TPM News

Updated at 4:15 p.m. ET

Just a few short years ago, Public Policy Polling was an obscure Democratic outfit, mostly focused on local polling in Raleigh, North Carolina. Now, ten years after its founding, PPP is driving national coverage with an unmatched supply of polls on everything from the Republican primaries to God's approval rating. Since their automated polls are so cheap to conduct, they've been able to flood the zone in early polling on federal races, and they've notched up an impressive record on special elections, which are notoriously hard to predict. So where did they come from?

Well, according to founder Dean Debnam, the whole operation began largely out of spite. In the 1990s, conservative nonprofits backed by a wealthy retail executive, Art Pope, dubbed a "one man Republican equalizer" in the press, dominated polling in the Raleigh area. Debnam, a proud Democrat whose wife was active in education advocacy and ran for mayor of Raleigh in 1999, fretted that the questions were slanted to produce more right-leaning results. "They were putting out polls to push their agenda," he said. "I was fed up with reading basically BS in the local paper as if it was fact."

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President Obama's national approval rating has never been lower, and it's starting to drag him down in head-to-head matchups against his potential GOP rivals in the 2012 election. Gallup polled the President against former Mass. Gov. Mitt Romney, Tex. Gov. Rick Perry, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN), and Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX). Each trial heat produced a statistical tie among registered voters.

By the numbers, Obama is only bested by Romney, 48 percent to 46. He ties Perry at 47 percent, and outpolls Paul 47 - 45 and Bachmann 48 - 44. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus four percent, meaning that in each case, the race is a dead heat.

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The dream is dead. It's not often that Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol and progressive-leaning Democrats mourn the same thing, but both are likely choking back a sob at the news that Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) definitely is not running for President.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported Monday that the controversial GOP heart-throb had put an end to months of speculation by deciding he would resist the growing calls to run:

"I sincerely appreciate the support from those eager to chart a brighter future for the next generation. While humbled by the encouragement, I have not changed my mind, and therefore I am not seeking our party's nomination for President," Ryan said in a statement.

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Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), who had long been eyeing a primary challenge against long-time Sen. Orrin Hatch, is expected to announce later today that he will not seek the Senate, and instead run for re-election to the House, the Salt Lake Tribune reports -- thus removing the single greatest threat to Hatch's re-election.

The Hatch and Chaffetz camps had already been fighting it out in public, in expectation of the likely contest. In addition, polling had shown that Hatch was vulnerable after 35 years securely in office, thanks in part to the overall anti-incumbent restlessness that has seen the rise of the Tea Party movement.

However, Chaffetz would have had to have risked a lot -- a secure spot in the House, and a position as a major voice among House conservatives -- for a Senate bid that would not have been any sure thing. In addition, Hatch has been going further to the right, with his support for a "Balanced Budget Amendment" proposal that would limit government spending and put up roadblocks to tax increases. Perhaps as a result, a more recent survey was showing Hatch with a lead over Chaffetz.

An epic battle between Microsoft and Motorola Mobility began to unfold on Monday in a U.S. court that oversees patent infringement cases against imported goods.

The case pits Microsoft against Motorola -- and ultimately its new parent-to-be Google -- in a larger battle over the U.S. market for smartphones. It's the first fight to be heard at the trade court since Google announced its surprise acquisition of Motorola Mobility last week.

Microsoft filed dual patent infringement lawsuits against Motorola last October both in U.S. federal court for the Western District of Washington, and at the International Trade Commission in Washington, D.C.

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President Obama called on Libyan Leader Muammar Qaddafi to end the bloodshed and give himself up amid reports that fighters for the regime are mounting a last-ditch defense of their swiftly shrinking control of Tripoli.

In an audio statement released Monday afternoon, Obama said Qaddafi has the "opportunity to reduce further bloodshed" by surrendering to NATO-backed opposition forces.

"Although it is clear that Gadhafi's rule is over, he still has the opportunity to reduce further bloodshed by explicitly relinquishing power to the people of Libya and calling for those forces that continue to fight to lay down their arms for the sake of Libya," Obama said.

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Attorney General Eric Holder is sending poll watchers into a Mississippi county where white voters were previously found to have been intimidated by a Democratic official who is African-American.

The Justice Department announced Monday they were sending poll watchers to monitor runoff elections in Mississippi's Noxubee County, as well as in Bolivar, Tunica and Wilkinson counties to ensure their compliance with the Voting Rights Act of 1965. DOJ also monitored the first primary election in Noxubee County earlier this month.

The 2005 Noxubee case was the first ever so-called "reverse" discrimination voter intimidation case in the history of the Voting Rights Act. Ike Brown, the chairman of Noxubee County's Democratic Executive Committee in Mississippi, was found to have been trying to limit the participation of white voters in local elections.

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Former Rep. Christopher Shays (R-CT), who was defeated for re-election in the 2008 Democratic wave after 21 years in office, has announced that he will run for Senate in 2012, to succeed retiring Democratic-aligned independent Sen. Joe Lieberman.

As the Greenwich Times reports, Shays moved to Maryland soon after his 2008 defeat. A check of the voter rolls show that he was re-registered as a Connecticut voter just this past Friday in Bridgeport, where he and wife bought a condominium last year when he was considering a run for governor.

"Betsi and I excited to be back in Connecticut," Shays, told the paper. "These are all the steps that I am taking so that I can have the opportunity to run for Senate. I hope to be on the ballot next November."

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By John Voelcker

In a startling announcement, Ford and Toyota announced this morning that the two companies would jointly develop a hybrid system for rear-wheel-drive light trucks and sport utility vehicles.

The system would be roughly competitive with the General Motors Two-Mode Hybrid system now used in Chevrolet, GMC, and Cadillac full-size sport utility vehicles and pickup trucks. That system uses a different design than the "single planetary" hybrid systems used by both Toyota and Ford.

The two companies signed a memorandum of understanding this morning, and will now move into feasibility studies to determine which vehicles, technologies, and hybrid architectures should be jointly developed, and on what timelines.

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