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For the most part, Republicans will insist that they lost the NY-26 special election because a self-funded pseudo-tea partier trashed their candidate, Jane Corwin.

In his first public response to Tuesday's defeat, House Speaker John Boehner deviated slightly from that script.

"Special elections are just that: they're special. And when you look at what happened in this election, you had a third-party candidate who spent nearly $3 million attacking the Republican candidate. And I could be somewhat critical of how the campaign was run. But the fact is we didn't win. And the small part of the reason we didn't clearly had to do with Medicare.

Emphasis added.

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How big is the Medicare issue for Democrats in 2012? Rep. Steve Israel (D-NY), chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, told reporters on Thursday that the House is already back in play thanks to the GOP's budget.

"I did not expect to be able to tell you the House was in play as early as May, but today I can tell you that I fundamentally believe the House of Representatives is in play and that the Democrats can win a majority," he said at a press conference with his Senate counterpart, Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee chair Patty Murray (D-WA).

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Dane County (Madison) Judge Maryann Sumi -- who had previously blocked Wisconsin's controversial anti-union law from taking effect, pending litigation -- has now formally ruled that the manner in which the bill was passed violated the state's Open Meetings law, and that the law itself is therefore not valid.

"This case is the exemplar of values protected by the Open Meetings Law: transparency in government, the right of citizens to participate in their government, and respect for the rule of law," Sumi wrote in her decision, WisPolitics reports. "It is not the court's business to determine whether 2011 Wisconsin Act 10 is good public policy or bad public policy; that is the business of the Legislature. It is this court's responsibility, however, to apply the rule of law to the facts before it."

The matter revolves around a key conference committee used to advance the bill -- and to get around the state Senate Dems' walkout from the state -- and whether it violated the state's Open-Meetings law by failing to give proper 24-hours notice. Therefore, it is ruling on procedural grounds, rather than on the substance of the bill itself.

Thus, Republicans have always had an option if they wished to avoid this litigation: Pass the bill again, giving full notice of all relevant hearings and legislative procedures. They have resisted that avenue, believing that to do so would be an admission of guilt on the Open Meetings law when they really concede no such thing. But in recent weeks, they have begun to talk up this very possibility as court action dragged on.

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Herman Cain appeared Thursday on Fox & Friends, and spoke strongly in favor of Rep. Paul Ryan's (R-WI) controversial proposal to privatize Medicare. And Cain quite proudly called the proposal a "voucher" program -- a word that Republicans are trying to avoid.

Fox host Gretchen Carlson asked Cain what he thought of the fact that none of the various budgets in Congress can pass.

"Well what's going on is, they're not being honest with the American people," said Cain. "The fact of the matter is, Ryan's plan represents giving people a choice -- but if you're 55 years of age or older, you're not gonna be affected. Nobody's talking about that.

"Secondly, nobody's talking about the fact that the centerpiece of Ryan's plan is a voucher. Now, a lot of people don't like to use that term because it has a negative connotation. That is what we need."

The GOP talking points on the plan have carefully eschewed the word "voucher" in favor of the friendlier "premium assistance" or "premium support." Cain, on the other hand, is apparently ignoring that particular memo.

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Speaking to reporters today, DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz took a page from the Republican playbook when talking about three of President Obama's top potential rivals in 2012.

Speaking of former governors Mitt Romney, Jon Huntsman and Tim Pawlenty, Wasserman Schultz said, "I'm concerned about their commitment to American exceptionalism."

It's a line you hear often from Republicans on the trail when they're speaking about Obama, and it's usually read as a thinly-veiled attack on the president's patriotism or his respect for "traditional American values" and the like. Responding to a followup question from TPM, Wasserman Shultz said that's not exactly what she meant.

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