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First thoughts: The House math

The new math hurts Dems' chances of passing health care in House, but there IS a way -- albeit a difficult one -- to get the votes. … KBH's pre-obit … Is the GOP now Jim DeMint's party? Maybe. But there's an irony in who's been winning elections for Republicans. … The DeMint-Rubio alliance … FL GOV general election gets underway VERY early with guns blazin'. … Daily Rundown has Graham, Cantor; Andrea Mitchell talks with Feinstein, Hatch.

From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, and Ali Weinberg
*** The House math: How hard is it going to be for the White House and the Democratic Party to pass health care? Just look at the math they now face in the House of Representatives. Back in November, the House health-care bill passed, 220-215, with 39 Democrats voting against and one Republican voting for it. But that 220 number has since declined: The one Republican, Joseph Cao, now says he'll vote no; John Murtha passed away; Robert Wexler left the House (the special election isn't until April 13); and Neil Abercrombie is officially exiting on Friday to run for Hawaii governor. With those three Dem vacancies, you need 217 votes for passage (instead of the usual 218), but the Cao/Murtha/Wexler/Abercrombie changes mean that Speaker Nancy Pelosi is now at 216. What's more, Bart Stupak says he can't support the Senate bill's abortion language, so Pelosi is at least 215 -- not factoring in other "no" votes Stupak might take with him. And then you have House Democrats who voted for the bill, but who are scared about what happened in Massachusetts last month. "This is a career-ending vote," one Dem who voted yes last November told the Washington Post's Ruth Marcus.

*** Looking at the 39 Dems who voted no: So where does Pelosi get the handful of votes to get to 217? It will have to come from the pool of the 39 House Democrats who voted no last year -- most of whom are Blue Dogs or face tough re-election campaigns in November. First, she can start with the three Dems, who are retiring this year -- Brian Baird, Bart Gordon, and John Tanner. Next, she can twist the arms of Dennis Kucinich and Eric Massa, who voted against the original because it wasn't far-reaching enough. And then you have conservative-leaning Dems (Jason Altmire? Stephanie Herseth-Sandlin?), who voted against the House bill because it had a public option or because it raised taxes on the wealthy. But the Senate bill the House will have to vote on doesn't contain a public option, and doesn't contain the millionaire's tax. The argument to some blue dogs will be, If Ben Nelson, Blanche Lincoln, and Mary Landrieu, could -- ideologically -- vote for the Senate bill, then they can too. In short, 217 votes are there, but getting them won't be easy at all. 

*** The Senate math: As for the math in the Senate, Democrats would need just 50 votes (plus Vice President Biden's) if they proceed via reconciliation. But keep this mind: Senate Democrats are NOT talking about pushing all of health care through this process -- just the so-called "fixes" (eliminating the Cornhusker Kickback, dealing with the excise tax, etc). This explains why the public option isn't really included in this discussion because Dems are trying to preserve the reconciliation option for relatively small issues that will pass muster with the Senate parliamentarian.

*** KBH's pre-bituary: It's six days until Tuesday's GOP gubernatorial primary in Texas, but the pre-bituaries are already coming in for Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, who's trailing incumbent Gov. Rick Perry in the polls. First was Chris Cillizza's "What Happened to Kay Bailey Hutchison" post. And then KBH's interview with the AP, in which she seem to all but concede that Perry's attacks on her as Washington insider have worked. "'It definitely has made it more difficult for me. I didn't think that people would buy that because I've been so effective for Texas,' Hutchison told the AP on her campaign bus. 'I didn't think that anyone could turn my success in producing results for Texas into a negative, but I think that he has attempted to do that and that what I've been having to fight against.'" It's worth wondering whether the race might have been different had Hutchison immediately resigned her Senate race -- without equivocation -- and attacked Perry's secessionist talk from last year. What if she had said back then, "You can be president of the Republic of Texas; I want to be governor of Texas." It would have shown some toughness that her candidacy seemed to lack.

*** Has it become DeMint's party? It's amazing to think about it, but it was just a year ago that there was a legitimate debate within the Republican Party whether it should be a "big tent" party or a "purist" one. Now? Many of the big-tenters have either left the building or are running for their lives. Examples: Arlen Specter switched parties; Dede Scozzafava had to quit her race in that NY-23 election because she was perceived being too liberal for a Republican; Marco Rubio is beating Charlie Crist in the polls; and John McCain has steered hard to the right to stave off a serious primary challenge. To put it another way, the GOP has become Jim DeMint's party. "I'd rather have 30 Marco Rubios than 60 Arlen Specters," DeMint said at last week's CPAC confab. (Ironically, the way things are going for the GOP in the midterms, it looks like we're going to see more than 30 Rubios in the next Senate…). Then again, look at the Republican Party's three big wins so far: Scott Brown, Chris Christie and Bob McDonnell. None of the three ran as DeMint conservatives. So it's as if DeMint's wing of the party has won the spin on these elections even as the campaigns themselves will tell you it was the wooing of the middle and the LACK of  use of the Republican brand that helped.

*** The DeMint-Rubio alliance: And speaking of Rubio-vs.-Crist, DeMint is now trying to deliver a coup de grace to Crist, with his PAC running this internet ad: "Will Charlie Switch Parties -- Yes or No?" In addition, DeMint is escorting Rubio to handful of fundraisers next month in South Carolina, which has set off 2012 speculation for Rubio (before he's even won his Senate race' actually before he's even won his primary). "Some are trying to spin this as a 2012 toe in water, and that's just ridiculous," a GOP source told First Read, adding that Crist enjoys a built-in advantage from a money standpoint. "This is going to be a long, tough battle… The reason [for the events] is to help Rubio to get the resources he needs to run against more well-funded Crist." But given the rock-star treatment Rubio is getting, does he really need to step inside South Carolina to raise cash? And does Rubio tying himself to DeMint so publicly hurt him in a general election. Florida -- a battleground state Obama won in '08 -- isn't Massachusetts, but how would Scott Brown have fared earlier this year had he publicly stumped with DeMint in South Carolina before his race? Its truly stunning that Rubio has agreed to do this; Could Rick Perry have gotten away with a stop in SC, IA or NH during his primary? Then again, Crist did get grief when he went to a major Republican confab in Michigan, which at the time some saw as dipping a toe in national Republican politics.

*** The guns of February: The Republican Governors Association fired the first shot in Florida's hotly contested gubernatorial race with a TV ad aimed at Alex Sink (D). Later today, the Florida Democratic Party fires back with an attack ad at Bill McCollum (R). The RGA's shot at Sink was pretty smart politics; she's more vulnerable now than she will be three or six months from now. What's more, the RGA knows they have a flawed nominee in McCollum, so the idea is to make Sink just as flawed. Six months ago, there was some chatter that the country's three largest states were on the verge of electing women governor -- Whitman in California, Sink in Florida, and KBH in Texas. Now only Whitman has gotten stronger since then, while Sink and KBH have fallen. Also, the RGA knows there are a lot of nervous nellies in Democratic circles both in Florida and Washington over the direction of the Sink campaign; they smell blood and figure why not add to the chaos.

*** More midterm news: In Arizona, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell endorses McCain … In California, Meg Whitman launches a new ad … In New York, Harold Ford tests the waters with a poll out of his pocket … In Ohio, Fischer leads Brunner in Dem primary, but Portman leads both in general. … In Texas, KBH grumbles that Perry's "insider" attacks worked.

*** Programming notes: MSNBC's "Daily Rundown" interviews GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham and GOP House Minority Whip Eric Cantor, while MSNBC's "Andrea Mitchell Reports has Dem Sen. Dianne Feinstein and GOP Sen. Orrin Hatch.
Countdown to NC filing deadline: 2 days
Countdown to TX primary: 6 days
Countdown to AR filing deadline: 12 days
Countdown to OR, PA filing deadlines: 13 days
Countdown to CA, NV filing deadlines: 16 days
Countdown to IA, UT filing deadlines: 23 days
Countdown to Election Day 2010: 251 days

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