In it, but not of it. TPM DC

An interesting thing appears to be happening thus far in this year's two gubernatorial races: Despite New Jersey's long-running status as a Democratic state, and Virginia's newfound blue leanings, the Republican candidates are well ahead in the current polls, possibly making for a serious GOP comeback this November.

In New Jersey, which has been rocked by a recent set of ethics scandals that have mostly caught up Dems, Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine trails Republican former U.S. Attorney Chris Christie by 50%-36% in the latest survey from Public Policy Polling (D). In Virginia, where Democratic Gov. Tim Kaine can't seek re-election, Republican former state Attorney General Bob McDonnell leads Democratic state Sen Creigh Deeds by 55%-40% in the newest poll from SurveyUSA.

If Republicans win both or even one of these races, expect a lot of talk about this being a rejection of President Obama and the Democrats -- for example, the economy has been the major issue in the Virginia campaign. So what are the state Democrats doing to turn it around?

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Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE) sure doesn't like being called out by health care reformers. Here's an ad that's been running in Nebraska, criticizing him for slowing down the legislative process.

In response, Nelson's spokesman says he's "looking to support bipartisan legislation that reduces health care costs, boosts the quality of care and expands coverage to people who can't obtain it now." But: "If this is an indication of the politics going into August, then health care reform may be dead by the end of August."

Shorter version: Critics should shut up about me and my fellow centrists or we'll kill health care reform. You can read the entire statement below the fold.

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Rush Limbaugh is still pumping Birtherism, hyping on his show today an essay in National Review by Andrew McCarthy, who dissented in part from the magazine's official editorial against the movement:

In that article, McCarthy falsely stated that the matter of Obama's Kenyan father, which would present "dual-citizenship issues," was "an uncharted constitutional concept." In the audio clip above, Limbaugh also promoted the dual-citizenship claim.

In fact, this territory is quite well charted. President Chester A. Arthur, who was elected Vice President in 1880 and then served nearly a full term after President James Garfield's assassination, was born of an American mother and an Irish immigrant father who was not yet a citizen at the time Chester was born. Arthur was also born on U.S. soil (Vermont), but faced rumors from political opponents that he'd been born across the border in Canada. This is essentially the exact same set of circumstances as in Obama's case.

On the other hand, there is one rather obvious difference between Obama and Arthur. And for Limbaugh and the Birther movement, perhaps this does make for an important distinction.

Here are the line-ups for the Sunday talk shows this weekend:

• ABC, This Week: Sec. of the Treasury Tim Geithner; Former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan.

• CBS, Face The Nation: National Economic Council Director Lawrence Summers.

• CNN, State Of The Union: Sen. John McCain (R-AZ); White Council of Economic Advisers Chair Christina Romer.

• Fox News Sunday: Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-NY); Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC); Rep. Mike Pence (R-IN).

• NBC, Meet The Press: National Economic Council Director Lawrence Summers.

After delaying and delaying health care legislation, and then missing the deadline to complete work on a bill by August recess, Senate Finance Committee chairman Max Baucus (D-MT) now says the new deadline for health care reform is September 15--one week after Senate returns to work.

Crucially, though, he says his committee will begin marking up legislation with or without GOP support. In other words, it's put up or shut up time for Republicans.

Baucus may have little choice. Mid-September would leave precious little time for the bill to be merged with the Senate HELP committee's legislation, debated, and passed on the floor before October when Congress is set to pass a budget reconciliation bill. A budget reconciliation bill can't be filibustered, and Democrats have kept alive the possibility of passing reform legislation (or certain aspects of reform legislation) via reconciliation, if Republicans don't allow a vote on a stand-alone reform bill by the fall.

At his press conference just now, Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT) made it clear that despite his early-stage cancer diagnosis, he will still be running for re-election in 2010.

"I'm running for re-election. Now I'll be a little meaner and a little meaner, but I'm running," said Dodd.

He explained that he'll be a bit lighter, too: "I'll be running without a prostate."

Dodd also said that he's known for weeks about his diagnosis, and was working out a course of treatment, and did not go public because he did not want to make himself an exhibit in the health care debate that he was working on. "It's not about me," said Dodd. "It's about people who are without health care."

That may have been Dodd's intention. But the fact is, now that he has gone public, he is an exhibit in the debate, and his illness is sure to be brought up in future discussions.

Late Update: In a new Twitter post, Dodd incorporates the political angle to all this: "I'd like to thank you all for your prayers and well wishes. I'm going to be fine. We caught this early thanks to my great health insurance."

If I were on the board of directors of the Kaplan test prep company, and discovered that the people running a money-losing Kaplan subsidiary affiliate (better known as the Washington Post) had greenlighted a feature called "Mouthpiece Theater," I would demand that either they be fired, or that the Post itself be liquidated.

In today's episode, Dana Milbank suggests "Mad Bitch" beer would be appropriate for Hilary Clinton. Get it?

If you can't stand to click over, fast forward to about 2 min 35 seconds below.

Late update: The embed seems not to be working, but for now at least you can still see the video here.

Later update: I've replaced the WaPo's embed with a Youtube clip of the same segment.

Latest update: The Post has pulled the video.

Gov. Bobby Jindal (R-LA) has become a prominent critic of President Obama and the Democrats recently, appearing on TV and writing newspaper columns warning against a government takeover of health care. "When government bureaucracies drive the delivery of services -- in this case inserting themselves between health-care providers and their patients -- quality degradation will surely come," Jindal wrote in a recent column for the Wall Street Journal.

But underneath the air of expertise -- he's a former state health secretary -- it's important to consider that that there is a long-running ideological commitment here. The thing about Jindal is this: Over his public career, he has consistently opposed any expansion of government health care, and has even tried to cut, eliminate or partially-privatize existing programs.

For example, his budget plan this year calls for cuts to existing services; he used his line-item veto to force the closure of the New Orleans Adolescent Hospital; and he successfully opposed an increase in the state's relatively low cigarette taxes, which would have funded state healthcare.

And this also goes back to before he was governor, too.

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Just as a bit of an update, since there have been so many ups and downs, House Energy and Commerce Committee chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA) says health care legislation is still on track to pass his panel, probably before day's end.

Waxman says he's managed to mollify progressives on his panel by restoring some subsidies to uninsured, middle-class Americans who, under the terms of the bill, will have to buy health care on the individual market. At a glance, this mini-bargain doesn't seem as if it will placate the 57 progressive signatories to this letter, who say they won't vote for the final bill unless minor changes to the public option, made at the behest of House Blue Dogs, are reversed.

But I'll look into it.

Over the August recess, Democrats--with the support of the White House outside groups like the Service Employees International Union, and Health Care for America Now--will be taking a simple message to voters in their districts: insurance companies are the enemy.

"Hold the insurance companies accountable," reads a strategy memo distributed to members of the House Democratic caucus.

Remove them from between you and your doctor. No discrimination for pre-existing conditions. No dropping your coverage because you get sick. No more job or life decisions made based on loss of coverage. No need to change doctors or plans. No co-pays for preventive care. No excessive out-of-pocket expenses, deductibles, or co-pays. No yearly or lifetime cost caps on what insurance companies cover.

According to the memo, they've coordinated this strategy with the Obama administration and a number of sympathetic groups. "The Leadership is working in close coordination with the White House and outside groups (including but not limited to HCAN, Families USA, AFSCME, SEIU, AARP, etc.) to ensure complementary efforts during August."

And they'll be taking the message into the Hispanic community as well: "The Speaker's office will work to book Hispanic/Spanish speaking members of relevant committees on Spanish-language radio and TV. Democratic Leadership will also be available to assist with Hispanic-focused district events, including town halls, telephone town halls, and calls with Hispanic media reporters."

The memo, which you can read here, provides a clear look at the Democrats' strategy as they try to keep momentum for health care reform alive through the summer doldrums.