In it, but not of it. TPM DC

The Conservative Poliitical Action Conference is brimming with colorful characters looking to ban gay marriage, legalize online poker, help Israel keep every inch of the west bank, and generally stir things up. These are a few of the people I spoke with yesterday at the CPAC meeting in Washington.

First, one of the many groups dedicated to putting the kibosh on gay marriage:



You wouldn't think of poker as a conservative issue, but one of the stars of professional poker, Greg "Fossilman" Raymer, is on the board of the Poker Players Alliance which seeks to legalize poker and its attendant gambling online and in parlors everywhere:



There were no shortage of defense-of-Israel groups, mostly with a conservative Christian bent. In fact, one of the more popular lapel pins at the convention is an Israeli and an American flag together. Here's what concerned one activist had to say:

Michael Steele sure has an interesting idea for how to rebrand the Republican Party: Loudly announcing at CPAC that they messed up, and pledging to do better now.

"Tonight, we tell America: we know the past, we know we did wrong. My bad," said Steele. "But we go forward in appreciation of the values that brought us to this point."

But Steele rejected the idea that the recent elections meant the ideological ground had shifted. "I am here tonight to reject the idea that defeats of the past are a repudiation of core conservative values and principles," he said. "Nor do I believe that those defeats are a sign of things to come."

And check out this latest development in Steele's campaign to create a hip-hop image for the GOP. Michele Bachmann praised Steele's speech: "Michael Steele! You be da man! You be da man."

And no, this is not from The Onion.

Today: Obama Giving Speech On Iraq Pullout Timeline President Obama will be speaking at 11:45 a.m. from the Camp Lejeune military base in North Carolina, where he will be laying out his plan for a withdrawal from Iraq. The plan will involve the withdrawal of combat troops by August 2010, with a residual force of 30,000-50,000 troops to continue training the Iraqis through December 2011.

Biden Holding Meeting On Middle Class Issues, Green Economy Joe Biden is at the University of Pennsylvania campus in Philadelphia today, where he will be leading the first meeting of the Middle Class Task Force, focusing on the creation of green jobs, accompanied by several cabinet and task force members. This evening, Biden and his wife Jill will be speaking at the Delaware State Education Association Winter Advocacy Retreat in Rehoboth, Delaware.

WaPo: Obama Iraq Plan Faces Opposition On The Left The Washington Post reports that Obama's Iraq withdrawal plan is not impressing other Democrats, and that not one member of the Dem Congressional leadership supported it during a meeting last night between Obama and members of Congress. Chuck Schumer declared that a withdrawal "has to be done responsibly, we all agree. But 50,000 is more than I would have thought, and we await the justification."

NYT: Obama Budget Repeals Reaganism The New York Times examines President Obama's budget, marveling at its program of progressive taxation and other measures to address income inequality. The Times declares: "The budget that President Obama proposed on Thursday is nothing less than an attempt to end a three-decade era of economic policy dominated by the ideas of Ronald Reagan and his supporters."

Obama To Meet With Australian Prime Minister The Obama Administration has announced that the president will be meeting March 24 with Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, at the White House. The two leaders will discuss the financial crisis, Afghanistan, climate change, nuclear proliferation and other issues.

Report: Pelosi To Refuse Contributions From Banks Roll Call reports that Nancy Pelosi will refuse campaign contributions from banks, in the wake of their opposition to a mortgage reform bill. Pelosi made the announcement at a Democratic caucus meeting yesterday morning -- perhaps a signal to other members that they should follower her lead on this.

Senate Votes For D.C. Representation In Congress The Senate voted last night by 61-37 to pass a bill to to give the District of Columbia a full vote in the House of Representatives. The bill will be signed into law by President Obama, but will immediately face a court challenge on the grounds that it is unconstitutional.

Another Ad Ties GOP Leaders To Rush Limbaugh The labor-backed group Americans United For Change has this new ad out, attacking the Republican leadership for saying "No" to President Obama's stimulus plan, and connecting them to Rush Limbaugh's "I want him to fail" policy:



"So who are Republican leaders listening to?" the announcer asks, followed by Limbaugh's "I want him to fail." The ad is going up on national cable and in the D.C. media market -- essentially aimed at the political class and higher-information voters who watch the news.

We're really now in crunch-time in Minnesota, with the court handing down one important ruling after another -- and they just did it again.

The court has released a new order, co-signed with the consent of both sides' lawyers, to deal with the problem of what have come to be known as "3-A" ballots -- a category where a newly-registering absentee voter included their registration form inside the internal secrecy envelope containing the ballot, rather than immediately within the outer envelope as it was supposed to be done.

When the ballots arrived during the election, many counties rejected them because of a failure to register to vote. But other areas would open up those secrecy envelopes, with the election workers staying blind to the actual vote inside, and feel around for a registration card in order to help get that vote counted.

The court has now commanded the counties to open the ballots on a long list of potential 3-A's -- a little bit over 1,500 envelopes -- to look for registration cards, and to organize a full listing of ballots with complete registrations, incomplete registrations or no form at all, and to get the job done by this Wednesday.

The ballots with valid registrations are not being counted yet -- but this is the first step in getting there.

So who would stand to benefit from this?

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The fireworks have been continuing today at the local level in the Minnesota election trial -- and the national parties got involved in Washington, too, the place where this election could finally be decided.

At a Democratic leadership press conference today, Harry Reid and Chuck Schumer responded to a question about the case by saying they expected it to be wrapped up and for Franken to be seated in weeks. "The projections -- and they're not locked in -- are that this should all be finished by the very beginning of April," said Schumer.

Schumer did acknowledge that the process isn't over, but predicted that it will end. "The people of Minnesota are very fair people, and they'll grant him appeals," Schumer said. "But sooner or later this is going to come to an end."

Harry Reid chimed in: "There's going to come a time when Coleman's going to have to recognize that he's lost -- he's lost this election. This should have been over a long time ago."

This prompted an angry statement e-mailed out from Michael Steele, who accused the Dems of trying to short-circuit the process in Minnesota:

The people of Minnesota expect and deserve a fair election process that ensures every valid vote is counted and counted only once. As it stands now, there are thousands of absentee ballots that have not been counted and potentially hundreds more that have been counted twice. Instead of attempting to short circuit election law, the Senate Majority Leader should focus on the out of control spending going on in Washington. Once the recount is completed, I fully expect Senator Coleman to be where he was on election night: in the lead. When that happens, we will welcome back a senator who values fiscal responsibility, lower taxes and will not vote to saddle future generations with unprecedented debt. I join my fellow Republicans in standing firmly behind Norm Coleman and his pursuit to ensure no Minnesota voter is disenfranchised."


And the spin keeps going in Minnesota, too.

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Brian Melendez, the state Democratic chairman in Minnesota, just gave TPM this statement in response to Norm Coleman's comments that a do-over election could be necessary:

Former Senator Coleman's sudden interest in a "do-over" election is astonishing both for its ignorance of the law and for its ignorance of political reality -- or at least his feigned ignorance. First, the people of Minnesota went to the polls in November and elected a new United States senator; it's bad enough that Norm Coleman has been aggressively trying to disenfranchise so many of them throughout the recount and now during his election-contest trial, but now he wants to disenfranchise all of them.

Norm Coleman is a lawyer and he knows better. I hope that Governor Pawlenty will quickly disown Coleman's shameless scheme for a back-door appointment that will get him back the seat that he couldn't hold on to in a free and fair election.

Coleman has every right under the law to contest his recount loss, but he and his spinmeisters need to show some respect to Minnesotans' intelligence by acknowledging the fairness of our justice system and not fabricating scenarios that disregard Minnesota law.

Zesty and dated rock tended to accompany speakers here at the Conservative Political Action Conference. Creedence Clearwater Revival "Down on the Corner" for John Bolton, Smashmouth's cover of "I'm a Believer" for Mike Pence, early Beatles--"Love Me Do"--at the Building a Conservative Hispanic Coalition seminar and Kenny Loggins hit from the Top Gun soundtrack, "Danger Zone". If Lee Greenwood is here, I haven't heard him.

In addition to the speakers and seminars, there's a giant exhibition area where different conservative outfits are peddling their wares. My favorite bumper sitcker for sale was "Obama Bin Lyin'. Impeach Him Now." I picked up an "It's OK to be Ex Gay" button. There are rows and rows of conservative talk show hosts broadcasting from here and a bloggers row. There are pro life groups and pro gun groups and anti global warming groups. I was handed an ice cream sandwich by a woman dressed as a polar bear. When I asked her what she was advocating she lifted her mask and cheerfully told me that the polar bears were fine and that conservative principles would do more for the environment than government.

We have some videos coming that will, if you haven't watched any of the proceedings, give you a flavor of the conservative movement as it deals with its exile.

A couple of thoughts.

I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that most people here think that what cost them the election was not adherence to conservative principles but deviance from them. In this view, Republicans were too squishy and moderate. They carried the weight of Congressional scandals, bloated budgets and GOP-sponsored social initiatives like No Child Left Behind and the expansion of Medicare to include a prescription drug benefit. There's not a lot of soul searching about policy.

I was surprised by the session on building a Hispanic Conservative Majority. It wasn't that well attended but those conservatives who went got to hear a blistering attack on the anti-immigration tone and policies of the Republican party and a passionate plea for an immigration policy that doesn't revolve around deporting illegal immigrants. If there's going to be a rethinking of Republican orthodoxy maybe it'll be here.

In general, though, the faithful are sticking to their creed. When Tucker Carlson, the conservative commentator, suggested that conservatives ought to start more New York Times media outlets of their own, dedicated to reporting, he got jeers. He tried to make it clear to the crowd that he thought the Times was liberal and distorting but they were at least dedicated to fact gathering. This small bit concession to the Times was too much for some in the crowd.

More later when we get the videos.

The Coleman campaign may have just given away the store on a very important point in their challenge to the Minnesota election results -- conceding that missing ballots from the recount that were still included in the final numbers did in fact exist.

During the recount, a deep-blue Minneapolis precinct came up with over 130 less ballots than were counted on Election Night, costing Al Franken a net 46 votes. The city eventually concluded that an envelope full of ballots labeled "1 of 5" was missing. After it wasn't recovered, the state canvassing board agreed to revert to the Election Night total for this precinct, rather than disenfranchise these voters.

The Coleman campaign vowed to contest it in court. Their position had been that there was no evidence the ballots existed, citing an earlier hypothesis by the city that ballots might have counted twice by the machines on Election Night -- which the city had quickly discarded when the precinct roster nearly matched the number of Election Night votes. And even if they do exist, the Coleman camp has still said they can't be included in the recount.

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Ben Ginsberg, the Coleman spokesman/lawyer who has held colorful press conferences attacking the court, the reliability of the election results, and just about everything under the sun that looked bad for Norm Coleman, is no longer seeking to actually work for Norm in the courtroom.

Ginsberg, who was on George W. Bush's legal team during the Florida recount in 2000, has been holding his daily press conferences since the beginning of this trial, billing himself as a Coleman attorney. But it was only last week that he filed his motion for admission pro hac vice -- the filing that an out-of-state lawyer is supposed to make in order to appear before a local court.

Just today, Team Coleman submitted this motion to withdraw the request, which hadn't yet been granted: "Mr. Ginsberg will not participate in the trial and no longer seeks the court's permission to do so."

The real question now is whether Ginsberg will still continue to hold his amazing press conferences -- for example, yesterday he made a now-debunked charge that a heavily Dem county had illegally included 300 bad absentee ballots -- or whether he's now out of this case completely. We could find out tonight.

Oh, boy. Yesterday, Coleman spokesman/attorney Ben Ginsberg held a dramatic press conference to announce that 300 clearly invalid absentee ballot envelopes -- roughly 150 of them weren't even signed by the voters -- had been improperly opened and counted Election Night in the Democratic stronghold of St. Louis County (Duluth). It was a major part of the Coleman camp's push to undermine the legitimacy of the whole vote count, possibly in pursuit of a new election.

But now Noah Kunin at The Uptake looked into this with the county officials, showing them quite a few examples, and they've told him a different story: It appears these were not actually the envelopes used by those voters -- they were for in-house use by the local election workers, and these votes were legal.

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