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Two crucial questions hang over the Senate. Will it pass Democrat-only health care reforms? And can a public option survive the whims of the so-called budget reconciliation process?

If the answer to both questions is yes, then the public option could survive in the stasis-oriented upper chamber. But if the answer to the second question is "no," then the Democrats will a lot of whipping to do. Below are the key hold outs.

One thing that's striking about this the list is how reluctant senators are to take a firm position. Compare that to the situation in the House, where dozens of liberals have vowed that they'll oppose any health care bill without a public option, and it casts some doubt on the conventional wisdom that health care reform will pass without a public option after the Congressional Progressive Caucus caves to pressure from Democratic leadership and conservatives in their own party.

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Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) said today he advocates appointing an interim replacement for Sen. Ted Kennedy, but wants that person to pledge not to run in a special election for the seat.

"We are going to have an election, that's not in question," Frank said today on MSNBC. "We will have a clean, open, honest, fast election. ... The question is what do you do during the interim period, and I think it makes absolute sense to have someone appointed who will have promised not to run again."

He admitted that the state couldn't legally hold someone to that promise.

"You cannot, I think, constitutionally enforce that, legally. But I believe you can easily find someone who will say, 'Yes, I'll serve for these months, I will vote,'" he said.

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As an update to this post, the RNC says it screwed up by suggesting that, under the Democrats' health care reform proposal, " the government could use voter registration to determine a person's political affiliation, prompting fears that GOP voters might be discriminated against for medical treatment in a Democrat-imposed health care rationing system."

"Although the question was inartfully worded, Americans have reason to be concerned about the failure of the Democrats' health care experiment to adequately protect the privacy of Americans' personal information," an RNC spokesperson tells Greg Sargent.

Right. It's just a hop, skip, and a jump from "inadequate privacy protections," to "doctors might discriminate against Republican patients."

Sarah Palin will not give a pro-life speech tonight for the Alaska Family Council at Anchorage megachurch ChangePoint, as event organizers had previously advertised.

A spokeswoman for Palin said the former governor had never accepted the invitation in the first place, though Alaska Family Council organizers said they've been speaking with "Palin contacts" for weeks. This is the fourth time such an incident has happened: Palin scheduled to speak at an event, organizations advertising the event for weeks, and the speech being cancelled at the last minute due to apparent miscommunication.

Spokeswoman Meg Stapleton told the Anchorage Daily News that Palin was invited to a private fundraiser for the group, and that "she had hoped to be able to attend but cannot return (to Alaska) in time for that private fundraiser." Stapleton also said "this is the first time we have ever heard of a speech" at the megachurch.

Alaska Family Council President Jim Minnery was surprised at the news, however, citing his organizers' work with the Palin contacts. "All we can do is take people at their word that we've worked with in the past. We've been working for several weeks on the event, promoting it very heavily. It would be a grave disappointment if she doesn't show up but the show will still go on," he said.

Previous scheduling mishaps with Palin:

*February: Palin pulls out of the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), where she was due to speak, because of the "duties of governing."

*June: Palin attends a major GOP fundraiser in DC after weeks of hedging. She was originally invited to speak, but organizers gave her speaking role to Newt Gingrich after she wavered on the invitation, at which point Palin seemed to cancel her appearance at the dinner entirely, and didn't give organizers a definite answer until the afternoon of the event.

*August: Palin does not speak at an event for a California Republican women's group at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, despite it being advertised for weeks. Stapleton posted a statement saying Palin would not attend and had never been committed to the event on Palin's Facebook site.

Republican nominee Chris Christie has a new ad in the New Jersey gubernatorial race, finely tuned for this deep-blue state. The ad features voters from all different backgrounds -- including at least two who voted for Barack Obama talking about how Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine is out of touch, and they want change:



Christie is ahead in all the polls right now, but other New Jersey Republican candidates in the past have looked pretty good at this point and then flattened out in the end. As such, this ad is clearly crafted to hold on to his lead by tapping into the traditional Democratic messages like change, jobs and reform.

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) threw a protester out of a town hall last night in Phoenix when she shouted at him before he started the meeting.

"Ma'am, you're gonna have to stop or you're gonna have to leave," McCain said. "Goodbye, see ya."

The crowd cheered as the woman, dressed in pink and carrying a cane, was escorted out.



The tone of the meeting was markedly different than one he held Tuesday in Sun City, a retirement community in Arizona. That meeting was packed with health care reform opponents -- mostly white senior citizens -- many of whom booed when McCain said President Obama believes in the Constitution.

At Wednesday's event, one town haller angrily asked McCain why the senator deserves better health care than him. After the event, while McCain attempted to answer questions from the press, another audience member yelled that he gets hundreds of thousands of dollars from insurance companies.

"Really?" he answered. "I didn't know that."

Late update: We were curious about whether the woman who got kicked out was for or against health care reform. (You can only hear her yell, "Insurance!" in the video.) But her position was unclear to a McCain spokeswoman, who tells us she was standing just five feet away.

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), a Vietnam War veteran and former POW, went on Fox News last night and gave credence to bogus claims that the Department of Veterans Affairs has been pushing a pamphlet that encourages disabled vets to commit suicide.

In the video below (start at about 5:20), Sean Hannity tells McCain that the pamphlet, "basically says, well, you know, you don't want to be a burden to society, to your family. Is that the kind of 'death panel' that maybe people were afraid of when they read pages 425 to 430 of the House bill?"

"Yes," McCain said. "But I think they're also concerned because they're well-read ... They know whats happening in other countries where there's a rationing of health care. ... I think it's not just that, it's the example of government-run care in other countries. America is not ready for that."

Watch:



The "death book" meme appeared last week when a former Bush official wrote an op-ed claiming that the VA was pushing disabled veterans to commit suicide. The book, "Your Life, Your Choices," is information on making an advance directive, such as a living will or power of attorney.

The Obama administration hit back a few days later, explaining that the pamphlet in question was pulled for revision in 2007 and is no longer in use, over concerns that parts were "too negative." But the book, of course, never advocates suicide or euthanasia; it lays out questions to think about when planning for end-of-life care.

The outrageous claims have been giving credence by other conservatives, including Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele.

Recently, the Republican National Committee mailed out a survey to an unknown number of voters--including at least one non-Republican--spreading misinformation about the Democrats' health care reform proposal.

The most egregious question: "It has been suggested that the government could use voter registration to determine a person's political affiliation, prompting fears that GOP voters might be discriminated against for medical treatment in a Democrat-imposed health care rationing system. Does this possibility concern you?"

Of course, this hasn't been suggested except in the minds of the GOP officials who drafted these questions.

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Rep. Charlie Melancon (D-LA), a leading Blue Dog in the House, has officially his announced his much-expected Senate campaign against Sen. David Vitter, the Republican and staunch conservative whose career became mired in the D.C. Madam prostitution scandal.

This race could end up as a top-tier battle, with lots of money and lots of attacks between the two camps. A survey from a month ago by Public Policy Polling (D) put Vitter ahead of Melancon 44%-32% -- that is, the incumbent is below 50%, and the challenger lacking in name recognition. At the same time, the Republicans could be favored to pick up Melancon's House seat, as John McCain carried it by 61%-37% in 2008.

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Former U.S. Attorney Chris Christie, the Republican nominee for Governor of New Jersey, is now responding to attacks over his undisclosed loan to a subordinate and a newly-revealed 2005 traffic stop in a fun, new-media way: Total mockery.

The Christie campaign has sent out a "BREAKING NEWS" press release: "This morning, Chris Christie stopped for a bottle of water at his local convenience store. At the cash register, Christie nabbed a penny from the penny tray to cover his $1.36 tab, but did not put a penny back."

Recipients are encouraged to chip in with their own mocking headlines through a new Twitter tag, #notnews. When asked for comment, the Corzine campaign has reiterated its statement from yesterday, openly accusing Christie of abusing his then-office by trying to get out of the traffic stop. Check out the full press release after the jump.

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