Discuss as:

First thoughts: And Snowe it goes...

From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, Ali Weinberg and Kelly Paice
*** And Snowe It Goes... (Bet you thought we'd have a predictable weather pun. Gotcha!) As telegraphed, Republican Senator Olympia Snowe gave the president the lift he needed when it comes to health care. And her vote guarantees that the senators who will have the MOST influence on the final piece of legislation will be the moderate/conservative wing of the Democratic caucus. Harry Reid/Max Baucus/Olympia Snowe (perhaps Tom Carper) will shape this bill. Chris Dodd/Jay Rockefeller/Tom Harkin/Ron Wyden will struggle to have the same level of influence on this. It could produce a lot of angst with some progressives but the White House doesn't want to go the reconciliation route-that's a political nightmare. And as long as Snowe wants to play, the White House will give her the due. BTW, remember, Snowe is not a party of one... she represents about 8-15 moderate Democratic senators who want her support for health care as cover. From Evan Bayh to Joe Lieberman to even a Claire McCaskill and especially a Blanche Lincoln, Snowe's the unofficial Senate leader of the moderates. The thing to watch is whether there are any powerful progressive coalitions, say in the House, who can be as powerful a political force in negotiations as Snowe and her band of Democratic moderates? BTW, as for Snowe's place in the GOP, she told NBC's Matt Lauer that while she's heard the rumors of retribution, she's confident it won't happen. Think about the political reality: would the Senate GOP really want to look like it was ganging up on one of the senior women of its caucus? Her place is fine.

: TODAY's Matt Lauer talks to Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, about her vote to approve a sweeping health care reform bill.

*** Morning Meeting: The president convenes the 5th meeting of his war council on Afghanistan later this morning. By lunchtime today, he'll have spent 15 hours in the last three weeks delving into the details and scenarios on the war. White House press secretary Robert Gibbs was asked repeatedly yesterday what more the president needed to know. After 15 hours of meetings, is there really anything new for him to learn? Any new information? Gibbs did hint at one POTENTIAL reason for delay in a decision: the delay in certifying the Afghan election results. One other possible reason for delay? The need for the president to get everyone on the war council to OWN the final decision so that everyone from VP Biden to General Petraeus to Admiral Mullen to Secretary of State Clinton can defend the strategy either in public or behind the scenes with staff. We're guessing consensus isn't quite there yet.

*** Garden State Variety Candidate: Buffalo Springfield was right, there is something happenin' in New Jersey, what it is ain't exactly clear... yet. A new Quinnipiac poll has the race in a dead heat, Republican Chris Christie at 41%, Democrat Jon Corzine at 40% and independent Chris Daggett at 14%. This is good news for Corzine... for now. But don't sleep on Daggett. He's clearly a factor in the race now; getting mainstream media coverage (and endorsements) is a start. But can he win? 11 years ago, almost to the day, a new poll came out in the Minnesota governor's race showing third party candidate, Jesse Ventura, sitting at 15%. At the time, just like here in New Jersey, all the buzz in Minnesota was about how Skip Humphrey and Norm Coleman were beating each other up, while the national climate, by the way, wasn't good for either party as we were in the midst of the impeachment mess. Ventura, of course, in about three weeks time, went from polling in the low-to-mid teens to winning the race outright. All the ingredients are there for Daggett in New Jersey: both major party nominees have upside down negatives; 40% believe Christie is NOT honest/trustworthy while 48% believe the same about Corzine. The national climate has a "pox on both houses" feel to it. Now, New Jersey isn't Minnesota and Daggett has NO money to penetrate the NYC media market (which the latest Quinnipiac poll shows is a key weakness; he's stronger in the Philly market). But a break here (say a big endorsement from a well known/respected politician) or a break there (some sort of disastrous new scandal hitting either Corzine or Christie) and the floodgates could open. Daggett's VERY close to being seen as a credible alternative in political terms. Bottom line: there's too much volatility in the political landscape both in Jersey and nationally NOT to take Daggett VERY seriously as someone who could actually win this thing. Stranger things have happened, isn't that right Governor Ventura? Governor Schwarzenegger? Just sayin...

*** Wither Iowa? Maybe. The Des Moines Register's Beaumont got tongues wagging this week when posited that Iowa might be losing its place as ground zero for presidential politics. Consider that by mid 2005, with three years to go until the next presidential race, prospective candidates Mike Huckabee, Sam Brownback and Mitt Romney had each already visited the state several times -- Huckabee had made FIVE trips. This time around, though -- with the same amount of time between now and the next presidential election -- Minnesota Governor and expected candidate Tim Pawlenty is just now gearing up for his first Iowa trip. So what does this say about Iowa -- more specifically, Iowa voters? Well, John McCain finished a distant fourth in Iowa and won the nomination. Could it be the Iowa GOP is just too conservative? Possibly, but careful writing off Iowa... It's still a launching pad for lesser known candidates and in the case of a Tim Pawlenty, the state could be tailor-made for him to jump from the second tier to the first tier... Every four years, a debate begins about the idea Iowa will be less influential, it always proves untrue.

*** Hard Sell: AP's Sidoti has a fascinating, potentially C.W.-setting analysis about the president, noting he has never shied away from touting his goals--big AND small--in public. There was the multi-industry bailout; a stimulus that cost hundreds of billions; and a hoped-for overhaul of the entire health care system. But then there's also been his joshing with Jay Leno and David Letterman, and his intervention in a local dispute between a white police officer and black college professor. Beyond questions of overexposure is the political quandary Obama's ubiquity and willingness to flex federal muscles may land him in, as polls show voters growing increasingly wary of government involvement in their everyday lives. Asks Sidoti, "is [Obama's] do-everything, be-everywhere leadership style in tune with the times?" Supporters would say Obama is simply trying to guide voters through his decision-making processes by appearing, well, everywhere to talk about them. But Sidoti writes that as former President Bush "got slapped around for being inarticulate, is Obama obnoxiously articulate?" Obama becomes the poster child—or president—for far-reaching government action simply by showing up and talking about it—and that could be a boon for Republicans come 2010. Obama's constant presence is raising the ire of the GOP's dispirited base, which could translate into big Republican vote against the president's style during the mid-term elections.

Countdown to Election Day 2009: 20 days
Countdown to MA Special Primary: 55 days
Countdown to MA Special Election: 97 days
Countdown to Election Day 2010: 384 days

Click here to sign up for First Read emails.
Text FIRST to 622639, to sign up for First Read alerts to your mobile phone.
Check us out on Facebook and also on Twitter.