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First thoughts: Race to the top

Why, in the Obama era, the issue of race almost always surfaces to the top… What does that say about the media, about Obama, and about the country we live in?... Profiling Newt Gingrich’s inner circle… Previewing Netroots Nation, which begins today in Vegas… Look out, but Rob Simmons is back in CT SEN… More GOP woes in Colorado… And previewing AR-1.

From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, and Ali Weinberg
*** Race to the top: As the Sherrod/USDA/Breitbart story extends yet another day -- Shirley Sherrod continues her non-stop media tour; she said on “TODAY” that she would like a phone call from the president -- it’s only fitting, we guess, that today is the one-year anniversary of when President Obama weighed in on the controversial arrest of Harvard’s Henry Louis Gates Jr. If you recall, Obama gave a primetime press conference that night that was 99% about health care. But the 1% came at the end, when a reporter asked Obama about Gates’ arrest and when Obama -- uncharacteristically for him -- chimed in and said the Cambridge police acted “stupidly.” That remark sparked a multi-day media firestorm that only ended after Obama’s “beer summit” with Gates and the Cambridge cop.

*** The three-ring circus in Washington: In Obama’s first year and a half as president, there haven’t been any sex scandals, any stories of widespread corruption, or any plans to wage war against a nation without WMD. But what does it say -- about the media, about Obama, and about us as a country -- that when the topic turns to race, Washington instantly transforms into a three-ring circus? As for the media, we’ve allowed this story over race bury one of the more consequential weeks of Obama’s presidency thus far (the financial reform legislation becoming law, Senate passage of the jobless benefits, and Kagan clearing the Senate Judiciary Committee). Whether it's Sherrod, Gates, or Jeremiah Wright, the topic of race pushes the media's buttons like no other issue.

*** Obama’s broken promise: As for Obama, it is clear that his hope of creating “a more perfect union” on the subject of race -- the title of his famous 2008 speech in Philly -- has so far been a broken promise. As Ben Smith observed yesterday, “The election of Barack Obama, America’s first black president, was supposed to be a sign of our national maturity, a chance to transform the charged, stilted ‘national conversation’ about race into a smarter and more authentic dialogue, led by a president who was also one of the nation's subtlest thinkers and writers on the topic. Instead, the conversation just got dumber.” It is clear that Obama -- perhaps correctly -- has decided that it is more important to govern than it is to tackle the issue of race. Still, it is a broken promise, and Robert Gibbs implied yesterday we won't see a so-called "national conversation" on race anytime soon. In truth, it's probably a topic the president can't tackle until he's, well, an ex-president.

*** Are we mature enough to have a conversation about race? But even if Obama tries to tackle race during his presidency, is Washington mature enough to listen? Probably not when there are so many questioning whether the president was born in this country, when the NAACP is accusing the Tea Party of being racist, when a handful of "new" Black Panthers are on the prowl (who, btw, aren't really members of the actual Black Panthers AND who are about as relevant on the left as the John Birch Society is on the right), and when someone like Andrew Breitbart is so fixated on proving via a concerted campaign that somehow there is racial bias being practiced by this president or members of his administration (whether it’s ACORN, Sherrod, etc.).

*** 2012 Thursday: In our weekly series looking at the inner circles of the possible 2012 candidates -- we’ve already focused Romney’s and Pawlenty’s -- we turn our attention today to Newt Gingrich’s team. Despite the fact that Gingrich says political consultants are generally bad these days, he has his share. Among the names: veteran GOP operative Joe Gaylord, who was Gingrich’s top political adviser when he was speaker; attorney Randy Evans, who was Newt’s outside counsel; daughter Kathy Lubbers, who is the president of Gingrich Communications; daughter Jackie Cushman, who co-wrote a book with Gingrich; Nancy Desmond, who heads Gingrich’s Center for Health Transformation; spokesman Rick Tyler, founding director of the Gingrich-affiliated Renewing American Leadership; Dan Varroney, chief operations officer of Gingrich’s American Solutions 527; and Vince Haley, who’s the policy chief at American Solutions. The American Solutions 527 has raised more than $17 million this cycle, and it has spent $19 million. The money he's raised and spent always gets overlooked when folks write about Romney, Pawlenty and Palin. Overlooked, folks, at your own peril.

*** Netroots Nation: The liberal blogosphere confab, Netroots Nation, kicks off today in Las Vegas. The major speakers over the three-day conference include Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer (today), former administration official Van Jones (Friday; wonder if Shirley Sherrod will come up?), Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Saturday), Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (Saturday), and Sen. Al Franken (Saturday). Among today’s panels: “Primaries Matter: Reclaiming the Dem. Party,” “Tweeting the Revolution,” “Right-wing Populism and the Tea Parties,” and “Blogging a Red State Blue.”

*** Simmons is back: Look out, but Rob Simmons is back in the Connecticut Senate GOP primary. After suspending his campaign when he lost to Linda McMahon for the party’s endorsement, Simmons announced yesterday that he was airing a TV ad reminding Connecticut voters that he’s still on the ballot. “For the past two months, I have been traveling the state supporting my fellow Republican candidates for public office who I believe will bring to Connecticut and the nation the leadership we need at this most difficult time,” said in a statement to supporters. “Everywhere I go people ask me if I am still running for the U.S. Senate because they want to lend their support. My response has been ‘I'm still on the ballot.’”

*** The GOP’s woes in Colorado: About a week ago, we started asking, “What’s the matter with Colorado [for Republicans]?” And since then, things have become even more problematic. First, likely GOP gubernatorial nominee Scott McInnis got embroiled in a plagiarism scandal. Writes Dan Balz: “When the 2010 election cycle began last year, national Republicans viewed Colorado as one of their best opportunities to take a governor's office from the Democrats. Today they wonder whether they'll even have a viable candidate for November.” And now, a video is making the rounds of Republican Senate candidate Ken Buck giving this answer to a voter’s question why they should vote for him over Jane Norton in the GOP primary next month: “Because I do not wear high heels.”

*** Programming note: “The Daily Rundown” today interviews chief White House economic adviser Larry Summers.

*** 75 House races to watch: Previewing AR-1: Today, we look at AR-1, which is an open seat after seven-term incumbent Marion Berry (D) announced his retirement. The Dem nominee is Chad Causey (a one-time Berry staffer), who won his run-off with 51% of the vote. The GOP nominee is businessman Rick Crawford, who won his primary with 72% of the vote. McCain got 59% of the vote in this district in ’08, while Bush got 52% in ’04.

Countdown to OK primary: 5 days
Countdown to KS and MO primaries: 12 days
Countdown to CO and CT primaries: 19 days
Countdown to Election Day 2010: 103 days

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