In it, but not of it. TPM DC

Scott Murphy, the Democratic candidate in the March 31 special election for Kirsten Gillibrand's former House seat has this new TV ad actively tying himself to the popular President Obama -- and lambasting his Republican opponent Jim Tedisco for having refused to take a position on the stimulus bill:



A little while earlier, Tedisco came out with this ad attacking Murphy as an ethically-bankrupt businessman:



So the Democrat has been attacking the Republicans as an Albany politician, and the Republican has been slamming the Dem as just another Wall St. millionaire. Considering the unpopularity of both of those professions, just how low could the turnout get in this race?

The Minnesota election court handed down a whole bunch of rulings this afternoon -- five of them -- addressing topics large and small.

First up for our review here is the real tough one: Their order to fine Team Coleman $7,500 in court costs for having serially hidden evidence surrounding a key witness -- and even the witness herself, for a time -- from the Franken campaign. The Franken camp had asked the court to not only strike this witness, but to dismiss the entire claim of double-counted votes connected to her.

The court's ruling delivers a stern tongue-lashing to Coleman's lawyers for having grossly violated the rules of discovery, but they also explain why they didn't go that far:

Under ordinary circumstances, the Court would be entirely within its discretion to strike the testimony of this witness and the claim to which her testimony relates. However, the Court is mindful of the special circumstances of this election contest. Minnesota has been without a Senator for two months. As the Court has previously recognized, "[c]onfidence in the integrity of our electoral processes is essential to the functioning of our participatory democracy."


The between-the-lines message is clear: If the court had dismissed this witness and the whole claim, they would have left themselves uncomfortably open to an appeal on the grounds that they were disregarding legitimate factual claims. Even if they were upheld on appeal, it would have just tied the whole case up in legal limbo for even longer.

But, they warned: "In the event this sanction fails to deter future conduct on the part of Contestants' counsel, the Court will not hesitate to impose harsher sanctions, up to and including dismissal."

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The Franken campaign just held a conference call to discuss the real milestone event today in the Senate trial: The Coleman campaign has rested their case, putting the ball in Franken's court.

Lead Franken lawyer Marc Elias said the Franken camp will conduct their case in a different manner from Coleman, who went for five weeks and mostly called local election officials.

"I think what you're likely to see out of us, starting tomorrow, is a case that will move more briskly," said Elias. "We'll move in a very targeted fashion towards bringing before the court evidence regarding the voters who we believe should have their votes counted."

For example, Elias said they'll be calling 15-20 voters tomorrow, compared to 21 total rejected voters that Coleman brought in, as well as bringing local officials to address individual ballots -- and to discuss how the system got it right, that the election officials at all levels did their jobs properly by and large, "and this is an election that the people of Minnesota can and should be proud of, and feel was conducted fairly."

Elias predicted Team Franken will go for two to three weeks, though he did caution that he can't say exactly how long it will go.

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It's worth noting that all of the major players on Obama's health care team are women. Today, the president names Kathleen Sebelius to be HHS Secretary and Nancy Ann DeParle, a friend, to be the White House health care czar. Two other pivotal players are Neera Tanden who was HIllary Clinton's top domestic policy advisor and is a counselor at HHS and is constantly in meetings at the White House. Same for Jeanne Lambrew who has been perched at HHS even though she's deputy director of the White House office. Look for more players in the coming weeks as Sebelius staffs up at HHS.

The good news here is that everyone's worked together. Tanden and Lambrew are both alumni of the Clinton White House and the Center for American Progress. Melody Barnes, the domestic policy adviser, is also a CAP alumnus.

One of the interesting things to watch in the coming weeks is how the White House woos Charles Grassley. Can they get the ranking Republican on the Finance Committee to be supportive of some of their principles. It would seem unlikely. But the presence of Bob Dole at this morning's ceremony suggests a big push in that direction. It helps that Nancy Ann DeParle is also close with Jim Cooper, the Tennessee Democratic Congressman who is one of the House's biggest budget hawks. (DeParle was the equivalent of HHS secretary in Tennessee. DeParle and Cooper are both Rhodes Scholars.) Cooper balked at the stimulus plan but he just might play ball on a health care package, say insiders.

It's going to be a very interesting spring.

The Coleman team was scheduled to rest their case today, and they did indeed do it -- not quite, though. In fact, they've provisionally rested, pending court action on a whole bunch of motions they just made.

First of all, Coleman lawyer James Langdon announced that they're filing a motion for the court to declare that "Rule 9," the procedure during the recount for handling duplicates of damaged absentee ballots, was illegal.

Both campaigns had called for this rule to be created during the recount, and they'd agreed to its conditions even with the risks that it could result in votes being counted twice -- or in other cases, not counted at all -- in precincts where some ballots weren't fully labeled through human error. And of course, it's really impossible to know just how much or how little this actually happened, or how the individual votes broke.

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Rush Limbaugh isn't happy with Michael Steele, who insisted that Rush isn't the leader of the Republican Party, but is just an "entertainer" whose work is "incendiary" and "ugly."

Greg Sargent reports that Limbaugh positively lambasted Steele on his radio show today, even seeming to suggest that the new RNC chairman should resign in shame: "I'm not in charge of the Republican Party, and I don't want to be. I would be embarrassed to say that I'm in charge of the Republican Party in a sad-sack state that it's in. If I were chairman of the Republican Party, given the state that it's in, I would quit."

Limbaugh also responded to criticism of his very active desire for President Obama to fail, bringing back the GOP's with-us/against-us dichotomy -- only in this case it's you're with Obama or against him. "So send those fundraising requests out," Rush said mockingly. "Make sure you say, 'We want Obama to succeed.' So people understand your compassion."

So the question now is who better speaks for the Republican base voters and activists: The official party leadership, who say they want the president to succeed even as they don't think his policies can work -- or Rush Limbaugh, who actively wants the stimulus and other policies to fail so that the country can survive? Five'll get you ten...

Check out this interview Michael Steele did Saturday night with D.L. Hughley on CNN, in the wake of Rush Limbaugh's speech at CPAC proudly proclaiming that he wants President Obama to fail.

Finding himself in unfriendly territory, Steele said that Rush is not the leader of the Republican Party -- Steele is:



"Let's put it in the context here," said Steele. "Rush Limbaugh is an entertainer. Rush Limbaugh, his whole thing is entertainment."

"Yes, it's incendiary," Steele added. "Yes, it's ugly."

You start to see why Dems are so eager to tie Republicans to Limbaugh. The man can do an hour-plus speech for the activist base, declaring that he wants the president to fail so the country can survive and succeed -- but in polite society, most people don't want to be anywhere near this stuff.

The Coleman campaign is scheduled to rest their case today in the election trial, and they're ending on a high note by pointing to what they say is the uncertainty of this whole result, due to clerical errors in the election system, even going so far as to blame "corruption" -- of computer data, that is.

This morning, state elections director Gary Poser revealed on the stand that over the past weekend he looked further into the workings of the Secretary of State's voter-registration database -- at the request of the Coleman campaign, after the Franken camp used the database to demolish a whole bunch of rejected ballots that Coleman wanted. And Poser discovered that there can be clerical errors in that very database, relating to when and how people registered, leading to arguments over whether we definitively know in a few cases whether someone was properly registered or even if their vote was counted.

During the lunch-hour press conference Coleman legal spokesman Ben Ginsberg said you can't tell the outcome of this election: "But the problem is it's tough to have faith in -- it's impossible to have faith now in what those numbers are, given the sort of systemic corruption of the Secretary of State's database."

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Labor's on board for the Sebelius nomination. See this statement by AFL-CIO President John Sweeney:

We congratulate President Obama on his choice of Gov. Kathleen Sebelius as our next Secretary of Health and Human Services. The nomination of Gov. Sebelius will provide a great boost to the effort to enact sweeping health care reform.

Her experience as Kansas insurance commissioner and her outstanding record as governor uniquely qualify Gov. Sebelius for this demanding position. Time's selection of her in 2005 as one of the country's five best governors speaks to the critically important leadership and managerial abilities needed for this job.

Gov. Sebelius brings a track record of bipartisanship and the ability to work well with all the players in health care. We look forward to work with her to enact affordable, comprehensive health care for all.


The American Medical Association is similarly enthused. From Nancy Nielsen, MD, President, American Medical Association:

"In Gov. Sebelius' roles as insurance commissioner and governor, she has demonstrated the leadership skills required to direct HHS and implement health system reform. During her time as governor, she demonstrated her commitment to health care reform by expanding access to care for children.

"As insurance commissioner, she helped preserve competition and choice in the health care marketplace by halting a problematic health insurance merger in the state.

"In these tough economic times, the need for health system reform that provides coverage and high quality, affordable health care for all Americans is clear. We must strengthen the public-private mix of health insurance, and achieve greater value from the nation's health care spending. We look forward to working with Gov. Sebelius the Administration and Congress to improve the health care system for all Americans."

"She's forged a reputation for bipartisanship in her own right," said the President. And with that, Barack Obama announced that he was naming Kathleen Sebelius to be HHS Secretary. In another bipartisan move, the president was also flanked by former Kansas Senator Bob Dole and current Kansas Senator Pat Roberts. He was also joined by Nancy Ann DeParle, who becomes head of the White House Health Care Office. DeParle, he said, would lead the "public and legislative effort" for health care. Obama also brought Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus and House Commerce Chairman Henry Waxman on to the state as well.

Sebelius and Obama became close during the presidential campaign. She was an early endorser of his bid and Obama took frequent trips to Kansas, the birthplace of his mother. She was considered for vice president and went through a thorough vetting last summer.

Neera Tanden, who advised Hillary Clinton on domestic policy, and then worked for the Obama campaign, will also play an important role as will Jeanne Lambrew who, at least at the moment, is the deputy director at the White House Health Care office. Ezekiel Emanuel, brother of Rahm Emmanuel, the White House Chief of Staff, is also likely to play a major role in health care reform. It's important ro remember, too, that any plan that emerges will be scrutinized by Larry Summers, the director of the National Economic Council.

The real question about health care's success depends on whether Obama can make it seem like an essential part of economic recovery. As Obama spoke the Dow continued to sink well below 7000. If he can make universal health care seem like an essential part of economic recovery he has a shot at prevailing. But at the moment too many people see health care as an expensive nicety, something that's desirable but not essential to recovery. The upcoming White House Health Care Summit should give the president another opportunity to reframe the debate but at the moment the fight is not being fought on terrain that's favorable to the president.

TPMLivewire