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First thoughts: The eyes are upon you

It's Primary Day in Texas… Polls close at 8:00 pm ET in most parts of the state and at 9:00 pm ET in the El Paso area… Harold Ford drops NY Senate primary bid… The Washington Post stokes a Rahm vs. Obama rift… Obama-care vs. Romney-care… Bill Halter vs. J.D. Hayworth… And Obama today heads to Georgia to talk jobs, and will talk about health care tomorrow. 

From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, and Ali Weinberg
*** The eyes of the political world are upon you: Today is Primary Day in Texas, where the marquee race is the GOP gubernatorial primary featuring incumbent Gov. Rick Perry, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, and Tea Party fav Debra Medina. The winner needs 50% to avoid an April 13 run-off. On the Democratic side, ex-Houston Mayor Bill White is the overwhelming front-runner. Over the past few weeks, we've recounted the various themes here: Kay Bailey Hutchison's struggles, how Perry has used Hutchison's work in Washington against her, Medina's rise (and fall?), and White's fighting chance against Perry in a general election match-up. Polls open at 8:00 am ET and close at 8:00 pm ET, but in El Paso and the surrounding area, they close at 9:00 pm ET. By the way, today just happens to be Texas Independence Day down in the Lone Star State…

*** Rick Perry's playbook: So it's an anti-incumbent year, right? Well, then how did the second-longest-serving governor in the country (and longest in Texas history) apparently survive this primary challenge, if the polls are correct? The answer: Being an incumbent in WASHINGTON is worse than being an incumbent in AUSTIN, apparently. Staying with how Perry has used Hutchison's work in Washington against her, it's worth pointing out that at least nine senators and House members are running for governor this cycle: Hutchison in Texas, Sam Brownback in Kansas, Neil Abercrombie in Hawaii, Gresham Barrett in South Carolina, Artur Davis in Alabama, Nathan Deal in Georgia, Mary Fallin in Oklahoma, Pete Hoekstra in Michigan, and Zack Wamp in Tennessee. Did Rick Perry provide their opponents with a playbook how to win in a cycle when Washington is so unpopular?

*** Ford tough? For the second time in the past four days, we've seen a prominent New York Democrat decide not to run for office this year. On Friday, it was Gov. David Paterson; on Monday night, it was Harold Ford Jr. In a New York Times op-ed, Ford writes, "If I run, the likely result would be a brutal and highly negative Democratic primary -- a primary where the winner emerges weakened and the Republican strengthened. I refuse to do anything that would help Republicans win a Senate seat in New York, and give the Senate majority to the Republicans." Yet much of the rest of his op-ed criticizes the Democratic Party, especially those who were backing Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand. "These are tough times, and the New Yorkers I have met are facing economic adversity with grace and dignity… And yet too few in the Democratic Party are really willing to break with orthodoxy to meet these challenges. We need leaders as good as the people they represent -- leaders focused on creating jobs, keeping taxes low, helping small businesses and restoring faith in government."

*** Ford's stumbles, Gillibrand's vulnerability: Yet Ford's op-ed neglects to mention his own stumbles out of the gate -- his New York Times interview in which he said he visited Staten Island via helicopter, the fact that he wasn't paying New York taxes, or the rude reception he received from New York gays. One Democratic aide poses this question to First Read: "Who had a worse foray into their race: Dan Coats or Harold Ford?" Still, you could argue that Ford's potential challenge did expose to a larger audience of political elites in New York and DC that Gillibrand is vulnerable (despite the lack of a real GOP challenger right now) -- and it seems to have spurred Mort Zuckerman to think about running. Also, it's worth speculating whether Paterson dropping out hurt Ford, since he may have been counting on a competitive gubernatorial primary to help drive up African-American turnout. As for Zuckerman, we're hearing he's trying to figure out a way to run, a la Bloomberg the first time, in a fusion like way as an indie/GOPer. Many New York Republicans are surprisingly receptive to the supposed left-of-center billionaire. Sound familiar? MSNBC's "Andrea Mitchell Reports," which begins airing at 1:00 pm ET, interviews Gillibrand today.

*** The Rahm rift: Outside of these campaign happenings, here's the story generating the most buzz in DC this morning: A week after the Washington Post's Milbank wrote a piece vigorously defending White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel ("Arguably, Emanuel is the only person keeping Obama from becoming Jimmy Carter"), the Post today runs a front-page story suggesting that Emanuel and other White House staffers aren't on the same page. From the story: "[I]n the search for what has gone wrong, influential Democrats are -- in unusually frank terms -- blaming Obama and his closest campaign aides for not listening to Emanuel," especially Rahm's argument not to try Khalid Sheik Mohammed in civilian court. Rahm backers are pushing back against the Post story ("They are just trying to stir the pot," one White House aide says of the Post; other argue this Post story is nothing more than an expanded Milbank column), but these two stories create the perception that the president and his chief of staff aren't on the same page -- something we did NOT see publicly with past chiefs of staff like Andy Card, Josh Bolten, John Podesta.

*** Keeping it in the family? Of course, internal dissent can be a good thing. But what may irritate the president and the campaign-era brain trust is what this Post story implies: Rahm shared his personal dissent on KSM and health care with others outside "the family." Remember, we never saw these types of stories about Team Obama during the presidential campaign; it was something we expected from Teams Clinton and McCain. Then again, Rahm was never part of that Obama campaign team; he cut his teeth in the Clinton era, when that president seemed to handle or even embrace the public dissent. What the president and other White House staffers might find particularly frustrating is that -- regardless whether this perception is true or not -- they can't make a chief of staff change right now. Emanuel is too important in getting health-care done. Also, a Rahm departure would allow the Lindsey Grahams to further criticize the White House on KSM and national security and paint the president as on an island.

*** Perception matters: Also, there's much to Emanuel that the president likes, and he is fiercely loyal once the "play is called" as one person indicated in the Post story. But the issue some may have with Rahm at this point is the PERCEPTION that he worries too much about his own reputation -- at the expense of the president. By the way, for Rahm's practical political future, nothing will irritate him more in this Post story than the Luis Gutierrez criticism, since that's one less endorsement he can count on if he ever runs for Chicago mayor.

*** Obama-care = Romney-care? Today's also the day that Mitt Romney's new book, "No Apology: The Case for American Greatness" is released; tomorrow, he begins a nearly three-month book tour that will take him to early primary states (like IA, NH, NV, SC) and battleground states (like CO, FL, MI, OH). As Romney kicks off his book tour -- and begins laying the foundation for a presidential bid -- one of the more underreported stories is whether his effort to reform Massachusetts health-care system could come back to haunt him in an environment where the entire GOP, including Romney, is against Obama's health reforms. "Americans said no because Obama-care is bad care for America!" Romney declared at CPAC last month. But as health-care policy experts know, Obama-care looks a whole lot like Romney-care in Massachusetts -- it gives subsidies for the poor, it mandates that all have insurance, it prohibits insurers from denying those with pre-existing conditions; and it sets up an exchange (or the equivalent) where folks can purchase insurance plans. On "TODAY" this morning, Romney said: "Our health-care plan was a heck of a lot better… Let the states resolve these issues," not have a federal one-size-fits-all approach.

*** Halter vs. Hayworth: It's worth comparing how Bill Halter in Arkansas and J.D. Hayworth in Arizona rolled out their primary bids. Halter at least had figured out how to get the maximum out of his base (MoveOn, Hamsher, DailyKos all immediately backed him and raised an impressive sum of money; there's also the quick AFL-CIO nod), while Hayworth couldn't even get a press release endorsement from the Tea Party folks in Arizona.  Now we don't know if there are enough progressives/liberals in Arkansas to vault Halter to victory, a la Ned Lamont. But the first day energy OUTSIDE OF THE STATE between Lamont and Halter is there. 

*** Obama today and tomorrow: Today President Obama takes his White House to Main Street tour to Savannah, GA, where he tours Savannah Technical College at 11:55 am ET, delivers remarks on the economy at 12:30 pm, tours a local manufacturing facility at 1:20 pm, and tours a local small business at 2:50 pm. Tomorrow, the New York Times reports, Obama will talk about a way forward on health care. "President Obama this week will begin a climactic push to rally restive Congressional Democrats to pass major health care legislation by hammering the argument that the costs of failure will be higher insurance premiums and lost coverage for individuals and businesses."

Countdown to AR filing deadline: 6 days
Countdown to OR, PA filing deadlines: 7 days
Countdown to CA, NV filing deadlines: 10 days
Countdown to IA, UT filing deadlines: 17 days
Countdown to Election Day 2010: 245 days

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