In it, but not of it. TPM DC

Grover Norquist, the conservative activist and head of Americans for Tax Reform, chatted wih TPM about the annual Conservative Political Action Conference and how enthusiasm is still high among Republicans even after last year's electoral drubbing. He also explains how the conference has approached one of the most famous conservatives of all: George W. Bush.

The Coleman campaign could potentially be in some serious hot water in their effort to prove that double-counting of absentee ballots occurred, after it was revealed that they concealed evidence involving the testimony of a key witness, Republican precinct worker Pamela Howell.

But here's the thing about Howell's testimony: The story itself appears to be true. Democratic precinct worker Shawn Isenhart, who served in the same precinct with Howell, confirmed to me that there was indeed a failure to properly label the original and duplicate copies of a few damaged absentee ballots in that precinct.

Isenhart was there when the precinct workers realized what had happened, which was the key event in Howell's testimony. He thinks it happened to around six ballots, but could possibly as high as 15.

These instances of human error, when election workers failed to fully prepare and label the copied ballots, were the first step that created the potential for a very small number of votes to be counted twice during the recount -- or in some cases the opposite occurring, and the vote not counted at all. This was due in large part to the rules that both campaigns had agreed to in conducting the recount, for how to handle these ballots, and which the Coleman campaign has since declared to have been improper and illegal.

However, my own observation after speaking to Isenhart is that this doesn't really redeem Team Coleman. If anything, it shows just how sloppy and reckless they've been in making their case.

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The Louisville Courier-Journal reports that Senator Jim Bunning (R-KY) is now making a very interesting threat to his national party: If you keep trying to force me into retirement, I'll just resign -- and hand the seat to the Democrats.

Bunning reportedly said at a campaign fundraiser in Washington that the rumors being spread about his possible retirement, or of a potential Republican primary challenger, have been hindering his fundraising efforts. "I would get the last laugh," Bunning said, according to three sources speaking to the paper. "Don't forget Kentucky has a Democrat governor."

Bunning has previously threatened to sue the NRSC if he gets a primary challenger. If he were to take this revenge on them through this particular method, that would immediately bring the Democrats to 59 seats. Add in an Al Franken victory in the Minnesota election dispute, and you now have 60 seats -- the filibuster-proof majority.

One of the Courier-Journal's sources was clearly worried: "It's not because he's old and senile -- he's always been like that. He'll tell you what he thinks."

Late Update: Upon further reflection, it occurs to me that Bunning is a brilliant strategist, if this is indeed true. It's the political equivalent of nuclear brinksmanship, with the threat of mutually-assured destruction as a safety mechanism against widespread war and conflict.

One of the interesting things at CPAC is the extensive Bush bashing. Newt Gingrich, this morning, attacked the "Bush-Obama" policies on bailouts and stimulus. John Bolton attacked Bush's policies on Iran and North Korea. Not surprisingly, Ron Paul took extensive shots at Bush. (He also fired at broadside at U.S. entry--in World War I.) I guess we shouldn't be shocked that conservatives are putting distance between themselves and the unpopular former president. What is surprising is that there are no shots at John McCain for his campaign or his moderate positions on climate change and immigration. It's all about Bush. I have a video coming up soon with Grover Norquist in which he offers some thoughts on the topic.

Today I had the opportunity to speak with Dean Barkley, the Independence Party candidate who received 15% of the vote in the Minnesota Senate race, and he confirmed to me that if there is indeed a new election -- an idea that Norm Coleman has been floating -- he will be a candidate.

Barkley doesn't think a do-over will actually happen -- nor does he think it should happen -- and he traces the Coleman rhetoric to one reason. "Well that's probably because they're coming to the realization that they're gonna lose. It's that simple," said Barkley. "He's lost some pretty significant motions and decisions in court the last week, and I think he's coming to the realization that he's not gonna prevail in the finality. So obviously if you don't want to lose, you're gonna do everything you can to muddy up the waters."

But if it does happen, Barkley is in. "I wouldn't mind having another shot at the apple -- bring it on," Barkley told me. "If it was a do-over with everybody, not just Coleman and Franken. They seem to think they're the only two people with a stake in the outcome."

He added: "I might win it this time, after the behavior of those two."

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It's looking more and more like Senator David Vitter (R-LA), the staunch social conservative whose career became mired in the D.C. Madam prostitution scandal in 2007, will have a very interesting re-election campaign on his hands for 2010, with yet another name being floated as a potential primary challenger.

Former Rep. John Cooksey, who ran for Senate in 2002 and came in third place with 14% in the multi-party open primary that Louisiana used at the time, is reportedly prepared to spend $200,000 of his own money on the race if a draft site shows him that he could get enough support.

Fun fact: Cooksey got in trouble during the 2002 cycle when he compared turbans to diapers, prompting the NRSC to recruit another Republican to get into the race against Dem Senator Mary Landrieu.

There are already two others who are considering getting into the GOP race, as well: Family Research Council president Tony Perkins, who would be challenging Vitter from the standpoint of a Christian Right activist, and porno star Stormy Daniels, who would wage a campaign to highlight Vitter's personal hypocrisy.

Your reporter tried to get a little private time with the former Massachusetts Governor but the throng around Mitt Romney was such that we wound up piggy backing on the interview of Salena Zito of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Here it is:

On "Radio Row" at the CPAC you'll find pols lined up to talk with conservative talk show hosts. After he stepped away from speaking with G. Gordon Liddy, TPM caught up with former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay about where the GOP is heading and should head:

In addition to this morning's fireworks in the Minnesota courtroom, the court also just heard arguments on a very interesting motion from Team Coleman: That the court must take their ruling from two weeks ago to apply strict standards for letting in new ballots, and apply it retroactively to all the absentee ballots that were let in on Election Night.

The obvious problem here: There is no way to directly subtract votes, because the envelopes and the ballots were de-coupled on Election Night, and there is no way to reunite them.

Coleman lawyer James Langdon suggested a possible remedy -- though he's not advocating this yet -- would be to do a pro-rata reduction. That would be to take the number of invalid ballot envelopes, and proportionately deduct votes from each candidate according to the county or precinct results. Later on, he was even clearer in saying this was the only remedy.

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A newly-released CNN poll, conducted just over a week ago, asked Republicans their choice for the 2012 nomination: Sarah Palin 29%, Mike Huckabee 26%, Mitt Romney 21%, Bobby Jindal 9%, Someone Else 10%. The margin of error is ±4.5%.

Bear in mind this poll as done before this week's address to Congress by President Obama -- and thus before Jindal's response speech.

So who knows what impact the speech has had on Jindal's numbers. It raised his name recognition, certainly -- but it wasn't exactly a good speech, and he's been ridiculed on all the late-night comedy shows. That, and it obviously predates today's news that he completely lied during his speech about his experiences in Hurricane Katrina.

Then again, Rush Limbaugh has been rallying the Republican base against the liberal media's ganging up on Jindal, and also against the Republicans who have joined in.

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