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The new Washington Post poll of the Virginia gubernatorial race finds Republican Bob McDonnell expanding his lead over Democrat Creigh Deeds, suggesting that attacks over McDonnell's right-wing grad school thesis may have worn off or even backfired on Deeds.

The numbers: McDonnell 53%, Deeds 44%, with a ±3% margin of error. Two and a half weeks ago, when McDonnell was more intensely battling the thesis controversy, he had much narrower lead of only 51%-47%.

The poll also finds that Deeds has suffered from launching too many attacks: "Deeds, a state senator from western Virginia, is widely seen by voters as running a negative campaign, a finding that might indicate his aggressive efforts to exploit McDonnell's 20-year-old graduate thesis are turning voters away."

House Democrats are telling me they aren't paying much attention to the scuttlebutt on the opt-out public option idea that we've been covering all day at TPMDC.

As Brian detailed earlier, when asked about it, Speaker Nancy Pelosi reaffirmed her stance the House bill will have a "robust" public option.

All day the Dems I've checked in with have echoed the line, but privately some House aides are saying they have tuned out that debate. They are confident their bill will put more heft behind the public option and figure whatever the Senate has to do to get something passed will happen but may not look anything like the final compromise that reaches President Obama.

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Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and 29 of his colleagues have sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid supporting a public option.

"Support for the public option runs deep in the Senate," Brown said. "Health insurance reform is all about lowering costs, improving care, and increasing choice for consumers. In too many parts of the country, one or two insurance companies control the majority of the market. This isn't good for consumers, businesses, or taxpayers. As we finalize health reform legislation, we shouldn't forget that a majority of Americans, doctors, and Members of Congress support a public option."

You can read the letter below the fold. In it, Brown notes that one of the major differences between a public option and a private co-op proposal is that a public option would be "available continuously in all parts of the country." That's by way of contrast to a new proposal, gaining traction right now, to let individual states opt out of any national public option.

Tonight, I'm told, Brown and several of his colleagues will present it on the floor and push the line that the public option has significant support in the Senate.

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The Young Democrats of Louisiana have sent out a new e-mail against Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) -- the staunch social conservative who was implicated in a prostitution scandal -- declaring that we can only guess at his motivations for opposing legislation to crack down on rape.

The letter blasts Vitter for voting against the amendment to the Defense Appropriations bill by Sen. Al Franken (D-MN), which will guarantee employees of military contractors access to the court system if they are sexually assaulted:

On Tuesday, the U.S. Senate passed an Amendment to make sure taxpayer-funded government contractors cannot deny rape victims a day in court. For reasons only he knows, David Vitter voted against ensuring women have the right to seek justice.

Since David Vitter has not publicly stated why he is opposed to making sure women who are raped or sexually assaulted can pursue their attackers, we can only guess his motivations.

However, it is clear that Vitter regularly votes against the best interests of women.


The full e-mail is available after the jump.

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As you may have heard, progressive groups are petitioning Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to throw down the gauntlet and get conservative Democrats on board against Republican filibusters. The idea: "Any Democratic senators who support a Republican attempt to block a vote on health care reform should be stripped of their leadership titles. Americans deserve a clean up-or-down vote on health care."

A letter from the Progressive Change Campaign Committee to supporters announces, "We'll deliver the petition signatures to Harry Reid next week after a big news conference in front of the Senate."

So what does leadership think of this? Not too much, apparently. "These kinds of gestures are counter-productive and won't have any impact on Capitol Hill," says a leadership aide. "These kinds of efforts will fall flat."

Additionally, the aide added, even if Democrats were responsive to the pressure, it's improperly placed. "There's a fundamental miscalculation here, in that ultimately this is not a decision for Senator Reid to make. This is a decision that's going to be made by the caucus as a whole."

I doubt whether that will assuage progressives, but generally speaking the notion that party defectors should be stripped of their seniority and other perks is often embraced by grassroots activists on both the left and the right. But in recent years it hasn't typically resulted in any action on the Hill.

A new study from the Nielsen Company helps explain how Gov. Jon Corzine (D-NJ) has been catching up with his Republican opponent Chris Christie, and also how Bob McDonnell and Mike Bloomberg have been maintaining leads in the Virginia and New York City races: Seriously outspending their opponents on advertising.

Between June 3 and September 20, Corzine ran a whopping 4,806 TV ads, compared to only 1,393 from Christie, a ratio of 3.45 to 1. Interestingly, Corzine massively out-advertised Christie in July by a margin of about 17 to 1, with Christie closing the gap to 2.26 to 1 in the period since then. It was in that earlier period when Corzine had some of his worst numbers, and yet he's been catching up in the polls in the later period:



The reason for the discrepancy could be that voters in New Jersey don't pay very close attention until the final several weeks of the election -- thus Corzine was unable to really break through with his attacks. On the other hand, he probably would have been doing even worse if not for the ads.

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As we've reported, a faction of the right wing has been attacking Kevin Jennings, the director of Safe and Drug-Free Schools for the Department of Education, on various charges related to his open homosexuality. The faction -- including Fox News personalities, anti-gay groups and at least one Republican Congressman -- opened their attacks with the claim that Jennings supports statutory rape, a claim that has been debunked.

In an incident described in one of Jennings' books, Jennings counseled a high school student who'd had a sexual encounter with an older man. According to Fox's Sean Hannity, et al, the student was 15, and Jennings should have reported it as "sexual abuse."

But the student involved came forward to say he was actually 16 at the time.

"Were it not for Mr. Jennings' courage and concern for my well-being at that time in my life, I doubt I'd be the proud gay man that I am today," he said in a recent statement.

It's been debunked, but the Hannity crew, including Karl Rove and Rep. Steve King (R-IA), is still hungry to get an Obama-appointed "czar" out of office. So they're accusing Jennings of supporting NAMBLA, the North American Man-Boy Love Association.

(NAMBLA, as its name suggests, is a fringe group which supports consensual sexual relationships between boys and men and opposes age-of-consent laws.)

Here's how Jennings' opponents make the connection:

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Both conservative and liberal Democrats seem to be open to a new public option proposal floated by Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Tom Carper (D-DE) to allow states not to participate in the plan if they decide they don't want to.

A Baucus aide tells me "Senator Baucus will look closely at this proposal, as well as other proposals, and could consider supporting them as part of an overall package as long as it achieved his health care reform goals while getting 60 votes."

Along the same lines, Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE) told Politico that he likes the idea of leaving the decision up to the states.

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It's been known for a long time now that a "robust" public option, tied to Medicare rates is a big money saver--bigger than a public option that has to negotiate rates with providers. Now, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is going to make members reckon with the fact that the more liberal proposal is actually the more fiscally responsible plan.

"One will be what I call the robust public option, Medicare plus five; and then we will have two versions that we are sending that involve the negotiated rates that were supported, and of course passed by the Energy and Commerce Committee."

She went on:

The thing is, there is absolutely no question, the robust public option scores very well, $110 billion [in savings]. And that is why I so strongly supported it. It is hard to ignore $110 billion, especially when you are trying to lower the cost of coverage.

In all fairness to those who believe that the negotiated rates work better for them in their district, we are trying to get from the Congressional Budget Office how we can have more savings out of negotiated rates, because so far all they have told us is that saves $25 billion.

It is an $85 billion difference. That is a big difference. And I am saying there must be some way we can get more savings; and they have given us some suggestions which we have narrowed the choices to and sent them back.


This is how it will work:

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