By Rick Klein
Maybe the establishment will win. Maybe not for long, though. Against a hectic news backdrop, with fast-moving developments in New York and slow-moving ones off the Gulf Coast, primary season gets rolling on Tuesday with voting in Ohio, Indiana and North Carolina. As you allow yourself some nostalgia for days like this in 2008 … this primary day marks the first in a rolling series of tests of what these choppy waters really mean. There’s only so much value in being tapped from above. And yet — don’t look for incumbent bloodbaths, at least not yet. The national powers that be don’t pick all winners, but they still appear to know what they’re doing, more often than not. The mere whiff of tea doesn’t change that fact. National Republicans look likely to get their handpicked choice for Senate in Indiana (Dan Coats), tea party challengers (and Jim DeMint) notwithstanding. Democrats are hoping to keep their preferred Senate candidate in North Carolina in the mix (Cal Cunningham) for a runoff. Incumbent House members in the spotlight with Tuesday’s primaries include Rep. Heath Shuler, D-N.C., and Rep. Zach Space, D-Ohio (who will see their fall dance cards filled out), and Republican stalwarts such as Rep. Dan Burton, R-Ind., Rep. Mark Souder, R-Ind., and Rep. Patrick McHenry, R-N.C. (who are facing well-funded primary challengers). “One key factor to watch for in Tuesday’s primaries is to see how well the preferred candidates of the national parties fare in this anti-Washington environment not just by wins and losses but also by the overall level of support those candidates receive from the primary electorate,” ABC’s David Chalian reports, in previewing the first big multi-state primary day. Does this mean close might count? “The outcome of primaries for the House and Senate could provide clues about the volatility of the electorate and whether anger with the country’s direction will translate into actual votes,” the AP’s Liz Sidoti writes. “Also being tested: how much influence the national parties have over their rank-and-file supporters and, in some cases, the strength of the tea party coalition.” Brewing in Indiana: “Republican Dan Coats appears to be beating back a challenge from four tea party-affiliated rivals on the eve of Tuesday’s primary,” Douglas Belkin writes in The Wall Street Journal. “[Coats] has endured months of withering attacks from four opponents with tea-party bloodlines who have tried to use his establishment credentials against him.” Also testing: “South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint (R) has drawn massive amounts of national media attention for his willingness to cross his party leadership when it comes to endorsing in contested primaries. DeMint’s ‘go it alone’ approach to primaries gets its first real test today as conservative state Sen. Marlin Stutzman seeks to unseat establishment-backed favorite Dan Coats,” Chris Cillizza writes at “The Fix” blog. In North Carolina: “Today’s Democratic Senate primary is expected to be a cliffhanger — a low turnout, a huge bloc of undecided voters and a lack of any marquee candidates add up to an especially volatile election,” Rob Christensen writes for the Raleigh News & Observer. “The prize is the Democratic nomination for the right to challenge Republican Sen. Richard Burr, who faces only token opposition in his own primary. To clinch the nomination, a Democrat must win 40 percent of the vote.” Get used to this storyline: “Two persistent secretaries of state are making for interesting Democratic Senate primaries this week in Ohio and North Carolina. The party establishment anointed other candidates in each state, but the two women refused to step aside,” Politics Daily’s Jill Lawrence writes. And this one: “The results will offer a first glimpse at the tea party movement’s potency in Ohio and, equally important, the energy — or lack of it — of each party’s base,” Politico’s James Hohmann reports. “Two National Republican Congressional Committee preferred candidates — Jim Renacci in the 16th District and state Sen. Bob Gibbs in the 18th District — will be tested in their primaries and weak performances by either will hurt their stock both in Ohio and Washington.” In North Carolina, polls open at 6:30 a.m. ET and close at 7:30 p.m. ET. In Ohio, voting began at 6:30 a.m. ET, and run through 7:30 p.m. ET. In Indiana, voting runs from 7 a.m. ET to 7 p.m. ET. While we’re picking winners and losers … a little Hawaii hardball: “The White House and top Democratic officials are circulating a new, private poll to suggest that only one of two Democrats splitting votes in a tightly contested Hawaii special election has a chance of winning the race,” Politico’s Ben Smith reports. The poll “is the latest weapon in intense efforts to push Hanabusa out of the race, or at least move some of her institutional supporters to Case’s side.” “Our April 24 to 26 survey among 506 likely voters in Hawaii’s 1st CD special election shows Democrat Ed Case virtually tied with Republican Charles Djou, but leading on every dimension over Democrat Colleen Hanabusa,” pollster Paul Harstad wrote in a memo accompanying the DNC survey, per Smith. (How long before President Obama himself has to endorse in his home district, where his parents’ friend was until recently the congressman? And if he stays out, will Democrats want to still pour money into what looks like a losing proposition, when races like PA-12 — plus the overflowing fall plate — still loom?) But the big news of the day is far away from the three states with voting. “The FBI has arrested a 30-year old Bridgeport, Connecticut man in connection with the failed attempt to set off a car bomb in New York’s Times Square, federal authorities told ABCNews.com late Monday night,” ABC’s Richard Esposito and Brian Ross report. “The man was identified as Faisal Shahzad, a naturalized American citizen, who had recently returned from a five month trip to Pakistan and the city of Peshawar, a known jumping off points for al Qaeda and Taliban recruits. Shahzad was arrested at Kennedy airport in New York City where FBI agents said he was attempting to leave the country.” Brian Ross, on “Good Morning America” Tuesday: “If the US is right at Shahzad is a terrorist, he is a clumsy terrorist.” From Attorney General Eric Holder’s statement: “This investigation is ongoing, it is multi-faceted, and it is aggressive. As we move forward, we will focus on not just holding those responsible for it accountable, but also on obtaining any intelligence about terrorist organizations overseas.” Tuesday morning, from White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs: “The President was briefed six times yesterday about the investigation and was notified of the Faisal Shahzad arrest at 12:05 a.m., all by John Brennan.” Per The New York Times: “The authorities have been exploring whether the man or others who might have been involved in the attempted bombing had been in contact with people or groups overseas, according to federal officials. The investigation was shifted on Monday to the control of the international terrorism branch of the Joint Terrorism Task Force, a multiagency group led by the Justice Department.” The Washington Post: “Administration officials said President Obama had been repeatedly briefed on the incident — which authorities said could have led to significant casualties if the explosives had detonated properly — since it began unfolding Saturday night. It bore some resemblance to the attempted bombing of an airliner in Detroit last Christmas Day, with citizen watchdogs earning much of the credit for averting the crisis and the White House scrambling to discover clues about a young male suspect with apparent ties that stretched beyond the United States.” Gibbs, on Monday: “I think anybody that has the type of material that they had in a car in Times Square, I would say that that was intended to terrorize, absolutely. And I would say that whoever did that would be categorized as a terrorist, yes.” The big concern: “While it is not yet certain who organized the attempted car-bombing in Times Square this weekend, the incident marks the domestic introduction of familiar terrorist techniques that may be harder to thwart than those to which the U.S. homeland security apparatus became attuned after Sept. 11,” Steven Simon and Jonathan Stevenson write in a Washington Post op-ed. From the annals of national security — Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton steals Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s headlines: “The United States today for the first time since 1962 disclosed the size of its nuclear arsenal in what officials described as an as an unprecedented unveiling of a state secret and an attempt to encourage other countries to be open about their nuclear capabilities,” ABC’s Emily Friedman, Kirit Radia and Luis Martinez report. “The Pentagon announced the U.S. currently has 5,113 nuclear warheads in its stockpile – an 84 percent reduction from a peak of 31,255 warheads in 1967.” Timely speech — watching the opposition take shape … Excerpts of House Minority Whip Eric Cantor’s Heritage Foundation speech Tuesday morning, as provided to The Note: “Yet at the very moment when our enemies are advancing — and our friends are nervously watching — this proven U.S. national security strategy appears to be in a rapid state of retreat. After 16 months, many of the Obama administration’s policies reflect a fundamentally different ideological approach to foreign policy and national security. “The problem with the Obama defense and foreign policy philosophy is that it seems to abandon the proven strategy of peace through strength. Its policies bespeak a naïve moral relativism in which the United States bears much responsibility for the problems we face around the world …. A Republican Congress will turn back harmful treaties like START. We will once again fund weapons’ research and development not just to meet the threats of today, but for tomorrow.” In Louisiana — assessing (and reassessing) the fallout: “To hear Obama administration officials tell it, they’ve been fully engaged on the Gulf Coast oil spill since Day One, bringing every resource to bear and able to ensure without question that taxpayers will be protected. Not quite,” the AP’s Erica Werner reports. “It’s only natural that administration officials would adjust their response as the spill worsened and its seriousness became evident. But they invite judgment when claiming they responded at 100 percent starting Day One to an incident whose magnitude was not yet apparent, or when black-and-white assertions about taxpayer protections turn out to be tinged with gray.” Politico’s Glenn Thrush and Mike Allen: “The ferocious oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico is threatening President Barack Obama’s reputation for competence, just as surely as it endangers the Gulf ecosystem. So White House aides are escalating their efforts to reassure Congress and the public in the face of a slow-motion catastrophe, even though it’s not clear they can bring it under control anytime soon.” The Atlantic’s Marc Ambinder: “No doubt that the administration is concerned about perception. Obama wants to be seen as being on top of the situation, perhaps the worst environmental disaster in recent memory. But there was no ‘Convention Center’ moment here. The early government response to the spill was largely unnoticed and unpublicized because it was standard operating procedure.” New scrutiny at an agency: “BP and the Obama Administration say they are focused on stopping the flow of crude from the damaged well nearly a mile below the surface. But already lawmakers and interest groups are firing the first shots in what could be a lengthy fight over financial liability and political blame,” The Wall Street Journal’s Jeffrey Ball, Stephen Power and Russell Gold report. “The Gulf disaster is ratcheting up congressional scrutiny of the Minerals Management Service, the federal agency charged with regulating the nation’s offshore oil-and-gas industry.” Get ready for these questions: “For days, federal officials have been insisting that British Petroleum was on the hook to pay every penny of the cleanup cost and economic damage caused by the oil spewing from their deep-water well off the Gulf Coast,” Politico’s Josh Gerstein writes. “Now, the White House is acknowledging that the liability situation is more complex and that a $75 million cap in federal law might come into play under some scenarios.” And watching the stretch — with little room left on the plate: “All modern presidents get bombarded with multiple problems and have to learn to multitask. But Obama seems to be getting more than his share,” Tom Raum reports for the AP.
Jackie Calmes, in The New York Times: “President Obama’s spokesman promised for a second day on Monday that the administration would ‘keep our boot on the throat of BP’ to get the company to resolve the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Yet, hours later, the president was hosting dinner at the White House with executives of the Business Council. Among the companies represented by the corporate club: BP. Those kinds of cross currents have become a hallmark of Mr. Obama’s presidency.” What won’t be the same: “Democrats and Republicans are both scrambling to adapt to the new political reality created by the massive oil spill endangering the Gulf Coast,” The Hill’s Ben Geman and Jared Allen report. “Republicans who rallied to the cry of ‘Drill, baby, drill’ in 2008 have been reminded of the risks offshore drilling poses to the environment, tourism and other industries. Democrats opposed to offshore drilling, meanwhile, are capitalizing on newly gained political leverage from the worst spill in decades.” Boom: “Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Monday withdrew his support for a plan he championed to allow new offshore oil drilling off Santa Barbara County, citing the disastrous oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico,” Marisa Lagos reports in the San Francisco Chronicle. In Virginia: “Some Virginia leaders are reconsidering their support for drilling off the state’s coast after a fatal well accident in the Gulf of Mexico, even as Gov. Robert F. McDonnell continues to lobby aggressively to drill for oil and natural gas without delay,” The Washington Post’s Anita Kumar writes. Back inside Congress — hurdles mounting to financial regulatory reform: “A dramatic proposal that could force banks to spin off their derivatives businesses, potentially costing them billions of dollars in revenue, has run into opposition on multiple fronts as the Senate prepares to take up legislation to remake financial regulations,” The Washington Post’s Brady Dennis writes. “Obama administration officials, industry groups, banking regulators and lawmakers from both sides of the aisle have taken aim at the measure proposed by Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.), chairman of the Senate agriculture committee.”
In Pennsylvania — maybe a Senate primary race after all? “U.S. Rep. Joe Sestak is within striking distance of U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter in the Pennsylvania Democratic primary, trailing the long-time incumbent 47 – 39 percent among likely primary voters, compared to his 53 – 32 percent gap April 7, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released today.” Framing the fall … From a polling memo out Tuesday — by Ed Gillespie, Whit Ayres and Leslie Sanchez, marking the first anniversary of Resurgent Republic: “In the year since Resurgent Republic conducted its inaugural survey in April 2009, President Obama and Democrats in Congress have seen dramatic deterioration of their public standing, driven by disaffection from Independent voters who have steadily moved toward siding with Republican policymakers on fiscal, domestic and national security policies. Today, by more than a two-to-one margin, self-identified Independents think ‘we need more Republicans in Congress to act as a check and balance on runaway Washington government that is bankrupting the country and mortgaging our children’s future’ versus those who think ‘more Republicans in Congress will lead to more gridlock and stand in the way of President Obama’s agenda to create jobs and make needed reforms to our economy.’ ” Lessons from Mass.: “Attorney General Martha Coakley’s record was attacked in television ads, she was criticized during televised debates, and she took heat for apparently not realizing that Curt Schilling was a pitcher for the Boston Red Sox. Apparently, the unsuccessful Democratic nominee for US Senate was also the subject of a stealth attack via Twitter,” The Boston Globe’s Matt Viser reports. “A conservative group in Iowa was behind a viral attack on Coakley during her race against Republican Scott Brown, according to a new paper by Wellesley College researchers that analyzed Twitter activity during the special election.” In the clear: “S.C. Attorney General Henry McMaster has cleared Gov. Mark Sanford of any criminal conduct for two trips to South America to meet his Argentine lover and, also, his use of state aircraft, upgraded airfare and campaign money,” The State’s John O’Connor writes. In Arizona, out: “Sheriff Joe Arpaio will not run for governor, announcing Monday that he will remain Maricopa County’s top cop for at least two more years. The decision ends months of speculation, much of it fueled by Arpaio himself, that he would resign from the Sheriff’s Office to run for the state’s top elective office,” the Arizona Republic’s J.J. Hensley reports. In Ohio, the ex-con ex-congressman chooses a district (but barely): “James A. Traficant Jr.’s return to politics as an independent candidate for the 17th Congressional District got off to a somewhat chaotic start,” David Skolnick and Ed Runyan report in the Youngstown Vindicator. “Traficant, a former 17-year congressman expelled in 2002, had considered running for either the 17th or the 6th District seat. He chose both districts early Monday only to later decide to seek only the 17th District seat after misunderstanding state law.”
The Kicker: “Canvas is naturally sensitive to changes of temperature and humidity, just as the Charlie Crist’s political convictions are subject to fluctuations in poll numbers.” — eBay description for Florida GOP’s portrait of Gov. Charlie Crist. “I was dressed in drag, and I walked right on that bus, right in front of all the press and came straight home. I wanted them to know there’s always a side in politics that is most unusual. And not always what you see is what you get.” — Former Rep. James Traficant, attempting a political comeback with a different look from the start.
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