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First thoughts: The way forward

The White House's way forward on health care… Just where is Scott Brown, ideologically?... Holder touts the Zazi guilty plea as an example of how civilian courts can be used -- effectively -- in terror cases… Strickland now back ahead of Kasich in Ohio… Harry Reid's (slim) path to victory… McCain runs away from his TARP vote… And can Bill White beat Rick Perry in November?

From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, and Ali Weinberg
*** The way forward: After the White House released its health-care proposal yesterday, it's now clear how it wants to move forward: hold Thursday's televised summit, grab a Republican idea or two and include it (maybe tort reform, maybe something else significant), then have the political cover to use reconciliation in the Senate, and pass the Senate bill in the House. Of course, all of those things are easier said than done. But the White House is focusing its energies -- via Thursday's summit and today's blog post -- on the political cover front. Here's White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer's blog post: "What you can't do just yet is read about the Republicans' consensus plan -- because so far they haven't announced what proposal they'll be bringing to the table. To be sure, there are many Republicans who share the President's conviction that we need to act on reform, and there are several pieces of Republican health care legislation out there... As of right now, the American people still don't know which one Congressional Republicans support and which one they want to present to the public on Thursday."

*** Who is Scott Brown? Less than a week after he attended the CPAC confab and stressed that he was a Massachusetts REPUBLICAN, newly minted Sen. Scott Brown yesterday joined Democrats and four other Republicans (Bond, Collins, Snowe, and Voinovich) to stop a GOP filibuster on a $15 billion job bill. A few weeks on the job, and we still don't really know where Scott Brown is ideologically. On the one hand, he voted for cloture on the jobs bill. On the other hand, he spoke at CPAC, and his second vote in the Senate was to filibuster Obama's National Labor Relations Board nominee. Remember, of course, that Brown will be up for re-election in the presidential year of 2012. If he wants to be re-elected in blue Massachusetts, you're going to see him vote like Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins. If he has other ambitions, however, you'll see him vote the other way. We've actually seen a version of this movie in Massachusetts: Mitt Romney's term as governor. After moving to the center to get elected in 2002, he got the presidential bug and decided NOT to run for re-election and moved to the right. 

*** The Zazi guilty plea: Has the worm turned in the national security debate over civilian trials vs. military tribunals? Maybe not, but Najibullah Zazi, the airport shuttle driver who plotted to set off explosives in New York's subway system, pleaded guilty yesterday -- in federal court. Per the Washington Post, "Zazi agreed to plead guilty to three criminal charges and to share information about confederates overseas. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said the deal demonstrated anew the ability of the U.S. court system to dispense justice to terrorists. 'In this case, as it has in so many other cases, the criminal justice system has proved to be an invaluable weapon for disrupting plots and incapacitating terrorists, one that works in concert with the intelligence community and our military.'" Interestingly, we barely heard a peep from Republicans on the Zazi guilty plea. The Post adds that Zazi began to cooperate "after authorities charged his Afghan-born father with crimes and threatened to charge his mother with immigration offenses -- options that are not available in the military justice system."

*** Buckeye State watch: Is the worm beginning to turn for Democrats in Ohio, too? Yes and no. A new Quinnipiac poll shows that Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland (D) now has a five-point lead over challenger John Kasich (R), 44%-39%. Back in November, the race was deadlocked, 40%-40%. Still, that Strickland is below 50% hints at his vulnerability in this swing state. Meanwhile, the poll also finds that President Obama has an upside-down approval rating in Ohio, with 44% approving of his job and 52% disapproving, which is essentially unchanged from November.

*** Harry Reid's path: Sticking with midterm polls, a new Nevada survey by GOP pollster Glen Bolger gives us a glimpse at Harry Reid's (D) path to victory -- and it goes straight through the Tea Party candidate. In a three-way race, Sue Lowden (R) leads Reid by five points, 42%-37%, with Tea Party guy Jon Ashjian at 9%. In another three-way, Danny Tarkanian (R) is ahead of Reid by one point, 40%-39%, with Ashjian at 11%. Of course, as we saw in New Jersey last year, you know you're in trouble when your path to victory requires the third-party candidate getting double digits. Also in that Bolger poll, embattled (and very vulnerable) incumbent Gov. Jim Gibbons (R) is keeping it close against challenger Brian Sandoval (R) in the GOP gubernatorial primary. Sandoval leads Gibbons, 38%-32%. Gibbons was seen as a dead candidate running for months; this poll indicates there is a path to victory for him, too (at least in the primary -- for now). Then again, the incumbent governor gets only 32% in his OWN party's primary? Rory Reid, the likely Dem nominee, desperately needs Gibbons to somehow get out of the GOP primary. 

*** Running away from his TARP vote: Facing a GOP primary against J.D. Hayworth, John McCain is now saying he was misled about the bank bailout when he voted for it during the presidential campaign. "[T]he four-term senator says he was misled by then-Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke. McCain said the pair assured him that the $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program would focus on what was seen as the cause of the financial crisis, the housing meltdown. 'Obviously, that didn't happen,' McCain said in a meeting Thursday with The Republic's Editorial Board, recounting his decision-making during the critical initial days of the fiscal crisis. 'They decided to stabilize the Wall Street institutions, bail out (insurance giant) AIG, bail out Chrysler, bail out General Motors. . . . What they figured was that if they stabilized Wall Street - I guess it was trickle-down economics - that therefore Main Street would be fine.'" McCain didn't completely flip on his TARP vote, but he came awfully close.

*** The great White hope: The Texas GOP gubernatorial primary takes place exactly one week from today, and most of the attention has centered on the fight between Rick Perry and Kay Bailey Hutchison, Debra Medina's surprising candidacy, and the possibility of an April run-off (if no one gets 50% next week). But the biggest story in Texas could end up being the front-runner for the Democratic nomination: ex-Houston Mayor Bill White. If Perry, as expected, wins the GOP primary, there's a path for White to become the first Democratic governor of Texas since Ann Richards lost in 1994 (to George W. Bush). One, in this change environment, remember that Perry has now been in office for nearly 10 years. Two, he won re-election in 2006 with just 39% of the vote. And three, White has the ability -- with his handling of Hurricane Rita (???) -- to sell himself as the fix-it outsider. Then again, this is Texas, where Democrats haven't had political success in a generation. But gubernatorial elections aren't usually the national ideological battles that Senate contests are…

*** More midterm news: In Arizona's GOP Senate primary, Mitt Romney has endorsed John McCain… In Kentucky's GOP Senate primary, Trey Grayson used his first TV ad to hit Rand Paul over coal (borrowing a page from the McCain playbook -- hit your conservative primary foe early and often)… In New York, David Paterson (D), who kicked off his gubernatorial campaign over the weekend, trails Andrew Cuomo (D) by 42 points (!!!), according to a Siena poll… Also in New York, Kirsten Gillibrand compared Harold Ford to Sarah Palin… And in Texas, Kay Bailey Hutchison is airing a TV ad touting her newspaper endorsements, while Rick Perry is up with one that champions the 10th Amendment.

*** Programming note: MSNBC's "Andrea Mitchell Reports" interviews GOP Rep. Issa about the congressional Toyota hearings.

Countdown to NC filing deadline: 3 days
Countdown to TX primary: 7 days
Countdown to AR filing deadline: 13 days
Countdown to OR, PA filing deadlines: 14 days
Countdown to CA, NV filing deadlines: 17 days
Countdown to IA, UT filing deadlines: 24 days
Countdown to Election Day 2010: 252 days

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