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First thoughts: The week that was

Did Democrats get their groove back?... The most important thing to watch post-health care: the middle of the electorate… The House last night approved final passage of the reconciliation bill, which now goes to Obama's desk… Obama and Russia prez to verbally agree to new START treaty by phone today at 10:00 am ET… It looks like we're about to have another SCOTUS nomination fight… McCain and Palin -- reunited and it feels so good… Palin then heads to Searchlight, NV… What about Bob (Bennett)?... And First Read's Top 10 primaries.

From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, and Ali Weinberg
*** The week that was: Did Democrats get their groove back after this week's passage of the most expansive social legislation in decades? It sure looks like it. President Obama had a pep in his step in Iowa yesterday; Democratic members of Congress have looked downright giddy; the Internet Left, despite its disappointment over the past year, appears more energized; and Democratic candidates are playing offense on health care. (Paul Hodes' campaign for New Hampshire Senate fired off this email on Wednesday: "If elected, would Kelly Ayotte tell New Hampshire's small businesses to give their tax credits back?") Of course, one week doesn't erase the Democratic Party's problems, and the biggest news for Dems could very well come next Friday, when the March job numbers are released. But party energy is important. The hallmark of the last three change elections -- in 1994, 2006, and 2008 -- was not just enthusiasm inside the party OUT OF POWER, but a depressed base for the party IN power. 

*** Stuck in the middle with you: Yet the biggest political question might be this: How is the middle viewing all of this -- not only the legislation, but also the reported death threats/vandalism and yesterday's back-and-forth over the threats/vandalism? Much of Obama's speech in Iowa yesterday appeared directed at the center. "Leaders of the Republican Party, they called the passage of this bill 'Armageddon,'" the president said yesterday. "Armageddon. End of freedom as we know it. So after I signed the bill, I looked around to see if there [were] any asteroids falling or some cracks opening up in the Earth. It turned out it was a nice day. Birds were chirping. Folks were strolling down the Mall. People still have their doctors." Indeed, if they had to do it all over again, would GOP leaders have described the health legislation in such apocalyptic terms (Armageddon, socialism, the death of freedom)? Because what if those things don't happen? GOP strategist Steve Lombardo says Republicans should not take the Democratic bait right now and continue this health care debate; instead, he advises them to focus on the economy.

*** Final passage: Around 9:00 pm ET last night, the House approved final passage of the reconciliation "fixes" bill by a 220-207 vote. The controversial (but also entertaining) Rep. Alan Grayson (D) cast the final 220th vote, NBC's Shawna Thomas notes. House Speaker Pelosi actually kept the roll call open so Grayson could cast his vote. And in true form, Thomas adds, Grayson came running down the aisle extremely late looking like Big Bird to a loud ovation from his colleagues. He then cast his vote, Speaker Pelosi closed the call, and health-care reform passed the House for the final time. Now what? An enrollment ceremony takes place on Capitol Hill this morning, and then the legislation heads to the White House for Obama's signature. The president will sign the bill sometime early next week.

*** Let's get it START-ed…: Breaking news: The new START nuclear disarmament treaty will be verbally agreed to by President Obama and Russia's president by phone at 10:00 am ET, sources tell NBC News. Signing will take place in Prague in early April. More details to come…

*** Let's get ready to rumble … again: Well, it looks like we might have another SCOTUS nomination fight on our hands soon. The New York Times: "Although Justice Stevens has not disclosed his intentions, he has suggested he may announce as soon as next month plans to step down after 35 years on the bench, providing President Obama his second opportunity to shape the nation's highest court. A new nomination could set off another charged ideological battle heading into the fall midterm campaign." By the way, will Obama make his first recess appointment, with NLRB pick Craig Becker? 

*** Reunited And It Feels So Good: John McCain and Sarah Palin are back together again. Today, Palin attends a rally for McCain in Tucson at 3:00 pm ET. According to the AP, they'll also "hold a fundraiser on Friday at the same Phoenix hotel where they conceded the presidential election on Nov. 4, 2008." And they will campaign again on Saturday in Mesa at noon ET. McCain's GOP primary opponent, J.D. Hayworth, appears on MSNBC's "Andrea Mitchell Reports," which airs at 1:00 pm ET. 

*** Searchlight, here we come: Also on Saturday, Palin will speak at a Tea Party Express rally in Searchlight, NV, Harry Reid's hometown, in an effort to drum up support to defeat Reid in November. (USA Today reports that this is part of a 44-stop tour.) Reid spokesman Jon Summers tells First Read that Reid will be at the Clark Country Shooting Park in Las Vegas that day, so he'll miss the event. "Wayne LaPierre of the NRA will also be joining him as his guest," Summers adds. "Reid helped get the land and the $60 million needed to build this facility, which is the largest facility of its kind." The Reid campaign also will be serving tea and donut holes (har, har) to the Tea Party activists.

*** What about Bob? While McCain vs. Hayworth and Crist vs. Rubio (the two men debate on Sunday) have gotten most the political world's attention, the GOP senator who looks to be in the most trouble is Utah Sen. Bob Bennett, who gets front-page treatment in the New York Times. "For all the anger directed at President Obama and his party from the right, especially after the passage of health care legislation, the first opportunities for Tea Party members and the groups seeking to channel their antigovernment energy into electoral politics are in Republican primaries. Mr. Bennett is especially exposed to the grass-roots anger." Bennett's biggest offense, in the eyes of Club for Growth and other conservative activists? Reaching across the aisle to work on a bipartisan health plan.

*** First Read's Top 10 Primaries: If it's Friday, it's another First Read Top 10 list -- this time our look at the Top 10 primaries this midterm season.
1. FL SEN -- R (1): This remains No. 1 on our list -- due to all the back-and-forth -- but we're probably not the only ones who feel it might be moving down a spot or two next month
2. AR SEN -- D (unranked): A new Research 2000 poll shows Bill Halter trailing Blanche Lincoln by double digits, but this is now the Dem primary to watch
3. KY SEN -- R (4): Establishment (Trey Grayson) vs. the grassroots (Rand Paul), Duke (where Paul went to med school) vs. Kentucky, what's not to like?
4. UT SEN -- R (6): Tuesday's caucuses were not good news for incumbent Bob Bennett
5. PA SEN -- D (3): Joe Sestak has failed to catch on in the polls, and it falls to our second-best Dem primary
6. KY SEN -- R (unranked): Another KY primary where Duke (Jack Conway's alma mater) vs. Kentucky (Dan Mongiardo's) has played a role, and Conway is now trying to make health care the issue in the race
7. SC GOV -- R (7): Front-runner AG Henry McMaster got plenty of press with his lawsuit against health care, so did Nikki Haley with her Romney endorsement
8. AZ SEN -- R (5): John McCain -- right now -- has done everything right so far, including today's campaigning with Palin, and Hayworth has yet to hang on.
9. CO SEN -- D (unranked): Has Andrew Romanoff found a reason for Colorado Dems to fire Michael Bennet?
10. NV SEN -- R (unranked): The Senate field is still lackluster, but both Sue Lowden and Danny Tarkanian are still leading Harry Reid in general-election hypotheticals

Countdown to IN, NC, and OH primaries: 39 days
Countdown to NE and WV primaries: 46 days
Countdown to AR, KY, OR and PA primaries: 53 days
Countdown to Election Day 2010: 221 days

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