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The 60 Plus Association -- a well-moneyed group that advocates for conservative safety net policies -- is running a new ad, starring House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI), to defend the GOP plan to phase out Medicare and replace it with private insurance.

"The Democrats and Obama are destroying Medicare," said Jim Martin, chairman of the 60 Plus Association in a prepared statement, before pivoting unironically. "It's time to put an end to their 'mediscare' tactics."

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MINNEAPOLIS -- Howard Dean gave a classic Netroots Nation keynote here last night, hitting all the buttons with the crowd of progressive activists and bloggers gathered here for their annual conference.

One of the most Netroots-friendly buttons he hit accidentally. Or so he told the crowd. While launching into an attack on the right and the conservative funders/progressive bogeymen known as the Koch Brothers, Dean first pronounced their name more like a famous part of ex-Rep. Anthony Weiner's anatomy than the classic cola.

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Tim Pawlenty is showing that he can take on Mitt Romney on health care and the individual mandate -- in venues where Romney is not standing in front of him.

Pawlenty was widely criticized for a key moment at Monday night's GOP debate, when he refused to repeat his "Obamneycare" attack from a day earlier to Mitt Romney's face. But then on Thursday, Pawlenty decided to take another bite at the apple, posting this on Twitter: "On seizing debate opportunity re: healthcare: Me 0, Mitt 1. On doing healthcare reform the right way as governor: Me 1, Mitt 0."

Then Thursday night, he appeared on Fox News with Sean Hannity, and said it bluntly: He should have taken on Romney at the debate.

"Well, I think in response to that direct question, I should have been much more clear during the debate, Sean," said Pawlenty. "I don't think we can have a nominee that was involved in the development and construction of Obamacare, and then continues to defend it. And that was the question, I should have answered it directly. Instead, I stayed focused on Obama, but the question really related to the contrast with Governor Romney. And I should have been more clear, I should have made the point that he was involved in developing it -- he really laid the ground work for Obamacare, and continues to this day to defend it. And I think that's a legitimate point in response to the question that I was asked, and I should have been more clear."

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In some of the strongest comments he's made to date in defense of the use of civilian courts to try suspected terrorists, Attorney General Eric Holder slammed members of Congress who he said are putting the nation at risk when they "disparage the American criminal justice system."

"Politics has no place - no place - in the impartial and effective administration of justice," Holder said during a speech at the liberal American Constitution Society's annual convention.

"Decisions about how, where, and when to prosecute must be made by prosecutors, not politicians," Holder said. "And this is true for every case, whether it involves brutal terrorists or white collar criminals."

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Tim Pawlenty has made a little sport out of criticizing Mitt Romney's health care record -- particularly when the former Massachusetts governor isn't standing right in front of him.

Look to Minnesota, Pawlenty says. There, he boasts, he was able to reform the health care system "the right way."

This is code in the GOP for "no individual mandate." Back when even some conservatives supported the idea, Romney's plan included a mandate. But then it served as a model for the Obama administration's own health care reforms, and thus has become a huge liability for him in the primary -- particularly the mandate.

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In another sign of the weak slate of Republican presidential aspirants, an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll released Thursday shows that less than half of GOP primary voters are satisfied with the current crop of candidates.

According to the poll, 45% of Republican voters who said they plan to participate in the GOP primary said they were satisfied with their party's choices, the same percent who said they were dissatisfied.

At the same point in the election cycle last time around, 73% of GOP voters said they were satisfied with their candidates, versus only 18% who said they were not. And in 1996, a 68% majority of GOP voters were pleased with the party's options to take on President Clinton, while 31% were not.

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Two top Utah politicians are starting to line up against each other in the state's Senate race, with longtime Sen. Orrin Hatch facing a likely challenge for the Republican nomination from two-term Rep. Jason Chaffetz -- and they're fighting it out via talk radio.

Chaffetz, who first came to Congress after defeating incumbent GOP Rep. Chris Cannon, has been sending lots of signals that he could try to harness the Tea Party anti-incumbent fervor and turn it against Hatch. And in turn, Hatch was sent a serious message in 2010, when his fellow Sen. Bob Bennett was defeated at the state GOP convention, unable to even advance to a primary under the procedures used in the state.

It is important to note that the state convention system used in Utah -- in which a candidate can win a nomination outright by a vote of 60% of delegates at the state convention, without need for a primary -- can seriously empower the party's right-wing activist base. As such, the early phase of this fight is not fought out through a wider primary electorate, but through activists and a caucus system. Thus, targeted radio shows and the activities of activist groups will be the initial field of battle.

Now, Hatch and Chaffetz have hit the radio hustings.

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