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First thoughts: Back to 59

Brown to be sworn in later this afternoon, officially ending the Dems' Senate supermajority… The debate over national security continues… The real story in that R-word controversy -- someone has it out for Rahm… Looks like the Dem gubernatorial primary in IL will come to an end, but the GOP contest is separated by just 406 votes… Dan Coats' tough start… Poizner presser blowing up in his face?... And time for tea -- that is, the Tea Party convention.

From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, and Ali Weinberg
*** Back to 59: Senate Democrats today will officially lose their 60-vote supermajority. Per NBC's Kelly O'Donnell, Scott Brown (R) is expected to be sworn into the Senate around 5:00 pm ET, if Massachusetts completes its certification this morning. Brown was previously scheduled to get sworn in on Feb. 11, but he sent Massachusetts officials a letter asking them to certify earlier than expected. Why the change? The Washington Post has this explanation: "Congressional Republicans said privately that seating Brown earlier could help them block Democratic nominees opposed by the GOP, specifically Craig Becker, whom President Obama has nominated to join the five-member National Labor Relations Board. Becker is an associate general counsel for the Service Employees International Union and the AFL-CIO. A Senate committee is scheduled to vote on his nomination Thursday, setting up a confirmation vote on the floor by next week." Question: Is it ok for a politician to selectively decide to push up his/her swearing-in? Isn't that a slippery slope? Should we push up the swearing-ins of, say, the president?

*** The security debate: One of the issues that Brown used in his successful campaign was national security, accusing the Obama administration of granting special rights to terrorists. (A Brown adviser even admitted that national security was a more potent issue than health care.) Indeed, Republicans have been relentless in their criticism of the Obama administration over its handling of the failed Christmas bomber, and they seem to be dictating the terms of this debate in a way that is frustrating the White House to no end. Well, as we mentioned yesterday and the Washington Post writes today, the White House has been pushing back. It started Tuesday night with a briefing for reporters. That was followed by a Robert Gibbs rebuttal of Susan Collins. And then Eric Holder wrote a lengthy letter to Senate Republicans. http://bit.ly/b7Fsnc

*** The other R-word -- Rahm: Just askin', but have we all missed the REAL story in the controversy over the R-word that White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel uttered and for which he apologized? It's that someone has it out for Rahm. Given that someone leaked a six-month-old anecdote to the Wall Street Journal (which contained that R-word), there is clearly an effort to embarrass the chief of staff, hoping it leads either to a trimming of his sails or forces him out of his position. And do note that the criticism he has received comes from the group of folks Rahm was disparaging in that anecdote: the left.

*** All in the family? This morning, President Obama is addressing the annual National Prayer Breakfast, which has attracted controversy due to its affiliation with the "Fellowship" or "The Family." (The New York Times says "an ethics group in Washington has asked President Obama and Congressional leaders to stay away from the breakfast, on Thursday. Religious and gay rights groups have organized competing prayer events in 17 cities, and protesters are picketing in Washington and Boston." The Fellowship or the Family has been accused of having ties to legislation in Uganda that calls for the imprisonment and execution of homosexuals. It also gained notoriety last year after several of its high-profile members -- Mark Sanford, John Ensign -- were caught cheating on their spouses.) Also today, at 10:40 am ET, Obama meets with Speaker Pelosi, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, and Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin. And tonight, he attends twin DNC fundraisers, and he takes questions at one of them.

*** Illinois update: It looks like the end is near in Illinois' Democratic gubernatorial primary, but it's far from over in the GOP one. After Gov. Pat Quinn's (D) lead over Dan Hynes (D) increased to 8,100 votes per the Chicago Tribune, and after the Democratic Governors Association congratulated Quinn as the winner, Hynes is scheduled to make an announcement in Chicago at 11:00 am ET. Meanwhile, in the GOP contest, Bill Brady leads Kirk Dillard by just 406 votes. The Tribune: "Dillard is consulting with a top election law attorney as the possibility of a recount looms. He won't even be able to request a partial recount until the Illinois State Board of Elections certifies the results on March 5. From there, a complicated process unfolds that could include legal arguments before the state Supreme Court, day after day of ballot examinations, election board hearings and further legal action."

*** "I'm in to … explore": As Fred Thompson discovered in the '08 cycle, and as Harold Ford Jr. is finding out now, it sometimes can be disadvantageous to dip your toes into the political waters versus diving in head first. The reason: Your opponents (and the media) have the opportunity to define you first, and you don't have a campaign infrastructure to fire back. And former Indiana Sen. Dan Coats (R) appears to be learning that lesson, too, now that he himself is testing the waters to challenge Evan Bayh (D) in November. In the last 24 hours, we've learned that Coats is a registered lobbyist; that he has been registered to vote in Virginia, not Indiana; and that he accused Bill Clinton of wagging the dog after launching strikes intended to hit al Qaeda in 1998. None of these revelations destroys Coats' potential (and likely) candidacy. But it's also not the ideal start.

*** Poized to end badly? In California's GOP gubernatorial race, it looks like Steve Poizner's (R) press conference to decry Meg Whitman (R) consultant Mike Murphy's suggestion to Poizner's pollster that he withdraw from the race has really, really backfired. Writes L.A. Times columnist George Skelton: "Steve Poizner's allegation that Meg Whitman used attempted bribery and extortion in an effort to push him out of the gubernatorial race was merely an attention-grabbing stunt by a  desperate dark horse, many contend. Hopefully, they're right. Because if Poizner was sincerely angry and really does believe -- as he wrote state and federal prosecutors -- that the Whitman camp deserves criminal investigation, this is scary. It calls into question the state insurance commissioner's ability to govern the nation's most populous, most diverse and arguably most troubled state."

*** Time for tea? The Tea Party Nation Convention kicks off today in Nashville, TN. The main attraction -- Palin's keynote speech -- doesn't take place until Saturday. But here are some of the events on today's agenda: 1) an organized prayer session for the entire convention by former Southern Baptist preacher Rick Scarborough, author of "Enough is enough: A practical guide to political action, plus: why Christians must engage"; 2) entertainment by Lisa Mei, who sings this song; and 3) the debut of a movie called "Tea Party, The Documentary." By the way, we just learned that the convention is now open to the press. Said one organizer, "We desire transparency at this convention and have worked with media that are friendly to the TEA Party movement as well as those that have not been seen to be supportive of our efforts. And unlike the promises of this administration, we actually have C-SPAN covering our convention!"

*** More midterm news: In California's GOP Senate race, Carly Fiorina (R) has a Web video whacking Tom Campbell (R)… In Delaware, Chris Coons (D) officially announced he would run for Joe Biden's old Senate seat… In Florida, Marco Rubio (R) argues that illegal immigrants SHOULDN'T be counted in the census, "even though doing so could significantly reduce Florida's political power and share of federal funding"… In Kentucky, Rand Paul (R) is running a TV ad on national security… And in New York, a Quinnipiac poll shows Andrew Cuomo (D) beating Gov. David Paterson (D), 55%-23%, in a hypothetical Democratic primary match-up, while Kristen (D) Gillibrand is up 36%-18% against Harold Ford (D).

*** Today's programming note: MSNBC's "Daily Rundown" with Chuck Todd and Savannah Guthrie interviews Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown (D) and Alabama Gov. Bob Riley (R), while MSNBC's "Andrea Mitchell Reports" has GOP Sen. Kit Bond.

Countdown to TX primary: 26 days
Countdown to Election Day 2010: 271 days

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