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Blog Home Page --> September 2008

WY At-Large: All Lassoed Up

2006 nominee Gary Trauner (D) and former state Treasurer Cynthia Lummis (R) are in a dead heat for Wyoming's sole House seat, which has been held by Republican Barbara Cubin since 1994. Trauner held the incumbent to a 1,012-vote victory two years ago, despite the Republican lean to the state -- Wyoming hasn't given a Democratic presidential candidate its electoral votes since the landslide election of 1964.

The poll, conducted by Research2000 for Daily Kos, surveyed 500 likely voters between 9/22-24 for a margin of error of +/- 4.4%. Trauner and Lummis were tested.

General Election Matchup
(All / Men / Wom / Dem / GOP / Ind)
Trauner....42 / 39 / 45 / 85 / 13 / 56
Lummis.....42 / 46 / 38 / 12 / 62 / 33

Trauner holds a 23-point lead among independents, whom he'll need if he's to pull out a victory here. The poll also shows Trauner's base has already largely gotten behind him, while Lummis receives support of just 62% of Republicans.

MI 09: Peters (D) +4

Eight-term Republican Joe Knollenberg has another tough race to deal with this year, as state lottery commissioner Gary Peters is raising money and airing network TV ads in an effort to oust him. Knollenberg doesn't have the nearly eight-to-one spending advantage he enjoyed in 2006, when he defeated his Democratic opponent by just 6 points.

The survey, conducted by Grove-Insight for the DCCC, polled 400 likely voters. While the poll was released today, it was taken more than a month ago, between 8/17-19. Knollenberg and Peters were tested.

General Election Matchup
Peters.............41
Knollenberg....37

The Peters campaign says it's had ads up on cable TV since August 25, three weeks longer than Knollenberg, and now has enough resources to begin airing ads on network. In the last FEC report on July 15, Peters had $1.1 million compared to Knollenberg's $1.9 million. "We have all the resources we need to be up on network TV," said Clark Pettig, spokesman for the Peters campaign. "Things are looking good."

CA 04: Brown (D) +5

Retired Air Force officer Charlie Brown (D) will like this poll -- showing him leading by 5 points -- even more than the one his campaign released a few weeks ago, which had him up by just 2 points. Seeking to replace the ethically-challenged Republican John Doolittle, Brown's 16-point lead among independents played helped give him the edge over State Senator Tom McClintock.

The Daily Kos survey, conducted by Research2000, polled 400 likely voters between 9/23-25 for a margin of error of +/- 4.9%. Brown and McClintock were tested.

General Election Matchup
(All / Men / Wom / Dem / GOP / Ind)
Brown .........46 / 42 / 50 / 86 / 13 / 49
McClintock....41 / 46 / 36 / 7 / 72 / 33

According to the poll, John McCain currently leads Barack Obama in the district by a 51%-39% margin. The results suggest Brown can cut across the Republican leaning of the district, and his big lead among independents could help Democrats steal a seat.

NJ 03: Myers (R) +2

A new poll in New Jersey's Second District finds Medford Township Councilman Chris Myers (R) with a slim lead over State Senator John Adler (D) in the race for this open seat. The district, which encompasses a large portion of South Jersey including Philadelphia suburbs and Atlantic city, gave Al Gore an 11-point win in 2000, then voted for Pres. Bush in 2004.

A Press of Atlantic City poll, conducted by Richard Stockton College, surveyed 400 likely voters between 9/18-20 for a margin of error of +/- 4.9%. Myers and Adler were tested.

General Election Matchup
(All / Men / Women)
Myers....39 / 46 / 32
Adler.....37 / 36 / 38

With 22% of voters still undecided, according to the poll, and the candidates separated by only 2 points, the race is clearly up for grabs.

Strategy Memo: Bailout Blame

Good Tuesday morning. As if today could get any worse, we just deleted our original Strategy Memo and the Hubble Telescope is broken. Here's what Washington is watching today:

-- The Senate meets today to consider a rail safety bill, but no votes will be taken on account of Rosh Hashanah. In fact, most of official Washington is taking it easy today. Energy Secretary Sam Bodman is in Vienna (the Austrian one, not the Orange Line one) for an International Atomic Energy Agency conference, while Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez is in the Dominican Republic at the beginning of a swing through the Caribbean. President Bush has no public events today.

-- Did we forget someone? Oh, right, the House of Representatives, which yesterday sent the economic stability package down in flames at the hands of both Democrats and Republicans. The Dow dropped a shocking 777 points, the largest one-day loss ever, and while that means bargains on stocks, it also means more shaken confidence in an already shaky system. Congress is back on Thursday, and a vote on a similar plan is expected later this week.

-- But appreciate how rare it is that a vote in Congress happens when the outcome is unknown. Majority Leader Steny Hoyer was supposed to speak until the votes were lined up yesterday, and he did. Then, something happened, and someone's whip count was way off. The vote, writes the New York Times' Jackie Calmes, was a failure of leadership. Both parties are pointing fingers at each other, laying blame while simultaneously trying to put the pieces back together before irreperable harm is done.

-- House Democrats say they delivered enough votes to give Republicans an opportunity to co-own the bill, a critical element in something as unpopular and politically dangerous as a measure like a $700 billion bailout. Democrats blame Republicans for failing to whip their conference in line while simultaneously making the argument that the package was necessary thanks to President Bush's economic policies.

-- House Republicans blame Speaker Nancy Pelosi for what they say was an inflammatory floor speech ahead of the vote in which she pinned the bill's necessity on the White House. That, chief Deputy Whip Eric Cantor told reporters, pushed a number of Republicans who had straddled the fence into the "nay" column. Too, Republicans complain that Pelosi couldn't bring enough of her votes to the table to get the measure through.

-- Whatever bipartisanship existed as the bill was being crafted is certainly gone now. But both parties will find it difficult to make political hay out of the vote. That's because Pelosi, Minority Leader John Boehner and the rest of leadership on both sides almost unanimously backed the bill. House campaign watchers on both sides had little to say about the political fallout, wanting to wait and see how things shake out. Our bet, as we wrote today: The measure helps challengers over incumbents far more than it benefits either party. Watch Congress' approval rating tank yet again.

-- But what about John Mccain? He stopped his campaign only to restart it in time for Friday's presidential debate because he thought he had a done deal. Yesterday, his campaign all but claimed credit for the bill's passage, when it looked like it was going through. Today, that move looks like a mistake, as the candidate's credibility has taken a hit, Politico's Mike Allen and AP's Charles Babington write.

-- Necessary Panic Of the Day: Conservatives went from salivating about the vice presidential debate, when Democratic nominee Joe Biden would put his foot in his mouth, to feeling deeply concerned, the Times' Adam Nagourney writes. That's because a series of interviews have made them nervous about their own nominee, Sarah Palin. In fact, the campaign is so nervous it has dispatched top advisers Rick Davis and Steve Schmidt to Sedona, where Palin is prepping. McCain is a gambling man, and the vice presidential selection was his biggest bet yet. A massive payoff looks like a long shot at the moment.

-- Today On The Trail: McCain is in Des Moines for a roundtable on the economy, even after he said at the debate on Friday that he opposes ethanol subsidies, not a popular position in the Hawkeye State, where McCain trails in polls. Obama is in Reno, Nevada for a rally, hoping to woo enough of rapidly-growing Washoe County to offset Republican advantages in more rural parts of the state. Palin is in Sedona and Biden is in Wilmington prepping for their Thursday throwdown.

KY: McConnell +1

If a new poll out of the Bluegrass State is accurate, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell will want to get back to Kentucky in a hurry to shore up his re-election prospects.

The Bluegrass Poll, conducted by Mason-Dixon for the Louisville Courier-Journal, surveyed 717 likely voters between 9/22-25 for a margin of error of +/- 3.7%. McConnell and Democratic businessman Bruce Lunsford were tested.

General Election Matchup
(With leaners)
McConnell...........45
Lunsford............44

Kentuckyans are deeply unhappy with the direction of the country, with 85% saying they think things are off of the wrong track. That's the largest number of respondents disappointed with the direction of the country since the Courier-Journal started the poll in 1990, Joseph Gerth reported on Saturday.

It's also the same trend that is harming incumbents across the country. Just 18% approve of the job Congress is doing, according to the latest RCP Average, while only 14% think the country is headed in the right direction. And while more people always approve of their own member of Congress than of Congress as a whole, even incumbents' numbers are dropping this year.

The good news for McConnell is that his supporters seem to be happier with their candidate than Lunsford's are with the Democrat. About 60% of McConnell backers are strong supporters, while 43% of Lunsford voters feel the same way. That enthusiasm gap could give McConnell a boost among voters more interested in the presidential contest who then skip down-ballot races.

Most political observers expect McConnell to win this year, but he's not taking anything for granted. In an interview with The Scorecard at the Republican convention this month, McConnell said he would be running a "very aggressive campaign," and that he recognized being the GOP leader could make him vulnerable, especially as outside groups like MoveOn.org get involved in his race. "Being minority leader makes me a much bigger target," he said. "A lot of people now would like to see me lose who didn't know my name a couple of years ago."

FL 13, 18: GOP Leads

In 2006, Democrats did surprisingly well in Pennsylvania, picking up four Republican-held seats. This year, the party is targeting Florida with similarly ambitious plans, but they have serious work to do, according to two new polls, to earn similar success.

The polls, conducted by Research 2000 for DailyKos, surveyed 400 likely voters in both Florida's Thirteenth and Eighteenth Congressional Districts between 9/23-25 for margins of error of +/- 4.9%. In the Thirteenth, GOP Rep. Vern Buchanan and banker Christine Jennings were tested, while in the Eighteenth, Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and businesswoman Annette Taddeo were tested.

General Election Matchups
(All / Dem / GOP / Ind)

Thirteenth District
Buchanan......43 / 11 / 68 / 40
Jennings......31 / 65 / 7 / 30
Other..........6 / 8 / 3 / 9

McCain........51 / 10 / 82 / 49
Obama.........38 / 83 / 7 / 37

Eighteenth District
Ros-Lehtinen..53 / 18 / 84 / 54
Taddeo........36 / 71 / 6 / 35
Other..........1 / 1 / 1 / 1

McCain........52 / 14 / 86 / 51
Obama.........37 / 74 / 6 / 35

Buchanan, a freshman who only barely beat Jennings in 2006, is well below the crucial 50% mark, but he's going to once again outspend Jennings on television. Ros-Lehtinen is in much better shape, easily outpacing her opponent.

Both seats are on the edge of Democratic target lists in the Sunshine State. For the moment, the party is seriously looking at six of Florida's sixteen Republican incumbents as serious targets. Reps. Tom Feeney, Ric Keller and Lincoln and Mario Diaz-Balart are top-tier races, while challenges to Buchanan and Ros-Lehtinen could be farther out of reach.

In Pennsylvania two years ago, Democrats won two seats that were trending their way and two seats that should still be solidly Republican, beating Reps. Don Sherwood and Melissa Hart. Sherwood lost for ethical reasons, but Hart was just on the wrong side of the wave.

If Democrats hope for a repeat of their Pennsylvania success in Florida, they will need to win districts like Buchanan's and Ros-Lehtinen's, which have almost the same partisan breakdown as Hart's old district outside Pittsburgh. With five weeks to go before Election Day, both Buchanan and Ros-Lehtinen look safer than Hart did.

Strategy Memo: Economic Politics

Good Monday morning. What a weekend for the University of Mississippi; not only do they host a successful presidential debate, they also stun third-ranked Florida on Saturday. Which one do you think students care most about? Here's what Washington is watching today:

-- The Congress begins its final week of work before the elections today as both chambers work toward quick passage of the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act, a deal on which was reached last night. The House is expected to take up the package today, while the Senate will deal with it as late as Wednesday. President Bush, who addressed the nation on the crisis this morning, meets later today with Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus and Ukranian President Viktor Yushchenko.

-- House and Senate leaders on both sides scramble for the votes it will take to pass the massive $700 billion bailout plan, and passage is looking more likely as key players fall into place, however unwillingly. To Minority Leader John Boehner, the bill is a "crap sandwich," but he'll vote for it anyway, Politico's Patrick O'Connor writes. Crucially, the bill also won backing from chief deputy whip Eric Cantor and Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, a fiscal hawk who once chaired the budget committee, Jake Tapper adds.

-- Of note, it is voices like Cantor, Ryan and Boehner who matter on the bailout, while those of Financial Services Committee chair Barney Frank, Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Majority Leader Harry Reid are not as important. That's not a commentary on the effectiveness of the Democratic Congress; it's an intentional strategy Pelosi and Reid are pursuing in order to protect their party ahead of November. Though the bill has critical elements insisted upon by Democrats, the party has made it clear that it's a Bush Administration bill, as the San Francisco Chronicle writes today. The party wants at least half the Republicans in the House to vote for the bill in order to provide real political cover.

-- Neither presidential candidate wants much to do with the package either. Both John McCain and Barack Obama expressed only the most tepid support, McCain suggesting many would "swallow hard" and vote for the bill, the AP's Tom Raum writes. Both candidates claimed some measure of credit for the agreement, and though Congressional leaders said their meeting at the White House eventually helped produce a compromise, it's not clear exactly how much positive influence either candidate really had. Neither is likely to be in Washington for a vote on the bill, Politico reports.

-- Half a week after their historic meeting at the White House and a week after the bailout talks really began, the pledges of keeping politics out of a crisis are long gone. Democrats will take credit for provisions limiting excessive pay for CEOs whose companies are affected and for provisions they say will protect taxpayer money. But the bill at large, they say, is a GOP bill. The move also puts Republicans in an awkward spot; it was fiscal responsibility, or a lack thereof, that cost the GOP a number of seats in 2006. Now, just when members like Ryan, Mike Pence and Tom Coburn were starting to reassert tightwad spending discipline, the party will have to supply hundreds of votes to shell out billions to companies on Wall Street.

-- It's not just in Congress that Democrats are finding ways to take advantage of the poor economic times. On the presidential trail, Obama is using the bailout to hammer McCain for failing to understand the difference, as he puts it, between Wall Street and Main Street. Telling voters in Detroit that McCain had little to do with the final agreement, Obama is claiming his own credit for getting at least some of his "core principles" into the bill, per the Chicago Tribune. But the argument over the bill is part of a larger effort by Obama to label McCain as out of touch (Another aspect of that push: the Obama campaign released a video after last week's meeting in Oxford highlighting the fact that McCain didn't utter the words "middle class" once during the 90 minute debate).

-- Speaking of the debate, it's clear now that, no matter what we think, Americans say Barack Obama won the throwdown in Oxford. A week ago, the race was essentially tied. Now, Barack Obama has a small, but significant, 4.8-point lead, according to the latest RCP General Election Average. That takes into account big moves Obama made especially in the Gallup daily tracking poll and the Hotline/Financial Dynamics poll, where Obama scored big gains over McCain among independent voters.

-- Next Stop Of The Day: Should be "of the week," really. Fewer people tuned in to the mayhem in Mississippi than tuned in to the John Kerry-George W. Bush debates in 2004, but we're betting more will be watching the Joe Biden-Sarah Palin throwdown on Thursday night. With rising concern among conservatives about Palin's ability to compete and Democrats worried that Biden might say something foolish, Thursday is going to keep party regulars on the edge of their seats. The Boston Herald's lede says it all: "One talks too much. The other hasn't talked enough." That's exactly what both sides are worried about.

-- Today On The Trail: Obama starts his day in Denver with a rally, his first trip back to Colorado since he accepted his party's nomination in late August. Tonight, Obama and Biden will sit down with their wives and the hosts of "Entertainment Tonight." McCain and Palin are rallying together again in Columbus, Ohio, and Palin will sit down, again, with CBS's Katie Couric tonight.

AK: Begich (D) +2

Forget the trial, is Ted Stevens making a comeback? The Senate's longest-serving Republican is clawing back, a new poll out this week suggests. The Ivan Moore Research (D) poll, conducted 9/20-22, surveyed 500 registered voters for a margin of error of +/- 4.4%. Stevens and Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich were tested.

General Election Matchup
Begich........48 (-1 from last, 9/2)
Stevens.......46 (no change)

That margin is about the same as the last poll Moore conducted, marking a dramatic comeback from this summer when Begich, the Democratic nominee, led Stevens by 17 points.

Moore also surveyed the state's House race, and again, Republican Don Young is catching up to Democratic former state Rep. Ethan Berkowitz.

General Election Matchup
Berkowitz....49 (-5 from last, 9/2)
Young........45 (+8)

Even as Stevens started to close the gap earlier this month, Young remained 17 points down in the September 2 survey. Could it be the Sarah Palin effect in Alaska? A Republican oversample? Or could it be, as Moore suggests, that Berkowitz and Begich need to start proving they could fill Young's and Stevens' shoes if they were sent to Washington?

NV 03: Dueling Polls

Polls released by both candidates running in a south Clark County, Nevada district could show a bit of Republican panic. Though he leads the survey conducted for his own campaign, it's been a while since we've seen an incumbent brag about earning 41% in a survey.

The poll taken for Republican Rep. Jon Porter's campaign by Public Opinion Strategies surveyed 400 likely voters between 9/23-24 for a margin of error of +/- 4.9%. Porter and State Senator Dina Titus were tested.

General Election Matchup
Porter.......41
Titus........39

Democrat Titus released her own poll showing her significantly ahead. The survey, conducted for Titus' campaign by Anzalone Liszt Research, surveyed 500 likely voters between 9/21-24 for a margin of error of +/- 4.4%. Porter and Titus were tested.

General Election Matchup
Titus........46
Porter.......37

The district, which takes in most of the suburbs south of Las Vegas, is changing rapidly, and many voters know Porter as much as they know Titus, who ran unsuccessfully for governor in 2006 (and actually won the Third District by two points).

Both polls show Porter viewed favorably by a plurality of district residents -- 44% favorable to 41% unfavorable in Titus' poll, 40% favorable to 31% unfavorable in Porter's survey. The polls also agree that Porter needs help: Forget who conducted the poll, an incumbent who can't get more than 41% in a horse race is in serious trouble.

NH: Shaheen +9

Another poll shows Senator John Sununu in hot water. The Research 2000 poll surveyed 600 likely voters between 9/22-24 for a margin of error of +/- 4%. Republican Sununu, ex-Governor Jeanne Shaheen, the Democratic nominee, and Libertarian Ken Blevins were tested.

General Election Matchup
(All / Dem / GOP / Ind / Men / Wom)
Shaheen....50 / 84 / 11 / 53 / 46 / 54
Sununu.....41 / 8 / 78 / 39 / 46 / 36
Blevins.... 2 / 1 / 2 / 3 / 3 / 1

The Senate candidates are essentially tied in the more conservative First District, which includes Manchester and the Seacoast. But Shaheen leads by a huge 56%-37% margin in the Second District, which takes in Nashua, the north country and the state's western counties along the Vermont border.

Strategy Memo: The Overshadowed

OXFORD, Mississippi -- Good Friday morning. OSU, our hearts go out to you. We've never liked USC anyway. Here's what Washington, Ole Miss and everywhere in between is watching this morning:

-- The House and Senate are back in session today, waiting as negotiators head back behind closed doors to deal with what looks like a sagging compromise over the market bailout. President Bush is in Washington, where he will meet with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown before attending the opening of the National Book Festival at the Library of Congress. Vice President Dick Cheney is in New Mexico, where he will raise money for Ed Tinsley, the GOP candidate in the open Second District.

-- In Washington, an extraordinary collapse of the bailout plan Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson had proposed seems to be underway. A meeting between Congressional leaders and President Bush, and featuring both presidential candidates, may have sealed the plan's fate, as House Minority Leader John Boehner told stunned participants that his caucus couldn't get behind the federal plan, the New York Times reports today.

-- The meeting broke up on such an ugly note that Paulson had to go after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and plead, on one knee, not to let the deal slip away. Pelosi told Paulson it wasn't her party blocking the deal, but rather the GOP. House Financial Services Committee chairman Barney Frank, who has taken a lead role in crafting the bailout plan, agreed, citing Boehner's and others' actions as a "revolt" against their own president, AP's Charles Babington writes. Negotiators were back at the table until 10:30 p.m. last night before giving up in favor of more talks today.

-- Meanwhile, House Republicans think they actually have a political advantage on the new bailout proposal. Reps. Eric Cantor and Paul Ryan, seen as up and coming members of the GOP conference, are circulating their own statement of principles to their own caucus as well as conservative Democrats, seeking enough votes to win a significant seat at the table, The Hill's Jackie Kucinich writes today. Boehner told his conference yesterday there was no bipartisan agreement, and with new Republicans taking the initiative, the once-unifying crisis could become once again political.

-- But even as negotiations continue, signs that the economy is dragging keep popping up. The federal government seized Washington Mutual last night before selling off part of the bank's assets to JPMorgan Chase. Once the largest mortgage lender in the country, Washington Mutual is now the largest bank to fail in the nation's history, per the Seattle Times. "This is the big one that everybody was worried about," Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation chair Sheila Bair told reporters on a conference call last night.

-- Meanwhile, aren't we supposed to be talking about something else? The University of Mississippi is abuzz for the first of four meetings between members of the Republican and Democratic ticket, and twelve hours before the debate is supposed to begin, we still don't know if it's going to happen. John McCain refused to commit to a debate as he "suspended" his campaign in order to address the economic crisis, and as of this morning the campaign still says there's no deal, AP's Liz Sidoti writes. Debate organizers continue to prepare as if the session would happen, but tensions are running high.

-- Why would McCain balk at an opportunity to debate? Signs seem to point toward a small but significant lead for Barack Obama, the sinking approval ratings for McCain's ace in the hole, Sarah Palin, and the shift of the fundamental landscape from foreign policy, McCain's forte, to the economy, which benefits the Democrats. With just 39 days to go until Election Day, McCain doesn't have many more chances to act, and the debates are one of the few chances he gets to seriously shake up the race. Then again, by keeping everyone off guard -- Will he? Won't he? -- McCain is also asserting what little control he has over the contest.

-- Bust Of The Year: Sarah Palin's addition to the ticket was a boon to the GOP, exciting the Republican base like no other move could have. But it's little wonder she's being hidden from the media, given her performance over the last two nights with CBS anchor Katie Couric. Palin was "rambling, marginally responsive" and "adrift," per LA Times media watcher James Rainey, or "surprisingly wobbly," according to NYT media watcher Alessandra Stanley. Weak performances now are like chum to media sharks, and Palin needs a strong performance sooner rather than later.

-- Today On The Trail: Members of Congress head back to the negotiating table today to work on a deal. Joe and Jill Biden head to Cudahy, Wisconsin for a fish fry. And Barack Obama and John McCain, supposedly, are heading down to Oxford, Mississippi to debate, coverage of which we'll bring you live from the debate site at Ole Miss.

Reid Says McCain 'In The Way'

WASHINGTON -- News broke today that an agreement had been reached on a financial rescue bill. Earlier in the day, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid told reporters that John McCain's suspension of his campaign was unneccessary and he was "standing in the way" by coming back to Capitol Hill.

"If we lose progress, it's only because of one man, and that's John McCain," said Reid. He added that Democrats want McCain to be a part of the process but bringing presidential politics to it would not help.

Reid and other Congressional leaders are scheduled to meet with Pres. Bush, along with both McCain and Barack Obama, at the White House this afternoon, though Reid said he expects "nothing" to be resolved there. He said the notion that McCain will return to Washington and bring everyone together to solve the problem is just "a notion in his own mind."

"John McCain is one of 100," Reid said. "We have done a lot of things in his absence. We have done a lot of things over his objections."

--Kyle Trygstad

Strategy Memo: What's The Spread

Good Thursday morning. Wow. We had another potential game-changing day yesterday (haven't there been enough in this campaign already?). One nominee isn't even currently running for president! As we await more surprises, and as Reid makes his way to Mississippi, here is what Washington is watching today:

--Barack Obama, John McCain and congressional leaders will meet at the White House today with Pres. Bush, as Congress continues consideration of Sec. Paulson's rescue plan. Bush hopes the session will "speed our discussions toward a bipartisan bill," the New York Times' Stolberg and Herszenhorn write. McCain had already planned to be in town, after officially suspending his campaign yesterday. Bush called Obama requesting his presence at the meeting, according to a statement by Obama spokesman Bill Burton.

--Should a deal not be reached by tomorrow, tomorrow night's scheduled debate in Oxford, Miss., may not take place. Following McCain's announcement yesterday that he would suspend his campaign and wanted the debate postponed, Obama held a press conference to announce he wanted the debate to go on -- whether a deal has been passed or not. "It's my belief that this is exactly the time the American people need to hear from the person who in approximately 40 days will be responsible for dealing with this mess," he said.

--CNN's Dana Bash reports that the McCain campaign has proposed swapping next week's vice-presidential debate -- to be held October 2 in St. Louis -- for the first presidential debate, with the VP debate to be held at a later date. Currently, Obama and the event organizers are going forward with the debate as planned, though it may be a bit awkward if just one person shows up.

--The move would certainly give Palin some extra time to prep for her debate with Joe Biden, a seasoned politician and debater. Reid Wilson passes along another possibility: Could the hidden motive be to make the last image voters have one that features Palin. Perhaps more importantly, the last image would also feature Biden, and the McCain campaign may have decided that the contest between a younger woman and an older senator prone to verbal gaffes was just too tempting a target to pass up.

--Whether McCain's move yesterday to suspend his campaign was a good idea or not -- and there is certainly an argument for both sides -- what can be agreed upon is that it was a huge political gamble that his presidential hopes could possibly rest upon. The Washington Post's Dan Balz writes that McCain is banking that the move "will be seen as the kind of country-first, bipartisan leadership he believes Americans want. What he risks, if things don't go as he hopes, is a judgment by voters that his move was a reckless act by an impetuous and struggling politician that hardened partisan lines in Washington at just the wrong moment and complicated efforts to deal with the biggest financial crisis in more than half a century."

--Skeptics (reporters and talking heads) noted yesterday that McCain's decision to suspend his campaign to help solve the financial crisis came a week-and-a-half late and on the same day that three national polls (NBC News/Wall Street Journal, ABC News/Washington Post, L.A. Times/Bloomberg) showed him behind. In fact, McCain now finds himself 3.6 points behind Obama, according to the latest RCP National Average.

--Here are the takes of two longtime White House and political reporters. Huffington Post's Tom Edsall writes that McCain is making up for some recent missteps. "McCain's sudden pivot to a more sophisticated, statesman-like position demonstrates the Republican's awareness that his evident lack of intellectual comprehension over the past week, as well as his attempts to project 'populist' anger, were diminishing his stature," he writes.

--Reader's Digest's Carl Cannon writes that neither candidate acted very presidential yesterday and that both "would have been better served to let Bush speak first, and then respond." With both McCain and Palin using the word "depression" in comments yesterday, Cannon says "some hard questions should be asked now of McCain. Here's one: Is scaring the bejesus out of the citizenry for a tactical political advantage really a responsible thing to do?" On Obama, Cannon writes: "Obama came across a bit like the good Harvard student (that he once was) who'd crammed for a test--and, by God, he wants to take it."

--Things That Make You Go Hmmm...Of The Day: For a campaign that's now suspended and claims to have pulled down all advertising, it sure looked like McCain spokeswoman Nicole Wallace talking shop on "Morning Joe." It will be interesting to watch just how suspended the McCain campaign really is over the next couple of days.

--Today On The Trail: John McCain and Sarah Palin start their day at the Clinton Global Initiative Conference in New York City. Palin then heads to Philadelphia, while McCain treks to Washington for a meeting at the White House. Obama will also attend that meeting after starting his day in Clearwater, Fla., while also appearing on a live satellite feed at Clinton's NYC conference. Both VP candidates will be in Pennsylvania today, as Biden attends community gatherings in Greensburg and Wilkes-Barre.

--Kyle Trygstad

NH: Shaheen +4

At least one pollster thinks Republican Senator John Sununu's advertising blitz has been effective. A new Granite State Poll, conducted by the University of New Hampshire, surveyed 523 likely voters between 9/14-21 for a margin of error of +/- 4.3%. Sununu and ex-Governor Jeanne Shaheen were tested.

General Election Matchup
(All / Dem / GOP / Ind / Men / Wom)
Shaheen....48 / 87 / 7 / 42 / 43 / 52 (+2 from last, 7/08)
Sununu.....44 / 7 / 86 / 39 / 48 / 40 (+2)

It's the second time in a row the UNH poll has showed Sununu within striking distance, while earlier surveys had the first-term senator trailing by double digits. Sununu held his fire for a long time before unleashing a barrage of advertisements in recent weeks, and while that strategy was initially questioned by political observers, it may be paying off in a state many thought would easily go Democratic in November.

Sununu will also benefit from the elimination of straight-ticket voting. In 2007, Democrats eliminated straight-ticket voting even after it swept them to power in both houses of the state legislature the year before. Now, voters will have to go race by race, allowing what is expected to be significant split-ticket voting between the uncompetitive race for governor and the highly competitive Senate and Presidential contests.

NY 26: Kryzan (D) +10

They may not have gotten the candidate they wanted, but Democrats still have a chance to capture another upstate New York seat this year, a new poll shows.

The survey, conducted by Brilliant Corners for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and EMILY's List, polled 400 likely voters 9/15-17 for a margin of error of +/- 4.9%. Attorney Alice Kryzan, the Democratic nominee, and Republican businessman Christopher Lee were tested.

General Election Matchup
Kryzan.........39
Lee............29

The DCCC had favored Iraq war veteran Jonathan Powers, but Kryzan's primary upset derailed those plans. Lee didn't face a primary, meaning he's got a chance to grow through paid media. With so many undecided voters, the race to replace retiring Rep. Tom Reynolds is anyone's to win.

IL 11: Halvorson (D) +8

Pushing back on a Republican poll released yesterday, Democrats have their own survey in an open Illinois seat they feel good about this year.

The poll, conducted by Anzalone Liszt Research for State Senator Debbie Halvorson's campaign, surveyed 500 likely voters between 9/14-16 for a margin of error of +/- 4.4%. Halvorson, Republican businessman Martin Ozinga and Iraq war veteran Jason Wallace, the Green Party candidate, were tested.

General Election Matchup
Halvorson.......43 (no change from last, 5/08)
Ozinga..........35 (+3)
Wallace..........6 (no trend)

Generic GOPer...40
Generic Dem.....38

The poll shows Halvorson with a wider lead than the Republican poll, which had her up just two points. But district voters still have a lot of learning to do about both candidates; Halvorson has just a 38%-20% favorable to unfavorable rating, while Ozinga's rating is 28% favorable to 22% favorable.

Both candidates are on television, and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is airing ads and dropping mail on Halvorson's behalf. The race is still a toss-up.

Strategy Memo: Economic Movement

Good Wednesday morning. Yes, that's a Barack Obama ad front and center atop the Drudge Report. Here's what Washington is watching today:

-- The Senate and House are back in session today as they try to wrap up energy legislation, a second economic stimulus package and the massive $700 billion bailout of the financial markets before heading home to campaign in October. Today, Treasury Secretary Paulson and Fed chairman Bernanke return to Capitol Hill to face the House Financial Services Committee, where they could face harsher questions now that some members of Congress are openly questioning the bailout. President Bush is still in New York at the opening of the new U.N. session for meetings with world leaders.

-- The economy remains the driving force behind the presidential campaign, and it's having a dramatic effect on poll numbers that show Barack Obama growing his lead, the Washington Post's Balz and Cohen write. With the latest Post-ABC News poll showing Obama with a nine-point lead -- the largest yet, and therefore prone to questions -- the underlying point remains that the Democrat maintains a healthy advantage on economic issues, and that matters: One of every two respondents said the economy or jobs were the most important issue in determining their vote.

-- And yet Americans don't entirely know how they feel about the bailout that would hand Paulson such a massive amount of money and power to fix the crisis. 55% of respondents to a Bloomberg/LA Times poll say it's not the government's job to bail out private companies, while 57% tell Pew pollsters they think the bailout is the right move. It may be the case that action is preferrable in voters' minds to no action, but that doesn't mean voters have to be happy with the solution.

-- One thing is clear: Obama's lead on economic issues is large and expanding. Voters pick Obama as best able to handle economic issues by a 47%-35% margin in the Pew survey, 45%-33% in the Bloomberg poll and 53%-39% in the Washington Post/ABC poll. Just two weeks ago, according to the Post, Obama's advantage over McCain was just five points. Obama is also seen as better understanding economic problems that average people are having by a huge 57%-33% margin.

-- But Republicans are doing themselves some good on the economy as well. Even as approval ratings for President Bush and Vice President Cheney remain at or near record lows, the White House is pushing hard for the bailout plan and Republicans in Congress are pushing right back. Even a visit from Cheney, who came to Capitol Hill to convince nervous Republicans to back the plan, did nothing to win votes, with some in the GOP more angry about the plan than when the meeting started, Politico's Patrick O'Connor writes.

-- Republicans aren't willing to be the reason the bailout failed, but they're not willing to be the reason it passed, either. In fact, that's where the presidential candidates find themselves. Both have expressed serious reservations about oversight and Paulson's power, and they agree CEOs shouldn't be allowed to benefit, the Boston Globe's Foon Rhee writes. But neither is willing to come out and discuss their own plans, and neither has committed to voting for the final version. In fact, some are starting to think John McCain may even come out against it, ABC's George Stephanopoulos said last night.

-- It would take a dance on McCain's part, but consider the political benefits. Instead of the Bush-McCain-Obama bailout package, McCain could come out for a much smaller package, or a different approach altogether. That would leave Obama and the president on the same side of the measure and McCain, still working on claiming that "change" mantle, out on his own. Is working with a president who's let the economy tank, McCain might ask, change we can believe in? Then again, if McCain opposes the bill enough to kill it and absolutely anything goes wrong, his chances of becoming president would be finished. It's a dangerous and risky line to walk.

-- Bad Luck Of The Day: As Obama begins day two of debate preparation today, McCain has to be cursing his luck that the first meeting between the two candidates, coming up Friday in Oxford, Mississippi, will be the one ostensibly focused on foreign policy. The Wall Street crisis will hang over the first debate, to an extent that it is likely unavoidable, and McCain's advantage on foreign policy could be drowned out. Both candidates spent yesterday praising the other's debating skills, AP's Nedra Pickler writes, setting expectations for the other ahead of the Friday clash.

-- Today On The Trail: McCain will join running mate Sarah Palin in New York for meetings with foreign leaders today. They sit down with the presidents of Georgia and the Ukraine this morning, U2 star Bono early this afternoon and the Indian Prime Minister this evening. In between, McCain will attend an economic event and a meeting with new Democratic backer Lady Lynn Forrester de Rothschild, a former Hillary Clinton supporter. Palin will also meet with Iraqi President Jalal Talabani. Obama continues debate prep with a break for a rally in Dunedin, Florida, while Joe Biden makes a foreign policy speech in Cincinnati followed by a rally in Jeffersonville, Indiana.

IL 11: Halvorson (D) +2

What was once assumed to be an easy Democratic pickup may be more work than the party had hoped, according to a new poll for Republican businessman Martin Ozinga. The poll, conducted by Public Opinion Strategies for the Ozina campaign, surveyed 400 likely voters between 9/17-18 for a margin of error of +/- 4.9%. State Senator Debbie Halvorson, the Democrat, and Ozinga were tested.

General Election Matchup
Halvorson.......38
Ozinga..........36

McCain..........44
Obama...........43

Ozinga was the emergency replacement when the winner of the GOP primary pulled out of the race. So far, he has impressed Republicans with his fundraising, and Democrats who were once certain they would pick up retiring Rep. Jerry Weller's seat are now far more cautious in their assessments of the race.

Halvorson remains the favorite, but her association with unpopular Governor Rod Blagojevich (who sports a 15% favorable and a 72% unfavorable rating) could drag her down.

CO: Udall (D) +8

Democratic Rep. Mark Udall continues to lead the race for retiring Senator Wayne Allard's seat, according to a new poll out today. The poll, conducted by Quinnipiac University for WashingtonPost.com and the Wall Street Journal, surveyed 1,418 likely voters for a margin of error of +/- 2.6%. Udall and Republican ex-Rep. Bob Schaffer were tested.

General Election Matchup
(All / Dem / GOP / Ind / Men / Wom)
Udall.......48 / 86 / 13 / 49 / 44 / 53 (+4 from last, 7/22)
Schaffer....40 / 8 / 80 / 31 / 46 / 34 (-4)

Polls have largely showed Udall leading, but not by an overwhelming margin. His lead comes from Hispanic voters, who favor the Democrat by a 64%-21% margin, while white voters are split 45%-44% in favor of Schaffer.

MN: Coleman (R) +7

Norm Coleman continues to lead satirist Al Franken, according to a Quinnipiac University poll conducted for WashingtonPost.com and the Wall Street Journal. The poll, conducted 9/14-21, surveyed 1,301 likely voters for a margin of error of +/- 2.7%. Coleman and Franken were tested, while Independent candidate Dean Barkley was not.

General Election Matchup
(All / Dem / GOP / Ind / Men / Wom)
Coleman....49 / 11 / 93 / 50 / 51 / 48
Franken....42 / 84 / 4 / 38 / 42 / 43

Despite a significant investment by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, Coleman still has good relations with his state's independent voters. Still, Barkley is likely to pull at least some voters from Coleman, making it likely that the winner will not reach the 50% mark.

Strategy Memo: Couging It

Good Tuesday morning. With exactly six weeks to go before Election Day, we're starting to make vacation plans. This year, when ridiculous scenarios involving the number 269 are being thrown around willy-nilly, we're definitely buying the insurance. Here's what Washington is watching today:

-- The Senate meets this morning for debate on the energy bill the House passed last week. Republicans continue to hammer Democrats for a measure they say fails to increase domestic production, though the effectiveness of the energy issue may wane as gas prices ease. The House will take up dozens of smaller measures as well as the reauthorization of the FAA and a bill guaranteeing credit card holder rights. All eyes will be on the Senate Banking Committee, which meets this morning to interrogate Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson, Fed chairman Ben Bernanke and SEC chairman Christopher Cox about trouble in the credit market.

-- The $700 billion bailout plan contunues to roll toward the floors of both houses this week even as members of Congress begin debating the measure's steep cost, the New York Times writes today. Sticking points include limiting executive pay and aiding home owners who face foreclosure, and the initial support for the massive bailout has begun to weaken.

-- Why the stall? Because Democrats simply don't trust the Bush Administration -- many compare this bailout plan to the race to war in Iraq or the PATRIOT Act, bills the administration rammed through Congress without disclosing all they knew. For evidence, look no further than the fact that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has not, technically speaking, allowed the Senate to be out of session for more than a few days, blocking President Bush from making any recess appointments this year. Some Republicans, on the other hand, think perhaps their party shouldn't be the one allowing the government to interfere in the market. The result seems to be a bill with many concessions made to Democrats that will attract the support of all but a handful of conservatives.

-- President Bush, meanwhile, is in New York for the opening ceremonies of the United Nations General Assembly today, his eighth and final visit with so many world leaders. Bush spent yesterday trying to assure those leaders the country is doing all it can to calm shaky U.S. markets, which will impact world financial institutions, the AP's Terence Hunt writes. Bush and wife Laura hosted foreign dignitaries at a reception last night where he soothed worried foreign leaders' concerns about the crisis.

-- Who's more nervous that the bailout package will take time to craft? Democrats face the prospect of going before voters with an approval rating as low as almost any ever recorded, while Republicans who stand in the way can be tagged as obstructionists in a time of crisis. Get something done and both parties can go home, perhaps to improved approval ratings. That's why there's so much chatting and compromising going on between parties with very different outlooks on the economy. It also means the most nervous people are those whose markets are open at the moment; this morning, Hong Kong's Hang Seng index was down almost 4%, while markets in Australia and Europe were down across the board.

-- It's clear who gets the fuzzy end of the lollipop from the economic perspective. A new CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll shows most Americans blame Republicans for current financial market problems by an almost two-to-one margin of 47% to 24% who blame Democrats. Voters say they trust Barack Obama to handle an economic crisis by a six-point margin over John McCain, and trust Obama to handle the economy as a whole by a ten-point margin. As voters focus on the economy, Obama's inherent advantages seem to carry him over the top, as he now holds a 3-point lead in the latest RCP General Election Average.

-- Meanwhile, McCain is at war on a new front, and the enemy is the very media itself. A conference call yesterday sparked the latest in a series of hostile shots at media organizations, most notably the New York Times and Politico's Ben Smith (and no, the irony of adding links to those reporters writing about themselves does not escape us). It's the modus operandi of Steve Schmidt, McCain's day-to-day campaign chief, and it's worked for Republicans for years. The gamble Republicans are taking is that this year, playing the media bias card will actually work.

-- Losers Of The Day: When they submitted a bid to host a presidential debate, all they wanted was a presidential debate. So when the Commission on Presidential Debates offered Washington State University in Pullman, Washington a chance to host the vice presidential debate, the Cougars said thanks, but no thanks. Now, Joe Biden and Sarah Palin will be debating at Washington University in St. Louis in what is expected to be the most-watched vice presidential debate in history. Cougar fans everywhere have their administration to thank for missing out.

-- Today On The Trail: McCain starts his day in Strongsville, Ohio, where he will talk about the economy, followed by a tour of a factory in Middleburg, Ohio. Later today, McCain will visit Dow Corning in Freeland, Michigan. Obama starts his debate prep in Florida today, while running mate Joe Biden addresses the National Jewish Democratic Council in Washington. Sarah Palin is in New York for meetings with foreign leaders as the general session of the United Nations opens. Today, Palin meets Afghan President Hamid Karzai, Colombian President Alvaro Uribe and former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.

MO: Nixon (D) +7

In one of Democrats' prime pickup opportunities, Missouri Attorney General Jay Nixon has sported big leads all year in his race for the Show Me State's governor's mansion. A new independent poll shows Nixon still leading, but by a far slimmer margin than we've seen this year.

The poll, conducted by Research 2000 for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and KMOV-TV, surveyed 800 likely voters between 9/15-18 for a margin of error of +/- 3.5%. Nixon and Rep. Kenny Hulshof were tested.

General Election Matchup
(All / Dem / GOP / Ind / Men / Wom)
Nixon.....50 / 86 / 11 / 52 / 45 / 55 (-2 from last, 7/10)
Hulshof...43 / 7 / 83 / 40 / 48 / 38 (+8)

Nixon's lead comes from his advantages in the urban and suburban parts of the state. He's ahead of Hulshof by a 71%-21% margin in St. Louis and a 55%-39% margin in more conservative Kansas City. He also leads in the St. Louis suburbs, a crucial area for a Democrat running statewide in Missouri, by a 54%-40% margin.

Hulshof wins the more rural parts of the state by about ten points, according to regional breakdowns.

Nixon remains ahead by an amount outside the margin of error, but Hulshof has significantly closed the gap. Before Hulshof beat State Treasurer Sarah Steelman in the state's August 5 primary, Nixon was leading a hypothetical general election matchup by a seventeen-point margin.

If the race becomes close, Nixon may be able to fall back on an increased turnout among African American voters flocking to the polls to cast ballots for Barack Obama. The survey shows black voters backing Nixon by a huge 82%-5% margin, while Hulshof has a 51%-44% lead among white voters.

NH 02: Hodes (D) +4

Rep. Carol Shea-Porter faces a difficult fight for re-election, but few consider fellow Granite State Rep. Paul Hodes in any real danger. A new poll for his GOP opponent calls that assumption into question. The poll, conducted by Public Opinion Strategies for the NRCC and radio host Jennifer Horn, surveyed 300 likely voters between 9/16-17 for a margin of error of +/- 5.7%. Hodes and Horn were tested.

General Election Matchup
Hodes..........43
Horn...........39

Hodes' 36% favorable rating to 27% unfavorable rating is weak for an incumbent. But public polls conducted before the state's September 9 primary showed Hodes with a much bigger lead. We anxiously await the next survey from the University of New Hampshire to see if Hodes should really be worried.

CT 04: All Square

A Democratic poll shows former party activist Jim Himes tied with Republican Rep. Chris Shays in one of the more competitive districts in the country. The poll, conducted by The Feldman Group for Himes' campaign, surveyed 500 likely voters between 9/17-18 for a margin of error of +/- 4.4%.

General Election Matchup
(All / Ind)
Shays...........45 / 45
Himes...........45 / 43

Obama...........56
McCain..........33

Just 36% of voters say they think Shays deserves re-election, while 46% say it's time for someone new. National Democrats have already poured $164,000 into the race and Himes has raised good money on his own.

Television spending in the district can only go so far, given that it's covered by the New York media market, meaning Shays' name identification will give him an inherent advantage. Shays is a survivor, having won with 51% and 52% in the past two cycles.

ID 01: Sali (R) +11

He's had a rocky first term, but Idaho Rep. Bill Sali could be cruising toward a second, according to an independent poll. The poll, conducted for DailyKos by Research 2000, surveyed 400 likely voters for a margin of error of +/- 4.9%. Sali and businessman Walt Minnick, the Democratic nominee, were tested among a sample with 47% Republicans, 24% Democrats and 29% independents and others.

General Election Matchup
(All / Dem / GOP / Ind / Men / Wom)
Sali.......46 / 11 / 67 / 41 / 50 / 42
Minnick....35 / 81 / 9 / 39 / 33 / 37

McCain.....59 / 17 / 82 / 57 / 64 / 54
Obama......32 / 76 / 8 / 34 / 30 / 34

Sali still has work to do to consolidate his Republican base, and he's not hugely popular. 48% of district residents view Sali favorably while 42% see him unfavorably. But the overwhelming GOP tilt of the district will help his bid for a second term.

A sidenote: Both parties have reserved television time in the state's First District, and Democrats are very optimistic about Minnick's chances. It may be a case of irrational exuberance, but party strategists in Washington seem to give Minnick an inordinate amount of attention.

IN: Daniels (R) +4

Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels once looked like a missed opportunity for Democrats. The first-term Republican whose proposals on privatizing toll roads sent his approval rating plummeting nonetheless was riding high in polls over his Democratic challenger, ex-Rep. Jill Long Thompson. But a new poll suggests it could be Barack Obama who spells trouble for the Hoosier State GOP.

The poll, conducted by Selzer & Co. for the Indianapolis Star and WTHR-TV, tested 600 likely voters between 9/14-16 for a margin of error of +/- 4%. Daniels and Long Thompson were tested.

General Election Matchup
Daniels...........46
Thompson......42

Obama.........47
McCain........44

Pollster Ann Selzer told the Star that the tight governor's race can be directly attributed to the fact that Barack Obama is staying competitive in what is ordinarily a deep red state.

"I would expect there to be some coattails, and the closeness of the race for governor we're showing probably represents some of that," Selzer told the Star.

The Selzer poll shows Daniels with a strong 56% job approval rating, in line with most other surveys that demonstrate the Republican is much better known than his Democratic opponent. Polls earlier this year have mostly showed Daniels with a big lead. The last public poll, conducted in late June, showed Daniels leading by fourteen points.

Strategy Memo: Bailout Blues

Good Monday morning. The last baseball game has been played in Yankee Stadium, and the pomp and circumstance surrounding the 85-year old building's final performance was appropriate for the House that Ruth Built. And at least we didn't have to hear Joe Morgan yap about how great the Big Red Machine was for one night. Here's what Washington is watching today:

-- The House and Senate are back today as Congress looks to put its own mark on an economic reform package on which they will spend most of the week. The House will take up minor bills today, while the Senate has no votes planned. Lawmakers in the lower chamber had hoped to be out of Washington after this week is over, but with the massive bailout bill pending, that looks less than certain. President Bush makes his way to New York for the opening ceremonies of the annual session of the United Nations, but first he stops in Colts Neck, New Jersey to raise money for Congressional candidates Leonard Lance and Chris Myers.

-- Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson released details of his $700 billion bailout plan this weekend, a plan that would give the Treasury Department extraordinary powers and one that has already started to draw criticism. Financial institutions, which had such a disastrous week last week, have already succeeded in getting the White House to broaden the plan to allow for government buyouts of non-mortgage-related companies and to allow for assistance for foreign companies, the New York Times reports today.

-- The massive bailout also faces edits from both parties in Congress. Democrats are demanding more relief for homeowners and more accountability to Congress. Democrats would also include a provision that limits executive pay for those whose companies are forced to sell some troubled securities to the government. Republicans said they wanted a series of changes as well, including provisions that require any money made off the forthcoming deals be returned to the national bank account. The GOP will also propose a joint select committee to oversee the program, sources told The Times.

-- Not only will Congress get its way with the administration's plan, but both presidential candidates will have their chance to weigh in, both through their own statements and their actual votes (Think they might actually show up in Washington for this one?). In essence, Barack Obama's plan is a traditional Democratic one, relying on more regulation and a shift of the tax burden, the Times' John Harwood writes. McCain prefers to blame bickering in Washington that has dropped Congressional approval ratings to record lows.

-- Both approaches contain inherent flaws. For McCain, his new pro-regulatory approach is far different than his past statements, even as early as this year, in which he has promised to be a champion deregulator. A let-the-market-work message won't work with voters as the markets collapse. Obama, in taking a more traditional approach, risks being labeled a standard politician in an election defined by change, though the very fact that he's a Democrat will work at least somewhat in his favor this year.

-- The economy remains center stage just days before the first presidential debate takes place this Friday in Oxford, Mississippi. Both candidates wanted to make foreign affairs the subject of the first debate, with McCain reasoning that the most-watched meeting between the two men could play to his strength and with Obama thinking moving the focus back to the economy in the final weeks will be beneficial to his campaign. Both candidates are attending debate camp this week, with McCain facing off with former Maryland Lieutenant Governor Michael Steele and Obama debating Democratic super lawyer Greg Craig, the Wall Street Journal's Monica Langley reports.

-- Elsewhere on the campaign trail, both candidates have positives and negatives to point to today. Barack Obama's 50-state strategy is becoming increasingly inaccurately-named as the campaign pulls out of North Dakota, the Associated Press writes. After early ad forays into the state and after opening eleven offices for as many as 50 staffers, Obama will pull out and send those aides to Wisconsin and Minnesota, a spokesperson confirmed. Meanwhile, McCain will boost his efforts in North Carolina, ordinarily a solidly Republican state, McClatchy-Tribune writes today. Obama's hope of expanding the map remains at least somewhat alive.

-- Floats Of The Day: In separate interviews over the weekend, Barack Obama and John McCain each offered an olive branch to rivals in the other party. McCain said he would eliminate the White House Political staff and that he might tap New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, to head the Securities and Exchange Commission. Obama told CNBC's John Harwood that Treasury Secretary Paulson would be "deeply involved in the transition process," Politico's Mike Allen writes. Bill Clinton had a Republican Secretary of Defense and President Bush had a Democrat for a Transportation Secretary. Is the "team of rivals" concept set to continue?

-- Today On The Trail: McCain is in Joe Biden's home town of Scranton, Pennsylvania today for a town hall meeting. This evening, McCain and running mate Sarah Palin have an event planned for Media, Pennsylvania. Obama is Green Bay for a rally and a speech on the economy and the government's bailout plan, while Biden addresses the National Guard Association in Baltimore. Michelle Obama has rallies in Madison, Wausau and West Allis, Wisconsin.

WA Gov: Rossi +2

Four years after the closest Governor's race in Washington state history, the two candidates who finished just 130 votes apart look headed for another close finish. Talk to any political observer out West and they will agree with polls showing Governor Christine Gregoire, a Democrat, and former Republican State Senator Dino Rossi essentially tied.

The latest survey shows Rossi up, but barely. Conducted by Strategic Vision, the poll surveyed 800 likely voters between 9/14-16 for a margin of error of +/- 3.5%. Gregoire and Rossi were tested.

General Election Matchup
Rossi........48 (+3 from last, 7/27)
Gregoire.....46 (-1)

Strategic Vision conducts regular polls in Washington state, and they've been testing this matchup ever since Gregoire edged out Rossi after three vote counts in 2004. For four years, the candidates have been neck and neck.

That's been the case for virtually every pollster testing the state. Only one, frequently accused of oversampling Democrats, has showed Gregoire with a lead of any significance.

Coattails could matter in a state like Washington, which Barack Obama is expected to win big. But several people with experience polling the state have noted what they call an abnormally large percentage of Obama voters backing Rossi. The Republican is capitalizing on the crossover, casting himself as a change agent.

Both candidates are getting help, and catching flak for associating with, outside organizations. Rossi has been criticized for his ties to the Building Industry Association of Washington, which has spent heavily backing his campaign, while Gregoire has been a target for contributions she received from state workers and Native American tribes.

The Democratic and Republican Governors Associations have been heavily involved as well, with millions in television time reserved through Election Day. Each outside group is going to fight tooth and nail for every advantage they can snag, as the second round of the Gregoire-Rossi fight comes down to the wire.

AK: Begich (D) +6

Apparently, putting Alaska Governor Sarah Palin on the Republican presidential ticket was enough to take the state's electoral votes out of play, but it may not be enough to save embattled Republicans running for re-election.

A new poll conducted by Research 2000 for the liberal blog DailyKos surveyed 600 likely voters between 9/15-17 for a margin of error of +/- 4%. Incumbent Ted Stevens, the Republican, and Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich, the Democrat, were tested in the race for Senate, while Rep. Don Young was matched up against former state House Democratic Leader Ethan Berkowitz.

General Election Matchup
(All / Dem / GOP / Ind / Men / Wom)
Berkowitz......53 / 87 / 19 / 60 / 48 / 58
Young..........39 / 6 / 75 / 31 / 45 / 33

Begich.........50 / 87 / 14 / 57 / 46 / 54
Stevens........44 / 6 / 82 / 36 / 49 / 39

McCain/Palin...55 / 12 / 86 / 54 / 59 / 51
Obama/Biden....38 / 84 / 7 / 38 / 34 / 42

Barack Obama's early interest in competing in Alaska has all but disappeared. Obama's campaign initially sent staffers to the state, and some polls even showed the Democrat within striking distance of John McCain. But once McCain picked Palin, the Republican ticket jumped to what looks like an insurmountable lead.

Just because the state's electoral votes look like a lock for McCain doesn't mean the state's Congressional delegation is safe. The investigation into influence-peddling by oil services company VECO Corp. has taken a measurable toll on both Stevens and Young. 58% of Alaska voters see Young in a negative light, while 56% see Stevens unfavorably.

Stevens, under indictment for offenses related to the VECO scandal, faces a trial in which jury selection begins on Monday. Young has not been indicted, but is reportedly still under investigation.

Young won his primary last month by just a few hundred votes, as his primary opponent, Lieutenant Governor Sean Parnell, conceded earlier this week. Parnell would have been the stronger general election candidate, though. Included in this survey, Berkowitz led Parnell by a 48%-43% margin.

Expect the next survey to show Young closing the gap with Berkowitz at least a little bit. Because it took three weeks for Parnell to concede, this poll included matchups between Berkowitz and both Republicans. Polls taken before primaries tend to capture a fractured base. After the post-primary healing process, the party with the primary usually gets a boost.

Berkowitz and Begich are seen favorably by 56% of Alaska voters, according to the poll.

Strategy Memo: Ad It All Up

Anyone catch the entertaining West Virginia vs. Colorado football game last night? Highlight of the night was when the sideline reporter quoted one of the players venting about his distaste for the oxygen masks that help tired players breathe: "Oxygen is for astronauts," he reportedly told her. As Reid lets me take over SM this morning, here is what Washington is watching today:

--House and Senate leaders last night gave bipartisan support to the Bush administration's efforts to prepare "a massive intervention to revive the U.S. financial system, including a plan to sweep away the unpaid loans that are choking banks and blocking the flow of money to borrowers," the Washington Post's Appelbaum and Montgomery report. Meeting with Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, congressional leaders "were told that the consequences would be grave if they failed to pass legislation by the end of next week," a deadline Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid reportedly committed to.

--The debate over the economy in the presidential race reached a new plateau yesterday when both campaigns released TV ads slamming each other for who their economic advisers are. The McCain campaign struck first, releasing a new ad at around 5:30 Eastern last night stating that Obama is advised on the economy by former Fannie Mae chief executive Franklin Raines.

--The Obama camp at first responded with a statement from Raines: "I am not an advisor to Barack Obama, nor have I provided his campaign with advice on housing or economic matters." It should have been obvious that another ad was coming after this statement from Obama spokesman Bill Burton: "This is another flat-out lie from a dishonorable campaign that is increasingly incapable of telling the truth. Frank Raines has never advised Senator Obama about anything -- ever. And by the way, someone whose campaign manager and top advisor worked and lobbied for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac shouldn't be throwing stones from his seven glass houses."

--At about 10:00 Eastern last night, the Obama camp released its own ad, knocking McCain for those they say advise him on the economy: Carly Fiorina, former Sen. Phil Gramm and Pres. Bush, calling them "fundamentally wrong." As the AP's Pickler reports, the Obama camp also provided an e-mail Raines sent to Fiorina telling her that he is not an adviser to Obama.

--Still, who knows if these ads will ever actually air on TV? As Politico's Martin reports, many of the ads released by both campaigns "amount to video press releases" that are "aimed at driving the conversation online and on cable news - where the day-in, day-out campaign is increasingly fought." This is all part of the evolution of campaigns, which smartly are using technology as much as possible. "All of this costs next to nothing," Martin writes. "Thanks to modern technology, it costs the campaigns little to quickly crank out the spots and pop them on YouTube. And, with websites and TV stations playing them for free, they don't bother spending much if any cash to put them on the air."

--ABC News's Tapper noticed something yesterday that we did as well. Speaking yesterday in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin referred to what she hopes will be the next administration as "the Palin and McCain administration." Tapper also notes: "I've also heard her refer to McCain as 'my running mate' -- a term I don't recall ever hearing a VP nominee use when discussing the guy at the top of the ticket. Maybe the fact that the crowds are leaving after she speaks, while McCain is speaking, is getting to her."

--His last point must be troubling for the McCain campaign, though as long as voters go to the polls they could care less whether it's because they like McCain or Palin. But one wonders how McCain is handling it. At joint rallies he hears "Pa-Lin" and "Sa-Rah" chants far more often than his own name, and now, as Martin also noted yesterday, people are leaving rallies after Palin speaks.

--Horserace Talk Of The Day: The polls are terribly close right now, in national polling and battleground states, though I receive e-mails from some unahppy Obama supporters every time I headline a blog post on a new poll with something like "The Race Is Even" or "Dead Heat." Perhaps they subscribe to the theory of Reader's Digest's Carl Cannon, who noted in his Loose Cannon blog earlier this week that though the polls show the race about even, he believes Obama is slightly ahead because younger voters -- who overwhelmingly favor Obama -- are under-polled. As of this morning, Obama holds a 2.1-point lead in the RCP National Average.

--Today On The Trail: Obama is in Coral Gables, Fla., this morning for a meeting with his economic advisers and a "Women for the Change We Need Rally." McCain starts the day in Green Bay, Wisc., giving an economic policy address to the local Chamber of Commerce, before heading to Blaine, Minn., for a rally and ending the day in the nation's capital. Palin will be with McCain through the Minnesota event, before she heads down to Orlando, Fla. Biden is also holding a women's rally in the D.C. suburb of Sterling, Va.

--Kyle Trygstad

NM: Udall +16

He almost didn't run. Now, Democratic Rep. Tom Udall looks like he's cruising toward picking up a Republican-held Senate seat. According to a new poll, Udall has all but wrapped up the race to replace New Mexico Senator Pete Domenici.

The poll, conducted by Myers Research and Grove Insight for Project New West, surveyed 600 likely voters between 9/10-12 for a margin of error of +/- 4%. Udall and Republican Rep. Steve Pearce were tested.

General Election Matchup
Udall.......57
Pearce......41

The news gets worse for Pearce. An at-times ugly primary between Pearce and fellow Rep. Heather Wilson sapped the Hobbs Republican's bank account, and earlier this month the National Republican Senatorial Committee canceled more than $2 million in reserved television time in the state.

Udall, who faced no significant opposition in his own primary, has led every poll matching up the two contenders.

NH: Shaheen +12

Even as other polls show a tighter race amid a new GOP advertising blitz, former Democratic New Hampshire Governor Jeanne Shaheen retains her sizable lead over incumbent Senator John Sununu, according to a new poll.

The poll, conducted by American Research Group, surveyed 600 likely voters between 9/13-15 for a margin of error of +/- 4%. Sununu and Shaheen were tested among a sample made up of 30% Republicans, 28% Democrats and 42% independents and others.

General Election Matchup
(All / Dem / GOP / Ind)
Shaheen.....52 / 82 / 13 / 59 (no change from last, 8/08)
Sununu......40 / 6 / 80 / 35 (-1)

ARG, a firm that has done work for Republican candidates in the past, has had a bit of an erratic year with the New Hampshire Senate race. Polls that look like outliers on both sides have showed Sununu leading by eleven points, in December 2007, and Shaheen up by as much as twenty-two, in July.

But the last two ARG surveys have each showed Shaheen with a low-double digit lead. Both candidates are up with television advertisements, as are the Democratic and Republican senatorial committees.

OR: Smith (R) +3

Oregon Senator Gordon Smith has won two statewide elections as a Republican in a Democratic state. But this year, re-election could be more difficult, given how much the tide has turned against Republicans since 2002, especially in a state that has trended as blue as Oregon.

A new poll, conducted by Portland-based Davis Hibbitts & Midghall Inc., shows Smith and his Democratic opponent in a dead heat. The poll surveyed 500 registered voters between 9/11-14 for the Portland Tribune and KPTV, the city's Fox affiliate, for a margin of error of +/- 4.4%. Smith, State House Speaker Jeff Merkley and Constitution Party nominee Dave Brownlow were tested.

General Election Matchup
Smith........42
Merkley......39
Brownlow......4

Those results are in line with a Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee poll released last week that showed Smith leading by two points and similarly mired in the low 40s. Republicans have yet to release a poll showing Smith with a better lead.

Merkley faced a difficult primary, sapping his coffers, but the DSCC has poured resources into the state in an effort to make up for Smith's sizeable financial advantage. The party spent $3.7 million on independent expenditures in Oregon through the end of August, though that figure does not include coordinated expenditures made with Merkley's campaign or any ads that have run in September.

Strategy Memo: Shift Happens

Good Thursday morning. The price of gold packed on the largest one-day gain in its history yesterday, hinting at investors' low confidence in the market. One thing that's strangely untouched: The value of the dollar, a happy silver lining. Here's what Washington is watching today:

-- As markets around the world take nose dives this week, Barack Obama held huge fundraisers on Tuesday that raised him an incredible $9 million in one night. President Bush, scheduled to attend fundraisers for GOP candidates in Alabama and Florida today, has decided to cancel the events instead and to focus on the economic crisis.

-- Once again, the campaign for president has undergone what feels like a tectonic shift. Given the crisis on Wall Street, focus is on the two presidential candidates' economic plans. And new regulation for financial markets is a great way to reinforce the underlying message that change is needed, something that inherently benefits Obama (65% of respondents think Obama would bring change to Washington; just 37% say the same about John McCain, per a new New York Times/CBS poll).

-- For ten days, McCain led the RCP Average, and by as many as 3 points. Now, Obama has reasserted a lead of just about a single point, as of 8 a.m. today. Take from this one lesson for the 2012 race: There's no such thing as a sustained convention bounce anymore. The day before the Democratic convention, Obama led by a little over a single point. Now, he's up about a point. The difference is miles away from statistically significant.

-- But something more fundamental shifted in the race and caused McCain to surrender the lead, and it's something more troubling than a focus on economic issues. The simple fact is that Sarah Palin has faded from the front pages. The vice presidential nominee has given up her spot to Lehman Brothers and AIG, and, given less attention, has forced conservatives to recall that they weren't all that enthusiastic about John McCain in the first place. Palin helped heal the base, but she's going to need to stay at the fore of the base's mind to get them motivated enough to do the grunt work.

-- One way Sarah Palin does not want to be in the spotlight: Having her email hacked. Hackers have apparently broken into Palin's personal Yahoo account, and while campaign manager Rick Davis says the matter has been turned over to authorities, it still raises questions about the use of personal email to conduct official business, The Swamp's Mark Silva writes. Communications between Palin, her lieutenant governor and an appointee to a state board were disclosed by hackers, leaving some to wonder whether any so-called "troopergate" emails found their way into the Yahoo inbox.

-- Palin's interview with Sean Hannity, the first part of which aired last night, is one of just two the candidate has done so far, though it was a bit of a softball. McCain and Obama aren't having regular press conferences. In fact, campaign reporters are cut off from access more than at any time since the media began regularly following candidates, write Politico's Allen and Budoff Brown. Campaigns say they are tired of the minor controversies that pop up on a daily basis, though their candidate making an appearance on a campaign plane could change that.

-- Factor Of The Day: Want to understand why cable news shows all seem to be talking about the same thing later in the day? Washington Post's The Fix understands it's all about the Drudge Report. In terms of shaping coverage, perhaps no single entity has more to do with how the rest of the media acts than Matt Drudge, and, as Cillizza writes (see above link), there's a concrete reason why McCain has earned better coverage in recent days.

-- Today On The Trail: Obama is in Espanola, New Mexico this morning for a rally, his only public event of the day. McCain and Palin hold joint rallies in Cedar Rapids, Iowa and Green Bay, Wisconsin. Joe Biden is in Canton, Ohio for a rally before driving off to Youngstown, and Michelle Obama has her own events scheduled for Charlotte and Greensboro, North Carolina.

PA 11: Kanjorski (D) +9

Never leave bad news unchallenged. That's the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee's motto today. On the heels of an independent poll showing Republican Lou Barletta leading Democrat Paul Kanjorski, the DCCC released their own survey showing Kanjorski ahead.

The poll, conducted by Grove Insight for the DCCC, surveyed 400 likely voters between 9/14-15 for a margin of error of +/- 4.9%. Kanjorski, the incumbent, and Hazleton Mayor Lou Barletta were tested.

General Election Matchup
Kanjorski.........48
Barletta..........39

Obama.............48
McCain............42

The previous survey, conducted by Franklin and Marshall University, showed Barletta ahead by nine points. Both parties maintain their candidate is in good shape for November, and Democrats are spending heavily to try to save their incumbent.

PA 11: Barletta (R) +9

Mix an incumbent's ethics issues with a popular and well-known challenger and Republicans may have found a winning recipe for beating a Democrat. A new poll shows ethically troubled Rep. Paul Kanjorski trailing his Republican opponent in a northeast Pennsylvania district that could become the GOP's most high-profile pickup chance.

The survey, conducted by Franklin and Marshall University, polled 547 registered voters between 9/9-14 for a margin of error of +/- 4.2%. Kanjorski and Hazleton Mayor Lou Barletta were tested among a sample made up of 58% Democrats, 34% Republicans and 8% independents and others.

General Election Matchup
(All / Dem / GOP / Ind / Men / Wom)
Barletta......44 / 28 / 69 / 54 / 49 / 39
Kanjorski.....35 / 51 / 11 / 27 / 36 / 35

Obama/Biden...43 / 65 / 10 / 31 / 42 / 44
McCain/Palin..40 / 17 / 77 / 47 / 45 / 36

Barletta has a good image in Pennsylvania's Eleventh District. The small-town mayor turned anti-illegal immigration activist is seen favorably by 49% of respondents, while 22% see him unfavorably. Kanjorski has a less impressive 40% favorable to 38% unfavorable. Just 35% say Kanjorski deserves re-election, while 54% think it's time for a change.

Barletta is succeeding because he's been able to frame the debate around his issues, the poll shows. 17% of respondents say illegal immigration will be the most important issue in their vote for Congress, while 19% say a troubled government and politicians will be key to their vote. Barletta wins both those groups by wide margins.

The economy should be a top issue -- 47% say it will be the most important in their vote for president but just 21% say it will be their top issue when deciding how to vote for Congress. Kanjorski wins economic voters and those who say gas and energy prices are their biggest problems, but by smaller margins than Barletta wins his base.

Democrats have been hammering Barletta for months, both in voters' mailboxes and over the airwaves, but it doesn't seem to be working. Republicans have long crowed about Barletta's chances at knocking off the twelve-term incumbent. It's getting harder to see Kanjorski's path to victory.

Strategy Memo: Oversight Overlooked

Good Wednesday morning. We can't tell if the collapse of the New York Mets, version 2.008, is entirely complete or if they have more heartbreak to give in the remaining two weeks of the season. But we can tell when they're suddenly half a game back of the Philadelphia Phillies. Here's what Washington is watching today:

-- The Senate is back on the Defense Authorization bill today, one of the three key pieces of legislation Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is intent on passing before the session expires in a few weeks. The House will vote on new gun regulations for Washington, D.C. President Bush is taking meetings at the White House, including General David Petraeus and Panama President Martin Torrijos Espino. Tonight, he hosts Muslim leaders and ambassadors for a Ramadan dinner.

-- The economic crisis on Wall Street continues as the Federal Reserve took one of the most dramatic steps in its history in acquiring an 80% stake in insurance company AIG in exchange for an $85 billion loan. The company's collapse would have caused reverberations throughout the world economy, the New York Times reports, and the government bailout, engineered by Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson and Fed chair Ben Bernanke, prevented that, winning backing from House and Senate leaders.

-- The House is moving quickly to investigate just what went wrong and started the market meltdown, Politico's Mike Allen reports, as Speaker Nancy Pelosi orders hearings and testimony from Bush administration officials. House Oversight Committee chairman Henry Waxman will call a series of meetings to order featuring Paulson and other administration officials as well as Richard Fuld, who headed Lehman Brothers before it collapsed over the weekend.

-- On the presidential trail, Barack Obama spent yesterday describing how he would improve oversight and enforcement on Wall Street while overhauling regulation rules, Bloomberg's Fitzgerald and Stern write. John McCain offered his own reforms as the deregulator takes a second look at new regulations. McCain also attacked outsized pay packages for corporate executives, a year after opposing a measure that would have given shareholders at least some say in excessive compensation cases.

-- But for McCain, talking about the economy has proven a challenge. An economy that had strong fundamentals on Monday became "a total crisis" by Tuesday, the Times' Michael Cooper writes, reflecting a dramatic reversal of position on an issue he himself has admitted many times he doesn't understand well. McCain has settled back into his argument that he is most experienced to handle the crisis, pointing to his years as chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, but it hasn't been an easy sell; yesterday, economic adviser Doug Holtz-Eakin seemed to suggest that McCain had helped to create the BlackBerry.

-- Meanwhile, Obama is leaping on the crisis as well, launching a two minute ad featuring the candidate speaking directly to the camera. "This isn't just a string of bad luck. The truth is that while you've been living up to your responsibilities Washington has not. That's why we need change. Real change," Obama says (Full script at The Page). The balance between recognition of the problem without pessimism and the promise of recovery in the future is one Obama seems to have found, while McCain still searches it out.

-- Think you've seen a lot of former HP executive Carly Fiorina lately? Well, you won't anymore. The chair of the RNC's Victory Program will be encouraged to decline future media requests after telling a St. Louis radio station and MSNBC that neither John McCain nor Sarah Palin (And, for that matter, Obama or Joe Biden) were qualified to run a corporation, but that's not what they're running for. Nonetheless, CNN reports, McCain was "furious," per a source, and Fiorina will take a much lower profile as a result.

-- But not all news is bad for McCain. For example, he's found great ways to make the $84 million he earned with public financing reach even farther than many thought possible. In fact, when McCain got his check, it was worth close to $200 million thanks to loopholes in the campaign finance system that allow the Republican National Committee to seriously chime in, Washington Post's Matthew Mosk writes. The once-tremendous fundraising edge Obama was supposed to enjoy is all but gone.

-- Trip Of The Day: Sarah Palin may not be the chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, as Biden is, but she can still meet world leaders. The Wall Street Journal reports McCain will introduce his running mate to world leaders as the U.N. General Assembly opens in New York next week. The Republicans will head to New York on Tuesday, the same day President Bush will address the body.

-- Today On The Trail: McCain started his day with an interview on Good Morning America, and later he and Palin have a joint town hall meeting slated for Grand Rapids, Michigan. Obama is in Elko, Nevada for a rally, followed by a similar event at a Las Vegas baseball stadium. Joe Biden has events scheduled for Maumee and Wooster, Ohio.

FL 16: Mahoney (D) +7

After he said being in Congress wasn't the best job he's ever had, it's no wonder freshman Democrat Tim Mahoney finds himself atop Republican target lists. A new poll conducted for Mahoney's GOP opponent shows the Florida Democrat ahead, though he may not want to let his resume get too out of date.

The survey, conducted by The Tarrance Group for businessman Tom Rooney, surveyed 400 likely voters between 9/7-8 for a margin of error of +/- 4.9%. Mahoney and Rooney were tested.

General Election Matchup
Mahoney........48
Rooney.........41

Mahoney gets tepid marks as an incumbent, with just 32% saying he deserves re-election and 41% saying it's time for someone new.

Mahoney faces a tough opponent in Rooney, someone state Republicans have been trying to goad into running for office for years. One of the heirs to the Pittsburgh Rooney family, which owns the Steelers, Rooney has the ability to put some of his own money into the race, and he's already proven a quick political study, having knocked off two strong opponents in last month's primary.

Democrats recognize the danger Mahoney faces, and they've put him on the Frontline program, which closely monitors the progress of endangered incumbents. Mahoney took over a seat held until 2006 by Mark Foley, who resigned after becoming embroiled in a sex scandal.

The district, based in Palm Beach County and winding its way across central Florida, is Republican enough to have given Mahoney just a 4,000-vote win even against Foley's name (Had Foley's name received more votes, State Rep. Joe Negron would have taken the seat; Negron ran his one-month campaign as Foley's replacement by using signs that read "Punch Foley for Negron"). With no scandal-plagued opponent to help him, Mahoney could face a tough fight for re-election.

MS 01: Childers (D) +11

Travis Childers has been a member of Congress for three months, but he's already learned to consolidate his electorate, a new poll for the Mississippi Democrat's campaign shows.

The survey, conducted by Anzalone Liszt for Childers, polled 502 likely voters between 9/7-10 for a margin of error of +/- 4.4%. Childers and Southaven Mayor Greg Davis were tested.

General Election Matchup
Childers......51
Davis.........39

Childers, whose base in Mississippi's First District is in the Tupelo area, defeated Davis, mayor of a suburban Memphis town, by 8 points in the June special election. Republicans have been pessimistic about Davis' chances in a repeat bid, given both his lackluster performance this Summer and the fact that his base is in what they characterize as the wrong part of the district.

Childers is also popular among his new constituents. 55% of district voters see him favorably, while just 24% see him unfavorably. Davis' own ratings are 40% favorable to 32% unfavorable.

Davis has sought to tie Childers to Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi and other more liberal national Democrats, but Republicans have not been able to make that charge stick to any of a number of candidates, especially those running in the South, this year. Davis has the advantage of running in a district John McCain is likely to win big, as will Senator Roger Wicker (who vacated the seat to serve in the Senate), but if he can't make the argument tying Childers to the party at large, the results from June may repeat themselves.

Strategy Memo: Formula 504

Good Tuesday morning. With exactly seven weeks to go until Election Day, we've given up trying to control our email inbox. Here's what Washington is watching today:

-- The House will finally take up a new energy plan to allow at least some offshore drilling, though House Republicans objected late yesterday and called the plan insufficient. The Senate will take a cloture vote on the defense authorization bill, which has taken up the majority of the upper chamber's time since it came back from August recess. President Bush will return to his home state to inspect damage inflicted by Hurricane Ike.

-- Few paid a lot of attention to politics yesterday as the Dow Jones Industrial Average followed other world markets and shed 500 points while Lehman Brothers continued to search out a buyer. The economy hasn't bottomed out and won't any time soon, and voters beginning to feel downright freightened about the situation could force both candidates to focus on little else for the rest of the campaign.

-- The candidates' responses to yesterday's market flux showed two very different approaches, the New York Times' Jackie Calmes writes today. John McCain has taken to calling for a new look at Wall Street regulators who he says were asleep at the switch. Barack Obama spent the day trying to tie McCain to President Bush's economic policies, which he said were to blame for the turmoil.

-- But neither candidate has a perfect record on the economy. McCain has historically supported the kind of deregulation now being blamed for several Wall Street collapses, while Obama's own record falls short of boasting significant achievements. Perhaps the biggest flub came as McCain called the fundamentals of the economy strong, which, though he tried to backtrack and say he meant American workers, will come back to haunt him in the form of a thousand television spots.

-- While voters tuning in lately have heard arguments about who wants to teach sex education to whom and which ads are downright lies, the struggling economy could completely flip the race, writes the Washington Post's Chris Cillizza. The argument in the primary revolved around which candidate was better equipped to answer a serious foreign or security crisis. Now, which candidate can best handle the economy is the question most voters want to see answered.

-- As election day approaches, both McCain and Obama are hopping around to a smaller number of states than they once did. Gone are Obama's chances to win Alaska, and Montana and North Dakota are probably out the window (thanks to Sarah Palin's love of guns, writes the Washington Times' Donald Lambro). Gone are McCain's chances at making a dent in the West Coast. The battleground is the same one we've seen for the past eight years, centering around Ohio, the Upper Midwest and the Mountain West. True, Obama has managed to put Virginia in play, while Democrats have been focusing on Colorado, New Mexico and Nevada for years, but a fundamental shift in the electorate has not happened.

-- Shouldn't that very fact make Obama backers petrified? President Bush's approval ratings are at record lows. Voters disapprove of the war in Iraq and of the president's handling of the economy. More voters plan to cast ballots for Democratic candidates for Congress. And John McCain leads by 1.6 points in the latest RCP Average? Obama has started hitting back, and hard, as the Post's Kornblut and Murray write, and he'll need to continue if he has designs on doing better than just coming close.

-- Dis Of The Day: Barack Obama is unlikely to appear with Senate or House candidates before November, Politico's John Bresnahan reports, and he told Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid he would not share his cash with Senate Democrats trying to boost their tiny majority. Senate candidates can use Obama's name, and the nominee has done four solicitations for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, but that's the extent to which Obama, locked in a tough race for the White House, will help out.

-- Today On The Trail: Obama is in Golden, Colorado today, the same town in which Republican veep contender Sarah Palin rallied yesterday, inviting the inevitable side-by-side comparisons of crowd size. McCain has a rally planned for Tampa before he flies to Ohio to meet Palin. The two will rally this afternoon in Vienna, Ohio. Joe Biden and wife Jill have a community event planned in Media, Pennsylvania.

FL 06: Grayson (D) +4

Democrats had a good year in Florida in 2006, picking up two Republican-held seats and coming an inch away in a third. This year, Democrats have a chance to pick up another seat, a new poll shows.

The poll, conducted for attorney Alan Grayson by The Kitchens Group, surveyed 500 likely voters between 9/3-6 for a margin of error of +/- 4.4%. Rep. Ric Keller, a four-term Republican, and Grayson were tested.

General Election Matchup
Grayson..........44
Keller...........40

McCain...........44
Obama............44

Keller had a scare of a race in 2006, beating Democratic businessman Charlie Stuart by a narrow 53%-46% margin. This year, that election looks like it may have taken a toll. Just 43% of voters in the Orlando-based district see the incumbent in a favorable light, while 35% view him unfavorably.

Stuart ran again this year, as did attorney Mike Smith, who initially had some Washington Democrats excited. But Grayson dumped a whopping $1.1 million into his own race and easily beat his two closest opponents with almost 49% of the vote. Stuart won 28% and 17% went for Smith in the August 26 contest.

Pre-primary filings show Keller had a big fundraising advantage as of the first week of August, but if Grayson continues self-funding, he could give Democrats a shot at picking up another seat.

IL 10: Kirk (R) Leads, Seals On Air

Illinois Rep. Mark Kirk represents one of the most Democratic districts of any Republican in Congress, but he knows how to stay popular. A new poll for Kirk's campaign shows a rematch between Kirk and his 2006 opponent may end up being a safer race than the last time out, when Kirk won by seven points.

The poll, conducted by McLaughlin & Associates, surveyed 300 likely voters between 9/10-11 for a margin of error of +/- 5.6%. Kirk and 2006 Democratic nominee Dan Seals were tested among a sample made up of 34% Democrats, 35% Republicans and 31% independents and others.

General Election Matchup
Kirk........51 (-2 from last, 6/9)
Seals.......29 (-3)

Kirk has good favorable ratings; 63% of respondents said they see him favorably, while just 20% view him unfavorably. That's higher even than Barack Obama's favorable rating. Voters in the district see the home-state senator favorably by a 59% to 32% margin.

Seals is known by far fewer voters, as just 36% say they see him favorably and 15% view him unfavorably. Both Kirk's and Seals' images could change soon, though, as Seals begins running his second ad of his campaign.

We haven't seen a lot of candidates criticizing their opponents direct to camera this cycle, but Seals takes a shot in his new spot, in which he hits Kirk for his ties to the Bush Administration. "Sometimes you have to have the courage to say no," Seals says. "Mark Kirk has been there for George Bush. He helped Bush write the language that sent our troops to the war in Iraq."

While it's rare to have a contrast ad featuring one candidate talking about another, running advertisements in the Chicago media market isn't cheap. Seals' campaign may have decided to get the double benefit of introducing their candidate while taking down the other guy. Then again, trailing by the margin by which Seals trails could also call for a risk here or there.

PA 06: Gerlach Safe

Rep. Jim Gerlach has had a tough time keeping his job over the last six years. The Pennsylvania Republican, who represents parts of exurban Philadelphia, hasn't exceeded 51% of the vote in any of his three elections. But this year, a poll for his campaign shows, he may finally do so.

The poll, conducted for Gerlach's campaign by Public Opinion Strategies, surveyed 400 likely voters 8/19-21 for a margin of error of +/- 4.9%. Gerlach and businessman and Democratic activist Bob Roggio were surveyed.

General Election Matchup
Gerlach.........57
Roggio..........28

Obama...........44
McCain..........42

Despite back-to-back tough contests with Democrat Lois Murphy, both of which slipped into negativity, Gerlach's favorable rating is a robust 61%, while just 18% see him unfavorably. Just 10% of district voters, meanwhile, know Roggio well enough to rate him.

Gerlach is one of a very small number of Republicans who represents a district Democrats Al Gore and John Kerry have won in the past two presidential elections. He also looks like the safest one of those few this year; Reps. Christopher Shays of Connecticut, Mark Kirk of Illinois and Dave Reichert of Washington all face strong challengers.

Democrats may have missed an opportunity to keep the district competitive in the future. After three nail-biting elections, if Gerlach can win big in a bad year for Republicans, he may solidify his grip on the district and take it out of play in next cycle.

MN: Coleman +4

Dean Barkley is crashing the party in Minnesota, and he's making his presence felt, a new poll shows. Barkley, the man who managed Jesse Ventura's race for the governor's mansion and served the final month and a half of the late Senator Paul Wellstone's term in 2002, will be an important factor in the already heated Senate race between Republican Norm Coleman and Democrat Al Franken.

The poll, conducted by the Minneapolis Star Tribune, surveyed 1106 likely voters between 9/10-12 for a margin of error of +/- 2.9%. Coleman, Franken and Barkley, the Independence Party nominee, were tested.

General Election Matchup
(All / Ind)
Coleman.........41 / 36
Franken.........37 / 30
Barkley.........13 / 24

Barkley was not included in the last Star Tribune poll of the race, conducted in May, but his impact is clear. Since that poll, Coleman has lost ten points of support while Franken is down seven.

It's no surprise that a third-party candidate has an opening to snag at least some support. Coleman and Franken have each raised and spent millions on paid advertisements slamming each other for months in the costliest and most negative race in the country so far this year.

Both candidates' attacks on each other have done damage. Just 42% of Minnesotans approve of Coleman's job performance, the lowest point at which he's ever registered in a Star Tribune poll, while 44% disapprove. A significant majority -- 62% -- say Coleman is someone who typically follows President Bush's lead, not something an incumbent Republican wants in when the president's approval rating resides near record lows. But Franken is no prize pig either. More respondents viewed him unfavorably than favorably.

Dean Barkley isn't going to win the Minnesota Senate race, but he could force the eventual winner well below 50%. And even though Barkley is taking votes away from Coleman, he's also taking votes away from Franken, who would normally benefit from anyone ready to boot the incumbent.

Strategy Memo: Melting

Good Monday morning. It's already clear, the J.T. O'Sullivan era has begun in San Francisco. The journeyman quarterback entered the season with 152 total passing yards; yesterday, he threw for 321 in an overtime win against Seattle. With seven heartbreaking weeks (for Seattle fans) to go until Election Day, here's what else Washington is watching:

-- The Senate meets today to resume consideration of the defense authorization bill, the sole appropriations bill likely to make it through Congress this year. The House meets for business later this afternoon. President Bush meets with Ghana President John Kufuor and has a state dinner planned.

-- Wall Streeters got no break over the last two days. Investment bank Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy, Merrill Lynch reached a deal to sell itself to Bank of America for $44 billion and AIG is working on deals to raise new money to save itself from a credit downgrade that would seriously threaten the company's future. With so much turmoil, European markets opened sharply lower, and the same can be expected for U.S. markets today. Watch for polls in coming weeks to show renewed concern for the economy, and keep an eye on RealClearMarkets.com for the latest in what looks like a rocky ride at the exchanges.

-- The crisis could be the final nail in the coffin that ensures that no matter how hard both candidates try, the economy will be issue number one heading in to Election Day. Both John McCain and Barack Obama have avoided discussing the impact of instability in the banking industry and their plans to deal with it, writes Politico's Mike Allen. Serious instability is akin to Russia invading Georgia, one financial analyst told Allen -- both candidates will have to adjust to and address a major event that takes the issue of the day out of their hands.

-- Both candidates can benefit, or get slammed, by exploiting the crisis for their own political aims. Voters could agree with Obama, who can use Wall Street fumbles to argue that four more years of President Bush's policies would mean only increased instability, and that a radical change in economic policy is warranted. Or they will seek shelter with McCain, who, in troubled financial times, may seem the safer choice as he edges toward incremental change. Obama was first out with a statement this morning, followed closely by McCain, and events featuring all four of the principles today will get big cable coverage as they speak off the cuff about economic woes.

-- But for now, both parties are engaged in a pitched battle over television advertisements. Democrats crowed when former Bush strategist Karl Rove told Fox News that some McCain ads went "one step too far," though Rove later told reporters he had also said Democrats were more misleading. In fact, Rove and other top Republicans said both campaigns are erring by focusing too much on negative attacks, the Associated Press writes this morning.

-- Over the last several days, Obama's team has focused more on outside groups that evaluate campaign ads, be they newspapers, FactCheck.org or others. Many have said McCain's ads misstate some facts and interpret others incorrectly. And the press has picked up on McCain's overstatements or misstatements of running mate Sarah Palin's record, meaning scrutiny of issues that actually matter -- earmarks and other spending, experience and what McCain is claiming as her key national security experience, knowledge of the energy sector -- will continue in the coming weeks.

-- But Obama faces political dangers in appealing to the mainstream media, once McCain's base. Assumptions that Republicans in McCain's campaign care about what a newspaper says about an ad, or that voters routinely check their candidates on fact-checking websites, are critical misreadings. McCain gets his message out unfiltered when he runs ads, legitimate or not, and Obama gets a nice talking point he can use at a stump speech to people who are already supporting him.

-- That's not to say Obama should come out with his own made-up ads. But he needs a response, and a hard-hitting one. Or a combination, as he has up now. Obama's campaign is running one spot showing McCain as out of touch and unable to use a computer, and another questioning McCain's "disgraceful, dishonorable campaign." Obama has worried some Democrats with his failure to get in the trenches with McCain, but by this time next week, those worries could be alleviated.

-- Money Trouble Of The Day: Obama shattered all previous fundraising records in August, revealing over the weekend that his campaign pulled in an incredible $66 million from half a million new donors last month. Some Democratic worries that Obama had made a critical error in skipping out on public financing have eased, the Times' Zeleny and Luo write. But for a hungry campaign, Obama will have to raise more in the next two months, Politico's Jeanne Cummings adds. Obama's team has $77 million in the bank, meaning the campaign spent about $55 million last month as well.

-- Today On The Trail: Obama started his day with a hit on Good Morning America, and from there he's off to Grand Junction and Pueblo, Colorado for campaign rallies. McCain has a morning rally in Jacksonville, followed by a town hall meeting in Orlando. Joe Biden will be in St. Claire Shores, Michigan for a morning speech slamming McCain, before heading to Flat Rock, Michigan for a campaign event later today. Palin will be in Golden, Colorado for her own rally today.

NC: Dole, McCrory Lead

It may be the most polled state outside of Iowa and New Hampshire, but for the first time a poll has showed Republican Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory with a significant lead over Democratic Lieutenant Governor Beverly Perdue.

The poll, conducted by independent Research 2000 for DailyKos, surveyed 600 likely voters between 9/8-10 for a margin of error of +/- 4%. In the governor's race, Perdue and McCrory were tested, while in the Senate race, Republican Elizabeth Dole and Democratic state Senator Kay Hagan were tested. The sample was 44% Democratic, 35% Republican and 21% independent.

General Election Matchup
(All / Dem / GOP / Ind / Men / Wom)
McCrory....47 / 15 / 86 / 49 / 51 / 43
Perdue.....42 / 75 / 4 / 38 / 39 / 45

Dole.......48 / 18 / 87 / 46 / 53 / 43
Hagan......42 / 73 / 6 / 39 / 38 / 46

McCain.....55 / 23 / 91 / 62 / 59 / 51
Obama......38 / 69 / 4 / 31 / 34 / 42

The results aren't out of line with other polls, which have all showed close Senate and governor's races. But if accurate, the DailyKos poll shows a serious shift in recent weeks toward the GOP. Independents are breaking to Republicans across the board, and the Democratic base has either not come home yet or is seriously fractured.

Add Research 2000 to a mix that includes the Civitas Institute, Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research and pollsters for both campaigns, as well as dial-response pollsters Public Policy Polling, SurveyUSA and Rasmussen, all of whom have conducted surveys in North Carolina in the last month. If you're a Tarheel voter, you may have a better chance of answering a poll than residents of any other state. (Side note: Expect a new Civitas poll within days.)

MS: Wicker +5

It may be buried at the bottom of the ballot, as Josh wrote on Tuesday, but the race for the final four years of retired Senator Trent Lott's term is going to be closer than Republicans would like to admit. Ruby-red Mississippi, it turns out, is going to see a great race, according to a new poll.

The poll, conducted by Research 2000 for DailyKos, surveyed 600 likely voters 9/8-10 for a margin of error of +/- 4%. Interim Senator Roger Wicker, a Republican, and former Democratic Governor Ronnie Musgrove were tested. The sample was made up of 40% Democrats, 45% Republicans and 15% independents and others.

General Election Matchup
(All / Dem / GOP / Ind / Men / Wom)
Wicker......48 / 7 / 86 / 46 / 52 / 44
Musgrove....43 / 84 / 6 / 45 / 40 / 46

McCain......52 / 12 / 89 / 50 / 55 / 49
Obama.......39 / 79 / 4 / 39 / 37 / 41

The race for Senate is neck and neck, with both parties' bases firmly entrenched where they should be. Like Obama, Musgrove will take the vast majority of African American voters while losing white voters by a three to one margin. That's how a Democrat wins in Mississippi, and Musgrove has won statewide before (Though he did lose his 2003 re-election race, the last time he appeared on a ballot).

This is Wicker's first statewide race, and both he and Democrats are racing to define the former congressman. Wicker has proven an effective fundraiser, but Democrats have been running their own ads. It helps, too, that buying television time in Mississippi is very inexpensive, giving both parties ample opportunity to get their messages out.

Though both Wicker and Musgrove will be well-known by the time voters get their ballots, coattails could play a positive role for both candidates: Wicker will benefit from John McCain's big winning margins, while Musgrove will benefit from increased African American turnout.

But it seems odd that McCain is doing better in North Carolina than he is in Mississippi (See our earlier post, below) according to Research 2000. That's probably not going to be the case come Election Day; President Bush won North Carolina by 12 points and Mississippi by 19 in 2004.

OR: Merkley (D) +2

Further evidence that money isn't everything in politics: Despite a big fundraising lead and a moderate record by Oregon standards, two-term Republican Senator Gordon Smith faces the fight of his life. A new poll conducted for his Democratic rival's campaign shows he might even be trailing.

The poll, conducted by Benenson Strategy Group for state House Speaker Jeff Merkley, surveyed 702 likely voters between 9/7-9 for a margin of error of +/- 3.7%. Smith and Merkley were tested, along with Dave Brownlow, the Constitution Party nominee.

General Election Matchup
Merkley......43 (+5 from last, 8/08)
Smith........41 (-6)
Brownlow......6 (+2)

Smith led by nine points in the last Benenson poll for Merkley's campaign. But with national Democrats hammering his ties to the Bush administration and other unpopular positions he's taken, just 32% of Oregonians now say the senator is doing an excellent or good job. A whopping 61% say he's doing fair or poor.

Smith has been running his own ads touting his bipartisan work with Democrats like Barack Obama and John Kerry, focusing so much on the Democratic presidential nominee that Obama had to issue a statement reiterating his support for Merkley.

But the early Democratic money could prove decisive in Oregon. Smith won his 2002 re-election race by defining his opponent, then-Secretary of State Bill Bradbury, early and burying him with Smith's financial advantage. This year, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is stepping in to help Merkley after a bruising primary that cost him much of his campaign account.

NJ: Lautenberg +11

New Jersey Democratic Senator Frank Lautenberg retains a big lead in his bid for a new term, according to a new poll. Still, plenty of Garden State voters remain undecided, giving ex-Rep. Dick Zimmer a chance to make the race close.

The PublicMind poll, conducted by Fairleigh Dickinson University, surveyed 840 likely voters between 9/4-7 for a margin of error of +/- 3.4%. Lautenberg and GOP nominee Zimmer were tested.

General Election Matchup
(All / Dem / GOP / Ind)
Lautenberg.......46 / 78 / 14 / 20 (+1 from last, 6/22)
Zimmer...........35 / 10 / 69 / 31 (+7)

Zimmer has growth potential, but his trouble is name identification. While 41% have a favorable opinion of Lautenberg and 29% see him unfavorably, just 25% know enough about Zimmer to have an opinion at all (16% favorable, 9% unfavorable).

Despite Zimmer's lead among independent voters, Lautenberg's overall lead belies the Democratic nature of the state. National Republicans had once hoped to spend money on Zimmer's behalf, but the hill they have to climb could prove too steep.

Strategy Memo: G.I. Jill Biden

Good Friday morning. When your football team, ranked somewhere around 70th in the country, faces the Oklahoma Sooners, who have scored four times as many points as they've allowed, what, exactly, do you look forward to on a Saturday? Here's what Washington is watching today:

-- The Senate is back for consideration of the defense authorization bill, a measure actually keeping them in session on a Friday. The House took off yesterday after pushing a debate on energy legislation to next week. President Bush is in Oklahoma City today for a roundtable on health care before fundraising for John McCain, while EPA administrator Steve Johnson unveils his agency's new hydrogen fuel cell car and U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab test drives an electric car in Santa Clara.

-- After a brief pause from politics, all eyes are back on Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, who gave her first major interviews to ABC's Charlie Gibson this week. The interviews will air tonight as part of a special prime time feature, which says something in itself about her popularity, and at least some parts are set to be just as explosive, in many minds, as her initial selection. In her native Alaska to see her son off to Iraq, Palin showed off part of her state while sitting for what the campaign promises will be the first of many meetings with reporters.

-- Subsequent interviewers are going to want to follow up on her beliefs regarding her own experience, foreign policy, the Bush doctrine and a dozen other issues on which the ABC host barely scratched the surface, according to excerpts provided by the network. Palin passed most tests, disclosing that she spoke with Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili, correctly pronouncing Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's name and suggesting she favors an ambitious expansion of NATO eastward into the Caucus Mountains.

-- Want to know what issues John McCain plans to make this election about? How about the war on Iraq and drilling for oil? In perhaps the most telling moment in excerpts provided by ABC, Palin says she doesn't agree with her running mate's position on drilling in Alaska (He's against it, she's for it) and casts the larger energy debate in stark terms. "I want you to not lose sight of the fact that energy is a foundation of national security. It's that important. It's that significant," she said.

-- But there were less than perfect moments as well, her first momentary gaffes on the trail. Palin didn't quite seem to know what the Bush doctrine is, only barely defended her own experience -- or lack thereof -- and, in her speech wishing troops well in Iraq, seemed to suggest the war in Iraq included fights against those who carried out the September 11 attacks. Troops, she said, will "defend the innocent from the enemies who planned and carried out and rejoiced in the death of thousands of Americans," writes Anne Kornblut of the Washington Post.

-- Both McCain and Barack Obama spent September 11 remembering the anniversary, with McCain spending time in Shanksville, Pennsylvania and both candidates meeting at Ground Zero in New York. Later, McCain and Obama split time on a stage at Columbia University, where they spoke of their plans to promote national service on a day that is becoming a new reason for Americans to do something outside themselves. The forum was largely civil, Fox News writes, but today it's back to the campaign trail and the long knives.

-- McCain may want to make the race solely about energy development, but both candidates are going to have to seriously debate the flagging economy that will face the next chief executive, the Wall Street Journal's Izzo and Evans write today. A survey of top economists suggests most fear a pending recession, with rising job losses continuing for the next year. Speaker Nancy Pelosi suggested four issues the election should be about at her weekly press conference yesterday -- "Jobs, jobs, jobs jobs" -- and both candidates will be forced to turn that way for the stretch run.

-- Anger Of The Day: Lipstick, attack ads or other minor issues, the media is getting mad, writes the Post's Howard Kurtz. Think certain blue collar voters cling to things when times are bad? The media clings to every memory (See: The preceding reference) and slight, and it will be sooner rather than later that news outlets start lashing out. They have already, Kurtz writes, begun seriously challenging any misstatement from campaigns in a more aggressive way than in previous years. Hey, we don't know anything about anger; we're downright serene.

-- Today On The Trail: Obama starts his day addressing the Machinists' union via satellite before heading to New Hampshire for a few stops. He will talk tax relief in Dover and rally in Manchester. McCain and wife Cindy are doing the television rounds today, hitting Rachael Ray at 10 a.m. Eastern and The View on ABC. Palin and Joe Biden have no public events planned, but Jill Biden will hold events with teachers in Mason City, with supporters in Iowa Falls, with veterans in Marshalltown and with the community at large in Waterloo, Iowa (Just noting, she's holding more public events in one day than McCain or Obama has for months).

CO: Udall +11

A week after Republicans crowed about a poll showing ex-Rep. Bob Schaffer virtually tied with Democratic Rep. Mark Udall, Democrats are touting their own poll that shows Udall with a much bigger lead.

The poll, conducted by Harstad Strategic Research for Udall's campaign, surveyed 752 likely voters between 9/7-9 for a margin of error of +/- 3.6%. Udall, Schaffer, Green Party candidate Bob Kinsey and American Constitution Party Doug Campbell were tested.

General Election Matchup
Udall.........45
Schaffer......34
Campbell.......3
Kinsey.........2

The Democrat's poll also shows Coloradans give Udall the edge on key comparisons between the candidates. Udall is seen as more on the side of the middle class by a nineteen-point margin, and more say he shares their values by a fourteen-point gap.

Schaffer and other outside groups have pounded Udall over energy issues, so much so that the Democrat has been more vocal in his support for limited drilling in the Outer-Continental Shelf, something one doesn't always expect from a member of the Udall clan.

But despite the attacks, voters think Udall has the right approach to dealing with energy issues and dependence on foreign oil by a surprisingly strong sixteen-point margin. If Coloradans continue to choose Udall's approach over Schaffer's, the Republican may have found that energy issues aren't the political silver bullet the GOP long hoped it was.

The poll is a direct response to a Natonal Republican Senatorial Committee poll out last week that showed Udall leading by a single point, 41%-40%. Most independent surveys have shown Udall with a lead somewhere between one point and eleven points.

NJ 07: Stender (D) +3

After she came just three thousand votes away from winning in 2006, New Jersey Assemblywoman Linda Stender is one of Democrats' top challengers this year. A new poll conducted for her campaign shows Stender is ahead, but fickle New Jersey voters are far from making up their minds.

The poll, conducted for Stender by Anzalone Liszt Research, surveyed 500 likely voters between 8/20-25 for a margin of error of +/- 4.4%. Stender, state Senator Leonard Lance and independent candidates Michael Hsing and Tom Abrams were tested.

General Election Matchup
Stender...........36
Lance.............33
Hsing..............9
Abrams.............2

Stender...........43
Lance.............42

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

McCain............45 (-3 from last, 4/08)
Obama.............43 (+3)

The overall poll results look like better news for Republicans than for Democrats. Yes, Stender's ahead, but many had assumed Stender was almost a shoo-in to steal retiring Republican Rep. Mike Ferguson's seat. Lance, who came through a competitive primary, actually led Stender's first benchmark poll by five points, according to the memo accompanying the poll results. That the Republican is trailing by just three points with so many voters remaining undecided is better news than many Republicans expected.

Barack Obama and John McCain are unlikely to be significant factors for or against either candidate, given the tightness of the presidential race in the district. President Bush won the district by six points in 2004 after winning it by just a single point in 2000.

But Hsing, the former Republican and local township councilman now running as a third-party candidate, could dramatically aid Stender's bid, the pollsters note. Hsing will not have the resources to seriously compete, but he is already pulling nine points, most of it from voters who would otherwise back Lance.

Strategy Memo: Time Out

Good Thursday morning. The Tampa Bay Rays keep making life difficult for the Red Sox with a dramatic extra-inning win last night at Fenway. Can't say we're not a little bit happy about that. Here's what Washington is watching today:

-- The Senate is still considering the defense authorization bill, while House Democratic leaders put off consideration of their comprehensive energy plan until next week. Both chambers will pause at various points today to remember those who died seven years ago. President Bush, Vice President Cheney and other Cabinet officials will visit the Pentagon today to dedicate a new memorial to victims.

-- Seven years ago today, on a bright blue Tuesday morning, the world changed, and we're still feeling the fallout. From wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to higher gas prices and a flagging economy, no event in the last three decades has had as dramatic an impact as the events of that morning. John McCain and Barack Obama are largely taking the day off from politics in remembrance.

-- Both presidential candidates will be at Ground Zero in New York City today for their first joint appearance since June. They won't be making speeches or pressing the flesh, but the two will walk down a ramp into what used to be the basement of the World Trade Center, Bloomberg's Julianna Goldman writes.

-- Later tonight, McCain and Obama will make back-to-back appearances at a forum on public service at Columbia University, which will be broadcast live on CNN. Both candidates have called for a renewed commitment to public service and have advocated rewards for those who dedicate a few years of their lives to serving in one capacity or another.

-- Even Alaska Governor Sarah Palin is feeling the effects of September 11. Palin arrived home last night for the first time since she was named McCain's vice presidential nominee, a day before her son's unit ships out to Iraq. Palin was greeted by a crowd of about 3,000 when she landed, the campaign estimated, and she'll speak at the deployment ceremony later today.

-- But as both campaigns pause to recognize the terrorist attacks from seven years ago, voter concerns with terrorism are at their lowest point in that same period, CNN's Alexander Mooney writes. A new CNN/Opinion Research poll shows 30% of Americans think a terrorist attack is likely in coming weeks or months. That's half the number that thought the same thing a year after the attacks took place. But President Bush gets no credit; just 37% say Bush's policies are the reason the country hasn't been attacked.

-- Pending Crisis Of The Day: Seven years later and still on the hunt for Al Qaeda and Taliban operatives in the mountainous region between Afghanistan and Pakistan, President Bush approved orders to allow U.S. Special Operations soldiers into Pakistan to conduct ground assaults, the New York Times reports today. Raids into the lawless Pakistani tribal areas will come with notification for Pakistani officials. But sources told the Times that the situation in Pakistan is untenable. Afghanistan and Iraq may have U.S. troops in theater, but Pakistan has the bomb, an unstable democracy on the best of days and a significant terrorist presence. It's a country the next president, whether Obama or McCain, is going to have to deal with frequently.

-- Today On The Trail: McCain starts his day in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, where United Airlines flight 93 crashed in 2001. Obama has a lunch date with President Clinton in New York. Later, McCain and Obama appear at Ground Zero and speak at the Service Nation Summit candidate forum. Joe Biden is in Parma, Ohio meeting with first responders, while Palin is in Alaska for her son's deployment ceremony.

KY: McConnell +17

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell is in fine shape in his bid for re-election, a new survey for his campaign finds. Though Democrats have plenty of Senate opportunities elsewhere, the Kentucky Republican doesn't look like one of them.

The poll, conducted by Voter/Consumer Research for McConnell's campaign, surveyed 900 likely voters 9/7-9 for a margin of error of +/- 3.3%. McConnell and businessman Bruce Lunsford were tested.

General Election Matchup
McConnell..........52
Lunsford...........35

McConnell's favorable ratings remain noticably strong compared with those of his opponent. 52% have a favorable opinion of McConnell, while 33% see him unfavorably.

After several unsuccessful runs for statewide office in primaries that have at times turned bitter, Lunsford's favorable rating is a much lower 30%, while 36% see him unfavorably.

McConnell is optimistic about his chances this year, though he recognizes his race won't be as easy as his 2002 bid, when he won 65% of the vote. "I'm going to have a very aggressive campaign, not taking anything for granted," he promised in a recent interview. "One of the things I've discovered is that being minority leader makes me a much bigger target. A lot of people now would like to see me lose who didn't know my name a couple of years ago."

Despite the promising atmosphere for Democrats nationally, McConnell said his state is actually trending the other way. "Kentucky is generally considerably more Republican than it was when I started my career," he said. "It's not Mississippi or Alabama. It's not totally red. It's reddish."

NC: Perdue +6, Dole +2

Democratic hopes of winning big in North Carolina are more than a pipe dream, a new poll for Lieutenant Governor Beverly Perdue shows. All three races at the top of the ticket remain close, according to the survey.

The poll, conducted for Perdue's campaign by Garin-Hart-Yang Research Group, surveyed 605 likely voters between 9/5-7. In the governor's race, Perdue and Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory, the Republican nominee, were tested. For Senate, incumbent Republican Elizabeth Dole was matched up against State Senator Kay Hagan. The sample included 46% self-identified Democrats, 35% self-identified Republicans and 19% independent or other party voters.

General Election Matchups
Perdue.........46
McCrory........40

Dole...........48
Hagan..........46

McCain.........49
Obama..........46

In the survey memo, Fred Yang, one of the most respected North Carolina pollsters in Democratic politics, writes that Republicans are actually oversampled. Party registration figures with the Secretary of State's office show 45.3% of voters are registered Democrats, 32.7% are registered Republicans and the remaining 22% are affiliated with neither major party.

Republicans may point out that a poll conducted for a Democrat will be biased in favor of that candidate, but the numbers reflect others that show neck-and-neck contests. Democratic groups have spent more money advertising on behalf of Perdue and Hagan than Republican groups have on behalf of their candidates, contributing to those tight races.

An interesting side note: Perdue, a long-time presence in state politics, will be on the ballot as "Bev Perdue," using the shortened version of her first name. As far as we can tell, Yang is the only pollster to have tested her that way instead of as "Beverly."

RGA Up With New Ads

Republicans hit North Carolina's Democratic Governor Beverly Perdue in ad "Status Quo":

Democrats slam North Carolina's McCrory in their latest ad critical of his economic plan:

Republicans hit Washington's Gregoire in "American Idol":

One of Democrats' ads critical of Rossi's positions (For the rest, visit Evergreen Progress):

Strategy Memo: Sooiee!

Good Wednesday morning. The Washington Capitals hockey team held a media day recently, and there's nothing funnier than the resulting footage of local sportscasters spending the balance of their time on their rear ends. Now if we could only get the lead anchors out there. Here's what Washington is watching today:

-- The Senate will continue work on the Defense Authorization bill this morning, likely the only appropriations measure that will make it through Congress this year. The House is handling other legislation before taking up Speaker Nancy Pelosi's energy legislation tomorrow, a package with which Republicans are not happy. And President Bush has a meeting today with Jalal Talabani, president of Iraq, at the White House.

-- On the campaign trail, there are three kinds of facts, to modify a saying: Lies, damn lies and swift boating. Barack Obama's campaign, long concerned with the possibility of an underground rumor like that which wounded John Kerry so much, set up his rapid response team months ago, while John McCain launched his only this week, aimed at beating back attacks on his running mate, Sarah Palin. Their goal in needing rapid response operation is the same reason both campaigns will propogate facts about themselves that aren't quite true either: Say it enough and in the minds of voters it becomes reality, as the Washington Post's Jonathan Weisman writes today.

-- For example, McCain's truthsquad team blasted Obama last night for allegedly calling Palin a pig. "You can put lipstick on a pig. It's still a pig," Obama said yesterday. This morning, McCain's camp launched a web ad comparing Obama's phrasing with Palin's own comments about pitbulls and hockey moms, then not so subtly including CBS anchor Katie Couric's comments about sexism in the primary campaign.

-- Did Obama call Palin a pig? The unanimous consensus among objective observers like Marc Ambinder and Ben Smith is no, he didn't (In fact, both point out other moments in which Obama and McCain have each used the phrase, McCain in the context of a proposal from Hillary Clinton). But repeat it enough, as the McCain campaign is doing, and it becomes the truth.

-- McCain's campaign slammed Obama for allegedly playing the race card a month or so ago, when Obama said he didn't look like other presidents. Now, McCain has jumped all over his Democratic rival for nothing other than the word "lipstick," which is close to the very definition of playing the gender card. Sometimes responses to attack ads can go over the line, and when they do, they undermine the responder's credibility. Perhaps Obama's campaign now has a little more wiggle room on the race issue, especially if McCain's credibility on the claim starts to slip.

-- Thirteen days until Election Day begins! That's right, the first votes of the 2008 election will be cast on or around September 23, when Iowa begins voting. The Hawkeye State is just the first of more than 30 states that allow some form of early voting, forcing both campaigns to change the pace of their advertisements and focus on turning out their voters, the New York Times' Adam Nagourney writes today. The old formula of happy biographical spots followed by contrast jabs and a strong close all at once across the country is obsolete, strategists said. How big a deal will early voting be? Obama senior adviser Steve Hildebrand estimates to Nagourney that a third of all voters will cast early ballots.

-- So voters will actually get to cast a ballot before Obama and McCain debate for the first time. At least two states will start voting before the October 2 vice presidential debate. That's too bad, because they'll miss a clash of the titans when media darling Sarah Palin and media lover Joe Biden face off at Washington University in St. Louis. Biden told Chicago donors last night, per the Chicago Sun-Times, that he's not afraid of the Alaska governor, and he's got Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm to stand in and play debate coach. Careful, Joe: It'll be easy to look like an older man is hectoring a younger woman, and that's a great way to lose women voters.

-- Trouble Brewing Of The Day: House Ways and Means Committee chairman Charlie Rangel is paying back taxes on previously unreported income from a vacation home in the Carribean, the Washington Post reports today. Rangel, one of the highest-ranking and longest-serving Democrats in the House, failed to report income from his Dominican Republic property for several years, either on his taxes or his financial disclosure forms. Could it be a serious thorn in Democrats' side in November? It's not yet, but the National Republican Congressional Committee has been hitting Democratic candidates for their ties to Rangel, and yesterday one GOP leadership aide told Politics Nation they hope to make Rangel's taxes a serious issue. Keep an eye on this one.

-- Today On The Trail: Obama starts his day in Norfolk, Virginia for a discussion on education, then heads to New York to film an interview with CBS' David Letterman. This evening he attends the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute's annual dinner before returning to New York in advance of tomorrow's rememberances of September 11. McCain and Palin have a rally set for Fairfax, Virginia before parting ways. McCain heads to Philadelphia for a roundtable discussion, while Palin flies back to Alaska for her son's deployment ceremony and other events. Biden has a town hall meeting planned in Nashua, New Hampshire today.

CA 04: Brown (D) +2

Brown Ahead In Race For Doolittle Seat

Two years ago, retired Air Force officer Charlie Brown came within three points of beating ethically embattled Republican Rep. John Doolittle in a northern California district. With Doolittle retiring, a poll for Brown's campaign shows the Democrat leading this time around.

The poll, conducted by Benensen Strategy Group, surveyed 500 likely voters between 8/21-24 for a margin of error of +/- 4.4%. Brown and state Senator Tom McClintock, the Republican nominee to replace Doolittle, were tested.

General Election Matchup
Brown...........43
McClintock......41

McClintock has inherent advantages in a district likely to go heavily for John McCain in November. President Bush won the district by 24 points in 2004, and McClintock is something of a known commodity in California political circles; in 2006, he was the GOP nominee for lieutenant governor, and he's become the rising star of the Golden State GOP's conservative wing.

But don't count Brown out. Brown's campaign notes that a Benensen poll at about this time in 2006 showed the Democrat trailing Doolittle by two points, and this year he's going to have a lot more institutional support. A member of the Red to Blue program, Brown will also benefit from Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee advertisements, which will hit McClintock on everything from issue positions to the fact that his legal residence in Thousand Oaks is still some 400 miles away.

PA 04: Altmire (D) +5

Former Pennsylvania Rep. Melissa Hart lost her 2006 race to Democrat Jason Altmire by four points, a margin close enough for Hart to give the race a second shot. A new poll conducted for the Republican's campaign shows the rematch will be just as close.

The survey, conducted 8/17-18 by Public Opinion Strategies for Hart's campaign and the National Republican Congressional Committee, surveyed 400 likely voters for a margin of error of +/- 4.9%. Altmire and Hart were tester.

General Election Matchup
Altmire.........49
Hart............44

Generic Dem.....40
Generic GOPer...37

McCain..........52
Obama...........39

Pennsylvania turned out to be one of the better states for Democratic pickups in 2006, but Republicans think they have serious opportunities in the Keystone State this year. And she'll have a tailwind provided by John McCain, who leads Barack Obama by a wider margin than the nine points by which President Bush won the district in 2004.

With Altmire so close to 50%, though, and in a significantly better financial position than he was in last cycle, when Hart outspent him more than two-to-one, Altmire's suburban Pittsburgh district will likely prove one of the GOP's tougher challenges.

Nat'l: GOP Climbing Back?

Could the national landscape be getting better for Republicans? The party trails generic Congressional ballot matchups in three new surveys, but their deficit to Democrats is significantly smaller than it once was.

The polls, conducted by Financial Dynamics for The Hotline and Diageo; Gallup for USA Today; and Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research for Democracy Corps, show Republicans trailing by four to nine points among voters, a significantly smaller gap than polls earlier this summer that showed Republicans in as poor shape as they were just before the 2006 midterm elections.

The Diageo/Hotline survey polled 924 registered voters between 9/5-7 for a margin of error of +/- 3.2%.

General Election Matchup
(All / Dem / GOP / Ind)
Generic Dem.......42 / 82 / 7 / 21
Generic GOPer.....33 / 7 / 74 / 20

The USA Today/Gallup poll surveyed 1,022 adults between 9/5-7 for a margin of error of +/- 3.1%, with subsamples of 959 registered voters (+/- 3.2%) and 823 likely voters (+/- 3.4%).

General Election Matchup
(All / RVs / LVs)
Generic Dem.......48 / 48 / 45 (-5 among adults since last, 8/23)
Generic GOPer.....44 / 45 / 50 (+6)

The Democracy Corps poll was conducted 9/1-3 among 1,000 likely voters for a margin of error of +/- 3.1%.

General Election Matchup
(All / Dem CDs / GOP CDs)
Generic Dem.......50 / 64 / 36
Generic GOPer.....45 / 31 / 57

Earlier this summer, Democrats held leads approaching 20%. But Republicans have long maintained that Congress' low approval rating -- sitting at just under 18% in the latest RCP Congressional Average -- would cost Democrats in November.

Many pollsters and pundits, including this writer, view Congressional approval ratings as a better reflection for the way voters see Washington as a whole, the reasoning being that few voters actually pay attention to what Congress is doing.

But National Republican Congressional Committee chairman Tom Cole made a good point in an interview with The Scorecard this week in St. Paul, hinting that internal polling showed more voters than average know which party is in charge of Congress. That reflects poorly on Democrats, who have so far taken shelter behind an unpopular president, and it could cost them marginal seats in November.

Republicans still face a harsh electoral climate as they trail the generic ballot matchups. But perhaps it's not as bad as it was even earlier this summer.

NH: Shaheen +2

New Hampshire Republican Senator John Sununu trails former Democratic Governor Jeanne Shaheen by two points in his bid for a second term, a new survey for the National Republican Senatorial Committee finds. But having trailed by double digits throughout the cycle, Sununu's campaign has to be happy with anything approaching a deficit within the margin of error.

The poll, conducted for the NRSC by Public Opinion Research, surveyed 500 likely voters between 9/2-3 for a margin of error of +/- 4.4%. Sununu, Shaheen and Libertarian Ken Blevens were tested.

General Election Matchup
Shaheen........46
Sununu.........44
Blevens.........5

Both Shaheen and Sununu enjoy good favorable ratings. The Democrat is seen favorably by 53% of voters, while 37% see her unfavorable; Sununu has a 50% favorable to 36% unfavorable rating.

Public Opinion Strategies' polling memo suggests the fundamentals of the race have changed now that both candidates are advertising on television (Sununu waited for a long time before unleashing his first ads).

But there's no getting around the fact that the Republican poll shows significantly different results than other non-partisan polls. If Sununu's advertisements start to move forthcoming independent polls, national Republicans may become more confident about a seat that once looked almost out of reach.

Strategy Memo: Obsession For Media

Good Tuesday morning. Monday Night Football is back, but double headers aren't good for East Coast sleeping patterns. Here's what Washingtonians, even those groggy Broncos and Raiders fans, are watching today:

-- The Senate will take up the Defense Authorization bill again today, while the House takes up minor bills in advance of a coming battle over new energy legislation. President Bush addresses the National Defense University today, while Vice President Cheney is on a tour through three former Soviet Republics and Italy.

-- On the campaign trail, Sarah Palin continues to get the bulk of the buzz, both in the mainstream media and in more partisan outlets on the right and left. There's good reason for the attention, too: It's now clear that John McCain's post-convention vault into a small lead over Barack Obama is thanks largely to the Alaska governor. White women now favor McCain by a 53%-41% margin, just weeks after Barack Obama led among the same group by a 50%-42% margin, according to the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll, a shift attributed almost solely to Palin's inclusion on the ticket.

-- McCain will double down with his running mate this week with what amounts to a second roll-out of her candidacy, Politico's Mike Allen reports. Palin will keynote the deployment ceremony that will send her son and other new soldiers overseas while being trailed for a few days by ABC News camera crews, a mere taste of the interviews to come that demonstrate the McCain campaign's confidence in their new addition. Could he possibly get two bounces out of one addition? If so, watch for a sustained McCain lead going into the first presidential debate on September 26.

-- If the race is even close, watch for the media to wonder, yet again, why Hillary Clinton wasn't added to the Democratic ticket. Clinton was in Florida yesterday stumping for Obama and Joe Biden, but if Democrats are smart, they won't play up the direct rivalry between Clinton and Palin. The simple fact is, every time one campaign gets obsessed with the other's vice presidential nominee, they are thrown seriously off-message. That's the gathering consensus among Democratic strategists, AP's Brendan Farrington writes, many of whom certainly remember how John Kerry and Al Gore did when matched up -- not with President Bush -- but with Vice President Cheney.

-- We feel like we're writing too much about Sarah Palin. Wait a second, wasn't this how we -- and everyone -- felt a month ago when Obama was dominating the news? At times, the press coverage isn't fair, and one side gets substantially more than the other. Obama and Biden have spent a few days in the Midwest talking about the economy, the Politico's McGrane, Parnes and Lerer write today, which polls show is at the top of everyone's mind, and they've gotten just about zero attention. They're disciplined around the media, but when are we going to see the first story about panic inside the Obama campaign? Hint: Wait for a similar piece on panic around Democratic Washington first.

-- But forget who leads. The fundamentals of the race remain the same, as the LA Times' Peter Nicholas writes. John McCain is still battling for swing states like Michigan, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Florida, while Obama is headed to more traditionally Republican territory like Virginia and North Carolina. The demography of the electorate is going to reflect an increased African American turnout, and Democrats remain extremely excited for their candidate. The biggest thing that's changed is Palin's entrance into the race; Conservatives, for the first time all year, are actually thrilled. We've long held that McCain was the only GOP candidate capable of winning this year, but Palin may have been the only person capable of getting him there.

-- One thing not to forget is that McCain has already raised almost every penny he'll need and use through Election Day, and that Barack Obama has not. By opting for public financing, McCain can no longer raise his own money, though he can raise money for the Republican National Committee. Obama, by opting out, still needs the cash, as the Times' Luo and Zeleny write. And that's no easy task, as the Obama team is already worried about their cash haul. The one-time massive lead Obama was supposed to have over McCain is now simply a race to get even, thanks largely to a massive fundraising lead the RNC has held over their Democratic counterparts all year.

-- Democratic Winner Of The Day: Four years ago, it was Barack Obama whose convention speech vaulted him into the collective Democratic consciousness with a stellar speech at the national convention. This time, Hillary Clinton gave a good speech, Bill Clinton did alright and keynoter Mark Warner was well-received. But the big winner was Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer, whose fiery oration got the crowd on their feet. For his efforts, Schweitzer won the coveted Tom Harkin Steak Fry award. Schweitzer will keynote the Iowa Senator's annual fundraiser in Indianola this Sunday, a slot that certainly makes Iowa Democrats pay more attention.

-- Today On The Trail: McCain and Palin are still traveling together, hitting rallies in Lebanon, Ohio and Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Obama has an event this morning in Riverside, Ohio before heading to a town hall meeting in Lebanon, Virginia. Joe Biden will hold two town hall meetings in the Show Me State, with stops planned for Columbia and St. Louis.

CO: Udall +1

It's been a week since Democrats gathered in Denver for their national convention, and despite the free press Rep. Mark Udall didn't benefit at all, according to a new poll conducted for the National Republican Senatorial Committee. Instead, as has been the case all year, a large portion of voters have yet to make up their mind in the race to replace retiring Senator Wayne Allard.

The poll, conducted for the NRSC by The Tarrance Group, surveyed 495 likely voters between 9/2-3 for a margin of error of +/- 4.5%. Udall, the Democratic nominee, and former Rep. Bob Schaffer, the Republican standard-bearer, were tested.

General Election Matchup
Udall.............40
Schaffer..........39

Generic Dem.......44
Generic GOPer.....42

McCain............47
Obama.............45

Udall and Schaffer have run neck and neck for months, though most political observers think the Democrat is farther ahead than polls indicate. Still, independent voters have yet to seriously tune in, despite the five head-to-head debates in which both candidates have already participated.

The tightness of the race serves as a reminder that Colorado, and the Mountain West as a whole remains a Democratic target, but any gains the party makes will not come easily.

AK: Begich +3

Forget the indictment, Senator Ted Stevens is still Uncle Ted to Alaska voters. A new poll suggests Democrats will have a tougher time getting rid of the long-time incumbent than once thought.

The survey, conducted 8/30-9/2 by Ivan Moore Research, a Democratic-leaning firm, polled 500 likely voters for a margin of error of +/- 4.4%. In the Senate contest, Stevens was matched up against Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich. In the House race, Young and fellow Republican Sean Parnell are matched up with former State House Minority Leader Ethan Berkowitz. Young currently leads Parnell by 239 votes out of more than 100,000 cast, though late absentees have until Wednesday to trickle in.

General Election Matchup
Begich............49 (-7 since last, 8/12)
Stevens...........46 (+7)

Berkowitz.........54 (+3)
Young.............37 (-4)

Parnell...........49 (+3)
Berkowitz.........38 (-4)

McCain/Palin......54
Obama/Biden.......35

If Young's narrow lead in the primary holds up, Democrats are in great position to take the seat from the GOP. But if Parnell, the state's Lieutenant Governor, somehow pulls out a come-from-behind win, national Democrats could become a scarce presence in Alaska. Parnell, like GOP vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, is highly popular among independent voters in the state (The same poll, by the way, showed Palin's home-state approval rating at 82% positive to just 13% negative).

The results from the Senate race show a big Stevens bounce-back after his July 29 indictment and his July 31 not guilty plea. In a heavily Republican state, even Uncle Ted gets the benefit of the doubt, meaning Begich is going to have to run a nearly flawless campaign to steal a six-year term.

The great unanswered question: What effect will Palin's presence atop the ticket have on Stevens' and Young's performance? Palin took what might have been a close presidential race in the state (At least Barack Obama was interested in investing there) and made it a blowout. So conventional wisdom would suggest that Palin helps the Republican ticket.

But Palin, Young and Stevens aren't the closest of political allies. Palin endorsed Parnell in his primary against Young, and she has pointedly refused to say whether she will endorse, or even vote for, Stevens (Requests for comments from The Scorecard went unanswered as well). Any Republican voting for McCain because of Palin was likely coming out to vote anyway. Any independent voter who switches his or her vote because of the governor might be moved by the reform mantra of the GOP ticket. In that case, might Palin actually help Democrats in Alaska, or at least be a wash?

Strategy Memo: Two-Month Reset

Good Monday morning. The conventions are over, the nominees are nominated, and the two-month sprint to November is on. Both candidates can expect a bumpy ride. Here's what Washington is watching today:

-- The House and Senate return from their August recess today for a session punctuated by what is expected to be a serious energy debate. But first, the Senate will take up the Defense Authorization bill, with a cloture vote coming early this evening. The House will deal with measures on cigarette trafficking, attorney-client privilege amendments and child soldiers. President Bush will speak about volunteerism from the South Lawn, where he will single out USA Freedom Corps.

-- The second week in September has become a week for volunteering and talking about public service seven years after the September 11 attacks in New York and Washington. Barack Obama and John McCain will each speak on public service on Thursday, the day of that anniversary, and, in a joint statement over the weekend, announced they would limit advertising critical of each other (McCain won't advertise at all that day). Still, it's something lots of candidates talk about, and perhaps the program most easily cast aside amid budget cuts. Keep an eye on both candidates' plans to see just how committed they are.

-- But punditocracy is less interested in public service (Take that particular statement any way you choose) and more in the horse race. And the seemingly impossible appears to have happened: John McCain got a bigger post-convention bump than Barack Obama. It could be McCain's choice of Sarah Palin as vice presidential nominee, or that the Republican convention followed so closely on the heels of the Democratic convention (And without President Bush, much to Obama's chagrin). Slice it whichever way you like, but McCain now holds a one-point lead, 46.7%-45.7%, according to the latest RCP General Election Average.

-- Still, we called it a bump, not a bounce, for a reason. Nothing becomes a real bounce until it is sustained over a few weeks, and a spike of four points from McCain's recent nadir is simply nothing anyone should be thrilled about. Obama peaked just over 49% after his convention, meaning the fundamentals of the race are the same: It's close, but McCain seems to have a lower ceiling than Obama. That ceiling grew in recent days, but neither candidate can cross the 50% threshold. Expect the chattering classes to highlight the latest USA Today/Gallup, Gallup tracking and other polls that show McCain inching ahead as game-changers. They'll say the same thing when Obama inches back ahead next week, a back-and-forth that won't stop until Election Day. Keep grains of salt handy.

-- The only real events left in the campaign will be four prime-time debates broadcast from four universities over the next month and a half. Meetings between Obama and McCain at the University of Mississippi, Belmont University and Hofstra and a clash between Joe Biden and Palin at Washington University in St. Louis could move the dial, and if anything, networks ought to sell more advertising. Nearly 40 million people watched both Obama and McCain accept their party's respective nomination, giving credence to the notion that more people are interested in politics than ever before.

-- But those debates will prove crucial. Jim Lehrer hosts the first, in Oxford, Mississippi, just two and a half weeks from today, and all four ticket members will drop off the trail for a brief period to start debate prep. Who will play Obama and McCain for their rivals? The Republican should tap Joe Lieberman, a constant traveling companion and someone who knows many of Obama's positions as his own. The Democrat, though, lost the best choice for a McCain stand-in when he offered Joe Biden the vice presidency.

-- Perhaps the most dangerous moments for the Obama ticket will come when Biden and Palin sit across from each other in St. Louis. With a penchant for running his mouth a little too freely, Biden risks coming across as cocky and arrogant or as patronizing, something an older white man doesn't want to do while sitting next to a younger woman. The opportunities for gaffes on a serious scale are tremendous. On the other hand, Palin has a lot of learning to do to catch up with the Senate Foreign Relations chairman, and her skills in interviews and debates aren't yet fully known. She will sit down with ABC's Charlie Gibson later this week in Alaska to give her first interview since being named to the ticket.

-- Bias Of The Day: McCain and Palin made two things clear at their convention in St. Paul: They would run as maverick reformers, and they bleepin' hate the media. McCain used to be tight with many in media-world, and the Straight Talk Express was the best place a reporter could be. Now, the media has a new darling, McCain asserts, and it bears out: Obama gets more than one-third more coverage than McCain, Time Magazine writes, and a lot more magazine covers. But is it more commercial bias than political? There's a case to be made for that side of the question as well.

-- Today On The Trail: McCain and Palin are rallying in Lee's Summit, Missouri today, while the Democratic ticket has gone their separate ways. Obama talks economy in Flint, Michigan before hosting a town hall in Farmington Hills, home of the traditional Reagan Democrat. Biden has a town hall meeting scheduled for Green Bay, Wisconsin before rallying supporters in Des Moines, Iowa. And Hillary Clinton hits the stump for Obama in Florida, with an economic event in Kissimmee and a rally in Tampa backing the Democratic ticket. This evening, part two of Obama's interview with Bill O'Reilly appears, as will a separate sit-down he held with MSNBC's Keith Olbermann.

The Fighter Takes The Stage

ST. PAUL, Minnesota -- John McCain casts himself as a fighter. After a rough and tumble primary campaign in which his campaign was counted out more times than one, the Arizona Senator tonight accepted his party's nomination for President of the United States and once again prepared for the most important battle of his political career.

Entering a packed arena of Republican activists, some of whom once opposed him with ferocity, McCain accepted his party's nomination for president with self-described "confidence" in the coming contest with Democratic rival Barack Obama. "Let there be no doubt, my friends, we're going to win this election," he said.

A day after his vice presidential nominee electrified the Xcel Center in St. Paul, McCain faced a convention that had become as much about Sarah Palin as it had about the party's presidential nominee. In the week since nominating Palin, McCain has reaped benefits as conservatives rallied to his ticket after spending months enjoying only their most tepid support.

McCain used his acceptance speech to assert his own control over a party he has long antagonized, and to reestablish himself as the maverick who captured independent voters during his 2000 bid for president. His service to his country and his dedication to its future dominated, with red meat for those same conservatives so in love with Palin sprinkled liberally throughout.

"You know, I've been called a maverick, someone who marches to the beat of his own drum. Sometimes it's meant as a compliment and sometimes it's not," McCain said. "What it really means is I understand who I work for. I don't work for a party. I don't work for a special interest. I don't work for myself. I work for you."

Never seen as one with a strong background in economic policy, McCain also used his acceptance speech to project empathy with those in dire financial straits. "These are tough times for many of you. You're worried about keeping your job or finding a new one, and are struggling to put food on the table and stay in your home. All you ever asked of government is to stand on your side, not in your way. And that's just what I intend to do: Stand on your side and fight for your future," McCain said.

The matchup with Obama is a study in contrast, one that McCain seems comfortable making. Facing a challenger whose name is becoming almost synonymous with change, McCain pledged his own new, and he asserts safer and more trustworthy, direction for the country. "Let me offer an advance warning to the old, big spending, do nothing, me first, country second Washington crowd: Change is coming."

"When we tell you we're going to change Washington, and stop leaving our country's problems for some unluckier generation to fix, you can count on it," he said. "We've got a record of doing just that, and the strength, experience, judgment and backbone to keep our word to you."

McCain embraces the image of a fighter, and facing a Democratic ticket that does not feature a veteran for the first time in decades, the Republican relied heavily on military symbolism. Obama was frequently interrupted with chants of his name, while McCain was interrupted by chants of "USA! USA!" Then again, McCain, the candidate most closely associated with the troop surge in Iraq, was interrupted multiple times by protesters brandishing anti-war messages.

Still, McCain's campaign clearly thinks the war is a winning issue for him. "I fought for the right strategy and more troops in Iraq, when it wasn't a popular thing to do," McCain said to wild applause. "And when the pundits said my campaign was finished, I said I'd rather lose an election than see my country lose a war."

McCain pledged his respect and admiration for the Illinois Senator. "Despite our differences, much more unites us than divides us. We are fellow Americans, an association that means more to me than any other," McCain said. But McCain also revisited an attack on Obama that has proven effective in the past, casting himself as the real candidate compared with a celebrity. "I'm not running for president because I think I'm blessed with such personal greatness that history has anointed me to save our country in its hour of need," he said.

"I don't mind a good fight. For reasons known only to God, I've had quite a few tough ones in my life. But I learned an important lesson along the way. In the end, it matters less that you can fight. What you fight for is the real test," McCain said.

And McCain has a fight ahead of him, one he made clear tonight. "I will keep taxes low and cut them where I can. My opponent will raise them. I will open new markets to our goods and services. My opponent will close them. I will cut government spending. He will increase it," he said.

Republicans on Capitol Hill think they have found a winning political issue in expanded domestic oil production. By picking the ardently pro-drilling Palin and in his speech tonight, McCain signaled energy will also be a key part of his presidential campaign. McCain cast it as a new Manhattan project: "We're going to embark on the most ambitious national project in decades. We are going to stop sending $700 billion a year to countries that don't like us very much. We will attack the problem on every front. We will produce more energy at home. We will drill new wells offshore, and we'll drill them now."

After eight years of unpopular Republican rule, McCain walks the fine line of distancing himself from President Bush without distancing himself from the GOP activists who still approve of Bush's job performance. Energy development, he showed, could be an avenue toward that balance. His plan "is an ambitious plan, but Americans are ambitious by nature, and we have faced greater challenges. It's time for us to show the world again how Americans lead," McCain said.

The nearly forty-minute address demonstrated again the contrast both candidates will draw over the next two months. John McCain is no Barack Obama, either ideologically or stylistically. But McCain, known at times for his awkward and halting speeches delivered from TelePrompTers, showed a marked improvement in front of as many as 25,000 adoring fans.

McCain's goal tonight was to connect with voters who might not otherwise give a Republican candidate a second look. Even with the popular McCain, independent and moderate voters have an attractive choice in Obama. Seeking to reestablish himself as a maverick who bucks his party while not alienating those same activists could be the Republican's best chance at victory.

But it will take a fight, and McCain knows history is not on the side of a party holding the White House after eight years of an unpopular president. "Stand up, stand up, stand up and fight. Nothing is inevitable here," McCain said. "We're Americans, and we never give up. We never quit. We never hide from history. We make history."

NC: Hagan +5

North Carolina Senator Elizabeth Dole trails her opponent in a new Democracy Corps poll, highlighting the Republican's vulnerability in November. Still, Dole's campaign will point out that the survey was conducted by a Democratic firm. The poll also found the state's governor's race is a tie, giving Republicans hope of picking up at least one executive mansion in November.

The survey, conducted by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research, a Washington-based firm, polled 852 likely voters between 8/20-26 for a margin of error of +/- 3.4% (The sample's partisan breakdown: 40% Democratic, 33% Republican, 27% independent and others). Dole and State Senator Kay Hagan were tested, along with Lieutenant Governor Bev Perdue and Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory, the Democratic and Republican candidates for governor, respectively.

General Election Matchup (With leaners)
Hagan...........50
Dole............45

Perdue..........46
McCrory.........46

McCain..........47
Obama...........44

Generic Dem.....49
Generic GOP.....43

The numbers in the governor's race show what most other surveys agree upon -- a tight race in which the candidates are within a point or two of each other. The presidential matchup also tracks closely with most polls; the latest RCP North Carolina Average shows McCain leading by 4.2 points.

The Senate race has been less stable, with some polls showing Dole with a big lead, particularly after she ran an initial series of advertisements, and others with Hagan running close if not even.

Dole has plenty of opportunities to make the race as close as the governor's race. After respondents were read an informed ballot highlighting each candidate's positives and negatives, the two tied at 47% each.

Still, Dole's job approval ratings are 38% approve to 39% disapprove, meaning the Republican will have to use her sizable war chest to bolster he own image. Hagan will continue to try and tie Dole to the unpopular President Bush, whose approval ratings are a dismal 38% approve to 57% disapprove.

Strategy Memo: Garrison's Not Happy

MINNEAPOLIS, Minnesota -- Good Thursday morning. For a journalist, the greatest part about a convention is the plethora of politicos just standing on the street corner. Like former New York Governor George Pataki, waiting for his ride last night, who gamely said hello to anyone who happened by. Here's what Washington and the Twin Cities are watching today:

-- It's the last day of the Republican National Committee, which late last night formally nominated John McCain and Sarah Palin as the party's standard-bearers headed into November. It's also the last day of PalinPalooza, brought to a fever pitch by the vice presidential nominee's speech in primetime yesterday. Today, the focus shifts to the guy who actually brought the delegates to Minneapolis, as McCain puts the finishing touches on his acceptance speech.

-- But delegates and the media aren't going to get over Palin's own acceptance speech that easily. Widely fawned over by conservative writers, Palin's speech was perhaps most notable for the number of Democrats it scared. Prominent strategists not involved in Barack Obama's campaign expressed alarm at Palin's talent, and they had reason to: Forget the attack lines, look at Palin's appeal to a certain electoral vote-rich segment of the population. We're not talking about women; when Palin hits on her family being just like yours and the struggles small businesspeople go through, she's speaking straight to voters in Minnesota, Michigan, Ohio and the entire Midwest

-- Palin's accent sounded like she could live down the street from the Xcel Center in St. Paul. In fact, Palin could be the candidate from Lake Woebegone, Garrison Keillor's fictional Minnesota town where the women are strong, the men are good looking and all the children are above average. Palin's entire goal was to make voters take a second look at John McCain, and she may have perked up a lot more ears than she or the campaign could have reasonably hoped. (By the way, her parents were still at the hotel bar by 1 p.m., hearty Alaskans that they are)

-- Back to Palin's speech, which offered as much red meat as Joe Biden's acceptance and received probably twice the interest of her party's base. Vice presidential speeches are less about forming policy than they are about serving as the go-to attack dog, and Palin didn't disappoint. She flubbed a few lines and stepped on a few moments of applause, but we gave her a B+ right after the speech (Admittedly, before we'd heard Democrats' responses).

-- Palin didn't make things any easier for her new boss, though. Tonight it's McCain's turn to be the center of attention, and he has a reputation as a mediocre speaker, at best. With Palin getting all the GOP attention, is there a danger the presidential nominee is overshadowed at his own convention, leading some Republicans to think they nominated the wrong candidate?

-- By the way, what if they held a convention and no one showed up? About 21.5 million viewers tuned in to the Tuesday session of the Republican National Convention, well below Democrats' numbers for the comparable day. Perhaps more disturbing, viewership was down 600,000 from the second day in 2004, according to Nielsen. How many people watch McCain's speech tonight could determine whether or not the convention is a success.

-- Our final thought about Sarah Palin, and it's an important one: The country got a good first impression of Palin, especially if they watched her in the same room as a Republican diehard. But the McCain campaign's insistence that the media is to blame for going over the top in attacking the vice presidential nominee is absurd. Will some outlets go over the top? Of course, and several have said inappropriate things about both parties.

-- Blame some for pregnancy rumors, terrorist fist bumps and both parties' baby mamas. But don't lump them in with journalists asking questions about Palin's involvement in the firing of a state public safety commissioner, a scandal complete with tapes and now emails, the Washington Post writes today. Don't lump them in with those asking questions about Palin's experience; after all, there are 39 governors with more time in office than she has, and she's never issued an order to the Alaska National Guard, as McClatchy points out today. The McCain camp's claims of sexism, writes Ron Fournier, isn't entirely justified.

-- Spilled Milk Of The Day: Two speeches that stand out so far this convention came from two officials we've already heard from a lot. Former Senator Fred Thompson and former Mayor Rudy Giuliani each gave strong defenses of McCain's record and his positions, slamming Democrats every chance they got. Strategists for both Thompson's and Giuliani's once-promising presidential campaigns have privately wondered to Politics Nation where that enthusiasm and passion was while they were candidates.

-- Today On The Trail: McCain has nothing publicly planned other than giving his acceptance speech, and Palin will be there to watch. Barack Obama has a rally planned in Lancaster, Pennsylvania today before taping an interview on Bill O'Reilly's show. Wife Michelle has events scheduled for Santa Fe and Albuquerque, while Biden is holding a morning confab with voters in Virginia Beach.

KY 02: Dem +8

In advance of the 1994 general election, Republican Ron Lewis' win in a Kentucky special election gave the first hint of an impending GOP landslide. Fourteen years later, as Lewis steps down from Congress, a poll in Kentucky's Second District could be a good sign for Democrats, as State Senator David Boswell sports a lead over his Republican rival.

The survey, conducted for Boswell's campaign by Garin-Hart-Yang, surveyed 403 likely voters between 8/23-25 for a margin of error of +/- 4.9%. Boswell and State Senator Brett Guthrie, the GOP nominee, were tested among a sample made up of 58% Democrats, 35% Republicans and 7% independents. The actual voter registration in the district is 58% Democrats and 36% Republicans, the polling memo notes.

General Election Matchup
Boswell.................41
Guthrie..................33

Generic Dem.........39
Generic GOPer.....35

Running as a conservative Democrat, Boswell has taken positions that look like those adopted by others in his party who have found success in the South this year. Reps. Travis Childers of Mississippi and Don Cazayoux of Louisiana both won special elections running as a pro-life and pro-gun Democrats.

Despite the overwhelmingly Democratic registration, President Bush carried the Second District with 65% of the vote in 2004. The large number of undecided voters means Guthrie has a good chance to close the gap with Boswell. But Boswell's early lead is still a bad sign for Republicans in a district Lewis never had trouble retaining.

Strategy Memo: Bright New Levi

MINNEAPOLIS, Minnesota -- Good Wednesday morning. Lobbying and lobbyists are alive and well at both conventions this year, with folks openly discussing to whom they wrote big checks. Watch this space for more on that later. Here's what else the Twin Cities and Washington are watching today:

-- Fred Thompson, Joe Lieberman and President Bush did their best to get the focus back on John McCain during the (kind of) first day of the Republican convention, which wrapped up about ten hours from publication time. Bush's address, via satellite from the White House, was "mercifully short," says one Republican insider, echoing the sentiments of many. And while there would have been an open revolt had Lieberman been added to the ticket, giving him a prime speaking slot from which to bash Obama as inexperienced worked plenty well.

-- But a day into the convention, more people are talking about Sarah Palin -- and, for that matter, Levi Johnston -- than they are about McCain. Palin is set to accept the Republican nomination for vice president tonight, barring some crazy and unforeseen change of plans in the next twelve hours, and she remains the talk of the town. That's still a good thing, though; Palin has done what other candidates and John McCain couldn't do: Excite the GOP base.

-- Democrats aren't going to let Palin make it to the weekend, much less to November, without adding their own two cents on her public image. Politico's Ben Smith got ahold of a research binder on Palin prepared for former Alaska Governor Tony Knowles' 2006 race against her, and the party has focused their attacks on what they call her lack of experience and her positions on earmarks and a number of other issues that paint her as too far right.

-- It might be good for Republicans to take a glance at the document, as the party still doesn't seem to know much about the Alaska governor. Palin was not interviewed until the day before she was chosen as McCain's nominee, the Washington Post's Dan Balz writes today. One of two finalists for the job -- the other was Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty -- Palin was in Arizona last Wednesday to interview with vetter extraordinaire A.B. Culvahouse and to meet top McCain aides Mark Salter and Steve Schmidt. She was offered the job Thursday.

-- The selection process through which Palin went has become the renewed focus of media scrutiny (And that's terribly odd: The media is criticizing McCain for not finding out what they might find out in the future. An ill-vetted veep seems like it would be the best of all possible worlds for the insatiable press). And that's a bad thing for the McCain campaign. In the end, though, Palin's selection remains an overwhelming positive, having renewed interest in the party's presidential ticket and shrunk what was starting to feel like a deceptively big lead for Democratic rival Barack Obama.

-- The candidates agree, and virtually every political observer agrees, that Palin's daughter -- and indeed all political spouses and children -- should be off limits from criticism or scrutiny during the campaign. But Bristol Palin's husband-to-be, Levi Johnston, is on his way to St. Paul, if he's not already here, the Anchorage Daily News reported yesterday. Johnston's mother told the Daily News Johnston had left Wasilla late yesterday to head to the convention to be with the family as Bristol's mother becomes the first Republican woman formally nominated for vice president. But if everyone agrees, why turn around and so obviously include him in the ceremonies? It doesn't make a lot of sense for the McCain campaign.

-- Risk Of The Day: Barack Obama will sit down with Fox News' Bill O'Reilly, the New York Times reports, in what can only be called a no-win situation for the Democratic presidential candidate. Obama will sit down with O'Reilly on Thursday, before John McCain addresses his convention, guaranteeing serious attention on the network's highest-rated show. Fox News chief Roger Ailes tried to convince Obama that his network would be fair to the Democrat's campaign, per the Post's Howard Kurtz, but going on O'Reilly isn't the same as appearing on the rest of the networks. Obama, it seems, is taking a big risk.

-- Today On The Trail: McCain ends his slow and winding road to St. Paul when he arrives at the Minneapolis airport to the cheers of supporters. He will be in the city when Palin makes her speech this evening. Obama is in New Philadelphia, Ohio for a meeting with voters on the economy at Kent State University. Later, he attends a barbeque in Dillonvale, Ohio. After canceling appearances because of the hurricane, Joe Biden is back on the trail, with a town hall meeting slated for Sarasota.

Keep An Eye On This

ST. PAUL, Minnesota -- Republicans are trying out new lines of attack against Barack Obama at the national convention in St. Paul and Minneapolis, auditioning zingers they hope can undermine the Democratic candidate. It's a task activists and message-makers from around the country are undertaking, as opposed to the campaign itself.

Here's a good one we heard this morning: "They want to change America. We want to change Washington." That was Americans for Tax Reform's Grover Norquist, addressing the Arizona and Nevada delegations this morning at a hotel just steps from the Xcel Center and riffing off Obama's massive speech in Denver.

It could be an effective line. Sure, four in five voters think the country's off on the wrong track, but, argues Norquist, a stringent fiscal libertarian, it's Washington that needs fixing, not the rest of the country. Norquist urged Republican activists to focus on what he characterizes as Democratic meddling in people's affairs.

Will the McCain campaign use the line? If so, give Norquist credit.

Strategy Memo: Palin Comparison

MINNEAPOLIS, Minnesota -- Good Tuesday morning. Why do they call Chicago the Windy City when we almost lost our hats (If we were wearing hats) in Minneapolis yesterday? Nicknames should be subject to re-evaluation. Here's what St. Paul and Washington are watching today:

-- Republicans, and everyone else, breathed a sigh of relief yesterday as Hurricane Gustav came ashore lacking the sort of power many had feared and forecast. New Orleans, it appears, was hit with a nasty wind and rainstorm, not the "storm of the century," as Mayor Ray Nagin had predicted. That's because the wind came from the south side of the city, not the northern border facing Lake Pontchartrain as happened with Hurricane Katrina about three years ago.

-- That the city is just fine, and that Gustav did not inflict the kind of damage on the rest of Louisiana that many feared, means the show must go on, and today the Republican convention in St. Paul will resume. Major speakers will include former Senator and one-time candidate Fred Thompson and independent Senator Joe Lieberman, as well as President Bush, who will speak by satellite. Yesterday's cancellation was only temporary, and by getting President Bush and Vice President Cheney off the stage, perhaps the hurricane scare was just what McCain needed.

-- Speaking of which, delegates and guests were treated to muted speeches yesterday, focused more on hurricane victims and their families than on politics and policy. Every speaker at the convention mentioned only their hopes for a speedy recovery, not their planned shots at Democrats. Every party held in Minneapolis last night suddenly took on a New Orleans theme, and convention attendees were asked to donate to hurricane recovery efforts. That was the McCain campaign deftly, and wisely, altering their schedule to accommodate the changing tides, exhibiting a seemingly newfound dexterity for which they won media plaudits (And, just to reiterate, got President Bush off the stage without making it obvious).

-- Not all was punch and pie for Republicans yesterday, though. Revelations that running mate Sarah Palin's 17-year-old daughter Bristol is expecting a child rudely intruded on the Alaska Governor's surprisingly strong honeymoon as the vice presidential pick. The disclosure, made by Palin and her husband yesterday morning and apparently already known to the McCain campaign, was met with acceptance and understanding by Republican delegates and activists, but the fact that it came out so publicly and ham-handidly shows the McCain campaign, which won credit for it's rollout of Palin's candidacy, is human after all.

-- But could their be bigger problems ahead? That wasn't it for Palin, as revelations seeped out during the day that her husband had been arrested for drunk driving two decades ago, while Palin herself was a member of the Alaska Independence Party, which has made secessionist moves at times, according to the New York Times, while she wasn't always as distant from scandal-plagued Senator Ted Stevens as she once said. Too, Palin has hired a private attorney to represent her in what is becoming known nationwide as "Trooper-gate," during which Palin fired a public safety commissioner in a dispute that involved a man divorcing her sister.

-- It's not expected that a vice presidential nominee will greet the media by handing out a briefing document filled with opposition research material aimed at themselves, but it is expected that the rocky first few days will produce a better relationship come Election Day. In Palin's case, regardless of what's accurate or not, the questions will be swirling as she takes the stage Wednesday evening and accepts the nomination. Whether it's earmarks, as the Post's Paul Kane writes, or any other issue on which Palin isn't perfect, the GOP base has much to learn about their new veep. Early signs still point to an excitement among conservatives, though a measure of reality is creeping in.

-- Still, the group getting the most scrutiny over new disclosures about Palin is not the Alaska Governor's staff but McCain's campaign. With Republican operatives on their way to Wasilla and Anchorage to conduct a deeper review of their Number Two, questions about whether McCain's team actually vetted Palin are growing louder. The Times (Link above) reported vetters did not get to Alaska until Thursday, the day before Palin was chosen and not nearly enough time to conduct even a cursory examination of her records. Meanwhile, the McCain campaign's chief vetter, Washington lawyer A.B. Culvahouse, told AP's Liz Sidoti that every potential pitfall in Palin's past has already come out. For his future as a vice presidential vetter, he'd better be right.

-- Silver Lining Of The Day: Forget whatever headache revelations about Palin have caused, the McCain campaign's banker absolutely loves her. McCain raised $10 million in the final few days of the month, they reported yesterday, on their way to a huge $47 million fundraising month, CNN's Rebecca Sinderbrand reports. That's great compared with Barack Obama, who pulled in $50 million in July and has yet to release his August numbers; McCain pulled in much less than Obama did over July, and his big money now is his best month ever. McCain can't spend any more of that money after Thursday, though, when he will accept $84.1 million in public financing.

-- Today On The Trail: Obama is back in Chicago to monitor recovery efforts from Hurricane Gustav, though what he plans to monitor and how he plans to do it are issues not quite made clear. McCain has events planned for Ohio and Pennsylvania a day and a half before he formally accepts the GOP nod to be president. Joe Biden has town hall meetings in Deerfield Beach and West Palm Beach, Florida, while Sarah Palin is at the Republican National Convention here in the Twin Cities.

GOPers Reserve Ad Time

The National Republican Congressional Committee has plopped down the first two rounds of reservations for television time in advance of November's general election, and though they trail their Democratic counterparts, Republicans are remaining optimistic the money will roll in.

Republicans have reserved a total of $17.8 million in television time targeting 26 districts, far short of the more than 50 Democrats are targeting with upwards of $50 million. Too, the list of targeted districts looks remarkably similar to Democrats' list, meaning the party is likely to be outspent in most places where they advertise.

Democratic claims that the majority of districts in play remain in GOP districts ring true, given some of the names on the list, including entrenched incumbents like Lincoln and Mario Diaz-Balart, both of Florida, Joe Knollenberg of Michigan, Steve Chabot of Ohio and, perhaps most surprisingly, Phil English in Pennsylvania.

In all, fourteen of the 26 districts feature Republican incumbents, while seven targets are open seat races being vacated by Republicans. Just five Democrats are targets of Republican ad dollars, though they are the five most promising names on the GOP headhunting list.

Republicans have their eyes on Florida Rep. Tim Mahoney, Kansas Rep. Nancy Boyda, Don Cazayoux of Louisiana, Nick Lampson of Texas and Wisconsin Rep. Steve Kagen. All except Lampson were first elected in 2006, though Lampson returned to Congress that year after losing a previous bid for re-election.

Remember, television reservations are no indication that Republicans will actually spend the money on advertising, and they can cancel those reservations any time (The DCCC canceled millions of dollars slated to defend Boyda this year after the Kansas Democrat publicly asked the party to stay out of her race). But the early Republican moves are an ambitious statement that their party won't be outspent too dramatically, if they can help it.

A full list of targeted districts, the amount of time Republicans have reserved and the number of points that means is after the jump. Two thousand points is considered saturation level for a week, meaning the average television viewer would see an ad twenty times in a week-long period.

State / District / Incumbent (Party) / Money reserved / Points (Approx.)

Republican Incumbents

CO / 04 / Musgrave (R) / $1.2 million / 2578
FL / 21 / L. Diaz-Balart (R) / $1 million / 1970
FL / 24 / Feeney (R) / $408,000 / 2000
FL / 25 / M. Diaz-Balart (R) / $950,000 / 2284
ID / 01 / Sali (R) / $509,000 / 5600
MI / 07 / Walberg (R) / $832,000 / 4000
MI / 09 / Knollenberg (R) / $618,000 / 2000
MN / 06 / Bachmann (R) / $600,000 / 2000
NC / 08 / Hayes (R) / $720,000 / 4500
NV / 03 / Porter (R) / $550,000 / 2200
OH / 01 / Chabot (R) / $538,000 / 2500
OH / 02 / Schmidt (R) / $485,000 / 2224
PA / 03 / English (R) / $676,000 / 6400
WA / 08 / Reichert (R) / $1 million / 2236

Republican Open Seats

AL / 02 / Everett (R) / $377,865 / 6500
LA / 04 / McCrery (R) / $322,000 / 3200
MN / 03 / Ramstad (R) / $625,000
MO / 06 / Hulshof (R) / $430,000 / 3200
NM / 01 / Wilson (R) / $730,000 / 2400
OH / 15 / Pryce (R) / $810,000 / 2561
OH / 16 / Regula (R) / $811,000 / 2500

Democratic Incumbents

FL / 16 / Mahoney (D) / $926,000 / 5500
KS / 02 / Boyda (D) / $580,000 / 6566
LA / 06 / Cazayoux (D) / $474,000 / 3169
TX / 22 / Lampson (D) / $1.5 million / 2021
WI / 08 / Kagen (D) / $213,000 / 2500

Strategy Memo: McCain's Turn

MINNEAPOLIS, Minnesota -- Good Monday morning. After various road trips, flights and other comedy, the RCP crew has landed in the Twin Cities for the GOP convention. Here's what Washington and St. Paul are watching today:

-- Barack Obama's week ended with a bang in front of 84,000 people in Denver, but did he get any sort of meaningful rise out of the Democratic National Convention? The latest Gallup daily tracking poll has him leading John McCain by a 48%-42% margin, the same margin by which Obama led after Hillary Clinton's speech to the convention on Tuesday. The latest RCP Average shows Obama leading McCain by just 3.4 points, up from a 1.6-point lead as Obama's convention started.

-- Point to one of a few factors to blame for the nonexistence of a meaningful and sustained post-convention bounce for Obama. One might be the announcement, just hours after Obama's big speech, that Alaska Governor Sarah Palin would be McCain's running mate, a decision that galvanized conservatives and raised a boatload of cash for the campaign. Another may be the fact that the country simply remains too divided to provide a big boost for any one candidate. Neither explanation is as simple as it seems.

-- Choosing Palin has been the first thing McCain has done in years that has seriously excited the conservative base (Arguably the last thing he did that got them as revved up was to lose in 2000). A massive crowd packed a gym in Dayton, Ohio, and a rally outside St. Louis drew a whopping 17,000 people, Jonathan Martin reports. That pales in comparison to the 84,000 who showed up in Denver, but it's a lot better than the hundreds McCain has pulled to his own events.

-- As we wrote yesterday, the reaction of conservatives to the pick was unanimously positive. She's young, she's got a reputation as a corruption fighter, and she's got a pro-life record that cannot be questioned. Too, she represents a new generation that has sought to get the GOP back on a fiscal conservative course. In short, she's just what McCain needed to fire up a Republican base that had so far been content to watch from the sidelines. A large number of GOP activists said something similar, while others feared another white male on the ticket (A sentiment several consultants echoed to Politics Nation), as the Washington Post's Shear and Eilperin write.

-- Or maybe Palin isn't the perfect pick. The governor of Alaska is involved in a scandal surrounding the dismissal of a state public safety commissioner, and though the extent of her involvement is unknown, it's one of those scandals in which tapes are involved. The investigation, spearheaded by the state legislature, is slated to wrap up October 31. Add in Palin's previous support for the so-called Bridge to Nowhere, which USA Today's Ken Dilanian reported today, a position directly at odds with that which she expressed at her Dayton announcement, and lingering questions over whether a governor in office for just over a year and a half eliminates McCain's most effective argument -- experience -- against Barack Obama and there is reason to question whether Palin should have even made it to the short list.

-- Meanwhile, McCain's gathering in St. Paul, coming on the heels of the Denver confab, will be dramatically scaled back this week as Hurricane Gustav bears down on the Gulf Coast. The storm will make landfall this morning as a Category 3, which is weaker than some officials had feared. President Bush is in Texas preparing to respond, while McCain spent part of yesterday in Mississippi getting a briefing on federal officials' plans to react to the storm. Today's planned speeches have already been canceled, and the Republican National Convention will consist entirely of business, adjourning after just a few hours.

-- The storm provides a risk and a potential upside to McCain, and don't think both campaigns aren't already adding up the political pluses and minuses. The moment a single levy breaks, Americans will be reminded of a lackluster response to Hurricane Katrina that finally sunk the Bush presidency to the pit of unpopularity. But if the storm doesn't cause major damage and loss of life, McCain looks presidential for putting politics aside for a few days. Too, if he reacts and visits the region before his acceptance speech, McCain can highlight his distance from and criticism of the Bush Administration over Katrina, a factor officials with the campaign point out as a big plus. And in an unmitigated positive, both Bush and Vice President Cheney will not be speaking at the convention tonight, great news for a candidate trying to distance himself as politely as possible. (More on Gustav from Weekly Standard's Noemie Emery)

-- Winner Of The Day: With Palin chosen especially to win support from women voters, the biggest winner of all may be Hillary Clinton, the New York Times' Patrick Healy writes. After a nasty primary race and a gracious concession speech, Clinton's appeal to women voters remains strong. Without a big gender gap, Democrats cannot win. Therefore, Clinton is likely to be deployed more on the trail, giving her a sustained higher national profile. Palin gives women voters an excuse to look at McCain again, while Clinton's backing could be that which prevents them from doing so.

-- Today On The Trail: Obama is rallying in Detroit on Labor Day, followed by a barbeque in Monroe and a rally in Milwaukee, both in Michigan. McCain is in Toledo, Ohio after a three-day tour with his new vice presidential selection; later he heads to Philadelphia. Joe Biden is in Pittsburgh and Scranton, while Palin arrived in St. Paul yesterday along with Cindy McCain.