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2010: Why Pennsylvania Is The Most Competitive State

A year ago many considered Pat Toomey too conservative to be a viable contender for the Senate in Pennsylvania, one of the most culturally and geographically diverse states in the country. But with a changing national political climate that is mirrored in the Keystone State, Toomey's chances of knocking off the state's incumbent senator look increasingly more likely.

A Franklin and Marshall College Poll released last week found Toomey leading Democratic Sen. Arlen Specter by 4 points. After five terms as senator, 34 years since his first bid for statewide office, last year's switch from the Republican to Democratic Party and a primary challenge from Rep. Joe Sestak (D-Pa.), Specter's Senate seat is up for grabs.

In the state that President Obama carried by a 10-point margin, Toomey's lead in the polls is just one piece of evidence that Pennsylvania is likely the most competitive state in the country:

Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell is term-limited and -- seven weeks before the May 18 primary -- the race to replace him is a toss-up; nine of the 19 congressional districts could be competitive; two of the only GOP districts nationwide that Democrats hope to pick up are in Pennsylvania; and the special election to replace the late Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.) will likely take on national significance as a key indicator for the November elections.

"Pennsylvania has a history of swinging back and forth from Republican to Democrat, Democrat to Republican in statewide races," said Robb Austin, a Pennsylvania political consultant and former state representative.

This has been true in the Senate -- Democrat Harris Wofford won a special election to replace John Heinz in 1991, and was then defeated by conservative Republican Rick Santorum, who was knocked out four years ago by Democrat Robert Casey Jr. -- as well as in gubernatorial elections.

"If you look at the history going back to the '70s, which in politics is pretty recent history," said Austin, "they elected Milton Shapp, an ultra liberal; followed by Republican Dick Thornburgh; followed by Robert Casey, a moderate Democrat; then Tom Ridge, a war hero moderate; then Ed Rendell, a Philadelphia city liberalist."

The likely Republican nominee for governor this year is Tom Corbett, the state attorney general who scored a big victory last week in his "Bonusgate" prosecutions of state lawmakers who used taxpayer dollars to pay for campaign work. Meanwhile, four Democrats are battling for the nomination while polling shows seven-in-10 voters remain undecided.

"Tom Corbett is going to be hard to beat after eight years of Ed Rendell," said Austin. "That's just a fact."

In the last two election cycles, state Democrats picked up 5 House seats, Rendell won re-election with 60 percent of the vote, Casey walked away with a GOP Senate seat with nearly as many votes and Obama became the fifth straight Democratic presidential nominee to win the state. With a 1.2 million voter registration advantage this year, why is the state so competitive?

Franklin and Marshall polling director Terry Madonna says it's all about the lack of excitement in the Democratic base. His polling has found "a substantial enthusiasm gap" between the two parties -- as much as 13 points.

That manifested in the November elections for seven state appeals court judges. While the country was focused on Republican victories in the New Jersey and Virginia gubernatorial elections, Republicans also won six of seven statewide judicial elections in Pennsylvania.

"Last fall we had these innocuous appeals court elections -- nobody knows and nobody cares about," Madonna told RealClearPolitics. "This is all about turnout. The Republicans won six of seven of them and shocked everybody. The people that Obama brought in 2008 -- that brought the edge up -- no longer exist, and the Republicans were able to turn the elections last fall into a big advantage for them."

A year ago, with the Philly suburbs trending more and more Democratic, "most of us thought the state was on the verge of becoming New Jersey instead of Ohio," Madonna added.

While Madonna doesn't see nine House seats flipping party control, he says "there are a lot of seats that could go either way."

Here's a look at the nine most competitive Pennsylvania districts:

--The 3rd District, located in the northwest corner of the state, is a moderately Republican district John McCain carried by a mere 17 votes. Despite being outspent two-to-one, Rep. Kathy Dahlkemper (D) defeated Republican incumbent Phil English in 2008. Six Republicans, none with political experience, are vying to take on Dahlkemper, whose vote in favor of health care reform could play a role in the race.

--In the Pittsburgh-area 4th District, while Rep. Jason Altmire's (D) vote against the reform bill may have helped his cause in the general election, one person -- Allegheny County Labor Council President Jack Shea -- is considering a primary challenge. McCain won this district with 55 percent, one of his highest percentages in the state, and many expect former U.S. Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan (R) to offer a tough challenge.

--The 6th District was initially an open district before Rep. Jim Gerlach (R) opted out of the governor's race in a tip-of-the-hat to Corbett. Obama won 58 percent here, and two Democrats -- former Philly Inquirer editorial writer Doug Pike and physician Manan Trivedi -- are looking to oust him.

--Delaware County's 7th District is one of two open Democratic seats that Republicans are targeting. Former U.S. Attorney Pat Meehan is one of the GOP's most highly touted candidates in the country; likewise, national Democrats have committed to support the campaign of state Rep. Bryan Lentz.

--On the opposite side of Philadelphia from the 7th, 8th District Rep. Patrick Murphy (D) is facing a rematch from 2006, when he defeated Republican incumbent Mike Fitzpatrick by just 1,500 votes. Murphy spent nearly $4 million in 2008, but some believe Fitzpatrick waited the right amount of time to mount a comeback.

--Rep. Chris Carney (D), one of four Democrats first elected in 2006, won northeastern Pennsylvania's 10th District from scandal-plagued Republican Don Sherwood. He won easily in 2008 despite being outspent by nearly $1 million and McCain winning 54 percent. Carney was one of the Democrats President Obama called to win their health care reform vote, and the congressman was one of the last to sign on to the bill.

--In the Scranton-based 11th District, Rep. Paul Kanjorski (D) is in for another challenging re-election bid. He's facing a spirited primary from Lackawanna County Commissioner Corey O'Brien, and if Lou Barletta wins the Republican primary, Kanjorski will face the Hazleton mayor for the second election in a row.

--A special election for Murtha's 12th District will be held concurrently with the May 18 primary. Running are businessman Tim Burns (R) and Murtha's congressional district director Mark Critz (D). "I think it's a question of whether or not they want a new, fresh start," said Austin. "It's a good argument" for Critz to campaign as "a younger version of Murtha. ... But on the other hand it's sort of a Tea Party district in a lot of ways, so I would not be surprised at all if that district goes Republican."

--Rep. Charlie Dent's (R) 15th District is perhaps national Democrats' top target and where their most highly touted recruit is making a bid. Obama won 56 percent here and John Kerry narrowly carried the district in 2004. At the beginning of the year, Bethlehem Mayor John Callahan (D) had slightly more money in the bank than Dent, both with more than $600,000.

With Democrats currently dominating the state's governor's mansion and congressional delegation, the competitiveness of the state has much to do with the kind of year it is for the Republican Party. With a large voter registration advantage, though, Democrats will be working hard to turn out the vote.

"It's not going to be a slam dunk for Republicans," said Austin. "They're going to have to run smart campaigns and have good candidates."

Sarkozy Visit Spotlights Obama's Diplomatic Style

President Obama welcomes French President Nicolas Sarkozy to the White House today, a visit that includes dinner in the private residence with their spouses. Beyond the wide range of issues on the agenda, the meeting calls attention not just to a strained relationship between Paris and Washington, but broader questions about the American leader's diplomatic acumen.

The treatment of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a White House visit last week had the White House playing defense again. Senior adviser David Axelrod claimed "there was no snub intended" when the president left a meeting to have dinner with his family, leaving the prime minister and his staff alone for hours before Obama was called to return. Just over a year ago, the British press were frenzied over perceived protocol slights on a visit by Prime Minister Gordon Brown, ranging from the lack of a Rose Garden press conference to Obama's choice of a personal gift -- a set of DVDs.

And Sarkozy himself reportedly felt snubbed last summer when Obama declined a personal invitation to dine together when the president visited France to commemorate the 65th anniversary of D Day. Analysts say Obama's seeming lack of a rapport with some of his overseas counterparts stands in stark contrast with the approach of his predecessor.

"President Bush prided himself on these personal relationships that he had with key foreign leaders, and that those relationships would see them through difficult bilateral or multilateral issues," said Heather Conley, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "I think particularly for Europe, as much as President Bush was divisive to Europe, so many of those leaders loved that relationship with him. They loved getting invited to Crawford or to Kennebunkport. And they're not finding that type of relationship with President Obama."

Obama, she said, seems to be a more "workmanlike leader" who seems satisfied with a purely professional relationship.

"He doesn't need the warm and fuzzy. He's about, 'Let's get the work done. I'm busy. I've got lots of things to do - if you can help me, great, if not, step aside,'" she said.

The relationship with Sarkozy is a bit more complicated considering the French leader's outspoken criticism of Obama's leadership at times. At the United Nations last fall, Sarkozy implied that Obama was hopelessly naive in his quest for a world without nuclear weapons, saying, "We are living in a real world, not a virtual world."

But the timing of the visit is significant in that it comes as each leader's political fortunes appear to be diverging. Sarkozy is now faced with growing unpopularity at home, with approval ratings now at the lowest point of his presidency. Obama has seen his own popularity tumble, but he's also fresh off a major political victory with the passage of his health reform plan. Conley points to the view that Sarkozy enters the White House a bit humbled.

"Sarkozy needs this photo op in many respects much more than President Obama does," she said. "He has had a really tough week, and President Obama is still very personally popular in France. Sarkozy could do well to start the week with a lot of pictures of the two leaders on the front pages of the French papers."

The White House seems eager to work to repair that relationship as well. The personal dinner of the two first couples is one signal, Conley said. In addition, the bilateral Oval Office meeting will be followed by that Rose Garden press availability that the UK's Brown had himself sought.

"I think they wanted to add some sweeteners to the visit," she said of the White House.

That protocol of the visit is notable not just for the foreign visitors. The White House press corps, for its part, has been increasingly unhappy with the lack of open press opportunities during recent visits of other heads of state, even a simple "pool spray" in the Oval Office. In some cases, the only pictures made public were taken by official White House photographers.

Pawlenty To Announce PAC Endorsements

Here's another addition to what's turning out to be an active few weeks in the quiet GOP presidential primary campaign for 2012. Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R) has announced plans for a "Facebook Town Hall" this Wednesday. His camp says it's the first such event for a major political leader.

"Governor Pawlenty will make a major announcement over Facebook and will seek input from Facebook uses on helping Republicans win the 2010 elections and stop runaway Washington spending," the page announces.

An aide says Pawlenty will appear via video on the social networking site and answer user-submitted questions in real time. He'll also make what the aide bills as "a major announcement about the PAC's political activities." Expect to hear an announcement about candidates Pawlenty's Freedom First PAC is backing.

Wednesday is the final day of the first quarter FEC filing period, so the event could also serve as a final public pitch for more donations for his committee. It's scheduled to begin at 7:15 pm Eastern.

Man Arrested For Threatening Cantor's Life

A man has been arrested for threatening the life of House Minority Whip Eric Cantor, a Richmond, Va., area representative and the second ranking Republican in the House.

"Over the weekend, Congressman Cantor was notified by law enforcement that a threat was made against his life," Cantor press seceretary Brad Dayspring said in a released statement. "Law enforcement officials informed Congressman Cantor that the threat was determined as credible and they were responding accordingly. The Congressman was later notified that an arrest was made and a suspect was in custody."

Several media outlets have reported that the man is Norman Leboon, 33, of Philadelphia. Leboon is accused "of threatening to kill Cantor and his family in a YouTube video posted online this month, according to U.S. Attorney Michael L. Levy and FBI Special Agent in Charge Jan Fedarcyk," the Washington Post reports.

The arrest follows a tense week on Capitol Hill that included health care reform protesters hurling insults and slurs at Democratic members of Congress; pro-life Democrat Bart Stupak announcing he and his wife had received several threatening phone calls at their home; and several more Democrats and Republicans announcing they had received threats in some form.

Cantor, himself, reported that a bullet had been shot through a window of his downtown Richmond campaign office, though police later stated they believed it was a stray bullet.

The Week Ahead: Out Like A Lamb

The week ahead brings us to the end of March. You know the old saying -- in like a lion, out like a lamb. And it feels like it in Washington; a month that started with the furious health care deliberations ends now with that bill signed into law, and Congress out of Washington for the Easter recess. But there never is a dull moment in politics, and by now we all know to look out for the surprise political bombshell to drop when you least expect it. With that in mind, here's what we do know about the week ahead.

White House: Speaking of surprises, President Obama had another up his sleeve with a covert trip in and out of Afghanistan this weekend. We had been led to believe he'd be resting up with family at Camp David. But instead, the White House went ahead with a visit that had been under consideration in concert with his planned trip to Australia and Indonesia -- a trip that was called off for health care.

As Mike wrote here Sunday, it seemed part of a guns-blazing White House strategy to create a sense of momentum for the administration coming out of the big health care victory. This week, Obama will continue to highlight that win as he signs into law the so-called "fixes," which also include a major overhaul of how the government handles student loans. That event takes place at a community college in nearby Northern Virginia. Obama keeps up his road show with a trip to Maine -- home of the GOP's two leading centrist senators -- to promote the health care bill on Thursday. Then on Friday, he'll head to North Carolina to return focus to the troubled economy. That visit will coincide with the monthly jobs report.

Also on tap this week: a White House visit on Tuesday by French President Sarkozy.

Capitol Hill: Things will be quiet on the Hill for the next two weeks with members home for Easter recess. While Obama signs the health care reform reconciliation bill on Tuesday in Northern Virginia, members will be out in their districts and states defending their votes -- in town halls, on local radio and other public appearances. Most Democrats voted yes; all Republicans voted no. In a memo last week, Speaker Pelosi urged House Democrats to push the benefits of the bill when speaking with constituents; Minority Leader Boehner told Republicans to focus on the fact that the bill does nothing to combat the country's high unemployment.

Politics: The deadline for first quarter fundraising is this week, so expect some last minute appeals for cash from candidates and party campaign committees. Filing deadlines for candidates to get on primary ballots are on tap over the course of the week in five states: Alabama, Tennessee, Missouri, South Carolina and South Dakota. We're still more than a month away from the next round of primaries.

Mitt Romney has a busy week that includes stops in two key early nominating states. On Monday, he stops in two Iowa cities as part of his book tour. Then on Thursday he heads to South Carolina to campaign for state Sen. Nikki Haley, one of the Republicans running to succeed Mark Sanford as governor. He'll be in New Hampshire the following week on his book tour, rounding out the presidential primary trifecta.

**Poll Watch:
Obama Job Performance: Approve 47.5 / Disapprove 46.5 (+1.0)
Congress Job Performance: Approve 18.5 / Disapprove 76.2 (-57.7)
Generic Ballot Test: Republicans +1.7

**In Case You Missed It: The hot Florida Republican Senate primary took to the national airwaves on Sunday as Marco Rubio debated Charlie Crist on Fox News Sunday.

**Bonus Sports Watch The week ahead includes one of the great weekends on the sports calendar in some time. On Saturday, the Final Four kicks off in Indianapolis, featuring Michigan State against the hometown Butler Bulldogs and Duke facing off with West Virginia. And then Sunday night is a night Mike in particular has been waiting for since November. The baseball season starts that night as the defending World Champion New York Yankees head to Fenway Park to face the hated Red Sox. The rest of the league, including our hometown Nationals, opens on Monday.

--Kyle Trygstad and Mike Memoli

Palin Rallies The Right

Sarah Palin took the stage today at the Pima County Fairgrounds in an effort to give Arizona Sen. John McCain the same kind of conservative base boost she brought to his presidential candidacy two years ago. McCain is facing a challenging GOP primary opponent in former Rep. J.D. Hayworth, who is attempting to paint himself as the true conservative in the race.

The McCain campaign hopes Palin's presence will shore up his conservative base in the state, some of whom are upset over stances he's taken on issues such as immigration reform. Palin also wrote an op-ed in the Arizona Republic this morning talking up McCain's accomplishments.

"For the good of our entire country and the future of your state, please send John McCain back to the United States Senate," wrote Palin.

Palin is active in congressional politics this year, not only defending Republicans but also attacking Democrats. She will reportedly attend the Tea Party event in Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's Nevada hometown tomorrow afternoon and has listed 17 Democratic House member targets on her Facebook page.

After the jump, a look at This Week In Midterms.

ARIZONA: The 2008 gang is getting back together, as we noted above. The L.A. Times picked up on the event and ran a story today that looks into the irony of the race: "The traits that turned McCain into a national figure -- his ambition, his go-against-the-grain persona, his willingness to work with Democrats on climate change, judicial appointments, immigration and more -- are being used to question his loyalty to the state and his party."

CALIFORNIA: Caroly Fiorina got some much-needed good news this week in the form of a Republican primary poll that found the former corporate executive leading her two rivals. Fiorina had trailed former Rep. Tom Campbell by 6 and 9 points in two polls out earlier this month. The new PPIC poll also found her statistically tied with Sen. Barbara Boxer (D).

FLORIDA: Charlie Crist went up with his first TV ad of the campaign this week, and a new poll out today finds the Republican primary race far closer than others have. The Mason-Dixon survey has Marco Rubio up 11 over Crist. The two will have a chance to make their cases to the masses this weekend as they face off in a debate on Fox News Sunday.

INDIANA: Republicans promised that this week's health care votes in Congress will have repercussions for Democrats in November, and former Sen. Dan Coats (R) wants to make sure that's true here as well. Rep. Brad Ellsworth (D), the likely Democratic Senate nominee, voted in favor of the bill, and Coats ran an op-ed on RCP to respond.

UTAH: The fiscally conservative Club for Growth is out to take incumbent Republican Sen. Bob Bennett in the primary. The New York Times wrote yesterday: "There is no bigger quarry in the eyes of many conservative activists than Mr. Bennett, who has drawn seven challengers and will not know for six weeks whether he will even qualify for the ballot. His fate is being watched not only by grass-roots conservatives testing their ability to shape the party, but also by many elected Republicans in Washington who are wondering, If Bob Bennett is not conservative enough, who is?"

LEFTOVERS: AR Sen. Blanche Lincoln's (D) poll numbers are still unsustainable for a successful incumbent candidate. ND Gov. John Hoeven (R) continues to look like a shoo-in for the open Senate seat. WA Sen. Patty Murray (D) looks good in a new poll, if 2008 voter turnout models hold true in 2010. NC Sen. Richard Burr (R) continues to hold off all Dem opponents. PA Senate candidate Pat Toomey (R) leads Sen. Arlen Specter and Rep. Joe Sestak. WI Sen. Russ Feingold (D) leads former Gov. Tommy Thompson (R) by 3 points.

NEW YORK: All the sudden, Republicans are the ones with a primary on their hands. But two new polls, from Siena and Marist, show Rick Lazio (R) has the early advantage. Levy still needs to get on the ballot. Both are courting Republicans as the convention nears. But Levy still has the hurdle of his long record in Democratic politics. The state GOP Chair faces criticism for recruiting Levy.

MICHIGAN: Mike Cox is among the AGs seeking to repeal health care reforms. He, too, faces a crowded GOP primary. The GOP looks to have the edge another poll finds.

FLORIDA: McCollum still leads in the latest Rasmussen poll. McCollum is leading the charge among Attorneys General to challenge the health reform law. Democrats make hay about McCollum hiring an outside counsel and friend to handle the suit.

NEVADA: Gov. Jim Gibbons is pushing the state AG to challenge health reform. His primary rival, former Attorney General Brian Sandoval, decided to back that effort after initially holding fire.

CALIFORNIA: The trend is good for Republican Meg Whitman, even though Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's (R) approval has hit an all-time low. Whitman primary challenger Steve Poizner links her to Obama on immigration policy in a new ad. Whitman is still spending big.

PENNSYLVANIA: A Franklin & Marshall poll shows Democrats with no clear frontrunner to succeed Gov. Ed Rendell (D). Attorney General Tom Corbett (R) looks strong in the general election, per Rasmussen. Corbett, too, is challenging health reform law. But Rendell wants him to drop the suit. Philly Mayor Michael Nutter endorsed a new Democratic entrant, state Rep. Dwight Evans.

MARYLAND: It looks like former Gov. Bob Ehrlich (R) is ready to make it official and announce his candidacy, setting up a rematch against Martin O'Malley.

OHIO: A new PPP (D) poll showed John Kasich (R) leading incumbent Ted Strickland (D).

THE REST: Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer (R), running in the crowded GOP primary in South Carolina, proposes a constitutional convention to overturn health care reform. Republicans look ready for a pick-up in Tennessee. The open-seat Wisconsin race is a toss-up. Incumbent Jan Brewer (R) trails in Arizona, though other Republicans would fare better. Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie (R) leads all Democrats in Vermont. Connecticut's number two launched an ad. Gov. Pat Quinn (D) wants Paul Simon's daughter to be his running mate. Democrat-turned-indie Tim Cahill is getting a lot of mileage for his critique of health care legislation. But he faces scrutiny over donations to his campaign. Former Trail Blazer Chris Dudley launched an ad as he runs as a Republican for Oregon governor.

Cook Political Report:
* VA-11 from Likely D to Lean D
* PA-3 from Likely D to Lean D
* OR-5 from Likely D to Lean D
* NY-24 from Lean D to Toss Up
* IL-11 from Likely D to Lean D
* FL-24 from Lean D to Toss Up
* AZ-01 Likely D to Lean D
* SD Gov from Solid R to Likely R
* AK Gov from Likely R to Solid R
* WY Gov from Lean R to Likely R
* MI Gov from Toss Up to Lean R
* MA Gov from Lean D to Toss Up
* ME Gov from Likely D to Lean D

Rothenberg Political Report:
* AZ Gov from Lean D takeover to Toss Up
* MA Gov from Narrow D Advantage to Toss Up
* NV Gov from Narrow R Advantage to Clear R Advantage
* OR Gov from Safe D to Clear D Advantage
* NY Gov from Clear D Advantage to Safe D

Senate: GOP +7
Governor: GOP +4
House Map

Health Care Fight Returns To Town Halls

The August 2009 recess nearly proved fatal to Democrats' hopes of passing health care reform. The simmering angst of citizens at town hall meetings, in some cases shown live on cable news, caught many off guard and extended a process the majority party had initially hoped to complete by Labor Day.

With that legislation now finally passed, both parties' leadership see the upcoming Easter recess as a critical opportunity to change the dynamic. For Republicans, it's a chance to regain the upper hand and keep the pressure on Democrats when they still appear vulnerable. For Democrats, the recess represents what some in the party see as their best chance yet to reframe the debate by highlighting a major accomplishment.

"I think everyone recognizes that you can't just try to sweep it under the rug and hope that the other side won't come after you on it," a Democratic leadership aide tells RCP. "Everyone understands the importance of going out there and going on the offense ... and not letting the other side get an advantage in terms of defining the bill again."

Democrats, particularly on the House side, have been encouraged by leadership to use the time in their districts focusing on the more popular components of the reform law. The forum is up to the member, however, and it's unclear yet how willing Democrats are to hold town hall meetings considering the August experience. RCP contacted the offices of more than two dozen Democratic House and Senate Democrats, most of whom represented swing votes in either chamber. Most were unwilling to disclose much about a member's specific plans for the coming weeks.

If not town hall meetings, a packet distributed to the caucus Wednesday suggests members hold tele-town halls, have press events with groups that backed the law, meet with newspaper editorial boards, or to greet constituents in a roundtable or small group setting.

Republicans, meanwhile, have offered similar advice for a health care offensive.

"Use every opportunity to visit with area business leaders, senior living centers, medical professionals, and local press to carry our message to every corner of the country. There is simply too much at stake to let up the pressure now," Mike Pence writes in a "recess kit" distributed Thursday.

The economy won't be forgotten as well, by either side.

"Our Members will be talking about the number one issue on the minds of the American people: jobs, and the terrible impact that this job-killing health care bill will have," said Michael Steel, aide to Minority Leader John Boehner. The Democratic recess packet urges members to link the health reform effort with steps taken to address the economic downturn. "Tell your constituents how all this was done in a fiscally responsible, open, and transparent way," the document says.

Looming over the recess, though, is concern that the anger seen since the town halls of last August has taken a more aggressive, even violent turn. One staffer for a Democrat who was among those in Sarah Palin's "crosshairs" said that law enforcement was actively discouraging early advisories of the Congressman's schedule because of death threats.

"Unfortunately what we've seen is an ugly scene taking place," a Democratic strategist said. "Our members are understandably concerned for their safety."

But others appear to have signed on to the plan for aggressive outreach. Rep. Carol Shea-Porter (D-NH), for instance, has four town hall meetings planned specifically about health care.

For Democrats who voted no, however, the recess could be trickier. Rather than selling the health care legislation, the leadership has suggested they use the recess to patch things up with the Democratic Party's traditional base groups.

"It's important that they get out ahead of that and make sure that their friends, while they may disagree with their vote, understand it," the leadership aide said.

Senior Concern: Health Reform And The Midterms

Democrats got some good news Tuesday when a new USA Today/Gallup survey found that about half of Americans felt the health care reform bill that had just passed the House was "a good thing." However, a look behind the numbers shows that one important group is distinctly unexcited: senior citizens. Some 54% of those 65 years or older think the bill is a "bad thing" -- the highest negative score of any age bloc.

During debate on the bill, Republicans made a point of reminding seniors at every opportunity that the new entitlement would be financed partly by cuts to Medicare. Now Senate Democrats have wisely begun focusing their own messaging on seniors as they vote on a package of "reconciliation" changes to the bill this week.

"Health care reform is a victory for seniors," Sen. Max Baucus declared yesterday at a Democratic press conference. "Among the biggest winners from the passage of health reform are seniors in Nevada and across America," echoed Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who's facing a challenging re-election campaign.

This claim rests on the bill's closing of the so-called donut hole in the 2003 law extending prescription-drug coverage to seniors. Democrats obviously realize that a benny for seniors is politically required, given their high propensity to vote. The party leadership even issued a memo playing up the numbers of elders who will benefit by state: 565,000 in Florida, 393,000 in Pennsylvania, and 58,200 in Mr. Reid's home state of Nevada -- all places seniors have a big hand in deciding who's sent to Congress.

In The States, Democratic Leaders See Health Care Outcome As A Turning Point

Republicans in Congress warned Democrats for months that their vote in favor of health care reform would come at their political peril in November. At the same time, pollsters have spotted a troubling enthusiasm gap between the two parties, which the GOP hopes could lead to yet another changing of the guard in Congress.

However, in the wake of the legislation's passage and President Obama's signature, there is a sentiment among state Democratic Party leaders that passage of health care reform could be a motivation boost needed to help get the base more excited and involved in this year's midterm elections.

"We know from history that we're going to lose some seats, and people right now are in a very frustrated mood -- they're concerned about the unemployment rate and the economic situation," said California Democratic Party vice chairman Eric Bauman. "But the signing of this law is so meaningful, and it puts some of the oomph back into our chances in November."

All 34 members of California's Democratic House delegation voted in favor of health care reform, though one member -- Rep. Loretta Sanchez -- was slow to sign on. Bauman said an e-mail was distributed to party activists Sunday morning to highlight her wavering position, and within two hours 1,600 phone calls had been placed to Sanchez's congressional office urging her to vote for the bill.

"That tells us that Democratic activists are paying attention," said Bauman.

Since the vote took place, Bauman, who doubles as the Los Angeles Democratic Party chairman, noted that fundraising for a local party event next month spiked on Monday, taking in a third of the total dollars it had received to date.

In New Hampshire, meanwhile, the state Democratic Party touted the House vote in an e-mail to supporters not long after the president hailed its passage. That appeal generated thousands of dollars just within the first 12 hours, according to party chair Ray Buckley. And the vote has translated not just in dollars, but in confidence of local candidates. In a meeting at the State House Monday morning, Buckley said that a number of state lawmakers who had been considering retiring instead were "recharged."

Likewise, Iowa Democratic Party chairman Michael Kiernan said "the phones here have been ringing off the hook" at party headquarters since the health care vote. "Certainly the level of enthusiasm is up. People voted for change in the last election," he said.

Also exciting some Iowa Democrats is Obama's visit to the state today, where he'll hold another in a series of events around the country to discuss the impact of health reform. It also marks a return to where Obama's presidential candidacy was first validated, having won the Iowa Caucuses -- the first Democratic nominating event of the 2008 election.

"There's a pride of ownership here because our caucuses worked hard to send President Obama to the White House," said Kiernan.

The energy is not just on Democrats' side, however. Iowa Republicans are also using Obama's visit to rally their activists, including a "Stand Up For Freedom" rally and fundraising effort that succeeded in raising $10,000. Rep. Mike Pence (R), chair of the GOP conference, addressed the gathering from Washington, saying: "Everyone tonight is doing America's work. This fight is not over. Some say we made history Sunday night, but I say we broke history."

Before passing health care, Obama's sales job included multiple visits to the Buckeye State. Ohio Democratic Party chairman Chris Redfern credited the enthusiasm with which the president was greeted on those visits, coupled now with the signing of the bill he campaigned for there, for a surge in the state party's fortunes - including a record fundraising year.

"I really don't care what John Boehner or any other Republican says," Redfern said, referring to the Ohio-based Republican leader. "If you're looking at crowd size, if you're looking at dollars raised, we're exactly where we want to be, embracing this issue and now going forward with it."

Rather than running from the issue now that it's passed, Ohio Democrats will make it a centerpiece of their campaign efforts, including the competitive Senate and gubernatorial contests. And that could lay the groundwork for the president when he looks to carry the state again in 2012.

"Ohio's a firewall," Redfern said. "And know this, when Governor Strickland wins this election, when we pick up the U.S. Senate seat, it will show the country that the president was right on health care all along."

In Virginia, which Obama put in the Democrats' column in a presidential election for the first time since 1964, members of Congress rallied party activists on the issue of health care at the annual Jefferson-Jackson Day Dinner in Richmond last weekend, pushing them to not let Republicans define the issue. Despite the enthusiasm Obama's win brought Democrats in the state, the party took a big hit in November when Republicans swept the elections for the top three statewide positions and was in deep need of a source of rejuvenation.

"As we head into the fall elections, I expect that Virginians will continue to be motivated by the fact that the Democratic Congress delivered on major health insurance reform that will help thousands of people across the Commonwealth," said David Mills, executive director of the Virginia Democratic Party.

State chairmen are expected to put the best spin on recent developments, and Republicans have seen their base further galvanized in recent days with GOP leaders across the country calling for a repeal of the newly passed law. Which party is most helped (or hurt) politically by the passage of this landmark piece of legislation remains to be seen. The only thing that can be said with certainty is that it will be the defining issue of the elections in November - and quite possibly beyond.

--Kyle Trygstad and Mike Memoli

Ehrlich Reportedly To Seek Re-Match Against O'Malley

Ending months of speculation, WJLA-TV here in Washington is reporting that former Gov. Bob Ehrlich (R) will soon announce his comeback attempt, setting up a rematch with Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) this fall.

The source indicated Ehrlich would formally announce his bid Wednesday, April 7, in Rockville, followed by an event at his childhood home in Arbutus.

Other potential Republican candidates, who had said they'd defer to Ehrlich, had recently bowed out. But Ehrlich stoked questions about his commitment to the race by recently floating a challenge to Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D), also up for re-election this year. An Ehrlich spokesman would not confirm the report.

"We'll decline to comment on each new date that hits the rumor circuit. Bob Ehrlich is very grateful for the interest and will make his intentions known at the right time," Henry Fawell tells RCP.

O'Malley, elected with 53 percent of the vote against the then-incumbent in 2006, currently leads Ehrlich by 7.3 percent in the RCP Average. He has been readying for a tough campaign regardless of his opponent.

"Whoever runs, they start at 40 percent and we know we're going to have a vigorous campaign because of the extent of the economic pain that everybody in our state's feeling," O'Malley told RCP while in Washington last month. But anticipating Ehrlich as a foe, he said his rival would have to explain why state spending increased 33 percent in his term, but decreased under the current administration and how "their old worn out frames apply to the new challenging realities."

Maryland Democrats, meanwhile, are armed and ready for his return, having launched this Web site.

A Bill Signing Becomes A Pep Rally

At times today, the East Room of the White House had the air of a high school gymnasium, as President Obama ended a more than year-long fight to pass health care reform by signing the historic bill into law.

The audience was primarily full of the Democratic lawmakers who have struggled with the sausage-making all year, and who may yet feel the wrath of voters. As the president and vice president made the walk from the Blue Room to the East Room, a campaign chant of, "Fired up! Ready to go!" picked up. Though Obama has said this effort was not about him, his campaign chant and the gushing praise of his vice president made it seem otherwise.


"You want me to stop because I'm embarrassing you," Biden joked. "But I'm not going to stop for another minute, Mr. President, because you delivered on a promise -- a promise you made to all Americans when we moved into this building. Mr. President, you are -- to repeat myself -- literally about to make history."

He was so excited that as he embraced the president following his introductions, he was overheard telling Obama: "This is a big f------ deal." The White House later had fun with the open-mic gaffe, with Robert Gibbs tweeting: "Yes Mr. Vice President, you're right."

Obama returned the praise, thanking all those in the room. A chant of "Nancy!" erupted as he singled out the House Speaker.

"That our generation is able to succeed in passing this reform is a testament to the persistence -- and the character -- of the American people, who championed this cause; who mobilized; who organized; who believed that people who love this country can change it," Obama said. "It's also a testament to the historic leadership -- and uncommon courage -- of the men and women of the United States Congress, who've taken their lumps during this difficult debate."

One of those Congressman, New York's Gary Ackerman, shouted out: "Yes we did!" The room laughed. They can laugh now that the effort is mostly finished. Fear about the electoral consequences of the vote has been replaced, for the time being, by a sense of euphoria and even hope that the tide will indeed begin to turn as the focus turns toward implementation.

Indeed, Obama's remarks today focused primarily on the immediate effects of the new reforms legislation, what would take effect this year. But he also looked beyond, essentially arguing that today's outcome validated his long-term strategy.

"Our presence here today is remarkable and improbable. With all the punditry, all of the lobbying, all of the game-playing that passes for governing in Washington, it's been easy at times to doubt our ability to do such a big thing, such a complicated thing; to wonder if there are limits to what we, as a people, can still achieve," he said. "It's easy to succumb to the sense of cynicism about what's possible in this country. But today, we are affirming that essential truth -- a truth every generation is called to rediscover for itself -- that we are not a nation that scales back its aspirations."

New Polls Show Public Split On Health Reform

A new USA Today/Gallup survey finds increased public support for the health care reform legislation that President Obama signed into law today.

From a USA Today article on the poll:

By 49%-40% those surveyed say it was "a good thing" rather than a bad one that Congress passed the bill. Half describe their reaction in positive terms, as "enthusiastic" or "pleased," while about four in 10 describe it in negative ways, as "disappointed" or "angry."

The largest single group, 48%, calls the bill "a good first step" that should be followed by more action on health care. An additional 4% also have a favorable view, saying the bill makes the most important changes needed in the nation's health care system.

Meanwhile, another new public opinion survey on health care reform finds an almost opposite result -- proving the country continues to be divided on the issue. A Bloomberg poll conducted by the well-respected Selzer & Co. finds 50 percent opposed to the measure Congress passed and 39 percent in favor.

However, whether they like this particular bill or not, the Gallup poll shows nearly half the country thinks it's good that it passed.

And the Gallup results come at a good time for Democrats who are up for re-election this year and worried their vote could mean they won't be back in 2011. Indeed, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has already begun to circulate the poll to reporters.

Republicans have continued to point to poll numbers to support their argument that Americans are opposed to the Democrats' reform plan. Now Democrats have some numbers of their own.

Reform Battle Goes Beyond Congressional Races

Sunday night's climactic House vote on health care reform will likely go down as the defining vote for many representatives, particularly the Democrats who went out on a political limb to help their party pass the historic legislation. But the repercussions go beyond the Congressional midterm elections this November. Here's a look at some of the other races in which health care may be a dominant focus.

* Florida Governor: Bill McCollum, a former Congressman representing the Sunshine State, has emerged as the leading voice among Republican attorneys general in pledging to fight the implementation of the Democratic-sponsored health care reforms. McCollum says this is about principle, not politics. But this fight comes as the gubernatorial race in Florida is really gearing up, and as the likely GOP nominee, McCollum's fight could sharpen the national spotlight.

"If the president signs this bill into law, we will file a lawsuit to protect the rights and interests of American citizens," McCollum said in a statement after the House approved the Senate bill Sunday. The likely Democratic nominee, Alex Sink, offered this statement -- hardly an enthusiastic one: "Though it is certainly not perfect, these long-overdue reforms are better than Washington continuing to do nothing to improve America's health care system."

McCollum isn't the only attorney general in this fight eying a promotion this fall. Henry McMaster of South Carolina is engaged in a multi-candidate primary in South Carolina. Pennsylvania Attorney General Tom Corbett is the early frontrunner in his state's open-seat gubernatorial race. Former New Hampshire Attorney General Kelly Ayotte, running for the GOP nomination for Senate in New Hampshire, came out in favor of a repeal effort Monday.

* Republican Presidential Nomination: Two years from today, we may already know who the Republicans are nominating to challenge President Obama for re-election. That campaign is underway already, and potential candidates were among the first to condemn the House action Sunday night.

The most interesting reaction may have come from former Gov. Mitt Romney, who is working very hard to side with the overwhelming majority of his party in slamming the Democratic plan while defending the legacy of his effort in Massachusetts. "His health-care bill is unhealthy for America," Romney charged. "It will create a new entitlement even as the ones we already have are bankrupt. For these reasons and more, the act should be repealed. That campaign begins today."

Democrats had a field day with Romney's reaction, with DNC press secretary Hari Sevugan saying that "it must be difficult to endure all the comparisons of the similarities between your signature health care plan and the bill passed last night when you are trying to appear to be the angriest of the angry far right wing in the Republican Party." From the White House podium Monday, press secretary Robert Gibbs said the Obama plan "looks an awful lot like what happened in Massachusetts, and I'm sure Governor Romney hates every time I say that."

Gov. Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota has already signaled a willingness to tangle with Romney over his own health reform effort. We may see that fight continue to play out this Thursday as Pawlenty visits New Hampshire for the second time. Sarah Palin, an outspoken supporter of the Tea Party efforts against health care, joins John McCain this week as well.

* Ohio Governor: Ted Strickland lost his seat in Congress in 1994 as Democrats were swept from power in the Republican Revolution, an outcome that was spurred in part by the Clinton administration's failed reform effort. His opponent this November is his former House colleague, John Kasich. That race thus far has focused largely on the Buckeye State's economic woes, but Strickland has acknowledged the impact of all things Washington in his own re-election bid.

"I don't think the American people reward failure or perceived failure," Strickland said in February when asked by RCP about health care's role. "I do believe what happens in Washington has a direct effect within our individual states. ... So that's why I want action, and I especially want action on health care."

Strickland joined President Obama at a rally in northeast Ohio just last week as he was selling his reform plan.

* Senate Primaries: The issue of health care will of course be debated in the Senate general elections this fall. But it is also adding fuel to some of the partisan splits at play in several primary races. The two clearest examples are in Arkansas and Florida.

In Arkansas, Lt. Gov. Bill Halter (D) sought to pressure Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D) to again support the reform effort when the Senate takes up reconciliation this week. With Lincoln signaling she may not, Halter issued this statement: "It seems Senator Lincoln is putting the insurance companies, big banks, and other special interests who have given her campaign more than a million dollars in contributions ahead of her constituents in Arkansas."

In Florida, Marco Rubio is hoping to get two bites of the apple in his fight with Gov. Charlie Crist. Monday he seized on Speaker Nancy Pelosi's final speech on the House floor before the vote in which she discussed the stimulus effort. Rubio alleged that Crist's support for that program "wasn't just an isolated $787 billion mistake, it also opened the floodgates for President Obama and Congressional Democrats to spend recklessly and ram through ObamaCare against the will of the American people." Rubio has joined efforts toward a repeal, and urged Crist to do the same.

* State Legislative Races: Just as some Republican attorneys general are challenging health care legislation in court, some state legislatures are hoping to throw up road blocks as well. Virginia lawmakers approved a bill to allow state residents to opt out of the federal mandate that kicks in after several years. The Republican-led state legislatures in Utah and Idaho have also since targeted reform provisions legislatively. Last summer, the Arizona legislature approved a ballot initiative this fall in which voters may amend the Constitution to say no individual or employer can be penalized for not purchasing or providing insurance.

The National Conference of State Legislatures says 36 states are considering legislation to limit the federal law. The Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee warns: "The President's reform plan hasn't even passed yet, but right-wing state lawmakers are already trying to strip out key elements of the plan at the state level. ... But the stakes are just as high at the state level as they are in Congress. If Democrats fail to protect health care reform from state-level obstruction, millions of Americans who are counting on health care reform to improve -- or potentially save -- their lives will be left out in the cold."

Republicans currently have total control of 13 state legislatures, while Democrats control 28. In eight states, different parties control different chambers of the legislature. Nebraska's legislature is non-partisan.

Stupak Challenger Makes Friends

Michigan Rep. Bart Stupak's (D) distinction as the man who secured passage of health care reform for Democrats could make him a national target of Republican and conservative interests. He now has a Republican challenger, who in about 24 hours since Stupak cut a deal with the White House -- giving Democrats the necessary number of votes -- has gotten a lot more well known.

Dan Benishek, a surgeon who announced his candidacy one week ago, went from about 3,500 Facebook friends Sunday afternoon to 14,500 by mid-Monday. Benishek has also received mentions from a few well-known conservative bloggers, including Michelle Malkin who linked to his makeshift campaign Web site.

Stupak, who hails from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, represents the second largest congressional district east of the Mississippi. His 1st District gave President Obama a slim 50 percent win in 2008 -- a far smaller percentage than Stupak's commanding 65 percent win that sent him to Congress for a ninth term. George W. Bush won the district twice.

Stupak spent $1.3 million in 2008, outspending his opponent by $1 million. So far in the 2010 cycle he has $275,000 -- a fairly large headstart over a new, first-time challenger.

The National Republican Congressional Committee has been in contact with Benishek, both before and after Stupak announced he would vote for the reform bill Sunday afternoon.

"Bart Stupak needs to be held accountable for selling out to Nancy Pelosi and President Obama," said NRCC spokesman Tom Erickson. "We're happy to work with any Republican who's willing to help us put Stupak out of a job this November."

A phone call to Benishek went unanswered.

The Week Ahead: Senate Takes Center Stage

Democrats jumped over a monumental hurdle last night as the House -- after working through the weekend -- approved the Senate's health care reform bill along with a separate bill of fixes. The "fixes" bill now heads to the Senate, which will attempt to pass the bill through reconciliation, needing just 51 votes to pass and send to the desk of President Obama.

After a week that never ended, here is what to expect in the week ahead:

White House: President Obama was scheduled to be overseas this week, but instead he'll continue to focus on domestic affairs as he works with leadership to ensure that the Senate enacts the final health care fixes. "It's time to bring this debate to a close," he said Sunday night, while saying he hopes the Republicans don't resort to parliamentary procedures to delay final passage.

Obama reportedly will also hit the road again this week, a combination of victory lap and a continued sales job. Clearly, as we have seen with the stimulus bill, the White House understands the need to continue to use the bully pulpit to maintain and build support for the finished product. With the focus on this weekend's votes, there is no official week ahead schedule for the White House beyond that.

Capitol Hill: Along with Obama, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid spoke to the House Democratic Caucus Saturday afternoon and promised that the Senate would hold an up-or-down vote on the reconciliation bill, which requires just 51 votes because its contents deal solely with the budget. Reid also sent Speaker Pelosi a letter signed by a majority of Senate Democrats who promised to support the bill upon passage in the House. The House passed the Senate bill 219-212 and the reconciliation bill 220-211.

Debate on the reconciliation bill will likely begin Tuesday, with a vote possible by the end of the week. Republicans in the Senate are expected to challenge parts of the bill to the Senate parliamentarian that they say do not directly affect the budget. A successful challenge would throw yet another wrench in the gears for Democrats.

Politics: We just hit the first day of spring, so it's impossible to predict what the political landscape will look like in early November. But Republicans certainly think the vote last night represents the beginning of the end for many Democrats in the House. "The decision by President Obama and the Democrat-led Congress to ignore the voters and ram their government takeover of healthcare down the throats of the American people will come at a steep political cost in November," NRCC Chairman Pete Sessions stated in a press release last night. "The NRCC and Republican candidates running across the country will fight to hold Democrats accountable from now until Election Day."

House members running for governor or Senate had even more pressure on them, as their votes will eventually be judged by voters statewide. One such Democrat is Brad Ellsworth, who's running for Indiana's open Senate seat. Republican Dan Coats' campaign released a statement slamming him for his vote before the reconciliation vote had been completed.

No filing deadlines in the states this week. Some political events worth noting: Good timing for the NRCC. This Tuesday, they hold a major fundraising dinner at the National Building Museum in Washington, headlined by Fox News' Sean Hannity. On Thursday, Tim Pawlenty makes his second trip to New Hampshire as he tests the waters in the 2012 primary state. On Friday, Sarah Palin joins John McCain for an event to boost the Arizona senator's 2010 re-election bid.

**Poll Watch:
Obama Job Performance: Approve 47.0 / Disapprove 47.0 (Tie)
Congress Job Performance: Approve 19.0 / Disapprove 75.8 (-56.8)
Generic Ballot Test: Republicans +1.6

**In Case You Missed It: Besides the votes, the biggest moment on Sunday came at about 4:00 p.m., when Rep. Bart Stupak called a press conference to announce he had reached an agreement with President Obama and would support the reform bill. Minutes earlier, RCP spotted Stupak on the House floor tapping fellow pro-life Democrats on the shoulder. The Stupak deal gave Democrats the 216 votes needed to pass the bill.

--Kyle Trygstad and Mike Memoli

Dems Confident They'll Have The Votes

Democratic leaders professed confidence this morning that the House would pass both the Senate bill and the accompanying bill of "fixes" today. Having promised members at least 72 hours to look at the new bill, the earliest House Democrats could call a vote would be 2:07 p.m., though it's not expected to take place until this evening.

"We're going to get those 216 votes," Hoyer said on NBC's "Meet the Press," saying they're within "low single digits" of getting to 216. "I think we're going to have 216 votes when the roll is called, yes. There's still members looking at it and trying to make up their minds. But we think there are going to be 216-plus votes when we call the roll."

House Democratic Caucus Chairman John Larson went a step further, saying on ABC's "This Week": "We have the votes, we're going to make history today...We have the votes now, as we speak."

A House Democratic leadership source, speaking on background, sounded equally confident that the bills would pass. When the vote takes place -- which previously was reported would likely be between 6 p.m. and midnight -- depends on how many delaying tactics Republicans invoke, but it is still expected tonight.

Obama and the Politics of Health Care Reform

President Obama mocked the press and others today for their focus on the politics of health care reform -- how individual votes will impact members and how the passing of the legislation will affect Obama and the Democratic Party as a whole.

"A lot of reporting in Washington, it's just like SportsCenter," Obama said during a rally at George Mason University in the Virginia suburbs of D.C. "It's considered a sport, and who's up and who's down, and everybody's keeping score. And you got the teams going at it. It's Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots."

But the politics do play an integral role in how some members vote, especially those sitting in Republican leaning districts and serving just their first term in Congress. Politico looked at individual members in an article just this morning. And Republicans themselves continue to argue this could mean the end to the Democratic majority in Congress.

"I don't know how this plays politically. Nobody really does," said Obama. "I don't know what's going to happen with the politics on this thing. I don't know whether my poll numbers go down, they go up. I don't know what happens in terms of Democrats versus Republicans."

Trying to boost spirits before the House votes on Sunday, Obama focused instead on the bill's impact. "I do know that this bill, this legislation, is going to be enormously important for America's future," he said.

Over the river and up Capitol Hill, House Minority Leader John Boehner railed against the bill in his weekly press briefing, leaving no question how he thinks the 2010 midterm elections will turn out as a result of the bill's passage.

"The American people do not want any part of this," he said. "If anyone thinks the American people are going to forget about this vote -- just watch."

The Week In Midterms: Romney's In The Mix

As he gears up for 2012, Mitt Romney is keeping his name in the 2010 mix as he tours the country selling his recently released book. He was in Phoenix on Tuesday talking up his former presidential rival and also took the time to announce which gubernatorial candidate he likes in South Carolina.

Here's a quick rundown of some of the highlights of the week that was in the always hectic 2010 midterm election cycle:

ARIZONA: A new poll out this week showed the GOP primary race for John McCain's Senate seat is close, with McCain polling under 50 percent and holding off former Rep. J.D. Hayworth by just 7 points. The two have been going after each other recently over earmarks and which candidate is truly conservative. McCain's also getting help from some old friends -- Mitt Romney in Phoenix this week and Sarah Palin in Tucson and Phoenix next week.

COLORADO: Sen. Michael Bennet (D) released a TV ad this week that -- as many candidates around the country are doing -- attempts to show him as a D.C. outsider. "I've been in Washington for only a year," he says, accurately. Meanwhile, Bennet's primary challenger, former state House Speaker Andrew Romanoff, was tying him right back to Washington, saying his caucus victory over the senator on Tuesday was a backlash against Washington. The point of the caucuses was to select delegates to the May state party assemblies, but also proved Romanoff has a strong group of activist supporters.

CONNECTICUT: A Quinnipiac poll found WWE executive Linda McMahon, who's already spending big, taking the lead in the GOP Senate primary against former Rep. Rob Simmons. Attorney General Richard Blumenthal still leads both by more than 30 points.

KENTUCKY: Things got a little maddening in the two Senate primary races this week as the NCAA basketball tournament kicked off -- both physician Rand Paul (R) and Attorney General Jack Conway (D) hold degrees from Duke, while their primary opponents, Secretary of State Trey Grayson (R) and Lt. Gov. Daniel Mongiardo, hold degrees from Kentucky. Things got started when Grayson released a web ad calling out Paul for his ties to Duke. The schools have a deep and contentious history in the tournament, and basketball is huge in Kentucky.

NEW YORK: Former Rep. Joe DioGuardi (R) announced Tuesday morning that he was joining a short but growing list of Republicans running for Democrat Kirsten Gillibrand's Senate seat. As we mentioned a few weeks ago when we reported he was considering a bid, DioGuardi -- who's been out of Congress for more than 20 years -- is now better known as the father of an "American Idol" judge.

LEFTOVERS: New polls this week showed potentially close general election races in California, Florida and Wisconsin.


CONNECTICUT: Quinnipiac finds Ned Lamont and Tom Foley leading in the Democratic and GOP primaries, respectively.

CALIFORNIA: Two polls -- the Field poll and Rasmussen -- showed Meg Whitman surging in both the primary and the general. Maybe pulling an Obama helped afterall? Jerry Brown says he wants the unions to do his dirty work. George Skelton says Whitman is proving herself to be a formidable candidate.

FLORIDA: Alex Sink, criticized by some for her tepid campaign, is now gearing up with a tour of the state focused on economic plans. Those plans sounded familiar to some. Bill McCollum is turning his attention to national issues, saying he'd be ready to sue over health care.

IOWA: A potential Democratic challenger to Gov. Chet Culver has decided to run instead as an independent. Meanwhile, the Republican field just got larger. Culver filed for re-election, and said he's very confident he can win a second term. Culver: "This isn't my first rodeo."

NEW YORK: NY-23 all over again? Some Republicans, unhappy with Rick Lazio's campaign, are working to lure Democrat Steve Levy into switch parties. Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, meanwhile, is no closer to entering the fray.

OHIO: Joe Biden campaigned for Ted Strickland, one of many vulnerable Democrats the veep has hit the trail for.

SOUTH CAROLINA: Mitt Romney picked sides in a race in the important early primary state. He's backing Nikki Haley, the only woman in the primary field. She had endorsed Romney in the 2008 primaries.

THE REST: The Democratic-turned-indie candidate in Massachusetts might have taken the strongest stand on health care, criticizing both the state plan signed by Mitt Romney and the national plan nearly through. Howard Dean endorsed R.T. Rybak in Minnesota. A new Michigan poll found Andy Dillon leading among Democrats, while Rep. Pete Hoekstra and Attorney General Mike Cox are tied at the top of the GOP field. Susquehanna's latest poll shows Attorney General Corbett safely ahead of potential Democratic foes. Pete Domenici Jr., son of the former senator, drew a scant 5 percent of the vote at the GOP convention.

Cook Political Report:
*HI-01 from Lean D to Toss Up

Senate: GOP +7
Governor: GOP +4
House Map

New York Republicans Facing Another Schism?

The New York Republican Party, no stranger to controversy in the past year, has a new internal battle brewing over its gubernatorial nominee that could lead to a New York-23 like split for the GOP.

Rick Lazio, the former Long Island Congressman who unsuccessfully challenged Hillary Clinton in the 2000 U.S. Senate race, appeared well on his way to securing the nomination. Endorsements included former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and former Gov. George Pataki, as well as a slew of county chairmen and local officials. But others in the party, said to be concerned over what is described as "lackluster" fundraising, have reportedly opened the door to a Democrat, Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy, to contest for the GOP nod.

Levy, without mentioning which party he'd run in, outlined his potential platform in a New York Daily News op-ed this morning. He's considering a run "because I believe I am the most qualified candidate to bring our state back from the brink of fiscal disaster," he writes.

In reporting on his potential party switch, the New York Times describes Levy as a "blunt-spoken fiscal hawk and contrarian," who "can tap into the public's anti-incumbent sentiment and frustration with Albany's overspending." He told the paper he wants voters to think of him as "Scott Brown II." Lazio has been making a similar argument, as he told RCP earlier this year.

The push for Levy to enter the race apparently has originated with Mike Cox, the state party chairman. Today, several county Republican chairmen have called on Cox to resign for approaching the Democrat. Some others have hinted they'd welcome the news.

As for the national party, the message is unclear. The New York Post reported that the RNC threatened during a private meeting Wednesday with Cox to withhold funds from the state if Levy is the nominee. Though the party is struggling to field candidates in the two U.S. Senate races, there are several potentially competitive House races opening up, to say nothing of the governor's race itself. "Cox has a big problem," one Washington Republican told the paper.

Other sources say the tenor of the meeting has been mischaracterized. RNC spokesman Doug Heye, meanwhile, offered only this comment. "As a matter of policy, the RNC doesn't comment on private meetings. The RNC raises money to elect Republican candidates and looks forward to competing in New York at every level, just as we would in every state." The RGA also declined to comment on the developments.

The potential for a New York 23-style schism could emerge, with the state Conservative Party chairman saying today that his party would likely still offer the line to Lazio. But first, Levy would have to secure the GOP nomination, something that would require a dramatic shift in public endorsements from state GOP officials ahead of a June convention.

The Lazio campaign calls the entire notion of a Levy GOP candidacy "ridiculous."

"[It's] an insult that anyone in the Republican Party would support a liberal Democrat who supported Obama's stimulus bill and voted for the largest tax increase in New York history," spokesman Barney Keller said.

Democrats, meanwhile, seem to be welcoming the internal GOP strife, coming after Gov. David Paterson (D) finally stepped aside to clear the path for Attorney General Andrew Cuomo. Even with the recent Democratic scandals, the party was considered a strong favorite to hold on to the seat with Cuomo as the nominee. The GOP infighting would only seem to further enhance that likelihood.

Hayworth, McCain Wage War In AZ Senate Primary

The Arizona Republican Senate primary features a former Republican congressman challenging the party's most recent presidential nominee, and it's so far proven to be one of the more interesting races of the year -- this week especially.

The campaigns for Sen. John McCain and J.D. Hayworth have consistently traded shots -- that McCain isn't conservative enough and that Hayworth isn't the fiscal conservative he says he is. Both have congressional voting records the other can attack, and both have jumped at that opportunity.

The Hayworth campaign says McCain is "vulnerable to the more conservative Hayworth on taxes, the Second Amendment, pro-life and pro-family issues and illegal immigration." Hayworth has run a radio ad highlighting his embracement of Christianity, "unlike some leaders who shy away from their faith." Another radio ad calls Hayworth the only "consistent conservative" in the race.

Hayworth gained plenty of press this week for stating in a radio interview that the Massachusetts Supreme Court's decision in 2004 to allow gays and lesbians to marry was vague enough to imply that a human could marry a horse. It played into the McCain campaign's depiction of Hayworth as not fit for the Senate.

The campaign had already tied Hayworth to the birther movement, which believes President Obama is not a U.S. citizen and therefore cannot legally be president.

Meanwhile, McCain is bringing out the big guns: He brought in Mitt Romney this week, and next week Sarah Palin will appear with him in Tucson and Phoenix.

The latest battle du jour has erupted over earmarks. Hayworth recently slammed McCain for voting for the 2008 bank bailout, which "included $150 billion in pork." McCain retaliated with a web video in which the announcer says: "When it came to pork barrel earmarks, J.D. Hayworth just couldn't stop voting yes." McCain's video calls out Hayworth's support for the 2005 highway bill that included such projects as the infamous "Bridge to Nowhere."

The Hayworth campaign called the ad "misleading" and a distorting of his record. The McCain campaign then responded to that, calling Hayworth a "big spending Republican."

McCain also boasts the support of Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), who is McCain's maverick counterpart in the House. Flake, Hayworth's former colleague in the House, has long opposed the earmarking process, and this week criticized Hayworth's participation in it.

"While Senator McCain has offered countless bills and amendments in the U.S. Senate to address this problem, Congressman Hayworth's position on earmarks was part of the problem," Flake said.

A Rasmussen survey released this morning found the race close, with McCain getting 48 percent support to Hayworth's 41 percent. That's a low number for an entrenched incumbent like McCain.

RNC Poll Warns Dems On Health Care Vote

Citing new data from an internal poll, the Republican National Committee argues that Democrats risk losing a significant block of undecided votes this November if they pass health care reform legislation.

The survey, conducted by OnMessage Inc. from March 9-11 among 1,200 likely voters, shows Republicans leading in the generic ballot test 37-36, with 27 percent undecided. It's the first time in six years Republicans have led. Among that 27 percent of undecideds, only 30 percent say they favor the health care reform bill being considered by Congress, while 60 percent oppose.

"The reality is that Democrat incumbents face an increasingly hostile electorate heading into November, and the impending health care vote only exacerbates the problems they will have at the polls," RNC strategy director Bill Steiner writes in a polling memo.

Briefing reporters on the data at RNC headquarters today, officials drew specific attention to the significant percentage of so-called "soft Democrats" - 27 percent - who also said they oppose the legislation. Based on that number, they say the argument being made by some Democrats that failing to pass reform would dispirit Democratic turnout is wrong, and that they could actually be worse off among this group. That group, however, is more likely to stay home in November rather than come and vote Republican, they conceded.

As for the course of legislation overall, respondents were asked to choose from among three potential options: scrapping the current bill and starting over, scrapping the current bill and focusing instead on the economy, or passing the bill immediately. The results were fairly evenly divided, with 32 percent saying they should start over, 31 percent saying scrap it entirely, and 27 percent saying they should pass it immediately. Among those so-called soft Democrats, only 40 percent wanted Democrats to pass the bill immediately while 49 percent want to either start over or abandon it entirely.

Some other highlights from the RNC survey:

*51 percent of voters say they're less likely to vote for a candidate who voted for Pres. Obama's health care bill, including 41 percent who say much less likely. Only 36 percent say they'd be more likely to vote for a candidate who backs the bill. 55 percent of independents, 26 percent of soft Democrats, and even 10 percent of "strong Democrats" say they'd be less likely to support a candidate who backed the bill.

*So-called "backroom deals" could be lethal - 74 percent of voters say they'd be less likely to support the re-election of their Congressman or senator if they made a deal in return for their vote.

*49 percent of voters say they would prefer a Republican candidate who would "be a check and balance" on the White House, while 38 percent say they'd vote for a Democratic candidate who would help Obama and the Democrats in Congress pass their agenda.

*President Obama's job approval rating is 49 percent in the survey, with disapproval at 47 percent. Speaker Nancy Pelosi has a 29 percent favorable rating, while 56 percent view her unfavorably -- a remarkably high name ID for any House Speaker, the RNC says. "There is a reason GOP candidates across the country are using her as a foil," an official said.

Is New Scrutiny Of Rubio Too Late To Save Crist?

One of the first public polls released after Charlie Crist entered the Florida Senate race last May showed the governor with a 35 point lead. Ten months later, two polls in as many days showed Marco Rubio with a lead of over 30 points. Though five months remain until the GOP primary, Crist's campaign is now dogged by doubts about his viability even as he's taken a more aggressive posture against his rival.

"The conventional wisdom in Tallahassee is that it's beyond the point of return and there's almost nothing Charlie can do," Adam Smith, political editor for the St. Petersburg Times, told RCP Tuesday. But allies of Crist, he adds, maintain that "it's not too late, he's got a lot of money, and Marco Rubio is not a perfect candidate by any stretch."

Smith says that having detailed last week new questions about Rubio's political spending as he climbed through the ranks of the Florida Republican Party. This after statements were leaked documenting how Rubio used a Florida GOP credit card during his time as Florida House Speaker. Shortly after those documents were released, Crist seemed happy that his rival was finally getting serious scrutiny.

"Welcome to the NFL," he said. "If you can't take the heat get out of the kitchen."

His campaign's frustrations over what they saw as a soft touch with Rubio are reminiscent of how the Hillary Clinton campaign saw coverage of Barack Obama. But again, analysts say this race appears unlikely to shift from being a referendum on the incumbent governor, with likely primary voters unlikely to forgive Crist for his original sin of supporting the stimulus.

"It's fascinating to see how public opinion has shifted so drastically among likely Republican voters. It's almost unprecedented," said Daniel Smith, professor of political science at the University of Florida. "Republicans are still in a honeymoon period with Marco Rubio. They don't know much about him and his leadership role in the House. But I'm not sure how much that the mud that the Crist campaign is throwing and what the media is digging up is going to hurt him."

If Crist is to change the dynamic, he may have just a narrow window in the near future to do so. He's expected to launch his first television ads soon (Rubio has already gone on the air). And he has a bit more of a megaphone now in Tallahassee as the legislature is in session. Crist isn't helped by the fact that the session focuses in large part on the economic woes in the state that are just as much to blame for his predicament as the infamous presidential hug.

"For all the attention on the tea partiers, I think Charlie's also lost a lot of the independents -- where he was strongest -- just on his decision to run for the Senate," Smith said. "He just miscalculated how that would go over with the electorate, which sees him as bailing on the job before it was done."

Democrats believe the new revelations about Rubio are just the tip of the iceberg, and now feel increasingly optimistic about their chances of running a competitive general election campaign against either potential nominee. But Rubio, during a trip to South Carolina, told CNN that recent revelations were just an attempt to "divert attention away from the central issues of this campaign."

Hoyer: Process Is Interesting To Us, Not Americans

The debate on Capitol Hill now is whether or not there will be an up-or-down vote on health care reform in the House if Democrats go forward with the "Slaughter Solution" -- whereby there will only be one roll call vote on a bill that fixes unsavory parts of the Senate bill and thereby automatically approves the Senate bill.

Republicans continue to push the message that this will remove any accountability for the bill, allowing House Democrats to tell voters they never voted for the unpopular Senate bill.

On the House floor today, Minority Whip Eric Cantor called for an up-or-down vote, and Republican Conference Chairman Mike Pence said the proposed process showed Democrats are "willing to trample on the traditional rules of the House and Senate and even trample on the Constitution of the United States" to pass health care reform.

Minority Leader John Boehner announced this afternoon he would introduce a resolution that would force an up-or-down vote on the actual Senate bill.

Democrats argue that the legislative maneuver they are considering was used countless times by Republicans when they were in the majority -- including on a massive lobbying and ethics reform package in 2006 -- and that there is no hiding the fact that the vote on the accompanying reconciliation bill will lead to the passage of health care reform.

"Frankly, what we want to do is do the Senate bill as amended by reconciliation," House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer told reporters today. "If we pursue this process, it is consistent with the rules, it is consistent with former practice, and in my opinion will be consistent with having members express themselves on the Senate bill as amended by reconciliation."

"We will vote on it in one form or another," he added.

Republicans are highlighting the process of passing health care reform as they go district-by-district warning vulnerable House Democrats that their vote could be fatal to their political future. The National Republican Congressional Committee just launched the latest in a string of TV ads in Democratic districts. This one is airing in the Cincinnati-based district of freshman Rep. Steve Driehaus, who unseated Republican Steve Chabot in 2008 and will face the former congressman again in November.

That effort could be having an effect on Democrats getting the necessary 216 votes to pass reform, as Majority Whip James Clyburn says he still does not have enough vote commitments from his members.

Hoyer argues that while Republicans "have done everything in their power to undermine" the ability of Congress to move reform through both chambers of Congress, process is not what Americans are focused on. Republicans lost power in 2006 "because of substance," not process, he said.

"I don't think any going to make the distinction," said Hoyer, adding that both parties have used this process and that few voters care that Republicans actually used it more often than Democrats. "Process is interesting, particularly to all of us around this room. But in the final analysis, what is interesting to the American public is what does this bill do for them and their families."

The House Budget Committee marked up and voted on the reconciliation bill yesterday, and Democratic leaders are still waiting for scoring from the Congressional Budget Office, which will tell them how much the bill will cost. Hoyer said he expects the bill will come up later this week.

NC Sen Poll: Democratic Primary Still Wide Open

After some recruiting failures, national Democrats thought they got their man to challenge Sen. Richard Burr (R) when Cal Cunningham decided to run. But a new Public Policy Polling (D) survey in North Carolina shows that Secretary of State Elaine Marshall (D) still leads the field, with voters still unfamiliar with the field ahead of the May 4 primary.

Primary Election Matchup (420 LVs, 3/12-15, MoE +/- 4.8%)
Marshall 20 (-9 vs. last poll, 2/12-15)
Cunningham 16 (+4)
Lewis 11 (+6)
Other 6 (+4)
Und 47 (-4)

All three candidates are unknown to sizable percentages of even the Democratic electorate.

Burr polls at 58 percent in the GOP primary, with a third saying they are undecided. (311 LVs, MoE +/- 5.6%). In a hypothetical 2012 primary, Mike Huckabee would win with 30 percent, followed by Sarah Palin at 27 percent and Mitt Romney with 25 percent.

Biden In Demand For Vulnerable Democrats

Both President Obama and Vice President Biden were in Ohio Monday, a curious instance of the nation's top officeholders traveling on separate business to the same politically important state. While Obama was tending to his administration's battle for health care reform, Biden was making two political stops on behalf of two Democrats whose jobs may be on the line as a result of that battle - first-term Rep. Steve Driehaus and Gov. Ted Strickland.

More than a year into the administration, Biden has been tasked with a disproportionate share of the political responsibilities, earning at one point the title of "patron saint of freshman Democrats." It's hardly unusual for a vice president to be more active in party-building activities this early. But with the president's approval rating stagnant and support for his agenda slipping, might Biden ultimately be the more sought-after surrogate as the midterms heat up?

On the surface, that question seems rather silly. Even if Obama's numbers were to slip further below 50 percent, the benefits of a presidential visit, particularly as measured in dollars, cannot be surpassed. But the decision for Democrats on the ballot in 2010 is whether the potential harm outweighs the potential good. And some -- particularly the more than 40 remaining Congressmen running in districts won by John McCain in 2008 -- might prefer to keep their distance.

That's a sentiment Republicans are increasingly hoping to paint as a trend. The National Republican Senatorial Committee pointed to the fact that Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher skipped Obama's Strongsville event, while Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner (D), another candidate for Senate, was not acknowledged. Republicans also noted the absence of Robin Carnahan, Senate candidate in Missouri, from Obama's trip to the Show-Me State last week. Politico reported this weekend that nearly a dozen moderate Democrats demonstrated "a lack of enthusiasm for having Obama come to their districts to campaign for them."

Biden has, however, already headlined a fundraiser for Carnahan, one of more than two dozen events for candidates and incumbents, including at least 14 events for 18 House Democrats. The financial draw is certainly not the same, and Biden's numbers are hardly stronger than his boss'. But a vice presidential visit tends to be much more low-profile, making it harder for Republicans to gain the same kind of traction.

Biden has yet to appear at many public campaign events. But as the campaign heats up, he might likely be seen playing a role this fall similar to the one he did as Obama's running mate in 2008 - as the ultimate validator. In his two months on the ticket, Biden's itinerary was heavy on more rural counties carried by President Bush, full of Reagan Democrats the party wanted to win back. That kind of terrain is precisely where Democrats are most vulnerable this fall.

That Obama can fire up an audience more than Biden is hardly in doubt. But the president is increasingly seen as a polarizing figure. Large crowds for gubernatorial candidates in 2009 and for Martha Coakley this January did not translate to victories, as independents swung against the Democrats. To the extent that Biden might still have the same appeal in 2010 that he did in 2008, he'll continue to be in demand.

Of course, the relative paucity of presidential events for House incumbents in particular to this point may be tactical. As the White House leans heavily on undecided votes in their own caucus, one of the few promises they can make is that an aye vote now makes it increasingly likely Air Force One might touch down in a member's district when the going gets tougher down the road. The question is now whether such an offer would be seen as a winning proposition for Democrats facing a tough vote.

Dreier Slams Dems' Health Care 'Gymnastics'

As House Democrats consider a new legislative option for moving health care reform to President Obama's desk, Rules Committee Ranking Member David Dreier (R-Calif.) said only an up or down vote in the House on both the Senate bill and its reconciliation accompaniment would be appropriate for such a large piece of legislation.

"It's very painful and troubling to see the gymnastics by which they're going to avoid accountability," Dreier told reporters today during an off-camera briefing.

Under the proposed solution by Rules Committee Chairwoman Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.), the committee could "deem" the Senate bill passed upon passage of the accompanying reconciliation bill, which would fix some of the issues that House Democrats had with the Senate's bill. The move would theoretically save Democrats in vulnerable districts from technically voting for the Senate bill; they would only be voting to fix it and remove certain undesirable aspects from it, such as the now infamous "Cornhusker kickback."

But their vote, which Dreier said could take place Sunday, would still directly result in the passage of the Senate bill. Because there would be no vote on the Senate bill itself, "There is absolutely no accountability," Dreier said. "To resort to these kinds of tactics to deal with this is just plain wrong."

"While the process of lawmaking should be ugly, I have never seen it as ugly as it seems to be coming before us this week," he said. "The fact is every amount of energy that is being applied today is trying to avoid the accountability of an up or down vote on this process."

Reporters noted to Dreier that Republicans used similar tactics for large pieces of legislation when they were in power from 1995-2006. Dreier and one of his advisers said there was no comparison and that instances of deeming a bill passed without a vote were "pretty rare."

However, Dreier did admit that what the Democrats are doing is well within the rules. "It's something they can clearly do if they have the votes."

"There was nothing of this magnitude that was done" under GOP control, Dreier said. "The notion of having the federal government move to take control of what is one-sixth of the economy is something that deserves a much more open process than we are getting here."

In recent weeks and over the weekend, Democrats have sought to put the focus on what health care reform would mean for Americans and take the spotlight off the process of passing it.

"The one thing I'm sure of is that the American people don't know or care much about the sequencing of parliamentary procedures," White House senior adviser David Axelrod said yesterday on NBC's "Meet the Press." It's "not about procedure. It's about what are we going to do to protect the American people and give them the security they deserve?"

Noting Axelrod's statement, Dreier flatly disagreed, saying: "Process is substance."

The Week Ahead: March Madness

The fields are set and the brackets are being filled out. Thursday begins one of the truly great long weekends on the sports calendar each year, with the NCAA men's basketball tournament's first and second rounds. Meanwhile, it's perhaps a make-or-break week for health care legislation in Washington. Pity the Congressional and White House staffers who won't be able to watch the opening round games.

**The White House: The effort to pass his top domestic policy initiative has crowded in on President Obama's first major international trip of 2010. The White House is delaying the president's trip to Guam, Australia and Indonesia, originally scheduled to begin Thursday, so that he can be on hand through a potential final vote this weekend on health care reform legislation. The delayed trip represents yet another missed deadline from the administration -- officials wanted a vote before his originally-scheduled departure.

Obama continues the public sales effort today with a visit to the Cleveland area, his sixth visit to the battleground state of Ohio as president. Outside of the Beltway, he's visited only one state more times - New York. Also on his schedule this week: the traditional St. Patrick's Day visit by Ireland's prime minister, the Taoiseach, on Wednesday.

Vice President Biden, just back from a foreign trip of his own, will coincidentally also be in Ohio. He's there strictly on political business. First, a Cincinnati event with Rep. Steve Driehaus, and then a Cleveland stop on behalf of Gov. Ted Strickland. Also this week, Biden will be the featured speaker at the annual Radio and Television Correspondents Dinner in Washington.

**Capitol Hill:: As Democratic leaders await scoring from the Congressional Budget Office on a health care reform "fix," the House Banking Committee begins marking up the "Reconciliation Act of 2010" today at 3 p.m. It will set off perhaps the most fruitful week for health care reform since Christmas Eve, when the Senate passed its version on a party-line vote. Elsewhere in the Capitol, Senate Banking Committee Chairman Chris Dodd will introduce the latest version of a financial regulation reform bill. It will be "detailed legislation for the most sweeping overhaul of financial regulations since the Great Depression, which Democrats want to pass before the fall elections," Los Angeles Times reports. The Senate will also hold a cloture vote tonight on the House amendments to the jobs bill.

**Politics: A slew of filing deadlines on tap for this week. Today is the deadline for candidates to get on the ballot in Montana and Maine - where the gubernatorial ballot is going to be particularly crowded on both sides as Democratic Gov. John Baldacci is term-limited. Major party candidates have until Friday to get on the ballot for races in Iowa, Idaho and Utah. Iowa features a competitive gubernatorial race and several potentially swing House races; Sen. Chuck Grassley (R) looks safe for now as he looks for a new term. In Idaho, the focus will be on the first district Congressional seat held now by Democrat Walt Minnick. And in Utah, the focus will be on a competitive Republican primary for U.S. Senate featuring incumbent Robert Bennett. There's also a special election for governor as Gary Herbert looks to hold onto the post he inherited when Jon Huntsman resigned to become ambassador to China. Peter Corroon, mayor of Salt Lake County, is the likely Democratic nominee. The next primary date is not until May 4, when Indiana, Ohio and North Carolina votes.

An interesting bit of political stumping takes place this week, as Jim DeMint and Marco Rubio do some joint fundraising -- in South Carolina. Mike Pence visits New Hampshire on Friday, another early primary state visit for him. Tim Pawlenty returns to the Granite State the following week.

**Poll Watch:
Obama Job Performance: Approve 49.1 / Disapprove 45.8 (+3.3)
Congress Job Performance: Approve 19.3 / Disapprove 75.7 (-56.4)
Generic Ballot Test: Republicans +0.6

**In Case You Missed It: On "Meet the Press" yesterday, House Majority Whip James Clyburn said Democrats "don't have [the votes] as of this morning" but that he's "confident" Democrats will successfully complete health care reform.

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

--Mike Memoli and Kyle Trygstad

DCCC's Red-to-Blue List Highlights GOP Survivors

House Democrats this week issued their Red-to-Blue list -- 13 seats they hope to pick up or save in the fall. They might have called it the "Two-Time Republican Survivors" list.

In a year when the tide has turned against Democrats, the list is heavy with GOPers who managed to hold on by their fingernails through two of the toughest cycles for Republican incumbents in memory. On the target list are people like Reps. Dan Lungren and Mary Bono Mack of California, Ohio's Pat Tiberi and Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania.

Also on the list is Joe "You Lie" Wilson of South Carolina -- whose shouted objection during an Obama speech to Congress has stirred national interest in his race. He and two-time challenger Rob Miller have already raised more than $6 million, making theirs the most expensive House race in South Carolina history.

In total, President Obama won nine of the 13 districts on the Red-to-Blue list. Two of 13 are open Democratic districts -- John Tanner in Tennessee and the district of Joe Sestak in Pennsylvania, who is vacating against party wishes in order to challenge newly converted Sen. Arlen Specter in a Democratic primary.

Two of the open Republican seats have also been vacated by strong GOPers pursuing Senate bids -- Mike Castle in Delaware and Mark Kirk in Illinois. Even if Democrats pick up the House seats, it could be a poor trade if they lose Senate seats previously held by Barack Obama and Joe Biden.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee promises money and manpower support for challengers to the targeted 13 -- brave talk considering Democrats will have to devote resources to defending plenty of their own vulnerable seats.

The Week In Midterms: Campaigning For Majority Leader

Georgetown is pushing its way through the Big East Tournament this week en route to the NCAA Tournament, starting next Thursday. In the meantime, we've been reporting politics news from California to Massachusetts to Florida. Here's a look back at the week that was in 2010 midterms:


FLORIDA: In a Monday morning briefing with reporters, NRSC Chair John Cornyn walked back his early endorsement of Gov. Charlie Crist. On Tuesday, a PPP poll found Marco Rubio leading Crist by 32 points; and on Wednesday, another poll found Rubio up 34 points.

MISSOURI: Robin Carnahan's (D) trip to Washington this week got far more press than the campaign was likely expecting. The secretary of state -- and daughter of two former senators -- was attending a fundraiser at Sen. Mary Landrieu's (D-La.) Capitol Hill home and other events in D.C. while President Obama was in the St. Louis area for a fundraiser and health care rally. Meanwhile, a poll found Carnahan still trailing Rep. Roy Blunt (R) by 6 points.

NEVADA: Three of the four Senate Democratic leaders are up for re-election this year, and Majority Leader Harry Reid is easily in the worst shape. Sens. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) and Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), the No. 2 and 3 ranking leaders, are now actively -- though relatively quietly -- campaigning for Reid's job. Putting things in some perspective, Reid had a serious scare yesterday as his wife and daughter were both injured in a serious car accident outside Washington.

PENNSYLVANIA: Now it is Specter who is the underdog," writes TIME's Karen Tumulty, who takes a close look at how much things have changed in politics from a year ago when Sen. Arlen Specter switched from the Republican to the Democratic Party.

WASHINGTON: Sen. Patty Murray, the fourth ranking Democratic leader in the Senate, is increasingly looking more vulnerable than most had expected. In a hypothetical matchup with two-time GOP nominee for governor, Dino Rossi, Murray trailed by 3 points and garnered just 46 percent support. Rossi hasn't said whether he'll run, but one thing that may hold him back is the thought of an open governor's race in two years -- when Christine Gregoire (D) is term-limited.

CALIFORNIA: It was a strange week for Meg Whitman (R) -- she invited the press to an event on Tuesday then refused to take questions as the press was quickly ushered out and then blocked from sight with a screen. San Francisco Chronicle columnist Debra J. Saunders noted this week after finally interviewing the candidate that "her supersize campaign has been rolling her out like an Easter egg. She has been in a shell - for which she has paid handsomely." Still, a poll released on Thursday found Whitman trailing Jerry Brown (D) by just 4 points.

COLORADO: Two polls this week found vastly differing results in the race between Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper (D) and former Rep. Scott McInnis (R). The first found McInnis up 6 points; the second found Hickenlooper up 11 points.

ILLINOIS: After finally being declared the Republican primary winner last Friday, a new poll found Bill Brady (R) leading Gov. Pat Quinn (D) by 10 points.

IOWA: The race drew the attention of the Washington Post, with a reporter on the scene to document Gov. Chet Culver's (D) difficult road to re-election. Former Gov. Terry Branstad (R) agreed to three debates with his June 8 primary foes, including Bob Vander Plaats, who beat Branstad in three county straw polls over the weekend.

MASSACHUSETTS: Gov. Deval Patrick (D) is facing a difficult re-election fight. A new poll found him winning just 35 percent support and leading Republican Charlie Baker by 3 points, with Dem-turned-independent Tim Cahill taking 19 points. Cahill's support jumps when Christy Mihos (R) is substituted in for Baker. Meanwhile, the governor is ramping up his criticism of Baker, a former health insurance company CEO.

PA-12 Special: The candidates are now set for the May 18 special election to replace Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.) in the House through the end of the year. Republicans chose political neophyte Tim Burns to run in the competitive district and help set the tone for the rest of the midterm election year.

Cook Political Report:
*MA-10 from Likely D to Toss Up

Rothenberg Political Report:
*MD Gov from Safe to Narrow Advantage D

PA-12 Special Election Is Set

Republicans in Pennsylvania's 12th District chose businessman Tim Burns as their nominee in the special election race to complete the term of the late Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.). Burns will face Murtha's former district director Mark Critz in the May 18 contest.

Burns was chosen by 85 of 131 voters at the district's GOP convention last night, the Tribune-Democrat reports.

"We have an opportunity to put a common-sense conservative in a seat that has long been held by a political insider," Burns told the crowd, referring to Murtha's powerful position as head of the Appropriations Defense subcommittee and close ties to Speaker Pelosi.

Critz was chosen earlier this week by Democratic leaders in the district ahead of former state Treasurer Barbara Hafer.

2010 Primaries: Has Gillibrand Met Her Match?

Here's a brief update on some 2010 primary races around the country:

NY Senate -- Bush Adviser May Run: Dan Senor, a former Defense Department adviser in the Bush 43 administration, "is expected to decide in the next month whether to run" against Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) after state and national party leaders, including Rudy Giuliani and NRSC Chair John Cornyn, encouraged him to launch a bid, the New York Times reports. Republicans have been searching for a top tier recruit to challenge Gillibrand in the November special election -- especially following the GOP's success in the January special election in Massachusetts -- though there are a couple of Republicans who have already announced bids, so Senor would face a primary.

DE-At Large -- Wealthy Candidate Wanted: Delaware Republicans got a shot of good news earlier this week when a multimillionaire businesswoman named Michele Rollins announced she was considering running for Congress. The state GOP had struggled to find a candidate who could run on equal ground with former Lt. Gov. John Carney, giving Democrats perhaps their best opportunity to pick up a House seat in the 2010 midterms. Rollins' personal wealth makes her an attractive candidate for the national party, who would prefer to use its funds on races in Democrat-held districts. Rep. Mike Castle's (R-Del.) decision to run for Senate greatly increased the party's chances at picking up a Senate seat, but made his House seat one of the most vulnerable in the country.

AR Senate - Lincoln and Reconciliation: Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.), in for a challenging primary race against Lt. Gov. Bill Halter, is again trying to make clear that she is against using reconciliation in an effort to get health care reform through Congress and to the president's desk. That's one issue the senator and her primary opponent disagree on, FOX News reported. "I get hit from the left because I am a moderate. I get hit from the right because I'm not far right and, you know, when you're in that crosshair it's a challenging time," Lincoln said, signaling a tough year ahead for her.

UT Senate -- Bennett Getting Clubbed: The Club for Growth has begun robocalling in Utah against Republican Sen. Bob Bennett, who is facing multiple primary challengers. The call asks voters to "vote for a change" in two weeks at the precinct caucuses, where delegates will be chosen and later tasked with selecting the party's Senate nominee.

The Politics Of Unemployment

The release of the monthly unemployment report has spawned something of a ritual of late in Washington. Within minutes of the number being made public, statements come from Republicans and Democrats alike. White House advisers then offer their spin, followed by an on-camera statement from the president himself. All of this is done with an eye toward November, knowing that the state of the economy is bound to be a top concern.

The release of state-by-state data has been considerably less choreographed. In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics issued the latest 50-state results Wednesday to little fanfare. But for state leaders, especially those looking for new terms in November, the numbers are just as vital for their political fortunes. And a close look at the data in many cases explains the political peril some governors are in.

Overall, 30 states saw unemployment rate increases from December to January, compared to just nine states that saw decreases. Very few changed by more than a few tenths of a percent in either direction. But in all 50 states, the number of unemployed workers was higher in January 2010 than it was in January 2009.

Just as most believe President Obama's popularity is tied to a large extent by the economic outlook, there's a clear correlation between governors' approval ratings and their state's unemployment rates. Using public polling available recently in 33 of the 50 states, we note the following trends:

  • The average unemployment rate of governors with a 50 percent or higher approval rating is 7.4, compared to 9.5 for governors under the 50 percent mark.
  • In the nine states were governors had approval ratings higher than 60 percent, the average unemployment rate was 6.9 percent. In the 10 states where governors' approval ratings were lower than 40 percent, the average unemployment rate was 10.6 percent.
  • Of the states with unemployment rates of 7 percent or less, all but one governor had an approval rating above 50.

There are, of course, some outliers, and in several cases other factors are at play to explain a governor's political weakness. For instance, Iowa's unemployment rate is among the lowest in the nation, and yet Gov. Chet Culver (D) had an approval rating of just 41 percent in a February Rasmussen poll.

But in most other cases, the unemployment rate tends to be a good indicator of a governor's fortune. Three other Democratic governors are seeking re-election in states that have unemployment rates below 8 percent, and all three have approval ratings over 50 percent. Republican Dave Heineman is one of the safest incumbents this fall, and sure enough, Nebraska's unemployment rate is second-lowest in the country.

Only three governors are seeking re-election in states where the unemployment rate is 10 percent or higher, and all three have tough races -- Nevada's Jim Gibbons (13 percent), Illinois Pat Quinn (11.3 percent) and Ohio's Ted Strickland (10.8 percent). All three saw significant increases in their state's unemployment rates over a one-year span. Without a turnaround before they face voters, they might find themselves the latest looking for work.

2010 Primaries Update

Here is an update on some 2010 Midterm primaries:

PA-12 -- Hafer Drops Out: Former State Treasurer and Auditor General Barbara Hafer is dropping her bid to succeed the late Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.), leaving a mostly clear Democratic path to November for Mark Critz -- whom state party leaders already nominated for the May 18 special election. Hafer announced her bid one week after Murtha's death in early February. However, party leaders preferred Critz, a former Murtha aide.

GA-7 -- No Ralph Reed: Former Christian Coalition executive director Ralph Reed announced this morning he will not be running for the open seat in Georgia's 7th District. Reed drove up speculation in the last day that he would run by announcing a forthcoming announcement. It did, however, draw attention to his work founding the Faith and Freedom Coalition -- which he said will work to register "an estimated one million new faith-based voters and make tens of millions of voter contacts" in the 2010 and 2012 elections.

MI-1-- Stupak Gets Primaried: Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) is now most well known for leading the charge of pro-life Democrats to include stricter abortion language in the stalled health care reform legislation. Because of this, a Democratic activist named Connie Saltonstall, who is a former Charlevoix County commissioner, has announced she's challenging him in the primary. "It's his willingness to not have health care pass over his abortion position that has people like me upset," Saltonstall said. Stupak represents the Upper Peninsula and 16 of the state's northernmost counties on the Lower Peninsula.

OH-10 -- Kucinich Gets Kos Warning: Liberal Rep. Dennis Kucinich's (D-Ohio) opposition to the health care bill because it doesn't go far enough could earn him a Netroots-backed primary challenge, according to DailyKos founder Markos Moulitsas. "I don't think he gets a pass," Moulitsas said last night on "Countdown with Keith Olbermann." "I don't care what his excuse is." Moulitsas, who called the reform bill "a good first step," compared Kucinich unfavorably to Ralph Nader, who "paved the way for eight years of George Bush" by running against Democrats in presidential elections.

As Obama Visits Missouri, Senate Candidate Heads To DC

In February, Missouri Secretary of State Robin Carnahan, the likely Democratic nominee for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Kit Bond, released a statement strongly criticizing the Obama administration's proposed budget. She called it disappointing, and said it was "time Washington started making fiscal discipline and tackling the long-term budget deficit higher priorities." The next day, her campaign actually highlighted a series of articles that cast her statement as showing independence from the White House.

Today, President Obama comes to Missouri to sell his health care plan, but Carnahan won't be there to welcome him. Coincidentally, as Obama heads west Carnahan has come east to Washington. Her campaign says she's there on long-scheduled official business, "meeting with financial regulators and policymakers to demand strong federal action to hold Wall Street bankers accountable and better protect consumers."

While in Missouri, Obama is also set to attend a fundraiser benefiting the Show Me State's junior senator Claire McCaskill, a fierce advocate for Obama during the 2008 campaign. The event will also benefit the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee, and both the White House and Carnahan's camp says those funds will indirectly support Carnahan's campaign. But Republicans are looking painting a different picture, saying the White House has "written off the Carnahan campaign."

"Barack Obama should be campaigning his heart out for Robin Carnahan," Lloyd Smith, executive director of the Missouri Republican Party, said in a statement Tuesday. "We are not aware of another example of the president ignoring a U.S. Senate candidate on the ballot in less than eight months and instead raising money for someone who is not up for reelection until 2012."

While Obama is scheduled to raise money for Claire McCaskill and the DSCC, Carnahan was feted at a fundraiser hosted by Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.). The NRSC chose to target Carnahan for that event with the "author of the Louisiana Purchase," a reference to the maligned deal Landrieu secured for her state before voting on the initial Senate health care bill.

Democrats say Republicans are making much ado about very little, pointing to her long-established schedule and the White House's repeated public statements of support. To this point, President Obama has only raised money for campaign committees or incumbent U.S. senators up for re-election this year; no challengers have seen visits just yet. Obama did acknowledge Carnahan on a visit to Missouri in April 2009 before she launched her campaign, saying she "may turn out to be pretty good in Washington if she just so decides." And Vice President Biden headlined a fundraiser on her behalf in October.

While Carnahan was critical of the spending in Washington, she has said she supported the Senate health care bill voted on last December. As for the current status of the legislation, campaign spokesman Linden Zakula said the gridlock is "another example of how Washington is broken."

"[Missouri families are] worried about jobs and the economy, not what procedural method is going to be used in Washington," he said. "They expect folks to get things done, and that's what Washington ought to being."

Carnahan was one of the Democrats' early recruiting success stories of the cycle, but what recent polling there has been has shown an early advantage fading against Rep. Roy Blunt (R). But Democrats expect it to remain tight through the fall.

"Missouri has traditionally been obviously the ultimate bellwether state," Gov. Jay Nixon (D) told RCP while in Washington last month. "Secretary Carnahan is a very strong candidate who articulates the needs of the state, and we feel good about that race and I think Missouri as always will tighten up as the months move forward."

Is GOP Better Served If Health Care Passes Or Fails?

The two committees responsible for electing Republicans to the House and Senate indicated yesterday that GOP candidates will be well served by running on health care reform, which Democrats are still attempting to get to President Obama's desk. Yet an interesting question has arisen -- would Republicans be better off if the legislation passes or fails?

Publicly, the National Republican Congressional Committee and National Republican Senatorial Committee say passing the plan would be disastrous for Democrats. However, both are also making efforts to stop it.

In a memo to House candidates, NRCC Executive Director Johnny DeStefano wrote that challengers can affect the outcome of health care in Congress right now by warning their Democratic opponent that their vote will not be forgotten.

"Regardless of how your opponent voted in the past, you can make a major impact on his or her political calculations by reminding these Democrats that a 'YES' vote on the Senate-passed bill will guarantee them an all-out, full-throated blitz from your campaign and national Republicans throughout the spring, summer, and fall," wrote DeStefano.

Likewise, NRSC Chairman John Cornyn told reporters yesterday that Democrats would be wise to give up on the party's current reform plan, if they know what's good for them in November.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid "are being told that it's better to pass something" than nothing, said Cornyn. "But if they pass this bill, this is going to be the issue in November 2010. If they don't pass it and move on to something else, they at least have a fighting chance."

Pelosi and Reid "seem to have no regard for their members' electoral prospects," Cornyn added.

Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg said today on MSNBC's "Daily Rundown" that the Democrats' best move would be to pass the bill, and explain to Americans exactly what's in it and why they should like it. Republicans won back Congress in 1994 shortly after Democrats ended their health care reform efforts.

"In 1994, it was the end of September -- six weeks before the election -- that they gave up on health care," he said. "So it was late in the process, they failed on it, they didn't explain it, the president did not give a major speech saying what it is."

Asked why Republicans wouldn't just let the Democrats vote on the bill if they're certain it will hurt the party in November, Cornyn dismissed it, saying: "There's politics and then there's policy."

The same dynamic is true in the NRCC memo, which calls for Republican challengers to help defeat health care reform while simultaneously noting that any Democrat who votes for it will pay for that vote in the election.

"We are on the road to victory," DeStefano concludes. "Now we must work together to capitalize on the monumental opportunity to stand with the American people and prevent an historic disaster."

Obama Hits The Road As Internal Strife Threatens Reform

So close to an important vote, President Obama might have been expected to be traveling Monday to the district of an undecided member of the House. Instead, Obama was outside Philadelphia, in a town shared by three Congressmen who voted for health care reform and show no signs of wavering.

"If you look at where we're going, it doesn't really have an impact on a particular member," White House deputy press secretary Bill Burton told reporters on Air Force One en route to the event. "I wouldn't say that this is about any specific targeting in that sense."

What the White House reportedly was hoping to do was create a sense of momentum behind his proposal, combining a supportive crowd with a particularly fiery speech from Obama.

"I ask you to help us get us over the finish line these next few weeks," Obama shouted at the end of the event, described by many to be reminiscent of the 2008 campaign. "The need is great. The opportunity is here. Let's seize reform. It's within our grasp."

In several interviews at the start of 2010, Obama said that if he were to point to one mistake in his first year, it would be that he and his administration were too focused on the inside game, making what were in some cases critical decisions, but overall failing to communicate with the public at large.

"What they've ended up seeing is this feeling of remoteness and detachment," Obama told George Stephanopoulos just after Scott Brown won the Massachusetts Senate race.

Events like Monday's, and another to come Wednesday in the St. Louis area, would seem to be part of the administration's answer. Sen. Arlen Specter (D), who joined Obama in his home state, said he was glad to see the passion from Obama, and that he wished he'd seen it sooner.

But the issue at hand is not how it plays in the heartland, or "quasi-heartland," as Specter described the Philadelphia-area setting Monday. Rather, it's the whip count in the House Democratic caucus, with the White House hoping for a successful vote by next Thursday. And so it is again Obama's inside game that's at play here, and his seeming inability to win the battle inside the Beltway has led to more palace intrigue that is threatening to overshadow the policy fight at hand.

Last week, Obama held a series of meetings with Democrats trying to shore up support for his legislative strategy going forward, with some of those House Democrats still unsure whether they have faith enough in the Senate to again put their necks on the line. In one meeting, Obama told a more progressive group that should this latest effort to pass health care fail, it would doom the left's entire agenda for the foreseeable future. Rep. Raul Grijalva, who was in that meeting, said that sentiment made a strong impression.

But the voice of another group of uneasy Democrats was given a greater megaphone Monday. Retiring Rep. Eric Massa's (D-NY) comments in a weekend radio interview, focused as they were squarely on White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, have added to a growing obsession about administration tactics, and a debate over who is to blame for an agenda that has failed to progress at the expected speed.

"Rahm Emanuel is son of the devil's spawn," Massa famously said. "He is an individual who would sell his mother to get a vote. He would strap his children to a front end of a steam locomotive."

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer's office did reject Massa's claim that his resignation was orchestrated to help lower the threshold of votes Democrats need to pass the Senate version of health reform. Press secretary Robert Gibbs told ABC this morning, "I think this whole story is ridiculous. I think the latest excuse is silly and ridiculous." You can be sure that Obama's time will be increasingly occupied with reassuring forces in Washington before he heads back on the stump Wednesday.

Cornyn: 'Evolving' 2010 Landscape Lets NRSC Expand Field

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said Monday that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's cash advantage in his bid for re-election in Nevada is not enough to improve his standing among voters in November.

"I doubt, even spending $10- or $20-million, people are going to change their minds about Harry Reid," Cornyn said at a press briefing on the 2010 midterm elections.

Down 18 seats and looking at a favorable political landscape this year, Cornyn's NRSC faces the fiscal reality of competing in the large number of states it will take to win back the Senate. Yet he dismisses the notion that the party won't have enough cash to do it.

While noting that he'd "always like to have more money than the other guy," GOP challengers in several states will be going up against deep-pocketed Democratic incumbents like Reid.

Despite a strong fundraising month in January, which brought the committee's cash-on-hand total to $10.65 million -- more than $2 million less than its Democratic counterpart -- Cornyn has admitted the NRSC will need financial assistance from the Republican National Committee in order to help under-funded candidates.

Still, Cornyn called the party's financial situation "evolving," as the dynamics of races around the country continue to change. One example is North Dakota, where Gov. John Hoeven now appears to have an open road to victory in November -- a crucial pick-up in the GOP's quest for control of the upper chamber.

When the NRSC was recruiting Hoeven last year -- before Sen. Byron Dorgan (D) announced his retirement in early January -- the committee had to assure him it would spend significant money on the race. With Dorgan gone, Cornyn said, "it looks like we may not have to spend anything."

The committee faces a somewhat similar situation in Indiana, where Democratic Sen. Evan Bayh's $13 million campaign account likely kept strong challengers like Rep. Mike Pence out of the race. However, Bayh announced last month -- just days before the candidate filing deadline -- that he would not seek re-election.

The NRSC would have been forced to spend big to help a challenger keep up with Bayh's massive coffers, taking away valuable resources for other states. Indiana remains a competitive state for both parties, but Bayh's likely replacement on the ballot -- Rep. Brad Ellsworth -- won't raise and spend the kind of money Bayh would have.

With Dorgan and Bayh gone, the NRSC has more flexibility to spend money on increasingly competitive states like California, Washington and Wisconsin -- two of which Republicans may need to win back control of the Senate.

Seeing the challenge the committee was facing in the months ahead, in April 2009 Cornyn admittedly jumped the gun by endorsing Florida Gov. Charlie Crist's bid for Senate. Crist's ability to raise money with a nation-wide network of donors proved too attractive to Cornyn, who hoped Crist's strong campaign could save the NRSC a ton of cash in the expensive Sunshine State.

While stating Monday that he felt "honor-bound" not to withdraw the endorsement, Cornyn said the committee would not spend any money during the primary, nor engage in any negative campaigning against Crist's primary opponent, Marco Rubio -- who now leads Crist in the polls.

Cornyn went so far as to say he believed Rubio would defeat Democratic Rep. Kendrick Meek in the general election -- a clear sign he now cares little who wins the GOP primary.

However, another fundraising snag for the GOP is the number of primaries it's facing in competitive states. Along with Florida, multiple Republicans are vying for the nomination in California, Kentucky and New Hampshire. Primaries can be both costly and harmful to a candidate's general election prospects -- increasing the financial role the NRSC may need to play heading into November.

"My hope would be that all our nominees would come out of these primaries not bloodied and broke," he said.

Hoyer's Office Flatly Denies Massa Accusation

The office of House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer flatly denies the accusation of outgoing Rep. Eric Massa (D-N.Y.) that the White House and Democratic House leadership got rid of him in an effort to pass health care reform.

"That's completely false. There is zero merit to that accusation," Hoyer spokeswoman Katie Grant told RealClearPolitics.

Massa announced his departure from Congress on Friday after an ethics investigation was launched into his conduct with a male staffer in his office. His resignation becomes official at 5 p.m. today.

Massa opposed the Democrats' health care plan for reasons opposite of Republicans -- the bill did not go far enough.

"There's a reason that this has all happened," Massa said on a New York radio station on Sunday.

With the departure of Hawaii Rep. Neil Abercrombie and the untimely death of Pennsylvania Rep. John Murtha, he said, "Mine is now the deciding vote on the health care bill. And this administration and this House leadership have said -- quote, unquote -- that they will stop at nothing to pass this health care bill. And now they've gotten rid of me and it will pass. You connect the dots."

The Week Ahead: Up In The Air

The votes are in from Hollywood, and the war in Iraq is the big winner as "Hurt Locker" took home the gold. Meanwhile, Iraqis themselves actually voted this weekend. That winner is still TBD.

Back in the world of politics, the outcome of health care reform legislation is still up in the air (to belabor our Oscar theme), with the President hitting the road again this week to sell his plan ahead of an Easter deadline. Here's our look at the week in politics.

**The White House: President Obama keeps minding his purple states with his travel this week to sell health care, starting with a morning visit today to the Philadelphia area, to be followed this Wednesday with a trip to one of the ultimate bellwether states, Missouri. Expect to continue hearing the president call for an "up or down vote" in the Senate for his plan, even though the real effort is in getting the votes in the House. The first deadline set by the White House is for that House vote to occur by next Thursday, when Obama leaves for an extended overseas trip.

Speaking of foreign policy, Obama this week meets with the president of El Salvador, the prime minister of Greece and the president of Haiti. Meanwhile, Vice President Biden has started a week-long trip to the Middle East, a visit that comes just after the aforementioned Iraqi elections.

**Capitol Hill: The country awaits Democrats' next move on health care. If they stay on a tentative schedule that the White House has intimated, there should be some action during the next two weeks. The plan: the House will pass the Senate bill, then both will pass a separate bill that fixes certain budget-related aspects to it that House members don't support. In the meantime, the House passed last week a slightly altered version of the Senate's $15 billion jobs bill, so the Senate is expected to take that up this week. Speaker Pelosi said that will be just the beginning of jobs-related plans to come to the floor in the months ahead. The upper chamber begins this week with work on the tax extenders bill, with votes on Tuesday.

**Politics: We start by noting the filing deadlines in the states this week: Arkansas (3/8); Oregon, Pennsylvania (3/9); California, Nevada (3/12).

Democrats are hoping for a better week after seeing two New York congressmen taken down last week by ethics investigations. Facing mounting pressure, Charles Rangel stepped down from his post as chairman of the Ways & Means Committee, while freshman Eric Massa first announced he wouldn't run for re-election -- then said he'll resign from Congress today to save himself from an ethics investigation into an allegation that he sexually harassed a staffer. We're also still keeping an eye on New York's governor, David Paterson, who holds a town hall meeting with voters this week and meets with the New York archbishop today as he tenuously holds on to his post.

On the 2010 front, Scott Brown was in Arizona campaigning with John McCain this weekend. But this week, it's McCain who plays a supporting role as he heads to a special state for him -- New Hampshire. He'll be campaigning for Senate hopeful Kelly Ayotte, a notable visit considering that there's a very active primary there. Looking at 2012, Mitt Romney's book tour kicks into high gear with stops in Florida, Michigan, California and Utah this week.

Trying to turn the attention back to the GOP, the DNC is airing a national TV ad this week on cable on the GOP "fear" fundraising appeal. Republicans will also be closely reading Karl Rove's new book, "Courage and Consequence," out Tuesday.

**Poll Watch:
Obama Job Performance: Approve 48.7 / Disapprove 45.8 (+2.9)
Congress Job Performance: Approve 18.8 / Disapprove 75.6 (-56.8)
Generic Ballot Test: Republicans +0.7

**In Case You Missed It: Just one month ago we were enduring back-to-back blizzards here in DC. But this week, we're looking at some 60-degree-plus days. This spring-like weather reminds us that baseball is just around the corner, and for Nats fans a pretty important spring training game this week as Stephen Strasburg will get the start in an exhibition Tuesday against Detroit, who'll start 2009 rookie star Rick Porcello.

Don't look now, though, the NCAA basketball tournament is coming even sooner. This weekend, the following programs punched their tickets to the big dance: Cornell (Ivy League); Winthrop (Big South); East Tennessee State (Atlantic Sun); Murray State (Ohio Valley); Northern Iowa (Missouri Valley). Sadly, Mike's Loyola Greyhounds lost in the first round of the MAAC tourney.

And congratulations to Sandra Bullock for taking home Best Actress last night for her role in "The Blindside." Like Kyle, Bullock is an Arlington, Va., native and Washington-Lee High School graduate.

--Mike Memoli and Kyle Trygstad

Massa Resigning Monday

After just more than a year in office, Rep. Eric Massa (D-N.Y.) announced today he will resign from his seat to spare himself an ethics committee investigation of allegations he harrassed one of his congressional staffers.

"During long car rides, in the early hours of the evening, late at night and always in private, I know that my own language failed to meet the standards that I set for all around me and myself," said Massa. "I fell short and I believe now, as I have always believed, that it is not enough to simply talk the talk, but rather I must take action to hold myself accountable."

Massa initially denied a report that an ethics investigation had been launched on Wednesday as he announced he would not run for re-election, but House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer's office said that evening that he knew of the allegation and had pushed for the ethics committee to be informed as well. The panel confirmed the investigation yesterday.

A special election has not been set yet, but if one is held before November, it could come on Sept. 14 when regular primaries will be held. Other states, such as Pennsylvania and Hawaii, are holding special elections on primary days to save the state the cost of holding another election.

As for who is interested in the seat, The Hotline has a quick rundown of the situation:

Before the news of Massa's resignation hit today, candidates were already emerging for the open seat contest. The GOPer on the top of the party's wish list -- Monroe Co. Exec. Maggie Brooks (R) -- appears ready to make a decision within the week. If she doesn't run, there are a bevy of legislators ready to jump into the contest.

But Corning Mayor Tom Reed (R) has been in the race for months, and appears loathe to exit. (For more, check out our earlier coverage of the emerging GOP field)

On the Dem side, Massa's pick appears to be Hornell Mayor Shawn Hogan (D), but he has yet to decide on a bid. Assemb. David Koon (D), though, has told county chairs he'll run. And several other legislators are also taking a look at the contest.

GOP Sending Message With Weekly Address

The Republican Party's Weekly Address will be delivered tomorrow morning by Alabama Rep. Parker Griffith, who surprised the political world in December by switching to the GOP after being elected to Congress in 2008 as a Democrat. Griffith practiced medicine for 17 years before starting his own business and later entering politics.

So as Democrats push a health care reform package through Congress, Republicans are putting out front a doctor who switched parties partially because of the issue.

"The fact that a doctor who left the Democratic caucus is delivering the address this week is no coincidence," said a senior GOP aide. "This is a shot across the bow of any 'moderate' Democrat in the House who is considering voting for a health care bill loaded with tax hikes, Medicare cuts, and notorious backroom deals."

Griffith's district also happens to be heavily Republican. John McCain won 61 percent of the vote in 2008. Despite switching parties, Griffith will still have a tough time being re-elected this year, as he faces a competitive GOP primary.

UPDATE: CNN reports that a House Minority Leader John Boehner-headlined fundraiser for Griffith in Huntsville on Monday will be protested by both Tea Party groups as well as Democrats -- what some might say is an unusual and rare pairing.

Also, a Democratic source passes along this attack ad from the National Republican Congressional Committee, which aired during the 2008 campaign. The ad accuses Griffith of "shameful conduct" as a doctor, as well as "warehousing cancer patients, underdosing them so he could make more profits through protracted treatments."

Brady Declared Winner In IL GOP Primary By 193 Votes

More than a month after the primary, it appears Republicans in Illinois finally have their nominee for governor. The state Board of Elections today certified the result of the February 2 primary, with Bill Brady topping fellow state Sen. Kirk Dillard by just 193 votes.

Per the Chicago Tribune:

The difference amounted to a miniscule .025 percent of the 767,492 ballots cast in the heavily contested race for the nomination. Officially, Brady got 20.26 percent of the GOP primary vote, compared to Dillard's 20.24 percent.

Dillard has said that if the state board figures did not put him within 100 votes of Brady, he would not seek a recount. He still has the option for a discovery recount that would resample the ballot counts from a small portion of election precincts. But he also has said he wants to avoid a recount--a full statewide recount could cost him more than $1 million.

He and Brady both planned news conferences later.

That Dillard nearly won the nomination despite the hay made by his primary foes over his testimonial on behalf of Barack Obama in the 2008 presidential election is fascinating, though perhaps it also owed to a large field.

Assuming Dillard does concede later today, the general election is now set between Brady and Gov. Pat Quinn (D), seeking his first full term after assuming the office last year following Rod Blagojevich's impeachment.

Within hours of the certification, the Democratic Governors Association issued a release targeting Brady for a "moderate makeover." Read the statement, which includes the phrase "mass animal gassing," after the jump.

While Illinois voters have been waiting to find out who won the GOP nod, Brady has been using the time to quietly scour his legislative record and purge it of some of his most bizarre proposals. First, Brady removed his name from legislation he sponsored that would allow the mass killing of cats and dogs in gas chambers. Then Brady removed himself as the sponsor of a bill that would allow some employers to discriminate on the basis of religion, sexual orientation or gender identity. For observers who've relished the Brady whitewash, that might not be all - Brady has countless other outside-the-mainstream positions he can reverse, such as his opposition to abortion even in the case of rape, incest and the health of the mother.

  "I understand why Bill Brady wants to run from his right-wing record," said Nathan Daschle, executive director of the Democratic Governors Association. "Mass animal gassing and denying human rights aren't exactly high on the list of voter concerns right now. Unfortunately for Brady, no one in Illinois knew who he was before they heard about his ludicrous proposals."   

Daschle added, "Maybe now that he feels he's moderated his position on mass animal euthanasia, Brady will feel free to join the debate on the issues voters most care about: jobs, growing the middle class and investing in Illinois' future."

Unemployment Rate Holds at 9.7%

New numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics:

Nonfarm payroll employment was little changed (-36,000) in February, and the unemployment rate held at 9.7 percent, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. Employment fell in construction and information, while temporary help services added jobs. Severe winter weather in parts of the country may have affected payroll employment and hours; however, it is not possible to quantify precisely the net impact of the winter storms on these measures.

The preliminary job loss number from January was 26,000. Time to update the Organizing for America-sponsored unemployment graph.

The Week In Midterms: Monday Mayhem

This week started with a bang, as one Democratic Senate primary challenger jumped in Monday morning and one jumped out that night. Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) becomes the third Democratic senator to face a serious primary challenge this year -- the other two are Arlen Specter (Pa.), who switched parties last year, and Michael Bennet (Colo.), who was appointed to the seat last year.

Here's a look back at the week that was in 2010 midterms:


ARKANSAS: Lt. Gov. Bill Halter entered the Democratic primary race Monday morning by releasing a video announcing his challenge to Sen. Blanche Lincoln, who was already facing a difficult November -- and now will struggle just to get past May 18. Halter spoke with RCP in an interview on Tuesday, during which he struck a populist tone. A general election poll released this week found Lincoln making significant gains against several Republican challengers, but she's still polling mostly in the 30s.

ILLINOIS: Democratic nominee Alexi Giannoulias conceded this week that the bank his family owns will likely fail before the November election -- a potentially dangerous blow to his electoral hopes. He tried to get out in front of the story this week, sitting down with the Chicago Sun-Times and Tribune editorial boards for more than an hour each to answer questions. However, as the Sun-Times' Mark Brown wrote Thursday, "certain unpleasant facts remain" about the situation, and then there's also this: His only qualification for running for state treasurer in 2006 was his experience as CEO of what's a now-failing bank, and he concedes he was partially responsible for it.

NEVADA: Could things get any worse for Sen. Harry Reid (D)? Probably, but as of now they're pretty bad. A Mason-Dixon poll out at the beginning of the week found Reid trailing all three of his potential GOP opponents by double-digits. Against former state GOP Chair Sue Lowden, Reid did not even garner 40 percent support. However, Tea Party of Nevada candidate Scott Ashjian filed his candidacy papers this week, causing Republicans some worry he could split the conservative vote in November. And rumors persist that he's a Democratic plant aiming to help Reid get elected, though he denies that.

NEW YORK: There was plenty of polling here this week, despite the fact that Republicans have no clue who's going to run against Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D). Rasmussen's poll found Gillibrand leading former Gov. George Pataki by 2 points, while Marist found Pataki up 3 points. Either way, most insiders don't expect Pataki to run, and Daily News owner Mort Zuckerman announced he was out as well. Marist pollster Lee M. Miringoff believes Ford's interest in the race may have "solidified" Gillibrand's support among Democrats.

NORTH DAKOTA: Democrats took a hit here this week, as former Attorney General Heidi Heitkamp announced she would not run against the GOP frontrunner, Gov. John Hoeven. The seat came open at the beginning of the year when Sen. Byron Dorgan announced he would not run for re-election. Rep. Earl Pomeroy (D) briefly considered running, but opted for re-election instead. State Sen. Tracy Potter appears to be the most likely Dem nominee at this point.

PENNSYLVANIA: Sen. Arlen Specter (D) found himself in unusual territory this week -- in the lead. A new Quinnipiac survey showed him ahead of likely Republican opponent, former Rep. Pat Toomey, by 7 points. The poll also found him leading his primary challenger, Rep. Joe Sestak, by 24 points.


TEXAS: Gov. Rick Perry (R) leads the first post-primary poll by 6. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R) made history in her primary loss. The DGA thinks Perry is "strikingly vulnerable." With no runoff, the general election campaign started in earnest. The Perry camp played the L-word, while White said Perry failed as gov. Perry says Hutchison should stay in the Senate.

NEW YORK: Attorney General Andrew Cuomo actually gained ground on Rick Lazio despite the Paterson mess; his job approval sky high.

CALIFORNIA: Attorney General and former Gov. Jerry Brown (D) made his comeback bid official. On his media tour, he stressed his experience and paved a centrist course; he even did some pullups. His long record: "a blessing and a curse." He targeted Meg Whitman with the AP. Whitman hit Steve Poizner in a radio ad.

FLORIDA: Alex Sink (D) targets Bill McCollum (R) over Medicaid fraud. Both candidates responded to Gov. Charlie Crist's (R) final state of the state address.

MICHIGAN: Rep. Peter Hoekstra (R) took a lead in the GOP primary in Michigan. Mike Huckabee endorsed Attorney General Mike Cox (R). The Democratic field shrinks by one.

ILLINOIS: It's decision day in the GOP primary, with a recount or a concession coming. Looking ahead, state Sen. Bill Brady "swung and missed" while trying to hit Gov. Pat Quinn (D), the Tribune says.

GEORGIA:Ex-Georgia Gov. Roy Barnes (D) has a slight lead over GOP foes. Rep. Nathan Deal (R) is delaying his resignation to vote on health care.

THE REST: Charlie Baker (R) leads the field in the Massachusetts money chase. PA Attorney General Tom Corbett leads all potential Democratic foes. Rasmussen finds former Sen. Lincoln Chafee (I) leading in Rhode Island. John Stephen (R) entered the New Hampshire governor race. Wyoming Gov. Dave Freudenthal (D) decides not to challenge the term limit law, giving the GOP an opening.

Cook Political Report:
*Texas Gov from Lean R to Toss Up.
*NC-08 from Lean D to Likely D.
*AR-01 from Lean R to Toss Up
*AL-02 from Toss Up to Lean D.
*NY-29 from Lean D to Lean R

Rothenberg Political Report:
*TX Gov from Clear Advantage R to Narrow Advantage R
*NY-29 from Lean D to Toss Up
*MA-10 from Safe D to D Favored.

--Kyle Trygstad and Mike Memoli

Ethics Committee Confirms Massa Investigation

The House ethics committee confirmed today that it is looking into allegations made against Rep. Eric Massa (D-N.Y.), who announced yesterday he won't return to Congress next year due to health concerns related to cancer.

However, it was reported that Massa was also leaving amid an allegation that he harrassed a male staffer in his office. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer's office released a statement last night confirming that Hoyer knew about the allegations and insisted they be reported to the ethics committee.

The ethics panel, referred to officially as the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, released a brief statement today saying it is "gathering additional information concerning matters related to allegations involving Representative Eric Massa."

Massa denied the charges yesterday during a conference call with reporters to announce he would not seek re-election to a second term.

Dems' New Reconciliation Spokesman: Judd Gregg

Senate Democratic leadership released this video to reporters today, jokingly calling New Hampshire Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) their "new spokesman to explain why reconciliation is a simple up or down vote that the American people deserve."

"It is totally inappropriate for a senator to come to this floor and represent that this is some sort of unethical act, as was implied," Gregg said. "We are using the rules of the Senate as they are set up to be used."

Gregg made the comments from the Senate floor on March 16, 2005.

"We appreciate Senator Gregg's support and his explanation of reconciliation," said Senate Democratic leadership spokesman Rodell Mollineau. "We could not have expressed it better ourselves."

Freudenthal Won't Seek Third Term

Wyoming Gov. Dave Freudenthal (D) has decided not to seek a third term, giving Republicans a golden opportunity for a pick-up this November.

Freudenthal, first elected in 2002, is technically term limited. But the state's term-limit law was considered vulnerable to a court challenge, after a similar law for legislators was struck down. Freudenthal has decided not to pursue that. Per the AP:

Freudenthal, 59, said he began the process of deciding not to run after his wife Nancy Freudenthal and he spent the Christmas holiday with their grown children. He said none of them thought he should run again.

"I don't have a terribly intellectual explanation, as much as a sense that it's the right decision, both in a personal and a professional sense, for myself and for Nancy and for the state," Freudenthal said.

Freudenthal, whose office door in the state Capitol bears the painted sign "Gov. Dave," has enjoyed considerable popularity since narrowly winning his first election in 2002. He won re-election in 2006 with 70 percent of the vote even though registered Republicans in the state outnumbered Democrats by more than 2 to 1.

Freudenthal has been seen as the only realistic hope of keeping the seat in Democratic hands after this year. While he considered his own future, Freudenthal had given state Senate Minority Leader Mike Massie (D) his blessing to explore a bid in the event he chose not to run.

The Republican Governors Association issued a statement painting national Democrats as "out of touch" for assuming Freudenthal would run. RGA spokesman Tim Murtaugh:

"Freudenthal is the latest in an increasingly long line of Democratic governors declining to seek re-election, which means Wyoming now becomes a prime pick-up opportunity for us. The scary thing for Democrats is that incumbent governors in Ohio, Massachusetts, Illinois, Maryland and Iowa are far worse positioned than Freudenthal was."

Eight Democratic governors are term limited, including Freudenthal. Four other Democratic governors, including two who were unelected -- New York's Paterson and Kansas' Parkinson, decided not to seek new terms. Seven Republican governors are term limited, and four others chose not to run again.

Ways & Means: Stark Out, Levin In

After about a day of serving as acting chairman of the House Ways & Means Committee, Rep. Pete Stark (D-Calif.) is out and Rep. Sander Levin (D-Mich.) is in, Speaker Pelosi confirmed this morning.

Roll Call reported the move earlier, writing that "Democrats on the committee resisted the idea" of the the outspoken liberal taking over the reins in place of Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.), who stepped down amid a number of ethics investigations against him -- including one that ended in a public admonishment of his actions.

Stark, who represents the Bay Area-based 13th District, is known for "his incendiary debating style" and remarks that he concedes are at times "unnecessary," according to the Almanac of American Politics. The 69-year-old is serving his 19th term in Congress.

Levin, the older brother of Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin, is serving his 14th term in the Detroit-based 12th District. The Almanac describes Levin as a "hard worker and a details man, willing to spend endless hours with others working out solutions."

Speaker Pelosi released the following statement:

"Congressman Pete Stark has informed me that, due to his desire to remain as subcommittee Chairman of the Health Subcommittee, he has resigned as acting Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. Pete Stark has been a leader in health insurance reform, and we will continue to rely upon him as we enter the final stretch of ensuring health care for all Americans.

"With Congressman Stark's decision, Congressman Sander Levin is now acting Chairman of the Ways and Means Committee. As Chairman, Sandy Levin will be a powerful advocate for addressing the urgent needs of the American people."

Lincoln's First Ad: "I Don't Answer To My Party"

She now has a primary on her hands, but Sen. Blanche Lincoln's (D-AR) first TV ad of the campaign indicates she has no problem running against both Washington and her own party.

In the ad, which touts Lincoln as "One Tough Lady," the senator touts her votes against Wall Street and auto company bailouts, cap and trade, and the public option.

"None of those were right for Arkansas," she says. "Some in my party didn't like it very much. But I approve this message because I don't answer to my party. I answer to Arkansas."

UPDATE: As Lincoln distances herself from the party, it looks like some key constituencies in the party continue to distance themselves from her. Check out what Ellen Malcolm of EMILY's List wrote today:

Arkansas Senator Blanche Lincoln is fighting for her political survival. Republicans are in full attack mode, and polls indicate she's the most vulnerable Senate incumbent in the country.

Frankly, I'm not surprised.

As I travel around the country, I've been asked repeatedly about Senator Lincoln's political troubles and what, if anything, EMILY's List will be doing to help her win a third term in 2010.

My answer? Nothing.

In 1998, EMILY's List helped elect Lincoln to the U.S. Senate. We believed her when she told us that that, if and when the Senate took up right-wing Senator Rick Santorum's bill to ban what he called "partial birth" abortion, she would insist on a health exception that protects women.

Our members gave generously to her campaign, believing that she would steadfastly stand by the pledge she made to us to protect women's reproductive freedom.

She took our members' hard-earned money to get elected. Unfortunately, when the Santorum bill came up for a vote, Lincoln voted for it even though it provided no exception to protect women's health.

EMILY's List members are deeply committed to electing pro-choice Democratic women whom we trust to stand up for our rights, treat us honestly, and make us proud. Our candidates fight for us every day. Blanche Lincoln failed to hold up her end of the bargain.

Since she wasn't there for us, we won't be there for her.

Hoyer Confirms Massa Ethics Charge

Rep. Eric Massa (D-N.Y.) denied yesterday that reported ethics charges factored into his decision not to run for a second term in Congress this year, citing a third recurrence of cancer and doctor recommendations that he slow down. In a short statement to reporters over a conference call yesterday, Massa said articles referring to the rumors were "unsubstantiated without fact or backing."

However, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer's office confirmed last night that the charges do exist and that he knew about it.

Here is the statement from Hoyer spokeswoman Katie Grant:

"The week of February 8th, a member of Rep. Massa's staff brought to the attention of Mr. Hoyer's staff allegations of misconduct that had been made against Mr. Massa. Mr. Hoyer's staff immediately informed him of what they had been told. Mr. Hoyer instructed his staff that if Mr. Massa or his staff did not bring the matter to the attention of the bipartisan Ethics Committee within 48 hours, Mr. Hoyer would do so. Within 48 hours, Mr. Hoyer received confirmation from both the Ethics Committee staff and Mr. Massa's staff that the Ethics Committee had been contacted and would review the allegations. Mr. Hoyer does not know whether the allegations are true or false, but wanted to ensure that the bipartisan committee charged with overseeing conduct of Members was immediately involved to determine the facts."

Politico reported yesterday that the ethics charges dealt with allegations Massa "made unwanted advances toward a junior male staffer."

Latest Health Care Pep Talk Takes Feisty Tone

The lab coats were back. The East Room setting familiar. Even some of the rhetoric was the same. But President Obama's tone had a bit more edge to it today as he made yet another push to pass his health care reform plan -- one the White House hopes is among his last.

Obama tried simplifying his plan, saying it would make three changes to the health care system: ending "the worst practices" of health insurance companies; opening an insurance exchange to give Americans more options; and lowering costs generally. It's a plan, he says, that "has been debated and changed and I believe improved over the last year," and incorporates many Republican ideas.


"I, therefore, ask leaders in both houses of Congress to finish their work and schedule a vote in the next few weeks," he demanded. "From now until then, I will do everything in my power to make the case for reform. And I urge every American who wants this reform to make their voice heard as well."

Obama himself will hit the road with events in the purple states of Missouri and Pennsylvania. And he activated his former campaign organization to join "the final march for health reform."

The political stakes are high, but Obama said he's not motivated by politics. In fact, he chastised the media for "a fascination, bordering on obsession" with the political ramifications of passing the bill.

"I do not know how this plays politically, but I know it's right," he said.

Massa Denies Harassment Charges

In a two-and-a-half minute statement to dozens of reporters on a conference call this afternoon, Rep. Eric Massa (D-N.Y.) denied that harassment charges led him to his decision to not seek re-election to a second term this year. Massa said he was "briefly hospitalized" in December after "a third major cancer reoccurrence scare."

"I'm a very salty guy. I'm a very direct guy. And I run about a hundred miles an hour. And my doctors have made it clear to me that I can no longer do that," he said.

Massa directly attacked blogs that helped spread a rumor that he was resigning because of a sexual harassment charge against him, which Politico reported earlier this afternoon.

"Do I or have I ever used salty language when I'm angry, especially in the privacy of my inner office or even at home? Yes I have, and I have apologized to those where it's appropriate," he said. "But those kinds of articles -- unsubstantiated without fact or backing -- are a symptom of what's wrong with this city."

Rep. Massa (D-NY) Not Running For Re-Election

Freshman Rep. Eric Massa (D-N.Y.) will not run for re-election this year, the New York Daily News reports. Massa ousted two-term Rep. Randy Kuhl (R) in 2008 by just 5,000 votes after losing to Kuhl two years earlier by 6,000 votes.

Massa is expected to announce his decision in a 3:30 p.m. conference call with the press. Politico reports Massa will resign amid allegations that he sexually harrassed a male aide.

The 29th District was George W. Bush's best-performing congressional district in New York in 2000 and 2004, and one of four districts in the state to go for John McCain in 2008. McCain won the district by fewer than 7,000 votes.

The boot-shaped district takes up a large chunk of western New York.

Rangel Requests 'Leave of Absence'

Embattled New York Rep. Charles Rangel (D) told reporters this morning that he has requested a "leave of absence" from his post as chairman of the Ways and Means Committee. Rangel was admonished by the House ethics committee on Friday for accepting corporate-paid travel and remains under investigation by the panel for other possible transgressions.

From the New York Times:

"I have, this morning, sent a letter to Speaker Pelosi asking her to grant me a leave of absence until such time as the Ethics Committee completes its work," the congressman said in a brief meeting with reporters.

He declined to answer questions in any detail, however, saying that to do so would raise issues that "would distract me from what I have to do in terms of completion of the president's health bill as well as making sure our committee gets a good jobs bill."

Republicans had been pressing for a vote to remove him from his chairmanship. Mr. Rangel said he acted in order to avoid forcing his colleagues to defend him during an election year.

The move saves Speaker Pelosi from the uncomfortable position of either removing a senior House member from his chairmanship or defending a member under multiple ethics investigations.

UPDATE: Pelosi released the following statement: "Chairman Charlie Rangel has informed me of his request for a leave of absence from his duties and responsibilities as Chairman of the Committee on Ways and Means. I will honor his request. I commend Chairman Rangel for his decades of leadership on jobs, health care, and the most significant economic issues of the day."

Arkansas Senate Candidate Bill Halter (D) Interview

Arkansas Lt. Gov. Bill Halter (D), who's challenging Sen. Blanche Lincoln, spoke with RealClearPolitics yesterday -- one day after announcing his bid. Halter struck a populist tone during the interview, and showed that he will be highlighting his signature piece of legislation, the state scholarship lottery, throughout the campaign.

When RCP noted that it's pretty rare for an incumbent senator to lose a primary, Halter responded: "In terms of the ability to go out and win -- this is why you have campaigns. You go out and you take your issues to voters, and you put them out there and people respond or they don't. But so far they are responding extremely well."

Halter has some fundraising to do, though he reportedly already has significant fundraising pledges from progressive and labor groups. Lincoln had $5 million in the bank at the beginning of the year.

Read the entire interview here.

Would Runoff Change Dynamic In Texas Race?

What was originally billed as a major Texas showdown has instead turned out to be a somewhat tepid Republican primary for governor. Gov. Rick Perry (R) appears headed for a plurality win in today's vote, with the only suspense in the air whether he can surpass the 50 percent needed to avoid a runoff in six weeks.

Perry has never reached 50 percent in polls of what turned out to be a three-way race. But some observers speculated that the governor could do so tonight if enough votes break his way from the undecided column as well as from a fading Debra Medina, whose surge in the polls was cut short by her comments about the Sept. 11 attacks.

But if a runoff does occur, is there any reason to suspect Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison can find her way back? Her campaign, obviously, thinks so.

"She's going to stay on her message of taking the steps necessary to strengthen Texas. Rick Perry is going to be explaining why a majority of Republicans decided they did not want him back in office," said campaign spokesman Joe Pounder.

No incumbent governor has failed to be renominated since a little-known former Wasilla mayor named Sarah Palin defeated Alaska Gov. Frank Murkowski (R) in a three-way primary in 2006. Perry has had the support of Palin and other GOP heavyweights in this campaign, and polls have shown him strongest with the conservative voters more likely to vote in a primary. Turnout is believed to be higher than usual, however, and Hutchison has said if she's to win she'll need the support of "November Republican voters."

Turnout in a runoff tends to be much lighter, which would again seem to favor Perry. But a six-week overtime race could buy the Hutchison campaign more time to make their case against Perry one-on-one. Reports indicate she has scaled back some of her advertising of late to ensure she has funds to wage a runoff campaign.

One potential issue that could emerge in that could emerge is one of electability, something Hutchison has telegraphed somewhat of late. General election polls have shown she is a slightly stronger candidate against the likely Democratic nominee, former Houston Mayor Bill White (D). Pounder said electability would not necessarily be their focus in a runoff, but that "there's no doubt Kay Bailey Hutchison would be the better candidate."

Hutchison has signaled she is eager for a runoff campaign, but she may face heavy pressure to bow out even if Perry does not win outright, especially if he were to fall just shy of 50 percent. State law allows a runner up to not contest a runoff, if they so choose. Democrats, meanwhile, relish the idea of a continued GOP slugfest.

"That extra month gives Mayor White the opportunity to continue to raise money and get his message out while Republicans are fighting each other. And that sets us up pretty well," Gov. Jack Markell, chair of the Democratic Governors Association, told RCP last week. The organization recently donated $500,000 to White's campaign, a signal of their confidence in the potential for what would be a surprising Democratic pickup this fall.

The Republican Governors Association, officially neutral in the race (though chairman Haley Barbour endorsed Perry), declined to say whether it would play a role in targeting White should Republicans still be sparring with each other. RGA spokesman Tim Murtaugh said the race is so early in the calendar year that whoever the nominee is, he or she will have plenty of time to make a general election case. But as it showed in the New Jersey race last fall, the organization is willing to play a significant role defining the opposition when their candidates are unable to do so.

Dems Fail To Stay Competitive In 3 Texas Districts

What a difference two years makes. As voters in Texas head to the polls today to vote in their 2010 primaries, Democrats find themselves struggling to put up much of a fight in three of the most competitive Republican House districts in 2008.

In the 10th District, which stretches from Austin to Houston, businessman Jack McDonald was supposed to be the Democratic challenger who could finally defeat Texas Rep. Michael McCaul, the third-term Republican who won with 55 percent or less the last two elections. But McDonald's name won't appear on the 10th District primary ballot today.

After forming an exploratory committee in February 2009, McDonald raised more than $300,000 in five weeks. In April -- 19 months before the election -- the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee aired a radio ad in the district for a week that attacked McCaul for his vote against the stimulus bill. The move was a clear sign of the party's faith in McDonald and its view that McCaul was vulnerable.

McDonald would go on to raise more than $1 million in 10 months. Then in late December -- two weeks before the filing deadline -- McDonald took a look at the political landscape and dropped out.

"Since forming our Exploratory Committee last February, the environment in our District has changed significantly," McDonald wrote in a farewell message on his campaign Web site.

With McDonald out this year, the fallback challenger is Ted Ankrum, a retired Naval officer and Vietnam veteran who challenged McCaul in 2006. He garnered 40 percent that year - and held McCaul to 55 percent - despite spending only $64,000. He has yet to file a fundraising report with the Federal Election Commission and likely won't receive the same national party support McDonald would have.

The Houston area-based 7th District is another in which Democrats were competitive in 2008, but won't be in 2010. Two years ago Michael Skelly, an executive at a wind energy company, spent more than $3 million and held five-term Republican John Culberson to 56 percent. The result appeared to foretell future challenges. Instead, Culberson is running unopposed this year.

There will also be no Democrat running in the 24th District, located outside Dallas, where three-term Republican Kenny Marchant is running for re-election. Marchant won with just 56 percent in 2008, down from 60 percent in 2006 and 64 percent in 2004. His opponent in the last election, Tom Love, spent $22,000 and won 41 percent.

The political winds have shifted dramatically in the last two years, and Texas is no exception. Democrats were on the rise and looked ready to mount serious challenges in historically solid Republican districts. Today, however, in the three most competitive Republican-held districts in Texas, Democrats either don't have a challenger at all, or an extremely well-funded challenger took a look at the district and said: Not this year.

Presidential Travel Favors Blue, Purple States

President Obama's trip to Georgia tomorrow will be his first as president. According to data shared by the indispensable Mark Knoller of CBS News, it will mark the 31st state the president has traveled to since taking office last January.

Looking more closely at those numbers, a pattern emerges that is hard to ignore. Obama has visited 23 of the 28 states he carried in November 2008, but only six of the 22 states carried by Republican John McCain. Broken into three broad categories:

  • Obama has made 47 stops in the 19 states he carried by more than 10 points (including 16 in neighboring Maryland).
  • Obama has made 44 stops in the 16 states where the final result was within 10 points (including 19 in neighboring Virginia).
  • Obama has made 4 stops in the 15 states that McCain carried by more than 10 points.

And some of those visits to deep red states were more incidental. His only stop in Wyoming, for instance, was a family trip to Yellowstone National Park. He stopped in Alaska only briefly to speak with troops at Elmendorf Air Force Base, while Air Force One refueled for the remainder of his trip to Asia.

It's the battleground states that have clearly gotten special notice. After Maryland, Virginia and New York, Ohio has seen the most visits with five. Pennsylvania, Florida and Colorado have seen three presidential visits, while Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Indiana and Missouri have been visited twice.

That's not to say all things are motivated by politics. Among the 20 states that have yet to see the president are the deep blue Vermont, Rhode Island, and Maine, just as the deeply red Oklahoma, Utah and Idaho are on his to-do list. But after tomorrow's stop in Georgia, there will be no state where the margin of victory for either candidate was 5 percent or less that he will have failed to visit.

After the jump, a full list of the states Obama has visited, including the total number of visits. Thanks again to Mark Knoller for his data:

Alaska - 1
Arizona - 3
California - 2
Colorado - 3
Connecticut - 1
Delaware - 1
Florida - 3
Hawaii - 1
Illinois - 4
Indiana - 2
Iowa - 1
Louisiana - 1
Maryland - 16 (does not include Camp David or Andrews AFB)
Massachusetts - 3
Michigan - 1
Minnesota - 1
Missouri - 2
Montana - 1
Nevada - 2
New Hamsphire - 2
New Jersey - 3
New Mexico - 1
New York - 7
North Carolina - 2
Ohio - 5
Pennsylvania - 3
Texas - 1
Virginia - 19 (does not include golf outings)
Wisconsin - 2
Wyoming - 1

Arkansas Lt. Gov. Bill Halter Challenging Sen. Lincoln

Arkansas Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D) now has far more to worry about than just Republican challengers in November. Lt. Gov. Bill Halter announced this morning in a video on his campaign Web site that he is taking on the second-term senator in the Democratic primary.

"Right now, Washington is not working for Arkansas families. But it ought to," Halter says in the video as he steps out of his pickup truck. "If you want your government dedicated to helping middle class families rather than protecting special interests, then join my campaign."

In his announcement, Halter describes his work in Bill Clinton's presidential administration helping balance the federal budget, and helping establish the "scholarship lottery program" as second in command in Arkansas. He says "it's past time to put more Arkansas values in Washington."

The primary takes place May 18.

Several Republicans had already lined up to challenge Lincoln, who either trails or statistically ties each in the polls.

The Week Ahead: Texas Tuesday

Thank you, USA men's hockey team, for an awesome couple of weeks and a valiant effort yesterday in the Gold medal game -- tying the score at 2-2 with 24.4 seconds remaining in the 3rd period before falling in overtime. We'll see you in four years, Canada.

It's been a month since the Illinois primaries, and it will be two months more until primary season really gets going. But on Tuesday, Texas has its day in the sun. Republicans have their first chance to decide whether they want another four years from Gov. Rick Perry, who succeeded George W. Bush in Dec. 2000. Challenging the incumbent are Republicans Kay Bailey Hutchison, who's currently serving her third full term in the Senate, and activist Debra Medina. Former Houston Mayor Bill White is expected to win the Democratic primary with ease.

Here's what else is happening this week in the world of politics:

White House: President Obama got a clean bill of health after a physical Sunday. Meanwhile his health care plan still has a pulse, but barely. We're expecting to hear as soon as Wednesday how the White House plans to proceed with the legislation, with a reconciliation vote in the Senate likely needed.

"I said at the end of Thursday's summit that I am eager and willing to move forward with members of both parties on health care if the other side is serious about coming together to resolve our differences and get this done. But I also believe that we cannot lose the opportunity to meet this challenge," Obama said in his weekly address.

Today, Obama will appear at an event for America's Promise Alliance, founded by General Colin Powell, focused on improving America's schools. On Tuesday, the president makes his first visit to Georgia since taking office for the latest stop on the "White House to Main Street Tour." As of now, he'll spend the rest of the week at the White House.

Capitol Hill: Following the health care summit last week, Democrats are attempting to push a health care bill through in the next four-to-six weeks. Democratic House leaders wouldn't say Sunday whether they currently had the votes to pass the Senate bill, but Speaker Pelosi predicted a "very positive result." Resigned to most likely having no Republican support, the Senate would need to make some fixes to its bill later through reconciliation, a legislative maneuver that circumvents a filibuster and requires only 51 votes to pass.

This week, Obama is expected to signal his preferred strategy for congressional Democrats to pass health care reform. The next several will be filled with making that happen, once and for all.

Politics: This week we have something of a Super Tuesday shaping up in politics. We start in Texas, where all eyes are on the Republican primary for governor. Gov. Rick Perry (R) is expected to lead the vote, but the question is whether he can get the 50 percent he needs to avoid a runoff vote next month. Democrats think a second round of voting could give them a real chance this November, with former Houston Mayor Bill White (D) as their nominee. There's also some interesting Congressional primaries on tap as well.

Also Tuesday, Mitt Romney's new book, "No Apology: The Case for American Greatness," is released. Some excerpts have been released, including his memories of the 2008 campaign and is thoughts on the early course of the Obama administration. As part of his book tour, he's scheduled to appear on Tuesday's "Late Show with David Letterman." He'll be up against Sarah Palin on the return of the Jay Leno-hosted "Tonight Show" on NBC.

On Friday, the Illinois state Board of Elections is scheduled to certify the results of last month's primaries. We're still waiting on the outcome of the ultra-tight Republican primary for governor. State Sen. Bill Brady led by just a few hundred votes, but state Sen. Kirk Dillard has yet to concede. If the final margin is more than 100 votes after the final totals are accounted for, Dillard said he would likely not seek a full recount, the Chicago Tribune reported last week.

**Poll Watch:
Obama Job Performance: Approve 47.8 / Disapprove 47.0 (+0.8)
Congress Job Performance: Approve 18.8 / Disapprove 75.6 (-56.8)
Generic Ballot Test: Republicans +1.1

**In Case You Missed It: Some politics news that dropped over the weekend: Republican John Linder of Georgia's 7th District announced he is retiring from the House this year; Indiana Rep. Baron Hill announced he will not make a bid for Evan Bayh's Senate seat, leaving Rep. Brad Ellsworth as the sole Democratic contender; and Joseph Kennedy III, an assistant DA in Massachusetts, announced he will not run for Democrat Bill Delahunt's House seat should he retire.

Team USA's loss in the gold medal game means two losing bets for West Wingers. President Obama now has to send a case of Molson Canadian to Prime Minister Stephen Harper (had USA won, Obama would have gotten a case of Yuengling). Meanwhile, press secretary Robert Gibbs will have to don a maple leaf jersey at one of his upcoming press briefings. He had gone double or nothing after the women's team lost to Canada as well.

2010 Winter Olympics Final Medal Count: USA, 37; Germany, 30; Canada, 26; Norway, 23; Austria, 16.

--Mike Memoli and Kyle Trygstad