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First thoughts: The final countdown

The final countdown on health care… The final campaigning includes Obama stopping today in the Cleveland area represented by Dennis Kucinich (who has said he's opposed to voting for the Senate bill)… Looking at the handful of House Dems who are running for governor or the Senate… Dodd unveils financial reform bill… White House unveils education blueprint… A Dem resurgence in Illinois and Pennsylvania?... But a GOP resurgence in Wisconsin? And DeMint and Rubio together in South Carolina.

From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, and Ali Weinberg
*** The final countdown: It's time to crank up that great '80s hit from the band Europe, because we've reached the final countdown … on health care. Today, per the Washington Post, the Congressional Budget Office is supposed to release its final cost estimates, and the House Budget Committee is scheduled to vote on the reconciliation fixes. The Post adds, "It would then go to the House Rules Committee, where Chairman Louise M. Slaughter (D-N.Y.) could package it with the $875 billion measure the Senate passed on Christmas Eve. The package is also expected to include Obama's proposed overhaul of the student-loan system. The full House is expected to vote on both measures by week's end, with the climactic moment coming as soon as Thursday but, more likely, Friday or Saturday, aides said." (That's why Obama postponed his overseas trip.) 

*** The final campaigning: Democrats, of course, will need 216 votes to pass the Senate health-care bill. House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn admitted on "Meet the Press" yesterday that Democrats don't have the votes yet, but he and White House senior adviser David Axelrod said they were optimistic they'll get there. And the White House, congressional Democrats, and Dem-leaning interest groups are pulling out all the stops. Today at 1:05 pm ET, President Obama campaigns on health-care reform in Strongsville, OH, which is represented by Dennis Kucinich (who voted against the House bill and has stated his opposition to the Senate one). Also today, Vice President Joe Biden raises money for Ohio Rep. Steve Driehaus (who voted for the House bill last year, but who tells the Cincinnati Enquirer he plans to vote against the Senate bill due to its abortion language). And MoveOn is now asking its millions of members to pledge money to support primary challengers against any Democrat who votes no. Meanwhile, as the New York Times writes, business groups opposed to health care -- including the Chamber of Commerce -- have already spent $11 million this month alone "singling out 27 Democrats who supported the health care bill last year and 13 who opposed it."

*** Breaking down the vote: By now, you might know the names of the 37 House Democrats who voted no on the House health-care bill last year; the three House Dems who voted no who are retiring (Baird, Gordon, Tanner); the several yes votes who could vote no (like Arcuri, Cao, and Stupak), the three yes votes who are no longer in the House (Abercrombie, Murtha, Wexler); and the one no vote who is no longer in the House (Massa). But today, we take a look at the handful of Dems -- yes votes and no votes -- who are running for governor or the Senate this year. Among the yes votes: Brad Ellsworth (Indiana Senate), and Paul Hodes (New Hampshire Senate), and Kendrick Meek (Florida Senate). And the no votes: Artur Davis (Alabama governor) and Charlie Melancon (Louisiana Senate).

*** Dodd's day: Outside of today's action on health care, Sen. Chris Dodd (D) is unveiling his financial reform plan, which no longer has support from Sen. Bob Corker (R). Per the Los Angeles Times, "Legislation to be unveiled Monday by Senate Banking Committee Chairman Christopher J. Dodd to overhaul the financial regulatory system is likely to be more modest than either the Obama administration's proposal last summer or a plan Dodd pushed last fall… Dodd's proposal, which was still being drafted Sunday, is expected to abandon the stand-alone Consumer Financial Protection Agency that was proposed by Obama and was included in Dodd's original plan as well as overhaul legislation passed by the House in December. Instead, Dodd is likely to propose a new consumer agency, with a director appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate, that would be part of the Federal Reserve." If Dodd is ratcheting back the consumer financial protection aspect of this, doesn't that leave the door open for Corker to come back into talks? 

*** And Duncan's day, too: Also today, President Obama is supposed to unveil his education blueprint. As the New York Times reported over the weekend, the plan "strikes a careful balance, retaining some key features of the Bush-era [No Child Left Behind law], including its requirement for annual reading and math tests, while proposing far-reaching changes. The administration would replace the law's pass-fail school grading system with one that would measure individual students' academic growth and judge schools based not on test scores alone but also on indicators like pupil attendance, graduation rates and learning climate. And while the proposal calls for more vigorous interventions in failing schools, it would also reward top performers and lessen federal interference in tens of thousands of reasonably well-run schools in the middle." Of course, this education rollout will be overshadowed by health care…

*** A Dem resurgence in blue states? It's hard to believe, but Scott Brown's (R) victory in Massachusetts took place just two months ago. What that victory did was cement the perception that not only were Senate Democrats vulnerable in red and purple states, but in blue states, too. Yet in some recent polling, Dems in the blue states of Illinois and Pennsylvania look stronger than they did a month or two ago. In Illinois, Alexi Giannoulias (D) -- despite all the problems he's currently facing -- is ahead of Mark Kirk (R) by seven points, according to a recent Research 2000/Daily Kos poll (and there are private polls also showing Alexi ahead; if Kirk were leading in his own poll, wouldn't we see the numbers by now?). And in Pennsylvania, Arlen Specter leads Pat Toomey (R) by seven and six points, respectively, in recent Quinnipiac and Research 2000 polls. That certainly doesn't mean either Democrat is on easy street, but their standing looks better than it did a couple months ago. And for Republicans, winning in Illinois and Pennsylvania is the difference between a great Election Night (picking up 6-8 seats) and a pretty good Election Night (picking up 4-6 seats). And both Colorado and Ohio, two red states that went blue in 2008 both also look better for Democrats today than they did two months ago.

*** But what about Wisconsin? But are Democrats looking shaky in Wisconsin? A new poll by the conservative Wisconsin Policy Research Institute shows Tommy Thompson (R) -- who hasn't yet announced he's running for the Senate -- beating incumbent Sen. Russ Feingold (D), 51%-39%. But Democrats are denouncing the poll. Still, the pollster who conducted the poll has a solid background. Privately, Democrats dispute the Thompson lead, but no one disputes the fact that if Thompson ran, the race would be an immediate dead heat. And there are plenty of polls indicating that.

*** American Dreamz: Xavier University (OH) has released a poll today on the American Dream -- conducted by pollster Paul Maslin (D) -- that shows plenty of pessimism from the public: 60% think that reaching the American Dream is harder than it was for their parents' generation; 68% think reaching the American Dream will be harder for their children and grandchildren; and 58% believe the U.S. is one the decline. What's more, the survey finds that folks in the Midwest -- where Obama happens to be today -- are the most pessimistic about the American Dream. That said, there is some optimism: 67% believe they can achieve the American Dream in their lifetime, and African Americans, Latinos, and immigrants are more positive than others about the state of the American Dream.

*** DeMint and Rubio, sitting in a tree…: Today, Florida Senate candidate Marco Rubio (R) heads to South Carolina to raise money in events (closed to the press) organized by conservative Sen. Jim DeMint (R). As we've written before, the fundraisers in this important GOP presidential primary state could appear to be a bit presumptuous for the young Senate candidate. And Rubio tying himself so closely to DeMint could potentially raise general-election problems (remember that Florida, which Obama won in '08, ain't South Carolina…) Meanwhile, we'll find out if Rubio is Mr. Teflon after this story: "Marco Rubio was barely solvent as a young lawmaker climbing his way to the top post in the Florida House, but special interest donations and political perks allowed him to spend big money with little scrutiny. About $600,000 in contributions was stowed in two inconspicuous political committees controlled by Rubio, now the Republican front-runner for the U.S. Senate, and his wife." 

*** More midterm news: In Arkansas, the coalition of labor groups pledging some $4 million to defeat Blanche Lincoln are up with their first attack ads… In California, Carly Fiorina's campaign releases another Demon Sheep-esque Web ad -- this one aimed at Barbara Boxer… Also in California, Whitman and Poizner have a debate… In Illinois, Mark Kirk is up with his first TV ad… In New Hampshire, John McCain campaigned for Kelly Ayotte over the weekend… And in Pennsylvania, the DNC is whacking Pat Toomey in a new Web ad.

Countdown to IA, UT filing deadlines: 4 days
Countdown to IN, NC, and OH primaries: 50 days
Countdown to NE and WV primaries: 57 days
Countdown to AR, KY, OR and PA primaries: May 64 days
Countdown to Election Day 2010: 232 days

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