In it, but not of it. TPM DC

The counting of the absentee ballots is set to begin today in the NY-20 special election, where Republican candidate Jim Tedisco and Democrat Scott Murphy are in a near-tie that now hinges on the nearly 7,000 absentees. But as it turns out, we shouldn't expect a quick verdict.

Whether the counting processes would happen at all had been the subject of some litigation on Monday, with the Tedisco campaign arguing that the counties should wait until April 13, the final deadline for all the military and overseas ballots to arrive in the mail under an extension that had been worked out with the federal Justice Department. But a judge sided with the Murphy camp, ruling that the counting should commence right after the deadline for all the other absentees had passed, which occurred yesterday.

The counties are now going through the process of identifying the ballots and approving them for opening, which should be a time-consuming process. For example, Washington County's deputy Republican commissioner Linda Falkouski explained to TPM that the county probably won't actually count any ballots today.

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The new survey of Kentucky by Public Policy Polling (D) finds some really bad numbers for GOP Sen. Jim Bunning, who has accused his own party of trying to force him into a retirement, with Bunning trailing all potential Democratic opponents.

Bunning trails Lt. Governor Dan Mongiardo, the only declared big-name Democratic candidate in the race -- and who nearly beat Bunning in a 51%-49% race in 2004 -- by a 43%-36% margin. Dem Congressman Ben Chandler is ahead of Bunning 47%-33%; state Attorney General Jack Conway is up 42%-33%; and state Auditor Crit Luallen is up 42%-34%.

From the pollster's analysis: "If there was ever any doubt Republicans would be better off with Jim Bunning retiring these numbers can put that to rest."

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Here's the spin you should expect to hear in the coming days and weeks: Obama and the Democrats are cutting defense spending (read: making Americans less safe) to free up money to spend on separate liberal agenda items.

There were whisperings along these lines a couple weeks ago, but the framing appeared in full force yesterday in the Wall Street Journal in an op-ed by Thomas Donnelly and Gary Schmitt of the American Enterprise Institute.

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Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK) came forward yesterday with one of the strangest critiques of the defense budget proposal thus far.

While President Obama's short changing of America's Armed Forces is deeply disappointing, it is - unfortunately - not a surprise. Throughout his campaign and during his short tenure as President, he has made it clear that he believes his charm and eloquence are adequate substitutes for a strong military. That will not work. Whether President Obama knows it or not, President Bush's foreign enemies were also America's enemies. He cannot charm them out of their opposition to our country. The cuts announced today, however, take that naivete to a dangerous new level. I intend to do everything I can to make sure they do not actually occur.
Obama has returned from his trip to Europe and Iraq now, but only in the last several hours. Time was that Republicans thought it unacceptable to criticize a president on foreign policy issues when he's out of the country.

The soft-on-defense spending cuts meme is spreading today, both in the media and among Congressional Republicans--and now even a Blue Dog Democrat is picking it up.

Politico, again, reports that "Defense Secretary Robert Gates is steeling himself against blowback from Congress over his sweeping defense cuts, but he's also girding for a fight within the Pentagon's five walls."

But while there is some evidence that there is early opposition within the Pentagon to some specific cuts, Gates has, once again, proposed a budget whose bottom line is higher than last year's.

That's not stopping Republicans on the House Armed Services Committee from piling on, though.

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NYT: Obama Promoting "Anti-Bush Doctrine" The New York Times takes a look at President Obama's now-concluded overseas trip: "Pragmatic, conciliatory, legalistic and incremental, he pushed what might be called, with a notable exception or two, an anti-Bush doctrine." Whereas Bush eschewed broad international alliances and promoted America as a force to push democracy around the world, Obama is instead focusing on broad cooperation to deal with immediate problems such as nuclear weapons or the economy, without a single grand strategy as of yet.

Biden: Cheney Is "Dead Wrong," And He Made U.S. Weaker Vice President Biden told CNN that Dick Cheney is "dead wrong" in his denouncements of the Obama White House's national security policies: "This administration -- the last administration left us in a weaker posture than we've been any time since World War II: less regarded in the world, stretched more thinly than we ever have been in the past, two wars under way, virtually no respect in entire parts of the world."

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Are senior officials at the Pentagon construing Defense Secretary Robert Gates' budget as a proposed defense spending cut?

Earlier today, I noted that the ranking member on that committee, John McHugh, had told Reuters that the Gates proposal would amount to an $8 billion slash in spending. But the numbers tell a different story: Not counting supplementals, Congress last year appropriated $513 billion to the Pentagon. This year, Gates is asking for $534 billion. If he gets everything he asks for, that's an increase of $21 billion, and Congress could always increase the total beyond that.

I asked McHugh's staff where the notion of an overall spending cut came from, and, when pressed, they had a hard time standing by the idea of a decrease in total dollars.

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Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA), who is facing a likely primary rematch with his 2004 opponent Pat Toomey, has picked up a high-profile endorsement: Howard Stern, The Hill reports, after Specter appeared on the Stern show. Howard offered to write Specter a check, which Specter accepted, and then the two of them encouraged all the listeners to contribute, too.

This makes sense in many ways, really. Stern's own politics match up pretty well with Specter, as Stern is an economic conservative and cultural liberal (okay, make that cultural libertine). That, and Howard has a proven record of endorsing politicians who have the nerve to come on his show, and those pols have usually been northeastern Republicans like Specter, Christie Whitman and George Pataki, among others.

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NRSC Chairman John Cornyn released this statement, regarding Norm Coleman's continued legal fight after Al Franken's lead grew by 87 net votes today:

"Events today do not address the main issue that remains unresolved: over 4,000 Minnesotans were disenfranchised by this three-judge panel. That's why it's so critical for this process to move forward before the Minnesota Supreme Court and why Senate Republicans fully support Senator Coleman's efforts.

"The message from our side has remained consistent throughout this process: we want this election to resolve itself as quickly, but not at the expense of Minnesota's laws or voters.

"In contrast, the criticisms from the Democrat side as recently as today have expressed the opposite viewpoint. It's blatant hypocrisy that many of the same Democrats who so loudly complained about voter disenfranchisement during the 2000 Florida recount are now willing to compromise this fundamental principle of our democracy when it no longer fits their political agenda. Senate Democrats should stand down, set partisan politics aside, and respect Minnesota's laws and voters."

The latest results from the NY-20 special election now have Republican candidate Jim Tedisco up by 17 votes, out of over 150,000 votes.

Yesterday, Democrat Scott Murphy had been ahead by 83 votes, but that has now shifted -- an official at Saratoga County told PolitickerNY that they caught a mistake in their spreadsheet, having accidentally dropped 100 votes for Tedisco.

One county, Greene, told TPM today that they still haven't re-checked their totals, which should be done tomorrow.

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