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First thoughts: Dems' tough start to 2010

After a very tough start to 2010, Wednesday's SOTU couldn't be coming at a better time for the White House… Some early previews of what the SOTU will contain… Bernanke's chances of survival look a lot better than they on Friday… Is Beau going to run? Yesterday's frenzy is only going to put more pressure on him to make up his mind... And Marion Berry becomes the latest Dem retirement.

From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, and Ali Weinberg
*** Dems' tough start to 2010: If you thought last year was a rough one for the Obama White House and Democrats, then the beginning of this year has been downright awful. It began with a worse-than-expected December jobs report. Then you had the controversy over Harry Reid's "light-skinned"/"Negro dialect" remarks, which dominated the news cycle for a few days. Next was Scott Brown's (R) special election victory in Massachusetts, which imperils the health-care legislation that Democrats have been working on for the past year. And now even Ben Bernanke's confirmation as Fed chairman seems to be in a bit of trouble. That's why Wednesday night's State of the Union -- Obama's first as president -- is so important and couldn't come at a better time (or is it worse?) for the White House and Democratic Party. It allows them to regroup, course a new strategy, and change the subject. 

*** Previewing the SOTU: So what can we expect Obama to say on Wednesday night? The New York Times appears to be the first to get an early look at a few of the proposals the president will make. "President Obama will propose in his State of the Union address a package of modest initiatives intended to help middle-class families, including tax credits for child care, caps on some student loan payments and a requirement that companies let workers save automatically for retirement… The proposals also include expanded tax credits for retirement savings and money for programs to help families care for elderly relatives." In fact, Obama is expected to roll out some of these proposals at 11:25 am ET. 

*** 'I'm a lot more optimistic than I was a year ago': Meanwhile, a thematic preview of Obama's State of the Union, we've been told, comes from the president's interview with ABC last week, in which he expressed optimism about 2010 and beyond. "During the course of this year we've had to make some decisions that were unpopular. We've made some mistakes. I've personally made some mistakes," he said. "But what I can tell you is, a year later, I've never been more optimistic about the possibilities of America. I'm certainly a lot more optimistic than I was a year ago. And the reason is, is this country's shown its resilience. It took a body blow, and yet people are out there still starting businesses, they're still raising families, they're still coaching little league… If we can get through 2009, as tough a year as it was, where a pandemic flu ranked about eighth on my To Do list and ended with a attempted terrorist attack and then a cataclysm in our neighborhood -- in Haiti. If we can come through 2009 and still not just be standing, but all kinds of good things happening out in the country, then I am very optimistic about where we can go." 

*** Tying health care, energy, and education to the economy: For additional SOTU previews, check out two speeches. One from Obama on the economy way back in April 2009 -- an economic speech that was widely praised by the chattering class at the time. In that speech, the president talked about a new economic foundation built on five pillars: new rules for Wall Street, investments in education, investments in clean energy, reforming health care to reduce health costs, and curbing other entitlement costs. "We cannot rebuild this economy on the same pile of sand," he said back then. "We must build our house upon a rock. We must lay a new foundation for growth and prosperity -- a foundation that will move us from an era of borrow and spend to one where we save and invest; where we consume less at home and send more exports abroad." The second speech to read: Ronald Reagan's 1982 State of the Union, given during a bad economic downturn (and struggling personal job ratings for him); the combination of patience and optimism is something Obama wants to achieve on Wednesday.

*** Bern, baby, Bern -- a Fed inferno? As mentioned above, Ben Bernanke's confirmation to serve another term as Fed chairman looked incredibly shaky on Friday. But there were signs over the weekend -- statements of support by Chris Dodd, Judd Gregg, and John Kerry, as well as GOP Minority Leader Mitch McConnell saying that he will be confirmed (although McConnell refused to say how he would vote) -- that Bernanke's chances of survival have improved. Indeed, per a CNBC analysis, Bernanke "likely has enough votes to overcome a filibuster and gain approval for a second term… The analysis also showed Bernanke would win confirmation with bipartisan support, although he will likely register more opposition than any Fed chairman in recent history." The vote is expected to occur sometime this week. 

*** Collateral damage: Not only does Bernanke's confirmation seem to be collateral damage in wake of last week's election in Massachusetts, but it's a victim of the health-care debate. We're told Democrats warned that Bernanke needed his confirmation vote to occur in December because of the fear that January would bring bonus news from Wall Street making everyone angry again. But, of course, all the action in the Senate that month was tied up in health care. That Bernanke -- Time's Man of the Year last year; shoot LAST MONTH!!!! -- has become a scapegoat of sorts on Capitol Hill is analogous to when Republicans took out their frustrations in early 2009 on then-RNC Chairman Mike Duncan, and not on John Boehner or Mitch McConnell. The feeling was that somebody needed to take the fall for the GOP other than Bush.

*** Beau knows? For the last couple of weeks, we've reminded our readers that Vice President Biden's son, Beau, has yet to signal whether he will run for his dad's old Senate seat. And that's a pretty significant development, given that the political world had all but penciled in Beau to run after longtime Biden aide Ted Kaufman was appointed as a caretaker for the seat. Yesterday, Delaware columnist Harry Themal set off a political frenzy when he quoted the vice president saying that his son doesn't want to run for the seat. "I know he doesn't want to… I'm so proud of the job he's done [as attorney general]." However, the vice president's office released a transcript of the interview showing that Biden was referring to Kaufman, not his son. Biden: "Always a pleasure of seeing you buddy. Talk Ted into running, if Beau doesn't. Talk him into running, he respects you. I wish I had the power of appointing senators. I'd appoint him from Maryland if he wouldn't do Delaware." Themal: "I don't think he wants to run, though." Biden: "No I don't think he does either. I know he doesn't. I'm so proud of the job he's done [as Delaware's senator]." 

*** Dems wishing they could re-do those appointments? But no matter whom Biden was referring to -- Beau or Kaufman -- the episode only serves as a reminder that Beau has yet to make his decision. (As Biden said, "Talk Ted into running, if Beau doesn't.") And the longer he takes, the less likely it is that Beau actually gets in, as GOP candidate Mike Castle continues to raise money. If Beau doesn't run, it raises the question why ex-Delaware Gov. Ruth Ann Minner appointed a caretaker like Kaufman, and not a more viable candidate like Lt. Gov. John Carney. In fact, had Minner just appointed Beau from the outset, Castle might not have even jumped into the race. More importantly, all of this is just more evidence how Democrats absolutely bungled their Senate appointments in Colorado (Bennet has a primary), Delaware (is Beau running?), Illinois (see: Burris, Roland), and New York (looks like Harold Ford is going to challenge Gillibrand), giving GOP pick-up opportunities in these states. And we didn't even mention the Massachusetts mess…

*** More Midterm news: In Arkansas, news trickled out yesterday that Rep. Marion Berry (D) -- not Marion Barry -- won't be seeking re-election in the fall, making him the first congressional Democrat retirement to come after last week's special election in Massachusetts… In Arizona, John McCain has a radio ad blasting J.D. Hayworth… And in New York, the Daily News is reporting that Andrew Cuomo is set to get into the gubernatorial race in March.

Countdown to IL primary: 8 days
Countdown to TX primary: 36 days
Countdown to Election Day 2010: 281 days

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