TPM News

Gov. Charlie Crist (R-FL), who is fending off a challenge from the right by former state House Speaker Marco Rubio in the Republican primary for U.S. Senate, is busy burnishing his conservative credentials, the Lakeland Ledger reports.

"When I was in the state Senate I was nicknamed 'Chain Gang Charlie,'" said Crist. "It's hard to get right of that."

Crist also boasted that he has been "about as conservative as you can get": "No governor has cut taxes more, no governor has vetoed more pork bills and no governor has spent more time reducing spending."

The single biggest issue that Rubio can use against Crist is the governor's endorsement of President Obama's stimulus bill. Let's see if "Chain Gang Charlie" can fight his way out of it.

Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) suggested today Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid ought to act his conscience on the public option, and include it in the health care bill that comes to the floor.

Speaking to reporters outside the Senate chamber, Rockefeller sounded confident that the public option would be in the final reform package. Asked whether Reid should heed the will of the Democratic caucus (which overwhelmingly supports the public option) or do what he deems is most politically expedient, Rockefeller said it's up to Harry.

"He's got to look at both, but--I think it's sort of the time I think when it comes down to who you are. I mean that was obviously in Olympia's case, right?"

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Speaking to reporters moments ago, Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE) addressed yesterday's vote in the Senate Finance Committee with words of support for Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME)--the only Republican who agreed to vote Sen. Max Baucus' health care bill out of committee. Nelson described it as a "courageous vote on her part to speak her mind when she thinks it's best to move the process forward."

There's been a flood of speculation in the past 24 hours about the possibility that Snowe's vote might now become the glue that keeps conservative Democrats on board with the reform process. I asked Nelson whether he could imagine voting for a bill that does not have Snowe's support. Nelson didn't answer one way or another--but without saying yes or no, Nelson indicated that her final position will weigh heavily on members like him.

"I don't know. That's a good question. I have to see everything before I can really say what I would do."

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Could it be that Rep. Alan Grayson (D-FL) -- the freshman Congressman who has become a celebrity for calling Republicans "knuckle-dragging neanderthals" who want people who get sick to "die quickly" -- could end up with only a bottom-tier Republican opponent for his swing district in 2010?

As the Orlando Sentinel reports, top potential Republican candidates have been opting out of the race: Former state Sen. Daniel Webster, Orange County Mayor Rich Crotty, state Rep. Steve Precourt, and businessman Jerry Pierce.

"That leaves a pair of Tea Party activists -- Patricia Sullivan from Eustis and Dan Fanelli of Orlando -- and transplanted Miami developer Armando Gutierrez Jr., as likely Grayson foes," the paper says. "Others are considering bids, but it seems unlikely the GOP will get someone with elected experience."

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Rep. Alan Grayson, garnering national attention recently for blasting Republicans on health care, says he's collected 90,000 signatures on a petition that criticizes Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Sen. Olympia Snowe.

Grayson (D-FL) has teamed up with Progressive Change Campaign Committee and at 1:30 today will deliver the petitions to Capitol Hill that tell Reid:

"Any Democratic senators who support a Republican attempt to block a vote on health care reform should be stripped of their leadership titles ... Americans deserve a clean up-or-down vote on health care," and "For the last six months, Democrats have been dwelling, debating, and hoping for Republican Olympia Snowe to vote for health care reform. Why? Olympia Snowe was not elected President last year."

Grayson charges Reid (D-NV) should "lay down the law" with conservative Democrats on health care and called out Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) for saying he wasn't sure he'd support the bill.

This morning the news broke that seven-term Rep. Robert Wexler (D-FL) is leaving Congress to lead the Center for Middle East Peace and Economic Cooperation in Washington, starting in January.

The unexpected move has sparked speculation among observers of America's Mideast policy: why would a comer in Congress, who during the election became a top surrogate for President Obama in Florida and in the Jewish community, give up his seat just as things are heating up in the administration's talks with Israel and the Palestinians?

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A new Susquehanna poll has some awful numbers for Sen. Arlen Specter (D-PA), with him stuck in a dead heat for re-election -- and a huge majority of the state's voters saying he doesn't deserve re-election.

Only 31% of voters said Specter should be re-elected, with 59% saying someone else should be given a chance. It's not surprising to learn that Specter has a large base of opposition -- after all, he switched from the Republicans to the Democrats in order to avoid defeat in the GOP primary at the hands of former Rep. Pat Toomey -- but that's quite bad.

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Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) issued the following statement today regarding the Senate health care reform debate. Here's the full text:

There simply is no question that our nation's health care system requires substantial reform. The status quo of soaring health care costs, families struggling, millions uninsured, and health care provider shortages is unacceptable. Maine families and small businesses are paying ever higher premiums, increased deductibles and greater co-pays.

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A still-grinning Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT) was on CNN a few minutes ago to discuss yesterday's Senate Finance Committee vote to pass health care reform legislation out of committee -- "It feels absolutely great" -- and where the push for health care reform goes from here.

Baucus is meeting later today with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT) and White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel to discuss merging the two Senate committee health reform bills. The key, Baucus said, is creating a final bill capable of getting 60 votes in the Senate. And much of that depends on Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME).

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