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First Thoughts: The GOP's wake-up call

GOP gets a wake-up call from NY-26 loss… While it’s important not to make too much from a special election and while a third-party candidate played a role in the outcome, you can’t dismiss Medicare’s potency… In retrospect, does what Gingrich said on “Meet” two weeks ago seem so outrageous as a political concern?... Our two questions after last night: How do Republicans respond? And what happens to the NY-26 seat in redistricting?... Obama gets down to business in London… “Palin the Movie” coming to an Iowa theater near you… Pawlenty’s in DC, while Gingrich and Roemer are in NH… Rick Scott’s toxic in FL… And Netanyahu sits down with NBC’s Andrea Mitchell.

If there was any question what Hochul (D) was running on, or what this election was about for her supporters in the NY-26 race, here's a sign that was floating around the district.

*** The GOP’s wake-up call: There was a reason why Republican strategists convinced their House candidates last year not to support Paul Ryan’s budget “roadmap” (which included an overhaul of both Medicare and Social Security): Touching popular entitlement programs doesn’t make good politics. So it was striking that, just weeks after taking control of the House (in part by accusing Democrats of raiding Medicare), all but four Republicans voted for Ryan’s budget that phases out Medicare, in its current form, for all Americans under 55. And last night, Republicans received a wake-up call about Medicare’s potency with a Democratic victory in the NY-26 special congressional election, which Kathy Hochul (D) won by four points over Jane Corwin (R), 47%-43%, with independent Jack Davis getting 9%. As one Republican who voted for Hochul told the New York Times, “The privatization of Medicare scares me.” In retrospect, what Newt Gingrich said on “Meet the Press” nearly two weeks ago doesn’t seem so outrageous as political concern, does it?

*** 2012 won’t be just like 2010: Of course, it’s important not to make too much out of a single special election; after all, Democrats won a majority of last cycle’s special elections, but got crushed in the midterms. And, of course, Davis’ third-party candidacy played a role (Dems wouldn’t have played in the race without him). But you also can’t dismiss last night’s outcome. Hochul’s 47% in this essentially three-way race outperformed Obama’s 46% in this district in 2008. The GOP outside group American Crossroads acknowledged this reality of the NY-26 race: “What is clear is that this election is a wake-up call for anyone who thinks that 2012 will be just like 2010. It’s going to be a tougher environment, Democrats will be more competitive, and we need to play at the top of our game to win big next year.”

*** The questions going forward: Then again, we didn’t need last night’s special election to prove how powerful Medicare is. We see it in our NBC/WSJ poll. We see with Sen. Scott Brown’s decision not to support the Ryan budget in this week’s upcoming Senate vote. And we see it with GOP presidential candidates Mitt Romney and Tim Pawlenty not embracing the Ryan budget 100%. Our questions going forward: How do Republicans respond with this wake-up call? How do they manage a Houdini-like escape from a conservative base that WANTS the Ryan plan and a general electorate that DOESN’T? And then there’s this: Can Democrats keep this traditionally GOP-held NY-26 seat next year? What happens to it in redistricting? Appearing on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” Ryan acknowledged that Medicare played a role in the Republicans’ loss in NY-26. “The president and his party have decided to demagogue” the issue, he said, calling the campaign against his plan “Mediscare.” When asked to clarify if he believed the “demagoguing” of Medicare played a role, Ryan said, “That’s a big part of it.” He added, that Democrats are “scaring seniors that their current benefits are going to be affected.”

*** Obama gets down to business: After two days of beer drinking in Ireland and pomp and circumstance at Buckingham Palace, the business portion of President Obama’s European trip begins today. He has already met with British PM Cameron at 10 Downing Street and held a press conference with him -- where the words of the day on Libya were patience and persistence, and where Cameron wholeheartedly endorsed Obama’s Middle East speech last week. Later today, Obama delivers remarks to Parliament

*** “Palin the Movie”: Coming to an Iowa theater near you: Just when you thought she had gone away -- for 2012 -- she’s back. RealClearPolitics reports that a two-hour film about Sarah Palin’s governorship will debut in Iowa next month, and the movie “is poised to serve as a galvanizing prelude to Palin's prospective presidential campaign.” If she ends up running, this would be a classic Palin way to do it -- big, unconventional, and full of celebrity buzz. If she doesn’t run, it would be classic Palin, too -- a way to gain attention and remain in the political conversation.

*** Circle your calendars: Speaking of June, the GOP field will come into sharper focus that month. First Read learned yesterday that Rick Santorum will officially announce his bid the week of June 5. In addition, a Michele Bachmann aide waved us off of a possible Bachmann announcement this Thursday or Friday in Iowa, despite Bachmann having said after Huckabee’s announcement that her phone was “ringing off the hook” and that she was considering moving up an announcement before June. “The congresswoman has consistently said you’ll hear a decision in June,” Andy Parrish told one of us.

*** On the 2012 trail: Pawlenty delivers an economic speech at the CATO Institute in DC at 2:00 pm and then holds a media avail afterward… Gingrich holds a town hall in Derry, NH and a house reception in Manchester, NH… Buddy Roemer also is in New Hampshire.

*** Toxic Rick Scott: A new Quinnipiac poll finds that Florida Gov. Rick Scott’s approval rating in the Sunshine State is just 29%, with 57% disapproving (including 37% of Republicans). Ouch. How much are you willing to bet that Team Obama tries to tie Scott to the eventual GOP nominee? 

*** Netanyahu speaks to Andrea Mitchell: In an interview with NBC’s Andrea Mitchell yesterday, Israeli PM Netanyahu said, “I think [Obama] shares with me, and I share with him, the desire to move the peace process forward.  And I said in Congress that there's one way to move this thing forward. President Abbas of the Palestinian Authority has to do what I did two years ago. Two years ago, I spoke to my people and I said I will accept a Palestinian state. I think President Abbas has to say these same six words to his people.” The full transcript of Mitchell’s Netanyahu interview will be posted on First Read’s Web site later this morning. But here’s and additional thing to chew on: The Israeli news organization Ma’ariv features poll showing that 57% of the Israeli public thinks PM Netanyahu should have said he supported Obama's peace initiative. 

Countdown to Iowa GOP straw poll: 80 days
Countdown to NV-2 special election: 111 days
Countdown to Election Day 2011: 167 days
Countdown to the Iowa caucuses: 257 days
* Note: When the IA caucuses take place depends on whether other states move up

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