From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, and Domenico Montanaro
*** Tea time: Who would have ever thought that a discussion of tea bags -- even used as a verb, from both the right and left -- would become a political topic, let alone a subject we'd mention in First Read. But here we are… On this Tax Day, some Americans are attending so-called "tea party" or "tea bag" events across the country to protest everything from tax rates and the federal bailouts, to the young Obama presidency. But let's be clear about one thing: These tea parties are hardly non-partisan events. While there's certainly a grassroots component here, these parties have been co-opted by a major America political party (the RNC's Web site allows for creating send-a-tea-bag post cards to Dem leaders) and an entire cable news channel (which has been promoting the events). The main Web site for the events today, Tax Day Tea Party, is funded by conservative groups, and a public records search shows it's registered to a conservative techie, Allen B. Fuller, who used to be a legislative correspondent for GOP Sen. Richard Shelby and who touts creating Web sites for Republican elected officials. Also reportedly involved in today's protest events are FreedomWorks, a conservative group founded by former House Majority Leader Dick Armey, and Americans for Prosperity.
Video: Thousands around the country attended outdoor "tea parties" on Tax Day to protest what they say is a government spun out of control with too much spending and too many bailouts. NBC's Lee Cowan reports.
*** What Republicans might stand to gain -- and lose: With its association with these "tea party" protests, the Republican Party does stand to gain here in a mechanical/process way. If it gets a huge turnout nationwide, it will be a bit of a test run for its social networking apparatus. The Tax Day Tea Party Web site, in fact, is reminiscent of what the Obama campaign was able to do with things like voter registration and grassroots meet-ups. You can click on a state and find where there's a local tea party in any state in the country. This kind of tech savvy could pay dividends in the long run. On the other hand, this whole thing could backfire if some unsavory elements (i.e., people saying and doing some very stupid things) attend these events. Also, what happens if today's parties don't capture the imagination of anyone beyond the GOP amplifiers of FOX and talk radio? Today has turned into a big test of the power of the GOP grassroots in the Obama era. The pre-game for these tea parties has seemed a bit scattershot. One can sense a hesitance from the establishment wing of the GOP about getting too involved in this movement, for the fears we've described above. Tax Day has normally been an easy P.R. hit for the GOP, but with the tea party gamble, the GOP doesn't seemed focused on good 'ol fashioned tax issues.
Video: On tax deadline day, President Obama argued that his administration is making the system fairer, while some critics expressed their objections to government bailouts and the ballooning budget deficit by lobbing tea bags onto the White House lawn. NBC's Savannah Guthrie reports.
*** Obama on Tax Day: As for what President Obama is doing on Tax Day, he will deliver remarks at 11:55 am ET about "restoring fairness to the tax code," as well as "providing tax relief to working families" in the stimulus, the White House says. How big of a political issue have taxes become? Not much, according to a recent Gallup poll. It found that 48% of Americans think the federal income tax they pay is "about right" -- one of the highest scores on this question since Gallup began measuring it in the 1950s. The poll also found that 61% believe the federal taxes they're paying are fair. In the last few years, the GOP has seen its advantage on the issue of taxes deteriorate, and it's something that has thrown the party for a loop -- as without taxes as a rallying cry, the GOP has found itself with fewer issues to brag to the public about.
*** Shad Planking: Some states have annual time-honored festivals that mix fun and food with politics. In Iowa, there's the state fair. In Kentucky, there's Fancy Farm. And in Virginia, you have Shad Planking, which takes place today in rural Wakefield, VA. That event -- named after shad fish cooked on wooden planks (trust us, it's an acquired taste) -- essentially kicks this year's gubernatorial contest in Virginia into high gear as we head into Sunday's Democratic debate (moderated by NBC's Andrea Mitchell), the June Democratic primary, and the November general election. Shad Planking starts at 2:00 pm ET, and gubernatorial candidates Bob McDonnell (R), Terry McAuliffe (D), and Brian Moran (D) begin speaking at 4:00 pm; a third Democratic candidate, Creigh Deeds, is skipping the event. At Shad Planking, the gubernatorial candidates will be able to test drive their campaign messages, as well as display their organizational muscle through the sign war, which the Moran folks are all but conceding to McAuliffe's campaign.
*** The never-ending recount: In the latest news in the Coleman-Franken race, the Democratic National Committee says it's airing a radio ad in the Twin Cities that calls on Coleman to concede. "Franken won the election in November, he won the recount, and now he has won a legal challenge filed by Norm Coleman," an announcer says in the radio ad. "Yet Coleman, and national Republicans who want to thwart the will of the voters, have vowed to file more appeals and hopeless legal challenges that will only result in more delay." A GOP strategist close to Coleman emails this response to First Read: "Democrats can beat all the pots and pans they want, it won't change the fact that we're appealing, we're going to the Minnesota Supreme Court, and we're going to raise serious questions about how the recount and contest were handled, period."
*** NY-20 update: As of yesterday afternoon, Democrat Scott Murphy was leading Republican Jim Tedisco by 47 votes (77,982 vs. 77,935), with absentee ballots still yet to be counted in Washington County, which Murphy won, and big Saratoga County, which Tedisco won. New York Democrats have been telling us that Republicans have been challenging a large number of Democratic absentee ballots to mask the size of Murphy's lead (the challenged ballots aren't counted in totals). And now we learn that Republicans have challenged Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand's (D) absentee ballot. While we don't know if Gillibrand's ballot is valid, Democrats have seized on this, and Gillibrand even wrote a Huffington Post piece about it. In this contest and in Minnesota, Republicans have made a BIG DEAL about counting every vote. If Gillibrand's vote is valid, that undermines that argument a bit, no?
Countdown to Obama's 100th day: 14 days
Countdown to NJ GOP primary: 48 days
Countdown to VA Dem primary: 55 days
Countdown to Election Day 2009: 202 days
Countdown to Election Day 2010: 566 days
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