TPM News

It's worth trying to clear up some of the confusion on a key point that came out of yesterday's post.

We wrote that, after reading the transcript of Jane Harman's wiretapped conversation with the suspected Israeli agent, then-CIA director Porter Goss signed off on the Justice Department's application for a FISA warrant to wiretap Harman herself.

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Sen. Jim Bunning (R-KY), who has accused his party's leadership of sabotaging his fundraising in order to force him into retirement, has some further tough words for his co-Senator, Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, the Louisville Courier-Journal reports.

"Good God, he wants to run everybody," Bunning told reporters on a conference call. Bunning confirmed that he encouraged Sec. of State Trey Grayson to set up an exploratory committee to run just in case Bunning himself retires. But he doesn't see a good picture for the GOP going forward. And he blames McConnell for a lot of that.

"Do you realize that under our dynamic leadership of our leader, we have gone from 55 and probably to 40 (Senate seats) in two election cycles," said Bunning, "and if the tea leaves that I read are correct, we will wind up with about 36 after this election cycle. So if leadership means anything, it means you don't lose ... approximately 19 seats in three election cycles with good leadership."

Terry McAuliffe, the former DNC chairman and colorful campaign chair for Hillary Clinton, is the frontrunner for now in the June 9 Democratic primary for governor of Virginia, a new survey from Public Policy Polling (D) indicates.

The numbers: Terry McAuliffe 30%, former state Del. Brian Moran 20%, and state Sen. Creigh Deeds at 14%, with a ±4.1% margin of error. McAuliffe is doing well among women voters, with 30% to Moran's 16% and Deeds at 13%, and among African-Americans it's McAuliffe 37%, Moran 15%, and Deeds 10%.

The pollster's analysis chalks up a big part of McAuliffe's success right now to his ability to out-raise and out-spend the competition: "This is the fourth time PPP has polled this contest and the first time one of the candidates has broken away from the pack," said PPP president Dean Debnam. "McAuliffe's resources advantage finally seems to be manifesting itself and by the time Deeds and Moran can start catching up it may be too late."

Former Florida state House Speaker Marco Rubio has now officially declared his candidacy for his state's open GOP-held Senate seat:

This sets up a likely primary pitting the conservative Rubio against the moderate Republican Gov. Charlie Crist, who is expected to get in some time soon.

In his announcement YouTube, Rubio seems to allude to an imminent Crist entry -- and in the same breath includes a mention of President Obama: "I know that there are people more famous than I who may enter this race. And I know that the President of the United States himself will travel to Florida to campaign and raise money against me."

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It turns out that former Rep. Pat Toomey (R-PA), whose Republican primary challenge against Sen. Arlen Specter had built up such a lead in the polls that Specter switched to the Democrats, has had a pretty good time fundraising.

The Toomey camp has announced that it raised over $500,000 in the time since Toomey got into the race on April 15. Dave Weigel also reports that the campaign says donations surged on the day of Specter's switch a week ago.

The takeaway here is that Toomey has already gained significant support from grassroots conservative voters and activists in Pennsylvania. So if the national party wants to get another candidate who is viewed as more electable, such as former Gov. Tom Ridge or Rep. Jim Gerlach, that new player could face their own set of difficulties in the primary.

Rep. Joe Sestak (D-PA) hasn't been shy about criticizing Sen. Arlen Specter (D-PA) for switching parties last week, but his harshest words came last night in an interview with TPMDC: "He left the fight," said the former admiral and highest ranking military man ever to serve in Congress. "In the military, we just don't leave fights."

Sestak's shot at Specter comes amid grassroots grumbling that the deal Democratic leaders struck to get Specter to defect from the GOP cost the party a shot at putting a real liberal in the seat in 2010.

"I can't figure out...why the deal was done," Sestak told me, saying he's concerned that the party was so quick to embrace Specter for reasons of "expediency," and without regard to the needs of Pennsylvania voters. "It isn't Washington's prerogative to tell us what to do," Sestak insisted.

I asked him whether he'd been on the receiving end of establishment pressure -- from people like Vice President Joe Biden and Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell -- to stay out of the race, and he insisted, "I haven't heard from anyone."

While Democrats from the While House on down might be trying to keep the Democratic primary field clear for Specter, they might not necessarily mind the fact that, for the time being, Sestak is applying pressure on Specter to move left. By keeping the door open to challenging Specter in the Democratic primary, Sestak may serve to nudge Specter further than he might otherwise have gone. Yesterday, Sestak told Greg Sargent that if Specter "doesn't demonstrate that he has shifted his position on a number of issues, I would not hesitate at all to get in" to a primary fight against him.

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An interesting expert has emerged to speak out on behalf of Norm Coleman's fight in Minnesota, and the importance it has to our democratic system: Former FEC commissioner and voter-suppression guru Hans Von Spakovsky, an old TPMmuckraker favorite.

Here's what Von Spakovsky told Fox News in support of Coleman's litigation, including a potential U.S. Supreme Court appeal: "If you don't deal with all of the issues that have been raised in this case, then you know a lot of people are going to be questioning whether the real winner who actually ends up in the seat is actually the person who won the race, and that's not good for the kind of election process that we have."

As I've asked before, when Norm Coleman himself has offered the same point: Where were you in 2000, Hans, when we really needed you?

The Fox article also says that the GOP appears to be ready to keep the fight going, now that Al Franken would be the 60th Democrat. NRSC chairman John Cornyn gave Fox a statement that, not for the first time, invokes the count-every-vote spirit of Florida in 2000: "It's blatant hypocrisy that many of the same Democrats who so loudly complained about voter disenfranchisement during the 2000 Florida recount have been so willing to compromise their principles when it no longer fits their political agenda."

Specter: "Do I Want To Stay In The Senate, Of Course I Do" Sen. Arlen Specter (D-PA) held a town hall event last night in his home state, re-introducing himself to voters as their new Democratic Senator. Specter bluntly acknowledged that a desire to remain in office was a reason for his switch. "Do I want to stay in the Senate, of course I do," said Specter. "Do you like your jobs? Sure you do."

Obama's Day Ahead President Obama and Vice President Biden will meet with Democrats from the Energy and Commerce Committees, at 10:30 a.m. ET in the State Dining Room. Obama and Biden will have lunch at 12:30 p.m. ET. Obama will meet with Israeli President Shimon Peres at 2 p.m. ET. At 3 p.m. ET, he will meet with senior advisers.

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"We are pleased to announce our decision to rebrand to a familiar name -- VALIC," begins a brochure titled, "Back to our roots" that was recently distributed to holders of policies with the Variable Life Insurance Company. Um, and guess what slightly more familiar name VALIC has decided to cast off? Yes, that would be everyone's favorite federally-funded money vortex the American International Group.

Possibly, and this is entirely idle speculation on our parts but, the fancy public relations firms the zombie insurer retained are known for running focus groups. Perhaps the feedback concluded that somehow the AIG name was a turnoff to people looking for a place to store their remaining life savings?

"We believe this decision is timely," the brochure goes on, adding that with its return to its more venerable brand it restores a name "that has represented more than a half a century of helping people plan for and enjoy a secure retirement"* and also sounds vaguely like the pickle brand, possibly to convey a sense of "preservation."

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