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First thoughts: The meaning of 60

From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, and Ali Weinberg
*** The meaning of 60: It lasted 238 days beyond Election Day and eventually entered all four seasons, but the never-ending Minnesota Senate race finally came to a conclusion yesterday, after the state Supreme Court unanimously ruled in Al Franken's favor and after Norm Coleman conceded hours later. Most significantly, yesterday's developments resulted in Democrats obtaining a filibuster-proof majority -- 60 votes -- in the Senate, and Dems want to have him seated by as early as Monday. Having 60 votes will shift the balance of power from the Republican Maine-iacs (Collins and Snowe) to the Joe Liebermans, Ben Nelsons, and Mary Landrieus, meaning that the upcoming fights over health care and energy will be on Democratic turf. Remember that stimulus debate back in February? Does anyone doubt it would have been different (in size and composition) had Franken been in the Senate then? As Rahm Emanuel told the New Yorker then, "No disrespect to Paul Krugman [who wanted a larger bill], but has he figured out how to seat the Minnesota senator?" 

*** The Democrats' challenges: Indeed, had Franken been in the Senate then, you could have probably added some $30-$50 billion to the size of the $787 billion stimulus; that was the cost of getting one more GOP vote, Susan Collins. But Democrats jumping for joy right now might want to temper their enthusiasm a bit. For one thing, conservative/moderate Democrats haven't always been easy votes to get. In fact, in the health-care debate, Dem senators like Max Baucus and Kent Conrad have been cool towards a public/government insurance option. Second, given the health problems of reliable Democratic votes like Ted Kennedy and Robert Byrd, it will be a challenge for Democrats to make sure they have 60 votes at a particular time. Yesterday's Franken news ironically coincided with Byrd's release from the hospital, and it's been more than a year since all 100 senators voted on a bill. So forget Harry Reid; getting to 60 is the hands of medical professionals, not political ones.

*** So what do Republicans do? Their initial spin is, "OK, no excuse time. Democrats have it all -- the House, the White House, and a filibuster-proof Senate." It's almost as if Republicans want to start their "change" campaign now. And that's what will be interesting to watch: Will they completely wash their hands of governing, and simply sit back like a columnist or talk radio host and just criticize, er, campaign? They can't obstruct on a party line vote, but they can rant. But can the Republicans keep this up for over a year and just sit by as a group, or do a handful of them (the Maine-iacs, Voinovich, Mel Martinez, Lugar, maybe Grassley) start going their own way and possibly work with the White House?

*** Other odds and ends: This is now the first time since the 95th Congress (1977-1979) that one party will have had 60 or more votes in the Senate; Democrats had 61 at the start of that Congress. Also, this wasn't the longest contested election. Per NBC's Marcie Rickun, the Senate Historical Office says the 1974 Wyman-Durkin race went through several stages of recount battles before the Senate finally declared the seat vacant at the end of July, 1975. Then, a new election was called, which took place on September 16, 1975. And there was an even LONGER Senate vacancy in Illinois in the 1920s... Finally, what does the future hold for Norm Coleman? Will he run for governor in 2010? Remember that Coleman lost statewide to a wrestler (Jesse Ventura) and a comedian (Al Franken), and probably wouldn't have won the lone race he did win without a death (Paul Wellstone's), though in that race he did beat a former vice president (Walter Mondale). Coleman's concession speech had "I'm running for office again soon" written all over it. The Republicans need a strong candidate for governor thanks to Tim Pawlenty's retirement, and because Coleman stayed and fight, he probably can raise a decent chunk of change nationally.

*** Chuck Schumer's legacy: One other thing worth pointing out in the Franken-Coleman news: In his two cycles as chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, Democrats were able to pick up a whopping 14 Senate seats (six in '06 and eight in '08). And when you add Arlen Specter's switch earlier this year, that means that Democrats went from having just 45 senators in 2006 to 60 today. That's a remarkable two cycles.

*** Back to health care: Turning to an issue that Democrats hope Franken's Senate vote will help them with -- health care -- President Obama holds an online town hall on the subject in Annandale, VA at 1:15 pm ET. Per the White House, questions will come from a live audience, as well as online communities like Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter. Valerie Jarrett will moderate the forum. By the way, don't think it went unnoticed that in the president's congratulatory statement and Franken's victory statement last night, both mentioned energy and health care. Coordinate much?

*** Where in the world is … Manuel Zelaya? Ousted Honduran president Manuel Zelaya traveled to Washington, DC, late yesterday, according to multiple sources. He was in New York earlier yesterday to meet with the United Nations. It's not clear where or who the ousted president met with in Washington last night. But it was made clear to us this morning that Zelaya has since left both Washington and the country. We're efforting more details.

*** Cable catnip, part 2: We knew that Todd Purdum's critical profile of Sarah Palin would get lots of attention. What we didn't know was that it would immediatley start a public war between Bill Kristol/Randy Scheunemann and Steve Schmidt. As Politico's Martin writes, "William Kristol … touched off the latest back-and-forth Tuesday morning with a post on his magazine's blog … pointing a finger at Steve Schmidt, McCain's campaign manager. Kristol cited a passage in Purdum's piece in which 'some top aides' were said to worry about the Alaska governor's 'mental state' and the prospect that the Alaska governor may be suffering from post-partum depression following the birth of her son Trig. 'In fact, one aide who raised this possibility in the course of trashing Palin's mental state to others in the McCain-Palin campaign was Steve Schmidt,' Kristol wrote. Asked about the accusation, Schmidt fired back in an email: 'I'm sure John McCain would be president today if only Bill Kristol had been in charge of the campaign. After all, his management of [former Vice President] Dan Quayle's public image as his chief of staff is still something that takes your breath away,' Schmidt continued." Folks, be sure to read the whole piece; it only gets better…

*** The Sanford story gets weirder: Finally, as he's trying to save his job -- not to mention his marriage -- what was South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford thinking when told the AP yesterday that he had "crossed the lines" with other women besides his Argentine mistress? "'Without wandering into that field we'll just say that I let my guard down in all senses of the word without ever crossing the line that I crossed with this situation,' he said, referring to his affair with Chapur." This guy is letting his mid-life crisis play out in public. Meanwhile, the Washington Post chooses to "go there" in a piece about Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer, the once and future governor, delving into the rumors about him.

Countdown to Election Day 2009: 125 days
Countdown to Election Day 2010: 489 days

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