Discuss as:

First thoughts: Dems' rough week

The Democrats experience a pretty rough week, although a better-than-expected jobs report lessens the bad news… Republicans convince Nathan Deal to postpone his retirement (increasing the Dems' magic number on health care to 217), while Democrats continue to herd cats… Is the Obama administration changing its mind on the KSM trial?… Looking numerically at McCain's voting record… First Read's Top 10 House takeovers (and also Top 10 toss-ups and majority-makers)… And William Delahunt becomes the latest House Dem to announce retirement.

From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, and Ali Weinberg
*** Dems' rough week: Simply put, this has been a rough week for Democrats. They now have a competitive Senate primary in Arkansas, which makes the party's chances of holding the Arkansas Senate seat look even less likely. Rep. Charlie Rangel had to step down as Ways and Means Committee chairman due to ethics problems. Rep. Eric Massa announced he was retiring, and no matter the reason, it gives Republicans an excellent pick-up opportunity in that Upstate New York district -- and also cements the "ethics problems hurting Democrats" storyline. And the capstone: Last night, we learned that Rep. William Delahunt is retiring, putting another Democratic House seat up for grabs (although Dems have a much better chance of holding on to that seat than Massa's).

*** But on the bright side…: Still, the week wasn't all bad news for Democrats. The Bunning blockade was a P.R. disaster for congressional Republicans. The new jobs report (the unemployment rate remains unchanged at 9.7%, with 36,000 jobs lost in February) was better than expected, though it's more evidence that Dems can't catch a break (had it not been for the snow in the Northeast, the report could have been VERY good news). And, despite the Democrats' difficulty herding cats on health care (see below), everything we're hearing suggests that they're on course to pass health care. And they better: If Obama does NOT get health care, it'll paralyze the party and the president for the rest of the year.

*** Let's make a deal: If you want to see the difference between Democrats and Republicans -- or more accurately, the difference between the majority and minority parties -- just consider what happened yesterday. On the Republican side, House Minority Whip Eric Cantor was able to convince Rep. Nathan Deal (R) to postpone his decision to resign from Congress to concentrate solely on his race for Georgia governor. That decision -- putting the party before the personal -- now means House Democrats will now need 217 votes to pass health care, not 216. On the other hand yesterday, Democrats were hearing Rep. Bart Stupak (D) say that he and a handful of other House Dems would vote against the health measure if he didn't get his way on abortion. One other thing: The White House's deadline for the House to pass health care by March 18 may seem like a bit much for House Dems. But how does delay get them MORE votes? More time equals more public debate, no? What makes Dems think if they can't get the votes by 3/18 that they CAN get them by 3/25?

*** Backing down on KSM? The Washington Post has this scoop: "President Obama's advisers are nearing a recommendation that Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the self-proclaimed mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, be prosecuted in a military tribunal, administration officials said, a step that would reverse Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr.'s plan to try him in civilian court in New York City. The president's advisers feel increasingly hemmed in by bipartisan opposition to a federal trial in New York and demands, mainly from Republicans, that Mohammed and his accused co-conspirators remain under military jurisdiction, officials said." Of course, this does beg the question of the issue of "politics influencing the Justice Department." The only reason this is happening is due to politics. 

*** McCain's more conservative record: Today and tomorrow, John McCain campaigns in Arizona with Sen. Scott Brown (R). And you could say that McCain has done everything possible to protect his right flank as he faces a GOP primary challenge in this political environment. Besides stumping with Brown, McCain has embraced Sarah Palin (who campaigns for McCain later), and he has built up a more conservative voting record. How more conservative has it become? According to National Journal's vote ratings, McCain's composite conservative score in 1995 was 70.2, meaning that he was more conservative than 70.2% of the Senate (putting him in the middle of the GOP pack). Here are the other years:

1996: 75.3
1997: 71.5
1998: 68.3
1999: 67.7
2000: 61.7
2001: 66.8
2002: 59.8
2003: 62
2004: 51.7
2005: 59.2
2006: 56.7
2007: NA, missed too many votes while campaigning for president
2008: NA; missed too many votes while campaigning for president
2009: 84.3.

*** All about Obama and the Dem Congress? If you make those numbers above into a linear graph, you can see that McCain became steadily less conservative -- especially during the Bush years -- before racking up his highest conservative rating last year. McCain spokeswoman Brooke Buchanan tells First Read that McCain's more conservative score in 2009 shouldn't be surprising given the stimulus, omnibus, and health-care votes. "We are in different times," she said. "We are right to this Congress and we are right to this administration." She also says that McCain's conservative score in 2009 came before J.D. Hayworth officially entered the race this year. And she adds that McCain's votes against the Bush tax cuts, his support for immigration reform, etc. is reflected in his lower conservative scores from 2001 to 2006.

*** First Read's Top 10 House Takeovers: If it's Friday, it's another First Read Top 10 list -- this time our look at what we consider the 10 most likely congressional districts to switch parties in November:

1. LA-2 (R-Cao): The Vietnamese-American, who surprisingly won this African-American majority district that was held by convicted William Jefferson, has been a Democratic target since his 2008 victory and is facing an uphill battle.
2. TN-6 (D-Open-Gordon): The retirement of Democrat Bart Gordon makes this GOP-leaning district a nearly automatic pick-up for Republicans.
3. DE-AL (R-Open-Castle): Mike Castle's decision to run for the Senate gives Democrats an excellent chance of winning Delaware's sole congressional seat.
4. LA-3 (D-Open-Melancon): Once again, a Senate committee's gain is the congressional committee's loss. Rep. Charlie Melancon's decision to run against David Vitter for Senate gives the GOP another good takeover opportunity.
5. IN-8 (D-Open-Ellsworth): Brad Ellsworth's decision to run for the Senate seat opened up by Evan Bayh's exit puts this once-longtime GOP seat potentially back in the Republican column.
6. NY-29 (D-Open-Massa): Whatever freshman Eric Massa's reason for not running for reelection, his retirement gives the GOP a very good chance in this Upstate New York district McCain carried in '08.
7. MD-1 (D-Kratovil): Freshman Frank Kratovil, who eked out a narrow victory in '08, looks to be in danger in this traditionally Republican district. Obama may have won the state overwhelmingly, but McCain won the district 58%-40%. And there won't be an Obama surge this time.
8. IL-10 (R-Open-Kirk): The third-best chance for Democrats this cycle is Mark Kirk's old seat; Kirk is running for the Senate.
9. KS-3 (D-Open-Moore): Another retirement. Dennis Moore's decision to not run for re-election has given the GOP yet another target. And Democrats still don't have a candidate. Some think the best Dem could be Moore's wife, but she hasn't committed.
10. OH-15 (D-Kilroy): This perennial target seat could be switching hands, as the incumbent Democrat here underperformed Obama in 2008

*** Top 10 House Toss-Ups: Here, in alphabetical order by state, are what we consider to be the 10 most competitive House districts, all of which are held by Democrats: CO-4 (D-Markey); ID-1 (D-Minnick); NM-2 (D-Teague); NH-2 (D-Open-Hodes); NV-3 (D-Titus); OH-1 (D-Driehaus); PA-7 (D-Open-Sestak);TN-8 (D-Open-Tanner); VA-5 (D-Perriello); and WA-3 (D-Open-Baird).

*** Top 10 Majority Makers: And here, in alphabetical order by state, are what we consider to be 10 districts -- where Democrats are currently favored -- that could tell us whether or not Republicans will win back control of the House: AZ-8 (D-Giffords); IA-3 (D-Boswell); MO-4 (D-Skelton); NY-1 (D-Bishop); OH-16 (D-Boccieri); OH-18 (D-Space); PA-8 (D-Murphy); SC-5 (D-Spratt); WV-1 (D-Mollohan); and WI-8 (D-Kagen).

*** More midterm news: In Arkansas, on the same day that Bill Clinton's spokesman said that the former president was backing Blanche Lincoln in her Democratic primary, EMILY's List said it wouldn't be helping the incumbent Democrat… In Massachusetts, Rep. William Delahunt (D) announced his retirement; the Rothenberg Political Report moved the district from "Safe" to "Democrat Favored"… And in Wyoming, Gov. Dave Freudenthal's (D) announcement that he won't seek another term gives Republicans an excellent shot at taking over the governor's mansion.

*** Programming notes: MSNBC's Daily Rundown interviews White House economic adviser Christina Romer on the jobs report. And MSNBC's "Andrea Mitchell Reports" has Democratic Sens. Chris Dodd and Carl Levin, and new Ways and Means Chairman Sandy Levin (Carl's brother).

Countdown to AR filing deadline: 3 days
Countdown to OR, PA filing deadlines: 4 days
Countdown to CA, NV filing deadlines: 7 days
Countdown to IA, UT filing deadlines: 14 days
Countdown to Election Day 2010: 242 days

Click here to sign up for First Read emails. 
Text FIRST to 622639, to sign up for First Read alerts to your mobile phone.
Check us out on Facebook and also on Twitter.