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First thoughts: Bush's line

From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, and Carrie Dann
*** The Bush factor: Many have attributed Obama's win to his organization, his performance among minorities and young voters, his nearly unlimited campaign cash, and his response to the economic meltdown -- and all deservedly so. But don't forget how big of a role Bush's unpopularity played in this election. With the single exception of Missouri (which barely went for McCain after a delayed call from NBC News), Obama won every state where Bush's approval rating was below 35% in the exit polls, and he lost every state where Bush's approval rating was over 35%. The state with the highest Bush rating? Utah, at 47%, which supported McCain by a 29-point margin. The place with the lowest? Washington DC, at 8%, where McCain got just 7% of the vote. Nationally, according to the exits, Bush's approval rating stood at a stunning 27%, mirroring the all-time low hit in the late October NBC/WSJ poll. Of those nationwide who approved of Bush's handling of his job at the White House, 89% voted for McCain, while those who disapproved broke for Obama by a margin of more than 2-1. The state that mirrored the exit poll data on the approval vs. victory margin split? Virginia, where Bush's approval rating stood at 27% and where Obama won by a seven-point margin. 

Video: NBC Deputy Political Director Mark Murray offers his first read on the significance of Sarah Palin and the GOP governors meeting in Miami and John McCain's role now.

*** A new hope: The Republican Governors Association meeting kicks off today in Miami, where there will be plenty of opportunities to read the tea leaves for 2012. There's no doubt that most of the hope for the future of the GOP rests on the shoulders of many of these RGA members. On the agenda today: a luncheon at 1:15 pm ET featuring Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty; a 2:00 pm roundtable discussing the 2008 election (which includes Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour); a 4:10 pm press roundtable (with Pawlenty, former Congressman and Bush Administration official Rob Portman, and former eBay CEO Meg Whitman, who hopes to join the RGA as California governor in 2011); and a 7:30 pm reception featuring Barbour. Thursday is Palin Day at the meeting, where the Alaska governor will hold a press conference with reporters at 9:40 am and then deliver a speech afterwards. Also speaking tomorrow at a "Looking Toward the Future" panel: Pawlenty, South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford, Indiana Rep. Mike Pence, Tommy Franks, and Bill Kristol. And Thursday wraps up with a press roundtable (which includes Barbour, Sanford, Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, and Texas Gov. Rick Perry) and a state dinner (featuring remarks from Crist and Perry). There will be a lot of little sidebar stories to cover, including the budding RNC chair race as potential candidates are all making their way down to Miami this week as well.

*** Backtracking on lobbyists? Yesterday, the Obama team announced new restrictions on lobbyists for serving in the transition. Among the rules: Federal lobbyists can't contribute money to the transition; if they've lobbied in the past year, they're prohibited from working in the fields of policy where they have lobbied; and they're prohibited from lobbying the Administration for 12 months on matters on which they have worked. Yet it seems that these rules have opened up Obama to potential criticism that he's backtracked on an earlier promise he made during the campaign. Lobbyists, Obama once said, "will not work in my White House," although he later revised that line to say that they will not "run my White House." Are these new rules as strong as his language early in the campaign? No. Are these the strongest lobbyist rules for a White House transition that we've seen? Yes. But all this reflects Obama's struggle with keeping his campaign promises while facing the reality that so many people he may want to appoint might be people who have previously lobbied.

*** The Mormon church's power? The Atlantic's Marc Ambinder notes that the Mormon Church "has earned some serious cred in social conservative circles" after its work in helping to pass California's gay-marriage ban. Just askin', but does this have repercussions for Romney in 2012? Here's the official word from the church in an article a spokesman references: "Mormon church members undertook a perhaps unprecedented mobilization, contributing an estimated 40 percent of the individual donations made to the Yes on 8's $30 million-plus campaign. Yet the Salt Lake City church, which did not contribute to the campaign, sees its involvement in politics as unusual. 'I don't think there's any sense in the church that this coalition has more life beyond this one issue,' said Mike Otterson, a church spokesman. 'We haven't created a permanent alliance of churches here. What we did here was we came together to protect traditional marriage.'" Whether intentional or not, the potential help for Romney is this: to convince evangelicals that a Mormon in the White House wouldn't somehow undermine their own religion and their own values.

*** Si, se puede: During the sunset of Hillary Clinton's primary run, her supporters warned that Obama's failure to win Latino voters in the primaries spelled potential disaster for the general election. Those prognostications turned out to be overblown as Obama won 67% of the Hispanic vote, up from Kerry's 53% in 2004. Latino voters carved out a bigger piece of the electorate than in past years in every battleground state other than Florida, Georgia, and New Jersey. That includes jumps in relatively non-diverse states like Iowa (+2% from 2004), Montana (+3), and New Hampshire (+1). In the key Western states of Nevada and Colorado, Hispanics accounted for a 5% larger slice of the electorate than they did in 2004. In New Mexico, that number was a whopping 9%. And what about in those new swing regions where Obama mobilized coalitions of young and minority voters to flip red states into blue ones? In Virginia, Latino voters broke 2-1 for Obama and made up 5% of the electorate; in Indiana, they went 3-1 for the Democrat. In fact, this should be the single most worrisome trend for the GOP -- the spike in Latino turnout was across the country, not just in states that were already known to have large Latino populations.

*** The remaining races: Today, we might have a better sense of the outcome in the Alaska Senate race, when the state's Elections division expects to count most of the outstanding 90,000 early, absentee ballots or questioned ballots. Ted Stevens (R) currently holds a 3,257-vote lead over Mark Begich (D)… In Georgia, it's being reported that McCain will stump for Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R) on Thursday… And in Minnesota today, Secretary of State Mark Ritchie holds a press conference to provide additional details of the recount in the unresolved Coleman-Franken Senate race.

*** More on Minnesota: The Republicans may be struggling how to deal with rebuilding their brand, settling the Georgia Senate run-off, or dealing with the Ted Stevens situation. But the party -- both in Minnesota and nationally -- seems to have quickly settled on a strategy to deal with the Minnesota recount. The party apparatus seems to be in sync in labeling the recount and the recanvass as somehow a questionable process. Using the fact that Franken picked up so many votes during the recanvass, the GOP talking point appears to be to question the recanvass and use that to issue a cloud over the recount process. Bottom line: It appears we're quickly heading to a situation where neither side is going to believe the final result of the recount.

Countdown to Georgia Senate run-off: 20 days
Countdown to Electoral Vote Count: 57 days
Countdown to Inauguration Day 2009: 69 days

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