TPM News

The pending resignation of Rep. Neil Abercrombie (D-HI) presents a potential pitfall for Democrats: A special election in which the Dem vote could be split, handing a strongly blue seat to the Republicans.

Hawaii special elections for the House don't function according to the usual rules in other states, where candidates either compete in separate party primaries, or the parties select their candidates through committee meetings. Instead, a single-round election is held in which all the candidates appear on a single ballot, and the plurality-winner takes the whole thing.

Abercrombie was already running for governor, and three candidates were in the race to succeed him: Democrat Ed Case, who previously represented the state's other House seat; Democrat Colleen Hanabusa, the state Senate President; and Republican Charles Djou, a Honolulu city councilman.

With these three candidates all running in the special election, there could be split voter demographics no matter which way you look at it: two Democrats against one Republican (Djou); two men against one woman (Hanabusa); or two Asians against one white person (Case).

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At a press conference this afternoon, RNC chair Michael Steele announced a new nationwide radio ad campaign he said would help to explain to voters the GOP position on health care reform. The promise he makes to voters? Republicans will do all they can to kill Democratic health care reform proposals.

Steele, from the ad's script:

"The Democrats are accusing us Republicans of trying to delay and stonewall their government takeover of health care. You know what? They're finally right."

Listen to the ad:

In the wake of some troubling signs that the progressive wishlist might get cut out of health care legislation, Reps. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) and Lynn Woolsey (D-CA), co-chairs of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, have sent a curt letter to President Obama, requesting a meeting to discuss the push for reform.

"On behalf of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, we write to request a meeting with you to discuss health care reform legislation," they write. 'We have attached the Congressional Progressive Caucus' Principles that we expect to be included in the health care reform bill conference report."

Those principles include: "The creation of a nation-wide public option, such as the one in the House bill that increases competition, affordability and access for all Americans."

But, of course, all indications in the Senate are that the public option will not be part of the package, and now it appears as if even the consolation prize--a Medicare buy-in--might have to be stripped from the legislation as well. You can read the entire letter here. This could get ugly.

President Obama spoke about the economy at the White House today following a meeting with top banking executives.

"America's banks received extraordinary assistance from American taxpayers to rebuild their industry," Obama said. "And now that they're back on their feet, we expect an extraordinary commitment from them to help rebuild our economy."

Here's the full text of the president's remarks:

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John Podesta, President of the influential Center for American Progress, and head of President Barack Obama's transition effort, says that Sen. Joe Lieberman's filibuster threat likely has Senate Democrats pulling their files on passing health care reform through the 51-vote reconciliation process off the shelves.

"I suspect musty folders on reconciliation got dusted off this morning," Podesta told USA Today's Susan Page. "If you don't have Lieberman and you don't have Nelson, the question is whether you can get Snowe and Collins."

Podesta is, of course, referring to Sens. Ben Nelson (D-NE), Olympia Snowe (R-ME), and Susan Collins (R-ME).

The Democrats will be discussing this question--how to get 60 votes for a health care bill without Lieberman's support--at a 5:30 p.m. caucus meeting tonight. Emotion's are expected to be very raw.

Progressive Caucus Chairman Rep. Raul Grijalva said today it would be a "serious mistake" if Senate Democrats attempt to "steamroll" their health care bill over through the House without the middle step of a conference committee.

It's an idea that's floated on Capitol Hill lately especially as the Senate is having a tough time uniting the caucus on key elements in the bill.

"Our biggest concern is we won't have the opportunity to go face to face with the Senate," Grijalva (D-AZ) said on the ABC News show Top Line.

He said Speaker Nancy Pelosi has assured them she will insist on a conference committee and "we're counting on that." He said his caucus has told the White House and House leadership there must be a conference committee.

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Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid was apparently caught unawares by Sen. Joe Lieberman's latest assault on health care reform, and that's left Democratic leadership scrambling to figure out how to cobble together a bill that can get 60 votes on the Senate floor, without creating a tremendous head ache down the line when the House and Senate meet to tie their bills together.

Assuming that Lieberman can't be persuaded to back down from his threat to filibuster the bill unless all public option compromises are stripped from it, here are the options before the Democrats:

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At first glance, it certainly looks like the retirement of Rep. Bart Gordon (D-TN) could set up a strong pick-up opportunity for the Republicans.

Gordon himself has been re-elected by overwhelming margins, but the district's voting patterns have otherwise shown a decided swing to the Republicans. It was an approximate 49%-49% tie between George W. Bush and Al Gore in 2000, but then voted for Bush by 60%-40% in 2004, and for John McCain by 62%-37% in 2008.

"Well, I'm not gonna blow smoke on this. That district has trended Republican for years," a Democratic source bluntly admitted, though he wasn't giving up hope. "But having said that, there are still plenty of folks in that area, they've shown their independent-minded streak before."

NRCC spokesman Ken Spain put out a triumphant statement: "It's official: Democrats now have a retirement problem. After being forced to toe the line for Nancy Pelosi's reckless agenda too many times, Blue Dog Democrats would rather roll over and retire than face the political headwind that is barreling toward them. This is evidence of the fact that the Obama-Pelosi agenda of government takeovers, permanent bailouts, and fewer jobs is taking a political and mental toll even on incumbent Democrats who were once-perceived to be firmly entrenched."

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