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We now know where the RNC chairmanship race is going: The black candidate versus the white Southerner candidate.

Here are the vote totals from the fourth round of voting, compared to the third round held right before incumbent Mike Duncan dropped out:

• Dawson 62 (+28)

• Steele 60 (+9)

• Anuzis 31 (+7)

• Blackwell 15 (+0)

So Michael Steele has lost the lead he achieved on the third ballot, and is now narrowly trailing South Carolina GOP chairman Katon Dawson.

This is now pitting Steele, an African-American conservative who has criticized the GOP for failing to reach out to minority voters, against Dawson -- who until recently belonged to an all-white country club, and has said he got involved with politics as a teenager in opposition to busing programs.

The House GOP's tax-cut-heavy alternative stimulus plan may have failed this week, but they've become addicted to erroneously using past research by Dr. Christina Romer, the chair of President Obama's Council of Economic Advisers.

House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) and his crew have been claiming that Romer's math proves their plan creates 6.2 million jobs -- a crafty blurring of a 2007 paper by Romer and her husband, Berkeley economist Dr. David Romer. And Mitt Romney was at it again today during his speech to House Republicans at their retreat in Hot Springs, Virginia:

First, there are two ways you can put money into the economy, by spending more or by taxing less. But if it's stimulus you want, taxing less works best. That's why permanent tax cuts should be the centerpiece of the economic stimulus. Even Christine [sic] Romer, the President's own choice to lead the Council of Economic Advisors, found in her research that tax cuts are twice as effective as new spending.


Sorry, Mitt -- as Brad DeLong has pointed out, Romer's paper never found that. You're actually citing former George W. Bush economic adviser Greg Mankiw, who drew his own wacky conclusions by comparing two totally different studies, with different methodologies.

But if you want to use Christina Romer's 2007 research as a model, that's cool. Since she also found that "tax increases to reduce the deficit appear to have little negative impact on output," can we roll back the Bush tax cuts now?

Mike Duncan has withdrawn from his race for re-election as chairman of the Republican National Committee.

Duncan came in second place on the third ballot with only 44 votes, or 26% of the total. It was very clear that he could not win re-election. Duncan said he was proud of his accomplishment heading up the party over the last two years: "Obviously, the results that we wanted weren't there. And I think our results going forward will be better."

Though he was officially talking about how the party's numbers just weren't there in 2008, he could have just as easily been referring to his own race today.

The big question now is where his support will go. Will the current leader Michael Steele pick up enough votes from Duncan and other candidates, to take him from his present 51 to the 85 needed for a win?

Another thing: One committee member asked for an extra recess period to sort out the voting, now that Duncan is out -- and was roundly booed by others there, with no recess as a result. The strong objection to a recess could be a sign that one campaign felt they could win it right now, and doesn't want to blow it.

In a press conference outside the courtroom held just a short while ago, Norm Coleman announced that if he gets back into the Senate, he'll work on ways to make it easier for young people to vote online.

Coleman was saying this while advocating for Peter DeMuth, a young college student and Coleman-voter who filled out his absentee ballot application on his computer, using the mouse to "sign" his initials. He later filled out the physical absentee ballot that he received in the old-fashioned way, resulting in his ballot being disqualified because of a mismatch because of the appearance of his moused initials versus his physically signed out name.

"The world of these young people is a world of computers," Coleman said. "More and more folks are gonna be doing that, that's the next generation. And we have to look at the whole use of technology to accommodate people who are gonna vote that way."

Coleman said that if he's fortunate enough to win this thing, he'll be using his role as a policy-maker to better enfranchise young people like DeMuth, or his own 22-year old son, whose first instincts are to work with computers.

(Special thanks to The Uptake for carrying the presser.)

As we told you earlier today, Bloomberg reported last night:

New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo may demand the return of $4 billion in bonuses paid by Merrill Lynch & Co. just before it was acquired by Bank of America Corp.


But it turns out that may overstate the case a bit. A person familiar with the matter told TPMmuckraker that the investigation is considering several other possible remedies, including imposing fines and alleging violations of securities law -- as the Wall Street Journal reported yesterday.

The probe of Merill is still at an early stage. Depositions haven't yet been taken from former Merrill CEO John Thain, and Bank of America chief administrative officer J. Steele Alphin, both of whom have been subpoenaed to give investigators details on just when Bank of America learned about the bonuses, and about Merrill's massive fourth quarter losses.

If Cuomo doesn't try to get the money back, Congress might. Chris Dodd, who chairs the Senate Banking committee, declared at a press conference yesterday:
I'm going to be urging -- in fact not urging, demanding -- that the Treasury Department figures out some way to get the money back.

The RNC has announced the third round of ballot results for the RNC chair race -- and it shows incumbent Mike Duncan going down as Michael Steele takes the lead. The numbers, compared to the second round:

• Steele 51 (+3)

• Duncan 44 (-4)

• Dawson 34 (+5)

• Anuzis 24 (+0)

• Blackwell 15 (-4)

It's hard to imagine how Duncan comes back from here, as an incumbent with only 26% of the vote. The most likely scenario now is that Michael Steele or another non-Duncan candidate will end up emerging as the winner.

This just makes me cringe. In an interview this afternoon with Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA), a CNN reporter practically snickered at the idea of spending $75 million on smoking cessation programs as part of an economic stimulus bill. The anchor introduced the segment this way:

HARRIS: You know, just about every line of the huge stimulus bill contains millions for what most Democrats are calling job creation and many Republicans are calling waste, arguments based on differing political philosophies perhaps. But who could argue that spending millions to help people quit smoking will create jobs?


No one is arguing that. But as Harkin tried to explain, small investments in preventative care measures, such as smoking cessation, have a hugely beneficial effect on overall health care costs. And he was mocked for attempting it:

GRIFFIN: Senator, it just seems like this is not the bill. We're trying to get the economy moving, we're trying to get people back to work, and I'm having a hard time understanding how $75 million to tell people to stop smoking is going to put anybody back to work.

HARKIN: Well, first of all, I would tell you, we put -- we put over $5 billion in this bill on prevention so that we can get ahead of the curve and start cutting health care costs.

GRIFFIN: Senator, I've got to be skeptical, because what I think I'm hearing from you is, yes, we want to get people off of smoking, but here you go, Joe, you're out of work, but, by golly, at least you're not smoking.


Did this approach come straight from Rep. John Boehner's (R-OH) cigarette-adorned mouth?

When I talked with Reps. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) and Pete DeFazio recently about the fate of mass transit in the stimulus bill, one sentiment came through loud and clear. Nadler put it more subtly: "There are some people in the administration who are not enamored of infrastructure," he said.

Hmmm, could these unnamed infrastructure foes have a name that rhymes with Marry Plummers? DeFazio was less shy about his discomfort with the centrist brand of economics espoused by some Clinton vets in the new administration.

DeFazio deemed it "very unfortunate" that former Clinton economic adviser Larry Summers has claimed a similar hold on Obama's ear. "Harvard had it right," the progressive Democrat quipped -- referring to the Ivy League university's jettisoning of Summers from its presidency in the wake of a scandal over his remarks on women's intellectual abilities.

Since the House Democrats released a stimulus bill that devoted only about 5% of its $825 billion price tag to fixing the nation's crumbling transportation infrastructure, we've been looking at whether mass transit in particular could ultimately claim a bigger piece of the pie.

Leaving aside President Obama's initial prediction that his economic recovery plan would be the "largest new investment in our national infrastructure since the creation of the federal highway system in the 1950s," expanding mass transit is a just-plain-good idea. It creates jobs, and it helps wean the nation off a decades-long obsession with emissions-generating car travel.

So now that the House has added $3 billion in mass transit money to its stimulus bill -- bringing the total investment up to the level envisioned by transportation committee chairman Rep. James Oberstar (D-MN) -- we're back on the right path, right?

Well, not completely. I talked to the two Democrats who led the charge to restore the $3 billion, Reps. Jerrold Nadler (NY) and Pete DeFazio (OR), and they weren't celebrating yet.

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The RNC just finished their second round of balloting, with barely any changes as measured against the first round:

• Duncan 48 (-4)

• Steele 48 (+2)

• Dawson 29 (+1)

• Anuzis 24 (+2)

• Blackwell 19 (-1)

The only candidate for whom this round was unambiguously bad was Duncan -- he's the incumbent and he lost four votes, with only 29% of the total vote. And now he's tied with Steele.

If there's going to be major movement here, one of the lesser candidates will have to drop out, or at least see their supporters effectively drop them out of the race by going to other contenders.

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