Charlie Crist has three options right now, and none of them is ideal… New Quinnipiac poll shows Rubio leading Crist by 23 points (!!!), but it has Crist leading a three-way contest… Is Palin more influential with the media than she is with Republicans?... The Tax Day protest cometh to DC… Obama gives his NASA speech in Florida at 2:50 pm ET… Michelle Obama talks about being a "strategic" first lady… Tommy Thompson expected to say "no" to Senate bid… And the Kentucky fight over the hotel mini-bar.
From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, and Ali Weinberg
*** Crist's three options: Just as a new round of speculation about whether Charlie Crist will run as an independent comes a new Quinnipiac poll that is bound to throw fuel on the fire. The Q-poll finds Crist trailing Marco Rubio by a whopping 23 points among registered Republicans (56%-33%) in Florida's Senate GOP primary. But get this: In a three-way general election match-up, with Crist running as an independent, the Florida governor gets 32%, Rubio gets 30%, and Democrat Kendrick Meek gets 24%. Crist seems to have three options with the filing deadline coming up at the end of this month -- he stays in the GOP primary and tries to erase Rubio's double-digit lead; he runs as an independent; or he drops out of the race altogether. Here's one other thing the Quinnipiac poll shows: Rubio is a weaker general-election candidate. In a hypothetical match-up, Crist leads Meek by 14 points (48%-34%), but Rubio's lead over Meek is just four points (42%-38%). and
*** Something to consider about three-way races: Here's one other thing to keep in mind about that Quinnipiac poll showing Crist leading a three-way race: It's very, very early. As we saw in that crowded 2006 Texas gubernatorial contest -- which also included Kinky Freidman and a former Republican-turned-independent Carole Strayhorn (Scott McClellan's mom) -- Democrat Chris Bell finished second and ahead of the better-known indies. Usually, the Democrats are going to rally around the Democratic candidate -- in this case, Kendrick Meek. Remember that Joe Lieberman won his 2006 three-way because Republicans voted for him overwhelmingly (and national Republicans made it clear it was ok to do that, and they did NOT embrace the actual GOP nominee). But do you think Florida Democrats will do the same for Crist? Plus, running as an independent will look like a "running scared" move -- a decision that's made not from a position of strength, but one of weakness. One other poll number in the Q poll worth noting: Crist's job rating has hit an all-time low (under 50%).
*** The Palin question: After giving at least four high-profile speeches in the last couple of weeks -- for John McCain's re-election, in Searchlight, NV, at the Southern Republican Leadership Conference, and yesterday in Boston -- we once again raise this question about Sarah Palin: Is she more influential with the media than she is with Republicans? For example, she placed third at the SRLC straw poll (a disappointing finish when you consider that the winner, Mitt Romney, didn't show up and that Ron Paul was second). In addition, a New York Times/CBS poll finds that a plurality of self-identified Tea Party members don't think she's qualified to be president. And now Kentucky Senate candidate Trey Grayson (R) says Palin isn't qualified for the White House. No doubt that she's a political celebrity, but that isn't necessarily translating into GOP support. There is growing evidence that she is not the political force some would like to believe (indeed, if she were actually pondering a big for 2012, this last month would be seen as a disappointment). By the way, NBC's Andrea Mitchell reported on "TODAY" this morning that California AG Jerry Brown, who is running for governor, is investigating Palin's paid speech at Cal State Stanislaus about whether the school's foundation properly followed 501 3c rules.
*** The Tax Day protest cometh: Speaking of the Tea Party… On Tax Day, the Tea Party Express concludes its 19-day, 49-stop protest tour in the nation's capital. One Tea Party rally begins at 11:00 am at Freedom Plaza, and the other takes place at the Washington Monument at 6:00 pm. And here are the findings of that New York Times/CBS poll on the Tea Party: "The 18 percent of Americans who identify themselves as Tea Party supporters tend to be Republican, white, male, married and older than 45. They hold more conservative views on a range of issues than Republicans generally. They are also more likely to describe themselves as "very conservative" and President Obama as 'very liberal.' And while most Republicans say they are 'dissatisfied' with Washington, Tea Party supporters are more likely to classify themselves as 'angry.'" So more evidence that the Tea Party folks are disaffected Republicans?
*** Obama's day: At 2:50 pm ET from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, President Obama delivers remarks on the administration's NASA plans. Afterward, he attends two fundraisers in Miami -- one at Gloria Estefan's home at 5:00 pm, and the other a DNC fundraiser at 7:10 pm. Lost in the space debate this week: How this puts a VERY important swing state in 2012 in potential peril for the president. By the way, Florida Sen. George LeMieux (R) is holding a conference call, sponsored by the RNC, to pre-but Obama's appearance in Florida today.
*** The "strategic" first lady: Yesterday, NBC's Savannah Guthrie interviewed First Lady Michelle Obama. Some highlights… On whether her husband should appoint a woman to replace John Paul Stevens on the Supreme Court: "You know, I think that he will develop a process in the same way that he chose the last Supreme Court Justice that is thorough and thoughtful… Diversity in this country is a good thing. Whether it's gender or race or socioeconomic background or religion. You know, that's the world I come from." On whether she feels like she has to avoid controversy: "You know, I think that I am strategic. I try to be strategic, because I want to make sure that the things that I do further my husband's administration." What a fascinating choice of word by the FLOTUS -- "strategic."
*** Tommy! Former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy -- "Hamlet" or "Favre" -- Thompson (R) is expected to announce today that he won't run to challenge Sen. Russ Feingold (D). The move wouldn't be surprising to political observers (especially those of us who watched his presidential bid in '08), but it does reduce the GOP's chances of picking up the 10 seats it needs to take back control of the Senate. Right now, the GOP has put 10 seats in play: AR, CA, CO, CT, DE, IL, IN, NV, ND, and PA. But to take back control of the Senate, Republicans need to win all of them -- including in states where they are behind like CA and CT. And then you add the Dem pick-up opportunities in KY, MO, NH, and OH. We're still watching to see if the GOP can put WA into play by convincing Dino Rossi (R) to run.
*** Super Senate Tuesday: In Arkansas, Bill Halter has a new TV ad defending on Social Security and whacking Lincoln as well… In Kentucky, Jim Bunning (R) has endorsed Rand Paul (R) in the GOP primary for Bunning's Senate seat… Also in Kentucky, Dan Mongiardo's campaign (D) has attacked primary opponent Jack Conway for using hotel mini-bars at taxpayer expense… And in Pennsylvania, Joe Sestak's campaign is reminding Pennsylvania Democrats that Rick Santorum endorsed Arlen Specter in 2004. *** NOTE *** In this space, we earlier included a poll on the AR Dem race, but we later discovered that it is an automated poll, and NBC News doesn't report on automated polls.
*** More midterm news: Finally, in South Carolina, gubernatorial candidate Henry McMaster (R) has a new TV ad out that touts his "good name" and "good reputation."
Countdown to IN, NC, and OH primaries: 19 days
Countdown to NE and WV primaries: 26 days
Countdown to AR, KY, OR and PA primaries: 33 days
Countdown to Election Day 2010: 201 days