt:

Just two people -- John F. Kennedy and Edward M. Kennedy -- had been elected in the last 58 years to the Massachusetts Senate seat Republican Scott Brown won yesterday. The seat's legacy and Democrats' dominance in the state were no match, however, for the lethal mix of Brown's message and a poorly run campaign by Democrat Martha Coakley, as well as a shifting public mood.

The upset, which political analyst Stuart Rothenberg called the biggest of his adult life, follows Republican wins in the New Jersey and Virginia governor's races last year -- all three states voted convincingly for Barack Obama in 2008. The Massachusetts loss threatens to derail an already-stalled agenda, especially health care reform, which the House and Senate have struggled to negotiate and national polling shows is unpopular.

It also could spell trouble for Democrats in the midterm elections in November, even in states with similar political leanings as Massachusetts -- states such as New York and California, where Democratic senators are fighting to keep their seats.

Read the rest here.

Pelosi: Mass. Election Doesn't Change Anything

House Democratic leaders met this afternoon to discuss the status of health care reform in Congress, where Democrats in both chambers continue to negotiate a compromise both sides can agree on. There is no Republican support in either the House or Senate, where Democrats' filibuster-proof 60th vote is on the line in today's Massachusetts special election.

Congress is "on the brink" of passing health care reform, Pelosi told reporters following the meeting. "And regardless of what happens in Massachusetts, we believe that that will happen."

"Regardless of what happens in Massachusetts, we still have to resolve the difference between our two bills," continued Pelosi. "Our eye is on the ball of passing legislation. In order to do that, we have to resolve some differences, establish some priorities, make some decisions and that's what we're doing. Whatever happens in Massachusetts, we have to do that, and whatever happens in Massachusetts, we will pass quality, affordable health care for all Americans and it will be soon."

Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (D-S.D.), though, said today that if Democrats lose the Senate seat, "the chances would diminish significantly for achieving health care reform this year because of the Senate's inability to get anything done without 60 votes."

House GOP leadership responded to Pelosi's comments, with Boehner spokesman Michael Steel saying: "Regardless of what happens in Massachusetts, it's clear that jamming this government takeover of health care through Congress will set off a political firestorm. The American people are screaming, 'stop' at the top of their lungs, and out-of-touch Democratic leaders ignore them at their peril."

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White House Playing The Expectations And Blame Games

Gone are the optimistic pronouncements from White House aides that Martha Coakley will win. Instead, some subtle blame-shifting and no signal yet that the Obama administration plans to give up on health care despite an expected loss in Massachusetts tonight.

As late as Sunday, as Air Force One returned from Boston, press secretary Robert Gibbs was predicting victory. Today at the daily press briefing, Gibbs did his best to push off any comment on the situation in Massachusetts until the results were in. But he acknowledged there is still "a tremendous amount of upset and anger" about the nation's economic situation, implying that said unease continues to be a motivating factor for voters.

Still, Gibbs said that President Obama himself is "both surprised and frustrated" at the predicament the party finds itself in, trailing in the race for a Senate seat in the bluest of blue states. He declined to specify where that frustration was directed.

But senior adviser David Axelrod was a bit more transparent in criticizing the Coakley camp for a lackluster effort. In a gathering with regional reporters today, he said the White House "did everything we were asked to do" to help Coakley, adding: "I think if we had been asked earlier, we would have responded earlier."

And now, the knives seem to be out in full force between the Coakley camp and Washington Democrats. Politico has been reporting on the barbs being traded even before the polls close, with Coakley's camp accusing national Democrats of ignoring their pleas for help, and Washington sources responding with the accusation that her team has "been involved in the worst case of political malpractice in memory."

Back at the White House, Gibbs punted on whether there were alternative plans to pass health care if Scott Brown wins. But he did at one point say that the president does not plan to give up on passing a bill even if the Senate supermajority is no more.

"Health care is a priority for him now. It will be a priority for him tomorrow," Gibbs said.

On the topic of Obama's one-year anniversary in office, Gibbs said the president has learend "that change is never easy; that change takes time; that change has to go through Congress."

Still, he added: "I think there's an awful lot to be proud of in what has been accomplished."

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Obama Gets Official Invite to Congress

Congress officially invited President Obama today to give the State of the Union address, which is scheduled for Jan. 27 at 9 p.m. ET. It's a traditional formality, but one we like to report anyway.

Here it is:

January 19, 2010

The Honorable Barack Obama
The President of the United States
The White House
Washington, D.C. 20500

Dear Mr. President:

Over the past year, the Congress and your Administration have worked together to address the urgent needs of the American people. Many challenges remain in the weeks and months ahead to strengthen our national security and our economy, create jobs, and address other important priorities. We look forward to continuing to work with you toward these goals.

We would like to invite you to deliver a State of the Union address to a Joint Session of the Congress on Wednesday, January 27 to share your vision for addressing the many critical challenges our country faces at home and internationally.

Thank you for considering this invitation to speak to the Congress and the nation. We look forward to your reply.

Sincerely,


NANCY PELOSI HARRY REID
Speaker of the House Majority Leader of the Senate


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CT Sen, Gov Poll: Blumenthal Leads

Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal (D) is off to a good start in his bid to succeed Chris Dodd in the Senate, according to a new Daily Kos/Research2000 poll (Jan. 11-13, 600 LV, MoE +/- 4%). Blumenthal leads his three potential GOP opponents -- ex-Rep. Rob Simmons, ex-WWE executive Linda McMahon and economicst Peter Schiff -- all by about 20 points.

Blumenthal 54 - Simmons 35 - Und 11

Blumenthal 56 - McMahon 34 - Und 10

Blumenthal 56 - Schiff 33 - Und 11

In the race for governor, the poll found Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz in the strongest position among Democrats. However, she recently announced she will instead run for attorney general -- a decision that has set off some controversy as to whether she is legally qualified for the position.

2006 Senate nominee Ned Lamont (D) leads three potential GOP opponents by about 10 points each, while ex-Stamford mayor Dan Malloy leads as well.
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HI Gov Poll: Pickup Opportunity For Democrats

As Democrats brace for a humbling election night in Massachusetts, a glimmer of hope in President Obama's home state: a new Mason Dixon poll (800 RVs, 1/8-12, MoE +/- 3.5%) shows the party has a legitimate chance of winning back the governor's office after an 8-year absence.

General Election Matchup
Abercrombie (D) 43 -- Aiona (R) 34 -- Und 23
Hannemann (D) 41 -- Aiona (R) 35 -- Und 24

Rep. Neil Abercrombie (D) has formally entered the race, and is expected to resign his House seat soon. Lt. Gov. Duke Aiona (R) is looking to succeed Gov. Linda Lingle (R), who is the state's second GOP governor and first in 40 years. Mufi Hannemann, mayor of Honolulu, has not yet made his plans official.

In the race for Abercrombie's soon-to-be-vacant House seat (sample 403 RVs, MoE +/- 5%), both former Rep. Ed Case (D) and state Senate President Colleen Hanabusa (D) lead GOP hopeful Charles Djou in separate matchups. But Abercrombie's resignation would trigger a winner-take-all special election that all three candidates would likely contest, giving the GOP an opening as the Democratic vote would be divided.

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NY Sen, Gov Poll: Cuomo +42

New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo (D), still not in the gubernatorial race, leads potential foe Rick Lazio (R) by 42 points -- which is actually a 4-point margin decrease since the last survey in December, according to a new Siena poll (Jan. 10-14, 806 RV, MoE +/- 3.5%).

Lazio and Erie County Executive Chris Collins (R) fare far better against Gov. David Paterson (D) and Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy (D). Paterson is the only Dem not to lead either Republican.

In the Democratic primary, Cuomo leads with 59%, followed by Paterson (21%) and Levy (6%).

Governor
Cuomo 66 - Lazio 24
Paterson 42 - Lazio 42
Levy 40 - Lazio 33

Cuomo 65 - Collins 23
Paterson 40 - Collins 40
Levy 42 - Collins 26

Meanwhile, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D), facing a possible challenge from former congressman Harold Ford Jr. (D), now has an upside-down favorable rating and trails former governor George Pataki (R) by double digits. In a primary matchup, Gillibrand leads Ford 41%-17%.

A former congresswoman, Gillibrand was appointed a year ago to Hillary Clinton's Senate seat, yet she still remains unknown to more than a third of the state. Asked if they would vote to elect her or for someone else, 29% of voters said they'd choose her and 45% said someone else.

Senate
Gillibrand 38 - Pataki 51
Ford 32 - Pataki 54
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Online Strategy Fuels Brown Surge

Scott Brown is on the verge of one of the great political upsets in recent memory. And it may have started with a simple hashtag.

Well before many political watchers latched on to his candidacy, the campaign of the Republican state senator was cultivating an army of grassroots supporters online that helped fuel his insurgent effort. Brown has been able to leverage a simmering unease about the nation's direction - even in deeply blue Massachusetts - with the enthusiasm for his candidacy among national Republican activists thanks in part to a new force in electoral politics: Twitter.

On December 28, Brown announced what became the signature force behind his campaign, his pledge to be a 41st vote against President Obama's national health care reform legislation. Accompanying that news on his Twitter feed was this notation: #41stvote. Referred to as a hashtag, those nine characters became a mechanism to attract like-minded activists and identify new ones. Reflecting an enthusiasm gap not just in the state but among national politicos, Brown now boasts more than 11,000 Twitter followers, compared to barely 4,000 for Democrat Martha Coakley.

That following paid dividends last Monday when, aided by a strong Twitter campaign from Brown and dozens of his newest online advocates, the Republican smashed a fundraising goal of $500,000 for a one-day "money bomb," generating instead well beyond $1 million. That total from just 24 hours was well beyond what he had raised in the entire previous fundraising period. Where there had been skepticism before about what kind of impact Twitter could have, the Brown campaign is making a convincing case.

In 2008, the presidential candidates had Twitter accounts and made some use of them, "but the public really wasn't there yet," according to Bill Beutler, innovation manager for New Media Strategies, which advises clients on social media. There were signs of the impact Twitter could have during the gubernatorial and special elections for Congress in 2009, especially in the free-for-all in New York 23. But the midterm elections of 2010 will be the first major national campaign in which Twitter will be a factor, and campaigns and campaign committees have taken notice.

"When I started, everyone joked that I was the director of shiny objects," said John Randall, director of new media for the National Republican Congressional Committee. "This is not a shiny object. This is industry standard now. It's definitely something that I point out to all the campaigns."

Brown's campaign shows how Twitter can be used to raise money. But several campaign officials and consultants said the real value that Twitter has brought so far to campaigns is as a conduit for providing instant and direct communication with potential voters and the reporters who cover elections and shape public opinion.

"It's absolutely the quickest, most accessible, most open platform for sharing information on the Web," said Jordan Raynor, a Florida-based Republican online strategist. "Twitter by nature makes information valuable, if it's valuable information. If you've got a juicy piece of news it's going to spread fastest through Twitter."

"Immediacy is one of the incredible values that Twitter brings to the table. And immediacy in campaigns is sometimes life and death," said Justin Hart, director of new media for the Senate campaign of Chuck DeVore in California.

The White House seems to have caught on as well. Deputy Press Secretary Bill Burton just in the past week has begun using his Twitter feed to amplify the administration's message and directly rebut what it considers false storylines. The president himself sent his first "tweet" Monday, though it was for the Red Cross's account and not his own.

In Virginia's gubernatorial campaign, Republicans credit an effective use of social media by the campaign of Bob McDonnell to respond to potentially damaging claims coming from traditional media sources, most obviously the Washington Post's coverage of "Thesis-gate." The Republican Governors Association found based on its polling that many more voters said they were getting their news about the race online, and among that subset, their won handily - 50-38 in New Jersey, and 62-38 in Virginia.

"We realized there is a changing phenomenon. More folks, particularly young people in that demographic that frankly our party has not done that well in the past, are getting their information there," McDonnell said at an RGA conference after the campaign.

DeVore's campaign is seen today as one of the more innovative in terms of how it's used Twitter and other social media platforms from a very early stage to build a campaign. The "Tweet for Chuck" effort has drawn notice as a means of attracting online donations. Hart concedes that because this will likely be the first true Twitter campaign cycle, questions remain.

"I've seen it translate into dollars. I've seen it translate into traffic. I've seen it translate into media news stories," he said. "How that translates into votes, I don't think people have figured that out yet."

Republicans believe they have built a real advantage over Democrats with Twitter, though some concede that similar tools tend to favor those out of power. But Democrats say Republicans are simply catching up.

"A lot of folks are following the lead of the Obama campaign," DNC press secretary Hari Sevugan said. "We set that standard in terms of innovation and I think people are looking at that model."

He and other Democratic officials also say that Republicans quick to embrace the medium have also been quick to find trouble. Just this month, RGA executive director Nick Ayers had to apologize to New York Gov. David Paterson for making a joke on Twitter about his blindness. Strategists are constantly emphasizing to their campaigns the risks that come with these new tools.

"Even though it's an informal way to communicate, it still carries the weight of your campaign, your organization just as a press release or candidate's statement would," the NRCC's Randall said.

No matter what the medium, the challenge for campaigns remains the same: finding a message that resonates.

"It has never been easier to be as influential as you can be today," Raynor said. "Information is cheap. Information is easier to produce. And if you have a quality message, it's never been cheaper to get out."

TX Gov Poll: Perry's Double-Digit Lead Holding Over Hutchison

Looking past tomorrow's special election in Massachusetts, one of the next big elections on the calendar is the Texas gubernatorial primary between incumbent Rick Perry (R) and Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R). But a new Rasmussen survey (831 LVs, 1/17, MoE +/- 4%) shows that a third candidate is picking up a bit of steam.

Primary Election Matchup
Perry 43 (-3 vs. last poll, 11/11)
Hutchison 33 (-2)
Medina 12 (+8)
Und 11 (-3)

Rasmussen chalks up the Medina movement to a strong performance in last week's televised debate. She still trails her two rivals in terms of name recognition, with more than a month to go until the primary vote.

Favorable Ratings
Perry 72 / 26
Hutchison 73 / 25
Medina 43 / 29

Among these GOP voters, 73 percent strongly disapprove of President Obama's job performance. Perry, meanwhile, has a 68 percent approval rating -- a signal that many are not ready to turn him out of office even in favor of the popular Hutchison.

State Of The Union Set For January 27

President Obama will deliver his first official State of the Union address on Jan. 27, White House deputy press secretary Bill Burton tweeted this afternoon.

The timing had been in flux for some time, with some speculating that the White House had hoped to hold off the major address until after the health care reform package was a done deal. By setting it for next Wednesday, it would seem the administration believes that goal is no longer possible. Health reform itself could be in jeopardy, as Democrats face the very real possibility of losing their 60-vote supermajority tomorrow.

With his signature legislative initiative unlikely to be accomplished at this milestone, the speech would only take on greater significance. Consider what former President Clinton had to say about this a few months ago:

"We need to put a bill on the president's desk and he needs to sign it, so at the State of the Union he's not explaining why we haven't done health care."

MA Sen Poll: Coakley's 8-Point Lead Vanishes

A new survey from Research 2000 (500 LVs, 1/15-17, MoE +/- 5%), this time for the Daily Kos, shows that Martha Coakley's 8-point lead has been wiped out in just four days.

Special Election Matchup
Brown (R) 48 (+7 vs. last poll, 1/12-13 )
Coakley (D) 48 (-1)
Kennedy (I) 3 (-2)
Und 1 (-4)

Some key differences with a PPP (D) survey last night. First, independent candidate Joe Kennedy (no relation) is tested. Secondly, there's a wide swing in Coakley's favorable rating -- it was just 44 percent in the PPP survey. And third, Coakley gets a bigger share of Democratic votes -- nearly 90 percent, compared to 77 percent in the PPP survey.

Independents side overwhelmingly with Brown, by a margin of 65-29 percent.

Favorable Ratings
Coakley 58 / 31
Brown 51 / 30
Kennedy 38 / 44

Coleman Not Running For Governor

To the surprise of most political observers, former Republican senator Norm Coleman announced last night he will not run for governor of Minnesota.

"The timing on this race is both a bit too soon and a bit too late," he said in his written statement. "It is too soon after my last race and too late to do a proper job of seeking the support of delegates who will decide in which direction our party should go."

Recent polling found Coleman to be the heavy favorite in the Republican primary, and a candidate had even dropped out recently thinking Coleman was in. Left in the GOP mix are state representatives Tom Emmer and Marty Seifert.

Coleman's exit also lessens the chances of a former U.S. senator becoming governor -- a feat never accomplished in the state. Coleman lost a drawn-out election in Nov. 2008 to Al Franken, who wasn't seated until July 7, 2009.

Current Gov. Tim Pawlenty will not run for re-election. Instead he's expected to seek the 2012 GOP presidential nomination.

The Week Ahead: Election En Mass.

Martin Luther King Jr. was born 81 years ago. Today we celebrate all of his and other Civil Rights leaders' accomplishments, which were made even more obvious last year when Barack Obama was sworn in as president. As we look back to the past, it's impossible not to wonder what the future holds -- specifically tomorrow's special election in Massachusetts and its impact on comprehensive health care reform in Congress.

** Politics: Polls clearly show the momentum in the Massachusetts Senate special election race quickly moving toward Republican Scott Brown, who just a couple weeks ago was still considered a longshot. A palpable shift in the mood of the country is on display as the seat held by Edward M. Kennedy and John F. Kennedy since 1952 (except for two years and some change) is in danger of going Republican.

The stakes are so high that President Obama himself went to Massachusetts Sunday. It's worth noting how health care seemed to be barely mentioned in his remarks, as instead he relied on the party's push on the so-called bank fee, which was just announced last week. Returning from the event, press secretary Robert Gibbs reaffirmed the belief of the White House that Coakley would win. "That was the theme of what this race has been, I think what the President will talk a lot about for the next year," he said.

If Brown wins, look for one major topic to be how soon he's sworn in. We've written about the potential delay Democrats could seek to take advantage of, which would then raise the question of whether they can still muster 60 votes needed to pass the bill quickly. A defeat for Democrats in Massachusetts of all places certainly would raise the possibility that one of the wavering votes -- Ben Nelson or Blanche Lincoln, perhaps -- feel pressure to change sides.

It's a bad mojo weekend for Democrats leading up to the vote, as there are fresh reminders of other defeats. Bob McDonnell (R) was sworn in as Virginia's governor Saturday. And as Massachusetts voters go to the polls Tuesday, New Jersey will see its new Republican governor, Chris Christie, take office.

** White House: What could make a Coakley loss so damning for the White House is the timing -- on the eve of the one-year anniversary of President Obama's inauguration. Just think back to the president's 100th day in office -- it came just after Arlen Specter switched parties and handed Democrats what, pending the Al Franken result being made official, would be their 60th vote. Now, if Brown wins, they'll lose that supermajority on another milestone day.

The White House is not marking the anniversary in any formal way. Monday, the president marks Martin Luther King Day with an event featuring African American seniors and their grandchildren. Thursday, a delegation from the U.S. Conference of Mayors will visit the White House. On Friday, Obama heads to Ohio for another stop on his "White House to Main Street Tour."

** Capitol Hill: The Senate returns to official business Wednesday after a much-needed break. It seems like a year ago, but less than a month ago the senators gathered on the chamber floor Christmas Eve to vote on health care reform. It passed, and negotiations between the House, Senate and White House on a compromise bill has been in the works ever since.

A week ago, many Democrats in Congress still weren't taking the threat of a Republican win in Massachusetts seriously. Remember -- the big news last Monday was Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's awkward comments about Obama's skin and speaking pattern. By the end of the week, however, the White House announced that the president would indeed be deployed to the Bay State, while Democratic leaders in Congress were trying to figure out a contingency plan in case they fell below 60 Democratic seats in the Senate. The Capitol awaits Tuesday's results.

** Poll Watch:
Obama Job Performance: Approve 49.1 / Disapprove 44.5 (+4.6)
Congress Job Performance: Approve 26.3 / Disapprove 67.5 (-41.2)
Generic Ballot Test: Republicans +2.0

** In Case You Missed It: Three of the top four top seeds in the NFL playoffs -- AFC's Colts (1), and the NFC's Saints (1) and Vikings (2) -- all advanced to this weekend's NFC and AFC championship games, which will decide the Super Bowl contenders. Missing from that list: the San Diego Chargers, who were upset in the only competitive game of the weekend by the New York J-E-T-S Jets Jets Jets. Those Jets only got into the playoffs thanks to the Colts pulling their starters in the second half of their Week 16 matchup. Now they'll get a test of the team at full strength for four quarters.

--Kyle Trygstad and Mike Memoli

Arkansas Democrat Snyder Retiring

Arkansas Rep. Vic Snyder announced today he will not seek re-election this year, joining several other Democrats from moderate districts who are opting out of tough re-election campaigns.

Snyder, first elected in 1996, never won re-election with less than 58 percent. In 2008 he was not even challenged by a Republican, while John McCain won 54 percent in the district to President Obama's 44 percent -- an increase from 2004, when George W. Bush won by just a 51-48 margin.

In Arkansas, Democrats hold three of four House seats, both Senate seats and the governor's mansion. However, McCain carried the state with 59 percent, and Sen. Blanche Lincoln is in for the re-election battle of her career.

Snyder's 2nd District is surrounded by the state's three other districts and includes the capital city of Little Rock. While this is another good sign for Republicans -- and winning an open seat is often easier than defeating an incumbent -- Democrats do have potential candidates waiting in the wings, as The Hotline's Tim Sahd notes.

Here is his full statement:

"2010 will be a robust election year during which great forces collide to set the direction for our country for another two years. Over the last several weeks Betsy and I have had discussions with family and friends including other members of Congress (Rep. David Price, Rep. Susan Davis, and our own Sen. Mark Pryor) regarding the appropriate balance between family and Congressional service when a family has very young children. I have concluded that these election-year forces are no match for the persuasive and powerful attraction of our three one-year old boys under the leadership of their three-year old brother, and I have decided not to run for re-election.

"It is the greatest professional honor of my life to represent Arkansas in the U.S. House of Representatives, and I am so grateful to the people of Arkansas to have had this wonderful opportunity. That honor will now pass to someone else at the conclusion of this term.

"This decision has not been an easy one. Two weeks ago my campaign manager came on board, but that first morning I advised him to do nothing to begin the campaign because of my doubts regarding running. The onset of the new year, the time I always begin organizing my campaigns, did nothing to remove these doubts.

"I have put very little thought into what the work side of my life will look like at the end of this term, although it is clear from observing how much our four little boys eat that I will be working for a long, long time."

CA Sen: Boxer Sub-50%

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) is polling under 50% in a new Rasmussen poll (Jan. 14, 500 LV, MoE +/- 4.5%), which finds her leading three potential Republicans in general election matchups. Ex-HP CEO Carly Fiorina and ex-Rep. Tom Campbell, who just joined the race, perform nearly identical against Boxer, while conservative Assemblyman Chuck DeVore is just 6 points back.

Boxer 46 - Fiorina 43 - Und 8

Boxer 46 - Campbell 42 - Und 9

Boxer 46 - DeVore 40 - Und 10

Boxer, running for her fourth term, fails to exceed 46% against any of the three Republicans -- not a good sign for any incumbent. Forking out $14 million in 2004, Boxer doubled her opponent's spending and won by 20 points. The seat hasn't been held by a Republican in 42 years.

CO Sen: Norton +12

A new Colorado Senate poll finds former lietenant governor Jane Norton (R) leading both potential Democratic opponents by 12 points.

In the Rasmussen poll (Jan. 13, 500 LV, MoE +/- 4.5%), Sen. Michael Bennet (D) and former state House speaker Andrew Romanoff (D) not only trail Norton, but both also would be defeated by former state senator Tom Wiens (R) and Weld County District Attorney Ken Buck (R).

Norton 49 - Bennet 37 - Und 11
Norton 47 - Romanoff 35 - Und 14

Wiens 44 - Bennet 38 - Und 14
Wiens 44 - Romanoff 39 - Und 14

Buck 43 - Bennet 38 - Und 15
Buck 40 - Romanoff 39 - Und 16

In New York, Lazio Sees Brown As Model For Success

The special election in Massachusetts hasn't even happened yet, and the result is still very much up in the air. But already, the campaign of Scott Brown is already being cited by fellow Republicans as an example of how the party can have success in 2010, particularly in blue states.

Rick Lazio, running for governor in New York this year, cited Brown's effort as more proof of a strong shift in the public mood that he predicts will crest this fall against the Democratic Party.

"I think what it says is that in a state that is more Democratic than New York, that independents and Democrats are willing to take a look at somebody who is going to reflect some of what they're worried about," Lazio said in an interview with RCP in Washington Thursday. "I think it's very powerful. And talking about a state like Massachusetts, with the legacy of that seat, it's impossible to discount the power of where this guy is polling right now."

Lazio, a former Congressman from Long Island, also cites the result of elections in November in New Jersey and suburban New York counties, where Republicans were elected in Democratic-majority jurisdictions, some of which were considered major upsets. That, and the lessons he's learned since his failed 2000 Senate campaign against Hillary Clinton, give Lazio confidence that he can overcome a steep deficit in the early polling and take back Albany for the GOP.

"Who would have thought Scott Brown would have been competitive?" he said. "And I think that in terms of experience, political positioning in terms of my politics, my experience and background, the experience of our campaign team, the state of the economy in New York, I think we're in infinitely stronger position than Scott Brown found himself in a month ago."

In the interview, Lazio also reaffirmed his commitment to the gubernatorial race, confirming a report in the New York Post earlier this week that some New York Republicans had approached him about running instead for the U.S. Senate to challenge appointed Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand.

"I think I could win the Senate race," he said. "But I told them, I don't think that's where the greatest need is, and I'm not looking for a job. I'm totally committed to the race for governor."

He conceded the challenge of running in a situation where it's unclear who is opponent will be, while stating that he's increasingly convinced that a primary will occur on the Democratic side. Gov. David Paterson (D) seems to have been strengthened by failed efforts from the White House to nudge him out of the race in favor of Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, Lazio argued.

"It's going to be a very divisive, difficult primary for both of them. And my guess is there will be a lot of disaffected people in the end," he said. " The job of our campaign is to be prepared to appeal to those disaffected people, and to continue to stay on message and be seen as the person who is going to be the turnaround guy in New York."

He had especially tough words for Cuomo, whose political strength he said has been overestimated.

"When you get on the campaign trail you've got to take positions," he said. "Andrew Cuomo has run exactly one successful race, running in 2006 behind Eliot Spitzer who was winning by 40 points. I think he's brittle politically, and his profile is exactly what people are not looking for -- somebody who is intensely politically ambitious. Maybe in a normal year that wouldn't be a big factor. But when people know there are tough decisions that may be politically damaging, that's not a compelling profile."

Cuomo has also been "at the center of Democratic politics in Albany in a year when people are going to reject Albany in droves," he said. And the fact that Cuomo has remained "on the sidelines" at a time state government was lacking a real leader would ultimately hurt his standing with voters.

"Andrew Cuomo has a big lead right now, but so did Martha Coakley," Lazio said.

Expect to hear a similar sentiment from other Republicans this year.

ND Sen Poll: Hoeven Begins Race With Lead

North Dakota Gov. John Hoeven's bid for the state's open Senate seat is off to a good start, as a new Daily Kos/Research2000 poll finds him leading three potential Democratic opponents -- Ed Schultz, Heidi Heitkamp, Jasper Schneider.

The person many political observers felt could give Hoeven his most difficult race, Rep. Earl Pomeroy (D-N.D.), is instead running for re-election and leads two Republican challengers -- Kevin Cramer, Duane Sand. However, Pomeroy is polling below 50% against both, and the Democratic Party has just a 25% favorable rating in the state, while the GOP is at 39%.

Senate
Hoeven 56 - Schultz 32 - Und 12

Hoeven 55 - Heitkamp 34 - Und 11

Hoeven 56 - Schneider 32 - Und 12

House
Pomeroy 46 - Cramer 24 - Und 30

Pomeroy 47 - Sand 22 - Und 31

AZ-3: Shadegg (R) Retires, Adds To List

Arizona Rep. John Shadegg (R) is retiring from the House after eight terms. Hailing from the Phoenix suburbs, Shadegg was first elected in the Republican Revolution year of 1994.

Shadegg, who had considered a Senate bid in the past and briefly retired in 2008 before reconsiderng, becomes the 14th Republican to announce his retirement this year -- most are running for higher office. Shadegg joins Henry Brown (SC-2) and George Radanovich (CA-19) as the only three not running for higher office.

At the presidential level, the district has given Republican candidates double-digit wins the past two elections, however Democrats spent a considerable sum to defeat Shadegg in 2008. He prevailed with a 12-point victory.

Here is how the national party campaign committees are reacting to the news (at least publicly)...

DCCC spokesman Ryan Rudominer:

"For all of the Republican spin, the numbers don't lie: There are 14 Republican retirements versus 11 for Democrats. So instead of drinking Eric Cantor and the NRCC's Kool-Aid, House Republicans continue to show a lack of confidence in their ability to take back the House as Republican retirements are mounting and their own members refuse to invest in the NRCC."

NRCC Chairman Pete Sessions:

"John Shadegg has been a strong conservative voice and a dedicated leader for our Republican Conference and the people of Arizona since he was first elected in 1994. Congressman Shadegg is a close personal friend who has worked tirelessly to promote important Republican principles and his efforts will certainly be missed. Third District voters have consistently supported Republican values and we are confident that this seat will continue to be represented by a Republican who shares Congressman Shadegg's beliefs in fiscal responsibility and limited government."

Reid Not Best Performing Dem In Latest Poll

If Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman (I) ran on the Democratic ticket for Senate this year instead of Sen. Harry Reid, he would be in better position to win the seat than the current Senate majority leader. In a new PPP poll (Jan. 11-12, 763 RV, MoE +/- 3.6%), Goodman leads former state GOP chair Sue Lowden and ties Danny Tarkanian, while Reid trails both.

Reid has a 36% approval rating, with 58% disapproving of his job performance. President Obama fares better with a 44%/52% approval rating.

Other Dems tested -- in case Reid drops out as Connecticut Sen. Chris Dodd did -- were Rep. Shelley Berkley and Secretary of State Ross Miller, who both performed similarly to Reid.

Reid 41 - Lowden 51 - Und 8
Reid 42 - Tarkanian 50 - Und 8

Goodman 42 - Lowden 40 - Und 18
Goodman 41 - Tarkanian 41 - Und 18

Berkley 38 - Lowden 46 - Und 17
Berkley 39 - Tarkanian 47 - Und 14

Miller 34 - Lowden 44 - Und 23
Miller 34 - Tarkanian 45 - Und 22

Tarkanian holds a 10.0-point lead over Reid in the RCP Average, and Lowden leads Reid by 10.7 points.

Differing Reactions To Campbell's CA Senate Bid

Former congressman Tom Campbell decided to run for Senate this week after dropping his bid for governor. There are a few Republicans awaiting him in the primary race, including Carly Fiorina -- the establishment-backed candidate -- and Chuck DeVore, the Southern California state Assemblyman.

Check out their statements to see the differing reactions of the two campaigns -- with Fiorina's negative and DeVore's positive. The reasoning: Campbell has won election to Washington before and will be targeting Fiorina in particular; meanwhile, the DeVore camp can hope Campbell and Fiorina blast each other enough over the next few months that he rises from the rubble as the victor.

Fiorina deputy campaign manager Julie Soderlund:

"Today Tom Campbell kicked off yet another campaign for yet another office in his never ending quest to get elected again - but using his electoral history as a guide, his kick off tour is more likely to be a farewell tour. Tom's unending quest for statewide office has nothing to do with serving the people of California, rather it's about satisfying Tom Campbell's quixotic personal ambition and the false premise that he will be acceptable to Republican primary voters. California Republicans won't vote for a proponent of higher taxes and more government; they're smarter than Tom Campbell gives them credit for.

"We view Tom's candidacy as an opportunity for Carly to further distinguish herself as a political outsider and fiscal conservative who will always be on the side of the taxpayers - not just for the primary election, but also for the general election. Tom Campbell and Barbara Boxer share many of the same views, not the least of which is their mutual support for increased taxes and government expansion. Running against Tom in the primary provides our campaign an ideal sparring partner for the main event."

Chuck Devore:

"I've known Tom Campbell for many years in public life, and he has my respect as a substantive and well-intentioned participant in California politics. We don't agree on much: he wants to raise taxes, and I think they're too high; he's pro-abortion, and I'm pro-life; he's a moderate-left politician, and I'm a proven conservative leader. But we do agree that a vigorous discussion among Republicans on these matters is overdue. With Tom Campbell in the race, we can finally have that conversation."

DeVore communications director Joshua Trevino:

"The real story in Tom Campbell's jump to the Senatorial race is the ongoing implosion of the Carly Fiorina candidacy. Make no mistake: Campbell would not be a Senate candidate if Fiorina's fundraising was not lackluster, if her establishment backing was not shaky, and if her inevitability narrative was not in tatters."

DeVore campaign manager Leisa Brug Kline:

"Tom Campbell's entry in this race obviously changes the dynamic quite a bit. The race between Chuck DeVore and Carly Fiorina was a contest between a real conservative, and a moderate-left millionaire who desperately wants to be seen as conservative. Campbell brings an unashamed and forthright moderate-left perspective to the race. California Republicans now have a choice between two genuine and differing candidates -- and that's a good thing."

The Latest GOP Pledge: Repeal Health Care

Over the years there have been various versions of "The Pledge," particularly for GOP candidates. Most commonly, it's been a pledge not to vote for income tax increases. But now, the Club For Growth offers a new one for the 2010 elections: a pledge to repeal health care.

Club For Growth's Chris Choccola wrote in today's Politico:

Now is the time, then, that conservatives must -- and Republicans should­ -- take full ownership of the health care issue, by pledging unequivocally that if elected, they will repeal any federal health care takeover and replace it with market-based reforms. And they should make this pledge now, before Obamacare even becomes law.

This will accomplish several goals.

First, it will immediately define the 2010 and 2012 election campaigns. Obamacare has the potential to be the most unifying domestic political issue in a generation, and one that plays to the GOP's traditional strength: principled policy debates. The election will no longer serve as a referendum on a personally likable president but as his loathsome signature policy.

Second, the pledge will remind wavering Democrats that throwing away their political careers for Obamacare will make them suckers, not martyrs. This thing will be repealed before most of it even takes effect. Indeed, it's possible that promising now to repeal Obamacare may be the only way to prevent its passage in the first place.

And third, it will realign, for the first time in years, the conservative movement and the Republican Party. Conservative voters are going to favor repeal. They should not have to drag Republican leaders -- once again -- to the principled and politically intelligent position. For once, the establishment could get to the party on time.

Already incumbent Sen. Jim DeMint and Rep. Jeff Flake have signed on. Florida Senate candidate Marco Rubio (R), who has the backing of the CfG, also issued a release swiftly agreeing to it.

An initiative like this guarantees that Republican candidates across the country, particularly those running in competitive primaries, will eventually have to make a definitive statement. What impact this will have is uncentain, however, particularly when you note the fact that Politico has also reported that House Minority Whip Eric Cantor said Republicans would only demand a "partial repeal" if they retake control of Congress.

In Recent Special Elections, Some Victors Seated Quickly

Kyle and I wrote yesterday about a scenario in which the winner of next week's special election in Massachusetts could have to wait until March to be seated. That scenario, as we pointed out, is considered unlikely, but the Secretary of the Commonwealth's office noted that the certification process would likely take at least two weeks. The Senate is unlike the House, we were told, and requires a formal certification from the state before a new senator is seated.

A review of other recent special elections for the Senate shows, however, that past winners have at times been seated rather quickly, some in a matter of days. Since 1990, 14 special elections have occurred as a result of vacancies occurring. Six of those resulted in an appointed senator winning the election to complete the unexpired term. In the other eight there was either no appointment at all, the appointed senator was defeated, or the appointed senator did not run in the special election. Here's how quickly the new senators were seated in those cases:

  • In 2002, Jim Talent defeated appointed Senator Jean Carnahan on November 5, and took office on November 25 -- a gap of 20 days.
  • In 1996, Sam Brownback defeated appointed Senator Sheila Frahm in an August primary, and then won the special general election on November 5. He took office November 7, just two days later.
  • Earlier in 1996, Ron Wyden won a special election on January 30, and was seated on February 6 -- seven days later.
  • In 1994, Jim Inhofe won a special election on November 8 and took office November 17 -- a gap of nine days.
  • Fred Thompson also won a special election on November 8, 1994, but didn't take office until December 2, a 24-day gap.
  • In 1993, Kay Bailey Hutchison won a June 5 special election and was seated on June 14, a span of nine days.
  • In 1992, Kent Conrad was elected on December 3 to fill a vacancy. He was already serving in North Dakota's other Senate seat but had not initially sought re-election. He switched to his new seat on December 15, 12 days after the special election.
  • Also that year, Dianne Feinstein defeated appointed Sen. John Seymour in a November 3 election to complete an unexpired term. She took office November 10, a span of seven days.

To sum up, the longest gap in recent history between a candidate winning a special election and being seated was 24 days, while the shortest gap was two. Five of the eight winners were seated in fewer than 10 days -- which is the amount of time Massachusetts cities and towns have to tally local results and send them to the Secretary of the Commonwealth's office.

Palin "Tempted To Bail" From The GOP

At the end of an hour-long interview with Fox News' newest contributor, Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck asked her a simple question: Are you a Republican?

Palin replied yes, that she is still a registered Republicans. But she added that there "are times that I am tempted to bail from the party."

"But I recognize we are a two-party system. The Republican Party -- the planks in our platform are, are the best, strongest planks upon which to build a great state, in Alaska, a great country. I'm going to stay a Republican," Palin told Beck in an interview on his daily Fox show. "But there are those temptations."

Beck then asked if that rules out a third party run for office.

"I don't think there is that need for a third party -- if Republicans get back to what the planks say," she said.

That's a big if, Beck quickly replied. To which Palin said that if an individual candidate campaigns, but then does not deliver on "what they promised to do, standing on those planks in the platform, you gotta fire them. You've got to get rid of them."

The two also made an offer to NBC to co-host "Saturday Night Live," a show that has parodied both. Stay tuned for more video soon from the interview at the RCP Video Page.

MN Gov: Dayton, Coleman Lead Primary Fields

With low poll numbers and far less money than he had in 2000, then-senator Mark Dayton announced in 2005 that he would not run for re-election the following year. However, Dayton -- who has said he's better suited for an executive position in politics rather than legislative -- jumped into the Minnesota governor's race a year ago and now leads a large Democratic primary field, according to a new Rasmussen poll.

Finishing closest to Dayton is Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, who has to battle not only Dayton and the rest of the field, but also history -- no sitting Minneapolis mayor has ever been elected governor. Behind him are state House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher and former state House Dem Leader Matt Entenza.

Democrats (Jan. 11, 331 Dem LV, MoE +/- 5%)
Dayton 34
Rybak 25
Kelliher 12
Entenza 5
Undecided 13
Someone else 10

On the Republican side, things are on hold until former senator Norm Coleman announces his decision -- which many in Minnesota presume is that he will indeed run. He would be the outright favorite for the nomination.

One potential opponent included in this poll, former state Auditor Pat Anderson, left the race Tuesday to instead run again for state auditor. Also included are state Reps. Marty Seifert and Tom Emmer.

Republicans (Jan. 11, 301 GOP LV, MoE +/- 6%)
Coleman 52
Seifert 9
Emmer 9
Anderson 5
Undecided 18
Someone else 7

While both parties are holding Sept. 14 primaries, a more pressing date on the Dem side is the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party nominating convention April 23-25 -- though it's usually held in June. The state GOP holds a similar event May 1. In theory, the state party is supposed to get behind the endorsed candidate even if primary challengers remain.

UPDATE: An on-the-ball reader points out Dayton and Coleman have their own historical obstacle to overcome -- no former senator has ever gone on to become governor. This blog at the University of Minnesota has more details.

DSCC Launches TV Ad In Massachusetts

The DSCC launched a new TV ad last night in Massachusetts, where Republican Scott Brown is closing in on Martha Coakley.

"A look at Scott Brown's real record reveals a long history of voting in lockstep with the Republican establishment," DSCC spokeswoman Deirdre Murphy said in announcing the ad. "Whether the issue is job creation or education, Scott Brown promises to be a roadblock to reform in Washington and that's why he is unfit to represent Massachusetts in the U.S. Senate."

Also, check out our story today as we look into how long it might take Brown to be seated in the Senate should he win. Democrats in Congress don't seem too worried about that prospect, even with the future of health care potentially hanging in the balance.

One Week To Go, Coakley +2 In Latest Poll

With one week to go in the special election race in Massachusetts, Democrat Martha Coakley holds just a 2-point lead over her Republican oppponent, according to a new Rasmussen poll (Jan. 11, 1000 LV, MoE +/- 3%).

Coakley 49 (-1 vs. last poll, 1/5)
Brown 47 (+6)
Kennedy 3
Und 2

The latest result shows a significant margin decrease from the polling firm's survey last week, when Coakley led by 9 points. It's also the second poll in the last few days to show the race within the margin of error, as PPP recently found Republican Scott Brown ahead by 1 point.

Brown: This Isn't the 'Kennedy Seat'

In a debate last night, Republican state Sen. Scott Brown sought to knock the assumption that as the Democrat, Attorney General Martha Coakley is the rightful successor to the Massachusetts Senate seat long held by Ted Kennedy.

Asked by moderator David Gergen how he'd feel should he take over "the Kennedy seat" and become the deciding vote against health care reform, Brown said: "With all due respect, this isn't the Kennedy seat. It's the people's seat."

The comment was additionally noteworthy because the debate was held at UMass-Boston and sponsored by the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the U.S. Senate, which will be housed on campus. Coakley said she'd "be proud to be the 60th vote" to allow health care reform to pass Congress this year.

The candidates entered the debate with momentum on the GOP side, as a poll released over the weekend found Brown ahead by 1 point. Although another poll found Coakley ahead by 15 points, and an internal Coakley campaign poll reportedly showed her ahead by a similar margin, the race appears closer than most expected.

Brown refused to take the bait as Coakley cited rising deficits under the "reckless" Bush administration and the latter stages of Republicans' 12-year control of Congress, saying he's "not looking to address the mistakes of the past." Instead, he focused on the need for tax cuts, the existing health care reform in Massachusetts and his support for Obama's decision to send additional troops into Afghanistan -- a move Coakley criticized.

"You can run against Bush-Cheney, but I'm Scott Brown," he said. "I live in Wrentham; I drive a truck that has 200,000 miles on it now. You're not running against them -- you're running against me."

To end the debate, Coakley sought to dispel any whispers that she was cruising through the campaign as the heir apparent to "the Kennedy seat." While admitting she took Christmas Day off, Coakley turned to the cameras and insisted she was taking nothing for granted.

Although he usually agrees with Brown on the issues, Joe Kennedy (no relation), the third party candidate, delivered a better blow to Brown than Coakley could. Kennedy, who centered his longshot campaign on cutting spending, called out Brown for not practicing what he preaches -- specifically, voting against a tax cut last year in the state Senate, then running on a platform for the U.S. Senate that includes a similar tax cut.

The night was capped off by news that Brown raised $1.3 million in 24 hours -- an important boost in his attempt to pull off a big upset.

Coakley On Her Own

Facing a closer-than-expected special election race that could affect the outcome of health care reform, Massachusetts Senate candidate Martha Coakley (D) likely won't receive last-minute help from President Obama.

"The president doesn't have any travel plans to campaign in Massachusetts," White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said at this afternoon's press briefing.

Asked further about it, Gibbs maintained that it simply "is not on the schedule," and said the Coakley campaign had not requested the president's presence -- nor asked him to stay away.

This bit of news comes as one poll over the weekend found Coakley's GOP opponent Scott Brown leading by 1 point -- a surprising result in a race to replace the late Ted Kennedy in a state that has no Republicans among its 12-member congressional delegation.

That Public Policy Polling survey, though, was contrasted by a Boston Globe/University of New Hampshire poll that found Coakley leading by 15 points. That is closer to what many expected the race to look like, but the conflicting results are no doubt causing some unanticipated Democratic sweating.

However, the decision to not intervene could be in reaction to an internal poll, first reported by Politico, that found Coakley leading by a margin similar to the Globe poll.

GOP Pushing Reid To Step Down

The calls for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to step down from his leadership post likely will not end with Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele's comments Sunday on "Meet the Press."

"Whether he steps down today, or I retire him in November, either way he will not be the majority leader in 2011," said Steele.

Although the RNC chairman is facing grumblings within the GOP about his own leadership position because of some of the things he's said -- as well as his new book and the committee's fundraising numbers -- his sentiments yesterday will likely be echoed by other Republican leaders as Congress swings back into action this week (in the House) and next (in the Senate).

National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Cornyn (Texas) criticized Reid on TV this morning, and his committee pushed the argument in press releases throughout Monday morning -- including digging up Reid's reaction in 2002 to then-Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott's infamous comments.

"This is a double standard from Senator Reid, and there's no doubt that voters in Nevada will see through his hypocrisy as he refuses to step down as Majority Leader," said NRSC spokesman Brian Walsh. "Fortunately, Nevadans will finally have an opportunity to retire Harry Reid and his controversial rhetoric for good in November."

Reid's re-election prospects took another hit this weekend as a Mason-Dixon poll revealed he trailed by as much as 10 points to two relatively unknown Republican challengers.

The Week Ahead: Game Changers

Sunday made for a great day of TV -- the Arizona Cardinals topped Green Bay in overtime after combining to score nearly 100 points, and one of our favorite shows of all time turned 20. Now let's take a look at what Monday and beyond holds in store for us in The Week Ahead:

The White House: What happened to the "hard pivot" back to the economy? The Christmas terror plot delayed that somewhat, but it is expected to be on display this week in the White House. At the same time, President Obama will make a visit to Capitol Hill midweek to meet with Democrats on health care. There is sure to be some increased pressure to move quickly, with the yet-to-be-scheduled State of the Union address looming, and perhaps some nervousness about the potential for a Republican upset in the Massachusetts special election next week.

The President's schedule for the week is light on details for the week, but today's rundown includes a meeting with labor leaders. Thursday, he'll speak at a forum on modernizing government. Also on tap: a Tuesday meeting between the president and female golfers. Vice President Biden remains in Wilmington, where services are scheduled Monday and Tuesday for his late mother, Jean Finnegan Biden.

The Capitol: "Vacation" is officially over for representatives in the House, which opens for business again Tuesday at noon. Of course, Democratic leadership has been back for a week continuing the push for a health care reform compromise with the Senate, which doesn't return to session until next week. A few outside factors -- which we delve into in the next section -- have added increased incentive for Democrats to get something done quickly.

As for the year ahead, no matter what happens with health care, the president and Congress have indicated that jobs will be a legislative priority in the second session of the 111th Congress. Another issue to watch for is immigration reform -- 80 House Dems introduced a new resolution in mid-December.

Politics: So much to talk about -- where to begin. The fallout from "Game Change," a new book from Mark Halperin and John Heilemann, has rocked the political world with salacious details about the 2008 presidential campaign. Harry Reid is looking to put controversial comments about Obama's race behind him. Politico reported on a claim in the book over tension between running mates Obama and Biden. An excerpt about John Edwards will bring his scandal back to the forefront. And "60 Minutes" featured new-ish details about Sarah Palin's chaotic run as John McCain's vice presidential nominee.

Michael Steele, plugging his own new book, will continue to be in the headlines as well. Reid's troubles made for a convenient distraction from increasingly public concerns from GOP types about his leadership. In the run-up to the RNC's winter meeting in Hawaii next week, look for more talk about his role.

State of the races: by week's end, we should have an official accounting of the fundraising totals for all the candidates for Congress this fall. FEC reports for the final quarter of 2009 should be public by Friday. Open Secrets had a good post this week using some already public numbers outlining some of the races on the House side where challengers had outraised incumbents.

Finally, this is the final week of campaigning in Massachusetts in the special election to finish Ted Kennedy's unexpired term. New polling this weekend showed very different results, but most Democrats will concede that it's closer than they'd like it to be. Make no mistake: if a Republican upset happens here with Scott Brown victorious, it will make the Democratic retirements this week look like the good old days. It also could mean health care never gets approved, at least in its current form. Bill Clinton headlines a Martha Coakley rally Friday. Perhaps Biden will be dispatched, or the president will record a TV ad. The candidates have one more debate tonight at the Edward M. Kennedy Institute.

Poll Watch:
Obama Job Performance: Approve 48.8 / Disapprove 46.0 (+2.8)
Congress Job Performance: Approve 27.4 / Disapprove 65.8 (-38.4)
Generic Ballot Test: Republicans +2.8

In Case You Missed It: Last night Fox marked the 20th anniversary of "The Simpsons," and the 450th episode. In honor of the great cartoon show we recall one of its great episodes, and what The Hotline (where both of us once worked) once called one of the greatest political satires ever: the season two show called "Two Cars in Every Garage and Three Eyes on Every Fish." That's when Mr. Burns runs for governor. No clips online, but here's a good summary.

--Kyle Trygstad and Mike Memoli

A Rough Weekend for Harry Reid

He still has 10 months before he faces re-election, but Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid seems to have hit a new low this weekend, on several fronts.

The hot story involves statements attributed to Reid in "Game Change," a new book from Mark Halperin and John Heilemann. Reid is said to have believed that Obama would make a better nominee in the 2008 campaign because, "He was wowed by Obama's oratorical gifts and believed that the country was ready to embrace a black presidential candidate, especially one such as Obama -- a 'light-skinned' African American 'with no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one.'" The comment was reported late Friday by Marc Ambinder.

Reid apologized this morning for "using such a poor choice of words," and now the White House has issued a statement from the president accepting that apology:

"Harry Reid called me today and apologized for an unfortunate comment reported today. I accepted Harry's apology without question because I've known him for years, I've seen the passionate leadership he's shown on issues of social justice and I know what's in his heart. As far as I am concerned, the book is closed."

All this comes as new polling from Mason Dixon (625 RVs, 1/5-1/7, MoE +/- 4%) in today's Las Vegas Review-Journal shows him at his lowest point in matchups against potential Republican foes. You can see the full breakdown after the jump.

General Election Matchups
Lowden 50 (-1 vs last poll, 11/30-12/2)
Reid 40 (-1)
Und 10 (+2)

Tarkanian 49 (+1)
Reid 41 (-1)
Und 10 (unch)

Angle 45
Reid 40
Und 15

Tarkanian leads Reid by 6.3, and Lowden by 7, in the RCP Averages. Here's an especially troubling stat in the survey:

In each of the three Reid-GOP matchups polled, for example, the senator would get only about one-quarter of the independent vote, according to the latest Mason-Dixon poll. The three potential Republican opponents would get more than half the independent voters' support if the race against Reid were held today: Lowden (59 percent), Tarkanian (56 percent) and Angle (53 percent).

As you can see, Reid peaks at 40 even against Sharron Angle, a little-known figure statewide. Again, the only thing working in Reid's favor is the open Republican race, which the poll (300 RVs, MoE +/- 6%) shows is still largely unsettled.

Primary Election Matchup
Tarkanian 28 (+4)
Lowden 26 (-1)
Angle 13 (unch)
Amodei 1
Und 32 (-1)

Reid's favorable rating is down 5 points, and his unfavorable is up 3.

Favorable Ratings
Reid 33 / 52
Angle 21 / 11
Lowden 32 / 17
Tarkanian 33 / 16

RIP, Jean Finnegan Biden

In a statement this afternoon, Vice President Biden announces that his mother, Catherine Eugenia "Jean" Finnegan Biden, "passed away peacefully" today at her home in Wilmington today, "surrounded by her children, her grandchildren, her great-grandchildren and many loved ones."

At 92, she was the center of our family and taught all of her children that family is to be treasured, loyalty is paramount and faith will guide you through the tough times. She believed in us, and because of that, we believed in ourselves. Together with my father, her husband of 61 years who passed away in 2002, we learned the dignity of hard work and that you are defined by your sense of honor. Her strength, which was immeasurable, will live on in all of us."

During his campaign for vice president, which I covered full time as a reporter for NBC, Biden spoke of his mother at almost every event. The whole Biden family is very close, and even after becoming vice president, Biden traveled home to Wilmington often to be with her, since she did not want to move to Washington.

He also spoke movingly of the role she played in his life as he accepted the nomination for VP in Denver:

I wish that my dad was here tonight, but I am so grateful that my mom, Catherine Eugenia Finnegan Biden, is here. You know, she taught her children -- all the children who flocked to our house-that you are defined by your sense of honor, and you are redeemed by your loyalty. She believes bravery lives in every heart and her expectation is that it will be summoned.

Failure at some point in everyone's life is inevitable, but giving up is unforgivable. As a child I stuttered, and she lovingly told me it was because I was so bright I couldn't get the thoughts out quickly enough. When I was not as well dressed as others, she told me how handsome she thought I was. When I got knocked down by guys bigger than me, she sent me back out and demanded that I bloody their nose so I could walk down that street the next day.

After the accident, she told me, "Joey, God sends no cross you cannot bear." And when I triumphed, she was quick to remind me it was because of others.

My mother's creed is the American creed: No one is better than you. You are everyone's equal, and everyone is equal to you.

My parents taught us to live our faith, and treasure our family. We learned the dignity of work, and we were told that anyone can make it if they try.

That was America's promise. For those of us who grew up in middle-class neighborhoods like Scranton and Wilmington, that was the American dream and we knew it.

Gerlach Decision Pleases GOP

Pennsylvania Rep. Jim Gerlach (R) made life a little easier for the GOP in the last day, when he reversed course to run for re-election after ending his gubernatorial bid. Gerlach first announced he was leaving the governor's race yesterday, but waited until today to announce his re-election plans.

An "overwhelming response" from constituents, he said in a statement, "reinforced the decision I have made ... to seek another term representing the great people of the 6th Congressional District."

"I truly believe that I represent the best chance for Republicans to not only hold this seat, but play a major role in regaining control of the U.S. House of Representatives," he said.

While primary challengers await him in his district, the move clears the gubernatorial primary field for Attorney General Tom Corbett, already the favorite to win. It also knocks down the number of Republican retirements in the House, which Democrats have used as an argument defending their own growing number of open seats.

"Jim Gerlach's decision to forgo his gubernatorial bid and stand for reelection in the House is one that I wholeheartedly support and welcome," said NRCC Chairman Pete Sessions. "Democrats in Washington are undoubtedly disappointed by this news."

CT Gov Poll: Dems Favored In Open-Seat Race

The retirement of Gov. Jodi Rell (R) has given Democrats their best chance at winning back the governorship in Connecticut for the first time in decades. A new Public Policy Polling (D) survey (522 RVs, 1/4-5, MoE +/- 4.3%) shows that each Democratic contender has an edge in the early going.

General Election Matchups
Bysiewicz (D) 50 -- Fedele (R) 25 -- Und 25
Bysiewicz (D) 48 -- Foley (R) 26 -- Und 27

Lamont (D) 40 -- Fedele (R) 30 -- Und 29
Lamont (D) 40 -- Foley (R) 29 -- Und 30

Malloy (D) 37 -- Fedele (R) 26 -- Und 36
Malloy (D) -- Foley (R) 27 -- Und 36

Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz is clearly Democrats' strongest candidate at this point. But the party is eager to avoid its primary, and she told the Associated Press Thursday that she's considering switching to the attorney general race now that Richard Blumenthal is running for the U.S. Senate.

Favorable Ratings
Bysiewicz 39 / 16
Lamont 29 / 28
Malloy 18 / 15
Fedele 9 / 12
Foley 10 / 14

Rell still has a respectable job approval rating as she steps down, with 49 percent of state voters approving and 39 percent disapproving.

Two Presidents Meet, With Campaign Clashes Behind Them

We've come a long way from the days of the Obama "fairy tail."

Two years to the day that Bill Clinton launched into one of the most infamous tirades of the 2008 campaign, the former president was sitting with his wife's formal rival in the Oval Office. Aides to both President Clinton and Obama claim it was just a courtesy call, with the 42nd president in town on other business. Clinton was also to greet Rahm Emanuel, a former aide in his White House and now the chief of staff.

But undoubtedly Clinton's visit was an opportunity to buck up his successor; for the great tactician-in-chief to give some advice -- solicited or not -- about Obama's many predicaments as he approaches the one year mark in office.

The situation Obama finds himself in is in many ways similar to the one Clinton's 16 years ago -- in the polls especially. Gallup this week released numbers showing that Obama holds the second-lowest approval rating of any president entering his second year, just behind Clinton, and slightly better than Ronald Reagan.

Obama took on the health care challenge earlier than did Clinton, who ran on the theme of, "It's the economy stupid." Just before the Christmas holiday, as the White House faced new criticism of their plan from their own left flank, led by Howard Dean, the administration appealed to the former president to issue a statement in support of the latest proposal. He complied.

"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," Clinton wrote.

Make no mistake: there was bad blood between Clinton and Obama during the hotly-contested Democratic primary. It was at its fiercest in the weeks after the then-Illinois senator shocked many by winning the Iowa caucuses. On the eve of the New Hampshire primary that his wife would win, Clinton told an audience at Dartmouth College that the image Obama had cultivated, particularly as the anti-war candidate, was the "biggest fairy tale" he'd ever seen.

As the campaign went on, Clinton would claim Obama's impending victory in South Carolina was based, as Jesse Jackson's was decades before, simply on race. He bristled at perceived slights of his record from Obama, particularly when he said that Clinton's presidency had not been "transformational" in the way Ronald Reagan's had. Various accounts since the campaign reveal that the wariness of Obama aides of Clinton was a leading factor in Hillary Clinton being ruled out as a serious vice presidential contender.

But since Obama took the oath of office, Clinton has proved to be a loyal and understated ally, keeping mostly to the work of his foundation and doing some political events for his wife's biggest supporters. He has been called on by the White House several times, most famously when he flew to North Korea to personally arrange for the return of American journalists being held by the oppressive regime. The two presidents have met in person at least three times now, be it at the White House or at a New York restaurant. They've consulted by phone other times as well, developing a collegial relationship grounded in the unique status each holds as the elected leader of the free world.

By close of business Thursday, neither the White House press office nor a Clinton aide had much to say about what the two leaders discussed in their latest meeting. As the current president readies his first State of the Union address, looks to close the deal on health care, and faces a new, unforeseen challenge in the war on terror, there was, of course, no shortage of material.

GOP Insiders See Romney, Not Palin, As Nominee

A plurality of Democratic operatives say Mitt Romney would be the GOP's strongest nominee in the 2012 presidential contest, while Sarah Palin, the 2008 vice presidential nominee, barely makes the top 10.

In National Journal's first polling of GOP insiders on the 2012 race, 29 percent say Romney is the strongest candidate. He's followed by South Dakota Sen. John Thune (15%), Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty (13%), Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels (11%), Newt Gingrich (6%), Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour (5%), Jeb Bush (5%).

Mike Huckabee, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and Palin round out the top 10 with 3 percent each. Also receiving votes were Dick Cheney, Michael Bloomberg, Eric Cantor, Jon Huntsman, Rick Perry, Colin Powell, Marco Rubio and Rick Santorum.

Romney also holds a wide lead when GOP operatives were asked who they think will win the nomination. Pawlenty finished a distant second, followed by Thune, Barbour, Daniels and Palin.

NJ's Jim Barnes, who runs the poll, notes that "although the Insiders Poll doesn't have a terrific record of quickly sorting out who will actually win a nomination, it helps stake out the playing field -- and identify the serious players."

Reid Foe Makes Case For C-SPAN Cameras

Republicans in Washington have been making considerable hay over transparency this week, urging Democrats and the White House to open up any and all final health care deliberations to the C-SPAN cameras as President Obama promised during his campaign.

Now, one of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's potential rivals in Nevada this fall is using this as a campaign issue. Danny Tarkanian, son of longtime UNLV basketball coach Jerry Tarkanian and one of a long list of interested Republican challengers, sends Reid this letter:

Dear Senator Reid,

As you are undoubtedly aware, the American people are clamoring for negotiations on health care reform to be fully open and transparent. Thus far, work on the legislation has been held behind closed doors and in tight secrecy. The American public, and even Members of Congress and United States Senators, have learned the details of the legislation only after it has been voted through. As Majority Leader of the United States Senate, you can change that.

Recently, C-SPAN wrote a letter to Congressional leadership requesting access to the health care negotiations. Granting such a request would unsure the public remains informed on legislation directly affecting them and, in the process, follows through on President Barack Obama's pledge to have ALL health care reform negotiations televised on C-SPAN.

In November, you said transparency would be "one of the guiding principles of health care reform." There is no truer way of accomplishing that goal than allowing C-SPAN - and all media, for that matter, to cover a fully open and transparent conference committee.

Sincerely,

Danny Tarkanian

Just a prediction: this won't sway Reid. But it will be interesting to see if this transparency issue builds any steam as Republicans around the country prepare to campaign against the health care legislation.

CT Sen Poll: Blumenthal Way Ahead

A second poll in two days shows Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal (D) way ahead of his potential Republican opponents in the race for Senate. Rasmussen's survey shows him leading former Rep. Rob Simmons by 23 points, former WWE CEO Linda McMahon by 24 points and businessman Peter Schiff by 36 points.

Blumenthal 56 - Simmons 33 - Und 7

Blumenthal 58 - McMahon 34 - Und 5

Blumenthal 60 - Schiff 24 - Und 10

Blumenthal held similar leads in a PPP poll released yesterday, shortly after Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) announced he would not seek re-election.

Fundraising Portends Competitive Governor's Races

New fundraising reports in Florida, Massachusetts and Wisconsin indicate what should be competitive governor's races come November. GOP challengers in Florida, where Gov. Charlie Crist (R) is running for Senate, and Massachusetts, where Gov. Deval Patrick (D) is running for re-election, reported strong fundraising totals as of the end of the year, while a Democrat in Wisconsin appears fit to keep the state blue.

The news in Massachusetts caught many by surprise, including Patrick, whose Republican opponent Charles Baker doubled Patrick's fundraising for all of 2009 in less than six months. Patrick had even welcomed President Obama last year for a fundraiser. Now, already facing dipping approval ratings, Patrick is in for an extremely difficult re-election.

The governor, an outspoken proponent for Obama's 2008 campaign -- which shattered fundraising records -- dismissed his challenger's impressive haul, saying: "This campaign is not about money. If it is about money, then we are just going to go back to same old, same old on Beacon Hill."

In Florida, Attorney General Bill McCollum is catching up to Democrat Alex Sink after a strong fundraising quarter to end the year. He raised $1.4 million to Sink's $1.1 million. Sink still likely holds a controlling lead in cash on hand, however.

McCollum also received good news yesterday when Crist shot down a rumor that he would be running for re-election instead of for Senate.

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett (D) is showing he has what it takes to succeed outgoing Democrat Jim Doyle, despite his relatively late start to the race. Barrett, a former congressman who was recruited to the race by the White House, announced raising $750,000 in just seven weeks, giving him $1.5 million in the bank.

Neither of Barrett's Republican rivals, Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker or former congressman Mark Neumann, have announced their totals yet.

McCain Re-election Ad: Obama Waging "Extreme Left Crusade"

Sen. John McCain, facing a potential primary challenge in his bid for a new term, is launching two new radio ads today that call him "Arizona's last line of defense."

In one ad, McCain himself accuses President Obama of waging an "extreme left wing crusade to bankrupt America." "I stand in his way every day," the former Republican presidential hopeful then says.

In an email announcing the ads to his supporters, McCain writes that he is "anticipating a competitive reelection race," and the ads are meant to highlight "my efforts to represent our shared values." He also asks for "a generous contribution of $25, $50, $100, $250 or more to help our campaign expand our ad buy."

Chris Simcox, founder of the Minuteman movement, has already announced a challenge to McCain. Former Rep. J.D. Hayworth is also said to be considering a run. The state's primary is August 31.

CO Gov Poll: Salazar No Sure Thing For Dems

We reported Tuesday after word leaked of Bill Ritter's decision to retire that Democrats were already speaking to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar about leaving the Obama Cabinet to run for governor in Colorado. Today, the Denver Post reports that Salazar has been given permission, reluctantly, from the White House to leave his post and run, if he so chooses.

But a new Rasmussen poll (500 LVs, 1/6, MoE +/- 4.5%) released today shows that Salazar, a former state attorney general and U.S. Senator, is no by no means the strongest candidate Democrats could field against former Rep. Scott McInnis, the likely GOP nominee.

General Election Matchups
McInnis 47 -- Salazar 41 -- Und 9
McInnis 47 -- Romanoff 37 -- Und 11
McInnis 45 -- Hickenlooper 42 -- Und 8

John Hickenlooper, the popular mayor of Denver, said at a press conference that he was considering the race, but that if Salazar runs, he'd "probably be his first volunteer." Andrew Romanoff, the former state House Speaker, is still at this point challenging fellow Democrat Sen. Michael Bennet, appointed by Ritter to Salazar's old seat.

Favorable Ratings
McInnis 60 / 26
Salazar 52 / 45
Hickenlooper 57 / 32
Romanoff 37 / 43

President Obama has a 45 percent job approval rating in Colorado, while 54 percent disapprove. Ritter's approval split is fairly similar, 44 / 52.

UPDATE: Chris Cillizza reports that Salazar will stay in the Cabinet, and announce he's backing Hickenlooper for the gubernatorial race.

Sudden Chaos For Democrats In North Dakota

The sudden retirement announcement Tuesday by North Dakota Sen. Byron Dorgan (D) set off a chain of events that has brought a rage of intrigue and GOP confidence in a state whose congressional delegation is currently dominated by Democrats.

Democratic Rep. Earl Pomeroy, the state's lone congressman, considered running in Dorgan's place but quickly announced Wednesday he would instead seek re-election. Meanwhile, a potential Republican challenger to Pomeroy has said he is now rethinking his earlier decision not to run. As for Dorgan's seat, popular Republican Gov. John Hoeven is expected to soon announce he is running.

At a press conference in Bismarck Wednesday, Pomeroy said he opted to seek re-election because he did not want the state saddled with two freshmen in Congress.

"We would have gone from a position where we hold powerful chairmanships by each of our Senators and senior status on Ways and Means Committee to a position where we would have a brand-spanking-new House member and a brand-spanking-new Senator," said Pomeroy.

However, many felt Pomeroy had the best chance to defeat Hoeven and keep Dorgan's seat in Democratic hands. Plus, his re-election to the House is no foregone conclusion, according to Eric Raile, a political scientist at North Dakota State University.

"I think that Pomeroy has enough to worry about with his House seat," Raile said when asked what Pomeroy's chances would have been against Hoeven. "There is a lot of talk in the state about dissatisfaction with healthcare reform and other Democratic-led initiatives. This could be trouble for Pomeroy in the upcoming election."

First elected in 1992, Pomeroy has won his last three elections with at least 60 percent of the vote, but in 2002 -- a strong year nationally for Republicans -- he won with just 52 percent. Running statewide, Pomeroy will again need to overcome the Republican leanings of the state and the anti-incumbent mood hanging over the 2010 midterms.

After turning down national party entreaties last year, Public Service Commissioner Kevin Cramer -- who challenged Pomeroy in 1996 and 1998 -- has now told state party operatives that he will make his decision on running in "the next day or so." Also, in an interview with Politico, Cramer said it was Dorgan's retirement announcement that caused him to rethink his decision.

Other potential Republican challengers to Pomeroy include Tax Commissioner Cory Fong and Rick Clayburgh, the former tax commissioner and current executive with the North Dakota Bankers Association.

"Pomeroy stands to face his toughest election in his political career, and we're confident it will be his last year in office," said Adam Jones, executive director of the North Dakota Republican Party.

While Democrats now hold all three of the state's slots in Congress, North Dakota may indeed find itself a year from now with two freshmen in Washington -- despite Pomeroy's desire to keep that from happening.

With Pomeroy out of the running for Senate, state and national Democrats have been feeling out MSNBC talk show host Ed Schultz, who is a former Fargo radio show host, and former state Attorney General Heidi Heitkamp, who lost to Hoeven in the 2000 governor's race. Neither has yet to say whether they are interested.

"Pomeroy's House seat is not necessarily safe," said Raile. And as for the Dorgan's Senate seat, "Governor Hoeven is extremely popular in North Dakota. The Democrats are facing a difficult situation here. They likely need to find a popular and recognizable figure to be competitive."

AR Sen Poll: Lincoln Trails Four GOPers

Four Republican opponents lead Arkansas Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D) in potential general election matchups, according to a new Rasmussen survey. On top of trailing each Republican by at least 8 points and never reaching even 40% support, 55% say they hold an unfavorable opinion of the second-term senator.

Those tested against Lincoln include: State Senate Minority Leader Kim Hendren; State Sen. Gilbert Baker, a former state GOP chair; Safe Foods CEO Curtis Coleman; and Tom Cox, a Tea Party organizer.

Hendren 47 - Lincoln 39 - Und 10

Baker 51 - Lincoln 39 - Und 7

Coleman 48 - Lincoln 38 - Und 9

Cox 48 - Lincoln 38 - Und 9

Health care could be weighing down Lincoln, who supported Senate Democrats' reform bill in the Christmas Eve vote. The survey found just 35% of Arkansas voters support the proposal.

Pomeroy Will Not Run For Senate

North Dakota Rep. Earl Pomeroy will not run for Senate, a Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee source tells RealClearPolitics.

Pomeroy, the state's lone congressman, had been considered Democrats' strongest candidate to replace Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.), who announced his retirement yesterday. The long-held Democratic Senate seat now appears likely to flip parties, should Gov. John Hoeven (R) jump in the race as expected.

"I think Hoeven is the prohibitive favorite against anyone but Pomeroy," said Mark Jendrysik, a political scientist at the University of North Dakota. "Since I don't think Earl will run for Senate, it looks like the seat is John's for the taking."

Hoeven, governor since 2000, is extremely popular in the state. A recent poll found him with an 87 percent job approval rating. Pomeroy was first elected to Congress in 1992 and was won re-election with more than 60 percent of the vote in the last three elections.

MSNBC host Ed Schultz said this morning that the state Democratic Party chair contacted him about running, though he remains undecided.

Multiple messages left with Pomeroy's spokesperson were not returned.

CT Sen Poll: With Dodd Out, Blumenthal A Strong Favorite

Credit Public Policy Polling (D) with having these numbers ready: their new survey (522 RVs, 1/4-5, MoE +/- 4.3%) shows that Attorney General Richard Blumenthal (D) starts with a strong lead over potential GOP foes in the Senate race. These numbers affirm the sentiment that Sen. Chris Dodd's (D) decision "to step aside and let someone else step up," as he said a short time ago in Connecticut, was the best one political for Democrats

General Election Matchup
Blumenthal 60 -- McMahon 28 -- Und 12
Blumenthal 63 -- Schiff 23 -- Und 14
Blumenthal 59 -- Simmons 28 -- Und

By comparison, PPP found Dodd tied with McMahon (43-43), ahead of Schiff (44-37), but trailing Simmons (40-44). PPP, on the difference Blumenthal makes:

Blumenthal is unusually popular, especially in hyper partisan times when voters like few politicians. 59% have a favorable opinion of him to just 19% who see him negatively. It's no surprise that he's liked by 71% of Democrats and 60% of independents, but even Republicans view him favorably by a 37/35 margin. It doesn't take a lot of hands to count the number of Democratic politicians with positive numbers among GOP voters these days.

Job Approval Ratings
Pres. Obama 54 / 38
Dodd 29 / 57

Favorable Ratings
Blumenthal 59 / 19
McMahon 26 / 29
Schiff 9 / 13
Simmons 27 / 24

Brown: I Won't Be A "Filibuster Senator"

Running as a Republican for Ted Kennedy's former Senate seat, Scott Brown has a tough needle to thread. To win, he must convince enough Democrats and independents to break from traditional voting habit in federal elections, while at the same time ensuring his Republican base stays energized and turns out for what will likely be a low-turnout race in two weeks.

To do the latter, Brown's campaign has been selling the idea that the state Senator from Wrentham would go to Washington as the "41st Vote," ensuring Democrats lose their short-lived supermajority in the upper chamber. But in an interview with RCP Tuesday afternoon Brown stressed his record of independence, saying he won't just be "a filibuster senator."

"I've never been anybody whose vote can be taken for granted," he said. "If it's a good piece of legislation that is a Democrat piece and is good for my state, and it makes sense for the people of the United States, then it's possible I'll support it. But for anyone to think that I'm going to be in lock-step with anybody, I think they're mistaken."

Brown says there's an opportunity in supporting his campaign to at least restore the possibility in Washington for "fair and open discussion," that by forcing Democrats to reach beyond their membership, you'd avoid problems like "Nebraska Sellouts and Louisiana Purchases."

"There's a reason why they manipulated the Senate succession legislation here in Massachusetts, why the president called Governor Patrick to send down an interim senator," he said. "They wanted that 60th vote. And people are upset about that. They're tired of the power grab and the lack of respect for the voters. And I offer the opportunity to send a message."

On the campaign trail, Brown says he's sensing that even Democrats are dissatisfied with the actions of Democrats in Washington and Beacon Hill, and suspects the race may be closer than the 9-point margin Rasmussen found in the first post-primary public survey. And for him, it wouldn't be enough to just perform better than expected.

"I don't know what's expected -- I expect to win," he said. "I know I'm the candidate, but I've won nine or 10 elections already. I've been the underdog before. I've been down this many points in elections before, and have won every election."

Brown, who describes himself as "independent, straight-talking, straight-shooting," makes it clear that he would be a 41st no vote on health care. He argues that the "one-size fits all" national plan would undermine reforms passed in the Bay State under fellow Republican Gov. Mitt Romney. Though he concedes the state plan still needs to be adjusted he says it's been largely successful, and that the federal government should instead be working to incentivize other states to make similar changes.

He also criticized a "flip-flop" on health care from his Democratic rival, Attorney General Martha Coakley, centered on abortion. Before the primary, she said she would oppose language in the House bill that would limit federal funding for abortion. She then said she would have supported the Senate bill even with similar language.

"One thing about Senator Kennedy -- he was a principled man. And when he didn't want something, he stood up for it," he said.

Another Kennedy, the former President, was featured in a recent ad from the Republican hopeful. The spot featured JFK delivering a speech in favor of income tax cuts; he then morphs into Brown making the same speech. Brown said the idea was to "shake things up" and bring some attention to his campaign, and that it's been a success.

"Different person, different era, different party, same message," he said. "It points out to the old-timer Democrats and independents, people who are more conservative when it comes to fiscal issues especially, that the Democrat Party in Massachusetts has fallen off when it comes to protecting the fiscal rights, the wallets and pocket books of every day, working-class Democrats, Republicans and independents. I think I achieved that goal and got people talking."

Should Brown manage to pull an upset on January 19, Brown said he'd go to Washington not owing any party or special interest a thing. Though he's received some support from the national party, the campaign has not seen the kind of outside attention that another special election did in New York last fall.

And if he does win, Brown would sure be an instant sensation beyond what Doug Hoffman might have been in the House. Asked if he'd outshine his daughter, a former American Idol contestant and Boston College basketball star, Brown concedes she's gotten a bit "jealous lately." In fact, both of his daughters have appeared in his ads as he cultivates a family-man image.

"For somebody whose mom was on welfare, my parents were divorced, ... coming from humble beginnings, I count my blessings every single second of my waking being that I have these wonderful opportunities," he said.

Report: Dodd To Retire; Blumenthal Likely To Run

But wait, there's more!

The Washington Post's Chris Cillizza reports that Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) will end his long career in Washington and not seek re-election this November. And in a boost to Democrats' chances of holding the seat, Cillizza reports that state Attorney General Richard Blumenthal "is widely expected to step into the void."

More:

Blumenthal, who has served as state Attorney General since 1990, is the most popular politician in the state and has long coveted a Senate seat; he had already signaled that he would run for the Democratic nomination against Sen. Joe Lieberman (I) in 2012. (A sidenote: Assuming Blumenthal gets in to the race, Rep. Chris Murphy could be the long-term beneficiary as he is widely regarded as a rising star and would be at the top of the list of Democratic hopefuls to challenge Lieberman in 2012.)

Without Dodd as a foil, Republicans chances of taking over a seat in this solidly blue state are considerably diminished. Former Rep. Rob Simmons and wealthy businesswoman Linda McMahon are battling it out for the Republican nod but either would start as an underdog in a general election matchup with Blumenthal.

The White House did all it could to help Dodd, elevating him at official events and sending his old friend Joe Biden in several times to stump for him. But clearly Dodd concluded that there was no hope of turning his fortunes around.

After a tumultuous Tuesday, one has to wonder if this is a case of Democrats getting all their bad news out at once, or if there are other shoes still to drop. The other incumbent that the party would like to see step aside is New York Gov. David Paterson. He delivers his state of the state address Wednesday in Albany.

Another One Bites The Dust: CO Gov. Ritter (D) To Retire

What a day for Democrats. First, Lt. Gov. John Cherry (D) announced he was dropping out of the Michigan gubernatorial race. Then Sen. Byron Dorgan (D) stunned Washington by announcing he would not seek re-election. And tonight, word from Colorado that Gov. Bill Ritter (D) will not seek re-election.

Ritter won in a landslide in 2006, but has had a rocky tenure since then. He was considered one of the weakest incumbent governors in the country, and so his departure could actually clear the way for a stronger candidate free of the "status quo" label in what is shaping up to be an anti-incumbent year.

Democrats would be eager to see former state House Speaker Andrew Romanoff switch to the governor race instead of challenging Sen. Michael Bennet, who Ritter appointed this January when Ken Salazar resigned to join the Obama Cabinet. But Salazar himself could be in the mix as well. A Democratic source tells RCP that the Interior Secretary is being urged by national Democrats to consider running for the seat. Salazar was the state attorney general before being elected to the Senate in 2004.

Scott McInnis is the likely Republican gubernatorial nominee. For its part, the RGA pounced on the Ritter and Cherry news today with this statement:

"The spectacularly early failures of both the Ritter and Cherry campaigns in battleground states ought to send a shiver down the spine of all Democratic candidates for governor this year."

Dorgan To Retire, Giving GOP Strong Pick-Up Opportunity

Surprising news late this afternoon: Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-ND) announces that he will not seek re-election in 2010. From the release:

"For the past year, I have been making plans to seek another six-year Senate term in next year's election. Those plans included raising campaign funds and doing the organizing necessary to wage a successful campaign.

Even as I have done that, in recent months I began to wrestle with the question of whether making a commitment to serve in the Senate seven more years (next year plus a new six-year term) was the right thing to do.

I have been serving as an elected official in our state for many years. Beginning at age 26, I served ten years as State Tax Commissioner followed by thirty years in the U.S. Congress by the end of 2010. It has been a long and wonderful career made possible by the people of North Dakota. And I am forever grateful to them for the opportunity.

Although I still have a passion for public service and enjoy my work in the Senate, I have other interests and I have other things I would like to pursue outside of public life. I have written two books and have an invitation from a publisher to write two more books. I would like to do some teaching and would also like to work on energy policy in the private sector.

So, over this holiday season, I have come to the conclusion, with the support of my family, that I will not be seeking another term in the U.S. Senate in 2010. It is a hard decision to make after thirty years in the Congress, but I believe it is the right time for me to pursue these other interests."

We noted before the Christmas break that Dorgan was facing the prospect of a strong challenge from North Dakota's popular GOP governor, John Hoeven. Hoeven hadn't yet announced, and some had begun to doubt he would actually run. But Dorgan's announcement would have to give Hoeven a strong push toward the race.

For Democrats, a logical candidate would be the other member of the state's all-Democratic Congressional delegation, Rep. Earl Pomeroy. But Pomeroy making a run against Hoeven for the Senate seat would put two seats at risk.

The announcement means Dorgan is the first elected incumbent Democratic senator to bow out of a 2010 race (appointed Sens. Roland Burris and Ted Kaufman were not running). Six Republicans announced last year they would not run again, including Florida's Mel Martinez, who resigned early.

Dorgan may not be the last to opt out, with many eyeing Sen. Chris Dodd (D) as a retirement possibility. Democrats might prefer to see that happen, given his weak polling. But the Dorgan decision most certainly qualifies as unwelcome news given the increasingly bleak political climate for the party.

UPDATE: Here's NRSC communication director Brian Walsh's statement:

"North Dakota was always going to be a competitive seat for the Democrats to defend, and Senator Dorgan's retirement now provides us with another excellent pick-up opportunity for Republicans in 2010. This development is indicative of the difficult environment and slumping approval ratings that Democrats face as a result of their out of control tax-and-spend agenda in Washington, and we fully intend to capitalize on this opportunity by continuing to recruit strong candidates who can win these seats in November."

With Poll Showing 9-Point Gap, Brown Sees Victory Possible

State Sen. Scott Brown (R), buoyed by a new Rasmussen poll that shows him trailing by 9 points in the Massachusetts Senate special election, says he has the momentum to carry him to an upset win in two weeks.

"I was 30 points down a month ago, and 9 points now," Brown told RCP in an interview this afternoon. "While I'm certainly happy, I don't want to have anyone be complacent because there's still two weeks. It's not over until it's over. And I'm going to treat it that way until 8:01 on January 19."

Brown did not shy away from voicing Republican positions on the major issues of the day, but said he's been successful in Massachusetts by being an independent voice, and one not beholden to entrenched interests. That was especially the case last in 2008, when he said he carried his state Senate district by a wider margin than President Obama or John Kerry did.

"I'm not taking anyone's vote for granted," he said. "I think it'll be closer than 9 points, certainly. And if everybody gets out and votes, I may even have the chance to win."

We'll have more from the interview tomorrow.

'Ping Pong' Method Increased Under Dem Control

As House leaders meet today to discuss their priorities in the upcoming negotiations with the Senate on reconciling the two health care reform bills, controversy is growing over the reported decision to bypass a conference committee and instead hold informal talks out of the public eye. Although the "ping pong" practice is nothing new, a recent report showed its use drastically increased when Democrats reclaimed power in Congress.

In the 109th Congress (2005-2006), the last under GOP control, the House and Senate reconciled major bills through a conference committee 18 of 19 times, according to a report by congressional scholar Don Wolfensberger that was cited in an August 2008 Congressional Research Service analysis of the committee process. In the 110th (2007-2008), major bills were reconciled in conference just 11 of 19 times -- meaning Democrats negotiated eight times as many bills outside of conference as their Republican predecessors.

"While the conference bypass approach is just as legitimate under the rules as going to conference (and sometimes advisable when there are only minor differences to iron out), the procedure is more suspect when used on major bills on which numerous substantive disagreements exist between the houses," Wolfensberger wrote in his April 2008 column, printed in Roll Call.

Wolfensberger notes that Republicans were "not entirely blameless" for the increase in out-of-conference negotiations when they transitioned to the minority, but the point was that "the lack of conference deliberations shuts out majority and minority Members alike from having a final say on important policy decisions."

Skipping the formality of a conference committee allows Democrats to speed up the process of merging the bills by forgoing the necessary Senate floor procedures required to begin negotiations. The 2008 CRS report offers three reasons for the difficulty in convening a conference committee: the filibuster, increased polarization in the Senate and "the exclusion of minority party conferees from participating in the bicameral bargaining process."

A separate 2007 CRS analysis further describes the process of moving a bill from the Senate to a conference committee:

"There are several opportunities for extended debate and delay on the Senate floor in the process of sending, or trying to send, a bill to conference. Three separate, debatable motions must be made before sending a measure to conference. Other motions, including a motion to instruct conferees, are also in order, and Senators may choose to exercise their right to debate any or all of these motions at length."

Instead, Democratic leaders in the House and Senate simply send amendments back and forth until an accord is reached. Republicans have not always opposed the maneuver, according to Wolfensberger, but now it removes all opportunities for GOP input. Just one Republican in either the House or Senate voted with Democrats upon passage in each chamber.

Of course, Republicans are hardly the only group complaining about the decision to skip committee. House liberals are worried many of their preferences in the House bill may fall by the wayside when leaders merge it with the less progressive Senate bill, which barely passed in late December and therefore has far less wiggle room for modification than the House bill.

Florida GOP Chairman Greer Resigns

Florida Republican Party Chairman Jim Greer announced today he is stepping down from his post amid complaints about his service -- including the misappropriation of money -- though he maintained he was not asked to resign by the governor or any other GOP leader. Greer admitted the party's internal battle between the conservative and moderate wings weighed on him, and he finally decided over the last couple days he could no longer effectively lead.

"It was obvious to me that some of these people were not going to stop" their attacks on him, Greer said, without ever mentioning the names of those "who have expressed concerns" with his chairmanship. Greer's comments came during a conference call with reporters.

Greer's resignation comes days before the party's annual meeting, when he said plans were in place to "embarrass" him.

"Over last six months there have been a very vocal group in our party that has been very active in seeking to oust me as chairman," he said. "They have distorted facts -- the misspending of money -- and talked about my support of Governor Crist for the U.S. Senate race. ... These distractions and attacks within the party is not what we should be doing."

The conservative-moderate battle is highlighted in the Senate primary, between the more moderate Gov. Charlie Crist and conservative Marco Rubio. Conservatives, unhappy with Crist's moderate stances and support for legislation like the economic stimulus package, have jumped behind Rubio's candidacy and sparked a divide that has proved to exist in other states as well.

Greer said "some forgot that our number one focus and objective is to win elections," highlighting his support for a 'big tent' party rather than holding a conservative purity test for candidates. He also stated his pride in opening up the party to minorities and all candidates on the political spectrum.

"I am not a purist," he said. "I leave here as chairman very proud."

Following Greer's announcement, Crist announced his support for a successor -- State Sen. John Thrasher.

"Sen. Thrasher is a dedicated public servant, and I look forward to working with him to ensure Republican victories this election cycle," Crist said in a statement released by his campaign. "He will do a great job, and I have tremendous respect for him."

Michigan Dems Lose Top Gov Hopeful

Another sign of the times for Democrats: the Associated Press reports this morning that Michigan Lt. Gov. John Cherry (D) will drop out of the gubernatorial race. A top Democratic fundraiser, Faylene Owens, "says the tough economy and Granholm's record has made it difficult for Cherry to raise money."

Gov. Jennifer Granholm (D) was able to overcome growing economic woes in her '06 re-election bid, thanks in part to a weak opponent, the power of incumbency and a favorable Democratic climate. But now, several strong Republicans have lined up to win this open-seat race, including Rep. Pete Hoekstra and Attorney General Mike Cox.

A Democratic source said that state House Speaker Andy Dillon (D) is likely the party's best hope of keeping the seat, though the door hasn't closed yet to new candidates. Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero (D) is also running.

A recent EPIC-MRA survey showed that Cherry was unknown to 39 percent of state voters, with Dillon (56%) and Bernero (81%) even further behind on that score. The same survey showed Granholm with just a 29 percent approval rating; President Obama fared better at 44 percent.

With Few Options, GOP Continues Health Care Fight

With Democrats in the House and Senate reportedly opting for the ping-pong method of combining bills rather than the more formalized conference process, Republicans are left with few if any opportunities to halt progress on or even kill comprehensive health care reform. GOP hopes of stopping it now mostly rest on Democrats' intraparty differences, however party leadership is adamant that Republicans are not giving up and that Democrats' day of reckoning will come soon.

"There is much not to like here. I haven't given up on stopping it," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Monday on Dennis Miller's radio show. "I think we've got another month or so to fight this out and we're going to fight it 'til the bitter end."

McConnell and other Republicans argue that despite the potential for no conference, Democrats in the two chambers remain far apart on a number of issues, such as the inclusion of the public option, stricter abortion language and how to pay for it. The GOP will also begin attacking the process, as the lack of a conference removes Republicans from the negotiating table and allows the bill to move forward faster.

The backroom negotiations are a sticking point with the GOP, which last year routinely complained about being left out of the legislative process, despite promises from President Obama that he was open to their ideas.

Despite media reports, House Democratic leaders have yet to confirm that no formal conference committee will be held. One House leadership aide maintains that whatever form the negotiations take, it will not simply be the House considering the Senate bill -- the less progressive of the two and which barely passed last month on a party-line vote.

Discussions among Democratic leaders and committee chairmen on the House side are set to begin today, as well as a full caucus meeting Thursday, as they set their priorities for the negotiations. The Senate won't return for another two weeks.

Republicans, though, are still calling for the health care negotiations to be televised on C-SPAN, as Obama promised during his campaign. The president has instead left negotiations for the most part in the hands of party leaders in Congress, who appear more eager to pass a bill than allow further bipartisan discussions that could continue to slow the process.

Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-Fla.) offered a resolution that would require the health care reform conference to be televised, though action on that bill was blocked by Democrats.

"Something as critical as the Democrats' health care bill, with its Medicare cuts and tax hikes, shouldn't be slapped together in a shady backroom deal," Michael Steel, spokesman for House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio), told RealClearPolitics. "Skipping a real, open conference shuts out the American people and breaks one of President Obama's signature campaign promises. It would be a disgrace -- to the Democratic leaders if they do it, and to every Democratic Member who lets them."

Should the compromised bill pass both chambers, Republicans are expected to attempt to repeal it. However, with Obama in the White House and strong Democratic majorities in Congress, the tact will likely make more waves on the midterm election campaign trails than have any real chance of working.

As for the political ramifications of passing health care, GOP critics point to Nebraska as an example of the dangers to Democrats' electoral health -- a state whose Democratic senator's re-election prospects already look perilous because of his support for the bill, three years before he must face voters.

A poll last week found Sen. Ben Nelson trailing Republican Gov. Dave Heineman by 31 points, with 55 percent holding an unfavorable opinion of him. A day after the poll's release, Nelson aired a TV ad during the Nebraska-Arizona college football bowl game to defend his health care vote.

"This will be one of several, if not the biggest issue in the fall election and you've seen what it's already done to the credibility and career of one senator from Nebraska, and I think there will be others," McConnell said on "The Dennis Miller Show." "He's not up in '10, but this is one of those votes that's going to be remembered for a long time."

Governor Campaign Committees Report Record Hauls

Majority control of governorships does not have the kind of cache as being the majority party in Congress. And yet both the Democratic and Republican Governors Associations will each likely edge their legislative committee counterparts when it comes to funds raised in 2009.

Both the DGA and RGA reported their fundraising totals today, and both report a record amount raised for what should be an active year with 37 governorships at stake. But it's the Republicans who claim bragging rights, ending 2009 with a $7.5 million cash-on-hand advantage heading into state contests.

Committee Raised / Cash On Hand
RGA $30M / $25M
DGA $23.1M / $17.5M

Through November, the DCCC had the highest cash on hand total for Democratic fundraising committees with $15.4 million. The RNC had the most on the Republican side with $8.7 million.

The Democratic Governors Association says it raised $7 million in the fourth quarter alone, including $4 million in December -- after the party lost races in New Jersey and Virginia. Its $17.5 million nest egg for 2010 is 12 times more money than it had in the comparable 2006 cycle, the organization boasts. It spent $14 million that year, when it picked up six seats as part of a national pro-Democratic wave.

For its part, the Republican Governors Association broke its previous fundraising record of $28.2 million in 2006, and now has $21 million more on hand than it did entering that year.

Both parties had support from major surrogates. President Obama held a DC fundraiser for the DGA in October. Former Gov. Sarah Palin has urged her Facebook fans to donate to the RGA, and also offered signed copies of her new book to committee backers.

Governors races in 2010 will have greater national significance because of the role many state executives have in the redistricting process. The role of these party committees in gubernatorial races varies greatly based on state laws, but the impact was surely felt in 2009 races. The RGA, for instance, helped Chris Christie narrow a wide spending gap between he and Gov. Jon Corzine (D).

Aloha, Vacation; Aloha, Full Plate

President Obama is now back at the White House, perhaps a bit jet lagged and regretful that his working vacation is officially over.

Aides won't rule out a public appearance, but say it's unlikely we'll see him today. But he will jump right back to work with more briefings on the attempted Christmas Day airline attack and the threats from al Qaida in Yemen that are increasingly in public focus. He'll have a larger meeting with his security team tomorrow at the White House. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, meanwhile, was the public face for the administration today, calling instability in Yeman "a threat to regional stability and even global stability."

The economy will also stay in focus, particularly with a jobs report due at week's end. Before Air Force One touched down in the Washington area, deputy press secretary Bill Burton talked about the full plate welcoming the president as he returns.

"When you're President of the United States you've got to be able to walk and chew gum at the same time, so you can anticipate there's going to be a very heavy push to get Americans back to work, to get the economy as strong as it can be, along with some of the other things that we left behind at the end of the year to get finished up here -- health care, financial regulatory reform," Burton said. "Then also along with what's happening on these counterterrorism measures and Yemen, we've also got issues to deal with with Iran and North Korea and Pakistan. And you can bet that the President and his principals and deputies will all be taking on their full plates of work with rested minds hopefully and we'll be able to make some good progress here right out of the starting gate."

In the near distance is the president's first official State of the Union address, expected no later than early February. Meetings had taken place with the president on the speech before he left for Hawaii, and he likely worked on it informally during the 11-day trip. Burton had few additional details other than to say the address "is going to have to cover quite a bit of ground."

Saying Goodbye To Another NFL Season

The NFL regular season ended oddly yesterday with a few interesting matchups, a number of starters resting for the playoffs and the solidfying of the ever-important draft order. So we're taking a break from politics for a minute to take a look.

Teams in three of the four games being played in this coming weekend's opening round of the playoffs also faced off yesterday to finish the regular season -- and all three games were duds, with an aggregate score of 94-7.

The New York Jets demolished the Cincinnati Bengals 37-0 at home and are now set to play at 4:30 pm Saturday. Playing for the NFC East title and the No. 2 seed in the playoffs, the Eagles landed in the playoffs as the No. 6 seed and must travel back to Dallas for a Saturday night affair after falling 24-0 yesterday. And the Green Bay Packers will head back to Phoenix Sunday afternoon, a week after beating mostly second-string Cardinals 33-7.

The Baltimore Ravens and New England Patriots play the other wildcard round game Sunday at 1 p.m.

The two No. 1 seeds in the playoffs -- the NFC's New Orleans Saints and AFC's Indianapolis Colts -- both finish the season on losing streaks after winning their first 13 and 14 games, respectively. Both teams rested their star quarterbacks, Drew Brees and Peyton Manning, though Manning threw 18 passes before leaving the game. Both get another week off before their first playoff matchups.

While 12 teams are thinking playoffs, the remaining 20 now must look toward free agency and the amateur draft in April. By virtue of record, the 1-15 St. Louis Rams will pick first, followed by 2-14 Detroit Lions, 3-13 Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 4-12 Washington Redskins and 4-12 Kansas City Chiefs. The Redskins so far are the only team in that group that will move forward with a new head coach -- Jim Zorn was fired early this morning, and Mike Shanahan is expected to replace him.

The Week Ahead: Welcome To Election Year

We love Washington and all, but -- no matter your political stripe -- one almost feels bad for President Obama's return home. It was nearly 80 degrees when he stepped on Air Force One in Honolulu Sunday night and likely will be in the high 20s when Marine One touches down on the White House lawn this morning. But all vacations must come to an end, so check out what to watch in RCP's Week Ahead:

The White House: President Obama and the first family was due to officially return "to the Mainland," as Hawaiians put it, at 11:30 am when Air Force One lands at Andrews Air Force Base. The White House has not put out a full schedule for the week, but one issue is sure to have found its way on to the president's crowded desk in the Oval Office: terrorism. Obama's counterterrorism czar was on the Sunday shows talking about the new threats from al Qaida, including those that led to the closure of the U.S. Embassy in Yemen.

The Capitol: The House and Senate remain on break this week, while Democratic leadership aides continue backroom negotiations on a compromise health care reform bill. As Reuters reports, the difficult task is highlighted in the two chambers' differences "over the use of federal funds for abortion, new taxes to pay for the plans, a government-run insurance option and the level of subsidies and penalties for the uninsured." Politico notes that, as it did during the August recess, the GOP has been trying to win the media war over the winter break as well.

Politics: Welcome to midterm election year 2010, when history and polling now stand on the Republican Party's side. AP's Liz Sidoti broke down the landscape in a great piece published over the weekend:

"But they face an incumbent-hostile electorate worried about a 10 percent unemployment rate, weary of wars and angry at politicians of all stripes. Many independents who backed Democrats in 2006 and 2008 have turned away. Republicans, meanwhile, are energized and united in opposing Obama's policies."

The first election in 2010 happens in just over two weeks, when Republican Scott Brown and Democrat Martha Coakley compete for the Senate seat in Massachusetts once held by Ted Kennedy (and now being kept warm by Paul Kirk). There are two debates this week, with another scheduled for a week from today at the Kennedy Institute.

The first regularly-scheduled primary is February 2, when the gubernatorial and Senate nominations will be decided in Illinois. For a full rundown of the primary calendar for the new year, check back to this post.

Look for Democrats this week to focus on the growing number of open seats that Republicans will need to defend next year. There are now 14 Republican congressmen not seeking re-election -- Rep. Henry Brown (R-S.C.) is expected to announce his retirement this afternoon, and Rep. George Radanovich (R-Calif.) announced his exit last week.

Poll Watch:
Obama Job Performance: Approve 49.8 / Disapprove 44.6 (+5.2)
Congress Job Performance: Approve 27.4 / Disapprove 65.8 (-38.4)
Generic Ballot Test: Republicans +1.7

In Case You Missed It: While most have focused on Democratic incumbents not seeking re-election next year, there is a growing number of Democratic recruits that have opted against running. This past week, freshman Rep. Lynn Jenkins (R-Kans.) lost an opponent in state Sen. Laura Kelly (D), the fifth Dem challenger to drop out in recent weeks.

--Kyle Trygstad and Mike Memoli

Rep. Henry Brown (R-S.C.) To Retire

South Carolina Rep. Henry Brown (R) will announce his retirement from Congress today at a 2 p.m. press conference, according to The Palmetto Scoop, a conservative South Carolina website. Brown, 74, reportedly factored age and life in the minority party into his decision.

Brown's exit from the 2010 sweepstakes adds to the growing number of Republicans (14) not seeking re-election next year, and he is the second GOPer in the last week to announce his retirement -- Rep. George Radanovich (R-Calif.) is leaving Congress to tend to his wife. Brown and Radanovich are the only two not seeking higher office.

Brown would have faced a difficult primary, with potential candidates including: Carroll "Tumpy" Campbell III, son of the late governor Carroll Campbell; Isle of Palms City Councilman Ryan Buckhannon; 2008 challenger Katherine Jenerette; and attorney Mark Fava.

Politico adds another name to the mix -- Charleston County Council member Paul Thurmond, son of the late Strom Thurmond.

The coastal district leans Republican, with John McCain winning 56 percent in 2008 and George W. Bush winning 61 percent four years earlier. Until 2008 when he won by a slim 4-point margin, Brown had easily won re-election since coming to Congress in 2000.