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First thoughts: Palin-palooza

From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, and Carrie Dann
*** Palin-palooza: Just in case you didn't get enough of Palin during the final two months of the election, she is now conducting another round of national interviews, including one with NBC's Matt Lauer that aired this morning on TODAY. (She told Lauer she was disappointed she wasn't able to give a concession speech so she could brag up McCain; she was "flabbergasted" about the shopping spree story, saying she had never asked people to buy her anything; and she said that she didn't want to get into "inside-baseball strategy" when asked whether the McCain camp did a poor job managing her interview requests.) Then later this week, Palin heads to the Republican Governors Association meeting in Miami, where she will hold a press conference, give a speech, and stoke further speculation about a possible 2012 presidential bid. All of this comes just ONE WEEK after the GOP presidential ticket lost. (By comparison, McCain goes on Leno tonight to give his first interview since losing.) No doubt Palin still remains a compelling story. And, as we wrote yesterday, she also has to defend herself to protect her reputation -- especially since Alaska is so far away. But at what point does this Northern Exposure become too much? And when do Alaskans begin demanding that, after two months on the trail, she return to her day job full time? 

*** Traditionalists vs. reformers: All the attention on Palin comes as David Brooks today writes about a divide in the Republican Party between Traditionalists (many of whom champion Palin) versus the Reformers (who want a more inclusive, modern, and moderate GOP). Brooks argues that -- at least in the short term -- the Traditionalists are going to win. "There is not yet an effective Republican Leadership Council to nurture modernizing conservative ideas. There is no moderate Club for Growth, supporting centrist Republicans… Reformist Republican donors don't seem to exist. Any publication or think tank that headed in an explicitly reformist direction would be pummeled by its financial backers. National candidates who begin with reformist records — Giuliani, Romney or McCain — immediately tack right to be acceptable to the power base." By the way, NBC's Ana Maria Arumi crunched exit poll numbers on Palin for David Gregory's "1600" on MSNBC. The results: The voters who found her to be qualified to be president were Republicans (74%), from the South (45%), and from rural areas (45%). She greatly underperformed among college grads (35%), independents (35%), and in the suburbs (40%).

*** Will he stay or will he go? This has become one of more talked-about questions in Washington: Will Bob Gates remain as Defense secretary in an Obama Administration? NBC's Jim Miklaszewski reports that, per sources familiar with the transition game plan, the Obama folks would like for Gates to stick around for around nine months before a Democratic deputy secretary takes over. But a Defense official tells Mik that Gates would not want to be seen as simply a "transitional" or "holdover" Defense secretary. The official says if the Obama Administration imposed a specific timetable for a departure, Gates could immediately be labeled a "lame duck" secretary -- whose authority could be easily dismissed or even undermined by the new team of Democratic appointees. If anyone could pull it off, Mik writes, it would be Gates. But to make sure, Gates would likely ask that the timetable for any extended term in the Pentagon be loosely defined as "under four years," giving both Obama and Gates the necessary wiggle room for a gradual but smooth and orderly transition. And that, Mik adds, has always been Gates' ultimate objective, whether he leaves or stays. Our two cents: If all they are working out is a timeline, and this isn't a staffing issue, then this deal might get done. 

*** Obama's performance with white voters: We took a look at Obama's performance with white voters in all 50 states. In 13 of them, Obama received less than 35% of the white vote. His three lowest performing states: Alabama (10%), Mississippi (11%), and Louisiana (14%). The other 10: GA (23%), SC (26%), TX (26%), OK (29%), AR (30%), UT (31%), AK (32%), WY (32%), ID (33%), and TN (34%). On the other hand, Obama won the white vote in 18 states and DC: CA, CO, CT, DE, DC, HI, IL, IA, ME, MA, MI, MN. NH. NY. OR, RI, WA, WI and VT. Obama's lowest percentage of the white vote he received in a state that he won: NC (35%). The highest percentage of the white vote Obama received in a state he lost: MT (45%).

*** McCain's underperformance: Channeling John Harwood of CNBC and the New York Times, we also looked at the state-by-state vote totals. And we found that Obama's wins in many battlegrounds weren't solely a result of Obama increasing Kerry's totals from 2004; they were also because McCain's performance was DOWN from Bush's in 2004. (See our "Unbuilding 2008" section for the stats here.) In short, we saw a one-sided rise in turnout. Had McCain's turnout increased at the same rate as Obama's in many of the battleground states, we would have topped 140 million, which was the argument some in the McCain campaign were making. They needed a HUGE turnout -- and they didn't get it.

*** The Graduate(s): Number crunchers have already unpacked the college split for this election cycle to show Obama's gains among grads. (In 2004, 42% of voters nationwide were college graduates, and they split equally for John Kerry and George W. Bush. This time, that number was boosted to 44%, and the vote broke 53%-45% in the Democrat's favor.) But consider this: In 2008, college-educated voters outnumbered non-college grads at the polls in eleven states (CO, VA, NH, PA, NJ, CT, MD, NY, MA, VT, and DC). Barack Obama won all of them -- by an average of more than 24 percentage points. In states that McCain won, on average, 42% of voters were college grads. In states that Obama won, on average, 47% had a college diploma.

*** The remaining races: The likely December 2 run-off in Georgia between incumbent Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R) and challenger Jim Martin (D) is charging full speed ahead. The National Republican Senatorial Committee has a new Web video arguing that Martin win could mean 60 votes and a rubber stamp for Obama (although that assumes that Stevens and Coleman will lose in Alaska and Minnesota). Moreover, Huffington Post reports that Obama is dispatching aides to Georgia to help Martin. And it appears that GOP big-wigs, including McCain, will campaign for Chambliss.

*** He's baaaack…: The AP writes, "Two-time presidential candidate John Edwards is returning to the public stage for a speech, three months after he acknowledged an affair with a woman hired to produce videos of him in 2006. Edwards is scheduled speak Tuesday night about the election at Indiana University. The school said the public lecture will also include a question-and-answer session."

Countdown to Electoral Vote Count: 58 days
Countdown to Inauguration Day 2009: 70 days

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