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First thoughts: Iran, Iran so far away

From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, and Domenico Montanaro
*** Iran, Iran So Far Away: Today's biggest political story isn't health care. Or the economy. Or Sarah Palin vs. David Letterman (although more on that below). Rather, it's the presidential election in Iran, where Mahmoud Ahmadinejad finds himself in a struggle for re-election. Per NBC's Dax Tejera, polls there close at 9:30 am ET, and we probably won't know the results for a while after that. Also, keep in mind that there will be a run-off if no one gets 50%, which could happen with multiple candidates running. While the economy has emerged as the top issue in this election, Ahmadinejad's defeat -- especially after Obama's recent Cairo speech, and after Sunday's victory in Lebanon's parliamentary elections by an American-backed coalition -- could be seen as anti-Americanism no longer being a political winner in the Middle East. As we asked earlier this week: Is a trend occurring in that region of the country? We'll soon find out.

Video: Millions of Iranians head to the polls to elect a new president, potentially ousting current leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. NBC's Richard Engel reports from Iran.

*** Obama's day: After his trip yesterday to Wisconsin, where he pitched his plans for health care, President Obama is back at the White House, where he meets with Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), and Zimbabwe Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai -- all of which are closed to the press. Also today, Vice President Biden travels to Michigan to tout the groundbreaking of a construction funded by the stimulus. Biden will be on "Meet the Press" this Sunday.

*** Murphy's "ark": Be sure not to miss GOP consultant Mike Murphy's column in Time (and appearance on "Morning Joe"), in which he argues something we discussed a lot after November's presidential election: Demographics is destiny, and (right now) demographics isn't on the GOP's side -- especially as it relates to young voters and Latinos. "Despairing Republican friends have been asking me what I think we should do to rebuild the GOP and begin our certain and inevitable comeback. My answer disappoints them: 'Build an ark,'" Murphy writes. "I say this because I've made a career out of counting votes, and the numbers tell a clear story; the demographics of America are changing in a way that is deadly for the Republican Party as it exists today. A GOP ice age is on the way." Murphy concludes, "Saving the GOP is not about diluting conservatism but about modernizing it to reflect the country it inhabits instead of an America that no longer exists." What Murphy says isn't new. What is surprising, however, is how few Republicans are taking this to heart, at least publicly. By the way, Murphy will also be on "Meet" this Sunday.

*** Inheritance vs. ownership: Just a couple of days after the New York Times' David Leonhardt analyzed that Obama's ambitious agenda has contributed to only a sliver of the deficit (the main culprits being Bush's policies and the economic downturn), NYT colleague Peter Baker asks this question: When does Obama start owning the problems he inherited from Bush? As he took office, most polls -- including ours -- showed that Americans were willing to give Obama a year or more. Of course, Obama is now approaching six months in office. Per Baker, "Analysts and historians say presidents can usually deflect fault in this way until their own policies have time to take effect. 'When a president tries new policies to deal with old problems and then new policies appear to be failed policies, then he owns it,' said George C. Edwards III, a presidential scholar at Texas A&M University. 'That's the challenge for a president.'"

*** Palin keeps up her crusade against Letterman: Sarah Palin spent another day blasting not Obama and the Democrats -- but late-night TV host David Letterman. In an exclusive interview on TODAY, in which she also answered other questions (on the future of the GOP, Alaska's pipeline), Palin once again accused Letterman of making an "unfortunate" joke about "statutory rape" regarding her 14-year-old daughter Willow (when Letterman joked about Yankees slugger Alex Rodriguez knocking up Palin's daughter). When NBC's Matt Lauer responded that Letterman said he was joking about 18-year-old Bristol, Palin replied that it was "a weak excuse." Then, as she did in her recent statements, the Alaska governor linked Letterman's comments into a broader theme about "degrading" statements about women. Finally, Palin denounced the media's "political double standard " by leaving Obama's children alone but not her children. Of course, Obama has always seemed more hesitant about keeping his daughters out of the public eye, while Bristol Palin has given interviews to TODAY and People magazine.

Video: Bloomberg News' Margaret Carlson talks about Gov. Sarah Palin's reaction to David Letterman's pseudo apology.
*** Just askin': Are Joe Sestak (who is looking like he will challenge Arlen Specter) and Marco Rubio (who is challenging Charlie Crist) the same guy -- someone the base adores, but who is trying to take down a more moderate (and perhaps more electable) opponent? And both are potential rising stars, but party-builders on both sides of the aisle are lamenting that they are wasting their future stardom on a quixotic primary challenge.

Countdown to Election Day 2009: 144 days
Countdown to Election Day 2010: 508 days

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