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First Thoughts: What a week

What a week it's been, and we have State of the Union Week coming up next… Are Geithner and Summers in the dog house?... Obama heads to Ohio… Yesterday's SCOTUS decision looks like it will change politics as we know it… McCain's relatively tepid response to the SCOTUS decision… John Roberts as Earl Warren?... First Read's new Top 10 Senate list… And George P. Bush backs Rubio.

From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, and Ali Weinberg
*** What a week: What a week it's been in politics. It began with Scott Brown's (R) stunning victory in Massachusetts. After that came the Democratic scramble to save health care, which continues to hang by a thread. There also was our NBC/WSJ poll, which showed that President Obama's political standing has declined substantially after his first full year in office. And then yesterday was the Supreme Court's campaign-finance decision, which will undoubtedly transform the political system as we know it. These developments certainly weren't good news for the White House or the Democratic Party, although we still have no idea how the SCOTUS decision will play out (remember all the statements that Democrats were in trouble after McCain-Feingold?). Next week comes the State of the Union, as well as the congressional work to try to save health care. One thing is for certain: Democrats are hoping next week will be kinder to them than the past one has been.

*** Rebuking Geithner and Summers? One other thing that emerged this week was a change in the White House's tone when it comes to Wall Street. In fact, yesterday's Obama proposal to prohibit banks to use their deposit customers' money to speculate on Wall Street was a repudiation of sorts of his two top economic advisers, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner and Larry Summers, both of whom argued against this proposal. Indeed, it appears that it was Vice President Biden and Paul Volcker teaming up against Geithner and Summers here. Both Geithner and Summers played an instrumental role in getting Wall Street back on its feet. But given that Main Street isn't back on its feet just yet, the White House probably realizes that it can't be seen protecting Wall Street anymore. As we hinted at yesterday, there's a growing frustration in the White House between the economic team and the political team, and we're seeing that play out with the president trying to side with the populists.

*** Speaking of Main Street…: In the second stop of what the White House is calling its White House to Main Street tour, President Obama today heads to the swing state of Ohio to talk about his jobs agenda. In Lorrain County, OH, he tours a wind turbine manufacturing lab (at 1:20 pm ET) and holds a town hall meeting at the community college (2:05 pm), tours a factory at 3:25 pm ET and then is back in DC by 6:00 pm. (His first stop on the tour was Allentown, PA, on Dec. 4, 2009.) Pre-butting Obama's trip to Ohio today is House Minority Leader John Boehner, who pens this Cleveland Plain-Dealer op-ed: "President Barack Obama is coming to Elyria today to discuss job creation in a state that is desperate for a plan to put Americans back to work, but he continues to push an agenda that actually destroys American jobs." 

*** A changed political world: Yesterday, GOP lawyer Ben Ginsberg distributed a fascinating analysis of what the Supreme Court's big campaign-finance decision means. One, he said, it's going to place political candidates at a significant disadvantage to corporations and organized labor. "Controlling the issues they want to run on will become a real challenge, as will having sufficient funds to portray their positions and images." Two, it could lead to the extinction of America's political parties. "With the limits on the amounts and sources of funds they can accept, the parties will be bit players compared to outside groups that can now conduct those core functions with unlimited funds from any source." Three, it's going to benefit wealthy individuals, "leading to a number of new outlets who can carry the messages that these donors have wanted carried." Four, it will render 527s obsolete. And five, it's going to be good for the ad-makers and TV networks. By the way, Ginsberg (and also Rep. Barney Frank) will appear on MSNBC's "Daily Rundown" beginning at 9:00 am ET.   

*** McCain vs. Feingold? Not surprisingly, both John McCain and Russ Feingold -- the two authors of the famous campaign-finance law -- criticized yesterday's Supreme Court ruling. But the two men's tone couldn't have been more different. Here was Feingold's statement: "[T]his decision was a terrible mistake. Presented with a relatively narrow legal issue, the Supreme Court chose to roll back laws that have limited the role of corporate money in federal elections since Teddy Roosevelt was president. Ignoring important principles of judicial restraint and respect for precedent, the Court has given corporate money a breathtaking new role in federal campaigns." By comparison, McCain's response was pretty tepid: "I am disappointed by the decision of the Supreme Court and the lifting of the limits on corporate and union contributions." Of course, one reason why the John McCain of '10 doesn't sound like the McCain of '02 is because he probably faces a competitive GOP primary this year… 

*** John Roberts = Earl Warren? Here's a final point about yesterday's Supreme Court decision: Can Republican candidates complain about "judicial activism" with a straight face anymore? Yesterday's decision -- which overturned decades of precedent restricting corporate money in politics, and which the Roberts Court decided to re-hear to broadly challenge the precedent -- would have made Earl Warren blush. It's all ironic given John Roberts' testimony at his 2005 confirmation hearing. "Judges are like umpires," he said back then. "Umpires don't make the rules; they apply them. The role of an umpire and a judge is critical. They make sure everybody plays by the rules. But it is a limited role. Nobody ever went to a ball game to see the umpire... I will remember that it's my job to call balls and strikes and not to pitch or bat." But Roberts' decision to re-try the case broadly -- and not just over whether "Hillary: The Movie" could air before an election -- was certainly stepping into the batter's box.

*** A programming note: MSNBC's "Andrea Mitchell Reports" today interviews GOP Sen. Orrin Hatch, who will talk about health care and the big banks. Also on the show: The New York Times' David Sanger, Time's Joe Klein, and MSNBC's Rachel Maddow.

*** First Read's Top 10 Senate Takeovers: The last time we unveiled our Top 10 Senate contests (ranked by their likelihood of flipping parties) was back in October, and a lot has changed since then. Today, after the Massachusetts special, we're releasing our new Senate list, which shows SEVEN GOP pick-up possibilities, and THREE Dem ones.

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1. North Dakota (It's looking like this is John Hoeven's seat)
2. Delaware (as long as Mike Castle doesn't have an opponent, this is going to be a cakewalk for the GOP. Paging Beau Biden...) 
3. Nevada (Harry Reid is still incredibly vulnerable)
4. Colorado (Michael Bennet faces a primary challenge and is unproven so far)
5. Arkansas (Lincoln's poll numbers are in free-fall, but a crowded GOP primary could save her)
6. Missouri (Finally, a potential Dem pick-up on this list; can Roy Blunt really tap into that Scott Brown/outsider magic?)
7. New Hampshire (Can Paul Hodes take advantage of a crowded GOP primary?)
8. Pennsylvania (If Scott Brown can win in Massachusetts, then, yes, Pat Toomey can win in PA)
9. Ohio (Has Ohio moved back to where it was in 2003-2004, when it was more favorable to GOPers?)
10. Illinois (No matter which Dem emerges from next month's primary, Mark Kirk definitely has a shot)
Others to watch: Kentucky, North Carolina, Louisiana 

*** More Midterm news: Stu Rothenberg has moved Blanche Lincoln's Senate seat from "Toss-up" to "Lean Takeover… In Florida, Jeb Bush's son, George P., has endorsed Marco Rubio… And in Michigan, Republican gubernatorial candidate Rick Snyder says he has raised $3.2 million.

Countdown to IL primary: 11 days
Countdown to TX primary: 39 days
Countdown to Election Day 2010: 284 days

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