Unemployment rate drops to 9.7%... The Palin Question: Is she a serious political figure or a political celebrity?... Tea Party convention begins its second day… The 24 House Dems who voted against raising the debt ceiling but for the PAYGO rules… Our Top 10 governor takeovers… And our Top 11 most competitive gubernatorial contests.
From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, and Ali Weinberg
*** Good/bad jobs news: The latest jobs report is out, and it contains both good and bad news for the Obama administration. First, the good news: The unemployment rate unexpectedly dropped from 10.0% to 9.7%. The bad news: Another 20,000 jobs were lost in January, although that is the second-best monthly number in the past two years. As he's done on past Fridays when the jobs numbers are released, President Obama has an event on the economy. At 12:10 pm ET -- right when the snow is supposed to begin falling here in the DC area -- he meets with small business owners in Lanham, MD, and then he delivers remarks 20 minutes later. Meanwhile, the RNC has released a statement on the jobs numbers, highlighting the 20,000 lost jobs but not the decline in the unemployment rate.
*** The Palin question: As we embark on another round of Palin-palooza -- she speaks at the Tea Party convention on Saturday night, stumps for Rick Perry on Sunday, and sits down for a Sunday interview with her TV employer FOX -- the time has come to pose this question: What is Sarah Palin? A legitimate political figure, a la Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, John McCain, or Mitt Romney? Or is she more of a political celebrity like Rush Limbaugh or Glenn Beck or even Oprah Winfrey or George Clooney (when they dabble in politics)? The distinction is an important one. The former category consists of folks who offer policy proposals and enter the public debate, but who also have to defend those proposals and ideas to the press and the public. The latter category gets to inject themselves into the public debate, too, but without accountability or serious follow-up questions.
*** Politician or celebrity? To put it another way, just like with the debate over college "student-athletes" or "athlete-students," Palin is a political celebrity. But is she a politician first? Or a celebrity? On the one hand, you can certainly say she's a politician. She was John McCain's running mate and governor of Alaska; she remains the most exciting figure within the GOP; she's tapping into the building Tea Party movement (see tomorrow night's speech); and she certainly knows how to make news (raising the specter of "death panels," taking on Al Gore, criticizing Rahm Emanuel over using the R-word). On the other hand, she isn't proposing any new, serious ideas; she's making money from her speeches and TV appearances; and she doesn't have to answer tough follow-up questions after she posts something controversial on Facebook or writes a Washington Post op-ed.
*** When we'll have an answer: We don't offer an answer to this Palin question. But she's like no other political figure in history when it comes to the fact she plays by different rules. Some might say, "Typical Main Stream Media -- they are just upset because she goes around them." But even those politicians who have gone out of their way to talk above the MSM have also engaged us, because it's an opportunity to truly test-drive their platform. Perhaps the ultimate hint of Palin's true ambitions will be the day she releases some sort of policy proposal or decides to face questioning from neutral media.
*** Tea Party convention, Day 2: Speaking of that Tea Party convention, it begins its second day. Here's Friday's schedule: Speaker Steve Milloy of JunkScience.com and author of "Green Hell: How Environmentalists Plan to Control your Life and What You can Do to Stop Them"; former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore, who promotes his Ten Commandments yard signs and pro-life signs; and Andrew Breitbart's movie, "Generation Zero: The Inconceivable Truth." Also, today's breakout sessions include: "5 Easy Fixes to the High Cost of Mass Immigration"; "US Govt. Bankruptcy - Facts for Citizens Who Don't Have Finance Degrees"; "How to do Voter Registration Drives and Where to Find Conservative Votes" & "Women in Politics." And there's a 2:00 pm ET press conference with organizers.
*** Block this: It's possible that Scott Brown's first vote comes on a filibuster against a relatively obscure National Labor Relations Board nominee whom Republicans and the Chamber of Commerce believe is too pro-labor. (Um, don't Democratic presidents get to appoint pro-labor nominees, just like Republican presidents get to appoint pro-business folks? Don't elections have consequences?) Well, the appointment process has now reached this point: CongressDaily is reporting that GOP Sen. Richard Shelby has placed a hold on 70 executive nominations, because (among other things) the administration won't act on an earmark to build an FBI center in his state of Alabama to analyze improvised explosive devices. Democrats and the White House are complaining about these holds and the overall filibustering of Democratic nominees. Then again, you'll probably hear Republicans counter with the words "Miguel Estrada" and "John Bolton." By the way, a little bit of potential irony here: Shelby's wanting earmarks, while his GOP colleague, Jim DeMint, is calling for an earmark ban. Hmmmm.
*** Just askin': If there was a plan forward on health care, wouldn't we have heard about after yesterday's meeting with congressional leaders at the White House?
*** 24: If you want an idea of the folks who might be the most vulnerable Democratic members of Congress -- and know they are -- look no further than the 24 Dems who 1) voted against raising the debt ceiling and 2) voted to establish PAYGO rules. Those 24, per NBC's Luke Russert: Adler (NJ), Boccieri (OH), Childers (MS), Donnelly (IN), Driehaus (OH), Ellsworth (IN), Foster (IL), Halvorson (IL), Hodes (NH), Kirkpatrick (AZ), Kissell (NC), Kratovil (MD), Markey (CO), Massa (NY), McIntyre (NC), Murphy (NY), Murphy (PA), Owens (NY), Perriello (VA), Schauer (MI), Space (OH), Teague (NM), Titus (NV), Wu (OR). These 24 House Dems want to have as pure of a "deficit hawk" credential as possible; this is one way to do it.
*** Top 10 governor takeovers: If it's Friday, it means it's time for another First Read Top 10 list -- this time our Top 10 gubernatorial takeovers. It's still very early in the cycle, but it sure looks like several red states are going to get redder, and several blue states will get bluer. That's mainly due to term limits/retirements of popular Republicans in Democratic-leaning states, and of popular Democrats in GOP-leaning states.
1. Kansas (Republican Gov. Sam Brownback, we presume)
2. Hawaii (With GOP Gov. Linda Lingle term limited, a Democrat should win Obama's childhood state, which he carried with nearly 72% of the vote)
3. Oklahoma (On the other hand, Obama got just 34% in this state. And Republicans are licking their chops with Democratic Gov. Brad Henry's exit due to term limits)
4. Vermont (With GOP Gov. Jim Douglas retiring, Democrats have an excellent pick-up opportunity here. But can Republican Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie keep it close?)
5. Tennessee (See Kansas and Oklahoma)
6. Michigan (With the unemployment rate here at 14.6%, that doesn't help the incumbent party. And Democrats are the incumbents…)
7. Pennsylvania (Some might find this stunning, but a Republican like Tom Corbett might have a better chance of picking up Pennsylvania than Democrats have in picking up California or Minnesota)
8. Iowa (Democratic Gov. Chet Culver is the more vulnerable incumbent this cycle. His best hope may be for the GOP primary to wound Terry Branstad)
9. Connecticut (GOP Gov. Jodie Rell's retirement gives Democrats an excellent shot here, but will a crowded Dem field -- led by Ned Lamont -- end up hurting the Democrats?)
10. Wyoming* (There's a reason we have an asterisk here: If Democratic Gov. Dave Freudenthal departs due to term limits, this is going to be a GOP pick-up. But if he challenges the state's term-limits law, then he's going to keep this in the D column)
*** Our Top 11 most competitive contests: While we list the Top 10 potential takeovers above, the real action is going to take place in other states. Here are our most competitive states (in alphabetical order): AZ, CO, FL, IL, MA, MN, NV, OH, RI, TX, WI.
*** More midterm news: In California, Meg Whitman has released her first TV ad, which focuses on her bio and the economy… Also in California, the DSCC has drafted a petition asking Carly Fiorina to make more Web videos like the "Demon sheep" one… In Illinois, the Democratic Lt. Gov. nominee is vowing to stay in the race, despite allegations that he choked his ex-wife… And in New Hampshire, Kelly Ayotte is running a radio ad…
Countdown to TX primary: 25 days
Countdown to Election Day 2010: 270 days