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First thoughts: Stuck in the middle

Did Charlie Crist's veto yesterday effectively end his GOP primary campaign?... Crist is talking to Mitch Bainwol, and they are discussing two options: 1) an indie bid or 2) dropping out altogether… Politico on the Two Obamas…. First Read's Top 10 Senate takeovers… And a judge rules that Scott Ashjian can stay on the Senate ballot in Nevada.

From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, and Ali Weinberg
*** Stuck in the middle with you: Did Charlie Crist's veto yesterday of an education reform measure in Florida -- supported by Jeb Bush and other GOP leaders -- effectively end his GOP primary campaign? Sure looks like it. "Some say Crist's rejection of the measure (SB 6) signals that he is about to drop out of the Republican primary for the U.S. Senate, where he badly trails in the polls, and run as an independent," the AP wrote. But a Crist campaign source emails First Read that the veto doesn't hurt his chances the GOP primary. "Not every Republican in the legislature was for this bill and there has been an outpouring from the most conservative of Republicans against the bill as well." Nevertheless, the veto cost him the support of former U.S. Sen. Connie Mack, who resigned as Crist's campaign chairman because of the veto.

*** What does Crist do? First Read has learned that Crist is getting much of his political advice nowadays from GOP strategist Mitch Bainwol, and they are considering two options right now: 1) making an independent bid, which would turn the general election into a toss-up; and 2) dropping out of the race altogether and turning his sights to a 2012 Senate challenge against Bill Nelson (D). But right now, no one is seriously talking about Crist staying in a GOP primary he's trailing by double digits. The filing deadline is at the end of this month. 

*** The two Obamas: Politico has this provocative story: "While Washington talks about Obama's new mojo [after health care's passage], polls show voters outside the Beltway are sulking -- soured on the president, his party and his program. The Gallup Poll has Obama's approval rating at an ominous 49 percent, after hitting a record low of 47 percent last weekend. A new poll in Pennsylvania, a bellwether industrial state, shows his numbers sinking, as did recent polls in Ohio and Florida. So there are two Obamas: Rising in D.C., struggling in the U.S." But is Obama really struggling with an approval rating near 50%, especially considering unemployment is at 10% and his predecessor's approval rating was in the 20s and 30s his final couple of years in office? The president's approval rating has been static for about nine months now. That said, the fact that there wasn't movement UPWARD is clearly a concern for the folks at the White House; they did think there would be some bounce post-health care.   

*** Obama's day: At 10:15 am ET, President Obama delivers remarks at the White House Conference on America's Great Outdoors, which is taking place at the Interior Department. After that, at 11:00 am, he holds a meeting (closed to the press) with his National Security Council to discuss Afghanistan and Iraq. And there's a former president in DC today… Former President Bill Clinton, in DC, headlines a symposium commemorating the 15th anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing.

*** Unemployment benefits signed into law: By a 59-38 vote yesterday, the Senate approved the legislation extending unemployment benefits through June 2. The House immediately followed suit, passing the bill by a 289-112 vote. And then President Obama signed into law last night. Today on Capitol Hill, the Senate Judiciary Committee holds a hearing on Goodwin Liu's controversial nomination to serve on the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.  

*** First Read's Top 10 Senate Takeovers: If it's Friday, it's time for another First Read Top 10 list. Today, we take our monthly look at what we consider to be the Top 10 Senate takeovers. The number in parentheses is our ranking from March.
1. North Dakota (1) -- With Byron Dorgan's (D) retirement and John Hoeven (R) in the race, this remains at the top
2. Delaware (2) -- Mike Castle (R) is still the driver's seat
3. Nevada (3) -- Harry Reid got health care through, but his poll numbers still look bleak
4. Arkansas (5) -- The Lincoln-Halter primary is for real. Are Dems counting on a flawed GOP nominee to hold on to this seat?
5. Indiana (4) -- If he wins his GOP primary next month, does Dan Coats (R) continue to call Obama a "socialist"?
6. Illinois (7) -- So far, Giannoulias has "survived" the Broadway Bank cloud over his head. But does that change when the bank actually gets shut down? 
7. Pennsylvania (9) -- Specter vs. Sestak is starting to heat up. Does a better economy help the Dem winner in what's looking like a toss-up general election?
8. Colorado (6) -- Jane Norton (R) might have her own real primary, with DeMint and other conservatives backing Ken Buck
9. Missouri (8) -- Robin Carnahan (D) has begun her attack on Roy Blunt (R) for being a Washington insider. Does that begin to change the polls?
10. Kentucky (unranked) -- We could put other races here (CA, NH, OH even FL), but this month we're going with the Bluegrass State. Democrats do have a path for victory here, especially if Rand Paul wins in the GOP primary in May. What will be fascinating is Mitch McConnell's reaction to a Paul victory; he can be a tad vengeful. 

*** More midterm news: In Nevada, a judge ruled "that Scott Ashjian can remain on the ballot as a Tea Party candidate for the U.S. Senate," the Las Vegas Sun reports. "District Judge Todd Russell rejected the legal challenge of the Independent American Party, which argued Ashjian lied on his declaration of candidacy."… Also in Nevada, the Tea Party decided to endorse Republican Sharron Angle and not Ashjian… And in Wisconsin, Tommy Thompson -- as expected -- decided not to challenge Sen. Russ Feingold (D).

Countdown to IN, NC, and OH primaries: 18 days
Countdown to NE and WV primaries: 25 days
Countdown to AR, KY, OR and PA primaries: 32 days
Countdown to Election Day 2010: 200 days

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