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A new Rasmussen poll in Illinois rates the 2010 Senate race for President Obama's former Senate seat as a toss-up, with Republican Rep. Mark Kirk currently leading two Democrats.

The numbers: Kirk 41%, state Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias 38%; Kirk 47%, Chicago Urban League president Cheryle Jackson 30%, with Jackson having lower name recognition than Kirk and Giannoulias. The margin of error is ±4.5%.

The pollster's analysis makes clear that Democratic voters could solidify behind their eventual nominee, once the race has really gotten going: "Illinois, with a favorite son now in the White House, runs largely Democratic in statewide races, so much can change in the months ahead."

(Late update: CNN now reports that there were two men carrying assault rifles, reportedly AR-15s, outside President Obama's event in Phoenix.)

(Late late update: The Associated Press reports that there were about 12 people with guns outside the event.)

A man was seen carrying an assault rifle and a pistol outside the VFW Convention in Phoenix where President Obama spoke today, a local newspaper reports. (Click through for a photo.)

Local police said it's legal under Arizona law, but two officers kept close by him.

"If we need to intervene, we will intervene at that time," said Detective J. Oliver.

The man, who gave his name only as "Chris", was asked why he was armed. "Because I can do it," he said. "In Arizona, I still have some freedoms."

Here's video from ArizonaCentral.com (go to about 1:30). It looks like the man giving the interview was also carrying a pistol.

Hundreds of people demonstrated both for and against heath care reform outside the convention, where Obama spoke about Iraq, Afghanistan and veterans affairs. His remarks about health care were limited to improvements to the Veterans Affairs system.

This is the third report in a week of someone bringing a gun to a presidential event. At Obama's town hall last week in Portsmouth, N.H., a man was arrested for having a gun hidden in his car after the Secret Service found him at Portsmouth High School hours before Obama arrived carrying a pocketknife. He didn't have a license for a concealed weapon.

Another man in Portsmouth was spotted carrying a gun in a leg holster outside the school. The unconcealed weapon was legal under New Hampshire law and he was not arrested. Later, when asked why he brought the gun, he replied, "That's not even a relevant question. The question is, why don't people bear arms these days?"

And that's not all. A man brought a gun to a town hall with Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN) last week, without incident. At an event with Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ), someone dropped a gun, but he had a permit and no police report was taken. And two weeks ago, a New Mexico man tweeted that reform opponents should bring guns to town halls and "badly hurt" SEIU reps.

Former U.S. Attorney Chris Christie, the Republican nominee for Governor of New Jersey, is starting to get a rough time in the press in the wake of newly-unsealed files that showed he discussed with Karl Rove a potential run for governor while he was still U.S. Attorney.

The New York Times has a new article showing that one of Christie's top issues -- no-bid contracts -- is not such a cut-and-dry issue in his favor. After he'd run against no-bid contracts in a race for the Morris County Board in 1994, he then failed in his reform push and subsequently went with the flow, approving no-bid contracts that included his own contributors:

"I'm much better now than I was 15 years ago," he said. "I'm more mature, and I'm convinced I'll be more successful."

Mr. Christie still expressed outrage at no-bid contracts when he became a federal prosecutor -- in 2002, he called them "the biggest problem in corruption in New Jersey" -- but in the interview he backed away somewhat from his criticism.

"I think there's more things that are involved than I understood at the time," he said. "I no longer think it's the biggest thing, but it's still an element, no question."


And now Corzine has stepped up the rhetoric against Christie, telling a panel at Netroots Nation that his opponent, a supposed champion of clean government, is a "lawbreaker" due to his discussions with Rove:



Said Corzine: "It is hard to understand how a lawbreaker gets the reputation of being the king of law enforcement, and uses that as a platform. It's the Hatch Act."

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After Fox News reported that hundreds of people had received unsolicited emails from the White House, the administration said it would change how people sign up for their email list and blamed third party groups for signing people up without their permission.

Fox News reporter Major Garrett went after Press Secretary Robert Gibbs last week, demanding to know how people -- who said they'd never signed up for the email list -- received an email from senior adviser David Axelrod. Garrett implied that the administration may have used political email lists from Organizing for America (but later backtracked). Commenters to Garrett's blog, as well as Fox News analysts, theorized that the White House may have been collecting the addresses of anyone who visited the site, with one even suggesting the government could gain access to people's personal computers if they visited any .gov web site.

But it seems that anyone who sent an email via whitehouse.gov's "contact us" page was signing up to receive emails, according to Fox. Many of Garrett's sources who said they'd received unwanted emails had emailed the White House recently, and probably didn't realize they were signing on to a list.

The White House has added a check box to the contact us page so commenters can opt out of receiving future emails, Fox reports. They've also added a captcha, which verifies that users are real people by having them type in a random word. Fox says these measures appeared yesterday; we're checking in with the White House to verify.

But not everyone had emailed the White House. In a statement, deputy press secretary Nick Shapiro said "advocacy organizations" may have used people's email addresses without their permission.

"We are implementing measures to make subscribing to emails clearer, including preventing advocacy organizations from signing people up to our lists without their permission when they deliver petition signatures and other messages on individual's behalf," he said.

Shapiro was very clear that the administration doesn't buy email lists or obtain addresses from anywhere except the White House web site.

Fox News has stayed on the story, airing segments as many as three times an hour.

Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-AR), who sits on the Senate Finance Committee, has said she could support a public option built on a level playing field with private insurers. But now she's saying she might also just vote against the entire package.

"I wouldn't preclude myself from that, no," she told the New York Times, "I know I'll be held accountable for that vote."

It's difficult to imagine her outright opposing a health care bill along the lines of what's expected to come out of the Senate--the remarks are most likely a nod to the possibility that the House of Representatives could win out in conference committee. In the past she's suggested that a robust public option--one which paid Medicare rates, or enjoyed a government subsidy--would be a non starter.

On Friday, I highlighted this article from the Jamestown Sun reporting that Sen. Kent Conrad (D-ND) would vote against a "government-run health care program," and took that term--"government run health care program"--to mean a "public option."

Conrad's office disputes that interpretation, saying that Conrad simply told a crowd in North Dakota he wouldn't let government take over health care. Pressed, Conrad's spokesman said the senator doesn't have an opinion on the public option, because he believes the issue is "moot."

I've reached out to the Sun to see if we can get a rundown of Conrad's exact statements.

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) dug in against a public option today, telling MSNBC this morning that "the government is a predator."

"When you have the government running something, the government is not a fair competitor," he said. "The government is a predator, not a competitor."

Grassley, ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee and key Republican negotiator on the health care reform bill, said he wouldn't vote for a plan without widespread Republican support.

"I'm negotiating for Republicans and if I can't negotiate something that gets more than four Republicans, I'm not a good representative of my party," he said. "It isn't a good deal if i can't sell my product to more Republicans."

"It oughta be done ... in a consensus sort of way, where it passes with an overwhelming vote in the United States Senate," he added.

He also addressed the controversy over his comment that a government plan would "decide when to pull the plug on Grandma."

Grassley said the idea of him validating the "death panel" idea is a "distortion from the far left."

"It's not the issue we need to be talking about," he said.

Grassley added that he's not worried about his legacy.

"Forget about my political career. It could be over tomorrow or it could last another term," he said. "Good policy is good politics."

On Fox News Sunday, Sen. Kent Conrad (D-ND)--a senior member of the Senate Finance Committee--said the so-called "gang of six" won't "be held hostage to any specific deadline" for unveiling health care reform legislation.

"What we have agreed to is that we are going to be ready when we're ready. And we are working; we hope to be able to reach conclusion by the middle of September. But we have agreed that if we still don't have all of the answers back from [the Congressional Budget Office] that we will not be bound by any deadline - that the most important thing is to get this right," Conrad said.

The report seems to conflict with earlier public statements from Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT)--the committee's chairman--who promised a bill by September 15, raising the ire of committee Republicans.

Talk about a political draft. In an interview with World Net Daily, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) was asked whether she would ever run for President -- and she replied that she would do it if God calls her to it:

"If I felt that's what the Lord was calling me to do, I would do it," she answered. "When I have sensed that the Lord is calling me to do something, I've said yes to it. But I will not seek a higher office if God is not calling me to do it. That's really my standard.

"If I am called to serve in that realm I would serve," she concluded, "but if I am not called, I wouldn't do it."


It needs to be pointed out that Bachmann in all likelihood is not speaking figuratively here. During her 2006 campaign for the open House seat, Bachmann campaigned in a right-wing mega-church and talked about how God had called her to run:

"And then in the midst of that calling, God then called me to run for the United States Congress. And I thought, 'what in the world would that be for?' And my husband said, 'You need to do this,' and I wasn't so sure. And we took three days and we fasted and we prayed, and we said, 'Lord is this what You want? Is this Your will?' And after the -- along about the afternoon of day two, He made that calling sure. And it's been now 22 months that I've been running for United States Congress. Who in their right mind would spent two years to run for a job that lasts for two years? You'd have to be absolutely a fool to do that. You are now looking at a fool for Christ. This is a fool for Christ."

In the wake of August recess drama, the House of Representatives will delay a vote on a final health care reform bill until the end of September, according to a report in Politico.

"Leaders now say the House will put off a vote on health reform until the end of September, to provide a cooling-off period from the raucous town meetings, and to give strategists a better sense of where the Senate is headed."

That probably won't sit well with reformers--queasy from the last two weeks of unsettling news--who would like to see the process put back on track as quickly as possible.

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