In it, but not of it. TPM DC

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.

David Keene is one of the most important figures in the conservative movement. As Chairman of the American Conservative Union, the former aide to Bob Dole wields considerable behind-the-scenes influence in the movement. He spoke with TPM about what the movement needs to do and how this period in the wilderness compares with 1977 and 1993.

All hell just broke loose in the Minnesota courtroom, with Al Franken's lawyers catching Team Coleman in the act of yet more concealing of evidence -- and they've now made a motion to totally strike the Coleman camp's claims about double-counting of ballots, which the Coleman camp has hoped to use to subtract over 100 votes from Franken's lead.

You might remember that on Wednesday, the Coleman team was caught having withheld notes given to them in early January by Pamela Howell, a Republican election worker in Minneapolis. (Note: Minnesota precinct workers are selected by partisan identification, and then buddied up across party lines to keep it running smoothly and honestly.) The court then struck the witness' testimony, relating to double-counting of votes -- but then turned around yesterday and reversed themselves, after the Coleman team said it had been an honest oversight -- that there was no bad faith involved.

This morning, Franken lawyer David Lillehaug was restarting his cross-examination of Howell, and inquired as to whether there had been any further communications between herself and Coleman. The answer was yes -- and Coleman lawyer Tony Trimble then had to cough up some private e-mails he'd sent to Howell in early January.

"Pam, the legal team and campaign have made a strategic litigation decision to hold off from having you sign and us file your affidavit at this time," Trimble (or possibly his assistant, Matt Haapoja) wrote on January 6, saying this was being done "to avoid tying you down to any particular testimony and to avoid having to disclose your name and statement."

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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.