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First thoughts: A successful trip?

From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, and Domenico Montanaro
*** A successful trip? At 7:20 am ET, Air Force One departed from Istanbul and is now headed back to the United States, bringing President Obama's eight-day overseas trip to an end. Per NBC's Abby Livingston, Obama held 18 bilateral meetings with current or former world leaders, gave two major speeches (in Prague and Ankara), held two town halls (including one today in Istanbul), conducted six news conferences, took at least 35 questions from the press, and will have traveled some 10,000 miles. Was the trip a success? While the president didn't get Europeans to commit to a stimulus and didn't get more combat troops for Afghanistan, it's hard to say that it wasn't a P.R. triumph. The reception Obama got from world leaders was extraordinary, and the latest CBS News/New York Times poll suggests he got a bump in his poll numbers. But his presidency won't be judged what happened on this trip; rather, it will be judged on what happens afterward. The question for Team Obama is whether they laid the foundation for future diplomatic success. In a way, the trip was like a presidential candidate's first events in Iowa. A good start doesn't guarantee you'll win the caucuses, but it sure makes it easier to do so. 

*** Wrapping up Obama's last day: In his final events on his trip, Obama met with religious leaders, toured the Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque, and held a town hall with Turkish students. "I am personally committed to a new chapter in American engagement,' Mr. Obama told the students, per the New York Times. "We can't afford to talk past one another and focus only on our differences, or to let the walls of mistrust go up around us." Obama also said, per the Washington Post: "You will find a friend and a partner in the United States of America… I am personally committed to a new chapter in American engagement."  
 
*** The never-ending recount: Today -- 155 days since Election Day -- we reach yet another milestone in the Coleman-Franken race when, beginning at 10:30 am ET, Minnesota officials start counting 387 absentee ballots that the three-judge panel ruled could be opened. The count is expected to last about an hour or so, and Coleman will need to win an overwhelmingly majority of these opened ballots to erase Franken's 225-vote lead. These ballots aren't the final matter to be resolved, however. There's still the issue of duplicate ballots, as well as those missing Minneapolis ballots. But once they're all resolved -- which will happen either today or sometime later this week -- we'll have a final vote tally. At that point, expect one side (probably Franken's) to declare victory and the other (probably Coleman's) to appeal to the Minnesota Supreme Court. Yesterday, Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R) told MSNBC's Norah O'Donnell that he wouldn't sign a certificate of election until the appellate process had run its course. "It's frustrating that this is taking so long," Pawlenty said. "But we need a proper and just and accurate and legal result and it looks look it's going to take a few more months to get that." A few more months? 

*** 155 Days vs. 316 days: Given today's activity in the Minnesota recount, now is as good of a time as any to take a ride in the Way Back Machine to look at the race that started recounts -- the open 1974 New Hampshire Senate race between Republican Louis Wyman, a Harvard Law grad and former congressman, and Democrat John Durkin, an upstart state insurance commissioner. Wyman, struggling in an election year following the Nixon Watergate scandal, led by 355 votes after the votes were first tallied on Nov. 5, 1974. But Durkin took what was then the unusual step of challenging the election after Senate Democratic leaders "Scoop" Jackson and Walter Mondale gave him the idea. It's still the longest Senate recount in history and was a precedent-setter. Eventually, the state gave up on the recount and went with a special election -- 316 days later in September 1975. That election saw a greater turnout, and Durkin won it by 27,000.

*** How much trouble is Jim Gibbons in? Another sign that Nevada Gov. Jim Gibbons (R) isn't going to have an easy time running for re-election next year? "The state's first lady, Dawn Gibbons, is accusing Gov. Jim Gibbons of having extramarital affairs with two women in divorce papers unsealed in Reno," the AP writes. "Ms. Gibbons says in the filings unsealed by a court order that the governor, a Republican, has been untruthful about his 'infidelity' with the two women. The governor maintains that both women are just friends." 

*** Replacing Rahm: Finally, today is the special congressional election in IL-5, Rahm Emanuel's old seat. Democrat Mike Quigley, a county commissioner, is expected to walk to a victory after winning a primary last month that saw 23 candidates on the ballot. This Chicago district is heavily Democratic. Emanuel won his last election with 76% of the vote. "Cook County Commissioner Mike Quigley isn't taking anything for granted even though he's the favorite in Tuesday's special congressional race," the AP says, adding: "Quigley, who campaigned as a reformer and fiscal watchdog, wants to temper the perception that he's a shoe-in for the general election because he doesn't want apathy to keep voters away from the polls."

Countdown to Obama's 100th day: 22 days 
Countdown to NJ GOP primary: 56 days
Countdown to VA Dem primary: 63 days
Countdown to Election Day 2009: 210 days
Countdown to Election Day 2010: 574 days

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