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First thoughts: Fear and self-loathing

From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, and Carrie Dann
MIAMI -- "Fear and self-loathing in Miami" might as well be the name of the Republican Governors Association meeting, which begins a second day here. Yesterday, we witnessed the kind of self-analysis and second-guessing only heard on New York sports talk radio -- or at Democratic events. These are Republicans, after all; it's not supposed to be this way. From Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty's morning warning to an afternoon vent session, Republicans were at the same time assured of what to do and searching for answers. Everyone agrees things have to change and that they need to recapture significant and lost parts of the electorate. They were unanimous in their confounded praise of Obama's ground game and his ability to reach 10 million faithful at the click of a mouse.

*** Blame and silence: There was finger pointing, too -- at John McCain, who heads to Georgia today to campaign for Sen. Saxby Chambliss -- for not being able to use a BlackBerry or a TelePrompter; for not running a great campaign; for having his bouts with the party and not stirring the activist base. There were also his defenders, like Meg Whitman and Rob Portman, who insisted he was the best there was and was facing an incredible headwind. But when the conversation turned to Sarah Palin -- who holds a press conference here today and then gives remarks on the future of the party -- there was almost dead silence. No one seemed to quite have an opinion of the woman who, as some polls showed, was the second biggest drag on the McCain ticket after Bush. For all the talk of bluntness and honesty yesterday, no one was willing to necessarily throw her under the proverbial bus. "Would any of you been comfortable with her as president?" one reporter asked Rob Portman, Meg Whitman, Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, and Pawlenty. Then came an awkward pause before Portman and Whitman defended her. "Whatever you say is going to be the headline," a wryly-smiling Huntsman warned. The press corps laughed. It broke the ice. It appears the Republican governors are practicing a form of the golden rule: Do unto your other Republican governors who end up on national tickets how you want to be done unto if you get picked.

*** Today's RGA agenda: Palin holds her press conference at 9:40 am ET and then delivers her speech immediately afterward. Other morning speakers -- at a forum entitled "Looking Toward the Future" -- include retired Gen. Tommy Franks, Indiana Congressman Mike Pence, the Weekly Standard's Bill Kristol, Pawlenty, and South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford. At 12:30 pm, Govs. Charlie Crist, Rick Perry, Haley Barbour, and Sanford attend a roundtable with the press. And at dinner beginning at 7:00 pm, Perry and Crist deliver another round of speeches. 

*** The same old vs. change: Reuters has a provocative analysis piece wondering how Obama can bring change to Washington when he's tapping Clinton Administration veterans to help with the transition and the new Administration. Obama, "who swept the presidential election on a mantra of change, apparently believes it is Washington old-timers who are best equipped to steer the country in a promised new direction. Obama, drawing up lists of possible appointments for his administration, has come up with a host of familiar faces reaching back to former President Bill Clinton's team and beyond." (In fact, this exact question came up at last December's Des Moines Register debate, where Hillary Clinton said she wanted to hear the answer to that question and Obama replied, "Well, Hillary, I'm looking forward to you advising me, as well.") There are a couple of points worth making here. One, because Obama will be the first black president, he's never going to seem like your typical president; so no matter how familiar Obama's advisers are, he'll never seem typical. (Remember when Clinton tried to hit Obama for being just another politician. It never stuck because, simply, Obama never looked the part of "just another politician.") Two, just imagine the difficulty McCain would have picking Republicans who weren't veterans of the Bush Administration if he had won…

*** Retiring the debt: Yesterday, the Obama campaign -- under David Plouffe's name -- released a note to their email list asking donors to help purchase "Victory" T-Shirts to help retire the DNC's debt. "We've been reviewing the books, and the DNC went into considerable debt to secure victory for Barack and Joe," Plouffe said. "So before we do anything else, we need to help pay for this winning strategy." Just sayin', but note how they've sent out an email to help retire the DNC's debt, but not Hillary's. Hmmmm. Then again, Hillary's decision to rack up debt was her own, especially after she continued to campaign beyond the decisive Indiana and North Carolina contests. And the party's future doesn't rest on Hillary's finances; it does on the DNC's. Still, there had been hints during the summer from some Obama folks that they'd be a more effective surrogate fundraiser for Clinton's debt retirement post-election if Obama won. Well?

*** Is everything redder in Texas? Just a week after the election, there's already speculation about which other red states Democrats might be able to turn blue in future presidential races. And Texas -- which McCain won by 12 percentage points, down from Bush's 23-point win in 2004 -- is at the top of that list. A growing number of Hispanic voters, check. A sizable African-American population, check. A relatively young state, check. Sounds a lot like North Carolina or Virginia, right? Well, not so fast. Ideologically, Texas remains a very conservative state. Nationally, according to the exit polls, 34% identified themselves as conservatives, but that number jumped to 46% in the Lone Star State (it was 33% in VA and 37% in NC). In addition, Bush's job approval was 41% in Texas, compared with 27% nationally. (As we wrote yesterday, with the exception of Missouri, Obama won every state where Bush's approval rating was below 35%, and he lost every state where Bush's approval was above 35%.) Besides the Texan Bush, check out these numbers: While Obama almost tied McCain among white college grads nationally, McCain destroyed him in Texas among this subgroup, 74%-25%. And while Obama won the suburbs, the Texas 'burbs broke for McCain, 61%-37%. So what does this all mean? Don't bet the ranch that Democrats will win Texas in 2012 or 2016. Still, it will be interesting to see what happens to the Texas Republican brand now that a Bush isn't around to prop it up. 

*** Raising Arizona: By comparison, Arizona -- McCain's home state, which he won by nine points -- looks like a much better opportunity for Democrats, according to the exits. In that state, 36% identified themselves as conservatives (versus 34% nationally), and 37% approved of Bush's job performance (just slightly above that 35% mark). Also, Obama fared much better among college-educated whites in Arizona than he did in Texas, with McCain winning them, 58%-41% (versus the 74%-25% split in the Lone Star State). As we said before, had McCain not been on the ballot this year, Arizona would have been a real target for the Obama campaign. And it probably WILL be in 2012 without (most likely) another Arizonan on the ticket. 

*** The remaining Senate races: In Alaska, after tallying about 60,000 early and absentee ballots yesterday, Mark Begich (D) now leads incumbent Sen. Ted Stevens (R) by 814 votes. There are still about 40,000 votes that will be counted next week… In the Senate run-off in Georgia, McCain today stumps for Saxby Chambliss (R) as the National Republican Senatorial Committee has a new TV ad whacking Democrat Jim Martin. (Just askin', but will we see Obama in Georgia at all before the runoff?) … And regarding the Coleman-Franken recount in Minnesota, Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee chairman Chuck Schumer holds a press conference in DC at 1:00 pm ET to discuss the recount in Minnesota as the Republicans continue with their effort to call into question the entire re-canvass (and therefore the recount?) process.

Countdown to Georgia Senate run-off: 19 days
Countdown to Electoral Vote Count: 56 days
Countdown to Inauguration Day 2009: 68 days

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