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First Thoughts: McConnell doubles down

McConnell to double down on his my-top-priority-is-to-defeat-Obama comment… He'll also call for repeal of health care, though the midterms didn't produce a mandate on the law... From the “thumping” in ’06 to the “shellacking” in ’10… The GOP ideological food fight begins… Unfinished business in WA, AK, MN, and CT… Dudley concedes to Kitzhaber in Oregon… And the 10 undecided House races.

*** McConnell doubles down: Twenty-four hours after Speaker-to-be Boehner and President Obama talked about the need to work together, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is taking a different tack. In a speech to be delivered at 11:00 am ET in DC, NBC’s Ken Strickland reports, McConnell will defend his statement that defeating President Obama in 2012 is his top priority -- a comment that drew criticism from Democrats, especially with unemployment near 10%. "Some have said it was indelicate of me to suggest that our top political priority over the next two years should be to deny President Obama a second term in office," McConnell is expected to say, according to excerpts of today’s speech. "But the fact is, if our primary legislative goals are to repeal and replace the health spending bill; to end the bailouts; cut spending; and shrink the size and scope of government, the only way to do all these things it is to put someone in the White House who won't veto any of these things."

*** No mandate on health care: On health care, McConnell will say that Republicans should propose and vote on a "straight repeal, repeatedly." He'll also say House Republicans should use their new majority to deny funding implementation of the law. That, of course, would lead to potential gridlock in the Senate. In the national exit poll, 47% said they wanted to keep the health law in place or expand it; 48% of those who voted said they wanted to repeal it. So the midterms weren’t a mandate for anyone's position on health care. The public is divided -- right down the middle.

*** From “thumping” to “shellacking”: Four years ago, after his party lost control of Congress, George W. Bush declared in a press conference that his party had taken a “thumping.” (But he issued this qualifier: “If you look at race by race, it was close. The cumulative effect, however, was not too close.”) Yesterday, at his own press conference after his party’s midterm defeats, Barack Obama stated the Democratic Party suffered a “shellacking.” Obama, though, was more introspective than his predecessor (whose book interview with Matt Lauer will dominate American politics next week). "This is something,” Obama said, “that I think every president needs to go through, because … the responsibilities of this office are so enormous … and in the rush of activity sometimes we lose track of … the ways that we connected with folks that got us here in the first place." Obama, like Bush did in ’06, also took some responsibility for the defeats. "It underscores for me that I've got to do a better job, just like everybody else in Washington does."

*** GOP food fight: Remember when we said that the GOP Senate losses in Colorado, Delaware, and Nevada would only spark a pragmatist-vs.-purist fight within the Republican Party? Well, here we go… Politico says that "a bloc of prominent senators and operatives said party purists like Sarah Palin and Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) had foolishly pushed nominees too conservative to win in politically competitive states. Movement conservatives pointed the finger right back at the establishment, accusing the National Republican Senatorial Committee of squandering millions on a California race that wasn’t close at the expense of offering additional aid in places like Colorado, Nevada and Washington state." The tension will be highest between DeMint and a newly-re-elected Lisa Murkowski, should she win. Speaking of DeMint, in an interview with National Journal, don't miss these two items: 1) DeMint said the only 2012er he's talked to since Tuesday was Mitt Romney who phoned him to congratulate him; 2) DeMint said he doesn't foresee a need in changing the Senate GOP leadership team but added, "Any leadership changes would be a year or two down the road." That a subtle threat to the current Senate GOP leadership team? You be the judge.

*** Unfinished business: In the unfinished Senate contest in Washington state, Sen. Patty Murray (D) widened her lead yesterday, “riding a Democratic surge in King County that is looking increasingly difficult for Rossi to overcome,” the Seattle Times reports… In Alaska, the counting of the write-in ballots -- which exceed the vote tally Joe Miller (R) received -- will begin next week… In Oregon’s gubernatorial race, former NBA player Chris Dudley (R) conceded, giving the race to former Gov. John Kitzhaber (D)… In Minnesota’s gubernatorial race, it looks like the state is headed for another recount, although Mark Dayton (D) leads Tom Emmer by nearly 9,000 votes (compared to Norm Coleman’s 762-vote lead after Election Day in ’08). And get this: Outgoing Gov. (and likely GOP presidential wannabe) Tim Pawlenty says he will serve until the new governor is sworn in, even if that’s after his term ends on Jan. 3.

*** Confusion in Connecticut: Yet the craziest undecided race is the one for Connecticut governor. Yesterday, state Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz declared Dan Malloy (D) the unofficial winner by about 3,100 votes. The AP later withdrew its call of Malloy as the winner now with opponent Tom Foley (R) leading Malloy by some 8,000 votes with all but 1.5% of precincts reporting, the Hartford Courant says. (However, per our editorial screen, 11% of the total vote is still out.) And both candidates are declaring victory.

*** The uncalled House races: Republicans are at currently +60 in House races, and that gain could get to in the neighborhood of +63 when all the votes are finally counted (and recounted). There are 10 races still yet to be decided. Republicans lead in three of those -- CA-20, IL-8, and TX-27. All three are pretty big surprises. Most forecasters would have picked CA-11 -- which is almost certainly headed for a recount -- as the top GOP pick-up opportunity in the state. CA-11 is the closest race right now, with incumbent Jerry McNerney (D) up by just 121 votes out of about 164,000 votes (with 100% of precincts reporting). The next closest are: WA-2, where incumbent Rick Larsen (D) is up 502 votes out of 195,000 (71% in); IL-8, with incumbent Melissa Bean (D) down 553 votes out of 194,000 (100% in); KY-6, with incumbent Ben Chandler up just 600 votes out of 239,000 (100% in); TX-27, with incumbent Solomon Ortiz down 799 votes out of 101,000 (100% in); and in VA-11, freshman Rep. Jerry Connolly (D) is up by 920 votes out of 220,000. By the way, Rep. Bob Etheridge (D), who the AP says lost to Renee Ellmers (R), has NOT conceded. The margin is 1,646 votes; that's after Etheridge cut the margin by 500+ votes in late counts added Wednesday.

*** The full list: As far as the UNCALLED races, here's our the full list (in order of likely GOP takeover):
-- CA-20: 100% in; Vidak (R) up 51-49 or 1,823 votes of 63K
-- IL-8: 100% in Walsh (R) up 49-48 or 559 votes of 194K
-- TX-27: 100% in; Farenthold (R) up 48-47, or 799 votes of 101K
-- CA-11: 100% in; 47-47 McNerney (D) up by just 121 votes of 164K
-- WA-2: 71% in; 50-50 Larsen (D) up 502 out of 195K
-- KY-6: 100% in; 50-50 Chandler (D) up 600 votes of 140K
-- VA-11: 100% in; 49-49 Connolly (D) up 920 votes out of 222K
-- AZ-8: 100% in; Giffords (D) up 49-48, or 2,349 votes of 239K
-- AZ-7: 100% in; Grijalva (D) up 49-46, or about 4,083 votes of 121K
-- NY-25: 96% in; Maffei (D) up 51-49, or 2,196 votes of 189K

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