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Morning Roundup: Baked Alaska?

Murkowski on pace to win, Steele gets a challenge, Obama on tax cuts, what to watch in Lame Duck, and Sarah Palin's Alaska (and book tour with stop in Iowa) kicks off.

*** Baked Alaska? Lisa Murkowski continues to appear on pace to win in Alaska. About 89% of the write-in votes are going unchallenged to Murkowski. According to the Anchorage Daily News "write in" is up over Joe Miller 92,979 to 82,180. Our back-of-the-envelope math shows that if that pace continues, Murkowski would win by about 600 votes (92, 979 x 0.89 = 82,751).

Timeline: Vote counting continues through Sunday and perhaps into early to the middle of next week. But the final word on this might not be until beyond that because the Miller camp has taken its case to federal court, challenging the state's "voter intent" law.

And as we've noted before, Alaska is drawing quite the high-profile players. Lawyer Ben Ginsburg, of 2000 recount fame, is on Team Murkowski. Thomas Van Flein, Palin's attorney, is on Team Miller. And this morning, National Journal reports that Floyd Brown, the maker of the 1988 Willie Horton ad that damaged presidential candidate Michael Dukakis (D), is in Alaska and on Team Miller as "a volunteer strategist."

*** Mayor Alexi? Alexi Giannoulias is apparently considering a bid for Chicago mayor, according to Lynn Sweet. He says various aldermen and labor leaders have approached him about a run as an alternative to former White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel. Giannoulias lost narrowly to Mark Kirk (R) for Senate, but did do well in Chicago, of course, as pretty much any Democrat would. It would be quite the audacious move, considering the White House didn't edge him out of the race and the president campaigned for him and helped him raise money. On Sunday, Emanuel will make his mayoral bid official.

*** Steele gets first challenge: RNC Chairman Michael Steele officially has his first challenger -- there could be half a dozen to a dozen -- Michigan Committeeman Saul Anuzis, who ran against Steele the last time and who worked within this RNC. Here's part of his statement:

"Given my involvement and efforts to help over the past two years, it was not an easy decision for me to seek the post. As someone who believes in loyalty, my natural instinct would be to sit this out. But the simple fact is that the overriding challenge we face is winning back the Presidency in 2012 and we will not accomplish that objective unless there is dramatic change in the way the RNC does business. ... [T]o be a force, the RNC must change and that requires new leadership at the top. I am offering you an alternative, a choice, a different approach to the leadership and stewardship of our party.
Chairman Steele’s record speaks for itself. He has his way of doing things. I have mine."

And he delivers this shot: "Think about your own state. Did some terrific Republican candidate work their hearts out, yet fall short by a handful of votes on Election Day? Now ask yourself: if the RNC had properly funded the Victory program in your state, would that candidate have been a winner? Would that candidate have benefited from a robust 72-hour program with ground troops sweeping in for the final weekend? ... My philosophy of how the National Committee should be run is simple: to use a football analogy, I believe we should do the 'blocking and tackling' for the candidates."

He also makes this pledge, certainly a thinly veiled shot at Steele: "I will NOT strive to be the voice or the face of our party."

*** The GOP's short leash: A new Pew poll finds that fewer people are "happy" about Republicans taking over the House this year than they were about Democrats taking back control in 2006 and the GOP taking over in 1994.

Just 48% said they were "happy" about the results (34% said they were not). In 2006, 60% said they were happy about the results (24% were not). And in 1994, 57% were happy (vs. 31% unhappy.)

That could reflect what many of us heard on the trail and is reflected in polling -- that few are satisfied with either party. In the latest NBC/Wall Street Journal poll and the exit polls across the country, both parties' fav/unfav ratings were upside down -- and Republicans were even worse than Democrats. The Tea Party has been skeptical of the GOP establishmen, and it's a reason why Speaker-in-Waiting Boehner has tried to bring them into the fold creating two new leadership positions, largely tailored to the Tea Party.

*** That duck is lame: So what will be the priorities in the lame-duck session? Of course, tax cuts are No. 1 for both parties. Why? Because everyone's taxes will go up in January if Congress doesn't act. (That's when the Bush tax cuts expire.)

The president reiterated overseas in a gaggle with reporters that he wants to make tax cuts permanent for those making less than $250,000 a year, but is open to negotiation on extending the tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans (at least temporarily). The writing is on the wall. They're probably going to get extended for everyone, it's just a matter of for how long. Step One: Obama meets with Republican and Democratic leaders "late next week," Obama said. "I continue to believe that extending, permanently, the upper-income tax cuts would be a mistake, and that we can't afford it. And my hope is, is that somewhere in between there, we can find some sort of solution." (Key word there: "permanently.")

What else might they work on? The DREAM Act looks like a possibility in the House next week. Outgoing, but current Lame Duck Speaker Nancy Pelosi signaled her desire to have it go forward. National Journal wrapped its description nicely this morning as "a bill that grants legal status to certain undocumented immigrant students." There you go.

National Journal also says other possibilities include: "a bill giving retirees a one-time $250 payment in lieu of no cost-of-living adjustment this year to Social Security benefits; legislation to enhance the federal Telework Program; and, possibly, a child nutrition bill."

*** Palin's Reality? TV show "Sarah Palin's Alaska" debuts this Sunday at 9 pm ET. And she has another book coming out Nov. 23rd -- "America By Heart: Reflections on Family, Faith and Flag" -- with the necessary book tour to follow, including stops in... Iowa AND South Carolina.

Hmm, does this mean she's running for president? It at least means she's purposefully leaving the door open. As Newt Gingrich told Mitch Daniels (R-IN), why tell the media you're shutting the door? If you do that, they won't cover you.

So, in reality, who knows?