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First thoughts: Kicking 'ass'

Adding context to Obama’s kicking “ass” remark in his interview on “TODAY”… Also in the interview, the president suggests he would fire Tony Hayward if he had the opportunity and that he might partially lift the offshore drilling moratorium… At 11:40 am ET, Obama turns to selling health care… Two additional storylines to watch in today’s Super Duper Tuesday primaries: 1) the women who are playing starring roles, and 2) the outside groups who are impacting the races in Arkansas and Nevada… White House calls on agencies to trim at least 5% of their budgets… And Speaker Pelosi takes center stage at liberal confab.

From NBC's Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, and Ali Weinberg
*** Kicking 'ass': Much has already been made of President Obama’s “ass”-kicking comment in his interview with NBC’s Matt Lauer on the Gulf oil spill. But it’s important to put it in the proper context -- Lauer asked Obama about the critique that this isn’t the time for cool and calm; it’s a time to “kick some butt.” Here was the president’s answer to Lauer on “TODAY”: “I'm gonna push back hard on this. Because I think that this is just an idea that got in folks' heads and the media's run with it. I was down there a month ago, before most of these talking heads were even paying attention to the Gulf.” He added, “A month ago, I was meeting with fishermen down there, standing in the rain talking about what a potential crisis this could be. And I don't sit around just talking to experts because this is a college seminar. We talk to these folks because they potentially had the best answers, so I know whose ass to kick. Right? So, you know, this is not theater.”

*** On Hayward and on the drilling moratorium: Also in the interview, Obama suggested he would have fired BP head Tony Hayward. “He wouldn't be working for me after any of those [controversial] statements,” which Lauer read to Obama. The president also indicated that he might partially lift the moratorium on offshore drilling for shallow wells. “Shallow wells aren't a problem, because the risers essentially come up above the water… What we don't have right now is an assurance that in these incredible depths -- a mile down and then they're drilling another three miles down to get to oil -- that we can actually handle a crisis like this.” MSNBC’s “Daily Rundown” will re-air much of the interview.

*** Selling health care: Turning from the oil spill to health care, President Obama holds a tele-town hall with seniors in Maryland beginning at 11:40 am ET. Per the White House, Obama will use this town hall -- where seniors across the country can participate by phone -- to discuss the health-care law, efforts to combat senior scams and fraud, and the first mailing of the $250 “donut hole” rebate checks. Indeed, these checks start going out on Thursday. The AP: “Seniors are a key group for the White House. They are reliable voters who have demonstrated more skepticism about the law than other groups have, in large part because of concerns about cuts to the Medicare health program that insures people 65 and older.” Critics of his health care plan will remind folks a lot today that he's tried a bunch of times to re-launch or re-sell health care. Know that this will be an ongoing effort by the White House and by some supporting groups to sell the law over the next few months.

*** Two more storylines to watch today: Voters in 12 states -- more than 20% of the country -- are participating in primaries and run-offs today to fill more missing pieces in the midterm puzzle. As we mentioned yesterday, here are five storylines we’re watching: 1) Will the anti-incumbency narrative continue? 2) Is Harry Reid going to catch a break in Nevada? 3) Is South Carolina cementing its reputation as the “stink hole” of GOP politics? 4) Are we seeing the rise of the ex-CEOs? 5) And are we seeing the rise of the ex-governors? But there are two more storylines playing out today. First, as our friends at Hotline have pointed out, women are playing starring roles in all of today’s marquee contests (Blanche Lincoln in Arkansas, Nikki Haley in South Carolina, Meg Whitman and Carly Fiorina in California, Sharron Angle and Sue Lowden in Nevada). Second, outside groups are playing big roles in Arkansas (organized labor and the internet left is targeting Lincoln) and in Nevada (where Club for Growth and the Tea Party is backing Angle). The question we have: If Halter and Angle win, will these groups be there for their candidates in the fall?

*** Super Duper Tuesday odds and ends: Here are some additional thoughts about today’s primaries and run-offs: Did anyone else know that “birther” Orly Taitz is running for California secretary of state as a Republican? A Taitz win would be embarrassing for the GOP… There’s a GOP establishment spilt in South Carolina -- with Romney and Palin backing Haley; McCain and Giuliani supporting McMaster; Huckabee endorsing Bauer; and Dick Cheney backing Barrett… By the way, Bauer releasing results from a lie-detector test is a fitting end to this bizarre primary… And then there’s change, and we’re seeing a lot of conflicting uses of it. Is Haley change or more the same (because she’s Sanford’s ideological heir)? Is Terry Branstad change in Iowa? What about Jerry Brown in California? http://politi.co/bwrFGq

*** The Super Duper Tuesday line-up: As mentioned above, voters in 12 states -- from California to Maine -- are heading to the polls today. Here’s a breakdown of the major races:
-- In Arkansas, there’s the Senate run-off between Blanche Lincoln and Bill Halter (will Lincoln be the next incumbent to lose?); polls close at 8:30 pm ET
-- In California, there are the GOP primaries for governor (which Meg Whitman is leading) and for the Senate (where Carly Fiorina is ahead), and keep any eye on Jane Harman’s primary; polls close at 11:00 pm ET
-- In Iowa, ex-Gov. Terry Branstad (R) is the favorite to take on vulnerable Gov. Chet Culver (D) in the fall; polls close at 10:00 pm ET
-- In Maine, a crowded field of Democrats and Republicans are competing for the opportunity to replace term-limited Gov. John Baldacci (D); polls close at 8:00 pm ET
-- In Nevada, there’s the GOP Senate primary to challenge Harry Reid in the fall; polls close at 10:00 pm ET
-- And in South Carolina, there’s the GOP gubernatorial primary as well as a primary challenge that conservative-moderate Rep. Bob Inglis (R) is receiving; polls there close at 7:00 pm ET.

*** Trimming the budget: Beyond today’s primaries, the oil spill, and the health-care pitch, the other big news today is the Obama administration’s call for agencies to trim their budgets. Writes the Washington Post: “The White House is directing agencies to develop plans for trimming at least 5 percent from their budgets by identifying programs that do little to advance their missions or President Obama's agenda.” Most will see this as a symbolic move, but it does begin to lay the groundwork -- maybe in 2011, maybe in 2013 -- for a serious effort to rein in spending and the deficit after the economy is really humming…

*** I am Liberal, hear me roar: The second day of the liberal America’s Future Now confab gets underway with a speech by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (beginning at 8:30 am ET), and it also features discussions by Howard Dean and AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka. Some of the additional panel discussions: “Wedge This: Race and the 2010 Political Debate,” “Afghanistan: Good War or Wrong Way,” “Fixing Citizens United and Changing the Supreme Court,” and “Green Jobs and Reversing Climate Change.”

*** Pelosi’s contrast: First Read has obtained excerpts of Pelosi’s speech. Here’s her conclusion (and it’s an argument that House Dems hope the White House begins to push): “In the debate over America’s future, the stakes are high. The choice is clear: Democrats reined in the big health insurance companies, Republicans wanted to protect them. Democrats are standing with Main Street, reigning in the recklessness of Wall Street. Republicans want to protect the big banks of Wall Street… Democrats are reining in Big Oil while addressing the greatest challenge of our time – climate change! Republicans continue to protect Big Oil and blocking the path to a clean energy future. Democrats are taking America in a New Direction. Republicans want to take us back to the failed policies of President George W. Bush! We cannot go back. We will not go back.”

Countdown to UT primary and NC and SC run-offs: 14 days
Countdown to AL run-off: 35 days
Countdown to GA primary: 42 days
Countdown to OK primary: 49 days
Countdown to KS and MO primaries: 56 days
Countdown to CO and CT primaries: 63 days
Countdown to Election Day 2010: 147 days

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