The Live Fix: Harold Ford, Dodd's retirement, Lieberman's future, Coakley-Brown race, five must-read books for political junkies

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Chris Cillizza
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 8, 2010; 11:00 AM

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.

A transcript follows.

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Chris Cillizza: Good morning everyone. The Live Fix, after several weeks of shifting time slots, is back in its rightful place on Friday mornings.

And, what a week for our triumphant return! The retirements of two Democratic Senators, a Democratic governor and a leading Democratic gubernatorial candidate in Tuesday made for one of the most exciting days in campaign politics I can remember.

Then there's Michael Steele, the fact that the Illinois primary is only 25 days away and Sarah Palin attending the first cattle call of the 2012 GOP presidential fight.

SO awesome. Let's go!

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Hartford, Conn.: I know this doesn't fit with the groupthink narrative of the chattering class, but please try this on for size. Replacing a vulnerable incumbent senator with the most popular politician in the state is considered a win in most places.

Chris Cillizza: Ah, yes, that old hobbyhorse. Damn chattering class and their groupthink!

I wrote many times over the past week that the Dodd for Blumethal trade was a very good thing for the Democratic party.

I also think, however, you can't discount the negative cumulative effect of four Democratic politicians calling it quits on the same day.

The psychological impact of those departures -- particularly that of Sen. Byron Dorgan (N.D.) -- is real and could sway some wavering Democratic lawmakers as they make their decisions about whether or not to run again this fall.

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Ithaca, N.Y.: Will you be the one person on MSNBC to pour cold water of Harold Ford, Jr.'s tentative run against Kirsten Gillibrand?

I have my theories on why it's moronic for him to run but I was curious what you thought?

Chris Cillizza: I have already poured cold water on said idea in my blog.

(Andrea, beloved Live Fix chat producer, can u link to that piece on Ford Jr.?)

My guess for why Ford is floating his name is that he won't run this time but it will make the next time he considers a race in New York far easier.

Ford cannot win statewide in Tennessee at the moment -- not sure many Democrats could -- and he seems to have come to that realization.

He is re-establishing himself in New York for a possible future run.

Of course, if he did run against Gillibrand this year it would be an absolutely fascinating race.

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Albany, NY: Chris, what do you think about this Harold Ford for NY Senate stuff? I've thought it was pretty odd myself, but there really is a lot of unease about Sen. Gillibrand here. Maybe it's the Paterson connection, maybe it's her conservative-leaning House record...I'm not sure. But, there's definitely an opening for someone. Not sure it's a fmr. Tennessee Congressman though...

Chris Cillizza: There is ABSOLUTELY an opening for someone -- particularly in a Democratic primary -- but I am not sure that someone is a moderate/conservative Democrat who is from Tennessee.

If Rep. Steve Israel would have run (the White House talked him out of it), he might well have beaten Gillibrand.

In a general election, I think it's a far tougher proposition because of the Democratic tilt of the state. The latest Republican to consider it is former Rep. Susan Molinari though I am very skeptical she ultimately does it.

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washingtonpost.com: Ford Jr. weighs longshot bid for NY-Senate (The Fix, Jan. 6)

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Kevin (Jacksonville, FL): Fix...quick thoughts on last night's game?

Also, do you think Salazar not running is a hidden blessing for Dems, given how GOP are nationalizing statewide races and Salazar being a part of the Obama Admin?

Chris Cillizza: Depressing.

Mrs. Fix's entire family are Texas A&M Aggies so, obviously, I can never root for Texas. But, man did you have to feel for McCoy. And, it would have been a far more interesting game if Texas QB had taken about five more snaps this year than me prior to McCoy getting hurt.

I have moved on though. HUGE game for the Hoyas tomorrow...against UCONN.

On Salazar, I think he was the strongest Democratic nominee for a bunch of reasons including he would have really stoked excitement among Hispanic voters, which would have helped Democrats up and down the ballot.

Hickenlooper, the Denver Mayor, is almost certain to be the candidate now and while he is strong too, he is likely to have to contend with considerable skepticism toward him from everyone who doesn't live in and around Denver.

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Minneapolis, MN: You should give weight to the calendar when ranking races for the line. To have no words on the Senate primaries in IL, which are nearly upon us, is CRIMINAL.

Chris Cillizza: Good point.

Not sure it is criminal. And, I don't like to use the word "criminal" too much in relation to Illinois ;)

Here's a quick read out on the Illinois Senate primaries.

Sexy Lexi Giannoulias is very likely to be the D nominee as neither Cheryle Jackson or David Hoffman seem to be putting together any sort of momentum.

On the GOP side, Rep. Mark Kirk will win. Patrick Hughes, a conservative businessman, could have made the race interesting if he had been able to raise money but he, um, wasn't.

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Massachusetts: Just my take on the Coakley/Brown Senate seat:

I don't think the "Brown might win" hysteria is justified, though the race is tighter than it should be. Major U.S. papers (ahem) seem to be giving way too much credibility to a Rasmussen poll that uses questionable methodology. Anyone wanting more detail about that poll should check out the always excellent Nate Silver on 538.com.

I would just add that Brown is a good candidate in a lot of ways - tall, great looking, military/justice background, well spoken, etc. It's easy to miss the right wing politics underneath it all, and in a special election, most voters aren't going to delve that deeply.

Chris Cillizza: I continue to believe that the race is closing and I also continue to believe that it's hard for Brown to get to 50 percent and actually win this thing.

That said, I keep hearing Democrats are in full panic mode about the race and that outside money is going to come flooding into the state in the final 10 days.

I am actually working on a piece about the Mass special for my Monday Fix column in the newspaper.

Stay tuned.

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Cleveland Park, Washington, DC: Don't forget the Massachusetts Senate election in 11 days.

Chris Cillizza: I NEVER DO!

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Beloved producer: Do you buy a dessert coffee & pastry for beloved producer Andrea, or is she toiling away in a dark basement, hungry, sleepy and underappreciated?

washingtonpost.com: I like coffee cake and vanilla lattes Chris.

Chris Cillizza: OOOH. Good question.

Andrea and I work at different locations so no. But maybe I should.

I still want to get the Live Fix chat sponsored by Starbucks or Greenberry's -- or even Z Burger! -- so I can always do it from one location and maybe get free coffee/burgers for people who come in and say hi.

My phone has yet to ring...

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everyone who doesn't live in and around Denver. : In 2007, 50.7% of Coloradans lived in the Denver-Aurora-Broomfield MSA.

Chris Cillizza: OK. Well then if Hickenlooper gets every single one of those votes, he wins.

Of course, that's impossible. Which means he is going to have to find a way to appeal to voters in other parts of the state.

Which was my original point!

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Arlington: Any chance that Dodd would challenge Lieberman in '12? Tell me that wouldn't be the race of the century....and a dream come true for political junkies!

Chris Cillizza: No chance. The same problems that forced Dodd from the race aren't likely to disappear before 2012.

As I think you could tell from his speech on Wednesday, this is the end of a long political road for Dodd.

With Blumenthal in the 2010 Senate race, look for Rep. Chris Murphy, widely regarded as a rising star within the Democratic party, to position himself at the front of the line for 2012.

As I have said before, I see no way Lieberman can win the Democratic nomination in 2012. He HAS to run as an independent -- if he runs at all.

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New Haven, CT: Chris, I have a theory on how the Connecticut Senate race plays out. I think John Cornyn steps in and encourages CT Republicans to get behind Linda McMahon because she can self-finance; the NRSC wouldn't have to drop a dime into the race. Rob Simmons, on the other hand, doesn't have $100M in personal finances to blow through. Your thoughts?

Chris Cillizza: I am not sure Cornyn steps in -- he has gotten a lot of flack for wading into primaries -- but I do think that McMahon's personal wealth and her willingness to spend it is VERY attractive for Republicans who see Blumethal way ahead in polling at the moment.

A few people have asked whether either McMahon or Rob Simmons gets out of the race. I don't think either do. The governor's race already has a primary on the Republican side and I think both McMahon and Simmons want to be in the Senate anyway.

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Washington, DC: I have to wonder if all the Democrats holding forth the theory that Dodd retiring because he was going to lose is a "good thing" because now Blumenthal is going to replace him and win are just spinning or actually believe this. The majority of voters, even in affluent Connecticut, don't follow politics with even 50% of the attention that you and your faithful readers do. Name recognition is huge in elections, and many, many voters are probably no more than vaguely aware of who their state's Attorney General is. Also, Blumenthal will actually have to campaign now, and lots of popular non-candidates become less popular once a campaign starts.

So, I still think Dodd retiring helps the Republicans more than the Democrats, no matter how much spin is applied.

Chris Cillizza: Maybe.

But the political realities of a state as strongly Democratic as Connecticut is that a non-scandal ridden Democrat will beat a Republican candidate nine times out of ten.

That's why it was so critical for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and the White House to get Dodd out.

(We hear DSCC Chairman Bob Menendez deserves a ton of credit for the way he handled the Dodd for Blumenthal switch, which was not an easy situation to finesse.)

Could something happen to Blumenthal's candidacy that makes the race a barn burner? Sure. After all, he hasn't run a real race in twenty years and has two decades of decisions as Attorney General he will have to answer for.

But, Democrats are clearly better off with Blumenthal as their nominee than they were with Dodd.

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Harrisburg, PA: "I see no way Lieberman can win the Democratic nomination in 2012. He HAS to run as an independent -- if he runs at all."

Or he could run as a Republican...

Chris Cillizza: OOOH. Me likey.

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Massachusetts again: I'm a Coakley supporter, and I can't figure out what the heck she's doing. She's raised money; when had she planned on spending it? The election is a week from Tuesday and I have yet to see a TV ad!

There's also a concern about the presence of "a" (as opposed to "the") Joseph Kennedy, a libertarian, on the ballot. It's possible, given that this is Mass., that a Pavlovian response will kick in when voters see the Kennedy name on a ballot.

Chris Cillizza: Coakley is now up on television and her allies insist that the race will widen back out now.

Scott Brown's problem has long been that he can't raise any money and so isn't competitive with Coakley in the final weeks.

The ad buy from the conservative independent group American Future Fund, which I wrote about in today's Morning Fix, will help Brown.

But will other national conservative groups join AFF?

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"Lost" return versus "State of the Union": Who do you predict will blink first re the potential TV-scheduling conflict for February 2?

washingtonpost.com: Rescheduled State of the Union would conflict with 'Lost' premiere (Post, Jan. 7)

Chris Cillizza: SOTU

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College Park, Md.: Is the latest buzz about Martin O'Malley facing such a difficult re-election that he might step down just gossip from state Republican party?

I don't think Martin O'Malley was in that bad shape. Is he?

Chris Cillizza: Yes.

And, no.

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New York, New York: Let's play a game. You're Mitch Daniels. What would have to happen in the next two years for you to run for the Presidency?

Chris Cillizza: I need to figure out a way to get out of my myriad public statements that under no circumstances I will run for president.

The economy needs to continue to struggle.

Either Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty or former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney have to shock the GOP world and decide not to run.

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Boston: You, and the other hysteria mongering pundits, are going to look foolish when Coakley wins by at least 10 points. Would you like to bet a cup of coffee on it? I'll check back after the election to collect--and we drink Dunkin Donuts' coffee up here not Starbucks...

Chris Cillizza: Um, I just wrote that while the race is closing I don't see a way today that Brown wins.

How does that qualify as "hysteria-mongering"?

Also, I know my Dunkin Donuts. I was raised in Connecticut after all....

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Williamsburg, Va.: With polling showing Blumenthal holding a 25-35 point lead, why are pundits like Charlie Cook calling the race a "toss-up"?

Cook also says that there is no chance that the Democrats can maintain 60 seats. Oh? Aren't there endangered GOP seats in OH, NH, MI and KY? The chances may be small, but "no chance"?

Chris Cillizza: I think people like Charlie (my former boss) are waiting to see how Blumenthal does in his first few weeks/months as a candidate and whether the polling moves at all.

My guess would be that if Blumenthal doesn't stumble badly and polling heading into the summer shows him up 15-20 points, you will see most political analysts move the race in Democrats' favor.

And, yes, there is a chance Democrats' hold their 60 seat majority but not a great one. Counter the states you listed with Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, North Dakota, Delaware, Nevada, Illinois and Pennsylvania -- all places where Republicans are on offense.

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Brent Musburger never ages. He's like Dorian Gray.: Lee Corso, on the other hand, needs to park the bus.

Chris Cillizza: Thanks for reading my Twitter feed. It is true about Musburger, right? That guys has looked the same since I was a pimply-faced kid in Connecticut in the 1980s!

Corso makes me laugh. Especially when he puts on the heads of teams' mascots.

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Moorhead, Minn.: I feel bad reading all these Dodd question and nobody seems to care about old Dorgan.

So I'll ask, what are the big take-aways from his retirement (outside of Dodd doing it at the same time) and do Democrats have nobody in North Dakota to replace him on the ballot beside Ed Schultz (who I think it perfectly happy with exposure and paycheck at Rockefeller Ceneter).

Chris Cillizza: While Connecticut got WAY more attention, North Dakota is actually the bigger story to my mind.

Dorgan could have faced a real challenge if Gov. John Hoeven had run but even GOP strategists weren't optimistic about that prospect.

The fact that Dorgan bowed out is hugely consequential for other Democrats -- in the House especially -- who are sitting in GOP-leaning districts. You can just imagine them saying to themselves: "Well, if Dorgan doesn't think he can win this environment, how can I?"

As for ND specifically, if Hoeven runs the race is close to over. Democrats are talking about a lot of different people as their candidate with people in DC most excited about the prospect of former state Attorney General Heidi Heitkamp.

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Merrimack, NH: My parents live in Murphy's district in CT. I said something about Dodd's retirement helping Murphy's chances against Lieberman in 2012, and they were surprised, because the buzz there is that Murphy's chances against Caligiuri (who is apparently universally beloved in Waterbury) this year weren't great. So a) how tough do you think the current race is and b) if Murphy lost to Caligiuri this year, would he have any chance of winning a Senate seat next time anyway? Thanks!

Chris Cillizza: I don't think any incumbent -- particularly a Democratic incumbent -- should feel totally at ease heading into November.

That said, Murphy is a solid candidate and outstanding fundraiser. Caliguri has recently dropped from the Senate race so let's see how he adjusts to a House campaign.

I think Murphy's biggest potential problem is taking his eye off the ball ala George Allen in 2006. Murphy needs to win in 2010 before he can start thinking seriously about 2012.

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Houston: I still don't understand the Perry-Hutchison primary. Why is Kay running? Who do you think would be the stronger candidate against Bill White?

Chris Cillizza: Governor Perry! Thanks for being on the chat!

I think that KBH's main problem in this race is that she -- much like Ted Kennedy in his bid for president in 1980 -- has struggled to offer a concise reason or reasons for why she is running.

Her typical answer -- Perry has been in the job too long and hasn't done enough -- could work in a general election but falls short in a primary race where ideology and issue positions trump all.

That said, it's clear from polling that KBH is the stronger of the two against White. Perry struggled in 2006 to expand beyond his conservative base and he has only moved more to the ideological right since then.

Texas is always tough sledding for Democrats but if Perry is the nominee, expect the national party to focus some resources on White.

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Public image: With all the talk of the NY Times Square billboard we just have to ask: When will your image be used by Starbucks to promote their coffee houses?

Chris Cillizza: I am stunned they haven't called yet.

Of course, I am equally stunned that we are two weeks into 2010 and Bill Simmons has yet to refer to me as the "homeless man's Bill Simmons" in either a column or a tweet.

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all places where Republicans are on offense. : Republicans are always offensive. So what's the big deal?

Chris Cillizza: It's a play on words.

I get it!

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State College, PA: You've rated the PA D Senate primary pretty highly, but Sestak has done nothing but lose ground since he announced. The last Q poll had him down 23 to Specter. Do you really think Sestak can make up that ground in 4 months?

Chris Cillizza: Sure. No one is paying attention to the race right now and Sestak has enough money to make sure voters not only know about him but are reminded of some of the more controversial votes Specter took when he was a Republican.

I still think the race is pretty close to a toss up although given Specter's long track record of winning close contests, you have to put a pinkie finger on the scale for him.

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Steeleville, UT: Is Michael Steele trying to get the troops riled, or does he think the GOP brand is so bad, he just needs to sell books?

Chris Cillizza: Trying to figure out what Michael Steele is doing is a fool's errand.

I think most establishment Republicans are deeply disappointed in his performance as chairman and are looking for a reason/way to oust him.

I am not sure that ever comes to pass -- Steele still holds considerable loyalty from the grassroots which have a strong say in the identity of the chairman -- but it's clear he has done himself considerable damage with his unending string of impolitic comments over the past year.

If you haven't already read it, go and read Phil Rucker's piece on Steele in today's Post. BRUTAL.

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Overland Park, Kans.: Lee Corso had a stroke eight months ago. I think we can cut the guy a little slack.

Chris Cillizza: I said I LIKED him!

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Washington, DC: Chris,

What is Michael Steele's problem? I've never seen a chairman of either party quite so eager to destroy a positive news cycle by spouting off a bunch of undisciplined comments that make him, and by extension his party, appear very bad. I'm all for people acknowledging reality, if it looks like they are unlikely to win an election, but I was cringing when Steele was sniping at his critics to get a life, etc.

washingtonpost.com: You can chat with Phil Rucker at 1 p.m. about his story today Steele comments have GOP aides pleading, 'Get him to stop'

Chris Cillizza: You can assume this same question is being asked by GOP leaders in the House and Senate as I type...

And do check out Phil's story and his chat...

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Sacramento, Calif.: What are five must-read books for every political junkie?

Chris Cillizza: Oh man. GREAT question.

Let me give you my one MUST read political books from fiction and non fiction.

Fiction: All the King's Men by Robert Penn Warren. Stunningly good...loosely based on the life of Huey Long in Louisiana. Really an amazing work. I try to read this at least once a year.

Nonfiction: What it Takes by Richard Ben Cramer. The best look ever at how politics is really conducted through the lens of the 1988 presidential campaign.

If you don't own both of these books, go buy them now.

Other suggestions?

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you have to put a pinkie finger ....: Are you saying Arlen is a commie?

Chris Cillizza: Yes, that is exactly what I am saying.

Not.

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Eastern Market: Music recommendation for you... Mumford & Sons; a London band, debut album releases stateside in March. I'd call them a cross between the Avett Brothers, Fleet Foxes and Kings of Leon.

Chris Cillizza: LOVE it. Thanks. Will check them out now.

Listening to Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes in this chat. Love "Up from Below". A must buy.

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Cambridge, MA: I agree with the other MA folks here, Coakley by +10. However, if Brown loses by 'only' single digits, is that a win of some sorts?

Also, make sure you check out the upcoming sophomore album from Vampire Weekend.

Chris Cillizza: I like Vampire Weekend even though I feel like I shouldn't.

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New York, New York: Any chance Congressman Anthony Weiner jumps into the NY Senate race? He's been fixed on the Mayoralty forever, but this might be even better.

Pro: He's obviously immune to White House elbowing for Gillibrand, given his outspoken stances on the public option. And the liberal base would really come out for this guy. Plus...this used to be Hillary Clinton's seat, and he's engaged to her top aide. The connections continue.

Con: We already have too many weiners in the Senate.

Chris Cillizza: !

I don't think Weiner gets in as the White House has made very clear they are behind Gillibrand.

That said, Weiner may be blocked politically a bit. He wants to run for mayor in 2013 but Bill Thompson who came WAY close than anyone thought he would to beating Mayor Bloomberg has already said he is running again.

Not sure whether Weiner wants to primary Thompson...

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Brent M.: My brother used to do student broadcasting for Ohio State football. He met Brent a few times at the Big Games (like Bowl games) and said that he always had layers upon layers of make-up on. He was terrified to see him up close.

Chris Cillizza: I prefer to only deal with people via television. Makes life easier.

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Baltimore MD: Re O'Malley in trouble: A conservative Dem named Owings who worked in the Ehrlich administration is said to be weighing a primary challenge, but he's not likely to get much traction. The Baltimore Sun cited polls the other day showing O'Malley up on Ehrlich, if he runs again, by at least 6.5 points.

And speaking of the Ehrlich admin., is the clock ticking on Michael Steele as RNC chair? He doesn't seem to have a lot of fans on the Hill.

Chris Cillizza: Thanks for the info on MD-GOV.

And, yes, I think the knives are out for Steele (heyooo!) in a major way...if he makes another flub anytime soon my guess is that you will see a movement to try and oust him.

As I noted above though, that's easier said than done.

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who's in de senate race?: What's with Beau Biden? Is he running for Senate, or liking the AG job too much, or afraid of Castle, or going back overseas, or???

Chris Cillizza: Bunch of questions on Beau.

It is my understanding he is definitely going to run and is just taking his time in announcing. (He was in Iraq for a year, returning in the late fall.)

But, with every passing day, a little more doubt will creep in. You can bet Democratic strategists want him to make his formal announcement sooner rather than later.

If Biden doesn't run for some reason, Delaware immediately jumps to the top of Republicans' pickup opportunities.

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Chris Cillizza: That's all for me today folks.

it's been an exhausting week so I am going to lay low with Fix Jr for the rest of the day.

One note: "Politics and Pints", a night of political trivia with yours truly, is on for this coming Monday from 7-9 pm at the Capitol Lounge.

The first one back in December was a ton of fun so if you live in the area and love politics and trivia come by.

Here's the Facebook event invite.

Thanks, as always, for spending the hour with me. Have a great weekend and I'll see you back here next Friday. Same bat time, same bat channel.

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