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Rep. Joe Sestak (D-PA)--who's challenging Sen. Arlen Specter (D-PA) in the 2010 Pennsylvania Democratic Primary--isn't wasting any time: in fact, he's already trying to juxtapose himself against Republican Pat Toomey.

"[H]ow about a great town hall on health care?" Sestak asks in a statement released moments ago.

Does the evening of September 2nd, in your home town of Allentown at Muhlenberg College, work for you? We'll have a great discussion of the health care reform effort. I want to show you the light on the public health care option! What do you say?


Sestak's responding to a statement Toomey released yesterday: "I think Joe Sestak and I would agree that having a candid debate about honest policy differences is a refreshing change from attempting to interact with Arlen Specter, whose position changes by the day," Toomey said. "Pennsylvanians deserve the kind of straightforward and respectful dialogue about critical issues that Joe Sestak and I are prepared to give them."

I think it's fair to say that not only is Sestak signaling to voters that the general election might be between himself and Toomey. He's also affirming Toomey's extremely harsh criticism of Specter.

In case you'd forgotten--and, really, how could you have forgotten--tomorrow is Recess Rally day. Tea partiers, and 9/12ers and FreedomWorks and various other groups huddled under the teabagging umbrella will hold rallies outside offices of members of Congress across the country.

They've been preparing for this rally for weeks, holding strategy and message meetings and co-ordinating down down to the minor details on the tea party patriots' email list serves. You can locate events in your area here. I'm sure some of them promise to be rather lively!

Here's another fun detail from last night's Americans For Prosperity teletown hall, which featured Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) and Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN). Both politicians said that if a health care bill passes, it should be actively fought and resisted through a collective effort of conservative governors.

A caller asked DeMint what the states could do in order to stop unconstitutional action by the federal government on health care. DeMint replied, "I think the key to pushing back against the federal government is some governors and state legislators who champion individual freedom."

DeMint said he would love to see states go to court to invoke the Tenth Amendment: "If we had some states come together and say the only way to save this country is to push back." He also added: "I think you'll see some states say no more, we're not going down with the federal government."

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Earlier this week, I reported that, as part of its health care reform advocacy campaign, UnitedHealth Group was directing callers to a UHG hotline to attend an anti-health care reform tea party in Ohio. UHG had sent a letter to its employees, encouraging them to become more involved in the health care reform debate--to attend town hall forums, send letters to members of Congress--and offering to prepare them with guidance and talking points vis-a-vis UHG's opposition to the public option.

My source--who does not work for UHG--called one of UHG's so-called advocacy specialists and, in real time, communicated to me that, among other things, he'd been directed to an anti-health care reform rally outside the office of Rep. Zack Space (D-OH)--an event which turned out to be a tea party.

UHG was unavailable for comment on the day our story came out, but, yesterday, denied encouraging employees to attend anti-reform rallies to other news outlets. You can read their entire statement below. Today, I spoke with UHG spokesman John Parker to ask him for further comment. Does UHG believe my source was lying? Or does UHG contend that my source may have been directed to a tea party, but that this would have been a breach of company policy?

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It's hard to keep track of all of Sen. Chuck Grassley's health care machinations. Whether it's pulling the pug on grandma, or saying there should be 80 votes for a health care bill, or demanding Obama denounce the public option, he always seems to be finding new and creative ways to move the line on bipartisan reform closer and closer to the GOP view. Thankfully, Rachel Maddow did a pretty good job of putting it all together last night.



For more on this, too, read Greg Sargent.

A new analysis by Public Policy Polling (D) finds that Sarah Palin is especially popular with a key Republican demographic: The Birthers.

Among those respondents in PPP's latest national poll who either said that President Obama was not born in the United States or were undecided, Palin had a 66% favorability rating. Of the other three Republicans that were tested in the poll, Mike Huckabee was in second place at 58%, then Newt Gingrich with 46%, and Mitt Romney was last with only 43% favorability.

From PPP communications director Tom Jensen: "I mean this with all sincerity -- Romney's lack of popularity with the birther wing of the GOP really could scuttle his chances at the nomination in three years."

We've now obtained the complaint Louisiana State Democratic Party chairman Christopher Whittington has filed with the Senate Ethics Committee, charging that Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) used "appropriated funds to pay for town halls at which he engaged in campaign activity.

It was reported that on August 3, 2009, Senator Vitter held a breakfast town hall event.... The town hall was described as "not a campaign stop but part of his routine and his job as an elected official."... On information and believe, the expenses for this event were paid with Senate appropriated funds.

Instead of focusing on his official duties, the news articles described Senator Vitter as using this gatering to "compare[] his stance on health care to that of his likely future opponent, U.S. Rep Charlie Melancon...."


You can read the entire letter here. It also cites a separate event on August 17 at which Vitter reportedly urged the crowd to "keep up the pressure on" Melancon, and other Democratic congressmen--which may cross the line into political campaigning. Let's see how the Ethics Committee, and Vitter, respond.

Late update: Vitter says, "The Democrats' reaction to these town halls across America is to try to shut down the debate and suggest that it's somehow out of bounds. Well it's not out of bounds because this is still America."

"Instead of trying to shut down free speech, why doesn't Charlie Melancon have at least a single in-person town hall this month?" he added. "Sen. Vitter is having 19."

Fran Townsend, Bush's Homeland Security adviser and CNN contributor, appeared on the network again this morning to refute Tom Ridge's new claim that he was pushed to raise the terror alert on Election Eve 2004 for political reasons.

She repeated much of what she said on The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer last night - namely, that "there was no discussion of politics whatsoever," but she added some new contradictory information about "discussion on the margins."

"The only discussions I recall were on the margin - there was concern that if the intelligence supported raising the threat level, it might actually [be] to the detriment of President Bush because people might perceive it as being political," said Townsend.

Here's the video:

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The National Republican Congressional Committee has a new pair of TV ads targeting Rep. Zack Space (D-OH) and Rep. Michael Arcuri (D-NY), warning of cuts to Medicare under the Dems' health care plan.

The Space version attacks him for having already voted for the plan in committee:



"Higher costs, tax hikes, and, get this, massive cuts to Medicare," the announcer says. "The Obama-Pelosi plan would cut Medicare by 500 billion, and Zack Space already voted for it. Space cast one of four deciding votes to help Pelosi push her plan through. Call Space, tell him to change his mind and oppose Pelosi's cuts to Medicare."

The Arcuri version is available here.

Later this morning, Louisiana Democrats will send a clear message to Sen. David Vitter (R-LA): If you want to bash your political rivals at your rigged town halls, don't do it on the public dime.

State party chairman Chris Whittington is sending a letter to the Senate Ethics Committee requesting an investigation into whether Vitter has violated the Senate code of office conduct by, among other things, using the publicly sponsored forums, where he takes pre-screened questions, to "compare his stance on health care to that of his likely future opponent."

We'll post the letter from Whittington as soon as it's available. Vitter is likely to face a challenge from Rep. Charlie Melancon (D-LA) for his Senate seat in 2010.

Ironically, for all relevant purposes, the two probably aren't as far apart on health care as you'd assume. Though surely Democrat Melancon has taken some stances to the left of Vitter on certain provisions, he voted against the final health care reform package in the House Energy and Commerce Committee last month.

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