In it, but not of it. TPM DC

The race is coming down to the wire in Tuesday's special election to pick a replacement in Kirsten Gillibrand's old House seat. It's too early to know for sure -- special elections are naturally hard to poll or predict, because of the low and uneven turnout patterns -- but it now appears that Democratic candidate Scott Murphy may be the slight favorite in a race that many observers (and participants) expected would be tough to hold.

As noted before, Democratic candidate Scott Murphy now holds a 47%-43% lead in the latest Siena poll, after having started the race 12 points down with no name recognition. But now, he may well be the slight favorite in the race.

Essentially, the race has turned into a referendum on a cluster of issues: President Obama's popularity in a swing district, the stimulus plan, and the Republican position that the AIG bonuses were all the Dems' fault.

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We've written a lot about the controversy over whether the Democrats will try to pass big Obama agenda items (most notably health reform) via the budget reconciliation process. But one dynamic that's presented itself in the last week is the schism, of sorts, between Democratic legislators who strongly oppose the maneuver and those who oppose it in general but want to keep the option on the table. How many in that latter category would agree to support it (however reluctantly) if, months down the line, after a long debate, Republicans refuse to sign on to a bipartisan and comprehensive health reform bill?

At a news conference yesterday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi offered a fairly full-throated endorsement of the idea: "I believe that it is absolutely essential that we come out of this year with a substantial health-care reform," Pelosi said. "I believe that is best served by having reconciliation in the package."

Earlier this week her deputy, Steny Hoyer, released a flyer attacking powerful Republicans who've flip flopped since the days when they supported Bush efforts to ram his agenda through using the same process. And on the senate side, Majority Leader Harry Reid said yesterday that he's not prepared to "take anything off the table."

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Would you be surprised to hear that Republicans are joining Democrats to praise President Obama's new plan for Afghanistan and Pakistan?

Maybe not -- after all, Obama does want to send 4,000 new troops to Afghanistan, bringing the estimated U.S. military presence there to 60,000. But Republicans' ardor for the Obama plan centers on their assumption that it's inspired by George W. Bush's "surge" plan for Iraq. (The GOP, if you remember, continues to credit Bush's 2007 escalation of the Iraq war as the key to "victory" there ... meanwhile, a car bomb explosion in Baghdad yesterday killed 26.)

After the jump, you can see which Republicans are happily crediting Bush's "surge" for inspiring Obama.

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When I was transcribing Michele Bachmann's remarks on Sean Hannity's radio show from Wednesday, calling for an "orderly revolution" to save freedom from President Obama's Marxism, I somehow managed to miss what might have been the most inflammatory moment.

Go to the 7:55 mark:

We can never forget that the Founders were rebelling against a governmental authority that abused their taxation power. And that was the tyranny. That's exactly what's happening right now. And we have to -- we have to rise up and say, "No more. Not on my watch. No more."

In yet another sign that former Rep. Pat Toomey (R-PA) is on the verge of challenging Arlen Specter in the 2010 Republican primary -- a rematch of their 51%-49% battle in 2004 -- Greg Sargent reports that Toomey will appearing at rallies in Pennsylvania alongside a top GOP leader: Samuel "Joe The Plumber" Wurzelbacher.

Toomey will be joining Mr. The Plumber at an upcoming rally against the Employee Free Choice Act. In a way, this might seem superfluous, now that Specter has come out against EFCA and effectively sunk it during this Congress. On the other hand, any candidate should go hunting where the ducks are -- and there should be plenty of conservative ducks at a rally like this.

Peace Action, an anti-war coalition that has enlisted four Democratic and four GOP members of Congress in an effort to dissuade President Obama from sending more troops to Afghanistan, just invoked an ominous historical analogy to describe today's new White House war plan.

Kevin Martin, executive director of the anti-war alliance, said in a statement:

It's a shame President Obama believes he can pursue the same militaristic strategy as his predecessors and produce a different result. While President Obama has made some good statements on increasing diplomacy and economic aid to Afghanistan and Pakistan, the emphasis is clearly on military operations. John F. Kennedy was in a comparable situation when he was elected. He chose to escalate then as well, and the consequences of his decision left our country mired in an unwinnable war.

Peace Action is organizing local protests against the escalation of the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan, starting in early April.

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-MI) just weighed in on this morning's White House rollout of a new plan for Afghanistan and Pakistan -- and he's taking the opposite view of Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI), who warned the administration against an overly "Afghan-centric" approach.

In a long statement, Levin praised President Obama for starting off "on the right track" before openly questioning Pakistan's commitment to policing its lawless northwestern border with Afghanistan. "I disagree with some administration statements that we can't make progress in Afghanistan without success on the Pakistan side of the border," Levin said. His response is available in full after the jump.

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Minnesota DFL Party chairman Brian Melendez just gave TPM this statement, in response to Michele Bachmann's call for an "orderly revolution" to save freedom from Barack Obama's Marxism:

"Michele Bachmann must have missed the memo: The revolution already happened. The old way of doing business -- her way of doing business -- lost.

"We face the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. To overcome that crisis, Americans must come together, set our differences aside, and get to work. There is plenty of room for thoughtful, respectful debate and criticism. There is no room for hatred or for demonizing those with whom you disagree. Calling one's colleagues 'enemies' and oneself a 'foreign correspondent' is not only a roadblock to results, it is the exact spirit and tone that the American people so overwhelmingly rejected."

We now have some new evidence in a story that dogged Norm Coleman in the final days of his 2008 Senate reelection campaign. According to the original report, businessman Nasser Kazeminy, a longtime Coleman friend, arranged for money to be paid to Norm Coleman's wife, for no work done, as a way of funneling money to Coleman himself.

Now the Star-Tribune has obtained a March 19 deposition from the lawsuit that first surfaced the scandal. The deposition is from B.J. Thomas, the chief financial officer of the company that paid out $75,000 to a firm where Laurie Coleman worked as a consultant -- even though he found no evidence of actual work.

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