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First thoughts: Start the clock

The CBO score is in… Do the numbers influence House Dems who voted against last year's House bill and also against the Stupak amendment?... NBC/WSJ poll finds that a third of the country knows "a lot" about the filibuster procedure… Jobs bill sent to Obama's desk, which he plans to sign today… Whitman inches ahead of Brown in new CA Field Poll… And MSNBC's "Daily Rundown" interviews Tom Daschle and Bart Stupak.

From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, and Ali Weinberg

*** Start the clock, CBO is in: BREAKING NEWS: We just got the Congressional Budget Office score. The legislation's total price tag is $940 billion over 10 years, and it reduces the deficit by $130 billion over 10 years and $1.2 trillion over the next 10 years. Per NBC's Kelly O'Donnell this news means that we'll likely have a final vote on Sunday at noon ET. The CBO report was seen as potentially the last thing standing in the way of passage. We're told that the White House and House Dem leaders are fewer than five votes away from 216, after Dennis Kucinich's no-to-yes switch yesterday and pro-life Dem Dale Kildee saying that he's ok with the Senate bill's abortion language. On-the-fence House Democrats like retiring Rep. Brian Baird, who voted no on last year's House bill, have been saying they need to see the CBO score -- and a good score. Baird, as the Washington Post writes, "said he stands by what he told Obama: He still needs to see the specifics of the new House bill, including a forthcoming analysis from the Congressional Budget Office."

*** The prime no-to-yes targets: Baird, according to our count, is one of at least 14 House Democrats who voted against last year's House bill and also against the anti-abortion Stupak amendment. Consequently, these are folks that the White House could be able to convince to vote for the same Senate bill that Ben Nelson, Mary Landrieu, and even Blanche Lincoln supported. Remember, the Senate bill has no public option, and it reduces costs more than the House bill did. Of course, the politics on health care drastically changed on health care after Scott Brown's Senate victory in January. These are the 14 Dems we counted who voted no on Stupak and no on last year's House bill: Adler (NJ), Baird (WA), Boyd (FL), Edwards (TX), Herseth Sandlin (SD), Kissell (NC), Kosmas (FL), Kratovil (MD), Kucinich (OH, who switched yesterday), Markey (CO), McMahon (NY), Minnick (ID), Murphy (NY), and Nye (VA). 

*** A third of the nation is highly engaged: According to our latest NBC/WSJ poll, one-third say they know "a lot" about the filibuster procedure in the Senate. And these folks are split on whether reconciliation should be used to bypass a filibuster on health care: 44% of them say they favor Democrats using the procedure, while 42% say they oppose it. These folks are the people in the country that are paying a significant amount of attention to the health-care debate. By comparison, a combined 40% said they haven't heard/seen anything or much about reconciliation. We'll dig more into this sub-group later, but think of them as the unofficial opinion leaders of the country -- the most informed. It's a larger group than some might have believed.

*** Lost: Lost in the intense focus on the health-care debate was this news from yesterday: "In a rare bipartisan vote, the Senate approved and sent to President Obama on Wednesday a bill intended to spur employment by providing businesses with incentives to hire new workers -- an approach that Congressional Democrats hope to repeat," the New York Times reports. "The legislation, approved 68 to 29, would give employers an exemption from payroll taxes through the end of 2010 on workers they hire who have been unemployed for at least 60 days. It also extends the federal highway construction program, shifts $20 billion to road and bridge building and takes other steps to bolster public improvement projects." This passage yesterday is the reason why the White House needs to get health-care passed ASAP. The health-care debate is drowning out all news, even news on the economy. By the way, the DSCC has a Web ad hitting Republicans who voted against the legislation.

*** Just one of the guys? It's worth remembering that, despite the angry town halls and all the boisterous Tea Party rallies, the GOP's biggest success stories in 2009 and early 2010 were Bob McDonnell, Chris Christie, and Scott Brown. One thing they all had in common -- beyond winning their races in blue and purple states -- was not directly criticizing President Obama. Why are we mentioning this? Because the Republican candidate running for Obama's old Senate seat in the blue state of Illinois, Mark Kirk (R), was caught on tape at a closed-press fundraiser saying that Republicans were "on the way to making this guy a one-termer," referring to Obama. Kirk also said he would lead the effort to repeal health care. Well, Alexi Giannoulias' campaign and the White House fired back. Said David Axelrod in a statement: "Given the great challenges America, and families across Illinois face today, the last thing we need is another Republican senator in Washington who is more focused on tearing down the President than he is on solving problems." Honest question: With his primary over, why is Kirk playing to the base and not the middle, even at fundraisers?

*** Whitman inches ahead of Brown: In California's gubernatorial contest, a new Field Poll shows Meg Whitman (R) leading former Gov. Jerry Brown (D) by three points in a hypothetical match-up, 46%-43%. Brown had held double-digit leads in previous Field polls. Of course, Whitman's been on the air to support her primary bid, and Brown has not. Also, the typical response we're hearing from Democrats on this poll is that the undecided vote will likely break Brown's way in this blue state, and that Whitman hasn't really been that great of a candidate. But remember that we heard similar stuff about the undecided vote in New Jersey and Chris Christie. And guess what -- Christie won.

*** More midterm news: In Arkansas, Blanche Lincoln has a new TV ad touting her work on the Senate Ag Committee (compare that with the recent Michael Bennet in which he didn't say he was running for the Senate!)… In Connecticut, Linda McMahon is now leading Rob Simmons, according to a new Quinnipiac poll (does this mean that McMahon will finally start receiving the scrutiny the front-runner often gets?)… And in New York, a Democrat is switching parties to run for the GOP nomination for New York governor.

Countdown to IA, UT filing deadlines: 1 day
Countdown to IN, NC, and OH primaries: 47 days
Countdown to NE and WV primaries: 54 days
Countdown to AR, KY, OR and PA primaries: 61 days
Countdown to Election Day 2010: 229 days

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