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First Thoughts: Overlapping battlegrounds

The overlapping presidential and Senate battlegrounds… Watch the Southwest… Critics and friends beg the executive branch to do more on Libya and the budget stalemate… Senate votes on competing budget bills at about 3:00 pm ET… Newt talks about his divorces… New Hampshire’s “birther bill.”… Is James O’Keefe really the future of journalism?... And MSNBC’s “Andrea Mitchell Reports” has Steny Hoyer and Michael Oren.

From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, and Ali Weinberg
*** Overlapping battlegrounds: When you look at the early 2012 presidential battleground map, and then at the early 2012 Senate map, it’s striking how much overlap there is. Winner take all? The Democrats’ control of the Senate is already sitting on a knife's edge. Consider: Florida, Ohio, and Virginia promise to be three of the most important presidential states next year, and all three could have competitive Senate races. (If Tim Kaine ends up running for Senate, Virginia will probably be next year’s most-watched Senate contest.) But those three aren’t alone: Arizona, Michigan, Missouri, Nevada, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin could also have both competitive Senate and presidential states. In fact, the only battleground states that won’t have a potentially competitive Senate race in 2012 are these: Colorado, Iowa, New Hampshire, and North Carolina (of course, the Tar Heel State will probably have a competitive gubernatorial race).

*** Watch the Southwest: We’ll take this exercise one step further. As we’ve mentioned before, these three Southwestern states could end up deciding both the presidency and control of the Senate: Arizona, Nevada, and New Mexico. Which ever party wins two of out those three will likely win the White House and the Senate. (And note: Of course, the likelihood of Arizona as a competitive Senate contest depends on whether someone like Gabby Giffords is able to run…). It guarantees that the third party outside groups (whether led by ex-leaders of the DSCC or Karl Rove and Crossroads) will be HEAVILY involved in all of those states, since BOTH the presidency and control of the Senate are at stake.

*** Begging the executive branch to do more? Over the last several days, there has been this common thread to Libya and the budget stalemate: Both friends and critics are calling for more clarification and intervention from President Obama. Of course, this isn’t the first time we’ve heard this (Egypt, health care, and the BP spill also come to mind here). And it comes with the job. But this week, the pressure has been ratcheted up. On the budget situation, in particular, the impression that some members of Congress are giving is that they can’t do their job without the president’s involvement. One of the criticisms during the Bush era was that the executive branch became too powerful. Ironically, the call is for the Obama White House to micromanage everything from the civil war in Libya to the budget standoff in Congress. That said, there are SO many conflicting voices on Libya at the moment that he's going to have no choice but to clarify by the end of the week (and that should coincide with SOME decision by NATO).

*** Let’s try this again: The Senate today will vote on the two competing budget bill tomorrow at about 3:00 pm ET, NBC’s Ken Strickland reports. Debate on the legislation will start at noon. They'll vote first on the GOP bill passed by the House (with $61 billion in spending cuts), followed by the vote on the Senate Democrats’ bill (with $6 billion in cuts). Sixty votes will be needed for passage, and both are expected to fail. Again, here’s what to watch for: How many Republicans vote against the House GOP plan? How many Dems vote against the Dem plan? And who votes FOR both? (The bet here is that a few Democrats up in 2012 do.) Still, everything we’re hearing is that there will have to be at least one more temporary continuing resolution before Congress can reach an agreement on how to fund the government for the rest of the year.

*** Newt talks about his divorces: Don't miss Newt Gingrich talking about his two divorces to CBN's David Brody: “There’s no question at times of my life, partially driven by how passionately I felt about this country, that I worked far too hard and things happened in my life that were not appropriate. And what I can tell you is that when I did things that were wrong, I wasn’t trapped in situation ethics, I was doing things that were wrong, and yet, I was doing them. I found that I felt compelled to seek God’s forgiveness. Not God’s understanding, but God’s forgiveness. I do believe in a forgiving God. And I think most people, deep down in their hearts, hope there’s a forgiving God."

*** New Hampshire’s “birther” bill: Yesterday, New Hampshire political reporter John DiStaso noted that the Granite State’s GOP-controlled legislature was considering a bill “that would require presidential candidates to present birth certificates when filing their candidacies for the New Hampshire first-in-the-nation primary.” DiStaso has this warning: “The concern is that if such a "birther" provision is approved, it would be an embarrassment to the state and could cause some candidates, possibly including President Barack Obama, not to file for the primary out of protest.” Well, Republicans have now amended the legislation so that it wouldn’t take effect until 2013.

*** Is this where we’re headed in journalism? Conservative filmmaker/provocateur James O’Keefe has collected another liberal scalp: NPR. “The latest round of conservative attacks on public broadcasting got fresh ammunition with the release of a hidden-camera video of an NPR executive calling the tea party racist and saying the network would be better off without federal money anyway,” the AP writes. “The video was posted Tuesday by James O'Keefe, the same activist whose undercover videos have targeted other groups opposed by conservatives, like the community organizing group ACORN and Planned Parenthood.” Of course, this comes just days after a liberal Web site embarrassed Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) by impersonating David Koch. Are these kinds of ideological stings where we’re now headed in journalism? It’s worth considering that they’re more about feeding raw meat to the base -- and confirming stereotypes -- than they are uncovering any GREATER truth, no? 

*** Programming note: House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer and Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren will appear today on MSNBC’s “Andrea Mitchell Reports,” which airs at 1:00 pm ET.

Countdown to continuing resolution’s expiration: 9 days
Countdown to Iowa GOP straw poll: 156 days
Countdown to Election Day 2011: 244 days
Countdown to the Iowa caucuses: 334 days
* Note: When the IA caucuses take place depends on whether other states move up

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