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First thoughts

From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, and Carly Zakin
*** Tragedy In Minnesota: The collapse of the bridge in Minnesota yesterday -- including the deaths and injuries it caused -- is obviously putting political news on the backburner. A reminder, however, that the Twin Cities will host the 2008 Republican National Convention next year. Also, in a meeting with a slew of national reporters two weeks ago, Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R) was lamenting the fact that the country's infrastructure issues weren't rising to be part of the national debate either in Congress or on the presidential campaign trail. Look for every major metro area to have its own "could our bridge/tunnel be next?" stories, which could have a ripple effect politically. President Bush will have his first opportunity to comment on the tragedy when he makes a statement at 11:00 am ET after meeting with his Cabinet.

*** Hillary The Electable:

When Clinton announced her presidential bid back in January -- "And I'm in to win" -- the biggest question surrounding her candidacy was whether she could win, especially in a general election. In the nearly seven months since, however, those doubts have been erased due in large part to a campaign and candidate focused on the general election. The latest NBC/WSJ poll shows her not only leading Obama by 21 points, but also Giuliani by six points in a potential general election match-up. An electable and inevitable Hillary only seems to strengthen her chances of winning the Democratic nomination. But what happens if the Democratic race turns into a true primary campaign that's focused on red-meat Democratic issues? Clinton has said that the US is safer since 9/11, but only 27% of Democratic primary voters agree with that view. What happens when the electable candidate's current and past views don't mesh with her party's? For the Clinton camp, though, this is a good problem to have.

*** Set To Run The Table? Democrats aren't just in good shape for the presidential election. Per the poll, the Democratic Party has huge advantages over the Republican Party when it comes to Iraq, health care, gas prices, education, and even traditionally GOP issues like taxes and the deficit. "These are sobering numbers for the Republican brand," says GOP pollster Neil Newhouse, who conducted the survey with Democratic pollster Peter Hart. Republicans still have advantages when it comes to terrorism, values, and homeland security -- but those numbers are down considerably from a few years ago.

*** An Opening For Obama? Outside the horserace and the party scores, the most interesting finding in the poll is the lack of faith in American institutions. Just 27% say they have a great deal or quite a bit of confidence in religious leaders and organizations; just 18% say that of the media; just 16% say that of the federal government; and just 14% say that of Congress. "Americans' confidence is most institutions is really in the cellar," says Hart. "It is just amazing." What's also amazing is why someone like Obama with his audacity of hope -- or anyone else for that matter -- hasn't capitalized on this disillusionment. It's also a potential obstacle for Clinton: At the end of the day, will pessimistic voters looking for change turn to someone seen as part of the Establishment?
*** Tough Guy (And Gal): Speaking of Obama, if his plan was to become the center of attention yesterday with is terrorism speech, then he should declare mission accomplished. His call to take action inside Pakistan even without that country's consent created buzz -- both positive and negative -- but do note that both Clinton and Edwards agreed with him on that point. Missing in much of the coverage was the one statement Obama made that seemed to be an attempt to create a new fissure with Clinton: that we're less safe now than before 9/11. Clinton, meanwhile, gets another opportunity to rekindle her spat with the Pentagon in a closed Armed Services briefing on the drawdown of U.S. forces in Iraq, and then in a news conference later with John Kerry.

*** On The Trail: Elsewhere, Biden continues to promote his new book; Edwards holds a media avail in LA to discuss global warming; Giuliani meets with supporters in New Jersey; Huckabee campaigns in Iowa; McCain raises money in Seattle; Romney and Richardson hit Iowa; as does Michelle Obama, who is stumping for her husband.
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