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First Thoughts: What now for the White House?

Does the White House get more proactive or reactive to Congress? … As Alaska’s write-in count begins, Miller’s campaign goes to court … Minnesota’s recount likely to leave Pawlenty in place with – a GOP legislature (hmmm) … Pelosi launches a defense of the Democratic agenda in op-ed; some Dems survivors want her out (though likely not enough) … All eyes on Michael Steele and the RNC chair race – what’s the buzz? … Making sense of the midterms: Diving into the exits on views of the parties by state … And seven House races remain uncalled with GOP continuing to lead in five – could get to +65.

*** What now for the White House? Here’s a question we have with Republicans set to take the reins in the House: How will the White House handle Congress now? Will they continue to let the agenda and details come from it, or will they begin to force their own debates? For example, will they propose the tax-cut plan or let Congress work it out? Will they offer their own entitlement/deficit/tax plans or let Congress do it and cherry pick? Both Speaker-to-be Boehner and Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell have said in their post-election statements, the president sets the agenda. So will the White House do that? Right now, in the GOP's post-election euphoria, it doesn't sound like the Democrats are ready to set the agenda. Of course, the president is overseas, but we'll know soon enough. Next week, the president has the entire congressional leadership teams to the White House and then, of course, there's the lame-duck tax-rate fight between the two parties. Will it be a fight at all? How the White House handles the lame-duck session -- and the tone set -- will likely dictate whether the White House will be more proactive or reactive with this new Congress.

*** Here come the lawyers: As the counting of write-in ballots begins today at 1:00 pm ET in Alaska’s still-undecided Senate race, Joe Miller’s (R) campaign filed a federal lawsuit last night to prohibit any write-in ballots that misspell Lisa Murkowski’s name, the Anchorage Daily News says. “Miller is asking a judge to stop the state from making a judgment on a voter's intentions if the voter wrote in something other than ‘Murkowski’ or ‘Lisa Murkowski.’ State law allows no leeway for other spellings, his lawsuit says… The Murkowski campaign reacted to Tuesday's lawsuit by accusing Miller of trying to toss out legitimate votes for the eight-year incumbent. ‘They're trying to discount as many votes as possible from Alaskans,’ Murkowski campaign manager Kevin Sweeney said. Miller's lawyer, Tom Van Flein [who is also the Palins’ attorney], is asking a federal judge for a hearing this afternoon.” After the counting of some 27,000 absentee ballots yesterday, Miller narrowed his deficit and now trails “write-in” by 11,333 votes.

*** Recount politics in Minnesota: Just askin’, but how loudly would Republicans be complaining if their gubernatorial candidate were ahead by a seemingly insurmountable 9,000-vote lead, but Democrats were girding for a long recount to allow their outgoing governor to remain on the job and work with the newly elected Democratic legislature? Well, that’s going on in Minnesota -- but in reverse. The Star Tribune: “Some Republicans say [a costly recount] would be worthwhile even as they privately concede it could be tough for Emmer to close the nearly 9,000-vote gap. Others say that prolonging the recount fight long enough to keep Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty in office an extra few weeks with a newly GOP-led Legislature would be a welcome bonus. ‘I don't think there's any downside to keeping this recount going on as long as possible,’ said a high-level Republican operative who spoke on the condition of anonymity. ‘If we keep the process going, there are opportunities for us in the upcoming legislative session.’” Can anyone come up with an example where a recount overturned a 9,000 vote advantage?

*** Pelosi’s Defense: Outgoing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (and soon to be minority leader) lays out a defense of the Democratic agenda the past two years in a USA Today op-ed. She argues that the election “reflected the genuine frustration of the American people, who are justifiably angered by the continued high unemployment rate” -- not a reflection on her leadership. “While Democrats are also disappointed at the rate of job growth, it does not diminish what we have accomplished,” she writes, touting the 111th Congress as “the most productive in a half-century.” She calls Democrats and President Obama “job creators from Day One, saving the country from the worst economic catastrophe since the Great Depression.” She defends the stimulus, the financial sector and student-loan overhauls, and “historic health insurance reform.” She says that “more needs to be done” and alludes to bipartisanship three times: “Democrats will strive to work with the new Republican majority;” “We welcome Republican ideas about job creation;” and fighting to create jobs “hopefully in a bipartisan way.” But she takes this veiled shot: “Though they elected a new majority in Congress, Americans did not vote for the special interests. They voted for jobs. Democrats remain committed to fighting for the people's interests, not the special interests.” By the way, Politico’s Jonathan Allen reports: “A pair of disaffected Democratic survivors are calling on the party’s top brass to postpone House leadership elections until December -- a move that could give potential challengers to Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her top lieutenants more time to gather their forces. ... The body of the letter calls on Democrats to ‘spend more time to understand these historic losses’ before voting on leaders.” Learn more about the case for Pelosi remaining as House Democratic leader on MSNBC’s The Daily Rundown today with Pelosi confidante, California Rep. George Miller.

*** Steele the one? The next big race: As the midterms wrap up (there are just a few uncalled races left), all eyes in Washington move toward 2012 and, more immediately, the race for Republican National Committee chairman. The 168 RNC members will vote Jan. 13-15 at their Winter Meeting in DC. The consensus seems to be that members are not thrilled with Michael Steele’s tenure and would prefer a new chairman, but they haven’t coalesced around any one person. No one has announced yet, and if they want to make a serious run at it, they’ll likely have to do so by next week, because they’ll have to campaign a bit to meet with committee members to gauge support. One GOP consultant tells First Read Steele believes he has 50 votes, but would need 80.

*** The replacements: The names circulating the rumor mill of those who could replace Steele include: Wisconsin GOP chair Reince Priebus, named in the Washington Post’s Cillizza’s piece yesterday, the New York Times’ Zeleny’s today and mentioned to First Read by a GOP consultant. But Priebus told Zeleny he might be uncomfortable challenging Steele because of their friendship. Others: Henry Barbour, Haley Barbour’s nephew (also quoted in the Times as not being thrilled with Steele. But he’s like a non-starter, because Haley Barbour is thought to be seriously mulling a 2012 presidential bid; Ron Weiser (the Michigan GOP chair); Saul Anuzis (a committeeman from Michigan who ran an aggressive campaign for chair last time); Kevin Dewine (Ohio GOP chairman); Jan Larimer (RNC co-chairman); former Chairman Mike Duncan; Maria Cino (who ran the 2008 convention); ex-Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating); and maybe Katon Dawson (the runner up to Steele. He’s thought to be considering it, but not seriously). The question becomes: What would Steele want to get out of the race; what kind of deal might have to be cut? RNC Convention chairman, perhaps… For those that think they know Steele, the idea of finding him something seems like a viable option and a Florida convention just might be the ticket.

*** Making sense of the midterms: Views of the parties: In our next installment looking at the midterm exit polls, we today examine the attitudes about the two political parties. The national exit poll showed both the Democratic Party and the Republican Party at pretty much the same place, with the Dems’ 43%-53% fav/unfav rating and the GOP’s 42%-52% score. But there were differences in key battleground states. In these battlegrounds, the Democrats’ highest ratings were in Pennsylvania (48% favorable) and Wisconsin (46%), and their lowest were in Iowa (41%) and Indiana (40%). The Republicans’ highest ratings were in Indiana (51%), Wisconsin (46%) and Iowa (45%), and their lowest were in Nevada (40%) and Colorado (38%).

*** The state scores, from best to worst: In the states where we could find the numbers, here are the Democratic Party’s favorable ratings, from best to worst: IL 52%, CA 50%, WA 50%, PA 48%, WI 46%, OR 45%, WV 45%, CO 43%, FL 43%, OH 43%, NV 42%, KY 41%, IA 41%, AR 40%, TX 39%, SC 29% 39%, AZ 36%. And here are the GOP’s favorable ratings, from best to worst: SC 53%, IN 51%, AR 51%, TX 50%, KY 49%, AZ 47%, WV 46%, WI 46%, IA 45%, FL 43%, OH 42%, PA 41%, NV 40%, IL 39%, CO 38%, WA 35%, CA 33%, OR 30%.

*** The uncalled House races: There are now seven races that remain uncalled. In VA-11, Keith Fimian (R) conceded yesterday to Gerry Connolly (D). Republicans still lead in five (giving them potentially a +65 final tally up from what’s currently +60) -- though incumbent Jim Costa (D) in CA-20 has closed the gap to just 145 votes from what was a 1,823-vote lead for Andy Vidak (R) on Election Night. By the way, Costa says he’d prefer to see a new Democratic leader. "I'm looking to support new leadership," he said, adding that he thinks it would be good for the “valley” if Republican Kevin McCarthy (from Bakersfield) is elected majority whip. The uncalled races: CA-11, CA-20, IL-8, KY-6 NY-1, NY-25, TX-27.

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