By MICHAEL FALCONE and AMY WALTER
The 2012 Republican presidential primary may be getting a later start than it did in 2008, but that doesn't mean that speculation and scrutiny is on hold.
One of the potential GOP candidates, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, learned that as one Weekly Standard story exploded on the Web and has the potential to frame and define his nascent campaign.
At issue are comments he made in an interview with the magazine in which he appeared to downplay the tensions of the civil rights movement in his home state. “I just don’t remember it as being that bad,” Barbour told the Weekly Standard’s Andrew Ferguson. http://abcn.ws/fTH95L
The Mississippi governor went on to credit the White Citizens’ Council, a group that has been viewed as pro-segregationist, with helping to integrate the public schools in his home town, Yazoo City, Miss., without violence. Barbour didn’t help matters with his fuzzy recall of an event he attended in the early 1960’s with civil rights icon, Martin Luther King Jr.
“We just sat on our cars, watching the girls, talking, doing what boys do,” Barbour told the Weekly Standard. “We paid more attention to the girls than to King.”
The response from a Democratic National Committee spokesman was swift: “He's not ready for prime time or not ready for the 21st century — either way it’s disqualifying,” the spokesman, Hari Sevugan, wrote in a tweet yesterday.
The Barbour team’s response amounted to what appears to be a contentious phone interview between the governor’s spokesman, Dan Turner, and reporter Eric Kleefeld of Talking Points Memo.
“You're trying to paint the governor as a racist,” Turner said. “And nothing could be further from the truth.”
BOTTOM LINE: Barbour may not officially be a candidate for anything yet, which might explain the muted response, but the former chairman of the Republican National Committee and outgoing head of the Republican Governors Association, is also no stranger to national politics. And this is not the kind of attention that helps get a presidential campaign off the ground. Is it “disqualifying,” as the DNC’s Sevugan put it yesterday? Probably not. Damaging? Certainly. http://bit.ly/ifP9O2
NOTED: Dominoes are falling in Indiana. Speculation that Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind., will run for governor may be premature. He likes his national profile and issue set, and he will likely be the first to announce his 2012 intentions. “He will make a decision in the very near future,” within the “first couple weeks of January,” a source close to Pence told Politico’s Kasie Hunt yesterday.
CENSUS TAKES CENTER STAGE: Today the Census Bureau will release official state population totals and the resulting allotment of House seats and Electoral College votes for the next decade. Might seem like a dry data entry exercise, but it’s anything but. The numbers will have far-reaching consequences for politics in the years to come. Based on early estimates, states in the southeast and southwest (Georgia, Nevada, Utah, Florida, Texas, Arizona, South Carolina) are all expected to gain seats. Texas may get as many as four — count ‘em, four — new seats, while Florida and Arizona may gain up to two new seats a piece.
The losers: the Midwest and Northeast. Iowa, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio and New York will lose seats. Ohio and New York could each lose two seats. Minnesota and Illinois are also on the bubble for losing one seat. If you put these new numbers into the 2008 Electoral College results it would have given the McCain-Palin ticket an additional seven Electoral Votes (bringing their total to 180). The Obama-Biden ticket would have lost nine Electoral votes (bringing their total to 356).
ON TODAY’S “TOP LINE”: ABC’s Rick and Jonathan Karl interview Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., today about the action during the final days of the lame duck session as well as her plans for the new Congress. Bachmann, a staunch conservative with a strong Tea Party following, recently landed a spot on the House Intelligence Committee. Also joining the broadcast today, Dave Wasserman from The Cook Report, who will talk about the latest Census numbers and how they will shape the political landscape. Watch “Top Line” LIVE at 12:00 p.m. Eastern. http://bit.ly/ABCTopLine
POLITICAL PUNCH. Jake Tapper's latest “Political Punch” webcast features an interview with outgoing Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-ND, on his frustrations with partisan Washington as well as former White House speechwriter writer turned author Josh Gottheimer on Obama's speech style this year. Gottheimer is co-author of a new book "Power in Words: The Stories behind Barack Obama's Speeches, from the State House to the White House” that looks at how the President’s oratory skills have evolved during his time in office. EXTRA: Don’t miss an original “Tapper Toon” on the Obama’s holiday trip to Hawaii. http://abcn.ws/e0laR3
HILL ACTION: ABC’s Matthew Jaffe reports that the Senate will hold a procedural vote on the continuing resolution that extends federal funding through March 4. Senators may also vote to end debate on the START arms reduction treaty and a final vote could come on Thursday at the latest. Democrats appear to be one vote short of the two-thirds majority needed for ratification, but with at least four Republicans on the fence — Isakson, Bennett, Murkowski and McCain — it appears that the pact could ultimately pass. Also on the agenda: the 9/11 health bill and a farewell speech from Sen. Arlen Specter, D-Pa., this morning.
HOLDER’S WARNING. In an exclusive interview with ABC News’ Pierre Thomas, Attorney General Eric Holder had an urgent message for Americans: While he is confident that the United States will continue to thwart attacks, "the terrorists only have to be successful once." And while it is not certain we will be hit, the American people, he told ABC News, "have to be prepared for potentially bad news." "What I am trying to do in this interview is to make people aware of the fact that the threat is real, the threat is different, the threat is constant," he said.
According to Thomas and ABC’s Jack Cloherty, what was uppermost on Holder’s mind is the alarming rise in the number of Americans who are more than willing to attack and kill their fellow citizens."It is one of the things that keeps me up at night," Holder said. "You didn't worry about this even two years ago — about individuals, about Americans, to the extent that we now do. And — that is of — of great concern." http://abcn.ws/eIkjtH
PELOSI EXIT INTERVIEW. “‘Every minute is a new minute to me,’ says Nancy Pelosi, and, with boxes packed in the hall outside, the soon-to-be-former speaker has already jumped ahead to her vision of the ‘humming, whirling entity’ House Democrats can still be in the coming Congress,” Politico’s David Rogers reports today from his interview with the outgoing House Speaker. “‘I’m obviously devastated by the loss we had,’ she will admit … ‘We came here to do a job, and we did the job. … Those two issues, Wall Street reform and health care, were two that changed the leverage for the American people. Whether you were a consumer or a patient, the leverage is now with you. And that, for me, is why I am a Democrat: to have the leverage to be with the average person.’” http://politi.co/hpGB9R
NEUTRALITY COMING. “The FCC is expected to grudgingly accept Chairman Julius Genachowski's plan to make the agency, for the first time, a cop on the high-speed Internet beat,” ABC News’ Brian Hartman reports. "Commissioners are scheduled to vote Tuesday on Genachowski's ‘net neutrality’ proposal, crafted by FCC staff after months of lobbying by the most powerful media and communications companies in the world, to prevent broadband service providers from censoring how individuals and organizations can surf the Internet's fastest pipes. Genachowski's proposal has been derided from the left as a giveaway to corporations and from the right as unwarranted government meddling in business.” http://abcn.ws/gYkAJB
APOLOGY FROM STEELE? Another sign that the race for chairman of the Republican National Committee is heating up. Today, RNC chair candidate Gentry Collins called on current Chairman Michael Steele to apologize for comments Steele made on a Baltimore radio show last week calling an RNC member an "idiot". Steele directed the comments at RNC member Jim Bopp, a national committeeman from Indiana. “Time and time again from this Chairman, we see a complete lack of discipline demonstrating an unfitness for leadership of a national political party,” Collins said in a statement today. “Michael Steele simply does not possess the temperament to be an effective Chairman of the RNC.”
WHAT NORM COLEMAN AND JEB BUSH HAVE IN COMMON. The American Action Network and American Action Forum, groups active in conservative politics, released a preliminary agenda for the Hispanic Leadership Network’s Inaugural Conference in Coral Gables, Florida, January 13-14, 2011. Speakers include, American Action Network CEO and former Sen. Norm Coleman, former Florida Gov. Governor Jeb Bush, Carlos Gutierrez, Florida Governor-elect Rick Scott, Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, Gov. Luis Fortuño of Puerto Rico and former White House Press Secretary Dana Perino, among others. http://bit.ly/gCWP4Y
@jonathanweisman: News! Lamar Alexander to make it official: No 3 Republican in the Senate will vote to ratify New START.
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