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Blog Home Page --> June 2008

Gregoire Still Under 50

Washington State Governor Christine Gregoire has no illusions about the challenge she faces from former State Senator Dino Rossi in November. The incumbent Democrat won by just over 100 votes in 2004, after three ballot counts. But a new survey from a Washington State-based pollster shows this time, the governor has a better lead. At least for now.

The Elway Poll, conducted 6/18-22, surveyed 405 registered voters for a margin of error of +/- 4.9%. Gregoire and Rossi were tested.

General Election Matchups
(All / Ind)
Gregoire.....47 / 43 (+4 from last, 4/22)
Rossi..........39 / 37 (+1)

The poll, conducted by independent pollster Stuart Elway, has been relatively consistent, showing Gregoire in the mid-40s since January while Rossi hovers just under the 40% mark. Both candidates receive about the same amount of support from their own parties, giving Gregoire an advantage in a state with more Democratic voters than Republicans, though no official party registration numbers exist. In April, Rossi led by four points among self-identified independents; now, Gregoire has a six-point lead among the same voters.

Republicans have long been critical of Elway's polling, suggesting it favors Democratic candidates. And Rossi is in strong position, having raised about the same amount as Gregoire in recent months. Though Gregoire held a big financial advantage when Rossi began raising money, her burn rate has been much higher, giving Rossi a chance to catch up. Still, the poll tracks with live-call surveys throughout the year that show Gregoire maintaining a narrow lead.

At the end of the day, though, any incumbent under 50% faces a difficult challenge ahead. Gregoire is running in a favorable year for Democrats in a state that is likely to give the candidate at the top of her ticket, Barack Obama, a big win. But Rossi has as good a shot as any Republican challenger running for governor this year, and when voters start tuning into the governor's race, the contest could close significantly.

Not Even A Race

It's one of the most Republican states in the country, and the popular first-term governor is running for re-election in a presidential year. So it should come as no surprise that Utah Governor Jon Huntsman looks like a shoe-in for another four-year turn at the state capitol, according to a new poll by a Utah-based pollster.

The survey, conducted by Dan Jones & Associates for the Deseret News and KSL-TV, tested 405 registered voters between 6/16-19 for a margin of error of +/- 5.5%. Huntsman and his Democratic challenger, Bob Springmeyer, were tested. While Jones is an independent pollster, he has done work for Huntsman this year, the News reported.

General Election Matchup
Huntsman.........78
Springmeyer.....11

So, not much of a race in the Beehive State. The same poll showed Attorney General Mark Shurtleff with a similarly huge 68%-17% margin over his own opponent, Jean Welch Hill, making the Republican all but a lock for his own third term.

It's not uncommon for governors of a party in a significant minority to manage states and win accolades -- just ask Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius, Wyoming's Dave Freudenthal and Arizona's Janet Napolitano, all Democrats who won easy re-elections in states where their party exists as a distinct minority in the legislature. Too, Hawaii's Linda Lingle, Rhode Island Governor Don Carcieri and California's Arnold Schwarzenegger all head states that vote reliably Democratic for most other offices.

But Utah isn't going Democratic any time soon. Huntsman had a serious challenger in 2004, when Scott Matheson, son of the state's last Democratic governor and brother of Jim, the lone Democrat representing the state in Congress, ran a strong campaign after raising $2 million. But Huntsman, who spent $3.2 million that year, easily outpaced Matheson to win by a 58%-41% margin.

With little to no Democratic bench in the state, and having won praise during his first term, it looks as if the job is Huntsman's as long as he wants it. That is, unless the same fate befalls him as it did to a previous governor, Mike Leavitt. In 2003, Leavitt left his post to head to Washington, picked to run President Bush's Environmental Protection Agency. Should John McCain win in November, Huntsman is likely to be on a short list for some Cabinet-level administrative positions, having endorsed the Arizona senator early in the primary process.

Dems Get Ambitious

Flush with a cash advantage that looks increasingly ominous for Republicans, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is targeting thirteen Republicans with a new radio ad blitz through the Fourth of July, including in some seats the party has only a slim chance of picking up.

The ad includes a comedian who impersonates President Bush, and accuses targeted Republicans of backing oil companies at a time of record gas prices. "President Bush's Big Oil energy policies delivered high gas prices to the American people, so who better to deliver our message than someone who sounds just like him?" DCCC chair Chris Van Hollen said in a statement announcing the campaign.

Some targeted Republicans will face serious challenges come November. Democratic challengers to Reps. Thelma Drake, of Virginia, Shelly Moore Capito, of West Virginia, Steve Chabot, of Ohio and Robin Hayes, of North Carolina, have been named to the Red to Blue program for candidates the party thinks have top chances of knocking off their GOP rivals.

Other Republicans could be added to that list. Democrats running against Reps. Brian Bilbray, of California, Charlie Dent and Phil English, of Pennsylvania, Scott Garrett, of New Jersey, Virgil Goode, of Virginia, Patrick McHenry, of North Carolina, Peter Roskam, of Illinois and Jean Schmidt, of Ohio, are seen as "emerging" challengers who may, in the future, be added to the Red to Blue program.

While some races seem out of reach, others are getting an inordinate amount of attention from Democratic Party leaders. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, for example, held a campaign event for Dennis Shulman, running against Garrett in the Fifth District of New Jersey, which touches New York State. Shulman remains a long shot, though Garrett won re-election with just 55% of the vote in 2006.

Hoyer's visit, and attention the DCCC is paying to candidates running against Bilbray, McHenry and others, are attempts, with four months to go before the general election, to dramatically expand the playing field. Those efforts will not be successful in all cases, but if the party can put a few additional seats in play, it will dramatically stretch the few dollars Republicans have in their warchest, forcing tough decisions that could limit the party's ability to play offense.

Lautenberg Leads, Under 50

New Jersey voters are a fickle lot who feel no rush to choose a candidate, and a new PublicMind poll shows that hasn't changed this year. Incumbent Senator Frank Lautenberg remains easily in the lead, but fewer than 50% of Garden State voters say they would vote for him in November.

The poll, conducted by Fairleigh Dickinson University, surveyed 589 voters between 6/17-22 for a margin of error of +/- 4.1%. Lautenberg, a Democrat who has served four non-consecutive terms, and ex-Rep. Dick Zimmer, the Republican nominee, were tested.

General Election Matchup
(All / Dem / GOP / Ind)
Lautenberg.......45 / 69 / 11 / 29
Zimmer..............28 / 11 / 63 / 22

Just how many voters remain undecided? More than one in five Democrats, one in four Republicans and almost half of all independents say they have yet to make up their mind. Some aren't even interested in sharing their opinions of the candidates themselves. More than 30% either have no opinion of, or haven't heard of, Lautenberg, while a whopping 73% say the same thing about Zimmer.

Overall, 41% view Lautenberg favorably with 28% seeing him unfavorably. Zimmer's ratio is worse, with just a 16% favorable rating and a 10% unfavorable rating.

After a number of false starts, some early polls showed Zimmer with at least a chance to beat Lautenberg, however slim. And Lautenberg's sub-fifty poll numbers should encourage Republicans, too. But the state leans Democratic, and every year early poll numbers that show Republicans with a shot turn into a rout at the ballot box. Republicans should be wary, too, about spending ad dollars in the state; they don't have much money to burn, and buying time in the New York and Philadelphia media markets is a pricey proposition.

Strategy Memo: Message Matters

Good Monday morning. Along with Michael Phelps, who roiled swimming pool waters in Athens, remember the name Katie Hoff. Both swimmers shattered world records at Olympic trials yesterday, and both are going to become household names in August when the world heads to China. Here's what else Washington is watching today:

-- The Senate meets in pro forma session today, once again blocking President Bush's ability to make recess appointments during the July 4 recess. The House is out of session until next Tuesday. President Bush will host a tee ball game on the South Lawn today, while Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson begins a four-day trip to Europe and Moscow and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice ends her week-long swing to Germany and three countries in Asia. Meanwhile, Salman Rushdie is in Washington to discuss his latest book.

-- Out on the presidential campaign trail, the lines of attack are becoming more clear on one side, while on the other mixed messages threaten to undermine a key component of the message. Discipline has been lacking from John McCain's campaign; it's rare that the Republican drives the message of the day for more than a day at a time. But it's been spot-on for Barack Obama's campaign, which will help the Democrat drive the conversation to friendly, economic-based territory once November comes a little closer. Today, though, those roles are reversed, and how Obama responds could be key come the Fall.

-- Republicans are finally on the same page with regard to their Democratic foe. McCain and party leaders will cast him as a say-anything politician with little moral center, as the Washington Post's Michael Shear writes. From public financing, which Obama skipped out on, to NAFTA, on which he very clearly softened his image over the past month, and a number of other issues Obama has flip-flopped over, McCain and his fellow Republicans have material to use, and, McCain adviser Steve Schmidt told Shear, they intend to remind voters of Obama's imperfections on a daily basis.

-- That could prove an effective message against a candidate supposedly above partisanship; if the race comes down to a judgment on Obama's character, Republicans will do anything they can to raise questions about the perfection of that trait. That's dangerous for Obama; having been on his post-partisan pedestal for so long, any stumble and fall could be disastrous. No candidate can be perfect forever, and the longer Obama sets himself up as beyond partisanship, the more the first crack in the veneer could resonate with voters.

-- On the Democratic side, the thing Barack Obama most wants to avoid is making the contest about John McCain's military service. Obama, and other Democrats, have bent over backwards to praise the Arizonan as a hero whose service they honor. But they don't want to talk about that part of McCain's biography, the biggest advantage the Republican has. So it doesn't help the cause when retired General Wesley Clark asserts aloud that McCain's service as a prisoner of war doesn't make him ready to be president, as Politico's Ben Smith writes. True, Clark was responding to a direct question, but the fewer times McCain's military service is brought up by Democrats, the better.

-- It's a tiny example of an off-message surrogate, but Clark's comments gave McCain an opportunity to lash out at the Democratic Party. While Republicans are weak across the board, it could take a few stumbles on Obama's behalf to give McCain a real chance at taking the White House. But the Republican is setting himself up in the only manner he can: Obama may be the fresh face, but McCain is the safe choice in a challenging world. But while establishing his own credentials, he'll have to make the argument that Obama cannot be trusted.

-- Which is exactly what McCain has started to do, CNN reported yesterday. At a fundraiser in Louisville, Kentucky, where he was introduced by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, McCain had harsh words for his rival: "Senator Obama's word cannot be trusted," McCain said. As McCain sews the seeds of distrust surrounding the new kid on the block, Obama faces another conundrum: Fight back, and be painted as a typical politician. Play dumb and get Swift boated, something Obama's campaign has thus far been completely, and correctly, unwilling to do.

-- Trouble Of The Day: When Barack Obama opted out of public financing for his sprint to the general election, he cited outside Republican groups that would attack from the shadows. Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chair Chris Van Hollen and his spokespeople frequently warn of an impending invasion of cash and slimy tactics from shady operatives. But, as Democrats hold a lead in cash in the bank, so do their allied independent 527 organizations, and those like them. In fact, as McClatchy's Steve Thomma writes, there isn't a Swift Boat Veterans for Truth equivalent this year, as a number of Republican businesses and operatives have declined to operate political arms. Remember Freedom's Watch? Aside from some press releases, their paid activity has been aimed at House races, not the presidential.

-- Today On The Trail: Obama begins his day in the battleground state of Missouri, where he will make the pilgrimage to Harry Truman's home town, Independence. Wife Michelle will stay behind in Chicago, where she will host a fundraiser this evening for Congressional candidates. McCain will make two stops in politically potent Pennsylvania, first touring an industrial design shop in Harrisburg, then heading to Pipersville, in the crucial suburban Philadelphia Bucks County, for a town hall meeting this afternoon.

This Week On PN Radio

Saturday morning, from 10 a.m. to 12 noon Eastern, join Politics Nation on XM Radio's POTUS '08, when we'll tackle the week in politics. Listen free here (link about half-way down the page) as:

-- We talk with Jason Chaffetz, the Utah Republican who just ousted Rep. Chris Cannon in a primary. How hungry for change are voters in both electorates?

-- Wall Street Journal reporter Susan Davis joins Josh Kraushaar and Reid Wilson in studio for the debate of the year: Which states are really in play? None of us agree on anything, so it'll be the knock-down drag-out to hear.

-- And John McCain and Barack Obama are addressing the National Association of Latino Elected Officials in Washington. We'll have their speeches, and reactions to those speeches, live in a special extended edition of Politics Nation radio.

All that and a few surprises, we're sure, Saturday morning on Politics Nation, only on XM Radio's POTUS '08. Listen live, Saturday from 10 a.m. to noon Eastern and again at 6:00 p.m. Eastern.

Walberg Opponent Running Strong

A peculiar obstacle for Michigan Rep. Tim Walberg's reelection hopes is that he will likely face a Democratic opponent who can claim similar, if not more incumbent-like, advantages in fundraising, name recognition, and political experience within the district.

A top target of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, Republican Walberg will face one of two experienced Democrats competing in the primary held August 3. Although Democrat Sharon Renier has reasonably high name recognition from running in the last two races, having barely lost to Walberg in 2006 despite being outspent $1.2 million to $56,000, State Senator and Democratic Minority Leader Mark Schauer is expected to win the primary and is a favorite of national Democrats.

With leadership experience, the support of party leaders, and a state senate district that covers about 40% of the Seventh Congressional District, which takes in Battle Creek and the western suburbs of Ann Arbor, along the Indiana border, Schauer has high name recognition and will make for a formidable opponent in November. Too, in the last three fundraising quarters, Schauer has not only dwarfed Renier in fundraising, but he has beaten out Walberg as well.

As our last post in March indicated, a Quinnipiac poll showed Walberg with a 51%-40% lead over Schauer. Yet Walberg's approval numbers in the district are relatively low and the district's overwhelmingly negative views of the direction of the country pose large hurdles for any incumbent. Republicans are worried as well, listing Walberg in their 'Secondary Defense' category.

What remains interesting is how Schauer has chosen to run as the "experience" candidate against a sitting incumbent. The Democrat is touting his influence in the recent decisions of two companies in the district, Brembo North America and Production Engineering, to stay put and expand their manufacturing operations. Schauer's Communications Director, Zack Pohl, says that both companies claim Schauer was instrumental in passing legislation influencing their decisions.

"He has a long history of creating economic development projects, working across the aisle and getting things done with businesses," Pohl said. "Walberg doesn't have the same kind of record of job creation and working with companies to get real results."

Walberg's campaign manager Justin Roebuck says that Walberg is working hard to be as visible and accessible in the district as possible, having held over 150 town hall-type meetings which the campaign trumpets as "listening sessions." But with Schauer expecting high Democratic turnout in this Presidential election, especially in Eaton and Washtenaw Counties with their high number of state employees, the Seventh District's incumbent will most likely be facing a tough challenge against a well-financed, well-known, and experienced challenger in November.

-- Greg Bobrinskoy

GOP Hits Dems On Guns

Following yesterday's Supreme Court ruling, in which the individual right to bear arms was explicitly upheld in the first ruling on the Second Amendment in 69 years and in a more broad manner than ever before, national Republicans are seeking to make guns an issue again, after finding success against Democrats the last time gun control came up, in 1994.

The National Republican Congressional Committee has far fewer targets to work with this time, though, given both parties' hesitancy to touch what has become yet another third rail in politics. Still, there are some Democrats who Republicans hope can be made vulnerable on the issue.

Pennsylvania Rep. Patrick "Murphy's opposition to the Second Amendment puts himself at odds with not only members of his own party, but the overwhelming majority his Pennsylvania constituents," NRCC spokesman Ken Spain said of the freshman Congressman, pointing out that Murphy and others had not signed an amicus brief backing repeal of the gun ban. The brief, spearheaded by Senators Kay Bailey Hutchison, of Texas, and Montana's Jon Tester, a Democrat, garnered signatures from dozens of members from both parties.

Other Democrats who did not sign the brief and were singled out by Republicans include Kansas Rep. Dennis Moore, Iowa Reps. Dave Loebsack and Bruce Braley, Colorado Rep. Ed Perlmutter and New Hampshire Rep. Carol Shea-Porter.

But the low number of targets speaks to a larger issue: Thanks to just one piece of gun legislation passing in the last dozen years, a measure passed in response to shootings at Virginia Tech and backed by the National Rifle Association, guns are simply not as potent an issue as they once were, as this author argues at Politicker.com. Without a call to arms (pardon the pun), gun rights advocates have nothing to fight against at the moment.

Perhaps, though, the issue could have a rebirth, thanks to controversial comments Barack Obama made at a private fundraiser in San Francisco several weeks ago. An NRA lobbyist mentioned Obama's comments that some rural voters are "bitter" and cling to their guns and religion. That quote, which Obama has had to explain for months on end, does not seem to be going away.

DCCC Plunks Down Big Bucks

House Democrats started flexing their financial muscle last night, reserving their first major advertising slots ahead of November elections and offering a peek into the party's priorities. In all, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee reserved $4 million in three competitive districts between September and the November 4 election, beginning the process of swamping Republicans with their financial advantage.

Buoyed by surprising and scandalous revelations that forced Rep. Vito Fossella to announce his retirement from his Staten Island-based Thirteenth District in New York, Democrats plunked down $2.1 million in the pricey New York City market. The party has largely coalesced around New York City Councilmember Mike McMahon, while Republicans are struggling to find a candidate of their own.

After one candidate the GOP settled on passed away last weekend, a new round of recruitment efforts has been rebuffed by everyone on the list, including Fossella himself. At least eight potential candidates have said no to Republican efforts to get them on the ballot. McMahon looks very likely to take back the last Republican-held seat that touches any part of New York City.

Democrats have also reserved about $700,000 on Colorado's eastern slope and high plains, money targeted at ousting incumbent Republican Marilyn Musgrave. Musgrave's Fourth District, which looks like an inverted "L" hanging north and curving down the state's eastern edge, has been contested before, and while Democrats came close in 2006, they are confident in former congressional aide Betsy Markey's chances.

The ad buy comes largely in the Denver media market, which feeds into the bulk of the district's homes, with a smaller amount coming in the Colorado Springs-Pueblo market. Musgrave has a significant cash advantage, with more than $1 million in the bank through November compared with $376,000 for Markey. But the DCCC's commitment can take away Musgrave's advantage in a heartbeat.

Democrats aren't completely playing offense, though. The party has also reserved $1.2 million in advertising time in the Portland, Oregon market in order to defend retiring Rep. Darlene Hooley's seat. Hooley's district is the most competitive in the state, running from south of Portland and the Cascade Mountains to the Pacific Ocean and including Salem, the state capital. President Bush won the district by a single point in both 2000 and 2004.

State Senator Kurt Schrader is in good position to keep the seat, as his Republican opponent, 2006 nominee Mike Erickson, has been battered by accusations that he paid for an abortion even though he says he is pro-life, accusations that first cropped up in the primary but have only gotten louder. Erickson came surprisingly close to beating Hooley in 2006, and he's got a lot of his own money to spend, but whether he will survive the scandal remains an open question.

Putting money into three seats so early gives the DCCC the opportunity to buy ads at cheaper political rates come the Fall. It does not, however, mean that Democrats have to spend their money in any of the seats. Democrats may find the New York and Oregon seats in their pockets by the time September or October roll around, and if the party decides the money is better spent elsewhere, they will do so.

With such a big cash advantage, look for national Democrats to plunk down money early and often. Republicans, who have yet to cross into the tens of millions of dollars on hand category, could find themselves hurt by increasing ad prices, especially as John McCain and Barack Obama start to make their own ad buys. But at least Republicans will know where Democrats are placing their bets.

Strategy Memo: Center Court

It's never too early for Friday morning. He's one of the best analysts out there and he's a mentor to Politics Nation, but we're not sure if we're ready for Chuck Todd in the White House. Then again, ChuckTodd08.com's slogan: Vice President at the very least. Here's what Washington is watching today:

-- The House is already out on break and will not return until July 8, following an Independence Day recess. The Senate is in pro forma session today before they, too, get out of town for an extended holiday. President Bush is at Camp David, while much of the rest of the Cabinet is traveling or speaking today. Secretary of State Rice is in the midst of a trip that will take her to Asia, Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer is in Chicago, Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez speaks to the National Association of Latino Elected Officials and Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff is in Annapolis, Maryland.

-- On the campaign trail, it's unity day for the Democrats. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama will fly to New Hampshire where they will hold a rally in the tiny town of Unity, near the Vermont border, and where each got exactly 107 votes. Almost too perfect to be true, we know. The Democratic Party is already largely unified -- recent polls have showed the Illinois Senator earning as much of the vote from his own base as John McCain earns from his -- but the rally is necessary for two reasons: One, it gives the media the story it collectively wants, and without such a rally there would be endless questions. Two, there aren't many, but there are some Clinton fans who just can't quite vote Obama yet. A serious shove from their preferred candidate could get them there. Make no mistake, though, the media will keep finding disgruntled Democrats to say they're voting McCain.

-- The unity started last night, when the one-time rivals showed up at the Mayflower Hotel to chat with up to 300 of Clinton's top donors, who Obama needs to migrate in his direction. Both candidates did their parts, the New York Times' Jeff Zeleny wrote: Clinton didn't make any requests of Obama, and urged her fundraisers to give what they can, even lending campaign chairman Terry McAuliffe to the effort. For his part, Obama, and wife Michelle, each wrote $2,300 checks to Clinton's campaign, a symbolic boost intended to help the New Yorker reduce the $10 million debt to vendors her campaign incurred.

-- But the general election is in full swing, and while the debate over debates rages on, the private negotiations over the three debates that are actually going to happen continues. The Commission on Presidential Debates has proposed the two candidates would sit around a table for two of the three debates and would use stools for a town hall-style meeting in the third. As McClatchy's Steve Thomma points out, that arrangement robs Obama of a four-inch height advantage. Ex-DNC chief Paul Kirk and ex-RNC head Frank Fahrenkopf, the commission's directors, have proposed a September 26 debate at the University of Mississippi; an October 7 debate at Belmont University in Nashville, and an October 15 debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York.

-- We understand that the base needs tending, but with most Republicans siding with McCain, he continues to tell conservative leaders that he will speak out more about his conservative philosophy, as NBC/NJ's Matt Berger reports. That's great for conservatives, but it's not what McCain needs to be doing in the long run. With just over four months to go until the general election, it's time to tack to the middle, and McCain won't win any new independent voters over if he keeps appealing to his own conservative base. Then again, with an unenergized base, McCain can't win, either. While we maintained that McCain was the only Republican able to appeal to independents, could his inability to pitch the base turn out to be his fatal flaw?

-- Then again, another good qualification McCain has is his ability to appeal to Hispanic voters. Many in the Republican primary tried to out-do each other in terms of who would deport all the illegal immigrants first, and, on top of GOP immigration plans two years ago that led to demonstrations in Washington, any of them would have gone a long way in destroying the Republican image with Hispanic voters, the largest, and growing, minority group in America. McCain, who has always performed well among Hispanic voters and takes a moderate approach to immigration reform, will continue trying to appeal to Hispanic leaders at the National Association of Latino Elected Officials this weekend, as USA Today writes. NALEO predicts turnout of 9.2 million Hispanic voters, a number neither McCain nor Obama, who also speaks tomorrow, can ignore.

-- Larger Implication Of The Day: After yesterday's dramatic rulings on the Second Amendment and on campaign finance reform legislation, and rulings in recent weeks on the rights of Guantanamo detainees, the application of the death penalty for crimes other than murder and other heated five-to-four decisions, you can bet that partisans on both sides are getting antsy contemplating the future of the Supreme Court, as the Boston Globe writes. It's not an issue that moves votes, but it's one that turns out the base, and for those bases, the stakes couldn't be higher: Conservatives are a vote away from an impregnable majority, and the oldest justices are the liberals. Watch both sides start motivating their voters with judge talk.

-- Today On The Trail: Set your TiVos, Obama and Clinton will rally at an elementary school in Unity, New Hampshire, at 11 a.m. Eastern Time. Anyone want to guess which cable network will show b-roll of an empty stage with a chyron that says "Developing" for the longest amount of time? John McCain, meanwhile, spends his morning in a town hall meeting with employees at Lordstown Assembly Plant, a General Motors shop, in Warren, Ohio. He'll meet the media at the plant soon afterwards.

Coleman With Solid Lead

After some early polls showed a competitive race, incumbent Republican Senator Norm Coleman has opened up a sizable lead and is over the magic 50% mark, a new poll shows. Coleman's Democratic opponent, satirist Al Franken, has undergone one of the worst few months in recent political memory, and the fact that he remains at least close should inspire Coleman to take Franken's threat seriously.

The poll, conducted by Quinnipiac University on behalf of the Wall Street Journal and WashingtonPost.com, surveyed 1,572 likely voters between 6/17-24 for a margin of error of +/- 2.5%. Coleman and Franken were tested.

General Election Matchup
(All / Dem / GOP / Ind / Men / Wom)
Coleman......51 / 17 / 92 / 55 / 57 / 45
Franken.......41 / 76 / 4 / 35 / 37 / 45

From back taxes to failure to offer certain kinds of insurance to his employees to a flap over an article he wrote for Playboy Magazine, Franken has been battered for months by national Republicans. Still, the race remains close, showing off the state's natural Democratic tilt. Franken's impressive fundraising ability will help some, but Coleman's no slouch in the bank account department.

For Coleman, an attentive campaigner who has distanced himself from the Bush Administration and is playing up his bipartisan credentials (though not to the extent of, say, Gordon Smith), the way to run this campaign is increasingly clear: If the election is about Al Franken, Coleman will win another term. If it's about President Bush and that "R" after Coleman's name, Franken will be very competitive and could pull it out.

The race is still a hot one to watch, given the tremendous amounts of money both candidates are raising, the potential for a third party candidate -- either ex-Governor Jesse Ventura or his one-time aide, former Senator Dean Barkley -- to enter the race and Franken's celebrity factor. But for now, Coleman has a substantial lead and finds himself well-positioned.

Another Good Poll For Udall

Two days ago, it was a Democratic-sponsored poll that showed Mark Udall leading the race to succeed retiring Senator Wayne Allard in Colorado. Today, it's a nonpartisan survey that shows the Democrat well ahead of his GOP opponent. And though the well-known member of Congress is below 50%, his Republican rival can't manage to break 40% and is in serious trouble among independents.

The survey, conducted by Quinnipiac University for the Wall Street Journal and WashingtonPost.com, was conducted 6/17-24 among 1,351 likely voters for a margin of error of +/- 2.7%. Udall and former Rep. Bob Schaffer were tested.

General Election Matchup
(All / Dem / GOP / Ind / Men / Wom)
Udall............48 / 89 / 8 / 54 / 43 / 53
Schaffer......38 / 7 / 82 / 27 / 46 / 32

Along with a big deficit among independent voters, Schaffer is suffering from a serious gender gap, too. In order to overcome that gap, Schaffer is either going to need to seriously improve his standing among male voters or find a way to reduce Udall's gap among women.

For more on the race, check out our write-up from Tuesday.

Court Hits BCRA Again

The Supreme Court didn't stop with guns today, also striking down a key provision of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, chipping away again at a signature accomplishment for Republican presidential nominee John McCain. The Court ruled 5-4, with Anthony Kennedy joining conservatives in the majority, to strip the so-called "Millionaire's Amendment" from the law.

Writing for the majority, Justice Samuel Alito struck down the clause, which allows opponents of political candidates who spend more than $350,000 of their own money on a Congressional race to raise more than the $2,300 per contributor currently allowed under federal law. The provision, the Court found, violated the First and Fifth Amendments.

The case, Davis v. Federal Election Commission, was filed in 2006 by Jack Davis, a wealthy Democrat who lost two elections to retiring Rep. Tom Reynolds in New York's Twenty Sixth Congressional District. Davis spent more than $1 million on his 2004 race, which he lost 56%-44%, and $2 million on his 2006 race, which he lost 52%-48%.

Davis argued the provision, which allowed Reynolds to raise up to three times the maximum amount from an individual and required the self-funding candidate report more frequently, forced him to reveal campaign strategy and gave the incumbent an unfair advantage. The Court, today, agreed, sending that provision to the dustbin.

Whether the Millionaire's Amendment had any real effect is difficult to say. In recent years, despite a spate of wealthy candidates running for office, only a handful of self-funders actually won. Too, only a few candidates who were able to raise more funds thanks to an opponent who spent heavily actually took advantage of doing so.

Dubbed the McCain-Feingold act for its two prime sponsors, McCain and Wisconsin Democrat Russ Feingold, BCRA, as it is also known, has undergone its share of challenges. Some minor provisions were struck down in a 2003 challenge brought by Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell, while a provision prohibiting third-party ads that do not expressly advocate for the election or defeat of a candidate was ruled unconstitutional last year, in a suit brought by Wisconsin Right to Life, ironically for advertisements run against Feingold.

SCOTUS Rules For Guns

The Supreme Court today issued a surprisingly narrow five-to-four opinion affirming the rights of Americans to own guns for certain purposes, striking down a Washington, D.C. law that banned handguns. Justices decided on the question of whether the Second Amendment protected individual rights to own a gun or if ownership needed to be tied to a militia.

The Court had not ruled on the Second Amendment since 1939, and has never, until today, had the opportunity to define the issue in such a broad way. The case, District of Columbia v. Heller, is already being seen as one of the most important decisions the Court has handed down in recent years.

Writing for the majority, Justice Antonin Scalia said the Second Amendment clearly guaranteed the individual right. "Putting all of these textual elements together, we find that they guarantee the individual right to possess and carry weapons in case of confrontation," he wrote.

Still, some restrictions are allowed. "We do not read the Second Amendment to protect the right of citizens to carry arms for any sort of confrontation, just as we do not read the First Amendment to protect the right of citizens to speak for any purpose," he continued. "Like most rights, the right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited."

Scalia was joined in the majority by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito and Anthony Kennedy. Justices John Paul Stevens and Steven Breyer authored dissenting opinions, which Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and David Souter joined.

The lawsuit attracted friend of the court briefs from lawmakers and opponents and proponents of gun control, even causing a highly unusual public rift within the Bush Administration. Solicitor General Paul Clement wrote the Court in support of Washington's law, while Vice President Dick Cheney joined dozens of members of Congress in support of the Second Amendment.

Republican presidential nominee-in-waiting John McCain also signed the amicus brief on behalf of plaintiff Dick Heller, a District resident, and expressed support for the ruling. "Today's ruling in District of Columbia v. Heller makes clear that other municipalities like Chicago that have banned handguns have infringed on the constitutional rights of Americans," McCain said in a statement.

The GOP nominee couldn't resist the opportunity to take a shot at rival Barack Obama: "Unlike the elitist view that believes Americans cling to guns out of bitterness, today's ruling recognizes that gun ownership is a fundamental right -- sacred, just as the right to free speech and assembly."

Updated: Obama's campaign is out with a statement. Both complete statements below the jump.

Barack Obama on District of Columbia v. Heller:

"I have always believed that the Second Amendment protects the right of individuals to bear arms, but I also identify with the need for crime-ravaged communities to save their children from the violence that plagues our streets through common-sense, effective safety measures. The Supreme Court has now endorsed that view, and while it ruled that the D.C. gun ban went too far, Justice Scalia himself acknowledged that this right is not absolute and subject to reasonable regulations enacted by local communities to keep their streets safe. Today's ruling, the first clear statement on this issue in 127 years, will provide much-needed guidance to local jurisdictions across the country.

"As President, I will uphold the constitutional rights of law-abiding gun-owners, hunters, and sportsmen. I know that what works in Chicago may not work in Cheyenne. We can work together to enact common-sense laws, like closing the gun show loophole and improving our background check system, so that guns do not fall into the hands of terrorists or criminals. Today's decision reinforces that if we act responsibly, we can both protect the constitutional right to bear arms and keep our communities and our children safe."

John McCain's statement:

"Today's decision is a landmark victory for Second Amendment freedom in the United States. For this first time in the history of our Republic, the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed that the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms was and is an individual right as intended by our Founding Fathers. I applaud this decision as well as the overturning of the District of Columbia's ban on handguns and limitations on the ability to use firearms for self-defense.

"Unlike Senator Obama, who refused to join me in signing a bipartisan amicus brief, I was pleased to express my support and call for the ruling issued today. Today's ruling in District of Columbia v. Heller makes clear that other municipalities like Chicago that have banned handguns have infringed on the constitutional rights of Americans. Unlike the elitist view that believes Americans cling to guns out of bitterness, today's ruling recognizes that gun ownership is a fundamental right -- sacred, just as the right to free speech and assembly.

This ruling does not mark the end of our struggle against those who seek to limit the rights of law-abiding citizens. We must always remain vigilant in defense of our freedoms. But today, the Supreme Court ended forever the specious argument that the Second Amendment did not confer an individual right to keep and bear arms."

GOP Involved In AL

Despite a pledge not to get involved in its own primaries, the National Republican Congressional Committee knows who it wants to see com out of two competitive runoffs in Alabama, and they're making their preference known. In both cases, the leading Republican failed to win enough votes in the June 3 primary to avoid a runoff, and the GOP has no interest in losing what will be two competitive southern seats.

In the southern Second District, where Republican Terry Everett is retiring after eight terms, State Rep. Jay Love and State Senator Harri Anne Smith will duke it out in the July 15 runoff. The initial front-runner, Smith finished with 22% of the vote, while Love took 35% in the six-candidate field. Last night, national Republicans held a fundraiser for Love, who has largely self-funded his campaign, attracting many top House GOP leaders.

Technically the event was not sponsored by the NRCC, and was held at the offices of an insurance industry group in Washington. But spokesman Ken Spain heaped praise on Love when the Associated Press asked about the race, making clear the committee's intent. The winner of the runoff will face Montgomery Mayor Bobby Bright, who won the Democratic primary outright.

Up north, Democrats hoping to keep retiring Rep. Bud Cramer's seat on their side will lean on State Senator Parker Griffith, who coasted to a Democratic primary win in early June. Republican insurance executive Wayne Parker barely missed his chance to win his nomination outright, winning 49% of the vote to attorney Cheryl Baswell Guthrie's 18%.

The Republican Parker has received checks in the mail from five of his GOP colleagues already in office, including fellow Alabaman Spencer Bachus. While the NRCC has not endorsed any candidate, it doesn't leave a lot to the imagination when chairman Tom Cole hands Parker a $5,000 check, as Roll Call's John McArdle writes today.

Both races will be tough for Republicans -- Griffith represents his district's population center and Bright is the popular mayor of a major city -- but it's doable. Cole has started to weed out the weaker candidates, something he'd been criticized for failing to do in special elections earlier this year. Better late than never, one would suppose.

Strategy Memo: Come Together

Good Thursday morning. The Fresno State Bulldogs ousted the Georgia Bulldogs (not a typo) to win the College World Series last night, making them the lowest-ranked team to win an NCAA championship. Their win is the equivalent of a 13-16 seed winning March Madness. Here's what Washington is watching this morning:

-- The Senate will take up amendments to a House-passed FISA bill a day after passing their own version by a wide 80-15 margin. The House is debating a measure promoting the use of public transportation. President Bush made an announcement this morning at the White House lifting some sanctions on North Korea, including removing the rogue country from the terrorist watch list. The House Intelligence Committee will take up North Korea, which is said to have made significant progress on its pledges to rid itself of nuclear weapons, this morning as well. Bush will also address the National Hispanic Prayer Breakfast and give a speech to a faith-based conference in Washington, before choppering out to meet Crown Prince Mohammad bin Zayed Al Nahyan, of Abu Dhabi, at Camp David.

-- Today also marks the beginning of the final coming together of two Democrats who stood as rivals for nearly a year and a half. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama will meet today with Clinton's national finance team at a Washington hotel, where Clinton will encourage her donors to back the Illinois senator and where Obama is likely to offer his own support in the form of debt retirement. After meeting today in Washington, where they will also participate in votes on the Senate floor, the two will head to Unity, New Hampshire, for the first of what could be many joint rallies.

-- Behind the scenes, Washington super lawyer Robert Barnett, who has negotiated book deals for both the candidates, is hashing out unresolved questions between the two campaigns, the New York Times writes. Brought on at Clinton's request, Barnett is working to hammer out deals on Clinton's role at the Democratic National Convention and over Clinton's campaign travel on Obama's behalf. The two elephants in the room that have not come up yet: Bill Clinton's role in the general election and whether Hillary Clinton would be offered the vice presidential slot. Too, Clinton staffers are miffed that so few from their rank have been recruited by Obama's campaign. One new Clintonite headed to Chicago will be former policy director Neera Tanden, who is in talks about a job.

-- Meanwhile, Obama's support of FISA legislation that passed last night, guaranteeing retroactive immunity to the telecom industry, has irritated some core backers in the netroots, as Huffington Post's Sam Stein writes today. And irritated is a kind word. The top lefty bloggers are furious that the Democratic nominee would back such a bill, though he describes the telecom immunity as less important than national security. Truth be told, though, many thinkers in the liberal blogosphere, who were more in tune with John Edwards in the primaries than with Obama, think the Illinois senator is more with them on tactics surrounding organizing than on policy.

-- Could Obama actually be dangerous to the netroots? After some Democrats prostrated themselves to the Koses and Atrioses of the world, Obama's campaign is based on running everything internally, with less interest in external drivers like the netroots. Witness Obama's almost complete swallowing of the Democratic National Committee. If Obama wins the White House, bloggers, who maintain they have contributed to several down-ballot wins before, will be stuck with a president driving the Democratic Party who got there largely without their help and who has serious policy differences. Obama has already shown he cares more about traditional Democratic groups than he does about the netroots. His win in November could be a netroots setback.

-- Obama has not only paid more attention to typical Democratic constituencies, he's also run a surprisingly traditional campaign. In fact, both Obama and John McCain have spent the first few weeks of the general election running campaigns that are just as negative, if not more so, than the last few election cycles, the Washington Post's Dan Balz writes today. Far from being the post-partisan change agents bent on creating a new kind of politics, Obama and McCain have instead devolved into a debate about debates, screamed at each other over campaign finance, offered demonstrably false attacks against the other and become experts at playing the victim, both when deserved and when undeserved. Both have yet to demonstrate anything approaching outside-the-box campaigning.

-- With poll numbers showing him at a severe and, perhaps, growing disadvantage, McCain is looking for new ways to vault himself back to the top. That path back to the lead is within reach, especially in a political climate that is so volatile, though he will have to choose from myriad options that every pundit and strategist will offer. The consensus, in a nutshell: Let McCain be McCain, the come-from-behind maverick who likes nothing better than irritating Washington while cultivating his media base. Second, build a field program that rivals Obama's, because with Republican enthusiasm down, McCain's voters are going to need an extra shove out the door. Time's Mark Halperin has twenty more ideas for McCain.

-- Issue Of The Day: For the first time since 1939, the Supreme Court will issue a significant ruling on the Second Amendment, when they decide District of Columbia v. Heller, regarding Washington's wide-ranging gun ban. As the Court winds down its activities this term, it has held its most significant rulings until the last minute. Speculation is coursing through both pro- and anti-gun communities about how far-reaching the majority opinion will be in affirming (likely) or rejecting (unlikely) the individual's right to bear arms. Stick with Politics Nation for coverage once the ruling comes down.

-- Today On The Trail: Obama finishes his economic tour this morning with a major summit at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. Among the attendees, retired Marine General Jim Jones, who shared a stage with Barack Obama a few weeks ago, and top executives from business and labor, including SEIU President Andy Stern, US Steel CEO John Surma and GM chairman and CEO Rick Wagoner. McCain, meanwhile, has a town hall meeting set for Xavier University in Cincinnati. Michelle Obama is on the trail today with stops in Manchester, New Hampshire, to campaign with ex-Governor Jeanne Shaheen, and in New York, where she will keynote a DNC event for the GLBT community.

Dems Finalize Rules Work

Far from the bright lights of the television cameras, under which the committee last met in early June, the DNC's Rules and Bylaws Committee concluded its official business this afternoon via conference call, finalizing the long, hard slog toward the Democratic convention in Denver.

The committee unanimously adopted the official report to the convention credentials committee in one of the fastest Rules and Bylaws meetings in recent memory -- committee member Donna Brazile joined the call as the meeting ended, wondering aloud,"Is the call over?" Twenty three states have already submitted complete and acceptable delegate slates, while nine states have yet to submit slates in compliance with Democratic rules on gender balance among delegates, alternates and standing committee members. The remaining states and territories have not completed their delegate selection process.

States that have yet to achieve gender equality among their delegations include Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Kentucky, Missouri, New Jersey, New Mexico, Rhode Island and Virginia. Ensuring equality across gender lines is the one authority reserved for the Rules and Bylaws Committee, and DNC Executive Director Phil McNamara said there had not been a waiver granted since the rule was adopted in 1984.

The panel referred just two delegate challenge to the convention credentials committee, which will take over most of the RBC's roles once it is convened in Denver. The legitimacy of an Obama delegate from Texas and a Clinton delegate from Wisconsin will be the only controversial matter decided by the credentials committee.

The Wisconsin matter, which involves First District Clinton backer Debra Bartoshevich, will be the most newsworthy, as Wisconsin party officials seek to disqualify the emergency room nurse. Bartoshevich, who is from Waterford, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that she would support Republican presidential nominee John McCain in the Fall, instead of Barack Obama. A Wisoconsin Democratic Party spokeswoman said the party was challenging Bartoshevich's status as a delegate to Denver.

GOP Sen Cites Obama Ties

A candidate facing a tough re-election fight is making clear his ties to Barack Obama on a bill the two worked on together to promote better gas mileage and a healthier environment. In and of itself, that's not news. But it certainly becomes news when that candidate is Oregon Senator Gordon Smith, a Republican facing a tough re-election bid against State House Speaker Jeff Merkley.

Smith, who has a big financial advantage over his Democratic opponent, is tying himself not to his party's presidential nominee but to Obama, who won the state's Democratic presidential primary by a wide margin. Smith is seen as a top target for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, and he has made his own breaks from Republicans a major theme of his re-election bid. "I approve working together across party lines and this ad," says Smith at the end of the thirty-second ad.

To run such an advertisement in a state John McCain has mentioned should be fiercely competitive is both telling and disheartening for Republicans. The party is struggling all along the West Coast -- Smith is the only GOP senator outside Alaska whose state touches the Pacific Ocean -- and though McCain had hoped to make Washington and Oregon swing states, the fact that a Republican would associate himself with McCain's rival has to call that decision into question.

It isn't the first time Smith has so publicly broken with his party, either. After the 2006 midterm elections, Smith reversed his position on the war in Iraq, saying the elections were a clear signal that his constituents opposed the war. Smith's television advertisements this year have all played up his bipartisan credentials, one featuring a group called "Democrats for Smith" headed by ex-Rep. Elizabeth Furse and former State Senator Avel Gordly.

Merkley, the DSCC and Obama all pounced on Smith, criticizing him for the new advertisement. "Barack Obama has a long record of bipartisan accomplishment and we appreciate that it is respected by his Democratic and Republican colleagues in the Senate," Obama spokesman Bill Burton stated in an email to reporters. "But in this race, Oregonians should know that Barack Obama supports Jeff Merkley for Senate. Merkley will help Obama bring about the fundamental change we need in Washington."

A mid-May poll conducted by the DSCC showed Smith leading by a narrow three-point margin and five points under the magic 50% marker. Taken with a grain of salt, though, Smith remains the favorite, especially after a bruising Democratic primary in which Merkley only barely won.

Still, if Democrats are in such good shape that even Republican incumbents are touting their work with Barack Obama, the GOP could face a seriously uphill climb to retain even the most marginal of seats this year. At the very least, the ad seemingly confirms that Oregon's transition from purple state to blue state is nearly complete.

FEC To Function

After seemingly endless deadlock, the Senate yesterday approved nominations of five Federal Election Commission nominees, giving the embattled watchdog agency a full compliment of six commissioners for the first time in years. Leaders in both parties hailed the progress, which was held up over whether commissioners should be subject to separate votes.

After reaching compromise on the last controversial Republican nominee, the Senate approved nominations of Cynthia Bauerly and Steven Walther, both Democrats, and Republicans Caroline Hunter, Donald McGahn and Matthew Petersen. The five newly approved commissioners join current incumbent Ellen Weintraub, the panel's third Democrat.

The new commissioners will be sworn in once President Bush officially approves the nominations, something that is likely to happen today, and after logistical questions are resolved with each of the nominees, though FEC spokesman Bob Biersack said the panel should have all five members officially on board in short order.

The initial controversy erupted when Republicans nominated former Justice Department official Hans von Spakovsky, who Democrats charged had been involved in opinions that led to some voters being denied their right to cast ballots. Republicans wanted a vote on all the appointed commissioners at the same time, while Democrats wanted to vote on each nominee individually, in order to vote against von Spakovsky. Von Spakovsky withdrew his name from consideration earlier this year.

Despite the years of conflict over seating the full panel, Senate leaders from both parties heralded the compromise. "Confirming these nominations tonight will help restore the American people's faith that campaign finance laws will be enforced during this presidential election," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said in a statement. "We are also bringing greater transparency to our system of financing elections by ensuring new bundling rules will finally move forward."

Both parties lobbed accusations that the other had blocked the nominations. "A fully functioning, bipartisan FEC is long overdue," Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said. "I'm glad that Democrat obstruction on nominees is over so the FEC can now resume its critical role of enforcing election laws and ensuring that this election season is fair and equitable to all who are involved."

Once they arrive, commissioners will have a heavy caseload ahead of them. While the FEC does not comment on complaints until official action is taken, Biersack said the panel typically has at least 100 cases ahead of them, even with a full compliment of commissioners. Too, the group will have to rule on new lobbyist disclosure regulations thanks to a bill passed last year, the deadline for which has already passed, and on several advisory opinion requests.

Cannon Gets Crunched

Need further proof that this year will be dominated by a change theme? An incumbent member of Congress failed to win renomination in a primary yesterday, the third time voters in both parties have kicked their representatives out of office. In Utah, former gubernatorial aide Jason Chaffetz easily beat Rep. Chris Cannon yesterday in a district that stretches south of Salt Lake City.

Chaffetz, the onetime place kicker for Brigham Young University who later went on to manage Governor Jon Huntsman's campaign and serve as Huntsman's first chief of staff, took 60% of the vote compared with 40% for Cannon, with 93% of precincts reporting by this morning. Cannon conceded around 11 p.m. Mountain Time last night, promising to work to elect Chaffetz.

Despite being out-raised by a seven-to-one margin and not actually living in the district, Chaffetz worked on organizing, first meeting with delegates to the district's Republican convention, where he came ten votes shy of eliminating Cannon outright, and later identifying precinct captains to get supporters to the polls. Cannon blamed his loss on low turnout, though immigration has been a factor in Cannon's narrow nomination wins before (See our preview of the race from yesterday).

But Chaffetz also maintained that his victory was a win for a new Republican Party. "We rocked the vote here in Utah and we rocked the Republican Party," Chaffetz told supporters, according to the Salt Lake Tribune. Even the NRCC chimed in on the theme. "Chaffetz ran a grassroots campaign that centered on changing the way Washington does business -- a theme that will be equally pertinent during the general election in the fall," the NRCC wrote in a memo explaining the results.

That's a motto other challengers to incumbents have taken up as well. In Maryland, Rep. Wayne Gilchrist lost his Republican primary battle to more conservative State Senator Andy Harris, while Rep. Al Wynn lost his Democratic primary race with nonprofit executive Donna Edwards, both by wide margins. (Wynn resigned his seat early, and Edwards, who won the special election to replace him, was sworn into Congress last week)

Still, most incumbents are going to easily win their own primaries this year, meaning the change message will be replayed across the country. That's good for any challenger facing an entrenched incumbent; though this year, given President Bush's low approval ratings, it is likely to benefit Democrats more than Republicans.

It won't help the party in Utah's Third District, though. Chaffetz is running in a district in which President Bush won 77% of the vote in 2004 and 75% in 2000, the fifth-highest performing Bush district in the country. Chaffetz is all but assured a seat in the 111th Congress.

Strategy Memo: Shift Happens

Good Wednesday morning. What do Chris Wallace, Harold Reynolds and David Brooks have in common? They all watched the Washington Nationals commit three errors in the top of the first inning en route to a drubbing. Well, 20,000-some other people watched the same thing, too. Besides a terrible baseball team, here's what Washington is watching today:

-- The Senate is likely to pass a housing measure that would provide a $300 billion pool to prevent mortgage foreclosure, while continuing to confirm a number of judicial nominees long held up by disagreements between top Democrats and the White House. The next battle on which to gear up will be a debate on FISA, with two prominent Democrats promising a filibuster on a provision that would provide immunity to telecom companies. President Bush meets with his national security team at the White House before taking off for Laurel Manor, Michigan, for a fundraising dinner benefiting the Republican National Committee.

-- One is an outlier, two could be the start of a trend. Many dismissed a Newsweek poll out Monday that showed Barack Obama leading by a wide 15-point margin, and their arguments made sense: Nothing really happened in the last few weeks, making John McCain's precipitous drop in support suspect. Now, though, a new LA Times/Bloomberg survey shows McCain trailing by twelve points in a head-to-head matchup, and by fifteen points when former Rep. Bob Barr and independent candidate Ralph Nader are involved. The latest RCP Average has Obama leading by 7.5 points, and that gap is widening. It's been a month since any survey showed the two candidates tied, and more than seven weeks since McCain led a poll.

-- Maybe, though, something did happen in the last few weeks. While the early part of the general election campaign seemed focused on a McCain-led debate about Iraq, the discussion has shifted in recent weeks to arguments over the economy. That's Obama territory: Voters prefer Obama's positions on taxes by a 45%-31% margin and on the economy by a 49%-48% margin. What's more, voters say, by a wide 50%-23% margin, that Obama cares more about people like them. McCain wins on protecting the country from terrorism, by a 49%-32% margin, and on handling the war in Iraq by a mere two points. With the debate shifted away from McCain's foreign policy and security wheelhouse and onto Obama's domestic issue turf, Obama's big lead starts to make more sense.

-- What's more, Obama voters are just more excited, making the prospect of record turnouts look more realistic. 47% of those who back the Illinois Senator are very enthusiastic, while just 13% of McCain voters can say the same thing. That could lead to Republican voters staying home, costing the party not just the White House but down-ballot seats as well. How big is the enthusiasm gap between the parties? Consider that both candidates score a little over 80% of their base (83% of Democrats will vote for Obama, 81% of Republicans for McCain) and that independents in the poll actually favor McCain by a 36%-33% margin. One upshot McCain will have serious problems overcoming: This year, thanks to a depressed GOP brand and an unpopular president, there are just fewer Republicans.

-- Obama will take advantage of his early lead and his large warchest and will initially target fourteen states that cast electoral votes for President Bush in 2004, Politico's Ben Smith writes today. Expect frequent stops in the narrowest of those fourteen states, including Iowa, New Mexico, Ohio and Nevada, along with significant financial commitments in Colorado, Florida, Missouri, Virginia, North Carolina, Montana, North Dakota, Indiana, Georgia and Alaska. That's 147 electoral votes (148 if you count top aide Steve Hildebrand's promise to campaign in Nebraska's Second District) that Republicans carried in 2004, a year the party won just 286 electoral votes. Ohio alone could have put Kerry over the top. Had he targeted, and won, all fourteen listed above, it would have been a 399-139 romp.

-- Perhaps most importantly for Democrats, Obama has said he will send staff to all 50 states, and Hildebrand tells Smith that means he will help down-ballot Democrats take back key seats in states unlikely to give up their electoral votes. What to do with fifteen staffers in Texas? Why not help the state party win back control of the state legislature, something that's going to take five seats in both chambers to pull off. That would give Democrats a much greater hand in redistricting in the Lone Star State, a place where Tom DeLay cost the party a huge number of Congressional seats when he inspired a mid-decade redistricting ahead of the 2004 elections. How about those Wyoming staffers? Congressional candidate Gary Trauner could use the help. Obama, in short, could enter the White House with the strongest Democratic Party in generations at his back.

-- What can John McCain do to not only win, but to stop a bloodbath for his fellow Republicans on other parts of the ballot? Well, not much. But he can make a comeback, and he's by no means out of the race yet. Polls, including the LA Times/Bloomberg survey mentioned above, continue to show most voters don't believe Obama has the experience to be president. So it's up to McCain to hammer away at that sentiment and sew as many doubts as possible. But, as the New York Times' Michael Cohen wisely recalls, it can be easy for the more experienced candidate to overplay his hand: Both President George H.W. Bush referring to Al Gore and Bill Clinton as "bozos" and suggesting his dog Millie knew more about foreign policy, and later, Gore's sighing into the microphone during a key debate, went over stunningly poorly.

-- Lent Hand Of The Day: Obama has asked top donors to help retire a significant portion of Hillary Clinton's outstanding campaign debt, CNN and others reported late yesterday. The move came two days before the two are scheduled to sit down with Clinton's national finance team and three days before they will appear jointly at a rally in Unity, New Hampshire. After what some aides called a productive phone conversation between the two last weekend, Obama wants to help retire $10 million in Clinton debt. That, by the way, is debt to her campaign vendors, not the money Clinton lent her own campaign. It looks like that $11.4 million is essentially gone. Ironic, at all, that McCain-Feingold is the law conservatives most love to hate, but that will also cost Clinton somewhere north of $11.1 million?

-- Today On The Trail: McCain is the second candidate to visit Sin City in two days, stopping at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas for a speech. Later, McCain will open a campaign office and attend fundraisers, one at a country club and one sponsored by consultant Sid Rogich and casino tycoons Steve Wynn and Sheldon Adelson. Obama's only public event is a press conference outside a Chicago hotel early this afternoon.

M. Udall Up In Dem Poll

Mark Udall has a substantial, but not overwhelming, lead in the race to replace retiring Republican Senator Wayne Allard, a new poll conducted for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee shows, indicating the Democratic congressman's likely November opponent has serious work to do ahead. But the poll does not give Udall an edge that is insurmountable, giving Republicans hope that a once-reliably red state may not be completely out of reach just yet.

The survey, conducted by Garin-Hart-Yang for the DSCC, polled 807 likely voters between 6/15-17 for a margin of error of +/- 3.5%. Udall and former Rep. Bob Schaffer were tested.

General Election Matchup (W/leans)
Udall...................46
Schaffer.............37

Generic Dem.......42
Generic GOPer....36

Republicans don't have to give up the ghost just yet. Schaffer has so far run a low-key campaign without flashy rallies or statewide tours, as Udall has done. And though Udall got a big fundraising head start, Schaffer raised good money in the First Quarter and, while he's at a financial disadvantage, there's a long way to go in the race. Through March, Udall had $4.2 million on hand, while Schaffer had more than $2.1 million in the bank.

Both candidates say their opponents are too extreme for the state. Schaffer, who lost the 2004 Republican primary to beer magnate Pete Coors, paints Udall as a "Boulder liberal" (Reporters joke that one conversation with Schaffer campaign manager Dick Wadhams yields at least five repetitions of the phrase). Udall's team hits Schaffer for being too conservative, especially on energy-related policies, which have so far played a big role in the campaign.

Schaffer has also faced questions about his relationship with Jack Abramoff, which included a fact-finding mission to the Northern Mariana Islands. The fire, which the DSCC has been only too happy to fan, has received significant attention from the Denver Post, though Schaffer maintains he never met or was aware of Abramoff at the time the trip occurred, in 1999.

Both parties will make the seat a top priority in November, and Democrats see it as one of their best chances to pick off another Republican-held seat. The party has fared well in recent years, recapturing the governorship, both legislative chambers, two Congressional seats and a Senate seat since 2004. But Udall, running under 50% in a Democratic poll, should not start measuring the drapes in Allard's office just yet. The race could prove to be closer than many expect.

Enviro Groups Own CO

Two prominent environmental groups are going to bat early for their favored candidates in Colorado, FEC filings released late last week show. And given the prominence of environmental and energy issues in the state in recent years, investments from the League of Conservation Voters and the Defenders of Wildlife Action Fund could have a dramatic impact.

LCV, which has already ponied up serious money on behalf of Rep. Mark Udall's Senate bid along with a consortium of environmental groups, bought another $125,000 in television time, while the more political League of Conservation Voters Action Fund spent $10,000 in campaign literature on Udall's behalf. The expenditures come on top of $250,000 in television time and $12,000 in other expenses just this month.

LCV, Defenders of Wildlife, Clean Water Action and the Sierra Club are jointly targeting Senate races in New Mexico, New Hampshire and Colorado, where they see opportunities to win back Senate seats with environmentally-friendly candidates. The cooperation comes two years after the four worked together to oust California Republican Richard Pombo.

All four groups promised to go beyond those three Senate races, though, and have individually targeted other potential pickups. In Colorado, Defenders of Wildlife last week endorsed a former aide to Senator Ken Salazar, Betsy Markey, in her bid to unseat Republican Marilyn Musgrave and bought a whopping $200,000 in advertising time there. Markey has shown promise, raising $594,000 through the end of March and maintaining $376,000 in the bank.

Musgrave has had her troubles holding onto the district, as well. The three-term Republican won just 46% of the vote in 2006, winning by three points thanks to a third-party candidate, and took just 51% in 2004, as President Bush carried the seat by a wider 17-point margin. Still, she knows she will face a tough fight and has already raised an impressive $1.38 million, with just over $1 million on hand after March.

With environmental groups promising a real effort this year, Democrats may benefit from added emphasis on energy and climate change themes that have so far played a major role in the presidential race. Udall looks like the favorite, for now, in Colorado, while Markey may need more help. But if the groups are able to duplicate their success in Pombo's California seat, they may make a big difference.

Cannon Primary Saga Continues

Voters in Utah head to the polls today to select congressional nominees, an election that has at least one incumbent worried he may become the third to lose his own party's nod this year. It's not the first time Republican Chris Cannon has faced a tough primary challenge, and this year he faces a new opponent who is stronger than his 2006 opponent. Cannon's constituents, a new poll shows, have yet to really make up their minds.

The poll, conducted by Dan Jones & Associates for the Deseret News, surveyed 312 registered voters on 6/19 for a margin of error of +/- 5.5%. Cannon and his challenger, Jason Chaffetz, were tested.

General Election Matchup
Cannon.......44 (+5 from last, 5/19)
Chaffetz......40 (+3)

Chaffetz, the former chief of staff to Governor Jon Huntsman, has shown promise as a candidate with organizing skills. At the party's May convention, Chaffetz won 59% of the vote, coming just a single point shy of denying Cannon a spot on the ballot. Only ten votes would have gotten him over the top.

Cannon faced similarly tough challenges in 2004 and 2006, though it was he who came just shy of winning the convention outright both years. Facing State Rep. Matt Throckmorton, he won 58%-42%, and in 2006 against developer John Jacob, Cannon took a 56%-44% victory.

Both losing candidates, and Chaffetz this year, have attacked Cannon's position on immigration, which they cast as pro-amnesty. Chaffetz won backing from an anti-illegal immigration PAC founded by Rep. Tom Tancredo, Roll Call's John McArdle reports today, and he, like others before him, has been trying to cast Cannon as too liberal for the district (Chaffetz's slogan, "Right for Utah," is an easy double entendre).

The primary winner today is virtually assured of a seat in Congress in Utah's Third District. Touching the southeastern shores of the Great Salt Lake, the district wanders south through Provo and west to the Nevada border. The last two Democratic presidential nominees have failed to win even a quarter of the vote in the district, and though Cannon won the general election with just 58% in 2006, Democrats are unlikely to make even a token effort here.

Bruno To Retire

Joseph Bruno is not a household name anywhere outside political circles in New York, but the Senate Majority Leader, seemingly the last barrier standing in the way of total Democratic control over the Empire State, has been a major factor in the state legislature for more than three decades. That reign will come to an end this year, as Bruno announced to colleagues yesterday that he will not seek re-election in November, the Democrat and Chronicle reports today and the New York Times wrote last night.

Bruno, who has presided in the state's upper chamber since 1994 and been in the Senate since 1976, told fellow Republicans at a closed-door meeting yesterday that he believed it is time for him to move on, and time to give his colleagues a chance at new leadership. His announcement was greeted with warm statements from friends and enemies alike, including Governor David Patterson, with whom Bruno had a much warmer relationship than previous executives.

State House Republicans will watch the Senate President go with mixed emotions. On one hand, Bruno held a tenuous majority for the party even as Republicans around the state suffered traumatic losses -- in 1994, the GOP held 14 of the state's 31 Congressional seats; this year, three of the six remaining incumbents have announced their retirements. On the other, the GOP's Senate majority is just a single seat, and recent losses have led to criticism that Bruno's campaign tactics are out of date.

Bruno's seat itself, on the eastern edge of the state stretching from Nassau in the south to Troy and parts of Saratoga Springs, is likely a safe open seat for Republicans this year, but several others will probably go Democratic when longtime incumbents retire. Several Republican members win easy re-election in districts in Queens and Brooklyn, inside New York City, that otherwise vote heavily Democratic. Democrats see the State Senate as one of their best chamber pickup opportunities in the nation.

Already this cycle, the party has won two special elections in Republican-held seats, including one in upstate New York and one on Long Island in a campaign that cost upwards of $5 million. There are now 32 Republicans in the upper chamber and 30 Democrats.

Why should a state legislature be of concern to national parties? In New York, as well as in about three dozen other states, the legislature, usually in concert with the governor, has control over state and federal redistricting after the decennial reapportionment. In New York, the senate majority leader, the assembly speaker and the governor all send a representative to negotiate new Congressional District lines, a process which can severely impact re-election prospects for some incumbents (Each state has its own rules for redistricting).

In 2012, New York is projected to lose two more Congressional seats, dropping its current total of 29 to 27, its lowest number since 1823. Democrats, who control the assembly by a wide margin and presently own the governor's mansion (though Patterson's term expires in 2010, leaving one more chance for Republicans to come back), are salivating over the prospect of winning back the Senate, thus giving them all three seats at the redistricting table. Should they do so, the party can target two Republicans to draw into unfavorable districts, instead of having to oust one member from each party.

Two Republican state senators are likely to run to replace Bruno as head of their party, and each will likely argue that they are capable of maintaining the razor-thin majority. Long Island Senator Dean Skelos and Binghampton Senator Tom Libous met with Bruno after his announcement in hopes of preventing a serious battle that could harm their attempts to keep the majority, the Times reported. Both would have an uphill battle, both in 2008 and 2010, when all the chamber's 62 seats come up for a vote.

Strategy Memo: Foot In Mouth

Good Tuesday morning. Has Don Imus considered some form of remedy for his frequent and embarrassing outbursts? Perhaps glue? Here's what Washington is watching this morning:

-- The Senate continues debate over the Housing and Economic Recovery Act, with votes on a few amendments scheduled, including a measure that would create a $300 billion mortgage rescue pool to prevent foreclosures. The House is working on other legislation, while its appropriations subcommittees go nuts trying to get their Fiscal Year 2009 plans passed. President Bush will meet with his counterparts from the Philippines and Vietnam today at the White House before congratulating NCAA winners from 2007 and 2008. This evening, he will head to McLean, Virginia, for a Republican fundraiser.

-- The story of the day will be Charlie Black, Washington uber-lobbyist, and his recent comments to Fortune Magazine suggesting that the assassination of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, twelve days before the New Hampshire primary, "helped" John McCain's campaign. Too, said Black, a terrorist attack before the election "would be a big advantage to" McCain. Black is one of a handful of loyalists, along with Rick Davis, Mark Salter and a few others, that McCain keeps as an inner circle, and some in the chattering class in Washington have suggested Black would be a well-connected choice to serve as Chief of Staff in a McCain administration.

-- Black knows what he said was wrong in a political sense: One simply does not consider the implications of a terrorist attack on a political campaign, and one certainly doesn't say that it would be a net positive for their candidate. Black apologized last night outside a McCain fundraiser in Fresno, NBC/NJ's Adam Aigner-Treworgy reports, saying he recognizes that McCain has stood for protecting his country over everything else through his career. A campaign official said Black had not recalled making the remarks. McCain himself sought distance from the remarks, telling reporters "I cannot imagine why he would say it," per the Washington Times' Stephen Dinan.

-- The blunder cost McCain a day of positive press, during which he once again started pushing policies that would make some more left-leaning voters proud. Offering a $300 million reward for a next-generation car battery that might promote electric or hybrid vehicles is something different that McCain could use to woo voters who drive a Prius, and who might otherwise back the Democratic candidate. But what would have been a top political story in every newspaper will be bumped to the bottom of stories about Black's comments, the subsequent apologies and distancings and the coming response from Barack Obama's camp (An Obama spokesman has only called the comments a "complete disgrace," per Aigner-Treworgy; 9/11 Commission member Richard Ben-Veniste has a morning conference call on the topic to push it to a two-day story).

-- Black, in the end, said something dumb. But he's got an underlying, and less crass, point: For all the issues on which voters trust Democrats more than Republicans, the ability to protect the country from terrorists and the war on terror are two areas in which the GOP still does alright. In fact, many polls still show more voters trust McCain to handle the war in Iraq, which, he will no doubt make the case, are all interrelated. Too, McCain beats Obama when people are asked who they trust most on the war on terror by a wide 53%-39% margin, as The Fix noted late yesterday. Republicans want the issue of terrorism and security to be at the forefront, and the comment was simply, staggeringly inartful.

-- Meanwhile, Obama, who has taken significant steps towards wooing evangelical voters, will come in for criticism today on James Dobson's Focus on the Family radio show, just days after top religious outreach aide Joshua DuBois asked for a meeting at Dobson's Colorado Springs compound during the Democratic National Convention in Denver. "I think he's deliberately distorting the traditional understanding of the Bible to fit his own worldview, his own confused theology," Dobson says in the 18-minute diatribe, per an advance copy provided to the Associated Press. "He is dragging biblical understanding through the gutter." Some evangelicals might be intrigued by the silver-tongued Democratic candidate, but with condemnation from Dobson, a handful have just ruled out voting for him forever.

-- Obama will soon launch the Joshua Generation Project to target young evangelicals over issues like climate change, Darfur and others on which they agree, rather than on the subject of abortion, on which they do not. Whether evangelical voters go for Obama could answer two questions about the future of a voting bloc that has been solidly Republican for decades. First, does abortion move votes anymore, or is it losing its potency as an issue? And second, if Dobson proves less relevant this year than in previous cycles, will the evangelical community, like the African American community, begin to assess whether they are witnessing a generational change in leadership? Keep an eye on Obama's evangelical outreach projects.

-- Awkward Moment Of The Day: What will vice presidential hopefuls go through even before they make the final cut? One Washington lawyer had to ask Al Gore if he had any infidelity in his past, while another asked former Florida Senator Bob Graham's wife about rumors of Graham's adultery (A fiction from a bit part in a Jimmy Buffett video), as Bloomberg writes today. The process cost Geraldine Ferraro $50,000, and former Rep. Lee Hamilton's grade school teachers were grilled about his past in 1988 and 1992. Ridiculous? Probably a little bit. But if you want the second most powerful job in the world, you should be ready for it.

-- Today On The Trail: John McCain spends his second day in the Golden State today, with an early-morning environmental briefing at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History. Obama, who spent yesterday in Albuquerque, will be in another Mountain West swing state today when he stops in Las Vegas for a chat on energy, at which it's wise to assume he will make more news on storage of nuclear material at Yucca Mountain, a critical issue to Nevada voters. Obama doesn't have to bring it up; he can count on one of the audience members or some reporter raising it for him.

Oh, The Symbolism

Hillary Clinton will join Barack Obama on Friday as the former rivals hold their first joint campaign stop, a rally that will be so replete with symbolism that someone has to be making something up. Clinton and Obama will head to Unity, New Hampshire, a small town of 1,530 in Sullivan County just south of Lebanon, near the Vermont border, and about 60 miles west of Manchester.

Forget the name, though. The location is perfect for another reason: Both candidates scored exactly 107 votes in the state's January 8 primary.

Obama has come a long way in uniting his party. Polls are showing he receives about as much support from Democrats as John McCain gets from Republicans, suggesting equally loyal bases, but there are still a few loud and prominent Clinton backers who have refused to get behind his campaign. As Clinton hits the trail for Obama, her image will improve a lot if those disgruntled few join Obama's camp.

Of course, it looks too good to be true: A town called Unity in which both candidates got the same number of votes? Come on, someone's making something up. Actually, not really: The New Hampshire Secretary of State's website reports both candidates did receive 107 votes each, compared with 78 for John Edwards and 15 for Bill Richardson.

For balance, Ron Paul won the Republican vote in the tiny town with just two votes, while John McCain, who won the state, got just one vote there in January.

ID's Sali Season

Republicans have lost seats in heavily GOP territory in Louisiana and Mississippi already this year, but could they possibly be in jeopardy of losing a seat in which President Bush received more than twice the number of votes of both his Democratic rivals? Developments in Idaho's First Congressional District suggest that freshman Rep. Bill Sali could, in fact, face a tough fight for his job this November.

Sali, a conservative who won a highly divided and very crowded 2006 primary with just 26% of the vote, has not had the easiest time in his first term. The former state legislator had to apologize to freshman Democrat Keith Ellison for suggesting that the founding fathers did not intend for Muslims to be elected to Congress (Ellison is the only Muslim ever to serve in the chamber), and has been criticized for his assertion that the country was founded on Christian scripture.

He's irritated members of his own party, as well. Last weekend, when Idaho Republicans elected a new, more conservative chairman of the state party, Sali supported the insurgent candidate, Norm Semanko, over the incumbent, who had backing from Governor Butch Otter. One state legislator told the Idaho Statesman's Dan Popkey that the move was "a slap in the face" to Otter. Otter was noncommittal about whether he would help Sali this November.

Having won just over a quarter of the votes in his 2006 primary, Sali was almost guaranteed to face a tough challenge in this year's primary. He got a weaker than expected challenge, from businessman and Iraq war veteran Matt Salisbury, who raised just $46,000 through the May 7 pre-primary reporting period. Sali still won with just under 60% of the vote, two years after winning the general election in such a heavily Republican district by just five points.

The incumbent faces more pressing problems for the current campaign. Sali's consultant, an Idaho-based firm called Spartac LLC, is the candidate's long-time friend, but he says he won't do any more work for the incumbent unless he's paid first, the Spokane Spokesman-Review reported last month. Sali still owes Spartac $76,000, and has total debts of $135,000, according to FEC reports.

Too, he has never been a prodigious fundraiser. Sali had raised just $495,000 by May 7, and had $157,000 in the bank. That might not ordinarily be a problem in Idaho, where advertising rates are relatively inexpensive, but Sali will face a well-financed Democrat this Fall. Businessman Walt Minnick has already raised $710,000 and retained $321,000.

Every cycle, both parties find a candidate of theirs who fascinates them, even if that candidate's chances of winning seem remote. For some at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, Minnick is that candidate, one who, running in another district, might have an excellent shot at beating a Republican. Instead, insiders insist Minnick has a chance to capitalize on Sali's mistakes and the downtrodden Republican brand.

The party and Minnick will make specific example of Sali's vote to cut federal funding for rural counties that have lost money because of a slumping logging industry. Counties in Sali's district, which includes timber territory in the Panhandle (The First runs from the Canadian border to that with Utah, along Idaho's western border with Washington and Oregon and including some Boise suburbs), will be impacted by the lost funds, and local officials, though Republican, could make the incumbent pay for his vote come November.

Is Sali truly in trouble, or is the district simply too Republican to vote in a Democrat? Minnick, a Red to Blue program participant, is being highly touted by national Democrats, but he has serious work to do to win over a seat that hasn't sent a Democrat to Washington since 1992. And even if Minnick doesn't win this year, some suggest Sali may not be safe in the future, even if only from a Republican challenger in the primary.

Gerlach Of Opposition

In 2006, there were few more fertile areas for national Democrats than the Philadelphia suburbs. Long trending Democratic, the three Republican-held seats that surrounded the city yielded two pick-ups for the party and one race that ended so close the incumbent was virtually guaranteed another tough contest this year.

But while new Democratic Reps. Joe Sestak, who beat Curt Weldon in Delaware and parts of Chester Counties, and Patrick Murphy, who beat Mike Fitzpatrick in his Bucks County-based seat, are firmly entrenched in their districts, the survivor, Sixth District Republican Jim Gerlach, looks like he could be safer this year than he was last year, a new poll for his campaign shows.

The poll, conducted for Gerlach by Public Opinion Strategies, surveyed 400 likely voters between 5/20-21 for a margin of error of +/- 4.9%. Gerlach and businessman Robert Roggio, the Democratic nominee, were tested.

General Election Matchup
Gerlach.........56
Roggio...........30

In each of the past two cycles, Gerlach beat businesswoman Lois Murphy by just two-point margins, including a 3,000 vote win in 2006. This year, Murphy declined to run, and without her name identification in the district, Gerlach starts off with a wide lead over Roggio. 58% of district voters view Gerlach favorably, while 20% view him unfavorably. Compare that with the 5% who know enough about Roggio to have an opinion (4% favorable, 1% unfavorable) and Democrats face a serious name recognition problem.

Republicans are becoming more scarce in the Philadelphia suburbs, but Gerlach has held on with the help of his more exurban district. The district includes suburbs in Montgomery and Chester Counties, as well as more rural Berks County near Reading. Gerlach's recent victories have come with majorities in Chester and Berks, but are so close because of big Democratic gains in Montgomery.

Gerlach does not take his re-election bids lightly, and he shouldn't dismiss this year's opponent, either. Roggio is no political neophyte, having run Philadelphia for John Kerry in 2004 and suburban Philadelphia for Senator Bob Casey's winning 2006 campaign. His Chester County roots could give him a leg up in an area in which Gerlach has traditionally done well.

But, until he's known by more than one in twenty district voters, Roggio will trail the third-term incumbent by a wide margin, giving Republicans at least some good news in a state in which they've had trouble finding the silver lining lately.

Fossella Replacement Dies

Republicans looking for a break in an already uphill battle in New York's Thirteenth District were dealt another blow this weekend when Frank Powers, the party's chosen replacement for retiring Rep. Vito Fossella, passed away in his sleep at his Staten Island home, the New York Times reported. He was 67 years old.

Powers, a member of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, a major Republican donor and a retired Wall Street executive, had been tapped last month as the party's favored candidate to run for the seat, which Fossella is vacating after a drunken driving charge and the revelation that he fathered a child outside his marriage. Powers had been Fossella's finance chairman, the Times reported.

Democrats have long had their eye on the seat, which voted for Al Gore but, three years after September 11, 2001, gave President Bush a big margin of victory. Aside from Staten Island, the district also has a few Brooklyn neighborhoods in it. The party is leaning on New York City councilman Michael McMahon, of the island, who got a visit last month from DCCC chairman Chris Van Hollen.

McMahon doesn't have a clear shot at the seat just yet. He will likely face Stephen Harrison, an attorney who ran against Fossella in 2006, and whose campaign first indicated the district might be prone to breaking Democratic. Harrison spent just $132,000, less than one-tenth of what Fossella spent in 2006, and ended up with 43% of the vote.

Several other Republicans remain on the ballot, though none look like serious threats at the moment. Republicans have until July to find a replacement candidate, though several one-time top prospects sat out the first round of GOP recruiting when Fossella first announced he would step down. The party now finds itself at a significant disadvantage in the race to retain the last seat in which a Republican represents part of the country's largest city.

RNC, The Only Saving Grace

Reports filed with the Federal Election Commission late Friday show Republicans picking up serious ground on the financial front, but only thanks to Mike Duncan's efforts at the Republican National Committee. As GOP campaign committees in both the House and the Senate continue to lag far behind their Democratic counterparts, RNC fundraising, thanks perhaps to a nomination battle that wrapped up far earlier than the Democrats' did, continues to outpace the Democratic National Committee by leaps and bounds.

The RNC raised $24.3 million in May, FEC reports show, while spending $11.5 million. The DNC raised just $4.8 million and spent $5.2 million. After John McCain clinched the GOP nomination, the party began raising funds through the Victory program, a joint fundraising effort with their presidential nominee. Republicans ended the month with a whopping $53.5 million in the bank, compared with just $3.9 million on hand for the DNC.

Barack Obama's clinching the nomination in early June should boost Democrats' fundraising numbers this month, though the South Capitol Street gang has a long way to go to catch up to their rivals at the Capitol Hill Club.

House Democrats continued to put distance between themselves and the National Republican Congressional Committee in May, raising $6.1 million and spending $4.2 million to end the month with $47.1 million in the bank. Republicans raised $5 million and spent $5.1 million, to finish with $6.65 million on hand. Much of both parties' spending went to early May special elections in Louisiana and Mississippi, both Republican seats which Democrats won.

Perhaps most telling, Democratic members of Congress are investing in their own conference. Last month, members gave $1.9 million to their own cause, building the party's cash-on-hand edge to a more than seven-to-one ratio. Republican members of an NRCC oversight committee, meanwhile, have complained about a lack of contributions from their own members, many of whom have apparently decided to stockpile their own cash in the event they, too, have more competitive races than expected.

On the Senate side, Democrats outraised Republicans as well, though Republicans earned enough to close their own yawning disparity. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee raised $5.9 million and spent $4.9 million, to end the month with $38.5 million on hand. Much of the money went to building field organizations in key battleground states, a process which began last month. The National Republican Senatorial Committee raised $4.9 million and spent $2.7 million, bringing their total in the bank to $21.5 million.

Both Senate committees have something to brag about this month. Republicans point out that they are in better position than they were in 2006, with nearly $3 million more in the bank and having raised more than they did two years ago last month. Democrats, though, have also raised more, and their cash on hand advantage is up slightly from two years ago.

Strategy Memo: Everybody Flip-Flop!

Good Monday morning. In honor of comedian George Carlin, who passed away yesterday at the age of 71, we promise not to use the following words on Politics Nation. Well, we'll leave the actual words to your imagination. Here's what Washington watches this morning:

-- The Senate is in session today, debating the Housing and Economic Recovery Act, though the chamber will not take any roll call votes. The House is in pro forma session, though an appropriations subcommittee takes up the measure that will fund the legislative branch next year. President Bush is at the White House, where he will meet the 2007 WNBA champion Phoenix Mercury and with Presidential Scholars. Dick Cheney is in Georgia for a private fundraiser with Rick Goddard, who is running against incumbent Democratic Rep. Jim Marshall.

-- Out on the campaign trail, both candidates had a spate of bad news last week, and both start this week trying to regain momentum. John McCain's surprise decision to support lifting a moratorium on offshore oil drilling won him few friends, especially in Florida and other coastal states, and his suggestion that he would reexamine his position on drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (He's been against it) won howls of "flip-flop" criticism from rival Democrats. Barack Obama, meanwhile, probably didn't expect the amount of backlash he would get for opting out of public financing. From David Brooks' scathing Friday column to David Broder's Sunday piece and countless editorial boards in between, Obama finds his "change" mantra questioned for the first time.

-- Then again, every glass is half-full. McCain's reversal of position, much like that on ethanol, is certainly to the more politically popular position (New polls are showing the vast majority of Americans approve of off-shore drilling) and McCain argues that he only opposed drilling and subsidies during times when oil was cheap. With oil costing $136.54 (At 7:45 a.m. Eastern), new paths make sense. There's a way to argue out of a change of position, though McCain has yet to completely sell that argument. He should, and before Obama's team has the chance to paint him into the flip-flopping corner.

-- McCain has the policy advantage, at least in terms of the number of Americans who favor drilling, but Obama's reversal of position has given him the political edge. No one, Republican or Democrat, begrudges the Illinois Senator's choice over public financing. To turn down what could be a two-to-one funding advantage would be to ensure that none of his advisers ever worked in politics again. And it's an incredibly inside-the-beltway issue that, the Democrat's team hopes, will go away after a while. Obama, though, needs to get that whole "parallel public financing" argument into a 25-word answer, otherwise McCain could score some serious points in Fall debates.

-- But early moves in the general election campaign show Obama moving to redefine and introduce himself, the Washington Post's Balz and Kornblut write today. The early maneuvers point to his strengths, including a newly expanded electoral map and a financial prowess that can top anyone, as well as his weaknesses, including rumors that keep zipping around the internet and won't seem to die, the Posties write. Still, Obama's early aggressive moves towards the Republican base, most notably towards evangelical voters, should worry a GOP whose presidential nominee goes to church quietly and without fanfare, as McCain did this weekend.

-- Obama is going to stop in Washington Thursday for the beginning of a two-day swing in which he takes care of the part of his own base that might still need some wooing. He'll start with a meeting with once-rival Hillary Clinton and her finance committee at the Mayflower Hotel to build the financial ties that will bind the two, per the Wall Street Journal's Chris Cooper, and he'll probably face more than a few questions about the possibility of Clinton inheriting half the ticket. By Friday, he will be campaigning with Clinton, though details have yet to be announced. Polls show most Democrats already backing Obama, signaling that many of the primary divisions have been healed, but Obama still has some work to do.

-- Meanwhile, McCain is still on his energy kick, proposing a $300 million prize for an automobile battery that leaps ahead of existing technology. He will make the offer, approximately equal to a buck for every American, at a speech at Fresno State University, the first stop in his two-day swing through California, per the Associated Press. Last week's announcement on drilling seemed geared toward economic conservatives that should have already been in McCain's camp. Today's, especially in Fresno, is geared toward independents and Democrats who might like the idea of a Prius, and who are paying much more attention to climate change in recent years.

-- Next Battle Of The Day: Obama wants to close the "Enron loophole," his campaign announced yesterday on a conference call with a top economic adviser and with New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine. By cutting speculation in the oil market, Obama hopes to hold down prices, something he says top McCain adviser Phil Gramm, a former Texas Senator, worked against. McCain's campaign hit back, saying it was the Arizona Senator who first tried to close the loophole, as the Journal's Evan Perez writes. The definition wars continue, but is anyone actually gaining traction?

-- Today On The Trail: McCain is in California, where he will stop for a town hall meeting in Fresno before hitting a fundraiser this afternoon. McCain is expected to focus heavily on energy for a second week. Obama is making another Southwest swing, heading to Albuquerque for a discussion with working women, a constituency he'll need if he's going to beat McCain.

Shaheen It All Before

We're starting to get the feeling that we've seen this script before: Incumbent Republican Senator faces top-tier Democratic recruit in a blue state in a Democratic year, trails consistently in the polls and, in a completely unsurprising twist at the end, gets thumped in November. If you're New Hampshire Senator John Sununu, just ask Rick Santorum how it goes.

A new survey, conducted by Manchester-based American Research Group, polled 600 likely voters between 6/13-17 for a margin of error of +/- 4%. Sununu and former Governor Jeanne Shaheen were tested.

General Election Matchup
Shaheen........54 (+7 from last, 3/21)
Sununu..........40 (+7)

Virtually every poll this year, save one ARG poll that looked like a rare outlier, has showed Shaheen leading by an easy margin. That's the way it was in Pennsylvania in 2006, when Bob Casey led incumbent Senator Rick Santorum from post to pole, also by a big margin, as Roll Call's Nathan Gonzales wrote yesterday.

Perhaps the only good sign for Sununu is that John McCain will make the state a priority. But on the ground, no state swung more towards Democrats than New Hampshire did in 2006: Democrats took over both chambers of the state legislature and kept the governor's mansion (Governor John Lynch was re-elected by the widest margin in state history), a feat they had not pulled off since the early 20th century. The party also took back both the state's House seats, and at least one of those new members, Rep. Paul Hodes, looks like a safe bet for re-election this year.

Sununu's team will continue to assure the media and supporters that the wide gap between the two will close as the campaign heats up. But that's the mantra Santorum backers chanted in 2006, and it didn't work for him. Sununu may have to do something dramatic to keep his seat.

McConnell Still Up Big

In response to another media-sponsored IVR poll showing a tight race, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's campaign released another survey conducted for the Bluegrass boss showing McConnell leading his Democratic rival by a wide margin. Determined not to be the next Tom Daschle, McConnell is bent on drying up funding for businessman Bruce Lunsford and not giving Democrats an opening.

The poll, conducted by Voter/Consumer Research between 6/15-17, surveyed 601 likely voters for a margin of error of +/- 4.1%. McConnell and Lunsford, a 2003 and 2007 gubernatorial candidate, were tested.

General Election Matchup
McConnell....50 (nc)
Lunsford......39 (nc)

There has been virtually no movement since the last survey, conducted in late May. McConnell's rating of 54% favorable, 35% unfavorable has barely moved, and his job approval rating, of 58% who approve and 32% who disapprove, has not moved more than a point or two, either.

The Kentucky Senator, though, is not going to take a day off. And McConnell has more money on hand than any incumbent needs -- through the end of April, in advance of the state's May 20 primary, McConnell reported $7.7 million in the bank, compared with $337,000 for Lunsford, though the Democrat can, and likely will, significantly self-fund his campaign.

National Democrats would desperately like to see McConnell face a tough race, even if he does win re-election, and they could throw some money at the state, as some Democratic-leaning 527 organizations have done lately. But Lunsford still looks like he's got a way to go to put the seat in serious play.

NC Neck And Neck

In a year in which the one thing missing is a number of good governor's races, add North Carolina to the list. For the second month in a row, a conservative think tank in the Tar Heel State released a poll showing a tight race between two candidates who made it through contentious primaries. Democrats, it appears, are going to need to play serious defense to keep outgoing Governor Mike Easley's seat, while Republicans have a real opportunity.

The poll, conducted 6/11-13 among 600 registered voters, has a margin of error of +/- 4%, and was conducted by Tel Opinion Research, a GOP firm in Alexandria, Virginia, on behalf of the Civitas Institute. Lieutenant Governor Beverly Perdue, the Democratic nominee, and Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory, the Republican standard-bearer, were tested, alongside Libertarian candidate Michael Munger.

General Election Matchup
(All / Dem / GOP / Ind / Men / Wom)
Perdue........43 / 65 / 13 / 43 / 37 / 47
McCrory......41 / 16 / 74 / 39 / 44 / 38
Munger..........2 / 2 / 2 / 4 / 3 / 2

McCrory keeps it close with a huge lead in Charlotte, but Perdue leads every other region of the state except the very conservative western area. There could be hidden Perdue vote, though: Just 18% of poll respondents are African American, a demographic that breaks toward the Democratic nominee by a 77%-6% margin. Should turnout increase to the 21% of the population blacks in North Carolina represent, Perdue would benefit.

Still, Republicans have a very good chance to win after picking the most moderate nominee they could find. The state and national parties are taking McCrory seriously, too. The Charlotte Mayor will host President Bush today to fill his coffers for what will be an expensive fight ahead.

Update: We mistyped Libertarian candidate Michael Munger's name in the post's original version. Apologies for the typo.

Strategy Memo: Bold Move

Good Friday morning. This could be the final weekend in Washington in which a gun ban is in effect. Watch for a crucial Supreme Court ruling to come down on Monday. Here's what else Washington is watching:

-- The Senate debates a housing and economic recovery bill this morning, though no roll call votes are scheduled for today. The House will take up legislation dealing with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, on which both parties have reached an agreement, a deal sure to make base Democrats furious. Former White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan testifies this morning before the House Judiciary Committee about the leaking of former CIA agent Valerie Plame's name to the media. McClellan's old boss, President Bush, will attend fundraisers for Republican Reps. Lincoln and Mario Diaz-Balart, brothers who represent south Florida districts, as well as for Charlotte Mayor and North Carolina gubernatorial candidate Pat McCrory.

-- Yesterday was a big day on the campaign trail, but no bigger news emerged than that of Barack Obama opting out of the public financing system, via a video sent to campaign supporters. The move, which surprised approximately no one, will mean Obama will have as much money as he can spend between the conventions and November, and strategists and experts say that number could range from $200 to $300 million. That's a lot more than the $84.1 million John McCain will get through the public system, even when the Republican National Committee's big lead over its Democratic counterpart is thrown in. There is little doubt that Obama will raise and spend more than any candidate in history -- in fact, he could break the money raised record as early as this month.

-- As we say, the move was expected, and had the campaign not opted out of public financing, outside observers would have called it political malpractice. To have turned down the money would be akin to picking a Volkswagen Bug over a Porsche. And the Bug doesn't have A/C. Still, John McCain can, and will, make an issue out of the fact that Obama is not participating in the system. How is this the new kind of politics, the Republican will ask, if it's just injecting more money into the campaign? Too, Obama once agreed -- in writing -- to opt into the system, a decision he's now gone back on. McCain should have a field day, but it's probably one he'd gladly give up in exchange for an equal financial arsenal.

-- What does the move tell us about Obama himself? Couple it with a much softer tone on NAFTA (He now says he won't push for renegotiations, making economic adviser Austan Goolsbee look clairvoyant), his campaign's refusal to participate in McCain's joint town hall meetings and the daily back-and-forth with the Republican over every issue under the sun, including when Obama attacks first, as he does in many cases, and it paints a picture of an average politician rather than someone sent to change the system. He's capable of raising huge sums of money, so he will. He can use an issue to his advantage, so he will. But it's hard to make the argument that, no matter how good at raising money one is, by opting out of public financing, it makes the idea of change a difficult one to swallow.

-- One more observation on the money: The, well, audacity of it all. Break a campaign promise before the campaign is over, and the campaign takes not the defensive posture one might expect, but an offensive position, attacking McCain for the involvement of 527 groups (Which, legally, he has no control over and cannot communicate with) and the Republican National Committee. Too, Obama campaign manager David Plouffe is actually fundraising off the decision! "To compete, Barack has put his faith in ordinary people giving only what they can afford," Plouffe wrote in a fundraising email seeking 50,000 new donors by July 4. (Donors can even exchange an email with a fellow donor who will match their support. What is this, a dating service?) Give the Obama campaign credit: They had a plan, and they executed it.

-- A lot of money can make people go a little crazy, and the Obama team may have showed off some overly ambitious skin on the same day they opted out of public financing. The campaign's first general election ad will run in 18 states, the campaign says (Though an initial email lists 17), and if John McCain is in trouble in some of these historically deeply red states, this campaign is all but over. Obama will run "Country I Love" in Republican territory like Alaska, Georgia, Indiana and North Dakota, all states that gave President Bush double-digit wins in 2004. Obama's not going to win those states, but this is the part of the campaign where strategists throw everything at the wall to see what sticks.

-- Finally today, did McCain divert resources from Iowa flood zones even though he knew it would happen? A top aide to Hawkeye State Governor Chet Culver, chief of staff Patrick Dillon, says his office warned the McCain campaign that to tour the area would require manpower to provide security, manpower that was needed hoisting sandbags into place. But McCain went ahead with a visit yesterday anyway, with state campaign chairman David Roederer saying the campaign provided much of its own security. Meanwhile, hundreds of law enforcement personnel were diverted to Cedar Rapids and Iowa City to provide security for President Bush's visit, the Associated Press reported today.

-- Sub Of The Day: No one could ever replace Tim Russert on Meet The Press, but NBC has tapped a substitute for the moment. NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams will sit down with South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham and Delaware Senator Joe Biden on Sunday, Washington Post's Howard Kurtz writes. The longtime friend of Russert could anchor through the election and still do the news -- something Kurtz points out CBS's Bob Schieffer did for a year and a half -- but that Williams is unlikely to be the permanent host.

-- Today On The Trail: Obama is in Chicago, where he will meet with Democratic governors for a conversation about the economy this morning. Later, Obama will be in Florida for a Jacksonville press conference, ahead of other planned events. McCain will deliver a speech to the Economic Club of Toronto at a chateau in Ottawa before meeting the media afterwards. McCain is visiting the neighbors to the north to pitch his support for free trade.

The Body Is Back

Former Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura is considering an independent run for the Senate, and the rumor got a little more weight yesterday when a Ventura political associate, former Senator Dean Barkley, said that he not only thinks Ventura will run, but that he will win. The implications of a Ventura bid on the outcome of the race are still unclear, including whom it could hurt more, Republican Senator Norm Coleman or DFL endorsee Al Franken.

"I think the public would like an alternative," Barkley said, according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune. "The polls just show that [Coleman and Franken] have weaknesses that could be exploited by the right person."

Ventura, who was elected governor as a member of the Reform Party but later in his term switched to the Independence Party, appointed Barkley to the Senate in November 2002 to fill out the remaining two months of the late Senator Paul Wellstone's term. Coleman defeated Walter Mondale in the 2002 Senate election, after Mondale filled in for Wellstone on the DFL ticket, and took over the Senate seat from Barkley. A Ventura bid would lead to his second meeting with Coleman, whom he defeated, along with Hubert Humphrey III, in the 1998 race for governor.

A recent poll showed about a quarter of voters would support Ventura if he ran, placing him third behind Coleman and Franken. The poll also showed that Franken would lose slightly more supporters to Ventura than Coleman would. Still, more than half of respondents said Ventura should not run. Minnesota GOP chairman Ron Carey doesn't see voters going for another Ventura candidacy. "The Jesse Ventura of 2008 is different from the Jesse Ventura of 1998," Carey told the Star Tribune. "He has a track record now, and [Minnesotans are] not going to want to go back for a re-do."

Ventura declined to run for a second term as governor in 2002, favoring a return to the private sector and out of the public spotlight. Though he currently splits his time between Minnesota and Mexico, Ventura apparently is ready once again for life in public service. However, skeptics might say Ventura is merely dangling a possible Senate bid to boost sales for his book, which was published April 1, according to Amazon.com, and for which he has been doing a promotional tour over the last few months.

-- Kyle Trygstad

Dem Leads NC Rematch

In a rematch of one of the most closely contested races of 2006, high school teacher Larry Kissell is running ahead of Republican Rep. Robin Hayes, a new poll for the Democrat's campaign shows. Two years ago, Kissell, who national Democrats did not pay attention to until late in the cycle, came just 329 votes from knocking off the five-term incumbent.

The poll, conducted for Kissell's campaign by Anzalone Liszt Research, surveyed 600 likely voters between 6/8-14 for a margin of error of +/- 4%. Kissell and Hayes were surveyed.

General Election Matchup
Kissell.....................45
Hayes.....................43

Generic Dem...........49
Generic GOPer........32

Hayes is still viewed largely positively, with 50% thinking of his job performance positively and 33% viewing it negatively. But in this district, being a Republican is what keeps Hayes down. President Bush took a nine-point win in the seat, which runs from the Charlotte suburbs to the Fayetteville suburbs, but Barack Obama is ahead of John McCain by a significant 50% to 37% this year.

Add to that the fact that African American voters will make up a much larger portion of the electorate than they did in 2006 and Hayes could face serious problems. Almost 27% of the district is black, and should they turn out in high numbers, Kissell is likely to benefit.

Still, Hayes has a significant cash advantage. The incumbent has $987,000 cash on hand, through April 16, while Kissell had just $131,000 in reserve. In 2006, Hayes outspent Kissell about three to one. The seat is one in which national Democrats' big financial advantage could alleviate an otherwise strong candidate's weak money position.

Boyda Up Big

Though she is widely believed to be one of the most vulnerable first-term Democrats in the country, Kansas Rep. Nancy Boyda may be in better shape than initially thought, a new survey conducted for national Democrats shows. Leaked to Politics Nation and other political news outlets, the poll's authenticity was verified by a Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee source.

The survey, conducted by Anzalone Liszt Research on behalf of the DCCC, surveyed 403 voters between 5/12-15 for a margin of error of +/- 4.9%. Boyda, ex-Rep. Jim Ryun and state Treasurer Lynn Jenkins, both Republican candidates, were surveyed.

General Election Matchups (With leaners)
Boyda.........54
Ryun...........37

Boyda.........57
Jenkins........27

Despite some missteps in her first term, Boyda is hugely popular, if the poll is to be believed. 68% of respondents in her district said she was doing an excellent or good job, while just 21% had a negative impression of her job performance. 54% said they would definitely or probably vote to re-elect Boyda, while just 35% said they would give someone else a shot.

Republicans face an August 5 primary between Ryun, who Boyda beat in 2006, and Jenkins, widely seen as the more moderate of the two. The poll also tested the primary between the two Republicans, though without disclosing the size of the subsample. Ryun, a former track star famous in his state, led by a wide 49%-35% margin.

The late primary, just three months before Election Day, will force Ryun and Jenkins to spend much of their money on each other rather than on Boyda, who already has a financial advantage. Through the end of March, Boyda had $814,000 in the bank, while Jenkins held $486,000 in reserve and Ryun kept $459,000 around. Ryun had outraised both his opponents by wide margins, but much of that money went to paying off debt from last cycle.

In short, Boyda should be in serious jeopardy in her eastern Kansas district, which includes Topeka and Manhattan. The district gave President Bush a twenty-point win in 2004, the same year Ryun beat Boyda by a fifteen-point margin. And she's not on the DCCC's Frontline list of endangered members, after making clear she would not participate in the project to appear more independent to her district. But if the latest poll is accurate, Boyda may have struck a cord that would keep her safe in her first bid for re-election.

Strategy Memo: Companion Fare

Good Thursday morning. It's been said before, but it should be noted once again that Tiger Woods won the U.S. Open, albeit in 91 holes, with two stress fractures in his legs. That's impressive. Here's what Washington is watching today:

-- The Senate is still working on an energy bill Democrats say will create new jobs. Later this afternoon, the chamber will move on to housing legislation. The House will take a first crack at a compromise supplemental bill to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, along with measures on paid family leave for federal employees and to prevent child abuse. And President Bush hands out medals of freedom today at the White House before touring the flood-ravaged Midwest.

-- Bush won't be the only one taking a look at the situation on the ground in Iowa. John McCain will also head out to Muscatine, along the Mississippi River, today for a look at the flood damage, on his way north for a town hall meeting in St. Paul, Minnesota. McCain will fly into Muscatine and tour Columbus Junction. One of McCain's most important tasks, running up to November, will be to convince voters that he would handle a disaster better than Bush handled Hurricane Katrina, and getting his proverbial hands dirty at river's edge in Iowa is the start to that process.

-- Then again, it doesn't help that the two Republicans will be in the state at the same time, and the McCain campaign knows it. Muscatine is about an hour south of Interstate 80, while Bush will be north and west, in Iowa City and Cedar Rapids. "We're not going within 30 miles of the city he's in," McCain campaign senior adviser Charlie Black told the New York Times. A spokeswoman for McCain said the stop in Iowa only made sense, given his logistical schedule in coming days. Still, sharing the headlines with the president in a swing state, one which is probably predisposed to vote for Barack Obama given the candidates' relative caucus performances and Obama's organization there, is something McCain should avoid when he can.

-- What neither candidate should avoid is "The View," which has become a must-stop on the campaign circuit this year. All the candidates and most of their spouses have done star turns among the women of ABC, including both Obama and McCain as well as Michelle and Cindy. Yesterday was Michelle Obama's turn, part of the drive to remake the potential future First Lady's image. The cohosts helped Obama through a controversy about her comments that she is proud of the country for the first time (with a big assist from Whoopi), and said she was touched by nice comments made by current First Lady Laura Bush. Then again, did she call her husband pathetic? Lynn Sweet thinks so.

-- But those "proud" comments aren't going away anytime soon, especially when another voice is added to the Michelle-bashing mix: For the second time, Cindy McCain made mention of the remarks, in an interview airing today on ABC News. "Everyone has their own experience. I don't know why she said what she said, all I know is that I have always been proud of my country," McCain said of Michelle Obama. Both candidates have asked that their families be left alone, and spouses on the attack is not something that ordinarily happens, or should happen, Joan Walsh argues. Could Cindy McCain be the real loose cannon that some on the Democratic side worried Michelle Obama would be?

-- In better news for Democrats, not only is their party poised to pick up seats in the House and Senate, they could also benefit from Obama's coattails, especially in states they might not expect. Whereas President Bush took huge majorities in some states in 2004, closer races could make down-ballot contests more winnable in an environment in which Democrats have a natural, and heavy, advantage. In 2004, the Washington Post's Chris Cillizza points out, President Bush won Alaska by twenty-five points, and probably pulled Senator Lisa Murkowski, who won her race by three points, along with him. This year, if McCain can manage only a five- or ten-point win in the state, Democrats everywhere could benefit.

-- And forget states that, like Alaska, are beset by a scandal-plagued Republican Party. Consider some states where Obama would boost African American turnout: In Georgia, 28.5% of the population is black, yet those voters made up just 16% of the electorate in 2006. Figure out what that means for states like Mississippi, Louisiana and the Carolinas, and soon Obama, and down-ballot Democrats, could start seeing ten-point increases in the reddest of red states. It doesn't mean he wins their electoral votes, but it could be critical in keeping and picking up House seats. By the way, Obama is already involved in at least one primary; he's cut an ad for Georgia Rep. John Barrow, who has a tough primary fight coming up July 15, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports.

-- Spotlight Of The Day: As potential vice presidential candidates get their star turns and days on center stage (or weeks, if your last name is Jindal), one contender has been noticeably absent from fawning press coverage. Can the media just not take a middle aged white guy from the upper Midwest? Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty will join McCain at an event in St. Paul today, and, as one of the earliest backers of the Arizona Senator, at least his hometown Minneapolis Star-Tribune is paying attention to his veep prospects. Of course, that means it's time for the governor to hem and haw and say what a great job he already has.

-- Today On The Trail: Obama has an economic roundtable in Washington before meeting with the Congressional Black Caucus on Capitol Hill today. McCain visits Muscatine and Columbus Junction, Iowa, before holding a fundraising dinner in Minneapolis and a town hall in St. Paul later tonight.

Dole Ads Boost Lead

Early advertising can be effective, and North Carolina Senator Elizabeth Dole has flexed her financial muscle in recent weeks to build a bigger lead in what had looked like a surprisingly close fight for re-election. A new poll shows Dole with a much bigger lead over her Democratic opponent, and running ahead in virtually every region in the state.

The survey, conducted 6/11-13 by Tel Opinion Research on behalf of the Civitas Institute, polled 600 registered voters for a margin of error of +/- 4%. Dole, State Senator Kay Hagan and Libertarian candidate Chris Cole were tested.

General Election Matchup
(All / Dem / GOP / Ind / Men / Wom)
Dole.......48 / 25 / 83 / 38 / 51 / 45 (+3)
Hagan....38 / 61 / 7 / 38 / 33 / 41 (-5)
Cole..........1 / 1 / 0 / 3 / 1 / 1

Dole's lead is healthy in every region of the state except for the heavily Democratic Research Triangle region, where Hagan has a five-point lead, and in Hagan's home region, known as the Triad. Dole has also improved her standing among independent voters; the two are tied now, but last month's Civitas poll showed her trailing Hagan by twelve points.

Too, the Senator's choice to focus early advertising dollars on advertisements highlighting her work on curbing illegal immigration has paid off heavily. Among those who care most about illegal immigration, Dole boasts a 63%-20% lead over Hagan. Voters who say taxes and highway construction leads their priority list back Dole by wide margins as well. Those who care about the economy, the top issue in the poll, favor Hagan by a ten-point margin.

Dole is doing something about that deficit among voters who say the economy is the top issue. Last week, the campaign released a second advertisement focusing on her work on the economy, featuring testimonials from Tar Heels.

Hagan has raised eyebrows recently in Washington and North Carolina with strong fundraising performances and a series of polls before this one that show the Democrat running close to the incumbent Republican. Last week, she held a fundraiser with Democratic Senators Claire McCaskill, of Missouri, and Jon Tester, of Montana. Both candidates are expected to turn in big money numbers at the end of this quarter.

The latest RCP North Carolina Senate Average shows Dole leading by 7.5 points.

Dodd, Conrad Face Ethics Probe

Connecticut Senator Chris Dodd and North Dakota Senator Kent Conrad are being investigated by the Senate ethics committee for their involvement in a special mortgage program from Countrywide Financial. As the Washington Post reports today, Dodd told reporters at a news conference yesterday that he was unaware that certain fees were waved for him that most customers must pay to receive lower rates when refinancing a home.

"I don't know that we did anything wrong," Dodd said at the press conference, per the Post. "I negotiated a mortgage at a prevailing rate, a competitive rate. ... I did what I was supposed to do."

Dodd was a senior member of the Banking committee at the time the mortgage was negotiated, according to the Post. He now chairs the committee, which oversees the mortgage industry. Conrad chairs the Budget committee and is the third-ranking Democrat on the Finance committee.

Portfolio Magazine first uncovered the two senators' special-treatment mortgage loans in a June 12 article. The story detailed the senators' placement in Countrywide's "V.I.P." program while refinancing multiple homes in 2003 and 2004.

Dodd said yesterday that he knew he was part of the V.I.P. program for homes he owned in Washington, D.C. and East Haddam, Connecticut, but continued to deny that he was aware of any wrongdoing. According to Politico, "Conrad, for his part, seemed more geared toward making a mea culpa for any appearance of preferential treatment," announcing he was donating the $10,700 he reportedly saved on refinancing his beach house on the Delaware coast to Habitat for Humanity and that he had paid off the mortgage on an apartment complex in his home state.

Republicans are having fun with what they call a scandal. Former House Majority Leader Dick Armey penned an op-ed in today's Wall Street Journal arguing against a proposal Dodd and House Financial Services Committee chairman Barney Frank have made to provide $300 billion in new taxpayer loan guarantees, and Freedom's Watch, a conservative independent organization dedicated to promoting the GOP agenda, has sent out several releases blasting the pair.

A complaint was filed Friday with the Senate ethics committee by the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. Senator Barbara Boxer, the ethics committee chair, said, "A complaint has been filed and we are, as we always do, looking at that," according to the Post.

-- Kyle Trygstad

GOP, Dems Pull In Big Dough

President Bush may have an approval rating that dips perilously below 30%, but at least Washington Republicans can still find some use for him. The National Republican Senatorial Committee and the National Republican Congressional Committee are holding a major fundraiser this evening that is expected to bring in $19 million to the two beleaguered campaign arms.

Chaired by Texas Rep. Jeb Hensarling and Utah Senator Orrin Hatch, the dinner is expected to exceed its fundraising goals of $7 million for the NRCC and $12 million for the Senate, sources on both sides of the Hill said. Still, that doesn't mean all the money will come in tonight; a similar event featuring President Bush in March was said to have raised $8.6 million, though that money was spread between multiple FEC reports. Records show the party raised $7.1 million through March.

Democrats, who have outpaced their Republican rivals in fundraising success in both chambers, are also planning a new fundraising push for individual downballot candidates, Politico reports this morning, though the effort is not being run through either committee. Instead, a group of Hollywood women are planning a major fundraiser for September 27 that would directly benefit half a dozen key Senate candidates to the tune of at least $100,000 each.

Leaders of the group of organizers have signed agreements with Reps. Tom Allen, Tom Udall and Mark Udall, running for Senate seats in Maine, New Mexico and Colorado, respectively; Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich, challenging Alaska Senator Ted Stevens; ex-Governor Jeanne Shaheen, running again in New Hampshire; and comedian Al Franken, in Minnesota.

Red To Blue Expands

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is building its Red to Blue program, Roll Call's David Drucker reports this morning, adding fourteen more candidates from Republican-held districts the party thinks it has a legitimate shot at winning. That brings to 37 the total number of districts the party is putting among its top-tier targets.

Districts targeted range from those seen as highly likely to take back Republican-held seats, like Fairfax County Board of Supervisors chairman Gerry Connolly in Virginia's Eleventh District, to those seen as longer shots, like businessman Glenn Nye in Virginia's Second District and Queen Anne County State's Attorney Frank Kratovil in Maryland's First District.

While some of the seats seem within Democrats' reach, others seem to be rather ambitious. National Republican Congressional Committee spokesman Ken Spain told Drucker the DCCC was just "trotting out their B-list candidates" to get some free press. Still, as Democrats have a massive cash on hand advantage, they will be able to make Republicans worry about districts they might otherwise not be concerned with.

Too, as Democrats press their advantage even in seats in which they start off as severe underdogs, Republicans will not be able to play offense as much as they might like. By adding to the Red to Blue program, Democrats can simultaneously help those incumbents endangered enough to be on the Frontline program for vulnerable incumbents.

Twenty additional candidates could be on pace to qualify for the program, which aids candidates with fundraising, communications and other assistance from Washington. Some, like former Nevada Democratic Party chair Jill Derby, have prior political experience (Derby lost to Republican freshman Dean Heller by five points in 2006), while others, including businessman Michael Skelly, challenging Rep. John Culberson in Texas' Seventh District, have seemingly come from nowhere.

Full list of challengers added to the Red to Blue program after the jump.

New challengers added to the DCCC's Red to Blue program:

-- Ethan Berkowitz, former Alaska State House Minority Leader, who is challenging Rep. Don Young.
-- Fairfax County Board of Supervisors chair Gerry Connolly, running to replace retiring Rep. Tom Davis.
-- Miami-Dade County Democratic Party chairman Joe Garcia, challenging Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart in Florida's Twenty Fifth District.
-- Albuquerque City Councilmember Martin Heinrich, running to replace Rep. Heather Wilson in New Mexico's First.
-- Queen Anne County State's Attorney Frank Kratovil, running in Maryland's Eastern Shore-based First District.
-- Attorney Bob Lord, challenging Rep. John Shadegg in Arizona's Third District, in northern and suburban Phoenix.
-- Betsy Markey, a former aide to Senator Ken Salazar, challenging Rep. Marilyn Musgrave in Colorado's Fourth.
-- Former Hialeah Mayor Raul Martinez, running against Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart in Florida's Twenty First District.
-- Glenn Nye, a businessman taking on Rep. Thelma Drake, who perpetually seems vulnerable, in Norfolk.
-- Former Lea County Commissioner Harry Teague, running to replace Rep. Steve Pearce in New Mexico's southern Second District.

Strategy Memo: Philosophies Collide

Good Wednesday morning. The political world halts at 4 p.m. this afternoon for a memorial to Tim Russert, to be held at the Kennedy Center here in Washington. For one final day, Washington will say goodbye to a giant. Here's what else Washington is watching today:

-- The Senate is still at work on a bill to produce jobs in renewable energy, and may also take a moment to deal with an economic recovery bill aimed at the housing market that the House has already passed. The House meets at 10 a.m. for its own legislative business after once again successfully renaming several post offices last night. Appropriations committees in both chambers are taking up the Fiscal Year 2009 Homeland Security appropriations measure. President Bush has meetings set with the prime minister of Bulgaria and the Chinese delegation to the U.S.-China Strategic Economic Dialogue before addressing an NRCC dinner this evening.

-- Barack Obama and John McCain spent yesterday feuding over terrorism and how those who would commit such acts are treated under U.S. law. Obama told ABC's Jake Tapper that Guantanamo detainees should be tried in federal courts, as the first bombers of the World Trade Center were in 1993, while McCain surrogates warned that was a dangerously naive policy, as the New York Observer's Jason Horowitz writes. Obama surrogates including Richard Clarke, the one-time National Security Council staffer, and John Kerry, hit back, accusing McCain of politics as usual.

-- Terrorism, and the legal handling of suspects or perpetrators, is clearly playing on McCain's turf. The latest ABC News/Washington Post poll shows 53% of voters say they trust McCain to handle the war on terrorism while 39% trust Obama to best handle it -- one of just two issues on which McCain has a clear lead. But both campaigns are probably doing well to at least raise the issue, as Marc Ambinder writes: Until now, terrorism has been more an overarching boogeyman than a real point of discussion. By talking about how they would handle terrorists, each is defining what, exactly, the war on terror means to them in a more substantive way.

-- The push to unify the Democratic Party, if it's even divided, continued yesterday as Obama's chief strategist, David Axelrod, joined senators at a weekly party lunch on Capitol Hill, MSNBC's Ken Strickland reported. After moving many key DNC functions from Washington to Chicago to integrate them more closely with the campaign, Obama's troops are consolidating power, and in some cases giving high-profile surrogate roles to former Clinton backers. North Carolina Governor Mike Easley, Ohio Governor Ted Strickland and others have already been featured prominently on stage next to the candidate they opposed in the primaries.

-- Obama and Hillary Clinton will meet publicly for the first time a week from tomorrow, when the New York Senator will introduce Obama to her former national finance committee at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington. The two campaigns have been talking about how best to use Clinton through the Summer, and money is the first step, the New York Daily News reports. Clintonites might not be pleased with the role they have to play, as the last campaign to lose this year, but they're playing it, and the better the results the more credit Clinton will get.

-- Meanwhile, having been assigned top aides for the first time, the push to reinvent Michelle Obama is under way, beginning today when she hosts "The View." The potential First Lady has undergone a rough few months, as some have wondered whether she is patriotic, whether there is a "racial anger," as the New York Times' Michael Powell and Jodi Cantor call it, and other attacks worse than those visited on the candidate himself. Sometimes attacks on a spouse are the worst kind, raising subtle questions about the candidate while straying past the line of decency. Michelle's image, in the middle of a minor makeover, is evidence that the Obama campaign is trying to get out front of any rumors that may taint the candidate and his wife.

-- And forget McCain's and Obama's promises to run campaigns the clean way. They can abstain from lobbyist donations and PAC money, or at least say they will do so, as much as they want, but once both candidates get to conventions in St. Paul and Denver, respectively, they will begin to address a set of delegates who have known only the finest corporate contributions, both monetarily and in-kind. Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, looking for donors for the GOP gathering, and the Denver finance committee, headed by Governor Bill Ritter and Mayor John Hickenlooper, are promising access to prominent government officials in exchange for contributions, and while an Obama spokesman told the Los Angeles Times he would change the practice going forward, it won't happen this year.

-- Explanation Of The Day: Here's why it won't happen this year, especially for Democrats: The party has fallen $11 million short of the $40.6 million it promised to raise in advance of the late August gathering, missing the final deadline earlier this week, the Washington Post writes. Already, the host committee has eliminated more than two dozen parties for delegates, instead relying on one massive party to be held centrally for every delegation.

-- Today On The Trail: Obama spends the day in Washington, where he will meet with a new senior working group on national security. Later, he meets retired generals and admirals before holding a fundraiser here. McCain starts his day with a discussion on energy and economic policy in Springfield, Missouri. Michelle Obama, meanwhile, hosts "The View" this morning.

Last House Vacancy Filling Today

Voters in Maryland's Fourth Congressional District, in the Washington suburbs of Montgomery and Prince George's counties, are hitting the polls today to replace outgoing Rep. Albert Wynn, who, after being defeated in the February 12 Democratic primary, resigned at the end of May to work for a lobbying group .

Non-profit executive Donna Edwards crushed Wynn by 22 points in the primary. The two previously met in the 2006 primary, when Edwards came within less than 3,000 votes of defeating Wynn, a clear sign that the incumbent was vulnerable to competition from the left. Edwards used a similar campaign strategy this year, though with more campaign funds, a smart move in a district that gave John Kerry 78% of the vote in 2004 and Al Gore 77% in 2000.

Edwards is now facing Republican Peter James in today's special election, and the two are set to meet again in the November general election. Edwards is expected to breeze past James, who has the endorsement of Texas Rep. Ron Paul, in both elections. Republicans have not had much luck here since redistricting in the 1990s; Wynn, first elected in 1992, never won with less than 75% of the vote.

Though stranger things have happened during this election cycle, this special will likely be the last of twelve special elections to fill vacant House seats during the 110th Congress.

--Kyle Trygstad

Landrieu Poll: GOP Screwed

In the party's best chance to take out a sitting Democratic Senator, Republicans can't be happy with a new survey taken for that endangered incumbent that shows her with backing from nearly half of Louisiana's voters. The poll, a month old, comes after other surveys taken on the Bayou show Senator Mary Landrieu in the fight of her political life.

The survey, taken 5/17-20 by the Mellman Group on Landrieu's behalf, polled 600 likely voters for a margin of error of +/- 4%. Landrieu and State Treasurer John Kennedy, the likely Republican nominee, were tested.

General Election Matchup
Landrieu........49 (+1 from last, 12/07)
Kennedy........33 (-2)

The race is the first true test of Louisiana's post-Katrina political makeup. Though the state elected Governor Bobby Jindal, that can largely be seen as a reaction against Democratic Governor Kathleen Blanco's poor handling of the hurricane's aftermath. Landrieu, who won praise for her work in Washington prodding the federal government to get things done, faces a more Republican state than she did in 2002 (when she barely won re-election), and she may win re-election only by the grace of a good Democratic year.

But the foundation for that win has been laid. The federal and state government got poor marks for their Katrina response, but Landrieu is hugely popular after the storm. 60% of Louisiana voters view her favorably, while just 28% see her unfavorably. Kennedy is known by far fewer Louisianans, but he, too, makes a largely favorable impression, by a 42%-12% margin.

Republicans, who face losses so severe that National Republican Senatorial Committee chair John Ensign is setting the bar at 41 seats to avoid a filibuster-proof Democratic majority, could push back with their own poll showing a much tighter race. Kennedy has raised a significant amount of money, and given the lack of top pickup opportunities on which to focus their attentions, national Republicans are likely to make an all-out push on Kennedy's behalf.

Barletta Up In PA

Two weeks before the second quarter of 2008 ends, an illegal immigration hardliner has released a poll taken in late March that shows the Republican leading his Democratic opponent in what one adviser calls the party's best chance at taking over a Democratic-held seat come November. Democrats, on the other hand, point to their incumbent's huge cash advantage while suggesting the looming financial deadline is the real motivator.

The poll, conducted by Susquehanna Polling & Research for Hazelton Mayor Lou Barletta's campaign, surveyed 400 likely voters between 3/27-29, for a margin of error of +/- 4.9%. Barletta, the Republican nominee, and incumbent Rep. Paul Kanjorski were tested.

General Election Matchup
Barletta........47
Kanjorski......42

Just 39% of respondents say they would vote to re-elect Kanjorski, who is seeking his thirteenth term in Congress, while 45% say they think it is time to give a new person a chance. And Barletta, the poll shows, is widely-known: After a crusade against illegal immigration that's landed him on Fox News and CNN, 59% of district residents view him favorably, compared with 13% who see him unfavorably.

But then there's the money. Or rather, there isn't the money, on Barletta's behalf. Though his national stature should be the foundation from which he raises serious cash, he managed to raise just $184,000 and kept $154,000 on hand. Kanjorski, when he decides to flex some financial muscle, has $1.83 million at his disposal, and a history of dispatching opponents including Barletta.

In 2002, the mayor raised and spent $566,000 on a race against Kanjorski, who won with 56% of the vote. A solid win, but the lowest percentage Kanjorski had ever received. The Democrat won with 72% in 2006 and with 94% in 2004. For more on the race, check out our overview of a contest in which immigration is sure to play a huge role.

Strategy Memo: Offshore And Gore

Good Tuesday morning. Apparently, 90 holes weren't enough for Tiger Woods to put away an opponent who would have been the lowest-ranked player ever to win a major. Then, thanks to thunder storms, anyone in Washington with a satellite dish lost most of hole number 91. A good walk, or a good day on the couch, spoiled. Here's what Washington is watching this morning:

-- The Senate meets this morning to take up the Renewable Energy and Job Creation Act, debating this morning and voting this afternoon. The House will deal with a series of bills under suspension of the rules, including measures supporting Public Radio Recognition Month and supporting the ideals of Flag Day. Serious votes on major bills will not come until late tonight. President Bush, just back from his European tour, will be briefed on flooding in the Midwest, then delivers a speech honoring Black Music Month in the Roosevelt Room. Several cabinet members, including Treasury Secretary Paulson, OMB director Nussle, Commerce Secretary Gutierrez and more participate in a meeting of the U.S-China Strategic Economic Dialogue, to be held today at the Naval Academy in Annapolis.

-- John McCain used a press conference in Washington yesterday to call for an end to a longtime ban on new offshore drilling, just before heading to Texas, where today he will offer a major energy policy address, the Houston Chronicle reports this morning. McCain will say he supports nuclear power as a way to curb climate change, while offshore drilling is key to resolving the current energy crisis. (For more on yesterday's press conference, see Kyle Trygstad's review).

-- Is ending the moratorium a wise move for McCain? He's received a decent amount of money from oil and gas interests (though they favored Rudy Giuliani in the primary), and the position could open some wallets. But while the move is aimed toward the base, the Republican is taking a position some independents don't want to see. McCain has always been better on the environment than most other Republicans, and his position on climate change was the single most aggressive in the entire GOP field. Now, the League of Conservation Voters say his history on an issue independents care about is being undercut by his views on lifting the moratorium.

-- On the Democratic side, former Vice President Al Gore answered a question Politics Nation has been asking for weeks: Why hasn't Al Gore endorsed Barack Obama? It took almost two weeks since Obama clinched the Democratic nomination, but last night, on stage in Detroit, Gore offered his full support, saying in a message on his website and to Obama supporters that he will do everything to help elect the Illinois Senator in November, as The Swamp's Mark Silva reports. The endorsement comes much later in the process than his December 2003 endorsement of Howard Dean, whose campaign collapsed weeks later. Is he playing it politically safe, or newly superstitious about his powers to kill campaigns? Wait a bit and ask Minnesota Senate candidate Al Franken: The Goreacle endorsed Franken on June 5 in the middle of a series of scandals that have buffeted the comedian. (Side note: Does Gore still harbor anti-Bill Clinton feelings? LA Times' Don Frederick thinks so)

-- If something in the previous paragraph got your attention, it might be this: Gore will endorse Obama in the same state in which John Edwards threw his backing to his former rival. Not only is Obama visiting the state, he's holding major campaign rallies there, making one wonder about his electoral prospects in Michigan this Fall. It's a state John McCain has been to several times, and a prominent Republican with deep ties to the area -- that would be Mitt Romney -- is rumored to be near the top of McCain's vice presidential short list. Watch for Obama, who did not campaign in the Wolverine State in the primaries, to pay serious attention to the state for the rest of the Summer.

-- The Obama campaign can see a path to the 270 electoral votes it needs to win the White House with Michigan as a crucial part, but it may follow a twisting road that avoids Ohio and Florida, instead banking on Virginia, Georgia and several Mountain West states to make up for those lost electoral votes. Campaign manager David Plouffe, speaking to a group of once-Hillary Clinton supporting donors in Washington, outlined a map that he said would be largely different from that John Kerry pursued in 2004, AP's Nedra Pickler writes. While Plouffe later said Obama would compete for both the Buckeye State and the Sunshine State, the campaign has sure been more excited about their chances in new states this year. Still, says Plouffe, come Election Day, they don't want to be reliant on a single state.

-- Meanwhile, as McCain works to woo Clinton supporters angry with her treatment, Obama did himself few favors yesterday when, in announcing new staff hires, he disclosed that former Clinton campaign manager Patti Solis Doyle would serve as chief of staff to the eventual vice presidential pick. "A slap in the face," one prominent Clinton backer told the Post's Anne Kornblut. Others had stronger words, suggesting Obama would never have gotten the nomination without Solis Doyle. "This is someone who failed dramatically at her job," another Clinton donor told the Observer's Jason Horowitz. Solis Doyle and top Obama strategist David Axelrod have been close for years, but the move was not designed to make the Clinton team happy.

-- Perhaps the biggest lesson that comes from Solis Doyle's hiring: It is highly unlikely that Hillary Clinton will be Barack Obama's vice presidential pick. Horowitz writes the two women haven't spoken since Clinton fired Solis Doyle in February, and the former manager is said to be promoting a possible book about her time in Hillaryland. With such animosity between the two, Clinton would not likely allow Solis Doyle to serve as chief of staff. The only option left: Pick someone for a running mate who is not Clinton.

-- Longterm Indicator Of The Day: The first Washington Post/ABC News poll of the general election shows the country remains highly partisan, and that the battle in November will come down to independent voters. Those independents trust John McCain more on protecting the country on terrorism, while they trust Obama more on handling the economy, the Post's Dan Balz and Jon Cohen write. On Iraq, independents are divided. Should the election come down to foreign affairs and homeland security, McCain has the advantage. If it's about gas prices and pocketbooks, Obama's got the lead. No wonder Obama's economic tour continues today.

-- Today On The Trail: Obama is in Taylor, Michigan, this morning for a meeting with students, while John McCain is in Houston for a speech on energy policy. Howard Dean has a low-dollar fundraising event in Miami Beach this evening. Much of Washington will, at some point today, head to St. Alban's School to celebrate the life of Tim Russert.

No Dobbs In NJ

Despite rumors to the contrary, CNN anchor Lou Dobbs said Friday he will not run for governor of his home state of New Jersey, the Associated Press reported. Some Republicans in the Garden State and in Washington had been buzzing in recent weeks about the possibility of Dobbs taking on incumbent Governor Jon Corzine, who will run for re-election in 2009.

Dobbs' sometimes harsh populism and anti-immigration rhetoric might have given Corzine a difficult opponent, one who would certainly be well-funded and have a solid name-recognition base because of his television and radio programs. Dobbs has a farm in Sussex County, in the northern part of the state.

Other New Jersey Republicans mentioned for a potential governor's bid include U.S. Attorney Chris Christie, conservative activist Steve Lonegan and Morris County Freeholder John Murphy. Each would have a difficult time keeping up with Corzine financially, though they may be tempted given his flagging popularity in the state. A Quinnipiac University poll conducted earlier this month showed just 38% said they approved of Corzine's handling of the state, while 52% disapproved.

The direction of the state is not a major positive, either. Just 32% say they are satisfied with the direction in which New Jersey is headed, while 68% say they are dissatisfied. 39% think the state has gotten worse under Corzine's management, while only 10% say things have gotten better. The number of people who think things have gotten worse has been on the rise since February of 2007, when just 15% said the same thing.

With numbers that low, it's little wonder Republicans are taking an active interest in the race. But at least for now, it looks like the party will have to get along without Lou Dobbs heading the ticket. Actually, given Dobbs' bombastic style, that may be better for the party in the long run.

Give 'Em Heller

While Rep. Jon Porter may be in trouble in his Third District, any Republican freshman elected in 2006 should, given the terrible year their party endured, be set for life. And though he faced a surprisingly close contest during his first race, Republican Rep. Dean Heller is in much better position now, a new poll shows.

The survey, taken by Mason-Dixon on behalf of the Las Vegas Review-Journal, tested 230 registered voters for a margin of error of +/- 6.6%. Heller, the former Secretary of State, and ex-state Democratic Party chair Jill Derby were tested.

General Election Matchup
Heller...........53
Derby..........39

This is the second time the candidates will face each other in a general election. In 2006, Derby came surprisingly close to beating Heller, losing by a narrow 50%-45% margin. Since that election, when 48,000 more Republicans were registered in the district than Democrats, Derby's party has made up some of that gap; now, the gap has decreased to a 30,000-voter advantage for the GOP, a margin that a Democrat could overcome.

But Heller is popular. 52% of voters in his district said he was doing an excellent or good job, while just 22% said his performance was fair or poor. Heller also has a significant cash advantage, with $808,000 on hand through the end of March compared with just $133,000 for Derby. In 2006, Heller outspent Derby by a small margin, $1.67 million to $1.59 million.

Heller is in good position to keep his seat, which encompasses more than 95% of Nevada's land. The district encompasses Reno, Sparks, Carson City and Ely, virtually every part of the state and some of Clark County -- essentially, everything but Las Vegas, Henderson and the immediate suburbs.

South Vegas Race Tight

Even with a prominent recruit dropping out of the race late in the day, national Democrats could have a strong shot at taking back a fast-growing Congressional seat in the Las Vegas suburbs, a new poll out this weekend shows. The incumbent, Republican Rep. Jon Porter, is used to tense battles to keep his seat, and this year looks to be no different.

The poll, conducted by Mason-Dixon on behalf of the Las Vegas Review Journal, tested 232 likely voters between 6/9-11, for a margin of error of +/- 6.6%. Porter and 2006 gubernatorial nominee and State Senator Dina Titus were tested.

General Election Matchup
(All / Dem / GOP / Ind / Men / Wom)
Porter.....45 / 16 / 76 / 51 / 53 / 37
Titus.......42 / 76 / 6 / 36 / 34 / 50

Porter's lead, already slim, faces some serious tests in the months ahead. Titus, who ran for governor in 2006 and narrowly lost to Republican Jim Gibbons, won the Third District by two points that year. And, after a surge of Democratic registrants in advance of the highly-anticipated January caucuses, the region now boasts 20,000 more Democrats than it does Republicans, a big increase from 2006.

It's already a narrow seat -- President Bush won in 2004 by 4,000 votes, while Al Gore beat him in 2000 by about 1,000 votes -- and with a Democratic surge, Porter could be in trouble. He narrowly beat a political unknown, Tessa Hafen, a former aide to Senator Harry Reid, in 2006, and running against Titus could be tougher.

Too, Porter has to work on his own image. Only 36% of his constituents thought he was doing an excellent or good job, while 56% rated him fair or poor, a terrible ratio and the worst of all five members of the state's congressional delegation, the statewide portion of the poll showed.

While the sample is small, the results are indicative that the race will once again be one of the closest in the country. The two will battle over the city's western and eastern suburbs, as well as Henderson, the second-largest city in Nevada, south to the border with Arizona and California.

Schumer Wins Again

Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee chair Chuck Schumer is not a man to bet against. The New Yorker has no qualms about getting involved in primaries in order to ensure his own candidate is the party's November nominee, and, to hear him pontificate, the party has reason to be optimistic in virtually every state in which a Senate seat is up this year.

As his involvement in several contested primaries show, he's not afraid to fight with his own party. This year, the DSCC helped Albuquerque Mayor Martin Chavez out of the New Mexico Senate race in favor of Rep. Tom Udall. They did the same thing in New Hampshire; after former Governor Jeanne Shaheen jumped into the Senate race, several other prominent candidates dropped out. The committee talked up Oregon State House Speaker Jeff Merkley over Portland activist Steve Novick; Novick stayed in the race, and Merkley eked out a victory.

Now, with Barack Obama's presidential campaign sniffing around for a vice presidential nominee, ex-Governor Mark Warner looked like an appealing choice. Warner is hugely popular in his home state, has good business background and would add to Obama's image as a new style of Democrat. The only trouble: Warner is also the front-runner for a Senate seat being vacated by Republican incumbent John Warner. Public polls have shown the Democrat running twenty or more points ahead of his GOP opponent, former Governor Jim Gilmore.

Schumer wins again, though, as Warner removed himself from the vice presidential sweepstakes at this weekend's Virginia Democratic Convention in Hampton. He will not seek, nor will he accept, any other opportunity, Warner told the 2,000 assembled delegates, per the Washington Post.

Warner becomes the third prominent politician whose name would have ended up on a short list, alongside Ohio Governor Ted Strickland and 2004 veep nominee John Edwards, to rule himself out. But with Warner out, that doesn't mean a Virginian won't find a place on the ticket. Freshman Senator Jim Webb and Governor Tim Kaine could each compliment the Illinois Senator in a state on which he's placed a high premium for the Fall.

Strategy Memo: Brother Souljah

Good Monday morning. It was a loving and moving tribute to Tim Russert on Meet The Press this weekend (some video here), and the image of the empty anchor chair was stirring. That chair won't be filled for a long time. Here's what a Washington that still mourns is watching today:

-- The Senate returns this afternoon for yet another try at an energy bill that Republicans spent most of last week objecting to. A cloture attempt will come late this afternoon. The House is not in session today. President Bush is finishing up his five-country European tour this morning in Great Britain, and he will arrive back at the White House this evening. Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman will address the Bush Administration's efforts to come up with cheap and clean energy sources in a speech in Washington today.

-- On Father's Day, Barack Obama continued a trend he has developed in recent months: Telling audiences what they don't want to hear. Obama called on auto executives in Detroit to raise fuel standards, has urged African American congregations to accept homosexuality, and, yesterday, slammed absentee fatherhood before a black church audience in Chicago, and the AP runs highlights. It's another Sister Souljah moment for a candidate who's already had a few, and is likely going to have a few more in front of his own audiences.

-- John McCain is tacking back to the middle, and hard, holding a Saturday conference call with former supporters of Hillary Clinton, as well as a reception later that day at his Arlington headquarters, Ben Smith reports. RNC Victory chief Carly Fiorina mingled with the crowd as well, and many there seemed openly interested in casting ballots for the Republican nominee over his Democratic rival. Some asked staffers and campaign officials about McCain's positions on judges, others about his stance on same-sex marriage (Answer: A staffer "said it was the same as [John] Kerry's position," Smith quotes one attendee saying).

-- The two campaigns' tactics are reflecting the reality of both parties' positions this year. Obama must rally his Democratic base, including the mythical white working class Democrats who flocked so easily to Clinton during the primaries, in order to win; Democrats are just more excited this year, and there are more of them, but keeping the coalition together, as always with a party that is more constituency-based than identity-based, could prove a challenge. McCain must steal independents and Democrats, either those upset at the primary or ordinarily predisposed to vote for the Arizonan. If he runs a base election, he will lose, because there are just fewer Republicans this year than there are ordinarily.

-- Meanwhile, at least to begin, McCain's efforts do not look like they are panning out, making Obama's campaign breathe a little easier. The vast majority of Clinton backers are flocking to Obama over his Republican rival, the LA Times' Michael Finnegan writes. Clinton-backing groups like EMILY's List, Planned Parenthood and others have slammed McCain for his anti-abortion rights record, and while McCain's other positions should endear him to female voters, the gender gap this year might not shrink in any significant way. It's been a generation of women favoring Democrats over Republicans, and that looks unlikely to change.

-- But it won't be smooth sailing for Obama through the Summer, and especially not for Michelle Obama, who has come under increased fire lately. Unlike Cindy McCain, who has largely stayed at her husband's side on the campaign trail, Michelle Obama has packed in an ambitious number of events, from the earliest pre-caucus days to trips to the final primary states, and she's not the least bit afraid to open her mouth. The Tennessee Republican Party and others have begun taking their shots, especially regarding a video in which she purportedly uses a slang term at her former church. For Michelle Obama, ABC News' John Hendren writes, the worst isn't on the horizon yet, but it's coming. Then again, attacks on a woman candidate helped women rally around her cause; could attacks on Michelle help women voters put her husband in the White House?

-- Finally, it's a small victory, but don't think that the modern GOP has heard the last of Ron Paul supporters. The upstarts have been able to nab a few delegate positions at conventions in Missouri, Nevada and Washington State, among others, and yesterday, despite the fact that their fearless leader is no longer on the campaign trail for himself, Paulites in Idaho successfully beat the incumbent Republican chairman to install their own choice to lead the state GOP. New chair Norm Semanko, who ran for Congress in the state's northern First District in 2006, won with the backing of libertarian-leaning political neophytes and Christian conservatives, the Idaho Statesman writes this morning. It raises the question: Who owns the Republican Party? It's looking like there is little chance of a clear answer.

-- Futile Effort Of The Day: The Associated Press will try to define standards for use of its articles and videos in the blogosphere, the New York Times suggests today, embarking on a potentially dangerous mission to exert at least some control over a virtually lawless set. The amalgamation sent a letter to one liberal blog requesting the removal of seven posts that included AP stories, and more letters are likely. But the initial foray into controlling the uncontrollable ended quickly, with the organization's vice president issuing new guidelines after the first set were criticized by, unsurprisingly, other bloggers.

-- Today On The Trail: Barack Obama will unveil his competitiveness agenda at a local college in Flint, Michigan, starting the second week of his economic tour in a state he's going to need to win come November, and one that McCain has his eyes on. Later, the candidate will head to Detroit for a rally. McCain has no public events today, but he will hold several fundraising events in Texas.

This Week On PN Radio

Saturday morning, from 10 a.m. to 12 noon Eastern, join Politics Nation on XM Radio's POTUS '08, when we'll tackle the week in politics. Listen free here (link about half-way down the page) as:

-- In the next five months, David Plouffe and Rick Davis will become famous for managing Barack Obama's and John McCain's campaign. But what are they, and their various departments, actually doing? We talk to four top strategists who have run campaign strategy, polling, finance and press offices about what those in now in their shoes will face.

-- Hillary Clinton's supporters have complained of rampant sexism in coverage of her campaign compared with that of Obama's campaign. How much did sexism, or racism, play a role in the campaign? We talk to EMILY's List executive director Ellen Moran and Rem Rieder, editor and senior vice president of American Journalism Review.

-- And the passing of NBC Washington bureau chief Tim Russert has stunned the political world. We'll talk about Russert's life, his legacy and the lives he touched.

All that and a few surprises, we're sure, Saturday morning on Politics Nation, only on XM Radio's POTUS '08. Listen live, Saturday from 10 a.m. to noon Eastern and again at 6:00 p.m. Eastern.

Slattery Talks Up Poll

He's waging a long-shot bid to boot an incumbent Republican in a deeply red state, but ex-Rep. Jim Slattery's campaign is excited by the results of a new poll that shows him trailing Kansas Senator Pat Roberts by twelve points. The poll, conducted for his campaign, shows hidden signs, the pollster says, that even Roberts might have a race on his hands.

The poll, conducted 6/5-8 by Cooper & Secrest Associates for Slattery's campaign, surveyed 808 likely voters for a margin of error of +/- 3.5%. Roberts, running for his third term, and Slattery were tested, as were John McCain and Barack Obama.

General Election Matchup
Roberts...................48
Slattery...................36

Generic GOPer........41
Generic Dem............40

McCain.........45
Obama..........41

Perhaps it is unsurprising that Obama is running so close to McCain, given the amount of attention he has paid to the state and thanks to the support of its governor, Kathleen Sebelius. McCain will likely pull away in the coming months, but Obama is known in the state.

That could help Slattery, who is running against an opponent with less than stellar job performance numbers. Just 47% view Roberts' job performance as excellent or good, while 43% say it is fair or poor. Still, if coattails mean anything, most observers agree that they begin to take effect when one party wins at the top of the ticket by more than ten points. President Bush won the state by twenty five points in 2004, and by twenty one in 2000.

Roberts, wisely, is taking nothing for granted and has run early radio ads lambasting Slattery for his past as a Washington lobbyist. After serving six terms in Congress and losing a bid for governor in 1994, Slattery returned to Washington to work for Wiley Rein, a prominent law firm in town.

Inhofe In Good Shape

Senator Jim Inhofe is leading his Democratic opponent by a wide margin, a new poll shows, though national Democrats remain hot on their candidate, a young up-and-comer who, even if he falls short this year, could prove to be a contender in the future. Still, Inhofe looks like a safe bet to win a third full term.

The poll, conducted for DailyKos by Research 2000, surveyed 600 likely voters between 6/9-11, for a margin of error of +/- 4%. Inhofe and State Senator Andrew Rice were tested within a sample consisting of 43% Democrats, 41% Republicans and 16% independents and others. The presidential contest was tested as well.

General Election Matchup
(All / Dem / GOP / Ind / Men / Wom)
Inhofe......53 / 22 / 85 / 54 / 57 / 49
Rice.........31 / 62 / 5 / 15 / 30 / 32

McCain....52 / 20 / 84 / 55 / 56 / 46
Obama....38 / 70 / 7 / 33 / 36 / 44

Despite the big lead, Inhofe's personal ratings aren't stellar. Just 47% of Oklahomans have a favorable impression of him, while 45% view him unfavorably. 39% say they will definitely vote to re-elect Inhofe, the third-ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and ranking Republican on the Environment & Public Works Committee, while 28% say they would vote to replace him.

Rice, on the other hand, is barely known; 32% see him in a positive light, while 16% say they don't see him favorably. The remaining 52% of the electorate has no opinion of the Democrats' likely nominee.

Inhofe has never won massive victories in Oklahoma; he beat well-known Democrats by wide margins, taking a seventeen-point win in his first bid for a full term, in 1996, and a twenty-one point win in 2002. But in both cases, Inhofe won 57% of the vote, far below the 66% President Bush won in 2004 and slightly below the 60% he took in 2000 in the state.

Strategy Memo: Issues Matter

Good Friday morning. Up three to one in the series, the Celtics look set to win the championship. Laker fans, and there are quite a few in Washington, cannot have had fun watching what became the biggest comeback in NBA Finals history. And by the way, happy Friday the Thirteenth. Here's what else Washington is watching today:

-- The House is in pro forma session, while the Senate is sitting on the sidelines today after what has been a busy and contentious week. From energy policy to extending unemployment benefits, both chambers haggled, blocked legislation and pointed fingers at the other side of the aisle. President Bush meets Pope Benedict XVI in Rome today before traveling to Paris, where he will offer a major address on Euro-American relations. Defense Secretary Robert Gates is in Brussels attending a meeting of NATO defense ministers, while Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is also in Paris, in advance of visits to Jerusalem and Ramallah.

-- On the campaign trail, yesterday's ruling from the Supreme Court granting terrorism suspects access to federal courts and to certain constitutional protections highlighted another policy difference between Barack Obama and John McCain, New York Times's Kate Zernike writes, though it's one that McCain can use to break with the Bush Administration, a critical task for his campaign in coming months. McCain said yesterday he believed the detainees were enemy combatants who should not be given certain rights, though he and Obama both agree on shutting down the prison at Guantanamo Bay.

-- That's not what President Bush has planned for the final six months of his term in office, which means it's something McCain has to highlight extensively. Throw in action on climate change, torture and a few other issues and this election may come down more to a debate about who John McCain is not than who he is. Usually in those cases, definition through non-association is not a winning formula. But there's a pretty big pool of Republicans and independents, and probably even Democrats, who wouldn't vote for a third Bush term but might vote for a first for McCain. No wonder the DNC is so determined to make the "McSame" slogan fit.

-- Another key to McCain's win in November: The town hall meeting. The Arizona Senator, whose campaign was given up for dead by many people last Summer (though not this space), spent months grinding away in New Hampshire, holding four or five town hall meetings a day and slowly building the street credit he needed to win the state (Politicker.com's James Pindell says, after his recent stop in Nashua, New Hampshire, McCain has held 106 town hall meetings in the Granite State). Now, he's pushing hard for Obama to agree to meet him in town hall meetings, where the only rule would be there are no rules. Obama can give the soaring speech, but no one is better at town hall meetings than John McCain, whose off-the-cuff prowess just might be his ticket to a big win in November. It's not likely McCain is going to get the ten joint town hall meetings he wants, as the Washington Post writes, but Obama has seemed open to the idea, at least.

-- You've heard of the Bradley Effect, whereby a candidate of color receives significantly fewer votes than polls had suggested. Come November, it may be McCain who finds himself the victim of the Obama Effect, by which a candidate outperforms his poll numbers by using a veritable army to turn out voters and boost his own numbers. The first flex of Obama's organizational muscle will come this weekend, when the campaign sends 3,600 volunteers out in 17 states in the first round of Obama Organizational Fellowships. The fellows will spend the next six weeks working full-time for Obama, and these are the ones who passed an interview and answered essay questions correctly. McCain, even with the RNC's help, just won't be able to compete with that kind of organizing in some places.

-- Back to issues on which they disagree, though: McCain will head to Ottawa next week to address the Economic Club of Canada on the benefits of free trade. As the Associated Press writes today, the country might not be with him just yet. A survey [pdf] from Public Opinion Strategies and Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research shows 55% side with the generic Democratic message to renegotiate NAFTA, while just 40% back the Republican move toward free trade. If it's white working class voters in Pennsylvania and Ohio McCain is going after, talking about how great NAFTA is might not be the way to approach them.

-- Layer Of The Day: Vice presidential vetting started in earnest after the debacle involving South Dakota Senator George McGovern's pick of Thomas Eagleton in 1972, a nominee who lasted on the ticket all of two and a half weeks. Now, 36 years later, thanks to lessons learned from failed Supreme Court nominations, Bill Clinton's early attorney general picks and other bumpy rides, the vetting is extensive and includes 60 to 80 questions that extend to family members, the Los Angeles Times writes. But does it go too far with Jim Johnson's dismissal, earlier this week, for mortgages he received from Countrywide? Now, we're vetting the vetters. But, to borrow a phrase, who's watching the watchers?

-- Today On The Trail: Each campaign has but a single public event today. McCain will head to Pemberton for a town hall meeting at Burlington County College, in the northern part of the state and a place he and fellow Republicans will need to make inroads, or at least reduce the expected massive Democratic turnout, if he wants to win the state. Obama and wife Michelle will join Ohio Governor Ted Strickland, a once-vocal Hillary Clinton backer who earlier this week took himself out of the veepstakes, for a meeting with senior citizens in Columbus. And just after 2 p.m. on the East Coast, President and Mrs. Bush will be sitting down to dinner with French President Sarkozy and his new wife.

NRCC Finishes Ward Audit

Attorneys and accountants retained by the National Republican Congressional Committee have finished an audit aimed at identifying the extent and breadth of alleged fraud perpetrated on the committee by its former treasurer, identifying at least $750,000 in misappropriated money they say was stolen over seven years.

The former treasurer, Chris Ward, is under investigation by the FBI for allegedly wiring the money from NRCC and affiliated accounts to his personal account and to those of businesses he controlled. The unauthorized wire transfers, which began in 2001, continued until October of 2007, when Ward served as a consultant to the committee. He was fired when he failed to present an audit in late January.

Rob Kelner, the attorney who conducted the forensic investigation into the committee's finances, said Ward moved at least $725,000 in money that should have gone to the NRCC into his own accounts. Some of the money came from the NRCC's accounts, routed through an account set up for major fundraising dinners and into Ward's accounts. Other money was transfered from the NRCC through other committees Ward controlled, likely including candidates and incumbent members of Congress who were unaware of the transactions. And more was diverted directly from the dinner committees before ever getting to the NRCC's accounts.

Some of that third pool of money, Kelner said, had been destined for the National Senatorial Republican Committee; he estimated Ward stole an additional $28,000 from Senate Republicans. Kelner would not break down how much money came from which accounts, saying doing so could jeopardize the ongoing federal investigation.

Ward was able to divert the money because he was allowed to authorize wire transfers without another signature, Kelner said, suggesting that he acted alone. "We don't believe anybody other than Chris Ward, you know, conspired with him," Kelner said.

The forensic investigation lays the groundwork for a future audit, which is still to come. The audit will be necessary if the committee seeks a line of credit, which is common in advance of November's elections. The committee has been facing serious financial hardships already this year, reporting just $6.7 million in the bank through April, while their Democratic counterparts held over $53 million in reserve. In addition to the audit, Kelner said the NRCC has already begun implementing new safeguards, including creating a chief financial officer position, diverting more resources to accounting staff and by building a new written compliance plan that closes loopholes Ward was able to exploit.

More money heading to the accounting department is only the beginning of the financial toll the scandal has taken on the NRCC. According to Kelner, the committee has paid about $530,000 in fees to PriceWaterhouseCoopers, the accounting firm retained to conduct the investigation, as well as banks, a public relations firm and his law office, Covington & Burling, which has long served as the NRCC's legal counsel. The firm has aided the NRCC through the investigation in communications with the FBI, the Federal Election Commission and the U.S. Attorney's office.

Once detected, the fraud was easy to uncover, Kelner said. "He doesn't appear to have undertaken a particularly clever fraud," Kelner said of Ward. Ward started at the NRCC as assistant treasurer in 1995, before being elevated to the committee's top financial slot in 2003. He left the committee in July, 2007, though he continued to serve as a consultant in an advisory role until January, 2008.

After seeking a full audit of the committee's 2006 activity throughout 2007, two top Republican officials, NRCC executive director Pete Kirkham and Jeff Burton, chief of staff to Rep. Mike Conaway, the head of the organization's audit committee, confronted Ward in January in a series of what Kelner described as "heated and more pointed" interactions, leading to the confrontation, and Ward's firing, on January 28. Kelner said without their efforts, the fraud would have continued undetected, calling Kirkham and Burton the "unsung heroes" of the story.

The two discovered that Ward had forged audit reports throughout the decade, and that the last time an audit of the committee's finances had been conducted was in 2001. A partial audit was conducted in 2002, and no audits were conducted in the following five years.

Jill Poll: Not That Bad

Determined to show she's not completely down for the count, ex-Rep. Jill Long Thompson released a poll yesterday showing her campaign trailing Governor Mitch Daniels by a smaller margin than a public poll released earlier this week. Still, the Democratic nominee remains an underdog in the fight for one of the few competitive governor's races this year.

The survey, taken for Long Thompson's campaign by Benenson Strategy Group, polled 765 likely voters for a margin of error of +/- 4%, between 5/20-22. Long Thompson and Daniels were tested.

General Election Matchup
(All / Ind / Sou / Nor)
Daniels..........46 / 54 / 48 / 36
Thompson.....39 / 32 / 41 / 48

(Note: "Ind" means the Indianapolis region. "Sou" and "Nor" are the southern and northern parts of the state.)

The poll shows just 43% of Hoosiers set to vote to re-elect Daniels, while 36% say they won't vote for the governor. Also good news for Long Thompson, Daniels' favorable ratings are upside down. Just 46% say his job performance is excellent or good, while 52% say he's doing only fairly or poorly.

But Long Thompson, an underfunded challenger facing an incumbent in a state highly likely to vote heavily for John McCain, remains well behind Daniels. Though the incumbent has been hammered a few times for mismanaging the state's two key issues -- time zones and toll roads -- Republicans are confident the race will not be competitive by November.

Dems Target Shays, Again

Republican Rep. Chris Shays, the final Republican left in New England's House delegation after the party underwent a 2006 shellacking, is facing another fight for his political life. Last cycle, Shays beat Democrat Dianne Farrell with 51% of the vote even as both his Connecticut Republican colleagues lost.

Shays has a new challenger this time in former Goldman Sachs executive Jim Himes, selected by Fourth District Democrats last week. The two will fight over a district in the southwest corner of the state, running from Stamford and the New York City suburbs to Bridgeport, along the coast, the state's largest city.

Rather than attack Shays on the Iraq War, an issue that dominated the last two contests against him, Himes is instead focusing on other issues, most notably the economy, in a district the Almanac of American Politics calls "one of the largest concentrations of wealth in the world" (District residents make an average of $66,598 a year, well above the statewide average of $53,935).

Himes' Campaign Manager Maura Keaney told Politics Nation that the reason for the shift in message is that the district's voters are now familiar with where Shays stands on the Iraq War. "We don't need to make an argument against Iraq in this district," said Keaney. "Chris Shays has been as much with George Bush on the economy as he has been on the war."

Shays' campaign manager Michael Sohn agreed the Iraq War is no longer the central issue. "The last two campaigns the number one issue, one through five, was the war in Iraq. We took that conversation head on. Today there are more issues on the voters' minds in this district." Fohn laid out the Shays' message succinctly, "True moderate. Votes his conscience. Represents his district. The most bipartisan member of Congress."

With Barack Obama heading the Democratic ticket, turnout is likely to increase, and Democrats hope that could be the tipping point that finally ousts Shays. Says Fohn, "Last election lots of people said, 'I love you Chris. I just can't see your party in power anymore.'" Now, as the lone representative from New England and with Republicans in the minority, Shays' only chance is to gain more independent voters.

-- Greg Bobrinskoy

Zimply Unbeatable?

After a big primary victory last week, Democratic Senator Frank Lautenberg is in good position to win a fifth non-consecutive term in New Jersey, a new poll shows. And despite low approval ratings in the past, the early advertising blitz the primary forced on Lautenberg looks like it has paid off, as New Jersey voters now see him in a more favorable light than they have recently.

The poll, conducted by Quinnipiac University, surveyed 1,473 registered voters between 6/5-8 for a margin of error of +/- 3%. Lautenberg and former Rep. Dick Zimmer, who won the Republican nomination, were tested.

General Election Matchup
(All / Dem / GOP / Ind / Men / Wom)
Lautenberg......47 / 80 / 13 / 35 / 45 / 50
Zimmer.............38 / 11 / 79 / 43 / 42 / 36

Though his numbers remain below the critical 50% mark, Lautenberg can take solace in the fact that ordinarily, New Jersey voters are very hesitant about answering pollsters. The state is infamous for sporting a huge number of undecided voters as late as a few days before the election. With so few claiming to be undecided now, Lautenberg has a decent lead, though he should be concerned with appealing to independent voters, among whom he trails by eight points.

Lautenberg's approval rating is up seven points, to 46%, since the last survey, conducted in late February, showed 39% of Garden Staters liking the job he's doing as Senator. His colleague, junior Senator Bob Menendez, sports ratings more similar to that of a New Jersey incumbent not facing imminent re-election; just 36% like the job he's doing, while 26% disapprove.

While he leads, many still think Lautenberg is too old to serve another six-year term. Democratic Rep. Rob Andrews repeatedly pointed out that Lautenberg will be weeks away from 91 years old at the end of the term, and 54% of respondents said they thought he would not be able to serve effectively. 59% of independents and 48% of Democrats agreed.

But in a heavily Democratic state in which voters break late to Democratic candidates, Zimmer faces a steep uphill climb. To achieve success, he may need outside political and financial help, and if John McCain plans to seriously compete in the state, Zimmer could benefit. McCain will visit New Jersey tomorrow, stopping at a community college in Pemberton.

Dobbs For Governor?

After seriously pondering an independent bid for president, CNN's bombastic immigration hardliner and defender of the middle class Lou Dobbs has set his sights slightly lower and is considering a run for New Jersey Governor as a Republican, well-connected sources tell the Newark Star-Ledger. Dobbs, a Garden State resident, would neither confirm nor deny the plans.

The rumors are running around GOP fundraising circles from New York to Washington, state Republican Party chairman Tom Wilson told the Star-Ledger. Not everyone is thrilled with the idea, though. National Committee member David Norcross told the paper Dobbs should keep his day job: "He ought to just stick to raising hell on issues on his TV show and leave New Jersey alone."

New Jersey, one of just two states that holds its gubernatorial elections the year after a presidential contest, has not elected a Republican governor since 1997, when Christie Todd Whitman won a second term. In 2005, Jon Corzine spent millions of his own dollars to win a 53%-43% victory; the former chairman of Goldman Sachs had put somewhere north of $100 million on successful runs for the Senate and governor's office this decade.

Dobbs, who laments the disappearance of the American middle class dressed in three-piece suits and lunches on $56 Dover sole, hosts a radio show alongside his television gig, and he could have a serious shot at taking the seat. Opinion polls have consistently shown Corzine's approval rating in the dumps, while his disapproval rating soars.

Still, Corzine has started raising money for his 2009 re-election bid, and given his history of personal contributions, Dobbs -- or any Republican -- will have to prepare their own major cash onslaught. In 2005, Corzine's Republican opponent, businessman Doug Forrester, spent $10 million of his own money on the race.

Strategy Memo: Hey Ladies!

Good Thursday morning. 156 guys with sticks will take a 7,000-yard walk at Torrey Pines beginning today, and though this writer happens to be a left hander, we can't help rooting against a guy who has unjustly taken over the nickname "Lefty." Here's what Washington is watching this morning:

-- The Senate meets this morning on a Medicare improvement bill and will hold a cloture vote later this afternoon. The House, which failed to pass an extension of unemployment benefits, falling just four votes short, will try again today, and will also take up the NASA authorization measure. President Bush is still hanging out in Europe, in the middle of his week-long trip, relaxing with wife Laura in Rome, while Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is kicking off her own swing with a stop in Paris before heading to Jerusalem and Ramallah.

-- Let's review: President Bush's job approval rating is in the tank, as just 29% approve, per the latest RCP Average. Only 16% say the country is headed in the right direction. And Democrats lead Republicans in a generic congressional ballot matchup by an average of twelve points. Yet John McCain trails Barack Obama by just over four points in the latest RCP General Election Average, and he's doing very well among white males and among traditionally Democratic white suburban women, who have more typically voted Democratic in recent years, as the Wall Street Journal's Jackie Calmes writes today. One of these things is not like the other, and it's the only hope the GOP has of salvaging the year.

-- Speaking of big losses, Republicans are already bracing, the Journal's Sarah Lueck writes. This time, unusually, McCain is unlikely to be able to save his down-ballot companions, while Democrats prepare to take more seats in Congress. Estimates range from the party picking up eight seats (Rothenberg Report's low end) to twenty seats (Cook Political Report's high end) in the House and between three (Rothenberg low) and seven (Cook high) in the Senate. And Republicans are even playing down their expectations; National Republican Senatorial Committee chair John Ensign says he will have been successful if he can keep Democrats from gaining a filibuster-proof majority of 60 votes.

-- Both parties will pay attention to those white suburban women, and in fact women as a whole, the Washington Post fronts today. McCain has been heaping praise on departed rival Hillary Clinton and propping up one of his best supporters, ex-Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, while Obama's team will rely on his upbringing around powerful women, including his mother, his wife and his mother-in-law. Women make up 54% of the electorate, and a big gender gap on Obama's behalf would go a long way to making the Democrat president. If McCain can cut that likely gap down and build his own among men, his chances will go up as well.

-- For now, though, worry that Clinton's departure could send women flocking to the Republican campaign instead of to fellow Democrat Obama's seem to be unfounded. In fact, Obama is running as well among women as Clinton did, an analysis of recent Gallup daily tracking polls show. The polling firm's Jeffrey Jones points out that Clinton led McCain among women by twelve points in her last full week as a candidate, while Obama now leads McCain by 13. Could rumors of a fractured Democratic Party have been completely overblown?

-- The other big news yesterday came as Democratic super lawyer Jim Johnson stepped down from Obama's vice presidential search team a few days after revelations he received mortgage loans below market value. Johnson's departure sparked a bitter back and forth; the McCain campaign said Johnson's actions raise questions about Obama's judgment, while the Obama campaign used the opportunity to hit back, hard, on lobbyists who had worked for the Republican. The only real lessons we learn from the feudin' and the fightin': No one is safe from scrutiny, and both campaigns are a little jumpy right now over the tiniest perceptions.

-- Meanwhile, it's still a money business. While reports earlier this week suggest Obama could raise $100 million during the month of June, the campaign is taking no chances; campaign manager David Plouffe is meeting today in New York and tomorrow in New Jersey with fundraisers and mega-donors who had backed Hillary Clinton. The Obama camp is also working on a plan to put the two former rivals in a room together with big donors in an effort to unite the party, the New York Times writes. Some Clinton backers are even considering crossing over to help McCain.

-- Head-Scratcher Of The Day: He's as popular as a Democrat can be, he's got foreign policy experience and a type of executive experience and he's been vetted a thousand times before: Why doesn't Obama just throw in the towel and put Al Gore on the ticket? That was James Carville's idea, floated on CNN yesterday, as Ben Smith writes. It's no secret the Clinton camp, represented by Carville, and the Gore camp don't feel terribly kindly towards each other, but it's the latest bizarre, yet fascinating, salvo in the veepstakes parlor game.

-- Today On The Trail: McCain is in Boston this morning for a media availability before heading up to New Hampshire for a town hall meeting in Nashua, where his meteoric rise to the top of the Republican field got its start (Side note: Don't let anyone say that Iowa and New Hampshire aren't influential. They kicked off sprints to the finish in both parties this year). McCain later heads to Federal Hall in downtown New York City for another town hall meeting. Obama, on day four of his economic tour, is in Kaukauna, Wisconsin, halfway between Green Bay and Appleton.

Obama Pens DCCC Email

Utilizing the available star power, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee sent out a fundraising plea signed by presidential nominee Barack Obama yesterday seeking contributions he promised would "remake the electoral map and create a governing majority that will transform this country."

Obama, who has already raised somewhere north of $300 million and will likely have his best fundraising month to date this month after securing the nomination, is helping another financial heavyweight. The DCCC finished April with $45.2 million in the bank, much higher than their Republican counterparts, who ended with just $6.7 million on hand. Both parties spent heavily in early May on special elections in Louisiana and Mississippi, both of which Democrats won.

Obama's solicitation on behalf of the committee comes a week after his campaign effectively took over operations at the Democratic National Committee, which resides in the same building south of the Capitol. Obama banned contributions from lobbyists and PACs to his own campaign, and the DNC followed suit, but the DCCC and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee have so far refused to do so.

Some Democratic candidates have been critical of the move, saying it puts them in the awkward position of having to explain why they accept donations from special interest groups, even in an era when campaigns cost more than ever.

National Republicans are only too happy to oblige. "It is the height of hypocrisy for Barack Obama to solicit campaign contributions on behalf of the very same campaign committee that opposes his position of refusing lobbyist donations," NRCC spokesman Ken Spain said in a statement released this morning. "It appears that Democrats want to have it both ways; they want to run on a platform of so-called 'change' while simultaneously shaking down Washington lobbyists before they bash them on the campaign trail."

Fundraising reports for May's activity are due June 20, while money raised from Obama's solicitation won't show up in FEC reports until July 20.

Dems Unite At DNC HQ

WASHINGTON -- One would not even need to enter the Democratic National Committee headquarters on Capitol Hill yesterday, where a press conference was being held, to know where the focus of the party's efforts is. A banner hanging over the front door reads: "John McCain = 3rd Bush Term."

Party leaders stood before a packed room of reporters and cameras yesterday proclaiming a unified party, as DNC chairman Howard Dean, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Democratic Governors' Association chairman Joe Manchin spoke about efforts to extend its majorities in the House, Senate and among the key governorships around the country, and on the importance of winning back the White House.

Reid said party leaders "have the closest association in the history of the Democratic Party," saying that the communication and cooperation between the House, Senate, DGA and DNC was unprecedented. Pelosi said that all the branches of party leadership "look forward now to joining forces to elect a Democratic President of the United States to take our country in a new direction."

Two Clinton supporters, Senators Debbie Stabenow of Michigan and Patty Murray of Washington, also stepped up to the microphone to express their support for the presumptive Democratic nominee, Barack Obama -- a clear nod to Clinton primary voters, especially women, to do the same. Murray likened the situation to the rivalry between her Washington State University Cougars and the University of Washington Huskies. Though she rooted for her team, if the Huskies made the Rose Bowl, she would always root them on.

Another Clinton supporter, fellow New York Senator Charles Schumer, let out a high-pitched "Woooo!" after Reid said Obama would be the country's next president. Dean expressed his confidence that Obama will defeat McCain in November. "This is not just about Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, this is about our country," Dean said. "I have every belief that we will come together."

In another sign of the party's efforts to bring its supporters together, Pelosi noted two groups of Democratic voters that usually favored Clinton over Obama over the course of the primary season. "Women and blue collar workers, whatever their race, have the most to gain by the election of Barack Obama," Pelosi said.

The Republican National Committee has almost doubled the DNC's fundraising so far this election cycle, but Dean said the party will be closing that gap soon, noting that he had just finished writing 30 "thank you" letters to donors who had just given the maximum $28,500 donation. "Now that we have a nominee, we won't have any problem raising money," Dean said. "We are going to essentially be run by the Obama campaign."

He has a few more thank-yous to write to catch up, though; media reports indicate that the DNC will claim just over $4 million in the bank when they file with the FEC this month, while Republicans have more than $50 million on hand.

-- Kyle Trygstad

Northup Trails Own Poll

Former Rep. Anne Northup, a Republican caught in the 2006 Democratic wave, is trailing in a poll conducted for her own campaign, though the survey shows incumbent Democrat John Yarmuth is not completely safe for re-election. The Republican is seen as her party's best chance to take back the Louisville-based seat, though she remains the underdog to her well-financed rival.

The survey, taken for Northup's campaign by Voter/Consumer Research, polled 400 respondents between 6/4-5 and 6/8, for a margin of error of +/- 5%. Northup and Yarmuth were tested.

General Election Matchup
Yarmuth........51
Northup.........43

It is somewhat unorthodox to release a poll showing one's opponent ahead of 50%, but the Northup campaign did so after a SurveyUSA poll showed a 17-point margin in Yarmuth's favor. Pollster Jan van Lohuizen wrote that the survey was flawed, and that the margins were too large to be believed.

Northup had represented the Third District for five terms, often winning narrow re-election bids in a Democratic-leaning district because of her strong campaigning skills. But 2006 proved too difficult, and Yarmuth took a narrow 6,000-vote majority in the district, which encompasses almost all of Jefferson County.

Connolly, Pingree Win Primaries

Two front-running Democrats won competitive primaries for Congress last night, giving their party a strong chance at picking up one Republican-held House seat and retaining another seat that has, in the last few decades, trended strongly Democratic.

In Virginia, Fairfax County Board of Supervisors chairman Gerry Connolly overcame former Rep. Leslie Byrne and two other candidates to win the right to compete for retiring Republican Tom Davis's Eleventh District seat. Connolly took nearly 58% of the vote to Byrne's 33%. He will need party unity in the Fall, though, as Republicans still have a good chance at keeping the seat. President Bush won Davis's district by a seven-point margin in 2000 and by just 2,000 votes in 2004.

Davis rarely had a problem keeping his seat, though he won a surprisingly narrow 55%-44% majority in 2006. Another former chairman of the county board of supervisors, Davis decided to retire after exploring, then dropping, his bid for the GOP nomination for Senate. Since his decision to retire, Davis has become an outspoken critic of House Republican political ills and has been tapped to help the party mitigate its losses come November.

To do so, he may have to focus on his own seat first. His hand-picked successor, businessman Keith Fimian, is a political unknown, and could face an uphill climb against the better-known Connolly in the coming months. Still, Fimian has proved an apt and skilled fundraiser, pulling in more than $900,000 so far, more than Connolly by virtue of the more than $300,000 Fimian donated to himself. Too, without primary opposition, Fimian will begin the general with a big financial head start.

The race to replace Rep. Tom Allen, who is running for Senate against Republican Susan Collins, was likely decided last night in the Democratic primary. Former Common Cause President Chellie Pingree held a 15-point lead with 85% of precincts reporting as of this morning, giving her the Democratic nomination in Maine's First Congressional District, based in Portland and including Augusta, the state capital.

Pingree took 44% of the vote last night, leading attorney and Iraq war veteran Adam Cote, who charged ahead of several well-known politicians to score 29%. Two state senators finished with 11% each. Pingree will take on Allen's 2004 opponent, Charlie Summers, who won the Republican nomination by a 60%-40% margin, though in a district that gave John Kerry a twelve-point win in 2004 and that Allen never had trouble keeping, Pingree remains the prohibitive favorite.

Strategy Memo: Promised Land

Good Wednesday morning. The day Tim Donaghy accuses the NBA of fixing finals matches in 2002 and 2005, referees in last night's ballgame sure looked like they had it out for Kobe Bryant. Politics Nation has no rooting interest in these finals, but we're just saying. Here's what Washington is watching this morning:

-- The Senate meets today to continue work on an energy bill, a cloture motion on which Republicans blocked yesterday. The House is also in session, having endured three and a half hours of reading impeachment resolutions introduced by Rep. Dennis Kucinich, which wrapped up just after midnight last night. The resolution will likely be sent to the Judiciary Committee this morning, though it is unlikely to see the light of day after that. President Bush is still in Europe, and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is on her way to Paris to join in the fun. Vice President Dick Cheney will address the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's board of directors today in Washington.

-- Vice presidential madness is heating up, and it promises to be a big story until both nominees just make their decisions already. Barack Obama's veep search team, headed by Jim Johnson, former Deputy Attorney General Eric Holder and Caroline Kennedy, floated as many as twenty names while meeting with Hill Democrats, Senator Kent Conrad told CNN yesterday. Those names included everyone from the obvious -- Virginia Governor Tim Kaine, Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius, and, of course, Hillary Clinton -- to the out-of-the-box choices, like General James Jones, former Supreme Allied Commander of Europe and commandant of the Marine Corps.

-- One who will not be joining Obama's ticket: Ohio Governor Ted Strickland. Strickland surprised many yesterday by issuing the closest thing to a Shermanesque statement so far this year. "If drafted I will not run, nominated I will not accept and if elected I will not serve," Strickland told NPR's All Things Considered, per ABC News. Strickland, a big backer of Hillary Clinton in the primaries, has already donated his top political adviser to Obama's general election efforts, but the one-time vice presidential front-runner is himself no longer interested, he says, in serving as the second in command.

-- Meanwhile, Obama will take his continuing economic tour to Ohio, alongside Strickland, on Friday, the Boston Globe reports today. Obama was supposed to be in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, today, but his campaign canceled the trip, worried that interference could have disrupted clean-up efforts from the region's recent floods. The economic tour, which has stopped in North Carolina and Missouri in its first two days, will continue in Kaukauna, Wisconsin, a state John McCain has put high up on his target list and where Obama will have to play serious defense, on Thursday.

-- Obama met yesterday with religious leaders from all over the political spectrum, including Catholic attorney Doug Kmiec, who has endorsed the Illinois Senator, and Dallas-based mega-church pastor T.D. Jakes. The meeting, which took place in Chicago, shows Obama is trying hard to woo evangelical voters despite their disagreement on the abortion issue, CBN's David Brody writes. The news comes a day after Brody reported on the Obama campaign launching a so-called Joshua Generation project, which would seek to woo younger evangelical voters to the Democrat's side based on issues like climate change, the humanitarian crisis in Darfur and human trafficking.

-- Obama's outreach to evangelicals, it looks like, is a serious threat, and John McCain, he of the personal shyness about discussing his own faith, is going to have to do something about that. Or does he? Evangelical voters are rallying to McCain at a healthy clip, Beliefnet.com president Steven Waldman writes at the Wall Street Journal. It's only a few of the leaders who remember McCain's thorny "agents of intolerance" speech who are still holding a grudge. In fact, McCain won the Republican primaries, Waldman writes, because of his better-than-expected performance among evangelical voters -- he virtually tied Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee among those voters in both New Hampshire and Florida.

-- McCain is also making a concerted push for Hispanic voters, as this reporter wrote today. McCain is up with new advertisements in South Florida, running in Spanish, that bolster the GOP candidate among a decidedly GOP constituency. The shot at Obama: "While some support a dialogue with Raul Castro, John McCain believes we should support the courageous men and women who continue to stand up for freedom in Cuba," the narrator, a Cuban political prisoner for almost three decades, says, per Politico's Ben Smith. That's an argument that could work well among Cuban voters, from whom McCain will need a big boost to guarantee a Florida win.

-- Drip Of The Day: First, Florida Rep. Tim Mahoney refused to endorse Barack Obama. Now, it's Oklahoma Democratic Rep. Dan Boren, who tells the Associated Press that he will abstain from endorsing his party's presidential nominee, but will vote for him at the convention in Denver as well as in November. (So, he's voting for the guy, twice, but he's not endorsing him? Sort of an odd technicality, no?) Democrats always seem to have more defections than Republicans (See: Mississippi Rep. Gene Taylor, and several others, who did not cast ballots for Nancy Pelosi for Speaker), so this is the first of what's likely to be more than a few uncomfortable moments for Obama. Oh, and will someone please ask: Why hasn't Al Gore endorsed yet?

-- Today On The Trail: McCain is making his own stop in blue territory he thinks could be red, hitting the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia for a town hall meeting. That's the same place Obama endured nearly an hour of questions over his patriotism, his flag pins and his pastor before hearing the first policy question at a debate on April 16. The Illinois Senator is at home, his Iowa trip having been canceled by floods, but he'll make the best of his time, hosting a roundtable on credit cards and predatory lending at the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago.

PN Radio: Wither The GOP?

This week on Politics Nation Radio, the Democratic primaries are over, and the down-ballot primaries are just beginning. In the first hour, we deconstruct what went wrong in Hillary Clinton's once-inevitable bid for the White House, and check in with candidates seeking to replace retiring Republican Rep. Tom Davis in Virginia.

And in the second hour, the Republican Party is seriously wounded, and the trouble goes beyond simply the brand. If the very message is antiquated, where does the GOP go from here? We talk with GOP strategist Josh Kahn, South Carolina party chair Katon Dawson, National Review senior editor Ramesh Ponnuru and Rep. Thaddeus McCotter to find out.

Be sure to tune in this Saturday, from 10 a.m. to noon Eastern and replayed from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Eastern, on XM Radio's POTUS '08 for Politics Nation, live from the nation's capitol. You can find the listen free link, along with a preview of the show, in this space every Friday afternoon.

Four Primaries Up Today

Voters in four states will head to the polls today to choose party nominees in House and Senate contests, and both parties are paying close attention to several matchups that could offer insights into voters' minds in advance of November.

In Virginia's Eleventh District, Rep. Tom Davis' decision to step down opened another Republican seat in a swing district that has trended leftwards of late. Former Rep. Leslie Byrne, who represented the Fairfax-based district for a single term before Davis beat her in 1994, is running against County Board of Supervisors chair Gerry Connolly for the Democratic nomination, and the race looks closer than it once did.

Connolly, long seen as the local party's favorite choice for the seat, came in with a strong fundraising base and has largely run as the more moderate, bipartisan candidate. Backed by Senator Jim Webb, Byrne is strongly against the war in Iraq, and has run significantly to Connolly's left, aided on the fundraising front by EMILY's List. While Connolly began the race as a serious front-runner, Byrne has hit him for his association with a defense contractor and painted herself as the only real Democrat in the race, making some speculate that the race has tightened.

The winner of today's primary will face Republican Keith Fimian, who despite being largely unknown in the district, has already raised more than $900,000, including more than $300,000 of his own money. Fimian is Davis' hand-picked successor, though he will face an uphill battle in a district that President Bush only barely won in 2004.

In Maine, Democrats are choosing a replacement for Rep. Tom Allen in the state's southern First District. A district that was once at least competitive is now considered solidly Democratic, and former Common Cause President Chellie Pingree, who lost a Senate race to Republican Susan Collins in 2002, is widely viewed as the overwhelming front-runner.

Former State Senate President Mike Brennan and current State Senator Ethan Strimling, who holds an overwhelmingly Democratic Portland-based seat, are also competitive, and District Attorney Mark Lawrence and Iraq war veteran Adam Cote are the other well-funded candidates. Pingree has far outraised the others, pulling in more than $1.3 million, largely with the help of EMILY's List. Two Republicans are running as well, though neither is seen as a serious challenge in a district that re-elected Allen with more than 60% in all but his initial race.

Allen will be on the ballot as well today. The six-term Congressman is expected to cruise to victory by a wide margin over an unknown educator to win the right to take on Collins in November. Polls have showed Collins owning a big lead in the race, though national Democrats have made known they will spend significantly in the state.

Farther south, Senator Lindsey Graham faces a challenge from former RNC committee member Buddy Witherspoon, who has slammed the South Carolina Republican for his involvement in the so-called "Gang of 14," a group of senators who reached bipartisan agreements on judicial nominees, and for Graham's support for a more comprehensive approach to immigration reform. While Witherspoon has gotten some attention, and while Graham is not the most popular Republican in the state, the incumbent is likely to cruise to renomination.

More interesting in the Palmetto State will be Governor Mark Sanford's efforts to target a number of incumbents from his own party in state legislative races. Frustrated with some legislators' spending habits and their attempts to override his vetoes of spending measures, Sanford has actively campaigned against incumbents for months in hopes of winning a new, more cooperative majority.

Finally, though voters in North Dakota get to head to the polls today, the two statewide races have already been decided. Rep. Earl Pomeroy, a Democrat, is seeking his ninth term and will face retired Navy officer Duane Sand in November. Pomeroy beat Sand by a wide 60%-40% margin in 2004. And Governor John Hoeven is seeking his third term; he and Lieutenant Governor Jack Dalrymple will face State Senator Tim Mathern and State Rep. Merle Boucher, the Democratic ticket, this Fall.

Dems See Uptick In Fundraising

The national Democratic campaign committees have greatly increased their fundraising compared with the last election cycle, when Democrats took control of both the House and Senate. Republican fundraising, meanwhile, has dipped, though the GOP has still slightly outraised Democrats.

According to the Federal Election Commission, from January 1, 2007, through April 30, 2008, Democrats increased their fundraising by 24 percent in comparison to the amount raised at this time during the last election cycle. Republican fundraising has decreased by 11 percent.

The Republican National Committee, National Republican Senatorial Committee and the National Republican Congressional Committee have raised a total of $260.4 million this cycle. Their Democratic counterparts -- the Democratic National Committee, Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee -- have raised a combined $247 million. The $13 million difference pales in comparison to the more than $92 million advantage the GOP held two years ago. Too, Democrats have a wide cash-on-hand advantage this year, a gap they did not enjoy last cycle.

So far this cycle, the RNC has raised $143.3 million -- almost double the DNC's $77.6 million. DNC funding is expected to rise exponentially, however, now that Barack Obama has secured the Democratic nomination. Obama donors who reach their contribution limit to the candidate can also give up to $28,500 to the national committee, as can Republican donors to the RNC.

The DSCC and DCCC, however, have so far outpaced their Republican counterparts, and Democrats are poised to pick up additional GOP seats this cycle. The DCCC has seen the biggest jump in fundraising among the four House and Senate campaign committees since the last election cycle, rising by 53 percent to $92.9 million. The NRCC has raised $69.3 million, a 21 percent decrease from two years ago. The DSCC has raised $76.5 million, a 29 percent rise, while the NRSC has raised $47.9 million, an 11 percent drop.

About one-fourth of the money the DCCC has raised this cycle has come from the campaign committees of Democratic House candidates, who have given some $22 million. The biggest givers include those in majority leadership who have little to worry about come the November elections: Speaker Nancy Pelosi ($935,000), Majority Leader Steny Hoyer ($770,000), Majority Whip James Clyburn ($770,000) and Caucus Chairman Rahm Emanuel ($575,000). Other top Democratic donors include Ways and Means Chairman Charles Rangel ($785,000) and Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank ($550,000).

Republican House members have been less generous with their campaign committee, contributing $11.6 million, about half the Democrats' total. Top GOP donors included Minority Leader John Boehner ($845,000), Rules Committee Ranking Member David Dreier ($670,000), Conference Chairman Adam Putnam ($466,000) and Rep. Dave Camp ($530,000). Other notable donors include Minority Whip Roy Blunt ($110,000), NRCC Chairman Tom Cole ($200,000) and Chief Deputy Minority Whip Eric Cantor ($93,157).

-- Kyle Trygstad

Strategy Memo: Attack Dogs

Good Tuesday morning. Flooding in the Midwest and a heat wave along the East Coast forces one to consider whether there has been a single week of normal weather in the last few months. Here's what a humid Washington is watching this morning:

-- The Senate will vote on cloture motions on the Consumer-First Energy Act and the Renewable Energy and Job Creation Act, before taking confirmation votes on three judicial nominees. The House takes up a number of feel-good resolutions including one to posthumously award the Congressional gold medal to Constantino Brumidi, the painter responsible for many famous works throughout the Capitol building. On a more serious note, the House will consider a bill that would reinvest in the country's rail system, one that would reauthorize NASA funding, and, potentially, a supplemental funding measure for the wars Iraq and Afghanistan. President Bush is in Slovenia at an EU summit before heading to four other countries on a farewell tour.

-- For two candidates who claim to be different kinds of politicians, Barack Obama and John McCain sure spend a lot of time attacking each other. Obama, in a speech on the economy yesterday in Raleigh, North Carolina, kicked off what is likely to be a two-week long attack on McCain's economic proposals and record, all in an effort to shift the focus of the presidential race to the struggling economy. The Republican candidate, the New York Times has Obama arguing, would represent little more than a third term of President Bush.

-- As for his own plan, Obama is pushing a more involved federal government, including an additional round of stimulus checks and an emergency foreclosure prevention fund. The Democratic nominee wants an additional $50 billion boost to the economy, citing rising energy costs and unemployment figures, as CNN Money reports. Congressional Democrats plan to go along, the Times writes, with the House potentially voting as early as Thursday on extending unemployment benefits for some who can't find work.

-- Meanwhile, John McCain spent much of yesterday raising money at events in Washington and Richmond and slamming Obama for his association with Democratic super lawyer James Johnson, the man tapped by Obama to head his vice presidential search team. Over the weekend, the Wall Street Journal wrote that Johnson received reduced rates on a few mortgages from Countrywide Financial, which Republican officials spent Monday claiming were improper, as the LA Times reports this morning. Johnson is the former CEO of Fannie Mae, the federally-backed company that buys mortgages from Countrywide and other lenders; he left the company in 1998. Through his lawyer, Johnson maintains the lower rates are nothing unusual for "extraordinarily low-risk" borrowers.

-- Still, Republicans pounced. "I think it suggests a bit of a contradiction talking about how his campaign is going to be not associated with people like that. Clearly he is very much associated with that," McCain said of Obama. While Obama's campaign called the story "overblown and irrelevant, McCain spokesman Tucker Bounds was not so forgiving: "There is nothing 'overblown and irrelevant' about millions of Americans facing foreclosure and Barack Obama entrusting his most important decision as a presidential candidate to a man who has accepted millions in special loans from a subprime mortgage lender. The Obama campaign's reaction is even more appalling considering that they were the first to criticize the Clinton campaign for ties to Countrywide and subprime lenders," he said.

-- Johnson and his fellow veep-vetter, former Deputy Attorney General Eric Holder, were busy on their own yesterday, stopping by Capitol Hill for chats with Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and others in a combination courtesy call and brainstorming session, as Washington Wire writes. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer told reporters that the duo offered a lot of names. (Meanwhile, McCain's own team is hard at work, using Google to track down his own prospects, as the candidate joked at a fundraiser yesterday, per Reuters)

-- McCain will keep up the heat on Obama on two fronts today: In interviews with Fox News' Carl Cameron and NBC's Brian Williams yesterday, McCain compared Obama to former President Jimmy Carter, Jonathan Martin writes, invoking high energy prices and a poor record on national security as well as, one might argue, comparable periods of malaise. "At the center of Barack Obama's plan is a scheme last tried under Jimmy Carter that only increased our dependence on foreign oil," Bounds said in a statement this morning, continuing the attack. McCain himself will hit Obama this morning in Washington, accusing the Democrat of wanting to raise taxes on every demographic group in the country.

-- Messianic Reference Of The Day: Few doubt that Democrats are getting along better with evangelical voters than ever before, but this could be just too much fun: Obama is launching the Joshua Generation project to attract evangelical voters his way, CBN's David Brody writes. Brody, who has seen some Democrats make fake overtures to evangelical voters, says this one is a real effort to attract faith-based voters to Obama's campaign behind issues like poverty, the situation in Darfur and climate change. Still, for a campaign that has tried to be careful on the whole Messiah comparisons, trying to associate oneself with the person who brought the Israelites into the promised land is a little less than subtle.

-- Today On The Trail: McCain addresses a small business summit put on by the National Federation of Independent Businesses and eBay this morning in Washington. The second day of Obama's economic tour takes him to St. Louis, Missouri, where he will address health care issues at a hospital and work alongside a nurse. Both candidates spoke to CNBC recently on the economy, and those interviews air in a special this evening. Meanwhile, national Democratic leaders are holding a unity rally at DNC headquarters in Washington.

Daniels Up Post-Primary

After winning the Democratic primary last month, former Rep. Jill Long Thompson finds herself trailing her November opponent, Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels by a wide margin, a new poll shows. Daniels, who in early polls had run even with both Long Thompson and her ousted rival, architect Jim Schellinger, has outraised the former member of Congress by a wide margin so far this year.

The poll, conducted by Indiana Legislative Insight, surveyed 601 registered voters between 5/27-6/1, for a margin of error of +/- 4%. Long Thompson and Daniels were tested.

General Election Matchup
Daniels........51
Thompson...35

Daniels has a big head start in the name recognition race. 60% of voters view him favorably, compared with 33% who see him in an unfavorable light. Long Thompson is viewed favorably by 30% of respondents, while 17% view her unfavorably.

Democrats had seen Indiana as one of their best opportunities to pick up a governor's mansion this year. But if more polls come out showing Long Thompson at such a disadvantage, national money could begin to dry up, leaving the Democrat at an even wider disparity.

Poll Has AK Dems Up

A new survey taken for an independent group shows Senator Ted Stevens and Rep. Don Young, both long-time Republican incumbents, trailing in their bids for re-election, thanks in large part to a scandal involving an oil services corporation that has already ensnared several GOP state legislatures. The poll has good news for Democrats, though in Young's case the party may not get the opportunity to make their case.

The poll, conducted by Hellenthal and Associates for lobbyist Sam Kito, surveyed 269 likely voters between 5/6-10 for a margin of error of +/- 6%. In the Senate contest, Stevens and Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich were tested. In the House race, Young, Lieutenant Governor Sean Parnell, a Republican, and former House Minority Leader Ethan Berkowitz, the likely Democratic nominee, were included. 27% of respondents were registered Republicans, while 22% were registered Democrats, and the remaining 51% were unregistered.

General Election Matchups
Begich..........51
Stevens........44

Berkowitz.....58
Young...........38

Parnell...........43
Berkowitz.....38

Stevens has yet to attract a credible challenger in the Senate GOP primary, giving Democrats a flawed Republican to run against. But Parnell's surprise entry into the Republican primary against Young could throw a cog in the works. Parnell leads Young in a hypothetical primary matchup by a small margin (the sample, though, is so small that the margin of error would make results virtually meaningless), and if he wins the primary, the significant anti-Young vote would be free to head back to the new Republican nominee in November.

The disparity in the Senate contest is similar to that in the House race. 58% of respondents had a positive view of Begich, the two-term mayor of the state's largest city, while just 16% see him unfavorably. 49% see Stevens favorably, while 40% say they view him unfavorably. The poll is the first of recently released data to show Stevens with a net favorable rating, but just a nine-point gap for a six-term incumbent is not comforting.

In the House race, the story also comes down to favorable ratings. Berkowitz (41% positive, 13% negative), his party's nominee for Lieutenant Governor in 2006, and Parnell (46% positive, 8% negative), the candidate who beat him, each have high favorable-to-unfavorable ratios. Young, on the other hand, is viewed positively by just 35% of those surveyed, and negatively by a whopping 52%.

No wonder, too, that first-term Governor Sarah Palin is generating internet-based buzz about a vice presidential nomination. After ousting fellow Republican Frank Murkowski two years ago, the governor, who had her fifth child in April, enjoys an incredible 82% positive rating, while just 10% don't see her in a good light.

Franken Wins DFL Nod

Despite weeks of controversy over tax issues and a 2000 column written for Playboy Magazine, comedian Al Franken took a surprisingly easy win at this weekend's Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party convention in Rochester. Franken beat his main rival, college professor Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer, with 62% of the ballots cast, greater than the 60% threshold required to win on the first ballot.

That Franken would win the convention's nomination was not surprising, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune wrote today. But that his nomination came on the first ballot, especially after some of the worst weeks for any political candidate this year, surprised delegates, who may have expected a protracted battle. After Franken's margin became clear, Nelson-Pallmeyer withdrew and asked the convention to nominate his rival by acclamation.

Over the last several weeks, Franken has been hit with a series of salacious disclosures, beginning with the revelation that he had failed to pay taxes in 17 states, an error he blamed on his accountant, who he said had mistakenly paid the taxes in New York and Minnesota instead of the states where Franken earned the fees. Lately, Franken has come under fire for the sexually explicit Playboy column and for comments about rape that enraged many Democrats.

Several prominent North Star Democrats, including Reps. Jim Oberstar and Betty McCollum, had called on Franken to apologize, with McCollum going so far as to say she would not endorse Franken if he secured the party's nomination. This weekend, Franken did apologize. "It kills me that things I said and wrote sent a message ... that they can't count on me to be a champion for women, for all Minnesotans. I'm sorry for that. Because that's not who I am," Franken said at the convention, per the Star-Tribune.

National Republicans, who had worried about Franken's candidacy, have been hammering away at Franken over the scandals. National Democrats, who had worried that Franken's past edgy humor could upset voters, were also taken aback. Former rival Mike Ciresi, a trial lawyer who dropped his own bid for Senate in March, has said he is considering re-entering the race and forcing a primary, which would take place September 9.

If Ciresi decides to stay out, Franken will go on to face first-term Republican Senator Norm Coleman in November. Coleman, who ran against Senator Paul Wellstone in 2002, before Wellstone's death in a plane crash just weeks before the election, is said to be atop national Democrats' target list, though recent polls have shown him leading Franken by wider margins than other vulnerable Republicans lead their opponents.

Strategy Memo: Economy, Or Iraq?

Good Monday morning. It's official: Indiana Jones has jumped the shark, and in this fan's mind there remain just two movies (Temple of Doom is equatable to Godfather Part III as well). Here's what Washington is watching this morning:

-- The Senate meets this morning to address the Consumer-First Energy Act, after gas hit $4 a gallon over the weekend for the first time. The House will take up a number of smaller bills under suspension of the rules. President Bush left Andrews Air Force Base this morning, beginning a week-long swing that will take him to Slovenia, Germany, Italy, France and Great Britain, while Vice President Cheney will stop by a private home in Wayzata, Minnesota, in the Minneapolis suburbs, for a fundraiser benefiting the state's Victory 2008 committee.

-- Oh, and did someone mention that the Democratic presidential nomination is over? Hillary Clinton dropped her historic bid for president on Saturday with a speech urging her supporters to back rival Barack Obama with a catch phrase ("That's why we need to help elect Barack Obama our president.") that got the point across, but perhaps, especially some in the Obama camp believe, lacked the enthusiasm one might have wished for within a party that is likely at least partially wounded. Clinton's speech focused heavily on the history her campaign had made (18 million cracks in the glass ceiling, she said) and Obama paid homage to her trailblazing as well, releasing a statement saying Clinton had changed the way his two daughters would see their futures.

-- What went wrong? Too many things to list for the candidate who once hovered north of 50% in primary polls. Mark Penn said it's the money. Others, like this reporter, said it was any one of a number of strategic blunders coupled with fundamental misunderstanding of the rules by which the process would be fought. But Clinton's campaign gets a few days of eulogy as she slips off to vacation with husband Bill. That could end soon, though, as thoughts are already turning to whether Clinton will get the blame for an Obama loss, as Politico's Ben Adler points out. It's a no-win scenario, and one that Clinton will likely do all she can to get out of, most prominently by stumping for her once-rival as much as she can.

-- With Clinton out of the race, John McCain and Obama take center stage from now until November, and at the moment everyone is concerned with early definition and plotting a general election map. McCain will focus on keeping the 31 states President Bush won and potentially expanding into the upper Midwest and the Rust Belt, while Obama will search for 18 votes to add to John Kerry's 252-vote total in states in the Mountain West and traditional swing states like Florida and Ohio, as AP's Charles Babington writes today. Obama has just started his general election travel, which gives clues as to which states are truly in play. McCain's schedule is like clockwork: A few days in Florida, then hit Ohio, one of three upper Midwest states, perhaps a stop in his adopted home of New Hampshire, then down the coast for a return to Florida, and along the border for stops in the Four Corners states and his Phoenix home.

-- Obama's strategy looks like it might be a lot more unconventional, as the New York Times writes this morning. After kicking off his general election bid in Virginia, a state Democrats don't normally have a shot at taking, his campaign will focus on other red states like North Carolina, Montana, and other places where the ground operation he used in the primary is still functioning. Obama will be in the Tar Heel State today before heading to Missouri, another must-win in the electoral scheme of things. There's a question to consider: The Obama operation has hundreds of employees, while McCain has many fewer. Will sheer force be able to win a presidential race?

-- One top priority for Obama: Shift the focus to the economy. It's the number one concern voters have, and by a long shot, writes Wall Street Journal's Susan Davis, and virtually any contrast with the Bush Administration, which gets terribly low marks on the economy, will benefit the Democratic nominee. So far, though, the back-and-forth has been dominated by negotiations with Iran, withdrawing from Iraq and other issues surrounding the war on terrorism and foreign policy. And while most voters blame the current White House occupant, they still trust McCain on foreign policy matters more than they do Obama. Obama can win if he swings the debate to one over the economy, something for which his team has yet to show a propensity.

-- Finally, last week the two campaigns agreed in principle to hold a few joint town hall meetings, a novel idea hearkening back to the virtually mythical Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858. But the first shot at one such meeting has been shot down by both campaigns, raising the specter that it's all been a campaign stunt, or the more optimistic possibility that each has serious intentions of getting the meetings done. Invited to New York by Mayor Mike Bloomberg for a town hall moderated by ABC News' Diane Sawyer, as the Times writes, both campaigns rejected the format, saying they don't want a moderator, but not yet ruling out the idea of a gathering at New York's Federal Hall.

-- Crime Of The Day: A weekend fire at the Texas Governor's mansion was likely caused by arson, the Houston Chronicle reports. The blaze, which erupted early Sunday morning, burned for more than four hours, destroying historic items throughout the house and partially collapsing the roof. There's no indication that Governor Rick Perry was the target -- he and his wife, currently traveling in Europe, haven't lived in the house for several months, thanks to ongoing renovations.

-- Today On The Trail: Barack Obama kicks off a two-week long economic tour that will focus on white, working class voters with whom Obama has had trouble in recent primaries. Obama will start with a speech at the fairgrounds in Raleigh, North Carolina. Later, he heads to St. Louis for a fundraiser (Both campaigns, by the way, have opened their finance events to press pools). McCain is in Washington before heading to Richmond, Virginia, though he has no public events scheduled.

This Week On PN Radio

Saturday morning, from 10 a.m. to 12 noon Eastern, join Politics Nation on XM Radio's POTUS '08, when we'll tackle the week in politics. Listen free here (link about half-way down the page) as:

-- Hillary Clinton will drop her presidential bid on Saturday. Where did the once-immovable object go wrong? Was the foundation cracked, or was the unstoppable force of Obama just too much? Plus, it's our last "Where in the world is Mike Memoli," for now at least.

-- Virginia's Eleventh District is a prime example of an emerging Democratic constituency, where suburban voters dominate. Can the GOP hold Rep. Tom Davis's seat? We talk to candidates Gerry Connolly (D), Leslie Byrne (D) and Keith Fimian (R) about their prospects for winning.

-- And the Republican Party is really suffering. It goes beyond the brand, some say, to the very message the party is using. We talk to Ramesh Ponnuru, Rep. Thad McCotter and South Carolina Republican chairman Katon Dawson about the direction Republicans have to head to regain their majority.

All that and a few surprises, we're sure, Saturday morning on Politics Nation, only on XM Radio's POTUS '08. Listen live, Saturday from 10 a.m. to noon Eastern and again at 6:00 p.m. Eastern.

Is OH 07 A Race?

In three special elections this year, Democrats have knocked off Republicans in districts that voted overwhelmingly for President Bush. Could those be just the tip of the ice berg? Democrats hope so, and a new poll conducted for a political neophyte shows the party might just have a chance at bagging a sprawling Ohio district left open by the retirement of nine-term Rep. David Hobson.

The survey, conducted by the Democratic firm Cooper & Secrest on behalf of attorney Sharen Neuhardt, was taken 5/27-6/2 among 504 likely voters, for a margin of error of approximately +/- 4.2%. Neuhardt and State Senator Steve Austria were tested.

General Election Matchup
Austria............41
Neuhardt.........35

Generic Dem...46
Generic GOP...33

Republicans in the district, which encompasses the southern exurbs of Columbus and the city of Springfield, due west of the state capital, got lucky in recruiting Austria if the generic ballot situation is as bad for them as it looks. Austria is the State Senate Majority Whip, and he comes to the race with a solid electoral base.

But if the party truly has trouble keeping the seat in their hands -- Hobson never had a problem winning the seat, and President Bush won it by 14 points in 2004 -- the national landscape will get a lot worse for the party before it gets better.

Austria had a big cash advantage, but through the March 31 FEC filing deadline he had managed to spend $424,000 and retained just $51,000 in the bank. Neuhardt had raised $172,000 and kept $49,000 on hand.

Rossi Files For Office

Former State Senator Dino Rossi, who came just over 100 votes from winning the Washington State governor's mansion in 2004, officially filed papers with the Secretary of State yesterday to make a repeat bid, the Yakima Herald-Republic reports this morning. Rossi will face incumbent Governor Christine Gregoire in November.

Republicans have not won the state's top job since 1980, but Rossi, who led Gregoire on election night and through a machine recount before losing a hand recount, promises to give the Democrat a serious race. Through the end of April, Rossi had raised $4.4 million, about three quarters of the $6 million Gregoire has pulled in so far. Rossi made up serious financial ground during this year's legislative session, when Gregoire was not allowed to raise money.

Choosing to file papers from Yakima is important: Rossi will need a big turnout from Eastern Washington, where both Congressional districts are heavily Republican, to overcome Gregoire's expected large margins in more liberal parts of the state in and around Seattle. Gregoire will likely benefit from Democratic enclaves in cities along the I-5 corridor, which runs from Bellingham on the Canadian border to Vancouver, across the Columbia River from Portland.

The key to Rossi's close finish in 2004 was his strength in the Seattle suburbs. In the state Senate, he represented a district that ran from those eastern suburbs to the foothills of the Cascade Mountains. Rossi ran much better in King, Snohomish and Pierce Counties, the three largest in the state, than other Republicans have in recent years.

Both candidates are in for a tough fight, as public polls have shown a narrow contest (For recent poll results, check out our earlier coverage of the race). Gregoire and Rossi each hover in the low 40s. Both national parties plan to be involved in the race, as Republicans see it as one of their top pickup opportunities while Democrats have made the state, along with North Carolina, their highest defensive priority.

Gregoire will be in that other Washington next week for a series of fundraisers, when she will sit down with Politics Nation to talk about the race and her opportunities this year.

Roberts Ahead, At 50

While Republicans have been buffeted in recent weeks by polls showing even some of their supposedly safest incumbents in serious electoral trouble, at least a few are still hoping for easy races this year. Seeking his third term in the Senate, Kansas Republican Pat Roberts looks in good shape to score another six years in office, according to a new poll.

The poll, conducted by Research 2000 for DailyKos from 6/2-4, surveyed 600 likely Kansas voters for a margin of error of +/- 4%. Roberts and former Rep. Jim Slattery, the likely Democratic nominee, were tested among a sample that consisted of 33% Democrats, 45% Republicans and 22% independents and others.

General Election Matchup
(All / Dem / GOP / Ind / Men / Wom)
Roberts.....50 / 13 / 78 / 47 / 56 / 44
Slattery......38 / 74 / 10 / 42 / 34 / 42

Both candidates are seen largely favorably by Kansas voters. Robers enjoys a 56% favorable rating, while 40% see him unfavorably, and Slattery is viewed positively by 48%, while 37% have an unfavorable opinion -- in all, a surprising 85% who have an opinion of a candidate who had not sought election since 1994, when he lost a race for governor of Kansas.

Slattery's effort is decidedly uphill, even in what is expected to be a good Democratic year. 49% of respondents said they would vote to re-elect Roberts, while 24% said they would at least consider another candidate. Only 18% said they planned to vote to replace their incumbent. A member of Congress before coming to the Senate, Roberts won his initial election in 1996 with 62%, then cruised to re-election in 2002 with 83% of the vote.

Strategy Memo: Obama's The Boss

Good Friday morning. Note to campaigns interested in mega-rallies near Washington: It takes an hour to get out of the Nissan Pavilion parking lot. Find somewhere else. Here's what Washington is watching this morning:

-- The Senate is dealing with amendments to the Lieberman-Warner climate change bill when they meet early this morning, hoping to get out of town for the weekend. The House is already gone. President Bush holds a meeting on relief for victims of the recent earthquake in China, then swears in Steven Preston, the new Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Preston replaced Alphonso Jackson, who resigned under pressure. Dick Cheney is in Texas for a fundraiser benefiting former John Cornyn chief of staff Pete Olson, who is running against incumbent Rep. Nick Lampson, a Democrat, in November.

-- Just when you thought it was safe, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton met secretly last night in Washington, MSNBC and the Washington Post report today. The pair released a joint statement calling their talks "productive," though few would go into detail. The pair met at Senator Dianne Feinstein's home, and though everyone will speculate on Clinton's interest in a vice presidential slot, the meeting took place hours after Clinton disavowed all independent efforts to secure her a slot on the ticket. Clinton is still slotted to speak to supporters around midday tomorrow.

-- Obama has embedded a top aide at the Democratic National Committee, Lynn Sweet reports for the Sun-Times, and the big changes are already beginning. While DNC chief Howard Dean welcomed Obama loyalist Paul Tewes to the 400 South Capitol Street building yesterday, Tewes brought with him a strict no-PAC money policy; national Democrats' main arm will no longer accept lobbyist money, either, the Boston Globe writes. (Note to Democrats: Good p.r. move in the short run, but Republicans are already pitching stories to reporters questioning why down-ballot Democrats aren't similarly barring those contributions. The DCCC was the first to rule out a similar pledge, The Crypt's Ryan Grim reports. Brace for some bad stories here and there)

-- Meanwhile, Obama is getting hammered on every misstatement he makes, thanks to the watchful hawks in the Republican National Committee's press and research offices, and Marc Ambinder knows why: When the inevitable "senior moment" comes for GOP nominee John McCain, which it has several times for Obama, it will soften the blow and reduce interpretation of the flub as anything more than a mere mistake.

-- McCain, stumping again in Florida yesterday, has already identified one group of swing voters he can woo before November. The campaign's target: Clinton voters uninterested in Obama's message, as the Post's Michael Shear and Jon Cohen report. The keys for McCain will be projecting his maverick image as well as Obama's continued failure to win over white working class voters. Still, Shear and Cohen point out, a huge percentage of Democratic and Republican voters have cast ballots for their party in recent years, bringing the possibility of a seriously split Democratic Party somewhat into question.

-- What's not in question is that Obama might have a serious problem with Latino voters, who backed Clinton over the Illinois senator by a wide margin. Right? Well, maybe not so much. Gallup's daily tracking polls from May showed Obama beating McCain among Latinos by a wide 62%-29% margin, the Los Angeles Times points out. That's bigger than the margin by which Latinos favored John Kerry over President Bush (53%-44%). Suddenly, while some concluded that heavily-Hispanic states like Nevada, New Mexico and Florida were out of reach for the Democratic Party, that conclusion is being reexamined as well.

-- Hero/Goat Of The Day: It depends on which party one supports, but Joe Lieberman is coming to prominence once again as either a hero for bucking partisanship and backing McCain, or a goat for abandoning his own party and expecting to keep his seniority, as the Post writes today. Lieberman, who is said to be open to addressing the Republican National Convention in St. Paul, got a stern talking-to from both Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Obama, who cornered him on the Senate floor this week, for taking his former party's nominee to task over issues surrounding Iran and Israel. Earlier this week, Lieberman even hosted a fundraiser for McCain in Washington, which attracted pledges of $2 million.

-- Today On The Trail: Barack Obama flew back to Chicago last night, albeit a little behind his traveling press corps in order to attend the meeting with Clinton, and he's got no public schedule for the entire weekend. Clinton is in Washington with no public events of her own, though she will hold a goodbye reception for staff at her home. McCain is still in Florida, where he will tour the Everglades by air boat, then hold a media availability at Everglades Safari Park in Miami.

NY Delegation Backs Obama

WASHINGTON -- Nineteen members of the Empire State Congressional delegation today said they supported Hillary Clinton's decision to end her bid for the presidency on Saturday and back Barack Obama. "We are here to applaud her efforts and what she's about to do," Rep. Charlie Rangel, the dean of the delegation, told reporters from the steps of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

Clinton will hold what is being billed as a celebration of her campaign for supporters in Washington on Saturday. While none of the members said they would be at Clinton's rally, citing busy political and congressional schedules that will prevent them from being in the city, the group, said Rangel, promised to start "working hard for unity."

Asked about their favorite daughter's immediate future, Rangel voiced hope that she won't be on the sidelines through November. "I think she'd make a fantastic partner. I should not even have said that," he said, adding: "We're so proud of [Clinton]."

Under the watchful eyes of the DCCC press shop and a scalding sun, the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee called Obama an "outstanding candidate."

Bush To Stump In NC

Despite record low job approval numbers -- the latest RCP Average has just 29.8% of Americans approving of his performance -- President Bush isn't staying completely on the sidelines. He will stump next month for Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory, the Republican gubernatorial nominee, the Charlotte Observer reports today.

McCrory is locked in a dead heat with Lieutenant Governor Bev Perdue. The most recent poll showed Perdue, the Democratic nominee to replace term-limited Governor Mike Easley, leading by a single point with both candidates in the low 40s.

Even fundraising with the president at a private home -- the event is scheduled to take place at a mansion in Raleigh in late July -- presents McCrory with challenges. Perdue could make an issue out of the association, though McCrory's consultant told the Observer he is confident that national issues won't play a role in November.

Bush has largely stuck to campaigning for fellow Republicans in heavily-GOP districts. He's fundraised for Kansas State Senator Nick Jordan, who is running against Rep. Dennis Moore and for state parties in South Carolina and other states. Last week, Bush appeared at fundraisers in Arizona and Utah on behalf of John McCain.

Romney Stumping In DC

Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, said to occupy a prominent place on whatever version of vice presidential short list John McCain has in his head, is keeping busy over a two-day stretch in Washington. While McCain is out of town, his one-time rival is certainly making his presence in Republican circles known.

Despite thunder and lightening, and more than a few tornado warnings, Romney attended a fundraiser held by the Susan B. Anthony List, which promotes pro-life Republicans, last night in Washington. Money from the event went to Rep. Steve Pearce, who on Tuesday claimed the GOP nomination to replace outgoing Senator Pete Domenici in New Mexico.

This morning Romney hit three morning shows -- on MSNBC, CNN and Fox News -- live from McCain's Arlington, Virginia headquarters.

Later, Romney will hold a media availability at a swank hotel just up the road from McCain Central, with former Governor Jim Gilmore, the GOP nominee for retiring Senator John Warner's seat, and businessman Keith Fimian, who is running for Tom Davis's Eleventh District. Romney is also slated to attend a fundraiser for Lieutenant Governor Bill Bolling, who will run for re-election in 2009.

Strategy Memo: No Rezervations

Good Thursday morning. If you live in Washington and did not have your house crushed by a tree in yesterday's storms, you're luckier than one McCain staffer. Here's what the rest of the city is watching today:

-- The Senate is working around a feud over judicial and other nominations that may have stalled the Lieberman-Warner climate change bill for the year, though the upper chamber did manage to adopt the budget resolution yesterday. The House is also in session for a final day this week. President Bush and congressional leaders will deliver remarks at the groundbreaking ceremony of the U.S. Institute of Peace today on the mall. Later, Bush will meet last year's Major League Soccer champion Houston Dynamo and will sit down with Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende.

-- Yesterday, we knew for certain the November election will be between Barack Obama and John McCain. Today, we know Hillary Clinton will be out of the race by Saturday. A statement from her office last night: "Senator Clinton will be hosting an event in Washington, DC to thank her supporters and express her support for Senator Obama and party unity. This event will be held on Saturday to accommodate more of Senator Clinton's supporters who want to attend." At the event, per the New York Times, Clinton will officially suspend her campaign and call Obama the Democratic nominee, ending seventeen months of non-stop campaigning and a race that earned more delegates than any previous second-place candidate (Check out the must-read obit from the Washington Post).

-- Meanwhile, the two nominees have each promised to run a different kind of race, and signs indicate that they may actually be serious. Early yesterday, McCain's campaign urged Obama to join him at joint town halls above and beyond the three formally sanctioned debates a commission will put on beginning in late September. Late yesterday, after a conversation between McCain manager Rick Davis and Obama manager David Plouffe, the two campaigns agreed, in spirit, per a statement released by McCain communications director Jill Hazelbaker, to the notion (Jonathan Martin with the full statement). Those town halls have been good for Obama, and they're the reason McCain is the Republican nominee, so both candidates should be at their peak in formats that work well for them.

-- One format in which Obama far exceeds McCain: Fundraising. Through the end of April, Obama had raised approximately three times what his Republican opponent pulled in, as the Los Angeles Times writes today, and all indications are that Obama will skip public financing this Fall in order to spend to his heart's content. Look for this to be Obama's best fundraising month to date -- the amount to beat is $50 million, his February haul -- as supporters re-up their commitment and Clinton backers race to get on board. Obama's team, as if they needed more donors, has already begun seriously courting the major Clinton funders who have thus far been reluctant.

-- McCain isn't in terrible shape, though. For one thing, matching funds will give him an $84.1 million shot in the arm once he officially secures the Republican nomination in early September. That's not an insignificant amount of money, and McCain can count on additional support from the Republican National Committee, which has so far been the only Republican committee to outraise its Democratic counterpart. Through the RNC Victory Committee, McCain will have enough money to level the playing field. And until then, the McCain team is actually getting better at fundraising -- the Arizona Republican raised $20 million in May, the most he's pulled in so far, Bloomberg reports.

-- Contributors who attend McCain fundraisers are being asked to max out to the campaign, though in this sense that phrase should probably be changed to super-max. The checks they give include $2,300 for the campaign, $2,300 for legal and accounting costs, $28,500 for the Victory program at the RNC, and, if you're generous, $10,000 to one of four battleground state parties. Those states show where McCain is playing defense (Once-GOP territory in Colorado and New Mexico) and where he's on the offensive (The Democratic states of Wisconsin and Minnesota). Don't underestimate the importance of the Upper Midwest to McCain's campaign: If he steals states that have reliably voted Democratic for years -- Minnesota hasn't voted Republican since 1972 -- Obama can win Virginia by as wide a margin as he wants, but he simply won't be able to make up those electoral votes.

-- Yesterday, for all intents and purposes the first day of the general election, went to McCain, thanks simply to one man. Tony Rezko, the Chicago developer whose relationship to Obama has caused the Democrat serious heartburn already this year, was convicted of sixteen counts of corruption by a federal jury, the Chicago Tribune writes today. Washington Republicans crowed with delight and held whispered conversations with every reporter who would listen. "I'm saddened by today's verdict," Obama told the paper. "This isn't the Tony Rezko I knew, but now he has been convicted by a jury on multiple charges that once again shine a spotlight on the need for reform." The opposition party will make very sure that it's the Tony Rezko every voter in America knows.

-- Omen Of The Day: New polls from the Pew Research Center and National Public Radio show frightening news for the Republican Party, per this reporter at Politicker. According to Pew, voters between the ages of 18-29 now back Democrats by a huge 58%-33% margin, suggesting Republicans may have lost the next generation of voters. And according to Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg and Republican pollster Glen Bolger, surveying for NPR, it's not just the brand: More Americans back the Democratic arguments on trade, the economy, Iraq and taxes than the Republican arguments -- and they support the Democratic line even more when they don't know which party is pitching the idea. Could the GOP, regardless of McCain's fate this year, be headed back to a permanent minority?

-- Today On The Trail: Obama starts his day in Bristol, Virginia, on the Tennessee border, with a town hall meeting after holding two high-dollar fundraisers last night in New York City. Later, he flies up to the Washington suburbs (technically Bristow, Virginia, if that's not confusing enough) for an evening rally with Governor Tim Kaine, Senator Jim Webb and other special guests at the Nissan Pavillion, a 25,000-seat arena where Tom Petty will play on Sunday. McCain's only event of the day is a speech to newspaper editors and the Florida Press Association in Lake Buena Vista, Florida.

Boswell, McClintock Take Primaries

In two contested primary elections on Tuesday, both Democrats and Republicans got the stronger general election candidates in California and Iowa districts that have provided close vote totals in recent years. In Iowa, six-term Rep. Leonard Boswell won renomination, while in California, State Senator Tom McClintock bested two GOP rivals in the race to replace outgoing Rep. John Doolittle.

Iowa's Third District, centered around Des Moines, has proven increasingly competitive in recent cycles. After winning a narrow contest for an open seat in 1996 by a single point, Boswell faced tough Republican challengers in 2004 and 2006, winning last cycle by just six points.

This time, though, the challenge came from the left, as former State Rep. Ed Fallon, who placed third in the state's gubernatorial primary in 2006, urged Democratic voters to kick out the more centrist Boswell. Fallon, who endorsed Barack Obama in the state's January caucus, hoped to capitalize on the change message that gave the Illinois Senator a majority in the district. Boswell had backed Clinton in that race.

Boswell outraised and outspent his Democratic rival and ended up with a reasonably healthy 61%-39% win, and in time he turned Fallon's presidential endorsement argument around: Boswell made an issue of Fallon's 2000 endorsement of Ralph Nader over Al Gore, as the Des Moines Register reports today.

Boswell now heads to the general election against former congressional staffer and administrative law judge Kim Schmett. The Democrat has faced tougher competition in the past, and this year he looks like a safe bet for re-election.

In California's Fourth District, McClintock scored a 53%-39% victory over former Rep. Doug Ose, who spent nearly $3 million of his own money on the primary. McClintock, though, has become a conservative icon in California after narrowly losing the Lieutenant Governor's race in 2006. A third candidate won 2% of the vote.

McClintock will run against 2006 nominee Charlie Brown, a Democrat who came within three points of ousting the ethically troubled Doolittle that year. While Democrats were confident about their chances against the incumbent, running against McClintock will prove more troublesome. A recent poll for Brown showed him leading McClintock by two points, but both candidates scored only in the low 40s.

With a new nominee whose house has not been raided by federal agents, as Doolittle's was in 2007, Republicans have a much stronger chance of retaining what is ordinarily a heavily Republican seat. President Bush won the district, which encompasses the Sacramento suburbs, by wide margins in both his elections.

Two AL GOP Races Headed For Runoff

The Republican nominees in two open Alabama congressional seats will not be known for six weeks after no candidate was able to win 50% of the vote in the primaries yesterday. The top two finishers in both districts will now face each other in a July 15 primary-runoff.

The Second District has been in Republican hands since 1964, and Rep. Terry Everett has held the seat since defeating the son of former Gov. George Wallace in 1992. State Rep. Jay Love and state Sen. Harri Anne Smith led a six-candidate field -- Love won 35% and Smith finished second with 22%. The runoff winner will take on Montgomery Mayor Bobby Bright, a highly-touted recruit by the DCCC, in the general election.

Love and Smith come from opposite ends of this heavily-Republican, G-shaped district, which covers most of the southeast corner of the state. Love is from the capital city of Montgomery and Smith comes from Slocomb, close to the Florida border. Most of Montgomery County, which cuts into the northern section of the district, falls inside the Third District, but the majority of Montgomery city resides in the Second District. Pres. Bush won 67% of the vote here in 2004, and Terry Everett never won re-election with less than 63%.

In the northern Fifth District, insurance executive Wayne Parker fell just short of securing the nomination outright, winning 49%-18% against attorney Cheryl Baswell Guthrie in a six-candidate field. The winner of the runoff between the two candidates will face Democratic State Sen. Parker Griffith, who hails from the district's population center in Huntsville. Griffith easily won the democratic primary, winning 90% of the vote against David Maker, an optical physicist.

This district has never sent a Republican to Congress, despite its recent trend of voting for Republican presidential candidates. Democratic Rep. Bud Cramer, a Blue Dog, has represented the district since 1990 and won his last five re-elections with at least 70% of the vote. He was unopposed in 2006.

--Kyle Trygstad

In NJ, Geography Matters

Despite polls showing a large portion of New Jersey voters concerned with Senator Frank Lautenberg's age, the 84-year old Democrat defeated Rep. Rob Andrews by a larger than expected margin, taking 59% to Andrews' 35% in the Garden State primary last night. Donald Cresitello, the mayor of Morristown, finished a distant third with 6%.

Andrews, who only jumped in the race in early April, ran advertisements in the state's two hugely expensive media markets, Philadelphia and New York City, pointing out that Lautenberg would be 91 years old after finishing out his fourth term (Actually an error on Andrews' part; Lautenberg won't turn 91 until about three weeks after his term expires).

But age mattered less than geography in New Jersey last night. Lautenberg ran up big totals in the state's northern counties, including a more than four-to-one victory in Bergen County and similar margins in Middlesex, Essex and Hudson Counties, all heavily Democratic areas in the northeast part of the state. Andrews managed impressive wins in his home base in Camden and Gloucester Counties, which he represents in Congress, but the level of Lautenberg's wins up north carried the day.

On the Republican side, former Rep. Dick Zimmer beat two other Republicans with 46% of the vote, a margin narrower than his state party would have liked. Zimmer joined the race late, after several other promising contenders dropped out. He beat conservative State Senator Joe Pennacchio, who clocked 40%, and college professor Murray Sabrin, for whom Ron Paul campaigned earlier this year, who took 14%.

Zimmer lost a bid for this same Senate seat twelve years ago, when Democrat Robert Torricelli beat him by ten points. This year Zimmer will remain the underdog, but should more general election voters see Lautenberg's age as a negative than the Democratic electorate did, Republicans may have yet another reason to hope for a good result in the state. Those hopes, though, have been dashed repeatedly in recent years.

Like New Mexico, New Jersey also has three open seats this year, but with a giant asterisk. Andrews, who vacated his First District to run for Senate, could very well end up back in the House next year. That's because Andrews' wife, Camille, won the primary to replace her husband, though she is largely seen as a placeholder candidate who will be substituted out for the incumbent before November.

East of Andrews' Camden-based district, Republican Rep. Jim Saxton is retiring after twelve terms in Congress. The Third District stretches from the Philadelphia suburbs to the Atlantic Ocean, and Democrats think they have a good case for winning a seat that voted for Al Gore by eleven points but that favored President Bush by 8,000 votes out of more than 220,000 cast in 2004.

Democrats cleared the field for State Senator John Adler, who in 1990 lost to Saxton by a wide margin. This year, though, Adler is seen as one of the party's top recruits, and he had already raised a jaw-dropping $1.4 million through the May 14 pre-primary filing deadline. Adler maintains $1.1 million on hand.

In November, he will face Medford Township Councilman Chris Myers, the Republican anointed by Saxton as his successor. A Gulf War veteran and former Lockheed Martin vice president, Myers took 49% of the vote, compared with 26% for Ocean County Freeholder Jack Kelly and 25% for former Tabernacle Township committeeman Justin Murphy. Republicans are happy with Myers because of his defense background in a district that has several military bases and relies heavily on the defense industry (Saxton retires as the second-ranking Republican on the House Armed Services Committee).

The state's other open seat presents another Democratic target, though it may be a steeper hill for the party to climb. In 2006, state Assemblywoman Linda Stender came a surprisingly close 3,000 votes away from beating Republican Michael Ferguson in the Seventh District, which snakes from the Pennsylvania border to the Newark suburbs. The district gave President Bush a six-point win in 2004 and a one-point victory in 2000, but national Democrats have made Stender's second attempt at the seat a top priority.

Replacing Ferguson, whose retirement was not completely expected, on the GOP ballot will be State Senate Minority Leader Leonard Lance. Lance scored 40% of the vote last night, doubling the total for his next-closest competitor, businesswoman Kate Whitman, the daughter of former Governor Christie Todd Whitman. Lance has some financial catching up to do, after raising $382,000 before the primary and spending all but $191,000 through the May 14 pre-primary window. Stender has a huge cash advantage, with $913,000 in the bank.

Despite both Republican nominees' financial shortfall, the National Republican Congressional Committee maintains that both will have good chances in November given the state of the Democratic Party in New Jersey. "Republicans nominated two incredibly strong candidates on primary night while Democrats have cast their lot in with two machine politicians who have contributed heavily to the dysfunction in Trenton and served as enablers for the vastly unpopular Democratic Governor Jon Corzine," NRCC spokesman Ken Spain said. The DCCC did not return a request for comment by press time.

Pearce-Udall Match Set

With all but two precincts reporting, Republican Rep. Steve Pearce narrowly edged out fellow Rep. Heather Wilson to clinch the nomination to replace retiring Senator Pete Domenici in New Mexico last night. Pearce will face the state's third member of Congress, Democratic Rep. Tom Udall, in November, after Udall ran unopposed for his party's nomination.

Pearce overcame Wilson's margins in Bernalillo County, the state's population center which she has represented for ten years and which she won by a two-to-one margin. Those votes consisted of a little more than half the nearly 54,000 votes Wilson earned. Pearce earned larger margins in counties in the southern part of the state, which he has represented for three terms in Congress, including a 71%-29% win in Dona Ana County, the state's second largest, home of Las Cruces.

The contest between Pearce and Udall, who represents the state's northern Third District, will pit two clearly competing philosophies against one another. Pearce ran to Wilson's right in the primary, and his conservative voting record in the House will mark a clear distinction with Udall, who has maintained a largely liberal voting record during his five terms in office. Public polls have showed Udall leading Pearce by twenty points or more, a similar lead to the one he boasted over Wilson.

Both candidates come with strong home bases, and the contest will be fought over Wilson's Albuquerque base. That district has become the prototypical swing district of late, narrowly voting for Al Gore, who took the state's electoral votes in 2000 by just more than 360 votes, and John Kerry, who lost the state by a mere 6,000 votes in 2004.

Rarely do three congressional seats come open in the same state in the same year, and never has a state with just three seats to begin with experienced such turnover. Running to replace Wilson, both parties got their best possible candidates. Republican Darren White, the Bernalillo County sheriff, easily beat a more conservative state senator, while New Mexico City Councilman Martin Heinrich scored 43% of the vote to beat two Hispanic-surnamed candidates on the Democratic side.

White has long been touted as one of the best candidates Republicans have fielded this year, while Heinrich has shown an impressive ability to raise big money. Both have a base in the district, though Heinrich's is much more localized around his city council district. White has been elected twice in the county that makes up more than 90% of the district. Both parties have signaled a willingness to play strongly in Albuquerque, and it promises to be one of the closest races in the country.

"Darren White would continue where George Bush leaves off, promoting a Republican agenda that has failed our middle class and our troops in Iraq," said Yoni Cohen, spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

In Pearce's Second District, former Lea County Commissioner Harry Teague narrowly ousted Dona Ana County Commissioner Bill McCamley by a 52%-48% margin to win the Democratic primary. McCamley won big in his home county, the district's population base, but Teague, whose home in Hobbs hugs the Texas border, cobbled together wins in fifteen of the district's eighteen counties.

On the Republican side, restaurateur Ed Tinsley won 31% of the vote in a crowded five-way primary for the win. Tinsley's closest competitors, Hobbs Mayor Monty Newman and retired banker Aubrey Dunn, won 21% and 20%, respectively. Newman won half the votes in his home county, but Tinsley managed to win more raw votes from Dona Ana County, potentially presaging a problem for Democrat Teague in the general.

The Second District gave President Bush a seventeen-point margin in 2004, a six-point improvement from his 2000 performance there. Tinsley, who lost to Pearce in the 2002 primary, should be the favorite, but national Democrats have suggested they will play in the district.

"Santa Fe's own Ed Tinsley is out of touch with voters in Southern New Mexico," Cohen said. "As a moderate businessman who helped create thousands of jobs, Harry Teague fits the district."

National Republican Congressional Committee spokesman Ken Spain, though, said Democratic efforts would be futile. "Thanks to the high quality of our newly minted nominees, Republicans are positioned to retain both competitive open seats in New Mexico," he said, praising White's law enforcement background and Tinsley's business credentials while slamming Heinrich ("lack[s] any real world experience aside from being a part-time camp counselor") and Teague (who "limp[ed] out of the primary" after being considered the front-runner).

Udall's Third District is likely to stay in Democratic hands. State Public Regulation Commission Chair Ben Lujan, the son of the state House Speaker, won a surprisingly large victory, garnering 42% of the vote. Real estate developer Don Wiviott, who spent a boatload of his own money, came in second with 25%. On the Republican side, real estate developer Dan East beat attorney Marco Gonzales 53%-47%.

The northern part of the state is to Democrats what the southern portion is to Republicans. Gore and Kerry each won the district by nine points, and Udall has never had a problem keeping the seat.

Hagan Internal: Dole Up 4

A new survey conducted for North Carolina State Senator Kay Hagan seems to confirm what is becoming a growing consensus in Washington: First-term incumbent Elizabeth Dole, despite sky-high name recognition and reasonably high favorable ratings, will face a difficult run for re-election this year, though she remains the favorite.

The poll, conducted by Anzalone Liszt Research, surveyed 800 likely voters from 5/14-21, beginning a week after Hagan won the Democratic primary, for a margin of error of +/- 3.5%. Dole and Hagan were tested.

General Election Matchup
Dole............48
Hagan.........44

Most polls aren't conducted over a span of eight days, but then again, most internal polls don't include 800 likely voters, either. And lest either campaign complain, John Anzalone and Jeff Liszt have earned their chops this year, having polled for winning Democratic candidates in special elections in Mississippi and Louisiana. How close are they on this poll? It would fit near the most recent survey to come out of the state and nails the latest RCP North Carolina Senate Average, which shows Dole leading by exactly four points.

In a polling memo sent to the campaign, snippets of which Hagan's camp will release this morning, Anzalone and Liszt call Dole's support soft and wonder whether the Republican has any place to grow. "There are few voters who don't already know [Dole], making it difficult for her to expand her support," the pollsters write.

Dole has yet to release her internal figures, but the senator's campaign released an advertisement last week focusing on her efforts to craft immigration reform legislation and her work with sheriffs from around the state. That advertisement, some North Carolina political watchers say, is less about Dole's efforts on immigration than about Dole's presence throughout the Tar Heel State.

Strategy Memo: Framing November

Good Wednesday morning is over. It only took five months of electoral contests to get a presumptive Democratic nominee, and just seventeen months from when the race actually began to narrow the field to two. No time at all, right? Here's what Washington is watching today, aside from airfare to tropical destinations:

-- The House takes up measures supporting the use of nanotechnologies, a bill to make high schools greener and othermeasures that are expected to be less controversial today, including one measure to allow the Greater Washington Soap Box Derby to use the Capitol grounds (Pardon the editorializing: Awesome.). The Senate will vote on the budget resolution today before voting on further amendments to the climate change bill. President Bush meets Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert at the White House today before hosting a picnic for members of Congress on the South Lawn.

-- For the first time in American history, someone who is not white captured a major party nomination, and last night Barack Obama didn't make it close. After picking up enough super delegates to put him within four of the magic number before the first polls closed, Obama won enough support in South Dakota, where he lost to Hillary Clinton by a 56%-44% margin, and in Montana, where he won 57%-40%, to declare victory. Of course, the 26.5 super delegates who endorsed immediately after polls closed helped as well. As of this morning, Obama has support from 2,165 delegates, per the latest RCP Democratic Delegate Count, north of the 2,118 he needed to clinch the nomination.

-- In two of their better speeches of the primary season, Obama and John McCain acknowledged and offered praise for each other as a worthy general election opponent. Both speeches laid out, in stark terms, the way each campaign sees the race. For Obama, the march toward November will be about the economy and defense, both of country and of himself. For McCain, the path to a win comes from convincing Americans that he is the right candidate to handle the war in Iraq and America's safety as a whole. For both, the enduring mantra will be change, and trustworthy change at that.

-- Obama begins his run with a clear mission: Make John McCain equal President Bush. "While John McCain can legitimately tout moments of independence from his party in the past, such independence has not been the hallmark of his presidential campaign. It's not change when John McCain decided to stand with George Bush ninety-five percent of the time, as he did in the Senate last year," Obama said last night. That battle started months ago, and it's a drum the Democratic National Committee beats every day. If Obama can be successful, it will mean taking one of the best-known politicians in America and completely turning his image on its head. It will be a difficult task, but the prospect of turning a popular McCain into the equivalent of a guy with 28% approval ratings is the easiest path to take.

-- Obama also spent time framing his opponent as a partisan attacker, and painting himself as the attacked, but respectful, foe. "I honor [McCain's] service, and I respect his many accomplishments, even if he chooses to deny mine. My differences with him are not personal; they are with the policies he has proposed in this campaign," Obama said. And, later: "The other side will come here in September and offer a very different set of policies and positions, and that is a debate I look forward to. It is a debate the American people deserve. But what you don't deserve is another election that's governed by fear, and innuendo, and division. What you won't hear from this campaign or this party is the kind of politics that uses religion as a wedge, and patriotism as a bludgeon -- that sees our opponents not as competitors to challenge, but enemies to demonize." Stirring words, and a platform from which Obama can claim virtually any moral high ground. In a race between two self-proclaimed champions of ethics reform, the high ground is crucial.

-- McCain, on the other hand, is borrowing lines straight out of Obama's playbook and framing them as his own. "This is, indeed, a change election. No matter who wins this election, the direction of this country is going to change dramatically. But, the choice is between the right change and the wrong change; between going forward and going backward," he said last night, claiming the mantle of right change and American optimism. "America has seen tough times before. We've always known how to get through them. And we've always believed our best days are ahead of us. I believe that still. But we must rise to the occasion, as we always have; change what must be changed; and make the future better than the past." It's a tough argument for a septuagenarian to make, that he represents change, but really, does McCain have any other choice?

-- McCain employed a sort of reverse-Karl Rove method. Rove's goal was to turn an opponent's strength into a weakness. McCain, last night, sought to turn the issue of his age into a strength. There are benefits and pitfalls awaiting him as he does so: The "experience versus change" message didn't work in a primary for Hillary Clinton, but the electorate in the general is fundamentally different, and so, by the way, is the candidate who claims experience (McCain manager Rick Davis' response when Politics Nation pointed that out to him: "John McCain is not Hillary Clinton").

-- "I have a few years on my opponent, so I am surprised that a young man has bought in to so many failed ideas. Like others before him, he seems to think government is the answer to every problem; that government should take our resources and make our decisions for us. That type of change doesn't trust Americans to know what is right or what is in their own best interests," McCain said in his speech last night. His constant mantra, one that sounds surprisingly like a certain former Massachusetts Governor and will certainly work its way into every talking point from now until November: "That's not change we can believe in."

-- Granted, there is another candidate in the race, at least as of this moment. Clinton, who said yesterday she would consider a position as Obama's running mate, spoke with the presumptive nominee just after midnight last night, and she's long said she will do what it takes to get him elected in November. While advisers agree the nomination fight is all but finished, Clinton still wants to sit down with Obama, and though no meeting has reportedly been scheduled, both candidates will be in Washington today. Her role going forward, Adam Nagourney writes, is the only thing left to figure out. Oh, and another reason she won't drop out today: It's her mother's birthday, and Mrs. Rodham certainly doesn't want that for an 89th birthday gift.

-- Sign Of The Day: Florida Governor Charlie Crist is certainly expanding his appeal. Anyone who flipped on the middle of the Florida Marlins-Atlanta Braves game last night would have caught a glimpse of the tanned, ready and rested pol chatting with announcers in the box, along with Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue. The kicker: Crist and Perdue were in the Braves' box. Sure, there are a lot of Braves fans in Jacksonville, Florida, but when the announcers started ribbing Crist about a slot on the GOP ticket, the truth came out. Watch for Clinton to show up in announcers' booths forthwith.

-- Today On The Trail: Barack Obama is speaking to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee at press time, a speech that continues Obama's concerted effort to appeal to Jewish voters, a constituency he will need come November. Later this morning, Obama will speak to the annual SEIU conference in San Juan, Puerto Rico, by satellite. John McCain is still in Baton Rouge, where he will hold a town hall meeting and media availability in Baton Rouge before attending a luncheon fundraiser with incumbent Governor Bobby Jindal (Veep alert!) and former Governor Buddy Roemer.

More Dismal News For GOP

Republicans appear headed for another year of substantial House seat losses, if the latest survey by Democracy Corps/Greenberg Quinlan Rosner stands true. In the congressional districts that DC/GQR determined to be the 45 most competitive [pdf] Republican-controlled districts, Democratic challengers lead 50 percent to 43 percent overall.

In a similar survey taken in the same districts four months ago (other than five "hard-to-reach" districts that were added for this survey), Democrats trailed by 1 point. The current 7-point lead shows a landscape sliding in Democrats' favor.

DC/GQR polled 1,600 registered voters in 45 districts from May 19-26. Bush won these 45 districts by 12 points in 2004, and Republicans won the House races by the same margin in 2006.

Prior to polling, DC/GQR separated the 45 districts into two tiers, based on the district's likelihood to flip to Democrats. In the top tier, consisting largely of open seats, the margin for Democrats widens to 9 points, with a 51 percent to 42 percent lead. In second tier races, considered more difficult for Democrats to win, the GOP still trails by 3 points, 48 percent to 45 percent.

The poll also broke the districts down by geography, with Democrats performing best in suburban districts, leading 55 percent to 40 percent. Republicans perform best in rural/small town districts, leading 51 percent to 43 percent.

One problem for Republican candidates and incumbents appears to be voters' feelings about Pres. Bush, whose job approval rating in these GOP districts is at 33 percent.

"You have to keep reminding yourself that you're looking at Republican districts; this is not a national poll," said GQR pollster Stan Greenberg. "The fact that Bush's approval rating is only 33 percent in these districts gives you a sense what these Republican incumbents and Republicans running across the country are likely to face."

Job approval for Republican incumbents, who the pollsters referred to by name based on what district they were polling, was at 38 percent. On specific issues, Democrats faired 17 points better than Republicans on handling the economy and 11 points better on the war in Iraq. On handling illegal immigration, Republicans led by 3 points.

When asked for whom they would vote for president in November, Barack Obama and John McCain tied, with both receiving 47 percent.

--Kyle Trygstad

You're Ahead, Charlie Brown

As former Rep. Doug Ose and State Senator Tom McClintock battle it out for the Republican nomination to succeed retiring Rep. John Doolittle today, a new survey for their soon-to-be Democratic rival shows what is likely to be a second difficult race for anyone campaigning in the suburban Sacramento district.

The poll, conducted by Benenson Strategy Group for former Air Force pilot Charlie Brown's campaign, was taken 5/14-15 and surveyed 400 likely general election voters for a margin of error of +/- 5%. Brown, Ose and McClintock were tested.

General Election Matchup
(All / Dem / GOP / Ind)
Brown.............38 / 62 / 19 / 48
Ose.................34 / 12 / 51 / 28

Brown.............42 / 65 / 22 / 53
McClintock.......40 / 13 / 61 / 32

Generic Dem...43 / 78 / 17 / 50
Generic GOP...43 / 7 / 70 / 34

That Brown leads both is cause for Democratic celebration, but his slim overall advantages, especially given his big boosts among independent voters, exhibit the Republican nature of the seat. Even under an ethical cloud, Doolittle won his final term in 2006 by a small but decisive margin. Brown will need a lot of help and continued Republican stumbles to pull off a win in November.

Brown is viewed well by the district's electorate; 36% view him favorably while 18% see him unfavorably. McClintock is more popular, though his negatives are higher as well, at 39% to 29%. Ose, who represented a neighboring district and who has been hammered by the Club for Growth, which backs his GOP rival, s seen favorably by just 27% while 28% view him unfavorably.

Halvorson Up In IL

In a race that has seen more bizarre twists and turns than most others this year, Democrats look well positioned to pick up a sprawling suburban and exurban Illinois seat this November. A new poll conducted for State Senator Debbie Halvorson shows the Democrat leading her Republican rival, businessman Martin Ozinga, by a significant margin in the race to replace retiring Republican Rep. Jerry Weller.

The survey, conducted by Anzalone Liszt Research (the firm that polled for victorious Democratic candidates in Louisiana and Mississippi earlier this year), tested Halvorson, Ozinga and Green Party candidate Jason Wallace among 500 likely voters between 5/18-22 for a margin of error of +/- 4.4%.

General Election Matchup
Halvorson......43
Ozinga...........32
Wallace............6

Halvorson remains below 50%, but there are impressive signs within the poll. A generic Democrat leads a generic Republican by a 33%-19% margin among the remaining undecided voters, and the Democrats in Congress gets a more favorable rating than their GOP rivals -- 49% see Democrats in Congress favorably, compared with 42% who view them unfavorably, while 40% say they view GOP members favorably and 50% who see them unfavorably.

Ozinga isn't down for the count yet. The owner of a concrete business, Ozinga was tapped by district Republicans to replace the party's nominee who bowed out for financial reasons and seemed largely uninterested in running for Congress. While Halvorson got a strong fundraising head start, with $673,000 in the bank through March, Ozinga's fundraising got off to a similarly muscular beginning and he will be able to donate to his own cause.

The Republican has a long way to go in a district that expands from the southern Chicago suburbs and Joliet, east and south in the shape of a T. But while Halvorson's lead is formidable at the moment, Ozinga at least gives the GOP a decent shot at keeping an increasingly Democratic seat in their possession.

Walz Leads Big

Freshman Democratic Rep. Tim Walz was not supposed to be in Congress. The former teacher was one of Democrats' big surprises in 2006, ousting Republican Rep. Gil Gutknecht by six points in a district that encompasses the southern border of Minnesota. Now, though, Walz looks like a safe bet for an easy re-election, according to a new poll conducted for his campaign.

The poll, taken 5/17-19 by the Democratic firm Benenson Strategy Group, surveyed 502 likely voters for a margin of error of +/- 4%. Walz was tested alongside the two possible Republican nominees, Mayo Clinic physician Brian Davis and State Senator Dick Day.

General Election Matchup
Walz........57
Day..........22

Walz........60
Davis.......20

Making matters worse for the GOP, the two candidates seem headed for a primary clash that will further deplete their meager bank accounts. Davis, the lesser known of the two Republican candidates, won the district convention, earning the party's endorsement, but Day immediately decided to jump into a primary.

Walz had already raised $1.6 million through the end of the First Quarter, $300,000 more than he raised during the 2006 election cycle. Day and Davis had each raised around $225,000 through the period, and both retained less than $75,000 in the bank, compared with over $1 million for Walz.

Though he's on the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee's Frontline program for vulnerable incumbents, Walz looks to have an easier chance at a second term than other potentially vulnerable Democrats. In fact, several freshmen Frontline members seem to have little competition thus far, including Ohio Rep. Zack Space, North Carolina Rep. Heath Shuler, New Hampshire Rep. Paul Hodes and Indiana Rep. Brad Ellsworth, among others.

Pearce Leads NM Poll

One of the most important races of the primary season is playing out today in New Mexico, as Reps. Steve Pearce and Heather Wilson battle for the GOP nomination to replace retiring Senator Pete Domenici. The race has gotten heated, with Domenici weighing in on Wilson's behalf and the Club for Growth backing Pearce, and a new poll shows the contest is neck and neck.

The poll, conducted by New Mexico-based Research & Polling Inc. for the Albuquerque Journal, surveyed 591 likely Republican primary voters for a margin of error of +/- 4%. Pearce and Wilson were tested.

Primary Election Matchup
(All / NM1 / NM2 / NM3)
Pearce...45 / 27 / 64 / 46
Wilson....39 / 57 / 23 / 37

Wilson's wide lead in her Albuquerque-based First District is offset by Pearce's head start in his southern, and more Republican, Second District. The northern Third District is the most heavily Democratic in the state, but 45% of voters there still cast ballots for President Bush in 2004.

Wilson has always been seen as a strong campaigner and a skilled closer, but, being the more moderate of the two, she faced a steep climb, even as Domenici's chosen successor.

The winner of the Republican primary will begin the general election campaign as an underdog to the Democratic nominee, Rep. Tom Udall. Without a serious primary challenger, Udall has been able to stockpile money, and having been elected statewide twice and built his name recognition, every public poll so far has shown him running far ahead of his GOP rivals. For more background on the race, see our preview of the Land of Enchantment's primaries today.

Strategy Memo: Speed Of Sound

It's Tuesday morning, June 3, 149 days since Iowa voters made the cold trek to their caucus sites. Now, exactly five months later, the last two sets of voters head to the polls. Here's what a campaign-weary Washington is watching today:

-- The Senate continues work on the Lieberman-Warner climate change bill this morning, and will adjourn briefly this afternoon for this year's official Senate photograph. Sadly, the chamber's two most senior members will not be in the photo; Ted Kennedy is recuperating from successful brain surgery yesterday, and Robert Byrd is in the hospital dealing with a high fever. On the other sie of the Capitol, the House returns from recess to take up bills on public lands, the Government Accountability Office, the protection of data at federal agencies and the amount of food the federal government donates, an amount which has dropped sharply as prices have risen. President Bush meets with the NCAA champion Kansas Jayhawks, while Condoleezza Rice meets with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in what could be his final trip to the states.

-- It ain't over 'til the Montanans and South Dakotans get their vote. The final two of sixty-one contests will happen today, and when polls close at 9 p.m. Eastern in South Dakota and 10 p.m. Eastern in Montana, the final 31 pledged delegates of the contest will be awarded. All three candidates have speeches planned for this evening, and the tones they take will be determined by whether Obama can pick up enough super delegates before polls close to actually claim victory. By his campaign's count, Obama is just 38.5 delegates short of a majority. If he can pick up twenty or so super delegates by the time polls close tonight, along with half the South Dakota and Montana pledged delegates, he can declare victory at an evening rally at the Xcel Center in Minneapolis.

-- Obama is making a concerted effort to get those super delegates on board, and quickly, as the New York Times' Adam Nagourney and others report this morning. House Majority Whip James Clyburn, who has long maintained his neutrality, leaked word of his endorsement last night after telling reporters he would announce at 11 a.m. this morning, and his appearance on the Today Show is likely designed to push even more supers to make up their minds today, and the numbers are slowly rolling in. Another Michigan delegate and a Missouri State Representative who holds a super delegate vote have already announced by press time, and more are expected this morning.

-- Then again, nothing is assured. Clinton has spent most of her time stumping in South Dakota rather than Montana, and a new poll shows that may have paid off. There aren't enough surveys to establish an RCP Average for either state, but the two results that are available are about as contradictory as possible. In South Dakota, an old survey has Obama leading by 12, while a new American Research Group poll has Clinton up by a whopping 26. One has to imagine, though, with the New York Senator spending her evening in the Empire State, that the campaign's internals have it much closer than that, and might even expect Obama to win.

-- In Montana, a Mason-Dixon survey from mid-May showed Obama leading by 17 points, while an ARG poll out over the weekend has the Illinois Senator up just four points. Conventional wisdom suggests that South Dakota is the better state for Clinton, while Obama is likely to blow her out in Montana. If all we've assumed is wrong, and if Clinton takes a big win and a small loss, that might delay any hopes some Democrats have had for ending the race a little under three months before the convention.

-- Even if Obama reaches the magic number -- just click your heels together and repeat "2,118" three times and it'll all be over -- Clinton is unlikely to end her campaign tonight. She told friends as much over the weekend, Marc Ambinder reports, and her speech tonight, at which newly former staffers will gather with colleagues for a final official time, is going to be a celebration of the campaign that was, not the morbid concession speech that some might expect. Interestingly, though, both Clinton and Obama will be in Washington on Wednesday, making reporters jam into the Senate galleries yet again to witness the awkward encounter. Might there be another, more formal encounter in the works?

-- Hedge Of The Day: Looking to stem rumors of her impending exit, though, Clinton is putting on a brave face for supporters. Top adviser Harold Ickes told a conference call of top donors yesterday that Clinton has no plans to drop out and that the race will go on. State finance committees are making their feelings known as well. "The automatic delegates can change their mind up until their vote at the convention, and that is why this nominating process must be resolved in August, and no earlier," says a letter from the Illinois finance committee, per Ben Smith. Bravado or realism? No one will know until later this week, when Clinton will make her immediate and longer-term future known.

-- Today On The Trail: As most election days are, it's a slow one on the trail. South Dakota polls close at 9 p.m. Eastern, and Montana polls close an hour later. Clinton's one public event will be an evening rally at Baruch College in New York City, which will take place before results are in. Obama, too, will speak before polls close, rallying the troops at the Xcel Center in St. Paul, Minnesota. John McCain will offer a speech and attend a rally this evening in Kenner, Louisiana.

Lautenberg, Andrews Face Off

In perhaps the most closely-watched primary to be held tomorrow, Garden State Democrats will head to the polls to select a Senate nominee. What was supposed to be an easy re-election campaign for incumbent Senator Frank Lautenberg became a lot more competitive two months ago when Democratic Rep. Rob Andrews threw his hat into the ring.

Both candidates have raised millions in the run-up to election day; Lautenberg had pulled in nearly $5.7 million by May 14, the pre-primary filing deadline, while Andrews had just north of $3 million raised. Lautenberg has outspent Andrews and has a lot more cash on hand, but Andrews actually outraised the incumbent between April 1 and mid-May.

To take a look at Lautenberg's press releases, one would assume the incumbent is running far behind. Aside from endorsement announcements, the senator takes near-daily shots at his rival. One Lautenberg consultant told Politics Nation that the race will be within ten points, and the most recent public poll out of the state shows the incumbent with just 35% support, compared with Andrews' paltry 20%.

Andrews has made age an issue; at 84 years old, polls have showed New Jersey voters are paying attention to Lautenberg's age. At their only televised debate, asked to say something nice about Lautenberg, Andrews thanked the senator for serving in World War II. Two prominent newspapers, the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Newark Star-Ledger, have endorsed Andrews, citing age as only one reason for backing the 50-year old Andrews.

The winner of the Democratic primary will likely face former Rep. Dick Zimmer in the Fall. Zimmer, who lost a Senate bid to Bob Torricelli in 1996, was the last of several prominent Republicans the NRSC approached about running for the seat after one potential hopeful, Anne Evans Estabrook, bowed out for health reasons and another, Andrew Unanue, imploded as he launched his campaign. State Senator Joe Pennacchio and college professor Murray Sabrin are also running for the GOP nod.

But Zimmer, should he win tomorrow, will be an underdog heading into November. No Republican Senate candidate has won election in New Jersey since 1972, when Clifford Case won his last re-election bid. New Jersey voters are notoriously reluctant to answer pollsters' questions, virtually guaranteeing that the race will look close come October, but Lautenberg or Andrews will likely keep the seat in Democratic hands.

GOP Hopes Up In IA, CA

News hasn't been good for national Republicans this year, but primaries tomorrow offer some hope that 2008 will not be a complete loss. In California, the party shed a tainted incumbent member of Congress, giving two high-profile candidates a better chance in November, while in Iowa Democrats have a chance to boot a long-time incumbent in a swing district in favor of a much more liberal challenger.

Retirements are not always welcome, but in Rep. John Doolittle's case, the GOP breathed a sigh of relief when he announced he wouldn't run again. Doolittle is the target of an ongoing federal investigation surrounding his relationship with several lobbyists, including Jack Abramoff; his Virginia home was raided by the FBI last year, and had he run again he likely would have been the underdog against repeat candidate Charlie Brown. Doolittle won his suburban Sacramento district with 49%, beating Brown by just 9,000 votes.

Running to replace the embattled incumbent, former Rep. Doug Ose and State Senator Tom McClintock have gotten feisty, but both would give Republicans a strong shot at retaining the seat. Ose represented the neighboring district in Congress, while McClintock, something of a conservative icon in the state, represents a Senate district several hundred miles south of Sacramento. Brown is on top of the DCCC's target list, but without Doolittle as an opponent his chances are slim.

In Iowa, Democratic Rep. Leonard Boswell has faced several tough re-election battles, winning just 52% against a State Senator in 2006. Boswell's Des Moines-based district voted once for President Bush and once for John Kerry, though only a few hundred votes separated the winner and loser each time.

Still, once Barack Obama won the state in January, former State Rep. Ed Fallon, who ran as the most liberal candidate for governor in 2006, jumped in the race, arguing Boswell was too conservative for his Democratic electorate. Fallon, who finished third in the gubernatorial primary, would give Republicans a strong chance at picking up the seat in November.

But Fallon has raised and spent little money, and the only public poll shows Boswell with a huge lead before tomorrow's primary. If the incumbent keeps the Democratic nomination, his Republican opponent, former Congressional aide Kim Schmett, will be a serious underdog come November.

Two other races worth mentioning: In California's southern Fifty Second District, Iraq war veteran Duncan D. Hunter is running to replace his father, Duncan L. Hunter, in Congress. The younger Hunter's wife spent a significant time on the campaign trail in her husband's stead while he served in Iraq, and Hunter is likely to keep the seat in his family's possession. Santee City Councilman Brian Jones and San Diego County Board of Education President Bob Watkins are also running.

And in Iowa, while national Republicans had hinted that Democratic Senator Tom Harkin would be in trouble come November, the party failed to recruit any of its top-tier candidates, including Reps. Steve King and Tom Latham. Harkin has made a career out of beating GOP members of Congress, though this year he will face a far weaker opponent. Former State Rep. George Eichhorn and businessmen Steve Rathje and Chris Reed are running to face Harkin in the Fall.

If Rush Retires, Many Are Ready

Rep. Bobby Rush (D-IL) had a cancerous tumor removed some three months ago and has been seen little on Capitol Hill since. The possibility that the eight-term congressman could retire from his Chicago-based seat has a number of would-be candidates waiting cautiously in the wings, the Chicago Sun-Times' Laura Washington writes.

Barack Obama once coveted the Chicago seat, challenging and losing to Rush in the 2000 Democratic primary. The candidates that Sun-Times columnist Michael Sneed reported last month who were interested in the job include Seventh Ward Alderman Sandi Jackson (the wife of Second District Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr.), Sixth Ward Alderman Freddrenna Lyle and Carolyn Rush, Bobby's wife.

Washington writes in her column today that the list of potential candidates is much longer than that. It also includes: Fourth Ward Alderman Toni Preckwinkle, State Senator Kwame Raoul, State Senator James Meeks and State Senator Jacqueline Collins.

If Rush does decide not to return to Congress, there would not be a Democratic primary. Rather, the First District committee would gather and choose a candidate for the general election. Rush won the primary, held on February 5, by a wide margin.

As Washington writes, "The party insiders will cut a shady deal and pick their own hack. That person will win, be able to serve a full, two-year term and will be difficult to dislodge the next time around."

Still, after Sneed's column ran last month, Rush maintained he had no intention of retiring. "I am and I remain a candidate for re-election in the November general election and look forward to serving the people of my district," he said in a statement.

--Kyle Trygstad

Primary Season Begins

Sure, South Dakota and Montana mark the end of the presidential primary season, but for down ballot races the fun is just starting. Eleven states will hold their local and federal primaries this month, kicking off a summer swing through primary electorates that will determine how well both parties will do in November.

The primary season started on Super Tuesday in February, when Illinois voters headed to the polls to pick Congressional nominees. The process ends September 20, when Hawaii voters choose their nominees. To kick off the big sprint tomorrow, voters in Alabama, California, Iowa, Montana, New Jersey and South Dakota will head to the polls. In four of those states, hot contests are emerging. Throughout the day we'll preview the contests to watch tomorrow, starting with Alabama.

The race to replace retiring Reps. Bud Cramer and Terry Everett take precedence in Alabama. While the Democratic nominee in Cramer's northern district is likely to be State Senator Parker Griffith, Republicans will choose between Cheryl Baswell Guthrie, an attorney who has run unsuccessfully before; former State Rep. Don Mancuso; advertising executive Wayne Parker and Ray McKee, who is literally a rocket scientist. Baswell Guthrie and Parker are seen as the two front-runners in a district likely to go for John McCain yet which Cramer, a Democrat, held easily.

In Everett's southern Second District, Democrats have largely coalesced around Montgomery Mayor Bobby Bright, who, courted by both parties, sent an early signal about Democratic chances in the ruby red Deep South. Several Republicans are vying for the seat, including State Reps. David Grimes and Jay Love, State Senator Harri Anne Smith, dentist Craig Schmidtke and television station executive David Woods.

Love, Smith, Schmidtke and Woods have all contributed huge amounts to their own campaign, with Schmidtke leading the way at more than $500,000 spent. Love and Smith are seen as the two front-runners to face Bright in November, when they should have an advantage in a seat that is likely to vote heavily for John McCain. Still, if Barack Obama inspires a heavy African American turnout, Democrats have a good shot, and as a special election last month in Mississippi proved, the GOP brand isn't in much better shape down south than it is anywhere else in the country.

State Democrats are also likely to pick State Senator Vivian Figures to take on Republican incumbent Senator Jeff Sessions in November. Sessions has $4 million in the bank, compared with just $14,000 on hand for Figures, and some polls have suggested that the contest will be a blowout.

Strategy Memo: The More Things Change...

Good Monday morning. Senator Ted Kennedy will undergo surgery at Duke University this morning, followed by radiation treatment at a major Boston hospital, per a statement from his office. Allies on both sides of the aisle are rooting for him. Here's what else Washington is watching this morning:

-- The Senate is back in session this afternoon to take up a bill from Connecticut Independent Joe Lieberman and Virginia Republican John Warner on climate change. Despite his attention to the issue on the campaign trail, John McCain -- who spent the weekend in Washington, including an off-camera visit to Walter Reed Hospital -- won't be in the Senate to vote on the measure today. President Bush awards a medal of honor today before meeting with economic advisers, while Vice President Cheney presents a journalism award at the National Press Club.

-- Hillary Clinton scored a big win in last night's Puerto Rico primary, winning 68% to Barack Obama's 32% and a majority of the island's 55 delegates to the national convention. But per the latest delegate counts, Obama remains just 50 votes shy of an outright win. Clinton still has just over 200 delegates to go to reach the magic number of 2,118. Add up the number of delegates available in tomorrow's contests, in South Dakota and Montana, as well as the unallocated Puerto Rican delegates and supers yet to be chosen and Clinton would need to win approximately 85% of those remaining uncommitted to take the nomination. Obama, by contrast, needs just 20%.

-- But Clinton has relied on the popular vote argument in recent weeks, and she's up with a new advertisement in South Dakota and Montana touting the fact that no other candidate has ever gotten so many votes in a presidential contest. The latest RCP Popular Vote Count shows Clinton leading Obama by 303,000, when Michigan is taken into consideration, or by 65,000 when undeclared voters in the state are awarded to the Illinois senator. True, the popular vote doesn't count for much in a contest in which delegates matter, but it's the only argument Clinton has left, and it's compelling as well. If her campaign is serious about continuing, how long until the new advertisement hits national cable?

-- This weekend's Rules and Bylaws Committee meeting, full coverage of which you can find on Politics Nation, advanced Clinton's cause by leaps and bounds over the way the primaries have been going recently; it's not often that Clinton has been able to say she netted 24 delegates in a single day. But her two top backers on the panel, Harold Ickes and Tina Flournoy, remained apoplectic that Michigan delegates will not be seated in accordance with the results of the primary. The vote to reinstate Michigan and give Clinton a five-vote advantage, floated as a compromise, passed by a 19-8 margin, one vote more than the two-thirds required to carry. Ickes and Flournoy, two party power players, maintained their right to take the matter all the way to the convention's credentials committee.

-- Then again, the contest may not last much past tomorrow's final two primaries. The Clinton campaign will head to New York tomorrow night, though there will be fewer of them than there once were. Politico's Ben Smith and Amie Parnes report the campaign is getting rid of their remaining field staff, either an indication that the tent is about to fold or a recognition that, with the primaries over and the nomination slipping away, advance staff just aren't needed anymore and it's time to trim overhead. Clinton is weighing her options, the New York Times' Adam Nagourney writes, though the possibility that she heads to a convention is possible.

-- Obama, meanwhile, has not only begun campaigning in general election states, he's doing his best to begin the healing process. While some Clinton-backing protesters at this weekend's Rules and Bylaws Committee made it known they wouldn't vote for Obama in the Fall, the candidate is already playing nice with Clinton in hopes of getting her backing. Obama called Clinton from a stop near the Corn Palace in Mitchell, South Dakota yesterday to congratulate her on her win. Later, he praised her as "a great asset when we go into November to make sure that we defeat the Republicans, that I can promise you," per NBC/NJ's Athena Jones. The unity tour Clinton and Obama will eventually mount could prove one of the most critical periods of the entire contest.

-- That tour could begin shortly after polls close on Tuesday. Obama, expected to win both Montana and South Dakota, will rally at the Xcel Center in St. Paul, the site this September of the Republican National Committee. It's a gutsy move, inviting comparisons to what will be McCain's day in the sun. The campaign expects 20,000 people for the rally, approximately on par with the number of people who will hear McCain give his acceptance speech (GOP conventions, with approximately half the delegates Democrats have, are always attended by fewer people). Estimating liberally, if Obama wins 20 of the 31 delegates available tomorrow, he will still be 30 votes short of a clear majority. Today is the day he needs to roll out a heaping helping of super delegates. And it may be: By press time, he has already scored new super delegates from Virginia, California and Connecticut.

-- Mounting Problem Of The Day: Watch out for this, Republicans: There's a reason John McCain is only called your "presumptive" nominee and not the actual nominee. Remember that all the delegates to St. Paul have yet to be elected, and that smart politics can still influence who gets to go to Minnesota. In that state, along with Missouri, Washington, Nevada and others, the next round of the delegate selection process is inviting more Ron Paul supporters than anyone thought, as Jonathan Martin points out. As McCain gives his acceptance speech, the hundred or more Paul delegates could cause a massive headache with bells, whistles and any other noisemakers they can find, making for entertaining, but ultimately politically poisonous, television.

-- Today On The Trail: McCain delivers a keynote address to AIPAC, a pro-Israel organization, this morning in Washington before heading to Nashville, Tennessee, to host a town hall meeting. Obama has a town hall meeting of his own planned for Troy, Michigan, while wife Michelle stumps at get-out-the-vote rallies in Montana. Clinton is flying from Puerto Rico to South Dakota, where she has events scheduled for Rapid City, Yankton and Sioux Falls (RCP's Kyle Trygstad points out that in Yankton, Clinton will head down Tom Brokaw Boulevard, named for the local high school's most famous alum). Husband Bill is also holding events in the state today.