In it, but not of it. TPM DC

A new Rasmussen poll in the New Jersey gubernatorial race finds that the establishment Republican choice, former U.S. Attorney Chris Christie, could be in a tough race for the GOP nomination against the conservative insurgent, former Bogota Mayor Steve Lonegan.

The numbers: Christie 39%, Lonegan 29%, with a ±5% margin of error. The winner of the Republican primary, on June 2, will face Democratic incumbent Jon Corzine, whose approval ratings have been in negative territory.

From the pollster's analysis: "In primary elections, turnout is often the key. Lonegan's supporters are somewhat more committed to participating in the primary suggesting that a low turnout could favor his prospects."

My own perspective as a New Jerseyan: This state has become heavily Democratic, with Barack Obama carrying it by a 57%-42% margin. The last time the Republicans won the governorship was with the narrow re-election of the moderate Christie Whitman in 1997. In 2001, the conservative insurgent Bret Schundler won the GOP nomination, and then lost the general election by more than ten points.

Greg Sargent gets the answers from Sens. Olympia Snowe (R-ME) and Susan Collins (R-ME) that I've been seeking for weeks. The two both say they remain undecided about the nomination of Dawn Johnsen to head the Office of Legal Counsel.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said yesterday that he'd need "a couple" Republicans to cross the line before he could move Johnsen's confirmation to the floor, as Greg notes, this suggests her nomination's simply stalled--not dead in the water.

But here's the corollary to that.

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Former President Bill Clinton has a clever response to former Vice President Dick Cheney's public criticism of the Obama Administration, CNN reports.

"I wish him well," Bill said, adding that "it's over," presumably a reference to the Bush-Cheney years being done with.

Bill added: "But I do hope he gets some more target practice before he goes out again."

One Republican is willing to openly say that Norm Coleman has a tough time ahead of him in his legal fight for the Minnesota Senate seat: Ken Starr, who described Coleman's situation as an "uphill battle," but isn't ruling out the idea entirely.

The former independent counsel was asked in a radio interview with WCCO-AM in the Twin Cities whether the U.S. Supreme Court would grant certiorari to Coleman's case. "I would tend to doubt it," said Starr. "I can understand why given the stakes, that every avenue of appeal would be exhausted. But we select our Senators through state elections, and so it is ultimately for the state, subject to fundamental rights of equality and so forth. So I would say it would be an uphill battle."

Starr did go on to add, though: "So I would just say, good lawyers can do a great job in making a case that might seem at first blush -- especially in light of Bush vs. Gore -- the kind of case that the Supreme Court might not want to be involved in, but you would be surprised. Some cases get up there that the smart money was wrong."

Earlier today Republicans blocked the confirmation of David Hayes, President Obama's Deputy Interior Secretary-designate. Hayes isn't a controversial nominee. He's served in that very position once before and his credentials aren't really questioned by either party.

So why was he filibustered?

As explained in this post, Republicans decided to oppose the nomination (at least for now) out of solidarity with Sen. Robert Bennett (R-UT) who placed a hold on Hayes several weeks ago. Holds, though not binding, are generally respected in the Senate, but a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid says that Reid decided to try and move the nomination forward anyhow, having grown tired of Republicans' slow-walking the nomination.

So why did Bennett place the hold in the first place?

A number of reports today suggest that the controversy has to do with the Obama Interior Department's decision to cancel oil and gas leases in Utah, sold off during the last days of the Bush administration. Here's a bit more detail:

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The big question in the 2010 Florida Senate race, where moderate Republican Gov. Charlie Crist has just declared his candidacy for his open GOP-held seat, is just how much of a frontrunner he is -- and whether the GOP primary could get messy.

For example, the conservative blog RedState.com is already telling readers to not give any support to the NRSC because of their immediate endorsement of Crist: "We can disagree with the NRSC on many things, but this one is a bridge too far." And the Club For Growth is calling on Crist to reject a state budget plan that includes tax and fee increases.

A Florida Democratic source confidently predicted to me that Crist, who supported the stimulus bill and has taken other moderate positions, will face a divisive primary against former state House speaker Marco Rubio, running on the right. "It's already happening," the Dem source said. "Before he [Crist] was even in the race, his last campaign manager and former chief of staff was already taking shots at Rubio, and Rubio obviously took a lot of shots at him yesterday. So it's already ugly. They're not even waiting."

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Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink (D) has just announced via press release that she is running for governor of this big swing state in 2010.

Sink had previously a top choice of national Democrats to run for the Senate seat now held by retiring GOPer Mel Martinez, but she passed up the race in January. Now with Gov. Charlie Crist (R) running for Senate, Sink has thrown her name into the governor's race.

There is going to be a whole lot of movement in Florida's statewide offices now, with a Senator retiring, a governor running for Senate, and the other statewide officers running for governor or other state positions.

Full press release after the jump.

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As I reported below, Senate Republicans have blocked, for now, the confirmation of David Hayes as Undersecretary for the Interior. The vote was 57-39, with Reid voting with the minority for procedural reasons. Here's the roll call. Sixty votes were required to move the nomination forward.

Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME) voted for cloture. Presumably for procedural reasons, so did Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ), the Senate Minority Whip. But Sens. Kerry (D-MA), Kennedy (D-MA), and Mikulski (D-MD) didn't vote at all. If they'd been around this morning, the Democrats might have had the votes. Kennedy has missed a number of votes for health reasons, but where were Kerry and Mikulski?

Late update: Kerry is apparently in Massachusetts at the funeral of a soldier killed in Iraq.

The Republicans have filibustered the nomination of David Hayes to be Deputy Secretary of the Interior. The move comes after Sen. Robert Bennett (R-UT) had put a hold on Hayes, supposedly because of the Obama Interior Department's decision to cancel oil and gas leases in Utah.

Holds, though, are informal--honored as a matter of courtesy within the Senate--and it seems like what happened is that the GOP blocked cloture in order to ensure that Bennett's hold wasn't ignored. We'll have more for you on that later today, but Bennett himself has said he'd lift the hold and vote for Hayes if and when the Interior Department addresses the cancellation of those leases.



The final tally was 57-39, with 60 votes required to end debate. CNN reported that if Hayes' nomination couldn't overcome this procedural hurdle, it would fail. But that's not necessarily true. Among the 39 senators voting to filibuster Hayes was Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid--not, of course, because he opposes Hayes, but because it keeps Hayes' chances alive. That vote will allow him to bring the issue back to the floor at a later date when, presumably, the conflict is resolved.

The group American Rights at Work is targeting Sen. Arlen Specter (D-PA) with a new ad asking whether he'll stand "with Obama, Biden, and the working families of Pennsylvania, or with greedy CEOs and big business lobbyists" on Employee Free Choice.



"We hope Senator Specter will join the President and the majority of Congress who understand that if we truly wish to restore our middle class, workers must be able to bargain, not borrow their way to a better life," said Kimberly Freeman, Acting Executive Director of ARW.

The ad is among the first to target Specter on any issue since he switched parties last month, and by far the most explicit. In recent days, progressive groups have seemingly demonstrated a renewed willingness to target conservative Democrats. Earlier this spring a variety of campaigns aimed at pressuring House Blue Dogs and their Senate counterparts were scrapped (or all-but scrapped) after party leaders said the initiatives weren't helping.

Specter cosponsored the Employee Free Choice Act last Congress, but reneged that support this spring when, as a Republican, he faced a 2010 primary challenge from conservative Pat Toomey. Now, as a Democrat, he's supposedly working toward a compromise with the bill's lead sponsor, Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA).

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