TPM News

The Democratic field to go up against Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) is now shrinking, with 2008 nominee El Tinklenberg announcing that he has dropped out of the race in order to avoid a messy Democratic contest.

This could be a sign of the party circling around state Senate assistant majority leader Tarryl Clark, who got in the race in the past couple weeks. The other remaining Democratic candidate is Maureen Reed, a former University of Minnesota regent and 2006 Independence Party nominee for Lt. Governor, who raised a significant sum of money before Clark got in.

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Fox News is reporting that a "senior U.S. official tells Fox News a deal has essentially been worked out to release the two journalists" being held in North Korea.

Former President Bill Clinton made a surprise trip to North Korea today to negotiate the release of the women, who worked for Current TV. Clinton met with Kim Jong-Il, according to North Korea media.

The White House is now taking a hard line against the Tea-Party organized disruptions of Democrats' town hall meetings, the Washington Times reports, with press secretary Robert Gibbs referring to it this morning as "the Brook Brothers Brigade in Florida in 2000," "Astro Turf" and "manufactured anger."

The first two questions in the following transcript are from a separate reporter, with all successive questions from the Washington Times:

Q: Are you concerned at what appears to be well-orchestrated protesting of health care reform at town halls as derailing your message?

GIBBS: NO, I get asked every day about the myriad of things that could be derailing our message. I would point out that I don't know what all those guys were doing, what were they called, the Brooks Brothers Brigade in Florida in 2000, appear to have rented a similar bus and are appearing together at town hall meetings throughout the country

Q: They seem to be pretty widespread.

GIBBS: I seem to see some commonality in who pops up in some of these things.

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A new Monmouth University poll of the New Jersey gubernatorial race finds that Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine is in big trouble against his Republican opponent, former U.S. Attorney Christie Christie -- and a very important reason for this is that one side is simply move motivated to vote right now.

The numbers: Among likely voters, Christie has 50% to Corzine's 36%. Among all registered voters, Christie only leads by 43%-39%, due to a tendency for non-likely voters to lean Democratic or undecided. From the pollster's analysis: "But the bottom line is that Christie's supporters are more engaged, which is why the Republican's lead among likely voters has grown."

Another example, from the pollster's analysis, finds that President Obama's recent campaign trip to New Jersey both helped and didn't help Corzine: "The Obama visit seems to have helped Governor Jon Corzine increase his support among some registered voters, but it has not made those voters any more likely to vote on election day."

As a recent round of polling has shown, this same problem is only deeply affecting Democrats in the Virginia gubernatorial race, with GOP voters far more likely than Dems to turn out to the polls compared to the 2008 election.

MSNBC may have agreed to disclose Richard Wolffe's gig with a major corporate P.R. firm -- but that's not good enough for Keith Olbermann.

The Countdown anchor -- for whom Wolffe filled in last week as a guest host -- wrote on Daily Kos yesterday evening that Wolffe would not appear on the show even as a guest "until we can clarify what else he is doing," and suggested that the former Newsweek reporter had not been straight with the network about his duties for the P.R. firm, Public Strategies.

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Bonner and Associates was working on behalf of the coal industry when it sent forged letters -- purporting to come from local Hispanic and black groups -- to a member of Congress, urging him to oppose the recent climate change bill.

Bonner's client was the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, a top coal-industry advocacy group, reports Greenwire, the environmental and energy news service. And a total of twelve letters went not just to Rep. Tom Perriello of Virginia, but also to two other Democrats, Reps. Kathy Dahlkemper and Chris Carney, both of Pennsylvania.

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A new survey of Virginia from Public Policy Polling (D) finds Republican former state Attorney General Bob McDonnell with a big lead over Democratic state Sen. Creigh Deeds -- with GOPers currently a lot more motivated to be likely voters right now.

The numbers: McDonnell 51%, Deeds 37%. A key number: 52% of respondents voted for John McCain last years, compared to 41% who say they voted for Obama -- even though Obama carried the state by 53%-47%. This is fully consistent with last week's SurveyUSA poll, which put McDonnell ahead by 55%-40% on a sample that McCain carried by 52%-43%. (Numbers on this question never add up to 100, because some respondents won't divulge how they voted.)

From the pollster's analysis: "It's not that voters are changing sides from last fall- the 5% of John McCain's voters planning to vote for Deeds is actually equal to the 5% of Barack Obama's voters planning to vote for McDonnell. But Republicans, on a losing streak in Virginia, appear to be more motivated about heading to the polls at this point three months before the election."

So the big question for Deeds, then, is whether he can energize all those Democratic-leaning people who aren't likely to vote now, and turn them into participants in future polls -- especially that one in November.

Watch Rachel Maddow's segment on the tea party/anti-health care reform protesters.

Gives you a pretty good sense of what these disruptions are like--what features they share in common. It's hard to know how many member town halls will be (or have been) similarly disrupted, but that's only one of the goals of the protesters. Another goal is to create a narrative in the media about the organic rise of a populist anti-reform backlash; and the jury's still out on whether that effort will succeed.

The White House is now directly taking on Matt Drudge, who hyped a YouTube using edited clips of Obama appearing to say he wanted to eventually disestablish private health insurance.

Here's the new video from Linda Douglass, the White House spokesperson on health care, saying that other videos give a greater context to Obama's policy, with him saying quite the opposite:

"You know, the people who always try to scare people whenever you try to bring them health insurance reform, are at it again," said Douglass. "And they're taking sentences and phrases out of context, and cobbling them together to leave a false impression."

Senate To Take Up Sotomayor Confirmation The full Senate is set to begin debating the Sonia Sotomayor nomination today, with a final vote as early as Thursday. Sotomayor is on track to win confirmation by a comfortable margin, with all or nearly all Democrats plus a few Republicans supporting her.

Obama's Birthday Ahead Today is President Obama's 48th birthday -- but in terms of his schedule, it's a regular work day at the White House. Obama will meet at 11:05 a.m. ET with Dave Rehbein, the National Commander of the American Legion. At 12 p.m. ET, he and Vice President Biden will have lunch with the Senate Democratic Caucus. Obama will meet with Biden at 3:45 p.m. ET, and with Sec. of Defense Robert Gates at 4:30 p.m. ET.

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