TPM News

Today is a big day in Massachusetts, with voters headed to the polls in the Democratic primary for the special Senate election -- and in a heavily Democratic state, this will be tantamount to electing the successor to Ted Kennedy.

The four main candidates are state Attorney General Martha Coakley, Rep. Mike Capuano, City Year founder Alan Khazei, and businessman and Boston Celtics co-owner Steve Pagliuca. The favorite for the Republican nomination is state Sen. Scott Brown, against frequent GOP candidate Jack E. Robinson.

Unfortunately, there's been surprisingly little public polling on this race. The last survey was a Rasmussen poll from two weeks ago, which put Coakley ahead with 36%, Capuano at 21%, and Khazei and Pagliuca at 14% each. In addition, special elections are inherently difficult to predict with their low and irregular turnout patterns and heavy reliance on get-out-the-vote efforts. So while Coakley is viewed as the frontrunner, anything could have happened in the last two weeks, and anything could happen today.

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Lieberman Skips Health Care Talks Roll Call reports that Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) has not been attending the meetings of centrist and liberal Democrats, aimed at working out a compromise on the public option. "The Senator was invited, but his position is clear on the public option and staff did attend," an aide told the paper.

Obama's Day Ahead President Obama and Vice President Biden will receive the presidential daily briefing at 9:30 a.m. ET, and the economic daily briefing at 10 a.m. ET. Obama will meet at 10:30 a.m. ET with senior advisers. Obama will deliver remarks on the economy at 11:15 a.m. ET, at the Brookings Institution. He will have lunch at 12:10 p.m. ET with Biden, and the two of them will meet at 1:15 p.m. ET with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

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Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE) is perhaps the Democrat most reluctant to sign on to major health care legislation. Cautioning that he and the rest of the group of 10 senators negotiating a public option compromise have plenty of work left to do, he says that the newest option--allowing some under 65 to buy insurance through Medicare--has some traction.

"This is not necessarily a final decision for all those 55-65, it would be one option," Nelson told reporters. "You're still faced with What do you do for the people below that?"

Nelson described it as, "just another idea being kicked around, that there probably is support for--the question is how much."

A fairly positive sign, given the source. More developments are expected tomorrow.

He's a once-disgraced former senator straddling two worlds and with a finger on the pulse of health care debate, influential with former colleagues and close to President Obama, but not even employed by the White House.

TPMDC set out to find out what exactly is Tom Daschle's role in the health care debate.

Some question whether Daschle should be part of the process since he does health care consulting for influential groups who do health care lobbying. He's not a registered lobbyist. (He was with Alston and Bird most of this year, but just joined DLA Piper).

TPMDC spoke with lawmakers, administration aides and Senate staffers, who said Daschle has been crucial as they negotiate health care. Some said that his role is playing out exactly as they had hoped it would when Daschle was first nominated to be HHS Secretary.

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Washington, D.C. hosted the 32nd annual Kennedy Center Honors over the weekend. On Sunday evening the honorees joined President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama at the president's box at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. The recipients this year were (from left to right) jazz legend Dave Brubeck, actor Robert De Niro, opera singer Grace Bumbry, comedian/director Mel Brooks, and rocker Bruce Springsteen.

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The Kennedy Center Honors are not partisan. Former GOP House Speaker Newt Gingrich arrives at the Kennedy Center with his wife Callista.

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Former Sen. Tom Daschle attended the event with his wife Linda Hall -- but without his trademark glasses.

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Glee star Matthew Morrison.

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Honoree Robert De Niro arrives with Grace Hightower.

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President Obama acknowledges the crowd. The tribute program taped on Sunday was hosted by Jon Stewart and will be aired on December 29.

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A bearded Sting and his wife, Trudie Styler, walk to their table at the reception in the White House East Room.

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Film director Martin Scorsese chats with a fellow attendee at the East Room reception. Scorsese, who has collaborated frequently with one of this year's recipients, Robert DeNiro, received the honor in 2007.

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Caroline Kennedy, an early Obama backer, has been relatively removed from the media spotlight since her failed attempt to land Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's old Senate seat in New York.

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White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel is joined by his wife Amy Rule at the East Room reception.

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President Obama gives remarks at the East Room reception. "In times of war and sacrifice, the arts -- and these artists -- remind us to sing and to laugh and to live. In times of plenty, they challenge our conscience and implore us to remember the least among us."

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President Obama moves to hug honoree Dave Brubeck, who was celebrating his 89th birthday. Apparently, the first jazz performance the president attended as a child in Hawaii was a Brubeck show. Obama has been a fan ever since.

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Secretary of State Clinton shares a laugh with honorees Springsteen, Brooks, and Brubeck.

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Clinton poses with the five honorees. Despite their high profiles, administration officials appeared humbled by the charisma of the recipients. As Obama said of Springsteen, ''I'm the president, but he's the Boss.''

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The conventional wisdom on Capitol Hill is that a restrictive abortion amendment to the Senate health care bill, authored by Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE) does not have the votes to pass, and that its failure presents substantial risk to the legislation's prospect for passage.

Well, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), a cosponsor of the amendment, seems to agree. I asked him if he sees any way for his plan--which would prevent millions of consumers from buying insurance that covers abortion--to make it into the greater bill.

"No," Hatch said laughing, "I don't think it has the votes. That's the game."

"He did say he would vote against cloture," Hatch said. "That's very important."

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Sen. Kent Conrad (D-ND) is one of the first senators to publicly criticize a Medicare buy-in proposal offered by Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), telling reporters today that he opposes plans that use Medicare levels of reimbursement, which he's long said would harm hospitals in North Dakota.

Conrad says he needs answers: "If you expand medicare, what kind of a risk pool is that going to be? How is that going to affect the Medicare risk pool? What's that going to do to rates, what's that going to do to medicare solvency?" he asked rhetorically. "We don't have answers to those questions."

Rockefeller didn't take too kindly to this.

"I'm really very tired of hearing about that from him," an exasperated Rockefeller told reporters. "And it's always about North Dakota, and it's never about any other part of the country. And I thought, you know, that's what we're trying to do--we're trying to do the best thing for the country as a whole."

Ouch! We'll try to get more clarity on how far Conrad's opposition stretches. The key question in all of this, after all, is whether the compromise that comes out of the negotiating sessions between liberal and conservative Democrats can garner 60 votes. A Medicare buy-in would allow some people under the age of 65 to purchase their insurance through Medicare, which would likely charge much lower premiums than the private market.

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Sen. David Vitter (R-LA), the staunch social conservative who was implicated in a prostitution scandal and admitted to a "serious sin," could be facing a challenge in the Republican primary from Louisiana Secretary of State Jay Dardenne. But before he gets in the race, Dardenne wants to conduct a poll -- which would involve forming an exploratory committee.

Dardenne told the Baton Rouge Advocate that he's considering having a poll conducted. "I've had a lot of people suggest that I do that. I'd have to raise some money. I may do that," said Dardenne. He added: "A lot of people have suggested that's a step that should be taken before making a final decision."

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