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James O'Keefe and his brand of Candid-Camera activism first appeared on the national stage with last year's ACORN pimp scandal. But the origins of O'Keefe's methods go back to his time at Rutgers, where he launched an alternative newspaper, carried out his first video sting operations, and generally cultivated an image as campus conservative gadfly.

After graduating in 2006, but before he launched the stunt video career that landed him in jail in New Orleans this week, O'Keefe became one of those recent alumni who couldn't let go, hanging around Rutgers' New Brunswick, New Jersey, campus as resident right-wing agitator.

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Rep. Michele Bachmann has raised $1.55 million for her reelection campaign, a spokesman said.

Bachmann (R-MN) raised $591,600 in the fourth quarter of 2009 and has $1 million cash on hand.

The money came from nearly 9,000 contributors, her campaign said.

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Former vice presidential candidate and current Fox News contributor Sarah Palin said last night that the Republican Party should merge with tea partiers.

Fox's Greta Van Susteren asked if tea party candidates would end up siphoning votes from GOP nominees, or if the movement will "merge with the Republican Party."

"They need to merge," Palin said. "Definitely, they need to merge. I think those who are wanting the divisions and the divisiveness and the controversy -- those are the ones who don't believe in the message. And they're the ones, I think, stirring it up."

As we've reported at TPMmuckraker, the tea party movement has been increasingly divided. Much of the friction has been over the national tea party convention to be held in Nashville. Critics say the convention, with its expensive tickets and for-profit organizer, doesn't jive with true tea party values. Yesterday, we reported that Reps. Michele Bachmann and Martha Blackburn have dropped out.

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President Obama is scheduled to speak to the House Republican retreat in about a half-hour, an occasion that has the potential for some fun on-camera moments.

As The Hill reports, Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX) has brought with him a poster-sized copy of the "Declaration of Health Care Independence," a petition championed by Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN). The petition borrows language from America's two key founding documents, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, to attack the Democrats on health care.

Gohmert hopes to collect signatures on the super-sized petition from his House colleagues -- and maybe even Obama. So let's pay close attention to Obama's upcoming address to the GOPers, and whether Gohmert will actually try it.

Portraying himself as an "investigative journalist" who has been victimized by the mainstream media's "journalistic malpractice," James O'Keefe said today the alleged phone-tampering episode in New Orleans Monday was merely an attempt to investigate Sen. Mary Landrieu's alleged lack of responsiveness to her conservative constituents.

In a statement posted on Andrew Breitbart's Big Government site, O'Keefe writes: "On reflection, I could have used a different approach to this investigation, particularly given the sensitivities that people understandably have about security in a federal building."

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Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME) sat down for an interview with Fox News' Greta Van Susteren yesterday and seemed to lay at least a bit of blame for the Democrats' health care troubles at the president's feet.

"He wanted to accomplish this goal and I think, at this the point -- I think the president probably realizes maybe he should have weighed in earlier in this process," Snowe said.

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The new survey of Alaska by Public Policy Polling (D) finds that the state that gave Sarah Palin to American politics is no longer that enamored with her. After Palin resigned the governorship in order to pursue a national book tour and a commentator slot on Fox News, she is only picking up a lukewarm personal rating of 47% favorable to 45% unfavorable.

The big beneficiary of the recent upheavals in state politics is the new governor, Sean Parnell, who has an approval rating of 58%-19%. Even Democrats approve of the GOPer Parnell by 51%-27%, along with 55%-20% among independents. By contrast, independents' favorability rating for Palin is only 36%-55%.

"Sarah Palin's home state popularity has really declined," said PPP president Dean Debnam, in the polling memo. "Voters seem to have been pretty put off by her leaving office early. But Sean Parnell is certainly benefiting from it."

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