Is Arlen Specter the next longtime incumbent to go down?... 14-term Rep. Alan Mollohan last night became the first House incumbent to lose this cycle… Sen. Bob Bennett, who lost last weekend, hasn't ruled out a write-in candidacy… Karzai's in town, but that news is being overshadowed by other issues… Kagan starts her one-on-ones on Capitol Hill… Kerry and Lieberman unveil climate bill… New NBC/WSJ poll comes out at 6:30 pm ET… RNC to pick the host of its 2012 convention (and Tampa seems to be the smart bet)… Bill Halter to appear on "Daily Rundown"… And Charlie Crist officially changes his voter registration.
From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, and Ali Weinberg
*** Is Specter next? Just like we saw last week in Utah before Sen. Bob Bennett's defeat, the political buzzards are once again circling over a longtime incumbent's head. This week's target: Sen. Arlen Specter. A new Franklin & Marshall poll shows Joe Sestak leading Specter by two points (38%-36%) among likely Pennsylvania primary voters, while a new Quinnipiac poll has Specter up by two (44%-42%), but that's down from his eight-point lead in the poll a week ago and his 21-point lead last month. Meanwhile, the New York Times, Washington Post, and Politico all have parachuted into the race, noting Specter's difficulty convincing Democrats to vote for this longtime former Republican. And this anecdote, via Politico, doesn't help: "[A]t the end of his remarks when Specter again thanked the 'the Allegheny County Republicans' for their endorsement, many couldn't help but laugh nervously and shoot did-he-really-just-say-that looks at each other." Specter will appear on MSNBC's "Andrea Mitchell Reports, which airs beginning at 1:00 pm ET. "
*** Looking ahead to the general: One of the more fascinating questions in Dem circles is this (and there's a real split among some of the smartest pols in the West Wing): Who is the better general-election candidate against Pat Toomey (R) -- Specter or Sestak? The Franklin & Marshall poll has Toomey leading Specter by two points among registered voters (35%-33%) and Toomey leading Sestak by one (29%-28%). By the way, we asked this question earlier, and we ask again: Can any incumbent polling under 45% less than week out win?
*** Mollohan becomes first House incumbent to lose: Last night, we saw the first House incumbent to lose this cycle -- West Virginia's Alan Mollohan, who lost his Democratic primary against state Sen. Mike Oliverio, 56%-44%. However, we should be a bit careful in over-analyzing Mollohan's defeat. There were many unique issues going on this race (the ethics clouds hovering over Mollohan, Oliverio running to Mollohan's right, Oliverio perhaps being the Dems' better general-election candidate) that you could argue that Mollohan might have met the same fate in a better environment. Still, when you start adding up Bennett, Mollohan, perhaps Specter, and maybe Blanche Lincoln, the anti-incumbent narrative overpowers all the caveats.
*** Bennett to pull a Lieberman? Speaking of Bennett, the Utah Republican hasn't ruled out a possible write-in candidacy. "Sen. Robert Bennett (R-Utah), who lost his bid for re-nomination on Saturday, has not ruled out running as a write-in candidate for the Senate this fall. 'I've made no decisions to make a decision," he said Tuesday when asked about his political future. 'I've made a firm decision not to make any decisions at the moment.' Bennett would only say he'd make a decision 'later.'" But would it be a write-in campaign in the PRIMARY or a write-in campaign in the general? There seems to be some question… Write-in via primary might be an easier pill for the GOP leadership in Washington to swallow.
*** Karzai's in town -- and is anyone paying attention? Several weeks ago, Afghanistan President Karzai was BIG news -- whether it was the threat that his government would team up with the Taliban, or the Obama administration signaling that it might cancel Karzai's upcoming visit to the U.S. Well, Karzai is in the U.S. to meet today with President Obama and the visit, surprisingly, has been overshadowed by other events. The oil spill in the Gulf. Kagan's SCOTUS nomination. The incumbents who are losing races in Utah and West Virginia. Obama holds a bilateral with Karzai at 10:15 am, and the two hold a joint press conference at 11:15 am. An hour later, they have lunch.
*** Kagan hits the Hill: Per NBC's Ken Strickland, Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan holds her first one-on-one meetings with senators on Capitol Hill today. At 10:00 am ET, Kagan meets with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid; at 11:00 am, she visits with Minority Leader Mitch McConnell; at noon, it's with Judiciary Committee Chairman Pat Leahy; at 12:45 pm, it's with Judiciary ranking member Jeff Sessions; and at 2:30 pm, it's with Sen. Dick Durbin (D). The meetings are closed, but the press is allowed a photo-op at the beginning. It's important to note that these meetings -- especially the ones with the Senate Judiciary Committee members -- are much more than courtesy calls as ex-White House Counsel Greg Craig pointed out on "Daily Rundown" yesterday. Sotomayor acing these meetings pretty much assured her confirmation, while Harriet Miers bombing them pretty much assured her eventual withdrawal. In many ways, the real tough (and controversial) questions get asked in these private settings.
*** Kerry and Lieberman -- minus Graham: Much has happened since the last time we really discussed the Kerry-Graham-Lieberman energy/climate change legislation. First, Graham pulled his support. Second came the oil spill in the Gulf. According to the Washington Post, Kerry and Lieberman are introducing their bill today. "The energy and climate bill Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.) will unveil Wednesday will give states the right to veto offshore oil drilling in a neighboring state, according to sources briefed on the plan." What does the public think of offshore drilling after the spill? The Arizona immigration law? President Obama's standing? The health care law? We'll have answers to those questions and more in our new NBC/WSJ poll, which comes out in full at 6:30 pm ET.
*** Tampa, here we come? Also today, we're expected to receive a decision from the RNC about where it plans to hold its 2012 convention. As we mentioned last week, the safe bet is Tampa, FL -- given the apparent flaws with the other two possibilities of Phoenix (due to the boycotts of Arizona) and Salt Lake City (with the Romney/Mormon storyline). An RNC spokeswoman tells First Read that its site-selection committee will have a closed-door meeting this afternoon, and members will announce the city they selected. "The full RNC committee will vote to ratify the city at the summer meeting in August," the spokeswoman adds.
*** Super Senate Tuesday: With the Arkansas primary taking place six days from now, MSNBC's "Daily Rundown" interviews Bill Halter. His opponent, Sen. Blanche Lincoln, will be on the show tomorrow.
*** More midterm news: In Florida, at 2:45 pm ET, Charlie Crist officially changes his voter registration… In Georgia, Jimmy Carter's grandson won a special election for a state Senate seat… And in Utah: "Roughly half of likely Utah voters surveyed in a poll say they would vote for someone other than U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch if he were up for re-election this year," the AP writes, citing a new Salt Lake Tribune poll. Hatch is not up for re-election until 2012.
Countdown to AR, KY, OR and PA primaries, and PA-12 special: 6 days
Countdown to HI special election: 10 days
Countdown to Election Day 2010: 174 days