In it, but not of it. TPM DC

The day after Souter announced his retirement, conservative fundraiser Dan Morgan laid out the game to Jonathan Allen of Congressional Quarterly, "This is a nuclear weapon for the conservatives out there. When you do fundraising, there is an emotional component in this. And boy, the emotion is there magnified times 100. The Supreme Court is great. That`s going to be mail. That`s going to phone calls. The clients I work with are in meetings already. There are letters being written already."

That explains quite a bit. Because if you take a step back from all the angry noise on cable news about Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor, you realize that all of the conservatives directing outrage her way don't really seem to have tons of representation in Congress. Aside from the occasional backdoor insult from conservative senators like James Inhofe (R-OK) and Jeff Sessions (R-AL), the response from the GOP has ranged from modest skepticism to modest congratulations.

There are a lot of reasons for that, but, breaking it down to its simplest components, Sotomayor is a qualified and politically sympathetic figure; there's no clear precedent for killing her nomination, and there's just about nothing to gain--and much to lose--by attacking her.

But the calculus is different if you work in the conservative movement. By ginning up controversy where none exists, these activists get free press and free money and a micro-movement with which to corral fellow travelers into common cause. But who are they? Below, a rundown of some of the key players.

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At the White House press briefing just now, Press Secretary Robert Gibbs was asked by Chip Reid of CBS News about Newt Gingrich's Twitter comments that a "Latina woman racist" should have to withdraw from a judicial nomination, comparing Sonia Sotomayor to a hypothetical white man saying his background made him a better pick than a Latina.



"I think it is probably important for anybody involved in this debate to be exceedingly careful with the way in which they've decided to describe different aspects of this impending nomination," said Gibbs. "I think we're satisfied that when the people of America and the people of the Senate get a chance to look at more than just the blog of a former lawmaker, that they'll come to the same conclusion that the President did."

At his big fundraiser for the Democratic National Committee tonight in Angeles, President Obama will be joined by a prominent Dem Senator in a sign of party solidarity, The Hill reports: Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, who was of course a Republican until about a month ago.

Specter has been raising money on the West Coast, and will be swinging by the Beverly Hills Hilton for the Obama event. "He will be with President Obama tonight, and we're glad to report that many of the president's West Coast fundraisers have agreed to help us," Specter campaign manager Chris Nicholas told the paper.

Appearing on Fox News today, Liz Cheney worried that a judge who makes legal decisions based on how they want the law to work out "moves us away from the rule of law":



"And you know, you're not supposed to make decisions based on how you want the law to come out -- how you want the results to come out. If you're a judge or a Justice, obviously one would hope that you would be just strictly interpreting the law, and I think we've heard in a number of instances President Obama talk about, sort of, a results-oriented approach to the law, or you know, making these determinations based on your heart or your empathy. And I think that's dangerous. I think that moves us away from the rule of law."


Of course, this comes form someone who is mounting a huge public relations campaign for her father's policy that "enhanced interrogation" was legal and not torture. Interestingly, this Republican concern about results-oriented legal judgement was also lodged yesterday by John Yoo, one of the authors of the torture memos.

Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL), the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee, is busy playing down the expectations for any GOP resistance to the Sotomayor nomination.

Sessions appeared on the Today show, and said that Sotomayor "has serious problems." And he urged against rushing through to a confirmation. "But I would think that we would all have a good hearing, take our time, and do it right," he said. "And then the senators cast their vote up or down based on whether or not they think this is the kind of judge that should be on the court."

However, he also added: "I don't sense a filibuster in the works."

The SEIU's bid to get Barack Obama back on board their campaign to prevent the state of California from slashing home health workers wages continues today in the Los Angeles Times.

The group has purchased ad space in the paper, and used it to run a letter from Pauline Beck to President Barack Obama. "Mr. President, I had hoped your stimulus bill, which is bringing billions of dollars to California, would help protect home care," the letter reads. "Unfortunately, it seems that the money is being used for other things."

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Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), the head of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, gave this interesting explanation to Human Events for why his committee has stepped in so early to support moderate Florida Gov. Charlie Crist over his more conservative challenger Marco Rubio:

"Gov. Crist is the strongest candidate that will enable us to hold the seat," Cornyn told me, "Marco Rubio...[has] a bright future ahead of him, but right now the Mason Dixon poll shows Crist beating him in a primary by 53% to 18%." By nominating Crist, Cornyn believes, "we won't have to spend precious resources in Florida" to retain the seat of retiring Sen. Mel Martinez (who has also endorsed Crist).


So it's not just about getting a winning candidate in Florida, but it's also about getting a candidate who can win by a sufficient margin so that the party won't have to spend too much money in a big swing state.

The Democrats have been able to behave effectively in this rational manner for recent cycles -- probably the best example would be the recruitment of Bob Casey in the 2006 Pennsylvania Senate race. So the question here is whether the GOP's current activist base can line up in the same way.

Marco Rubio, the conservative Republican Senate candidate who is challenging the establishment-backed moderate Gov. Charlie Crist, just announced the endorsement of a member of the Bush family: Jeb Bush, Jr.

Rubio posted this Tweet: "Proud to announce the endorsement of Jeb Bush Jr. He will be a great asset in our efforts to reach the next generation of GOP leadership."

Bear in mind that while the Bush family name is now generally garbage in the rest of the country, the relatively more competent Jeb Bush, Sr., still retains popularity in Florida -- especially among the conservative GOP base. The question is whether the son's support will have enough credibility with those same activists who might hearken back to his father's two terms as governor.

Conservatives have curiously decided that one of the best ways to battle Obama's first Supreme Court nominee is by declaring a war on empathy. When he described his criteria for selecting a replacement for Justice David Souter, Obama said, "I will seek someone who understands that justice isn't about some abstract legal theory or footnote in a casebook, it is also about how are laws effect the daily realities of peoples lives.... I view that quality of empathy, of understanding and identifying with peoples' hopes and struggles, as an essential ingredient for arriving at just decisions and outcomes."

This is, apparently, a bridge too far for conservatives, and, at least in the minds of some on the right, political gold. But while they continue to mock the idea--and while the media by and large passes their objections along uncritically--they seem to have forgotten that one conservative Justice was also sold to the public as a man of great empathy.

"I have followed this man's career for some time," said President George H.W. Bush of Clarence Thomas in July 1991. "He is a delightful and warm, intelligent person who has great empathy and a wonderful sense of humor."

The Thomas confirmations ultimately became the stuff of legend--but not because Democrats decided to go all in on attacking Thomas' "empathy."

The new Quinnipiac poll of Connecticut shows Chris Dodd continuing to struggle in his 2010 re-election bid -- though he might actually be improving from his previous doldrums.

Dodd trails former GOP Congressman Rob Simmons by a margin of 45%-39%, and Dodd edges out state Sen. Sam Caligiuri by 41%-39%, within the ±2.5% margin of error. In early April, Simmons led Dodd by 50%-34%, and Caligiuri was ahead by 41%-37%.

One number shows that Dodd still has a lot of weakness among the Democratic base: Against his primary challenger, businessman and first-time candidate Merrick Alpert, Dodd only has a lead of 44%-24%, with the incumbent below 50% against an unknown.

From the pollster's analysis: "Sen. Christopher Dodd's numbers are getting better but they are still lousy. He still has high negatives: About half of the voters don't trust Dodd and disapprove of the job he is doing. And he is still behind Simmons in a general election matchup."

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