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First thoughts: Hillary at State?

From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, and Carrie Dann 
*** Hillary at State? As we've learned with anything regarding the Clintons, one never knows exactly how serious the speculation might be. But let's assume the news -- reported last night by NBC's Andrea Mitchell -- that Hillary Clinton is in the mix as a potential Secretary of State is as serious as it appears. (Because if it's not, and her name is being floated only to be rejected, it's going to make her more upset. But we digress…) The best reason for Obama to be looking for a place in his cabinet for Clinton is simple: to get her out of the Senate. Just ask George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and Jimmy Carter what it was like to have a once or future presidential rival in the Senate serving as a one-person Roman tribunal. Remember how easily the press gravitated to John McCain in '01 or Bob Kerrey in '93 or Ted Kennedy in '77 to allow them to be one-senator judge/juries on Administration proposals? The upside for Obama putting Clinton at State (or even the Pentagon) is that it gets her out of the Senate and gets her out of the domestic policy debates. Also, one other thing to keep in mind if Clinton does end up at State, she'll be off the political circuit; it's considered unseemly to practice politics while serving in one of the big cabinet posts, especially at State or Defense. So this would mean no more Hillary on the stump for candidates, no more Hillary raising money, no more Hillary collecting chits. OK, we will now take First Read away from Machiavelli and turn it back over to the current authors.

VIDEO: Advisers say President-elect Obama is considering Hillary Clinton for secretary of state. NBC's Andrea Mitchell reports.

*** DNC debate: There's a fascinating story in today's L.A. Times about some hesitance by members of Team Obama to have the Democratic National Committee house the Obama political machine. Some, like Steve Hildebrand of Obama's field team, believe many of Obama's supporters will be turned off by having the DNC become the official political arm of the Obama Administration. Hildebrand thinks if Obama wants to cultivate his supporters to get them excited by various policy proposals, he should allow an independent group to be formed. But it appears Hildebrand's idea is a long shot, as the L.A. Times reports that Axelrod and Plouffe are leaning toward turning everything over to the DNC -- since they'll "own" the DNC.

*** In Da Club: As the Republicans gather all over the place to mull their future, one group wants to single out the conservative Club for Growth for hurting the party with moderates. In particular, the League of Conservation voters says it's finding it difficult to find moderate pro-environment Republicans to support, because the Club has been so successful knocking them off in GOP primaries. But the LCV notes the Club's record in general elections is not good. Club-backed candidates -- who defeated some Republicans the LCV would have supported or have supported -- lost congressional elections last week in MD-01, MI-07, and ID-01. In addition, their New Mexico Senate candidate also lost (and lost badly). Has the Club been too pure and ended up nominating candidates that are too conservative, allowing Democrats to win in places like, well, Idaho? The Club is going to have some defending to do (particularly with its donors) about how well the conservative purity game is playing out on the trail.

VIDEO: Sarah Palin was the media draw at the Republican Governors Convention, but the GOP shied away from embracing her. NBC's Michelle Kosinski reports. 

*** If you can't beat them, co-opt their message? Charlie Crist closed out the Republican Governors Association meeting last night with a speech that could be the kind of message that not only paves the way forward for the party, but for his own career on a national stage. He was post-partisan, stressing inclusiveness, working together, and above all getting things done. It was a polished, practiced speech about expanding majorities, instead of being pigeonholed to the base. Frankly, there seemed to be a lot of Obama in it…

*** T. Boone does "Meet": On Sunday, Meet the Press has an exclusive interview with T. Boone Pickens -- the Texas oilman, energy-independence advocate, and Oklahoma State football patron -- as well as a roundtable with Tom Friedman and Tavis Smiley. Pickens also appeared on Morning Joe this morning…

*** Rockin' the suburbs: In 2004, many exit pollsters pointed to George W. Bush's five-point lift over John Kerry in the nation's suburbs as one of the keys to the Republican's victory. In this past election, however, Obama flipped that Democratic deficit in the 'burbs to a two point advantage. But how much did it help him state-by-state? Obama won EVERY state in which he got more than 50% of the suburban vote. In two traditionally red states -- Indiana and North Carolina -- Obama lost the suburbs, but he improved on Kerry's suburban performance by double digits to pull off narrow wins in those states. In fact, Obama outperformed Kerry in the suburbs in every battleground state except for Missouri. As Charlie Cook writes today in his newest column, "When Democrats win the suburbs, Republicans are in trouble."

*** Take me home, country roads: It's safe to say that, at the beginning of the presidential race, pundits were not trumpeting predictions that a black man named "Barack Hussein Obama" -- who even claimed that small-town voters were bitter, clinging to their religion and guns -- would do better than John Kerry in rural areas. Nationally, however, Obama outperformed Kerry in rural areas -- by just three points. But get this: His performance versus Kerry in low-population regions shot up in a few states like Pennsylvania (+5), South Carolina (+9), and Texas (+5), where extended primaries (and their accompanying far-flung field offices) certainly couldn't have hurt the campaign's efforts to turn out rural voters. And Obama did very well with rural voters in another handful of states: Colorado (+14), Virginia (+9), New Hampshire (+5), Missouri (+7), and New Mexico (+8). What do those have in common? They were battlegrounds where Obama had offices throughout each state.

*** Remaining races: Not many new developments out there. In Alaska, Mark Begich (D) remains in the lead over Ted Stevens (R), with more absentee and early ballots to be counted next week… In Georgia, 2,000 turned out to see McCain campaign for Saxby Chambliss (R), while the Democratic Senatorial Committee is up with a brand-new TV ad hitting the GOP incumbent… And in Minnesota, there's an excellent piece reminding us that the changing vote-count total in the Coleman-Franken race isn't that unusual. "The night that Sen. Norm Coleman defeated former Vice President Walter Mondale in the 2002 U.S. Senate race he piled up more than 1,062,000 votes. But when all the ballots were certified two weeks later, Coleman had 54,000 more votes. It's TRUE. Between election night voting numbers, and two weeks later when the State Canvassing Board certified official results, Coleman gained 54,429 votes. Mondale's vote total also went up 63,192 votes, but not enough to beat Coleman. It's what happens in Minnesota elections. We just don't pay attention when the race isn't close." 

VIDEO: All eyes are on Alaska, Georgia and Minnesota as contests continue. NBC's Lee Cowan reports.

Countdown to Georgia Senate run-off: 18 days
Countdown to Electoral Vote Count: 55 days
Countdown to Inauguration Day 2009: 67 days

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