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Blog Home Page --> August 2009

Timeline For Massachusetts Senate Election

The Massachusetts Secretary of State has released a full timeline for the special election to fill the seat of the late Sen. Ted Kennedy (D). Note that while the seat will ultimately be filled on January 19 in the special general election, the date to watch will really be December 8, when a special primary election will be held. Unless a formidable Republican candidate emerges, the Democratic nominee will likely win handily.

Special Election Calendar
10/20: Last day to file nomination papers at local registrars
11/3: Last day to file nomination papers at Secretary of Commonwealth
11/6: Last day for candidate to withdraw
12/8: State Primary
1/19: State General Election

Dems Confident On '09 Gov Races, Eye '10 Pickups

The Democratic Governors Association sounds increasingly confident about the two gubernatorial races being held this fall, citing recent developments in the New Jersey and Virginia contests that have voters taking a second look at Republican candidates who have lead in the polls.

In Virginia, officials say that this weekend's Washington Post report about Republican Bob McDonnell's thesis was "devastating," and will go down as the point in the campaign when his "persona as a moderate came crashing down." "He knows that's the ticket to success in Virginia," DGA executive director Nate Daschle said. "But the fact is, he is not" a moderate.

Meanwhile, Republican Chris Christie's favorable numbers are rising and his long-standing lead is "evaporating" after a series of stories that have New Jersey voters questioning his character, the party says.

"This is a candidate who entered the race talking about how he's the ethics candidate. Unfortunately for him, since then ethics have dogged his campaign," Daschle said. He mentioned "a string of ethical lapses," from reports of contacts with Karl Rove, to an undisclosed loan to a subordinate, and to recently revealed driving violations. "If this were the kind of thing where it was just one two or three events in isolation, you could chalk it up to a lack of judgment. But this is a string, a pattern of events that calls into question his character," Daschle said.

Speaking with liberal bloggers on a conference call this afternoon, officials said their internal tracking shows Corzine narrowing the gap quickly, and say other factors give them additional reason for optimism. First, DGA political director Ray Glendening said, there is a historical trend in New Jersey that shows polls tend to understate Democratic support. Plus, he claimed that polling is not factoring in the hundreds of thousands of new Democratic voters who registered as a result of the 2008 presidential primary.

"The lag in polling for Democrats coupled with that I think is going to make up another 3-5 points in the state before election day," Glendening said. Daschle added that the Democratic base "s really coming back to Corzine," which is "something that I think Christie wasn't counting on."

Turning to 2010, Daschle conceded that the party faces a stiff "head wind" as it seeks to hold onto its majority of governor's seats, citing not just the fact that the party in the White House tends to lose seats in mid terms, but also the tough economy and its impact on federal and state budgets. He singled out Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter, Iowa Gov. Chet Culver, Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, and potentially Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley as incumbents who will face tough races.

"We're going to do everything we can to make sure they win," he said.

Daschle also said the DGA currently is eyeing six states where Republicans now hold the governor's mansion as strong pickup opportunities: Vermont, Florida, California, Hawaii, Nevada and Minnesota. Circumstances may put another group of states in play, including Georgia, Alabama, Arizona, Alaska and Rhode Island.

Georgia and Alabama Georgia and Alabama, in particular, represent battlegrounds that are promising in part because of President Obama's presidential run. "I think Democrats nationally are giving another look at the south and seeing some opportunities where they didn't exist in the past," Daschle said.

He stated no preference in the wide Georgia Democratic primary field, which includes former Gov. Roy Barnes. Nor did he in Alabama, where Rep. Artur Davis (D-Ala.) will face Agriculture Commissioner Ron Sparks. But he does have a dog in the Republican primary, citing a recent poll that showed former State Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore leading.

"If the Republicans went that way, then it's even more likely that this would be a competitive race in the fall," Daschle said.

The Beginning Of The End Of Bipartisanship?

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs seemed to lay the groundwork for a Democratic go-it-alone strategy today by seizing on what he said were "unfortunate" comments from Republican senators who had been part of health care talks. In particular, he cited the Republican weekly address delivered by Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.), who had been part of the Finance Committee team working on a bill.

"It doesn't help to have Republicans who say they're for bipartisanship and say they're at the table to try to find a solution repeating Republican Party talking points about what they know is not true in the bill," he said. "It's tremendously unfortunate that it looks like Republicans are stepping away from seeking a bipartisan solution. I think it's bad for this town but it's much worse for this country."

If the White House can successfully portray the Republicans as having been first to abandon a bipartisan bill, it could pave the way for President Obama to come in after months of Congressional sausage-making and push for a bill tailored more to his party's liking. But for now, Obama thinks a bipartisan outcome is still possible, Gibbs said.

"It appears that, at least in Senator Enzi's case, he doesn't believe there's a pathway to get bipartisan support. The president thinks that's wrong," he said. "I think that Senator Enzi's clearly turned over his cards on bipartisanship and decided that it's time to walk away from the table. I think that what somebody has to ask Senator Enzi and ask others, every member of Congress, is: are you satisfied with the way the system is working right now?"

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), the ranking member on the Senate Finance Committee who had been leading the health care negotiations for Republicans, is apparently also raising money for his re-election bid by promising to block any bill, the Washington Post reports. "The simple truth is that I am and always have been opposed to the Obama administration's plan to nationalize health care. Period," Grassley wrote.

Today, Obama is on the golf course as he extends what was an oft-interrupted vacation on Martha's Vineyard last week. Still, Gibbs said, he is working on health care and had meetings on the issue this morning.

"I think the president will continue, throughout this month, to frame what's important about getting health care reform done," he said.

Gibbs, responding to former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, also said: "I think to characterize the role that the president is playing as inactive would be inaccurate."

Blago: Rahm Wanted My Help Holding House Seat

Consider the source, as they say. And as we see in the case of Tom Ridge, anyone promoting a new book needs to toss out a few attention-grabbing claims.

But former Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D-Ill.) claims in his forthcoming book that White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel sought his help in potentially orchestrating a return to the House of Representatives.

AP reports:

Blagojevich says Emanuel was interested in his own career because he had to give up his congressional seat to work in Obama's White House. Blagojevich writes that Emanuel dreamed of being speaker of the U.S. House and wanted to know if Blagojevich would work with him to name a successor to "hold" his seat until he wanted it back.

Blagojevich says he told Emanuel he didn't think he could do that and the House vacancy would have to be filled by special election. But Emanuel reportedly told him "his lawyers thought there was a way."

"As we have done for many months, we will continue to decline comment," Emanuel spokeswoman Sarah Feinberg said in an e-mail Monday.

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs was also asked about this at today's briefing, but declined to comment on the claim of the "indicted former governor," as he put it. Meanwhile, it's safe to say that new Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.) probably hopes to keep his seat for the foreseeable future.

AP goes on to report that Blagojevich sought to appoint Attorney General Lisa Madigan to President Obama's former Senate seat "because he hoped to cut a deal on pet projects with her father, powerful Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan."

Vicki Kennedy Says No?

George Stephanopoulos reports this afternoon that Vicki Kennedy is out of the picture as far as replacing her husband on a short-term or long-term basis.

The trial balloon launched yesterday by Kennedy friends Chris Dodd and Orrin Hatch isn't going anywhere. A solid source assures me that Vicki Kennedy won't run in a special election to fill the Massachusetts Senate seat. She's not interested in an interim appointment if it becomes available.

Gov. Deval Patrick (D-Mass.) is set to make an announcement in about an hour about when a special election will be held. No word yet on whether the push for a temporary appointment will continue.

NRCC Targets Foster, Kratovil on Health Care

If freshman congressmen Bill Foster (D-Ill.) and Frank Kratovil (D-Md.) turn on their TVs at home this week, they may see their own faces alongside a headshot of Nancy Pelosi in a new ad from the National Republican Congressional Committee. The ad targets the Democrats on the issue of health care.

"Foster already votes with Pelosi 90% of the time, now what do you think he'll do?" the narrator states in the ad. "Call Foster, tell him to oppose Pelosi's cuts to Medicare."

Both Democrats succeeded Republicans in the 2008 elections. Foster took over Illinois's 14th District, formerly represented by Republican Speaker Dennis Hastert, in a March 2008 special election against Jim Oberweis. Foster won a full term in November.

Kratovil won Maryland's 1st District, whose moderate Republican incumbent, Wayne Gilchrest, was defeated by a more conservative challenger in the GOP primary. Kratovil defeated Andy Harris (R) by less than 1 point in the general election.

Corzine Camp Highlights Christie Loan In TV Ad

With just over two months left before voters go to the polls, Gov. Jon Corzine's campaign is sticking with an ad strategy aimed at driving up Chris Christie's (R) negatives. Today the Democrat has a new 30-second spot going up that calls further attention to the controversy over a loan Christie gave a subordinate in the U.S. attorney's office, which he failed to report.

The punch line argues that Christie, who is running on his law-and-order background, has "one set of rules for himself, another for everyone else." Read the full script after the jump.

While he was U.S. Attorney, Republican Chris Christie gave one of his subordinates a $46,000 loan.  And even though it is required under federal and state laws, Christie never reported the loan. And never paid taxes on the interest he received.

When he was caught, Christie said it was a "mistake." But he prosecuted people who did the same things.  Chris Christie. One set of rules for himself. Another for everyone else.

The Race for Governor of Virginia Has Changed

Virginia Democrats, the Creigh Deeds campaign and the Democratic National Committee want you to know that Bob McDonnell is no moderate Republican, or even simply a fiscally conservative Republican. No, McDonnell is a cultural conservative who would turn back the hands of time, they say.

DNC spokesman Hari Sevugan issued a lacerating statement today in response to a Washington Post A1 story yesterday that looked at a graduate school thesis McDonnell wrote. As Sevugan notes, McDonnell was in his mid-30s when he wrote it -- not his early 20s -- so his points can't be dismissed as those of a young student.

The point, though, is that Democrats are hoping this stirs up some enthusiasm from the more liberal members of Virginia's electorate who up to this point have been less than enamored with either candidate. They think this is a "game changer." And maybe it is.

Here is the full statement from Sevugan:

"In Bob McDonnell's preferred Virginia, women would be stigmatized for choosing to work outside the home, access to contraception would be all but banned and women would be denied equal pay for equal work. In Bob McDonnell's preferred Virginia, the medical decisions of women and their doctors would be criminalized and the victims of rape and incest would have no medical recourse. While Virginians want to keep the Commonwealth moving forward, these devastating revelations prove that Bob McDonnell wants to take Virginia backwards.

"And to be clear, these were not the musings of young student, but rather a 34-year old married man on the cusp of elected office who would go on to doggedly pursue the extreme agenda he called for once in that office.

"By undermining his main argument that he's in the main stream of Virginians, not only has this revelation laid bare McDonnell's real agenda, but is nothing short of a game changer in this election."

Palin Heading To Hong Kong

One year after joining the Republican presidential ticket, Sarah Palin is looking to beef up her foreign policy credentials with a trip to Asia. The AP reports:

The former Alaska governor will visit Hong Kong to address the CLSA Investors Forum, a well-known annual conference of global investment managers, the host announced Monday.

Bill Clinton, Al Gore and Alan Greenspan have spoken at the event, hosted by brokerage and investment group CLSA Asia-Pacific Markets.

"Our keynote speakers are notable luminaries who often address topics that go beyond traditional finance such as geopolitics," company spokeswoman Simone Wheeler said in a statement.


The Sept. 23 address will mark Palin's first commercial speaking engagement, according to CLSA. Her speaking fees were not disclosed.

It will be closed to the media, and the topic has not yet been confirmed.

Palin was criticized during last year's presidential election for her lack of experience in international affairs. She received her first passport in 2007 to visit Alaska National Guard members serving in Kuwait and Germany.

Strategy Memo: Back to Work

Today President Obama is back in Washington, but is not expected to dive back into work. He actually has no public events scheduled today, and within days will be back en route to Camp David through this upcoming Labor Day weekend.

Vice President Biden will start his day in Philadelphia with freshman Rep. John Adler (D-N.J.), and then return to DC this afternoon for conference calls on the stimulus bill. Also this afternoon, he'll meet with the top general in Iraq, Ray Odierno.

Fourteen candidates are vying tomorrow for the open seat in California's 10th Congressional District, left vacant when Rep. Ellen Tauscher (D) took a job in the U.S. State Department. The large, Northern California district is cross-shaped and includes much of the land between Oakland and Sacramento. The district leans heavily Democratic -- Tauscher won with at least two-thirds of the vote since redistricting in 2002, and Obama defeated John McCain here by a 65%-33% margin.

**Sen. Edward M. Kennedy
*"At eight p.m. under a setting August sun, Edward Kennedy joined his brothers John and Robert at rest in Arlington National Cemetery. In that hallowed place, the flame burns eternally, as it does in the hearts of the millions who loved him. (Politics Daily)

*"On the day he was carried to his final resting place, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy was remembered Saturday as a legislator of almost unequalled prowess, a political force who left a lasting imprint on the country and a husband, father and patriarch whose private acts of love and devotion helped his star-crossed family endure tragedy and misfortune. (Washington Post)

*National Journal has testimony from many public officials remembering Kennedy.

**President Obama
*And you thought August was bad. The AP says that President Obama now "confronts a tortuous September -- and it's not just the divisive political fight over health care." With his approval rating down, he "must spend heavily from that shrinking fund of political capital -- with a highly uncertain outcome -- if his vision of a health care overhaul is to emerge from Congress." There's also declining support for Afghanistan, and "growing unease about Iraq."

*In his weekly address, Obama pledged to keep up the pace of recovery in New Orleans, and promised to visit the city before the end of the year. The fourth anniversary of the hurricane was this weekend.

*A measures of good news, from the New York Times. "Nearly a year after the federal rescue of the nation's biggest banks, taxpayers have begun seeing profits from the hundreds of billions of dollars in aid that many critics thought might never be seen again." It's about $4 billion so far, the paper estimates.

*But more bad news. Washington Times reports that Democrats like Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-Fla). say Obama "won't be able to ignore the simmering discontent within his own party much longer" on gays in the military "or on a range of other issues on which the president appears to be charting a course that veers away from his political base."

*Japan election: "The Obama administration will be watching closely how the Democratic Party of Japan will govern should it gain power," AP reports. "Opposition leader Yukio Hatoyama, in line to become prime minister, has pushed for his country to be more independent from Washington and closer to Asia."

*After being inducted into the Little League Hall of Excellence Sunday, Vice President Biden joked "that if he was given the choice as a child to pitch in the World Series or be vice president, he would pick the World Series."

**Health Care
*"Obama is mustering some of the same rhetoric in 2009 he used in 2004" in the state senate, reports the Chicago Sun-Times. "If the past is prologue, the episode involving Obama's successful bid to pass what became the "Adequate Health Care Task Force" could be instructive. Obama won on a party-line vote."

*On the Sunday shows, leading Democratic and Republican senators "seized" on Ted Kennedy's reputation for compromise "to call for cooperation in the healthcare debate, but showed little give in their own positions."

*Orrin Hatch, one of Kennedy's close friends on the Republican side of the aisle, said that Congress "is less likely to pass sweeping health-care overhaul legislation" following his death. "You're not going to get this big, broad Democrat spending bill -- you're not going to get Republican support," he said on CNN, per Bloomberg.

*In Toronto this weekend after attending Ted Kennedy's funeral, former President Bill Clinton said he hopes Congress will fulfill the senator's "lifetime dream that America finally will follow Canada and every other advanced nation in the world in providing affordable health care," Bloomberg reports.

*The New York Times profiles Sen. Jim "Waterloo" DeMint, looking at his strong opposition to the health care plan. He may be "a back-bencher with little influence in Washington's corridors of power. But at home he is stoking anger over the health care issue as he advances his free-market philosophy, gains national attention and, perhaps, helps derail Mr. Obama's agenda." He so far faces no serious challenge in 2010, with most of the state's "political oxygen" focused on Gov. Mark Sanford.

*Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) is being targeted by two liberal groups "for refusing to endorse a public insurance option as part of health-care reform. A television ad set to debut in Iowa and the Washington area in coming weeks features an Iowan who says he voted for Grassley and other Republicans but is unhappy with their opposition to providing a public health insurance program as part of the health-care reform legislation," Washington Post reports.

*Two-time unsuccessful congressional candidate helping liberals in health care fight: "Darcy Burner, executive director of the American Progressive Caucus Policy Foundation, said the health care debate has rallied traditionally disparate Congressional liberals to hang together, while galvanizing support for their position from an array of left-leaning outside groups. The result, she said, is that Democratic leaders will not be able to clear a package through the House if it does not include the public plan," Roll Call reports.

*"Democratic aides and lawmakers are questioning how their party can pass a health reform bill next month with centrists and liberals at odds over a core aspect of the legislation. Speaker Nancy Pelosi's (D-Calif.) has pledged to include a government-run insurance option in the House bill that will be voted on next month. This reassures liberals but will make it difficult or impossible to get the votes needed to pass it if the public option is included," The Hill reports.

*New York Times pictorially chronicles a Saturday afternoon health care rally in Times Square.

*Dick Cheney tees off on the Justice Department considering probes of CIA interrogation techniques, saying it "offends the hell out of me." "It's clearly a political move," he said on Fox. "There's no other rationale for why they're doing this."

*Tom Ridge now says people are making too much about a passage in his book implying politics were a consideration in raising terror alerts when he was DHS secretary. Ridge, on ABC today, "said there was a lively discussion among Cabinet officials of whether to lift the terror alert to a higher status, but that it was not done." He said his concern "was that he had to be 'absolutely certain the process worked.'"

**Campaign Stuff
"Victoria Reggie Kennedy, the widow of Sen. Edward Kennedy who won America's hearts over the course of her public mourning, is being urged by family and friends to consider her late husband's Senate seat, even as a field of contenders waits for the right moment to launch their own campaigns," the Boston Herald reports. The paper talks to a "Democratic operative with Kennedy contacts" who said she is "very much interested" in occupying the seat.

*As for the special election, the Boston Globe reports that "all eyes now are on Joseph P. Kennedy II, the former US representative, with family members and political allies expecting him to make a decision very shortly on whether to enter the Democratic primary. No other Kennedy of his generation with the political stature to step into the role has signaled interest in it, according to Democratic insiders and people close to the family."

*Politico's Josh Kraushaar culls the CW that Democrats are facing double digit losses in 2010. But, "the national political environment, of course, could look significantly different next year. It wasn't until the final month before the 1994 GOP landslide that political analyst Stuart Rothenberg, editor and publisher of The Rothenberg Political Report, anticipated GOP gains large enough to win back control of the House."

*Al Hunt profiles Tim Pawlenty, who he thinks matches the successful Democratic presidential models in 1992 and 2008 as someone who is "not associated with Washington's wars, who doesn't belong to the party's ideological base though is acceptable to it, and who can attract independent voters." Hunt: "He doesn't excite Republican passions like Sarah Palin, or bring the intellectual range of Newt Gingrich, the down-home humor of Mike Huckabee or the resources of Mitt Romney. He also brings none of their baggage, has a consistently conservative record, presents his views in a less-confrontational and more measured way, and has succeeded in a Democratic state."

*Democrats in Virginia are hoping this Washington Post story on a thesis from Republican Bob McDonnell shakes up the gubernatorial race.

*CA-10 Special Election: With one day to go, it's hard to tell what's going to happen, though Lt. Gov. John Garamendi has the lead in money, name ID and a recent poll, reports Roll Call and Contra Costa Times.

--Kyle Trygstad and Mike Memoli

Crist Reportedly Set To Appoint Former Aide To Senate

The AP is reporting that Florida Gov. Charlie Crist (R) will appoint his former chief of staff, George LeMieux, to replace Mel Martinez in the U.S. Senate. A formal announcement will come at 11:15 am. The Miami Herald also reported that LeMieux was the likely pick, adding these details:

In choosing LeMieux, Crist signaled that personal loyalty and political instincts mattered more than any potential perception of cronyism.

What's more, the clean-cut, well-spoken, 40-year-old LeMieux could serve as an effective surrogate for Crist on the campaign trial. LeMieux was born and raised in Fort Lauderdale and served as chairman of the Broward Republican Party from 2000 to 2002.

The two men have been in lockstep since 2002, when Crist was elected state attorney general and made LeMieux his deputy. LeMieux went on to earn the nickname, ''the maestro'' for orchestrating Crist's successful gubernatorial campaign and served as his right-hand-man for one year. Even after he left the Capitol for the Gunster Yoakley & Stewart law firm, LeMieux remained one of Crist's most trusted confidantes.

UPDATE: Florida Democrats are responding by accusing Crist of playing "political games with the public's trust" by appointing LeMieux. Read an excerpt of their statement after the jump.

"This glaring example of political cronyism is the last thing Florida needed while we face these tough economic times and the Congress is tackling critical issues such as health insurance reform and global warming.

"In appointing LeMieux, someone who has made millions over the past several years selling access to Crist to the highest bidders among Tallahassee's special interests, Charlie Crist once again put his own political ambition above doing what is right for Florida.

"Floridians are sick of the Republican culture of corruption and the Tallahassee back room dealings that clearly led Crist to pick LeMieux, whose only qualification is being Charlie Crist's crony."

Advertising Frenzy In Virginia

It has been a week of advertising drops in Virginia, beginning last Friday with Creigh Deeds' (D) first TV ad of the general election campaign. Deeds followed that up on Tuesday with a radio ad that featured President Obama, another radio ad Wednesday, and a TV ad on Thursday. Deeds also appeared on local Northern Virginia news programs Wednesday -- allowing him free advertising in an expensive media market.

Bob McDonnell (R), who defeated Deeds in the 2005 attorney general race by less than 400 votes, had new ads on the air this week as well. On Tuesday he released a pro-environment and green jobs TV ad, in which McDonnell said he would be the "jobs Governor" and make the state the "Energy Capital of the East Coast." The following day, a PAC affiliated with the Republican Governors Association launched a TV and radio ad in opposition of Deeds.

The race for governor of Virginia had been fairly tame until Deeds' "major campaign address" and release of his first TV ad last Friday. Those events signaled a new strategy for the Democratic nominee -- tying McDonnell to George W. Bush -- as he attempts to make a comeback in the polls with just more than two months remaining in the race. The unpopular former president's name has been used in each of Deeds' ads except the Obama radio ad.

Here is his latest TV ad:

Dem Poll Claims Close Race In New Jersey

After polling the race just two weeks ago, the Democratic polling firm Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research has new data out of New Jersey, showing Gov. Jon Corzine (D) now just two points behind former U.S. Attorney Chris Christie (R).

General Election Matchup
Christie 43 (+3 from 8/12)
Corzine 41 (+6)
Daggett 7 (-3)
Undecided 8 (-7)

In a head-to head matchup not including the independent candidate, Christie would lead 46 to 43.

From the polling memo:

"The Republican brand continues to be an anchor for Christie in the state. The Republican Party's favorability rating remains decidedly negative, with just 32 percent of New Jersey voters rating it favorably against 43 percent who give it a negative rating. On the generic state legislative ballot, the Democratic candidates hold an 8-point edge on the Republicans, 45 to 37 percent. Christie's negative ratings remain as high as his positives, with 35 percent viewing him favorably and 34 percent unfavorably.

A survey from a Republican pollster also showed a tightening race. This survey, conducted August 25-26 among 608 likely voters, came after a very bad news cycle for Christie. His net favorability rating has remained steady since them, with 35 percent viewing him favorably and 34 percent unfavorably. The poll's margin of error was +/- 4 percent.

A Day at the Races In Kentucky

A long, hot campaign is shaping up to fill the seat of retiring Republican Sen. Jim Bunning.

Kentucky Secretary of State Trey Grayson formally kicked off his bid Wednesday in Edgewood, just across the Ohio River from Cincinnati. But the bigger action may be back in Washington. With two dozen U.S. Senators listed as hosts, he hopes to cement his frontrunner status with a $500-a-head fundraiser there next month. Topping the list are Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Sen. John Cornyn, chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee -- a clear sign who the party favorite is, and it's not Rand Paul, son of Texas Rep. Ron Paul, whose wild-card bid could yet spoil the coronation.

Democrats also think Mr. Grayson is the biggest threat, judging by a statement released yesterday comparing the strategies of both GOP candidates. "If Trey Grayson can wrangle enough special interest money to overcome Rand Paul's formidable grassroots fundraising, voters will know who in Washington he is beholden to," said Eric Schultz, spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

An automated poll released last week showed Mr. Grayson leading Mr. Paul by 37% to 26% in the GOP primary race. But the result actually legitimizes the candidacy of Mr. Paul, who raised more than $500,000 in a one-day fundraising "bomb" organized by supporters last week. When matched up against the two favorites for the Democratic nomination, Mr. Grayson still looks stronger: He leads by six or seven points over both Lt. Gov. Daniel Mongiardo and Attorney General Jack Conway. But he still has to get past GOP primary voters. The race may end up testing whether hardcore Kentucky Republicans include the GOP leadership in any indictment of the bailout and spending frenzy in Washington since last fall.

Mr. Grayson's formal entrance into the race coincided with a day of celebration for Kentucky Democrats, who were relishing a special election victory of a formerly Republican state Senate seat. The GOP majority in the upper chamber has been whittled down to 21 to 17, including one independent. All this makes Kentucky a state to watch next year. Not only will a U.S. Senate seat and control of the state senate be up for grabs. A strong push from the governor and pro-gaming forces to allow slot machines at racetracks could also have a potentially interesting impact on turnout.

Politics Is "The Last Thing" On Obama's Mind After Kennedy Death

As some Democrats look to turn Sen. Ted Kennedy's death into a rallying point for health care reform, the White House is downplaying the potential political ramifications of the moment.

Speaking to reporters in Martha's Vineyard, deputy press secretary Bill Burton said that politics is the last thing on President Obama's mind at this point.

"We've all experienced a pretty big loss, and Americans are going to have different reactions and find different ways to memorialize his life," he said. "There'll be a time when it's appropriate to have discussions on different ramifications, but I don't think anybody thinks that now is that time."

Asked specifically about groups using this moment to renew a call for health care reform, Burton said Obama "isn't in a place where he's looking to referee what everybody's saying."

Obama will disrupt his vacation and travel to Boston tomorrow night to deliver the eulogy at Kennedy's funeral Saturday, with Burton saying Obama will deliver "a very personal statement." Weather permitting, he and the first lady will return to Martha's Vineyard Saturday night, and then to Washington on Sunday.

But next week also looks to be a light one. There are no public events planned for Monday, Burton said, adding that the first family will spend Wednesday through Sunday at Camp David. Have the events of this week disrupted what was to have been a relaxing time?

"The president when he ran for this office knew that there would be no days where he was completely down, and he's responded accordingly," Burton said. "I do think he's had a chance to spend some time with his family, play some tennis, play some basketball, dig in on his books a little bit, and actually do a little relaxing."

Christie's Curious Response

We noted yesterday the latest pitfall in what has been a tough few weeks for Republican gubernatorial hopeful Chris Christie -- four-year-old tickets for speeding and driving an unregistered vehicle. Today, his campaign is downplaying the news with a series of mock "Breaking News" alerts to reporters about other "minor" transgressions. Here's a list:

  • "BREAKING NEWS: Christie Spotted Taking a Penny, Not Leaving a Penny"
  • "BREAKING NEWS: Christie Admits to Borrowing Lunch Money in 3rd Grade"
  • "BREAKING NEWS: Christie Spotted Removing Tag from Mattress"
  • "BREAKING NEWS: Christie Asked to Leave Movie Theatre for Talking on Cell Phone"

His campaign is inviting supporters to tweet other joke transgressions, with the hash-tag "#notnews." They've even produced faux newscast on YouTube.

Democrats don't find it so funny, however, and three different campaign committees are teeing off.

From the Corzine campaign:

"They may think it's funny, but a federal prosecutor using their power to pressure local law enforcement into giving them preferential treatment is no laughing matter. In fact, several public officials in New Jersey have been forced to resign over the very same thing. At the end of the day, it is more and more evident that Christie has always had one set of rules for himself and another for everyone else."

From the Democratic Governors Association:

"Aside from how desperate and tone deaf all of these emails are, the most telling aspect is that the Christie campaign doesn't seem to understand that voters hate when a candidate has one set of rules for himself and another for them."

And now, the DNC -- focusing on what they call a "bizarre" YouTube video:

"The Christie campaign must have produced their new ad over the last few days while avoiding questions about Christie's law breaking conversations with Karl Rove, his secret loans and a mysterious traffic stop. Instead of mocking the news, maybe they could spend their time answering the people's questions about the important issues facing New Jersey. The only thing that's a mockery is Chris Christie lecturing anyone about ethics."

On a serious note, the Christie camp also released a new television ad today, featuring Obama voters who say they're backing Christie. You can check it out after the jump.

FEMALE #1: I have lived in New Jersey all my life.
MALE #1: But between the taxes.
FEMALE #2: Unemployment.
FEMALE #3: The spending.
MALE #2: The corruption.
MALE #1: Jon Corzine just seems out of touch.
FEMALE #4: A failure.
FEMALE #2: He's got every excuse in the book. 
MALE #3: Now he's just throwing mud.
FEMALE #5: Corzine promised to cut taxes. 
FEMALE #6: He raised them instead.
MALE #2: He tried to raise tolls 800%.
MALE #1: Corzine promised ethics reform.
FEMALE #4: Again he didn't deliver.
FEMALE #7: Last year I voted for Obama.
FEMALE #8: Because I wanted change.
FEMALE #7: This year I'm supporting Christie.
MALE #2: Chris Christie.
CHRISTIE: So do you want to change Trenton?
FEMALE #9: I want to change Trenton.
FEMALE #2: We can start by changing Governors.

New Focus On Senate Succession Practices

The death of Sen. Kennedy has brought a renewed push to amend Massachusetts' law governing Senate vacancies, for the second time in five years. Gov. Deval Patrick (D) indicated yesterday that he now would support legislation allowing him to appoint an interim replacement while still calling a special election within five months.

Meanwhile, Florida Gov. Charlie Crist (R) reportedly may appoint a replacement for Mel Martinez this week. That appointment has been complicated by politics as well, given his own candidacy for the seat in 2010. Add to these cases the controversy over the appointment of Roland Burris by then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich, and you understand why there's an effort being led by Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wisc.) to amend the Constitution to strip governors of their appointment power altogether and require special elections across the nation.

Governors historically have had this power based on the initial method of electing senators in the first place -- in the state legislatures. According to the Congressional Research Service:

This practice originated with the constitutional provision that applied prior to the popular election of senators, under which governors were directed to make temporary appointments when state legislatures were in recess. It was intended to ensure continuity in a state's Senate representation during the lengthy intervals between state legislative sessions.

Several states already require special elections, and others have moved in recent years to restrict the governor's power by requiring him or her to appoint someone from a particular party. After the jump, see the latest breakdown of state rules for filling vacancies, based on a March report from the Congressional Research Service.

States Where Governors Have Unrestricted Appointment Power:
Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia.

States That May Require Special Elections, But Allow Governors To Make Temporary Appointments:
Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, California, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Jersey, Texas, Vermont, Washington

States With Special Requirements About Who A Governor Can Appoint:
Arizona: Governor must appoint a senator from the same party as the previous occupant.
Hawaii, Utah, Wyoming: Governor appoints a senator from a list of candidates submitted by the party of the previous occupant.

States That Fill Vacancies Only Through Special Elections
Connecticut, Massachusetts, Oklahoma, Oregon, Wisconsin

There are many caveats even within these four broad categories. For instance, states that call for "special elections" have different requirements for how soon those special elections should take place, from as soon as 60 days or potentially as long as 30 months. And in the case of Oklahoma, while a special election is required, the governor is allowed in certain circumstances to appoint the winner of the special election to fill a vacancy early.

The report also indicated that eight states were at the time considering legislation to alter their appointment practices (the list included Connecticut, where the legislation passed).

You can read the full report here.

Melancon Enters La. Senate Race

Rep. Charlie Melancon (D-La.) announced today that he's throwing his hat into the Louisiana Senate ring. The third-term Blue Dog Democrat is expected to give Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) a run for his money.

"Today, I'm announcing my candidacy for the U.S. Senate to replace David Vitter because Louisiana deserves better," Melancon says in an online video. "Louisiana needs a different approach: more bipartisan, more disciplined, more honest, and with a whole lot more common sense."

Vitter has been expecting the announcement. As the AP reported earlier this week, Vitter mentions Melancon in recent ads critical of Democrats' health care reform plans. Vitter has also been criticizng Melancon at taxpayer-funded town halls -- so much so that the state Democratic Party chairman has filed ethics charges against him with the Senate Select Committee on Ethics.

The first term senator has been considered vulnerable since July 2007, when his phone number turned up on call records of the "D.C. Madam." Vitter never clarified what he used the escort service for, though the recent transgressions of Nevada Sen. John Ensign (R) and South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford (R) brought the Louisiana senator's situation back into the news.

In his announcement, Melancon emphasizes the importance of family. "I'm a proud family man. The father of two threat children. And Peachy and I celebrated our 37th wedding anniversary just last week."

In a statement, Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, promotes Melancon's strong family values as well.

"Charlie may have stepped into the national spotlight when he helped lead efforts to assist Louisiana after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, but Louisianans know him best as a proud family man and experienced small business owner with a common sense approach to bringing people together, solving problems and getting results," Menendez said. "I have every confidence that Charlie Melancon will run a strong campaign and by next November, voters will want him serving as an independent voice for Louisiana in the United State Senate."

Melancon also emphasizes his southern, moderate roots. According to National Journal's congressional vote ratings, Melancon has been one of the more moderate members of the House since his election in 2004, while Vitter has regularly been one of the most conservative senators.

"I'm a pro-life, pro-gun Southern Democrat. I've got an A rating with the NRA. And I've been an avid hunter and fisherman my entire life. I'm a proud centrist, a Blue Dog, a straight-up-the-middle fighter for the little guy who is struggling to make ends meet."

Through the end of June, Vitter reported having $3.2 million in cash on hand, while Melancon reported $1.23 million in his campaign account.

Vermont Governor Won't Seek Re-election

Vermont Gov. Jim Douglas (R) just announced that he will not seek re-election, creating an open-seat race in 2010 and offering Democrats a chance to win back the office for the first time since Howard Dean held it.

"As any farmer knows ... there comes a time to turn over the reigns to fresh arms," he said at a brief news conference this morning. "For me that time is approaching."

Douglas is currently serving his fourth two-year term, having won re-election easily three times in a heavily-Democratic state. There are already several Democrats angling to run, including state Sens. Doug Racine and Susan Bartlett and Secretary to State Deb Markowitz.

Douglas, who was a strong ally of President Obama during his effort to pass the stimulus bill, is currently serving as chair of the National Governors Association. He said he has no plans to run for the U.S. Senate or for Congress in 2010, but had no plans to be a lame duck governor. He also ruled out an even higher office.

"I am not running for president," he said to laughs. "Dorothy has a divorce lawyer on speed dial if I ever utter that crazy idea."

Rasmussen Poll Shows Some Tightening In New Jersey

The second survey this month from Rasmussen of the New Jersey gubernatorial race shows that Chris Christie's (R) lead has narrowed slightly, reflecting a wave of unfavorable coverage.

General Election Matchup
Christie 50 (-2 from 8/4)
Corzine 42 (+3)
Other 2 (-2)
Not Sure 7 (+2)

This poll does not include the name of the independent candidate, Chris Daggett, who has qualified for public funding and will be part of any debates that are held.

The RCP Average of polls on the race reflects the Christie slump, with his average lead down to 9 points.

Corzine's job approval number is still weak, with 35 percent approving and 65 percent disapproving -- lower even than earlier this month. President Obama's approval is at 55 percent, with 44 percent disapproving.

Favorability Numbers
Christie 45 / 51
Corzine 36 / 61

The survey of 500 likely voters was conducted August 25, and had a margin of error of +/- 4.5 percent.

RGA Drops Ads in Virginia

The Republican Governors Association's Virginia Common Sense PAC (a play off of the DGA's Common Sense Virginia) is launching TV and radio ads that paint Democrat Creigh Deeds as a "big spender."

"With Virginia confronting massive budget deficits, Creigh Deeds proposed more than $1 billion in new spending and earmarks," RGA communications director Mike Schrimpf said in a press release. "Creigh Deeds won't say how he would pay for his $1 billion spending spree, but it's certain that any Deeds plan would include massive tax hikes that Virginia can't afford."

The Democratic Governors Association's Common Sense Virginia has dropped more than $2 million in opposition of Republican Bob McDonnell, according to the Virginia Public Access Project. And Democrats see some hypocricy coming from the McDonnell campaign, which had dismissed the DGA as an "outside group" then allowed the RGA to air ads.

"These negative ads are being run by out of state special interests who have no real interest in the future of Virginia's workers," McDonnell spokesman Tucker Martin said in late May. "The organization funding these ads would run them in any state, about any Republican, it's what they do. And it's why Virginia voters are tuning out every misleading ad this outside group runs."

At the Shad Planking political event in April, McDonnell told reporters he expected outside help. "The Republican National Committee, the Republican Governors Association, a number of other people around the country are very motivated to help us," McDonnell said. "They're going to do some significant things for us. I'm certainly not on my own."

The RGA's TV ad can be seen below. It's unclear how big the TV or radio buys are.

Pawlenty Keeps Focus On Health Care

Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R) is maintaining a high profile on health care issues, announcing today a new Web site that would allow Minnesotans to be the first in the nation to be able to do comparison shopping for health care plans.

"This reform is part of our larger effort to make Minnesota's health care system even more market-driven, patient-centered and quality-focused," he says in a statement. "This is not government intervention and no legislation was needed. This is simply the buyer, through the Smart Buy Alliance, working with health plans and providers to meet the community's needs."

Pawlenty, retiring as governor in 2010 with an eye on 2012, has been speaking up on health care issues quite a bit, even taking swipes at the plan enacted in Massachusetts by potential rival Mitt Romney. Pawlenty's statement today also notes his other achievements on health care during his nearly two terms in office.

Christie Driving Summons Surfaces

The oppo dump continues.

Millennium Radio got its hands on tickets issued to then-U.S. Attorney and current gubernatorial candidate Chris Christie in 2005 for speeding and driving an unregistered and uninsured vehicle.

All three tickets had the words "no deal" written on them. The spokesperson says Christie talked with the prosecutor, signed an [affidavit] pleading guilty and paid a substantial fine. The speeding ticket was reduced and the unregistered [dismissed]. The spokesperson says Christie does not recall who brought it up but acknowledges the fact that Christie was U.S. Attorney did come up. Christie has refused to return multiple calls asking for comment.

What will add fuel to the fire is that Michelle Brown, Christie's former deputy who plays a starring role in another media firestorm, was driving with Christie and his family at the time. Brown received a personal loan from Christie, which he had not reported on a financial disclosure form.

Any day Democrats can dent Christie's tough-on-corruption image is a good one for them. The higher Christie's negatives go, the theory goes, the better Gov. Jon Corzine fares in what could be a low-turnout race.

UPDATE: The Christie camp response, from spokesperson Maria Comella:

"Before the Corzine campaign wastes any more of the governor's Wall Street millions on opposition research, we're going to let them know Kim received a ticket in 2007 for driving while on a cell phone and Chris got detention in the 9th grade for too much talking in class."

Sestak, Toomey To Hold Joint Town Hall

An interesting announcement from Pennsylvania: Republican Pat Toomey and Democrat Joe Sestak -- each seeking the U.S. Senate seat now held by Arlen Specter -- will hold a joint town hall meeting on health care next week. Here's the announcement from Toomey's camp:

After a number of exchanges on health care reform, U.S. Senate candidate Pat Toomey will be participating in a joint town hall meeting next week with Democratic Senate candidate Joe Sestak.  Pat is eager to welcome Joe to his hometown of Allentown and has invited to take Joe out for a beer following the meeting.   The event will be held on September 2, 2009 at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, PA.

An interesting gambit, one wonders what Specter's camp thinks of it.

James Jones Statement on Kennedy

The White House released the following statement from National Security Adviser Jim Jones:

As a young Senate Liaison officer during the early 1980's, I had the opportunity to get to know Senator Edward Kennedy who was then a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. Senator Kennedy and his staff were among some of the best supporters the Marine Corps ever had on Capitol Hill. Despite his many responsibilities, he always made time for me on issues of importance to Marines and their families. Always gracious and well informed, the Senator was instrumental in the passage of the landmark legislation known as Goldwater-Nichols and military pay reforms, which ushered in the most comprehensive reforms of our military and defense establishment since the end of World War II.

Senator Kennedy, among the many things he will be remembered for, deserves to be honored for his genuine care and compassion for our men and women in uniform - his tireless work and his voting record clearly supports this distinction. While he never shied from challenging our senior military leadership during hundreds of committee hearings, he could always be counted on to be fair and open-minded in letting witnesses like me make our case to the committee and to the American people. He contributed a great deal to my "Washington education", and I'm sure he is most proud of the contributions many of his former staff members continue to make to our nation today.

Bill Clinton Statement on Kennedy

The Clinton Foundation released the following statement from Bill Clinton:

"Senator Ted Kennedy was one of the most influential leaders of our time, and one of the greatest senators in American history. His big heart, sharp mind, and boundless energy were gifts he gave to make our democracy a more perfect union.

"As President, I was thankful for his fierce advocacy for universal health care and his leadership in providing health coverage to millions of children. His tireless efforts have brought us to the threshold of real health care reform. I was also grateful for his efforts, often in partnership with Republicans as well as Democrats, to advance civil rights, promote religious freedom, make college more affordable, and give young Americans the opportunity to serve at home in Americorp. I am glad the bill President Obama signed to expand Americorp and other youth service opportunities is named the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act. Through it, his commitment to public service will live on in millions of young people across our nation.

"Hillary and I will always be grateful for the many gestures of kindness and generosity he extend to us, for the concern he showed for all the children and grandchildren of the Kennedy clan, and for his devotion to all those in need whose lives were better because he stood up for them. Our thoughts and prayers are with Vicki, his children and grandchildren, and the people of Massachusetts he served so well."

Emotional Biden Remembers His 'Anchor'

Vice President Biden, a colleague of Ted Kennedy for 36 years in the U.S. Senate, broke from planned remarks at the Department of Energy this morning to pay tribute to the man he said was an anchor for him.

"He was never defeatist. He never was petty. Never was petty. He was never small. And in the process of his doing, he made everybody he worked with bigger -- both his adversaries as well as his allies," Biden said.

Choking up at times, Biden called it remarkable that "one of the most partisan, liberal men in the last century" was embraced so by his foes. He also said that it was his life's privilege to sit next to him throughout his tenure.

"I literally would not be standing here were it not for Teddy Kennedy. Not figuratively. It's not hyperbole. Literally," said Biden in his vintage style. "Every day I was with him ... he restored my sense of idealism and my faith in the possibilities of what this country can do."

He said his whole family was "distressed" by his passing. He quoted Kennedy's widow, who said he "was ready to go." "But we were not ready to let him go," he said.

Obama and Kennedy Last Spoke In July

White House photo: President Barack Obama and Senator Ted Kennedy walk on the grounds of the White House, before signing of the Kennedy Service Act at the SEED School in Washington D.C. 4/21/09.

White House spokesperson Bill Burton said that President Obama last spoke with Sen. Kennedy on July 10. That was shortly after the president delivered to Pope Benedict XVI a letter from Kennedy. The pontiff and the president concluded their half-hour meeting at the Vatican that day with a discussion about Kennedy, whose brother was the first Catholic president.

"The contents of the letter were not known to anybody that I know of except Senator Kennedy," press secretary Robert Gibbs said at the time.

Kennedy's last trip to the White House came in April, when Obama was set to sign the service bill named in honor of the Massachusetts senator. He was also there for a public event on March 5 as Obama held a forum on health care.


Obama: Kennedy Made It Possible For Me To Pursue Dreams

President Obama called Ted Kennedy a "singular figure in American history" who allowed people like himself to pursue their dreams.

He noted that Kennedy was often "the target of partisan campaign attacks," but was greatly respected by his colleagues in both parties.

"His seriousness of purpose was perpetually matched by humility, warmth, and good cheer," Obama said. "He could passionately battle others and do so peerlessly on the Senate floor for the causes that he held dear, and yet still maintain warm friendships across party lines. And that's one reason he became not only one of the greatest senators of our time, but one of the most accomplished Americans ever to serve our democracy."

Obama, vacationing in Kennedy's home state of Massachusetts, said he spoke with Kennedy's wife this morning, and offered his thoughts to the entire family. Though his passing was not unexpected, there was "no small amount of dread" in awaiting it, he said. But on a positive note, he said the time since his diagnosis to this day has allowed for "the opportunity we were denied when his brothers John and Robert were taken from us: the blessing of time to say thank you -- and goodbye."

Obama made no special mention of health care, which was the late senator's great passion. But his passing will no doubt color the discussion in the weeks ahead.

Bauer To Call For Sanford's Resignation

A break for a moment from the Kennedy coverage to note this interesting political development in South Carolina. The State reports exclusively this morning that Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer (R) plans to call on Gov. Mark Sanford (R) to resign; he will pledge not to seek a full term in 2010 if he does so.

From The State:

Bauer is the first constitutional officer to join a growing chorus of lawmakers pushing for Sanford to resign, including a majority of Republican state senators.

Today's announcement, according to a source close to Bauer, is intended to send a message to State House leadership that Sanford needs to step down and Bauer won't stand in the way. Some lawmakers have been hesitant to push for Sanford's resignation because it would give Bauer an unfair advantage in the 2010 race, as he would be running for governor as an incumbent.

Bauer plans to send a letter to Sanford today to ask him to resign. The House Republican Caucus will discuss whether to impeach Sanford this weekend at its Myrtle Beach retreat.

Remembering Kennedy


National Journal has a string of interesting anecdotes and testimony from former Kennedy staffers remembering the senator.

GOP House Leaders Statements on Kennedy

House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio):

"The people of Massachusetts and the United States Congress have lost a tireless public servant.

"Ted Kennedy was my friend. While there were few political issues on which he and I agreed, our relationship was never disagreeable, and was always marked by good humor, hard work, and a desire to find common ground.

"Ted Kennedy was also a friend to inner-city children and teachers. For the better part of the last decade, Ted and I worked together to support struggling Catholic grade schools in inner-city Washington. By helping these schools keep their doors open and helping them retain their committed teachers and faculty, this joint effort made a positive difference in the lives of thousands of inner-city children, who otherwise would have been denied the opportunity for a quality education. It wouldn't have been possible without Senator Kennedy and his genuine desire to give something back to help inner-city students in the city in which he'd served for so many years. I'm proud to have worked with Senator Kennedy on this project, and I will dearly miss his friendship and his partnership in this cause.

"Debbie and I extend our thoughts and prayers to Vicki and the entire Kennedy family at this difficult time."

House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.):

"I am saddened to learn of the passing of Senator Ted Kennedy. Senator Kennedy's service in the Senate spanned nearly a half-century, and his influence upon that institution and the Democratic Party is undeniable. I offer our deepest prayers and condolences to his wife Vicki and the entire Kennedy family."

Kennedy's Legacy

Sen. Kennedy's office has posted a 54-page document listing all of his accomplishments in 47 years in office.

Senator Kennedy has authored more than 2,500 bills throughout his career in the United States Senate. Of those bills, several hundred have become Public Law.

Read the full document here.

Patrick Calls Kennedy "Visionary Statesman"; No Word On Special Election

Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick (D) issued this statement today:

"One of the Commonwealth's brightest lights went out last night. Ted Kennedy was a compassionate, effective, visionary statesman, family man and friend. Diane and I were blessed by his company, support and many kindnesses, and miss him profoundly. We pray for comfort for his beloved wife and partner Vicki and his entire family."

Notably, Kennedy recently asked that Patrick be empowered to appoint a temporary senator in the event of a vacancy. That vacancy now exists, but it is unlikely to be filled as he had requested. The new state law calls for an election in five months, which would bring us to late January. That race will likely draw a crowded field of Democrats.

DNC To Honor Kennedy At September Meeting

The Democratic Party will honor its liberal lion at the DNC fall meeting in Austin next month. The chairman, Tim Kaine, released this statement:

Today we mourn the loss of one the greatest and most consequential political figures in American history with the passing of Senator Ted Kennedy.

Senator Kennedy was adored by millions of Americans and was respected by colleagues on both sides of the aisle for his energy, his passion, his humor, his compassion, his friendship and above all his commitment to serve his country in pursuit of a more common good for every American.

It is not an exaggeration to say that Senator Kennedy devoted his entire adult life - in the great tradition of the Kennedy family - to public service. And, in his forty-six years in the Senate, Senator Kennedy's primary focus - and the legacy he will be most remembered for - will be his work to improve the plight of ordinary Americans, to empower the powerless and to end the scourge of discrimination based on race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, disability and economic background that was all too prevalent in an earlier time.

For his efforts to ensure civil and voting rights for minorities to equal rights for women, Senator Kennedy was a champion. For providing health care to millions of our nation's children to fighting for the cause and rights of workers and organized labor, Senator Kennedy was a hero. For working to improve education and educational opportunities for children and college students to fighting for the security and dignity of older Americans, Senator Kennedy was an icon. And, for his career-long pursuit of quality, affordable health care for every American, a cause he was devoted to until the very end, Senator Kennedy was an inspiration to millions of Americans who are fighting today for that just cause.

In the Senate, he was called the Lion. To the Democratic Party whose values and ideals were embodied in and shaped by this great man, he was a giant. To the American people, he will be remembered as one of the greatest and most accomplished legislators in American history. And to his family he will be remembered as a father, a husband, an uncle, a brother, a grandfather and a friend.

Our thoughts and prayers are with the entire Kennedy family as we mourn the loss and celebrate the extraordinary life of Senator Edward Moore Kennedy.

"The Torch Will Be Passed Again"


It was one year ago yesterday that Sen. Ted Kennedy made a surprise appearance at the Democratic National Convention in Denver, electrifying the Pepsi Center with a speech in which he said that in November, "the torch will be passed again to a new generation of Americans" with the election of Barack Obama. Re-read the full speech after the jump.

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you, Caroline.

My fellow Democrats, my fellow Americans, it is so wonderful to be here.

And nothing -- nothing is going to keep me away from this special gathering tonight.

I have come here tonight to stand with you to change America, to restore its future, to rise to our best ideals, and to elect Barack Obama president of the United States.

As I look ahead, I am strengthened by family and friendship. So many of you have been with me in the happiest days and the hardest days. Together we have known success and seen setbacks, victory and defeat.

But we have never lost our belief that we are all called to a better country and a newer world. And I pledge to you -- I pledge to you that I will be there next January on the floor of the United States Senate when we begin the great test.

Thank you very much. Thank you. Thank you.

For me this is a season of hope -- new hope for a justice and fair prosperity for the many, and not just for the few -- new hope.

And this is the cause of my life -- new hope that we will break the old gridlock and guarantee that every American -- north, south, east, west, young, old -- will have decent, quality health care as a fundamental right and not a privilege.

We can meet these challenges with Barack Obama. Yes, we can, and finally, yes, we will.

Barack Obama will close the book on the old politics of race and gender and group against group and straight against gay.

And Barack Obama will be a commander-in-chief who understands that young Americans in uniform must never be committed to a mistake, but always for a mission worthy of their bravery.

We are told that Barack Obama believes too much in an America of high principle and bold endeavor, but when John Kennedy called of going to the moon, he didn't say it's too far to get there. We shouldn't even try.

Our people answered his call and rose to the challenge, and today an American flag still marks the surface of the moon.

Yes, we are all Americans. This is what we do. We reach the moon. We scale the heights. I know it. I've seen it. I've lived it. And we can do it again.

There is a new wave of change all around us, and if we set our compass true, we will reach our destination -- not merely victory for our Party, but renewal for our nation.

And this November the torch will be passed again to a new generation of Americans, so with Barack Obama and for you and for me, our country will be committed to his cause. The work begins anew. The hope rises again. And the dream lives on.

Orrin Hatch Statement on Kennedy

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) served alongside Ted Kennedy for more than 33 years in the Senate. He released the following statement today:

"Today America lost a great elder statesman, a committed public servant, and leader of the Senate. And today I lost a treasured friend. Ted Kennedy was an iconic, larger than life United States senator whose influence cannot be overstated. Many have come before, and many will come after, but Ted Kennedy's name will always be remembered as someone who lived and breathed the United States Senate and the work completed within its chamber."

Statement from the Kennedy Family

Sen. Ted Kennedy's office released the following statement from the Kennedy family:

"Edward M. Kennedy -- the husband, father, grandfather, brother and uncle we loved so deeply -- died late Tuesday night at home in Hyannis Port. We've lost the irreplaceable center of our family and joyous light in our lives, but the inspiration of his faith, optimism, and perseverance will live on in our hearts forever. We thank everyone who gave him care and support over this last year, and everyone who stood with him for so many years in his tireless march for progress toward justice, fairness and opportunity for all. He loved this country and devoted his life to serving it. He always believed that our best days were still ahead, but it's hard to imagine any of them without him."

Speaker Pelosi Statement on Kennedy

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) released the following statement:

"Today, with the passing of Senator Edward M. Kennedy, the American people have lost a great patriot, and the Kennedy family has lost a beloved patriarch. Over a lifetime of leadership, Senator Kennedy's statesmanship and political prowess produced a wealth of accomplishment that has improved opportunity for every American. Senator Kennedy had a grand vision for America, and an unparalleled ability to effect change. Rooted in his deep patriotism, his abiding faith, and his deep concern for the least among us, no one has done more than Senator Kennedy to educate our children, care for our seniors, and ensure equality for all Americans. Ted Kennedy's dream of quality health care for all Americans will be made real this year because of his leadership and his inspiration. Sadly, Senator Kennedy left us exactly one year after he inspired the nation with his speech of optimism, vitality, and courage at the Convention in Denver. On behalf of all Members of Congress, and personally on behalf of my family, today and in the days ahead, our thoughts and prayers are with the entire Kennedy family, especially with Senator Kennedy's devoted wife Vicki, and with Kara, Teddy Jr., and our colleague Patrick, who made their father so proud. I hope it is a comfort to them that our nation and the world mourn their loss and are praying for them at this sad time."

Palin: Kennedy "Fought Passionately For His Conviction"

Former Gov. Sarah Palin issued this brief statement on Facebook:

I would like to extend our sympathies to the Kennedy family as we hear word about the passing of Senator Ted Kennedy. He believed in our country and fought passionately for his convictions.

-Sarah Palin and family

Some of her supporters, meanwhile, are posting some not-so-nice comments in response.

Reid Statement on Kennedy

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who served more than 22 years in the Senate with Ted Kennedy, released the following statement:

"The Kennedy family and the Senate family have together lost our patriarch. My thoughts, and those of the entire United States Senate, are with Vicki, Senator Kennedy's children, his many nieces and nephews, and his entire family. "It was the thrill of my lifetime to work with Ted Kennedy. He was a friend, the model of public service and an American icon.

"As we mourn his loss, we rededicate ourselves to the causes for which he so dutifully dedicated his life. Senator Kennedy's legacy stands with the greatest, the most devoted, the most patriotic men and women to ever serve in these halls.

"Because of Ted Kennedy, more young children could afford to become healthy. More young adults could afford to become students. More of our oldest citizens and our poorest citizens could get the care they need to live longer, fuller lives. More minorities, women and immigrants could realize the rights our founding documents promised them. And more Americans could be proud of their country.

"Ted Kennedy's America was one in which all could pursue justice, enjoy equality and know freedom. Ted Kennedy's life was driven by his love of a family that loved him, and his belief in a country that believed in him. Ted Kennedy's dream was the one for which the founding fathers fought and his brothers sought to realize.

"The liberal lion's mighty roar may now fall silent, but his dream shall never die."

Romney, Who Faced Kennedy In '94, Mourns "Big-Hearted" Senator

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney put out this statement on Ted Kennedy, his foe in the 1994 Senate race. That was the last time he scored last than 60 percent for a re-election.

"The loss of Senator Ted Kennedy is a sad event for America, and especially for Massachusetts.  The last son of Rose Fitzgerald and Joseph Kennedy was granted a much longer life than his brothers, and he filled those years with endeavor and achievement that would have made them proud.

In 1994, I joined the long list of those who ran against Ted and came up short.  But he was the kind of man you could like even if he was your adversary.  I came to admire Ted enormously for his charm and sense of humor - qualities all the more impressive in a man who had known so much loss and sorrow.  I will always remember his great personal kindness, and the fighting spirit he brought to every cause he served and every challenge he faced.   I was proud to know Ted Kennedy as a friend, and today my family and I mourn the passing of this big-hearted, unforgettable man.

Obama Statement On Passing Of Sen. Kennedy

President Obama will speak at 8:30 am from Martha's Vineyard about the death overnight of Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.). Earlier, the White House released this statement:

Michelle and I were heartbroken to learn this morning of the death of our dear friend, Senator Ted Kennedy.

For five decades, virtually every major piece of legislation to advance the civil rights, health and economic well being of the American people bore his name and resulted from his efforts.

I valued his wise counsel in the Senate, where, regardless of the swirl of events, he always had time for a new colleague. I cherished his confidence and momentous support in my race for the Presidency. And even as he waged a valiant struggle with a mortal illness, I've profited as President from his encouragement and wisdom.

An important chapter in our history has come to an end. Our country has lost a great leader, who picked up the torch of his fallen brothers and became the greatest United States Senator of our time.

And the Kennedy family has lost their patriarch, a tower of strength and support through good times and bad.

Our hearts and prayers go out to them today--to his wonderful wife, Vicki, his children Ted Jr., Patrick and Kara, his grandchildren and his extended family.

Party Like It's 2004

Jon Ralston got his hands on a GOP direct mail piece urging Republicans to rally around the cause of defeating Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid like they did in 2004 with then-Minority Leader Tom Daschle.

The liberal media never thought it would happen. Now we have a chance to put another out-of-touch Democrat leader of the Senate, Harry Reid, out on the street. The liberal media once again believes it can't happen.

The mail piece refers recipients to, a project of Nevada conservative activist Chuck Muth and former Michigan GOP chair Saul Anuzis.

Former Christie Colleague Who Received Loan Resigns

Michele Brown, the acting first assistant U.S. Attorney for New Jersey who received a loan from her former boss, New Jersey governor candidate Chris Christie (R), resigned today, citing the controversy over the financial distraction. From the Newark Star-Ledger:

The surprise resignation came only eight days after it was revealed that Brown had borrowed $46,000 from Christie while he was her boss as the state's U.S. attorney. The disclosure became a huge distraction for the GOP candidate, who is seeking to unseat Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine, after Christie acknowledged that he failed to report it on his income tax returns and mandatory financial disclosure reports.

Christie released this statement:

"Michele Brown is a career prosecutor who has worked at the U.S. Attorney's office for 18 years, serving both Democratic and Republican presidents.  Michele's long and distinguished record of public service is impressive, and during that time she's shown herself to be a fair and respected federal prosecutor among judges, adversaries and her peers. Her efforts have been instrumental to all the success the U.S. Attorney's office has had and her work ethic, determination and outstanding legal background will be missed by all those she has worked with over the years.  I know Michele will continue to be a success at whatever she chooses for her next challenge."

NJ Gov: GOP Poll Shows Race Tightening

Amid sustained attacks from Democrats over ties to Karl Rove and a personal loan to a former colleague, Chris Christie's lead appears to be shrinking. A poll conducted by Rick Shaftan, a consultant to Christie's former primary opponent, shows that Gov. Jon Corzine has pulled to within just two points.

General Election Matchup
Christie 37
Corzine 35
Daggett 6

The survey of 319 likely voters was conducted by Neighborhood Research, and first reported on by It was conducted from August 12-21, just as a House Committee's interview with Rove that included talk of discussions with Christie surfaced. The margin of error is +/- 5.5 percent.

Among a smaller sample of so-called "definite voters," Christie leads 39-36, with Daggett polling at 6. That sample size was 275.

Favorability Ratings
Corzine 23 / 46
Christie 20 / 27
Daggett 2 / 1
Obama 47 / 28
Pelosi 16 / 41

Shaftan told RCP today that where Corzine's base had been unmotivated all year, he's starting to see a dampening in enthusiasm among Republican voters now, too, creating the scenario for a very low-turnout race. With Christie's unfavorables rising, he said the campaign should reconsider its approach.

"Every day he's not talking about issues and it's just a personality war, that's never good for a Republican," Shaftan said. "[Voters] don't like Corzine. They don't want him as governor. But they're looking at Christie and asking, 'Is he any different?' He's really not making the case that he is different."

There's a particular opening on health care, he said, calling it the hottest issue right now for the GOP base. "They're excited about being political, and presumably all these people should be Christie voters," he said. But the Christie campaign seems reluctant to target President Obama, even as his favorable numbers have dropped in the Garden State. "They're running a two-month old strategy: they still think Obama's loved, and they still think they're 16 points up."

Shaftan found that many undecideds tended to be more liberal, and that as the race goes on they may return to the Democratic column. That liberal movement back to the Corzine column may be hastened by the recent intrusion of Rove to the race.

"It isn't significant in terms of what he did. It just gets words like Rove, Republican and Bush back in the conversation again," he said. "When Christie is seen as a partisan, it forces Democrats to be partisan."

Shaftan also predicted that Christie's focus on suburban and urban areas, and his outreach to liberal-leaning constituency groups will ultimately prove futile, likening it to Lucy and Charlie Brown with the football. Christie would be better served spending more time shoring up support in traditional Republican strongholds. "You've got to come out of these counties with 70 to 75 percent of the vote," he said.

Much in the most recent round of public polling had shown Christie with a double-digit lead, but Shaftan anticipates that future surveys will show numbers closer to his.

McDonnell Talks New Energy Jobs in TV Ad

Reaching out to moderate voters in Virginia, GOP nominee Bob McDonnell is launching a new TV ad tomorrow called "New Energy, New Jobs." The gubernatorial candidate's campaign says the ad will run across the state, except for in pricey Northern Virginia.

"New energy means new jobs. We need it all: wind, oil, natural gas, clean coal, nuclear. I will lead a bi-partisan effort to make Virginia the Energy Capital of the East Coast," McDonnell says in the ad. "I'll be a jobs governor, bringing new energy resources and jobs to Virginians."

In response to the ad, the Creigh Deeds campaign e-mailed reporters a Roanoke Times editorial from April, after McDonnell formally announced his campaign.

"If those are genuine ambitions, McDonnell needs to broaden his attention beyond the fossil fuels that have been his focus so far," the editorial states, regarding his new energy intentions. "So far, McDonnell is proposing an energy plan that seems far more suited to the 1950s. Virginia will never be the nation's energy capital with that kind of thinking."

Club for Growth Targets Utah Republican

Club for Growth, the limited government, anti-tax group that most often targets incumbent Democrats, is now taking on Utah Sen. Robert Bennett (R), who co-sponsored a health care bill with Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.). The third-term senator is up for re-election next year, and a number of conservative Republicans are lining up to challenge him in the primary.

"We believe it's important for Senator Bennett's constituents to know that he's pushing for massive tax increases and government-run healthcare," said CfG president Chris Chocola, a former Indiana congressman. "Empowering bureaucrats at the expense of patients and doctors is the wrong medicine for our health system. It's time for Senator Bennett to scrap his costly government takeover and focus on patient-centered solutions that ensure more Americans have access to real, quality care."

Chocola is also attempting to pressure Bennett from within his own state party. He is sending a letter to the more than 3,000 delegates to next year's state party convention, requesting they "call on" Bennett to drop his bill -- which Chocola says is "in some respects...worse" than the Democrats' plan.

The TV ad in Utah is part of a nationwide $1.2 million ad buy, though it's unknown how much is being spent in Utah.

OMB Explains Growing Deficit Forecast

The mid-session review released this morning by the Office of Management and Budget today is a case of good news bad news. As leaked previously, the forecast budget deficit for this fiscal year has dropped by $262 billion to $1.58 trillion, which represents a change of 1.7 percent of GDP.

But the long-term forecasts show a markedly different picture. The new 10-year projected deficit is $9.05 trillion, up $2 trillion from OMB's original estimate. As Peter Orszag explains in a blog post:

In line with the current consensus among professional forecasters, the Administration's economic projections show that we inherited a deeper recession than projected in February. These revisions are based on new data on the severity of the recession that weren't available last winter.

As a result of a deeper-than-expected recession, certain spending programs (such as unemployment insurance and food stamps) are projected to automatically increase and revenues are projected to automatically decline, compared to our previous projection. Although these effects help to ameliorate the economic downturn by stimulating demand, they also lead to higher medium-term deficits both directly and indirectly (through higher interest costs on a higher level of public debt).

Orszag continues to say that in an economic downturn, "one wants to allow the deficit to increase." Steps toward future deficit reduction will be taken in the future, he said. But he concedes that the current forecast means that deficits "hover in the range of 4 percent of GDP, which is higher than desirable."

He ends on a positive note, however:

On inauguration day, the Administration inherited the greatest economic crisis and the largest deficits since the end of World War II. The economic freefall has been arrested, and, while too many people remain out of work, the consensus among private forecasters is that the economy will return to positive growth in the second half of this year. As the economy recovers, the Administration is committed to putting the nation on a fiscally sustainable path.

Obama Stays The Course At The Fed

Announcing that Ben Bernanke will stay at the helm, President Obama today also defended his economic policies just minutes before the Office and Management and Budget releases a mid-session budget review that raises the projected deficit forecast to $9 trillion over 10 years.

"The actions we have taken to stabilize our financial system, repair our credit markets, restructure our auto industry, and pass a recovery package have all been steps of necessity, not choice," he said. "They have faced plenty of critics, some of whom argued that we should stay the course or do nothing at all. But taken together, this 'bold, persistent experimentation' has brought our economy back from the brink. They are steps that are working."

Obama noted that Bernanke was an expert in the Great Depression who probably "never imagined that he would be part of a team responsible for preventing another." "But because of his background, his temperament, his courage, and his creativity, that's exactly what he has helped to achieve. And that is why I am re-appointing him to another term as Chairman of the Federal Reserve," he continued.

Obama interrupted his vacation to make the announcement, speaking to reporters in a suit but no tie at a local school on Martha's Vineyard. He did not take questions on any of the other stories that sprang up yesterday, especially the new interrogation practices.

Though the president apologized for breaking a promised no-news week, it seems they may have anticipated he would speak to the press at some point. The White House brought with them to Martha's Vineyard the president's teleprompter.

Obama in New Deeds Radio Ad

President Obama trekked across the Potomac River a couple weeks ago to rally Virginia Democrats for their gubernatorial nominee, Creigh Deeds. Today, the Deeds campaign is launching a radio ad that includes excerpts from Obama's speech that day.

"Hello, Virginia! Are you fired up? Are you ready to go? ... now you've got the chance to keep moving forward by electing somebody who is cut from the same cloth, somebody who has that same vision for the commonwealth -- Creigh Deeds. ... This is a man who spent his life working to do right by his family, and the last two decades working to do right by the people of Virginia. As a state senator, he has worked tirelessly to advance this commonwealth. ... He wrote Megan's Law, advocated for the Amber Alert program to protect our children."

The ad will air in Hampton Roads, Richmond and Roanoke -- where a large portion of the African Americans in Virginia reside. You can listen to "Fired Up" here.

Deeds currently trails Republican Bob McDonnell by 12 points in the RCP Average. He released his first TV ad of the general election campaign on Friday, coinciding with a Northern Virginia campaign address that he hopes will help frame the debate going forward.

Another Term For Bernanke

Remember when Bill Burton said this? "Nobody is looking to make any news, so he's hoping that you guys can enjoy Martha's Vineyard while we're there."

So much for that. The White House says he'll make a statement tomorrow at 9 am from Martha's Vineyard. AP has details on what's to come:

OAK BLUFFS, Mass. -- An Associated Press source says President Barack Obama plans to nominate Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke to a second term. Obama is to make the announcement on Tuesday during a break from his vacation on Martha's Vineyard in Massachusetts. The source is a senior administration official who discussed the announcement late Monday on the condition of anonymity.

Obama was first named Fed chairman by former President George W. Bush. In his announcement, Obama plans to praise Bernanke as someone who led the country through a financial crisis.

Obama plans to note Bernanke's expertise on the Great Depression of the 1930s and his efforts to prevent another crisis.

You can expect the release of the OMB's mid-session budget review tomorrow morning as well.

NY Poll: Cuomo Popularity Sky High

A new Siena College poll finds 68% of New York voters would prefer someone else if Gov. David Paterson (D) decides to run for governor next year. This number has moved little since March, as his 32% favorability rating.

Matched up in a Democratic primary with Atty. Gen. Andrew Cuomo, Paterson trails by 42 points -- no change from last month. For the GOP primary, Rudy Giuliani continues to dominate the field against former Rep. Rick Lazio and Erie County Executive Chris Collins.

Cuomo leads Giuliani by 13 points -- an 8-point margin increase from last month when Cuomo led 49%-44%. Cuomo's favorability rating hit the 70% mark for the second time in three months.

Dem Primary
Paterson 23 - Cuomo 65 - Und 12

GOP Primary
Giuliani 73 - Lazio 6 - Collins 8

General Election
Paterson 33 - Giuliani 59 - Und 11
Paterson 38 - Lazio 37 - Und 25
Cuomo 53 - Giuliani 40 - Und 7
Cuomo 66 - Lazio 16 - Und 18

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D), appointed to Hillary Clinton's former seat, received mixed numbers in the poll, as more than half of voters still don't know much about her. Just 24% said they would definitely vote to elect her, while 35% said they would prefer someone else and 41% were unsure. In general election matchups, Gillibrand leads Rep. Peter King (R) 46%-24% and trails former governor George Pataki (R) 39%-42%.

The survey also asked registered voters to compare the New York state politicians of today versus those of 40 to 50 years ago. And, well, you can see for yourself how today's politicians did.

8-24-09_NYS Politicians Poll.jpg

Obama's Reading List

This morning, White House deputy press secretary Bill Burton shared these selections from the president's reading list during his vacation this week.

  • "The Way Home," by George Pelecanos
  • "Hot, Flat and Crowded," by Tom Friedman
  • "Lush Life," by Richard Price
  • "Plainsong," by Kent Haruf
  • "John Adams," by David McCullough

Christie Lashes Out At Corzine Camp's "Manufactured Outrage"

After more than a week of stories focused on his political relationship with Karl Rove and his financial relationship with a former subordinate in the U.S. Attorney's office, Chris Christie tried to get back on offense today in what is becoming a typically New Jersey tit-for-tat campaign.

On a conference call this afternoon Christie accused Democrat Jon Corzine of bringing a "trader's mentality" to the governor's office, with his campaign alleging that, as a Goldman Sachs executive, Corzine was "protecting and fighting for Enron's off-shore tax havens and enabling them to successfully scam the government." Christie said this action in lobbying the Clinton administration to preserve so-called Monthly Income Preferred Securities led to the "precipitous fall of Enron" and cost the state pension fund.

"He is what he is, he's a trader," Christie said. "Traders only worry about getting the trade done so they can get the benefit in their pocket. Whether that benefit is money at Goldman Sachs, or whether that benefit is now his political fortune, that's what Jon Corzine does."

Questions on the call, however, quickly turned to the loan Christie made to Michele Brown, who still serves in the U.S. Attorney's office. Christie said that there is nothing wrong with giving a subordinate a loan, while acknowledging he made a mistake in not disclosing interest payments on his financial disclosure. He also said media coverage of the matter has been "incredibly overdone" and the reaction to it "kind of crazy," accusing the Corzine campaign of "manufacturing fake outrage" about the issue.

"The time has come to make sure that we're having fair treatment across the board here," he said. "We're not having the same kind of conversation for the same people who are pushing this story from the governor's campaign. This is really hypocrisy."

UPDATE: Check out the Corzine camp's response after the jump.

"Instead of re-hashing questions that were answered four years ago, Christie should worry about standing in front of the press and answering for his conversations with Karl Rove, his loan to a subordinate and subsequent failure to disclose it, and his refusal to release the most basic of documents from his time as United States Attorney. He should focus more on his time as a lobbyist fighting against the Consumer Fraud Act, the "get out of jail free" cards he was handing out from Warsaw to New Jersey and his non-existent record on white collar crime during his seven years as United States Attorney."

MA Gov Poll: Patrick Losing Ground

Another poll gives Massachusetts Democrats reason for concern about the gubernatorial race next year. A Rasmussen survey pitting Gov. Deval Patrick (D) losing ground in head-to-head matchups with potential Republican opponents.

General Election Matchups
Mihos 40 (-1 from 6/24)
Patrick 35 (-5)
Other 11 (+1)
Not Sure 15 (+6)

Patrick 40 (-1)
Baker 39 (+3)
Other 7 (-5)
Not Sure 15 (+4)

Of course, there is still a potential third-party candidacy from former Democrat and current state Treasurer Tim Cahill. His entry would certainly shake up these numbers.

Fav/Unfav Ratings
Patrick 40 / 56
Mihos 50 / 30
Baker 40 / 30

Patrick has a job approval rating of 39 percent, while 60 percent disapprove. President Obama's approval rating is nearly the reverse at this point: 59 percent approve, 41 percent disapprove.

Rasmussen also asked voters whether Patrick should have the right, as Sen. Ted Kennedy has requested, to appoint an interim replacement in the Senate should a vacancy occur. Only 52 percent said yes, while 40 percent said no. Sixty-six percent still support having a special election to permanently fill any vacancy, as opposed to 27 percent who think the governor should fill it.

The IVR survey of 500 likely Massachusetts voters was conducted on August 20, and had a margin of error of +/- 4.5 percent.

States Model for Federal Health Care Reform

Here is my story on state models for federal health care reform, published over the weekend:

Facing budget deficits and Medicaid costs already on the rise along with unemployment, governors around the country are wary of what federal health care reform could mean for the economic welfare of states. As Congress works to put forth and approve a bill, governors are hoping the legislative body looks to the states for models of success.


So far, though, only about a third of states have either enacted or are moving toward comprehensive health care reform. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, a non-partisan health care think tank, as of last month three states have enacted and begun to implement a health care reform plan that aims to cover nearly all of their residents.

These states are all located in New England: Maine, Massachusetts and Vermont. All three ranked in the top 10 of the Commonwealth Fund's health system performance scorecard, which looks at "access, quality, avoidable hospital use and costs, equity, and healthy lives," according to the report.

You can read the rest here.

Strategy Memo Is On Vacation

With the president and Congress both out of town this week, we're sending Strategy Memo on vacation for the week as well. The blog will still be updated throughout the day at the normal pace. Check back at the regularly scheduled Strat Memo times next week for everything you should be reading.

-KT and MM

Let The Vacation Begin

President Obama arrived in Martha's Vineyard this afternoon, starting a week-long vacation that the White House insists will be just that -- a vacation. En route to the island, he gave some marching orders to the press through deputy press secretary Bill Burton.

"He wants you to relax and have a good time. Take some walks on the beaches," Burton told the reporters traveling with him on Air Force One. "Nobody is looking to make any news, so he's hoping that you guys can enjoy Martha's Vineyard while we're there."

Burton also asked that the White House press corps "respect the privacy of the girls" during the vacation, in keeping with a longstanding request that the media leave the first daughters some space. Obama's sister, Maya, and her family are joining them at their vacation compound, as is first dog, Bo. Burton said that at this point Obama had no plans to visit Sen. Ted Kennedy at nearby Hyannis, though some still suspect he may.

"There isn't a lot scheduled for this week. You can bet there's going to be some golf playing, maybe a little swimming, but a lot of time spent with his family," Burton said. He called talk that Tiger Woods would join the president on the golf course a "bad rumor."

Poll: Montana Dems Want Public Option

As chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, Montana Sen. Max Baucus (D) has held up movement on a health care reform bill, and a new poll in Montana finds a majority of Democrats disapproving of his actions.

A Daily Kos poll (Aug. 17-19, 600 LV, MoE +/- 4%), conducted by Research 2000, found more Republicans (49%) than Democrats (34%) approving of his actions on health care. Baucus hasn't said whether he'll push for a public option to be included in the Senate bill, though 78% of Montana Democrats are in favor of it. Overall, 47% of Montanans favor a public option and 43% oppose it.

If Baucus comes out against a public option, 36% of Democrats said they would be less likely to vote for him; 12% would be more likely and 52% said it would have no effect. For Republicans, 23% said they'd be more likely to vote for him if he opposed it, with 69% saying it would have no effect.

The liberal DailyKos queried respondents on how they'd vote if Baucus joined Republicans to help filibuster a health care bill that included a public option (44% of Democrats would be less likely to vote for him); also noted was that he'd received nearly $4 million in campaign donations from the health care industry (73% of Democrats said it hurt his judgement when voting on a health care bill).

Of course, the 67-year-old Baucus isn't up for re-election for another five years. In 2008, he was re-elected with 73% of the vote. Gov. Brian Schweitzer (D) was re-elected with 65%, and Rep. Denny Rehberg (R), the state's lone congressman, was re-elected to a fifth term with 64%.

John McCain carried the state by 3 points last year, and President Obama now has a negative favorability rating -- 44% view him favorably and 52% unfavorably.

Obama Praises Afghan Resolve After Elections

afghan.jpgIn his final public appearance before a week-long vacation, President Obama called the elections in Afghanistan an "important step forward" for the people to reclaim their future.

"We knew that the Taliban would try to derail this election," he acknowledged. "Yet even in the face of this brutality, millions of Afghans exercised the right to choose their leaders and determine their own destiny. And as I watched the election, I was struck by their courage in the face of intimidation, and their dignity in the face of disorder."

Echoing a refrain from his inaugural address, he talked of the contrast between "those who seek to control their future at the ballot box, and those who kill to prevent that from happening."

"I believe that the future belongs to those who want to build -- not those who want to destroy," he said.

He sought to emphasize the United States' neutrality, saying our interests were in continuing to work with whoever emerges to "strengthen Afghan security, governance, and opportunity."

As he stepped toward Marine One en route to Camp David, a reporter asked for his reaction to the "hero's welcome" that the Pan Am Bomber received in Libya yesterday. Obama called it "highly objectionable."

"Wee-Wee'd Up" Explained

It had to be a first in presidential rhetoric, the president of the United States referring to people in Washington being "wee-wee'd up" in August. He was referring to a trend in which he's been counted out before in August, and still found his way to the White House.

Today in the briefing room, press secretary Robert Gibbs explained just what that unique term means.

"I think wee-weed up is when people just get all nervous for no particular reason," Gibbs said, repeating Obama's view that this is an "August pundit pattern." He agreed with a reporter that "bed wetting" would probably be "the more consumer friendly" term.

Looking ahead, Gibbs said to expect the president to be out front in the health care debate when he returns from vacation, saying "we've made progress," in the past few weeks.

The press secretary also disputed the CNN branding that August was a "make or break month." "My hunch is that another cable network will make September an even more important month," he said. "I think that much is always made of where things are at a certain point in the process. The president's viewpoint, as he said in here, no to worry too much about the 24-hour news cycle and focus more on the overall process and the overall policy."

Gibbs continued to bat away questions about the precise status of legislative horsetrading, feigning a bit of ignorance about whether there are plans to "split" legislation to make passage easier for Democrats and saying the goal was still a bipartisan bill. But he did say that Obama would not just "print a banner and sign a bill just so somebody can say we reformed health care."

Bush Enters the Virginia Governor Race

FAIRFAX, Va. -- In a gubernatorial campaign that so far has lacked sparks, Creigh Deeds came out swinging today with a speech and new television ad, arguing that voting for his opponent would mean supporting a backward vision -- one that embraces George W. Bush's economic policies.

With less than three months to go until the election, today's event indicates the former president could play a key role in the Democratic nominee's campaign going forward.

Speaking at George Mason University in Northern Virginia, Deeds defined himself as the moderate with a bipartisan record in the state Legislature and the one who would keep the state moving forward on the back of the economic policies of Mark Warner, the former governor now serving in the U.S. Senate. While tying Bob McDonnell to an unpopular president, Deeds painted the Republican as a candidate with a conservative social agenda, and who would support policies that he says led the country into economic recession.

"Just recently he said he believes President Bush did a good job and he created -- and I'm quoting here -- an economic revival in America," Deeds said. "The fiscal policies of George Bush doubled the national debt and resulted in over 300,000 Virginians losing their jobs and 48,000 Virginia families losing their homes to foreclosure. That's not a revival, and I will not let my opponent take us back to this economic approach."

On social issues, Deeds said McDonnell "sponsored 35 bills in the General Assembly to restrict a woman's right to choose" and "supported legislation allowing a pharmacist to refuse to fill birth control prescriptions."

"He believes that his social agenda should come before sound public policy, and his record, his career in politics, reflects it," said Deeds. "Virginia can't afford to go back to that."

The theme of the speech, billed as a "major campaign address," was that Virginia is already moving in a positive direction -- so why mess with what's working? The new 30-second TV ad, which can be seen below and is airing around the state except in the D.C. media market, carries the same message.

In response, the McDonnell campaign released a statement calling the event a "stunt" and a clear indication that Deeds "has no vision to offer."

"That was the most backwards looking speech ever given by a Virginia gubernatorial nominee," said McDonnell spokesman Tucker Martin. "If Creigh Deeds thinks blowing the dust off an old political playbook amounts to a major new announcement, he doesn't get what the voters of Virginia are looking for in their next governor."

Twenty-Six States See Unemployment Rate Increases

The White House quietly celebrated an unexpected drop in the national unemployment rate last month. But in 26 states, the jobless numbers climbed from June to July, according to new data released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics today.

But 17 states did see their jobless rates drop, including Michigan. After hitting 15.2 percent mark in June, the rate dropped slightly, to 15. The unemployment rate remains in double digits in 15 states, plus Washington, D.C.

Palin Calls For Tort Reform With Health Care Legislation

Sarah Palin is back with another Facebook post about health care this morning, alluding to her own struggles with "frivolous suits" as she calls for strong tort reform to be included in any legislation.

"I went my whole life without needing a lawyer on speed-dial, but all that changes when you become a target for opportunists and people with no scruples," she writes. "Our nation's health care providers have been the targets of similar opportunists for years, and they too have found themselves subjected to false, frivolous, and baseless claims. To quote a former president, 'I feel your pain.'"

She cites research that claims tort reform could result in $200 billion a year in savings.

"That's money that could be used to build roads, schools, or hospitals," she says. "If you want to save health care, let's listen to our doctors too. There should be no health care reform without legal reform. There can be no true health care reform without legal reform."

You can read the full post after the jump.

No Healthcare Reform Without Legal Reform

President Obama's health care "reform" plan has met with significant criticism across the country. Many Americans want change and reform in our current health care system. We recognize that while we have the greatest medical care in the world, there are major problems that we must face, especially in terms of reining in costs and allowing care to be affordable for all. However, as we have seen, current plans being pushed by the Democratic leadership represent change that may not be what we had in mind -- change which poses serious ethical concerns over the government having control over our families' health care decisions. In addition, the current plans greatly increase costs of health care, while doing lip service toward controlling costs.

We need to address a REAL bipartisan reform proposition that will have REAL impacts on costs, and quality of patient care.

As Governor of Alaska, I learned a little bit about being a target for frivolous suits and complaints (Please, do I really need to footnote that?). I went my whole life without needing a lawyer on speed-dial, but all that changes when you become a target for opportunists and people with no scruples. Our nation's health care providers have been the targets of similar opportunists for years, and they too have found themselves subjected to false, frivolous, and baseless claims. To quote a former president, "I feel your pain."

So what can we do? First, we cannot have health care reform without tort reform. The two are intertwined. For example, one supposed justification for socialized medicine is the high cost of health care. As Dr. Scott Gottlieb recently noted, "If Mr. Obama is serious about lowering costs, he'll need to reform the economic structures in medicine--especially programs like Medicare." [1] Two examples of these "economic structures" are high malpractice insurance premiums foisted on physicians (and ultimately passed on to consumers as "high health care costs") and the billions wasted on defensive medicine.

Dr. Stuart Weinstein, with the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, recently explained the problem:

"The medical liability crisis has had many unintended consequences, most notably a decrease in access to care in a growing number of states and an increase in healthcare costs.
Access is affected as physicians move their practices to states with lower liability rates and change their practice patterns to reduce or eliminate high-risk services. When one considers that half of all neurosurgeons--as well as one third of all orthopedic surgeons, one third of all emergency physicians, and one third of all trauma surgeons--are sued each year, is it any wonder that 70 percent of emergency departments are at risk because they lack available on-call specialist coverage?" [2]

Dr. Weinstein makes good points, points completely ignored by President Obama. Dr. Weinstein details the costs that our out-of-control tort system are causing the health care industry and notes research that "found that liability reforms could reduce defensive medicine practices, leading to a 5 percent to 9 percent reduction in medical expenditures without any effect on mortality or medical complications."

Dr. Weinstein writes:

"If the Kessler and McClellan estimates were applied to total U.S. healthcare spending in 2005, the defensive medicine costs would total between $100 billion and $178 billion per year. Add to this the cost of defending malpractice cases, paying compensation, and covering additional administrative costs (a total of $29.4 billion). Thus, the average American family pays an additional $1,700 to $2,000 per year in healthcare costs simply to cover the costs of defensive medicine.

Excessive litigation and waste in the nation's current tort system imposes an estimated yearly tort tax of $9,827 for a family of four and increases healthcare spending in the United States by $124 billion. How does this translate to individuals? The average obstetrician-gynecologist (OB-GYN) delivers 100 babies per year. If that OB-GYN must pay a medical liability premium of $200,000 each year (which is the rate in Florida), $2,000 of the delivery cost for each baby goes to pay the cost of the medical liability premium." [3]

You would think that any effort to reform our health care system would include tort reform, especially if the stated purpose for Obama's plan to nationalize our health care industry is the current high costs.

So I have new questions for the president: Why no legal reform? Why continue to encourage defensive medicine that wastes billions of dollars and does nothing for the patients? Do you want healthcare reform to benefit trial attorneys or patients?

Many states, including my own state of Alaska, have enacted caps on lawsuit awards against health care providers. Texas enacted caps and found that one county's medical malpractice claims dropped 41 percent, and another study found a "55 percent decline" after reform measures were passed. [4] That's one step in health care reform. Limiting lawyer contingency fees, as is done under the Federal Tort Claims Act, is another step. The State of Alaska pioneered the "loser pays" rule in the United States, which deters frivolous civil law suits by making the loser partially pay the winner's legal bills. Preventing quack doctors from giving "expert" testimony in court against real doctors is another reform.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry noted that, after his state enacted tort reform measures, the number of doctors applying to practice medicine in Texas "skyrocketed by 57 percent" and that the tort reforms "brought critical specialties to underserved areas." These are real reforms that actually improve access to health care. [5]

Dr. Weinstein's research shows that around $200 billion per year could be saved with legal reform. That's real savings. That's money that could be used to build roads, schools, or hospitals.

If you want to save health care, let's listen to our doctors too. There should be no health care reform without legal reform. There can be no true health care reform without legal reform.

- Sarah Palin

[1] See
[2] See
[3] Id.
[4] See
[5] See

NRCC Targets Arcuri, Space

The National Republican Congressional Committee is launching a 30-second TV ad in the districts of Reps. Michael Arcuri (D-N.Y.) and Zack Space (D-Ohio) that ties them to Nancy Pelosi and a health care reform plan that includes "higher costs, tax hikes, and, get this, massive cuts to Medicare."

Strategy Memo: Government Shutdown

Happy Friday, Washington. There's just one event on the docket this morning for President Obama: a meeting with former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, once his choice to quarterback the health care reform effort. What could have been? Then the president takes off for Camp David at about 1 pm today, marking the beginning of a week-long vacation. He'll spend most of the weekend at Camp David before flying to Martha's Vineyard, where he'll enjoy some R-and-R next week with the first family. With Congress still on recess and the White House promising that Obama's week will include more golf games than conference calls, you're looking at the quietest seven days of the year, perhaps. Or so we think -- something always seems to change that in a hurry. We can also expect the president to pay a courtesy call not far from the Vineyard to see Sen. Ted Kennedy at Hyannis.

Vice President Biden will be on duty next week, however. Today he has meetings at the White House before joining his wife for a doctor's appointment, and returning home to Wilmington. Milestone alert: It was one year ago this Sunday that Obama tapped the then-Delaware senator as his running mate.

In the world of politics, Creigh Deeds is ramping up his campaign for Virginia governor, making a major speech on policy and launching his first TV ad.

**President Obama
*A new Washington Post/ABC News poll finds Obama with a 57% job approval rating -- his highest mark in more than two weeks. However, less than half of Americans are confident in his leadership and ability to significantly improve the health care system.

*"A new Gallup Poll finds that 68% of Americans believe their federal income taxes will be higher by the time Barack Obama's first term as president ends. This includes 35% who say their taxes will be 'a lot higher.' "

AP: "With control of the health care debate slipping from his grasp, President Barack Obama pitched his ambitious plan to both conservative talk radio and his own liberal supporters Thursday -- and denied a challenge from one backer that he was 'bucklin' a little bit' under Republican criticism. Liberals were on the verge of revolt as Obama refused to say any final deal must include a government-run insurance option, while Republicans pressed their all-but-unified opposition to the White House effort. Obama, who will leave Washington Friday on vacation, said reason would prevail and it was no time to panic."

*The quote of the day yesterday, as Obama noted he'd been written off this time of year before: "There's something about August going into September where everybody in Washington gets all wee-wee'd up," Obama said, with the Washington Times noting "wee-wee'd" was "a term he hasn't used publicly before." "I don't know what it is, but that's what's happening. Instead of being preoccupied with the polls and the pundits and the cable chatter, you guys just kept on working."

*USA Today: "President Obama's scheduled arrival Sunday for his first week-long vacation since taking office has this island near Cape Cod in a dither. Some worry about traffic, but business owners hope the visit will draw tourists in a year that has been slower than usual."

**Health Care
*"President Barack Obama, seeking to rally his base, accused Republican leaders Thursday of trying to block a health-care overhaul from the start and again threw his weight behind a government-run insurance plan. During a radio call-in show and at a town-hall meeting of supporters, Mr. Obama tacked to the left as Democratic allies inched toward trying to pass a health-care bill on their own," WSJ reports.

*New York Times reports that "those involved in the Senate negotiations continued to express confidence that they could ultimately reach an agreement when Congress returned next month, though they said any legislation produced would have to be scaled back from measures that have cleared other committees in the House and the Senate." Obama also spoke with Sens. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) and Olympia Snowe (R-Maine).

*House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said yesterday that health care "won't get through her chamber unless it creates a government-run insurance program to compete with the private industry," Bloomberg reports. Pelosi: "There's no way I can pass a bill in the House of Representatives without a public option."

*Washington Post reports: "In a conference call, the three Democratic and three Republican members of the Senate Finance Committee agreed to redouble their efforts to craft a less costly alternative to the trillion-dollar initiatives so far put forward in Congress. They discussed the possibility of also reining in the scope of their package, the sources said."

*"Grassroots liberal activists have begun a fund-raising drive to support House members who pledge to vote against any health care legislation that lacks a public insurance option. The effort, which began on Tuesday, has already raised more than $175,000, and organizers have increased their goal from $150,000 to $250,000," NY Times reports.

**Ted Kennedy
*The Fix: "If the Kennedy amendment is passed and state law changed, one name that might be appealing, according to a well-connected Democratic strategist with ties to Massachusetts, is former governor Michael Dukakis, the Democratic party's 1988 presidential nominee."

*Boston Globe reports on the Republican reaction to Kennedy's letter. "Everybody feels for Senator Kennedy, but the laws shouldn't be created to benefit particular individuals, it should be principled," said Senate minority leader Richard Tisei. Also, from a Democrat: "I'm not in favor of it," said state Rep. Brian Wallace. "I've got great respect for Senator Kennedy, but I think we've been down this road. I'm in favor of having an election, there's nothing fairer than that. It just opens up a whole can of worms all again."

**Campaign Stuff
*Bush administration inflated terror alerts during elections? Tom Ridge, the former head of the Department of Homeland Security, reportedly writes that in his new book due out next month.

*Not so, aides responded. "We went over backwards repeatedly and with great discipline to make sure politics did not influence any national security and homeland security decisions," former White House chief of staff Andy Card told Politico. "The clear instructions were to make sure politics never influenced anything."

*Gov. Jon Corzine's (D-N.J.) campaign filed a legal challenge with the U.S. Department of Justice yesterday "to force the release of federal records concerning Republican Chris Christie's tenure as U.S. attorney," the Star-Ledger reports. "For months, Corzine's campaign has requested records that include Christie's travel expense reports, his daily calendars, the office's budget and salary documents. Corzine's call to release the records became more emphatic this week after revelations that Christie, who left the prosecutor's office last year, has a continuing financial relationship with the second-in-command at the U.S. Attorney's Office."

*VA Gov: Creigh Deeds (D) is delivering a "major campaign address" today at George Mason University and after will unveil his first TV ad of the general election campaign.

*Charlie Cook has updated his 2010 forecast, saying Democrats are poised to lose seats, Politico notes. "These data confirm anecdotal evidence, and our own view, that the situation this summer has slipped completely out of control for President Obama and Congressional Democrats. Today, The Cook Political Report's Congressional election model, based on individual races, is pointing toward a net Democratic loss of between six and 12 seats, but our sense, factoring in macro-political dynamics is that this is far too low," he wrote.

*IA Gov: State Senate Minority Leader Paul McKinley (R), considering running for governor next year, "says he would reconsider if top-tier candidates like former Gov. Terry Branstad join the 2010 race," Quad City Times reports.

*Swing State Project has a good roundup of the latest fundraising numbers from the various party committees.

Sports Alert: The Nationals today officially roll out their number one draft pick, Stephen Strasburg, at the ballpark. Maybe we can see a first pitch tonight.

CO Gov Poll: Ritter Vulnerable

Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter (D), who shot into office in 2006 with 17-point margin of victory, is vulnerable as he gears up for a run at re-election. A new Public Policy Polling survey found the governor with an upside-down approval rating and trailing a potential Republican opponent.

Ritter trails with 38 percent to 46 percent for former Rep. Scott McInnis (R), who served six terms in Congress from 1992 to 2004. The other Republican tested is Josh Penry, a 33-year-old state Senate minority leader and former congressional aide to McInnis. Ritter and Penry are tied at 40 percent apiece.

"The good news for Bill Ritter is that despite a tough budget cycle and Democrats polling worse nationally he's not in any worse shape than four months ago," said PPP president Dean Debnam. "The bad news of course is that he already had a negative approval rating and an outside the margin of error gap against one of his possible GOP opponents back then."

Rubio: Conservative Test Case?

Florida Senate candidate Marco Rubio (R) gets the cover treatment in the forthcoming issue of National Review, highlighting his uphill race against Gov. Charlie Crist (R).


Though several stories of late have focused on a Rubio exit strategy, either dropping out from the race or a musical chairs appointment scheme that would land him in Congress, the piece by John J. Miller sees momentum for the upstart challenger.

Rubio's efforts on the campaign trail are starting to pay off. This summer, he has won lopsided victories in straw polls conducted by GOP executive committees. In June, Pasco County Republicans favored Rubio by a vote of 73 to 9. In July, Rubio trounced Crist in Lee County (60 to 11) and Highland County (75 to 1). Technically, these tallies are meaningless. Yet they express a growing disillusionment with Crist at the party's core. The governor's global-warming alarmism has unsettled conservatives for a long time. Then there's his appointment of a liberal to the state supreme court, his approval of a state budget that raises cigarette taxes, and his hug of Obama at a political event in support of the president's spending plans. On August 12, Republicans in Palm Beach County held a vote to censure Crist. The measure failed, but only because the final vote was a tie. In this environment, Rubio begins to look like an attractive alternative.

On Conservative Talk Show, Obama Reassures A Supporter

President Obama went on Michael Smerconish's radio show anticipating some tough questions from across the ideological divide. But one of the callers who got to pose a question to him was actually a supporter, who expressed concern that Obama was "buckling" to Republicans on health care when it was the Democrats who had the majority.

"It's very frustrating to watch you try and compromise with a lot of these people who aren't willing to compromise with you," the caller, Joe, asked.

Obama acknowledged the "hand-wringing," but said that passing a major bill like this is "always messy."

"My attitude has always been let's see if we can get this done with some consensus," he explained. But, he claimed, there was "early on a decision was made by the Republican leadership" to deny him a victory, so that "maybe we can have a replay of 1993-94," as he put it, referring to President Clinton's failed health care effort.

"I think there's some folks who are taking a page out of that playbook. But this shouldn't be a political issue," he said. "There are a bunch of Republicans out there who have been working very constructively. ... I want to give them a chance to work through these processes." He singled out Chuck Grassley, Mike Enzi, and Olympia Snow -- those working in the bipartisan group on the Senate Finance Committee.

"We're happy to make sensible compromises. What we're not willing to do is give up on the core principle that Americans who don't have health insurance should get it," he said.

Obama also again touched on some hot button issues, and was asked about whether illegal immigrants would benefit from the reforms he's proposing. The president denied that there are any proposals to expand coverage for them, but when pressed by Smerconish, acknowledged that they would likely still get free care in emergency rooms.

"We don't want a situation in which some child, even if they're an illegal immigrant, shows up in an emergency room with tuberculosis and nobody is giving them treatment, and then they're going back to the playground and playing next to our kids," he said. "I think there is a basic standard of decency where if somebody is in a death situation or a severe illness, that we're going to provide them emergency care."

RNC Raises $6M in July

The Republican National Committee announced this morning that it raised $6 million last month, leaving it with nearly $22 million cash on hand and no debt. The take is down from it's $8 million haul in June, but in line with its April and May fundraising totals.

"The RNC continues to mount a very effective fundraising effort and we are extremely thankful to the Americans who have contributed to the financial success of our Party. The Republican Party will be successful in the coming elections this fall and in 2010 thanks to the generosity of our donors," RNC Chairman Michael Steele said in a released statement.

Obama "Deeply Regrets" Pan Am Bomber Release

A statement from the White House on the announced release of the only Pan Am bomber to be tried and sentenced:

The United States deeply regrets the decision by the Scottish Executive to release Abdel Basset Mohamed al-Megrahi. Megrahi was convicted and sentenced to life in prison for his role in the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103, which blew up over Scotland on December 21, 1988. As we have expressed repeatedly to officials of the government of the United Kingdom and to Scottish authorities, we continue to believe that Megrahi should serve out his sentence in Scotland. On this day, we extend our deepest sympathies to the families who live every day with the loss of their loved ones. We recognize the effects of such a loss weigh upon a family forever.

Strategy Memo: Lion Succession

President Obama today will again try selling his health care plan by tailoring his message to specific constituency groups, rather than with general town hall meetings or White House events. Yesterday he spoke to religious groups. Today he'll be on conservative talk radio, during a live broadcast of the Michael Smerconish show from the Diplomatic Reception Room. He'll follow that by speaking to his base, in an online "National Health Care Forum," live from DNC headquarters on Capitol Hill. According to the Organizing for America website, "The President will update supporters on what's happening in D.C. and around the country, and he'll lay out our strategy and message going forward."

Vice President Biden will step up his profile in the health care debate today in Chicago. He's hosting a a roundtable discussion with health care professionals, joined by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and others. Later, he'll be raising money for another freshman Congressman, Debbie Halvorson in Chicago.

A big story to watch outside of the U.S. today, as Afghans are voting in national elections. The White House has called this a critical moment for the nation, and it's the process and not so much the result that is of concern. A smooth election may influence the president's policy toward the nation as some are calling for an increased level of forces there.

**Health Care
*Congress is enjoying its month off at home while currently the least popular its been in six months. "Gallup polling conducted in the first few days of Congress' August recess -- a time when many members of Congress were preparing to meet their constituents in town hall meetings back in their districts -- finds public approval of Congress on par with the lowest reading since February, a month after the 111th Congress convened. Thirty-one percent of Americans in Gallup's Aug. 6-9 survey approve of the job Congress is doing while 62% disapprove."

*As Democrats push for public support on health care, a new Pew Research survey finds public support for Congressional Democrats down drastically since the beginning of the year. Once viewed favorably by 62%, compared with 40% for Republicans, Democrats' favorability rating is now down below 50%, while the GOP remains unchanged.

*First read this lede from the WSJ: "The White House and Senate Democratic leaders, seeing little chance of bipartisan support for their health-care overhaul, are considering a strategy shift that would break the legislation into two parts and pass the most expensive provisions solely with Democratic votes," Wall Street Journal reports. "Democrats hope a split-the-bill plan would speed up a vote and help President Barack Obama meet his goal of getting a final measure by year's end."

*Now check this one from The Hill: "Senate Democratic leaders and negotiators have recommitted themselves to a bipartisan healthcare deal, despite an August recess characterized by partisan sniping that prompted senior White House officials to consider a go-it-alone approach. The renewed calls for patience and bipartisan talks have saved, at least temporarily, the healthcare debate from devolving into full-blown partisan chaos."

*The Washington Post interviews Sen. Chuck Grassley, who's become the center of attention lately. "Grassley said he remains hopeful that he and five other members of the Senate Finance Committee can draft a better, less costly plan capable of winning broad support from Democrats and Republicans. But as the group, known as the Gang of Six, prepared to continue talking via teleconference late Thursday, Grassley said the members may be forced to reassess the breadth of their efforts in light of public concerns."

Grassley also said "the president should publicly state his willingness to sign a bill without a controversial government-run insurance plan. Such a statement, he said, is 'pretty important . . . if you're really interested in a bipartisan bill.'"

*Roll Call reports that "Liberal bloggers say they have helped raise more than $160,000 in the past 24 hours for about 60 progressive House Democrats who have pledged to vote against any health care plan that does not include a public insurance option."

**Ted Kennedy
*The Boston Globe has this intriguing story today. Sen. Ted Kennedy has written to state leaders requesting that they alter recent legislation on Senate succession to allow the governor to appoint a temporary replacement in the event of a vacancy. "Under a 2004 law, if Kennedy were to die or step down, Massachusetts voters would select his successor through a special election, to be held within five months after the vacancy." The clear implication here is that Kennedy does not want Democrats to be one vote short on health care should he pass away.

Kennedy writes that whoever is appointed should agree immediately not to seek to hold the seat in a special election. A Kennedy family confidant tells the Globe that Kennedy's wife, Vicki, "is not interested in being a temporary appointee or running in a special election." Other Kennedy advisers, meanwhile, "were adamant that the timing of the letter did not reflect any imminent emergency in the health of the senator, who has been battling brain cancer since May 2008."

*Politico reports, meanwhile, that "Democrats are keenly feeling" Kennedy's absence. "Insiders say that Kennedy, and maybe Kennedy alone, has the stature to help President Barack Obama bridge the gap between liberals who insist on a government-run option and moderates who remain fearful of the cost -- and even bring along some Republican support as well."

**President Obama
*Bloomberg broke the news that the OMB will announce that the projected budget deficit is being cut by $262 billion. The somewhat rosier picture is because "the administration scrapped contingency plans to provide hundreds of billions of dollars in additional aid to the financial industry." Also, there were "fewer bank failures than the administration anticipated."

*Obama had a standing invitation to appear on Smerconish's radio show, and the White House decided now was a good time to accept, the L.A. Times reports. "There has been a lot of misinformation that's been spread, particularly in conservative circles, about this plan," said Joshua Earnest, a White House spokesman. "It's an opportunity to set the record straight, and hopefully he'll have an opportunity to confront that misinformation head-on."

*In Chicago today, Biden plans to announce "nearly $1.2 billion in grants to help hospitals transition to electronic medical records." That money is made possible because of the Recovery Act, and Biden and Sebelius will explain how that will "help Americans when they go to the hospital or their doctors. It also is a what's-in-it-for-me way for the White House to illustrate how it is spending parts of the massive amount of taxpayer dollars," AP reports.

**2012 Republicans
*Romney: Is Mitt Romney using voodoo dolls? asks Politics Daily. Because all but one of his biggest competitors for the 2012 nomination have shot themselves in the foot one way or another. "Romney was the one who finished second to McCain in the 2008 GOP primary derby and he is the one whom many wise-guy Republicans in Washington believe their party should have nominated last time. Now, Romney is known to be a square who doesn't cat around, drink, or even cuss. So what, you might wonder, is he doing with voodoo dolls of all his rivals? Okay, Politics Daily doesn't really have the evidence of such sorcery, but really, what else explains it?"

*In an interview this morning, Mitt Romney said Obama must shoulder the blame for the gridlocked situation surrounding health care legislation, because he gave too much influence to liberals in his party. "If the president wants to get something done, he needs to put aside the extreme liberal wing of his party," he told CBS.

*Pawlenty: "Minnesota GOP Gov. Tim Pawlenty, best known among Republicans for his fiscal record, has discovered a policy niche that is beginning to pay dividends for his prospective 2012 presidential bid: health care," Politico reports.

*Huckabee: "Mike Huckabee, the former GOP presidential candidate who is thought to be eyeing a second run for the White House, is standing by his recent comments in Israel criticizing the White House's policy toward the country. On a trip to the Israel earlier this week, the former Arkansas governor positioned himself in against the Obama administration's policy of asking Israel to halt construction of settlements in predominantly Arab neighborhoods including East Jerusalem and the West Bank," CNN reports.

**Other Campaign Stuff
*ABC: "The Republican National Committee is set to announce today that it raised $6 million last month, bringing the party committee a total of $21.8 million in cash on hand as spending picks up in two key gubernatorial contests."

*TX Gov: "Gov. Rick Perry said Wednesday that he is not convinced he will face a primary opponent next year, even though U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison officially launched her gubernatorial campaign this week," Fort Worth Star-Telegram reports.

*NC Sen: Rep. Bob Etheridge (D-N.C.) said yesterday "that he is giving some thought to running against Republican Sen. Richard Burr next year," Raleigh News & Observer reports.

*The Philadelphia Inquirer reports that Chris Christie lately "has spent less time vowing to clean up Trenton than responding to allegations and defending his actions. ... "Democrats have been trying for months to tarnish Christie's record, criticizing him, for example, for awarding no-bid contracts worth millions of dollars to people including his onetime boss, former U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft. Until now, Christie has dismissed the attacks as partisan mudslinging and maintained a lead over incumbent Gov. Corzine in the polls. But the most recent revelations, including Christie's first admission of a mistake, could well amount to the campaign's first serious challenge after months of relatively smooth sailing."

*Charlie Crist has added more names to his Senate appointment short list, including his former chief of staff.

*The quote of the day, from Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.): "I haven't done anything legally wrong."

--Kyle Trygstad and Mike Memoli

Grayson Jokes Too Much, Even For Biden?

Vice President Biden has certainly developed a reputation for letting his mouth get the best of him. But in Florida today, it was Rep. Alan Grayson (D) who may have gotten carried away as he joked about Dick Cheney, Sarah Palin and who was calling the shots in the Obama White House.

According to a pool report of the fundraiser that Biden headlined for the freshman Congressman, Grayson "killed" with these jokes in front of the partisan crowd, like about "former Vice President Dick Cheney having given Biden a tour of the White House 'dungeon' and its torture rack." More:

"Grayson also riffed on how Cheney made Biden nervous because the former veep "liked to shoot old men in the face" and invited Biden to "go water boarding with him."

Grayson joked that Biden decided to take the vice presidential slot "because he could see Philadelphia from his front porch," a knock on Republican Sarah Palin's claim she had foreign policy experience because she could see Russia from her home state of Alaska.

Grayson even goofed about seeing the "real change in power" going from Vice President Cheney to Vice President Biden, a knock on the contention that former President Bush often deferred to his number two."

The report goes on to say that Biden "played along with the goofs, but said Grayson was a 'lousy comedian' who may have flown on Air Force Two back down to Orlando today, but he was going to have to take the train back to Washington." The Congressman "held his hands to his face in mock horror."

And as far as who is really running the show in the White House, Biden said, "He's the president, I'm the vice president. We've got the pecking order in this administration right."

"I know George Bush, and he's no Barack Obama," Biden said.

Read the full pool report after the jump.

VPOTUS Pool Report #2 August 19, 2009

Vice President Joe Biden told 150 political donors in Orlando Wednesday that U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson had the smarts and character to challenge Iraq War profiteers, and that's just what's needed now to push an historic agenda in Washington.

Biden reminded those attending the $1,000-a-plate event that his own son is in Iraq, and it meant that much more to him that Grayson, D-Orlando, waged legal fights against defense contractors "stealing from the United States government and doing a shoddy job protecting our sons and daughters."

"We owe you one buddy," Biden said to Grayson. "This is a guy who doesn't back away from a fight, and doesn't back down from what he believes in."

It was the second of back-to-back fund raisers for Biden, who moments earlier raised at least an estimated $70,000 for U.S. Rep. Suzanne Kosmas, D-New Smyrna Beach, in a smaller adjoining ballroom at the downtown Marriott Hotel. All told, Biden helped collect $250,000 or more for two candidates likely to face stiff Republican challenges next fall.

Earlier in the day Biden visited Jackson Middle School and pointed out that the stimulus package Kosmas and Grayson both voted for helped keep 26,000 teachers at work in Florida.

Without it, Florida would have had to close schools or raise taxes, Biden said.

Through the rest of his more than 20-minute talk to Grayson supporters, Biden spoke in broad historical strokes, pointing to the unique opportunity that the economic collapse afforded to make major advances in health, energy and education policy.

"We have a chance to bend history, just a little bit," Biden said. He added later, "We do think we're headed in the right direction."

Biden said there was no alternative being offered from Republicans.

"What do they offer, other than no," Biden said. "This next election is about going back or going forward."

The event attracted a number of local politicians, including Orlando Democrats, state Sen. Gary Siplin and state Rep. Scott Randolph, as well as Lake County civil rights pioneer T.H. Poole, Orlando trial attorney John Morgan, and Republican businessman Marc Watson.

In introducing the vice president, Grayson killed the Democratic-friendly audience by reeling off a series of jokes about former Vice President Dick Cheney having given Biden a tour of the White House "dungeon" and its torture rack.

Grayson also riffed on how Cheney made Biden nervous because the former veep "liked to shoot old men in the face" and invited Biden to "go water boarding with him."

Grayson joked that Biden decided to take the vice presidential slot "because he could see Philadelphia from his front porch," a knock on Republican Sarah Palin's claim she had foreign policy experience because she could see Russia from her home state of Alaska.

Grayson even goofed about seeing the "real change in power" going from Vice President Cheney to Vice President Biden, a knock on the contention that former President Bush often deferred to his number two.

Biden played along with the goofs, but said Grayson was a "lousy comedian" who may have flown on Air Force Two back down to Orlando today, but he was going to have to take the train back to Washington. Grayson held his hands to his face in mock horror.

And as far as who is really running the show in the White House, Biden said, "He's the president, I'm the vice president. We've got the pecking order in this administration right."

"I know George Bush, and he's no Barack Obama," Biden said.

Unlike Kosmas' stand-up luncheon fare, Grayson had 18 tables set up for a sit-down chicken Caesar salad lunch.

Obama: Opponents "Bearing False Witness" In Health Care Debate

President Obama made a faith-based pitch for his health care reform, urging religious groups to unite in this battle "between hope and fear" just as they did in the fight for civil rights.

Obama joined a teleconference organized by a coalition of religious groups as part of their "Forty Minutes For Health Reform" campaign. He didn't take questions, but in his six-minute pitch he also worked to dispel some misinformation about the legislation, accusing opponents of "bearing false witness."

He disputed that there would be "death panels," for instance, calling that an "extraordinary lie." He also denied that his plan would cover illegal immigrants. Lastly, he touched on a hot-button issue for religious groups: abortion.

"You've heard that this is all going to mean government funding of abortion. Not true," he said. "These are all fabrications that have been put out there in order to discourage people from meeting what I consider to be a core ethical and moral obligation, and that is that we look out for one another. That I am my brother's keeper, I am my sister's keeper. And in the wealthiest nation on earth right now, we are neglecting to live up to that call."

Before the president joined, participants on the call were encouraged to spend the next 40 days (an important biblical number) spreading the truth about reform and rallying support in their congregations. Obama said that faith groups have always worked "to promote justice," while others push to "preserve the status quo."

"These struggles always boil down to a contest between hope and fear," he said. "I'm going to need the help of all of you. ... I need you to spread the facts and speak the truth. Time and again men and women of faith have helped to show us what's possible when we're guided by our hopes and not our fears. That's what you've done before. That's how we are able to succeed in establishing Social Security and Medicare and bringing about justice through the civil rights movement. That's what you can do again today, to help us achieve quality, affordable health care for every American."

Obama did not take questions, but his top domestic policy adviser, Melody Barnes, did take a few. Tomorrow, the president will take questions on another conference call, this one organized by his former campaign organization, Organizing For America.

Scenes From The White House: Taking The 48 For A Ride

The White House went all out for a Red State pastime today, honoring the 2008 NASCAR champion, Jimmie Johnson.

"NASCAR is a uniquely American sport," President Obama said, flanked by some of the sport's biggest names. "Since its humble beginnings, when moonshiners raced on the sands of Daytona Beach during prohibition, it's grown into a sport with tens of millions of fans here in America and around the world."

NASCAR2.jpgOff to the president's left was Johnson's 48 car. "You know, it is not every day that we have a championship stock car parked out on the South Lawn," he joked. In exchange for free parking, he continued, Johnson should let him take it for a few laps. The punch line: "He said that was fine -- but Secret Service didn't think it was fine."

Also on hand in addition to current drivers was "The King," Richard Petty. Oklahoma Gov. Brad Henry (D) also made the trip; some Wounded Warriors from Walter Reed and Bethesda Medical Center sat in the crowd.

Unlike previous sport champions events under Obama, a full grandstand for the press was set up. NASCAR reporters from various outlets were on hand for the event; one cable network was also broadcasting live from the South Lawn. Another pic from the affair after the jump.


Obama Says He Hopes Reform Bill Is Bipartisan

As President Obama headed back to the Oval Office following an event honoring NASCAR champions, I asked him if he was giving up on a bipartisan health care reform bill. Here's his quick response:

"I am absolutely confident we are going to get a bill. And I hope it's bipartisan."

Gibbs Playing Good Cop? Says WH Wants Bipartisan Bill

Go ahead, just try to make sense of the conflicting messages coming out of the White House these days.

This morning, some targeted leaks, anonymous and on-the-record, in the New York Times saying that the Obama administration is ready to "go it alone" and pass a health care reform bill with 50+1 votes if that's what it takes. Rahm Emanuel, the White House chief of staff, said that "the Republican leadership has made a strategic decision that defeating President Obama's health care proposal is more important for their political goals than solving the health insurance problems that Americans face every day."

Contrast that with press secretary Robert Gibbs' message at today's press briefing. "The president believes strongly in working with Republicans and Democrats, independents, any that seek to reform health care," he said before the television cameras. "The president strongly believes that we're making progress, [and] has had conversations with members of the Finance Committee. ... Our preference is to work through -- work through this process and hopefully come out with a bill that has agreement among both parties on that committee."

He also downplayed the likelihood of ultimately using reconciliation to pass reform, saying again that they have not yet abandoned working with Republicans.

After the press widely reported this weekend that the White House seemed ready to abandon the public option, Gibbs has argued the contrary -- that they've had a "boring consistency" to their health care message. But today it seems like there's a bit of good cop, bad cop going on.

McDonnell Seizes On Budget Shortfall

Up 12 points in the Virginia gubernatorial race polls, Republican Bob McDonnell is taking Gov. Tim Kaine's announcement today of an additional $1.2 billion budget shortfall as an opportunity to separate himself further from his Democratic opponent, Creigh Deeds.

Here is an excerpt from a released statement from McDonnell:

"The manner by which we close this shortfall, and budget in the years ahead, will play a determining role in how Virginia emerges from this recession. Some would argue for tax increases to fill the revenue gap. My opponent has repeatedly supported higher taxes on the people of Virginia. Recently he made clear he would support additional tax increases if elected this November. That is the wrong approach to take, both for our citizens and for our government. We must close this shortfall, and craft future budgets, without burdening our citizens with additional taxes that they cannot afford."

Deeds also released a statement today regarding the shortfall, and pledged to tighten the state government's belt. Here is an excerpt:

"As we adjust to these changing economic realities, Virginia must not rest on its laurels as the "best state for business" and the "best managed state" in the nation.

"That is why I have put forth a responsible and comprehensive government efficiency plan that will make sure we economize, audit every agency of state government, and aggressively identify ways to save taxpayer money by streamlining functions while maintaining citizen services and protecting our shared priorities."

Strategy Memo: Who's In The Driver's Seat?

Good morning, Washington. Today, President Obama again has a rather low-key day when it comes to selling his health care plan. The highlight of the schedule is an event to honor 2008 Sprint Cup Champion Jimmie Johnson. He and other NASCAR racers will be on the South Lawn, as will Jimmie Johnson's #48 Chevy. He will hold a conference call tonight with "faith leaders" to talk health reform, however.

Vice President Biden, meanwhile, heads to Florida for a Recovery Act-related event on education. He's also raising money at separate events for Reps. Suzanne Kosmas and Alan Grayson in Orlando.

An NBC News poll released last night found Obama's job approval at 51%. This lowers Obama's RCP Average approval to 52.0% -- his lowest mark since taking office.

Less than three months away from the elections, Republicans aren't just leading the two governor races this year -- so far they're dominating. Bob McDonnell leads in Virginia by 12.0 points in the RCP Average, and Chris Christie is up in New Jersey by 11.3 points. What impact would a GOP sweep in 2009 have on the outcome of the 2010 midterms?

**Health Care
*NBC News poll: Just 41% approve of Obama's handling of the health care issue, just 36% say his efforts to reform health care are a good idea, and 24% say health care quality will improve as a result. Still, 60% think the system needs a "complete overhaul" or "major reform."

*L.A. Times breaks down what the administration said two months ago and what it said over the weekend regarding the public option.

*"Given hardening Republican opposition to Congressional health care proposals, Democrats now say they see little chance of the minority's cooperation in approving any overhaul, and are increasingly focused on drawing support for a final plan from within their own ranks," the New York Times reports. "The Republican leadership has made a strategic decision that defeating President Obama's health care proposal is more important for their political goals than solving the health insurance problems that Americans face every day," Rahm Emanuel says.

*AP points out, "frustrated liberals have a question for President Barack Obama and Democratic lawmakers: Isn't it time the other guys gave a little ground on health care? What's the point of a bipartisan bill, they ask, if we're making all the concessions?"

If Dems do go it alone without worrying what Republicans would like to see in the bill, what will be the political fallout next year? Or in 2012?

*"Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is having a busy August recess ... And there will be no letup when the Senate reconvenes in three weeks, confronting Mr. Reid with intense pressure to pass a health-care bill," WSJ reports. "With House leaders closer to a health-care deal than Senate leaders, Mr. Reid's success or failure corralling votes when Congress reconvenes next month will be crucial to the effort to overhaul the country's health-care system."

*"Critics of President Obama's health-care overhaul are zeroing in on his senior adviser David Axelrod, whose former partners at a Chicago-based firm are the beneficiaries of huge ad buys--now at $24 million and counting--by White House allies in the reform fight," Politico reports.

*Whoops. "A union representing postal supervisors, managers and postmasters wants President Obama to reconsider his recent comments that compared the Postal Service with UPS and FedEx," the Post reports.

**President Obama
*An AP Fact Check finds that, despite the White House's insistence that it hasn't shifted its rhetoric on the public option, there has been some deviation from its prior line.

*New York Times has more details on Bill Clinton's North Korea trip based on interviews with multiple officials. "For all the billions of dollars a year that the United States spends on intelligence gathering about mysterious and unpredictable countries like North Korea, it took just 20 hours on the ground in Pyongyang by a former president to give the Obama administration its first detailed look into a nuclear-armed nation that looms as one of its greatest foreign threats."

The story includes the news that envoys from the rogue nation will meet with Gov. Bill Richardson (D-N.M.).

*The White House seemed to accept the fact that people are bringing guns to protests where the president is speaking, the Post reports. Robert Gibbs: "There are laws that govern firearms that are done state or locally. Those laws don't change when the president comes to your state or locality."

*ABC: The White House has arranged for President Obama to appear as a guest of conservative radio host Michael Smerconish, who endorsed him, to answer questions on health reform. The show will be broadcast "from the White House Diplomatic Room alongside the president. It's the first time a radio broadcast will originate from the White House since President Obama took office in January."

*Joe Biden is getting inducted into the Little League Museum Hall of Excellence. "Mr. Biden enjoyed his opportunity to play Little League as a child and, in part, those experiences prompted him to pursue public service as his way of giving back," the museum says.

**State of The Parties
*The Wall Street Journal reports from the Right Online gathering, where conservative online activists gathered last week in the shadow of the liberal Netroots Nation Summit. "That's a shift, these activists say, from recent years of GOP strategy, where the shaping of the party's message has been largely top-down, with the message coming from party leaders. Now, the message is bubbling up more from groups of online activists." "People are saying we're not hearing encouraging or inspiring messages from our leaders in Washington," said Erik Telford, Americans for Prosperity's director of online strategy. "We need to rebuild from the ground up."

*Adam Nagourney has a great piece on Democrats' new strength in the West. "Even party leaders say it is far too early to declare the West the New East," he cautions. "Western Democrats have enjoyed stunning successes over the last three years," said Harry Reid. "But this is no time to rest on our laurels. That is why we are here in Denver."

**Campaign Stuff
*VA Gov: "Wealthy friends and accommodating campaign finance laws have allowed the two men running for governor of Virginia to compile tens of thousands of dollars from individual donors in what is expected to be the most expensive race in the state's history," Washington Post reports.

*Chris Christie said his failure to report a lone to a former coworker in the U.S. Attorney's office was an honest oversight, Gannett reports. "I'm not perfect and I'm not going to be. When I make a mistake, I admit it. I made a mistake by not putting that on the disclosure form," Christie said.

*FL Gov: A Quinnipiac survey out this morning finds Republican Bill McCollum up 38% to 34% over Democrat Alex Sink, a reversal of its June poll. "The movement is due almost exclusively to a big swing among Independents," RCP reports. Gov. Charlie Crist also continues to hold a strong lead in the Senate primary.

*Meanwhile, Crist's search for a replacement for Mel Martinez continues. He "is planning to interview state Rep. Jennifer Carroll and University of North Florida President John Delaney in Jacksonville" today, the Miami Herald reports. "Carroll is the first woman to be considered to fill the rest of U.S. Sen. Mel Martinez's term. She was also the first black Republican elected to the Legislature and was viewed as a potential running mate for Crist in 2006."

*KY Sen: A new SurveyUSA poll finds Trey Grayson leading Rand Paul 37% to 26% in the GOP primary, and Dan Mongiardo leading Jack Conway 39% to 31% in the Dem primary.

*IL-10: The race to fill the seat of Rep. Mark Kirk (R), who's running for Senate, just got a little more crowded, as moderate state Rep. Beth Coulson is set to enter, Roll Call reports.

**Remembering Robert Novak
*Chicago Sun-Times editorial board
*David Broder
*Lou Cannon

--Mike Memoli and Kyle Trygstad

Secretary Clinton Comments On North Korea

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton did not join her husband for his meeting with President Obama this afternoon. But she did address the impact former President Clinton's visit to North Korea had on U.S. policy toward the nation.

"The briefing that my husband and those who traveled with him have provided to us is extremely helpful because it gives us a window into what's going on in North Korea," she said. "But our policy remains the same. Our policy is consistent. We continue to offer to the North Koreans the opportunity to have a dialogue within the Six-Party Talk framework with the United States that we think could offer many benefits to the people of North Korea. But the choice is up to the North Koreans."

She further said it is up to the United States "to us to determine whether there are some opportunities and some insights that can be used" to create a "positive atmosphere" for negotiations, but that ultimately North Korea must come to the table.

The comments came during a scheduled availability between Clinton and Colombian Foreign Minister Jaime Bermúdez. The White House explained that this event prevented Clinton from joining her husband at the White House.

White House Saying Little About Clinton Meeting

Former President Bill Clinton arrived at the White House just before 4 pm today for his meeting with President Obama, and left less than a half hour ago. The White House issued this readout to describe the conversation the two leaders had, first in the Situation Room and later in the Oval Office.

President Obama today met in the Situation Room with former President Clinton for nearly forty minutes to thank him in person for undertaking the humanitarian mission to secure the release of two American citizens who had been detained by North Korea for over four months. Former President Clinton described the process, including a meeting with Kim Jong-il, that culminated in the North Korean leadership granting "special amnesty" to the two journalists and permitting them to return to the United States. President Obama said he was gratified that the Americans had been safely reunited with their families. After the meeting, President Obama invited President Clinton to the Oval Office to continue their conversation for another half hour.

As you can see, the readout lists only North Korea as a topic of more than an hour of discussion. Earlier, Robert Gibbs could not say whether health care has come up between the two in the past, or might today.

UPDATE: Vice President Biden's office says he sat in on the Sit Room meeting.

Obama Holding Health Care Teleconference With Supporters

Members of the Obama for America e-mail list have been invited to join the president this Thursday for a teleconference in which he will take questions about the health care reform legislation.

From the e-mail sent out today:

The President will update us on the fight to pass real health insurance reform -- what's happening in D.C. and what's happening around the country. He'll lay out our strategy and message going forward and answer questions from supporters like you. And we'll unveil the next actions we'll organize together.

Those who received the e-mail are invited to submit their questions in advance with their RSVP. No doubt those who supported his campaign might be among the most concerned about a shift away from the public option (which, of course, the White House is denying the case).

The e-mail also contains a bit more media criticism as it thanks supporters for their grassroots efforts in support of reform.

The D.C. media has been trumpeting coverage of town halls disrupted by angry opposition to reform. But the reality on the ground is very different. Organizing for America supporters are showing up in huge numbers at these meetings all across the country -- outnumbering opponents of reform, often by overwhelming margins.

Fiorina Moves Toward Senate Bid

Carly Fiorina, a former Hewlett Packard CEO and economic adviser to 2008 presidential candidate John McCain, took one step closer to making official her bid for the U.S. Senate in California. Fiorina registered a campaign committee -- "Carly for California" -- allowing her to begin raising cash for the 2010 election, AP reports.

In a statement, Fiorina said she had been encouraged to run by "people across the political spectrum" and will begin meeting with policy advisers and financial donors.

"The people of California have serious concerns about job creation, economic growth and the role of government in solving problems that touch each of our lives," she said.

Spokeswoman Beth Miller said Fiorina would not be available Tuesday for an interview, and there was no timetable for making a formal announcement about a Senate bid.

Fiorina, who was known as a powerful and successful businesswoman until her ouster at HP in 2005, was front-and-center as a McCain surrogate last year, making appearances on radio and TV in support of the GOP nominee. That changed, though, when in two mid-September interviews Fiorina said neither John McCain nor Sarah Palin could run a corporation, such as HP.

She's now aiming for the seat of three-term Sen. Barbara Boxer (D). A survey last week from the liberal Daily Kos, conducted by independent pollster Research 2000, found Boxer with a 21-point lead.

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee quickly jumped on today's news, issuing a statement criticizing Fiorina's record.

"This is a person who was fired from Hewlett Packard for running the company into the ground, fired from the McCain Presidential Campaign for incompetence, and now thinks the people of California are going to hire her. Carly Fiorina was named one of the twenty worst CEOs in the country yet still escaped with a 21 million dollar golden parachute," said DSCC spokesman Eric Schultz.

Gibbs Maintains No Shift On Public Option

Today's White House press briefing was a nightmare for those seeking clarity on the administration's stance on the public option, as Robert Gibbs stuck to his guns in arguing that the media misinterpreted his and Kathleen Sebelius' comments this weekend as representing a shift.

"We have a goal of fostering choice and competition in the private health insurance market. The president prefers a public option as a way of doing that," he said. "If others have ideas, we're open to those ideas and willing to listen to those details. That's what the president has said for months. Coincidentally that's what the secretary of Health and Human Services has said for months. It's what I've said for months."

Near the end of the briefing, however, Gibbs himself made a statement of the sort that has so ired liberals lately. Asked at one point whether competition must come from the government, he said, "It doesn't have to."

"The president's reform is built on a private insurance structure, where the vast majority of people receive their health care benefits through their employer from private entities," he said.

Earlier, a number of reporters tried to find daylight between previous public statements from the president and what Secretary Sebelius and the president himself said this weekend, but Gibbs repeatedly denied it. "Any suggestion somehow that anything that was said Saturday or Sunday as being new administration policy is just not something that I would agree with," he said, challenging reporters at times to re-read transcripts.

Asked why President Obama has not made any public statements since this weekend on health care, Gibbs noted it was mentioned yesterday during his VFW speech. Beyond that, "We don't think there's anything to clean up," Gibbs said. "What was said by the secretary on Sunday was completely consistent with what she said five weeks earlier. Why would I bring the president out today to clear up what she said five weeks ago?"

Sebelius herself tried to clean up her comments during an appearance in Washington today. "Absolutely nothing has changed," she said. "We continue to support the public option that will have lower costs, give American consumers more choice and keep private insurers honest. If people have other ideas about how to accomplish those goals, we'll look at those too."

DCCC Calls On GOPers to Denounce 'Lies'

Democrats want to change the rhetoric on Main Street regarding health care reform, and fast, and they're hoping Republicans can help make that happen -- sort of.

In doing so, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has released individualized press releases to more than 20 congressional districts calling on GOP House members to "denounce Republican lies and scare tactics such as 'Death Panels' meant to kill health reform."

A press release sent to the district of National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Pete Sessions (Texas) states: "Representative Sessions needs to finally denounce the false and outrageous claim put out by Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich, and others on the right that Americans 'will have to stand in front of Obama's 'death panel.' ' "

The offensive comes as liberal Democrats in the House and Senate are up in arms regarding their view that the administration is softening its stance on the inclusion of a public option in the reform bill. The public option has become the most prominent battling point now within the party, which is also facing a strong backlash from the other side.

In the meantime, the Democrats' House campaign committee wants to at least call out what they see as contradictory rhetoric.

"Republicans and their insurance company allies have shown repeatedly through their lies and shameless fear mongering that they will say anything to kill health insurance reform," DCCC spokesman Jennifer Crider says in the release. "Representative Sessions voted for 'end of life counseling' in 2003, that Republicans are now calling 'death panels.' Representative Sessions should defend his own record by denouncing Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich, and other Republicans' false claim that Americans 'will have to stand in front of Obama's death panel' to receive care."

Robert Novak Dies at 78

Robert Novak, a conservative columnist, author and commentator, died today at the age of 78. He was diagnosed with a brain tumor in July 2008.

You can read more about Novak from Lynn Sweet at the Chicago Sun-Times (Novak's paper), New York Times and Washington Post.

Here are the reactions from the two GOP leaders in Congress...

Sen. Mitch McConnell: "For more than half a century, Robert Novak explained the politics and the personalities of Washington to readers across the country through a mix of tireless shoe leather reporting and the kind of keen insight that can only be gained through years and years of dedication to a craft. He was a Washington institution who could turn an idea into the most discussed story around kitchen tables, Congressional offices, the White House, and everywhere in between. Elaine and I extend our deepest sympathies to the entire Novak family."

Rep. John Boehner: "Bob made remarkable contributions in the field of journalism and to the American political landscape. He gave us a lifetime of dedication to the work he loved, and it is hard to imagine Washington without him. My thoughts and prayers are with his family at this difficult time."

Here are some more quotes sent our way...

Ed Crane, president and founder of The Cato Institute: "Odd that the self-described Prince of Darkness was one of the nicest persons I've ever known. Unlike many here in Babylon-by-the-Potomac, Bob became less enamored of the Establishment the longer he was here. He believed in liberty and was a great friend of the Cato Institute. He will be sorely missed."

Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.), Republican Study Committee chairman: "Bob Novak's dedication to serious journalism and independent thinking made him a legend in political reporting. Few others have had so large an impact for so long a time. As a touchstone in conservative thought, his legacy will be remembered and forever appreciated."

Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.), Republican Conference chairman: "Bob Novak will be remembered as an icon in American politics, a legend in the world of the press and a man who loved his country. Each day he worked to bring the people closer to their government through his exhaustive reporting and in-depth analysis of the important political issues of the day.

"Bob Novak was also a son of the Midwest who served his country bravely during war and gave back to the community that gave so much to him. Our nation will miss him greatly."

CO Sen Poll: Low Numbers for Bennet

Colorado voters don't much approve of Sen. Michael Bennet (D). On the bright side for him, they don't think much of his potential Republican opponents either.

A new survey from Public Policy Polling (Aug 14-16, 969 LV, MoE +/- 3.2%) finds 38 percent disapproving of the job Bennet is doing, with just 31 percent approving -- lower but not far from his numbers in April. Former Rep. Bob Beauprez, who's considering a bid and is the most well-known of the three GOPers tested against Bennet, is seen unfavorably by 40 percent of voters, with 30 percent holding a favorable view of him.

Already running are Weld County District Attorney Ken Buck and Aurora Councilman Ryan Frazier. Buck gets a 18%/19% favorable rating, and Frazier's is 11%/19%. Not tested was former Lt. Gov. Jane Norton, who the Denver Post reports will decide whether or not to run within the next month.

Bennet holds small leads over Buck and Frazier, but trails Beauprez -- who lost the 2006 gubernatorial race by 17 points.

Bennet 39 - Beauprez 42 - Und 19

Bennet 39 - Buck 35 - Und 26

Bennet 38 - Frazier 33 - Und 30

Strategy Memo: Memory Lapse

Some interesting meetings at the White House today. First, President Obama holds meetings with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, including a working lunch. This afternoon he'll sit down with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Vice President Joe Biden. And the big headline for some, he'll sit down with his predecessor, former President Bill Clinton, at 4 pm.

A number of liberal Democrats, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi, opened up yesterday in opposition to the administration's apparent waffling on the public option portion of the party's health care reform plan. The White House denies there has been any change.

Either way, the Dems still have three weeks before Congress returns to Washington -- plenty of time to win unity, or more division, on the issue.

**Health Care
*The New York Times: "Aides to Mr. Obama tried to tamp down concern on the left by emphasizing Monday that the president still supported the idea of a public plan and had not decided whether to drop it. Some lawmakers said the White House had sent mixed signals, confusing friend and foe alike on Capitol Hill."

*The Hill: "Administration officials have been careful from the beginning of the healthcare debate to avoid taking hard-line public positions on some of the more controversial aspects of the proposals on Capitol Hill. That said, Republicans and Democrats for the most part read the weekend's news as indicating the administration was moving away from its support for the public plan to gain support for healthcare reform from centrists, particularly in the Senate."

*60 House Democrats wrote the White House seeking a firm commitment on the public option, saying no votes without it. Meanwhile, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R) is saying he won't vote for reform in the Senate without other Republican support, which only might come if there is no public option. Rock, meet hard place.

*AP has a helpful Q&A about what co-ops are, while noting, "Interest groups disagree on whether such co-ops would have enough negotiating clout to help consumers without threatening private insurance companies."

*"Several leading Democrats voiced concern Monday about an apparent White House shift on health-care reform, objecting to signals from senior administration officials that they would abandon the idea of a government-run insurance plan if it lacked the backing to pass Congress," Washington Post reports. "White House press secretary Robert Gibbs, speaking to reporters returning to Washington from Phoenix, said Obama has not shifted his position, suggesting that the president's support for a public option had never been absolute."

*"A group of left-leaning House Democrats tells POLITICO that a bill without a public option simply won't win enough votes in their caucus - a sentiment that raises fresh questions about the prospects to enact sweeping health care reform this year."

*"The White House is insisting the president wants a public plan in the health care bill," The Hill reports. "And a Democratic aide said Obama's shift is aimed at spurring the process along in the Senate, where the public option is less popular and the Senate Finance Committee hasn't been able to complete a bill. 'If that means he needs to relieve pressure to get the bill out of the Senate Finance Committee, he needs to do that,' the aide said. 'He's trying to get things moving. Then there will be another discussion about public option.' "

*"The hate-tinged sniping at "red America" by "blue America" and vice versa more resembles the turf wars of the L.A.-based street gangs the Crips (blue bandanas) and the Bloods (red bandanas) than any kind of deeply principled philosophical difference of opinion. Anything bad said about my homeys is a blood libel. Anything bad said about the other guy is obvious truth, or free speech or, you know, just satire. Lighten up, dude," writes Politics Daily's Carl Cannon.

**President Obama
*A year after then-Senator Obama picked him as his running mate, the L.A. Times looks at his role in the White House. Despite gaffes, "Biden appears to be solidifying his relationship with his boss and accumulating more assignments central to the administration's agenda." And he "was recently tapped by President Obama to play a bigger role in the healthcare debate that is now dominating the congressional agenda."

*The Washington Times reports, "The Obama administration continued its half-a-loaf approach to gay rights issues Monday by filing documents claiming that federal laws banning same-sex marriage are discriminatory, even as the federal government continues to defend them."

*AP on today's meeting with Mubarak. "After a serious falling out over Bush administration pressure on human rights and democracy in Egypt, Mubarak is back in the U.S. capital for the first time in more than five years to meet with Obama on Tuesday. The relationship is far from healed, despite Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton having eased back on those touchy issues and Egypt showing greater willingness to help with the peace effort."

*The Wall Street Journal reports that the White House shut down "as congressional Republicans and bloggers continued to raise questions about why Obama officials were collecting negative statements made by ordinary Americans about the president's health care plan and what the administration was planning to do with the information it gathered. ... The White House's decision to pull the plug on its email tip list came as officials there also announced changes to its email policy designed to prevent advocacy groups from signing people up for White House emails without explicit permission."

*It's not just Obama and Biden doing some fundraising. HHS Secretary Sebelius will be in Ohio raising money for Rep. Mary Jo Kilroy, the Columbus Dispatch reports.

**Campaign Stuff
*FL Sen: "U.S. Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart of Miami has taken himself off Gov. Charlie Crist's shortlist of potential appointments to the U.S. Senate. Crist said Friday that he had asked Diaz-Balart, former U.S. Attorney Roberto Martinez and former Secretary of Smith Jim Smith to submit the questionnaire for gubernatorial appointments," Miami Herald reports.

*As she kicked off her campaign for governor yesterday, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison still had no timetable for resigning from the Senate. "I haven't set a timetable because there are certain things that I need to do," she told the Dallas Morning News. "The end of the fiscal year is Sept. 30 and I've got huge responsibilities for Texas that I have to fulfill by Oct. 1."

*NJ Gov: "New Jersey Republican gubernatorial candidate Chris Christie said he talked to Bush strategist Karl Rove twice about running for governor before he left the U.S. Attorney's office, but the two never discussed criminal investigations or cases being prosecuted by the office," AP reports.

Another big development in the New Jersey governor's race in what's shaping up to be a rough few weeks for Chris Christie. The Newark Star-Ledger and others report that Christie "has an ongoing financial relationship with one of the top federal prosecutors in his old office, mortgage records show." Corzine's camp "questioned whether it is proper for a candidate for governor to have any financial relationship with someone inside the U.S. Attorney's Office." But Christie tells the paper that he lent the money after the employee's husband lost his job, "and it was nothing more than he and his wife helping out a friend."

*Washington Post takes a long look at the Pennsylvania Senate race. "Specter chose to become a Democrat, after a kitchen-table strategy session with his son, and concluded it would be an easier reelection route -- until Democratic Rep. Joe Sestak declared his candidacy Aug. 4," the paper notes.

*NV Gov: "Former Nevada Attorney General Brian Sandoval has stirred up some much-needed excitement in the state Republican party with his resignation Aug. 14 as a federal judge with the U.S. District Court in Nevada," CQ reports.

"Can [the Nevada GOP] be saved?" asks Politics Daily's Jill Lawrence. "A week ago, given the problems of Sen. John Ensign and Gov. Jim Gibbons, the answer was probably not in time for the 2010 elections. This week the picture is much brighter because of one man: U.S. District Judge Brian Sandoval."

*The Raleigh News & Observer talks to former Lt. Gov. Dennis Wicker about a potential Senate run. "I still have those pangs of emotion about being involved in public service. But I have been focused on my practice," he said. But, "I'm doing some listening."

**Sigh of Relief: Pitching wunderkind Stephen Strasburg, the No. 1 overall draft choice of the Washington Nationals, signed a contract last night in the last hour before the deadline. "No team has ever paid more to an amateur. And perhaps no team has ever gained more by signing one of its draft picks," writes WaPo's Chico Harlan.

--Kyle Trygstad and Mike Memoli

Gibbs Feigns Surprise About Public Option "Shift"

Speaking with reporters on board Air Force One today, Robert Gibbs reacted with a bit of manufactured shock to questions about whether the White House is dropping the public option, calling today's chatter "the most curious things I've ever seen."

"I was on a Sunday show, I said the same thing about a public option that I've said for I don't know how many weeks. The Secretary [of HHS, Kathleen Sebelius] reiterated what the President said the day before, and you'd think there was some new policy," he said.

Gibbs said that if reporters compared the comments on Sunday shows that were interpreted as signaling a shift with others over the past months, they'd find a "boring consistency." Still, he continued to sound an indifferent note, saying it was a preference for President Obama to see one but not an indispensable one.

"The goals are choice and competition. His preference is a public option. If there are other ideas, he's happy to look at them," Gibbs said.

The fact that the White House let the meme that the public option was being dropped linger for so long yesterday indicates that it was at the very least testing the waters to gauge reaction from liberal allies.

Presidential Sit Room Summit Tomorrow

Listed at the end of tomorrow's White House's tick-tock with little fanfare: a meeting between President Obama and former President Bill Clinton.

The meeting has been anticipated since the 42nd president flew to North Korea to arrange for the release of two American journalists. It is now listed as closed to the press, in a venue that assures privacy: the White House situation room.

Obama tomorrow also meets tomorrow with Clinton's wife, the Secretary of State. The main event on Tuesday's schedule, however, is a visit from Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

Obama, Biden On The Fundraising Circuit

A White House spokesperson confirms that President Obama will head to Pennsylvania next month to raise money for Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Pa.). The Philadelphia Daily News reported this morning that invitations to the Sept. 15 event were sent out by Comcast Executive Vice President David L. Cohen.

The event that Mayor Nutter, Gov. Rendell and Specter will attend features a $1,000 cocktail reception, another VIP reception for those who raise at least $10,000, and a dinner for which "an individual must write (not raise) a minimum of $10,000 or raise $50,000" to attend, Cohen's note says. The missive asks guests to make checks payable to Pennsylvania Senate Victory 2010, and promises that all dinner guests will have a picture taken with Obama and Specter.

Meanwhile, Vice President Biden is scheduled to visit Florida this week for an event to promote the Recovery Act. While in the state, he'll also be raising money for two potentially vulnerable Democrats, Reps. Alan Grayson and Suzanne Kosmas (D). On Thursday, he'll be in Chicago on Aug. 20 to headline a fundraiser for Rep. Debbie Halvorson (D-Ill.)

Pelosi: Public Option Is 'Best Option"

As liberals worry that President Obama may be resigned to signing a health care reform bill without a public option, Speaker Nancy Pelosi released a statement this afternoon calling a public option the "best option":

"As the President stated in March, 'The thinking on the public option has been that it gives consumers more choices and it helps keep the private sector honest, because there's some competition out there.'

"We agree with the President that a public option will keep insurance companies honest and increase competition.

"There is strong support in the House for a public option. In the House, all three of our bills contain a public option, as does the bill from the Senate HELP Committee.

"A public option is the best option to lower costs, improve the quality of health care, ensure choice and expand coverage.

"The public option brings real reform to lower costs over the 10-year period of the bill."

A second press release minutes later took aim at the media for repeating "a myth opponents of health insurance reform have been spreading: that people would be 'forced' to choose a public health insurance option." Pelosi's office cited AP, ABC's Jake Tapper, FOX News's Chris Wallace and NBC's David Gregory.

The public option "simply provides...a choice between various private plans and a public plan," the Speaker's office wrote.

MA Gov Poll: Patrick Faces Uphill Fight

A new survey conducted by Opinion Dynamics for MassInsight confirms that Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick (D) faces a steep climb in his bid for re-election in 2012.

General Election Matchup (w/leaners)
Cahill (I) 27
Patrick (D) 25
Baker (R) 23
Don't Know 24

Cahill (I) 29
Patrick (D) 27
Mihos (R) 21
Don't Know 24

State Treasurer Tim Cahill has switched from Democrat to independent with most expecting he will run for governor. But without Cahill in the race, Patrick would then trail one potential Republican candidate, former Harvard Pilgrim CEO Charlie Baker, 42-36, with 22 percent undecided.

The poll also found that Patrick's approval rating is perilously low, with 19 percent giving him a positive rating compared to 77 percent who disapprove of his performance. The survey of 445 registered voters was conducted from July 31 to August 3.

You can expect this race to get a lot of attention because in 2006, Patrick in many ways tested the themes that were central to President Obama's 2008 campaign. Obama's campaign manager, David Plouffe, is an adviser to Patrick's re-election bid.

In VFW Speech, More Health Reform Debunking From Obama

In a somewhat subdued speech at the Veterans of Foreign Wars convention in Phoenix today, President Obama reiterated his administration's commitment to support those who've worn the uniform, and his goal to end the war in Iraq this year. As expected, he also did a bit of stumping for his effort to reform the health care system, pledging that veterans would see no change in the benefits they're entitled to.

"There's been so much misinformation out there," the president said as he made the aside to defend his plan. "One thing that reform won't change is veterans health care. No one is going to take away your benefits. That is the plain and simple truth."

He said that even in tough budget times, his administration is actually "dramatically increasing funding for veterans health care." Several administration officials are also launching an effort to solicit ideas from employees of the VA system to further improve the system.

Earlier in his remarks, Obama summarized the shift in military strategy his administration has been executing in his first year as commander in chief. He specifically addressed the war in Iraq, but had less to say about potential changes in Afghanistan that have been called for recently by his new top general there.

"As we move forward, the Iraqi people must know that the United States will keep its commitments. And the American people must know that we will move forward with our strategy," he said. "We will begin removing our combat brigades from Iraq later this year. We will remove all our combat brigades by the end of next August. And we will remove all our troops from Iraq by the end of 2011. And for America, the Iraq war will end."

In the home state of Sen. John McCain, he highlighted his work with his former adversary when it comes to reforming the defense contracting system.

"We can't build the 21st century military we need -- and maintain the fiscal responsibility that Americans demand -- unless we fundamentally reform the way our defense establishment does business," he said. "Every dollar wasted in our defense budget is a dollar we can't spend to care for our troops, protect America or prepare for the future."

IL Sen Poll: Kirk Out In Front

With more than a year to go before the whacky fight for President Obama's former Senate seat actually gets decided by the voters, Rep. Mark Kirk (R) has a small advantage according to a new Rasmussen survey (Aug 12, 500 LV, MoE +/- 4.5%).

Kirk leads state Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias, his most likely Democratic competitor, by 3 points and Cheryle Jackson, a former aide to disgraced governor Rod Blagojevich, by 17 points.

Kirk 41 - Giannoulias 38 - Undecided 17

Kirk 47 - Jackson 30 - Undecided 17

Kirk, who's represented his Chicago-area 10th District since 2000, is viewed favorably by 55 percent of respondents; 51% have a favorable impression of Giannoulias and 36% of Jackson. In his home state, 56 percent approve of the job Obama is doing is president, with 42 percent disapproving.

Thanks to Blagojevich -- who is accused of attempting to sell the seat after Obama was elected president -- taking over for the former senator has been anything but routine. Blagojevich's choice to serve the remainder of Obama's term was Roland Burris, who announced in early July that he would not seek election to a full term next year.

McAuliffe's Rolodex Joins the Fight

For the six months that Terry McAuliffe was a gubernatorial candidate in Virginia, he often declared he was more worried about keeping Democrats in power in Virginia than about his own candidacy. As proof, he cited his actions in 2008, when he quickly supported Barack Obama as soon as Hillary Clinton conceded the primary race. He repeated his promise on primary night after losing to State Sen. Creigh Deeds, saying in his concession speech he would throw his muscle behind the party's nominee.

However, little had been heard from Mr. McAuliffe in the two months since the June 9 primary. Until two weeks ago, that is -- when he issued an email blast rallying his national list of supporters and donors against Bob McDonnell, the Republican gubernatorial candidate, whom polls show pulling out to a significant lead. A week later came a second fundraising email from Mr. McAuliffe on behalf of Democrats running for the Virginia House of Delegates: "I'm asking you to join me in helping House Democratic Caucus Chairman Ken Plum raise money to support Democratic House of Delegates candidates throughout the Commonwealth. These candidates need our help."

Mr. McAuliffe's back, apparently, and Mr. Deeds may need him. The Democratic nominee has trailed Mr. McDonnell in all but one poll since the primary. His inability to stir up buzz among voters was always a weak point, given his charisma deficit. A little help from the Democratic fundraising machine that is Terry McAuliffe may be just what the doctor ordered for Mr. Deeds.

GOP Celebrates Stimulus 6-Month Anniversary

Republicans are celebrating today the six-month anniversary of President Obama's signing of the economic stimulus package -- a $787 billion bill designed to quickly infuse cash into an economy in deep recession.

"By any objective standard, the Democrats' trillion-dollar 'stimulus' isn't working," House Minority Leader John Boehner (Ohio) said today in a released statement. "The Administration promised the 'stimulus' would provide a 'jolt' to our economy and create jobs immediately, but 2.8 million more Americans have lost their jobs since the 'stimulus' became law."

Boehner and other GOP leaders highlight a new USA Today/Gallup poll that found 57 percent of American adults think the stimulus is either having no impact on the economy at all or is making it worse; it also found that 60 percent think it will do little to help the economy in the near future.

"With the loss of more than two million jobs since the stimulus was signed and unemployment at 9.4%, the results are in: the stimulus isn't working. This Administration and this Congress have failed to keep their promise to the American people," said GOP Conference Chairman Mike Pence (Ind.). "In the next six months, Democrats in Washington should start working with House Republicans on real solutions to get this economy back on track."

Democrats argue that without the stimulus bill the economy would be even worse. At a townhall event in Belgrade, Montana on Friday, Obama said the stimulus stopped an economic "freefall" and "there is no doubt that the recovery plan is doing what we said it would: putting us on the road to recovery."

Dean Confident Public Option Will Survive

Wishful thinking or smart strategy? On MSNBC this morning, former DNC chair Howard Dean seemed unfazed by the talk that the Obama administration is ready to drop the public option. He said that this is simply "politics," and that even if a public option is temporarily removed it might find it's way back into final legislation.

"The president knows very well that you aren't really going to have health care reform without a public option. But he also knows he has to get this out of the Senate," Dean said on "Morning Joe." "He's got a very important member of the Finance Committee, Kent Conrad, who doesn't want to vote for this bill if it's got a public option in it. And he knows he's not going to get any Republican votes, of any kind. So at the end of this day, this bill is going to be written by Democrats. It's got to get out of the Senate. And you only need a few Democrats to take out take out the public option."

He added that with Republicans unlikely to support any version of health care legislation, he had no doubt that the final reform bill would be passed with the help of reconciliation, which means Democrats need only to muster 50 votes in the Senate rather than the usual 60.

Dean told RCP earlier this year that a health care reform bill without a strong public option was pointless. "If it doesn't, all we have is the same old stuff, and I don't think it's worth spending $634 billion on what we've already got," he said.

Strategy Memo: Opting Out?

Good morning, Washington. President Obama today wraps up his Western swing with an appearance at the VFW National Convention in Phoenix today. The first family, which enjoyed a bit of sightseeing at Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon while the president sold health care, then return to Washington this evening.

In his final week of work before an extended vacation, Obama will meet with Egyptian President Mubarak on Tuesday, and Wednesday honor the 2008 Sprint Cup Champion, Jimmie Johnson. The work on health care will continue as well, with the White House shifting publicly yesterday and indicating that it may be ready to drop public option.

Some notable political news outside of Washington: two-term Gov. Jim Doyle of Wisconsin will announce today that he's not seeking a third term. There's some speculation he may leave his post early as well to give Lt. Gov. Barbara Lawton, a fellow Democrat, the advantage of incumbency as she seeks the post. But as we're seeing this year, being an incumbent governor isn't the advantage it used to be.

**Health Care
*"Bowing to Republican pressure and offering political cover to fiscally conservative Democrats, Obama's administration signaled on Sunday that it is ready to abandon the idea of giving Americans the option of government-run insurance," AP reports. "The shift leaves open a chance for compromise with Republicans that probably would enrage Obama's liberal supporters but could deliver a much-needed victory on a top domestic priority."

*But Marc Ambinder reports, "An administration official said tonight that Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius 'misspoke' when she told CNN this morning that a government run health insurance option 'is not an essential part' of reform. This official asked not to be identified in exchange for providing clarity about the intentions of the President."

*Washington Post: "Even as the Obama team hinted it could accept concessions that moderate Democrats are seeking, one of the leaders of that faction raised another hurdle for the administration. He warned that Senate Finance Committee negotiators may not meet the president's Sept. 15 deadline for producing a bill." "We will be ready when we are ready," Sen. Kent Conrad (N.D.) said.

*Obama wrote an op-ed in the Times on health care.

*While some members faced heated constituents, Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) "filled the first week of the Senate recess with controlled events before respectful crowds, like business forums and civic club luncheons," the New York Times reports. "The cautious scheduling, avoiding any risk of an ugly videotaped confrontation, underscored the political hazards of the health care debate for centrist Democrats like Ms. Lincoln, who faces re-election next year."

**President Obama
*The New York Times profiled Rahm Emanuel, who "is emerging as perhaps the most influential White House chief of staff in a generation. But with his prominence in almost everything important going on in Washington comes a high degree of risk.

"As the principal author of Mr. Obama's do-everything-at-once strategy, he stands to become a figure of consequence in his own right if the administration stabilizes the economy and financial markets, overhauls the health care system and winds down one war while successfully prosecuting another."

*While in Montana, the president did some fly fishing. "Obama had been eagerly anticipating the fly-fishing trip, so much so that his Secret Service detail gave him his own personalized fishing rod. ... New rod or not, Mr. Obama came up empty-handed, though his press secretary, Robert Gibbs, also a first-time fly fisherman, did land a fish," the Times tells us.

*"This year's federal budget deficit will be bigger than any previous deficit, but it won't be as big as once expected," The Hill reports. The White House and CBO "projected the 2009 deficit to be slightly more than $1.8 trillion for 2009. But budget experts said the deficit will be closer to $1.6 trillion when the fiscal year ends Sept. 30."

*With health care on the front pages, "Democrats have been far less focused on their climate change ambitions, which they still hold even as the calendar gets more crowded and lawmakers' stomachs for tough votes shrink. But while all the recent focus has been on health care, that doesn't mean there hasn't been any action on energy,"
Roll Call reports. Democrats say that while the spotlight is on health care, they are quietly negotiating the nitty gritty details of a cap-and-trade bill that can pass the Senate, perhaps garnering the votes of Republicans such as Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), who has backed similar legislation in the past."

*"Conservatives are calling it their August Revolt -- a surprising upsurge of activism against President Obama's proposed healthcare overhaul. Spurred on by the success of their efforts to dominate the news at Democratic town hall meetings, conservative groups are reporting increases in membership lists and are joining forces to plan at least one mass demonstration in Washington next month," L.A. Times reports.

**Campaign Stuff
*Politico broke the Doyle news. "Sources familiar with his decision not to seek a third term say Doyle recognized the difficulties he may have faced next year and didn't want to go through another campaign after a long political career. He's had to raise taxes and fees while furloughing state workers to help plug a $6.6 billion budget deficit. In doing so, his approval numbers have fallen below 40 percent. And just this week, he faced the embarrassment of seeing his legal counsel quit because she hadn't passed the state bar."

*VA Gov: A new Washington Post poll finds Bob McDonnell (R) leading Creigh Deeds (D) 54%-39% among likely voters, though 52% say they remain undecided or could change their mind. "Widespread criticism of the direction of a state run for the past eight years by Democrats and an increasingly GOP-friendly electorate have propelled McDonnell," WaPo reports.

*NY Gov: A new Quinnipiac survey finds New York Atty. Gen. Andrew Cuomo leading Gov. David Paterson 61%-15% in the Democratic primary -- a 9-point margin increase since June. Rudy Giuliani leads Paterson 53%-33%, and Cuomo leads Giuliani 48%-39% in general election matchups.

*More intrigue in Nevada, from the Reno Gazette Journal: "In a surprise announcement, U.S. District Judge Brian Sandoval submitted his resignation from the federal bench Friday, giving up a lifetime appointment for what many expect to be a run for governor."

*Palm Beach Post: "The first Floridian appointed to the U.S. Senate in more than 60 years could be a man or woman, a conservative or moderate, a well-known politician or someone unfamiliar. But many political strategists say the only absolute qualification, aside from age and residency requirements, is the next senator must make Gov. Charlie Crist look good."

Miami Herald has speculation that Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart is "considering giving up his House seat to serve the rest of Mel Martinez's Senate term." Part of the speculation then has Marco Rubio, who is challenging Crist now for the 2010 primary, would run for the seat of Diaz-Balart's brother, Mario.

*Politico reports from the GOPAC conference in Chicago that "Republicans finally have a little spring back in their step thanks to a health care debate that has done more to cool off Obama-mania and reignite the conservative base than even most of its leaders had hoped."

*The Hill: "The economy may be in a recession, but people are as anxious as ever to spend their money trying to get into Congress. So far this cycle, 30 candidates have spent at least $100,000 of their own money on their campaigns for House or Senate. That is nearly twice as many as the 16 who had done so at this point in the 2008 election cycle."

*If former Cincinnati Bengals coach Sam Wyche runs in SC-3, Politico reports, he "would be the latest candidate to go from the pro gridiron to campaign trial, in a year when at least three other NFL veterans have weighed a run for political office. And the men all have one thing in common -- they're Republicans, like nearly every professional football player or coach who has made a bid for elected office in recent years."

*Kay Bailey Hutchison launched this Web video ahead of her gubernatorial campaign announcement this week.

**Almanac of American Politics 2010: The moment has arrived. The new edition of the political "bible" has been released. (Conflict of Interest Note: Kyle is a former Almanac researcher)

--Mike Memoli and Kyle Trygstad

Blaming The Messenger? White House Ramps Up Media Critique

One of the Obama administration's favorite punching bags, even dating back to the Obama campaign, has been what it calls the frivolous "cable chatter." But its media critique was stepped up significantly in the past week as the White House struggled to find an effective response to the town hall meetings dominating television news.

Press secretary Robert Gibbs fired a warning shot Wednesday as he faced questions about what some felt was an overly friendly town hall meeting in New Hampshire, where President Obama spent considerable time dispelling rumors about his plan. Asked if the White House lost control of the message, Gibbs replied: "Do I think some of you were disappointed yesterday that the President didn't get yelled at? Sure. I don't think there's any doubt about that."

In that briefing and in other interviews this week, Gibbs has also argued that the cable news culture means Americans are seeing only the angriest, most combative moments from the town hall meetings hosted by members of Congress. Some of the "misinformation" being repeated in these settings also proved, the White House argued, that the media had not done its job thoroughly reporting on the overall debate and fact-checking opponents' assertions.

The president himself levied that criticism as he took to the stump in Montana Friday. "What you haven't seen on TV -- and what makes me proud -- are the many constructive meetings going on all over the country," he said.

Earlier, the Democratic message operation had targeted the protesters themselves, accusing opposition groups of an Astroturf campaign that amounted to manufactured outrage. That proved unsuccessful, leading to the current focus on the media coverage instead. In addition to the White House response, the Democratic National Committee last week issued a memorandum to reporters with a point-by-point rebuttal called, "What You Won't See On National Cable News," showing clips from "the honest and respectful conversations" taking place.

Do they have a point? An independent analysis shows that much of the health care coverage has been on cable television and radio talk shows, and that the coverage has tended to focus on the political debate rather than the substance.

"There does tend to be a cycle to media coverage at times," said Amy Mitchell, deputy director of the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellency in Journalism. "When we're in the middle of something that's happening, cable programming can hype it up more."

As things "settle down," though, Mitchell continued, the media then tends to say "be a little more serious about this. "We may see some of that as the town halls slow down and come to an end, and Congress gets back in session and debating actual legislation."

The PEJ's most recent news coverage index for the week of August 3-9 found that health care was by far the dominant story on cable and radio. On network TV, North Korea was the leading story, while the economy dominated online outlets and print newspapers. The heated debate at recent town hall meetings has been a particular focus.

"Certainly it's a visual draw to see and hear these clips from town hall meetings that are very heated and emotional," Mitchell said. "Part of the nature of cable talk and radio talk is built around politics. And we have seen an escalation of that in looking at the town halls."

While there has been some substantive reporting on health care issues, part of the challenge in shaping the discussion is that there is still no single piece of legislation to dissect, Mitchell said. An additional challenge for all parties is the role social media is playing.

"Everybody has less and less control about what the message is going to be in many cases because of social media and how news flows and emerges now," Mitchell said. "The public and the news consumer plays a huge role in what the message is and what gets talked about when it comes to health care and issues in general. We certainly saw that in the election and we're seeing that in health care as well."

Republicans, meanwhile, are taking some measure of delight in seeing the Obama administration making a villain out of what they feel was a strong ally.

"The notion that this White House is already whining about media coverage, considering they have been the recipient of the most favorable media exposure and coverage in recent memory, is ridiculous," said one Republican strategist whose been heavily involved in recent campaigns. "The reality is that these guys are an eighth of the way into their first term, and they're expending capital with the press, with Capitol Hill, with associations and opinion leaders and an unbelievable rate. They are going to find the well dry sooner rather than later and find no way to return."

A Pew survey shows that America is following health care more than other issues, with a plurality saying they "generally oppose" the legislation. Now, the White House has just one week left to try and shape the coverage before the president heads for vacation.

"We're not going to stop pushing back on the misconceptions, whether or not the polling shows one thing or another," Gibbs said.

Move Over, Joe The Plumber: Meet Randy The Welder

Get used to seeing Randy Rathie on your television, folks.

The participant at today's town hall meeting with President Obama in Montana was right out of central casting as far as the kind of tough question the White House likely hoped he'd get. He said he was a member of the NRA, watched cable news and had a tough question about how the president would pay for his health care plan. No doubt a host of network producers have already approached him trying to book him. In fact, he's already been on MSNBC.

Here's the transcript of Randy's question. You can read Obama's answer after the jump.

RANDY: "I'm a proud NRA member. I believe in our Constitution, and it's a very important thing. I also get my news from the cable networks, because I don't like the spin that comes from them other places."

OBAMA: "You gotta be careful about them cable networks. But that's okay."

RANDY: "Max Baucus, our senator, has been locked up in a dark room for months now trying to come up with some money to pay for these programs. And we keep getting the bull. That's all we get, is bull. you can't tell us how we're going to pay for this. You're saving here, you're saving over there. You're going to take a little money here, you're going to take a little money there. But you have no money. The only way you're going to get that money is to raise our taxes. You said you wouldn't. Max Baucus says he doesn't want to put a bill out that will. But that's the only way you can do that."

OBAMA: "Look, you are absolutely right that i can't cover another 46 million people for free. You're right. I can't do that. So we're going to have to find some resources. If people who don't have health insurance are going to get some help, then we're going to have to find money from somewhere. Now, what I've identified and most of the committees have identified and agreed to, including Max Baucus' committee, is that overall this bill will cost -- let's say it costs $800-900 billion. That's a lot of money. That's a lot of money. That's over 10 years, though, alright? So that's about $80-90 billion a year.

"About two-thirds of it -- two thirds -- can be obtained by doing some of the things I already mentioned, like eliminating subsidies to insurance companies. So you're right, that's real money. I just think I would rather be giving that money to the young lady here who doesn't have health insurance, and giving her some help, then giving it to the insurance companies who are making record profits. Now, you may disagree. I just think it's a good way to spend our money.

"But you point's well taken, because even after we spend, even after we eliminate some of the waste, and we've got those savings from within the health care system, that's only two-thirds. That still means we've got to come up with one third. And that's about $30 billion a year that we've got to come up with. Now, keep in mind the numbers change partly because there are five different bills right now. This is all going to get merged in September. But let's assume it costs about $30 billion a year over 10 years. We do have to come up with that money.

"When I was campaigning, I made a promise that I would not raise your taxes if you made $250,000 a year or less. That's what I said. But I said that for people like myself who make more than that, there's nothing more than me paying a little bit more in order to help people who are paying a little bit less. That was my commitment. So what I've said is, let's, for example -- this is the solution that I originally proposed. Some members of Congress disagree, but we're still working it through. What I said is we could lower the itemized deductions that I can take on my income tax returns every year so that instead of me getting 36 percent, 35 percent deductions, I'll just get 28 percent, like people who make less money than me.

"If I'm writing a check to my local church, I don't know why Uncle Sam should be giving me a bigger tax break than the person who makes less money than me, because that donation means just as much. If we did just that alone, just that change alone for people making more than $250,000, that alone would pay for the health care we're talking about.

"So my point is, number one -- two-thirds of the money we can obtain just from eliminating waste and inefficiencies. And the Congressional Budget Office has agreed with that -- this is not something I'm making up. Republicans don't dispute it. And then the other third we would have to find additional revenue. But it wouldn't come on the backs of the middle class.

"Now, let me just make one final point. I know that there are some people who say, 'I don't care how much money somebody makes. They shouldn't have to pay higher taxes.' And I respect that opinion. I respect that view. But the truth of the matter is that we've got to get over this notion that somehow we can have something for nothing. Because that's part of how we got into the deficits and the debt that we're in in the first place.

"When the previous administration passed the prescription drug bill -- that was something that a lot of seniors needed, right -- They needed prescription drug help. The price tag on that was hundreds of billions of dollars. You know how we paid for it? We didn't. It just got added on to the deficit and the debt. So it amuses me sometimes when I hear some of the opponents of health care reform on the other side of the aisle or on these cable shows yelling about how we can't afford this when Max and I are actually proposing to pay for it. And they passed something that they didn't pay for at all and left for future generations to have to pay in terms of debt. That doesn't make sense to me.

"Can I say this though? Randy, I appreciate your question, the respectful way you asked it. And by the way, I believe in the Constitution, too."

PA Sen Poll: Better News for Specter

A Rasmussen poll released earlier this week found Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter (D) trailing Republican Pat Toomey by 12 points -- Toomey's first lead. A new survey from DailyKos/Research 2000, however, finds Specter back in the lead by 5 points (Aug 10-12, 600 LV, MoE +/- 4%). He also leads by 15 points in the Dem primary against Rep. Joe Sestak -- who leads Toomey by 1 point in a general election matchup.

Specter's 52% favorability rating is 15 points higher than both Sestak and Toomey, and 9 points higher than the Rasmussen survey found. Against Toomey, Specter wins 43% of independents, 3 points more than Toomey.

Dem Primary
Specter 48
Sestak 33
Und 19

General Election
Specter 45
Toomey 40
Und 15

Sestak 42
Toomey 41
Und 17

Specter leads Sestak by 20.0 points in the RCP Average for the Dem Primary. Toomey leads Specter by 2.0 points and Sestak by 3.7 points in the RCP Averages for the General Election.

ICYMI: Obama's New Homeboy

Some softballs, but a fun interview of the President by Damon Weaver, an 11-year-old student from Pahokee, Florida.

NC Sen Poll: Burr Leads Dem Challengers

Despite favorability ratings still hovering in the 30s, North Carolina Sen. Richard Burr (R) leads four Democratic challengers in his bid for re-election to a second term, according to a new survey from the Dem-leaning Public Policy Polling. Burr leads Secretary of State Elaine Marshall, state Sen. Cal Cunningham, lawyer Kenneth Lewis and Chapel Hill Mayor Kevin Foy.

Burr wins 43% against all four candidates -- identical to the 43% former senator Elizabeth Dole (R-N.C.) won against Kay Hagan (D) in August 2007. Hagan, of course, went on to defeat Dole in the 2008 general election.

Burr 43 - Marshall 35 - Und 26
Burr 43 - Cunningham 28 - Und 29
Burr 43 - Lewis 27 - Und 30
Burr 43 - Foy 27 - Und 30

CA Gov, Sen: Brown, Boxer With Early Leads

Former governor of California Jerry Brown (D) and incumbent Sen. Barbara Boxer (D) currently lead their respective fields in the races for governor and senator of California, according to the latest survey from DailyKos/Research 2000 (Aug 9-12, 600 LV, MoE +/- 4%).

Brown leads San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom in the Democratic primary and former eBay chief executive Meg Whitman (R) in the general election. Boxer leads former HP CEO Carly Fiorina (R) by a wide margin.

Brown (whose campaign website features a timeline of his political career dating back to 1943) currently serves as state attorney general and was elected governor in 1974. His father, Pat, served two terms as governor of California. Boxer is the junior senator; she's running for her fourth term in the Senate after five terms in the House.

Dem Primary
Brown 29 - Newsom 20 - Und 51

GOP Primary
Whitman 24 - Campbell 19 - Poizner 9 - Und 48

General Election
Brown 42 - Whitman 36 - Und 22
Whitman 37 - Newsom 36 - Und 27

GOP Primary
Fiorina 29 - Devore 17 - Und 54

General Election
Boxer 52 - Fiorina 31 - Und 17

Strategy Memo: It's A Netroots Nation

Today President Obama travels to a red state for a town hall meeting on health care. It actually takes place in an airplane hangar outside Bozeman, Montana, which also happens to be the home state of the key Democrat in the Senate handling legislation right now, Finance Committee chair Max Baucus. After this afternoon's forum, the first family spends the night in Big Sky. They'll visit Yellowstone National Park and the Grand Canyon as well on this western swing. Obama also has another town hall scheduled for this Saturday in Grand Junction, Colo.

The life and work of Eunice Kennedy Shriver will be remembered today at her funeral in Hyannis, Mass. Vice President Joe Biden will be just one of the dignitaries to attend.

Bill Clinton provided the opening keynote speech last night at the fourth annual Netroots Nation convention for progressive political activists, being held in Pittsburgh. This morning, Howard Dean, a former governor and chairman of the Democratic National Committee, will give a town hall-style address on health care.

**Health Care
*"Democrats on Thursday mounted a broad counteroffensive against Republicans to try to reverse growing opposition to their health care plans and win back an electorate increasingly sympathetic to town-hall protesters," Roll Call reports. "The White House and the Democratic National Committee sought to downplay the significance and scope of the protests."

*Washington Post: "With polls showing rising concern over the government's grim financial situation, key Republicans and a growing number of Democrats say it will be hard to push an ambitious health reform bill through Congress unless it reduces projected federal spending on medical care and begins to bring the national debt under control."

*Obama will hold two more town halls this week on health care, amid his family vacation, The Hill reports. "Obama departs for Bozeman, Mont., on Friday, where he will hold his second town hall of the week, this one with Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.). The Finance Committee is the last of five congressional committees that has to pass a healthcare reform proposal. On Saturday, the president will attend another town hall in Grand Junction, Colo."

*The Washington Post calls Obama's upcoming trip "a final public relations push" before Obama heads on vacation. Meanwhile, "Obama supporters are being urged to turn out for the president to counter what they anticipate could be the kind of vocal criticism that has recently dominated headlines and cable news."

*The White House's deal with the pharmaceutical industry has "provoked a political tempest, frustrating and bewildering some of the president's most important allies," the Los Angeles Times reports. "As complaints rolled in, the administration offered varying, sometimes contradictory explanations of the deal."

*Rep. Leonard Boswell (D-Ia.) tells Radio Iowa that Obama told him he's willing to be a one-term president to get health care reform passed. "The president (said), 'I'm not going to kick the can down the road,'" Boswell related. "He said, 'No, if it makes me a one-term president, I'm going to, we're going to take it on because the country is in need of us taking this on.'"

*Sarah Palin weighs in again on health care via her Facebook page. "Nationalized health care inevitably leads to rationing," she writes. "There is simply no way to cover everyone and hold down the costs at the same time." She calls "particularly disturbing" a system she says is proposed by Ezekiel Emanuel, brother of the chief of staff and "one of President Obama's key health care advisors," she says.

Oh, and it looks like she's got a new Twitter page ready to go.

*Howard Dean "fired one of the clearest warning shots at hesitant Democratic lawmakers" in an interview with Huffington Post, "insisting that if the party was unable to produce a health care bill with a public plan, there would be electoral consequences." Dean: "I do think there will be primaries as the result of all this, if the bill doesn't pass with a public option."

*At Netroots Nation last night, Politico reports, "Clinton warned against the dangers of failing to compromise on some elements of health care reform, calling for agreement on a plan that includes a handful of elements that have widespread public support and perhaps conceding on those that have little support among voters."

**President Obama
*"Perhaps no region of the country better illustrates Barack Obama's political vulnerabilities than the mountain West, a region traditionally wary of the federal government," the Associated Press notes today. "Democrats have made recent election inroads in the region by successfully courting independents, Republican crossovers and conservative-to-moderate loyalists in their own party. But it's these very voters -- gun owners, civil libertarians, private property advocates -- who seem to be turning away from the president across the country because of deep-seated concerns about expanding government and soaring budget deficits."

*Fees for big banks: "The Obama administration is pressing ahead with its broad overhaul of financial regulation by proposing to hike the fees big financial firms pay for federal oversight while easing the burden for smaller ones," officials tell the Washington Post. "The new two-tiered, pay-for-regulation approach is intended to partly cover the costs of more vigorous bank regulation and a new consumer financial protection agency. It reflects the administration's view that large banks and lenders should pay more because they are more complex and expensive to regulate, a Treasury Department official said. "

*AP takes an overview look of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's rocky Africa trip, saying that "at times during the grueling, seven-nation journey Clinton abandoned her legendary steeliness." More: "The Africa tour was intended to showcase some of Clinton's pet projects ... as well as cement her return to center stage in the Obama administration's foreign policy apparatus. ... But her husband, Bush and Obama were often along for the ride."

*"Eager to avoid the kind of shouting -- and, in some cases shoving -- confrontations that have turned the health care debate into a cable television and YouTube sensation, some lawmakers are opting out of the free-wheeling forums," USA Today reports.

*Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) is one of four Democrats who say that the Senate "should abandon efforts to pass legislation curbing greenhouse-gas emissions this year." Lincoln tells Bloomberg: "The problem of doing both of them together is that it becomes too big of a lift. I see the cap-and-trade being a real problem."

**Campaign Stuff
*Gallup: "The strength of "conservative" over "liberal" in the realm of political labels is vividly apparent in Gallup's state-level data, where a significantly higher percentage of Americans in most states -- even some solidly Democratic ones -- call themselves conservative rather than liberal ... Despite the Democratic Party's political strength -- seen in its majority representation in Congress and in state houses across the country -- more Americans consider themselves conservative than liberal."

*A new Daily Kos/Research 2000 poll in California finds Jerry Brown leading Gavin Newsom in the Dem primary for governor, and Meg Whitman leading Steve Poizner and Tom Campbell in the GOP primary. The same poll also tested the 2010 Senate race and found incumbent Sen. Barbara Boxer (D) leading Carly Fiorina (R) by 21 points.

*If Sarah Palin wants to run in 2012, Politico reports, Newt Gingrich believes "she'll need three types of speeches, some serious television face time, a credible organization and a bucket load of sheer determination. Oh, and she might want to get a place outside of Alaska, somewhere in the lower 48."

*Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison will launch her gubernatorial bid next Tuesday, the Dallas Morning News reports.

*Gov. John Hoeven (R-N.D.) says he is still thinking about the Senate race. "Obviously, we've received encouragement from a lot of people ... but it's a family decision, and that's how we're approaching it. We'll just have to make (a decision) on our own timeline, and we just haven't set a deadline." The state GOP chairman had said "he wants to announce by Labor Day which Republicans will challenge Dorgan and North Dakota Democrat Rep. Earl Pomeroy."

*"Just a few weeks after former Florida House Speaker Marco Rubio boasted ... that he had big support in the Republican-controlled Legislature, some of the future leaders in the state House said they're backing Gov. Charlie Crist," the Miami Herald reports.

*Former Sen. Rick Santorum, now dipping his toe in 2012 waters, took a shot at Sarah Palin during an interview on Fox, GOP12 notes, saying her decision to resign early hurt her among women.

Mark McKinnon, meanwhile, says Santorum is "dangerous." "Santorum represents, in my view, much of what is wrong the in the Republican Party. While I disagree with him on some fundamental issues, I am much more concerned with his lack of character."

*IL-7: "U.S. Rep. Danny Davis' decision to leave his seat in Illinois' 7th Congressional District for a run at the Cook County Board presidency next year has some West Side hopefuls scrambling to replace him," the Austin Weekly News reports. "Chicago real estate businessman Jim Ascot has announced he's running. Ascot, 58, who owns Ascot Realty Group, lost to Davis in 2006 and has never held public office." Also running is state Rep. Annazette Collins.

**Netroots Nation
*AP: "Republicans have turned to terrifying people in the debate over overhauling the health care system because the GOP has no political clout to fight it, former President Bill Clinton told a gathering of progressive bloggers on Thursday ... Clinton spoke at the opening session of the Netroots Nation convention, a gathering of politically progressive bloggers and other online activists. He urged the crowd to support President Barack Obama on health care reform, along with climate change legislation and other reforms."

*"How times have changed," writes Politics Daily's Cannon. "In his own era, the 1990s, Bill Clinton was hardly the flag-bearer for the nation's fledgling liberal "netroots" -- the grassroots blogosphere -- let alone the darling of the Democratic left ... That was then. This was now. Reincarnated as a gay rights-supporting, climate change-touting, netroots-loving apostle of liberal bloggers and progressive politics, Clinton made his appearance Thursday night at the Netroots Nation convention in Pittsburgh, where an adoring crowd didn't seem to mind a bit that in one respect Clinton hadn't changed at all in two decades: He was still late."

*WSJ notes that his speech was interrupted by a man who "scolded Clinton for his don't ask, don't tell policy. Clinton clarified his stance, but not without a subtle jab at conservative Republicans staging opposition at health care town halls across the country." "You ought to go to one of those congressional health care meetings," Clinton said of the interrupter.

*"Political analyst Charlie Cook warned in a morning session that Republicans have captured the energy and intensity that Democrats had in the last two election cycles. Cook predicted Democrats could lose 20 seats in the U.S. House next year. Nate Silver, a political number-cruncher who founded the site, said they could lose as many as 50 seats," Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports.

*Scheduled to appear at a 'Meet the Candidates' forum tonight are Lee Fisher (running for Senate in Ohio), Jonathan Tasini (New York Senate) and Ben Masel (Wisconsin Senate), as well as four others running for Congress.

--Kyle Trygstad and Mike Memoli

Sanford Impeachment Looming?

CNN's Peter Hamby reports this hour that South Carolina legislators may be prepping for impeachment proceedings against Gov. Mark Sanford (R) when they reconvene next year.

Rep. Boyd Brown said ranking members of the House Judiciary Committee told him Wednesday that several Republicans on the committee are prepared to team up with Democrats to begin the impeachment process if Sanford doesn't resign or agree to a full-scale investigation into his travel expenses before the end of the year.

At least one Republican on the Judiciary Committee contacted by CNN Thursday -- Rep. Greg Delleney -- said he would sign on to an impeachment effort.

The Republican chairman of the committee, Rep. Jim Harrison, said he has not yet had the chance to talk to committee members about where they stand on the matter. But he said the impeachment drumbeat could easily get louder.

Sanford may be more "politically dead" than even he thought.

Dem Pollster Shows Tighter N.J. Race

The Democratic polling firm Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research has a new poll of the New Jersey gubernatorial race that former U.S. Attorney Chris Christie (R) ahead of Gov. Jon Corzine (D), though by a slimmer margin.

General Election Matchup
Christie 40
Corzine 35
Daggett 10
Undecided 15

Most of Daggett's support is weak, as one would expect with an independent candidate. In a separate matchup without Daggett in the race, Christie would lead Corzine 43-37, with 20 percent undecided.

Only 23 percent of voters think the state is on the right track, compared to 65 who think the opposite.

A memo from Stan Greenberg and James Carville, who commissioned the survey, offers some optimism for Democrats who have seen their candidate consistently well behind.

As voters learn more about Chris Christie, his negative ratings appear to be rising. His negative ratings are now as high as his positives--32 percent view him favorably, 31 percent unfavorably.

Meanwhile, the Republican brand continues to carry negative connotations in New Jersey. The Democratic Party generates a more positive reaction than their Republican counterparts, receiving a favorable-unfavorable rating of 40 to 39 percent compared to a favorable-unfavorable rating of 29 to 43 percent for the Republican Party.

The survey of 600 registered voters was conducted August 11-12, and has a margin of error of +/- 4.1 percent.

With Maloney Out, Supporters Line Up for Gillibrand

Since Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) announced Friday that she would not challenge Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) in the Democratic primary next year, supporters have again begun to line up behind the appointed senator. Democratic Reps. Eliot Engel and Anthony Weiner, both from New York City, announced their support for Gillibrand this week, as did the United Steelworkers District 4.

It had been two months since a Democrat from the state delegation had endorsed Gillibrand. She now has the public backing of 13 New York Democrats in the House -- half the total number.

"I am proud to support Kirsten Gillibrand for the United States Senate," Weiner said today in a released statement. "In just over six months on the job, Kirsten has proven herself to be a leader that can bridge upstate and downstate and serve as a strong voice for the middle class and those struggling to make it."

Engel gave a similar statement Tuesday, saying, "Over the past seven months, Kirsten has brought a new, innovative approach to the new problems that New York families are facing in these tough economic times."

The White House had been pressuring intraparty challengers to exit the race and succeeded with the exits of Reps. Steve Israel and Carolyn McCarthy more than two months ago. But Maloney kept her options open until Friday, when she announced she would instead run for re-election to her district in Manhattan's Upper East Side.

Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman Robert Menendez (N.J.) publicly thanked Maloney on Friday.

"Congresswoman Maloney is a terrific member of Congress, and her constituents ought to be proud that she will continue to be their voice in Washington," he said. "She came to the right decision on this and it means New Yorkers will continue to have a powerhouse delegation in Congress. In just a short time, Senator Gillibrand has already proven she fits the mold of strong New York leaders, working day and night to represent New Yorkers in Washington."

With all her major Democratic challengers now out, Gillibrand appears to have a clear shot at the 2010 special election, and more than likely the regularly scheduled 2012 election.

White House Answers Grassley With Murkowski

The White House chose to answer Sen. Chuck Grassley's comments echoing concern with end-of-life counseling issues by quoting one of his Republican colleagues.

"I'd like to have him talk to Senator Murkowski," press secretary Robert Gibbs said today when asked about his comments in Iowa yesterday. He then quoted Murkowski, who was responding to former Gov. Sarah Palin's criticism of so-called "death panels, had said: "It does us no good to incite fear in people by saying that there's these end of life provisions, these death panels. Quite honestly, I'm so offended at this terminology because it absolutely isn't in the bill."

But Grassley never used the term "death panel," which was the substance of Murkowski's critique, though he did talk about unplugging "grandma." Despite this rhetoric, Gibbs said President Obama "is continuing to talk to lawmakers and hopes the Finance Committee can come to some agreement."

"I still think there is a possibility of getting bipartisan agreement," he said.

At today's press briefing, Gibbs was also asked about the potential political impact if the president's health care effort fails. He said that the White House wasn't looking at political ramifications. He acknowledged that the outcome may eventually play a factor in elections, though he noted the midterms are quite a ways off.

Obama To Visit Singapore

For a president with summit-itis, another summit on his schedule.

Press secretary Robert Gibbs today confirmed that President Obama will attend the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in mid-November. With such a long trip, you can expect he'll stop elsewhere in the region as well -- there's been some speculation about Indonesia. But Gibbs said there were no other stops confirmed at this point.

Obama attends another meeting of the G-20 next month. But this time he plays host, as this summit is held in Pittsburgh.

Transportation Funding in Va. Gov Race

In what could perhaps become a defining issue of the Virginia gubernatorial race, Democrat Creigh Deeds said that he would sign a bill that included a tax increase to help pay for the state's underfunded transporation needs, but would not take money away from other general fund priorities.

Deeds' comments came yesterday during an online chat with the Richmond Times-Dispatch, and they stand in contrast to McDonnell's ideas to pay for transportation.

"My opponent has released a plan that takes $5.4 billion, essentially out of education, over the next 10 years," Deeds said. "You won't see me with that kind of approach. Democrats and Republicans alike have said that kind of approach is dead on arrival."

McDonnell has said he opposes a tax increase to fund transportation, but has proposed "a dozen mechanisms" to fund it including privatizing liquor sales in the state and adding a toll on two major interstates on the North Carolina border, the Times-Dispatch reports.

Transportation funding has long been a geographical issue in Virginia, between Northern Virginia and the rest of the state. The heavy traffic in suburban D.C. forces much of the transporation funding to be funneled to that section of the state, much to the chagrin of residents outside of the area. However, Northern Virginians argue that they provide a disproportionate amount of the tax revenue in the state.

PA Sen Poll: Toomey Takes the Lead

A lot can change in just a couple months, and Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Pa.) knows this all too well. The five-term senator, who's been a Democrat for four months, switched parties in April after realizing he would lose to Pat Toomey (R) in a GOP primary. However, Specter now trails the former congressman by double digits in a Rasmussen general election poll.

Toomey 48 (+9 vs. last poll, June)
Specter 36 (-14)

Specter's unfavorable rating is up to 54% from 43% in June, and much of voters' distaste appears to be due to his support for a congressional health care reform bill -- which 53% of Pennsylvanians oppose. Of those who like the bill, 70% favor Specter to 9% for Toomey; those who oppose it favor Toomey 82%-9%.

Rasmussen released a primary survey yesterday, finding Specter's lead over second-term Rep. Joe Sestak (D) down to 13 points.

In the general election survey, Toomey led Sestak 43% to 35%, with 18% undecided.

Strategy Memo: Time Out

It's a light schedule for President Obama today. The White House schedule lists only private meetings with his staff today. Tomorrow, though, he'll be back on the road, with town hall meetings coming in Colorado and Montana.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton continues what has been a somewhat rocky tour of Africa in Liberia today. She's being criticized for talking yesterday about the disputed 2000 Florida recount as she talked about democracy in Nigeria.

The fourth annual Netroots Nation convention kicks off today from the David L. Lawrence Convention Center in Pittsburgh, Pa. The four-day meeting of liberal political activists opens with a day of panels and salons, with the keynote speech delivered tonight by former President Bill Clinton.

**Health Care
*Gallup: "More than two-thirds of Americans (69%) are closely following news accounts of town hall meetings on healthcare reform, and while 34% say the protests make them more sympathetic to the protesters' viewpoints and 21% say the protests make them less sympathetic, almost half either say the protests haven't affected their views either way or have no opinion."

*L.A. Times: "As debate over his healthcare overhaul heats up, President Obama is taking off for a family vacation this week that combines classic American sightseeing with the challenge of trying to sell his ideas to audiences out West. He will be visiting Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon with his wife and daughters starting Friday, but the president also plans to hold town halls in Montana and Colorado to address problems facing the healthcare system and pitch Democratic plans to fix them."

*ABC reports that the White House "is launching its own 'viral e-mail' for supporters to spread." The e-mail from David Axelrod has the subject line, "Something worth forwarding," and seeks to combat "the viral e-mails that fly unchecked and under the radar, spreading all sorts of lies and distortions" and invites Americans to "start a chain e-mail of our own."

*Sarah Palin has written another note on Facebook, again on "Death Panels." She writes, "President Obama can try to gloss over the effects of government authorized end-of-life consultations, but the views of one of his top health care advisors are clear enough. It's all just more evidence that the Democratic legislative proposals will lead to health care rationing, and more evidence that the top-down plans of government bureaucrats will never result in real health care reform."

*Sen. Chuck Grassley throws fuel on the fire. The Register reports that the Iowa senator "said that he understands the fear that health care reform proposals before Congress could turn into a form of elderly genocide."

*WSJ: "Ezekiel Emanuel, a top health-care adviser to President Barack Obama and older brother of White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, is emerging as a target of conservatives critical of Democrats' health-care effort."

*The Hill: "Four hundred fifty Maryland residents and a lot of anger filled the Hagerstown Community College theater Wednesday afternoon for Sen. Ben Cardin's third town hall on health reform. The Maryland Democrat's 75-minute town hall, held in a conservative stronghold in the state, was peppered with boos, jeers and catcalls, though a minority of attendees who support health reform efforts made it a bit calmer than past events in Laurel and Towson."

*Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.), chair of the House Rules Committee, "reminded reporters Wednesday that angry town hall meetings aren't a recent phenomenon," Politico reports. "Slaughter's recollection is the latest attempt by Democratic leaders to reframe coverage of the health care debate after record crowds deluged town halls across the country to express their dissatisfaction with the plans. Democrats have made the case that these crowds are driven, at least in part, by shadow groups established by the insurance industry and other large health care companies."

**President Obama
*The Post looks at presidential vacations and has more details of Obama's. "The luxuriousness of the getaway poses a political challenge for Obama at a time when many Americans are struggling with economic distress. Obama said in a recent interview that he thinks about the hardships facing Americans 'every single day,' but he also defended his vacation plans."

*The New York Times reports that despite attempts to portray Obama as above the fray on health care, he and his advisers "have been quite active, sometimes negotiating deals with a degree of cold-eyed political realism potentially at odds with the president's rhetoric." And it's all focused on what the Senate Finance Committee is doing, which lobbyists and moderate Democrats say is "a recognition that the finance panel's anticipated compromise is the most likely template for any final legislation."

*Karl Rove says the Obama is suffering by staying in campaign mode. "In an election, campaign staffers are often just trying to survive until the next week or the next primary. They cut corners because they are fatigued or under pressure. They can be purposely combative and even portray critics as enemies. Carrying this mindset into the White House can get you into trouble, a lesson the Obama administration is now learning the hard way."

*It speaks for itself. Washington Times: "President Obama's nominee for surgeon general, whose job it is to help encourage Americans to get thinner and healthier, has been working part time as a scientific adviser to the fast-food giant that sells sandwiches like the Whopper and BK Triple Stacker."

*Ted Kennedy was one of the honorees yesterday as President Obama handed out the Medal of Freedom. In an interview with the AP, his son, Rep. Patrick Kennedy, says "there's been an unexpected bright side to his father's grim battle with terminal brain cancer because the family has been able to spend more time with the stricken senator in recent months." He also said he "considers it a great gift his father has survived longer than his doctors have expected."

**Bush v. Cheney?: The Washington Post reports on former Vice President Cheney's forthcoming book, in which he'll likely outline a rift with President George W. Bush. According to someone whose spoken with him, "He said Bush was shackled by the public reaction and the criticism he took. ... The implication was that Bush had gone soft on him, or rather Bush had hardened against Cheney's advice. He'd showed an independence that Cheney didn't see coming."

**Campaign Stuff
*NV Sen: Politics Daily spent time with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in Nevada this week. "That morning, a new Republican poll of the 2010 Senate contest here showed state GOP Chairwoman Sue Lowden, a potential rival, six points ahead of him. But Reid also had good news -- GOP Rep. Dean Heller said he would stay in the House rather than challenge Reid. Biggest threat? 'Yup,' Reid said. Now gone? 'Gone,' he said happily."

The Reno Gazette-Journal reports that "many Nevada Republicans nurtured a long-shot hope that Heller would be at the top of the ticket in 2010. But with that hope put to rest, Republicans now are scrambling to figure out the best way to settle on a candidate. And some said the emerging crowded field isn't necessarily a hindrance to rehabilitating both the party's image and its organizational strength."

*More to come on Ensign? "Heller has become the first high-ranking Nevada Republican to call on Sen. John Ensign to break his silence and answer remaining questions about his affair with a member of his staff," the Las Vegas Sun reports. "I don't want to speculate, but until John talks, we haven't seen the end of it," Heller told Sun columnist Jon Ralston.

Heller also explains why the Ensign scandal led him not to run for Senate. "I had anticipated in a good campaign like this Sen. Ensign being there with me. Sen. Ensign had to be there when I announced. Sen. Ensign had to deflect some of the attacks that would have occurred in a very rough and tumble campaign like that. All of a sudden that variable was out."

*NRSC: Roll Call reports that "15 months from the midterm elections, several big holes still remain when it comes to Senate Republican recruiting efforts. Whether the NRSC can plug those holes after Congress returns in September could be the difference between Republicans fighting to hold onto the territory they already have in 2010 and the NRSC actually mounting a serious offense against incumbent Democrats next year." Heller's decision to pass on challenging Reid in Nevada "underscores the work that Republicans have left to do when they get back from recess."

*Charlie Crist survived a censure vote from the Palm Beach Post GOP, but did take some tough shots. The St. Pete Times: "Though the censure failed, the man who pushed it, Steve Ledewitz said he earned the best applause of the night with this one-liner: 'Charlie Crist is nothing more than Arlen Specter with a tan.'"

*Crist was asked how conservative his Senate appointment would be. "Everything's important," Crist said, but: "I think the most important considerations are integrity, honor, somebody who is of sober judgment, will take the job very seriously and understand that they're representing the fourth largest state in America in the U.S. Senate." Pressed, he simply said, "I don't believe in labels."

*FL Sen: "Over the next 14 months, as Rubio introduces himself to the state, this race is likely to evolve from David and Goliath into a struggle for the party's soul, with a moderate populist who celebrated the stimulus with Obama at a Fort Myers rally and a conservative stalwart who opposes almost everything Obama has done," Time reports.

*PA Sen: Ex-Rep. Pat Toomey (R) leads Sen. Arlen Specter (D) 48%-36%, according to a new Rasmussen poll. The polling firm released a primary survey yesterday, finding Specter's lead over Rep. Joe Sestak (D) down to 13 points.

*Kentucky Finance Secretary Jonathan Miller is breaking with the governor and endorsing Jack Conway for U.S. Senate, over Lt. Gov. Dan Mongiardo, the AP reports.

*SurveyUSA puts Lt. Gov. John Garamendi ahead in the CA-10 special election.

*MD Gov: "No big-name challengers to Martin O'Malley (D) have emerged, but the governor seems to be taking little for granted as he heads toward a 2010 election year in which the sour economy is expected to play a defining role. The latest sign of that was last week's confirmation that O'Malley has hired Thomas Russell, a veteran political operative, as manager of his reelection campaign," Washington Post reports.

The Sun reports, though, that Del. Patrick L. McDonough announced on conservative talk radio yesterday that he plans to begin "testing the waters."

--Mike Memoli and Kyle Trygstad

Scenes From The White House: Medals Of Freedom

President Obama awarded 16 men and women with the Medal of Freedom, for a lifetime of work that has made them "an example of the difference we can make in the lives of others."

Desmond Tutu

Foremost among them was Sen. Ted Kennedy, who was unable to attend the ceremony but warmly praised by the president as someone whose life "has made a difference for us all." Referring to a story Kennedy tells about a man who throws starfish into the sea, he said: "For nearly half a century, Ted Kennedy has been walking that beach, making a difference for that soldier fighting for freedom, that refugee looking for a way home, that senior searching for dignity, that worker striving for opportunity, that student aspiring to college, that family reaching for the American Dream.

Some more photos after the jump.

Sidney Poitier

Rev. Joseph Lowery

Dr. Joseph Medicine Crow

Unidentified Prankster On the Hill

A press release this afternoon from the office of Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.):

Today the Office of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid responded to automated calls from unidentified sources that have been made to appear as though they originated from the Majority Leader's office. These calls, which were not made from Senator Reid's office, were directed to numerous Congressional and government offices.

"An unidentified organization is dishonestly using Senator Reid's office number to mislead people and to create yet another distraction from the important issues our country needs to address," said Reid spokesman, Rodell Mollineau. "American families are suffering and every day that defenders of the status quo spend on misleading and disruptive tactics like this is a wasted opportunity to be working on finding real solutions."

Senator Reid's office is working with the Senate Sergeant-at-Arms office to look into this matter.

Gibbs: Media "Disappointed" Obama Wasn't Heckled

It seems that the White House has shifted its target. Rather than targeting conservative interest groups for an Astroturf campaign to disrupt town hall meetings, press secretary Robert Gibbs is ramping up a critique of the media, which he argued today was not doing enough to debunk false information out there.

"Let's be honest. You all, the media, tend to cover, 'X said this, Y said this,'" he said today. "Some of you -- but not everyone -- does an investigation about whether what X said is actually true."

But it's more than that. He went so far as to claim that the media was actually "disappointed yesterday that the president didn't get yelled at."

"I don't think there's any doubt about that," he said, referring to stories about yesterday's town hall meeting that he said dealt more with the "sideshow" than the substance of the debate.

Yesterday, the DNC, too, urged the media to show greater scrutiny of Republican attacks. The party's press secretary, Hari Sevugan, issued a "Memorandum Regarding Coverage of Republican Misinformation Campaign."

"There is no question as to the lack of credibility in these claims," Sevugan wrote. "The only question that remains is whether the media will challenge and hold accountable Republican leaders and the GOP echo chamber for the scare-tactics and lies they are passing off as truths."

But what about Obama's misstatements, particularly claiming that the AARP had endorsed the health care plan. Gibbs admitted that the president was "conflating" support generally for health care reform with an endorsement of his specific plan.

TOTUS 2.0?

At today's East Room event honoring Justice Sonia Sotomayor today, something was different. President Obama was speaking from a script, but the famous "TOTUS," or "Teleprompter of the United States," was nowhere to be seen.

Rather than the familiar glass panel setup that frames the presidential podium, the White House staff positioned two large LCD screens at the edges of the seating areas for him to read from. The difference is significant. The traditional teleprompter is very conspicuous, especially to the audience in the room. It also makes things difficult for photographers, who can find few positions to take pictures that are un-obstructed.

Consider these photos, first the traditional teleprompter used for much of his administration, and secondly the newer setup, with one of the television monitors positioned far across the room.



The White House has used the LCD screen before -- just one screen positioned directly in front of the president -- at his prime time press conferences. Using two screens on opposite sides of the room allows Obama to continue "oscillating," turning from one side to the other, as he's apparently more comfortable with.

One of the criticisms of the traditional teleprompter is that it can make Obama look as if he's not really engaged with his audience, in addition to feeding the derision from some that he is overly dependent on a script. Using this less conspicuous setup eliminates to some extent that perception problem.

Perdue's Approval Still Rock Bottom

North Carolina Gov. Bev Perdue's low approval ratings continue with the latest survey from Public Policy Polling, which finds twice as many people disapproving of the job she's doing. PPP reports that 27% approve and 52% disapprove, which is actually an improvement from last month when she had a 25%/55% approval rating.

Perdue, who served two terms as lieutenant governor, defeated Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory (R) in 2008 by more than 3 points and won a higher percentage than Barack Obama, who narrowly defeated John McCain. However, Perdue came to office amid a recession that has hit North Carolina especially hard. After a six month legislative session, Perdue quietly signed on Friday a budget plan that adds $1 billion in new taxes and cuts $2 billion worth of previously state-funded programs.

In the PPP poll, which surveyed 749 registered voters from August 4-10 with a margin of error of +/- 3.6%, 57% said the Legislature provided stronger leadership on the budget, while 43% said Perdue did. "Given the near universal unpopularity of legislative bodies in both Washington and state capitals across the country, that's quite an unusual funding," the PPP press release stated.

Romney Leads Early Granite State Primary Poll

According to New Hampshire law, the first-in-the-nation presidential primary is slated for March 13, 2012. Of course, it'll likely be much sooner than that; seven days before any other primary is scheduled. In 2008, it was held January 8.

All this is to point out how early it is to be polling the state. But has released what may be the first state-specific public survey of the Granite State. Not surprisingly, former Gov. Mitt Romney has a solid lead.

Primary Election Matchup
Romney 50
Palin 17
Huckabee 17
Gingrich 13
Pawlenty 3

The poll was conducted electronically by Populus Research on August 10 and 11, among 403 likely Republican primary voters and with a margin of error of +/- 5 percent. It should be noted that without a Democratic primary in 2012, the GOP race will include many undeclared and even some Democratic voters, too.

NowHampshire gets some perspective from former McCain campaign chief Mike Dennehy.

"Gov. Romney worked very hard here in 2008. He maintains a lot of support. It's interesting to see the way Palin and Huckabee compete for almost the same voters and end up splitting their support," Dennehy said.

Dennehy also noted that New Hampshire is an environment that might ultimately embrace someone like Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota or some other candidate who has not yet indicated interest in the Republican nomination.

"New Hampshire loves underdogs," he said.

The Rove Factor In New Jersey

Chris Christie had been talked about as a potential candidate for statewide office in New Jersey often in the past five years. So the news that, as a United States Attorney, he spoke with the Bush White House's chief political adviser should not be particularly shocking to many people.

But that fact was confirmed yesterday with the release of transcripts of Karl Rove's interviews with the House Judiciary Committee. Why does this matter? Christie has, with the exception of the end of his primary campaign, run largely toward the middle in the gubernatorial race thus far. He did a tour of urban areas, recently hosted an event on education, and is otherwise emphasizing his law-and-order background.

The campaign of Gov. Jon Corzine (D), however, is eager to remind voters of his Republican affiliation. But they've thus far only been able to do so by repeatedly invoking a somewhat obscure "scandal" in which they say Christie had, as U.S. Attorney, awarded no-bid contracts to some "cronies," one involved with his brother, and another to former Bush Attorney General John Ashcroft.

It's hard to say whether that has gotten much traction. So this new development with Rove gives them a more high-profile opportunity to link Christie with national Republicans and President George W. Bush, who lost the state twice.

In his interview, Rove does say he spoke with Christie about a potential gubernatorial bid (read the full exchange after the jump). Corzine's camp has reacted strongly. "It's pretty clear now that Christie was running a gubernatorial campaign out of the United States Attorney's office with the Bush White House and Bush's political brain, Karl Rove," Corzine communications director Sean Darcy has said. "Christie now has to answer a number of questions, including: When did the planning start for his gubernatorial campaign? Who was involved with the planning, including members of the United States Attorney's office? How did all of this impact his investigations, including prosecutorial decisions?"

Here's the Christie camp response, from spokesperson Maria Comella.

"Mr. Rove's testimony confirms what we've known all along, that Chris' appointment as U.S. Attorney was based on his qualifications and his subsequent performance as U.S. Attorney was based on the facts of each case, not on politics.  Furthermore, since even before the 2005 election there has been great speculation about whether Chris would ultimately run for some form of elected office.  As such, it is not surprising that as the Bush Administration was winding down, Mr. Rove inquired about Chris' future plans once his term as U.S. Attorney would come to an end.  In this informal conversation, Chris discussed with Mr. Rove the fact he was being urged to run for elected office and Mr. Rove in turn offered to recommend people who could help Chris reach a decision if he eventually seriously considered running for office."

Excerpts from the Rove interview are after the jump.

Here's the telling exchange:

Q: Did you or anyone at OPA have any communications with Mr. Christie or his office after he started as U.S. Attorney?

ROVE: I talked to him twice in the last couple of years, perhaps one time while I was at the White House and once or twice since I left the White House, but -- not regarding his duties as U.S. Attorney, but regarding his interest in running for Governor, and he asked me questions about who -- who were good people that knew about running for Governor that he could talk to.

Q: And I won't ask you about those conversations. But again, just so we are clear, what you are testifying here is that none of those conversations with Mr. Christie had anything to do with any of his duties as U.S. Attorney; is that correct?

A Correct. He may have said, I am really enjoying the job and, you know, I have got a whole bunch of cases that I am prosecuting and, boy, maybe you have been reading about me. But no; about the sum and substance of it, no.

There's also talk of an investigation Christie launched of newly-appointed Sen. Bob Menendez in 2006, when he was planning to run for a full term. But Rove denies any coordination with the White House in launching the investigation.

Q: Did you have any communications with anyone about the investigation of Senator Menendez?

ROVE: I may have talked with people in the Office of Political Affairs if the President was going to New Jersey, but I can't recall whether he was going to New Jersey on official or political business. I doubt that he went there on political business.

Q: Do you recall any of those discussions or communications?

ROVE: They would have concerned what was available in the public record.

Q: Did you or anyone at OPA have any communications with Mr. Christie or anyone at DOJ about the investigation of Senator Menendez?



Q: Now certainly the timing of that investigation and that leak about Senator Menendez was favorable to Republicans in the election, wasn't it?

ROVE: I would suspect so. Again, I don't know enough about New Jersey politics and how widely it was covered to make a comment.

Obama Honors Justice Sotomayor

The East Room was filled to capacity this morning as President Obama took a victory lap with his first Supreme Court choice, celebrating what he said was "an extraordinary moment for our nation."

"We celebrate the impact Justice Sotomayor has already had on people across America who have been inspired by her exceptional life story," he said. "And we celebrate how, with their overwhelming vote to confirm Justice Sotomayor, the United States Senate -- Republicans and Democrats -- tore down yet one more barrier and affirmed our belief that in America, the doors of opportunity must be open to all."


Justice Sotomayor, in very personal remarks, said she was "deeply humbled by the sacred responsibility" she now has, and asked Americans to "wish me divine guidance and wisdom in administering my new office." She also spoke of her background, the source of such debate during the confirmation process.

"I am most grateful to this country," she said, adding that her confirmation "would never have been possible without the opportunities presented to me by this nation."

She drew an extended standing ovation as she invoked the Constitution, saying it "draws together people of all races, faiths, and backgrounds from all across this country who carry its words and values in our heart. It is this nation's faith in a more perfect union that allows a Puerto Rican girl from the Bronx to stand here now."

The room was full of family and friends, as well as members of Congress who supported her nomination and home-state officials like Gov. David Paterson. Also on hand, two of the justices who may be next to step down from the Supreme Court: John Paul Stevens and Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

VA Gov Poll: McDonnell +8

A new poll in the race for Virginia governor finds Republican Bob McDonnell leading by 8 points. The Rasmussen survey (Aug. 10, 500 LV, MoE +/- 4.5%) is the latest in a string of polling victories for McDonnell.

He last trailed Democrat Creigh Deeds in a mid-June Rasmussen poll, taken one day after the Democratic primary. The previous Rasmussen poll, conducted in mid-July, found McDonnell up 3 points.

McDonnell 49 (+5 vs. last poll, July 14)
Deeds 41 (nc)

McDonnell leads by 11.2 points in the RCP Average.

Strategy Memo: Town Halls Galore

Today, President Obama celebrates one of the big victories of his administration, the quick confirmation of his Supreme Court choice, Sonia Sotomayor. Later he'll award the Medal of Freedom. One of the honorees is Sen. Ted Kennedy, whose sister, herself a recipient of the medal, passed away yesterday.

Obama survived one rather mild town hall meeting; there's now two more scheduled. The first this Friday will be in Bozeman, Montana.

There are dozens more scheduled today hosted by members of Congress, who remain on recess until the second week of September -- when both chambers will continue the health care debate back on Capitol Hill.

**President Obama
*Gallup: With 43% approval, "Americans rate President Barack Obama's handling of healthcare policy essentially the same as they did roughly three weeks ago, remaining slightly more likely to disapprove than approve. The update comes after several weeks of Congress' working to advance legislation through committees and the Obama administration's stepping up efforts to win public support."

*David Axelrod traveled with the president yesterday and talked about Obama's view of the town halls. "Most Americans are interested and concerned about this issue and are listening intently," he told the Washington Post. "There are people on all sides of the debate who are a little over the edge. They tend to be the best TV."

*Charlie Arlinghaus writes in the Union Leader that it's no coincidence Obama spoke in New Hampshire, and not Maine or Massachusetts where they've experimented with health reform on a state level. "Both of those plans went into effect, and neither has proved effective, which makes it odd that Congress and the President wish to develop a plan by copying the broad outlines of the 'Massachusetts model.'

*AP: "A group usually seen as one of Barack Obama's allies in the health care debate -- AARP -- says the president went too far Tuesday when he said the seniors lobby had endorsed the legislation pending in Congress."

*Speaking of third party groups, AP also reports that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce "will begin airing 30-second ads in about 20 states Wednesday criticizing the Democratic proposal to offer optional government health coverage."

*"Many presidents have directed policy from on high, shunning the details of most issues. Mr. Obama has adopted a different style, particularly when it comes to economics, as he and his team wrestle with the worst financial crisis the nation has faced since the Depression," Wall Street Journal reports. "Whatever the merits or flaws of Mr. Obama's style, it sometimes has trouble translating with opponents, and the country at large. Following a smooth first few months in office, he has seen his agenda stall amid rising opposition, even from some members of his own party."

**Health Care
*Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Pa.) "brought along some United States Capitol Hill Police officers as he traveled to two town halls on Tuesday," CNN reports.

*Specter, speaking to reporters following a rowdy town hall event yesterday in Lebanon, Pa.: "The objectors have gotten ahead of the curve, and a rumor is a lot harder to dispel," Specter said. "The old saying is, 'It's harder to build a house than it is to knock out a house.' So it's a struggle."

On CBS this morning, Specter said: "I'm not going to complain about the fact that they are organized. They have a right to do that and they have a right to speak. But I think we ought to understand that they're not necessarily representative of America ... I think there is a mood in America of anger. With so many people unemployed and so much bickering in Washington, people are disgusted with the partisanship and with the fear of losing their health care, it all boils over."

*Sen. Claire McCaskill's (D-Mo.) event yesterday went slightly better, reports the St. Louis Post-Dispatch: "After several rounds of initial boos and more than a few interruptions, the crowd seemed to warm to McCaskill's mix of frank talk and tough love. In the end, McCaskill presided over the two-hour forum mostly without incident -- there was one arrest -- and left to collegial applause. Her measured success offers a blueprint to fellow Democrats around the U.S. who, during Congress' summer break, are facing tough questions about health care in their home districts. If nothing else, McCaskill fared far better than U.S. Rep. Russ Carnahan, D-St. Louis, whose combative event last week ended with six arrests."

*The Hill has talking points from Democrats on talking reform. "The document suggests senators take a strong stand on the effort of reform on private insurance, stating that mergers in the industry have led to 'near-monopolies' in the insurance industry, 'with 94 percent of insurance markets highly concentrated' as profits and CEO salaries have soared. The talking points also emphasize repeatedly that health reform 'will be fully paid for,' and that 'the cost of inaction is clear.'"

*Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) "has ordered up a dose of his own campaign-style television advertising in response to attacks by advocacy groups pushing him to back the creation of a new government health insurance plan," the Omaha World-Herald reports. "The 30-second ad will run statewide over the next couple of weeks, funded by Nelson campaign money, said the senator's spokesman Jim Fagin." Here's the ad.

*"Democrats have a senior citizen problem. Frustrated older Americans are packing the town halls on health care. They are incredibly passionate about their Medicare benefits. Polls show senior citizens largely disapprove of health care reform ideas so far. And of course, they vote -- in larger numbers than any other demographic," Politico reports.

*"House Democrats have been talking tough about continuing to hold town halls in the face of disruptive protesters. But many are quietly tweaking their events to minimize the influence of the angry participants," Roll Call reports.

**More Congressional Recess News
*NYT: "Senator Christopher J. Dodd, who revealed he had early stage prostate cancer late last month, underwent successful surgery in New York on Tuesday, his office announced in a statement."

*"Proponents of D.C. voting rights are trying to squeeze in their own agenda amid the recess racket over health care reform, initiating ad campaigns and targeting the districts of several Members," Roll Call reports. "Their goal: convince the Members to drop their efforts to insert a poison pill amendment into the D.C. House Voting Rights Act."

**Campaign Stuff
*Don't look now. "Politico has learned Santorum will visit first-in-the-nation Iowa this fall for a series of appearances before the sort of conservative activists who dominate the state GOP's key presidential caucuses."

*The Concord Monitor covers Kelly Ayotte's first event as a potential Senate candidate, where she presented herself as a law and order Republican. Talking to reporters, Ayotte "said she is pro-life. She later clarified that she would support abortion in limited cases, such as rape, incest or medical emergency. Ayotte said she is against same-sex marriage and believes marriage is between a man and a woman." Asked whether she would have voted to confirm Sonia Sotomayor, "Ayotte responded that although there are areas where she disagrees with Sotomayor, the U.S. Senate must look at a person's qualifications. 'I think I would have approved her,' Ayotte said."

*The Palm Beach Post reports that the Palm Beach County GOP is considering a resolution to censure Gov. Charle Crist (R) tonight "for bucking the GOP on a variety of matters." He's already been censured by the Volusia County GOP and lost straw polls of GOP committee members in Highlands, Pasco and Lee counties to Marco Rubio.

Meanwhile, the St. Pete Times reports, "Crist and his campaign staff have been calling Republican party chiefs throughout the state to figure out why some conservatives are fed up with him, how to defend his decisions, and how to turn on the charm."

*Former Iowa state Sen. Tom Fiegen will join the list of Democrats hoping to challenge Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Ia.) in 2010, the Cedar Rapids Gazette reports. "Fiegen believes a second federal stimulus package may be needed and says it's time for the federal government to re-commit to full employment. He's distressed at Grassley's apparent lack of concern with the unemployment rate, which is approaching 10 percent."

*Politico's Josh Kraushaar reports that a top challenger has emerged to Rep. Tim Bishop (D-N.Y.) "Businessman Randy Altschuler announced today that he's challenging the four-term congressman, who represents eastern Long Island in the House."

*Utah has a new governor. Gary Herbert was sworn in yesterday, replacing the new Ambassador to China, Jon Hunstman. Salt Lake Tribune has the details.

*VA Gov: Bob McDonnell (R) leads Creigh Deeds (D) by 8 points in a new Rasmussen poll, which also found Obama's approval rating in the state sub-50%. He now holds an 11.2-point lead in the RCP Average.

Oh, and Deeds got a speeding ticket on July 4 while campaigning, the Washington Times reports.

--Kyle Trygstad and Mike Memoli

Winning The Message War?

Just where does the White House think it stands in the message war on health care today? Press secretary Robert Gibbs was asked about messaging problems several times during a gaggle on Air Force One en route to Portsmouth today. Here's one of his answers.

I think we are continually trying to let people know what this means to them.


Is there a constant struggle because you guys would rather cover Sarah Palin saying something that Johnny Isakson says is nuts? Sure, there's always a struggle in that. But for 40 years this has been tough going because there are a group of people -- we hear them, we seem them now -- that are for the same status quo; they're for the special interests that are making billions and billions and trillions of dollars on a system that works well for them, but not for millions and millions of Americans -- they want to keep that.

Our challenge each and every day is to go out and make sure people understand that doing nothing costs the American people more in health care -- more in health care spending; it makes our budgetary problems worse; it causes people to lose their coverage and lose their doctor. And we can change all that.

But really, you can sense how much President Obama is playing defense just by listening to his comments at the town hall itself. Even before a friendly audience, he was offering, sometimes preemptively, clarifications of his positions. Consider these phrases, just a quick selection from the transcript:

"Let me just start by setting the record straight on a few things I've been hearing out here ...
"Let me just be specific about some things that I've been hearing lately that we just need to dispose of here ...
"The rumor that's been circulating a lot lately ...
"Well, first of all, another myth that we've been hearing about is this notion that somehow ...
"I don't want anybody saying somehow that I'm pulling the bait- and-switch here ...
"Can I just say this is another example of how the media ends up just completing distorting what's taken place ...

NV SEN: Another Potential Reid Challenger Passes

The Washington Post's Chris Cillizza reports today that Rep. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) has decided against running for the U.S. Senate against the Majority Leader, Harry Reid.

Heller, who was elected to the vast 2nd district in 2006, called National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Cornyn (Texas) earlier today to pass on his decision.

Heller turned down the race despite internal Republican polling -- conducted by the Tarrance Group -- that showed him leading Reid by nine points. Many Republicans believe that Heller would have made the race had it not been for the political implosion of Nevada Sen. John Ensign (R).

What would have made Heller a particularly appealing candidate is that, as a former secretary of state, he has won statewide elections already. While Ensign says he plans to run in 2012, however, it seems he may be making other Republicans think twice about running sooner.

The RCP Blog has another poll that shows Reid could be vulnerable in his re-election bid, trailing to Nevada Republican Party chairwoman Sue Lowden. She has not entered the race, however.

Before Friendly Crowd, Obama Urges Civility

President Obama just wrapped up a town hall in Portsmouth, N.H., on his health care plan. It seems that the president found a pretty friendly crowd, and despite his exhortations for tough questions from skeptical citizens, handled mostly softballs.

As he finished his opening remarks, Obama addressed the rowdy scenes across the country by praising the "vigorous debate" but calling for greater civility in that discussion.

"That's what America's about, is we have a vigorous debate. That's why we have a democracy," he said. "But i do hope that we will talk with each other and not over each other. Because one of the objectives of democracy and debate is that we start refining our own views because maybe other people have different perspectives, things we didn't think of. Where we do disagree, let's disagree over things that are real -- not these wild misrepresentations that bear no resemblance to anything that's actually been proposed."

The statement was met by huge applause from the high school crowd. Later, a campaign "Yes we can!" chant. "I remember that," he said.

Launching into a Q-and-A, the president appealed for tough questions. "If i hear only from people who agree with me, I'm going to actively ask some folks who are concerned about health care, give them a chance to ask their questions." When he wasn't facing any, he openly admitted concern that viewers will think the town hall was full of "plants."

Based on some of the Twitter reaction, it seems many conservatives think that's just what happened.

FL SEN: Jeb Out, Crist Promises Transparent Process

Florida Gov. Charlie Crist has a few weeks to make a decision on who should replace Sen. Mel Martinez (R) in the U.S. Senate. There's a long list of potential choices, but as of today it does not include former Gov. Jeb Bush. From a statement today to the Miami Herald:

"As Governor Bush indicated earlier this year when he decided against a run for the U.S. Senate, now is not the right time for him to return to public office. In response to your question, Governor Bush is not interested in serving out the remainder of Senator Martinez's term," says spokeswoman Kristy Campbell.

Crist spoke to reporters this morning about his decision-making process. Here's the St. Pete Times' writeup:

Crist said he has not decided on an appointment. But he vowed to take great care and deliberation. Names are already emerging, with the consensus being he'll appoint a known, trusted person who has no desire to hold the seat for more than the duration of Martinez's final term.

"It's an important decision, and I want to make sure it's transparent," said Crist, who faces former House Speaker Marco Rubio in the Republican primary for the seat and is expected to face off against Democrat Kendrick Meek in the 2010 general election.

"I want to make sure the people interviewed are people of integrity and character," Crist said, adding that he is "not sure" if he will do all the interviews himself.

Previewing Obama's Health Care Message

President Obama will be introduced in New Hampshire today by a woman who, the White House explains, was "discriminated" against when she tried to purchase health care because of a pre-existing medical condition. At the White House's blog, there's more on this new talking point.

12.6 million people.

That's how many non-elderly adults (36% of those who tried to purchase health insurance in the individual insurance market) were discriminated against because of a pre-existing condition in the past three years. You can read more alarming facts about the number of Americans being denied coverage at

The status quo that allows for discrimination based on pre-existing conditions has real consequences: millions of Americans do not have access to adequate health care. We've all heard the horror stories about people behind denied the care they need because of pre-existing conditions, which is why the President recently unveiled the Health Insurance Consumer Protections. These protections show how health insurance reform will provide security for you and your family, and guarantee you will never be denied coverage because of a pre-existing condition.

You've probably heard the rumors out there that the health reform will lead to "rationing" of care, or will cut funding for our seniors. These stories simply aren't true.

You can read more here.

Strategy Memo: Seacoast Showdown?

President Obama is back on the road today selling health care. After morning meetings at the White House, Air Force One will take him to Portsmouth, N.H., where he holds a town hall meeting at 1 pm today. He returns to the White House after for a meeting with Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.

The Senate and House remains out of session, as most members of Congress stay in their districts and states holding their own town hall meetings.

And we now have a set field in the race to replace Rep. John McHugh in New York's 23rd Congressional District. After their top recruit passed, Democrats chose Bill Owens to face Dede Scozzafava in the special election. No date has yet been set.

**Health Care
*Bloomberg previews the town hall: "President Barack Obama will defend his efforts to overhaul the U.S. health-care system at a town hall in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, today after a series of protests met his fellow Democrats in recent days." AP adds that the president "is retooling his message on his health care overhaul, aiming to win over Americans who already have insurance."

*We noted yesterday the White House's dialing back some of its strong rhetoric on the "manufactured" town hall outrage. NBC's Chuck Todd this morning said to expect the president himself to talk about the passion at town halls. "The White House realizes he's got to use the bully pulpit to simmer things down a little," he said on "Morning Joe."

*USA Today with a new health care poll. "Public opinion on the issue is complex in ways that defy an easy Republican-Democratic divide. Analysis of a recent USA TODAY/Gallup Poll finds views on what priority to emphasize, how fast to act and what's important to protect vary and sometimes conflict depending on a person's age and region of the country, whether he or she has insurance, and is healthy or ailing."

*Washington Times: "The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights says some little-noticed provisions in the House health care bill are racially discriminatory, and it intends to ask President Obama and Congress to rewrite sections that factor in race when awarding billions in contracts, scholarships and grants. The commission also fears the programs, which are designed to improve health care in underserved areas, will not be effective."

**President Obama
*In Mexico yesterday, Obama "reiterated his commitment to pursuing comprehensive immigration reform, despite his packed political agenda and the staunch opposition such an initiative is likely to face." He also predicted that he would be successful but acknowledged the challenges, saying, "I've got a lot on my plate," the Times notes.

*Obama commented this morning on the passing of Eunice Kennedy Shriver.

*CNN has the video and the explanation of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's sharp exchange with an African student in the Congo yesterday. State Dept. spokesperson P.J. Crowley: "If Africa, if Congo is going to advance, women have to play a more significant role. She was in the setting of a town hall, and the questioner was interested in what two men thought, not the Secretary of State."

*Meanwhile, Bill Clinton celebrated his birthday in Vegas!

*The Wall Street Journal keeps up with the jets scandal, reporting that Congress is likely caving to pressure on the purchase of top aircraft for members' use. "If the Department of Defense does not want these aircraft, they will be eliminated from the bill," said Rep. John Murtha (D., Pa.), the chairman of the House panel that sought the aircraft order. Now, "the House will seek only $220 million to purchase one Gulfstream plane and three Boeing Co. aircraft, which was the original request by Department of Defense officials."

*An interesting strategy. "Several House Republicans have used Twitter to promote their August activities, keeping a national audience informed of their once-obscure local recess events," The Hill reports.

**Campaign Stuff
*The latest New Jersey governor poll from Quinnipiac has Chris Christie up 51-42, a slight improvement for Gov. Jon Corzine.

*The Fix notes how Republicans are going right after the Democratic base in the Garden State. The RGA is running an environmental-themed ad in the state, on the heels of criticism of Corzine's record from the Sierra Club. Also, the RGA will also sponsor radio ads targeted at New Jersey's Hispanic population.

*Over in Virginia, the Washington Post reports on Creigh Deeds' push on abortion. "Deeds's message could energize a Democratic base that has been showing signs of sluggishness since last year's overwhelming victory in the presidential election. It could also chip away at McDonnell's campaign promises that he would focus on education, jobs and transportation if elected governor."

*A SurveyUSA poll of likely Republican Kansas primary voters puts Rep. Jerry Moran ahead of Rep. Todd Tiahrt in the 2010 Senate race, 38-32 with 30 percent undecided.

*Republican Senate candidate Kelly Ayotte "will make a key public appearance in Wolfeboro tonight to outline her political stance. But her budding campaign ... is shadowed by a growing controversy over complaints of national interference in state Republican politics,"The Union Leader reports.

*Lynn Sweet reports that Vice President Biden will raise money for Rep. Debbie Halvorson (D-Ill.). The VP "is going to fund-raise for the House members the Democratic House political operation deem the most vunerable."

*Sarah Palin's father and father-in-law will campaign for a Republican Congressional candidate in Idaho, Vaughn Ward.

*In the NY-23 special election, Democrats have chosen attorney and Air Force veteran Bill Owens as their candidate, The Hill reports. Party leaders "portrayed Owens as a public servant who has created jobs in New York. He will face Republican Assemblywoman Dede Scozzafava, who was chosen last month as the GOP's standard-bearer for the seat."

Obama Mourns Eunice Shriver

The White House released this statement from President Obama on the passing of Eunice Shriver, sister of former President John F. Kennedy and founder of the Special Olympics.

Michelle and I were deeply saddened to learn about the passing of Eunice Kennedy Shriver. Eunice was many things to many people: a mother who inspired her children to serve others; a wife who supported her husband Sargent in the Peace Corps and in politics; and a sister to her siblings, including brothers John, Robert, and Edward. But above all, she will be remembered as the founder of the Special Olympics, as a champion for people with intellectual disabilities, and as an extraordinary woman who, as much as anyone, taught our nation - and our world - that no physical or mental barrier can restrain the power of the human spirit. Her leadership greatly enriched the lives of Special Olympians throughout the world, who have experienced the pride and joy of competition and achievement thanks to her vision. Our thoughts and prayers are with Sargent; their children Robert, Maria, Timothy, Mark, and Anthony; and the entire Kennedy family.

White House Softens Tone On Health Care Town Halls

President Obama heads tomorrow to a state that values its town hall meetings as much as any -- New Hampshire. And leading up to to the Portsmouth event, the White House seems to be dialing back somewhat its attack on the "manufactured" outrage taking place around the country.

Deputy Press Secretary Bill Burton, filling in for Robert Gibbs on Air Force One today, echoed Obama's own words today in taking a more positive spin on the interest in these forums, in contrast to the new criticism from Speaker Pelosi and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer today.

"I think there's actually a pretty long tradition of people shouting at politicians in America," Gibbs said when asked about their op-ed. "The President thinks that if people want to come and have a spirited debate about health care, a real vigorous conversation about it, that's a part of the American tradition and he encourages that."

He did draw the line at truly disruptive behavior, saying the president "doesn't think that that's productive." As for the motivations of those who come, Burton again stepped back somewhat from comments last week in which Gibbs directly targeted conservative groups who were driving people to events.

"I think less important than the motivations or the organizations or who's putting it together is that there's a lot of energy out there on this issue, on either side," Burton said today. "The President views his role as getting health care reform done for the American people and in order to do that, that means going out there and being prepared to have a robust and vigorous discussion."

For the presidential town hall, 1,800 are expected and tickets were distributed through the offices of the local officials and some outside groups, Burton said. Obama's message will again meld the economy and health care.

Would Gubernatorial Wins Signal GOP Comeback?

If Bob McDonnell and Chris Christie win gubernatorial elections this fall, some Republicans will be eager to call it the first sign of a comeback for the party. One person who won't be, apparently, is Gov. Haley Barbour, chair of the Republican Governors Association.

Asked specifically about the contest in New Jersey on a conference call today, Barbour said: "Chris Christie is ahead in the polls in New Jersey because people in New Jersey don't like what Jon Corzine's done." It's the Democrats who are eager to nationalize the race, he added, while Republicans like him "think that race, and I hope that race, is decided very much on local and New Jersey issues."

It's not surprising in New Jersey, where Republicans have not won a statewide election since 1997. Christie is hardly calling attention to his partisan affiliation, something national party leaders praised. And even in a blue state, they don't think President Obama will make a difference.

"Barack Obama didn't get Jon Corzine's job approval down to 35 percent," Barbour said. "Christie's ahead in the polls in New Jersey because people in New Jersey look over the four years that Corzine has been governor, and they don't like the results."

This week, the RGA hosted 29 candidates who will be running in 2010 races around the country, as well as nine incumbents. These governors are being encouraged to, like Christie, shape their message not on any national message but based on what are the top concerns in their states.

"I think the Republicans are going to do surprisingly well in 2010 based on the caliber of the people we've been talking with," said Hawaii Gov. Linda Lingle, herself a Republican governor in a deep blue state.

UPDATE: Check out DGA Executive Director Nate Daschle's response after the jump.

Governor Barbour's right - this race will be decided on local issues. Local issues like Chris Christie giving multi-million dollar no bid contracts to his friends and political allies, or his failure to lead when it comes to budget issues, or his right-wing views on guns and choice that are just too far out of the mainstream for New Jersey.

Governor Corzine has made tough decisions during a national recession that will put New Jersey on the path to recovery as our economy rebounds. But it's strange that Barbour would take that position - national Republicans have defined New Jersey as a must-win for themselves. After three straight election cycles of big gubernatorial and national losses, they're calling it the start of their hoped-for comeback.

Barbour Criticizes Obama's Health Care Haste

Leading Republican governors seemed to downplay the statements from Sarah Palin while embracing to an extent the passion of town hall participants who have been vocal in their opposition to health care reform.

Gov. Haley Barbour (R-Miss.), chair of the Republican Governors Association, told reporters this afternoon that one reason people are reacting so strongly around the country is because they think the White House is moving far too quickly on an issue of tremendous concern.

"The Obamas took six months to pick a dog. How come they [had] to pass a health care bill before the August recess?" he said. "Everything has been, 'We gotta do it right now.' The American people realize this is too much, too far, too fast, too many trillions of dollars."

Gov. Sonny Perdue (R-Ga.) took a swipe at Democratic leaders for diminishing the voice of ordinary Americans, saying the town hall meetings are "democracy in action."

"For some Democratic members of Congress to call that anti-democratic is just ludicrous," he said, no doubt referring to the op-ed today from Speaker Pelosi and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer. "They want to blame things on Astroturf, [but] these are citizens that are very concerned, very fearful for their jobs, and their family, and their future health needs."

Perdue sidestepped a question about former Gov. Sarah Palin's comments on Facebook this weekend calling President Obama's health care plan "evil," saying she "can speak for herself." Barbour, who said he hadn't heard Palin's comments, said, "Every governor's got his or her own view."

"But there's a broad if not unanimous view that's nonpartisan from governors that we do not want and cannot bear an unfunded mandate being placed on us," he said, citing a potential expansion in Medicaid spending.

Barbour also praised the role of Republicans in Congress during the debate, countering Democratic complaints that they have not offered their own solutions in part by targeting the media.

"I recognize that the press is not going to give much coverage to the Republican plans," he said. "But I think there has been enough activity by members that anybody who pays attention knows that Republicans in Washington and Congress are saying, 'Here's some things we ought to do.'"

Obama Calls "Vigorous" Health Care Debate "A Healthy Thing"

It was a Canadian reporter, believe it or not, who injected the debate over health care in the United States into a press conference following the trilateral summit of North American leaders today.

The reason? The fact that the Canadian system has been used as a "political football" in that domestic debate, as the reporter described it. And as the White House launches an offensive to counter what they say has been a flood of misinformation about the Democratic health care plan, President Obama offered a measured tone.

"We are having a vigorous debate in the United States, and I think that's a healthy thing," he said in Guadalajara today, while also praising the progress that's been made. He later added: "I suspect that once we get into the fall and people look at the actual legislation that's being proposed, that more sensible and reasoned arguments will emerge. And we're going to get this passed.

He said that the Canadian model "would not work for the United States" because of how the two nations' systems have evolved -- with the U.S. having an employer based system. "We've got to develop a uniquely American approach to this problem," he said.

He jokingly criticized those who are making a "boogeyman" out of the system of our Northern neighbors.

"I suspect that you Canadians will continue to get dragged in by those who oppose reform, even though I've said nothing about Canadian health care," he said. "I don't find Canadians particularly scary."

Boehner Calls "Un-American" Attack "Outrageous"

The ongoing debate over the tenor of the town hall meetings continues.

House Minority Leader John Boehner is now reacting to the USA Today op-ed this morning from Speaker Pelosi and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer. The Democratic leaders criticized the vocal opposition who are disrupting town hall meetings, saying their effort to drown out "opposing views is simply un-American."

In a statement, Boehner accuses the Democratic leaders themselves of working "to silence any opposing views." "Every poll taken in the last month shows that a majority of Americans are concerned about, if not outright opposed to, the Democrats' plan because of the cost and consequences it would mean for their own health care," the Ohioan says. "Each public forum should give every participant the opportunity to express their views, but to label Americans who are expressing vocal opposition to the Democrats' plan 'un-American' is outrageous and reprehensible."

The statement concludes that when Congress returns from recess, "Democrats should scrap their costly plan and finally work on bipartisan reforms that give Americans what they are seeking: better access to affordable care."

Strategy Memo: The Heat Is On

After a pretty mild summer, we're in for the real dog days of Washington in August. It comes as the health care fight has moved -- for the most part -- outside of the Beltway and into Congressional districts across the country. We can expect a steady stream of reports from the town hall meetings and other forums that Congressmen and senators are hosting -- especially the rowdy ones.

President Obama starts off his week in Mexico, however, focusing on regional concerns in a meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Harper and Mexican President Calderon. They hold a trilateral meeting this morning and then a joint press conference. Obama returns to Washington from Guadalajara tonight.

Looking ahead, he'll host a town hall meeting in New Hampshire on Tuesday. On Wednesday he'll honor new Justice Sonia Sotomayor at the White House, and host the Medal of Freedom ceremony. Friday he and the first family start a long weekend vacation in Montana, with stops also coming in Yellowstone National Park and the Grand Canyon.

Check out the Sunday Show highlights at RCP's Video page.

**Health Care
*The Obama administration has launched a new "Reality Check" offensive on health care "rumors." From the White House blog: "As more people become engaged in the issue, defenders of the status quo have responded by muddying the waters with more wild rumors and scare tactics. It's time for a reality check. Today the White House is rolling out a new website that focuses on what reform really means for you and your family, debunks some common myths along the way and provides you with online tools and content to share the facts with friends, family and anyone else in your social network."

*Politico explains what came in our inbox this weekend. "Organizing for America, President Obama's political organization, is urging supporters to visit the district offices of their local member of Congress to urge support for healthcare reform -- another move by Democrats to counter the loud opposition being voiced by conservatives at town halls."

*The Times' John Harwood: "Spontaneous or contrived, the shouting, shoving and other shenanigans at lawmakers' town-hall-style meetings point to one probable outcome: the demise of bipartisan health care negotiations. ... The rowdy start of the August Congressional recess has galvanized activists on both ends of the ideological spectrum. That makes it tougher for negotiators to stake out a middle ground -- especially in conservative locales that Democratic centrists call home."

*Speaker Pelosi and Majority Leader Hoyer write an op-ed in USA Today calling attacks on health care reform "un-American."

*The Washington Post follows the leader of the Blue Dogs, Rep. Baron Hill (D-Ind.), back to his district -- where he's "a target of groups that want to steer the August conversation and the autumn vote." More: "So many people are calling and writing Hill that the telephone lines in his Bloomington office are often jammed. The phone traffic to his Capitol Hill office is so heavy that one staffer sends an e-mail when he needs to reach colleagues there. On Wednesday, Hill's office mailed 8,400 responses to voters. One thing Hill is not doing is holding public town-hall meetings like those at which opponents have heckled members of Congress. He held at least six unannounced meetings with constituents last week and is mulling a day-long series of one-on-one meetings or a telephone conference call."

*Gingrich vs. Dean, on Sarah Palin's claim about Obama's "evil" health care plan. Gingrich told ABC: "Communal standards historically is a very dangerous concept. You are asking us to trust turning power over to the government, when there are clearly people in American who believe in establishing euthanasia, including selective standards."

Howard Dean: "About euthanasia, they're just totally erroneous. She just made that up," he said. "Just like the 'Bridge to Nowhere' that she supposedly didn't support."

**President Obama
*Some great state-by-state polling data from Gallup. His approval rating "was above 50% in all but two states, Wyoming and Alaska. His highest approval ratings were in the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Vermont, Maryland, and Massachusetts."

*AP on the Mexico summit: "President Barack Obama pressed for a new tone in the United States' relationship with Mexico but found no immediate progress Sunday on the divisions between him and Mexican President Felipe Calderon over the pace of U.S. drug-fighting aid and a ban on Mexican trucks north of the border."

*Dan Balz: "President Obama once looked to the August congressional recess as the moment to gain a decisive advantage in the fight to overhaul the nation's health-care system. Instead, he needs to use the month to rebalance his presidency."

*Obama can expect big protests in New Hampshire tomorrow, NBC reports.

*"The resurrection of the guaranteed bonus is sure to become a hot-button issue for the Obama administration's pay czar, Kenneth Feinberg, who is preparing this week to review how compensation should be structured at seven companies that received two or more federal bailouts," the New York Times reports.

*"Bipartisan opposition is emerging in the Senate to a plan by House lawmakers to spend $550 million for additional passenger jets for senior government officials, the Wall Street Journal reports. "The plan to upgrade the fleet of government jets, which was included in a broader defense-funding bill, has also sparked criticism from the Pentagon, which has said it doesn't need half of the new jets. 'The whole thing kind of makes me sick to my stomach,' said Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.)."

**Campaign Stuff
*The Star Tribune looks at Tim Pawlenty's early moves toward 2012, including his small staff. "For now, they're satisfied to position Minnesota's governor as a lower-key, fresh-faced alternative to Big Names who failed so spectacularly in 2008 -- a candidate, as it were, without baggage."

*Finally, a challenger for Sen. Harry Reid (D) in Nevada, and it's a big name if not a political veteran. Per the Las Vegas Sun, it's Danny Tarkanian, "a one-time UNLV basketball player and son of the Rebels' legendary longtime coach Jerry Tarkanian. ... Tarkanian, who runs a real estate business and a basketball camp, is a two-time electoral loser. He was beaten in a state Senate race and, most recently, in a race for Secretary of State in 2006 to Ross Miller.

*Here's the Orlando Sentinel wrap on Friday's biggest political story, the resignation of Sen. Mel Martinez and Gov. Charlie Crist's announcement that he won't appoint himself.

*How bout Jeb Bush for senator? Michael Barone: "He could bring to the Senate the perspective of a seasoned governor and an innovative reformer. True, he has shown no interest in holding public office any time soon and is reportedly involved in repairing his family finances. It might be a considerable sacrifice for him to serve. But that also means that there's zero chance he will run for the seat in 2010."

*PA2010 watched Sen. Arlen Specter on CNN talk re-election. "I don't want to get involved in brickbats, and I'd rather talk about the issues, but if Congressman Sestak wants to go negative, I'm prepared to battle him toe to toe," Specter said.

*A North Dakota columnist talked to Gov. John Hoeven about a possible Senate race. "He talked frankly about the challenges of a campaign against U.S. Sen. Byron Dorgan, mentioning the probability that the race would be the most expensive in North Dakota history, and probably the costliest per capita of any U.S. Senate race next year. He worried aloud about losing control of the campaign to interest groups whose agendas might not be the same as his. He outlined what sounded like a campaign theme, that he can help the United States be more competitive in the world economy, just as he's helped North Dakota become more successful economically. On balance, he sounded genuinely undecided, intrigued but reluctant at the same time."

*Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman gets huge numbers as he prepares to step down to become ambassador to China. "An impressive 86 percent of Utahns approve of the job Huntsman, a Republican, is doing as governor, found a new survey conducted for the Deseret News and KSL-TV. And if Huntsman ever wants to run for another office in this state he has a leg up on any competition -- two-thirds say they would vote for him again, the new poll by Dan Jones & Associates shows."

*From Friday, a big development in the New York Senate race. AP writes: "In less than seven months, Gillibrand went from vulnerable and criticized to a prohibitive favorite. A primary election fight is the biggest threat to Gillibrand in a state where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans 2-to-1. No Republican has emerged as a general election opponent."

*Cillizza on another Friday bonus for a Democratic senator: "The simple fact for Dodd is that any finding of wrongdoing by the Ethics committee would almost certainly have doomed what is already a very difficult reelection bid. In that broadest sense then, Dodd dodged a major bullet."

*Politico reports on a poll from California Lt. Gov. John Garamendi that shows him leading the field to replace Rep. Ellen Tauscher (D).

**Sports Alert:: SWEEEP! The Yankees magic number is now 46 to clinch the American League East after a four-game drubbing of the hated Red Sox.

Strategy Memo: Unemployment Stays Under 10%

Happy Friday, Washington. Here's the breaking unemployment numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics: "Nonfarm payroll employment continued to decline in July (-247,000), and the unemployment rate was little changed at 9.4 percent."

Today is the 200th day of the Obama administration. After his morning briefings, he'll speak about the economy at Fort Myer. He also meets with Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) back at the White House. Looking ahead to the weekend, Obama leaves on Sunday for the North American Leaders Summit in Guadalajara, Mexico.

After confirming Sonia Sotomayor and passing the cash-for-clunkers extension, the Senate gets ready to join the House in their recess. They'll convene briefly this morning. Speaking of Sotomayor, she'll be sworn in as the nation's 111th Supreme Court justice in a private ceremony tomorrow at the court. Chief Justice John Roberts will administer two oaths, actually, and for the first time ever one of them will be done in front of television cameras. The White House likely will hold an event for her down the road, as well.

**Unemployment: The AP sees this as positive news. "Employers throttled back on layoffs in July, cutting just 247,000 jobs, the fewest in a year, and the unemployment rate dipped to 9.4 percent. It was a better than expected showing that offered a strong signal that the recession is finally ending. ... To be sure, the report still indicates that the jobs market is on shaky ground. But the new figures were better than many analysts were expecting and offered welcomed improvements to a part of the economy that has been clobbered by the recession."

**Health Care
*St. Pete Times blog says that reporters covering a town hall meeting last night ended up "covering total mayhem, as hundreds of protesters turned the event into a near riot."

*David Axelrod and deputy chief of staff Jim Messina met with Senate Democrats Thursday afternoon "to strategize over how to talk about healthcare during the August break," The Hill reports. "Axelrod told lawmakers to focus on reform of the health insurance industry when talking to constituents in their states," and also "to talk about Democratic healthcare reform plans in comparison to the status quo."

*The Wall Street Journal reports that Messina and Axelrod also vowed to stand up for Democrats politically. "If you get hit, we will punch back twice as hard," Messina told senators, according to two people in the room.

*Washington Post says the key question as Democrats head home to town hall meetings is this: "Even if one believes the public option is a good thing, should reformers stake everything on its inclusion?" "The hard reality is . . . that a public option does not have enough support in the Senate to pass," said Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.).

**Justice Sotomayor
*AP reports that Sonia Sotomayor will be sworn in tomorrow. "She'll be able to claim two firsts: first Hispanic justice and first high court member to have her oath-taking made available to TV cameras. She will repeat one oath as prescribed by the Constitution in a private ceremony at the high court. It will be open only to members of Sotomayor's family. Then, Roberts will administer a second oath, taken by judges, with the new justice's family and friends, and reporters present."

*The New York Daily News describes the scene as Sotomayor was confirmed to the High Court. "The departing appellate judge huddled with dozens of friends, judges and clerks in an eighth floor conference room at her Manhattan courthouse to watch the vote. Sotomayor clutched the hand of a clerk as she looked intently at a big screen TV as senators rattled off their yeas and nays. ... Clapping and cheering neighbors gave the newest Supreme Court justice a hero's welcome when she arrived at her West Village home last evening. Family and friends began flocking to her pad, carrying in flowers and food - and sporting 'Justice Sonia' buttons."

**President Obama
*The Globe: "Hopes for a bipartisan approach to solving the nation's ills, a goal President Obama made a core element of his 'change' election campaign pitch, have virtually evaporated as party-line feuding and harsh exchanges between political leaders overshadow their earlier efforts to work together. ... While Republicans were wary earlier this year of personally criticizing the popular president, they have been emboldened by Obama's drop in public opinion polls, slamming the 'Obamacare' package that has been crafted largely on the Hill and not in the White House."

*The Note asks: "Two hundred days into the Obama presidency, have the president's critics grown more passionate than his fans? We already know that they're louder and angrier. But if this means a genuine passion gap, then a troubled agenda might be set for a wilting summer."

*In an interview with Bloomberg, Obama ally Dick Durbin says the president will "own the pulpit" during the August congressional recess. "Most presidents can't wait for Congress to leave town," he said. "They own the pulpit" and can "really dominate the news."

*The Washington Times reports on yesterday's speech on the administration terrorism policy, focusing on the end of "war on terror." Reacting is Juan Zarate, a former deputy national security adviser for counterterrorism to Pres. Bush: "It's a straw man. The question is: How do you deal with the policy?"

*The Hill reports that while in the Middle East, House Minority Whip Eric Cantor criticized the administration's policy toward the region. "We're here to try and make things better; we are here because we are concerned," Cantor said. "We are concerned about what the White House has been signaling as of late in their desire to push through in terms of a Middle East peace plan."

*Another top Obama fundraiser wins a plum ambassadorial post: Alan Solomont off to Madrid, the Globe reports. "Solomont, a long-time Democratic money man, bundled at least $500,000 in contributions for Obama, and Solomont and his family gave nearly $230,000 themselves to candidates in the 2008 election cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics."

*The grade in CNN's public report card on the president: C+.

*Bloomberg reports on the 60-37 vote last night in the Senate on "an emergency measure giving $2 billion to the 'cash for clunkers' discount program, which lawmakers said was helping ailing automakers and the U.S. economy. ... Seven amendments, including one that would have imposed an income limit for participants and another to temporarily halt the program to clear a backlog of discount applications, were rejected before the final vote."

*More Countrywide scandal? Reuters: Rep. Edolphus Towns, "chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, obtained two loans from Countrywide, which was bought last year by Bank of America."

**Campaign Stuff
*Our report from last night's rally in Virginia, where Obama gave a sober assessment of Creigh Deeds' chances: "Let's be honest: This is going to be a tough race," he said. Despite a string of statewide victories for the party, including himself, he said Virginia is "still a purple state." "The key right now is making sure we fight through the doubt, fight through the cynicism," he said.

*The Hotline reports that leading up to the event, the Deeds camp "launched a decidedly Obama-like push for grassroots support. The 'Join Deeds' campaign, as the Deeds camp calls it, centers around "a steady stream of information about campaign activity through Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Flickr" as well as text messages, tools Obama used successfully to win VA twice in 2008." The campaign also launched ads targeted at Hispanic and African American demos.

*Adam Nagourney looks at the White House role in the '09 races. "The New Jersey and Virginia races for governor are the only big-ticket political contests for 2009. And fairly or not ... the contests are being held up as an early measure of how Mr. Obama is doing and a predictor of how Democrats might fare in next year's Congressional campaigns.

"Officials in both parties say that in the end, the races will be driven by local forces and concerns and note that historically, state midterm elections have proved to be poor prognosticators about future elections. Still, the confluence of these two races -- coming in the year after Mr. Obama's election and at a time when Democrats are trying to consolidate the gains they have made over the past two election cycles -- could prove the exception."

*Chris Cillizza looks at what the fallout would be if Republicans won both gubernatorial races this fall. Partisans on both sides have predictable statements, but this quote from Democratic pollster Fred Yang sounds right: "The real message it should send is that incumbents (of both parties) in 2010 will face a very unsettled and dissatisfied electorate."

*A potential big get for Democrats in South Carolina. The State reports that State Superintendent of Education Jim Rex will file paperwork with the State Ethics Commission that will allow him to raise money for the 2010 gubernatorial race. "I'm trying to keep both options open right now," said Rex, referring to the potential he'd also seek re-election.

*Politico reported on a poll of the Illinois Senate race showing state Treasurer Alexi Giannoulis with "a commanding lead over his two potential primary rivals." The poll, conducted by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner, shows Giannoulias winning 45 percent of the primary vote against businessman (and RFK son) Chris Kennedy and Chicago Urban League president Cheryle Jackson. In the three-way race, Kennedy tallies 17 percent of the vote, with Jackson at 13 percent.

*Mark Fernald dropped out of the NH-02 race, citing difficulty raising money, the Telegraph reports.

*Also in NH, former state Republican chairman Fergus Cullen writes in the Union Leader: "It's only a matter of time before some opportunistic New Hampshire politician sees the rise of the independent, like David Ortiz looks at a hanging curveball: a dangling invitation to swing for the center field fence. Running as an independent might hold special appeal for a Katrina Swett, Kelly Ayotte, John Lynch, Bruce Keough, Fred Bramante or a wildcard like Fred Tausch."

At Deeds Rally, Obama Knocks GOP Critics

McLEAN, Va. -- President Obama again used a campaign rally to lob some partisan firebombs in defense of his handling of the economy, challenging Republicans to quit complaining about a fiscal situation they helped create.


"I expect to be held responsible for these issues because I'm the president," he said. "But I don't want the folks who created the mess doing a lot of talking. I want them to just get out of the way so we can clean up the mess."

Preaching to the choir at a rally for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Creigh Deeds, he repeated: "I don't mind cleaning up after them, but don't do a lot of talking. Am I wrong, Virginia?"

Obama tied his discussion of fiscal policy to the "prudent" example of Democratic governors Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, saying Deeds would continue that.

"When I walked in, we had a $1.3 trillion deficit," Obama said within hours of the CBO announcing that the deficit had, in fact, reached $1.3 trillion. He claimed, actually, that "without my policies, we'd have an even higher deficit going forward," though he excepted the stimulus bill which he said "we had to do in order to get this economy moving again."

"You can't go out there and charge up the credit card, go on ... shopping sprees that didn't grow the economy, hand over the bill to us and say why haven't you paid it off yet. I got that bill from you!" he said.

The Deeds campaign estimated the crowd at the Hilton hotel here at 1,800, what might be the smallest crowd Obama has drawn for a political rally in a year. It was his first event with Deeds, who has been drifting further behind former state Attorney General Bob McDonnell since his surprise win in a Democratic primary. Deeds, a state senator, has largely campaigned in rural areas -- "Deeds Country," as he calls it -- since that win.

Speaking to smaller crowd of donors before the main rally, Obama offered straight talk.

"Let's be honest: This is going to be a tough race," he said. Despite a string of statewide victories for the party, including himself, he said Virginia is "still a purple state." "The key right now is making sure we fight through the doubt, fight through the cynicism," he said.

Polls show not only Deeds trailing, but Obama slipping in the state he carried last fall. A Deeds spokesperson said that while tonight's rally could only help rally the base, Deeds needs to focus more on demonstrating he's a "Virginia Democrat" and not necessarily an "Obama Democrat."

The spokesperson denied that Deeds was distancing himself from the president, however. And Deeds talked up Obama's record six months into his term as he introduced him.

"If someone had said to you in January or March or last month or even last week that within six months of taking office, we would see the stock market regain one-quarter of its value, or banks line up to repay their TARP bailout funds, or that the housing market and other leading economic indicators would show signs that our economy was starting to recovery, the smart people would have said that you're naïve," he said. "We're not completely on the road to full economic recovery, not for every family, not in the part of the country where I live, [but] we've come a long way to restore confidence and pride in America. And we're not done yet."

Gov. Tim Kaine, now the DNC chairman as well, spoke of keeping Democratic momentum going while noting the mojo in the ballroom, where the party celebrated big victories last fall. Obama, too, urged Democrats in the room not to let up.

"I need every one of you to knock on doors and make phone calls and get fired up once again so that we can go towards the future, confident with Creigh Deeds leading the great Commonwealth of Virginia," he said.

Obama Statement On Sotomayor

President Obama spoke from the Diplomatic Room of the White House shortly after the Senate confirmed his choice for the Supreme Court.

Hello, everybody. Well, I am pleased and deeply gratified that the Senate has voted to confirm Judge Sonia Sotomayor as our nation's 111th Supreme Court justice.

I want to thank the Senate Judiciary Committee, particularly its Chairman, Senator Leahy -- as well as its Ranking Member, Senator Sessions -- for giving Judge Sotomayor a thorough and civil hearing. And I thank them for doing so in a timely manner so that she can be fully prepared to take her seat when the Court's work begins this September.

The members of our Supreme Court are granted life tenure and are charged with the vital and difficult task of applying principles set forth at our founding to the questions and controversies of our time. Over the past 10 weeks, members of the Senate Judiciary Committee and the full Senate have assessed Judge Sotomayor's fitness for this work. They've scrutinized her record as a prosecutor, as a litigator, and as a judge. They've gauged her respect for the proper role of each branch of our government, her commitment to faithfully apply the law to the facts at hand, and her determination to protect our core constitutional rights and freedoms.

And with this historic vote, the Senate has affirmed that Judge Sotomayor has the intellect, the temperament, the history, the integrity and the independence of mind to ably serve on our nation's highest court.

This is a role that the Senate has played for more than two centuries, helping to ensure that "equal justice under the law" is not merely a phrase inscribed above our courthouse door, but a description of what happens every single day inside the courtroom. It's a promise that, whether you're a mighty corporation or an ordinary American, you will receive a full and fair hearing. And in the end, the outcome of your case will be determined by nothing more or less than the strength of your argument and the dictates of the law.

These core American ideals -- justice, equality, and opportunity -- are the very ideals that have made Judge Sotomayor's own uniquely American journey possible. They're ideals she's fought for throughout her career, and the ideals the Senate has upheld today in breaking yet another barrier and moving us yet another step closer to a more perfect union.

Like so many other aspects of this nation, I'm filled with pride in this achievement and great confidence that Judge Sotomayor will make an outstanding Supreme Court justice. This is a wonderful day for Judge Sotomayor and her family, but I also think it's a wonderful day for America.

Thank you very much, everybody.

Sotomayor Confirmed Next Supreme Court Justice

The Senate today confirmed Sonia Sotomayor as the next Supreme Court Justice on a 68-31 vote. The former prosecutor and U.S. District and Circuit Court judge becomes the first Latina to sit on the nation's highest court.

Sotomayor will replace the retiring David Souter, who was nominated by George H.W. Bush but often voted with the more liberal members of the Court.

The result carried little suspense, as most senators had already confirmed which way they would vote. Nine Republicans joined 59 Democrats in voting to support Sotomayor's confirmation. Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) was the only senator to not vote.

President Obama's nomination of Sotomayor became official June 1, though he had publicly announced his decision a week earlier. During the week-long Senate Judiciary Committee's nomination hearings that began July 13, Sotomayor faced her toughest questioning from Republicans on her speeches, connections with a Puerto Rican legal fund and her 2nd Circuit Court decision that was overturned recently by the Supreme Court.

On July 28, the Judiciary Committee sent Sotomayor's confirmation to the full Senate on a 13-6 vote. Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina was the only Republican to vote in favor of her nomination.

"I am particularly humbled to be a witness to history today as we confirm our first Latina Supreme Court Justice," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said in a released statement following the vote. "I commend Chairman Leahy for his leadership and dedication to a fair, thorough confirmation process. I also thank my Senate colleagues who joined me in casting this vote for Judge Sotomayor today -- I am particularly encouraged by my Republican colleagues who put partisanship aside and voted for this extraordinary woman on her merits."

VA Gov Poll: McDonnell +8

A new Daily Kos/Research 2000 poll finds Republican Bob McDonnell leading by 8 points in the race for governor of Virginia (Aug. 3-5, 600 LV, MoE +/- 4%). McDonnell, whom 57% have a favorable opinion of and 38% unfavorable, is viewed more favorably than either his Democratic opponent, Creigh Deeds (46%/40%), or President Obama (51%/44%).

Three months out from the general election, McDonnell leads with 51% to 43% for Deeds. McDonnell has the support of 88% of Republicans and 55% of independents, while Deeds is struggling to win over even three-fourths of his own party (77%) and independents (40%).

Tonight, Deeds is receiving a guest appearance from the president at a rally and fundraiser in Tysons Corner -- in suburban D.C. Despite Obama's relatively low favorable numbers in the state, the president should help raise some much-needed dough for Deeds.

McDonnell now leads by 10.0 points in the RCP Average for Virginia Governor

Brennan Outlines Terror Strategy, Rebutting Critics

John Brennan, the so-called White House counterterrorism czar, gave a broad overview of the Obama administration's strategy for combating what he said is a persistent extremist threat, and explaining a shift from the "Global War On Terror" to a strategy heavy on both a muscular offense and deep engagement with the Muslim world.

Brennan also directly targeted from the very beginning what he said were failed policies from the previous administration, noting that he was speaking eight years to the day when a Presidential Daily Brief warned of that Osama bin Laden was "determined to strike" the United States.

"We all have seen how our fight against terrorists sometimes led us to stray from our ideals as a nation," he said, singling out tactics like waterboarding that he said have "actually set back our efforts." "They are a recruitment bonanza for terrorists, increase the determination of our enemies, and decrease the willingness of other nations to cooperate with us. In short, they undermine our national security."

Brennan said he has been "deeply troubled by the inflammatory rhetoric, hyperbole, and intellectual narrowness" in the debate over the new administration's strategy. "Some like to claim that the President's policies somehow represent a wholesale dismantling of counterterrorism policies and practices adopted by his predecessor. Others claim that the President's policies constitute a wholesale retention of his predecessor's policies. Well, they can't both be right," he said.

On the offensive side, Brennan said the U.S. military, working with allies in Afghanistan and Pakistan, has been "confronting al Qaeda directly, inflicting significant losses to the Taliban and al Qaeda." He argued that the president himself has been willing if eager to be "even more aggressive, even more proactive, and even more innovative, to seek out new ways and new opportunities for taking down these terrorists before they can kill more innocent men, women, and children."

Brennan also argued the necessity of targeting not just terrorists but "extremism" in general, saying it can be seen in President Obama's "personal engagement with the world." It was here where Brennan explained in detail for the first time the administration's shift from use of the term "global war on terror."

"Terrorism is but a tactic -- a means to an end, which in al Qaeda's case is global domination by an Islamic caliphate," he said. "Confusing ends and means is dangerous, because by focusing on the tactic, we risk floundering among the terrorist trees while missing the growth of the extremist forest. And ultimately, confusing ends and means is self-defeating, because you can never fully defeat a tactic like terrorism any more than you can defeat the tactic of war itself."

In addition, this White House sees the enemy as "extremists," not "jihadists," an important distinction he said given that "jihad" means "to purify oneself or to wage a holy struggle for a moral goal." Using that term "risks giving these murderers the religious legitimacy they desperately seek but in no way deserve. Worse, it risks reinforcing the idea that the United States is somehow at war with Islam itself," Brennan said.

"Obama is committed to using every element of our national power to address the underlying causes and conditions that fuel so many national security threats, including violent extremism," he said.

NJ Gov Poll: Christie Up 8 In Kos/R2K Survey

The Daily Kos has polled on the New Jersey gubernatorial race, and finds a somewhat smaller deficit for Gov. Jon Corzine (D) than other recent surveys, which have put former U.S. Attorney Chris Christie ahead by double-digits.

General Election Matchup
Christie 48
Corzine 40
Undecided 9

This poll, done by Research 2000, does not include independent candidate Chris Daggett, who has averaged in the mid-single digits. The RCP Average has Christie leading 12.5 points.

Corzine also again posts abysmal favorability ratings -- 35 percent overall and just 27 percent among independents.

Favorability Ratings
Christie 44 / 29
Corzine 35 / 56
Obama 62 / 31

The survey of 600 likely voters was conducted from August 3 to 5, with a margin of error of +/- 4 percent.

FEC Releases Official 2008 Election Results

The Federal Elections Commission released today the official 2008 federal election results. The publication puts all the data into one easy-to-use spot, and includes some cool maps and tables for all you political junkies out there.


RNC Targets Blue Dogs

The Republican National Committee is launching radio ads in the districts of the four Blue Dog Democrats who helped the House Energy and Commerce Committee approve the health care reform bill.

The four targeted Democrats are Reps. Bart Gordon (TN-06), Zack Space (OH-18), Baron Hill (IN-09) and Mike Ross (AR-04). Click on the districts to hear the ads.

The district-specific ads say the Democrat "folded like a lawn chair" and say about the health care bill: "It's big government. It's big money. And it'll hit you where it hurts." Listeners are asked to call their Member of Congress and "tell him to stop voting with Nancy Pelosi."

Democrats are running ads in GOP districts blaming Republicans for doing just the opposite -- working to halt the health care reform bill. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is targeting more than two dozen House Republicans with radio ads, automated calls and other tactics.

Romer Defends Stimulus Ahead Of Unemployment Report

Council of Economic Advisers chair Christina Romer said that despite another round of grim unemployment news expected tomorrow, the stimulus program is indisputably working and has likely saved a half-million jobs.

Romer said she had no sneak peak at tomorrow's unemployment report, with some predicting that for the first time the jobless rate will top 10 percent.

"Market experts are telling us is that we will lose hundreds of thousands of jobs," she said at a breakfast hosted by the Economic Club of Washington today. "It does emphasize the economy is still in a recession. We do think we are improving the trajectory, but there is just no denying the fact that we are still in tough times for the American people."

Romer gave a vigorous defense of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, likening the plan to treatment one would receive for strep throat. To critics who point to continued increases in the jobless rate, she furthered the analogy.

"Sometime after you get the prescription, and maybe even after you take the first pill, your fever spikes. Do you decide that the medicine was useless? Do you conclude the antibiotic caused the infection to get worse? Surely not," she said. "You probably conclude that the illness was more serious than you and the doctor thought, and are very glad you saw the doctor and started taking the medicine when you did."

Romer cited several estimates that indicated that without the stimulus, the GDP decrease in the second quarter might have been several points higher. In fact, it improved from a more than 6-point decline to just 1 percent. To put it another way, as Romer did: "The rise in GDP growth from the first quarter to the second was the largest in almost a decade, and the second largest in the past quarter century."

Romer also predicted the impact of the spending program will only grow as payouts continue for infrastructure and other projects. She said the early stimulus "was weighted more heavily toward tax changes and state fiscal relief."

"Going forward there will be more direct government investments. These direct investments have a short-run effect roughly 60 percent larger than tax cuts," she said.

During a Q&A with the audience, Romer was asked if there was any "wiggle room" on the president's promise not to increase taxes on the middle class, a topic that was the subject of controversy earlier this week.

"Can I go now?" she joked at first. But she clearly got the memo. "The president has made it very clear through the campaign that middle class families have really gotten a bum deal, not just in this recession but probably for at least the last 10 years, and that's why he does not want to do anything that burdens middle class families. No one is talking about raising taxes."

Strategy Memo: Out of Towners

Today President Obama continues working on health care legislation and will meet with members of the Senate Finance Committee. Later, he'll sit down with Treasury Secretary Geithner and his homeland security czar, John Brennan. Brennan today will speak about the administration's strategy on terrorism. Tonight, Obama will hold a rally in Virginia with gubernatorial candidate Creigh Deeds.

Let the vacation lull begin. Vice President Biden has started a week-long vacation to Kiawah Island in South Carolina. House Members left town last Friday and won't be back for another four weeks.

At 3 p.m., the Senate is scheduled to vote on the confirmation of Sonia Sotomayor to the U.S. Supreme Court. If confirmed as expected, Sotomayor will become the first Latina to sit on the high court. The upper chamber will follow the House out of town for the next month after final votes tonight.

**President Obama
*In a CNN/Opinion Research poll, Obama's approval rating is at 56 percent, down 10 points from his 100th day. "According to the poll, 44 percent say that Obama's polices have so far made the economy better, with just of half of Americans saying they haven't had a positive effect."

*A Quinnipiac poll out this morning has Obama's approval at 50 percent. Q: "Voters disapprove 49 - 45 percent of the way the President is handling the economy and disapprove 52 - 39 percent of the way he is handling health care, but approve 52 - 38 percent of the way he is handling foreign policy."

*NY Times on Obama and other admin officials' message yesterday in stops across the country: "The day's events were part of the administration's weeklong campaign to spread a message that the economy has been rescued and now, with a hand from the government, is rebuilding on a more high-tech foundation. But with the week likely to end this Friday with the Labor Department's reporting that unemployment in July increased from the 9.5 percent in June, the president and his lieutenants tempered their optimism."

*Christina Romer, chair of the Council of Economic Advisers, said this morning in a speech at the Economic Club of Washington, D.C. (as prepared for delivery): "In an unusually whimsical moment, I sent in as the title of my talk, "So, Is It Working?" Though it may destroy some of the suspense, I thought that given the provocative title, I should probably get straight to the answer: Absolutely. The Recovery Act, together with the actions taken by the Treasury and the Federal Reserve to stabilize financial markets and the housing sector, is helping to slow the decline and change the trajectory of the economy. It is providing a crucial lift to aggregate demand at a time when the economy needs it most. And, we anticipate that the effects will build through the end of this year and the beginning of the next."

*Brennan previewed the speech we noted above with the Washington Post, saying that the U.S. "must fundamentally redefine the struggle against terrorism, replacing the 'war on terror' with a campaign combining all facets of national power to defeat the enemy. "It needs to be much more than a kinetic effort, an intelligence, law enforcement effort. It has to be much more comprehensive," said Brennan. "This is not a 'war on terror.' . . . We cannot let the terror prism guide how we're going to interact and be involved in different parts of the world."

*"Conservative activists are vowing to keep up their fight against President Barack Obama's health care plans, even as the Democratic Party pushes back hard, accusing Republicans of organizing angry mobs," AP reports.

*Washington Post reports: "The Obama administration is considering an overhaul of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac that would strip the mortgage finance giants of hundreds of billions of dollars in troubled loans and create a new structure to support the home-loan market, government officials said."

*Washington Post reports that the Senate is "inching toward a bipartisan agreement" on health care. "The emerging Finance Committee bill would shave about $100 billion off the projected trillion-dollar cost of the legislation over the next decade and eventually provide coverage to 94 percent of Americans, according to participants in the talks. It would expand Medicaid, crack down on insurers, abandon the government insurance option that President Obama is seeking and, for the first time, tax health-care benefits under the most generous plans. Backers say the bill would also offer the only concrete plan before Congress for reining in the skyrocketing cost of federal health programs over the long term."

*"Cows, clunkers and the courts capture these last hot days of the Senate's summer session with both parties now committed to completing final votes by Thursday night and following the House home," Politico reports. "All Senate business stopped for two hours Wednesday as Democrats held a lengthy caucus on the health care reform battle that still looms ahead this fall. But both the dairy vote Tuesday and the clunker debate expected Thursday underscore how much the economy remains a central worry for the majority party."

*Los Angeles Times: "Democrats had hoped that this month's congressional recess would give lawmakers a chance to explain the healthcare legislation and tell voters what's in it for them. But critics got a jump on that debate and are already deep into a campaign to portray the legislation, which is still being written, as a government takeover of healthcare that will disrupt voters' established relationships with doctors. Absent definitive legislation, critics have been able to demonize provisions that may not be in the final bill."

*AP: "Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor won more GOP support in her drive toward near-certain Senate confirmation Thursday as the first Hispanic justice, even as a growing chorus of Republicans called her unfit for the bench. Republican Sens. Kit Bond of Missouri and Judd Gregg of New Hampshire broke with their party to announce they'd support President Barack Obama's nominee, as the Senate cleared the way for a history-making vote that will shape the court for decades to come and could carry heavy political consequences for both parties."

(As a side note, Gregg and Bond are not running for re-election next year.)

**Headed to Prison: "William Jefferson, the former nine-term congressman, was convicted Wednesday of 11 of 16 counts of public corruption in a verdict that prosecutors said could send the 62-year-old New Orleans Democrat to prison for 20 years. But, in an ironic twist, Jefferson was not convicted of the charge directly related to the $90,000 that was found wrapped in foil and sandwiched between Boca burgers and Pillsbury pie crust boxes when the FBI raided his Washington, D.C., home four years ago this week," New Orleans Times-Picayune reports.

(Jefferson's former House seat will be hotly contested this year after he was defeated by a Republican in 2008.)

**Campaign Stuff
*Mitt Romney's got a book coming, the Times reports. It's called, "No Apology: The Case for American Greatness," and "outlines what appears to be a campaign platform: Mr. Romney's views on how to create a stronger economy, military and families, and his vision on jobs, education, health care, energy and citizenship. The manuscript is currently 304 pages."

*Mike Huckabee compares Obama's spending to his eating problems, CNN notes. "He's hungry for more! Fresh from gulping down $800 billion of our money to load up his Washington smorgasbord, he's planning yet another massive banquet. Obama wants to belly up to the table and swallow the best health care system in the world. And you and I will pay the tab for this gargantuan pig-out!" Huckabee writes.

*KY Sen: "Rand Paul, the son of 2008 presidential candidate Ron Paul, ended months of speculation Wednesday by saying he will run for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated next year by fellow Republican Jim Bunning," AP reports.

*IL-10: "State Sen. Michael Bond, D-31st, of Grayslake, has decided not to run for the 10th Congressional District and instead make a bid for re-election for his senate seat. Tuesday was the first day candidates could begin circulating nominating papers for the Feb. 2 general primary. The general election will be Nov., 2, 2010.

**Politics Daily breaks down the false rumors circulating recently, including Sarah Palin's divorce and one about Chuck Todd.

**RealClearSports sat down for 10 questions with USA Today columnist Christine Brennan. Check it out here.

--Kyle Trygstad and Mike Memoli

McDonnell Giving Weekly GOP Nat'l Address

In a move that should give the Virginia gubernatorial nominee some more national exposure, Bob McDonnell was chosen to give the weekly Republican national address this Saturday. The speech will air nationally on TV and radio.

According to his campaign, McDonnell will discuss "the need for new jobs and more opportunities in Virginia and nationwide," as well as "proactive policy proposals that will help create the good-paying jobs of tomorrow" and "the importance of preventing the enactment of policies that would endanger the jobs of today and impede American competitiveness in the global economy."

McDonnell is currently up in the polls by more than 10 points against Democrat Creigh Deeds.

DCCC Continues "Health Care ER" Offensive

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has entered the second phase in its "Health Care ER" advertising offensive, today launching automated calls in 10 GOP districts. The DCCC is targeting "Republicans who are trying to block health insurance reform for America's families," according to a press release.

"This August, we are holding Republicans accountable," said DCCC executive director Jon Vogel.

The phone calls are heading to the following districts: Brian Bilbray (CA-50), Ken Calvert (CA-44), David Dreier (CA-26), Mario Diaz-Balart (FL-25), Blaine Luetkemeyer (MO-09), Mike McCaul (TX-10), Frank Wolf (VA-10), Bill Young (FL-10), Judy Biggert (IL-13), Mary Bono Mack (CA-45), and Pete Sessions (TX-32).

Radio ads began airing Monday in another eight districts. In all, the ad offensive will reach the districts of more than two dozen Republican members of Congress.

Here is the script of an automated call going out to Sessions's Texas district:

I have an important message about your health care. Insurance companies are posting record profits while health bills skyrocket. Now they are lining up to stop health care reforms and protect profits. Congressman Pete Sessions took almost four hundred thousand dollars from the insurance industry and now he's trying to block reform... like reducing costs by forcing insurance companies to compete and preventing them from denying you coverage. Call Congressman Sessions today. Ask him to stop standing up for insurance companies and start standing up for us.

Obama Pushes Economic Message At Indiana Factory

President Obama returned to the Elkhart area not for a town hall meeting, but for an announcement related to the Recovery Act on investing in renewable energy, specifically advanced battery technology.

The president broadly defended his economic strategy, while also promising to pass health care reform "by the end of this year." Acknowledging the tough fight ahead, he played up a message that was successful in his campaign for the office, attacking the culture of Washington.

"There are those who want to seek political advantage, they want to oppose these efforts. Some of them caused the problems that we got now in the first place, and then suddenly they're blaming other folks for them," he said. "They don't want to be constructive. They just want to get in the usual political fights back and forth. And sometimes that's fed by all the cable chatter on the media."

He also said it is easy to be cynical "when you see politicians say one thing and then do another. or say one thing and then do nothing. When you've seen decades of broken promises from broken politics," he continued. "But this is a rare moment in wheh we're called upon to rise above the failures of the past. this is the chance to restore that spirit of optimism and opportunity which has always been central to our success."

As the Democrats target the so-called "manufactured outrage" at town hall meetings, Obama simply spoke from a podium to workers at the RV factory. Press secretary Robert Gibbs said earlier that Obama simply wanted "to share that news with a county in Indiana that's been hit tremendously hard."

UPDATED: Pawlenty Headlining Florida, Ohio GOP Dinners

Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R-Minn.) is keeping up an active political schedule. He was the only potential 2012 candidate to appear at the recent RNC meeting in San Diego last week. Later this month, he'll headline the Republican Party of Florida's Statesman's Dinner. From the RPOF:

"I am honored to announce that Governor Pawlenty will join Florida Republicans for our Statesman's Dinner," said RPOF Chairman Jim Greer. "Given the number of critical races facing our state in the 2010 election, and the significant issues facing Republican values on the national level, I cannot think of a Republican Statesmen more appropriate to join Florida Republicans for this exciting celebration of our great Party."

The dinner is August 22. One question for Pawlenty: does he weigh in on the Senate primary between fellow Gov. Charlie Crist (R) and former House Speaker Marco Rubio (R)?

UPDATED: The Ohio GOP has now announced that Pawlenty will keynote their "2009 Leading Ohio Dinner" in September. From Ohio Republican chair Kevin DeWine:

"This is an important opportunity to kick off our 2010 campaign by uniting around one of the strongest statewide tickets we've seen in a generation. Republicans are ready for a comeback, and I can't think of a better spokesman for that resurgence than Tim Pawlenty. He's one of the smartest, most pragmatic conservative leaders in our party today, and he believes as I do that our party needs to modernize its message without moderating its principles."

Obama Praises Clinton For N. Korea Role

Before leaving Washington, President Obama spoke for the first time about former President Clinton's trip to North Korea. He said he was "extraordinarily relieved" at the release of the two U.S. journalists, and has spoken with their families. He's also spoken with Clinton, he said.

"I want to thank President Bill Clinton ... for the extraordinary humanitarian effort that resulted in the release of the two journalists," he said. "I think that not only is this White House obviously extraordinarily happy, but all Americans should be grateful to both former President Clinton and Vice President Gore for their extraordinary work. And my hope is, is that the families that have been reunited can enjoy the next several days and weeks, understanding that because of the efforts of President Clinton and Gore, they are able to be with each other once again."

Statement from Bill Clinton

Former President Bill Clinton landed in L.A. this morning with the two journalists he helped free in North Korea. Clinton's office just released the following statement from him:

"I am very happy that after this long ordeal, Laura Ling and Euna Lee are now home and reunited with their loved ones.

When their families, Vice President Gore and the White House asked that I undertake this humanitarian mission, I agreed. I share a deep sense of relief with Laura and Euna and their families that they are safely home."

Clinton-Kim Jong Il.jpg

Strategy Memo: Back To Elkhart

Good morning, Washington. President Obama leaves shortly for a trip to Indiana, where he'll speak near Elkhart, the site of his first trip outside of Washington as president. He'll speak about the economy an RV company, and is expected to unveil new funds for job creation through the Recovery Act. He returns to Washington this afternoon.

Vice President Biden is also on the road, heading to another economically troubled city in Detroit. He'll also announce federal funding for the production of advanced battery technology in Motor City.

Debate about the confirmation of Sonia Sotomayor to the U.S. Supreme Court began on the Senate floor yesterday and will continue through today, with a vote likely to come tomorrow. Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Ben Cardin (D-Md.) are leading a rally in support of Sotomayor at noon in the Upper Senate park.

**President Obama
*AP, on the trip today: "Venturing back to a region reeling in deep unemployment, President Barack Obama's latest mission in Indiana is to show that the costly stimulus plan he lobbied for is producing tangible help -- $2.4 billion in taxpayer grants to create electric cars and tens of thousands of jobs."

*The Detroit Free Press reports that Michigan will get a "larger slice of the federal dollars to stimulate the development and production of advanced batteries for electric and hybrid vehicles than any other state." Biden is there today to make the announcement.

*New York Times writes that Bill Clinton's overture "catapulted" him "back on to the global stage, on behalf of a president who defeated his wife, Hillary Rodham Clinton, in a bitter primary campaign last year, and who later asked her to be his secretary of state." But Secretary Clinton "was deeply involved in the case, too. She proposed sending various people to Pyongyang -- including Mr. Clinton's vice president, Al Gore -- to lobby for the release of the women, before Mr. Clinton emerged as the preferred choice of the North Koreans."

*By letting Kim Jong Il "save face" by releasing the Americans to Clinton, AP says the Obama administration may win a concession in the form of "renewed dialogue with Pyongyang about its nuclear weapons program."

*A CNN poll finds "that white and black Americans don't see eye to eye on last month's arrest of Harvard University professor Henry Louis Gates." It found that 54 percent don't think Sergeant James Crowley acted stupidly when he arrested Skip Gates, while about a third did. The divide: 59 percent of black respondents saying that Crowley acted stupidly compared to 29 percent of whites questioned.

**Health Care
*In a new CNN poll, 50 percent say they support the president's health care plans, with 45 percent opposed. It is more popular with younger voters and less popular with seniors.

*The Senate Democratic Caucus met with Obama Tuesday, and upon leaving, "they gave a rosy, upbeat account of the lunch, which apparently featured a big dish of bipartisanship, along with salad and rockfish. The Senate Democratic leader, Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, said there was "absolute unity" among members of the normally fractious Democratic conference," NYT reports.

*Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) "said he and the president agree that a deal with Republicans would be best but that the Senate needs to pass a healthcare bill in any case," The Hill reports. "He said, 'I know Max agrees with me, we may get to a point where we're going to have to make other decisions and go in a different direction,'" Baucus said

*WSJ: "Groups of all stripes are blitzing lawmakers to shape a trillion-dollar health-care overhaul that would reach into every business and every home in the country. In the lobbying frenzy, many longtime allies are divided, often pitting hospital against hospital, retailer against retailer and doctor against doctor. And, not surprisingly, the fault lines emerge where the bills' provisions would cost them money."

*The Hill reports that it's up to Speaker Nancy Pelosi, "working with fellow leaders and the House Rules Committee, to meld three drafts of the healthcare bill: the liberal version from the Education and Labor Committee, the centrist Blue Dog compromise from the Energy and Commerce Committee and the Ways and Means plan with a tax Pelosi (D-Calif.) already wants to change or maybe even scrap. Publicly, she appears undaunted."

*DNC press release: "The Democratic National Committee today released a new web ad 'Enough of the Mob' highlighting the angry mobs of a small number of GOP and special interest backed rabid right wing extremists who are disrupting thoughtful discussions about the future of health care in America taking place in Congressional Districts across the country." Watch the ad here.

*"Rep. Steve Kagen is a doctor, a Democrat and, as far as his office has been able to determine, the only member of Congress who does not have any kind of health insurance," Politics Daily reports.

*"The debate over health care reform has exposed divisions among Senate Democrats -- including a divide between those elected in the anti-Bush referendum of 2006 and the Obama wave of 2008," Politico reports.

*"President Obama's first nominee to the nation's highest court was hailed Tuesday by Democrats as a fair and impartial jurist who represents the ideals of equal opportunity, while Republicans warned she would be a judicial activist for liberal positions," CNN reports.

*WaPo: "Even before debate began Tuesday night, almost three-fourths of the Senate Republican Conference had already announced opposition to the first Latina ever nominated to the nation's highest court. The party's 2008 standard bearer, Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), joined the chorus of opposition this week, and no likely contender for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination has spoken in support of confirmation. ... But some senators and Republican strategists worry that efforts to shore up support from conservative voters who dominate the GOP primaries could become a missed opportunity to extend an olive branch to Latino voters, who gave just 31 percent of their ballots to McCain last fall."

*WSJ: "The Senate opened its formal debate on Judge Sotomayor's nomination Tuesday amid little doubt of her confirmation by week's end. With virtually all 60 Senate Democrats and independents expected to back the nominee, the main question was whether any additional Republicans will join the six who have bucked the party leadership to support her nomination."

**Campaign Stuff
*"At least eight former staffers who worked for George W. Bush's administration are running for office. Even though President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney left the White House with poor approval ratings, aides who cut their teeth in their administration say the experience was invaluable. Still, it is also likely to hamper their electoral bids," The Hill's Reid Wilson reports.

*VA Gov: "The president will make his first appearance in the campaign Thursday, when he headlines a fundraiser for R. Creigh Deeds (D) in McLean, in part to try to help the state senator from Bath County win over wavering Democrats such as Cleland. But Obama's entry into the race presents a challenge for Deeds: How does he continue the momentum created by Obama, the first Democratic presidential candidate in more than four decades to carry Virginia, without being saddled with the baggage the president now carries?" WaPo reports.

*PA Sen: Rep. Joe Sestak (D-Pa.) made his Senate bid official yesterday outside Philadelphia -- the second-term lawmaker will indeed challenge the converted Democratic incumbent. "Sen. Arlen Specter thought he was avoiding the primary from hell when he left the Republican Party three months ago, only to find a stiff challenge awaiting him in the Democratic contest from a former Navy admiral with a golden resume," Philly Inquirer reports.

*MN-06: Rep. Michele Bachmann lost a potential general election challenger yesterday when her 2006 opponent, El Tinklenberg, announced he was dropping out. "The former Blaine mayor and state transportation commissioner ... said he didn't want to devote the next 13 months to spending time and money trying to defeat two other Democratic candidates -- Assistant Senate Majority Leader Tarryl Clark of St. Cloud and Dr. Maureen Reed of Stillwater -- in a primary contest that would undermine their chances of unseating the Republican incumbent," St. Paul Pioneer-Press reports.

**Earmark of the Day: "Last year, lawmakers excoriated the CEOs of the Big Three automakers for traveling to Washington, D.C., by private jet to attend a hearing about a possible bailout of their companies. But apparently Congress is not philosophically averse to private air travel: At the end of July, the House approved nearly $200 million for the Air Force to buy three elite Gulfstream jets for ferrying top government officials and Members of Congress," Roll Call's Paul Singer reports.

--Mike Memoli and Kyle Trygstad

Paul To Launch Senate Bid On Glenn Beck Show

The Lexington Herald-Leader reports this afternoon that Rand Paul, son of Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), will officially launch his campaign for the U.S. Senate on the Glenn Beck show tomorrow.

Paul ... said recently that he may announce his candidacy on the show to draw a larger audience. Doing so could be an opportunity to raise campaign funds from across the nation, much as his father did last year as a contender in the presidential race.

Secretary of State Trey Grayson (R) is the establishment favorite on the Republican side in the race to succeed Jim Bunning (R), who announced his reluctant retirement last week.

Scenes From The White House: Happy Birthdays

As has been pointed out endlessly, today is President Obama's 48th birthday. Coincidentally Helen Thomas, the dean of the White House press corps, celebrates her 89th birthday on this August 4th as well. To mark the occasion, Obama made a rare cameo in the press briefing room to personally deliver cupcakes to Thomas, and lead the press corps in singing "Happy Birthday."


Despite the tough questions she often lobs from her front row perch, the president had nothing but praise for the veteran reporter, even giving her a kiss on the cheek and sitting down next to her to pose for photos.

"Helen wished for world peace, no prejudice," Obama said. "But she and I also had a common birthday wish. She said she hopes for a real health care reform bill."

He then said it was up to Thomas to decide how to distribute the other cupcakes. He didn't take any questions and quickly exited. Thomas had also been feted earlier outside press secretary Robert Gibbs' office with cupcakes brought by a member of the press crops.

Obama had his own birthday cake as he marked the occasion during a luncheon with Senate Democrats. You can see a picture of the presidential birthday cake, obtained by NBC's Savannah Guthrie, after the jump.


Democrats Target "Orchestrated" Town Hall Opposition

Senate Democrats left a White House meeting singing President Obama's praises while echoing the latest party talking points by portraying rowdy town hall meetings as the result of an astroturf campaign by the leading opponents of health care reform.

"In spite of the loud, shrill voices trying to interrupt town hall meetings to throw a monkey wrench into everything, we're going to continue to be positive and work hard," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid told reporters after a luncheon with the president today.

"The American people do not like partisanship. But the American people also don't like groups of people trying to kill something that should be done," Senate Finance Committee chair Max Baucus said.

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) listed potential positive outcomes from health care reform, then added: "We'll match that against their message of negativity."

Press secretary Robert Gibbs was asked to clarify whether the White House truly thinks some of the strong opposition being seen at town hall meetings is "manufactured."

"Do I think some of it is, yes," he said. "In fact, I think you've had groups today, Conservatives for Patients Rights, that have bragged about organizing and manufacturing that anger."

Asked how that differed from the so-called grassroots efforts organized by liberal interest groups, Gibbs said leaders of health care companies are bragging about the manufactured anger, including a former CEO "that was fined by the federal government $1.7 billion for fraud."

This new strategy of attempting to counter YouTube videos from several town hall meetings is rooted at least in part by focusing on a memo obtained by liberal blogs outlining a "right-wing strategy" to disrupt events this month. "The lobbyist-run groups Americans for Prosperity and FreedomWorks, which orchestrated the anti-Obama tea parties earlier this year, are now pursuing an aggressive strategy to create an image of mass public opposition to health care and clean energy reform," reported this week.

"I don't doubt that there are people that come to ask their members of Congress honest questions about the direction of the country," Gibbs said. "I also have no doubts that there are groups that have spread out people across the country to go to these things to specifically generate videos that can be posted on internet sites."

Meanwhile, the senators who spoke to reporters also tried to downplay internal disputes, while claiming their first goal is a bipartisan bill.

"The process is a dynamic one. It's open," Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) said. "We're welcoming people who want to come to our table and share their ideas."

Reid also vigorously defended the White House's role when asked if Obama has not been specific enough in leading them.

"The president has been involved in this from the very beginning," he said. "Anyone that thinks President Obama and his people are not involved in health care reform haven't followed what is going on. There isn't a day goes by that I don't talk to several people in the White House about health care reform."

Reid said senators left the meeting with Obama re-energized, and said the president received multiple standing ovations.

"It really reminded me of the days when I was an athlete, and the coach was giving you a pep talk before the game," he said. "You come out ... ready to take on the world. We're ready to take on the world."

Baucus echoed a fellow senator's words: "It's just so wonderful to hear him speak. It's like a symphony," he said.

Gibbs Won't Say If Obama Will Read Entire Health Care Bill

At one of his recent town hall meetings, President Obama said he would gladly welcome members of Congress to the White House to read through health care legislation "line-by-line."

Today, however, Robert Gibbs was less than clear on whether Obama would in fact read through a final bill in its entirety on his own.

"I assume the president will study the details of the proposal," the press secretary said. "He's a highly-informed individual."

He also joked that he didn't know what the president's "vacation plans are." After moving to take another question he -- perhaps realizing the potential pitfall -- backtracked quickly to challenge the reporter if he planned to read the entire bill, as well.

Reid Statement On WH Meeting

President Obama, on his 48th birthday, invited the Senate Democratic Caucus over for lunch to discuss various topics -- the most pressing one being health care. Following the event, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid released the following statement:

"We had a productive meeting this afternoon and greatly appreciate the President's time and graciousness. Both the President and the Senate have said from the start that we are committed to getting health insurance reform done this year and we will.

"We share the same goals as the President in achieving reform in a bipartisan manner and we hope our Republican colleagues want to work together. This debate over health insurance reform is too important to be overtaken by those who want to mislead, misrepresent the truth and spread misinformation all for the sake of standing in the way of reform.

"We are closer to real health insurance reform than ever before and while it's easy to focus on the areas where we still need to find agreement, it's important to be mindful of the common ground already shared by all parties involved.

"Democrats stand united with hospitals, doctors, nurse and businesses - we all recognize the gravity of this moment and the significance of this effort. We remain committed to achieving reform."

OFA Radio Ad Boosts Swing District Dems On Health Care

Organizing for America is welcoming some potentially vulnerable Democrat members of Congress back to their districts with a new radio ad praising their votes on health care -- both the SCHIP extension and a reform proposal still working its way through Congress. Here's the list, per the DNC:

  • Driehaus (OH-01)

  • Dahlkemper (PA-03)

  • Kirkpatrick (AZ-01)

  • Giffords (AZ-08)

  • McNerney (CA-11)

  • Perlmutter (CO-07)

  • Kosmas (FL-24)

  • Grayson (FL-08)

  • Walz (MN-01)

  • Heinrich (NM-01)

  • Titus (NV-03)

  • Maffei (NY-25)

  • Massa (NY-29)

  • Kilroy (OH-15)

  • Boccieri (OH-16)

  • Space (OH-18)

  • Wilson (OH-06)

  • Nye (VA-02)

  • Kagen (WI-08)
  • "These members have been part of one of the most ambitious, historic and successful opening months of a Congressional session in our nation's history," OFA Director Mitch Stewart says in a statement.

    You can read a sample script after the jump. 

    Congressman Steve Driehaus is fighting for Ohio.  He's taking on the lobbyists and the special interests and standing up for us and our families.  And he is working every day to make sure we have affordable quality health care.

    Congressman Driehaus fought to expand health care to millions of children - and now Steve Driehaus is working for health insurance reform that lowers your costs and protects your choice of doctors and plans.

    But it won't be easy.  Health insurance companies have made record profits by doubling premiums and denying people coverage.

    And now, they and their lobbyists are fighting tooth and nail to stop reform and protect the status quo -  and their profits - at the expense of affordable health care for families, small businesses and millions of Americans.  But Steve Driehaus is fighting back.

    Call Steve Driehaus at 513-684-2723.  Thank Congressman Driehaus for standing up for Ohio families and our health care.

    Paid for by the Democratic National Committee.  Not authorized by any candidate or candidate's committee.  The DNC is responsible for the content of this advertising.

    NJ Gov: Internal (D) Poll Shows Corzine Down 7

    An independent survey out today shows Gov. Jon Corzine (D) trailing by 14 points. But a Global Strategy Group survey commissioned by the Democratic caucus in the state Assembly and first obtained by puts former U.S. Attorney Chris Christie's (R) lead at half that. The discrepancy is mostly in the undecided column, a sector Democratic interest groups are targeting as election day nears.

    General Election Matchup
    Christie 42
    Corzine 35
    Daggett 6
    Undecided 14

    The survey shows Corzine with only 58 percent of the vote among Democrats, while Christie polls at 77 percent among Republicans, and leads by 17 points among independent voters. The survey of 604 likely voters was conducted July 29-30 and had a margin of error of +/- 4 percent.

    Supporters of the incumbent continue to maintain that as Garden State voters become more familiar with Christie and his record they'll give the governor a second look. To that end, the state AFL-CIO launches a new Web site today called "The Real Christie," highlighting positions on issues like education, health care and the economy. An AFL-CIO spokesperson says the web site is part of an "aggressive campaign in NJ to ensure workers know the truth about Christie's horrible record on issues that are important to working families."

    VA Gov: McDonnell (R) Leads by 14

    Virginia gubernatorial candidate Bob McDonnell (R) leads his Democratic counterpart, Creigh Deeds, by 14 points in the latest survey by Public Policy Polling (July 31-Aug. 3, 579 RV, MoE +/- 4.1%). This is an 8-point margin increase for McDonnell since the previous PPP poll last month and the second poll in the last few days to show McDonnell leading by double digits.

    McDonnell 51 (+2 vs. last poll, July 7)
    Deeds 37 (-6)

    McDonnell now leads by 10.7 points in the RCP Average for Virginia Governor

    McDonnell's 14-point lead comes on the same day that a Monmouth survey found Republican Chris Christie leading by the same margin in the race for governor of New Jersey. President Obama won both states last year, and in each state Democrats currently hold the two Senate seats and the governor's mansion. These are the two biggest races of the year, and Republicans are banking on wins in both to boost fundraising and momentum going into the 2010 midterm elections.

    Toomey Campaign Statement on Dems

    With Rep. Joe Sestak (D-Pa.) making his Senate bid official today, Republican Pat Toomey's campaign offers a 'welcoming' statement that takes its biggest shot at incumbent Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Pa.):

    "We welcome Joe Sestak to the race. Pennsylvania Democrats will make an important choice between Joe Sestak, a consistent liberal who really believes in his values, and Arlen Specter, a career political opportunist who believes in nothing but his own reelection. "Regardless of the decision they make, in next November's general election, Pennsylvanians will face a clear choice between one candidate, Sestak or Specter, who supports unprecedented Washington spending, bailouts of Wall Street banks and car companies, and government control of health care decisions; and Pat Toomey, who would bring some much needed political balance and fiscal restraint to Washington."

    Strategy Memo: Happy Birthday, Mr. President

    On the president's 48th birthday, he has no public appearances scheduled. In the morning, he'll have his daily briefings and meet with the National Commander of the American Legion. Obama and Vice President Biden will then have lunch with the Senate Democratic Caucus, where they are expected to discuss the economy, health care, and perhaps have some cake. Later, Obama and Biden will meet one-on-one, followed by a meeting with Defense Secretary Gates.

    Bill Clinton is in North Korea today to negotiate the release of two American journalists who were sentenced in June to 12 years of hard labor. The White House refused to comment in order to not "jeopardize the success of former President Clinton's mission."

    On the Senate floor today, the Agriculture Appropriations bill will be considered in the morning. Following the caucus lunches, senators will debate the confirmation of Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court.

    Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Pa.) will officially get a primary challenger today, as Rep. Joe Sestak (D-Pa.)formally announces his intentions at an event in Philadelphia. This is actually Specter's second primary challenger of the campaign -- his first, Republican Pat Toomey, forced him to switch parties.

    **President Obama
    *Gallup: "President Barack Obama's job approval rating, after hitting his administration low point of 52% in the middle of last week, has edged back up, and is 56% for the latest three-day period, July 31-Aug. 2." Obama's RCP Average Approval Rating is 54.2%.

    *A shakeup brewing? The Wall Street Journal reports that "officials are holding discussions that could result in White House counsel Gregory Craig leaving his post, following a rocky tenure." Craig "has helped lead the administration's efforts on several national-security issues that once enjoyed popularity but have since become become political liabilities for Mr. Obama."

    *Meanwhile, "the White House's senior aide on cybersecurity has decided to resign following delays in the appointment of a coordinator to spearhead the government's efforts to protect the nation's computer networks," the Washington Post reports. Melissa E. Hathaway reminded the paper that "it has been two months since President Obama made a highly acclaimed speech on the importance of cybersecurity and pledged to 'personally' select a cybersecurity coordinator."

    *The AP: "President Barack Obama is struggling to find a way to pay for an overhaul of the nation's health care system without violating his campaign promise not to raise taxes on the middle class." The White House quickly shot down talk of a tax hike to pay for it the reform. "The problem is that his preferred financing alternative -- limiting charitable deductions by the wealthiest of Americans -- has gained no traction on Capitol Hill. And his nodding acceptance of a House plan to use a surtax on those with incomes above $350,000 has proven a nonstarter in the Senate. So as lawmakers head back to their homes for August, Democrats are facing the prospect of defending a sweeping health care overhaul without having any solid commitment from Obama on how the changes will be financed."

    *Robert Gibbs released this statement on Bill Clinton's trip to North Korea: "While this solely private mission to secure the release of two Americans is on the ground, we will have no comment. We do not want to jeopardize the success of former President Clinton's mission."

    *Obama imposed a ban on K Street donations. But The Hill finds that lobbying interests have still found a way to show their support, to the tune of about a million bucks. "In the reports, trade associations, companies and individual lobbyists reported spending more than $495,000 in honor of the new president, Michelle Obama and Vice President Joe Biden. Termed 'honorary expenses,' the records list a broad range of lunches and conferences where Obama and others were commended and which the special interests helped finance via sponsorship."

    *48th Birthday: "President Obama will celebrate his 48th birthday Tuesday by spending at least part of the day working. Obama will have lunch with Senate Democrats at the White House, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said Monday. They are likely to discuss health care, the economy, energy legislation and the "Cash for Clunkers" program. "Chuck E. Cheese was booked," Gibbs joked during his daily White House press briefing. Gibbs did not say how Obama would spend the remainder of his day," Washington Post reports.

    *HHS Sec. Kathleen Sebelius, in a WaPo op-ed: "As the political debate about how to pay for and pass health reform grows louder and more contentious, we shouldn't lose sight of the reason we're even having this conversation: We have a huge, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to improve the lives of all Americans, insured and uninsured alike."

    *"The Senate's last few days of action before its summer break is shaping up to be a frenzied week of challenges for Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.). From cash-for-clunkers to the Supreme Court nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to a bill that would benefit his home state, Reid is pushing an agenda that will attempt to beat the clock, resist Republican slow-down attempts and appease several unhappy members of his party," The Hill reports.

    *Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) warned yesterday that Democrats still have reconciliation in their back pocket, in case "Republicans are not able to produce an agreement."

    *NRA: "For the first time, the NRA has weighed in against a Supreme Court nominee, urging senators to vote "no" on Sotomayor. So far, however, eight of the 36 senators who won endorsement from the NRA have said they will vote to confirm her," L.A. Times reports.

    *John McCain said on the Senate floor yesterday that he will not support Sotomayor's confirmation.

    **Campaign Stuff
    *A new Monmouth University/Gannett poll shows that Gov. Jon Corzine is only falling further behind with just three months until election day.

    *The Inquirer: "After weeks of hints and almost-declarations, U.S. Rep. Joe Sestak plans to make it official today: He will challenge veteran Sen. Arlen Specter in the 2010 Pennsylvania Democratic primary." The kickoff includes a morning rally at a VFW post, a tour through Pittsburgh, Johnstown, Harrisburg, and Scranton, and --believe it or not -- an appearance on The Colbert Report.

    *South Carolina Attorney General Henry McMaster "made his first formal public move" in the governor race, filing a disclosure with the state ethics committee, AP reports.

    *ND Sen: Politico's Kraushaar reports "the state's political stability would become a distant memory next year if Hoeven decides to leave the governorship to challenge Dorgan for reelection. It would mean North Dakota would become a major Senate battleground, pitting two of the state's most popular politicians against each other -- with other potential ripple effects to come. Hoeven is now seriously mulling over a Senate campaign, according to several Republican officials familiar with his thinking."

    *Rep. Jim Langevin (D-R.I.) is getting a challenge from the left, reports the Providence Journal.

    *How bout that? The Sun-Times reports that Blair Hull, who lost in the 2004 primary to Obama, angled to be appointed to replace him last year. He's the unnamed "Candidate C" in the Blagojevich indictment.

    --Kyle Trygstad and Mike Memoli

    Corzine Launches Obama Spot On NJ Airwaves

    Gov. Jon Corzine's (D) campaign is again turning to President Obama, this time with a new television ad that consists entirely of footage from a mid-July rally featuring the two Democrats.

    The campaign says the 30-second ad will air statewide on cable and broadcast television. It's the first positive spot for Corzine's camp since just before the primary, after a series of tough spots targeting Republican Chris Christie. The clips highlights Obama's calling Corzine "a leader who's been called to govern in some extraordinary times," and praise for his record on education and the economy.

    Of course, a poll taken last month found that Obama, though still popular in the Garden State, could have a minimal impact on the race.

    A curious note: the video footage in the ad seems to have been altered to remove the seal of the President on the podium Obama speaks from.

    Read the script after the jump:

    Script, "Top":

    OBAMA: Jon's a leader who's been called to govern in some extraordinary times. Jon Corzine wasn't just the first governor to pass an economic recovery plan for his state; he was an ally with the Obama Administration in helping us develop a national recovery plan. ... Jon Corzine has not only protected funding for New Jersey schools, he reformed them with tougher standards and now students in New Jersey rank at the top of the country in reading and math because of Jon Corzine.

    McCain To Vote No On Sotomayor Nomination

    Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) announced today that he'll vote no when Sonya Sotomayor's Supreme Court nomination comes to a final vote.

    In a statement more than 1,700 words long, the former Republican standard bearer says that the Bronx-born judge "has the professional background and qualifications that one hopes for in a Supreme Court nominee," and has a life story that "is inspiring and compelling."

    "However, an excellent resume and an inspiring life story are not enough to qualify one for a lifetime of service on the Supreme Court," he says. And he points to the case of Miguel Estrada, a conservative judge thought to be an eventual high court pick, whose nomination to the DC Circuit Court was filibustered by Democrats.

    The vote is significant on a number of levels. First, it's a noteworthy break with his close colleague, Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.), who was the only Republican on the Judiciary Committee to vote yes. Also, McCain faces re-election next year in a state with a significant Hispanic population. Yet he faces a potentially trickier fight in a primary against anti-illegal immigration advocate Chris Simcox.

    You can read McCain's full statement after the jump.

    U.S. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) today made the following statement on the floor of the U.S. Senate:

    "Mr. President, it is with great respect for Judge Sotomayor's qualifications that I come to the floor today to discuss her nomination to the Supreme Court.

    "There is no doubt that Judge Sotomayor has the professional background and qualifications that one hopes for in a Supreme Court nominee.  She is a former prosecutor, served as an attorney in private practice and spent twelve years as an appellate court judge.  She is an immensely qualified candidate.

    "And obviously, Judge Sotomayor's life story is inspiring and compelling.  As the child of Puerto Rican parents who did not speak English upon their arrival to New York, Judge Sotomayor took it upon herself to learn English and become an outstanding student.  She graduated cum laude from Princeton University and later from Yale Law School.  Judge Sotomayor herself stated that she is 'an ordinary person who has been blessed with extraordinary opportunities and experiences.'

    "However, an excellent resume and an inspiring life story are not enough to qualify one for a lifetime of service on the Supreme Court.  Those who suggest otherwise need to be reminded of Miguel Estrada.  Mr. Estrada also was a supremely qualified candidate.  And he too has an incredible life story.  Miguel Estrada actually immigrated to the United States from Honduras as a teenager, understanding very little English.  Yet, he managed to graduate from Columbia University and Harvard Law School magna cum laude before serving his country as a prosecutor and a lawyer at the Department of Justice.  Later, he found success as a lawyer in private practice.  However, Miguel Estrada, in spite of his qualifications and remarkable background - in spite of the fact that millions of Latinos would have taken great pride in his confirmation - was filibustered by the Democrats seven times, most recently in 2003 because many Democrats disagreed with Mr. Estrada's judicial philosophy.  This was the first filibuster ever to be successfully used against a court of appeals nominee.

    "I supported Mr. Estrada's nomination to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, not because of his inspiring life story or impeccable qualifications, but because his judicial philosophy was one of restraint.  He was explicit in his writings and responses to the Senate Judiciary Committee that he would not seek to legislate from the bench.

    "In 1987, I had my first opportunity to provide 'advice and consent' on a Supreme Court nominee.  At that time, I stated that the qualifications I believed were essential for evaluating a nominee for the bench included 'integrity, character, legal competence and ability, experience, and philosophy and judicial temperament.'

    "When I spoke of 'philosophy and judicial temperament' is it specifically how one seeks to interpret the law while serving on the bench.  I believe that a judge should seek to uphold all acts of Congress and state legislatures unless they clearly violate a specific section of the Constitution and refrain from interpreting the law in a manner that creates law.  While I believe Judge Sotomayor has many of these qualifications I outlined in 1987, I do not believe that she shares my belief in judicial restraint.

    "When the Senate was considering Judge Sotomayor's nomination to the Second Circuit in 1998, I reviewed her decisions and her academic writings.  Her writings demonstrated that she does not subscribe to the philosophy that federal judges should respect the limited nature of the judicial power under our Constitution.  Judges who stray beyond their constitutional role believe that judges somehow have a greater insight into the meaning of the broad principles of our Constitution than representatives who are elected by the people.  These activist judges assume that the judiciary is a super-legislature of moral philosophers.

    "I know of no more profoundly anti-democratic attitude than that expressed by those who want judges to discover and enforce the ever-changing boundaries of a so-called 'living Constitution.'  It demonstrates a lack of respect for the popular will that is at fundamental odds with our republican system of government.  And regardless of one's success in academics and government service, an individual who does not appreciate the common sense limitations on judicial power in our democratic system of government ultimately lacks a key qualification for a lifetime appointment to the bench.

    "Though she attempted to walk back from her long public record of judicial activism during her confirmation hearings, Judge Sotomayor cannot change her record.  In a 1996 article in the Suffolk University Law Review, she stated that 'a given judge (or judges) may develop a novel approach to a specific set of facts or legal framework that pushes the law in a new direction.'  Mr. President, it is exactly this view that I disagree with.

    "As a district court judge, her decisions too often strayed beyond settled legal norms.  Several times, this resulted in her decisions being overturned by the Second Circuit.  She was reversed due to her reliance on foreign law rather than U.S. law.  She was reversed because the Second Circuit found she exceeded her jurisdiction in deciding a case involving a state law claim.  She was reversed for trying to impose a settlement in a dispute between businesses.  And she was reversed for unnecessarily limiting the intellectual property rights of freelance authors.  These are but a few examples that led me to vote against her nomination to the Second Circuit in 1992 because of her troubling record of being an activist judge who strayed beyond the rule of law.

    "For this reason, I closely followed her confirmation hearing last month.  During the hearing, she clearly stated that 'as a judge, I don't make law.'  While I applaud this statement, it does not reflect her record as an appellate court judge.  As an appellate court judge, Judge Sotomayor has been overturned by the Supreme Court six times.  In the several of the reversals of Judge Sotomayor's Second Circuit opinions, the Supreme Court strongly criticized her decision and reasoning.  In a seventh case, the Supreme Court vacated the ruling noting that in her written opinion for the majority of Second Circuit, Judge Sotomayor had ignored two prior Supreme Court decisions.

    "While I do not believe that reversal by the Supreme Court is a disqualifying factor for being considered for the federal bench, I do believe that such cases must be studied in reviewing a nominee's record.

    "Most recently, in 2008, the Supreme Court noted in an opinion overturning Judge Sotomayor that her decision 'flies in the face of the statutory language' and chided the Second Circuit for extending a remedy that the Court had 'consistently and repeatedly recognized for three decades forecloses such an extension here.'  Unfortunately, it appears from this case, Malesko v. Correctional Services Corp., that Judge Sotomayor does not seek 'fidelity to the law' as she pledged at her confirmation hearing.  As legislators, we enact laws.  The courts must apply the law faithfully.  The job of a judge is not to make law or ignore the law. 

    "Further, in Lopez Torres v. N.Y. State Board of Elections, the Supreme Court overturned Judge Sotomayor's decision that a state law allowing for the political parties to nominate state judges through a judicial district convention was unconstitutional because it did not give people, in her view, a 'fair shot.'  In overturning her decision, the Supreme Court took aim at her views on providing a 'fair shot,' to all interested persons stating, 'it is hardly a manageable constitutional question for judges - especially for judges in our legal system, where traditional electoral practice gives no hint of even the existence, much less the content, of a constitutional requirement for a 'fair shot' at party nomination.'

    "In her most recent and well-known reversal by the Supreme Court, the Court unanimously rejected Judge Sotomayor's reasoning and held that white firefighters who had passed a race neutral exam were eligible for promotion.  Ricci v. DeStefano raised the bar considerably on overt discrimination against one racial group simply to undo the unintentionally racially skewed results of otherwise fair and objective employment procedures.  Again, this case proves that Judge Sotomayor does not faithfully apply the law we legislators enact.

    "Again and again, Judge Sotomayor seeks to amend the law to fit the circumstances of the case, thereby substituting herself in the role of a legislator.  Our Constitution is very clear in its delineation and disbursement of power.  It solely tasks the Congress with creating law.  It also clearly defines the appropriate role of the courts to 'extend to all Cases in Law and Equity, arising under this Constitution, the Laws of the United States, and Treaties.'  To protect the equal, but separate roles of all three branches of government, I cannot support activist judges that seek to legislate from the bench.  I have not supported such nominees in the past, and I cannot support such a nominee to the highest court in the land.

    "When the people of Arizona sent me to Washington, I took an oath.  I swore to uphold the Constitution.  For millions of Americans, it is clear what the Constitution means.  The Constitution protects an individual's right to keep and bear arms to protect himself, his home, and his family.  The Constitution protects our right to protest our government, speak freely and practice our religious beliefs.

    "The American people will be watching this week when the Senate votes on Judge Sotomayor's nomination.  She is a judge who has foresworn judicial activism in her confirmation hearings, but who has a long record of it prior to 2009.  And should she engage in activist decisions that overturn the considered constitutional judgments of millions of Americans, if she uses her lifetime appointment on the bench as a perch to remake law in her own image of justice, I expect that Americans will hold us Senators accountable.

    "Judicial activism demonstrates a lack of respect for the popular will that is at fundamental odds with our republican system of government.  And, as I stated earlier, regardless of one's success in academics and in government service, an individual who does not appreciate the common sense limitations on judicial power in our democratic system of government ultimately lacks a key qualification for a lifetime appointment to the bench.  For this reason, and no other, I am unable to support Judge Sotomayor's nomination.

    Schumer: Reconciliation on the Table

    Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) often dismisses reporters' questions on the possibility of reconciliation for health care reform, as his goal has always been to win bipartisan agreement on a plan. Today, though, Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), vice chairman of the Democratic Conference, left no doubt that the maneuver -- which allows the majority party to pass a bill with just 51 votes rather than 60 -- remains on the table.

    "No matter what happens, we're going to enact health care reform by the end of the year," Schumer said on a conference call with reporters. "And we hope it can be struck in a compromise with our Republican colleagues by September 15, but if the Republicans are not able to produce an agreement we will have contingencies in place. These plans will likely only be considered as a last resort, but make no mistake about it, they remain on the table."

    Schumer later clarified that reconciliation was indeed one of the "contingincies in place," though he stressed that getting a bipartisan bill was everyone's priority.

    "We hope to get a bipartisan agreement. That's goal one. If we can't do that, the second goal is to get a bill done," he said.

    White House Luncheon: Health Care, Clunkers, And Cake?

    Most of the 60-member Senate Democratic caucus will head to the White House tomorrow for their weekly luncheon, with plans to discuss a range of issues with President Obama on what happens to be his 48th birthday.

    "Chuck E. Cheese was booked," press secretary Robert Gibbs joked today.

    It's also in part a continuation of the White House's mid-year review. The president huddled with his Cabinet this weekend. Gibbs said he expected health care and the economy to be a focus, with Obama also likely pushing the upper chamber to act on legislation to continue the Cash for Clunkers program.

    "Without some help from the Senate ... the program will have to be stopped by the end of the week," he warned.

    Obama marked his birthday over the weekend by having some friends at Camp David for dinner, and to play basketball and bowl. Gibbs said Obama tallied 144 in the latter, including three strikes and a 9-of-10 in his final four frames.

    "I told the president, if you had done this in Pennsylvania my life would have been a little easier last spring," he said.

    Gibbs Says Obama Sticking To Commitment On Taxes

    Robert Gibbs walked back the comments of top economic advisers that suggested the administration was open to broad-based tax increases, saying at his daily press briefing today that President Obama stands by promises he made in the campaign.

    "The president was clear during the campaign about his commitment on not raising taxes on middle class families," he told reporters. "I don't think any economist would believe that in the environment we're in, raising taxes on middle class families would make any sense, and the president agrees."

    Asked about Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner's and National Economic Council chief Larry Summers' seeming refusal to rule out such tax increases, Gibbs said that while he hadn't seen the comments, he thinks based on transcripts that "they allowed themselves to get into a little bit of a hypothetical back-and-forth."

    "The president has made a very clear commitment to not raise taxes on middle class families, period," he repeated.

    Asked how the administration could still follow through on some of its plans without new revenues, Gibbs said that the first priority is to restart the economy. Beyond that, "obviously we're going to have to make some decisions down the road on some of the president's legislative priorities and some of the things Congress wants to do." He identified a "half trillion" in health care savings the White House has identified, and smaller steps like the recent F-22 vote, as evidence of progress toward reducing the deficit.

    Gibbs also reminded reporters that one of Obama's first acts was signing the Recovery Act, which included a tax cut for 95 percent of Americans, including "everybody in the middle class."

    "For eight long years, the middle class had borne the brunt of bad economic policies," he said, noting that wages declined for the middle class in the past administration even as the economy grew.

    Sen. Kyl Won't Support Sotomayor

    Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) said today he will not vote to confirm Sonia Sotomayor's nomination to the Supreme Court. The Senate is set to vote on her confirmation this week after the Judiciary Committee approved her nomination July 28.

    "For 220 years, presidents have sought out judges and justices who fulfill the requirement that they put aside any personal opinions and apply appropriate U.S. law to impartially resolve disputes," Kyl wrote in a long statement. "I have not been persuaded that Judge Sotomayor will uphold this important tradition. For these reasons, and others, I will oppose her confirmation."

    Kyl, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, first announced his opposition to Sotomayor's nomination July 22. Just one Republican on the committee, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, voted to send her nomination to the floor of the Senate.

    Kyl said Sotomayor's judicial record gives him "reason to believe she will not set aside her own personal biases when deciding a case."

    Strategy Memo: Read My Lips

    Welcome to the dog days of August.

    The president's day starts with his economic and security briefings, after which he will be joined by Vice President Biden and others in Fairfax, Va., for an event to mark the implementation of the Post-9/11 GI Bill. Then it's back to the White House for a meeting and lunch with the emir of Kuwait. This afternoon, Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Ia.) comes to meet with Obama at the White House.

    The Energy and Commerce Committee approved the Democrats' health care bill Friday night, just before House members departed for a five-week recess. Members must now face their constituents back home, before returning to Washington Sept. 8.

    The Senate remains in session this week, as Democrats work toward consensus on their own health care plan. On the floor today, the Senate will resume consideration of the Agriculture Appropriations bill.

    **Check out the RCP Video page for highlights from the Sunday talk shows.

    **President Obama
    *The lead out of the Sunday shows, from AP: "President Barack Obama's treasury secretary said Sunday he cannot rule out higher taxes to help tame an exploding budget deficit, and his chief economic adviser would not dismiss raising them on middle-class Americans as part of a health care overhaul."

    *This weekend, Obama warned that it will take many more months for the economy to fully recover. "Obama is putting the economy back at the forefront of his remarks to the public as polls show it remains the top concern of Americans," Bloomberg notes.

    *Howard Kurtz reports that Rahm Emanuel called the heads of Disney, GE and CBS to make the case for airing Obama's recent press conference in prime time. "Whether this amounted to undue pressure or plain old Chicago arm-twisting, Emanuel got results: the fourth hour of lucrative network time for his boss in six months. But network executives have been privately complaining to White House officials that they cannot afford to keep airing these sessions in the current economic downturn." The kicker: "Had Obama not answered the last question that evening -- declaring that the Cambridge police had acted "stupidly" in arresting Henry Louis Gates at his home -- the news conference would have been almost totally devoid of news."

    *The L.A. Times ran an interesting piece looking behind the scenes at the crafting of Obama's Cairo speech.

    *Looking even further back, the Washington Post excerpted from the new book on the election by Dan Balz and Haynes Johnson. Many great nuggets, including David Axelrod warning in 2004 that he thought Obama couldn't take a punch. But here's how Obama describes the campaign:

    "The way I would tell the story would really have to do with what this campaign said about America and where we've traveled," Obama said. "The fact that just a little over 40 years after the passage of the Voting Rights Act, that I can run. That just a few decades after women were admitted to professions like law or medicine in any meaningful numbers, that Hillary could run in a credible way. The generational changes between John McCain's era and our own, and sort of the vestiges of Vietnam, the shift that's taken place in the salience of some of the culture wars that emerged in the '60s that really were the dominant force in our politics, starting with Ronald Reagan, and how that had less power."

    *John McCain, on CNN Sunday: "It's very clear that the stimulus has had some effect. And I'll be glad to give him credit for that. But the question that I think we should be asking are the long term consequences of this unprecedented debts and deficits-are they beneficial to the country? And I think the answer is no."

    Referring to his former running mate, McCain said he was "saddened by the fact that there are still such vicious attacks on her and her family. I've never seen anything quite like it."

    **Health Care
    *The Hill: "The entire Senate Democratic caucus will hold a series of meetings this week on healthcare reform to bridge divides within their ranks that could derail legislation later this year ... Senate Democrats will focus on reform during the regularly scheduled caucus lunch on Tuesday and the Democratic Policy Committee lunch on Thursday. In addition, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has scheduled a special caucus-wide healthcare meeting for Wednesday. The leader needs to bring his colleagues together over the divisive question of whether to create a government-run health insurance program."

    *NYT: "With Republicans mobilizing against the proposed health care overhaul, President Obama, Congressional Democrats and leading advocacy groups are laying the groundwork for an August offensive against the insurance industry as part of a coordinated campaign to sell the public on the need for reform. The effort will feature town-hall-style meetings by lawmakers and the president, including a swing through Western states by Mr. Obama, grass-roots lobbying efforts and a blitz of expensive television advertising. It is intended to drive home the message that revamping the health care system will protect consumers by ending unpopular insurance industry practices, like refusing patients with pre-existing conditions."

    *WaPo: "With the House already gone and the Senate set to clear out by Friday, the terms of the recess battle are becoming clear. Republicans will assail the government coverage plan that Democrats and President Obama are advocating as a recklessly expensive federal takeover of health care. And Democrats will counter that GOP opposition represents a de facto endorsement of insurance industry abuses."

    *Some Dems, like Virginia Rep. Rick Boucher, are facing "political cross-pressures" on health care reform, L.A. Times reports. They "were evident when President Obama visited Boucher's district last week: There were demonstrators outside the event both supporting and protesting Democrats' plans to overhaul the nation's healthcare system. During the August congressional recess, Democrats from across the country expect to be buffeted by those same cross-currents. Their meetings with constituents are sure to be dominated by the far-reaching healthcare legislation emerging from House and Senate committees."

    *Politico: "Sleepy, sweltering August, typically a month for congressional beach getaways and temperature-taking back in the district, is shaping up to be the critical month for health care reform, with major battles brewing in the Capitol and on the streets in front of members' hometown offices." Click through for Thrush's five things to watch during recess.

    **Campaign Stuff
    *Gallup: "An analysis of Gallup Poll Daily tracking data from the first six months of 2009 finds Massachusetts to be the most Democratic state in the nation, along with the District of Columbia. Utah and Wyoming are the most Republican states, as they were in 2008. Only four states show a sizeable Republican advantage in party identification, the same number as in 2008. That compares to 29 states plus the District of Columbia with sizeable Democratic advantages, also unchanged from last year." Click through to see the Top 10 Dem and GOP states.

    *Former Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad "is actively considering a run for the office next year," the Des Moines Register reports. "The state's last Republican governor dismissed talk of a comeback last spring. But now he's discussing a 2010 run more openly, even as he says he is contentedly busy as president of a growing medical college." In an interview, he says: "I'm not ruling it out, because I care deeply about the state. And I have real concerns about the direction things are going."

    *The Connecticut Senate race is on hold after the disclosure that Chris Dodd has prostate cancer. But, AP reports, "it's doubtful the pleasantries will last long, political experts said, especially with the positive prognosis for recovery for Dodd, who plans to have surgery at New York's Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center shortly after Congress recesses next week and then rest at his Connecticut home before resuming his full-time schedule at the end of the month."

    *The Austin American-Statesman looks at the would-be senators waiting on incumbent Kay Bailey Hutchison to step down for a gubernatorial bid.

    *In Kentucky, the Herald-Leader reports that sparring between Democratic Senate candidates Dan Mongiardo and Jack Conway "provided the most potent verbal fireworks at Saturday's 129th annual Fancy Farm picnic, which traditionally kicks off the election season." Mongiardo attacked Conway for President Barack Obama's energy policy.

    *The San Francisco Chronicle sets the scene on fundraising in the California gov race. Attorney General Jerry Brown (D) has $7.3 million in the bank. Republican Meg Whitman has $4.9 million. Newsom raised $1.6 million and ended with $1.2 million cash for the period

    *The Union Leader takes a shot at the Washington campaign committees who are picking horses in Congressional and Senate races next year, specifically Frank Guinta and Kelly Ayotte. "These Washington elites presume to pick our candidates for us. But they have no idea who the best possible candidates for Senate and Congress are. That's why we have primaries in which party members, not the bosses, pick who will represent them in the general election."

    *VA Gov: "Virginia will be the center of political attention this fall, thanks to the first statewide election in a battleground state since the 2008 presidential election," writes Pittsburgh T-R's Zito. Also, GOP nominee Bob McDonnell is going door-to-door in Northern Virginia this morning with Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.), free on a five-week Congress recess.

    *NC Sen: "In North Carolina, Democrats are facing a remarkably similar situation to what they faced two years ago. The question is: Is Elaine Marshall their Kay Hagan? Following Rep. Mike McIntyre's (D-N.C.) decision this past week not to run against Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), Secretary of State Marshall (D) now looks like the favorite in one of the last leading Senate races that is still without a challenger."

    *The DNC made sure reporters saw this today: "For the first time in their history, Buffalo Republicans will not field a candidate for mayor this year," the Buffalo News reports.

    **Covering the War: Politics Daily's David Wood, just deployed, writes: "Top 7 Hassles Getting to Afghanistan."

    --Mike Memoli and Kyle Trygstad