Discuss as:

First thoughts: It's the economy...

Don't forget about the economy… Reid's vulnerabilities -- in Nevada and in Washington… Michael Steele in the first person… Arnold Schwarzenegger vs. Ben Nelson… Harold Ford sounds like he's running… And Chuck Todd's and Savannah Guthrie's "The Daily Rundown" starts today at 9:00 am ET.

From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, and Ali Weinberg
*** It's the economy…: As mesmerizing as the Harry Reid, Michael Steele, and Gillibrand-vs.-Ford stories might be (and we touch on them below), the economy will be front and center in the news later this week. First, the New York Times reported yesterday that the Wall Street bonus season is upon us, and that the financial industry -- which helped fuel the Great Recession and then got bailed out by the federal government afterward -- will issue rewards in the six, seven, and eight figures. "Industry executives acknowledge that the numbers being tossed around … will probably stun the many Americans still hurting from the financial collapse and ensuing Great Recession." Second, the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, which was set up to investigate the causes of the financial collapse, will hold its first hearing on Wednesday. Goldman Sachs' Lloyd Blankfein, JP Morgan Chase's Jamie Dimon, and Morgan Stanley's John Mack are expected to testify. The public's anger at Wall Street is a powerful political force, and it will be interesting to see how the White House and GOP try to deal with it.

*** A few questions: We've heard the argument from Wall Street types, who say the bonus structure gets a bad rap; it's really all part of a person's salary, etc. Our question then is: How is it Wall Street could be SO tone deaf as to not change their compensation structure. Well, it looks like Washington might change it for them. Is that what Wall Street wanted? Are they that politically out of touch? 

*** Reid's vulnerability -- in Nevada: The revelation that Harry Reid called Obama a "light-skinned" African American with "no Negro dialect" in 2008 actually overshadowed what seems to be even more significant news about Reid: his dreadful poll numbers. A new Las Vegas Review-Journal poll found him with a fav/unfav of 33%-52% and him trailing all three GOP opponents, including one with very little name ID. In short, after Dodd's retirement, Reid is the cycle's most vulnerable incumbent, and his remarks about Obama certainly don't help things. Yet unlike in Connecticut (where Democrats turned to Richard Blumenthal) or in Colorado (where it seems that popular Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper is going to run in Bill Ritter's place), there isn't a natural Democratic replacement in Nevada sitting on the bench. "You have very few candidates on the bench who look that great," Nevada political guru Jon Ralston told one of us. Worse still for Democrats, there's a wild card in Nevada that they fear: Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman, who just switched parties (he was a Dem, not an indie). Goodman could create all sorts of electoral chaos in the wake of a Reid vacuum.

*** Reid's vulnerability -- in Washington: On Saturday, the National Republican Senatorial Committee tried to compare Reid's controversial comments to Trent Lott's in 2002, which forced the Republican to step down as the GOP's Senate leader. And yesterday, a host of national Republicans (Michael Steele, Jon Kyl, John Cornyn) called for Reid to step down over this. But the Reid-Lott comparisons aren't close, in our opinion. One, Reid immediately apologized; Lott didn't after praising Strom Thurmond's segregationist presidential run. Two, Obama quickly accepted Reid's apology; by contrast, the Bush White House -- which had never really trusted Lott -- didn't leap to Lott's defense, sending the not-so-subtle signal that they saw an opportunity to change majority leaders (swapping Lott for Bill Frist, you'll recall). And third, Reid's remark was something he appeared to say privately in 2008; the controversy surrounding Lott was over a statement he made publicly at the time, and it was on tape so it could be showed over and over and over. The more appropriate comparison here is Joe Biden's "clean"/"articulate" remarks. Still, this news is embarrassing for Reid, makes him seem out of touch (who uses those words anymore?) and it has now turned into a three-day story -- at a time when he was already in tough political shape back at home. Nevermind that he's the guy in charge of keeping the 60-vote Democratic caucus together for health care.

*** Race as political tripwire: As PBS' Gwen Ifill mentioned on "TODAY" this morning, race remains a tripwire in American politics, even one year after Barack Obama's presidential victory. You have Reid's controversial comments. Then you have a weekend Politico story with quotes from Republican officials saying that RNC Chairman Michael Steele can't lose his job -- despite all of his missteps -- because he is black. "You're not going to dump the first African-American chairman. That's the only reason. Otherwise, he'd be gone." And now comes a comment from indicted Rod Blagojevich, who tells Esquire that he's "blacker than Barack Obama." "I shined shoes. I grew up in a five-room apartment. My father had a little laundromat in a black community not far from where we lived. I saw it all growing up." 

*** There's no 'I' in 'Team,' but there is an 'I' in 'Chairman': The Reid story over the weekend turned out to be a blessing for RNC Chairman Michael Steele, because it (for the time being) supplanted what had been a VERY bad week for Steele. Indeed, the first question Steele received on "Meet the Press" yesterday was about Reid, not about the criticism he has received, which NBC's David Gregory got to later. That said, Steele's "Meet" performance certainly raised plenty of eyebrows when he continually talked about the party's achievements in the first person. "I raised $80 million this year," he told Gregory. "I won two gubernatorial races." (Really?) He also referred to defeating Harry Reid this way -- "when I retire him in November." Has any party chairman, Democrat or Republican, every referred to his work this way? In fact, Steele's first-persons hit at the essence at what people in his own party see as his biggest flaw: that he's more busy promoting himself than the Republican Party. Steele did very little to earn the confidence of the Republican establishment. Watch the fundraising totals coming out next week, and don't be surprised if other Republican committees like the NRSC and RGA outperform or overperform the RNC in some key areas. As it turns out, the DNC has a Web video hitting Steele entitled "Loose Cannon."

*** Governator vs. The Benator: Another fascinating story on "Meet" turned out to be California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's very tough comments directed at Sen. Ben Nelson (D). "If you think about that, the Senate just voted for a health-care bill that is saying basically that California should pay for Nebraska so that Nebraska never has to pay any extra [Medicaid] money." More: "As I said in my State of the State, that's the biggest rip-off.  I mean, that is against the law to buy a vote," he said referring to Nelson. Yesterday afternoon, Nelson responded with this statement: "I accepted the Nebraska provision not for my vote but to fix the unfunded Medicaid mandate for all states in the final health reform bill. I am aggressively seeking an opt-out or full funding for all states. I agree with Gov. Schwarzenegger that all states should be relieved of this unfunded mandate. But relief from an unfunded mandate that kicks in 7 years from now isn't going to solve the $20 billion deficit California has today." Governator vs. the Benator -- does it get any better than this when it comes to a Medicaid showdown?

*** Sure sounds like Ford is running: Today's New York Times previews the emerging Kirsten Gillibrand-vs.-Harold Ford Senate primary race. And on "TODAY" this morning, Ford sure sounded like someone who is running for office -- and in a Democratic primary in New York. Asked by NBC's Matt Lauer about his recent conversion to supporting same-sax marriages, Ford noted that Bill Clinton and Chuck Schumer had also changed their minds. Ford also said that the difference between civil unions (which Ford has supported in the past) and gay marriage is a "fiction." It appears Ford was saying that, in Tennessee, there's a distinction between marriage and civil unions that residents there care about. In New York, Ford trying to say that there really isn't a difference? These are among the various subtle shifts Ford has to make to be viable in a Dem primary in NY.

*** Coakley vs. Brown: Yesterday, a new Boston Globe poll showed Democrat Martha Coakley leading Republican Scott Brown by a much more comfortable margin than two other robo-polls, as well as growing C.W., have indicated. The Globe poll found Coakley up by 15 points over Brown (50%-35%) and up 17 points (53%-36%) when leaners were added. What explains the difference between this poll and the robo ones? Well, robo-polls tend to over-sample the more excited, more knowledgeable voter. And in this case, Republicans are the excited ones. Of course, this Coakley-Brown race isn't your normal contest given that it's a special election taking place in January. We'll find out whose model prevails eight days from now. Either way, it's clear this isn't a slam dunk for Coakley. Already, we're hearing complaints from Democrats who wonder, "Why did she employ the Rose Garden strategy" in this climate? This could be a lesson for any Dem anywhere who thinks they are safe for now: No one is safe in this toxic political environment… 

*** Other Midterm news: Consumer Reports is up in arms over a Alexi Giannoulias TV ad… New Hampshire Republican Senate candidate Bill Binnie is up with a TV ad… And Texas Monthly sees Texas Gov. Rick Perry's quest for re-election as a possible precursor to a presidential bid. "If Perry defeats Hutchison in the March 2 Republican primary and goes on to win a third full term in November, he will immediately join the crowd of potential presidential aspirants in 2012 -- if he hasn't done so already.  

*** The Daily Rundown: Finally, beginning at 9:00 am ET, is the debut of the new MSNBC show hosted by NBC's Chuck Todd and Savannah Guthrie, "The Daily Rundown." Today, they interview White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel.

Countdown to MA Special Election: 8 days
Countdown to IL primary: 22 days
Countdown to TX primary: 50 days
Countdown to Election Day 2010: 295 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.