POLITICAL WIRE’S HEADLINES – 3/12

Flirting with Birtherism

Marc Ambinder notes there are now five major Republican Senate candidates who have at least initially refused to answer whether they believe President Obama is actually an American citizen.

“Several of these candidates have later corrected their initial hesitation, but it is precisely that initial hesitation that contains so much information about what Republican candidates fear right now. No doubt that Portman and Marco Rubio know that Birtherism is bullshit. The gap between their private beliefs and how they articulate them publicly is fairly wide. I’m not a fan of stories that begin with X ‘refuses to denounce’ Y — I usually skip them. I make an exception here because the accusation is so reckless, so tied to race and culture, and so stupid that those who try to Wink at the Birthers are adding potency to a poison that everyone is forced to gulp.”

McCollum Favored in Florida

A new Public Policy Polling survey in Florida finds neither of the top gubernatorial candidates is particularly well known or liked.

Nonetheless, Bill McCollum (R) has a solid early lead over Alex Sink (D), 44% to 31%.

Petraeus Makes Trip to New Hampshire

Expect the 2012 buzz to get louder: Army Gen. David Petraeus, commander of U.S. Central Command and earlier the top U.S. general in Iraq, will visit Saint Anselm College in New Hampshire later this month, the St. Anselm Crier reports.

Health Care Vote Likely Next Week

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told her members “to brace themselves for a climactic health care vote as early as next week, warning them to clear their schedules for next weekend and promising to stay in session until the landmark vote, people present said afterwards,” Politico reports.

Noting that President Obama postponed a trip to Asia until March 21, Pelosi said, “I am delighted the president will be here for the passage of the bill. It is going to be historic.”

Roll Call: “Pelosi said the House would enact the Senate health care bill and then make changes to that measure by passing a reconciliation bill, which will also reform the student loan program.”

Bonus Quote of the Day

“I could have possibly beaten Sen. McCain in the primary. Then I could have been the candidate who lost to Barack Obama.”

— Mitt Romney, quoted by the Observer & Eccentric, “suggesting the winds of change were inevitable.”

Newsom Will Run for Lt. Governor

As it seemed last month, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom (D) will announce that he’s running for lieutenant governor of California, the San Francisco Chroniclereports.

Many political analysts say Newsom will be the candidate to beat in the Democratic primary June 8.

Last year, Newsom quit the race for governor when he couldn’t gain traction against Jerry Brown in a Democratic primary.

The Problem with Whip Counts

Good point from Mark Murray: “Here’s one of the disadvantages of media organizations doing whip counts of the Senate health-care bill passing in the House: They’re missing the wiggle room some Democratic members are giving themselves.”

Specter Leads Toomey in Pennsylvania

A new DailyKos/Research 2000 poll in Pennsylvania finds Sen. Arlen Specter (D) leading Pat Toomey (R), 47% to 41%.

In a Democratic primary, Specter is still way ahead of Rep. Joe Sestak (D),  51% to 32%.

Last week a Quinnipiac poll also found Specter leading Toomey.

Dead Heat in Colorado

A new Public Policy Polling survey in Colorado finds Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO) and challenger Jane Norton (R) tied at 43% in the U.S. Senate race.

Interestingly, Andrew Romanoff (D) actually leads Norton, 44% to 39%, “reflecting other recent polling that has shown him doing better in general election matches than Bennet.”

Romanoff is challenging Bennet in a Democratic primary.

Huckabee Doesn’t Sound Like a Candidate

Mike Huckabee told students at New York University that he was not sure if he’ll run for president in 2012, reports NYU News.

In fact, he seems quite content having his own television show on Fox News.

Said Huckabee: “It’s kind of given me a new perspective of the power of the media more so than the power of good policy. Running for president did not necessarily cause people to say ‘Oh, I know who you are.’ But being on Fox News has. It’s really embarrassing when you’re running for president of the United States and nobody seems to have any clue.”

He added: “I’m not sure I’m in a place in my life, personally, that I can afford to take off two years and not have an income.”

Save the Date!

I’ll be moderating CQ-Roll Call’s “Off to the Races” event in Washington, D.C. at the Columbus Club at Union Station on March 23 at 8:30 am.

We’ll have a great panel with Tucker Carlson, Stuart Rothenberg, Craig Crawford and Walter Shapiro offering their insights and analysis on the midterm elections.

Check back on Monday to sign up since seats will go quickly.

Who is Barack Obama?

David Brooks points out that conservative Republicans and liberal Democrats are “diametrically opposed” yet “entirely predictable” in their assessment of President Obama to date.

“Liberals are wrong to call him weak and indecisive. He’s just not always pursuing their aims. Conservatives are wrong to call him a big-government liberal. That’s just not a fair reading of his agenda.”

“The fact is, Obama is as he always has been, a center-left pragmatic reformer.”

Obama Delays Asia Trip for Health Care Bill

President Obama is delaying his Asia trip from March 18 to March 21 to work on health care, the AP reports.

This delay is most likely caused by the Senate parliamentarian, who according toThe Hill, has ruled that President Obama “must sign the health care reform bill before Democrats can use special budget rules to pass changes demanded by the House.”

House Democrats don’t trust their Senate colleagues and probably want the president in town to keep the pressure on to pass the reconciliation fixes to the health care bill soon after the House votes.

Will Health Care Reform Help or Hurt Politically?

If President Obama’s health care bill passes, a new Congressional Insiders Poll finds that 76% of Republicans said it would help their party a lot in the midterm elections and 24% said it would help a little. Not a single Republican surveyed said it would hurt their party.

As for Democrats, 87% said passing a bill would help their party either a little or a lot in the midterm elections while 14% said it would hurt a little or a lot.

Democrats Consider the “Slaughter Solution”

The Daily Caller reports House Democrats might use “a highly unorthodox procedure,” called the “Slaughter Solution,” to pass a reconciliation bill for health care reform “that simply deemed the Senate bill passed, allowing hesitant lawmakers to circumvent actually casting a ballot in favor of a law they don’t like.”

Republicans coined the phrase after House Rules Chairman Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY), who CongressDaily reported is “prepping to help usher the healthcare overhaul through the House and potentially avoid a direct vote on the Senate overhaul bill.”

Washington Examiner: “Each bill that comes before the House for a vote on final passage must be given a rule that determines things like whether the minority would be able to offer amendments to it from the floor.  In the Slaughter Solution, the rule would declare that the House ‘deems’ the Senate version of Obamacare to have been passed by the House. House members would still have to vote on whether to accept the rule, but they would then be able to say they only voted for a rule, not for the bill itself.”

Blagojevich Calls Quinn a “Eunuch”

In a radio interview, former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D) said he is not impressed by by his successor, Gov. Pat Quinn (D).

Said Blagojevich: “He’s a disaster… I mean no disrespect, but I’ve said that Pat Quinn is essentially the substance of a eunuch in the form of a man. He’s been emasculated by the Democratic political power structure.”

Utah Legislator Admits Paying Girl Hush Money

“In a tearful statement in a packed House chambers,” Utah House Majority Leader Kevin Garn (R) admitted “to a nude hot tubbing incident with a teenage girl 25 years ago,” the Deseret News reports.

Garn said the mistake has “now come back to haunt me” as the woman has gone public with the story.

Said Garn: “Years later, when I was running for Congress, she decided to bring this incident to the attention of the media. Shortly thereafter, my wife and I met with her, and at her demand, I paid her $150,000. While this payment felt like extortion, I also felt like I should take her word that the money would help her heal. She agreed to keep this 25-year-old incident confidential. Now that this issue is coming up again, it is apparent to me that this payment was also a mistake.”

Quote of the Day

“There is something Orwellian about the GOP leadership giving political advice to Democrats.”

— White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer, quoted by Mike Allen, who notes, “If GOP leaders are so confident health reform is a political plus, why do they keep offering Dems political advice?”

March of Folly for Democrats?

Democratic pollsters Patrick Caddell and Douglas Schoen write in the Washington Post that their party’s “blind persistence in the face of reality” on the health care reform bill “threatens to turn this political march of folly into an electoral rout in November.”

“First, the battle for public opinion has been lost. Comprehensive health care has been lost. If it fails, as appears possible, Democrats will face the brunt of the electorate’s reaction. If it passes, however, Democrats will face a far greater calamitous reaction at the polls. Wishing, praying or pretending will not change these outcomes.”

The Fall of Desirée Rogers

“Long before the State Dinner party crashers and the tension with her White House colleagues and the strain in her relationship with the first lady, Desirée Rogers began to understand she was in trouble when David Axelrod summoned her to his office last spring to scold her,” the New York Times reports.

The problem? “Rogers had appeared in another glossy magazine, posing in a White House garden in a borrowed $3,495 silk pleated dress and $110,000 diamond earrings.”

“The confrontation that day between Ms. Rogers, the White House social secretary, and Mr. Axelrod, the senior adviser to President Obama, put at odds two longtime Chicago friends of the first family. And it foreshadowed a deeper, wrenching conflict that would eventually cost Ms. Rogers her job and tear at the fabric of the close-knit inner circle around Mr. Obama.”

Sperling to OMB?

Two Obama administration sources told CNN that “plans are in the works to shift Gene Sperling from a senior Treasury Department role to the No. 2 job at the Office of Management and Budget.”

However, the No. 1 man at the OMB, Director Peter Orzag, said that he “has not offered the job to anyone.”

House Effects of Key Pollsters

Nate Silver calculates the “house effects” for the five most prolific pollsters so far this year — the systematic differences a pollster’s surveys tend to lean toward one or the other party’s candidates.

Thus far in the cycle, Rasmussen has a Republican-leaning house effect of 5.5 points. Research 2000 has a Democratic-leaning house effect of 4.4 points. Meanwhile, Public Policy Polling, YouGov and Quinnipiac are within a point or two of the average.

Key point: “It’s extremely important to emphasize that just because a pollster has a house effect doesn’t mean that it’s wrong. They may result from legitimate differences of opinion about how to conduct surveys. Rasmussen, for instance, is one of the few pollsters to already be employing a likely voter model at this point. It’s not uncommon for likely voter polls to have comparatively better results for Republicans, since Democrats rely on votes from groups like young voters and minorities who turn out less reliably in midterm elections.”

The Case Against Kucinich

Alex Koppelman makes the liberal case against Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) — who says he’ll vote against the Democratic health care bill because it doesn’t go far enough — noting that he’s actually been a very ineffective congressman.

“In fact, according to the Web site GovTrack, of the 97 bills Kucinich has sponsored since taking office in 1997, only three have become law. Ninety-three didn’t even make it out of committee.”

Updated Health Care Whip Count

The Hotline updates its tally on how House members will vote on President Obama’s health care reform bill based on their public statements. Included is data on the percentage of uninsured voters and percentage of seniors in each district.

“The higher the number of uninsured, the more palatable switching one’s vote might be. But the higher the number of seniors, the more pressure a member might get to vote against, given the bill’s changes to Medicare.”

Brown Accused of Harassment in 1998

Sen. Scott Brown (R-MA) was accused of harassing a female campaign worker in 1998, Gawker reports.

Jennifer Firth “filed a civil defamation suit against Brown in July of 2000, alleging that he had harassed her when she worked on his campaign in 1998, and then tried to smear her reputation around town with forged letters and emails.”

According to the complaint, Brown engaged in “offensive” conduct that caused Firth to quit his campaign; he then tried to “defame and humiliate” her by spreading rumors to her colleagues that she “had made sexual advances” towards him during his campaign.

Later, Firth withdrew her suit after her lawyer filed a motion to withdraw as her counsel.

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