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« Week In Midterms: Parties Stress Unity | Blog Home Page | Shepherding Kagan »

The Week Ahead: Specter's Kagan Problem

The week begins with a blockbuster announcement at the White House: Elena Kagan as President Obama's nominee to fill Justice Stevens' seat on the Supreme Court. Seven Republicans supported her nomination as solicitor general in 2009 -- Obama needs just one to cross party lines again to ensure a smooth confirmation, which the White House seems to expect with what has been referred to as a "safe" pick.

But one of the Republican "nay" votes last year points to another big story developing this week -- now-Democrat Arlen Specter's fight for his political survival in the Pennsylvania Senate primary. This Saturday, Republican Bob Bennett lost his re-election battle by failing to qualify for the primary ballot. Two more senators could potentially lose their primaries this month. That and more as we look at the Week Ahead.

The White House: President Obama is set to announce his second choice for a seat on the Supreme Court this morning in the East Room: Solicitor General Elena Kagan. Again, the early favorite is the final selection. The pick will be followed by an intense effort to shape the message in the critical early stage. This time, unlike with last year's nomination of Sonia Sotomayor, they'll have to fend off questions not just from the right but also the left, as some progressives are wary of her record on such issues as executive power. Expect Republicans to focus on Kagan's decision as Harvard Law dean to restrict military recruiters from campus. NBC, which broke the Kagan news late Sunday, has a good snapshot of the choice.

Also on tap at the White House this week is a big meeting Wednesday at the White House between Obama and Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai. The relationship is a tenuous one, and there was even some thought to canceling the visit after recent comments from the re-elected leader. On Thursday, Obama travels to Buffalo for an event focused on the economy; he'll end the day in New York raising money for the DCCC.

Capitol Hill: The Senate must now begin preparations for a Supreme Court nomination. After meeting personally with senators, Kagan must endure long sessions of testimony before the Justice Committee and then a series of votes. As solicitor general, Kagan has already been approved by the Senate -- though for a different job. Seven Republicans (Coburn, Collins, Gregg, Hatch, Kyl, Lugar, Snowe) voted in her favor last year.

Meanwhile, the Senate continues debate on the Wall Street reform bill, and the House is expected to take up the America Competes Reauthorization Act. The oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico will play a starring role in committee hearings this week, as executives from BP and others in the industry go before three congressional committees to discuss the spill.

Politics: Two states hold primaries this week: Nebraska and West Virginia. There's little action in Nebraska; Gov. Dave Heineman (R) faces no major opposition as he runs for a second full term in Nebraska, unlike four years ago when he defeated Rep. Tom Osborne (R). In West Virginia, the action is in the first Congressional District, where Alan Mollohan faces a potentially competitive primary battle against state Sen. Mike Oliverio. The AP notes that Oliverio has been critical of both Obama and Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

This is the final week of campaigning for two far more high profile races where incumbent Democratic senators have tough fights. The Muhlenberg tracking poll shows Rep. Joe Sestak (D) has now jumped ahead of Arlen Specter (D) in Pennsylvania. A new issue emerges in the stretch run there with Kagan's nomination to the High Court. As pointed out on Twitter by NBC's Chuck Todd, Specter, while still a member of the GOP and a senior Republican on the Judiciary Committee, voted against her nomination for Solicitor General. This complicates any potential late visit from Obama.

In Arkansas, Blanche Lincoln seems a bit safer in her fight against Lt. Gov. Bill Halter (D). But as Saturday's defeat at the Utah GOP convention of incumbent Robert Bennett shows, anti-incumbent sentiment remains a force to watch.

**In Case You Missed It: Bennett became the first incumbent to lose in 2010, and he surely will not be the last. The Salt Lake Tribune breaks it down correctly:

Bennett's multimillion-dollar fundraising advantage, conservative credentials and the backing of such Republican superstars as Mitt Romney, Karl Rove and Newt Gingrich couldn't save him in a year in which all of his perceived strengths were seen as flaws by many of the delegates.

This was not the year to be a senior member of the banking committee with ties to Wall Street firms, a defender of earmarks and the author of a bipartisan health reform plan.

**Poll Watch:
Obama Job Performance: Approve 48.3 / Disapprove 44.7 (+3.6)
Congress Job Performance: Approve 22.5 / Disapprove 70.5 (-48.0)
Generic Ballot Test: Republicans +0.7

--Mike Memoli and Kyle Trygstad