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First thoughts: McDonnell vs. GOP

From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, and Ali Weinberg
*** McDonnell vs. the GOP: With Bob McDonnell (R) comfortably leading Virginia's gubernatorial race, according to the polls, some national Republicans are eagerly anticipating the outcome -- even arguing that a GOP win could sidetrack health-care reform, because Republicans will have won a key battleground state (maybe by a wide margin) that Obama carried last fall. But if you carefully look at the ads McDonnell is airing in Virginia, they really don't gibe with message we're hearing from many Republicans. One McDonnell ad features Democrat Sheila Johnson, who calls McDonnell a "bipartisan leader who gets results." Another ad touts the Republican's desire to boost transportation and infrastructure spending (something we really didn't hear from the GOP the stimulus debate). And another ad has McDonnell talking to the camera, saying that 90% of his measures in the Virginia legislature "passed with strong bipartisan support."

*** The middle or the base? So while it's true that McDonnell has whacked Creigh Deeds (D) on health care, cap-and-trade, and card check, much of McDonnell's success so far has come by tacking to the middle -- which is standard fare for campaigns normally, and yet not all that consistent with what we're hearing from many Republicans nationally. Of course, the big issue Republican strategists are excited about regarding this race is the issue of taxes and spending. They think it's the one TRUE trend taking place in Virginia that can be extrapolated nationally. But here's the big caveat on McDonnell: He didn't have a primary, so he had the luxury of being able to straddle the middle and the base, which brings us to...

*** Collins/Gingrich vs. Club for Growth/Dick Armey: A conservative Republican emails First Read that Dick Armey is heading up to New York-23 today to endorse conservative third-party candidate Doug Hoffman over the more moderate GOP nominee Dede Scozzafava, who has been backed the Susan Collinses of the world but also by Newt Gingrich. "Tea partiers from all over the country going to help GOP leadership and Gingrich feeling the heat," this conservative Republican says. As we have pointed out before, the Scozzafava-Hoffman split could very well result in the Democrat, Bill Owens, winning this race, which would be the first time a Democrat has controlled this congressional seat since the 19th century (!!!). This is NOT the extrapolation the Republicans want to see in 2010, but this fight in NY-23 is a good preview of what we may see in GOP primaries all over the country in 2010.

*** Pound of (greenback) flesh: Leaving the 2009 horse races, there seems to be bipartisan agreement in the Obama administration's decision to radically cut the pay of executives at the firms who received the most (and still have the most) bailout funds. This was all about optics, as last week's Dow 10,000 seemed to jump start the "is Wall Street recovering at the expense of Main Street?" narrative. So the admin is getting their pound of flesh. Of course, in practical terms, what will this pay cut do? Will it change the behavior at Wall Street firms who no longer have government bailout money? Unlikely. Will it feed the narrative of government intervention? Maybe (but notice most Republicans aren't eager to defend the bankers right now). Will it bring attention to all of the TARP money that has NOT been paid back? Most definitely, and that's something that always seems to anger the public.

*** What's up, docs? The other big political news -- as it relates to the health-care debate -- was yesterday's defeat in the Senate of a $247 billion measure that would have imposed a freeze in cuts in Medicare payments to doctors. Per The Hill, "The setback immediately raised questions among fellow Democrats over [Senate Majority Leader] Reid's handling of healthcare reform strategy and gave Republicans an opening." As it turns out, 13 Dems joined the Republicans to vote against this effort. The 13 Dems come from the predictable red/purple states or the moderate/conservative wing of the party, including: Sens. Byron Dorgan (ND), Robert Byrd (WV), Kent Conrad (ND), Joe Lieberman (ID-CT.), Jon Tester (MT), Jim Webb (VA), Mark Warner (VA), Ron Wyden (OR), Herb Kohl (WI), Russ Feingold (WI), Bill Nelson (FL), Evan Bayh (IN), and Claire McCaskill (MO). It's just another example of how difficult it is for the Democrats to find 60 votes, let alone 50, when it comes to anything regarding fiscal issues these days. By the way, some are wondering why Reid brought this bill to the floor if he did KNOW he had the votes? Was this done on purpose to signal House Dems of his issues? Was he trying to send a message? There may be more to this decision by Reid than folks realize. And quick question about the eventual health care conference committee fight: Will some Dems (particularly in the House) demand to know IN ADVANCE who is on the conference committee before committing to vote?

*** The great American health-care fight: Staying with health care, Senate Minority Leader McConnell's office brings to our attention a new Gallup poll, which finds that "Americans have become more likely to say the costs their family pays for healthcare will get worse if a healthcare bill passes." As McConnell's office points out, this contradicts Obama's stated health-care goal about reducing costs.

*** Congressional lock out: We clipped this story yesterday, but it bears repeating and it's getting a lot of follow-up today in the other insider publications: "Rep. Edolphus Towns (D-N.Y.) locked Republicans out of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee room to keep them from meeting when Democrats aren't present." This kind of story only feeds the narrative how ridiculous Congress looks to the rest of the country. Remember, Towns only got control of this committee when Henry Waxman gave up this gavel to take over the Commerce Committee. And some Dems are wondering, quietly, whether Towns has control of this committee, a la Waxman. It doesn't appear so. Incidents like this should bring more attention to the very dysfunctional way Congress operates -- no matter which party is in charge. This committee/subcommittee system coupled with seniority, etc. has helped create a branch of government that is less trusted than any other branch, and it's not even close.

*** A pox on both houses, Part 2: Yesterday, we noted GOP pollster Glen Bolger's analysis of a Democracy Corps (D) poll, which showed (in part) that Democratic issue-perception problems were growing while the Republicans' were fading. Per Bolger, it was evidence that this is no longer becoming a "pox on both houses" political environment. The Democracy Corps folks, however, disagree. While they don't quibble that Democrats will probably lose House seats, especially in the South and in districts that McCain carried in 2008, they point out that the Republican Party's fav/unfav remains near all-time lows. "Put simply, the Republican Party is as unpopular as they have ever been and the internal dynamics of their party will only serve to reinforce this unpopularity with the middle of the electorate." Speaking of the "pox on both houses" rhetoric, don't miss the latest NJ GOV poll showing Daggett hitting 20% for the first time in ANY poll. Smart strategists have been telling us that any result in NJ that includes Daggett nabbing 20% is a message to BOTH parties -- particularly since it's so hard to even FIND Daggett on the ballot. It will mean voters were motivated to send a message to BOTH parties: clean up your act!

*** The women of 2010: As part of the NBC/MSNBC focus this week on women, First Read takes a look today at some of the female candidates to watch in next year's midterms. On Monday, we mentioned three women running for governor -- Kay Bailey Hutchison (R) of Texas, Alex Sink (D) of Florida, and Meg Whitman (R) of California -- who, if they win, could be presidential or vice-presidential possibilities in 2012 and 2016. But here are some other names to watch: Kelly Ayotte (running for the open Senate seat in New Hampshire), Robin Carnahan (running for the open Senate seat in Missouri), Jane Norton (running for Senate in Colorado), Sue Lowden (running to challenge Harry Reid in Nevada), and Mary Fallin (running for governor of Oklahoma). With the exception of Carnahan, all of these women will most likely face primaries next year. But if they win, they'll all become familiar names to political junkies next fall. And for the GOP, who have their best lineup of women running for Senate than they've had in years (perhaps ever), it's a BIG chance for them to diversify their image.

*** Also as part of our focus on women: NBC's Andrea Mitchell sits down to interview House Speaker Nancy Pelosi today; the full interview will air tomorrow.

*** Obama's day: At 2:15 pm ET from the White House, the president signs into law the Veterans Health Care Budget Reform and Transparency Act. Per the White House, this fulfills a promise Obama made on the campaign trail. The law "will make the money for Veterans Affairs dependable by taking that portion of money out of the Beltway budget battle and allow the agency actually to plan. This aims to protect veterans' medical programs from interruptions in funding when Congress is late passing a budget bill - as it has been for 20 of the last 23 years." Also today, the president meets with U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eikenberry (at 10:00 am), Speaker Nancy Pelosi (at 12:30 pm), Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner (at 3:15 pm), and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (at 3:45 pm).

Countdown to Election Day 2009: 12 days
Countdown to MA Special Primary: 47 days
Countdown to MA Special Election: 89 days
Countdown to Election Day 2010: 376 days

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