Double-edged sword on releasing today's report… Don't forget about the GOP's own troubles… Why 2010 might not be 2006 -- yet… Salazar (or Hickenlooper) for CO governor?... Arnold criticizes the health-care legislation… And profiling Specter vs. Sestak.
From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, and Ali Weinberg
*** Transparency's pros, cons: Today, the Obama administration is set to publicly release its report on the failed Christmas Day terrorist plot, and President Obama will make remarks about it at 1:00 pm ET. The administration is going to release this report and play up the fact that they are comfortable releasing bad information. In fact, it's the rhetorical opposite of the previous administration. But doing this is always a double-edged sword. On the one hand, candor is what the public says it wants (and what it believes it wasn't getting from the previous administration). On the other hand, the White House is giving its foes material to show that the agencies they are in charge of weren't working properly. The Obama administration believes that, over time, this candor and transparency will win the day and win the trust with the public. We shall see…
*** Shock and awe: Meanwhile, the report comes as National Security Adviser James Jones tells USA Today that Americans will feel "a certain shock" after reading it, and as the Los Angeles Times writes that U.S. officials "learned of the alleged extremist links of the suspect in the Christmas Day jetliner bombing attempt as he was airborne from Amsterdam to Detroit and had decided to question him when he landed." But the administration is pushing back against that article, with one official saying, "All that happened is Customs and Border Protection followed its normal procedures and checks as it prepared for arriving passengers and by doing so they accessed the suspect's TIDE-based record, which is why they were going to ask him a few additional questions… Officials wouldn't have pulled him out for secondary screening or prevented him from flying in Amsterdam because as has been widely reported, Abdulmutallab was not on the selectee, no-fly or even the terror watch list, and that is of course one of the failures the President has so strongly criticized." and
*** Skating on thin ice: By the way, in the report itself, it's clear the intelligence breakdowns will be given far more blame for the attempted Christmas terror attack than the homeland security side of things. In fact, Jones' "two strikes" comments about both this incident the Ft. Hood shooting indicate the folks running the FBI, DNI, NCTC and CIA are all skating on thin ice. And this Daily News piece probably won't help, either: "The top official in charge of analyzing terror threats did not cut short his ski vacation after the underwear bomber nearly blew up an airliner on Christmas Day, the Daily News has learned. Michael Leiter, director of the National Counterterrorism Center since 2007, decided not to return to his agency's 'bat cave' nerve center in McLean, Va., until several days after Christmas, two U.S. officials said."
*** Don't forget about the GOP's own troubles: Due to the economy, the partisan fighting, the inevitable difficulties of governing or even Tuesday's Democratic retirements (especially Dorgan's and Ritter's), these last five or six months haven't been kind for Democrats and the Obama Democrats. But here's one important story to keep in mind as we begin to talk about November's midterms: These haven't been kind times for Republicans, either. On the same day we learned about the Dem retirements, the chairman of the Florida Republican Party resigned in large part because he was Charlie Crist's hand-picked guy, underscoring the ideological warfare inside the GOP. What's more, while RNC Chair Michael Steele promotes his book, his RNC has only $8.7 million in the bank (compared with the $23 million it had when he took office, and the $13 million the DNC has). Perhaps most importantly, the GOP brand remains in the dumps, which wasn't the case in 1993-94.
*** 2006 vs. 2010: Yet as Dan Balz writes in today's Washington Post, "The midterm elections are likely to be a referendum on the party in power, even if the public is not wild about the alternative. Democrats should remember the lesson of the 2006 elections, when anger at President George W. Bush and the GOP proved a more powerful motivator for voters than reservations they had about the Democrats' capacity to govern." But to compare 2006 to now might be a little premature. In our Jan. 2006 NBC/WSJ poll, Dems held a nine-point advantage on the generic ballot; in our most recent poll, Dems STILL have the advantage, albeit it's now two points. Also in our Jan. 2006 poll, Dems had a net-positive fav/unfav; Republicans, meanwhile, haven't been in positive territory since early 2005 (!!!). In short, Republicans -- at least as of now -- aren't in as good of shape as Democrats were at this point in '06.
*** The Great Conundrum: Indeed, the great conundrum of this cycle might be this: How short will the American public's memory be of the Republican leadership from the last decade? The GOP's negative ratings are still higher than the Dem party. Will this drive DOWN turnout among the middle of electorate, giving the GOP a shot at doing well in 2010 in a turnout election? It's one of the many wild cards of this cycle, which make predicting it very difficult.
*** Has the Senate map really changed? In the aftermath of the Democratic retirements, it's also important to emphasize that the overall Senate map hasn't changed. Yes, Republicans now have an excellent pick-up opportunity in North Dakota, but their chances in Connecticut have greatly diminished with Dodd's retirement and Blumenthal's entry. So you're essentially trading North Dakota for Connecticut. Still, Republicans have many more pieces on the chessboard than they did early this year. As we wrote yesterday, Republicans have good pick-up opportunities in at least eight states if you're counting Connecticut and seven if you're not. And remember: Competitive senate races rarely split, say 55%-45%, between the two parties on Election Day. It's amazing how all the close races break in the same direction. Check out the competitive races from the last five cycles. It's a remarkable pattern.
*** Salazar for Colorado governor? The Denver Post has this scoop: "The White House would not object if Interior Secretary Ken Salazar chose to resign his cabinet post and run for Colorado governor… According to sources with knowledge of the conversations, Salazar was encouraged by the White House to remain in the administration, citing an agenda on climate change and retooling energy policy. But administration officials said they would support him if he felt it was in the best interests of the party and the state to return to Colorado." However, more folks in DC seem to prefer Hickenlooper over Salazar. The good news for Dems is that it appears Hickenlooper won't primary Salazar, or vice versa. By the way, the Dorgan dropout means there are lots of calls going out making sure some wavering Dems stay in key 2010 races either as challengers or incumbents. That's the biggest worry after the Dorgan fallout -- that a BIG recruit or ANOTHER incumbent decides, "See ya."
*** Time to end those rumors of Arnold joining the administration? California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's shot at health care during his state of the state address yesterday deserves some attention. While it something he and other governors have said before, that's a bad ally to for the White House to lose. Of course, this is all about Arnold's efforts to get a potential federal bailout of his own later this year, which may be inevitable considering the state's budget problems. Schwarzenegger will be on "Meet the Press" on Sunday.
*** Specter vs. Sestak: As we've noted, the top primaries to watch this year are largely on the Republican side -- Perry vs. Hutchison in Texas, Crist vs. Rubio in Florida, McCain vs. Hayworth (?) in Arizona, Bennett vs. Lee (?) in Utah. Yet the best primary on the Democratic side is Specter vs. Sestak in Pennsylvania. Specter stunned Washington back in April, when the longtime Republican, seeing the writing on the wall, decided to switch parties. It automatically made him the statewide favorite. But Specter, endorsed by the White House, first has to get through his primary with former admiral and first-term congressman Joe Sestak. Sestak is the underdog: He started as much as 30 points down to Specter, but he got a hand up from liberal interest groups and blogs, who threatened to work hard against Specter if he didn't vote like a progressive. (Yet Specter has been a reliable Dem vote since switching parties.) Polls have closed somewhat, but a Dec. Quinnipiac poll had Specter up by 23 points (53%-30%). The biggest story in Pennsylvania? The fact that Pat Toomey (R) looks stronger than he ever did before. The same Q-poll showed Specter and Toomey tied at 44% each.
*** Other midterm news: In Massachusetts' upcoming special Senate election, Vicki Kennedy, Joe Kennedy II, and Paul Kirk are set to endorse Democratic nominee Martha Coakley at 10:00 am ET, while Coakley has gone up with her first TV ad of the (short) general election… Per NBC's Dax Tejera, Ned Lamont told liberal radio host Alan Colmes that he's definitely running for Connecticut governor… And the Cook Political Report's Jennifer Duffy calls Harry Reid the most endangered Senate incumbent now that Dodd is retiring.
Countdown to MA Special Election: 12 days
Countdown to IL primary: 26 days
Countdown to TX primary: 54 days
Countdown to Election Day 2010: 299 days