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First thoughts: Dems back at 60

From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, and Ali Weinberg
*** Dems back at 60: That didn't take long, did it? Almost a month after Ted Kennedy passed away, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick (D) is expected to name an interim successor at 11:00 am ET at the State House in Boston, according to NBC's Kelly O'Donnell. This move comes after the Democratic-controlled Massachusetts Legislature quickly changed its succession law to return to the Democrats their 60th Senate seat. All signs -- and reporting -- point to Patrick picking Paul Kirk, a former DNC chairman and Kennedy aide. Of course, as the news of Sen. Robert Byrd's (D) recent hospitalization reminded us, 60 sometimes seems like more of a mirage than a reality for the Democrats.

*** Obama's 'Steel City' obsession: President Obama begins his day at the United Nations, where he'll chair the U.N. Security Council meeting. Then he heads about 350 miles west to Pittsburgh to take part in the G-20 economic summit there. Pittsburgh has become a special place in Obama's heart. He campaigned there a bunch -- both in the primaries and general election. He developed a strong bond with the Rooney family, tapping Dan Rooney as ambassador to Ireland and rooting for his Steelers in the Super Bowl. He visited the city last week at the AFL-CIO's convention in the city. And he said this at a recent ceremony for the Stanley Cup-winning Pittsburgh Penguins: "As many of you know, I have a special place in my heart for Pittsburgh, and so if it can't be the [Chicago] Blackhawks, then the Penguins aren't a bad choice." Of course, it's perhaps no coincidence that Pittsburgh is the swing voting area of the part of the country -- Pennsylvania and Eastern Ohio -- he has to keep to stay president. Regarding the G-20, remember that it was planned as an "in case of" summit if the economy was still in a deep, deep recession. Now that's not the case, it's all about regulation and an exit strategy for government intervention.

*** Who's the boss? During the presidential campaign, in his press conference from Jordan, Barack Obama made this point: that the president of the United States is the ultimate decision-maker on military matters, not the generals. "In terms of my conversations with Gen. Petraeus, there's no doubt that Gen. Petraeus does not want a timetable [in Iraq]," he said back then. "But keep in mind, for example, one of Gen. Petraeus' responsibilities is not to think about how could we be using some of that $10 billion a month to shore up a U.S. economy that is really hurting right now? If I'm president of the United States, that is part of my responsibility." That strong belief, however, is certainly being put to the test now that top U.S. military commanders seem to be backing Gen. Stanley McChrystal's request for more troops in Afghanistan. Speaking at the National Press Club yesterday, Petraeus said that both he and Joint Chiefs Chairman Mike Mullen endorsed McChrystal's recent assessment of the situation in Afghanistan, per NBC's Courtney Kube. 

*** Getting back on the same page: Interestingly, we are hearing a new spin from the White House about McChrystal's request. They are saying that his report was written BEFORE Afghanistan's questionable elections, which have raised doubts about whether the Karzai government can be a reliable partner. The bottom line: The White House knows the debate over Afghanistan has been too public, and it hopes to get back on same page with Defense Secretary Gates and Secretary of State Clinton from here on out. Notice from whom we may NOT hear on this: Vice President Biden, who reportedly is the most skeptical person in the administration on the subject on sending more troops to Afghanistan.

*** Rahm and the public option: Meanwhile, Charlie Rose conducted a fascinating interview with White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel yesterday. In it, Emanuel didn't insist on a public option, which could enrage the left (then again, if the left didn't already know this, it hasn't been paying attention…) "ROSE: And it will not have a public option feature? EMANUEL: I'm not -- that should be what the conference has to negotiate. But I don think -- you know. ROSE: Can it pass with a public option feature? EMANUEL: I think the Senate's been clear about what -- the prospects there. That doesn't mean in the House that they're not going to come to the table and demand that…" Be sure to read the entire Rose interview. It provides a rare glimpse into Rahm's governing philosophy in general…

*** When acting like the victim doesn't help: David Paterson and Co. certainly aren't going down without a fight. Yesterday, Paterson's wife, Michelle, told the New York Post that it was "very unfair" for the White House to encourage "the first African-American" governor of the state not to run in 2010 (even though he didn't win election to the post). Then to NBC's New York affiliate, she noted that Paterson's poor poll numbers and political standing were due, in part, to his blindness. And also yesterday, the governor spoke at a luncheon organized by the AP, where he said he never envisioned being governor and admitted that he instead wanted Hillary Clinton's Senate seat -- if she won the presidency. "I wanted to be lieutenant governor," Paterson said. "I had this grand plan that Hillary Clinton was going to become president. Maybe the governor would appoint me to the Senate." While Paterson may have looked like a political victim on Monday and Tuesday, that isn't the case anymore. By the way, Paterson will appear on "Meet the Press" this Sunday.

*** 2009 watch: And in New Jersey, the Corzine campaign (D) released a TV ad yesterday that appears to refer to opponent Chris Christie's (R) weight. The ad goes, "If you drove the wrong way down a one-way street, causing an accident and putting the victim in a trauma center, would you get away without a ticket? Chris Christie did," adding later: "Christie threw his weight around as US Attorney and got off easy." Also, The New York Times writes about Christie's family relationship with a convicted member of the Genovese crime family, Tino Fiumara, who is the brother of Christie's aunt's husband. Which reminds us of this line from "Space Balls": "Lone Star, I am your father's brother's nephew's cousin's former roommate."

Countdown to Election Day 2009: 40 days
Countdown to Primary to Replace Ted Kennedy: 75 days
Countdown to Special Election to Replace Kennedy: 117 days
Countdown to Election Day 2010: 404 days

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