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First thoughts: Dems pick up 2 votes?

Dems might pick up two health-care votes today (with Nathan Deal's retirement in Georgia and Blanche Lincoln's primary challenge… It's another busy week in politics -- TX Gov primary on Tuesday, Mitt Romney's book on Tuesday, Obama in Georgia on Tuesday, and jobs numbers on Friday… Mission accomplished in Iraq?... Can the White House make political hay out of Bunning's obstruction?... And Baron Hill says no to a Senate bid, meaning that Brad Ellsworth more than likely will be the Dem nominee in Indiana.

From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, and Ali Weinberg
*** Dems pick up two votes? Are Democrats having their best health-care day in quite some time? Oddly enough, maybe. Today, it appears they've picked up two votes for THEIR effort to pass health-care. First, Rep. Nathan Deal (R) announces his resignation today to concentrate on his bid for Georgia governor. And with Deal's retirement, that means there are 431 House members, so the magic number to pass health care in the House is now 216 votes, down from last week's 217. Second, in Arkansas, Lt. Gov. Bill Halter (D) today announced he's launching a primary challenge against Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D). While Arkansas isn't Pennsylvania -- where Joe Sestak's primary has pushed Arlen Specter to the left -- Halter's challenge probably ensures that Lincoln ends up voting for reconciliation, assuming that Lincoln wants to remain in the Senate. We have more on the Deal and Halter news below…

*** Another busy week: Fasten your seatbelts for another busy week in politics. Today, President Obama gives a speech in DC on education at an event hosted by Colin Powell's America's Promise Alliance (an issue that does have bipartisan support, but the question of funding is a real sticking point). On Tuesday, there's the Texas gubernatorial primary, the release of Mitt Romney's new book, Sarah Palin's appearance on "Leno," and Obama heading to Georgia to talk about the economy. On Wednesday, the president is expected to make remarks on how he hopes Congress proceeds on health care. And on Friday, we'll see new monthly job numbers from the Labor Department (which the winter storms and the days off of work for so many will make the numbers look worse than expected), while GOP Sen. Scott Brown campaigns for John McCain in Arizona.   

*** Mission accomplished? And on Sunday, Iraq's parliamentary elections will take place. Pegged to those elections, the latest issue of Newsweek runs a provocative cover story with this headline: "Victory at Last: The Emergence of a Democratic Iraq." From the story: "[George W.] Bush's rhetoric about democracy came to sound as bitterly ironic as his pumped-up appearance on an aircraft carrier a few months earlier, in front of an enormous banner that declared MISSION ACCOMPLISHED. And yet it has to be said and it should be understood—now, almost seven hellish years later—that something that looks mighty like democracy is emerging in Iraq. And while it may not be a beacon of inspiration to the region, it most certainly is a watershed event that could come to represent a whole new era in the history of the massively undemocratic Middle East." The New York Times notes, however, that Prime Minister's Nuri al-Maliki's might have a difficult time winning a majority on March 7.

*** Shades of 1995-1996? The Obama White House is oddly happy about stories like this one: "Two thousand federal transportation workers will be furloughed without pay on Monday, and the Obama administration said they have a Kentucky senator to blame for it… The furloughs and freeze on payments were the result of a decision last week by Republican Sen. Jim Bunning to block passage of legislation that would have extended federal highway and transit programs," as well as unemployment benefits. The more the GOP is seen as actively obstructing, the better shot the White House thinks it can make the case to the American public that the Republicans aren't interested in governing. By the way, the AP notes that last year saw a Senate record of 112 cloture votes (i.e., filibusters). And get this: "In the first two months of 2010, the number already exceeds 40."

*** 'Cause I gotta have faith: With Democrats and Republicans unable to come together on health care -- let alone on this transportation/unemployment benefits spending -- the AP runs a story noting a favorite First Read topic that we've tracked for years now: the loss of faith in ALL institutions (not just politics, but business, sports, religion, universities, etc). "What does it mean if people have lost faith in the government to solve the most pressing issues, lost faith in companies to deliver workable products -- and lost faith in the belief that either will take responsibility for failure?" the AP asks. "Short term, the public's distrust doesn't bode well for any politician up for election this fall, particularly Democrats who control Congress… It may not bode well for companies such as Toyota that are seeking to restore credibility; consumers are only loyal to a point… Long term, such a lack of confidence in the nation's biggest institutions could turn society's skepticism to debilitating cynicism. It could spread animosity throughout society, crimping America's historic optimism, fueling incivility -- if not paranoia -- among the people and encouraging disrespect of authorities of all types, at all levels."

*** Not a good time to be a member of Congress running for governor: It's one day until the GOP gubernatorial primary in Texas. And over the weekend, the Washington Post's Dan Balz had a great piece explaining Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison's (R) troubles against incumbent Gov. Rick Perry (R). "At a time of rising anger toward Washington, Perry has hung Hutchison's service in the nation's capital around her neck. His campaign calls her 'Kay Bailout' for her support of the financial industry rescue. He has attacked her for the earmark projects she has secured for Texas, which he describes as symptomatic of out-of-control spending in Washington. 'He definitely has made it more difficult for me,' [Hutchison] said aboard her campaign bus. 'I've protected Texas. I've brought Texas taxpayer dollars back to Texas very successfully, and I've voted for Texas values. I didn't think that anyone could turn my success in producing results for Texas into a negative.'" By the way, there are a number of sitting members of Congress trying to become governor (Brownback in KS, Hoekstra in MI, Deal in GA, etc). What will opponents and those running learn from this potentially disastrous showing by Hutchison?

*** Blanche Lincoln gets primary challenge: With Arkansas' filing deadline a week from today, Lt. Gov. Bill Halter (D) announced that he will challenge Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D) in a Democratic primary. "I'm going to spend the rest of today phoning friends, family and supporters, and making a courtesy call to Sen. Blanche Lincoln," Halter said in a press release. "I look forward to joining my wife and father tomorrow morning at the state capitol where we'll make official my campaign to put Arkansans first." Halter also has this announcement video. The question is whether Lincoln -- whose poll numbers are abysmal -- decides not to seek re-election with the filing deadline next week. Before this news, it was pretty clear she was focused on running. Assuming she does stay in, this sets up an odd primary fight between the progressive wing of the party and the White House. By the way, this also could be a test of Bill Clinton's sway, if he chooses to engage; something tells us he'd be itching for this fight.

*** More midterm news: In Georgia, Rep. John Linder (R) announced that he won't be seeking re-election; his district is a conservative one, where McCain got 60% of the vote in 2008… Also in Georgia, Rep. Nathan Deal (R) announced he's resigning his House seat to focus on his gubernatorial bid… In Indiana, Rep. Baron Hill (D) said he wouldn't run for the Senate, which means that Rep. Brad Ellsworth is going to be the Dem nominee… In Michigan, an EPIC-MRA poll shows Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R) leading the Republican gubernatorial race with 27%, followed by 21% for Mike Cox (R) and Rick Snyder at 12%, per Taegan Goddard… And in Pennsylvania, a new Franklin and Marshall poll finds Sen. Arlen Specter (D) leading primary challenger Joe Sestak (D), 33% to 16%, while Specter trails Pat Toomey (R) by 10 points in a general election match-up.

Countdown to TX primary: 1 day
Countdown to AR filing deadline: 7 days
Countdown to OR, PA filing deadlines: 8 days
Countdown to CA, NV filing deadlines: 11 days
Countdown to IA, UT filing deadlines: 18 days
Countdown to Election Day 2010: 246 days

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