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Can Republicans cut a budget deal with themselves?

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House Speaker John Boehner, right, and House Majority Whip Eric Cantor have a tough political course to chart among their own ranks on the budget deal. (AP Photo/Harry Hamburg) With the drop-dead deadline for a government shutdown now just 72 hours away, the most fascinating skirmish in the budget debate is not between Democrats and Republicans, but within the Republican Party.

A new Washington Post poll shows self-identified Republicans growing increasingly disillusioned with their party’s approach to the budget crisis.

Four in 10 GOPers say Republicans in Congress are “playing politics,” up from just 27 percent who said the same in February.

By contrast, Democrats’ belief that their side is “playing politics” is almost the same as it was two months ago.

And then there is the clear chasm between the GOP establishment and the tea party wing, a divide made clear in a new Pew Poll.

Asked whether lawmakers should stand by their principles — even if it means a government shutdown or compromise on a budget on which they disagree — 50 percent of self-identified Republicans said they should stand on principle, while 43 percent preferred a compromise.

But inside the numbers, the split becomes apparent. Fifty-six percent of “conservative” Republicans favor a principled shutdown while only 37 percent of “moderate/liberal” Republicans say the same. Among those Republicans and Republican leaners who support the principles of the tea party, backing for a shutdown is even stronger, with 68 percent preferring that option.

What the two polls point to is that, while Americans are evenly divided in both surveys about who would be blamed in a shutdown, Republicans likely have more exposure if it comes to pass.

There is considerable suspicion about Republican leaders’ motives from within the party and also a clear bifurcation between moderates and conservatives/tea party-aligned GOPers.

In the event of a shutdown, it’s not difficult to imagine a messaging split between tea party types like Sens. Rand Paul (Ky.), Jim DeMint (S.C.) and many of the House freshmen on one side and the likes of Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor (Va.) on the other.

That sort of split could make the party look weak and riven in what would be a messaging war to end all messaging wars against the White House and congressional Democrats.

The polls also may explain why Boehner and his leadership team have reached out to moderate and conservative House Democrats to test their willingness to vote for a bill that includes roughly $33 billion in cuts. And it also may explain why, with just a few days left until a potential shutdown, House Speaker John Boehner (Ohio) late Monday night introduced yet another short-term extension.

Boehner, from the start, has made clear that a shutdown is not an outcome he wants. And smartly so, since the new numbers suggest that the closure of the federal government could lay bare differences within the party that any GOP strategist would prefer be litigated out in private.

The fight to watch over the next few days then is among Republicans as they try to find a place somewhere between full-fledged compromise with Democrats and a shutdown of the federal government.

Obama labels himself an underdog: In a conference call with supporters Monday night, President Obama described his just-launched reelection campaign as the battle of an underdog.

“This time we’ve got a different situation,” Obama said, according to the Wall Street Journal. “I mean, we’ve got an array of forces that are already lined up against us.”

Obama added: “We’ve got millions upon millions of dollars of outside money that are going to be pouring in from these special interest groups that aren’t disclosing where they’re getting their money from. You’ve got a rejuvenated Republican Party that is feeling good about itself.”

Obama and his team may believe that to be the case, but either way, it serves as a rallying cry to supporters and donors whom Obama doesn’t want to be passive early in the 2012 campaign.

Even after the massive outside spending on behalf of Republicans in the 2010 campaign, though, it would take a severely ramped up effort from groups like American Crossroads (which spent around $70 million last year) to bring Republicans close to the rumored $1 billion Obama might raise.

Louisiana redistricting begins in earnest: State lawmakers in Louisiana began debating the state’s new congressional map in earnest on Monday.

There’s little doubt that, with the state losing a district, Republican Reps. Charles Boustany and Jeff Landry will be drawn into the same district along the Gulf Coast. The main question is what legislators will do with northern Louisiana.

Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) and the state Senate want the area to keep two vertical districts — one based in Shreveport and the other in Monroe and Alexandria. But there has been some talk of a having two horizontal districts in the area instead.

Another major change is in store for freshman Rep. Cedric Richmond — the delegation’s only Democrat in the state’s lone majority-black district. His district will likely have to be extended from its current home in New Orleans up to Baton Rouge, in order to remain majority-black.

McDonnell considering gay adoption: In what would be a significant move for a conservative Republican governor, Virginia’s Bob McDonnell (R) is considering whether to try to derail proposed regulations that would allow gay couples in the state to adopt children.

The regulations were originally proposed by his Democratic predecessor, Tim Kaine, in 2009. They are set to take effect in less than two weeks. Currently, married couples and single men or women can adopt in the state.

Conservatives are lobbying McDonnell to kill the proposal. The governor previously alienated gay rights activists when he excluded sexual orientation from an executive order barring workplace discrimination.

Fixbits:

The GOP frontrunner to face Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear (D) this year, state Senate President David Williams (R), is dealing with the fallout after his divorce papers revealed $36,000 in gambling losses between 1999 and 2002.

In case there was any doubt, it sounds like Obama will not accept federal matching funds in the general election.

Lee County Commissioner Tammy Hall (R) has filed for Rep. Connie Mack’s (R-Fla.) seat. But Mack recently said he won’t run for Senate, and Hall said she is planning to run for one of the state’s two new seats. (Federal election law requires a candidate to specify a district, but funds can be applied to a different district.)

Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) has announced raising $1 million in the first quarter after launching his Senate campaign in mid-February. Flake also got a break Friday when Rep. Trent Franks passed on challenging him in the GOP primary for retiring Sen. Jon Kyl’s (R-Ariz.) seat.

Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney will comingle with tea partiers in New Hampshire later this month, Americans for Prosperity announced Monday.

Two professors have come out with a study showing how voting for Obama’s health care bill hurt Democrats’ reelection chances more than any other vote.

Indiana First Lady Cheri Daniels will keynote the state Republican Party’s May 12 dinner.

Newt Gingrich is accusing Obama of “extorting” contributions from supporters.

Acting West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin (D) takes an early fundraising lead in the state’s 2011 special election for governor.

Must-reads:

Christie attacks double-dipping” — Lisa Fleisher, Wall Street Journal

Obama launches bid for second term, with all upsides and vulnerabilities of incumbency” — AP

Fed helped kept banks afloat, until it didn’t” — Binyamin Appelbaum and Jo Carven McGinty, New York Times

Florida GOP flirts with moving up presidential primary” — Adam C. Smith, St. Petersburg Times

Warning signs among the GOP” — Charlie Cook, National Journal

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