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Strategy Memo: Losing My Religion

Good Tuesday morning. As has been remarked, baseball is a lot better in high definition. That is, unless your team blows a five-run first inning to lose in ten. Aside from celebration of the Nats' win over the Mets last night, here's what Washington is watching:

-- The Senate is in session this morning, resuming roll call votes on a bill to reform flood insurance. The House takes up a number of measures under suspension, as well as a measure regulating credit and debit card receipt information and a bill on human rights in North Korea. The House Rules Committee meets today to formulate a rule on the farm bill, which is likely to cause a huge fight and will make its way into the presidential campaign. President Bush is off to the Middle East today, stopping first in Israel. It's the first day of a six-day tour.

-- Voters in West Virginia head to the polls today, and when the bell chimes at 7:30 p.m. Eastern time all the cable networks are likely to immediately call the state for Hillary Clinton. But even a huge win may not be enough. Yet again, the media is buying into Barack Obama's spin of expectations, thanks in some measure to those in Clinton's own camp. "Just wait 'til we win, like, 80-20," State Senate Majority Leader and Clinton-backer Harry Truman Chafin said yesterday, per CNN. That echoes Bill Clinton's own 80% comment over the weekend, as ABC captured it. This has been an issue with Team Clinton all along: Even when they try to manage expectations, they get so excited they predict bigger wins than they end up with. Meanwhile, anything over about 65% would be a big win for the candidate, but at this point it's probably too late to reset expectations.

-- Democrats have taken to warning Clinton not to smash her intraparty rival anymore, and the tone has in fact changed markedly. ABC News' Jake Tapper takes a look at some of those concerned with the final zingers Clinton might hit Barack Obama with, but West Virginia, and next week's election in Kentucky, is more of a final lap instead of a dogfight. The releases her campaign has issued haven't mentioned Obama by name since Friday, when she hit his health care plan during a stop in Oregon. The target yesterday was John McCain's climate change plan, like shooting fish in a barrel for a Democratic constituency, and perhaps the first serious step in an audition for a slot on the ticket.

-- McCain's plans offered a pretty serious split with the Bush Administration, including a cap-and-trade system that was first proposed by Democratic candidates early on in their primary. McCain also wants tough diplomacy targeting China and India, urging them to join global efforts to stop climate change, as AP's Glen Johnson wrote from Portland. Something to consider: Not only is the environment a favorite subject of granola-eating liberals in hiking boots and flannel in Oregon and Washington, it's also an emerging concern in the evangelical community. And as evangelical voters take a look at Barack Obama, McCain is reminded he's still got some work to do. (Sidenote: There were about four articles this weekend on evangelical voters leaving the GOP, including this one from the Seattle Times.)

-- Obama, though, has his own emerging religious problem. For many Jewish voters, U.S. support of Israel is perhaps the most crucial issue, and some still don't trust Obama. That's a large reason the McCain campaign thinks Florida is safely in their column. But Obama isn't going to give up such a crucial Democratic voting bloc that easily, and he spent a long time with The Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg going over his feelings on Zionism, on settlements and several international issues affecting the Jewish state. As McCain struggles to be embraced by what should be his natural base, so too is Obama fighting to get what should be his own team in his corner.

-- The less-reported, but probably bigger, story today: Voters in Mississippi's First Congressional District head to the polls for the third time in two months today to elect a replacement for Senator Roger Wicker. The district is a heavily Republican area where the Democratic candidate, Prentiss County Chancery Clerk Travis Childers, came within about 400 votes of winning the April 22 preliminary round outright. Childers is facing Republican Southaven Mayor Greg Davis, who joined Vice President Dick Cheney at an Election Eve rally last night. Read all about the battle for the seat, including interviews with Childers and Davis, here.

-- By itself, a congressional special election, even one in which Democrats have the chance to pick up a GOP-leaning seat, isn't a huge story. But if Childers wins today, it will be the third special election this year that Democrats have won from Republicans, and it will leave the House GOP caucus reeling. As John Boehner and Tom Cole look toward their future in leadership, they can't afford another year of staggering losses. And if the Republican Party is losing seats that voted for President Bush by 25 points, every indication points to a disastrous environment for the party that hasn't caught a break for several cycles. A loss tonight could start some younger Republicans actively contemplating a challenge to Boehner's status at the helm of the House GOP. Oh, and it doesn't help that New York Rep. Vito Fossella may resign as well, forcing a special election in a seat that voted once for Al Gore and once for George Bush.

-- Gadfly Of The Day: Bob Barr is in the race for the Libertarian Presidential nomination, and some Republicans are already upset, the Washington Times reports today. The former Georgia Congressman and impeachment manager made his announcement yesterday at the National Press Club even as Republicans worried he could tilt a few states towards the Democrats. Over at the RCP Blog, Kyle Trygstad takes a look at just how much a threat Barr really is.

-- Today On The Trail: Obama starts his day in Washington before heading to a town hall meeting on the economy in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, south of St. Louis. Clinton is also waking up in Washington before heading to a victory rally in Charleston tonight. John McCain is still on his West Coast swing, hitting an environmental roundtable and a media availability in North Bend, about forty minutes east of Seattle. McCain will later fundraise with Republican gubernatorial candidate Dino Rossi.