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First thoughts: The border battle

The immigration battle in Arizona becomes a national story, and President Obama could weigh in when he speaks at a naturalization ceremony at 10:00 am ET… Note that Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R) is facing a GOP primary this August, and that's certainly a factor in whether she allows the state's controversial immigration bill to become law… Two different tones on Wall Street from Obama and Senate Dems… Republicans seize on new health-care numbers… Charlie Crist's indie transformation now seems complete… First Read profiles SCOTUS possibility Janet Napolitano… First Read's Top 10 Primaries… Two Super Senate Tuesday debates occur today -- Lincoln vs. Halter and Grayson vs. Paul… And Biden stumps for Specter in PA.

From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, and Ali Weinberg
*** The border battle: In a midterm season where rural and conservative voters have taken center stage at tea parties, is it the wisest move for Democrats and the White House to move forward on immigration reform? Then again, do Republicans want to find themselves in the uncomfortable position of dealing with the perception that they are anti-Hispanic. Well, it looks like we're about to find out the answers to these questions -- especially with the state of Arizona about to force Washington's hand. Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R) has until Saturday night to decide whether she will sign into law legislation that, among other things, would require state law enforcement officials to force anyone suspected of being an illegal immigrant to produce proof of citizenship/legal status. The Arizona Republic reports that Brewer is expected to act today (her options are to sign the bill, veto it, or do nothing and allow it to become law). Before heading out for a weekend trip to Asheville, NC, President Obama will speak at a naturalization ceremony for active-duty service members at 10:00 am ET, and he could very well address this controversial bill during his remarks.

*** Brewer in the spotlight: A TELEMUNDO reporter last night asked Gov. Brewer if she was concerned that the immigration bill would lead to racial profiling in the state. Her response: "I am … am looking at that particular bill. I've been meeting with lawyers, and I've been looking at it very diligently. And when I make my decision, you will be one of the first to know." The reporter followed up by asking if she was concerned that Arizona is sending the wrong message to the rest of the country with the bill's potential for racial profiling. Brewer's reply: "You know, I think that we should be concerned about racial profiling. Um, it's illegal." Note: Brewer, who became governor after Janet Napolitano became Homeland Security secretary, is facing a primary challenge from a handful of Republicans this August, and that is certainly a factor here. Also note that John McCain, who also is facing a primary, is backing the legislation.

*** Two different tones: Was it a bit inconsistent to see, on the one hand, President Obama urging everyone to come together on the financial reform legislation and, on the other hand, have Senate Democrats accuse Mitch McConnell and other Republicans for engaging in "lies" and mischaracterizations on the bill? We can tell you that some folks at the White House viewed the Senate Democratic press conference yesterday as celebrating when Democrats haven't yet reached the end zone on the Senate legislation. (Remember, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has set a cloture vote for 5:00 pm ET on Monday, and even though the momentum is in the Dems' favor, they still haven't locked down 60 votes.) Conversely, we've heard from Senate Dems that they didn't want to repeat the mistakes from the health debate, in which the GOP's messaging scored big points. In fact, a new Kaiser poll finds that 55% of Americans say they are confused about the health law. This is an example of congressional Democrats realizing that they are the ones, not the White House, who are on the ballot this fall.

*** New health-care numbers: Speaking of health care, Republicans are seizing on new numbers from Medicare's Office of the Actuary showing that the new health-care law will raise health costs $311 billion from 2010 to 2019 (yet that increase represents just nine-tenths of 1%; total health care spending during that period is expected to cost $35 TRILLION). And expect GOP press releases today to note this cost increase. These figures, of course, differ from the Congressional Budget Office's estimate that the law would lower health costs. The Obama administration responds that the report reaffirms the law "will cover more Americans and strengthen Medicare by cracking down on waste fraud and abuse, modernizing payment systems and improving benefits by providing free preventive services, supporting innovations that help control chronic disease and closing the prescription drug donut hole." 

*** The reason for the lack of bipartisanship? In the latest issue of National Journal, Ron Brownstein notes that the most moderate U.S. senators come from states dominated by the other political party in presidential elections (Examples: Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe in Maine, and Blanche Lincoln in Arkansas and Mary Landrieu in Louisiana). And Brownstein makes this interesting find: There are only three GOP senators -- Collins, Snowe, and Scott Brown -- who hold seats in states that voted Democratic in all of the past three presidential elections. That explains, in part, why there isn't that much bipartisanship on legislation. It also explains that Democrats pretty much grabbed every Senate seat they could in the '06 and '08 cycles.

*** The transformation is now complete: We're now seeing what appears to be Charlie Crist's transformation into Independent Crist. When asked yesterday about Dick Cheney's endorsement of Marco Rubio, Crist said, per video posted by the Palm Beach Post: "It's just another Washington politician telling Florida what to do. I don't think Floridians appreciate it." Here we go, folks. The filing deadline is April 30. By the way, the Miami Herald is reporting that the Florida Education Association, "the state's largest teachers union, is running a 30-second television ad in Tallahassee Thursday thanking [Gov. Charlie] Crist and pushing for collaboration on future education reform efforts." 

*** Meet Janet Napolitano: In our latest SCOTUS profile, we take a look a Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, the former Democratic governor of Arizona. In addition to those jobs, she served as Arizona's attorney general, worked in private law practice, and clerked for 9th Circuit Judge Mary M. Schroeder. She's also a breast cancer survivor and climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro. Among Napolitano's pros (from the White House's perspective): As a politician, she'd bring a different perspective to the court; in fact, she'd be the first non-judge to be elevated to the court since 1972… She also would bring education diversity (with an undergraduate degree from the University of Santa Clara and a law degree from the University of Virginia)… If selected and confirmed, she would be the third woman to currently sit on the court, which would be a record (but she wouldn't be the first Arizona woman on the court; Sandra Day O'Connor has that distinction)… She is pro-choice (having vetoed a bill requiring a 24-hour waiting period for abortions as governor)… And she's widely respected inside the Obama administration.

*** Napolitano's pros and cons: Her cons: Despite her national security credentials, Napolitano's confirmation hearing would -- again -- bring attention to the Obama administration's response to the failed Christmas Day terrorist plot, especially her widely criticized reaction that the system worked… If she's seated on the court, the president would have to find another Homeland Security secretary, producing another potential confirmation battle… And she angered conservatives when DHS released a report suggesting that right-wing radicals, some seeking to capitalize on the election of the nation's first African-American president, might try to recruit members from the U.S. armed services returning from Iraq and Afghanistan; she later apologized to members of the armed services who might have taken offense.

*** First Read's Top 10 Primaries: If it's Friday, it means another First Read Top 10 list -- this time our look at what we consider to be the Top 10 remaining primaries this cycle. Note that FOUR of these races take place on May 18, which we're dubbing Super Senate Tuesday. The number in parentheses is our ranking from last month.
1. AR SEN -- D (2): After the developments in Florida, the Lincoln-vs.-Halter contest is now not only the best Democratic primary; it's the best overall primary. As our friends at Hotline have asked, does Lincoln's work to crack down on derivatives blunt Halter's/the left's message that she is a lackey for corporate interests?
2. UT SEN -- R (4): Bob Bennett looks to be in worse trouble than previously thought. Will he even finish in the top two in the May 8 convention to force a primary? And what if there isn't even a primary?  
3. KY SEN -- R (3): Trey Grayson vs. Rand Paul continues to be a great fight to watch. They have both gone negative in their ads, even sparring over 9/11. Paul continues to hold the upper hand.
4. FL SEN -- R (1): This dropped to No. 4 -- and probably will drop off our list altogether next month – because it's pretty clear that Charlie Crist is done as a GOP candidate in this race. We'll find out for sure by the April 30 filing deadline.
5. PA SEN -- D (5): Joe Sestak has failed to catch on in the polls, but both candidates remain well funded and are now hitting each other on air. Specter unloaded with a tough negative ad.  
6. KY SEN -- D (6): While Grayson vs. Paul has grabbed most of the national attention, Mongiardo vs. Conway is a competitive race, too.
7. CA SEN -- R (unranked): Carly Fiorina vs. Tom Campbell looks like it's going to be a tough, expensive fight for the right to take on Barbara Boxer. And don't miss that Obama is doing ANOTHER fundraiser for Boxer next month.
8. SC GOV -- R (7): This remains our top gubernatorial primary; the winner could have a profound impact on the 2012 GOP presidential contest.
9. AZ SEN -- R (8): McCain's campaign continues to run circles around J.D. Hayworth's. The question is whether McCain's record from 2001-2007 catches up to him.
10. CO SEN -- R (unranked): The Norton-Buck contest is increasingly turning into the next competitive GOP primary, with Jim DeMint lining up behind Buck and with some campaign changes for Team Norton.

*** Super Senate Tuesday: In Arkansas, Blanche Lincoln and Bill Halter square off in a debate… In Kentucky, there's another debate -- between Trey Grayson and Rand Paul… And in Pennsylvania, Vice President Biden stumps for Arlen Specter in the Scranton area; before that, he attends an event for PA congressional candidate Mark Critz.

Countdown to IN, NC, and OH primaries: 11 days
Countdown to NE and WV primaries: 18 days
Countdown to AR, KY, OR and PA primaries, and PA-12 special: 25 days
Countdown to HI special election: 29 days
Countdown to Election Day 2010: 193 days

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