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Chris Cillizza
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 21, 2009; 12:00 PM

Every Friday, The Fix goes live, as Chris Cillizza discusses the latest news about Congress, the Obama administration, upcoming elections and all the latest political news.

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Chris Cillizza: Good morning all. It's the Live Fix chat coming to you from our unofficial chat sponsor -- Buzz Bakery in Old Town.

(The Fix family is moving to Falls Church soon I will need a new coffee place with free wifi to write from. Ideas needed!)

Our soundtrack for the chat: Thin Wild Mercury Music, a Bob Dylan bootleg courtesy of the Post's music man David Malitz.

Want to talk politics? Let's do this thing.

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Washington, D.C.: Not to be morbid here, but Kennedy can't be in very good shape. I mean, he didn't attend his sister's funeral. Has the press been respectfully reserved about the true state of his health (uncharacteristic), or does no one really know anything about this very public figure with a very large staff (unheard of)?

Chris Cillizza: The truth of the matter is almost no one -- outside of his family and a few select people close to the family -- know Sen. Kennedy's condition.

But, as you rightly point out, his absence from Eunice Kennedy Shriver's funeral and the fact that he has not appeared in the Senate for months suggest that things are quite serious.

Writing about Sen. Kennedy's health and what would happen if he vacated his seat is a delicate subject and one I have tried to be very careful about.

I wrote a piece in the Morning Fix today on what the succession fight might look like if Kennedy stepped down, a piece I thought was justified after Kennedy himself sent a letter to Gov. Deval Patrick on Thursday requesting a change in state law about how he would be replaced.

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Washington, D.C.: Chris,

I was surprised you didn't mention Barney Frank among Ted Kennedy's potential successors. Has he said he wouldn't run?

Chris Cillizza: I think Rep. Frank is very happy in his decidedly powerful perch as chairman of the House Financial Services Committee.

It's a post he has waited decades to assume and, to me at least, it seems unlikely he would vacate it -- even for a few months -- to try and win a Senate special election.

For what it's worth, none of the Massachusetts sources I talked to over the last 24 hours for my Morning Fix item on Kennedy mentioned Frank's name.

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Austin: What's the date/venue of that Bob Dylan recording? Any comments on Dylan being picked up by the police in New Jersey earlier this week?

Chris Cillizza: I read a piece that said Dylan was looking for the house where Springsteen wrote "Born to Run" when he was arrested.

If true, that is the coolest thing of all time.

And remember: "For Halloween buy her a trumpet/And for Christmas get her a drum"

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Falls Church, Va.: Cool - what part of Falls Church? We could be neighbors!

Chris Cillizza: Not quite sure yet....bring on the coffee shop recommendations!

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Quick Questions, USA: When is the next meeting of the Senate Finance Committee's Gang of Six?

When does the Full Congress come back?

What are you drinking today?

Chris Cillizza: The Gang of Six met -- by teleconference -- yesterday and won't meet again in person until Congress returns after Labor Day.

Drink: zebra (white chocolate, dark chocolate and espresso). Good stuff. Unofficial Fix drink.

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San Diego: Do you really think that Massachusetts will change the law on Governor selecting interim Senator just a few years after they changed it to prevent then-Gov. Romney from doing the same? You also referenced JFK's son by mistake on that thread.

Chris Cillizza: 1. I think the chances of a change in the law are VERY slight. As I wrote this morning, the power of Kennedy's appeal is significant but state legislators, who are already unpopular in the state at the moment, don't really want to be seen as tinkering with laws at the request of one guy.

2. Don't think I did. I said Joe Kennedy, a former Congressman and one of Robert Kennedy's sons, might run. JFK's two kids -- John Jr. and Caroline -- aren't mentioned.

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Alexandria, Va.: C-Liz - 2 half serious questions, and a legit one. First...Buzz bakery over Misha's? Really? Second, is it odd my wife and I think of you as the Bill Simmons of politics? We mean that as a compliment.

Doesn't the nomination of Creigh Deeds expose the potentially fatal problem when a party picks its most moderate candidate in a primary, under the auspices that they will be the strongest general election candidate? In a purple state, we dominated a conservative democrat, who is unable to sufficiently differentiate himself with his Republican opponent and inspire the NOVA base. Ergo...he is trouble. No matter what one thinks about politics, successful candidates have to be able to draw distinctions, we should've picked McAuliffe.

Chris Cillizza: Holy cow. LOTS of great stuff in this question.

1. You can smoke (or you used to be able to smoke) at Misha's. Fix is VERY anti-smoking.

2. Being the "Sports Guy" of politics is the highest compliment anyone could ever pay me. Bill Simmons is an innovator in tons of ways and, of course, there are any number of parallels between writing about sports and writing about politics.

3. Not sure I agree on Deeds/McAuliffe. McAuliffe would have ensured that the race was a referendum on him which, in Virginia, might not be a recipe for success. That said, Deeds has clearly struggled over the summer in two big spots -- northern Virginia and among independent voters. Some of that struggle has to do with the softening of President Obama's numbers but Deeds has to find a way to fix the problem. As I write, he is giving a "major" speech at George Mason and will release his first general election ad when it concludes. All of that is an attempt to reframe the race and an acknowledgment that he is behind and needs to change something or he will lose.

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Anonymous: Christie forgetting some income on his taxes in NJ -- is this more than a blip or is Corzine still packing his bags?

Chris Cillizza: Christie has had a bad few weeks -- starting with the revelation that he and Karl Rove had talked about him running for political office while he was still a U.S. Attorney and continuing through the news that he is holding a loan for a woman who works in the Attorney's office now.

Not great.

What we don't know yet is whether this series of bad stories for Christie is enough to fundamentally change the dynamic of the race -- a referendum on Corzine and his handling of the New Jersey economy.

My guess -- and it is only a guess -- is that it isn't as voters have been stewing about Corzine and the state's economy for several years.

But, the bad press for Christie has had one definite effect: it has re-energized many Democratic activists and strategists who were beginning to believe that Corzine was a lost cause as recently as two weeks ago.

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State College, Pa.: Not to pick on you, Chris. But here's the quote about JFK Jr. from The Fix today:

"Joseph Kennedy, the son of Robert F. Kennedy and a former member of Congress, would almost certainly have the right of first refusal since the seat has been in his family since 1950 1952 when his uncle John F. Kennedy Jr. won it. (Ted Kennedy's wife, Vicki, would almost certainly take the seat without opposition but is apparently uninterested.)"

Chris Cillizza: What is the issue -- other than the fact that I initially screwed up when JFK got elected to the Senate :)

Joe Kennedy is Robert Kennedy's son.

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JFK's two kids -- John Jr. and Caroline -- aren't mentioned: Ummm. John Jr. is dead. Caroline is a New York resident. Tough for either of them to run for any Massachusetts seat, I think.

Chris Cillizza: Right you are.

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Arlington, Va.: Let's face it -- the people of Massachusetts would elect Kennedy (the former MTV VJ) if she ran for office, wouldn't they?

Chris Cillizza: Love the Kennedy reference! Could John Norris win? What about Downtown Julie Brown. Wubba Wubba Wubba.

I do think the Kennedy name still has considerable cache in Massachusetts and that seat has been in the family almost continually since 1952.

If either Vicki Kennedy, the Senator's wife, ran, she would likely be elected easily. I think Joe Kennedy would have slightly more opposition but would have to be the favorite.

Not clear if either of them are interested.

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Washington, D.C.: One of the best things about Buzz-- they sell Boylans soda! Terrific brand.

Chris Cillizza: Agreed. They make a wicked black cherry soda.

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Prescott, Ariz.: You called Sen. McCain's appearance on This Week on Sunday Morning "must see" TV. May I ask why? He plays absolutely no role in the health care debate, which is what everyone cares about right now. And not that he has went to being a party-line voter since he lost the election he isn't even being discussed as a swing-vote on any legislation. He is "must see" in the same regard as John Kerry was "must see" in 2005, as in not so much. The one thing I think could make news out of this is whether he thinks his dinner with Momar Quadafi counts as "pallin' around with a terrorist", or "appeasement", given that the release of one of the Pan Am terrorists happened this week.

Chris Cillizza: I think that McCain still holds serious power within the party despite the fact that he lost the 2008 presidential fight.

He is the best known Republican -- with the possible exception of his 2008 ticketmate -- in the country and when he speaks on an issue I think there is an audience for what he has to say.

As I wrote this morning, McCain has largely been shut out of the health care debate but I do think that how he positions himself has some influence over how some of his colleagues -- particularly the Senate moderates -- look at the bill when Congress comes back next month.

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"when his uncle John F. Kennedy Jr. won it.": I think that the point is that JFK -senior- won the seat in '52.

Chris Cillizza: Ah! Apologies. Love the stickler!

But, let's be honest. We all knew what I meant.

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It's the Live Fix chat coming to you from or unofficial chat sponsor : Is this covered by your WaPo expense account? Or do you write it off the Fix family taxes as a business expense?

Chris Cillizza: This all comes out of the personal Fix pocket!

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Junior: The poster is peeved that you added a spurious "Jr." to JFK's name. Obviously the actual JFK junior wasn't around in the '50s, and JFK wasn't a Junior (his father was Joe, right, the Ambassador, bootlegger, and all-around rascal?)

Chris Cillizza: Thank you. Reason triumphs!

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Chris Cillizza: "If he needs a third eye/he just grows it."

Seriously, how can you not love Dylan?

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Princeton, N.J.: From a distance, it appeared that the Post's recommendation of Deeds was a big influence. Do you think its approval will help him in the general? (If he gets it -- which is by no means sure given the Post's Editorial Board's rightward lurch.)

Chris Cillizza: It clearly made a BIG difference in the primary. In truth, it was the only "big" thing that happened in that race.

I think the Post endorsement matters less in a general election than it does in a primary since there were lots of undecideds in NOVA who were looking for a candidate and needed some guidance, which the Post helpfully provided.

That's less the case in a general.

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I bet they do.....: "I do think the Kennedy name still has considerable cache in Massachusetts"

I think you mean "cachet"... unless you mean they've got a cache of .... Money? Charisma? Single-malt Scotch?

Chris Cillizza: MAN. I am being kept on my toes this morning!

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Hamilton, Va.: You don't want a coffee shop you want a malt shop considering what you drink. The only way to drink coffee is dark roast, black, no sugar. I can show you the hair on my chest.

Chris Cillizza: It's true. I like fancy coffee drinks. Nothing under $4 ideally.

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Fairfax County, Va.: Hi Chris, I'm dipping in for a moment (multitasking) while being touched to death by Creigh Deeds's speech. I'm going back there while you answer so I guess I'm "taking my answer off the air" as the radio people say.

Here's the gut-level surprise for me -- in how he comes across, in who he is, in his solid record, in his solid family roots, and even his halting speech, I swear to God I'm looking at our own home-grown Joe Biden. Coming from me that is a high compliment. (Deeds sure isn't a silver- tongued Chicago guy, though.)

I'm thinking it's nice to have Obama campaign here but I hope we get to see a lot of the Bidens (both). There is a very similar real-folks, common-sense smarts thing going on with them. Now back to the speech...

Chris Cillizza: Thanks for the input...LIVE reporting from the Deeds speech!

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Roseland, N.J.: Way back in the depths of ancient history- four months ago- Obama's goal was to get his health-care plan out of committee before the August recess. The bird's out of the cage.

Right now it looks almost certain we'll have the November off-year elections before this bill gets reconciled (if then).

Is the White House concerned that, in the likelihood they get swept in Jersey and VA, the Blue Dogs are going to get wobbly and just bail on the plan completely?

Chris Cillizza: A very good question.

I think that if Democrats lose in VA and NJ -- and polls suggest they are behind in both right now -- there will be considerable trepidation from Members of Congress to back the President's plan without serious changes.

I am not sure VA and NJ should be read as barometers of the national mood but they almost certainly will be, a fact the political poobahs at the White House know well.

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McCain "Shutout": How has he been shut out of the debate? Aside from random positions during his presidential bid, I don't ever remember McCain being a player where health care is concerned.

Chris Cillizza: Just making the point he is not part of the negotiations. And, yes, you are right -- McCain's passion is, and always has been, foreign affairs with some reformist domestic policy elements thrown in.

Not health care or the economy.

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The rest of America...: ...is getting very bored with references to obscure eateries and coffee joints inside the Beltway.

How about Rockin' Java in the Haight? Or the Otis Cafe outside Lincoln City, OR? Or the Old Townhouse Restaurant in San Diego?

Honestly, has this become the coffee chat?

Chris Cillizza: Wait, you asked if this had become the coffee chat after listing a bunch of coffee places?

How meta.

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Baltimore: The Kennedy name is not a guarantee of political success. Look at Maryland - Kathleen Townsend 'rebranded' herself to include her maiden name and further advertise her Kennedy lineage. It got her nowhere at election time. In fact, it appears that it offended enough people that she managed to get a Republican governor elected in what is essentially a one-party state.

Chris Cillizza: Also, Caroline Kennedy in New York and Mark Shriver in Maryland...

BUT, I would make a distinction between the Kennedy name broadly and the Kennedy name in Massachusetts. I think that it still has real power and significance in the Bay State.

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Arlington, Va.: Barney Frank smack down at a town hall. Your reaction? I thought it was brilliant.

washingtonpost.com: Rep. Frank Lashes Back at Protesters (AP, Aug. 19)

Chris Cillizza: It was classic Barney Frank.

Fix Barney Frank story: As a young cub reporter, I was tasked with doing profile of the Congressman. I had about 10 questions to ask him. I went into his office, asked them and left in under 10 minutes.

Hilarious.

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Wokingham, U.K.: 'Parturiunt montes, nascetur ridiculus mus' - the mountains heave and travail and a silly little mouse will be born. Was Horace when he wrote these lines foreseeing the probable outcome of Senate deliberations on health care?

Chris Cillizza: Horace!

I don't even know what this question means but I think it raises the overall intellectual content of this chat.

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Philly 'burbs, Pa.: Do you think that your blog has been targeted by paid blog-spammers who try to pollute the political discourse -- especially when a comment arouses the ire of bureaucrats who may be pursuing a hidden ideological agenda?

Chris Cillizza: Um, no

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Poplar Bluff, Mo.: Chris, thanks for the chat. I read yesterday that Charlie Cook stated the GOP could possibly pick up 20 seats in the House in 2010. Do you believe this to be an accurate assessment and which Democrats (i.e. Blue-Dogs) do you see to be the most vulnerable? By the way, best Dylan song, "The Hurricane", loved the movie.

Chris Cillizza: Yes, the Charlie Cook pronouncement was VERY interesting.

I think Charlie -- along with Stu Rothenberg -- are the two best political handicappers out there right now.

So, I tend to take their assessment very seriously.

What we know from even a cursory glance at the House playing field is that Republicans have MANY more targets than Democrats. (That tends to happen when you lose 54 seats in two election.)

What we saw in 2006 and in 2008 is that the national political environment can help grow the playing field if it is tilted decidedly in one direction.

Given the drop in Obama's poll numbers, the strong disapproval ratings of Congress and the historic losses a majority party suffers in a president's first midterm election, there is reason for significant optimism among Republicans.

They are nearly certain to pick up seats. How many? I am holding my powder on that sort of prediction just yet.

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Long Island, N.Y.: Chris

As I understand it, the proposed rule change is only to allow the appointment of an interim senator until the special election (5 months after the vacancy) is held to ensure that Mass has two senators. Additionally, I think the person appointed would be precluded from running from the seat.

As I understand it, the prior rule in Mass that was changed was the appointed senator would finish out the term, no matter how long it was (5 months or 5 years).

Is that correct?

Chris Cillizza: The law was changed in 2004. The previous law allowed the governor to make the appointment while the new law called for a special election to be held between 145 and 160 days after the seat is officially vacated.

The law was changed in 04 because Democrats in the state were worried that then Gov. Mitt Romney would appoint a Republican to the Senate if Sen. John Kerry was elected president.

Ah, unintended consequences!

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Boston: If the Kennedy name was all you needed to win office in Massachusetts, Joseph Kennedy would have been Governor. He's not. Those days are long gone. Ted served us well and is revered, but everyone else has to earn it.

Chris Cillizza: Thanks for the perspective.

For more on what a Senate race to replace Kennedy would look like, check out the Fix right now.

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"McCain's passion is, and always has been, foreign affairs with some reformist domestic policy elements thrown in. ": Which is why I'm going to be screaming through the interview. Because even though McCain doesn't understand or care about the health-care bill, his opinions will still be taken seriously. I'd like to see Sunday morning interviewees to be given some test in the greenroom about facts on the issues of the day. The interviewer would then only ask about those issues in which the interviewee got a B or better. Actually, I'd like to see a test like that before votes and committee assignments as well...

Chris Cillizza: If there was a test for what people knew/cared about before they went on television, there would be LOTS of dead air.

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I am holding my powder : It's a good thing you are anti-smoking.

Chris Cillizza: Indeed.

"In the empty lot/where the ladies play blind man's bluff with the key chain/and the all night girls whisper of escapades out on the D train"

Guy is a G-E-N-I-U-S.

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Philadelphia: You just said this regarding McCain:

"...and when he speaks on an issue I think there is an audience for what he has to say."

What? The 25-30% of birthers and deathers who are holding on to the good ol' days of misinformation, lies and politics?

Chris Cillizza: Okey doke. Some folks on the chat don't seem to like Sen. McCain or his opinions.

It's a democracy...so thanks for letting your voices be heard.

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I like fancy coffee drinks. : The stuff you imbibe is not "coffee drinks" -- it's the equivalent of coffee ice cream. Be honest.

Chris Cillizza: I like coffee ice cream.

Satisfied?

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Coffee: I highly recommend Stacey's - 709 Broad Street.

Chris Cillizza: BOO YAH! That's two recommendations for Stacey's. Is there somewhere for the Fix to spread out while I type?

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Hackettstown, N.J.: Are we heading to a time when we need a "blue-ribbon" commission to work out a health care/insurance plan? (And then ignore what the blue-ribbon commission says of course!)

Chris Cillizza: Nothing better than the creation of a bipartisan commission in Congress to recommend changes for a big social program. Remember when that approach led to the overhaul of Social Security? Wait....

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Arlington, Va.: Hello. Thanks for taking our questions. Could you please comment on the 2008 race for the White House in the context of women? Wasn't it interesting to witness Sen. Hillary Clinton on the national scene? Also, what would the Republican race have looked like with Condi Rice as VP? Isn't Condi a strong supporter of the 2nd Amendment, and wouldn't that have also helped McCain along with being a strong woman? Also, as you look back, with Hillary, Condi, and Sarah Palin being on the national stage, isn't this an excellent example of women's progress in the political and diplomatic arena?

Chris Cillizza: Let me take this opportunity to pitch my colleague Anne Kornblut's forthcoming book on just that topic.

Coming to booksellers near you in late December: Notes from the Cracked Ceiling: Hillary Clinton, Sarah Palin, and What It Will Take for a Woman to Win by Anne E. Kornblut.

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Arlington, Va.: So two chatters recommend Stacey's. On what grounds?

Chris Cillizza: Coffee grounds!

Yes!

I came up with that one. Thank you! Thank you! I'll be here all week. Try the veal.

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If there was a test for what people knew/cared about before they went on television,: And C-Span could no longer cover Congress.

Chris Cillizza: HEYOO!

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"In the empty lot/where the ladies play blind man's bluff with the key chain/and the all night girls whisper of escapades out on the D train" : Could you please translate that into Latin?

Chris Cillizza: Took nine years of Latin in high school and college. The extent of that schooling? "All of Gaul is divided into three parts".

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Midterm elections : Perhaps I am naive, but I think that the Dem losses in the midterms will not be as high if the economy is better. People vote with their checkbooks. It seems prudent to let the health care debate rage now instead of 2010.

And I love your sports-politics comparison. I have always felt that the importance of strategy and personalities and the ability to debate the littlest things to death are the same in sports and politics, except in sports, it doesn't really mean anything.

Chris Cillizza: No question that if the economy gets perceptibly better, Democrats will be in a much strong position come next November.

And, there is a reason that major policy fights happen in off years. Once the calendar turns to 2010, almost nothing of import legislatively will get done.

As for the politics-sports connection, I am actually working on a book proposal as we speak that establishes a Political Hall of Fame along the line of the baseball hall of fame.

And, yes, the above paragraph was a blatant sales pitch to buy the book when it comes out.

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Helena, Mont.: Holy cow! John McCain is a moderate! I count only two moderates in the Senate on GOP side - the ladies from Maine. All the others are right-wing, far right-wing, and loony right-wing (I'm looking at you, Tom Coburn).

Chris Cillizza: If you read what I wrote, I said McCain holds some sway among moderates not that he himself is a moderate.

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Yes, Stacy's!: Let me echo the praise -- adorable place; great coffee and cupcakes... and it's above the stupendous record store "CD Cellar." It also has lots of tables and is usually uncrowded. It's vintage Falls Church, as is the CD store.

Chris Cillizza: PSYCHED. too many coffee places these days are SUPER crowded. (Buzz, cough, Buzz,)

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Anonymous: Why invest so much time/energy into predictions for 2010, rather than the multitude of issues we now confront?

Chris Cillizza: Because the focus on my reporting and the mission of the Fix is to report on political campaigns. We have LOTS of great reporters who write great stories about the ongoing policy fights in Washington and keep readers up to date on the "multitude of issues we now confront".

My goal is different: I try to analyze what those issues mean for when voters vote.

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coffee grounds: Chris you're slow....

Chris Cillizza: Coffee grounds!

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20202: Man, people are cranky today. I think it's the humidity. Anyway, in keeping with the spirit of the chat, I do hope the sinister blogospheric forces influencing this chat stop you from drinking sissified coffee drinks. NOW EVERYONE STOP TALKING ABOUT COFFEE IMMEDIATELY!

Chris Cillizza: Yes, let's!

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Chris Cillizza: And, scene!

That's all I have time for today. But, never fear the Live Fix will be back next Friday. Same bat time, same bat channel. That's 11 am for you newbies.

And, I leave you with this:

"She's got everything she needs/she's an artist/she don't look back"

Have a great weekend!

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