TPM News

Today is a big day in Texas, with voters going to the polls in the primary election for governor and other races. The top-ticket item is the Republican primary, in which incumbent Gov. Rick Perry is being challenged by Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison and Tea Party activist Debra Medina.

Perry enjoys a substantial lead in the polls, but could end up falling short of the 50 percent support needed to avoid a runoff in April. The TPM Poll Average has Perry with 44.4%, Hutchison 28.9%, and Medina 17.6%.

The most interesting part of this race is just how Perry went from vulnerable to being out front, and the rise of the Tea Party narrative in the campaign.

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Most political observers say 2010 is a good year to be a Republican running for office. That's not a huge surprise -- off-year elections are generally better for the party not occupying the White House. But this year has been characterized by an extraordinary anti-incumbent fervor, which makes it even worse for Democrats, who run both houses of Congress in addition to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

It's still early, but the midterm tradition plus the negative view of incumbents could mean some of the Democratic party's best-known Senators could find themselves falling to Republican challengers who can take advantage of their fired-up conservative base (not to mention apathy among Democratic base voters.)

After the jump, we'll look at four Democratic Senators who find themselves behind in polls as spring draws near.

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Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid once again tried to bring a bill to the floor this morning that would extend unemployment benefits, this time enlisting Republican Sen. Susan Collins (ME) to introduce the motion for unanimous consent in an effort to convince Sen. Jim Bunning (R-KY) to drop his filibuster.

But Bunning continued to object.

Collins, introducing the motion, said it has support on both sides of the aisle, and added that Republicans wanted it done last week. Reid added that, "We need to vote," and pleaded with Bunning to drop his objection. Bunning has been holding up a vote on the legislation, which would extend jobless benefits past Feb. 28. The hold is affecting about 400,000 people, according to the Department of Labor.

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A new Marist poll of New York suggests that former Rep. Harold Ford (D-TN) made the right decision in not challenging Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) in the New York Democratic primary. In the latest numbers out today, Gillibrand has a wide and growing lead over Ford.

The latest numbers: Gillibrand 50%, Ford 19%. This is an improvement for Gillibrand from early February, when she led Ford by 44%-27%. The TPM Poll Average for this primary-that-wasn't shows Gillibrand enjoying an advantage of 47.3%-17.4% over Ford.

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Mark Meckler, a top Tea Party leader, has worked hard to position the movement as a grassroots uprising, independent of both political parties. But just a few years ago, Meckler was involved in an online political consulting firm with ties to the GOP -- a fact that could intensify the fears of some Tea Party activists that their movement is being hijacked by Republican political operatives.

Since last year, Meckler, a northern California lawyer, has emerged as one of two national leaders and spokespeople for the Tea Party Patriots, giving frequent interviews to national news outlets. Working closely with the Atlanta-based Jenny Beth Martin, Meckler has helped build TPP into perhaps the largest and most prominent of the various Tea Party factions. If the notoriously decentralized Tea Party movement can be said to have a spokesman, Meckler has as good a claim to the title as just about anyone.

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Former Congressman Harold Ford Jr. (D-TN), who yesterday announced he won't to run for U.S. Senate from New York, this morning criticized his would-be primary opponent Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand for not spending more time with upstate voters.

"I spent seven weeks traveling and listening and learning and I can assure you, voters don't know the junior senator," he said, referring to Gillibrand. "They can't name a single positive outcome from her, which means one simple thing: She will be labeled for the failures of Washington, the failures of Albany."

"In Syracuse, my visit there yesterday, in the seven weeks that I paid for myself to get around the state, I was there more times than Kirsten Gillibrand had been there since he's been a U.S. senator," Ford said on MSNBC's Morning Joe.

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The new Rasmussen poll of Rhode Island gives former Sen. Lincoln Chafee, an ex-Republican and now independent candidate for governor, a solid lead in the race against his Democratic and Republican opponents.

Chafee was tested against Republican John Robitaille, a businessman and former aide to term-limited GOP Gov. Don Carcieri, and against two Democrats, Attorney General Patrick Lynch and Treasurer Frank Caprio. With Lynch as the Democratic nominee, Chafee has 38%, Lynch 24%, and Robitaille 22%. With Caprio as the Democratic nominee, it's Chafee with 37%, Caprio 27%, and Robitaille 19%.

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On April 16, 2001, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) took to Fox News to boast about the GOP's first major use of the budget reconciliation process in the Bush-era. "I think we can do a reconciliation bill that'll have an overwhelming number of senators and congresspeople voting for this $1.3 trillion to $1.6 trillion tax cut," he said.

Today, he has a somewhat different take.

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The Department of Labor calculates that 400,000 people will lose unemployment benefits if the Senate isn't able to break Sen. Jim Bunning's blockade of a measure that would extend the benefits.

The Labor tally says Bunning has "blocked the process each time" and Secretary Hilda Solis complained that "[t]he consequences of partisan obstructionism could not be clearer."

"If the extension is not approved immediately, millions of Americans could lose the safety net programs they deserve and desperately need," she said.

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The New York Times is reporting that Gov. David Paterson played a bigger role than previously known reaching out to a woman who was the victim of an alleged assault by one of the governor's top aides.

The woman, Sherr-una Booker, did not appear for a Feb. 8 court hearing to get a protective order against Paterson aide David Johnson, whom she accused of assaulting her last October.

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