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First thoughts: Tracking the transition

From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, and Carrie Dann
*** Tracking the transition: Today's unofficial pick of the day appears to be Janet Napolitano for Homeland Security. A Napolitano pick would show that Obama views the immigration part of the DHS job as the priority. Of course, like every leak out of the vetting process, nothing is official; in fact one Dem source says that while she's a leading contender for DHS, it's not the only post she's being vetted for. Another governor to keep an eye on today as the next potential "leaked" pick: Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius. The vetting process is well under way for her, and the most likely spot for her appears to be Labor secretary, although she might also wind up at Energy. But Labor makes the most sense, as both the business community and labor seem to be fans. As for the media obsession over the Hillary Clinton pick, it appears Bill is making it clear he's cooperating fully. Bloomberg News reports that he's turned over to the Obama vetting operation the entire list of 200,000+ donors to his library and foundation. By the way, while we keep hearing about leaked picks for Commerce (Pritzker), Labor (Sebelius), DHS (Napolitano), and HHS (Daschle), it's interesting that there is nary a peep in the chattering class about Treasury secretary. How come?

Video: NBC Political Director Chuck Todd offers his first read on the Clinton's trying to force Barack Obama's hand on the secretary of state position and some of the latest contenders to join Obama's cabinet.

*** Como se dice, "Shut out"? As Obama's cabinet takes shape, there's a glaring omission: Hispanics. With Bill Richardson apparently destined to be the bridesmaid in the secretary of state sweepstakes, some key Hispanic supporters tell First Read that they are concerned that no Hispanics will fill any of the major White House or cabinet positions. It's a bit frustrating to some leading Hispanic Democrats, especially considering how decisively Hispanics went for Obama in this election. Hispanics, literally, were the difference between winning and losing for Obama in at least two states, New Mexico and Indiana. But for the future of the Democratic Party, if Obama truly does have designs on a realignment, he needs to cultivate Hispanics into the Democratic tent. So far, many Hispanics are not happy with the leaks coming out of the transition and the lack of Hispanic names being floated outside of Richardson.

*** The path to 60: If Democrats don't reach 60 Senate seats this year -- by winning both the run-off in Georgia or the recount in Minnesota -- they'll probably get there in 2010. Why? Because for yet another cycle, Democrats are playing with a favorable hand. They have to defend 16 seats, and outside the one held by Harry Reid (more on him below), as well as the ones that Obama and Biden are giving up, they look pretty safe for now. By comparison, Republicans will have 19 Senate seats to defend, including potentially challenging ones like Mel Martinez in Florida (even if he runs), Jim Bunning in Kentucky, and David Vitter in Louisiana. Folks like John McCain (especially if Janet Napolitano runs, although that looks less likely right now), George Voinovich, and even Chuck Grassley might have real races on their hands or could be candidates for retirement. In short, even with the Two-Year Itch, Democrats look more likely to pick up Senate seats than Republicans do at this early juncture. That perception could make it especially difficult for incoming NRSC Chair John Cornyn when it comes to the three R's: retirements, recruiting, and resources. Indeed, on the money front, Republicans might decide that they have better opportunities with House and gubernatorial races in 2010. Then again, it's early. At this point heading into the 2005-6 cycle, Dems looked like they would pick up just a couple of Senate seats, versus the six they ended up winning. But to take advantage of an environment that becomes more favorable, you need help with the three R's. 

*** When Harry met re-election: With Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid up for re-election in 2010 -- and with him being potentially the Dems' most vulnerable incumbent -- it's worth keeping an eye about how his actions in the Senate might affect his re-election bid. Indeed, is this one of the reasons that he and most of his colleagues gave Joe Lieberman just a slap on the wrist on Tuesday? You might have forgotten it, but Reid narrowly won re-election in 1998 by just slightly more than 400 votes. Of course, that race was against John Ensign, who ended up winning a Senate seat two years later. After the most recent election, in which Obama won the Silver State and Dems won Jon Porter's (R) House seat, Democrats have to feel better about winning in Nevada. But it still remains a swing state.

*** Southern comfort: Right before the election, we noted the danger of the Republican Party becoming a regional -- i.e., southern -- party. Well, after the House and Senate conducted its leadership elections in the past two days, we know that southerners will now fill six out of the GOP's combined 13 leadership positions in the two chambers. They are: House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (VA), House Conference Secretary John Carter (TX), NRCC Chairman Pete Sessions (TX), Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (KY), Senate Conference Chair Lamar Alexander (TN), and NRSC Chair John Cornyn (TX).

*** Just wonderin': But it does seem as if Michael Steele is trying to win the early media war for RNC chair? In fact, because of Steele's FOX News contract, he's on the air daily talking to GOP partisans who watch that news channel. So it's a grassroots advantage that neither Saul Anuzis, nor Katon Dawson, nor others have. At what point do you put FOX down as an endorser of Michael Steele's campaign?

*** The remaining Senate races: In Minnesota, with about 18% of the vote recounted, the Minneapolis Star Tribune says that Norm Coleman's (R) lead is now at 174 votes, down from the 215-vote lead that was certified on Tuesday. "Franken's gain owed much to a swing of 23 votes in the Democratic stronghold of St. Louis County -- the result of faintly marked ballots and older optical scanners that failed to read the marks." … And for the Georgia run-off, there's tons of coverage of Bill Clinton campaigning yesterday for Jim Martin (D). and

*** More on Minnesota: The Minnesota recount is going to be some story to follow. In addition to the Star Tribune is doing its best to update the count by incorporating new tallies into the official count, Minnesota Public Radio is posting various ballots being challenged. This, in fact, is hours of fun. 
 
Countdown to Georgia Senate run-off: 12 days
Countdown to Electoral Vote Count: 49 days
Countdown to Inauguration Day 2009: 61 days

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