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First thoughts: Back to the future

Are we all experiencing 2006 déjà vu?... President Obama's doubles down on health care… Rove admits in his book -- point blank -- that Bush went to war under false pretenses in Iraq… Trying to make sense of the Democrats' Massa Mess… Co-chairs at Ways and Means? … Club for Growth goes after Bennett in Utah… Giannoulias' struggles in Illinois… And the name (blame) game down in Texas.

From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, and Ali Weinberg
*** Back to the Future: Who else has the feeling we've jumped into a time machine -- DeLorean or hot tub, your pick -- and traveled back to 2006? A powerful congressional leader (swap Tom DeLay for Charlie Rangel) has stepped down from his powerful leadership post. A congressman hailing from the majority (swap Mark Foley for Eric Massa) is battling allegations of misconduct with underlings/staffers. The president's top domestic priorities (swap Social Security and immigration for health care and cap-and-trade) are in trouble. And the party in power is staring at the distinct possibility of losing lots of seats, maybe even its majorities, in the upcoming midterms. Just to add to the 2006 déjà vu, Reuters has this news from Iraq ("Suicide bombers killed seven soldiers and wounded 25 in two separate attacks on polling centres in Baghdad as security forces, inmates and the infirm took part in early voting ahead of Iraq's national polls"), and Karl Rove is back in the news with his new memoir defending George W. Bush's legacy.

*** Boy, that escalated quickly. I mean, that really got out of hand fast: What should be particularly striking is that the GOP woes in 2006 came after a decade in control of Congress and in Bush's sixth year in office; for Democrats, this bad news is coming after three-plus years in the congressional majority and in their president's second year. On the bright side for Democrats, we guess, is that these troubles are coming a full eight months before the midterms, giving them time to repair the damage and hope for better news (that the economy turns around, that health care gets passed). Still, folks should take a bit of a deep breath, because the key word in describing a volatile political environment is the word "volatile." And when there is time before an election, there's time for more volatility.

*** The health-care gamble: Turning to President Obama's health-care speech yesterday, we thought this was his most striking line: ''At stake right now is not just our ability to solve this problem, but our ability to solve any problem. The American people want to know if it's still possible for Washington to look out for their interests and their future.'' The AP's Ron Fournier interprets this line as Obama running against Washington, casting himself as the outsider as he sits inside the White House. But it's also an admission that if he CAN'T get this done now, it's proof that Washington is truly broken. Lost in all the debates over process -- should Senate Democrats use reconciliation, what kind of assurances should House Democrats receive from the Senate? -- is what a HUGE political gamble this now is for the president. He's doubling down on health care. And if he can't get this done, it will diminish his presidency as it will send a signal he can't lead his own party. It would also signal that, despite their significant majorities, congressional Democrats can't govern, either. Which, of course, is what that line in the president's speech basically warned, and it's the LAST best political pitch the White House has with wavering House Democrats.

*** Rove's admission: Speaking of Karl Rove's new memoir, is it us, or does he admit in his book -- point blank -- that George W. Bush went to war in Iraq under false pretenses? "Would the Iraq war have occurred without W.M.D.? I doubt it," Rove writes. "Congress was very unlikely to have supported the use-of-force resolution without the W.M.D. threat. The Bush administration itself would probably have sought other ways to constrain Saddam, bring about regime change, and deal with Iraq's horrendous human rights violations." Wow. Many in the chattering class take for granted the facts regarding WMD and Iraq now, but to have someone THIS close to the former president tell the world that this war was waged under false pretenses is stunning. Now partisans on both sides will get into their corners, but Rove has re-opened the Iraq debate again, and it's happening on the eve of one of the most crucial periods in THAT country's history. 

*** The Massa mess: Regarding Rep. Eric Massa's (D) retirement and the allegations of misconduct with his staffers (which he denies, saying his retirement is due to a recurrence of cancer), House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer's office released a statement that suggested there's smoke to the proverbial fire. "The week of February 8th, a member of Rep. Massa's staff brought to the attention of Mr. Hoyer's staff allegations of misconduct that had been made against Mr. Massa. Mr. Hoyer's staff immediately informed him of what they had been told. Mr. Hoyer instructed his staff that if Mr. Massa or his staff did not bring the matter to the attention of the bipartisan Ethics Committee within 48 hours, Mr. Hoyer would do so. Within 48 hours, Mr. Hoyer received confirmation from both the Ethics Committee staff and Mr. Massa's staff that the Ethics Committee had been contacted and would review the allegations. Mr. Hoyer does not know whether the allegations are true or false, but wanted to ensure that the bipartisan committee charged with overseeing conduct of Members was immediately involved to determine the facts."

*** Another GOP pick-up opportunity: Still, we suggest that everyone take a deep breath with this story. It was pretty astonishing to watch all of collective Washington immediately jump to the Mark Foley comparisons. But there is one key difference: The Foley news came just weeks before Election Day 2006, while we're still eight months away from the midterms. That said, Massa's retirement is very good news for Republicans and bad news for Democrats. He represents a swing district in upstate New York that used to be reliably Republican. This is a huge opportunity for the GOP. 

*** Leap frog game at Ways and Means: By the way, here's our latest reporting on who will succeed Rangel at the House Ways and Means Committee. Speaker Nancy Pelosi -- as a compromise -- is pushing a co-chair idea for rest of this year for both Pete Stark and Sandy Levin. Stark offered to be chair until November only, but Ways and Means Democrats couldn't unite around that, either. Pelosi would like to avoid a full caucus vote on this issue, though Stark is pushing that. Ways and Means Democrats are meeting again today in an attempt to resolve this without having to go to entire Dem caucus.

*** The Club vs. Bennett: Pegged to Utah's upcoming March 23 precinct caucuses, the Club for Growth is running a TV ad targeting Sen. Bob Bennett. We've said before that this is the best GOP primary no one is talking about. Here's the TV ad: "Since Utahns last sent Senator Bob Bennett to Washington, he voted to bail out Wall Street, voted for billions in wasteful spending like Alaska's 'Bridge to Nowhere,' even joined with liberals supporting big government health care. Had enough? On March 23rd, vote for a change at your local Utah Republican precinct caucus. To learn more, go to StopBobBennett.com." Our question, the Club has targeted only two other incumbent senators -- Arlen Specter and Lincoln Chafee -- THIS aggressively in the past. But is Bennett really in the same ideological category as Specter and Chafee?

*** Alexi's troubles: Meanwhile, in Illinois, Alexi Giannoulias is trying to get out in front of more damaging stories about his family's bank. "Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Alexi Giannoulias sought to blunt a potentially damaging political issue today about questions regarding his involvement in his family's struggling bank, which he said he expects will likely fail in the coming months," the Chicago Tribune reports. "But questions were still left unanswered following a more than 70-minute meeting with the Chicago Tribune's editorial board. Among them were exactly what Giannoulias knew about convicted bookmaker Michael Giorango's criminal past when he received loans from Broadway Bank, and how many of the bank's troubled loans were made while Giannoulias was working there." Does the White House and Illinois Democratic Party deserve blame here for having a nominee with this kind of baggage? This wasn't news; everyone with Chicago ties that now resides in Washington was fully aware of this baggage, and even privately worried about it. How comfortable is the president of the United States going to be campaigning for the Dem nominee in his home state? Will every event Obama does in Illinois be a joint event with the governor or entire Dem Party?

*** The name game: Republican political consultants who are trying to improve the GOP's standing with Latino voters might consider this a troubling development. In the Texas GOP primary Tuesday night, a virtually unknown CPA (David Porter) surprisingly defeated a sitting commissioner on the powerful Texas Railroad Commission (Victor Carrillo), despite being greatly outspent. And Carrillo is now attributing his loss to his Hispanic surname. "Given the choice between 'Porter' and 'Carrillo' -- unfortunately, the Hispanic-surname was a serious setback from which I could never recover although I did all in my power to overcome this built-in bias," Carrillo said. "I saw it last time but was able to win because the 'non-Carrillo' vote was spread among three Anglo GOP primary opponents instead of just one. Also, the political dynamics have changed some since 2004." Of course, Carrillo's charge could simply be sour grapes. Still, it's also clear -- with Rick Perry's flirtation with secession and with Debra Medina getting 18% on Tuesday -- that this is no longer George W. Bush's Texas GOP.

Countdown to AR filing deadline: 4 days
Countdown to OR, PA filing deadlines: 5 days
Countdown to CA, NV filing deadlines: 8 days
Countdown to IA, UT filing deadlines: 15 days
Countdown to Election Day 2010: 243 days

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