In it, but not of it. TPM DC

If your only source of news was cable television, you might think that the Senate was gearing up for an historic fight over a Supreme Court hopeful so out of the mainstream that it might be worth questioning the sanity of the President who nominated her.

The reality on the Hill is much less exciting than that. Most Republicans, I'm sure, don't really care for Sonia Sotomayor, but they're nonetheless preparing themselves for her eventual confirmation. And, for the most part, they're actually pretty sanguine about it.

Not so in the land of conservative activism. For weeks, members of a number of co-ordinated groups have been trying desperately to assure anyone in earshot that, by replacing one moderately liberal Justice with another, slightly more liberal Justice, Obama will ruin the country.

The most prominent face of this campaign is the legal counsel to the Judicial Confirmation Network, Wendy E. Long.

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So with Rep. Joe Sestak (D-PA) now gearing up to challenge party-switching Sen. Arlen Specter in the Democratic primary, what happens now to his House seat?

A Pennsylvania Democratic source says that state Rep. Bryan Lentz, an Iraq War veteran who had briefly run for the seat in 2006 before yielding to Sestak, will be in the race for sure. A Republican source points to Steven Welch, founder of biopharmaceutical manufacturing company Mitos Technologies, as a prospective candidate.

National Democrats feel reasonably optimistic about retaining the seat, as the district voted 56%-43% for Barack Obama. On the other hand, my GOP source does point out that it was closer in 2004, with Kerry winning it 53%-47%, and Republican Rep. Curt Weldon held the seat for quite a while before Sestak's win in 2006.

The conservatives organizing against Sonia Sotomayor have so far have coalesced around the arguments that Sotomayor has been picked as a "reverse-racist" appointment of a Hispanic, and how dare you call them racists for opposing her. But as Media Matters points out, back in 2003 the right was more than willing to accuse Democrats of being racist against Hispanics for opposing George W. Bush's nomination of Miguel Estrada for the Court of Appeals.

Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ), who is now the Senate GOP whip, said of the Dems blocking the nomination: "I see this, really, as a slap at Hispanics." And Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) declared that "some of the opponents of him are racist." Other Republicans who are no longer in Congress, including Sens. Rick Santorum and Trent Lott and Rep. Henry Bonilla, made similar remarks.

And the Committee For Justice -- one of the groups now mobilizing against Sotomayor -- ran an ad: "Call the Senate Democrats. Tell them it's time for intolerance to end. Anything less is offensive, unfair, and not the American way."

We now have the first Senator going on the record in opposition to the Sotomayor nomination, The Hill reports: Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS).

"I do not plan to vote for her," Roberts said on a local talk radio show in Kansas city.

"I voted no in 1998. I did not feel she was appropriate on the appeals court," Roberts said. "Since that time, she has made statements on the role of the appeals court I think is improper and incorrect."

Two new national polls show that Sonia Sotomayor is starting out the confirmation process with solid ratings among the American public -- a sign that the initial wave of right-wing attacks doesn't seem to be working.

In the new Gallup poll, 47% of Americans rated President Obama's choice of Sotomayor as either excellent or good, compared to only 33% who characterize it was fair or poor, and 20% with no opinion.

In the Rasmussen poll, Sotomayor has a 49% favorable rating among likely voters, against 36% unfavorable. In addition, 45% of likely voters said the Senate should confirm her, to 29% who say they should not, and 26% who don't know. Even more telling, 59% say it is very likely she will be confirmed, 28% say it is somewhat likely -- and only 4% say it is not very likely and 1% not likely at all.

There's at least one high-ranking Republican office-holder willing to insult Rush Limbaugh. Check out what California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said last night on CNN:

"Well I think that they say that Rush Limbaugh is the 800 lb. gorilla in the Republican Party," said Schwarzenegger. "But I think that's mean-spirited to say that -- because I think he's down to 650 lbs. I think one should be fair to him about this whole thing."

In all seriousness, Arnold talked about the need for a big tent. He acknowledged that the right wing does have an important place. "But we also need to create a center of the Republican Party," he said, "and I think that the bigger our tent is, the better it is."

Politico's Mike Allen let Sonia Sotomayor's SCOTUS nomination sink in for a couple days before settling on this fresh, and provocative analysis.

[T]he media's left-of-center bias is rarely more apparent than during court fights. The coverage running up to the pick was slanted heavily toward the notion of how "pragmatic" Obama's legal views are and how unlikely he was to pick a liberal.

Now we haven't done a sampling survey the way Allen apparently has, but I seem to recall at least a handful of reports about "concern" that Obama's front-runner (and now nominee) might lack the intellectual heft and good manners "necessary" to sit on the Court.

That, of course, was all basically laid to rest by the sorts of experts "concerned" reporters by and large didn't bother to call--a fact that explain why Allen's colleague, Jeanne Cummings reported today that, "[w]ith scant material for direct attacks, some social conservatives are trying to taint Sotomayor by association, namely with Obama."

It's an odd gambit to attack somebody by associating them with resoundingly popular things--but if there isn't much to criticize on the merits, I guess that's all they've got. And, obviously, that's not a sign of "left-of-center bias" either.

The new Quinnipiac poll of Pennsylvania finds that Sen. Arlen Specter has a big lead in the 2010 Democratic primary against his challenger, Rep. Joe Sestak: Specter 50%, Sestak 21%.

Pennsylvania Democrats also have a 70% favorable rating for their newest Democratic Senator, to only 14% unfavorable, and they believe by a 64%-18% margin that he deserves to be re-elected. Sestak remains an unknown for now, with only a 27% favorable rating among Democrats to 3% unfavorable, and 70% having no opinion.

In a general election match-up with conservative former Rep. Pat Toomey -- whose Republican primary challenge scared Specter into switching parties -- Specter has a lead of 46%-37%, down from 53%-33% margin earlier this month. Specter also leads Rep. Jim Gerlach, a possible GOP primary opponent of Toomey's, by 45%-36%. Sestak edges Toomey 37%-35% and leads Gerlach 36%-30%, with the higher undecided rate owing to Sestak being less well known than Specter. And in a Republican primary, Toomey leads Gerlach 38%-10%.

The survey was conducted May 20-26, before we broke the news that Sestak is in the race.

WaPo: Sotomayor Has Experience With Tough Confirmations The Washington Post looks back at Sonia Sotomayor's 1997 confirmation hearings to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, which was a contentious process due to rumors that she could later be nominated for the Supreme Court. Sotomayor performed strongly, the Post says, though interestingly enough there was a tense exchange with Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) -- now the head Republican on the Judiciary Committee -- over an apology she gave to a convicted defendant who was given a mandatory five-year sentence.

Obama's Day Ahead: Meeting With Mahmoud Abbas, And Hillary Clinton President Obama will be leaving Los Angeles at 10:35 a.m. ET, and is scheduled to arrive back at the White House at 3:15 p.m. ET. At 4 p.m. ET, he will have a one-on-one meeting with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in the Oval Office. They will hold an expanded meeting at 4:45 p.m. ET. At 5:30 p.m. ET, Obama will meet in the Oval Office with Sec. of State Hillary Clinton.

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Rep. Joe Sestak (D-PA) appeared on CNN moments ago and confirmed what I first reported earlier today--that he intends to jump into the Pennsylvania Democratic Senate primary against Sen. Arlen Specter (D-PA), pending the blessing of his family.

Sestak has recently begun reaching out to donors in his state, informing them of his plans and asking them to contribute to his campaign in advance of the June 30 FEC filing deadline.

We've followed Sestak's rising star with great interest for months now.

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