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First thoughts: Caroline's out

From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, and Domenico Montanaro
*** Caroline's out: Late last night, after conflicting news about her intentions, Caroline Kennedy pulled out from consideration for filling Hillary Clinton's New York Senate seat. "I informed Gov. Paterson today that for personal reasons I am withdrawing my name from consideration for the United States Senate," she said in a one-sentence statement. Her withdrawal comes after an almost two-month rollercoaster ride for Kennedy -- first announcing her desire for the seat and becoming the instant front-runner; then stumbling with the press; and then, before last night, seeming to be the favorite once again. Per NBC's Andrea Mitchell, a Kennedy spokesman would not say what the so-called "personal reasons" were that she cited in her statement. But other Kennedy family members and friends that Mitchell reached out to last night said it has nothing to do with any deterioration in Ted Kennedy's health. To the contrary, they said he has improved in recent weeks (Tuesday's incident notwithstanding). Mitchell adds that people close to the governor say his next choice would most likely be Congresswoman Kirsten Gillibrand from Upstate New York. A couple of other sources close to Kennedy also indicate that she was becoming increasingly uncomfortable by the fact that Paterson was getting strong-armed into appointing her. 

Video: In a surprise move, Caroline Kennedy withdraws her name from consideration to fill Hillary Clinton's now-vacant seat. NBC's Andrea Mitchell reports.

*** And what about Cuomo? The other possible replacement, of course, is New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo. But he has a couple of things working against him. For starters, Cuomo isn't a woman, and Paterson has at the very least signaled that he'd like to appoint a woman to fill Clinton's seat. (He noted to NBC's Mitchell on Tuesday that there were just 17 women U.S. senators.) Also, given the charges of nepotism that followed Caroline Kennedy after her name first surfaced for the job, it turns out that Cuomo comes from a political dynasty himself (although he certainly has a lengthier resume in public service than Caroline does). Perhaps the one thing in Cuomo's favor: If Paterson appoints him to serve in the Senate, the governor would eliminate a possible primary challenge from Cuomo for Paterson's own governorship. Then again, if Cuomo gets the nod, most of the statewide officeholders in New York would have gotten their jobs via appointment, not by the people.

*** What a crazy last couple of months: If anything, last night's news about Caroline Kennedy was just another reminder of how strange the appointments for the vacant Senate seats have been since Obama won the presidency last November. Ex-Delaware Gov. Ruth Ann Minner surprised the political world when she chose Ted Kaufman, a former Biden aide, to fill Biden's Senate seat, which opened the door to Biden's son running for it in 2010. In Colorado, Gov. Bill Ritter selected a virtual unknown -- at least to national political reporters -- in Denver schools chief Michael Bennet. And, of course, we don't really need to remind you about the craziness that occurred in filling Obama's Senate seat. It's also worth pointing out that Paterson's two-month process of trying to replace Hillary Clinton didn't really do anyone any favors, especially Kennedy and Paterson. If this lesson has taught Paterson anything, it's probably that it's best to make a quick but prudent decision and then stick to it. Oftentimes, playing Hamlet -- "to be, or not to be" -- doesn't get you anywhere.

Video: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrives at the State Department for her first day on the new job. 

*** Picking your fights: Although today is just Obama's third day in the White House, Senate Republicans seem to be having trouble picking fights with the new president and his incoming administration. Case in point: John Cornyn holding up Hillary Clinton's confirmation vote, then voting FOR her along with 93 other senators. ("My concern is not whether our colleague, Sen. Clinton, is qualified to be secretary of state or not. She is," Cornyn said. "And I intend to vote for her confirmation but I also believe it's very important to flesh out some of the concerns that have been raised legitimately." Now, Arlen Specter and other Republicans have delayed a Judiciary Committee vote on Eric Holder's AG nomination, even though fellow GOPers Orrin Hatch and Mel Martinez say they'll vote for him and Holder's confirmation appears likely. Are these really the fights that Republicans want to have right now? As John McCain said on the Senate floor yesterday, "We had an election, and we also had a remarkable and historic time [Tuesday], and this nation has come together as it has not for some time. I pay attention to the president's approval ratings. Very high. But more importantly, I think the message that the American people are sending us now is they want us to work together and get to work." The GOP is going to have plenty of time to have serious -- and unified -- policy fights with the Obama administration, and how they pick their fights could very well impact what happens in the 2010 midterms. In fact, House Republicans appear to be scoring more political points on the stimulus front, using the CBO analysis that it will take years, not months, for the money to help the economy.

*** The exceptions to the rule: Despite early praise for his executive orders instituting new ethics rules -- the headline in the Washington Post reads "Lobbyist Rules Surpass Those of Previous Presidents, Experts Say" -- the Republican National Committee is reminding reporters that two Obama administration picks (William Lynn for deputy Defense secretary and William Corr for deputy HHS secretary) were lobbyists and seem to violate Obama's rule on them. Then again, when you are in the midst of a honeymoon, you can get away with stuff like this -- for now at least. Still, isn't this a pretty blatant oversight of their rules? How much pressure can the GOP have in pushing the Obama administration on these appointments?

*** Obama's day: According to the White House, Obama will begin his day meeting with his economic team and then his senior staff (both are closed to the press). Next, he meets with retired military officers to discuss his proposed executive orders dealing with detention and interrogation policy. The Washington Post says that Obama today will issue an order "calling for the closure of Guantanamo Bay within a year, an immediate case-by-case review of the 245 detainees remaining there, and the application of new rules governing the treatment and interrogation of prisoners." And finally today, Obama will head to the State Department to meet with Secretary of State Clinton, and then two will address State Department employees. Also, stay tuned for the first Robert Gibbs press briefing, scheduled for 12:30-ish. 

*** Too much southern comfort? In our next installment examining some of the GOP challenges, we today take a look at geography -- specifically, the Republican Party's concentration in the South and few places elsewhere. According to the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, nearly half of the Republicans in the U.S. House (80 out of 178) hail from the South. By contrast, they have only 18 members from the Northeast (compared with the Democrats' 77), 45 from the Midwest (the Dems have 55) and 35 from the West (Dems have 63). In addition, December's NBC/Wall Street Journal poll showed that 33% of American adults in the South viewed the Republican Party favorably. That's compared with just 19% who viewed it positively in the Northeast, 25% in the Midwest and 28% in the West. Likewise, according to the exit polls, the South was the only region where McCain beat Obama, and it accounted for 32% of his vote (versus 21% from the East, 23% from the West, and 24% from the South). Republican rejoiced when they won those races in Georgia and Louisiana after Obama's election. The true test of the party's strength, however, will be in places outside the South.

*** Dean's exit: Despite the thunderous applause he received at yesterday's DNC meeting, where Tim Kaine was formally elected as the party's new chairman, Howard Dean's exit hasn't received that much attention in today's papers. It's quite remarkable that he is leaving without a job offer, not even an ambassadorship... Did the president call Dean and thank him for service? When is the last time the titular head of the Democratic Party spoke to the one-time ACTUAL head of the Democratic Party?

Countdown to RNC winter meeting: 6 days
Countdown to NJ GOP primary: 131 days
Countdown to VA Dem primary: 138 days
Countdown to Election Day 2009: 285 days
Countdown to Election Day 2010: 649 days

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