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Republicans try to keep it simple

1. Incoming House Speaker John A. Boehner (Ohio) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) seem to have quickly adopted a strategy for their swelled congressional ranks: Keep it simple.

Both Boehner, in an interview with Fox News Channel, and McConnell, in a speech to the Heritage Foundation, emphasized that their party would focus on job creation, deficit reduction and the repeal of the health-care law -- and little else -- when the 112th Congress convenes next year.

"It's my view that Americans are no more interested in a Republican platform for using government to re-engineer society than they were in the Democratic plan to do so," said McConnell. "Republicans will focus on doing a few things and doing them well."

"They want us to stop spending," said Boehner of the American public. "And it's going to be our principal goal."

The relative limited scope of Republicans' ambitions stands in stark contrast to the approach taken by the party following the 1994 elections that restored the GOP to majority status in the House and Senate.

Led by then House Speaker Newt Gingrich (Ga.), Republicans pursued an expansive -- and ideological -- agenda that allowed then President Bill Clinton and the Democratic majority to recover politically in advance of the 1996 election.

It is also seemingly an attempt to draw a contrast with President Obama whose critics believe he tried to do too much, too fast since coming into office in January 2009.

On their chosen priorities -- particularly health care -- Boehner and McConnell seem ready for a fight. "We're going to do everything we can to stop this bill from being implemented, to make sure it never happens," said Boehner. McConnell said the GOP "can and should propose and vote on straight repeal" of the law.

There's little question that the spotlight will shine brighter on congressional Republicans in 2011 than it has over the past two years. How they handle themselves and their agenda will have a major impact on where the party stands as it prepares to take on Obama in 2012.

2. With Washington Sen. Patty Murray's victory late Thursday night, the Alaska contest is the only Senate race not yet decided -- and it doesn't look likely that any final verdict will be rendered any time soon, either.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R) appears to be in good shape to make history as the first person to win election to the Senate as a write-in candidacy since 1954. With 100 percent of precincts reporting, "write in" currently leads attorney Joe Miller (R) by 41 percent to 34.3 percent, with Sitka Mayor Scott McAdams (D) taking 23.6 percent. Write-in ballots will be reviewed beginning next week to determine how many of them are for Murkowski and how many are for other candidates.

South Carolina Republican Sen. Jim DeMint, who supported Miller in the GOP primary, is exploring ways for his PAC to help Miller raise money for a potential legal fight against Murkowski, who's being aided by top GOP legal guru Ben Ginsberg.

In a statement Thursday night, Miller spokesperson Randy DeSoto said that Miller is still "cautiously optimistic" about the results. "While Senator Murkowski speaks of winning an historic write-in candidacy, she understands (as Joe Miller does), that this race is not over," DeSoto said.

The current Senate breakdown stands at 51 seats for Democrats and 46 for Republicans, with two independents who caucus with the Democrats.

At the governors level, just two races are undecided: Minnesota and Connecticut.

In Minnesota, the race to succeed retiring Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R) appears headed toward a recount. With 100 percent of precincts reporting, former Sen. Mark Dayton (D) led state Sen. Tom Emmer (R) 43.7 percent to 43.2 percent, a margin of about 8,775 votes.

The state Canvassing Board will meet to certify the results on Nov. 23. If the current margin holds, an automatic recount will be triggered. The process could end up taking months, although Dayton's current margin is much wider than the 312 votes that ultimately separated Sen. Al Franken (D) and former Sen. Norm Coleman (R) in 2008.

And, in Connecticut, the discovery of a bag of uncounted ballots in Bridgeport threw the race into further uncertainty. Both former Stamford Mayor Dan Malloy (D) and former Ambassador Tom Foley (R) claimed Thursday to be ahead in the vote count; Foley did not rule out a potential legal challenge down the line. The Associated Press count late Thursday showed Malloy leading by 6,240 votes.

Republicans currently control 29 governors' mansions to 17 for Democrats; Rhode Island has its first independent governor in former GOP Sen. Lincoln Chafee. (The AP has yet to call the Vermont gubernatorial race even though Republican Brian Dubie has conceded to Democrat Peter Shumlin.)

3. There are 10 House races still undecided more than 72 hours after Election Day.

On Thursday, the Associated Press declared Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.) and Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) winners.

Additional vote totals in Washington pushed Smith over the top, even though he never looked to be in serious danger. He led by more than 7 percent in early returns. In Arizona, Grijalva was a late-breaking problem for Democrats but managed to win by 6,000 votes.

In other House races, however, uncertainty still reigned.

North Carolina Rep. Bob Etheridge (D), who had already been declared a loser by the AP, may request a recount. Etheridge has some new hope after his deficit was cut by about one-fifth in vote-counting Wednesday. Republican Renee Ellmers still leads by 2,000 votes.

Meanwhile, a bag of uncounted votes(!) was found in Rep. Solomon Ortiz's (D-Texas) district, which could potentially help him come back from a 799-vote deficit.

Among the other uncalled races:

*Rep. Ben Chandler (D-Ky.), meanwhile, expanded his lead over Republican Andy Barr by 44 votes to 644 votes -- just 0.2 percent of the total vote cast. Barr has requested a re-canvass, and it is set for Nov. 12.

*Arizona's 8th district race still isn't called, either, but Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords looks to be in strong shape as the remaining uncounted ballots are from Democrat-friendly Pima County.

*Rep. Melissa Bean (D-Ill.) trails by 553 votes, but she could gain as absentee ballots from Cook County are added to the totals.

* Rep. Dan Maffei (D-N.Y.) faces some tough odds after results from Wayne County put Republican Ann Marie Buerkle ahead by 659 votes.

* California Rep. Jerry McNerney (D) leads by 121 votes in the 11th district, and Rep. Jim Costa (D) trails by 1,823 votes in the 20th. McNerney's race appears headed for a recount regardless of how the absentees break.

* Rep. Rick Larsen (D-Wash.) leads by just more than 500 votes with 71 percent of the vote counted.

* Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) leads by fewer than 1,000 votes with some provisional ballots still being counted.

4. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (R) and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R) are the early favorites for the GOP's 2012 presidential nod, according to a CNN poll released Thursday.

Twenty-one percent of Republicans said they'd most likely support Huckabee for the White House in 2012, while 20 percent said they'd back Romney. Fourteen percent said they'd support former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R), and 12 percent chose former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. The other potential contenders, including Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R) and Indiana Rep. Mike Pence (R), rated only single digits, a sign they are little known by the Republican electorate.

The poll also showed that opinions of Palin vary widely by region. Palin's favorability rating is strongest in the South, where 45 percent of people view her in a favorable light. In the Northeast, only 33 percent view Palin favorably. Her favorability is 42 percent in the Midwest and 40 percent in the West.

The poll also showed a big urban-rural divide: 55 percent of those in rural areas viewed Palin favorably while only 42 percent of suburbanites and 27 percent of those living in urban areas said the same. Thirty-nine percent of women viewed Palin favorably compared with 42 percent of men.

The results indicate that the GOP 2012 field remains very much in flux and that Palin -- should she decide to run -- would be competitive but far from the front-runner.

5. If it's Friday, it's time for the "Live Fix" chat -- our chance to spend an hour sorting through the who, what, where, why and when of Tuesday's election.

You can submit questions in advance or follow along in real time. Come for the politics. Stay for the music and coffee advice!

With Aaron Blake and Felicia Sonmez

By Chris Cillizza  | November 5, 2010; 6:00 AM ET
Categories:  Morning Fix  
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Next: 2012 Senate landscape looks good for Republicans

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