TPM News

The 2010 Republican Senate primary in Florida is quickly emerging as a new fault line within the Republican Party, between two key groups: The party establishment that values electability as they perceive it, versus the more hard-line conservative activists.

The primary pits moderate Gov. Charlie Crist against the more conservative former state House speaker Marco Rubio. A big issue will be that Crist broke from the party line on a key issue in the last few months, when he endorsed the stimulus bill and even appeared with President Obama to promote it.

Crist has a big lead in all the polls -- both for the primary and in the general election in this big perennial swing state -- and was actively recruited and then endorsed right out of the gate by the National Republican Senatorial Committee. As NRSC chairman Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) has explained, Crist is a candidate who can not only win, but also save the party a lot of money that could now be spent elsewhere.

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Things are still murky on the Mark Sanford story. But it's looking increasingly likely that Sanford's trip to Argentina was about more than a scenic drive down the coast.

"There is some evidence he was not alone," a source in South Carolina politics told TPMmuckraker. "The other shoe's gonna drop. I believe there's a reason he wanted to drop his SLED detail."

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At about 11 this morning, the Senate voted 65-31 to invoke cloture on the nomination of Harold Koh to be the State Department's legal adviser. You'll be able to see the roll call here momentarily.

Once cloture is invoked, debate is limited to 30 hours after which a vote on confirmation is required. And according to Laura Rozen, Republicans are threatening to use up all 30 hours. So it may take another day before Koh is officially confirmed.

A new Quinnipiac poll of New York suggests that despite her recent efforts to nail down Democratic support, appointed Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand is not the frontrunner against a possible primary challenge in 2010 -- in fact, she's running slightly behind, with a high undecided figure.

The numbers: Rep. Carolyn Maloney 27%, Gillibrand 23%, labor activist Jonathan Tasini 4% -- and "undecided" at 44%. The margin of error is ±3%.

Maloney is not officially in the race, but all indications are that she is highly likely to challenge Gillibrand in the primary.

Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) says "Americans don't want more government in health care"--which is true if you define 'Americans' as the 28-or-so percent of the population who don't want more government in health care.

Perhaps the Americans who don't want more government involvement in health care are the very same Americans who fled forced unionization in Pennsylvania and sought refuge in the South. On the policy question of government involvement in health care, there are a number of problems with DeMint's statement. But the public seems to have caught on to them.

A new Strategic Vision (R) poll shows Gov. Jon Corzine (D-NJ) badly trailing his Republican opponent, former U.S. Attorney Chris Christie.

The numbers: Christie 51%, Corzine 39%, with a ±3% margin of error. Two months ago, before Christie won his Republican primary, Christie was ahead of Corzine 47%-36%.

New Jersey is a very blue state in general, but Corzine is an unpopular incumbent. In this poll, only 34% of likely voters approve of his performance, to 54% who disapprove. The big question here is whether Corzine can turn things around in the next four and a half months -- and whether he can successfully employ a strategy that has been used by Democrats in past elections here, by dragging his Republican opponent down in a wave of attacks that tie him to the national GOP.

Late Monday evening, Gov. Mark Sanford's office revealed that he is hiking on the Appalachian Trail.

On the face of it, that solves the mystery. But this article from The State, South Carolina's main newspaper, suggests some more troubling possibilities to the story.

The governor's spokesman would not disclose whether or not Sanford was hiking alone. And it seems that neither the governor's office nor state authorities have been able to make contact with the him since he left the governor's mansion on Thursday. (State Sen. Jake Knotts (R), who's known as a critic of Sanford, told The State that he first asked the governor's security chief what was up on Saturday "after he heard reports the governor could not be reached.")

Assuming this is true, it makes some sense of Sanford's spokesman's claim today that his office 'knew' where Sanford was (i.e., 'on the Appalachian Trail', which covers a lot of territory which, to be clear, covers most of the eastern United States) but that they had not been in contact with him.

The article does say that sources say Sanford "regularly makes trips without his security detail." And his spokesman told the paper that, "Before leaving last week, he let staff know his whereabouts and that he'd be difficult to reach."

But there's this from an unnamed source ...

On previous unescorted trips, Sanford has not been out of all contact - including with his own office - for this long, a source said.

Meanwhile, another unnamed official said there was "no indication Sanford had been harmed."

This is, to put it mildly, a tricky story to make sense of. We still have the several contradictory explanations that Sanford's office and family gave out over the course of the day. But if we take the most recent statements basically at face value, the story sounds something like this ...

The governor left on Thursday telling staff he was going to go hiking on the Appalachian Trial. He goes on trips sometimes without his security detail -- which isn't terribly surprising. But he's never been completely out of touch for this long. Then there's the added detail -- also noted earlier today -- that this last known whereabouts was near Atlanta ...

Sanford's last known location was near Atlanta late last week. A mobile telephone tower there picked up a signal from his phone, according to a source familiar with the situation.

If the governor were a civilian, I would say that this kind of data on the whereabouts of his cell phone strongly suggested that an active investigation into his whereabouts was underway. But of course, he's not a civilian. He's a governor. Possibly the whereabouts of his cell phone are routinely tracked. And if not, the state of South Carolina could probably easily pull those records. Still, the fact that this information is in the mix at least suggests that people in the state government have already made some efforts to track down just where the governor is.

Put it all together and this is starting to sound a lot like the governor is genuinely missing.

He goes hiking, either alone or in a small group. He says he'll be away and perhaps not in regular contact. But reading between the lines it seems his people did not expect he'd be totally out of contact for several days. There's some evidence suggesting some efforts may already have been made to track him down. Now it's the beginning of the next week. And there's still no word from him.

I don't think there's much to be gained through more speculation. And there's a lot that's still murky about this. But based on what we're being told, if Sanford weren't the governor of a state but the CEO of a local company, this sounds like the point at which people would be starting to worry about if something had happened to him.

Late Update: A number of news outlets have headlines up with some variation of 'mystery solved' or 'governor located'. But all of these stories, when you dig into them, have the same basic facts. Which is that the governor's spokesman now says he's off hiking. But they admit they don't know just where he is on the Appalachian Trail. And that no one has been in touch with him since last Thursday. That seems like a lot less than solved.

We thought it might be useful to put together a timeline of events in the Missing Governor story:

Thursday, June 18 • Governor Sanford takes a State Law Enforcement Division Suburban and leaves the governor's mansion in Columbia.

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Former Rep. Pat Toomey (R-PA), whose conservative primary challenge against Sen. Arlen Specter caused Specter to switch to the Democrats, is showing off what could be his main talking point for the 2010 general election: You just can't trust this guy.

"If Senator Specter does manage to win the Democratic primary, he has raised a real question about whether he can be trusted," Toomey told the Cumberland County Sentinel. "He took one look at a poll and he abandoned the party."

Toomey previously ran against Specter in the 2004 primary, and only lost by 51%-49%. After Toomey declared that he would be challenging Specter again, and when polls showed he could win the primary in a landslide, Specter then joined the Democrats -- and is now facing a Dem primary challenge from Rep. Joe Sestak.

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), ranking member on the Senate Finance Committee, insisted today that there will be no bipartisan agreement on his panel's health care reform legislation if it includes a public option.

"We don't need any more government in the medicine."

The public disagrees with this sentiment, of course--notwithstanding Grassley's comedic, grandfather-like tendency to use teh unnecessary definite article. It's worth noting, too, that there's a great deal of terrain between bipartisan agreement on the principle of a health care co-ops and Republican support for the entire reform package.

The Waxman-Markey climate change bill will come to the floor of the House at the end of this week after a weeks-long dispute between the bill's chief author, Henry Waxman, and House Agriculture Committee chairman Colin Peterson.

Peterson had been threatening to whip farm-state Democrats to vote against--and therefore kill--the bill unless Waxman agreed to significant changes (subscription required).

Agriculture Chairman Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) told reporters today he would vote for the House climate bill -- and bring dozens of rural lawmakers with him -- after Energy and Commerce Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) agreed to make a number of concessions that had drawn the ire of farm state members.

Waxman agreed to put the Agriculture Department -- rather than U.S. EPA -- in the lead for management of the offset program that pays farmers and other landowners to conduct environmentally friendly projects. Congress will turn to the Obama administration for guidance on how to fold in EPA.

Waxman also consented to block EPA from calculating "indirect" greenhouse gas emissions from land-use changes when implementing the federal biofuels mandate. The Democrats will impose a five-year moratorium to allow further study of the issue, with consultation from Congress, EPA, the Energy Department and USDA instrumental in restarting the measurements in the biofuels rules.

No word yet on if or when the Senate plans to take its own chainsaws to the bill.