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First thoughts: The next battle

Preparing for yet another political battle -- a Supreme Court vacancy… Does Obama go for a safe pick or swing for the fences?... Steele gives his first interview since the sex-themed club story broke… USA Today/Gallup breaks down the Tea Party… A new L.A. Times/USC poll has Meg Whitman narrowly leading Jerry Brown… Rand Paul has a new TV ad hitting Trey Grayson… And Rudy Giuliani stumps for Marco Rubio.

From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, and Ali Weinberg
*** The next battle? Just as things started to slow down a bit after health care's passage, the political world might be bracing for another big fight very soon. And we're not talking about financial or immigration reform. Rather, we're talking about what may be President Obama's second opportunity to fill a Supreme Court seat. On Sunday, both the New York Times and Washington Post ran interviews with 89-year-old (and soon-to-be 90-year-old) Justice John Paul Stevens, who suggested that he could be retiring soon. Those interviews followed Jeffrey Toobin's March New Yorker profile of Stevens, who said that he would make up his mind in April. "'Well, I still have my options open,' he said. 'When I decided to just hire one clerk, three of my four clerks last year said they'd work for me next year if I wanted them to. So I have my options still. And then I'll have to decide soon.' On March 8th, he told me that he would make up his mind in about a month."

*** Go safe or swing for the fences? A Stevens retirement would trigger yet another political fight over filling a SCOTUS vacancy. It's worth noting that the White House -- after the year-long health-care fight -- is pretty exhausted and might not have the appetite for a really big battle. Then again, even if Obama gets two terms, will he ever have 59 Democratic senators again? If you wanted to swing for the fences one more time, this might be your last opportunity, right? The early short list includes the runners-up from last year: Diane Wood of the 7th Circuit, current Solicitor General Elena Kagan, and Merrick Garland of the D.C. Circuit.

*** Steele speaks: In his first interview since the controversy over the RNC's $2,000 expenditure at a sex-themed club surfaced, Chairman Michael Steele maintained that he would not step down, arguing that the RNC fired the staffer responsible for that expenditure. "We dealt with it," he told ABC this morning. "We got to the bottom of it." He also responded to criticism of the RNC's fundraising and spending. "At the end of the day, I have raised more money than the Democrats in seven of 10 months." He also said that the RNC had spent money to win the gubernatorial races in New Jersey and Virginia. Still, he admitted that his RNC needed to be more fiscally responsible. "I hear our donors; I hear our base out there." When asked whether he had a slimmer margin for error because he was black, Steele replied, "The honest answer is yes." Steele then tied himself to the president: "Barack Obama has a slimmer margin." Finally, he said, "At the end of the day, I am judged by whether I win elections and raise money."

*** Who are the Tea Party supporters? USA Today/Gallup is the latest polling group to examine the Tea Party movement. And its conclusion is similar to GOP pollster Dave Winston's: These folks are essentially disaffected Republicans. In the USA Today/Gallup poll, 49% of Tea Party supporters identify themselves as Republicans, while 43% say they are independents. But a whopping 70% of them say they are conservatives, while just 22% say they are moderate and only 7% say they are liberal.

*** California Dreamin': A new L.A. Times/USC poll shows Meg Whitman (R) leading Jerry Brown (D) by three points (44%-41%) in a hypothetical gubernatorial match-up, and it has Whitman leading primary challenger Steve Poizner by 40 points. "In the Republican Senate contest, former U.S. Rep. Tom Campbell held a slim lead over one-time Hewlett-Packard chief Carly Fiorina, 29% to 25%. Coming in a distant third was Orange County Assemblyman Chuck DeVore, at 9%. At this early stage of the campaign, [Democrat Barbara] Boxer has a comfortable cushion over a generic Republican, 48% to 34%, as she seeks her fourth term. Although somewhat diminished in popularity, Boxer maintains a positive impression among California voters, the poll found."

*** Super Senate Tuesday: In Kentucky, Rand Paul (R) has a new TV ad hitting Trey Grayson (R) for raising money in DC and being part of the "Washington machine." And in Pennsylvania, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports that Arlen Specter (D) has campaigned relentlessly, "making return visits to each of the state's 67 counties since September."

*** Other midterm news: In Colorado, Sen. Michael Bennet has a new TV ad… In Florida, Rudy Giuliani endorses and stumps for Marco Rubio in Miami… And in Nevada, Tea Party candidate Scott Ashjian "paid $5,575 to cover a disputed [$5,000] check and prosecution fees before Las Vegas Justice of the Peace Deborah Lippis approved withdrawing felony theft and bad check charges, court officials said," the AP says.

Countdown to IN, NC, and OH primaries: 29 days
Countdown to NE and WV primaries: 36 days
Countdown to AR, KY, OR and PA primaries: 43 days
Countdown to Election Day 2010: 211 days

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