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Former President Carter, who brought race to the forefront this week by saying the animosity toward President Obama is racially motivated, said Wednesday that he hopes future political leaders will condemn racist attacks.

"My hope is, and my expectation is, that in the future both Democratic leaders and Republican leaders will take the initiative in condemning that kind of unprecedented attack on the President of the United States," Carter said to a group of students at Emory University.

Despite attacks from conservatives and denials from the White House, Carter continued to assert that some personal attacks on Obama are based on his skin color.

"When a radical fringe element of demonstrators and others begin to attack the President of the United States as an animal, or as a reincarnation of Adolf Hitler, or when they wave signs in the air that said we should have buried Obama with Kennedy, those kind of things are beyond the bounds of the way presidents have ever been accepted, even with people who disagree," he said. "And I think people who are guilty of that kind of personal attack against Obama have been inlfuenced to a major degree by a belief that he should not be President because he is African-American. It is a racist attitude."

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It's not ironclad, but it's the first strong sign that Sen. Max Baucus' health care reform bill might win the support of Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME) when all's said and done.

She, along with Sens. Ben Nelson (D-NE), Joe Lieberman (I-CT), and Claire McCaskill (D-MO) have released a joint statement 'commending' Baucus' efforts and saying, basically, if consensus is to be found, it will be here.

"We commend Chairman Baucus for his efforts to forge a health care reform proposal that has the potential to gain broad bipartisan support," the statement reads. "While we each have outstanding concerns we wish to see addressed, Senator Baucus has taken an important and critical step forward with this legislation, which is budget neutral and reduces future health care costs according to CBO."

This isn't the same thing as a wholesale endorsement of the bill, but it's a step in that direction from Snowe, who just yesterday was emphasizing her concerns. You can read the entire statement below the fold.

Late update: Chuck Todd reads a bit more into the statement than I do.

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Sens. Ben Nelson (D-NE), Joe Lieberman (I-CT), Claire McCaskill (D-MO) and Olympia Snowe (R-ME) issued the following statement regarding Max Baucus' health reform bill Thursday. Here's the full text:

"We commend Chairman Baucus for his efforts to forge a health care reform proposal that has the potential to gain broad bipartisan support. We are encouraged by his commitment to work with both Democrats and Republicans in the Finance Committee, and believe there is a responsibility for both sides of the aisle to work together to develop a bill that will earn strong support from the full Senate.

"Despite the differences that have emerged in this health care debate, there is much that we all agree on, including insurance market reforms that bar insurance companies from discriminating against people based on their health status or denying coverage due to pre-existing conditions. We also agree on prevention and wellness investments, critical delivery reforms like paying for quality rather than quantity, increasing access to care by improving health care provider training programs, and reducing uncompensated care by extending tax credits to American families to help pay for their health care coverage.

"Each of us has an obligation to put aside partisan views and to consider how health care reform addresses the needs and challenges faced by individual citizens and our economy as a whole. While we each have outstanding concerns we wish to see addressed, Senator Baucus has taken an important and critical step forward with this legislation, which is budget neutral and reduces future health care costs according to CBO. We will continue to work together in the full Senate on bipartisan health care reform that reduces costs, improves care, and expands access."

The new Rasmussen poll in Virginia finds that Democratic candidate Creigh Deeds is closing the gap against Republican Bob McDonnell -- and that McDonnell's hard-right grad school thesis could be sinking in further with the public.

The numbers: McDonnell 48%, Deeds 46%, within the ±4.5% margin of error.

Two weeks ago, when the thesis story had just broken, McDonnell was ahead 51%-42%. At the time, the pollster's analysis said it was possible that the thesis could become a bigger factor.

And here's the analysis of the new survey: "Fifty-two percent (52%) of voters now say the writings are at least somewhat important in terms of how they will vote. That's up from 36% in the previous survey. The number of unaffiliated voters who consider the writings important is up to 47%."

John Bolton implied today that political reasons are behind Defense Secretary Robert Gates's support for President Obama's decision to change the European missile defense strategy.

"Secretary Gates is, how should I put this, he's a survivor in Washington," Bolton told Fox News. "I think he saw the direction of the White House. Sen. Biden, Sen. Obama, Sen. Kerry, in their day, never believed in national missile defense ... They haven't changed their view at all. Secretary Gates has now moved in their direction. You can draw your own conclusions."

Martha MacCallum, the Fox anchor, asked if he was saying that Gates is compromising his military opinions to please the White House.

"I think the intelligence analysis they're basing this on is highly theoretical," he responded. "I would protect America."

Gates was the only member of the Bush cabinet to stay on with the Obama administration.

Bolton called the new missile defense plans "an unambiguously bad decision," and "naive and dangerous."

Video after the jump.

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In the wake of a scandal in which employees were caught on tape advising people posing as a prostitute and pimp in how to break the law, the House of Representatives voted today to strip ACORN of all federal funding.

The vote was 345-75 on a measured pushed by GOP House leader John Boehner. The Senate voted earlier this week to withdraw housing and urban development funding. But the House bill would remove all federal funding.

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David Barton, who critics call a "Christian nationalist history revisionist," comes off more as smooth-talking history buff than fiery evangelist.

Among the panel of experts appointed to guide the Texas textbook standards writing process, Barton is probably the most committed right-wing activist. He served as vice-chair of the Texas GOP for many years. He was responsible for the uproar over deletion of a reference to Christmas that the chair of the board of education tried to tamp down first thing this morning.

And when his turn to speak came at the hearing on new history textbook standards in Austin today, Barton was the only expert to bring along a slideshow.

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Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) warned today that the health care reform proposal put forth by Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT) is "still fairly sketchy" and not representative of the final legislation.

"It's not the plan that necessarily moves through," Brown said on MSNBC. "That may be implicit in media coverage by it's not at all explicit, it's not at all clear."

Brown pointed out that there are four other proposed bills in Congress, included the one written by the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, of which Brown is a member.

That bill, he said, includes 161 Republican amendments, giving it a "bipartisan flavor."

"But on the big questions," such as the public option, "there are partisan differences because there are philosophical differences," he said.

"While I want it to be bipartisan, my goal is not a bipartisan bill. It's a good bill that I hope Republicans vote for. And I believe they will in the end," Brown said.

Over on the main blog, Josh wrote the other day about the alleged terror plot which led police to raid an apartment building in Queens on Monday, and then a suburban Denver home yesterday. Josh noted that the Feds seem to being playing this one a lot closer to the vest than in other cases of recent years -- which could be a sign that it's more serious.

So let's take stock of what we know...

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The Rev. Peter Marshall is one of the "experts" appointed by the Texas State Board of Education who has come under fire for his lack of academic credentials and unapologetic right-wing Christian agenda.

Testifying today at the board of ed hearing on controversial new social studies standards, Marshall didn't disappoint. He got things started with a rousing 10-minute tour through a Christian-centric version of US history.

"It is obvious beyond contradiction that [the founders] structured American government on the natural rights of mankind, which they firmly believe were the gift of God," he said.

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