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First thoughts: Obama visits Dover

From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, and Ali Weinberg
*** Obama visits Dover: Before he makes his decision whether or not to send more U.S. troops to Afghanistan, President Obama traveled to Dover Air Force Base late last night to witness the transfer of 18 U.S. personnel who were killed in that country. "Wearing a suit and a topcoat, Obama was greeted by the airlift wing commander before getting into car for the short drive to a base chapel, where he met with family members of the deceased," the Washington Post reports. "Afterward, the president took part in the military's precise, solemn transfer of the cases holding the bodies of the fallen from the plane to the vehicles that would transport them to a base mortuary. Four times, Obama marched up the ramp of the transport plane and bore witness as Maj. Richard S. Bach, an Air Force chaplain, offered a prayer over the remains. Afterward, he joined other officials, including Attorney General Eric C. Holder, standing at attention and saluting." (The video footage of the Dover event, by the way, is for just one soldier, as the family of Sgt. Dale Griffin gave permission for media coverage.) The president returned to the White House a little before 5:00 am ET. Perhaps more than anything else, last night's visit signals that whatever troop decision Obama makes, it should keep the left from being overly critical as he's absorbed the cost of his decision from every angle -- including this one. 

*** The recession is over: That is the message from the latest GDP numbers. Per the AP, "The economy grew at a 3.5 percent pace in the third quarter, the best showing in two years, fueled by government-supported spending on cars and homes. It was the strongest signal yet the economy entered a new phase of recovery and that the worst recession since the 1930s has ended." That's news the Obama White House will definitely tout today. But here's the news that the GOP will tout, courtesy again of the AP: "An early progress report on President Barack Obama's economic recovery plan overstates by thousands the number of jobs created or saved through the stimulus program, a mistake that White House officials promise will be corrected in future reports." The White House late last night fired off an aggressive response to the article: "This story draws misleading conclusions from a handful of examples. It looks at only a small portion of the data -- an initial upload of data representing just two percent of Recovery Act spending – that was made publicly available before a full review of its accuracy could be done."

*** Pelosi's health bill: At 10:30 am ET, Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Democrats will outline the health-care legislation they plan to bring to the House floor. As NBC's Mike Viqueira reported yesterday, the measure is not expected to include the "robust" public option, or the reimbursement rate to medical professions based on Medicare plus 5%. Instead, it will include a public option based on rates negotiated region by region -- which Harry Reid's Senate bill also includes.

*** The great American health-care fight: There are many other moving parts today in the health-care debate. The Democratic National Committee goes after Sarah Palin in its latest "Call'em out" campaign to debunk what it says are the mistruths she has spread on health-care reform… With Sen. Evan Bayh (D) apparently undecided whether he'd join a GOP filibuster, the Progressive Change Campaign Committee and Democracy for America are releasing new polling data (courtesy of Research 2000) showing that Indiana voters support a public option by a 52%-42% margin… The Dem-leaning Americans United for Change has a Web video blasting health insurers and their anti-trust protection… And the National Republican Senatorial Committee has a Halloween-themed Web video whacking Obama and the Democrats on health-care and a host of other things.

*** Plouffe on Hillary, Palin: This Sunday on "Meet the Press," David Gregory will interview Obama campaign David Plouffe regarding his new book, "The Audacity to Win: The Inside Story and Lessons of Barack Obama's Historic Victory." Time magazine has some excerpts from Plouffe's book. On weighing Hillary as Obama's VP: "Barack continued to be intrigued by Hillary. 'I still think Hillary has a lot of what I am looking for in a VP,' he said to us '... I think Bill may be too big a complication. If I picked her, my concern is that there would be more than two of us in the relationship.' Neither Ax nor I were fans of the Hillary option." And on Palin: "I also thought it was a downright bizarre, ill-considered and deeply puzzling choice ... [Obama] said, "... when voters step back and analyze how he made this decision, I think he's going to be in big trouble. You just can't wing something like this — it's too important."

*** A ceasefire in the Chamber-White House war? In the past few days, the Obama White House and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce have engaged in a spirited -- and public -- battle over health care and climate change. But today, at least, the sides appear to be calling a truce. At 11:50 am ET, Obama will deliver remarks at the White House to members of the Chamber, the normally Republican-leaning National Federation of Independent Business, and other small business owners. Per the White House, the speech is a follow up "to the small business announcement last week that would increase the caps for existing SBA loans and give smaller banks better access to TARP funding to encourage more lending." Later in the day, Obama meets with Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore.

*** Swine flu, WH perks: Two other stories, via the New York Times, deserve attention today. The first is about the shortage of the swine flu vaccine. "The shortage, caused by delays in the vaccine manufacturing process, has put the president in exactly the situation he sought to avoid — one in which questions are being raised about the government's response." Yesterday, we saw the first Republican lawmaker (Missouri Rep./Senate candidate Roy Blunt) hit the administration on this issue. The other story worth keeping an eye on is the follow-up to that Washington Times story from yesterday, which alleged that big contributors were receiving special perks. "Robert Gibbs, the White House press secretary, spent part of his briefing on Wednesday trying to dismiss the suggestion that people who gave money to President Obama were given special access to the executive mansion. The questions arose after The Washington Times reported that Mr. Obama has continued the longtime practice of rewarding donors with perks, including use of the bowling alley. 'Contributing doesn't guarantee a visit to the White House,' Mr. Gibbs said, 'nor does it preclude it.'" The question the White House seems to be having the TOUGHEST time answering is not granting donors access to the White House -- but why high level officials, like Deputy Chief of Staff Jim Messina, are participating in donor briefings at DNC events? 

*** Rove's 2009 spin: In his weekly Wall Street Journal column, Karl Rove writes how the Virginia and New Jersey gubernatorial contests could be harbingers for the 2010 midterms. "Tuesday's election will provide the most tangible evidence so far of how strong a backlash is building—and just how frightened centrist Democrats should be of 2010. For Republicans, it looks as if hope and change are on the way." But as George W. Bush's chief political adviser, Rove should also know that the VA and NJ races don't always predict what's going to happen in the midterms. In 2005 -- right after Hurricane Katrina -- Democrats won both contests, an early sign of their success in 2006 (when they back control of Congress) and in 2008 (when they won the White House). Yet in 2001 -- right after the 9/11 terrorist attacks -- Democrats also won both races. But the next year, Republicans picked up seats in the House and Senate, and Bush won re-election in 2004. Rove does offer some interesting advice to Republicans in that NY-23 civil war: Tell third-party conservative Doug Hoffman he is welcome to caucus with the GOP if he wins the election. 

*** 2009 ballot watch: The gubernatorial elections in New Jersey and Virginia, as well as the special congressional election in NY-23, are certainly the marquee races on Tuesday. But there are also several ballot initiatives to watch, particularly one on same-sex marriage in Maine. In May, Maine became the sixth state to pass a law allowing same-sex marriage, but voters on Tuesday will consider whether they want to repeal that law. Also in Maine, voters take up whether to change its medical marijuana law. Additionally, Maine and Washington consider a Taxpayer Bills of Right (TABOR), which would limit states and localities on taxing and spending. (In 1992, voters in Colorado approved the first TABOR.) Finally, as cities and states across the country struggle with trying to balance budgets, voters in Ohio will weigh whether to add casinos in four cities. It has become a major issue in those four cities' mayoral elections.

*** More 2009: RNC Chair Michael Steele campaigns today and tomorrow with the top of the GOP ticket in Virginia; Steele stumped in New Jersey last week… PolitickerNJ reports that Jon Corzine (D) is outspending Chris Christie (R) by almost a 3-1 clip… And a new Virginia Commonwealth University poll has Bob McDonnell (R) up by 18 points (!!!).

Countdown to Election Day 2009: 5 days
Countdown to MA Special Primary: 40 days
Countdown to MA Special Election: 82 days
Countdown to Election Day 2010: 369 days

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