In it, but not of it. TPM DC

A new Siena poll suggests that Democrats are catching up in the March 31 special election for Kirsten Gillibrand's former House seat in upstate New York.

Republican candidate Jim Tedisco, who started out with much higher name recognition as the state Assembly minority leader, now leads Democratic businessman Scott Murphy by 45%-41%, with a ±3.7% margin of error. Two weeks ago, Tedisco had a much stronger lead of 46%-34%.

At first glance, it might look like Democratic-leaning undecideds are quickly breaking into the Dem column as the candidates become better known. But the internals actually paint a much more complex picture.

Two weeks ago, Tedisco led 45%-31% among independents. But Murphy has turned that around, and now leads among indies by 43%-37%. What this suggests is that the Dem attacks against Tedisco -- mainly targeting his refusal to take a firm position on the stimulus bill -- could be having their intended effect.

Michael Steele has sharply walked back a statement in his GQ interview that seemed to indicate he agreed abortion is an individual choice. "I am pro-life, always have been, always will be," Steele said in a new statement.

As we've also found out, the statements about abortion to GQ were made over two weeks ago. Family Research Council head Tony Perkins has responded to the newly-published interview, and he's not happy: "I expressed my concerns to the chairman earlier this week about previous statements that were very similar in nature. He assured me as chairman his views did not matter and that he would be upholding and promoting the Party platform, which is very clear on these issues. It is very difficult to reconcile the GQ interview with the chairman's pledge."

Note that Perkins said he spoke to Steele about the issue earlier this week, and Steele assured him that he would promote the party's platform. So Steele told Perkins that he would publicly uphold the party's official policies, about two weeks after he'd done a yet-to-be-published interview to the contrary.

So let's compare Steele's stated positions from now versus then.

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We first flagged this for you last week, but Democrats are facing a perilous choice on climate change this year: whether to tackle carbon emissions under "budget reconciliation" rules, which would shield the legislation from an all-but-assured GOP filibuster.

As the WSJ notes this morning, however, the argument for using reconciliation on climate change is as much due to opposition from Democrats as it is from Republicans. Senators from red-state centrist Max Baucus (D-MT) to rust-belt liberal Sherrod Brown (D-OH) are on record as unconvinced of the merits of cap-and-trade, so setting a 50-vote rather than 60-vote margin for passage is likely to make the difference between passing a bill and doing nothing.

The Senate environment committee's chairman, Barbara Boxer (D-CA), told TPMDC earlier this week that she's considering the reconciliation route, and a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) told the WSJ that a final decision was "weeks" away.

But prominent GOP supporters of action on climate change, including John McCain (AZ) and Olympia Snowe (ME), have said that using reconciliation on the issue could torpedo climate change's prospects outright. Are Democrats damned if they do and damned if they don't? Stay tuned ...

The St. Paul Pioneer Press has a news article this morning that is a blistering attack on the Coleman camp's latest foul-up: "As recently as late January, databases of thousands of Coleman's donors and assorted contacts sat on a public portion of the campaign's Web site. They were not password-protected, so a Minneapolis consultant was able to find them by essentially surfing the Web."

The Coleman campaign's position is that they did not believe any data was downloaded in January, and that the site might have been hacked at a later date, probably by partisan enemies. But the Pioneer Press -- which endorsed Coleman for re-election last year, by the way -- doesn't appear to be buying it.

Coleman-supporter Kelly McShane, who donated $100 online and whose job is to secure data for the banking industry, had this to say: "I'm in IT security for a bank, and I can tell you that this is so ... irresponsible that I can't believe it."

Eric Schultze, chief technology officer for a Minnesota-based computer-security company (not to be confused with DSCC spokesman and former Franken spokesman Eric Schultz) explained to the Pioneer Press that no Web site should be set up to store credit-card data on the same server as the rest of the site -- let alone in an unencrypted form. "Anybody worth their salt would not set up a Web site that way," said Schultze.

Michael Steele: I Am Pro-Life Michael Steele is sharply walking back a statement in his GQ interview that seemed to indicate he agreed abortion is an individual choice, and that it should be left to the states. "I support our platform and its call for a Human Life Amendment," said Steele. "It is important that we stand up for the defenseless and that we continue to work to change the hearts and minds of our fellow countrymen so that we can welcome all children and protect them under the law."

Obama And Biden Addressing Stimulus Implementation Today President Obama and Vice President Biden are both speaking at the Recovery Act Implementation Conference, held at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building at 11 a.m. ET. At 1:10 p.m. ET, Obama will speak at the dedication of Abraham Lincoln Hall at the National Defense University. At 2:30 p.m. ET, Obama and Biden will be meeting with Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi. President Obama will be speaking to the Business Roundtable at 4 p.m., and then he and Biden will meet with Hillary Clinton at 5:15 p.m. ET.

Geithner To Defend Obama Budget In Senate Committee Tim Geithner will be speaking at 10 a.m. ET before the Senate Budget Committee, promoting President Obama's plan. Geithner is expected to get tough questions on several topics, most notably Obama's proposal to restrict deductions for top-earners.

Rove Blasts White House For Attacking Limbaugh In his latest Wall St. Journal column, Karl Rove lambastes the Obama White House for attacking Rush Limbaugh. "In the face of our enormous economic challenges, top White House aides decided to pee on Mr. Limbaugh's leg," writes Rove. "This is a political luxury the country cannot afford, and which Mr. Obama would be wise to forbid. Or did he not mean it when he ran promising to "turn the page" on the "old" politics?"

New DNC Slogan: "Americans Didn't Vote For A Rush To Failure" The Democratic National Committee will be rolling out a new slogan today: "Americans didn't vote for a Rush to failure." The slogan was the winner of an online contest, and will be displayed on a billboard in Limbaugh's hometown of West Palm Beach, Florida.

TSA Reviewing Vitter's Alleged Airport Rage Incident The Transportation Security Administration is reviewing the reported airport rage incident by Sen. David Vitter (R-LA). Vitter has admitted that he opened the gateway door to his plane after it had been closed, and that he had a "conversation" with an airline employee, but denies it having been the angry confrontation reported by Roll Call.

Lieberman: I'm Supporting Dodd's Re-Election Joe Lieberman told The Hill that he is supporting Chris Dodd's re-election campaign, and has gotten over his disappointment at Dodd's active campaigning for Ned Lamont in the 2006 general election. "We have a long relationship that goes back 40 years," said Lieberman. "That's over. I'm going forward."

Poll: Corzine Trails By Nine In New Jersey A new Quinnipiac poll shows Gov. Jon Corzine (D-NJ) trailing former U.S. Attorney Chris Christie for this November's election, the likely Republican nominee, by a margin of 46%-37%. Democrats normally have the edge in New Jersey, but Corzine's numbers are currently dragged down with an approval rating of only 40%, and disapproval of 50% -- though on the other hand, Christie has yet to face the inevitable political attacks that he was a Bush Administration appointee.

Did Michael Steele actually say he's pro-choice? In the GQ interview, Steele appears to agree that abortion is a right, despite his own moral opposition and desire for a state-based approach as an issue:

How much of your pro-life stance, for you, is informed not just by your Catholic faith but by the fact that you were adopted?
Oh, a lot. Absolutely. I see the power of life in that--I mean, and the power of choice! The thing to keep in mind about it... Uh, you know, I think as a country we get off on these misguided conversations that throw around terms that really misrepresent truth.

Explain that.
The choice issue cuts two ways. You can choose life, or you can choose abortion. You know, my mother chose life. So, you know, I think the power of the argument of choice boils down to stating a case for one or the other.

Are you saying you think women have the right to choose abortion?
Yeah. I mean, again, I think that's an individual choice.

This seems very odd, considering how Steele wasn't just pro-life in his Senate run in 2006 -- he compared stem-cell research to the Nazi medical experiments, while speaking to a Jewish audience, necessitating a public apology.

And he more or less accepts the scientific consensus on homosexuality:

Do you think homosexuality is a choice?
Oh, no. I don't think I've ever really subscribed to that view, that you can turn it on and off like a water tap. Um, you know, I think that there's a whole lot that goes into the makeup of an individual that, uh, you just can't simply say, oh, like, "Tomorrow morning I'm gonna stop being gay." It's like saying, "Tomorrow morning I'm gonna stop being black."

So your feeling would be that people are born one way or another.
I mean, I think that's the prevailing view at this point, and I know that there's some out there who think that you can absolutely make that choice. And maybe some people have. I don't know, I can't say. Until we can give a definitive answer one way or the other, I think we should respect that.

Of course, Steele also recently called civil unions "crazy," but here he says homosexuality is not a choice and should be respected.

How will the Family Research Council -- or dare we say it, Rush Limbaugh -- handle this one?

A few more points from the Minnesota trial today, besides the huge mess involving breached donor data from the Coleman campaign:

• After Franken lawyer Kevin Hamilton announced that the campaign was postponing the resting of their case, from today to some time tomorrow, lead Coleman attorney Joe Friedberg asked for another day to begin his rebuttal. The judges said no, they expect a rebuttal to begin tomorrow, as well.

• The Coleman lawyers have served subpoenas to local officials, seeking more evidence on voters who were among the 3-A ballots, to be presented during their rebuttal. The Franken camp moved to quash the subpoenas, and argued a motion in limine to prevent such evidence from being admitted on the grounds that Team Coleman has rested their case, and previously gave no indication that they wanted to leave the case open in this respect. A judgment from the court is still pending.

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Check out this line from Michael Steele, in an interview with GQ, discussing the rap artists that he's listened to over the years:

Who do you listen to?
I actually listen to a cross section, because I like to hear what the medium is saying, what the voice is.

But do you have a favorite?
P. Diddy I enjoy quite a bit.

Do you want to rethink that?
[laughs] I guess I'm sorta old-school that way. Remember, I came of age with the DJ and all this other stuff, so I'm also loving Grandmaster Flash, and that's not hip-hop, but... Um, you know, I like Chuck D. And I always thought Snoop Dogg was--he just reminded me of the fellas back home. So I've always thoroughly enjoyed him.

This is not to say he is any kind of poser -- maybe he does listen to those acts, and we should take him at his word.

But now take a look at his statement that he's a big fan of Frank Sinatra and the other guys in the "Pack Rats":

Who else?
I like Sinatra. I like old-school. You know, Bing Crosby, Sinatra, Dean Martin. Love Dean Martin. He was one of these guys who just didn't give an F. He just didn't. Life was a party, and you either want to party or you don't. But yeah, I like those. I'm a big Pack Rat. I love the Pack Rats from the 1950s--Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Frank Sinatra, those guys.

You mean the Rat Pack.
The Rat Pack, yeah.

So Steele doesn't just sound like a middle-aged man trying to talk to his kids and failing to sound cool. He's also trying to talk to his parents and failing to sound cool.

Norm Coleman just delivered a statement outside the Minnesota courtroom, addressing the breach of security on his online donors' data -- and putting the blame squarely on political opponents, who are allegedly attempting to scare Coleman's supporters out of donating.

"It is obviously an attack on this campaign," said Coleman. "But beyond that, just in terms of the campaign we're involved in a very expensive legal proceeding. Online fundraising is a very critical element of that, and clearly the theft of this information, the publication of this information undermines that. But this is more about my campaign or the ability to fund a legal effort or campaign. We do so much online. Politics today relies on online fundraising, and unfortunately we find ourselves in a situation where the level of trust and confidentially in that information is severely undermined."

Coleman attorney Fritz Knaak took questions from reporters, and claimed that the campaign became aware of a possible data breach in late January, which was investigated by the Secret Service and the state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, whose analysis found that no downloads had taken place -- which leads him to believe that further hacking has taken place over time.

"We thought that we had fended off an effort at that point," said Knaak. "Clearly more efforts have occurred. Still we have every reason to believe that what was attempted in January was not successful."

The accusation made by is that the data wasn't actually hacked, but that the campaign for a few hours in January stored the entire unencrypted database of their site in a publicly-accessible location. Noah Kunin, a reporter at The Uptake, also just announced that he personally knows people who had downloaded it and told him about it at that time, and who posted the news online.

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As he signed a $410 billion spending bill that Republicans hammered for its thousands of earmarks, President Obama unveiled new proposals to shed sunlight on the practice that's known as either "pork" or "congressionally directed spending" -- depending on whether you're talking to its critics or its defenders.

Earmarks have undoubtedly been misused and abused over the years, both by disgraced lawmakers (see Cunningham, Randy "Duke") and lobbyists (see Abramoff, Jack). The process' inherent risk of influence-peddling makes it no easy task to defend earmarks -- and sure enough, Obama's attempt to defend the practice fell flat with its chief Senate critics, Russ Feingold (D-WI) and John McCain (R-AZ).

Feingold and McCain's unmoved reactions to the presidential earmark fueled some critical media coverage, with the Politico headlining its story "Obama goes soft on pork".

Did Obama offer little more than a band-aid on the growth of earmarks?

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