TPM News

Arkansas Lt. Gov. Bill Halter, who just announced his challenge in the Democratic primary against Sen. Blanche Lincoln yesterday, has already launched a TV ad to introduce himself to the voters.

The ad does not mention the incumbent Lincoln, but instead features Halter promoting his own accomplishments. The ad also has a certain Larry The Cable Guy motif, with a depiction of a football coach exhorting Halter: "Get it done!"

"Now, I'm running for the Senate to take on Washington special interests," Halter says. The coach answers back: "Run 'em off the field!"

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Sens. Bob Casey (D-PA) and Ron Wyden (D-OR) both announced their support today for a public option to be passed via reconciliation.

Wyden, in a statement, said, "I've long believed we need a more competitive insurance market. If the House version of the public option came up for a vote in reconciliation I would vote yes."

His office did not immediately say whether he plans to sign the public option letter written by Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO) to send to Senate leadership. That letter now has 24 signatories.

Last week, Wyden sent out a press release saying he was holding off on signing the letter until after the White House summit.

"He intends to first join the President in a good faith effort to see if a bipartisan solution is possible," the release said.

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House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said today that while his Democratic caucus is wary the Senate will live up to a promise to fix problems with the health care bill using reconciliation, he trusts Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to do the right thing.

Hoyer (D-MD) told reporters during his weekly pen-and-pad briefing that House Democrats "want some assurance that those items they have problems with are in fact modified before they vote for the Senate bill."

Reporters asked if House Democrats need a formal promise in writing from 50 senators that reconciliation would pass, and Hoyer insisted "We need an agreement between the two bodies. I trust Leader Reid, if he tells me they can do something I think he'll be able to do it."

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Sen. Jim Bunning (R-KY) has caused no shortage of problems for unemployed Americans, federal workers, and Medicare doctors. The list goes on and on. But he's also put the Republican party in a tricky position--upsetting members of his own caucus who want the benefits restored, but who haven't been able to rein him in--and he's unified Democrats, who are using his filibuster to put a human face on the victims of Republican obstruction.

Republican leadership doesn't have a great deal of leverage over Bunning, who is retiring at the end of the year. But they also don't particularly oppose what he's doing. Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-AZ) has risen to Bunning's defense, as has NRSC chairman John Cornyn (R-TX), whose job it is to get Republicans elected to the Senate.

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President Obama this afternoon wrote a letter to Congressional leadership detailing four areas where he thinks Republican ideas can be included in a final health care compromise and pledging to drop the Medicaid deals for Nebraska and Florida from what he proposes tomorrow.

The White House released the letter which Obama wrote to Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Minority Leader John Boehner summing up his take from the health care summit last week. Obama said he came away from the meeting feeling the group agreed the cost of health care is a massive problem that must be solved.

"I also left convinced that the Republican and Democratic approaches to health care have more in common than most people think," Obama wrote.

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Republicans have spent weeks sidestepping whether they back a top GOPer's budget "roadmap" plan which includes major cuts to entitlement programs to end the deficit.

We've been trying to pin down whether House Republicans support Social Security cuts and the proposal for creating a voucher system for Medicare as outlined in Rep. Paul Ryan's budget "roadmap."

Will they go on the record supporting deeply unpopular cuts in an effort to claim the mantle of fiscal responsibility heading into the midterm elections this fall? Will they run away from the idea and put forward the broad, non-specific measure they presented as the GOP alternative budget in 2009?

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Today is a big day in Texas, with voters going to the polls in the primary election for governor and other races. The top-ticket item is the Republican primary, in which incumbent Gov. Rick Perry is being challenged by Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison and Tea Party activist Debra Medina.

Perry enjoys a substantial lead in the polls, but could end up falling short of the 50 percent support needed to avoid a runoff in April. The TPM Poll Average has Perry with 44.4%, Hutchison 28.9%, and Medina 17.6%.

The most interesting part of this race is just how Perry went from vulnerable to being out front, and the rise of the Tea Party narrative in the campaign.

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Most political observers say 2010 is a good year to be a Republican running for office. That's not a huge surprise -- off-year elections are generally better for the party not occupying the White House. But this year has been characterized by an extraordinary anti-incumbent fervor, which makes it even worse for Democrats, who run both houses of Congress in addition to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

It's still early, but the midterm tradition plus the negative view of incumbents could mean some of the Democratic party's best-known Senators could find themselves falling to Republican challengers who can take advantage of their fired-up conservative base (not to mention apathy among Democratic base voters.)

After the jump, we'll look at four Democratic Senators who find themselves behind in polls as spring draws near.

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Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid once again tried to bring a bill to the floor this morning that would extend unemployment benefits, this time enlisting Republican Sen. Susan Collins (ME) to introduce the motion for unanimous consent in an effort to convince Sen. Jim Bunning (R-KY) to drop his filibuster.

But Bunning continued to object.

Collins, introducing the motion, said it has support on both sides of the aisle, and added that Republicans wanted it done last week. Reid added that, "We need to vote," and pleaded with Bunning to drop his objection. Bunning has been holding up a vote on the legislation, which would extend jobless benefits past Feb. 28. The hold is affecting about 400,000 people, according to the Department of Labor.

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A new Marist poll of New York suggests that former Rep. Harold Ford (D-TN) made the right decision in not challenging Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) in the New York Democratic primary. In the latest numbers out today, Gillibrand has a wide and growing lead over Ford.

The latest numbers: Gillibrand 50%, Ford 19%. This is an improvement for Gillibrand from early February, when she led Ford by 44%-27%. The TPM Poll Average for this primary-that-wasn't shows Gillibrand enjoying an advantage of 47.3%-17.4% over Ford.

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