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First thoughts: Back to Iowa

Obama heads to Iowa City, IA, the very place he unveiled his health-care plan nearly three years ago… Senate Republicans score a moral victory from the Senate parliamentarian, meaning that the reconciliation bill must go back to the House to be passed… A few conservative activists, as well as the GOP, haven't reacted too well to losing in the health-care debate… DNC goes up with TV and radio ads…. Crist and Rubio spar over the airwaves… And does Dick Cheney endorsing Trey Grayson in KY really help Grayson?

From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, and Ali Weinberg
*** Back to Iowa: At 2:00 pm ET today, President Obama promotes his health-care law in Iowa City, IA -- which happens to be the place where he originally unveiled his health-care plan almost three years ago (on May 29, 2007). "Never forget that we have it within our power to shape history in this country," Obama said back then. "It is not in our character to sit idly by as victims of fate or circumstance, for we are a people of action and innovation, forever pushing the boundaries of what's possible. Now is the time to push those boundaries once more." But today's speech in Iowa is more than a victory lap. Iowa, after all, is home to many seniors, who have been among the most skeptical groups about health care. Yet seniors are a group that he can win back, because these folks -- who receive Social Security and Medicare -- know firsthand how government can work for them. And, of course, these are the same seniors who caucused for him back in Jan. 2008. But getting his message right and selling seniors is perhaps the most important thing he can do for his party in the short term, given that seniors are the most dominant voting bloc in a midterm election.

*** Frumin! It's not Jerry Seinfeld's Newman; it's Alan Frumin, the Senate parliamentarian. Per NBC's Ken Strickland, Senate Republicans scored small victory late last night when the parliamentarian ruled in their favor eliminating two minor provisions from a health care bill. Once the Senate completes its work on the so-called "fixes" bill, it must be sent back to the House for another vote. This is really only a moral victory for Republicans, Strick adds, because the provisions struck from the bill pertain to student loans and will have virtually no impact on the substance or cost of the health care components. All it does is the process for a day and requires the House to take another vote. Senate Democrats are confident the House will take up the bill as early as Thursday night and pass it quickly and easily. At about 2:00 pm ET today, after voting on the remaining amendments, the Senate is expected to take up final passage on the fixes bill. It's then sent to the House for their final vote.

*** Over the line: If you've played organized sports, you heard many a coach say something like this: You learn a lot more about someone after they lose rather than after they win. Well, we've learned quite a bit from a few conservative activists, as well as the some in the GOP, during and after health care's passage. Let's first start with the vandalism and threats of violence against House Democrats who voted for the health-care legislation. "The pitched battle over health care has unleashed a rash of vandalism and attacks directed at politicians, with at least 10 House Democrats reporting death threats or incidents of harassment or vandalism at their district offices over the past week," the Washington Post writes. House Minority Leader John Boehner said the incidents were unacceptable and needed to be channeled in a better way. NBC's Luke Russert reports that Boehner will address the violence/threats at his weekly press conference today. This is a danger for Republicans right now as the skeptical middle (not happy about the health care plan but also unhappy about the tone in Washington) watches all this unfold.

*** Stay classy, San Diego: But it's not just a few conservative activists who've reacted poorly to losing the health-care debate. It's also elected Republican politicians and the GOP. First, there was Rep. Randy Neugebauer's (R) "baby killer" remark that appeared directed at Rep. Bart Stupak (D), who has since received death threats. Then there was Sen. John McCain's (R) vow that there "will be no cooperation for the rest of the year" because Senate Democrats were using reconciliation to pass fixes to the health-care law. And then on Tuesday and Wednesday, Senate Republicans blocked committee hearings past 2:00 pm ET because of their anger over health care.

*** Some caution for everyone: All of this is a reminder to Republicans, Democrats, and the media: There is a danger in overreaching and under reacting. Democrats are walking a line of genuine concern and playing politics; Republicans need to be careful not to come across too dismissive and simply write this off as politics as usual; and the media have to be careful because over-coverage could end up encouraging more behavior (at the same time, we can't ignore what's out there). There is also a difference between angry rants and actual death threats; many in the media know the difference and receive rants, well, every day.

*** The TV ads cometh: Staying with health care, the DNC is now running TV ads thanking and defending 25 House Democrats who voted for health care, including potentially vulnerable Reps. Betsy Markey (CO), Tom Perriello (VA), Tim Bishop (NY), and John Boccieri (OH). Here's an example of one of those ads. In addition, the DNC is running radio ads hitting 10 Republicans representing congressional districts that Obama won who voted against health care -- like Mary Bono Mack (CA), Mark Kirk (IL), and Mike Castle (DE). 

*** The Crist-vs.-Rubio ad war: Speaking of TV ads, Charlie Crist yesterday went up with his first TV ad, and it directly attacks Marco Rubio, accusing him of being a lobbyist, being an insider, and using political donations to fund "his lavish lifestyle." Well, the Rubio camp has responded with a pair of TV ads that simply show Crist stumping with Obama over the stimulus from last year. Game on? Remember, Crist has about three times as much in the bank as Rubio does.

*** The Establishment to the rescue? Yesterday, Dick Cheney endorsed Trey Grayson in his GOP Senate primary against Rand Paul. And so far this cycle, we've seen establishment-favored GOP candidates get similar endorsements – Newt Gingrich and Karl Rove are backing Bob Bennett in Utah, and the Bush clan and Cheney backed Kay Bailey Hutchison. But as that KBH example proved, do these endorsements actually help? Or do they hurt? The goal for these so-called establishment Republicans is to inoculate themselves from the charge that they aren't "real conservatives." The hope is that by getting endorsements from conservatives the left "loves to hate," it can make it harder for their primary opponents to paint them as RINOs or Washington insiders. But it didn't work for Hutchison; Bennett's struggling; and Grayson's down double digits.

Countdown to IN, NC, and OH primaries: 40 days
Countdown to NE and WV primaries: 47 days
Countdown to AR, KY, OR and PA primaries: 54 days
Countdown to Election Day 2010: 222 days

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