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First thoughts: What's next?

What do Democrats do next after Brown's victory last night?... Is the Dem belief that failure isn't an option still true today?... The White House and Democratic Party have an indie problem… Brown's victory isn't necessarily a victory for combative Republicanism… Matching what Obama said a year ago today at his inaugural with what Americans said in our new NBC/WSJ poll… Finally, Obama's pick to head the Transportation Security Administration withdraws his nomination.  

From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, and Ali Weinberg
*** What's next? All of President Obama's speeches on health care, the marathon negotiations, the countless committee and floor votes, and the very long debate over the public option -- will they all be for naught? That's the question the political world is now asking after Scott Brown's (R) stunning win over Martha Coakley (D) last night, which ends the Democrats' eight-month-long filibuster-proof majority in the Senate. Right now, Democrats appear to be divided on how to proceed. On the one hand, Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi maintained that they are committed to passing health care, one way or another. "While Sen.-elect Brown's victory changes the political math in the Senate," Reid said. "We remain committed to strengthening our economy, creating good paying jobs and ensuring all Americans can access affordable health care." Meanwhile, Pelosi said this, per the San Francisco Chronicle: "Regardless of Massachusetts, it will happen." 

*** All eyes are on the Democrats: On the other hand, moderate Democrats were urging restraint and suggesting that last night's result was a warning sign. "If you lose Massachusetts and that's not a wake-up call, there's no hope of waking up," Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh told ABC. And Virginia Sen. Jim Webb released this statement: "In many ways the campaign in Massachusetts became a referendum not only on health care reform but also on the openness and integrity of our government process… To that end, I believe it would only be fair and prudent that we suspend further votes on health care legislation until Sen.-elect Brown is seated." Of course, the real action in the next few days will come in the House, since the most likely "Plan B" is for the House to pass the Senate bill, and sweep any fixes and compromises into a future piece of legislation. All along, what has propelled health-care reform -- through all its ups and downs -- was a sense among Democrats that failure isn't an option. The most important story right now is whether that sentiment still exists after last night. If the House voted on the Senate bill TODAY or TOMORROW, it would NOT pass. The question is whether the White House can somehow convince wavering House Dems over the weekend. 

*** Indie flick: Over the last few weeks, there has been a debate within the Democratic Party about how they should try to minimize likely losses in this year's midterms -- move to the left and turn out the Obama "surge voters" (minorities, people under 30, etc.), or try to reclaim the center and appeal more to independents? Well, after last year's elections in New Jersey and Virginia and after last night's special election in Massachusetts, it's pretty clear that Democrats have a problem with independents. Last night, 2.25 million turned out in Massachusetts, which was great than the turnout in Nov. 2006. And given that turnout, you have to assume that there were A LOT of Obama voters who ended up voting for Brown. (Indeed, Brown won more votes in Massachusetts last night than John McCain received in 2008.) To win in 2010 and 2012, Democrats have to get those folks back.

*** Brown's message: As for Brown, he insisted on "TODAY" his victory wasn't a rebuke on President Obama. "No its bigger than that," he said, per NBC's Danielle Weisberg. "For us in our area, we have three speakers that were indicted; three senators that have resigned in disgrace. We have out of control taxation spending in Massachusetts. You couple that with what's being proposed nationally, people are angry." In fact, this serves as a bit of a warning for national Republicans: Chris Christie, Bob McDonnell, and now Scott Brown won not by attacking Obama, but rather by downplaying their GOP ties and riding an anti-incumbent wave. None of them went out of their way to attack Obama; the national party wants the media to believe this is a referendum on Obama, but the campaigns themselves were referendums on the political process -- whether in Washington, Richmond, Trenton, or Beacon Hill.

*** 59 is still a pretty big majority: While we've discussed what it means that Democrats are now at 59 Senate votes, it's worth pointing out that Democrats actually began the year at 58 Senate votes (before Arlen Specter switched parties) and then stood at 59 votes (before Al Franken finally was seated). Indeed, as the Washington Post's Ezra Klein noted yesterday, 59 is the second-largest Senate majority since the 1970s (after Watergate). 

*** Collateral damage: For the political world focused on the 2010 midterm elections, the fallout everyone is watching is on the two Rs: retirements and recruiting. House Democrats are bracing for more retirements and worried that some veteran lawmakers who they thought were running in 2010 have second thoughts -- think older members who probably only have another term or two in them anyway. Then there's the other "R," recruiting. House and Senate GOPers believe they'll have a MUCH easier time finding candidates. On the Senate side, this means Indiana, Wisconsin and Washington, in particular, might suddenly have a shot at being put into play by the NRSC. Already we're hearing whispers in Indiana that national Republicans think they can convince House GOP leader Mike Pence to channel his presidential ambition via an Evan Bayh challenge.

*** A year ago… : To understand the White House's current troubles and future challenges, it's instructive to look back at the inaugural address Obama gave exactly a year ago -- and match what he said to our new NBC/WSJ poll. "On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn-out dogmas that for far too long have strangled our politics." In our poll, only 40% give Obama good marks in uniting the country, and just 30% give him a good score on changing business as usual in Washington. "The state of our economy calls for action, bold and swift. And we will act, not only to create new jobs, but to lay a new foundation for growth." Per the poll, 16% say they're satisfied with the state of the U.S. economy, compared with a whopping 83% who say they're dissatisfied. (However, 65% believe Obama inherited the economic situation he currently faces.)

*** … And what the public is thinking today: Obama also said this about health care: "We'll restore science to its rightful place, and wield technology's wonders to raise health care's quality and lower its cost." Yet just 33% say the president's health care plan is a good idea, while 46% say it's a bad idea -- a 20-point increase from April, when the public supported it, 33%-26%. "The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works." But 48% believe the government is doing too many things, versus 43% who think it should be doing more things. That's a turnaround from the survey taken immediately after Obama became president, which found the public supporting a greater role in government, 51%-40%.

*** A problem for Democrats on terrorism? And there was this: "As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals." But the NBC/WSJ poll shows that a whopping 67% think that suspected terrorists should not receive all the same legal rights as people being tried in the U.S. court system. As NBC/WSJ co-pollster Bill McInturff told First Read, "I don't know how many Democrats will run on trying terrorists in federal courts" in this year's midterms. In fact, "terror" (not taxes or health care) was the first term Scott Brown said in his interview on TODAY in explaining the issues that propelled him to victory last night.

*** 'Greatness is never a given': However, in his inaugural, Obama also reminded America that his yes-we-can agenda wouldn't be easy. "Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real. They are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this America:  They will be met." And he said this, noting that greatness is NEVER a given. "In reaffirming the greatness of our nation we understand that greatness is never a given. It must be earned. Our journey has never been one of short-cuts or settling for less. It has not been the path for the faint-hearted, for those that prefer leisure over work, or seek only the pleasures of riches and fame." 

*** Southers discomfort? Finally, Erroll Southers, Obama's pick to head up the Transportation Security Administration, withdrew his nomination this morning. We'll have more on that later today.

Countdown to IL primary: 13 days
Countdown to TX primary: 41 days
Countdown to Election Day 2010: 286 days

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