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First thoughts: Much ado about nothing

From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, and Domenico Montanaro
*** Much ado about nothing? Is it bad news for the Obama White House that abortion-rights groups are suddenly worried about Sonia Sotomayor's record (or lack thereof) on abortion? Or it is it actually good news, given that it could deflect a lot of the conservative criticism against her nomination? Here's the front-page headline in today's New York Times: "On Sotomayor, Some Abortion Rights Backers Are Uneasy." The L.A. Times has a similar headline: "Abortion Rights Groups Concerned About Sotomayor's Stance." Honestly, this news is a gift for Team Obama. Let's get this straight: So the president didn't impose a litmus test on abortion? Is that a problem? Also, would a constitutional scholar like Obama not be able to discern someone's opinion on the ultimate contentious issue before the court? Of course, there's always the potential that a Supreme Court pick, once on the court, could end up voting in unpredictable ways (see David Souter, the man Sotomayor would replace). But also do realize that this stated unease could actually be a potential straw-man argument to help pro-choice groups raise money. After all, interest groups on both the left and right use Supreme Court fights as a fundraising tool. And abortion-rights groups may have found a peg, even if it's much ado about nothing.

Video: David Gregory, moderator of "Meet the Press," and NBC's Chuck Todd join the Morning Joe gang to discuss the battle to define federal judge Sonia Sotomayor and the looming confirmation process.

*** How not to help your Latino and female outreach: After Senate Republicans took a measured wait-and-see approach to Sonia Sotomayor's nomination after it was announced, we're guessing that these same folks aren't enjoying seeing Rush Limbaugh, Newt Gingrich, and Tom Tancredo leading the charge against her. In the past couple of days, these three men -- in one form or another -- called Sotomayor a racist, and Limbaugh added yesterday that she's an "angry woman." Just sayin', but these statements probably aren't what the doctor ordered as the GOP tries to improve its performance with Hispanic and female voters. There's no doubt that some of Sotomayor's opinions (like the one regarding the New Haven firefighters) and past speeches (on the "wise Latina woman") are controversial and warrant scrutiny during the confirmation hearings. But with all signs pointing to the fact that she will be confirmed, is this kind of talk helpful to the GOP?

*** From Hollywood to the Middle East: Last night in Los Angeles, Obama raised some $3 to $4 million for the DNC. In attendance, per the L.A. Times, were some of the biggest names in Hollywood: Seth Rogin, Marisa Tomei, Kiefer Sutherland, Jamie Foxx, Ron Howard, Steven Spielberg, Jeffrey Katzenberg, Antonio Banderas and Melanie Griffith, and Tyler Perry. At 10:35 am ET, Obama leaves the West Coast, arriving back at the White House at 3:15 pm. Forty-five minutes later, he meets in the Oval Office (closed press) with Palestinian President Abbas. And then, at 4:45 pm, he holds an expanded meeting (pool spray) with the Palestinian leader. 

Video: Msnbc's Courtney Hazlett reports on President Obama's return to Hollywood to give thanks to the celebrities who opened their wallets and helped get him elected.

*** California's woes: Speaking of Obama's stop in Los Angeles yesterday, the White House has found itself on the defensive over whether his California visit showed enough compassion for the state's fiscal woes. In fact, the state's financial problems are so bad that Treasury Secretary Geithner was asked at a recent congressional hearing whether he thought he could use the same money set aside to bail out the banks and car companies to bail out California. The White House knows there are no easy answers for California, and they fear that if they go out of their way to bail out -- or even show extra compassion for the nation's largest state -- 49 other states will be looking for their attention.

*** Sestak to challenge Specter? One other person who was in attendance at last night's fundraiser with Obama was brand-new Democrat Arlen Specter. Yet on the very same day, fellow Pennsylvania Democrat Joe Sestak said on MSNBC's "The Ed Show" that he's intending to primary Specter, "pending a final family decision" that could come in the "not too distant future." A new Quinnipiac poll shows Specter ahead of Sestak, 50%-21%. The poll also shows Specter leading Pat Toomey (R) in a general election match-up by nine points (46%-37%), which is down from Specter's 20-point lead (53%-33%) earlier this month. 

Video:  Rep. Joe Sestak joins "The Ed Show" to discuss whether he will run against Sen. Arlen Specter, D-Pa., in the Pennsylvania primary.

*** Jersey boys: As we and others have observed, the Republican Party is undergoing an important debate that might not be resolved anytime soon: Does it aim for the political middle, or does it remain planted firmly on the right? Is being a moderate a virtue, or a curse? And what is more desirable, winning races or ideological purity? This GOP fight is occurring across the country -- in Florida, where Charlie Crist squares off against Marco Rubio; in Texas, where Kay Bailey Hutchison is running against Rick Perry; and in New Jersey, where the moderate Chris Christie faces off in a gubernatorial primary against the more conservative Steve Lonegan this coming Tuesday. Recent polls show Christie with a comfortable lead. But the Cook Political Report's Jennifer Duffy says Lonegan still has a shot. "Lonegan is praying for rain," she said. "The lower the turnout, the better he does. I still think it's hard. But to his credit, he has made this more of a race than it ought to be." The question for many observers: After Tuesday's outcome, will Republicans find themselves in a stronger position to challenge the very vulnerable Jon Corzine? Or a weaker one? Then again, a recent Quinnipiac poll showed Corzine trailing both Christie and Lonegan. For what it's worth, Mitt Romney this morning endorsed Christie.

Countdown to NJ GOP primary: 5 days
Countdown to VA Dem primary: 12 days
Countdown to Election Day 2009: 159 days
Countdown to Election Day 2010: 523 days

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