TPM News

Florida Gov. Charlie Crist was asked, in a press gaggle with reporters today, about his loyalty to the GOP as rumors intensify that he'll drop out of the party and run for Senate as an independent. The verb tense of his answer may be one more drop in the bucket of speculation:

"I have very much enjoyed being a member of the Republican Party," he said.

Crist's poll numbers continue to fall against primary opponent Marco Rubio. The TPM Poll Average shows Crist trailing Rubio, 27.9% to 59.1%.

Rubio, who's running from Crist's right, has also been gathering big-name endorsements, including those of House Minority Whip Eric Cantor and former Vice President Cheney.

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It turns out that Senate candidate Sue Lowden (R-NV) is not the only politician out there who has promoted the idea of the barter system as part of health care. Yet another pro-barter Republican, state Rep. Mike Bell (R-TN), has been talking up the practices of Mennonites who pay doctors with vegetables.

Bell's made his comments last week, during discussion of a proposed state law that would attempt to nullify the federal health care insurance mandate in the state of Tennessee. Here is a transcript of a dialogue in committee between Bell and Democratic state Rep. Joe Towns, courtesy of the Nashville Scene, as Bell explained that many people get along without insurance:

Bell: They're some of the healthiest people you have ever seen. They pay cash when they go to the doctor. They work out arrangements with the hospitals if their children have to be hospitalized. This is an individual choice that we're talking about.

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The Nevada Republican Party is standing by Senate candidate Sue Lowden's suggestion that people use barter in order to lower health care costs. Instead of focusing on Lowden's specific example of a chicken, which Democrats have pounced on, the GOP suggests looking at Lowden's overall message of moving away from insurance and then negotiating with cash.

Although the party is officially neutral in the primary between Lowden, former UNLV basketball player Danny Tarkanian and former state Rep. Sharron Angle, Nevada GOP communications director Ciara Turns nevertheless offered a vigorous defense of Lowden's statements, and condemned the Democrats for the way that Lowden is being attacked.

"Well it's pretty clear that they're attacking the way she conveyed her message because they can't attack her message," said Turns. "Her message is pretty clear. She was clearly trying to make the point that if we moved away from an insurance-based system and more people started paying cash for their health care, then prices would come down. But they don't want to address that. The left doesn't, Harry Reid's campaign doesn't want to address that, because it's a legitimate point that they can't argue. And so they've decided to go after the way she delivered her message instead of the substance of it."

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It's not so easy being a Democrat this year. Incumbent senators up for re-election and even new candidates are facing troubling poll numbers as the political winds have shifted thanks, at least in part, to a long drawn-out battle on health care. But many Senate hopefuls in battleground states have one major advantage: cash on hand. They especially seem to benefit in states where the Republicans are locked in primaries.

Based on the first quarter fundraising reports compiled by a Democratic source and verified via the Federal Election Commission, most of the Democratic senators and candidates have more money -- in some cases millions more -- in the bank than their GOP rivals. The Democrats even lead in states where they have primary fights of their own. Of course, that's what you'd expect when you're the party in power, hold Senate chairmanships and the president helps you raise money across the country.

Either party can cherry pick numbers from financial reports to suggest they are better positioned, to be sure. The Democrats like these figures because they see GOP wars playing out from California to Kentucky and think their candidates will be on solid financial ground. They also are smiling this month since reports show their campaign committees also have a financial advantage, thanks in part to the passage of health care.

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The House Ethics committee's probe into the Eric Massa affair appears to be focused on whether other members or Hill staffers acted appropriately after receiving complaints about Massa's behavior.

After Majority Leader Steny Hoyer's office was made aware of the allegations against Massa in February, Massa aides were given 48 hours to notify the ethics committee. Hoyer met yesterday with investigators for the panel and released a statement noting that he has "moved to strengthen protections for staff in the wake of this incident."

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A new set of numbers from Public Policy Polling (D) finds a sharp indication of how Democratic fortunes have been declining: In the state of New Hampshire, where the party dramatically picked up both House seats and made other huge gains in 2006 and 2008, both seats could very well slip away this time around.

The First District is held by Democratic Rep. Carol Shea-Porter, who defeated incumbent Republican Jeb Bradley in 2006 and is seeking her third term this year. The Second District is currently held by Democratic Rep. Paul Hodes, who defeated incumbent Republican Charlie Bass in 2006 and is now vacating the seat in order to run for Senate. Both seats could potentially go to the Republicans.

"In the Democratic wave year of 2006 New Hampshire's Republican house delegation was wiped out," writes PPP president Dean Debnam. "2010 looks like it may be a GOP wave year, and the Democrats could face the same fate."

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Early in the new documentary Casino Jack, a young Ralph Reed appears wearing a camouflage trucker hat, overcome with anti-Communist fervor at a rally in support of the Nicaraguan contras. Later on there is a beturbaned Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) posing with his mujahideen friends in Afghanistan in the late 1980s. And there is Jack Abramoff at a meeting of freedom fighters hosted by rebel leader (and human rights abuser) Jonas Savimbi in Angola.

The best part of Casino Jack is the archival footage that puts the disgraced super-lobbyist in the context of the conservative movement stretching back to his years at the helm of the College Republicans in the early 1980s.

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Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid says he'll try to move a financial reform bill to the floor today--and if the Republicans object, as they've threatened to do, he'll force them to take a tough vote on whether to allow debate on legislation to regulate Wall Street.

"If they let us move to it, I'd be happy to do that," Reid said at a press conference with Democratic leadership this afternoon. "If they don't...I'm filing cloture [and we'll] have a cloture vote on Monday, 5:15."

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Republican rhetoric has softened, but the Democrats aren't laying off at all. At a press event this afternoon, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), the third ranking Democrat took the gloves off, and called the earlier Republican line on financial reform a lie.

"On the health care bill we allowed too many lies to get out there without rebuttal, because we thought they were so obviously untrue," Schumer said. "But we've learned our lesson. And the minute these things come out of the mouths of some of our Republican colleagues, we rebut them. And we rebut them again and again. And fortunately these lies are not taking hold."

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Longtime Democratic operative Stephanie Cutter has been tapped by the White House to advise on the "communications and outreach strategy for the implementation of the landmark health insurance reform legislation."

Her title will be "Assistant to the President for Special Projects." She starts May 1.

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