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First thoughts: Crist-mas for the GOP

From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, and Domenico Montanaro

*** Crist-mas for the GOP: Over the last several months, Senate Republicans haven't caught too many breaks when it comes to the 2010 midterms. They've had some notable retirements (Kit Bond, Judd Gregg, Mel Martinez, George Voinovich). Then Arlen Specter switched parties, giving Democrats the possibility of 60 seats once/if Al Franken gets sworn in. And last week, their best chance to hang on to Pennsylvania after Specter's defection -- Tom Ridge -- decided not to run. But today, Republicans finally get some good news when Florida Gov. Charlie Crist announces he's running for the Senate, giving GOPers their most high-profile recruit of the 2010 cycle and improving their odds of holding on to Mel Martinez's seat. But this is worth noting: Florida has closed primaries, meaning that you have to be a registered Republican to participate in the GOP primary. So that could make Crist's primary match-up against the conservative Marco Rubio, the former speaker of the Florida House, more competitive than many think it will be. In particular, Crist's public support of Obama's stimulus -- remember that Crist appeared at an Obama town hall on the subject -- could be a major issue in the primary. That said, a GOP official says that if Crist gets in, he will receive the National Republican Senatorial Committee's full support. "We think highly of Marco and believe he has a bright future, but Crist is the GOP's best hope of keeping this seat in the GOP column." *** UPDATE *** Here's Crist announcing on Twitter at 9:10 am ET: "After thoughtful consideration with my wife Carole, I have decided to run for the U.S. Senate."

*** An early look at the map: Despite this Crist news -- and despite their opportunities to get Republican Reps. Mike Castle and Mark Kirk to run in Delaware and Illinois, respectively -- Democrats are still poised to pick up more Senate seats in 2010, says Jennifer Duffy, who monitors Senate races for the Cook Political Report. Duffy tells First Read: "Florida looks better for GOP, and the jury is out on Ohio and Kentucky," where vulnerable GOP incumbent Jim Bunning may or may not run (he said over the weekend he's running). "New Hampshire is a problem for them, and Missouri is increasingly becoming one." But it's still VERY early. At this point in the 2006 cycle -- before Hurricane Katrina, before the Abramoff scandal got out of hand, and before the situation in Iraq kept getting worse and worse -- Democrats' best opportunities were only in Pennsylvania (Santorum's seat) and Rhode Island (Lincoln Chafee's). Missouri, Montana, Ohio, and Virginia didn't become strong pick-up chances until much later into the cycle. Translation: We've still got a long way to go…

*** Obama's second-straight day on health care: Despite the White House's enthusiasm over yesterday's event with health-care industry groups -- which pledged to help cut health costs by $2 trillion over the next 10 years -- the day-after coverage wasn't all that positive. The Washington Post says "the industry's promises fell well short of the White House's expansive claims." And the New York Times writes, "None of the proposals are enforceable, and none of the savings are guaranteed… At this point, cost control is little more than a shared aspiration." Yet Obama spends a second-straight day on health care, participating in a roundtable with business leaders at 11:30 am ET to discuss ways to cut employer health-care costs.

Video: President Obama is welcoming the health care industry's promise to cut $2 trillion in medical costs and promises to keep working to find a solution for uninsured Americans.

*** The amazing adventures of Barack & Michelle: Also today, at 2:25 pm, Obama and Vice President Biden speak at the National Association of Police Organization's Top Cops award winners. After that, the two meet with Gen. Ray Odierno and U.S. ambassador to Iraq Christopher Hill, and then they meet with Defense Secretary Robert Gates (all closed to the press). And finally, at 7:45 pm, the president and first lady attend a White House event of poetry, music, and the spoken word. Per the New York Times, the guest list for the event includes "actor James Earl Jones, the writers Michael Chabon and Ayelet Waldman (who are husband and wife), the jazz singer and bassist Esperanza Spalding and the pianist Eric Lewis. Lin-Manuel Miranda, who wrote and starred in 'In the Heights,' the Broadway musical that won a Tony last year, will also perform."

*** Meet Sonia Sotomayor: As we continue our SCOTUS shortlist profiles, today we look at Sonia Sotomayor. She currently serves on the Second Circuit in New York and was appointed to that position by Bill Clinton. BUT she was appointed to her first federal court appointment by President George H.W. Bush… She checks lots of boxes: Woman. Hispanic. Empathy… While working for the famed Robert Morgenthau in the New York District Attorney's office in the early 1980s, she described herself as a "liberal."… Also has drawn criticism for saying in 2005: "All of the legal defense funds out there they're looking for people with court of appeals experience because it is-- court of appeals is where policy is made." She tried to backtrack, but conservatives are already rallying to defeat her based on this.

Video: Executive Director for the National Republican Trust Political Action Committee, Scott Wheeler, explains why choosing the next Supreme Court Justice should be done through a bipartisan process.

*** More on Sotomayor: Other bio information: Child of parents born in Puerto Rico... Grew up speaking mostly Spanish... Raised in a public housing project in The South Bronx in the shadow of Yankee Stadium... Father died when she was 9... A diehard Yankees fan, she's credited as the judge who saved baseball, issuing an injunction that led the eventual settlement of the 1990s-era Major League Baseball strike... Described by the New York Times in the early 1980s as an incessant smoker… Divorced from Kevin Edward Noonan in 1983 after seven-year marriage (no children). She left the NY District Attorney's office a year later and went into private practice... Graduated summa cum laude in 1976 from Princeton after winning a scholarship to the school... Earned her law degree from Yale in 1979, where she edited the Law Review.

Countdown to NJ GOP primary: 21 days
Countdown to VA Dem primary: 28 days
Countdown to Election Day 2009: 175 days
Countdown to Election Day 2010: 539 days

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