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First thoughts: What we learned at SRLC

What we learned at SRLC, and what we didn't… Obama meets with 46 world leaders at nuke summit in DC… Bracing for the upcoming SCOTUS fight… Senate returns to work, and the first order is business is trying to pass those unemployment benefits… SEIU becomes the Club for Growth on the left?... Taking Ron Paul and Paul-ism seriously… Sestak and Toomey debated in Pennsylvania… And Lowden ahead of Reid in new Las Vegas Review-Journal poll, even when a Tea Party candidate is added to the mix.

From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, and Ali Weinberg
*** What we learned at SRLC... : At last week's Southern Republican Leadership Conference in New Orleans, we learned that GOP leaders and activists are incredibly fired up about the upcoming midterms; that even though Romney didn't speak at the event, his supporters certainly organized to help him narrowly win the straw poll (an impressive feat if you weren't there to see it; less so if you saw how organized the Romney folks were despite his no-show); that Ron Paul and his supporters remain a factor in the GOP/Tea Party movement; that Republicans, as Salon's Mike Madden pointed out, were pretty comfortable moving beyond Bush and Hurricane Katrina; and that political reporters were more interested in Michael Steele's speech than the SRLC attendees were, given that half the ballroom was empty for it (the Washington Times also reports that few wealthy GOP donors showed up to the RNC's fundraiser in the Big Easy).

*** ... And what we didn't: That said, we didn't learn much about the leaders of the 2012 GOP race (given the split straw poll results, as well as the Romney, Pawlenty, and Huckabee no-shows), though by putting so much organizing effort INTO the straw poll, Romney certainly believes he should be ACTING like the front-runner; whether Republicans, as the New York Times' Zeleny wrote, want to be the party of yes or no; if Palin wants to be anything more than a celebrity attack dog; if Republicans, as one of us pointed out, really did learn the lessons of 2006 and 2008; and if November 2010 will be the peak of the GOP wave or if it already crested.

*** The nuke summit: President Obama today meets with the 46 world leaders who have gathered in DC for the nuclear summit -- it's apparently the largest gathering of world leaders called by a U.S. president since FDR's meeting that established the United Nations back in 1945. Obama holds separate bilateral meetings with King Abdullah II of Jordan (at 10:45 am ET), Prime Minister Mohammed Najib Abdul Razak of Malaysia (11:45 am), President Viktor Yanukovich of Ukraine (12:55 pm), President Serzh Sargsian of Armenia (1:30 pm), and President Hu Jintao of China (2:30 pm ). At 6:30 pm, Obama hosts a working dinner for the world leaders. Of course, it's the bilat with China that's easily the most significant today; so many issues on the table with the two biggest being Iran and currency.

*** The SCOTUS fight: While most of Washington focuses on nuclear weapons, Republican senators are discussing another weapon: the possibility of filibustering Obama's SCOTUS pick to replace John Paul Stevens. "The chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee predicted on Sunday that the Senate would confirm a replacement for Justice John Paul Stevens this summer, but his Republican counterpart would not rule out the use of a filibuster if President Obama were to nominate someone who was "clearly outside the mainstream," the New York Times says. Still, it seems as if the Republican threats on a filibuster were on if Obama chooses anyone outside of the current short list that is public: Kagan, Wood, Garland, even Napolitano. 

*** Congress is back: The Senate gets back to work at 2:00 pm ET today, and the first order of business is trying to pass those unemployment benefits. The Washington Post: "On its first day back in session following a two-week recess, the Senate is scheduled to vote Monday on whether to end debate on a measure extending jobless benefits, subsidies for the COBRA health insurance program and federal flood insurance through May 5. Democrats will need at least one Republican supporter to get the 60 votes necessary to proceed. The Senate failed to agree on the bill in late March, after Republicans rejected an attempt to expedite the measure's passage." The House returns tomorrow from its Passover/Easter recess. 

*** With friends like these…: SEIU, one of Obama's staunchest allies, is behind a third-party movement in North Carolina to punish North Carolina House Dems who voted against health care. "Efforts are under way to get a third party, called North Carolina First, on the ballot, for the fall election," the Raleigh News & Observer writes. "If successful, the new party would field candidates against Democratic Reps. Larry Kissell of Biscoe, Mike McIntyre of Lumberton and Heath Shuler of Waynesville." For the group to get on the ballot, it needs to collect 90,000 signatures by June 1. Just askin', but is this any different from what the Club for Growth does to some Republicans? 

*** Super Senate Tuesday and Paul-ism: As we mentioned above, SRLC proved to us that Ron Paul -- like it or not -- is a factor in the GOP/Tea Party movement. And this will become a bigger story if he son, Rand, beats establishment favorite Trey Grayson in next month's Senate primary in Kentucky. A Rand Paul victory, combined with Ron Paul's strong showings at CPAC and SRLC, can't be dismissed. Anyone who did cover Ron Paul during the 2008 campaign knows the Tea Party movement has its roots there more than any other part of the GOP. Something to think about: If Rand Paul is indeed the GOP nominee in Kentucky (which will make him the favorite for the Senate seat), it will mean Ron Paul had a greater impact on the Republican Party with his 2008 campaign than Rudy Giuliani and Fred Thompson, combined. Could Paul's 2008 campaign be to the future of the GOP what Pat Robertson's 1988 presidential campaign was? Robertson showed the power of the Christian conservative movement inside the GOP, which had NOT organized so well pre-1988. Now it's such a factor that a guy like Mike Huckabee can tap into it fairly cheaply and make an impact. Could the Tea Party movement, arguably started more so by Ron Paul, have a similar impact inside GOP primaries?

*** More Super Senate Tuesday: On Sunday, the New York Times parachuted in to cover both the Lincoln-vs.-Halter race in Arkansas and the Grayson-vs.-Paul primary in Kentucky... In Pennsylvania, Joe Sestak and Pat Toomey debated -- without Arlen Specter…  Also in Pennsylvania, Sestak's campaign seized on Rick Santorum's comment at SRLC that Arlen Specter had promised to help get George W. Bush's pro-life SCOTUS nominees confirmed for Santorum's endorsement in the '04 Senate GOP primary.

*** More midterm news: In California, Latinos are upset that Meg Whitman tapped Pete Wilson to be her campaign chairman… In Connecticut, Linda McMahon is getting a dose of tough press after news surfaced that she tipped off a doctor about a DOJ investigation into WWF/WWE steroids… In Illinois, Alexi Giannoulias is giving what his campaign is billing as a big speech hitting Mark Kirk at the City Club of Chicago; Giannoulias also will be releasing his 1stQ fundraising numbers… And in Nevada, a Las Vegas Review-Journal/Mason-Dixon poll shows Sue Lowden leading the GOP Senate pack, as well as Harry Reid in a hypothetical general election match-up -- even when you add the Tea Party candidate into the mix. *** CORRECTION ***  Giannoulias will not be releasing his fundraising numbers today; they will be coming later.

Countdown to IN, NC, and OH primaries: 22 days
Countdown to NE and WV primaries: 29 days
Countdown to AR, KY, OR and PA primaries: 36 days
Countdown to Election Day 2010: 204 days

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