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Doug Hoffman, the Conservative Party candidate in the NY-23 special election, appeared on Glenn Beck's TV show today, and said a victory in the special election will send a strong message to the GOP about future candidate selections.

"I'm fighting for the heart and soul of the Republican Party," said Hoffman. "And I think if I win this campaign, that people will take notice, and the next time they select a candidate, they will look at the principles."

Hoffman is running against Democrat Bill Owens and moderate Republican Dede Scozzafava, whose selection as the GOP's candidate has triggered a revolt by right-wing activists and politicians across the country. Scozzafava is pro-choice, pro-gay marriage, and even pro-Employee Free Choice Act. So if Hoffman wins, or even just spoils the race in favor of the Democrats, the GOP will know that moderate candidates need not apply for other races -- thus foiling efforts by some in the party to expand their ranks and ideological reach.

GOP nominee Bob McDonnell has taken his biggest lead in the Washington Post's poll of the Virginia gubernatorial race eight days before voters go to the polls.

McDonnell's lead over Democratic nominee Creigh Deeds is now 55-44, according to the Post. The last Post poll showed McDonnell winning 53-44.

We told you last week that John Stossel of Fox News is participating in rallies against health-care reform organized by a conservative activist group.

But now it looks like Stossel's decision to get involved with the effort ties him in not just with the conservative anti-reform movement, but with the Republican Party itself. That's because former Arkansas GOP congressman Asa Hutchinson has recorded robocalls promoting the upcoming rallies in his state.

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AFSCME, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, released a statement today about Sen. Harry Reid's announcement that the Senate health care bill will include an opt-out public option. Here's the full text, from AFSCME President Gerald W. McEntee:

"I want to commend Senator Reid and other members of the Senate leadership who have worked so hard to produce this bill, which takes us closer to the goal of health care reform. While the bill is by no means perfect, it is a significant improvement over the proposal crafted in the Senate Finance Committee. Now we will work to improve the bill on the Senate floor and to pass a strong bill in the House. AFSCME continues to support health care reform that includes a robust public option and an effective employer mandate, while eliminating taxes on middle class health plans. The American people are ready for Congress to finish this bill and make quality, affordable health care a reality for all Americans."

One of those big changes President Obama and the Democrats promised during the election is about to become law.

Last week the Senate gave final passage to the bill authorizing spending for the Department of Defense, which included a provision creating a hate crimes designation.

An administration official tells TPMDC Obama will sign the bill at the White House Wednesday. It is named for Matthew Shepard, a gay college student who was beaten to death in 1998.

He also will host a reception with gay rights groups and civil rights leaders commemorating the occasion. TPMDC has learned that Matt's mom Judy and brother Logan will attend the signing ceremony.

Last week, the president kept another campaign promise by signing a bill authorizing advanced funding for the Veterans Administration.

Chris Daggett, the independent gubernatorial candidate in New Jersey, is boldly declaring that Republican Chris Christie can't win.

"It's either going to be Jon Corzine or me," Daggett told The Associated Press, adding that Christie's campaign "has gone backward since June."

Christie had previously led Corzine by significant margins in all the polls, but the race has now become neck and neck in most polls. During this whole period, Corzine's support has remained roughly the same, in the high-30's/low-40's range. Christie has been losing support, with Daggett gaining voters from both columns.

The Democratic National Committee, which took over the @BarackObama Twitter handle after President Obama's inauguration, tweeted their congratulations on the Senate health care bill today.

Congratulations @SenChrisDodd, @SenatorReid and Sen. Baucus for your hard work towards health reform with a public option.

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A helpful data point for liberal legislators and progressive activists: Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL)--the Democrats' main vote counter in the Senate--says that the public option-plus-opt out clause was a pragmatic choice. Liberals wouldn't have supported anything less.

Durbin told Ryan Grim of Huffington Post and a handful of other reporters that Reid may very well have chosen to put Olympia Snowe's trigger compromise in the bill "[i] we thought that just putting the trigger in meant that we'd end with 61 votes."

But they, apparently didn't. Some in the party made clear that they "felt that that just didn't go far enough moving toward a public option," said Durbin.

Undoubtedly progressives will see today's development as a validation of their intense activism--pressure that wasn't always appreciated by Democratic party elders.

As Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid prepared to announce the new health care bill with a public option included, Republicans fired off a statement targeting him for reelection that suggests they've chosen a new everything-old-is-new-again talking point.

"As Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) prepares to announce he's ignoring concerns from moderate Senate Democrats and the Obama White House, and moving forward with a government-run health care option at this afternoon's press conference, please consider the National Republican Senatorial Committee's statement regarding this latest example of heavy-handed partisanship," NRSC spokesman Brian Walsh told reporters.

Sue Lowden (R-NV), hoping to challenge Reid in 2010, sent out her own fundraising message with similar language.

"The American people are outraged with the Democrat's government take over of health care and the public option. Now there is news that Democrat Majority Leader Harry Reid is again ignoring our voices and is pushing a public option health care bill through the Senate," Lowden wrote, accusing Reid of "discarding any attempts at working with Republicans."

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Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT)--who lead the HELP committee's health care process, and supported the public plan behind the scenes--is a very big reason this compromise came to life. He wants you to know that: "I fought for a strong public option - in the HELP Committee and in this merger process - because it is the best way to keep costs low and insurance companies honest," said Dodd.

Majority Leader Reid has made a bold and right choice to endorse the HELP Committee public option, along with a provision allowing states to opt out. At its core, health care reform is about making insurance more stable and affordable for those who have it, and available to those who don't, while improving quality and lowering costs. I believe that the public option is a key component to successful reform, and I will continue to lead the fight for it on the Senate floor.

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