The Night Beat: START It Up

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Also: what you need to know about the elections Tuesday. And a rare fumble for FLOTUS's obesity initiative?

This one will sting: "Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat who is running for the United States Senate from Connecticut, never served in Vietnam, despite statements to the contrary. The Times has found that he obtained at least five military deferments from 1965 to 1970 and took repeated steps that enabled him to avoid going to war," reports the New York Times.

Update: A Blumenthal aide says the article is a "hit job" and "full of inaccuracies."  More to come...

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee kicks off its START ratification process tomorrow, with testimony from Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen. This is the first in a series of Senate hearings leading up to a ratification vote later this year.  Things to watch tomorrow:  1) The questions and body language of Sens. Bob Corker (R-TN) and Johnny Isakson (R-GA). Their aye votes are an absolute requirement if the Administration is to cobble together a super-majority on START ratification.  If they convey a general acceptance of the Treaty, that is a good sign for the Administration.  2) The actions of Democratic Senators like Feingold, Menendez, and Casey.  On this issue, like most arms control issues, all the heat and passion has been on the right.  Will Democratic senators stand up to Republican criticisms and take them on, or just leave it to Administration witnesses.

Gates, Clinton and Mullen spent an hour privately briefing the Senate last week.

President Obama spoke tonight to South Korean President Lee Myong-bak about North Korea and the sinking of that South Korean navy ship.  From the diplospeak read-out: "The two leaders emphasized the importance of obtaining a full accounting of the event and committed to follow the facts of the investigation wherever they lead.  They also pledged their utmost efforts to ensure the security of the Republic of Korea, its armed forces, territory and its people.  President Obama reaffirmed the strong and unwavering commitment of the United States to the defense and the well-being of its close friend and ally, the Republic of Korea."  ... North Korea called its parliament (it has a parliament?) into emergency session. By now, you know that Obama will talk about the economy in Youngstown, Ohio, and will fly over Pennsylvania.

Vice President Joe Biden is in Pennsylvania tonight. He is not campaigning for Arlen Specter, though he is giving interviews testifying about his friend.

The elections: Tuesday is the biggest political extravaganza before the midterms. Here's Dave Wiegel's tongue-in-cheek notion of the "narratives" in Washington:  If Dems win PA-12, the GOP must disband. If the GOP wins PA-12, Obama must resign.

Well, sort of. The truth of the matter is that every race is special, just like every child, and so you cannot extrapolate too much from one example of anything. But more than any electoral contest to date, the special election to fill John Murtha's seat will tell us something about the basic physical structure of the election. Republicans should win this seat. The candidates' philosophies could not be more distinct, and their messages be any more clear. If Tim Burns wins by a good margin -- about five points -- it will be a manifestation of the enthusiasm gap that shows itself in the polls. If the race is very close, or if Democrat Mark Critz wins, then the assumptions that the political class is using to predict the future might need revising. Maybe Republicans aren't as enthusiastic as they say they are. Maybe the minute but noticeable rise in Obama's national approval ratings is helping Democrats build a beachhead. Republicans will blame the Democratic turnout machine and labor's excellent microtargeting if they lose, and they'll note that Democrats can't replicate their special-election-in-a-box everywhere in the fall. And that will be true. But it is true that, if the environment is as bad for Democrats to the exclusion of Republicans, Republicans should win the seat fairly easily.

And that's what you need to know. The Arkansas Senate race is probably going to go to a run-off, and the Wednesday-Thursday stories will focus on labor's role in promoting Bill Halter's candidacy.  (Labor is prepared to spent A LOT more to punish Blanche Lincoln.)

Another nice benefit FOR LABOR, of course is, the Wall Street reform bill continues to move forward despite everyone initially thinking Lincoln was going to weaken it in the Agrilculture committee. That wouldn't have happened without the primary. The Pennsylvania Senate Race is a toss. How will Arlen Specter vote if he's a lame duck? The White House is nervous ... And Rand Paul will appear on Wednesday morning, probably as the victor, standing next to beaming (so much as the guy can beam) Mitch McConnell, the minority leader whose handpicked candidate will certify his own defeat. (He's the Secretary of State). The Democratic nominee is TBD, as are odds on whether this race is competitive.

Paul, by the way, told Eliot Spitzer on MSNBC this afternoon that he would oppose the financial regulatory reform bill in its current form. A vote on the bill comes Wednesday, and HuffPost Hill has a great sense of the whip count for key outstanding amendments. 

That doesn't taste quite right: a bunch of major equity holders in the childhood obesity battle are a bit concerned by the First Lady's endorsement of the new initiative from the food industry. A group representing about 25% of the market promises to cut 1.5 trillion calories by 2012.  Obesity researcher Robert Moss of the California Foundation, a founding member of the Partnership for a Healthier America, took the unusual step of issuing a press release questioning the specifics of the agreement, which was endorsed by ... The Partnership for a Healthier America. He asks: "How is the reduction of calories going to be measured and by whom? Not all calories are equal. Calories from soda and processed foods, which are largely "empty" calories, aren't the same as calories from nutritious foods such as fruits and vegetables. Is this being taken into account? Are the calorie reductions going to result in more nutritious food or more processed food? What are the next steps that the food and beverage industry and its members plan to take to ensure that their products offer the most nutritious - not just lower calorie - food possible?"  Other grumbling is more private. No one wants to alienate the First Lady or her staff, which is fiercely protective of the way the initiative plays in the race.

Glenn Beck News: his first "thriller novel," entitled The Overton Window, is out in June. And if you have time, watch his version of a commencement speech.

The White House gently reprimanded one of its own for a misdemeanor ethics violation.


New Feature: what the conservative media machine will be focusing on tomorrow: taunting Obama for the Arlen Specter situation ... immigration ... and bubbling up but not percolating -- the allegation that the Miss USA pageant gave its crown to a woman from Dearborn because she was Muslim, not because she was talented.
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Marc Ambinder is an Atlantic contributing editor. He is also a senior contributor at Defense One, a contributing editor at GQ, and a regular contributor at The Week.

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