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RealClearPolitics Politics Nation Blog

 

Blog Home Page --> September 2009

Debate Preview, With A Twist

Chris Daggett, the independent candidate in New Jersey's gubernatorial race, has released another offbeat video featuring stand-ins for his major-party rivals in advance of tomorrow's first debate. It's a bit long, but has some funny moments parodying Republican Chris Christie and Democrat Jon Corzine. Daggett again plays himself, as he did in a televised ad released earlier this month.

Highlights: "Corzine" begs New Jerseyans to back him again, saying, "you complete me." He also says the race is really about money, and kicks back and reads a copy of New York magazine featuring former Gov. Eliot Spitzer. "Christie"'s main pitch is that he's "not Jon Corzine" and "has never been Jon Corzine." He promises specifics will come after the election, steals some of Daggett's independent rhetoric, and appears to doze off at one point.

The real candidates, including Daggett, will meet tomorrow night at NJN's studio in Trenton for the first of two debates being organized by the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission. A second debate on New York and Philadelphia Fox-owned stations will air in two weeks. Christie and Daggett have agreed to at least one more radio debate, but Corzine has not.

Dem Party ID Margin Dropping

Democratic party identification is at its lowest mark since the second quarter of 2005, while GOP ID is at its highest point since the first quarter of 2006, according to Gallup's quarterly party identification report.

At 48% Democrat or lean-Democrat and 42% Republican or lean-Republican, the six-point gap is the smallest since 2005. Although the number of people identifying themselves as Republican has remained stable, more independents now lean Republican (15%) than Democrat (13%) for the first time in at least four years.

The report is based on five polls conducted of 5,090 adults between July 1 and Sept. 30.

9-30-09_Gallup_Quarterly_Party_ID.jpg

Kerry, Boxer Introduce New Climate Change Bill

Senators John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) introduced today the Senate version of a climate change bill, one they call "The Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act."

"Our health, our security, our economy, our environment, all demand we reinvent the way America uses energy," Kerry said in a statement announcing the bill. "Our addiction to foreign oil hurts our economy, helps our enemies and risks our security. By taking decisive action, we can and will stop climate change from becoming a 'threat multiplier' that makes an already dangerous world staggeringly more so."

The Senate Republican leader quickly released a statement criticizing the bill for the costs he says will be taken on by the American public -- the same argument House Republicans consistently used earlier this year.

"While many details are missing, this latest draft of the Democrats' new national energy tax appears to be even more expensive for consumers and for our economy than the bill that passed the House," said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). "The last thing American families need right now is to be hit with a new energy tax every time they flip on a lightswitch, or fill up their car--but that's exactly what this bill would do."

The House passed its version, the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009, on June 26 by a narrow, 219-212 margin. Here are some reactions from House leaders, Democrat and Republican, on the new Senate bill...

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer:

"Building a new, clean energy economy that creates jobs and increases American competitiveness and energy independence is a key priority for this Congress. The American Clean Energy and Security Act that passed the House in June lays the groundwork to achieve these goals through policies that invest in clean energy technologies and infrastructure, and curb the carbon pollution that threatens our economy, security and health. I look forward to the Senate's consideration of the Kerry-Boxer proposal as another step forward in investing in our clean energy future and asserting our leadership in new energy technologies."

Speaker Nancy Pelosi:

"The Boxer-Kerry bill is a strong foundation for Senate action on our clean energy future. I look forward to working with my Senate colleagues to deliver to the President a comprehensive clean energy and climate bill as soon as possible to ensure the success of the Copenhagen negotiations."

House Minority Leader John Boehner:

"The national energy tax was a terrible idea when it passed the House, and it is an even worse idea now. Middle-class families and small businesses struggling to make ends meet shouldn't be punished with costly legislation that will increase electricity bills, raise gasoline prices, and ship more American jobs overseas.

"Democrats in Washington had egg on their faces when the Obama Administration's own estimates found that the national energy tax will cost families an extra $1,700 per year. Instead of coming to their senses and scrapping this dangerous proposal, Democrats are pressing ahead, proving once again that they just don't get it.

"Republicans have offered a better solution. Our legislation - the American Energy Act - will clean up the environment, lower energy costs, reduce our dependence on foreign oil, and create millions of good-paying American jobs."


White House Jumps On Jindal Interview

Press secretary Robert Gibbs, facing questions about the White House's outreach to Republicans on health care, cited a new interview with Bobby Jindal in proposing that the Republicans need to show greater comment to bipartisanship.

"I saw one of the more popular governors, Republican governors, Bobby Jindal, say today that it was time for Republicans to offer what they're for, not just talk about what they're against," he said. "So, look, the president is happy to and will meet with Republicans."

Gibbs noted that this was the same Jindal who the Republican National Committee put forward to deliver the response to the president's first joint session address to Congress, and said he hopes the House GOP leadership will listen to him now.

Here's what Jindal actually told Politico in an interview:

"I think now is the perfect time to pivot and to say, not only here's what we're against, and not only here's how we're going to contrast ourselves, but here's what we're for."

Ad Wars In New Jersey

Last week, Chris Christie launched this ad, calling Gov. Jon Corzine (D) "deceitful" for his campaign's attacks about whether Christie's health care plan would cover mammograms.

Today, as a poll shows that this and other attacks have been successful in driving Christie's negatives higher, the Corzine camp responds to Christie's response, and calls him "completely deceitful."

Christie's ad had cited a newspaper article saying that Corzine's attacks "skew the truth," but Corzine ad cites another report saying that it "happens to be true," and refers to the Republican's own Web site.

VA Gov Poll: McDonnell +9

A new Rasmussen poll finds Bob McDonnell (R) leading Creigh Deeds (D) by 9 points in the race for governor of Virginia (Sept. 29, 500 LV, MoE +/- 4.5%). The result is a 7-point margin increase from two weeks ago, and is the second poll released in the last day to show McDonnell increasing his lead.

McDonnell 51 (+3 vs. last poll, Sept. 17)
Deeds 42 (-4)
Und 7


SurveyUSA released a poll late yesterday showing McDonnell out to a 14-point lead -- a stark contrast to polling over the last month that has shown the race tightening. Still, a PPP poll out yesterday as well showed the race down to just 5 points.

With just over a month remaining in the race, it's hard to tell exactly where the race is at this point with such differing results. McDonnell now leads in the RCP Average by 7.2 points.

At NIH, A Brief Pitch For Health Care

Quick quiz: when was the last time you heard President Obama trying to sell health reform?

It hasn't come up at a presidential event since he visited upstate New York more than a week ago, followed by some discussion on the David Letterman "Late Show" couch. Since then he, has been preoccupied with international affairs, at the United Nations, the G-20 Summit, and behind the scenes talks about Afghanistan.

Today the president visited the National Institutes of Health for an event that focused on money the facility will receive through the long-ago passed Recovery Act. He touted the job-creating potential of those funds for "conducting research in manufacturing and supplying medical equipment and building and modernizing laboratories and research facilities all across America." And yes, health reform did come up.

"Decades of research make no difference to the family that is dropped from an insurance policy when a child gets sick, and breakthroughs with the potential to save lives don't matter when your insurance doesn't cover a preexisting condition," he said. "As costs rise and rise, that leaves less and less for the kinds of investments in health care and in basic research that will actually improve our well- being. That's why we're working so hard to pass long-overdue reform."

Left unmentioned were yesterday's failed votes on the public option. The White House released just this statement. Obama did resist today the idea that reform would lead "to a takeover by the government of the health care sector."

PA Gov Poll: Corbett Leads All

Attorney General Tom Corbett (R) is the most well known of the candidates looking to replace the term-limited Gov. Ed Rendell (D), and therefore leads his potential opponents by wide margins, a new Quinnipiac survey finds (Sept. 21-28, 1100 RV, MoE +/- 3%).

Corbett leads Rep. Jim Gerlach (R-Pa.), who represents a district northwest of Philadelphia, by a 42%-13% margin among Republicans, with 43% undecided.

Among the Democrats, Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato leads with 14%, followed by Montgomery Co. Commissioner Joe Hoeffel (the 2004 Senate nominee) at 12%, State Auditor General Jack Wagner at 11%, Scranton Mayor Chris Doherty at 8% and businessman Tom Knox at 5%. Forty-six percent remain undecided.

"The Democratic race for Governor is wide open," said Quinnipiac pollster Peter Brown. "The candidates just aren't that visible to most voters and that race is still far, far away from even having a front-runner. The Republicans are another story. Corbett has a large lead and although it is certainly not insurmountable, Congressman Gerlach certainly has his work cut out for him."

General Election Matchups
Corbett 47 - Onorato 28 - Und 24

Corbett 44 - Wagner 29 - Und 25

Countdown '09: New Jersey and Virginia (34 Days)

NEW JERSEY (RCP Average: Christie +5.0)

*Corzine is closing the gap, with a Q-poll showing a 4-point race.

*Chris Daggett rolled out a plan to cut property taxes by 25 percent.

*The campaigns are zeroing in on issue attacks, downplaying personal attacks.

*Christie is a HUGE fan of the Boss.

*Sen. Bob Menendez (D) seemed hopeful, but not overly optimistic about Corzine's chances.

VIRGINIA (RCP Average: McDonnell +5.8)

*A SurveyUSA poll released last night found McDonnell leading by 14 points, a far cry from other recent polls -- including another yesterday from PPP that had the GOP nominee up 5 points.

*Washington Biz Journal breaks down the candidates' positions on transportation.

*Bill Pascoe thinks Deeds got an endorsement yesterday from the wrong former governor.

*Roanoke Times reports that Deeds was happy to get Linwood Holton's endorsement anyway.

*Deeds will open a new Democratic campaign office in Falls Church tonight, alongside former primary rival Brian Moran.

Strategy Memo: War Council

President Obama starts his day with daily briefings, and then heads to the National Institutes of Health for an announcement of stimulus dollars earmarked for the facility. Back at the White House, he'll host Arnold Palmer in the Oval Office to sign the Arnold Palmer Gold Medal Act. The main event is later, however, as he meets with his national security team on Afghanistan.

Vice President Biden will be in that meeting. But first he'll be back in his home state of Delaware to speak at an event celebrating his son's return, along with his Delaware National Guard unit, from Iraq.

The Senate will debate and vote on the conference report for the Legislative Branch Appropriations bill, with a series of three votes expected at 4:30 p.m. The House will consider another dozen or so suspension bills. Off the floor, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer is hosting a meeting between representatives of GM and Chrysler and the auto dealers forced to close shop as a result of the automakers' bankruptcy proceedings. The Senate Homeland Security committee will hold a hearing on current terrorist threats to the United States, and Senators John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) will unveil their climate change bill.

Today also marks the final day for candidates to raise money for the 3rd Quarter FEC filing period. Expect your inboxes to be flooded with appeals.

**Health Care
*The Senate Finance Committee "twice beat back efforts Tuesday to create a government-run insurance plan, dealing a crippling blow to the hopes of liberals seeking to expand the federal role in health coverage as a cornerstone of reform," WaPo reports.

*Politico: "Now, squabbling Democrats are looking to the president to be the final arbiter of whether they include the public option in the version of the bill that goes to the Senate floor -- and later, whether it will emerge in compromise legislation from a House-Senate conference."

*Dan Balz also writes that Obama is being looked at for leadership. "The time of hanging back is quickly coming to an end if he hopes to find the 60 votes needed to pass a bill in the Senate," he writes.

*Jay Rockefeller said on CNN that he is disappointed in Obama's level of support for the public option. "I know he's strongly for it, and I know his tactic has been to let the Congress do his work and then he'll come in when the crunch really counts. What I'm saying is that the crunch is really beginning to count now, and I think he's -- I know he's for it, and said so publicly, and campaigned on it, so I think it's important that he come in at this point strongly."

**President Obama
*Wall Street Journal: "The White House began its review of the Afghan war strategy in earnest Tuesday, with senior administration officials meeting via videoconference with the top commander in Kabul, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, at the start of what could be weeks of debate over whether to send thousands of reinforcements. White House officials said President Barack Obama will join in the discussions Wednesday, when he is expected to meet with Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, among other top officials."

*Obama today will announce $5 billion from the stimulus package for the NIH to support research into cures for cancer and other diseases, and to create jobs.

*USA Today explores the czars debate. "Some senators of both parties ... say they're concerned that the advisers add to the government bureaucracy, duplicate work being done at departments and blur the lines of authority with other top officials."

*Vice President Biden continues his active fundraising schedule. He'll headline Iowa Democrats' annual dinner, raise money in New York for New Hampshire's Paul Hodes, and speak at the Allegheny County Democrats' dinner October 19.

**Congress
*"U.S. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D., Md.) will host a meeting Wednesday between auto dealers and representatives of General Motors Co. and Chrysler Group LLC aimed at reaching an "equitable agreement" for the thousands of dealers forced to close when the two car makers declared bankruptcy," Wall Street Journal reports.

*"Lawmakers are readying tough new sanctions against Iran in the wake of its recent disclosure of a second secret nuclear facility. A parade of bills in both chambers has drawn wide bipartisan support that suggests passage would be a cinch," The Hill reports.

*"Congress is on the verge of giving itself a bump in its annual budget -- even as local governments, families and businesses across the country are tightening their belts in the worst recession in decades. Under a House-Senate conference measure, approved by the House last week and poised for passage in the Senate on Wednesday, spending for the legislative branch will increase 5.8 percent this year, boosting Capitol Hill's annual budget to $4.7 billion," Politico reports.

*"After weathering the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, getting a financial regulatory overhaul done should be as close to a slam dunk for Democrats as anything else on their agenda this year -- and they sure could use a victory," Roll Call reports.

*"The decision by Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) to seek steeper greenhouse gas emissions cuts than their House counterparts drew mixed reviews from senators yesterday, underscoring the challenges the pair will face after unveiling their climate bill today," NY Times reports.

**Campaign Stuff
*NV Sen: Politico asks, What if Harry Reid loses in the 2010 midterm elections? "It's a question few in the Senate will ask aloud but one that's creeping into the chamber's collective consciousness."

DSCC Chairman Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) doesn't believe the majority leader is in trouble. "I am convinced that while it has become the new system to go after the majority leader, Harry Reid is not Tom Daschle and this is not South Dakota," said Menendez.

*PA Gov: A new Quinnipiac poll finds Atty Gen Tom Corbett leading Rep. Jim Gerlach (R-Pa.) 42%-13%, as well as his potential Dem opponents in the general election.

*The New York Times dives into the Colorado Senate primary. "Democrats in the state are deeply divided" after Andrew Romanoff's entry to the race, "and Republicans see an opportunity to break a recent Democratic hold on statewide offices."

*The Boston Globe writes about how Attorney General Martha Coakley, a Hillary supporter in 2008, is lining up women in support of her Senate bid. She'll be formally endorsed by Senate President Therese Murray and other women legislators today.

*"Florida Gov. Charlie Crist is playing the role of a confident - and even cocky -- frontrunner as he vies to become the state's junior senator," Politico's Kraushaar writes.

*NYC Runoff: Councilman John Liu is poised to be the first Asian-American to win city-wide office, after winning the Democratic primary for comptroller. Mark Green's comeback effort failed, as Councilman Bill de Blasio won the race for public advocate.

--Mike Memoli and Kyle Trygstad

Q Poll: Corzine Closing The Gap

A new Quinnipiac poll of the New Jersey gubernatorial race seems to show a September surge of sorts for Gov. Jon Corzine (D).

General Election Matchup
Christie 43 (-4 from last poll, 9/1)
Corzine 39 (+2)
Daggett 12 (+3)
Undecided 6 (unch)

The poll brings Chris Christie's (R) lead in the RCP Average down to 5 points, the lowest in our tracking. One potential reason why: a sharp spike in Christie's unfavorable numbers -- from 30 percent earlier this month, to 38 percent in today's survey. His unfavorable rating has nearly doubled since July, while Corzine's has held steady.

Favorable Ratings
Christie 38 / 38
Corzine 34 / 56
Daggett 11 / 3

Maurice Carroll, director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute, finds that at this stage, independent Chris Daggett's numbers do "matter," with him now above double digits. Christie leads among independent likely voters by a margin of 45-32, with Daggett getting 16 percent.

Corzine's job approval rating is now at 36 percent, with 58 percent disapproving. President Obama's approval rating improved to 56 percent from 51 percent earlier this month; 39 percent disapprove.

The survey of 1,188 likely voters was conducted September 23-28, with a margin of error of +/- 2.8 percent points.

White House Statement On Public Option Votes

Hours after the failure of two votes to include a public option in health care legislation from the Senate Finance Committee, a somewhat ambivalent statement from the White House:

"As the President said in his Joint Session address, health insurance reform legislation must provide more choice and competition in the health insurance market in order to drive down costs and provide affordable options to Americans who are uninsured or forced to shop in the expensive private or small group market. He believes making a public option available on the insurance exchange is a good way to achieve those goals. He has said he is open to other constructive ideas of increasing choice and competition. He will work with Congress to ensure that under health insurance reform, Americans who cannot find affordable coverage will always have a choice."

Menendez Hopeful Of Corzine Turnaround

While briefing reporters today about the landscape for Senate races in 2010, New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez (D) was asked about the election this fall in his home state, where Gov. Jon Corzine (D) faces an uphill climb in his re-election bid. His answer was telling.

"I have enough on my plate," he joked.

Menendez, who was appointed to the Senate by Corzine after he resigned to become governor after the 2005 election, acknowledged Corzine's vulnerabilities.

"That's a race that is focused on a lot of state issues, focused on a lot of challenges that the governor has faced trying to make tough choices on fiscal, structural issues that weren't popular but were incredibly important," he said.

Though he said the race focused on state issues, Menendez did lump Corzine's rival, former U.S. Attorney Chris Christie, with the national GOP in saying that he is "basically no on everything." Corzine, meanwhile, "has tackled the tough issues."

"He'll get the credit at the end of the day," Menendez said.

VA Gov Poll: McDonnell +5

With the election for governor of Virginia just 35 days away, Creigh Deeds (D) still has some ground to make up, but he's certainly within range of his Republican opponent. A new survey from Public Policy Polling today finds Bob McDonnell's lead over Deeds down to 5 points, a 2-point margin decrease from nearly a month ago.

McDonnell 48 (-1 vs. last poll, Sept. 1)
Deeds 43 (+1)
Und 8

McDonnell now leads in the RCP Average by 4.4 points.

"The race for Governor looks much more competitive heading into the last five weeks than it has for most of the last couple months," said PPP president Dean Debnam. "Democratic voters are showing more interest in turning out and that has Creigh Deeds within striking range."

McDonnell maintains a sizeable lead among independents, 53% to 37%, and also holds the support of a higher percentage of Republicans (96%) than Deeds does of Democrats (82%). Both candidates' unfavorable ratings increased since the last poll, perhaps due to an increasingly negative tone in the race's second to last month.

The survey was taken Sept. 25-28 of 576 likely voters with a margin of error of +/- 4.1%.

Senate Finance Committee Votes Down Public Option

From the AP:

The Senate Finance Committee has voted against creating a new government health insurance plan to compete with the private market.

The 15-to-8 vote could forecast the fate of the public option in the Senate as a whole. The outcome was expected but still a defeat for liberals who view government-sponsored insurance for the middle class as a key component of President Barack Obama's health care overhaul.

Five committee Democrats, including Chairman Max Baucus, joined with all 10 committee Republicans to defeat the measure by Democratic Sen. Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia.

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) also has an amendment that includes a public option up for a vote today, though the Rockefeller amendment vote result makes Schumer's proposal a long-shot, even though it is less progressive than Rockefeller's.

You can follow along on the New York Times' excellent live-blog of the committee proceedings.

UPDATED 3:51 p.m.: The committee just voted down Schumer's amendment on a 10-13 vote.

Menendez: Harry Reid Is Safe

By all indications, Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is up for a challenging re-election in 2010. But Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, says this will not be a repeat of 2004 and he wouldn't bet against the Senate majority leader.

"I don't accept the proposition that he's in trouble," Menendez said during a briefing with reporters on Capitol Hill this afternoon. "At the end of the day, I am convinced that while it has become the new system to go after the majority leader, Harry Reid is not Tom Daschle and this is not South Dakota."

As Senate minority leader in 2004, Daschle lost by 2 points to John Thune, becoming the first Senate party leader to lose an election since 1952. Daschle had trailed by a few points in early, internal GOP polls; Reid so far is following suit in public polling.

The four-term senator has found himself trailing in polls to Sue Lowden, who will step down as state party chairman tomorrow, and Danny Tarkanian, the son of famed UNLV basketball coach, Jerry Tarkanian. Political analyst Charlie Cook has ranked Reid's re-election race as a toss-up.

Calling Reid possibly the "greatest senator" ever in Nevada, Menendez maintains Reid is not in trouble, and noted that there are now more Democrats registered to vote in the state than Republicans.

"The reality is I'm convinced Harry Reid will win that race, and I would not, you know, bet against Harry Reid by any stretch of the imagination," he said.

Steele: Where's The Focus From Democrats?

Citing President Obama's trip to Copenhagen Thursday to sell Chicago's Olympic bid, RNC chairman Michael Steele accused the White House and Democrats in general of losing focus.

"Is the focus health care? Is the focus cap and trade? Is the focus energy? Is the focus job creation?" Steele asked. "I think the president needs to, along with the members in Congress ... tell the American people what their focus is going to be in the fall and into next year. Because I don't see tell-tale signs of economic strength but rather continued weakness in the job market; continued weakness in the Wall Streets and Main Streets of America that create the wealth we need to stimulate the economy."

Steele, speaking on a conference call with reporters this afternoon, said it was "noble" of President Obama to want to help his home town's bid, sending the first lady would have been enough in his eyes.

"I think that at a time of war, I think in a time of recession, at a time where American are expressing rather significantly their concerns and frustrations ... about health care, about the economy, about a host of domestic issues, and even international issues -- while nice, it is not necessary for the president," he said. "This administration has been pushing like hound dogs on getting a health care bill pronto. If it's that important to the president, then stay home and get it done."

Asked about Steele's criticism, White House press secretary Robert Gates jokingly asked who he was rooting for to host the 2016 games. "Is he hoping to hop a plane to Brazil and catch the Olympics in Rio?"

He also noted that Obama wouldn't be staying in Denmark long enough even to find out who the winning city would be so that he could keep working on health care and Afghanistan.

Who's he rooting for?

(LAUGHTER)

Is he hoping to hop a plane to Brazil and catch the Olympics in Rio?

(LAUGHTER)

I don't know. Maybe it's Madrid.

Countdown '09: New Jersey and Virginia (35 Days)

NEW JERSEY (RCP Average: Christie +6.6)

*Christie fought back on women's issues yesterday.

*A new mailer from the Corzine camp targets seniors.

*Newark Mayor Corey Booker calls Corzine "just the worst communicator." (He meant it in a good way).

*Christie has accepted another radio debate invitation.

*WSJ calls the '09 races Obama vs. Bush, the Sequel.

VIRGINIA (RCP Average: McDonnell +4.4)

*Deeds is campaigning at an Arlington Metro stop this morning; also expected to appear to offer his endorsement is former GOP governor Linwood Holton -- Gov. Tim Kaine's father-in-law.

*A new Deeds TV ad airing around the state features ex-Gov./Sen. Mark Warner saying Deeds would continue his pro-business legacy.

*McDonnell got some fundraising help yesterday from Newt Gingrich and Bobby Jindal. Next week, Creigh Deeds will head to Maryland for a monetary boost from Gov. Martin O'Malley.

*A Culpepper columnist writes that "the Deeds' campaign deceits are adding up."

Strategy Memo: Public Option Day

Today begins a series of meetings focused on Afghanistan in the White House. After morning briefings, President Obama meets with NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, and then Secretary of Defense Robert Gates in the Oval Office. The administration says he'll meet with his national security team on Afghanistan on Wednesday.

Vice President Biden joins Obama for those meetings; he'll also host an event at the Naval Observatory tonight to mark the anniversary of the Violence Against Women Act, which he championed in the Senate.

There could be fireworks inside the Senate Finance Committee hearing room today, as discussion will focus on the public option. On the Senate floor, debate will resume on the Dept. of Defense Appropriations bill, and a vote will be held on the nomination of Jeffrey Viken to be U.S. District Judge in South Dakota. The House Oversight committee is holding a hearing on the administration's flu vaccine program. The House will vote tonight on a dozen suspension bills.

Finally, downtown today, filmmaker Michael Moore; Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen; and Fred Redmond, vice president of United Steelworkers will deliver remarks at a news conference to "challenge President Obama and Democratic members of Congress to get tough on Health Care Reform."

**President Obama
*Cillizza makes a good point: does the White House need an attack dog?

*Time's Scherer asks if Obama's health care plan can really deliver savings. "The answer, according to a wide range of experts, is frustratingly vague: Maybe. Hopefully. Probably."

*Obama's meeting today with NATO's secretary general is likely to focus on Afghanistan, AP reports. He said yesterday that "things are going to have to change" in Afghanistan to win there, but he "stopped short of calling for more combat troops to be sent to Afghanistan, as the Obama administration currently is debating."

*Chicago 2016: The Tribune: "As his proposed health care overhaul struggled to gain traction in Congress, Obama had talked about skipping the trip and relying instead on first lady Michelle Obama as Chicago's A-list advocate. But White House aides said Obama always wanted to make the trip, and he is now satisfied that health care legislation is on track. That allows him to dash to Denmark without being diverted from a crowded agenda, aides said."

*The Wall Street Journal looks at what's at stake in the new Supreme Court session. There's also questions about how the new makeup of the court will impact its rulings. "Some legal observers think the conservative majority may be ready to move more forcefully."

**Health Care
*AP: The Senate Finance Committee today is expected to consider whether there will be a public option. That is "the top goal for liberals, but it has no Republican support and moderate Democrats say the Senate will never go along. So Tuesday's debate is expected to pit Democratic liberals against moderates."

*"The debate over whether to create a public insurance plan to compete with private plans is about to explode in the Senate Finance Committee. The stakes are high and so is the suspense," writes Politics Daily. "It's unclear what the outcome will be Tuesday when the committee, continuing work on its 10-year, $900 billion health reform bill, is scheduled to take up three versions of a public health insurance option."

*NY Times adds that Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) and Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) "intend to press the issue in separate amendments before the committee. The prospects for passage there appear dim, but supporters hope they can build momentum by debating the issue now and holding a roll-call vote of committee members under the gaze of Democratic constituencies like labor unions, which strongly support the public option."

*Finance Chairman Max Baucus's (D-Mont.) "biggest antagonist so far is Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl of Arizona, who has emerged as the combative leader for the GOP, fiercely defending Republicans' right to argue amendments at length and pushing back on Democrats' claims that the GOP has no plan of its own," Politico reports.

*"At least 14 of the nation's 22 Republican governors have sent, or will soon send, letters to their respective congressional delegations claiming the Democrats' health care bills would bankrupt their states. Republican leaders on Capitol Hill have been actively involved in the effort," The Hill reports.

**2012
*Mitt Romney continues "to maintain close contact with his one-time House GOP backers and put a premium on their needs for 2010 as he weighs his next move. And it appears a possible rival for the 2012 presidential nomination, Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R), may be stealing from Romney's playbook," Roll Call reports.

*Politico reports that "despite Palin's high negative ratings in recent national polls, Republicans at the grass-roots level and their leaders still hold a very favorable impression of the former Alaska governor."

*An interesting title for Sarah Palin's new book: "Going Rogue." It's "a reference to the anonymous criticism directed at Palin by aides to Republican presidential nominee John McCain during the final days of last year's presidential race," CNN's Hamby reminds us.

**Campaign Stuff
*Houston Chronicle looks at the Senate campaign of its mayor, Bill White. "The mayor has traveled the state trying to introduce himself to a wide swath of people, many of whom have never heard of him. The mayor's one-on-one conversations with voters, sausage on a stick in hand, may not seem too unusual to a Houstonian peering in on his campaigning for a day. But one may have a harder time recognizing the passionate Democrat that took shots this weekend at Gov. Perry, Presidents George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush, Sens. Hutchison and John Cornyn and the South Carolina congressman who recently called the president a liar."

*The Hill's Wilson writes that Democrats are happy the midterms will be a referendum on Obama, thinking it will help their chances.

And The Hill's Blake reports that the GOP is expanding its hit list for 2010.

*MA Sen: "Candidates in the special election to fill the seat left vacant by Sen. Edward M. Kennedy's death are scrambling to collect the cash, signatures and backing needed to mount a winning campaign in less than four months," AP reports.

Are the Kennedys backing Rep. Mike Capuano for the Senate seat in Massachusetts? Stephen E. Smith, the late senator's nephew, is, the Boston Herald reports.

*Rhode Island Attorney General Patrick Lynch (D) is staffing up for a gubernatorial run, ProJo reports.

*The challenge for the "seven white men" running to succeed Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell is to "show that he's a high-performance Lexus, not just a sensible Camry," the Philly Inquirer reports.

*Voters are again voting in New York (though likely not many of them). It's a runoff in the Democratic primaries for public advocate and city comptroller.

--Kyle Trygstad and Mike Memoli

Split Among Kentucky Democrats?

Democrats concerned about a bloody primary fight in the Kentucky Senate race may now extend their concern to the 2011 gubernatorial race. Lt. Gov. Daniel Mongiardo is running for the Senate seat being vacated by retiring Sen. Jim Bunning (R). State law dictates that in order to start raising money for his re-election campaign, Gov. Steve Beshear had to choose a new running mate, and he did so -- Louisville Mayor Jerry Abramson.

Per the Lexington Herald Leader, Mongiardo was allegedly captured on audio complaining about his former running mate's efforts to fundraise for himself when Mongiardo himself needs to collect as many dollars as he can. Beshear has endorsed Mongiardo, but you have to wonder about the level of support after listening to this.

More from the Herald Leader:

Mongiardo is heard saying he is so frustrated with Beshear that he is "close to saying f-- it all. I do not need this job. I do not need the U.S. Senate."

Mongiardo is also heard saying that Beshear, who has endorsed Mongiardo, will be remembered as the state's "worst" governor and that a "blowup" is coming.

Mongiardo spokesman Kim Geveden said the audio tape was "edited" and that Mongiardo "strongly supports" Beshear.

...

The U.S. Senate campaign of Attorney General Jack Conway, Mongiardo's chief rival in May's Democratic primary election, said Monday that Mongiardo "has a lot of explaining to do to the governor and the people" about the anonymous tape.

Beshear spokesman Jay Blanton said Monday evening that "the Governor continues to strongly support Lt. Gov. Mongiardo's candidacy for the U.S. Senate." He declined to comment on the YouTube recording.

This is not the first time profanity-laced statements have caused problems in the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate.

Conway apologized last month for using profanity during statements he made at the annual Fancy Farm political picnic in Graves County.

Beshear was something of a surprise winner of the 2007 Democratic primary, surging late in a crowded field. He easily defeated incumbent Gov. Ernie Fletcher (R) that fall, but saw his popularity wane quickly. Mongiardo's comments about Beshear's standing has to only further worry state Democrats.

CA Gov Poll: Brown Runs Stronger Against GOP Candidates

A Rasmussen poll of potential matchups in the California gubernatorial race shows that state Attorney General and former Gov. Jerry Brown is a stronger Democratic nominee than San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, leading all potential Republican opponents at this stage.

General Election Matchups
Brown 44 - Whitman 35 - Und 18
Brown 45 - Poizner 32 - Und 18
Brown 44 - Campbell 34 - Und 16
Whitman 41 - Newsom 36 - Und 18
Poizner 40 - Newsom 36 - Und 18
Campbell 42 - Newsom 36 - Und 17

Primary matchups were not released yet.

Brown, seeking a comeback in the governor's office after more than two decades, is by far the best-known candidate in the field, and the only with a favorability rating above 50 percent. Newsom, who owes his statewide notoriety in part to his fight for same-sex marriage, is the only candidate with a net-negative rating. Former eBay CEO Meg Whitman polls best among the Republican candidates. But the survey was conducted just as she enjoyed a post-announcement media blitz that included a story about her spotty voting record.

Favorability Ratings
Brown 53 / 37
Newsom 41 / 44

Whitman 45 / 28
Poizner 36 / 32
Campbell 42 / 32

The automated telephone survey of 500 likely voters was conducted September 24, and had a margin of error of +/- 4.5 percent.

Biden Son Returns After Iraq Deployment

Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden, considered a likely candidate to run for his father's old Senate seat in 2010, returned after a nearly year-long deployment in Iraq this weekend. He and other members of the Delaware National Guard's 261st Tactical Signal Brigade are currently participating in demobilization at Fort Dix in New Jersey, with a return ceremony set for this Wednesday at the state capital in Dover.

Vice President Joe Biden will speak at the event this week, marking the first time a sitting vice president has done so in the state. But it's hardly new for Biden, who served as Delaware's senator for 36-plus years.

"When Biden was a senator, he never missed one of these," said Lt. Col. Len Grattieri, public information officer for the Delaware National Guard. Even in the midst of the campaign last fall, Biden flew to Delaware directly after the vice presidential debate to attend his son's deployment event.

"It's given a national awareness of the unit," Grattieri said. "He's a soldier like any of the other 109 in the 261st. But on the other hand he is the Vice President's son, he's the attorney general. So it's a special circumstance, and I think he did a great job of balancing the two."

All three members of the Delaware Congressional delegation typically attend the event. Rep. Mike Castle (R), who is considering the Senate race as well, was invited, but his office says he may not be able to attend because of schedule votes in the House this week. When Biden deployed last fall, Castle's chief of staff represented him there.

Certainly, there's extra attention on Wednesday's event not just because of the vice president's attendance, but also the political intrigue.

With the younger Biden back on home soil, speculation is sure to ratchet up further about his political plans for 2010. His term as attorney general is also due up next year, so he will have to choose whether to run for re-election or follow in his father's footsteps. When then-Gov. Ruth Ann Minner (D) appointed former Biden aide Ted Kaufman to fill the seat last winter, it was widely seen as a signal that the Bidens were at least preserving the option of a Senate run.

For now, the 41-year-old is focused on spending time with family, and eventually returning to the attorney general's office. Biden spokesperson Jason Miller said his exact return date is yet to be determined. Grattieri said he will be released from active duty within the next 30 days. Beyond that, he still will have to report for Guard duty one weekend a month, and have a longer training period at some point next year.

NY-23: Club Endorses Hoffman (C)

The Club for Growth Political Action Committee endorsed today Doug Hoffman, the Conservative Party candidate in the special election for New York's 23rd District. The group endorsed Hoffman over GOP nominee Dede Scozzafava.

Hoffman, Scozzafava and Democrat Bill Owens are running to replace former Rep. John McHugh, who resigned his seat after being sworn in last week as Army Secretary.

"After months of runaway spending, bailouts, and record deficits, the last thing we need in Congress is another rubber stamp for Nancy Pelosi and the liberal Democrats," said Club President Chris Chocola. "Doug Hoffman is the only candidate in this race who will stand up for taxpayers and fight to protect our freedoms in Washington."

Scozzafava is a State Assemblywoman, whom the Club refers to as "liberal," and who may have trouble picking up support from the right wing of the GOP. Hoffman was also endorsed this morning by Fred Thompson, a former presidential candidate and senator from Tennessee, and the Susan B. Anthony List Candidate Fund, a national pro-life PAC.

"It's gravely disappointing that the Republican Party chose to nominate a candidate whose position flies in the face of the actual pro-life party platform," said SBA List president Marjorie Dannenfelser. "Dede Scozzafava's support for the extreme abortion agenda is out of step with New York's 23rd District."

The Club released a poll last week that found Scozzafava leading Hoffman and Democrat Bill Owens by just 3 points, with 45% undecided.

Obama Being 'Very Deliberative' On Afghanistan

Though much of today's White House briefing focused on the late announcement that President Obama will travel to Copenhagen to pitch Chicago's Olympic bid, Robert Gibbs addressed two major issues related to what was once called the "Global War on Terrorism." In both cases -- the planned closure of the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay and new policy on Afghanistan -- the White House is holding off on key decisions.

Gibbs repeatedly used the word "deliberate" or some variation thereof in describing the president's mindset on Afghanistan after receiving an assessment from the top commander there. As some call for a stronger stand now, the spokesman played off what he implied were impulsive decisions made in the previous administration.

"We have seen the movie before, where you put a bunch of resources in a place and then you decide your strategy," he said. "I don't think the output that we've seen in those decisions has all together been good for this country or for our military. Instead, I think the president wants to evaluate and assess where we are, what's changed in the past few months, what's needed and necessary as part of this strategy going forward, and then eventually we'll have a discussion about whether or not the resources that are there are adequate to the task of that strategy."

On Guantanamo Bay, Gibbs essentially conceded that the White House would not be meeting its self-imposed deadline for closing the detention facility.

"We're not focused on whether or not the deadline will or won't be met on a particular day," he said. "We're focused on ensuring that the facility is closed and doing all that has to be done between now and the 22nd of January to make the most progress that we can that's possible."

He also denied, somewhat, reports that White House counsel Greg Craig has been stripped of his portfolio in regard to detention policy.

"There are a number of people that are working on it, Greg being one of them, and talked to the president about Guantanamo earlier today," he said.

Another Spurned New York Democrat?

The White House has weighed in on the New York governor's race, encouraging Gov. David Paterson (D) to step aside in favor of the more poll-friendly Attorney General Andrew Cuomo. Today, you can likely add Bill Thompson to the list of Empire State Democrats being spurned by the White House.

Press secretary Robert Gibbs would neither confirm nor deny a New York Daily News report that President Obama is "refusing to get involved" in the New York City mayoral race unless the Democratic nominee can close the gap with Democrat-turned-Republican-turned-independent Michael Bloomberg.

"I haven't talked to anybody in political affairs about that," Gibbs said when asked if Obama would like to see the Democrat win the race.

During the 2008 presidential race Obama publicly wooed the New York mayor for his support, even having breakfast with him at a city diner for the cameras to see. Bloomberg has praised Obama at times since his successful election, and visited the White House multiple times. No poll has put the Thompson closer than 9 points of Bloomberg, who is on the Republican ballot line in November's vote.

Still, it's an open question whether the Obama White House's heavy involvement, or lack thereof, in local and state politics will backfire when he needs allies down the road. Of course, it's not just Obama staying out of the New York race. Al Gore strongly praised, though stopped short of endorsing, Bloomberg last week, praising his record on environmental issues.

Leadership PACs and Golf Outings

Pro Publica pulls back the curtain on the Leadership PACs of members of Congress, and the fact that they allow lobbyists to provide public officials with some of life's luxuries they might not otherwise be able to afford.

When it comes to golf, Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., has champagne taste.

...

Fortunately for Chambliss, a political fund covers the costs of his golf hobby. The fund received $692,618 during the 2008 election cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Almost all of it came from lobbyists, political action committees (PACs) and corporate leaders.

The public might be forgiven for thinking the days are gone when lobbyists and special interests could pay for a lawmaker's cross-country golf outings. After all, both the House and Senate in 2007 responded to a spate of scandals by banning members of Congress from accepting gifts of any value from lobbyists or the companies that hire them.

But those reforms preserved a major loophole: leadership PACs like Chambliss' Republican Majority Fund [1], which have far looser rules and get far less scrutiny than campaign committees. At first, only a few rising stars in Congress had them. Now, 70 percent of the members do. So do a dozen former members.

Click here to see how your member of Congress spends his Leadership PAC money.

Dems Continue Call for GOP Health Care Bill

House Democrats are still waiting for Republicans to introduce their own health care proposal, which Rep. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), chairman of the GOP's health care working group, guaranteed in June they would do. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer's (D-Md.) office released a timeline today to illustrate the point, and the DCCC sent out a reminder Thursday night that Friday marked 100 days since Blunt's promise.

DCCC Chair Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) said that night on MSNBC that the GOP hasn't introduced it's own proposal "because they're afraid that people will realize that the plan they're putting forward won't do the job."

Since June, party leaders have gone back and forth in remarks to reporters on whether a bill would indeed come forth from their side of the aisle, though they've maintained that whether they have a complete bill or not, the party has presented alternatives to President Obama's plan.

Most recently, though, Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) has said the party's most imminent goal is stopping the Democrats' bill. "The problem right now is they're in this big rush to pass this bill, and the American people want us to do everything we can to stop it," he said Sept. 9, the day Obama spoke to a joint session of Congress.

Countdown '09: New Jersey and Virginia (36 Days)

NEW JERSEY (RCP Average: Christie +6.6)
*Al Gore played the Bush card as he fired up New Jersey Democrats this weekend.

*Corzine launched another "hug and slug" ad this weekend, pumping his own record on education and then slamming Christie's plans.

*The Star-Ledger notes just how much Corzine is spending.

*With that cash advantage, Walter Shapiro writes that Christie could still be considered the underdog.

*The LG candidates are still sorting out their roles.

*Gannet profiles independent candidate Chris Daggett.

VIRGINIA (RCP Average: McDonnell +4.4)

*Creigh Deeds sees the brighter side of a rain-filled weekend

*The economy has supplanted transportation as the top issue of the campaign

*McDonnell appeared on Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace

*To increase turnout, college students may now use their dorm address on voter registration forms

*Deeds pledges to continue state's fiscal conservatism

Strategy Memo: Olympic Pitch

Good morning, Washington. President Obama's public schedule is rather empty after a week focused on foreign policy. He'll have his daily briefings this morning and meet with senior advisers; no other events are listed. Vice President Biden will join the president for those meetings, and also meet later with Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano.

If there's any health care lobbying going on this week, it's mostly behind the scenes. Tuesday, Obama meets with NATO Secretary General Rasmussen at the White House. Thursday afternoon, Obama attends a fundraiser for the DGA. And then, it was announced today, he'll leave for Copenhagen to pitch his home town's Olympic bid.

The House and Senate are not in session today, as both return for regular business tomorrow. The Senate Finance Committee is set to resume mark up on a health care bill tomorrow that Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) hopes to finish by the end of the week.

**President Obama
*AP reports that the White House is conceding it may not meet its deadline for shutting down Guantanamo Bay.

*Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Sunday "that the severe sanctions the West is threatening against Iran could force a change in the Islamic Republic's nuclear ambitions, especially since the country is already under severe economic distress." LA Times notes that Gates also "played down, as he has in the past, the value of military strikes, saying at most they could only retard Iran's nuclear program by an estimated one to three years."

*Speaking Saturday night at the Congressional Black Caucus gala, Obama talked health care, but didn't mention the public option, The Hill notes.

*Lynn Sweet reports on the news that Obama will make the trip to Copenhagen, afterall, to sell Chicago 2016. He'll leave Washington Thursday night and arrive just before the city's presentation to the IOC on Friday. Valerie Jarrett: "In the spirit of the Games, President Obama wants to make sure that we give this our very best effort in the home stretch."

*The Daily News ' found it "odd" when Gov. David Paterson replied "I don't know" in response to David Gregory's inquiry about whether the White House "specifically" told him not to run in 2010. The line of the interview: "I'm blind but I'm not oblivious."

Biden told TV One: "No one is demanding, to the best of my knowledge, that the governor step down," The Hill notes. "If it can be shown that he can win, he should stay in the race."

*More Meddling? The Denver Post reports that as word leaked that he would challenge appointed Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Andrew Romanoff got a job offer from the White House.

**Health Care
New York Times reports that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is going to the bullpen, and "will lean heavily on President Obama to arbitrate a number of contentious issues that still threaten to divide liberal and centrist Democrats and derail a final bill." "None of these decisions are going to be made without significant presidential input," said Jim Manley, a Reid spokesman.

**Health Care
*"After years of trying to cut Medicare spending, Republican lawmakers have emerged as champions of the program, accusing Democrats of trying to steal from the elderly to cover the cost of health reform. It's a lonely battle," Washington Post reports.

*Roll Call: "The Senate could take up its health care reform bill as soon as the week of Columbus Day, but uncertainties about when it will be ready for prime time could push that tentative timeline back, aides said late last week. Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) is shooting to complete his markup of the legislation by Thursday or Friday, senior Senate Democratic aides said. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has said he will huddle for several days with the White House, Baucus, and Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) to marry the Finance package with a bill that Dodd shepherded through the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee in July."

*WSJ: "Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Friday that House Democrats are weighing a proposal to tax generous health-insurance plans, a step that risks conflict with unions but would help pay for the House's version of health-overhaul legislation. Ms. Pelosi is stepping up action to bring a health bill to the floor quickly, despite divisions in her party on how much to spend and what kind of taxes to levy."

*Stuart Taylor looks at Obama's promises on health care and analyzes his credibility.

**Good News For Us: Gallup: 36 percent of Americans say they're following political news closely -- down from 43 percent in 2008, but a high in a non-presidential election year.

**Campaign Stuff
*Some of the 2012 Republicans were on Mackinac Island this weekend. Mitt Romney, CNN reports, "had sharp words for President Barack Obama's handling of foreign relations Saturday, saying that the president is 'above' the world stage and acting too much as a 'neutral arbiter.'"

*Charlie Crist was there, too, leading Democrat Kendrick Meek to charge he's using 2010 to lay the groundwork for 2012, the St. Pete Times reports.

*George Will, meanwhile, seems like a fan of Marco Rubio.

*This could be tricky. A man named Joe Kennedy, no relation, is running as a libertarian for the Massachusetts Senate seat, the Boston Herald reports.

*Politico looks at how many independent candidates are poised to run for office in 2010.

*GOP12 notes the harsh attack Steve Poizner makes against his Meg Whitman, his GOP rival for California governor, after reports that she hasn't voted.

*Liz Cheney running for office? NY Times writes that "Ms. Cheney, at a minimum, has become a rallying point for conservative views on national security. In a broader sense, she is being promoted as a rising star of the Republican Party, one who is hardly shying from the Cheney brand."

*The Fix looks at the Top 5 House races most likely to switch party control after Nov. 2010 -- three are GOP-controlled.

*"Republicans have repeatedly tried to take down vulnerable Democratic congressmen by linking them to Nancy Pelosi and her liberal politics. It didn't work in 2006 or 2008. And yet, Republicans believe 2010 will be the year Pelosi sinks some of her own members," Politico reports.

*The Topeka Capital-Journal explores Kansas' competitive GOP primary for Senate.

*"German Chancellor Angela Merkel secured a decisive victory in federal elections Sunday, winning enough votes to form a new ruling coalition that should give her a freer hand to govern and provide support for closer ties with Washington," WaPo reports.

CO Gov, Sen Poll: Bad News Ritter

A new Tarrance Group poll in Colorado brings bad news for Gov. Bill Ritter, who's running for re-election next year (Sept. 16-17, 500 LV, MoE +/- 4.5%). More people feel the state is headed in the wrong direction (48%) than say it's on the right track (41%) -- an upside down direction-of-the-state rating is not part of the recipe for a successful re-election, especially when the economy is easily the most important issue (31%).

More bad news is that 56% are ready for a new person to be governor, while just 33% say he deserves to be re-elected. His favorable and job approval ratings are right side up -- more people view him favorably (47%) than unfavorably (43%), more approve (48%) than disapprove (46%) of the job he's doing as governor -- though at sub-50% they remain troubling signs for his re-election.

Ritter was elected in 2006 by a 17-point margin against then-congressman Bob Beauprez. The survey did not test the governor against his potential GOP challengers, but did test the Republican primary, between former Rep. Scott McInnis and state Senate Minority Leader Josh Penry, a former congressional aide to McInnis.

McInnis 40
Penry 13
Und 47

Also tested were the primaries in the Senate contest. Appointed Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) is running against former state House Speaker Andrew Romanoff in the Democratic primary; tested for the GOP primary were Lt. Gov. Jane Norton and Weld County District Attorney Ken Buck.

Bennet 41
Romanoff 27
Und 32

Norton 45
Buck 15
Und 40

The Maverick Looks Safe In 2010

All signs point to another six years in the Senate for John McCain, should he stick to his word and seek a fifth term. Public Policy Polling (D) finds that his race against Minuteman Project founder Chris Simcox is a better storyline than it is a race.

Senate Primary Matchups
McCain 67
Simcox 17
Undecided 17

About one in four likely Republican voters disapprove of the job McCain is doing, compared to 65 who approve. A more intriguing race is in the Republican gubernatorial primary, where Gov. Jan Brewer, who took office after Janet Napolitano became Homeland Security Secretary, struggles in several hypothetical matchups.

Gubernatorial Primary Matchups
Brewer 39 - Symington 31 - Und 30
Martin 37 - Brewer 26 - Und 37
Symington 34 - Martin 26 - Brewer 22 - Und 19

We noted that Democratic Attorney General Terry Goddard lead all three potential Republican candidates in general election matchups.

The survey of 400 likely primary voters was conducted September 18-21, and had a margin of error of +/- 4.5 percent.

Nothing New: Biden's Words Used Against Him

As he's been known to do, Vice President Joe Biden made a remark that the GOP has pounced on. Biden was touting the success of the economic recovery package in a conference call yesterday with governors from around the country, when he said this...

"In my wildest dreams I never thought it would work this well."

Biden was referring to the amount of money that's been dished out to the states -- "$150 billion bucks" -- so far, though House Republican leaders beg to differ with his metric for success. Here are a couple quotes from them:

Minority Leader John Boehner: "Vice President is wildly out-of-touch if he thinks the trillion-dollar 'stimulus' has worked when the nation's unemployment rate is the highest it's been in decades. ... Some 2.4 million jobs have been lost since the Democrats' plan was enacted. Now, Democrats in Washington are claiming it is working even while predicting an extended period of severe joblessness. They can't have it both ways."

Conference Chair Mike Pence: "Unless the Vice President's measure of stimulus success is the highest unemployment rate in 26 years, then it is hard to fit his wildest dreams with reality. The reality is the Obama Administration promised that borrowing $787 billion would keep our nation's unemployment below 8 percent. Now, after eight months of stimulus spending, more than two million jobs have been lost and unemployment is quickly approaching 10 percent. Never in our wildest dreams did we expect the Administration's forecasts to be so far off."

DSCC: Carly Is Dreamin'

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee just launched a web site that mocks the newly-launched web site of presumed California Senate candidate Carly Fiorina. As I wrote Tuesday, Fiorina's site was met with ridicule by the liberal netroots community, and CNN later reported that online conservatives -- who support her primary opponent, Chuck DeVore -- offered a similar reaction.

Now the DSCC is jumping in the mix, with a site that looks nearly identicial to Fiorina's. On her site, phrases flashing across the screen state: "It's day & night. It's dogs & cats. It's good & bad. It's Carly vs. Boxer. Coming soon?" Followed by the tag line, "Carlyfornia Dreamin'!!!"

The DSCC's site, CarlyIsDreamin.com, states in similar flashing form: "It's being the CEO & getting fired. It's being incompetent & escaping with millions. It's success & failure. No, it's just failure. Carlyfornia is dreamin!!!"

I suppose Fiorina's site has done at least one thing for her candidacy -- it's got people talking about her.

DSCC_Mocks_Fiorina.jpg

McDonnell Releases Two New TV Ads

Virginia gubernatorial candidate Bob McDonnell (R) is launching two new TV ads today -- a negative one that criticizes Creigh Deeds's negative attacks, and a positive spot defending the Deeds attack line.

In "Deceitful," the ad opens with a narrator and faux newspaper headline saying, "Virginia newspapers condemn Creigh Deeds' false attacks on Bob McDonnell," and continues with various newspaper editorial clips from around the state. "Creigh Deeds. No positive ideas, just dishonest attacks."

The ad is airing in Northern Virginia, Richmond, Norfolk, Charlottesville and Harrisonburg media markets,

"Working Woman" aims to combat the image the Deeds campaign wants voters to have of McDonnell -- a social conservative who thinks women belong in the home. The ad features his oldest daughter discussing her time in Iraq as a platoon leader in the Army, and praising her father. It's airing in the same markets as the first ad.

Rasmussen: Parties Hold Seats In CA, OH and NY

Rasmussen continues its polling of potential 2010 Senate battlegrounds, with new data in California, Ohio and New York. In each race, the incumbent party holds the advantage.

Ohio Senate
(9/23, 500 LVs, MoE +/- 4.5 percent)
Portman (R) 41 - Fisher (D) 40 - Und 14
Portman (R) 40 - Brunner (D) 38 - Und 18

New York Senate
(9/22, 500 LVs, MoE +/- 4.5 percent)
Gillibrand (D) 44 - Pataki (R) 41 - Und 4

California Senate
(9/23; 500 LVs, MoE 4.5 percent)
Boxer (D) 49 - Fiorina (R) 39 - Und 8
Boxer (D) 46 - DeVore (R) 37 - Und 10

Are Whitman and Fiorina California Dreamin'?

Two wealthy California businesswomen took steps toward running for office this week. Neither is a newcomer to politics, exactly, but Meg Whitman and Carly Fiorina have never run for public office before.

Ms. Whitman, the billionaire former chief executive of eBay, formally announced her campaign Tuesday to replace outgoing Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. The same day, Ms. Fiorina, a former Hewlett Packard CEO, launched her Senate campaign Web site as she aims to knock off Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer, though Ms. Fiorina still hasn't officially announced her candidacy.

Both former CEOs are facing competitive primaries that both are currently favored to win. Ms. Whitman will have to beat out state Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner and former Rep. Tom Campbell; Ms. Fiorina will likely face Assemblyman Chuck DeVore. Awaiting Ms. Whitman in the general election will be either Attorney General (and former Gov.) Jerry Brown or San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom.

In Orange County on Tuesday, Ms. Whitman said her goal was to create two million new jobs in the state by 2015, while cutting the state budget and trimming the state workforce by 40,000 employees. Both of her primary opponents criticized Ms. Whitman's lack of details; at the same time, Ms. Fiorina was criticized by Democrats for her Web site's lack of substance and odd messaging, including the tagline, "Carlyfornia Dreamin'."

Both women were outspoken supporters of John McCain's presidential campaign, which didn't perform well in the state. Barack Obama won by 24 points, after George W. Bush lost the state by 10 and 11 points in the previous two elections. Ms. Whitman brings considerable wealth to the table, but lacks the star power of the current governor. Ms. Fiorina has the added challenge of facing a three-term senator coming off a 20-point victory in 2004.

Countdown '09: New Jersey and Virginia (39 Days)

NEW JERSEY (RCP Average: Christie +6.6)

*While David Paterson is being urged to quit, Team Obama fully backs Corzine.

*The race is personal, even by Jersey standards.

*AP looks at the race for independent voters.

*Corzine today will receive fire and police union endorsements.

*Al Gore is headlining the New Jersey Democrats' dinner this weekend.

VIRGINIA (RCP Average: McDonnell +4.4)

*Former Gov. Doug Wilder said he will not endorse Creigh Deeds.

*A new poll finds McDonnell up just 4 points.

*A T-D editorial says Wilder's non-endorsement of Deeds "may prove decisive."

*A Roanoke Times editorial says Deeds is finally on the right track with a transportation plan that "could work."

*Where the candidates stand on the issues.

*A Virginia teachers union is coming after McDonnell.

Strategy Memo: A New Senator

This morning, President Obama is due to make a statement on the latest news out of Iran about their nuclear weapons program. That news also now hangs over the activity at the G-20 Conference Obama hosts in Pittsburgh today. There is a plenary session followed by a working lunch for the leaders of the world's largest economies. The schedule then calls for a news conference before he returns to Washington.

Vice President Biden today will travel to Georgia to survey damage from recent flooding there. He then returns to Washington to swear in Massachusetts' new senator, Paul Kirk. He'll spend the weekend at home in Delaware.

Kirk is expected to serve just four months until a special election is held to choose another temporary successor to Ted Kennedy. Along with the swearing in ceremony, the Senate will also resume consideration of the Defense Appropriations bill, while the House considers the conference report on the 2010 Legislative Branch Appropriations bill.

**Polls
*NY Times/CBS: "President Obama is confronting declining support for his handling of the war in Afghanistan and an electorate confused and anxious about a health care overhaul as he prepares for pivotal battles over both issues ... But Mr. Obama is going into the fall having retained considerable political strength. At 56 percent, his approval rating is down from earlier in the year but still reasonably strong at this point compared with recent presidents."

*Gallup: "Americans are more likely to say they would oppose (50%) rather than favor (41%) a possible decision by President Barack Obama to send more U.S. troops to Afghanistan."

*National Journal Insiders Poll: 75% of Congressional Democrats says major health care reform legislation will be enacted this year, while Republicans say the most likely outcome is scaled back legislation is enacted at some point during this Congress. On Obama's handling of foreign policy, the average grade from Dems was a B+ and Republicans a D+.

**President Obama
*Hanging over the G-20 today: Iran's covert nuclear facility. The Times: "American officials said that they had been tracking the covert project for years, but that Mr. Obama decided to make public the American findings after Iran discovered, in recent weeks, that Western intelligence agencies had breached the secrecy surrounding the project."

*Before he left the UN, Obama "won United Nations Security Council approval for a resolution that targets nations that attempt to use civilian nuclear technology for military purposes, part of his campaign to galvanize international support for nuclear disarmament," the Wall Street Journal reports.

*Washington Post: "With four months left to meet its self-imposed deadline for closing the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, the Obama administration is working to recover from missteps that have put officials behind schedule and left them struggling to win the cooperation of Congress. ... White House Counsel Gregory B. Craig, who initially guided the effort to close the prison and who was an advocate of setting the deadline, is no longer in charge of the project, two senior administration officials said this week."

*Joe Biden, speaking about the Recovery Act during a conference call with governors: "In my wildest dreams, I never thought it would work this well." He also had this to say last night at a fundraiser for freshmen Reps. from Virginia: "Some of the guys ... I have campaigned for are turkeys"

*Supreme Court Watch: Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg "was taken to Washington Hospital Center at 7:45 p.m. EDT Thursday and would remain there for the night as a precaution, a statement from the court said. Earlier in the day, Ginsburg had received an iron sucrose infusion to treat an iron deficiency anemia that had been discovered in July. About an hour later, she 'developed lightheadedness and fatigue.'"

**Health Care
*ABC's Jonathan Karl calls today "high noon" for the public option. "Senators Chuck Schumer and Jay Rockefeller will force a roll-call vote ... in the Senate Finance Committee on two amendments that would create a government-run insurance program. ... If the amendments fail, it would appear the public option is all but dead in the Senate (although liberals will try to resurrect it when the full Senate takes up the bill)."

*"Democrats will step up their challenge to Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus's health-care-overhaul plan today, the opening salvo in a larger fight over the shape and scope of final legislation. Senators Charles Schumer of New York and Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia will push for a government-run insurance plan to compete with private insurers," Bloomberg reports.

*"President Obama scored a big victory on Thursday as the Senate Finance Committee rejected a proposal to require pharmaceutical companies to give bigger discounts to Medicare on drugs dispensed to older Americans with low incomes," NY Times reports.

**Campaign Stuff
*Fundraising Down for Dems: "Democratic political committees have seen a decline in their fundraising fortunes this year, a result of complacency among their rank-and-file donors and a de facto boycott by many of their wealthiest givers, who have been put off by the party's harsh rhetoric about big business. The trend is a marked reversal from recent history, in which Democrats have erased the GOP's long-standing fundraising advantage," Washington Post reports.

*The NRCC is using Rep. Joe Wilson's (R-S.C.) name in a fundraising e-mail on health care. "If we can raise more money than the Democrats, we'll send a message to Pelosi, Obama, and their friends that the American people are firmly behind the Republicans in opposition to government-run healthcare," Wilson writes in an e-mail this morning.

*An RNC e-mail tries to raise money off the YouTube video of students singing about Obama. "Friend, this is the type of propaganda you would see in Stalin's Russia or Kim Jong Il's North Korea. I never thought the day would come when I'd see it here in America. This is the type of fanaticism Republicans are up against as we fight to stop the Obama Democrats' radical leftist transformation of America."

*Cillizza reports that Sen. John McCain will raise money for Mitt Romney next Wednesday in Phoenix. "McCain's willingness to sign on for a fundraiser to collect cash for Romney's leadership PAC suggests the rivalry of 2008 is gone if not totally forgotten."

*Former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge endorsed Tom Corbett (R) for governor in 2010 over Rep. Jim Gerlach (R).

*Washington Post reports about Democrats' fundraising concerns. The downturn is attributed to "a complacency among their rank-and-file donors and a de facto boycott by many of their wealthiest givers, who have been put off by the party's harsh rhetoric about big business."

*The Massachusetts GOP is going to court to try and block Kirk's appointment to the Senate, AP reports.

**Holidays: Tomorrow is National Hunting and Fishing Day, President Obama proclaimed earlier this week. Celebrate in style.

--Kyle Trygstad and Mike Memoli

NJ Gov Polls: Corzine Closing, Or Tied

Slowly but surely, the New Jersey governor contest is tightening. Just how much depends on which poll you trust -- and two new surveys from partisan outlets give each side reason for optimism.

A Strategic Vision (R) survey, the first in two months, shows that Christie has dipped under 50 percent, but still holds an 8-point lead. A Democracy Corps (D) survey conducted by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research has the race tied -- the first survey to show that result among likely voters.

The RCP Average for the race, prior to the inclusion of the Democracy Corps result, was Christie +7.

Strategic Vision
Christie 46 (-7 from last poll, 7/17-19)
Corzine 38 (unch)
Daggett 8 (+3)
Undecided 8 (+4)

GQR/Democracy Corps (D)
Christie 40 (-1 from last poll, 9/8-9)
Corzine 39 (+1)
Daggett 11 (+1)

Strategic Vision's telephone survey of 800 likely voters was conducted September 18-20, with a margin of error of +/- 3 percent. GQR's telephone survey of 601 likely voters was conducted from September 22-23, and had a margin of error of +/- 4 percent.

New Poll Finds Deeds Down 4

A new InsiderAdvantage/Majority Opinion Research poll finds Creigh Deeds (D) within 4 points of Bob McDonnell (R) in the race for governor of Virginia, Politico reports (Sept. 23, 602 RV, MoE +/- 3.8%). McDonnell has led since the beginning of the general election campaign, though the race has tightened in the last few weeks.

McDonnell leads by 22 points (55%-33%) among independents, while Deeds wins more loyal support among Democrats (89%) than McDonnell among Republicans (79%).

McDonnell 48
Deeds 44
No Opinion 7

McDonnell leads by 4.4 points in the RCP Average.

The new poll numbers offer some good news for Deeds on a day of some not-so-good news -- former Gov. Doug Wilder refused to endorse him, despite the request of the White House and Gov. Tim Kaine. Wilder went so far as to criticize Deeds's conservative stance on gun control and willingness to raise taxes during a down economy.

Patrick Support Declines As He Appoints Interim Senator

There is now supporting data for those concerned about the political repercussions of Gov. Deval Patrick's (D) push for a law change giving him the power to appoint an interim senator.

A new survey by Suffolk University, released the same day Patrick appointed Paul Kirk to the open Senate seat, finds 45% of voters have an unfavorable opinion of Patrick, while just 42% view him favorably (Sept. 12-15, 500 RV, MoE +/- 4.4%). He has a similar 42% job approval rating, with 49% disapproving. Just 29% say he deserves to be re-elected; 56% say it's time to elect someone else.

Still, there are no signs that the state is hankering for a change in party control. Asked whether it's time for a Republican governor, 54% said no and 35% said yes. And Patrick outperforms potential GOP and independent challengers: Charlie Baker (R), the former Harvard Pilgrim CEO; Christy Mihos (R), a businessman; and State Treas. Tim Cahill, an independent.

Patrick 36 - Baker 14 - Cahill 23 - Und 26

Patrick 36 - Mihos 17 - Cahill 24 - Und 23

Wilder Won't Endorse Deeds

Former Virginia governor L. Douglas Wilder said today he will not endorse Democrat Creigh Deeds in the race for governor. Wilder held separate meetings with both candidates earlier this week.

"The requests, made of me, have been to endorse Mr. Deeds, the Democratic Candidate, for Governor," Wilder wrote today in a released statement. "I refrain from doing so and will leave that choice to the voters."

Wilder, a strong supporter of gun control, said he disagreed with Deeds's pledge to repeal the one-gun-a-month law currently on the Virginia books.

"This action would allow the truck loads of guns to come back in exchange for drugs from those Northeastern states where gun laws are more stringent. This law was put on the books by Democrats and Republicans because they had seen where those guns go to in our cities and suburban areas where the violence occurs," he wrote. "I do not see how endorsing a proposal to have more handguns brought into our cities and suburban areas qualifies as any type of urban renewal plan."

An endorsement from Wilder, the first African American governor in the country, is the most sought after among statewide candidates of both parties. He's been an independent since serving four years as a Democratic governor in the early 1990s. He also served four years as mayor of Richmond earlier this decade, and teaches a political science course (which this reporter took) at Virginia Commonwealth University.

No Appetite For A Bush In 2012?

Public Policy Polling includes Jeb Bush on their latest list of hypothetical 2012 matchups. The result: the former Florida governor and brother of the former president draws the least support. President Obama leads all four matchups from the Democratic pollster, but does best against former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.

General Election Matchups:
Obama 53 - Palin 38
Obama 50 - J. Bush 37
Obama 48 - Huckabee 41
Obama 48 - Romney 39

Favorability Ratings:
Palin 37 / 55
Huckabee 38 / 36
J. Bush 22 / 45
Romney 33 / 38

Obama's job approval rating in the survey was 52 percent, with 44 percent disapproving. Voters are basically split on the Democrats' health care plan, with 45 percent supporting it and 46 percent opposed.

The automated telephone survey of 821 voters nationwide was conducted September 18-21 and has a margin of error of +/- 3.9 percent.

Grassley Up Big Despite Health Care Heat

While Iowa's incumbent Democratic governor faces a potential uphill re-election next year, things are looking pretty good for Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), according to a new Rasmussen poll (Sept. 22, 500 LV, MoE +/- 4.5%).

The Des Moines Register reported earlier this week that Grassley's approval rating had dropped nearly 20 points since the beginning of the year, as he's now in the middle of the hot health care debate as the ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee.

Rasmussen's horse race numbers, though, show him in no danger against potential challenger Bob Krause (D).

Grassley 56
Krause 30
Und 7

Kirk Appointed To Senate; Obama Praises 'Excellent' Choice

President Obama has praised the appointment of Paul Kirk as the interim United States senator from Massachusetts, calling him "a distinguished leader, whose long collaboration with Senator Kennedy makes him an excellent, interim choice."

The move by the Massachusetts legislature to quickly change the Senate succession law gives the White House one more vote on health care legislation, should such a vote occur this fall as hoped. "I am pleased that Massachusetts will have its full representation in the United States Senate in the coming months, as important issues such as health care, financial reform and energy will be debated," Obama said in a statement.

Gov. Deval Patrick (D), in announcing his choice, said "the issues before the Congress and the nation are simply too important to Massachusetts for us to be one voice short." He thanked the legislature for its "swift" move to give him temporary appointment powers, acknowledging it was a tough vote.

Kirk, the chairman of the JFK Library Foundation, will hold the Senate seat for just over four months. Patrick announced that he would not seek the unexpired term in the January special election, but "will carry on the work and focus of Senator Kennedy, mindful of his mission and his values and his love of Massachusetts."

Kirk called the appointment a "profound honor." He, too, thanked the legislature for fulfilling Kennedy's one final wish, to pass the temporary appointment legislation. Kennedy's widow and several of his children were on hand. Kirk said he expects to be sworn in tomorrow.

Countdown '09: New Jersey and Virginia (40 Days)

NEW JERSEY (RCP Average: Christie +7)

*Chris Christie (R) launched a response ad on the issue of mammograms.

*Christie leads by 8 in the latest Strategic Vision poll.

*Now Christie has an investment to defend, in a real estate company he once investigated as U.S. attorney.

*Well, it is New Jersey: Christie acknowledged a family link with a mobster.

*The RNC will spend $3.3 million in New Jersey.

*Corzine will raise money in Beverly Hills next week.

VIRGINIA (RCP Average: McDonnell +4.5)

*McDonnell is in Richmond this morning for a "major Virginia organization" endorsement. The two candidates then meet in Virginia Beach for a 1 p.m. forum.

*Doug Heye writes that the Washington Post's coverage of the race is "a replay of the 2006 Virginia Senate campaign."

*Deeds is touting Virginia's fourth straight "Best State for Business" accolade by Forbes.

*Both candidates have now met with Doug Wilder, whose endorsement is sought in every statewide race by both parties.

Strategy Memo: Steel City Summit

Today, President Obama transitions from the UN to the G-20. First, he chairs a meeting of the UN Security Council -- the first American president to do so. He'll then preside over a meeting of the Friends of Pakistan leaders along with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown. He then heads from New York to Pittsburgh, where he'll start his G-20 hosting duties with a working dinner at the Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens.

Holding up the fort in Washington, Vice President Biden has mostly closed-door meetings, but tonight heads to Northern Virginia to raise money for three potentially vulnerable Congressmen: Gerry Connolly, Glenn Nye, and Tom Perriello.

The Joint Economic Committee is holding a hearing this morning on the future of newspapers, with discussion centering on funding alternatives and the industry's outlook. Reps. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) and Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) are holding a press conference this afternoon to announce their efforts to speed up implementation of the Credit Card Act by two months, keeping companies from further raising rates.

**President Obama
*"From the moment he began speaking" at the UN yesterday, "Obama made clear his determination to repair the 'skepticism and distrust' he said had built up under his predecessor, George W. Bush," the Washington Post reports. "He argued that Bush's tenure had fed a 'reflexive anti-Americanism, which too often has served as an excuse for our collective inaction.'" The generally warm response Obama received, in contrast to the sometimes stony silence that greeted Bush at the United Nations, suggested that his presidency already is perceived differently."

*A win? "Russian President Dmitry Medvedev offered closer cooperation with the United States in curbing Iran's nuclear ambitions Wednesday, promising President Obama that Moscow would help the Islamic Republic make "a right decision" and hinting that sanctions might be necessary to achieve it," the Los Angeles Times reports.

*NY Times: "The Obama administration has decided not to seek new legislation from Congress authorizing the indefinite detention of about 50 terrorism suspects being held without charges at at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, officials said Wednesday."

*USA Today: "The Group of 20 meeting of the world's major and emerging economies aims to take stock of the recovery that the last summit in London helped to create -- while acknowledging that the world economy, environment and financial regulatory system have a ways to go."

*"The Obama administration is signaling that it is in no hurry to let the $700 billion financial bailout program expire at year's end amid continuing stress on the economy and the banking system," AP reports.

**Health Care
*Gallup: "There are significant differences in views on a new healthcare law by age. The youngest Americans, aged 18-29, favor it by a 13-point margin, although more than 4 in 10 have no opinion on the issue. Support is more evenly divided among Americans 30-64, while those 65 and older are opposed by a 10-point margin."

*On Day 2 of mark up, the Senate Finance Committee "wrestled...with politically volatile proposals to squeeze money out of Medicare. As they continued marking up the bill, a process expected to stretch into next week, Democrats fended off attempts by Republicans to restore proposed reductions to the program," Washington Post reports.

*In an interview with Charlie Rose, White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel predicts: "Health care will be passed before the members go home for Thanksgiving. And it will not be just on the Senate finance because the legislative process is a place where both bodies get to contribute."

*Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) "has a big problem. The bill taken up this week by the committee would cut Medicare payments to insurance companies that care for more than 10 million older Americans, including nearly one million in Florida," NY Times reports.

*Chuck Todd called Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) "the real Senate majority leader" last night on NBC's Nightly News. Time writes why: "As the only Republican on the Finance Committee still in talks with Democrats on a final bill, Snowe now finds herself with extraordinary leverage as crunch time hits for health reform. Snowe could provide the 60th vote that may be needed for Democrats to overcome a GOP filibuster on the Senate floor. All of which means that pretty much anything Snowe wants, she is going to get -- and any bill that emerges from this excruciating process will bear her stamp."

**Replacing Kennedy
*The Boston Globe said that indications were that Gov. Deval Patrick (D) would appoint former DNC chair Paul Kirk Jr., "who has the strong backing of the immediate family of the late Edward M. Kennedy," to the U.S. Senate.

*NY Times reports that senior Democrats in Washington "said they were certain Mr. Kirk was the choice. ... Democrats in Washington and Massachusetts expressed enthusiasm for his candidacy, saying Mr. Kirk was familiar enough with Capitol Hill and Mr. Kennedy's priorities to seamlessly pick up where the senator left off."

**Campaign Stuff
*Karl Rove, speaking in Las Vegas yesterday, urged his party "to oppose Obama's health care proposals and to come up with their own solutions to make insurance more affordable and accessible." Rove: "We'll be defined this year by what we oppose. By next year we need to be able to articulate what we are for. There is a problem: Some people are not getting health insurance, they can't afford it."

*Sarah Palin posts some of her remarks from the Hong Kong speech on Facebook.

*After speculation he may have had renewed interest in the Senate race, Nevada Rep. Jon Porter (R) told Jon Ralston he would not make the race against Harry Reid. Via Politico: "That leaves businessman Danny Tarkanian, outgoing state party chairwoman Sue Lowden and state senator Mark Amodei as the leading contenders for the Republican nomination against Reid - for now."

*NY Gov: "Gov. David A. Paterson went on the offensive Wednesday, soliciting sympathy and support from the public while lashing out at everyone from President Obama to state Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo. By day's end, Paterson was saying he is now on a "mission" to run for office next year, despite efforts by the White House and some New York Democrats to get him off the ticket," Buffalo News reports.

*Some tit-for-tat in Washington over the Texas governor's race yesterday, The Hill reports. From Gov. Rick Perry (R): "The idea that we are about to spend $50 million in a Republican primary is asinine to me. ... There are still opportunities in Washington for her to do the job she's been elected to do."

WSJ writes that the gloves are off: "from the get-go the race has been fierce, even by the bare-knuckled standards of Texas politics. For instance, both sides have taken to posting attack videos on YouTube, referring to one-another as "Kay Bailout" and "Tricky Ricky."

Houston Chronicle reports Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison "is harnessing the powers of incumbency on Capitol Hill to wage a demanding, two-front campaign in the nation's capital and Texas to unseat Gov. Rick Perry. The Dallas Republican is using her Senate post to showcase conservative positions on high-profile state and national issues to galvanize support for the GOP gubernatorial primary in March."

*A Suffolk University poll shows Gov. Deval Patrick winning a three-person race next year. He gets 36 percent, while independent candidate Tim Cahill pulls 23 percent and Republican Charlie Baker gets 14.

*Yet another New Hampshire Republican businessman, Jim Bender, says he's considering the U.S. Senate race, DiStaso reports in the Union Leader. "I'm strongly considering a candidacy because we need to get the federal deficit under control and we need congressional term limits," he said.

--Mike Memoli and Kyle Trygstad

Paul Kirk, the Next Senator From Massachusetts?

The Boston Globe, all over the Kennedy replacement story, reports today that Vicki Kennedy has endorsed former DNC Chairman Paul Kirk to temporarily fill the vacant Massachusetts Senate seat. The Globe reported this morning that Ted's two sons, Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-R.I.) and Edward Jr., have also endorsed Kirk.

Gov. Deval Patrick is still awaiting the bill that would allow him to make an interim appointment, as the Legislature finalizes the legislation. Patrick's choice will serve until the Jan. 19 special election.

Here is a quick bio on Kirk, provided by the Globe:

Kirk, a 71-year-old attorney who lives on Cape Cod, is seen as a top choice because of his ties to the Kennedy family and his deep knowledge of Washington politics. He worked as a special assistant to Senator Kennedy from 1969 to 1977, and is currently the chairman of the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation. Last month, he served as master of ceremonies at a widely watched memorial service the night before Senator Kennedy's funeral.

Kirk is also familiar with many on Kennedy's former staff, and could help smooth the transition.

When questioned on MSNBC this afternoon, Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) said he would hold of commenting on his newest colleague until the Legislature completes its work on the bill and Patrick chooses someone.

"I know Paul very, very well and admire him greatly. He's a friend and have known him for many, many years," said Kerry. "But I don't want to comment on any sort of rumors or reports or speculation about who may or may not be in the running for that."

PPP (D): Democrat Early Favorite In AZ-Gov Race

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R), who took over this January when Janet Napolitano joined President Obama's Cabinet, looks vulnerable as she considers whether to seek a new term in 2010. State Attorney General Terry Goddard (D) leads Brewer and other potential Republican candidates -- former Gov. Fife Symington and state Treasurer Dean Martin -- in a new Public Policy Polling (D) survey.

General Election Matchups
Goddard 46 - Brewer 36 - Undecided 17
Goddard 45 - Martin 37 - Undecided 18
Goddard 52 - Symington 29 - Undecided 18

Brewer's job approval rating is at just 26 percent, with 43 percent disapproving. Even among Republicans, Brewer has a net -9 percent rating.

Favorability Ratings
Goddard 44 / 22
Martin 27 / 19
Symington 17 / 54

The automated telephone survey of 617 voters was conducted September 18-21, and had a margin of error of +/-3.9 percent.

Biden: Even My Mother Worried About Death Panels

Vice President Joe Biden sought to reassure seniors about health care reform today, promising that Medicare will remain strong while rebutting scare tactics he said opponents are responsible for.

Biden, speaking at the Leisure World retirement community in suburban Washington, said he saw the power of the talking points of his foes on a recent visit with his mother in Delaware.

"I walk in, give her a kiss. She says, 'Joey, what about these death panels?' And I said, 'Mom, I'm trying to kill you,'" Biden related. "She said, 'I'm serious, Joey. What about these death panels?' I said, 'Mom, it's hokum. It's a bunch of malarkey."

Speaking to the audience, he argued that "no one in the government, nobody anywhere, no panel is going to sit down and tell your doctor anything about how to care for you." Common sense should dictate that such a claim -- made often by his former vice presidential foe, Sarah Palin -- is false, Biden thought. "But my mother, it got through."

Biden, who called himself "a simple guy from Delaware who speaks plane old English," spent more time countering Republican warnings that the Democratic plan would weaken Medicare. An interesting claim, Biden said, coming from a party that once opposed creating the program in the first place.

"I kind of look at things in common sense terms here," Biden said. "Why would folks like us who put our careers on the line [fighting proposed Medicare cuts] in the '80s and '90s, why would we be doing anything to weaken the system I've been fighting to protect for 37 years?"

He and President Obama are "absolutely totally committed to protecting Medicare, securing that trust fund," and keeping the program alive for generations to come, Biden said. And, playing again to a senior crowd, Biden played the grandchildren card.

"The overall assertion that the team that built [Medicare] is now the team that wants to destroy it, and the team that opposed it is now the team that wants to preserve it - as my little 11-year-old grandchild Finnegan Biden would say, 'Pop, give me a break,'" he said.

The event was vintage Biden, taking questions from residents at what Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) called the most politically engaged community in the state. Joining Biden, and jumping in to provide more concrete facts on occasion, were Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius and the director of the Office of Health Reform, Nancy-Ann DeParle. But it was Biden's "bona fides" that the administration tapped to shore up the seniors.

"You may not like other parts of our plan. You may not like some aspects of what we're talking about," Biden conceded. "But as it relates to Medicare, we're the guys who fought for it. We're the guys who are going to keep it. We're the guys who are going to make it better. Don't buy this malarkey."

He urged those on hand to help spread that message, as well.

"I know this is Leisure World," he said. "But I know that you can fight like hell for things that you believe in. And I know right now we need you to stand up and fight for Medicare again. Fight through the lies, fight for what's right for you, for your children, and for your grandchildren. And for the generations of Americans to come, to make sure they have the benefit that we have had."

Ga. Gov: Oxendine, Barnes Still Lead Primaries

Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine (R) and former governor Roy Barnes (D) lead the packs in the respective party primaries in the 2010 Georgia gubernatorial race, a new Strategic Vision survey finds (Sept. 18-20, 800 LV, MoE +/- 3%). The two also led in a July poll, while Sec. of State Karen Handel has jumped into second place ahead of Rep. Nathan Deal.

GOP Primary
John Oxendine 38
Karen Handel 15
Nathan Deal 10
Eric Johnson 6
Austin Scott 3
Ray McBerry 2
Jeff Chapman 1
Undecided 25

Dem Primary
Roy Barnes 45
Thurbert Baker 30
David Poythress 5
Dubose Porter 2
Undecided 18

Corzine Ad: Christie "Threw His Weight Around"

When a previous ad contained some not-so-flattering images of the rotund former U.S. Attorney Chris Christie (R), some speculated that Gov. Jon Corzine's (D) camp was playing the weight card. Now, there can be no doubt.

A tough new ad from the governor's re-election campaign includes the greatest hits of Christie's August woes, reports of unticketed driving infractions, and an unreported loan to a subordinate, where Chrisitie did not pay taxes on interest payments. The ad then alleges that Christie "threw his weight around" and "got off easy."

It dovetails with their message that Christie has "one set of rules for himself, another for everyone else." The full script is after the jump.

ANNCR: "If you drove the wrong way down a one-way street, causing an accident and putting the victim in a trauma center ... would you get away without a ticket? Chris Christie did. If you were caught speeding in an unregistered car -- would you get away without points? Chris Christie did. In both cases, Christie threw his weight around as US Attorney and got off easy. If you didn't pay your taxes, ignored ethics laws- would you get away with it? Chris Christie. One set of rules for himself. Another for everyone else

Fundraising Day for KY Republicans

The two Republicans battling for the nomination in the race to replace Kentucky Sen. Jim Bunning (R) are both expecting a big boost in fundraising today.

Twenty-three GOP senators are hostinig a fundraiser for Secretary of State Trey Grayson in Washington at the headquarters of the National Republican Senatorial Committee. The event is tabbed at $500 per head.

To coincide with the national party's assistance for Grayson, Rand Paul, son of Texas Rep. Ron Paul, is holding another one-day fundraising moneybomb. Paul took in nearly a half million dollars with a similar online fundraising marathon last month, and the method helped fund his father's 2008 presidential bid.

Countdown '09: New Jersey and Virginia (41 Days)

NEW JERSEY (RCP Average: Christie +6.7)

*Christie leads by 7 in a new Rasmussen poll, with debates looming.

*The Republican called Corzine's investment in a hedge fund with ties to casino license holders a "colossal error in judgment."

*It's Obama/Corzine on at least one billboard.

*Rep. Rob Andrews (D) thinks the health care debate helps Corzine.

*Human Events says Corzine is in "disarray."

VIRGINIA (RCP Average: McDonnell +4.5)

*Deeds lays out his transportation plan in a Washington Post op-ed after taking heat from McDonnell for not having a plan. At a debate last week he was unclear whether he would be willing to raise taxes, though it's clear in the op-ed: "I'll sign a bipartisan bill with a dedicated funding mechanism for transportation -- even if it includes new taxes."

*Both candidates were courting the African American vote last night at Virginia Union University in Richmond.

*After hosting a debate last week, the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce is set to endorse McDonnell.

*Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) and former state Sen. John Chichester (R) defended the 2004 tax package Warner negotiated and pushed through the Legislature with bipartisan support. McDonnell did not vote for it when he was in the General Assembly, and has criticized it on the campaign trail.

Strategy Memo: In the Interim

President Obama's diplomatic dealing steps up even more today in New York. His day starts with a meeting with Japan's new Prime Minister Hatoyama, followed by an address to the United Nations General Assembly. He then joins in a meeting with leaders of peace-keeping troop contributing countries. This afternoon, he attends a lunch hosted by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon for heads of state. Then, a one-on-one meeting with Russian President Medvedev. Tonight, he and Mrs. Obama host a reception at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Vice President Biden keeps talking health care today, with an event at the Leisure World retirement community in Silver Spring, Md.

In Congress, the Senate Finance Committee will likely continue mark up on Chairman Max Baucus's (D-Mont.) health care bill into next week. The House passed yesterday an extention of unemployment benefits; today it will consider the Senate's Defense Production Act Reauthorization of 2009. The Senate will continue to consider the Interior Appropriations bill.

The Massachusetts Legislature is expected to have a bill on Gov. Deval Patrick's desk today that gives him the power to appoint a temporary successor to Ted Kennedy's Senate seat. The appointment could come by tomorrow.

**President Obama
*Among the many findings in the latest NBC/WSJ poll, Obama's health care numbers "have slightly increased" since his TV blitz, "although that increase remains within the margin of error. Thirty-nine percent believe Obama's health care plan is a good idea, which is up three points since August. Forty-one percent say it's a bad idea."

*On a busy day in New York, Obama "defended U.S. efforts to reduce carbon emissions from international criticism and prodded Israeli and Palestinian leaders to make concessions toward a peace deal," The Hill reports. In his address at the U.N., "Obama emphasized the shift in the U.S. position on climate change since the administration of former President George W. Bush. He said the U.S. had been slow to recognize the magnitude of the climate threat. ... But Obama also warned that at the world summit in Copenhagen, Denmark this December, it will be difficult to achieve a climate deal, particularly given the economic climate."

*Did the Chinese upstage the U.S. on climate change? Washington Times headlines, yes.

*In negotiations with Palestine and Israel, Obama is largely setting aside the debate over settlements, and "seems intent to press Palestinians and Israelis to negotiate all the difficult issues between them toward a final deal that has eluded negotiators, and bedeviled American presidents, since President Jimmy Carter," the Times reports.

*Obama also spoke at the Clinton Global Initiative, saying he couldn't resist the former president's charms. His message: "If you want to bring about change in the world, you can't just be an advocate of somebody else doing it. You can't just preach lofty goals and wait for somebody else act. You have to step up. You have to serve."

**Health Care
*Gallup: "Americans are broadly satisfied with the quality of their own medical care and healthcare costs, but of the two, satisfaction with costs lags. Overall, 80% are satisfied with the quality of medical care available to them, including 39% who are very satisfied. Sixty-one percent are satisfied with the cost of their medical care, including 20% who are very satisfied."

*Washington Post: "Democrats and Republicans formed clear battle lines Tuesday as the Senate Finance Committee opened a high-stakes debate on health-care legislation proposed last week by the panel's chairman. Both sides found plenty to criticize in Sen. Max Baucus's bill, particularly its requirement that all U.S. citizens must buy health insurance at potentially high costs. ... Republicans outlined specific provisions they will seek to change or eliminate as the committee debates hundreds of amendments, a discussion that could stretch into next week."

*Bloomberg: "White House Budget Director Peter Orszag said health-care legislation can be completed in six weeks and may largely be based on a measure being drafted by the U.S. Senate Finance Committee. ... While the White House hasn't endorsed any one plan, Orszag, 40, repeatedly returned to the $856 billion proposal Baucus released last week when asked about the overhaul effort. He said it "definitely" shows 'you can devise a health-reform bill that significantly expands coverage while doing so in a way that is not only deficit-neutral' but 'deficit-reducing,' citing a review by the Congressional Budget Office."

*Rep. Mike Ross (D-Ark.), leader of the Blue Dogs on health care, "is answering questions about his ties to a company with a stake in the debate," CNN reports. In 2007, he sold his pharmacy to a drug store chain whose owner "has been a critic of universal health care." He was paid $420,000, 40 percent more than a recent appraisal.

**Campaign Stuff
*Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick could choose an interim successor for the vacant Senate seat by tomorrow, after the state Senate approved the law change yesterday, Boston Globe reports. Patrick hasn't indicated whom he is considering, but Ted Kennedy's sons have told him they prefer Paul Kirk Jr., former chairman of the Democratic National Committee and special assistant to Kennedy in the 1970s.

For Patrick, much is at stake in his temporary Senate appointment, the Globe points out. "It's about helping his national party as Democrats try to solidify their 60-vote, filibuster-proof majority. ... It's about helping his good friend, President Barack Obama. ... And it's about avoiding any political trouble, a special concern for a governor heading into a re-election year with low poll ratings and a group of campaign opponents ready to pounce on any miscue."

*"Will Maryland Republicans, a fractured minority in one of the most Democratic states in the nation, be in a position to capitalize on next year's elections? So far, that appears uncertain, in part because of developments last week, including the resignation of the state GOP chairman, James Pelura," Washington Post reports.

*In a speech in Hong Kong, Sarah Palin "blamed the world financial crisis on government excesses and called for a new round of deregulation and tax cuts for U.S. businesses," the Wall Street Journal reports. She didn't refer to Obama by name, "but said his promise for change during the election hasn't taken hold. She called his campaign promises 'nebulous, utopian sounding. ... Now 10 months later, though, a lot of Americans are asking: more government? Is that the change we want?'"

*We link to ESPN.com for the news that Curt Schilling will not, in fact, run for the Senate in Massachusetts. "Regardless of the amount of support and outreach that's been given to me, it just did not make sense," he told Joe Buck on HBO last night.

--Kyle Trygstad and Mike Memoli

New PAC To Boost Pawlenty's Growing Profile

A familiar name in his home state and to many inside the Beltway, Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R) has worked deliberately this year to boost his profile further, especially among conservative activists in key states. The announcement today that he's formed a new political action committee, called "Freedom First PAC," is the latest step in that effort, and will help the potential presidential hopeful continue what has been a busy political travel schedule.

"When the Governor said he wouldn't seek re-election, he said in addition to finishing his term strong, he would help other Republicans candidates, and obviously a PAC is one key way to do that," said Alex Conant, who is advising Pawlenty on a volunteer basis.

Just this past week, Pawlenty spoke at the Value Voters Summit in Washington and at an Ohio Republican Party dinner. He's also headlined dinners for state Republican organizations in Arkansas and Florida, with another in South Dakota coming in two weeks. As vice chair of the Republican Governors Association, he's also campaigned for candidates in New Jersey and Virginia. These trips to date have been paid for by the sponsoring organizations; his PAC will allow him to accept more invitations as time goes on, in addition to supporting local candidates in states like New Hampshire and Iowa.

Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee and Sarah Palin already have formed PACs. Pawlenty's entry to that club drew more attention from the DNC, which called the PAC "more evidence that Pawlenty is, at best, a part-time Governor who cares more about his national political ambitions than the people of Minnesota."

Are Debates Corzine's Last Chance?

For the first time in nearly a month, a poll of the New Jersey gubernatorial race puts Gov. Jon Corzine over 40 percent. But as voters appear to be zeroing in on their choices, Chris Christie also shows some gains in Rasmussen's latest survey.

General Election Matchup
Christie 48 (+2 from last poll, 9/9)
Corzine 41 (+3)
Daggett 6 (unch)
Not Sure 5 (-5)

Corzine's job approval rating is down, however, to 38 percent. Forty-five percent strongly disapprove of his job performance, while another 16 percent somewhat disapprove. Just as troubling for Corzine is the fact that Christie's favorables are rebounding after a tough August. Forty-eight percent now view the Republican favorably, up from 42 percent earlier this month. Corzine's favorable number is down to 39, from 45 percent. Independent candidate Chris Daggett, even with his entertaining ad, has shown no singificant movement.

If there's one more chance for Corzine to make a move, it's in the debates. Three in five New Jerseyans say they're very likely to watch the three-man debate, with another 24 percent saying it's somewhat likely. Currently two debates are set, on October 1 and 16. Corzine has not accepted a third debate invitation.

With 42 days left, Christie leads by 6.7 percent in the RCP Average.

The survey of 500 likely voters was conducted September 21, and had a margin of error of +/- 4.5 percent.

Carlyfornia Dreamin'

Although she has yet to formally announce a bid for Senate in California, Carly Fiorina, the former HP CEO, has just launched her campaign website.

It includes the tagline: "Carlyfornia Dreamin' "

Upon entering the page, a series of phrases flash across the screen: "It's day & night. It's dogs & cats. It's good & bad. It's Carly vs. Boxer. Coming soon?"

Fiorina currently has 16 supporters on her Facebook page and 48 followers on Twitter.

The netroots have begun making fun of the site's simplicity, including by releasing this video titled, "Worst Political Website Ever."

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee also recently released a web video targeting Fiorina's record. The NRSC responded to the video this morning in a statement to Politico, in which spokesman Brian Walsh said the increased attention the Dems are paying to an unannounced candidate "only speaks to the growing vulnerability of Barbara Boxer."

Biden Steps Up Health Care Role

With President Obama focused on foreign policy this week, Vice President Biden is carrying the torch on health care with several events in the Washington area this week. Today, he spoke to a conference of state insurance commissioners, armed with a new White House report outlining how the rise in health insurance premiums beyond wage growth has hurt American families.

The vice president singled out the state with the largest gap between premium increases and wage growth: Alaska. And it's not just families who are suffering, he said.

"The soaring premiums are not only hurting families and killing small businesses, they're also hurting our competitive position all around the world," Biden told the rather quiet audience at a hotel at Maryland's National Harbor. "They're hurting our whole free enterprise system, hurting the business of business - competing internationally. ... To state the obvious, this is simply an unsustainable position. Families, businesses, state budgets, our national economy, all demand a significant change."

Biden said that if he asked the state officials for woeful tales of health care they could compile a "literal saga." The health care "crisis" extends even to those who have insurance. But, he sought to rebut claims that reforms the administration is pursuing would unduly harm the insurance industry.

"I want insurance companies to make money. I want in companies to be able to provide a return on their investment and their stock holders some benefit. I want them to continue to do their just to make a profit," he said. "But I also want them held accountable. I want to restore stability in our health care system. And there are basic ground rules we need right now."

He also described the "competitive disadvantage" that insurance companies who want to "do the right thing" face in the marketplace.

"If every single company has to have the same guarantees, no company is at a political disadvantage," he said.

Biden will also speak Wednesday at a retirement community in Maryland, targeting a demographic that has been skeptical of the plan. Previewing his remarks there, the former Delaware senator said he would note the doomsday claims that opponents of Medicare and Medicaid made when those programs were developed.

Dem Govs Back Obama Health Care Reform

While the odds may have been in its favor, it was not a sure thing that Democratic governors would support President Obama's health care reform proposals en masse. Governors from both parties had worried about what reform would mean for the states -- espcially with respect to increased Medicaid costs.

Today, though, the leadership of the Democratic Governors Association announced that after "productive conversations in the past week with House and Senate leaders," the president has their full support on health care.

"We had productive conversations. The lawmakers heard our concerns and they understand where we're coming from," said West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin, a former DGA chairman and current chair emeritus. "While I want to see more details, I feel good about where this is headed and I want to see reform passed this year."

"Governors are doing our best to help families struggling to pay for health care. We're all grappling with state budgets that are strained with the spiraling cost of health care," said Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer, chairman of the DGA. "We need health insurance reform this year, and we support the President's goals."

NY Poll: Cuomo +13 vs. Giuliani

New York Gov. David Paterson has reportedly rebuffed the White House in its attempts to nudge him from the 2010 gubernatorial race, but a new survey from Siena College finds that an overwhelming majority of voters feel he isn't getting the job done and doesn't possess the leadership skills necessary to be governor (Sept. 13-17, 792 RV, MoE +/- 3.5%).

Paterson has a 29% favorable rating and just 18% say he's doing a good or excellent job as governor -- 80% say he's doing fair or poorly, while 59% have an unfavorable opinion of him. Matching the months of April and May, 71% again say they would prefer someone else if Paterson runs in 2010.

"Even Democrats, by a significant margin, believe the Governor is well intentioned, ineffective, bad on fiscal issues and lacking leadership," said Siena pollster Steven Greenberg This may explain why Paterson is again near record low favorability and job performance ratings."

Nearly half of voters want Attorney General Andrew Cuomo to run for governor next year, rather than run for re-election. If he does, he currently holds significant leads over Paterson in the Dem primary, and Rudy Giuliani and former Rep. Rick Lazio in the general election.

Dem Primary
Cuomo 66 (+1 vs. last poll, Aug. 24)
Paterson 20 (-3)
Und 14 (+2)

General Election Matchups
Cuomo 52 (-1)
Giuliani 39 (-1)
Und (+2)

Cuomo 64 (-2)
Lazio 18 (+2)
Und 18 (nc)

Paterson 39 (+1)
Lazio 35 (-2)
Und 26 (+1)

Giuliani 52 (-4)
Paterson 35 (+2)
Und 13 (+2)

In the Senate race, Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand still hasn't registered with the general public, as just 53% know enough about her to form an opinion -- 29% favorable, 24% unfavorable. That could be having an effect on her horse race numbers, as Giuliani currently leads her in a hypothetical matchup, 46%-38%.

Countdown '09: New Jersey and Virginia (42 Days)

VIRGINIA (RCP Average: McDonnell +4.5)

*Creigh Deeds (D) and Bob McDonnell (R) will meet twice today, as they both address a conference in Williamsburg then appear at a forum tonight in Richmond. The McDonnell camp released a statement this morning stating that the Deeds camp requested the candidates appear separately tonight.

*Deeds released three new TV ads yesterday, which NBC News reports is the "first time" he's aired "a new TV ad explicitly targeting Bob McDonnell's (R) controversial graduate thesis."

*The ads are getting headlines across the state, including the Charlottesville Daily Progress: "Deeds Goes On Offensive As Election Draws Closer."

*Roanoke Times notes that the new ads are a change from just a couple months ago, when Deeds and McDonnell "generally agreed that social issues would not weigh heavily in the campaign."

*The Post reported yesterday that Obama pitched Deeds to the most sought after endorser in statewide campaigns: former Gov. Doug Wilder.

NEW JERSEY (RCP Average: Christie +7.1)

*Jon Corzine is still defending an investment with a firm that holds casino licenses.

*Independent candidate Chris Daggett lost his court challenge to over ballot placement.

*The Christie camp has some fun with a Corzine gaffe.

*A Corzine mailer promises better days are coming.

*The NFIB endorses Chris Christie.

*Is the GOP dialing back anti-corruption talk?

Strategy Memo: Art Of Diplomacy

After a day marked by awkward domestic politics, President Obama's day is all foreign policy with events built around the UN General Assembly this week. This morning he'll speak at a Climate Change Summit at the UN. He then holds separate meetings with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Abbas, followed by a trilateral meeting. Obama then hosts lunch with Sub-Saharan African heads of state and meets with China's President Hu. The day ends with a speech at former President Bill Clinton's Global Initiative.

Today Vice President Biden carries the torch on health care, delivering a speech at the National Association of Insurance Commissioners annual conference. He'll also talk health care at the Leisure World retirement community in Maryland tomorrow, targeting a demographic he also worked in the campaign: senior voters.

The Senate Finance Committee will begin mark up on the health care bill Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) introduced last week. On the chamber floors, the Senate continues consideration of the Interior Appropriations bill, while the House votes tonight on 15 suspension bills.

The Census Bureau released last night its annual American Community Survey, which "compiles social, housing, demographic and select economic data collected throughout 2008." Health care data was added to the research this year -- Texas has the highest rate of uninsured in the nation (24.1%), while Massachusetts has the lowest (4.1%).

**President Obama
*Playing politics: New York Times reports that the "assertiveness" of the White House in local races "has bruised some Democrats who suggest it could undercut Mr. Obama's appeal with voters tired of partisan politics." Karl Rove also weighs in: "This was particularly ham-handed. They shouldn't have tried this unless they can make it happen. Even then, they should have acted in a way that was subtle, not messy and ugly."

*Washington Post: "While White House officials shrug off suggestions that they are any more involved in trying to improve the prospects for their party than were their predecessors -- and argue that there is no single figure playing the kind of politics-first role that Karl Rove occupied in George W. Bush's administration -- the president and his aides are becoming increasingly active in the political arena."

*Bill Clinton's take on the racism allegations: "I believe that some of the right-wing extremists which oppose President Obama are also racially prejudiced and would prefer not to have an African-American president," he told CNN's Larry King. "But I don't believe that all the people who oppose him on health care -- and all the conservatives -- are racists. And I believe if he were white, every single person who opposes him now, would be opposing him then."

*LA Times on the Afghanistan review: It "could result in a scaling back of efforts to reform Afghanistan's politics and develop its economy. The U.S. could then focus more on hunting down Al Qaeda and its close allies with small special operations teams and armed Predator drones. Such an effort could avert the need for additional troops, officials and experts said.

*Reuters: "China and the United States, the world's top greenhouse gas emitters, will try to ignite efforts on Tuesday to secure a U.N. global warming pact as worries grow of a "dangerously close" deadlock in talks."

*The AP on Obama's visit to Letterman. RCP Video has a clip.

**Congress
*"Hoping to find strength in numbers, nine Senate Democratic freshmen have come together as a bloc to try to influence the direction of the chamber's health care overhaul," Roll Call reports. "Led by Sen. Mark Warner (Va.), the newly elected Democrats will take to the floor this week to call for stabilizing health care costs and reining in spending. The move is just the latest by the new Senators, and one the Democrats say could develop into a larger health care strategy this fall."

*Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) "said Monday that he would modify his health care bill to provide more generous assistance to moderate-income Americans, to help them buy insurance. In addition, Mr. Baucus said he would make changes to reduce the impact of a proposed tax on high-end health insurance policies," N.Y. Times reports.

*"Pelosi's (D-Calif.) push to decide issues like how to pay for the bill and the shape of the "public option" means that this week will be crucial for healthcare in both chambers," The Hill reports. Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) told Roll Call he can't "guarantee" that health care will pass by the end of the year.

**In the States
*"Along Columbia Road," which divides the congressional districts of Reps. James Clyburn (D-S.C.) and Joe Wilson (R-S.C.), "race has long been an inescapable topic of debate. And as Wilson's outburst brought the issue back to the surface, residents here voiced both divergent and hardened opinions," Washington Post reports.

*"More than three decades of rapid growth in the country's foreign-born population came to a halt last year, census data show, as surging unemployment made the U.S. economy less attractive to outsiders," L.A. Times reports. "In California, which has a long history of attracting immigrants, the number of foreign-born residents actually declined, shrinking 1.6%."

*"Civility reigned in a 90-minute Public Square forum yesterday at the Richmond Times-Dispatch. The forum featured two local congressmen [Eric Cantor (R) and Bobby Scott (D)] on opposite sides of a political fight over health-care reform that grew nasty at town-hall meetings across the country last month."

*Boston voters head to the polls today to narrow the field of mayoral candidates in "the most competitive mayor's race in 16 years," Boston Globe reports. Mayor Thomas M. Menino, being challenged by two city councilors and a developer, is running for a record fifth term. The top two vote-getters face off Nov. 3.

**Campaign Stuff
*The DSCC has raised just $1 million more than the NRSC through the first eight months of the year, CQ reports. "The NRSC has raised more from individual donors than the DSCC, which is more reliant on political committees, and also taken in a much larger percentage of its donations than the DSCC in smaller contributions that are not itemized on campaign reports."

*John McCain backed Rep. Jerry Moran (R) yesterday in the race for Kansas's open Senate seat, Kansas City Star reports. McCain chose Moran over fellow Rep. Todd Tiahrt (R).

*Meg Whitman makes her California governor bid official today. AP: "In excerpts from Tuesday's speech, Whitman reiterates her goal of creating 2 million private-sector jobs by 2015. She said she can do so by lowering taxes and eliminating regulations that conservatives say limit growth in California."

*A Baltimore Sun poll of a potential O'Malley-Ehrlich rematch puts the Democrat up 49-38.

*Sun-Times: "When Cheryle Jackson formally launched her campaign for the U.S. Senate last week, she kicked it off with a major name change. Cheryle Jackson is now Cheryle Robinson Jackson. Family considerations were behind the switch, she tells me. She denies it is a campaign strategy. Still, the move triggered a flurry of theories."

*NY Gov: Wall Street Journal reports that "the prospects of a gubernatorial bid by fellow Democrat state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo have brightened." But a spokeswoman for Cuomo "declined to comment on his political aspirations or the recent developments involving the Obama White House's concerns about Mr. Paterson's weakened political state."

--Mike Memoli and Kyle Trygstad

Top 10 Reasons Obama Did Letterman

From a pool report, here is David Letterman's Top 10 list tonight -- Reasons why President Obama agreed to do "Late Show."

10. Heard the lady with the heart shaped potato was gonna be here. (a reference to a woman in the audience).

9. Thought it would be fun to watch someone else get heckled. 8. Something to do with that whole cash for clunkers deal.

7. Every president since Teddy Roosevelt has done it.

6. Someone offers you 600 bucks you take it ladies and gentlemen.

5. We told him Megan Fox would be here.

4. Needed some time to hang out before check in time at his hotel.

3. I have no idea.

2. Said yes, without thinking, like Bush did with Iraq.

1. Wanted to congratulate Dave on the big Emmy win.

During the interview with Obama, Letterman asked him about Jimmy Carter's race comments. Obama quipped, "It's important to realize that i was actually black before the election." Sidestepping it somewhat, he continued: "So the American people, I think, gave me this extraordinary honor. That tells you a lot, I think, about where the country is at."

Biden: If Dems Can Hold GOP Seats, Bipartisan 'Dam' Breaks

Raising money for a top GOP target in 2010, Vice President Biden predicted that if Democrats can hold on to traditionally Republican-leaning districts, Americans will see more bipartisanship in the nation's capital as "hidden" Republican votes emerge.

"It's not that Republicans are bad guys. This is just the bet they've made," Biden told a few dozen people at a fundraiser for Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) near his home in Delaware today. "They're going to put their chips on movement in the 35 seats in the House that have been traditionally Republican districts and trying to take them back. If they take them back, this the end of the road for what Barack and I are trying to do."

Republicans are "moribund in terms of ideas," Biden said, and winning seats like Giffords' in the midterms is "their one shot." If they fail, "the dam is going to break" he said.

"If they don't break the back of our effort in this upcoming election you're going to see the things we said we're for happen," he said. "All the hidden Republicans that don't have the courage to vote the way they want to vote because of pressure from the party ... it will break the dam and you will see bipartisanship."

Biden praised Giffords for her "gumption" on tough votes, like the stimulus bill, and called her a rising star in the party.

"She's in good shape because she works so damn hard to make her district blue. It's still red, but she makes it blue," Biden said.

Curiously, at a fundraiser thousands of miles from her district, Giffords referred to the town hall debates of August in her district as "totally nuts." But she did meet a man who became a textbook case for health reform. She invited Marty Huffman, whose wife was denied care because of a pre-existing condition, to sit in the House Gallery during President Obama's speech to Congress this month. Huffman met Biden there.

"His heart and his brains and his ability to serve this country and be our representative to the world is so extraordinary and he's one of your own," Giffords said, returning praise to the VP.

According to a pool report, tickets for the breakfast fundraiser were $500-$2,400. It was held at the home of Stuart Grant, head of a Wilmington-based law firm. He and Gov. Jack Markell (D-Del.) are friends of the Giffordses.

Jeb Bush: Give Rubio a Chance

Former Florida governor Jeb Bush hasn't endorsed either GOP Senate candidate in Florida -- Gov. Charlie Crist or former State House Speaker Marco Rubio -- and he said recently that the national Republican Party shouldn't have either.

"I think he should be given a chance," Bush said of Rubio on Friday at a local Republican club function, according to the Sarasota Herald-Tribune. "I think that the idea that the national party would pick a winner a year and a half before an election is the wrong way to go."

The National Republican Senatorial Committee and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kent.) endorsed Crist May 12, just minutes after the governor formally announced his bid.

As for his own elective office prospects, Bush -- who turned down a chance to run for Senate and also took his name out of the mix to temporarily replace retired senator Mel Martinez -- said he's "going to focus on education reform," not running for office.

The NY-23 Race Begins

John McHugh was officially sworn in as the nation's Army Secretary during a ceremony at the Pentagon today. Before taking the oath, the Republican resigned as the U.S. Representative from New York's 23rd Congressional District, creating a vacancy that will be filled in a special election, date still TBD.

Also today, the Democratic nominee in that special election launched his first TV ad. Bill Owens highlights his family's tradition of military service, and talks about attracting jobs to the Upstate New York district.

Assemblywoman Dede Scozzafava is the Republican candidate.

Pataki: Obama Wrong To Pressure Paterson

George Pataki said today that the White House pressuring Gov. David Paterson to not to run for re-election further undermines his ability to right New York's economy in challenging times, and he suggested President Obama's time was better served focusing on policy and not politics.

"I just think it's wrong," Pataki said when asked about reports that Obama aides are urging Paterson not to run for a full term in 2010. "New York state is facing very difficult times. We're going to have an extraordinarily difficult challenge in dealing with the state's financial situation. ... To weaken and undermine the governor beyond the weakness that already exists, at a time when he will be the governor for the next 15 months, to me just doesn't serve the interests of the state, doesn't serve the interests of our country."

Pataki, who served as New York's governor for 12 years, said on a conference call hosted by the RNC to rebut Obama's visit to the Albany area that any officeholder or potential candidate's decision to run is a personal one, and should be made not just based on the likelihood of winning, but because a person has the "ideas" and "vision" to lead.

"That's what this decision should be made on, not on poll numbers," said Pataki, who is a potential U.S. Senate candidate.

Asked if he was, indeed, considering a bid, Pataki said he's been flattered by people urging him to run for office again, but would not say what if any office he might seek. He also indicated a decision won't come soon.

"For better or worse people of this state know me pretty well. And so if I am going to make a decision at some point to again enter the elective arena, I can do it a lot further down the road than now," he said.

Asked about a potential run for governor by Rudy Giuliani, Pataki said he believes he is considering it and "if he were going to decide he were going to run it would be a formidable candidate." Rick Lazio, a former U.S. Senate candidate and Long Island congressman, is announcing his candidacy tomorrow.

RNC Outraises DNC By $1M

The Republican National Committee outraised its Democratic counterpart by $1 million in the month of August, according to reports filed last week with the Federal Election Commission. The RNC pulled in $7.87 million last month, compared with the Demoratic National Committee's $6.89 million.

"The RNC had another very strong fundraising month in August," said RNC Chairman Michael Steele. "We remain committed to broadening the appeal of our party by taking a strong principled message on health care directly to the people."

The RNC has close to $21 million cash on hand, while the DNC ended the month with a little more than $15 million. In July, the DNC far outraised its GOP counterpart, taking in $9.28 million to the RNC's $6.26 million.

In August, the Democrats' House campaign arm outraised the GOP's, while the National Republican Senatorial Committee outraised the Dems for the second month in a row.

In Speech On The Economy, A Health Care Plug

It's become one of the White House's favorite new talking points on health care. Today, President Obama again posited that his reform effort is part of the cure for an ailing economy.

Speaking at Hudson Valley Community College, Obama said that rising health care costs leave small and large businesses at a competitive disadvantage, particularly in a global economy.

"We will never know the enormity of the costs of our economy to the countless Americans unable to become entrepreneurs or to start a small business, to follow their dreams, because they're afraid of losing their health insurance," he said. "So, to lead in the global economy, we must pass health insurance reform that brings down costs and provides more security for people who have insurance, and offers options to people who don't have health insurance."

Obama, joined by Dr. Jill Biden, a community college professor in Virginia, also made a pitch for his elements of his education policy, and also pushed for an effort to end subsidies to banks who provide student loans.

"If we just cut out the middle-man, the banks, and lent directly to the students, the federal government would save that money, and we could use it for what's actually important: helping students afford and succeed in college," he said.

Deeds Launches 3 TV Ads

Creigh Deeds (D), candidate for governor of Virginia, is launching three new television ads today, including two negative spots that link Bob McDonnell's (R) 1989 graduate school thesis to his legislative career. Both mention that McDonnell sponsored 35 bills in the state legislature aimed at "restricting a woman's right to choose."

"Conversation":

"Why Did You":

The positive ad is the only one featuring Deeds himself. It shows him driving a car and talking about moving Virginia forward. Here is "Opportunity":

Paterson and Cuomo With Obama In Troy

Word of President Obama delving into the New York governor race could not have come at a more awkward time, as he now speaks within miles of the state capital in Albany. Gov. David Paterson (D) met Obama at the airport when he arrived, and is now attending his event at Hudson Valley Community College.

As he began his remarks, Obama did acknowledge Paterson, calling him a "wonderful man." He had a bit more to say about the man state and national Democrats might prefer to be on the ballot in 2010: Attorney General Andrew Cuomo. The president jokingly called him "shy and retiring," and said he's doing great work as the A.G.

When Paterson greeted Obama at the Albany airport, the two "had a brief exchange that looked cordial," according to a pool report. "The shook hands, Obama did a kind of half-embrace with his back to the press corps, and said something to Paterson, who listened for a moment and then said something back."

En route to New York, Robert Gibbs addressed the reports that Obama has asked Paterson to step aside.

"I think everybody understands the tough jobs that every elected official has right now in addressing many of the problems that we have, and I think people are aware of the tough situation that the governor of New York is in," he said. "I wouldn't add a lot to what you've read, except this is a decision that he's going to make."

Gibbs would not say whether anyone has asked Paterson not to run. But he acknowledged that Obama, as head of the party, has been involved in politics.

"To quote Paul Begala, not to be involved in politics would be like taking the math out of physics," he said.

Also joining Obama at his event today is Rep. Scott Murphy (D-N.Y.), who won a special election to represent the region earlier this year.

Countdown '09: New Jersey and Virginia (43 Days)

VIRGINIA (RCP Average: McDonnell (R) +4.5)

*A new Washington Post poll found McDonnell's lead cut to 4 points, down from 15 last month.

*A result of the Post poll is that every headline says Deeds is gaining on McDonnell, providing a potential momentum shift for Deeds.

*McDonnell tailgated yesterday at the Washington Redskins home opener. His wife, Maureen, performed during the halftime show as part of the Redskins "Cheerleader Alumni" program. (Kyle was there as well, but did not spot either McDonnell.)

*Virginia Education Association's Robley Jones knocks the McDonnell education plan.

*McDonnell is getting help (again) from Mitt Romney, as the former Massachusetts governor ends a busy weekend in D.C. by raising an expected $100k at a fundraiser held at the American Gas Association on the Hill.

NEW JERSEY (RCP Average: Christie +7.1)
*He can't absorb too many more blows. Now, Gov. Jon Corzine (D) is defending an investment in a firm that has interests in casinos in the state.

*Corzine said Sunday the "facts are clear," as he defended the investment.

*Corzine's spokesperson said the Attorney General already cleared it.

*At the NAACP convention, Christie said he's the best candidate on crime and education.

*This will be the first state election with a vote-by-mail option.

*Christie leads 37-30 in southern New Jersey, per a Zogby poll.

Strategy Memo: UN Week

President Obama leaves Washington this morning, and won't be back until week's end. His week starts near Albany, New York, where he'll visit a community college with Dr. Jill Biden and then give a speech on the economy. He'll then head to New York City, where he'll spend a few days at the UN General Assembly. But before getting down to business there he'll sit down for one more interview, with Late Show host David Letterman.

Vice President Biden starts the day in Delaware, where he'll host a fundraiser for Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. He then comes to Washington, where he will prepare for more public events on health care while the president tends to foreign policy at the UN and this week's G-20 Summit.

The House meets this afternoon only in a pro forma session, with regular business for the week beginning tomorrow. The Senate meets this afternoon to consider the Interior Appropriations bill, though no roll call votes are expected.

**Check out all the Preisdent Obama appearances you missed yesterday on the RealClearPolitics Video page.

**Afghanistan: "The top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan warns in an urgent, confidential assessment of the war that he needs more forces within the next year and bluntly states that without them, the eight-year conflict "will likely result in failure," according to a copy of the 66-page document obtained by The Washington Post."

**Obama Sunday Blitz
*The biggest clash on Sunday likely was on ABC over the issue of a tax -- and whether a mandate in the health care bill would impose it. "I absolutely reject that notion," Obama said. "What it's saying is, is that we're not going to have other people carrying your burdens for you anymore. Right now everybody in America, just about, has to get auto insurance. Nobody considers that a tax increase."

*Bloomberg highlights this line from Obama, on ABC: "There have been times where I have said I've got to step up my game in terms of talking to the American people about issues like health care. That's been a case where I have been humbled and I just keep on trying harder."

*Washington Times highlights his foreign policy remarks. "Using some of his strongest language to date, Mr. Obama said he inherited failing American policies in Afghanistan and on missile defense, and set about in both cases to initiate a fresh approach."

*Fox's Chris Wallace, who was left out of the Sunday blitz, called the White House a bunch of "crybabies."

**Other Obama News
*"As President Obama welcomes world leaders to the United States this week, he has gone a long way toward meeting his goal of restoring the country's international standing," the New York Times reports. "But eight months after his inauguration, all that good will so far has translated into limited tangible policy benefits."

*This week, Obama will sit down with the leaders of Israel and Palestine. The Tribune: "It wasn't immediately clear whether the scheduling of the meetings portended a full-scale resumption of Middle East peace negotiations. White House officials had avoided publicly laying out specific requirements for their participation in a trilateral meeting."

*John Harwood reports that Obama's efforts to lobby Sen. Olympia Snowe may be paying off. "In an interview, she offered a surprisingly robust endorsement of Mr. Obama's skepticism about expanding government too much, his willingness to accommodate different views and his assertion that Washington must act now after decades of failure."

*The Globe reports on how the health care fight is putting other legislative battles on hold. The pitched battle over a national health care plan is inflicting collateral damage on other legislation in Congress, with some lawmakers and advocates arguing that it has sidetracked action on other urgent priorities.

*Obama will raise money for Democratic governors on October 1.

*AP: "Obama heads to Troy, N.Y., on Monday to discuss his already-in-place programs that he says help spur innovation and transform the U.S. economy. ... His speech at Hudson Valley Community College will repackage his programs as part of a strategy for innovation. The White House said the remarks would reflect Obama's belief that new ideas produce new jobs and the United States must invest in education, infrastructure and research."

**Congress
*"The Democrat-versus-Democrat battle over Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus's health care proposal is more than just political posturing: It's the latest sign that Senate Democrats so far lack a clear public leader on the issue at a crucial time in the debate," Politico reports.

*Roll Call reports that a "larger political minefield looms" for Senate Democrats on health care. "Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) plans to reconcile the two bills, forcing Democrats to choose between the nonprofit medical cooperatives proposed by Finance and a public insurance option contained in the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee bill. Moderates tend to favor the co-ops, liberals prefer the public insurance option."

*Congress is considering another week off in November, as many members would like to be home for the entire week when Veterans Day falls, The Hill reports.

*Virginia Reps. Eric Cantor (R) and Bobby Scott (D), who both represent parts of Richmond, will hold a joint town hall style event on health care at 10 a.m. at the headquarters of the Times-Dispatch in downtown Richmond.

**Campaign Stuff
*Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said on "Meet the Press" yesterday that Gov. Mark Sanford (R) should remain in office until the conclusion of his term.

*Steve Kornacki writes about why the White House move won't help matters. Now, "it will be harder, and more demeaning, for Paterson to back down in the near future. To get out now would be to admit that the White House's analysis is right (which it is) that Paterson is uniquely unelectable among all of the incumbent Democratic governors in the country. So now look for Paterson to double down and insist that--more than ever -- he's a candidate for '10."

*A Des Moines Register poll finds Gov. Chet Culver's (D) approval rating has slipped to 50 percent, the lowest of his term. Meanwhile, many support the idea of former Gov. Terry Branstad (R) running again -- and Cook Report's Jennifer Duffy says he looks "intimidating."

*2012: Mike Huckabee won the Value Voters straw poll, with about 29 percent of the vote. Mitt Romney, Tim Pawlenty, Sarah Palin and Mike Pence were bunched with 12 percent of the 597 votes cast. In a statement, Huckabee called the win flattering but said a 2012 decision is a long way off.

*The GOP field in New Hampshire may have yet another member: William Binnie, a Portsmouth-area businessman. He told the Union Leader that he's "actively exploring" a run, but that it's "premature to comment any further."

*Former Rep. Joe Hoeffel (D), who ran against then-Republican Arlen Specter in 2004, will run for governor in Pennsylvania in 2010, per PA2010.com. A poll he commissioned found him leading the crowded Democratic field.

*He can't absorb too many more blows. Now, Gov. Jon Corzine (D) is defending an investment in a firm that has interests in casinos in the state. Star-Ledger: "Corzine and his advisers say the investment was properly reported and does not violate state regulations that bar the governor and senior state officials from business relationships with casino operators."

*NY Gov: Gov. David Paterson (D) reaffirms his commitment to run for governor next year, despite unease about his candidacy from the White House. Meanwhile, ex-Rep. Rick Lazio (R) is running. "It's time," he told AP.

--Kyle Trygstad and Mike Memoli

Obama To Raise Money For Democratic Governors

President Obama will do his part to assist the Democratic Party's efforts to hold its majority of the governorships when he headlines a fundraiser for the Democratic Governors Association next week. A DGA spokesperson said the organization expects to raise about $500,000 at the October 1 event at Washington's St. Regis Hotel.

DGA chair Brian Schweitzer of Montana and DGA vice chair Martin O'Malley of Maryland will be joined by at least four other Democratic incumbents -- Delaware's Jack Markell, Missouri's Jay Nixon, Kansas' Mark Parkinson and Kentucky's Steve Beshear -- for the event. Of that group, only O'Malley is on the ballot in 2010.

On Sunday, the New York Times reported that Obama aides last week asked New York Gov. David Paterson, who assumed the office after Eliot Spitzer's resignation in 2008, not to run for a full term in 2010. Paterson, who trails potential opponents in both the primary and general election in early polling, says he plans to run anyway, and recently hired Richard Fife to run his campaign.

The DGA is maintaining policy to support all Democratic incumbents. DGA press secretary Emily DeRose said Paterson is welcome at the Obama fundraiser, as are any of his fellow officeholders. The DGA has raised record funds this year, though Republicans have as well. The party holds 28 of the 50 governorships, with 20 of its seats up for grabs in 2010 in addition to the party's defense of New Jersey and Virginia this year.

Countdown '09: New Jersey and Virginia (46 Days)

NEW JERSEY (RCP Average: Christie +7.1)
* Is Obama coming back to New Jersey? Maybe in October, the Star-Ledger hears.

* Al Gore will rally New Jersey Democrats next Friday.

* A new survey from a Republican pollster finds Christie's lead ticking up.

* Corzine launched another contrast ad on health care issues.

* The RGA launched another "failure" spot.

* Christie put out a new Web video about the unemployment rate, and a questionable Corzine remark.

* Christie's reaching out to African-Americans.

VIRGINIA (RCP Average: McDonnell +6.5)
* Kyle's final wrap up on yesterday's debate.

* A Kos poll finds McDonnell up 7 points.

* The candidates talked the economy in Roanoke.

* Fred Barnes looks at the potential GOP comeback.

* NPR also looks at the race.

* Politico, WJLA, Google and YouTube will sponsor a debate in October.

GOP Pollster Finds N.J. Race Near Tipping Point

The Republican pollster Neighborhood Research again finds a closer gubernatorial race in New Jersey than other surveys have found, but the internals indicate that Gov. Jon Corzine (D) is slipping as election day draws nearer.

General Election Matchup
Christie 37 (unch from last poll, 8/21)
Corzine 33 (-2)
Daggett 8 (+2)
Undecided 22

Among so-called "definite voters," Christie's lead stretches to 7 points, 40-33, with 7 percent for Daggett and 20 percent undecided.

"While the numbers indicate little movement in the ballot test (although what movement exists is towards Christie), there is much more under the surface," pollster Rick Shaftan writes in the polling memo. "Voters are starting to tune out Governor Corzine and with negatives close to 50%, the Christie message of 'how can I do any worse' is starting to resonate with voters."

The former U.S. attorney's favorable numbers have jumped 9 points, from a 19/26 split to a positive 28/26 split. Corzine's favorable number remains low at 21 percent, while his unfavorables are up 2 points, to 48 percent.

"Christie's turned the corner and Corzine has seven days to stop what is going to become an avalanche," pollster Rick Shaftan told RCP today. Shaftan ran the campaign of Christie's primary challenger, former Bogota Mayor Steve Lonegan (R).

You can read more of Shaftan's analysis, including an interesting take on the Obama factor, after the jump.

CONCLUSIONS

1. Corzine has a limited window to win back voters who are starting to harden in their feelings towards him. He has yet to tell voters what he has done as Governor and why he deserves another term in office.

2. Corzine's negative attacks on Christie have produced nothing.

3. Christie needs to firm up his support in Northwest New Jersey, just as Corzine needs to firm up his Central New Jersey base.

4. Strong generic ballot numbers for Republicans with white ethnic voters could become a real problem for Democrats if Christie opens up a lead and Democratic GOTV operations fall apart.

5. Obama is not the silver bullet that will put away the race for Corzine. While Corzine wins Obama favorables 60-10 (8 for Daggett), Christie holds a much more polarizing 75-3 edge among the growing pool of Obama unfavorables. Bringing Obama in at the end could energize anti-Obama voters more than pro-Obama ones.

6. Daggett's ads were cute and gave him a brief boost in the polls, but without a quick and effective follow-up, he will rapidly move towards becoming another asterisk in a book of election returns.

Here's a note on methodology:

The data below is from a survey of 347 registered voters who said their chances of voting in the November election were "definite" or "very likely." Surveys were completed between September 14th and 17th from live operators from our facility in Franklin, New Jersey. The data is compared with 319 responses completed between August 12th and 21st. The theoretical margin of error is +/- 5.3% at a 95% confidence level. 13 of these surveys were completed in Spanish.

Bennet Raising Money Off Obama Endorsement

Appointed Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), now facing both a tough primary challenge and a high profile GOP opponent, is touting the endorsement of President Obama in an e-mail fundraising appeal.

Here's Obama's endorsement:

"Throughout his career, Michael Bennet has brought businesses back from the brink, helped bring Denver from deficits into balance and improved the Denver public school system by ending five years of budget cuts to close the achievement gap. Families in Colorado and across America need him in the United States Senate to help us revitalize our economy, improve our public schools, and pass health insurance reform - and I am proud to count him as my ally in those efforts. Michael has had my full support from day one and I look forward to working with him in the Senate for years to come."

The e-mail from Bennet's campaign manager says Bennet is "determined to continue working with the President to bring the change our country needs." It urges recipients to donate $5 or more to his campaign.

Most importantly, we need your help in building this campaign and growing a strong grassroots network of support. More than anyone, President Obama knows that it's the support of people like you that makes the difference.

Please forward this email to 5 people and ask them to learn more about Michael Bennet -- about fighting for health care reform and supporting a public option; about being a leader in Washington on improving our education system; and about making the tough decisions to get our economy moving again.

VA Gov Candidates Debate

Here is my write-up of the Virginia gubernatorial debate yesterday, moderated by "Meet the Press" host David Gregory:

McLEAN, Va. -- In the second of four formal debates, the candidates for governor of Virginia argued over the same issues that the most recent gubernatorial races centered on -- jobs and transportation. While there was plenty of finger pointing at the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce-sponsored debate, one Democratic state legislator told RealClearPolitics that it was the most substantive debate he had seen in his many years in Virginia politics.

To open the event, Bob McDonnell, the Republican nominee, said he was glad to finally be on home turf after the first debate was held in Creigh Deeds's home county. McDonnell spent most of his childhood in Northern Virginia, including here in Fairfax County, though Deeds later criticized him for claiming many parts of the state as his home.

You can read the rest here.

McDonnell +7 in Latest Va. Gov Poll

A new Daily Kos/Research 2000 survey in the Virginia gubernatorial race finds Bob McDonnell (R) leading Creigh Deeds (D) by 7 points, the Republican's largest lead of three separate polls released this week. McDonnell led by 2 points in a Rasmussen poll out yesterday and by 5 points in a Clarus poll out Tuesday.

Kos last surveyed the race in early August, when McDonnell led 51%-43%.

The latest Kos survey (Sept 14-16, 600 LV, MoE +/- 4%) finds McDonnell with a 56%/40% favorable rating and Deeds at 47%/42%. McDonnell has the support of 89% of Republicans, higher than Deeds's 80% take among Democrat. Independents favor McDonnell by a 51%-38% margin.

McDonnell 50
Deeds 43
Und 7

The RCP Average puts McDonnell ahead by 6.5 points.

President Obama has a net negative rating, as 45% view him favorably while 48% see him unfavorably. Sen. Mark Warner (D) holds the highest favorable rating among the statewide officials tested with 63%, followed by Sen. Jim Webb (D) with 53% and Gov. Tim Kaine (D) with 45%

SNL Takes On Wilson

"Saturday Night Live" returned, albeit on Thursday night, and led the show with a sketch about the Joe Wilson "You Lie!" incident. Watch, and enjoy.

Strategy Memo: Sunday Show Blitz

Happy Friday, Washington. President Obama's public schedule today includes just the daily intelligence and economic briefings, and a meeting with recpients of the Secretary of Defense Employer Support Freedom Award. Most of his time will be spent taping the five, count 'em, five interviews to air on Sunday shows this weekend on ABC, CBS, CNN, NBC and Univision. We call the all-Obama weekend: "State of This Week: Face The Press (en espanol)."

Elsewhere in Washington today, the Family Research Council hosts a Values Voter Summit. This morning, speakers include Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, House Republican Conference Chairman Mike Pence, House Minority Whip Eric Cantor and Mike Huckabee. Tim Pawlenty speaks there tonight, and Mitt Romney tomorrow. There will be a 2012 presidential straw poll conducted.

The House and Senate are not in session today after both took action yesterday to strip federal funding to ACORN. The Senate returns Monday, while the House comes back for regular business on Tuesday.

**President Obama
*"Obama's decision to drop plans to deploy a ballistic-missile defense shield in Central Europe -- drawing immediate cheers in Moscow and criticism elsewhere -- is a gamble by the U.S. that scaling back its defense ambitions will improve security in the long run," reports the Wall Street Journal.

AP's analysis: "The Obama administration is not abandoning missile defense in Europe, but it is junking the previous administration's view of the missile threat posed by Iran and what that means for Europe. The old idea was that Iran was focused on building long-range ballistic missiles capable of hitting Europe and the U.S. ... The new view is that Iran has made slower progress on long-range missiles than previously estimated and is going faster on missiles of shorter range -- the types that mainly threaten Europe and parts of Asia."

*Obama recognized Army Sgt. 1st Class Jared C. Monti with the nation's highest decoration, the Congressional Medal of Honor, for his "conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action," the L.A. Times reports. "Monti -- whose parents, Paul and Janet, received the award on his behalf -- is only the second service member to receive the medal for combat in Afghanistan."

*"Even by the norms of his ubiquity, Mr. Obama has been on an especially prodigious media binge lately, pitching his health care plan seemingly everywhere but the Food Channel and Fox News," Mark Leibovich writes. "White House aides maintain that the president is the single best advocate for his message, and they tend to treat questions of whether he is being overexposed with the annoyance one might direct at a fly." Dan Pfeiffer, deputy communications director: "The idea of overexposure is based on an old-world view of the media." Because the media are now so fragmented, "you would have to do all the Sunday shows, a lot of network news shows and late-night shows" to reach the number of viewers a president could address with one network interview 20 years ago."

**Health Care
*Obama turned to a solidly young, liberal audience on Thursday morning, rallying students at the University of Maryland to help him face the "defining struggle of this generation," the Post reports.

*Bill Clinton weighs in on the Baucus bill during an interview with Bloomberg. "It would be good if he could get some Republican support," he said. "I believe he'll get Snowe and he could get Collins and he might get three or four others." More, on Republican support: "If they believe a bill is going to pass, some of them will vote for it. And if they believe they have a chance to keep any bill from passing, they will be put under excruciating pressure to vote against whatever is there for reasons that have nothing to do with health care and have everything to do with politics. I've been through this. I've seen it."

*The Times on how Sen. Jay Rockefeller is standing up for liberals: "He heads the health subcommittee of Mr. Baucus's panel, and yet he was relegated to the sidelines as the so-called Gang of Six talked and talked. Senate liberals are now pushing for an overhaul fully on Democratic terms -- legislation more like that in the House, where liberal Democrats dominate." Rockefeller: "I represent a state that really needs health care reform, and I want it to be good," he said.

**Congress
*Gallup: "New USA Today/Gallup approval ratings of the two major parties in Congress show the Democrats faring slightly better than the Republicans, in line with the pattern in recent years. Thirty-six percent of Americans interviewed Sept. 11-13 approve of how the Democrats in Congress are doing their job; 27% approve of the Republicans. However, both parties' ratings are down significantly from earlier this year, returning them to the record-low levels seen in 2007 and 2008."

*ACORN: "Trying to dodge a growing conservative firestorm, the House and Senate made clear Thursday that the community-based nonprofit organization ACORN was persona non grata on Capitol Hill," L.A. Times reports. The House bill barred ACORN from receiving any federal funds, while the Senate prohibited the group from receiving funds from an Interior Dept. spending bill.

*Student Loans: "Despite opposition from private banks and conservative lawmakers, the House passed the Student Loan and Fiscal Responsibility Act (SAFRA) today in a 253-171 vote," National Journal reports. "The legislation would shift federal student lending entirely into the hands of the government -- a momentous change from the current system, where private banks disburse about 75 percent of such loans."

**Campaign Stuff
*National Journal's Insider Poll finds 65% of Dem political operatives think the Democrats will be hurt a lot in the midterm elections if they don't pass major health care reform legislation. As for GOP operatives, 43% said the Dems would be hurt a lot and 31% said a little.

*The NRSC ($3.08M) outraised the DSCC ($2.2M) for the second month in a row, Politico reports.

*Since 2004, "Democrats have steadily gained ground in both state and federal elections" in the Mountain West, National Journal reports. "Now, however, amid a fierce conservative backlash against President Obama's agenda, Democrats face an escalating challenge to defend those advances in 2010. All signs show the momentum shifting toward Republicans in a region that has traditionally resisted the sort of assertive federal initiatives that Obama has offered on issues from the economic stimulus to health care."

*Rob Miller, the Democratic challenger to Rep. Joe Wilson, will raise money at a pair of fundraisers in Washington, CNN reports.

*The Globe notes the Kennedy pitch in Rep. Mike Capuano's (D) new TV ad. "Only one candidate stood with Ted Kennedy against Bush's iraq war and mirrors his progressive record," the announcer declares.

*Celtics co-owner Bill Pagliuca, as he announced his candidacy for Senate yesterday, "addressed concerns he's a dilettante trying to buy the seat vacated by Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, and vowed to be true to the liberal lion's legacy," the Herald reports. Pagliuca: "It's a fallacy you can buy an election. The people are smart."

*Obama is sticking with another incumbent, Colorado's Mike Bennet, who has a tough primary challenge ahead of him, Politico reports.

*NJ Gov: Independent candidate Chris Daggett "plans to file a lawsuit arguing that New Jersey's balloting system is unconstitutional because it gives the two major parties top billing," the Star-Ledger reports. "Daggett says the practice creates a two-tiered political system, and he is requesting an injunction to prevent the challenged ballots from being disseminated."

*Florida Senate candidate Marco Rubio won yet another straw poll.

--Mike Memoli and Kyle Trygstad

Countdown '09: 47 Days

**VIRGINIA (RCP Average: McDonnell +6.5)
*A new poll finds McDonnell leading by just 2 points, the smallest margin since mid-June.
*Deeds and McDonnell faced off in Tysons Corner, in the second of four debates.
*The Times-Dispatch called it "testy," which it was.
*Washington Post was live-blogging, including the pre-debate madness in the press room.
*McDonnell released a new TV ad on transportation, which he focused on in the debate.

** NEW JERSEY (RCP Average: Christie +7.1)
* A switcheroo probably won't work for Democrats.
* Christie touted the endorsement of nine Democrats from the Elizabeth Board of Education.
* Corzine connects the dots in a tough new ad -- but it's online only (for now).
* The governor will skip a radio debate on 101.5 FM -- the first snub in 20 years for a NJ candidate.
* Both candidates will speak to firefighters tomorrow.
* Christie struck a different tone on how he'd deal with a Democratic legislature.

Parties See Chafee As Potential Winner

This fall and in 2010, third-party candidates are poised to play spoiler in some gubernatorial elections. A new survey from Public Policy Polling finds that Independent Chris Daggett could have an impact on the final result in New Jersey, although it's unclear whether he hurts Democratic incumbent Jon Corzine or Republican challenger Chris Christie more.

Last week, Massachusetts Treasurer Tim Cahill also announced his independent candidacy for governor in that state. A former Democrat, his entrance adds to Gov. Deval Patrick's political vulnerability, reflected in Patrick's bottom-scraping approval rating of 20%.

But there is one independent candidate both parties point to as not just a spoiler, but as a potential winner: Lincoln Chafee, the former Republican senator seeking the governor's office in Rhode Island. "In the world of who is real and serious and credible, it's Chafee," Nick Ayers, executive director of the Republican Governors Association, said Wednesday at an event previewing 2010 races sponsored by The Hotline. "In general, [independent candidates] are low-impact. In Rhode Island, that's a very high impact."

Added Nathan Daschle, executive director of the Democratic Governors Association, Chafee is "who we see as the general election competition."

Rhode Island is similar to some of its neighbors in that it's a heavily Democratic state that has a propensity for electing Republican governors. But current GOP Gov. Don Carcieri is term-limited, and no major Republican has emerged yet in the race to succeed him. Mr. Chafee was one of six Republican senators to lose in the pivotal 2006 elections. After his defeat, he switched party affiliation to independent and endorsed Democrat Barack Obama for president. His high name-identification and crossover appeal in the nation's smallest state make an uncertain open-seat race that much more unpredictable for the national parties.

VA Gov Poll: McDonnell +2

A new Rasmussen automated survey finds GOP nominee Bob McDonnell leading by just 2 points in the race for governor of Virginia (Sept. 16, 500 LV, MoE +/- 4.5%), a 7-point drop since the beginning of the month.

McDonnell 48 (-3 vs. last poll, Sept. 1)
Deeds 46 (+4)
Und 5

McDonnell leads by 6.5 points in the RCP Average.

The two candidates sparred today at a Northern Virginia debate. Deeds continued to reference McDonnell's graduate thesis as an example of the "social agenda" he said McDonnell has been pushing for nearly 20 years in state politics. McDonnell said he was the only candidate with a firm transportation plan.

The race has tightened since late August, when the Washington Post first uncovered the thesis. Fifty-two percent said the writings are at least somewhat important in deciding how they will vote, up from 36% two weeks ago.

The survey also finds that President Obama gets a 49% favorable rating, while 46% say they support the health care reform proposed by the president and Democrats in Congress. McDonnell is viewed favorably by 54% while 50% have a favorable impression of Deeds.

McDonnell Drops Ad Following Debate

Virginia gubernatorial candidate Bob McDonnell released a new TV ad following the second of four debates with his Democratic opponent, Creigh Deeds. The ad, as the debate did, focuses on transportation. Northern Virginia and the entire Washington D.C. region have some of the worst traffic congestion in the country, so road and public transportation expansion is always a top issue in state politics.

To pay for his plan, McDonnell wants to sell off the state-run liquor stores for $500 million, though Deeds said in the debate that this plan has already been denied several times in the state legislature and that the annual revenue from liquor sales provides needed funding for services such as mental health treatment.

Hutchison Retakes Lead In Gubernatorial Primary

One month after formally announcing her candidacy for governor, Texas Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R) has retaken a lead over incumbent Rick Perry in the latest Rasmussen poll.

Primary Election Matchup
Hutchison 40 (+4 from last survey, 7/15)
Perry 38 (-8)
Medina 3 (n/a)
Not Sure 19 (+5)

Both candidates have nearly identical favorable ratings among the Republican primary electorate -- Perry is at 72 / 26 split, Hutchison at 71 / 26. Perry's job approval rating is at 69 percent among Republicans, while 29 percent disapprove. President Obama's approval rating among Texas Republicans is just 18 percent.

The automated telephone survey was conducted September 16 among 790 likely primary voters, with a margin of error of +/- 3.5 percent.

Rubio Scores Congressional Endorsement

Florida Senate candidate Marco Rubio (R) picked up a major endorsement today, as Congresswoman Ginny Brown-Waite (R-Fla.) announced her support for the conservative state legislator.

"Originally, I had not planned to endorse in this race, but as the challenges facing our nation and Florida grow more severe, times demand someone willing to make hard choices," said Brown-Waite in a statement released by the Rubio campaign. "Washington needs leaders with solid conservative beliefs and the courage to do the right thing. Marco Rubio does not try to be all things to all people. Like me, what you see is what you get. Marco Rubio is the consistent, principled conservative we need to provide a check and balance on the Obama-Reid agenda."

Brown-Waite, who hails from a Gulf Coast district west of Orlando, has a voting record that places her in the middle of the House GOP, according to National Journal's vote ratings, though she's recently been more conservative on foreign policy and immigration issues. Earlier this week she spoke out on the House floor in support of Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.), shortly before the chamber passed a resolution of disapproval for his behavior during President Obama's speech.

This is one of Rubio's biggest endorsements. He was previously endorsed by South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint (R), who appeared alongside Rubio at a Capitol Hill press conference earlier this year.

Switcheroo II? Replacement Dems Don't Poll Better Vs. Christie

More numbers trickling out of Public Policy Polling (D) from New Jersey. Today, the firm releases results of potential matchups in the gubernatorial race if Gov. Jon Corzine (D) were replaced as the Democratic nominee. Newark Mayor Corey Booker (D) and U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone (D) fare no better against Chris Christie (R) in the unlikely scenario Democrats did dump their standard bearer, much as they did in the 2002 Senate race.

Here are the outcomes, with the baseline being the actual horserace:

Christie 41 - Booker 33 - Daggett 13
Christie 43 - Pallone 23 - Daggett 15
Christie 44 - Corzine 35 - Daggett 13

Booker is the better known figure of the two potential replacements, with a fav/unfav split of 41/20. Pallone's split was 14/25. There's been no suggestion that Corzine would drop out of the race with less than 50 days left, however. Still, PPP suggests Booker's numbers are "pretty darn impressive" and could be a potential statewide nominee for the party in future elections. Booker took office as Newark mayor in 2006. The firm also says Booker's race would not be a major issue, as he is viewed more favorably among white voters (40 percent) than Corzine (25 percent) or President Obama (37 percent).

The automated telephone survey of 500 voters was conducted from September 11-14, and had a margin of error of +/-4.5 percent. Christie now leads by 7.2 points in the RCP Average.

Pelosi Concerned Rhetoric Could Incite Violence

Asked at a press conference today if she was concerned that "anti-government rhetoric" could lead to violence, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi alluded to the assassination of gay rights leader Harvey Milk and said people will "have to take responsibility for any incitement that they may cause."

"We are a free country and this balance between freedom and safety is one that we have to carefully balance," she said. "I have concerns about some of the language that is being used because I saw this myself in the late '70s in San Francisco, this kind of rhetoric was very frightening and it gave -- it created a climate in which ... violence took place."

Pelosi, of course, represents San Francisco. Though she doesn't reference President Obama, it's a delicate matter to be discussing political assassination when there is real concern about the president's safety. The remarks are especially stunning when you consider the uproar caused by comments Hillary Clinton made late in the 2008 Democratic primary about the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy, which some viewed as her suggesting then-Senator Obama could be killed as well.

Pelosi said she wishes people would "curb our enthusiasm" since some who are hearing some strong rhetoric "are not as balanced as the person making the statement might assume."

"Again, our country is great because people can say what they think and they believe, but I also think that they have to take responsibility for any incitement that they may cause."

You can see the question that lead to these comments, and the speaker's full response, after the jump.

Q: "Madam Speaker, in terms of the political tone -- the tone of the debate, Hoyer said earlier this week he thought it was the most vitriolic since '93, '94. Around that time, we also saw acts of domestic violence, domestic terrorism.

How concerned are you about the tone of the political debate in terms of people talking about anti-government rhetoric and so on, and the possibility of violence?"

PELOSI: "Well, I think we all have to take responsibility for our actions and our words. We are a free country and this balance between freedom and safety is one that we have to carefully balance. I have concerns about some of the language that is being used because I saw -- I saw this myself in the late '70s in San Francisco, this kind of -- of rhetoric was very frightening and it gave -- it created a climate in which we -- violence took place.

"And so I wish that we would all, again, curb our enthusiasm in some of the statements that are made, understanding that -- that some of the people -- the ears it is falling on are not as balanced as the person making the statement might assume.

"But, again, our country is great because people can say what they think and they believe, but I also think that they have to take responsibility for any incitement that they may cause."

Ehrlich: Still No Timeline For 2010 Decision

Former Maryland Gov. Bob Ehrlich (R) says he still has "no timeline" for a decision about whether to run again in 2010, and feels no "undue pressure" from anyone to get off the fence anytime soon.

"I think I've earned that right, by the way," said Ehrlich, who was the first Republican governor in the Free State in more than 30 years when he was elected in 2002.

The race, which would be a rematch against incumbent Gov. Martin O'Malley (D), is "certainly something that we're looking at," Ehrlich said.

"There's been a lot of polls out there, public and private and all that, and it appears that we're in pretty good standing right now with the people of Maryland," he said. "It's certainly nice with respect to our legacy. Whether it means anything for the future remains to be seen."

Lawrence Hogan, Ehrlich's former appointments secretary, announced he'd explore a bid this week. Del. Pat McDonough (R) is also looking at the race. But both would likely defer to Ehrlich.

Ehrlich's comments came on an RNC conference call to counter President Obama's event in College Park, Md., today.

Strategy Memo: Up For Debate

President Obama gets back on the stump for health care today, as he heads across the DC border for a rally at the University of Maryland this morning. This afternoon, he's back at the White House for a solemn ceremony to award the Medal of Honor posthumously to Sergeant First Class Jared C. Monti. Tonight, he hosts a screening of Ken Burns' new documentary on the National Parks in the White House theater.

On the Hill, the Senate will take up a couple appropriations bills -- Interior and HUD/Transportation -- while the House is expected to complete consideration of the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act of 2009. Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham will hold a press conference at 10 a.m. to discuss troop levels in Afghanistan. The four Dem and GOP leaders of the House and Senate will meet with Canada Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

"Meet the Press" host David Gregory is moderating a D.C.-area debate this morning between Virginia gubernatorial candidates Creigh Deeds (D) and Bob McDonnell (R).

**President Obama
*The president's approval rating is at 54 percent, per a new USA Today/Gallup poll. Only 43 percent approve of his handling of health care, and 38 percent approve of his handling of the deficit.

*Obama aides say his response to the Jimmy Carter race comments "has been to tell his staff not to be distracted by the charges and to focus on health care and the rest of his policy agenda." Valerie Jarrett explains to the New York Times the White House thinking: "He could probably give a very powerful speech on race, just as he did in the course of the campaign. But right now his top domestic priority is health care reform. It's difficult, challenging and complicated. And if he leads by example, our country will be far better off."

*Obama, "trying to calm critics and rally allies on his top domestic priority, told a Hispanic gathering on Wednesday that no one in the United States illegally would receive benefits under plans for a health care overhaul," AP notes. He also "promised action on immigration, although he left unspoken a timeline."

*Some foreign policy news. Wall Street Journal: "The White House will shelve Bush administration plans to build a missile-defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic, according to people familiar with the matter, a move likely to cheer Moscow and roil the security debate in Europe."

On Afghanistan, Obama "is holding off on a decision to send more U.S. troops ... exasperating lawmakers who say his administration's latest road map for winning the war skimps on details and amounts to too little, too late."

**Health Care
*New York Times reports that "advocates of health care overhaul face an extremely delicate balancing act" as Dems control 59 seats, "meaning they need at least one Republican to join them if they are to proceed without employing a procedural shortcut that could cause havoc in the Senate. And Senate Democrats have substantial differences of their own" -- including among liberal Sens. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who favor a public option.

*"On the surface, it appears that no one is happy with Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) -- and that may be the best news President Obama has had in months," write's WaPo's Ceci Connolly. "But behind the rhetorical fireworks was a sense that the fragile coalition of major industry leaders and interest groups central to refashioning the nation's $2.5 trillion health-care system remains intact. As they scoured the 223-page document, many of the most influential players found elements to dislike, but not necessarily reasons to kill the effort. Most enticing was the prospect of 30 million new customers."

*"The Democrats' effort to revamp the nation's healthcare system has pushed other inflammatory issues like immigration and climate change into next year, when election-year politics make it hard to get anything done," The Hill reports. "Earlier this year, some Democrats criticized the White House for pursuing too much on its agenda, and said it needed to prioritize. But now, some Democrats are worried about the intense focus on one issue -- healthcare."

*You have to wonder, how much of this is tied to his own tough re-election bid? From the Las Vegas Sun: "No sooner than the Senate Finance Committee's chairman released his long-awaited health care bill today than Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said it's not good enough for Nevada. Reid is concerned about the cash-poor state's inability to boost Medicaid spending as would be required under the bill.

**Republicans
*House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio), "a conservative with a penchant for compromise, has spent the past few months trying to harness the anger of the GOP base without allowing his conference to veer too far to the right," Politico reports. "But never were the strains of that balancing act more apparent than during the Wilson vote, as the Ohio Republican tried to juggle his commitment to bipartisan civility with his responsibility to a besieged member of his conference.

*"The key to retaking the majority in the House could be in a message of checks and balances, according to a Republican survey presented to members of the House GOP whip team on Tuesday night," Roll Call reports. "Independents, by a margin of 53 percent to 26 percent, favored a Republican who could check and balance Obama over a Democratic Member of Congress. The poll, paid for by Minority Whip Eric Cantor's (R-Va.) campaign fund, is the latest in a series of GOP surveys that show promising signs for the Republican Party."

*WaPo's Cillizza reports that the ACORN controversy "has emboldened Republicans to use the group's troubles as a political cudgel against Democrats. 'If the Democrats continue to ignore the apparent fraud taking place with taxpayer money, they will pay a price politically,' predicted former Florida governor Jeb Bush (R) in an e-mail exchange with the Fix late Wednesday."

*"The Justice Department is investigating whether former Interior Secretary Gale A. Norton illegally used her position to benefit Royal Dutch Shell PLC, the company that later hired her, according to officials in federal law enforcement and the Interior Department," L.A. Times reports. "Norton is the first Bush official at the Cabinet secretary level to be the subject of a formal political corruption investigation."

**Massachusetts Senate Vacancy
The Globe reports that legislative leaders"believe they have narrow majorities in both chambers" to pass a bill giving Gov. Patrick the ability to appoint an interim senator. "But the bill must still survive Republican attempts to delay or kill it through parliamentary maneuvers."

*In a sign of just how important that 60th seat is, David Axelrod is now lobbying Democratic leaders in the legislature to push through the change, Fox's Garrett reports. Gibbs confirmed it Wednesday.

*"Gerard Doherty, a longtime Kennedy family intimate, ran Ted Kennedy's first Senate campaign" and he's now backing Rep. Michael Capuano's bid for Senate, Boston Globe reports. "Doherty's endorsement foreshadows the big card Capuano hopes to play - support from Kennedy insiders and maybe even a dramatically timed endorsement from Ted Kennedy's nephew, Joe, who preceded Capuano as congressman from the Eighth District."

*A new survey released by Suffolk University this morning finds Attorney General Martha Coakley with a huge lead in the Dem primary. Results: Coakley 47%, Capuano 9%, Lynch 6%.

**Campaign Stuff
*IL Sen: Cheryle Jackson, the former Chicago Urban League president and a former spokesperson for ousted governor Rod Blagojevich, has jumped in the Senate sweepstakes, Chicago Tribune reports. She's the only woman and "the lone African-American contender in the Feb. 2 primary, which also includes state Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias, former Chicago Inspector General David Hoffman and attorney Jacob Meister."

*Peter Schiff just announced on "Morning Joe" that he'll run as a Republican for Senate in Connecticut. He said Chris Dodd represents everything that is wrong with Washington, and called him a "posterboy" for the economic crisis.

*The Christie campaign in New Jersey says it didn't know Jeb Bush would be attending a fundraiser last night, the Star-Ledger reports. But the two Republicans "talked briefly and took a picture together." Christie says the visit from the ex-president's brother "doesn't cause a problem for me" politically. "This is Jeb Bush. I like governor Bush. I think he did a great job in Florida."

*Rep. John McHugh (R-N.Y.) was officially confirmed as Army Secretary, which will put the wheels in motion for a special election in New York's 23rd district.

*Mike Castaldo, a former Marine who was a volunteer for the ONE campaign in New Hampshire, is exploring a bid for Congress in the state's first district. He writes in a Union Leader op-ed: "I am a proud conservative, but the conversation that I am having around my kitchen table is much different from the conversation the Republican leaders are having around theirs. Something must change."

*Also in New Hamspshire, DiStaso has news on the second district Democratic primary, where Ann McLane Kuster has hired a campaign manager, and Katrina Swett says she's increasingly likely to run. On the Republican side, former Rep. Charlie Bass says he's leaning toward the race.

--Kyle Trygstad and Mike Memoli

Countdown '09: 48 Days

** NEW JERSEY (RCP Average: Christe +7.1)
* New Jersey's unemployment rate jumped from 9.3 to 9.7 -- never good news for an incumbent.
* This wasn't announced: Jeb Bush attended a Christie fundraiser tonight.
* Corzine brings up health care, telling the story of his son's heart surgery.
* Did Christie borrow Obama's slogan?
* Obama was endorsed by Planned Parenthood.
* The Star-Ledger's Moran is less than enthused with the choices.

** VIRGINIA (RCP Average: McDonnell +8.2)
* Tomorrow is the debate every Virginia candidate dreads.
* The Times-Dispatch has the pre-debate spin.
* Are Democrats tossing the Bush playbook?
* The AP nationalizes the New Jersey and Virginia races.
* The Post looks at union money being spent on the race.
* AP looks at what's always a big issue: transportation.

ACORN Conduct 'Indefensible,' White House Says

Asked for the first time today about the infamous ACORN footage, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs called the conduct of some of the organization's employees "indefensible."

"The administration takes accountability extremely seriously," he said. The U.S. Census Bureau's decision to sever ties to the group reflects that, he added, with their view that the group "could not meet the bureau's goal of achieving a fair and accurate count in 2010."

Gibbs would not say, however, whether President Obama would, as the leader of the Democratic Party, urge the DNC and other campaign committees to sever ties to the group.

The issue, after heavy coverage on Fox News and widespread conversation online, has only now broadened to other media outlets to the point that it was addressed at the daily White House briefing today.

And it's not just the White House reacting to the criticism of the group. Today, Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R), a potential 2012 aspirant, issued this letter urging state officials to stop any payments to ACORN.

"The recent reports of questionable behavior and potential illegal activity by the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now are of great concern," he writes to the state commissioner of Management and Budget. "I am directing you to stop all state funding to ACORN unless the state is legally obligated to provide such funding."

Santorum's Iowa Trip

We noted former Sen. Rick Santorum's (R) comments yesterday about a potential 2012 presidential bid. Today, a sure-fire sign he's testing the waters. The American Future Fund announced that the former Pennsylvania senator will deliver a keynote address at the organization's lecture series on October 1. The location: Dubuque, Iowa.

The speech is titled, "Jumpstarting America's Economy by Putting People First."

Lukewarm White House Reaction To Baucus Bill

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs called Sen. Max Baucus' (D) draft health care bill "an important building block and gets us closer to comprehensive health care reform." But it seems the White House was not rushing to embrace the legislation.

"There will be a continued legislative process that will tweak and change legislation, as there always is," he said. "I don't think the president looks at today as the end."

Gibbs even was sure to deny the premise of a question about whether, of the various bills passed by Congressional committees, this came closest to the legislation President Obama envisioned. "I don't think this is a mirror of what the president has talked about. ... I don't think that would be accurate," he said.

With few, if any, Republicans embracing what was sold as a compromise piece of legislation, Gibbs was asked whether the White House regrets not simply starting out the process with its own draft and pushing it through early on the strength of Democrats' strong majorities in each chamber.

"I don't think the president looks back and thinks we should have done things differently. This is all part of the long process," he said. "I don't think that Senator Baucus or President Obama or others asking Republicans to be involved, to give us their ideas is time poorly spent at all. I think the American people want to hear both sides' ideas on this."

WWE's McMahon Joins the Ring

Linda McMahon has quit her job as CEO of World Wrestling Entertainment, Inc. to take on five-term Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) next year. McMahon is the wife of famed WWE leader Vince McMahon.

The longtime WWE head will need to get through a competitive GOP primary against Rep. Rob Simmons, Peter Schiff, State Sen. Sam Caligiuri and Tom Foley, the former Ambassador to Ireland.

Appearing on MSNBC this morning, McMahon said that her experience as a businesswoman for the past 30 years would help her to put people to work.

"WWE is an entertainment company with PG programming," McMahon said. "But the issues that are facing us today are not what takes place in the WWE's ring. It's about debt. It's about getting our folks back to work. And that's what I'm going to focus on here in Connecticut."

A Daily Kos/Research2000 poll released yesterday found Dodd trailing Simmons, the leading Republican, by 4 points. He leads Caligiuri, Schiff and Foley. The survey did not include McMahon.

Pelosi Compares House Proposal to Baucus Bill

In a statement released to the press this afternoon, Speaker Nancy Pelosi compares the proposals that came out of the three House committees working on health care reform to the plan released today by Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.):

"We are pleased that Senator Baucus' plan mirrors some key provisions in the House proposal, including sweeping insurance reforms and consumer protections. The House bill clearly does more to make coverage affordable for more Americans and provides more competition to drive insurance companies to charge lower premiums and improve coverage. The House bill also does more to help seniors afford prescription coverage, closing the donut hole completely, while the Baucus proposal simply reduces the cost of brand name drugs in the donut hole.

"As this proposal evolves, we hope to see modifications that result in the Senate bill better reflecting the work of the House to make health care more affordable for all Americans and promote competition that is key to keeping costs lower. I believe the public option is the best way to achieve that goal."

Is Obama The Antichrist? 'Extremism' Tested In NJ

The Democratic polling firm Public Policy Polling included some charged questions in its latest survey of New Jersey voters, designed to strength of what the firm called "political extremism" in the state.

The most outrageous question: do you believe Barack Obama is the anti-Christ? If you believe the poll, one in five New Jerseyans think there's a chance. Eight percent said no, while 13 percent said they're not sure. Only two-thirds of self-described conservatives flatly denied the notion that the president of the United States was, in fact, the anti-Christ.

On the "birther" question: 64 percent of New Jerseyans say they think Obama was born in the United States, while 21 percent said no and 16 percent weren't sure. "Truthers": 19 percent of voters said they think former President George W. Bush had advanced knowledge of the 9/11 attacks, while 11 percent weren't sure. Forty percent of self-described liberal voters think he did.

On a more serious note, 39 percent of Garden State voters say they support Obama's health care plan, while 50 percent oppose it. His approval rating in the state is at 45 percent, with 48 percent disapproving and 7 percent not sure.

The survey of 500 likely New Jersey voters was conducted September 11-14, and had a margin of error of +/- 4.5 percent.

Paterson Still Polling Poorly, With No Signs Of Improvement

Gov. David Paterson (D) "can't catch a break" from New York voters, a new Marist survey bluntly states. Though his approval rating has ticked up slightly, it's still an abysmal 20 percent, and voters would likely dump him in either a primary or general election campaign. Only 27 percent of all voters, and 32 percent of Democrats, want him to run for re-election. Meanwhile, 67 percent of all voters, and 77 percent of Democrats, want Attorney General Andrew Cuomo (D) to run.

Primary Election Matchup
Cuomo 70 (-1 from last poll, 6/23-25)
Paterson 23 (-1)
Unsure 7 (unch)

The RCP Average of the potential primary shows Cuomo more than 40 points ahead.

General Election Matchup
Giuliani 60 (+6)
Paterson 34 (-3)
Unsure 6 (-3)

Lazio 43 (+3)
Paterson 43 (+2)
Unsure 14 (-5)

Cuomo and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani (R) are still the wild cards -- should they choose to run, they both would likely be the nominees. But neither has made any moves yet. Former Rep. and 2000 Senate nominee Rick Lazio (R) will be kicking off his campaign next week. Here's the latest polling on a GOP race:

Primary Election Matchup
Giuliani 83 (+6 from last poll, 6/23-25)
Lazio 13 (-3)
Unsure 4 (-3)

Should Cuomo be the Democratic nominee, Marist finds he'll beat Lazio 71-21, and Giuliani 53-43.

The survey of 805 voters was conducted September 8-10, and had a margin of error of +/- 3.5 percent. The Democratic sample of 354 voters had a margin of error of +/- 5.5 percent, while the sample of 225 Republicans had a margin of error of +/- 6.5 percent.

Ethics Committee Investigating Jackson, Waters, Graves

The House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct (a.k.a. the Ethics Committee) announced today that it is investigating potential misconduct by Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.), but will defer its consideration of the matter until the U.S. Department of Justice concludes its investigation into the scandal over President Obama's former Senate seat. An indictment of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich is still pending.

In a letter sent Friday to Ethics Chairwoman Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), Assistant Attorney General Ronald Weich requested the committee "defer further action" until the Blagojevich trial and "related investigations" are complete.

The Board of the Office of Congressional Ethics voted July 24 to recommend the Ethics Committee begin an investigation into Jackson and his efforts to secure Obama's Senate seat. The Board recommended the inquiry based on evidence that a Jackson "emissary" offered to raise money for Blagojevich in exchange for the Senate appointment and that "staff resources" in Jackson's D.C. and Chicago congressional offices were used to mount a "public campaign" for the appointment.

The committee is also investigating Reps. Sam Graves (R-Mo.) and Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) for separate incidents. The committee did not identify the reasons for the Graves or Waters investigations, but Roll Call reports that Graves "invited his friend and neighbor Brooks Hurst to testify before a Congressional hearing on renewable fuels, without mentioning that his wife and Hurst are investors together in renewable fuels plants in Missouri." Waters was questioned in the media earlier this year for her role in securing OneUnited Bank $12 million in federal bailout funds.

GOP Scoffs at Baucus Bill

Certainly there is no pleasing everyone. But will the Baucus bill please anyone?

Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) will reveal his long-awaited health care proposal today, despite no Republicans immediately jumping on board. The committee will begin marking up the $856 billion bill next week.

The committee is the last of five to bring forth a bill, largely because of Baucus's efforts toward a bipartisan plan. However, one centrist Republican, Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), and a liberal Democrat, Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), both said they won't vote for the bill in committee.

When it was still unclear yesterday which way Snowe was leaning, Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) said he hoped any plan brought forth by Democrats was truly bipartisan. "Let me put it this way," he said. "I'm looking for more from us than one person."

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell released a statement today in opposition to the plan, the only of the five House and Senate committee bills not to include a public option.

"This partisan proposal cuts Medicare by nearly a half-trillion dollars, and puts massive new tax burdens on families and small businesses, to create yet another thousand-page, trillion-dollar government program," said McConnell. "Only in Washington would anyone think that makes sense, especially in this economy."

Asked if he could round up enough votes to support a bill that didn't include a public option, Senate Majority Whip Richard Dubrin (D-Ill.) said, "I don't know. I'll find out." To get to 60 votes though, he said, some Republicans will need to "be part of this conversation."

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid told reporters yesterday that he hopes that "in the next few days some brave Republicans will come forward in support of the health care bill."

Baucus will step before the cameras later today to discuss the proposal, the full text of which can be found here.

OH Sen: Dems Lead Portman

In the latest Quinnipiac survey in the Ohio Senate race, both Democratic candidates lead likely GOP nominee Rob Portman in hypothetical general election matchups. Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher and Sec. of State Jennifer Brunner both also lead Cleveland area car dealer Tom Ganley.

For the Democratic primary, 55% remain undecided as Fisher leads Brunner 26%-17% -- a 6-point margin increase for Fisher since July. In the GOP primary, Portman leads Ganley 27%-9%.

General Election Matchups
Fisher 42 (+5 vs. last poll, July 7)
Portman 31 (-2)
Und 26 (nc)

Brunner 39 (+4)
Portman 34 (nc)
Und 25 (-4)

Fisher 41 (+5)
Ganley 29 (-1)
Und 27 (-4)

Brunner 39 (+4)
Ganley 31 (nc)
Und 27 (-4)

In the RCP Averages for the two most likely general election matchups, Fisher leads Portman by 9.0 points and Brunner leads Portman by 5.7 points.

President Obama returns to majority approval in the state, as 53% now approve of the job he's doing; last month he was down to 49%. The president is also more trusted to handle health care than congressional Republicans by a 49%-28% margin.

"Perhaps it's because the poll was taken immediately after the President's nationally-televised prime-time speech to Congress, but Democratic fortunes in Ohio have improved slightly across-the- board," said Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute. "Not only have the President's numbers improved, but so have those of Gov. Ted Strickland and the party's two U.S. Senate candidates."

Strategy Memo: Olympic Spirit

President Obama is back in Washington for the full day after two days on the road. After morning briefings, he holds a bilateral meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper. This afternoon, he does his part to help his hometown of Chicago in its bid to host the 2016 Olympics, as he and the first lady will host Olympic and Paralympic athletes on the South Lawn. After, he meets separately with Colin Powell and Defense Secretary Robert Gates. Tonight, he speaks at the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.

Capitol Hill is buzzing today as Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), chairman of the Finance Committee, introduces the long-awaited health care bill, which a bipartisan group of six senators on the committee have been negotiating for weeks. Baucus is holding a press conference at noon to discuss the bill. On the floors, the House will debate the Advanced Vehicle Technology Act of 2009 and begin consideration of the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act of 2009, while the Senate continues consideration of the HUD and Transportation Appropriation bill.

In New York City, the general election campaign is underway for perhaps the third most prominent race in the country this year. William Thompson Jr. easily won the Democratic primary last night and will now take on incumbent Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who's running for a third term.

**President Obama
*"Americans decidedly oppose the government's efforts to save struggling companies by taking ownership stakes even if failure of the businesses would cost jobs and harm the economy," a poll from AP and the National Constitution Center shows. Just 38 percent favor government intervention, while 60 percent oppose it.

*Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke "came close to declaring the recession over Tuesday, but warned that economic growth will remain too sluggish to quickly restore the nearly 7 million jobs lost since 2007," the Washington Times reports. "He made the remarks as a string of positive economic news helped lift stock indexes to new highs for the year."

*Obama "presented himself as a champion of blue-collar workers on Tuesday, laying out his credentials with populist addresses to the AFL-CIO and autoworkers during a campaign-style swing through the Rust Belt," The Hill reports. "Obama's speech in Pittsburgh to the union coalition, which included an endorsement of card-check legislation that would make it easier for workers to organize, came on a day he traveled through Pennsylvania and Ohio -- two states that will be critical to his 2012 reelection."

But the Times adds, "despite the thunderous applause he received, his mentioning the term "public option" only once during a 35-minute speech" at the AFL-CIO conference "did not go unnoticed."

*A major subject of conversation today: former Pres. Jimmy Carter told NBC: "I think an overwhelming portion of the intensely demonstrated animosity toward President Barack Obama is based on the fact that he is a black man. I live in the South, and I've seen the South come a long way, and I've seen the rest of the country that share the South's attitude toward minority groups at that time, particularly African Americans."

**Health Care/Congress
*Baucus, set to introduce his bill in the Senate Finance Committee, makes a case for reform in the Wall Street Journal: "The facts are undisputable: Our current system is simply unsustainable."

*"The House returns to work Wednesday with nerves still raw over the bitterly divided vote" to rebuke Rep. Joe Wilson, AP says. "The final vote tally was 240-179, generally but not entirely along party lines. It was 233 Democrats and seven Republicans voting to chastise Wilson, 167 Republicans and 12 Democrats opposing the measure and five Democrats merely voting 'present.'"

*After a Senate vote to strip funding from ACORN, "federal and local authorities are considering pulling back on funding," Wall Street Journal reports. House Minority Leader John Boehner introduced legislation yesterday to cut off all funding to the group, "and sent a letter about Acorn's activities to President Barack Obama."

*Gallup: "Americans are closely divided as to whether Congress should pass a healthcare bill this year. Thirty-eight percent say they would advise their member to vote for a bill, 40% would advise a "no" vote, and 22% do not have an opinion. When the leanings of those without an opinion are taken into account, 50% of Americans favor or lean toward favoring a bill, while 47% oppose it or lean toward opposition."

*Both the Washington Post and Wall Street Journal look at the mandate that will be included in health care reform. WaPo notes that young adults "could even wind up paying disproportionately hefty premiums -- effectively subsidizing coverage for their parents" -- one reason Obama is holding a "campaign style rally" at the University of Maryland on Thursday. WSJ notes that the mandate "has so far stoked relatively little debate," and reports on an underreported group -- "the millions of consumers who make too much money to qualify for assistance, yet not enough to bear the full cost of new policies on their own."

**Campaign Stuff
*One year ago today, former HP CEO Carly Fiorina said Sarah Palin and John McCain could not run a corporation (Obama and Biden, too). Now, as she runs for Senate in California, the big question the last few days has been how much of her own money she will contribute to her campaign.

*The Denver Post reports on an embarrassing e-mail gaffe by Sen. Michael Bennet's (D-Colo.) office, showing staff struggling with responding to a local terrorism investigation. It comes as former Lt. Gov. Jane Nortion on the GOP side, and former state House Speaker Andrew Romanoff on the Democratic side get into the 2010 race.

*The Daily News: "While the rest of his party was celebrating the choice of novice VP candidate Sarah Palin last August, then-President George W. Bush attempted to inject some reason and caution into the melee," per excerpts from a new book by a former White House speechwriter. "'This woman is being put into a position that she is not even remotely prepared for,'" Bush is quoted as saying. "She hasn't spent one day on the national level. Neither has her family. Let's wait and see how she looks five days out."

CNN's Hamby talks to a former aide to both Bush and Palin who disputes the claims, and calls the author a relative unknown to White House staff.

*Attention Romney, Pawlenty, Huckabee, Palin, et al: make those checks payable to Ted Gatsas, who emerged as the Republican candidate in November's election for mayor of Manchester, N.H., yesterday.

*Nevada Gov. Jim Gibbons (R) got a GOP primary opponent last night, when former U.S. District Judge Brian Sandoval announced his campaign, Las Vegas Review-Journal reports.

*Obama helped raise $2.5 million for Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Pa.) yesterday, and "Obama administration officials say it's only a matter of time before the president returns to the state for Specter -- and they say he's even willing to do TV ads for the incumbent," J-Mart reports.

*In New York, it's Mike Bloomberg vs. Bill Thompson after yesterday's primary. The NY Times: "Wednesday is the first day of the general election campaign for mayor, but the outline of each side's message is already emerging. And this much is clear: The race will be combative. It will be expensive. And it will be personal."

*And in Japan, "Longtime opposition leader Yukio Hatoyama was elected prime minister of Japan today, promising to reinvigorate the world's second-largest economy and shake up government with his left-of-center party," AP reports.

--Mike Memoli and Kyle Trygstad

VA Gov Poll: McDonnell +5

With 49 days to go, a new poll in Virginia finds the race for governor tighter than any poll in the last two months. Bob McDonnell (R) leads with 42% to 37% for Creigh Deeds and 20% undecided, according to Clarus Research Group, a non-partisan polling firm (Sept. 10-14, 600 RV, MoE +/- 4%).

Deeds still needs to solidify his standing in Democratic Northern Virginia, where he leads by just 5 points. McDonnell leads by 15 points along the I-81 corridor in the western and southwestern parts of the state.

Just more than half (52%) said they had heard about the controversy surrounding McDonnell's graduate thesis, which Democrats have used to portray the former attorney general as too socially conservative to represent the entire state. Of those that were aware of it, 63% said it had no effect on their feeling toward McDonnell, while 5% said it made them feel more favorable toward him and 31% said he became less favorable.

"The McDonnell thesis story has not -- so far -- damaged McDonnell as badly as Democrats had hoped, but it hasn't left him unscathed, the way many Republicans had hoped," said Ron Faucheux, president of Clarus Research Group.

Republicans are leading down ballot as well. Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling (R), who is running for re-election, leads Jody Wagner (D) 38% to 32%, with 31% undecided. State Sen. Ken Cuccinelli (R) leads State Del. Steve Shannon 35% to 30% in the race for attorney general, with 35% undecided.

McDonnell now leads by 8.2 points in the RCP Average.

Countdown '09: 49 Days

** NEW JERSEY (RCP Average: Christe +7.1)
* A new PPP (D) poll showed Christie up by 9, with Daggett pulling some Democratic support from Corzine.
* Wally Edge reports that PPP is also asking voters if they'd prefer a different Democrat on the ballot.
* The DNC is hyping the fact that Corzine leads among registered voters in the Monmouth poll.
* But Amy Walter points out why the likely voter number is a better predictor.
* Corzine announced a new job incentives program.
* Christie called it a "Band-Aid on a hemorrhage."
* Hotline looks at national money in the state.
* AP looks at the candidates' platforms on immigration.

** VIRGINIA (RCP Average: McDonnell +10.2)
* A new poll just out from Clarus Research Group shows McDonnell up 42-37.
* Kyle rounds up the fundraising numbers from McDonnell and Deeds.
* The RNC has committed to spend $7 million on the race.
* The AFL-CIO is paying for a field staffer in the state.
*Downballot, the Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor outraised the incumbent Republican.
* Both candidates talked budget issues at a debate today.

Obama: Specter 'Even Better Senator' As Democrat

President Obama followed through on his pledge to support the newly-Democratic Sen. Arlen Specter in his re-election bid, saying he's consistently put the interests of Pennsylvanians ahead of any particular ideology during his time in Washington.

"He was a great senator when he was a Republican; he's going to be a even better senator now that he's a Democrat," Obama told supporters at a Philadelphia fundraiser that was attended by most of the state Democratic establishment. "That's why you are all going to work just as hard as you can to make sure that he gets reelected and is continuing to help me move this country forward."

Obama praised Specter's "decisive" vote on the Recovery Act, a vote that preceded his party switch.

"At the time, this was not an easy vote for Arlen to take. You can imagine the pressure he was under from the other side," Obama said. "But Arlen knew that it was more important to answer to the people who sent him to Washington than to the party he belonged to. That's why you should send him back to Washington for six more years -- because you know he's going to fight for you regardless of what the politics are."

Noting his cancer battle, Obama said the health care fight is also not about politics, but was personal. "This is a man who has seen the health care system up close -- the good and the bad. This is a man who courageously battled cancer, and is here today because he was able to receive some of the best health care available in the world -- and also because he's a tough son of a gun," he said.

Specter expected to raise more than $2 million at the event, which would help build a warchest already over $7 million. He raised $1.7 million in the most recent fundraising quarter, but has had to return donations he received before his party switch.

McDonnell Raises Less, Has More Cash on Hand

The campaign for Virginia gubernatorial candidate Bob McDonnell (R) announced this afternoon that he will report raising nearly $3 million in the months of July and August, and leads his opponent Creigh Deeds (D) by $1.5 million in cash on hand.

McDonnell has $5.8 million cash on hand after raising $2.92 million in the last two months. Deeds announced earlier today that he raised $3.5 million and has $4.4 million in the bank as of the end of August.

The McDonnell campaign noted that it raised $350,000 from the Republican National Committee and Republican Governors Association, and questioned how much Deeds had raised from the groups' Democratic counterparts. Deeds did not release that number.

Through June 30, McDonnell had raised a total of $3.5 million from the two national GOP groups, while Deeds had raised a total of $1 million from the Democratic National Committee and the Democratic Governors Association.

"With a significant advantage in our cash on hand and nearly 4,000 more donors than our opponent, we have great momentum and are in a strong position for the final 50 days of this campaign," said McDonnell campaign manager Phil Cox. "The fact that we have nearly 4,000 more donors than Creigh Deeds is reflective of the grassroots energy we have seen building throughout our campaign. It is clear that Virginians are rallying behind Bob's positive message of new jobs and more opportunities. They continue to demonstrate this through their continued contributions, phone banking, and door-knocking."

The Joe Wilson Resolution

Here is the resolution of disapproval for Rep. Joe Wilson's (R-S.C.) behavior during President Obama's speech to a joint session of Congress next week:

Raising a question of the privileges of the House.

Whereas on September 9, 2009, during the joint session of Congress convened pursuant to House Concurrent Resolution 179, the President of the United States, speaking at the invitation of the House and Senate, had his remarks interrupted by the Representative from South Carolina, Mr. Wilson; and

Wheras the conduct of the Representative from South Carolina was a breach of decorum and degraded the proceedings of the joint session, to the discredit of the House: Now, therefore, be it

Resolved that the House of Representatives disapproves of the behavior of the Representative from South Carolina, Mr. Wilson, during the joint session of Congress held on September 9, 2009.

The House is currently in temporary recess, though House members have now been called to the chamber to discuss and vote on the resolution.

Reid: Re-Election Prospects Tied to Economy

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) indicated today that his re-election prospects will be looking far better next year once the economy is back on track.

"It appears as though this recession has bottomed out and that change is taking place," Reid said at a press conference today. "Now, we all know that unemployment always lags behind economic recovery. So I feel that Nevada, like the rest of the states in the country, are going next year to see economic recovery."

Reid said Nevada and the country as a whole will begin to feel more positively "once that takes place," and presumably his re-election chances will look better than they do today.

At the press conference, the senator was answering a direct question regarding his re-election and comments that one of his potential GOP opponents, attorney Danny Tarkanian, made regarding the senator not spending much time in his home state.

"The Republicans have a primary next June," said Reid. "At last count there were 10 Republicans enrolled in that primary. I think the people of Nevada know me real well, they know what I've done over the years. ... I have a job to do for the people of Nevada and the people of this country."

Reid is facing such a difficult environment that political handicappers say the race is anyone's game. A Rasmussen automated poll, conducted yesterday of 500 likely voters and released today, finds him trailing Tarkanian by 7 points (50 percent to 43 percent) and Nevada GOP chair Sue Lowden by 10 points (50 percent to 40 percent).

Santorum: More Open To Challenging Obama In 2012

Former Sen. Rick Santorum said that because President Obama has failed to deliver on his campaign promises, Republicans, including him, have more reason to consider a presidential run in 2012.

"The dynamic has changed," Santorum said on an RNC conference call today (listen here) intended to rebut Obama's visit to the Keystone State. "I think a lot of folks who may not have thought about running against an incumbent president -- who certainly came in with very very high ratings and had the potential ... to be a very successful president -- [have] seen his ratings fall because of his inability to deliver."

There's a "different atmosphere" now, he argued, which has more people eager to "confront this presidency," which is "injurious to America." He pointed to the tea party demonstrations as evidence of this growing movement.

Still, he put his presidential flirtation into perspective.

"It's something that I think I would consider," said Santorum, who lost his re-election bid in 2006. "I went from not considering at all to saying I would at least consider it. That's as far as I'm willing to go three and a half years out."

Santorum, who lost a re-election bid in 2006, also commented on the race now ahead of his former colleague, Arlen Specter. He said that whoever emerges from a Democratic primary, which is already dragging Specter further left than he has been, will face a handicap when appealing for moderate votes in November 2010. Pat Toomey, meanwhile, "has gotten out of the box rather handsomely" in building broader appeal, he said.

He was asked about Specter benefiting from a schedule change in the Senate to accommodate today's fundraiser with Obama.

"It's not unprecedented, certainly, if the president's involved in it. But it's not standard practice," he said. "I had many a fundraiser where I had to break away and was not covered by my leadership. ... This far out it's rather unusual, given the heavy workload that the Senate has right now."

Obama Again Makes Health Care Case To Labor Crowd

President Obama gave a familiar speech at the AFL-CIO's conference this afternoon, rebutting critics he said have "selective" memories while touching on two of the union's priorities: a public health care option, and the Employee Free Choice Act.

The speech focused more on health care, however, and Obama repeated many of the arguments he made before Congress. The tone, to paraphrase a White House line before the speech, was more labor hall than House chamber, however.

"When are we going to say, enough is enough?" he said, to applause. "How many more workers have to lose their coverage? How many more families have to go into the red for a sick loved one?"

In a new argument, the president cited a report out today from the Kaiser Family Foundation that showed health care premiums rising three times faster than wages. Reforming health care means rising wages, Obama claimed.

"When you go in to negotiate, you can't even think about negotiating ... a wage increase because the whole negotiation is about trying to keep the benefits you already have," he said. "That's not just the fault of the employer, it's the fault of a broken health care system that's sucking up all the money."

Though the Employee Free Choice Act is a labor priority Obama gave it much briefer attention, part of a string about why they are part of the solution. "That's why I stand behind the Employee Free Choice Act, because if a majority of workers want a union, they should get a union," he said.

Obama did give a hearty plug to the man for whom he'll be raising money tonight, and who labor is counting on to pass EFCA.

"Let me begin by recognizing a man who came to Washington to fight for the working men and women of Pennsylvania and who has a distinguished record of doing just that, Arlen Specter," Obama said at the top of his remarks.

First Jay, Now Dave

CBS' "The Late Show" has announced that President Obama will be David Letterman's guest next Monday. Obama will be in New York for the UN General Assembly.

From CBS:

President Obama's appearance will mark the first by a sitting U.S. President on the LATE SHOW and his first visit back to the show since his election. In total, this will be President Obama's sixth visit to the broadcast -- he last appeared on the LATE SHOW September 10, 2008 during the height of his 2008 Presidential election campaign.

It's a comedic turn that comes the day after Obama's Sunday show blitz. And Letterman has been a friendly liberal-leaning voice in late night television, drawing attention in the campaign for his remarks critical of John McCain when he canceled a scheduled appearance last fall, and of course his more recent controversy over a joke about Sarah Palin's daughter.

Obama became the first sitting president to appear on late night television earlier this year, when he appeared on "The Tonight Show" with then-host Jay Leno. He got into some trouble then, when he made what was later described as an "offhand remark" about the Special Olympics, which the White House had to clarify.

White House: Wilson Rebuke Is 'House Business'

From a gaggle on Air Force One today with Deputy Press Secretary Bill Burton:

Q Actually, Bill, do you have a comment on the resolution on Joe Wilson -- now on the floor today?

MR. BURTON: I don't. That's House business. The President has already -- Congressman Wilson called the White House to apologize. The President accepted his apology. And this is something that the House is doing.

Deeds Raises $3.5M in Last Two Months

The Creigh Deeds campaign announced today that the Democratic Virginia gubernatorial candidate raised $3.5 million in July and August and spent $1.8 million. Deeds began July with $2.7 million, and as of the end of August he has nearly $4.4 million cash on hand.

Campaign finance reports for July and August are due today; the campaign released the numbers ahead of the report becoming public.

July/August 2009
Raised: $3,483,688.17
Spent: $1,828,070.37

Totals
Raised: $9,691,221.77
Spent: $5,314,253.02

Cash on Hand: $4,376,968.75

Deeds reports that 90 percent of the donors came from in-state, with 68 percent giving less than $200. A total of 2,284 were new donors.

"Over the last weeks, we've seen a surge of grassroots support for Creigh Deeds," said campaign manager Joe Abbey. "Every day, we're hearing from new people who want to knock on doors, make phone calls or donate $50 to help get Creigh elected. Thanks to their support, we are in strong financial shape to get our message out over the final 50 days."

Strickland Again Absent From Obama Event

For the second straight week, Gov. Ted Strickland (D) was nowhere to be found as President Obama came to Ohio. Today, the president was meeting with auto workers at a GM plant in Warren, giving a pep-talk on the economy.

"As long as I have the privilege of being your president, I'm going to keep fighting for a future that is brighter for this community, and brighter for Ohio, and brighter for the United States of America," Obama said, after highlighting the impact of the Recovery Act.

Last week, Obama was in Cincinnati, giving a fiery speech on health care to a crowd full of union workers. Strickland wasn't there, either. So, with a potentially tough race ahead and Obama's numbers down in the Buckeye State, is the governor keeping his distance? Not so, his office said.

An execution is scheduled in Ohio today, and Strickland's policy "is to remain in his office and available" to prison officials until the execution has occurred. "Had his schedule permitted, the governor definitely would have been with President Obama today," Strickland press secretary Amanda Wurst tells RCP.

As for the Cincinnati event, Strickland chose to go ahead with previously-scheduled personal time that Labor Day weekend, coming at the end of a grueling budget process.

"The governor appreciates that President Obama is highlighting the work being done at the state and federal level to pull Ohio's working families out of the recession that started one year ago today with the collapse of Lehman Brothers," Wurst said.

The specific reference to Lehman Brothers is no accident; state Democrats are calling attention to ties that Strickland's likely opponent, John Kasich, had with the former investment giant.

Joe Wilson on the House Floor

Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) spoke on the House floor today, just a few feet from where President Obama stood last Wednesday when Wilson yelled "you lie!" Wilson was on the floor for the opening prayer and pledge of allegience, and gave a short statement on health care. Wilson spoke on the floor yesterday as well.

Later today, Democrats are expected to introduce a resolution of disapproval for Wilson's actions during Obama's speech to a joint session of Congress. Some Republicans are expected to support the measure, though Minority Leader John Boehner announced yesterday he would not be one of them.

Corzine Stuck In The 30s, Losing Dems To Daggett

A late August bounce that Gov. Jon Corzine's (D) campaign was counting on has failed to materialize, as yet another poll shows him still well behind. Public Policy Polling's (D) latest survey does show some slippage by Chris Christie (R) after some tough news cycles, and the impact of independent candidate Chris Daggett is unclear.

General Election Matchup
Christie 44 (-6 from last survey, 7/28)
Corzine 35 (-1)
Daggett 13 (not included in last survey)
Undecided 7 (-7)

Breaking down the numbers, PPP finds that 18 percent of voters who chose Corzine in 2005 now back Christie, while another 13 percent have shifted to Daggett. Christie has a stronger base among those who backed Doug Forrester (R) in 2005 -- 79 percent are sticking with the Republican column, while 13 percent say they'll now back Daggett.

Daggett voters were asked who their second choice was: 48 percent said Christie, 32 percent said Corzine, which would appear to show his candidacy is hurting Christie the most. But, the poll also finds that Daggett is getting 15 percent of the overall pool of Democratic votes, compared to 7 percent of Republican votes and 16 percent of independent voters. He's still relatively unknown to about three-fifths of voters.

Fav/Unfav Ratings
Christie 45 / 41
Corzine 32 / 60
Daggett 21 / 16

"Hard attacks on Christie haven't closed the gap enough and the presence of Daggett in the race is giving disaffected Democrats an outlet to cast a protest vote," PPP's Dean Debnam says in a release.

The automated telephone survey of 500 voters was conducted from September 11-14, and had a margin of error of +/-4.5 percent. Christie now leads by 7.2 points in the RCP Average.

Lincoln Leads, But Sub-50%

A new Daily Kos/Research2000 survey finds Arkansas Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D) leading potential Republican opponents, though she carries just a 43% approval rating against a 49% disapproval (Sept. 8-10, 600 LV, MoE +/- 4%).

Many expect the two-term senator to receive a boost after winning the Agriculture Committee chairmanship last week, but she appears headed for a competitive re-election nonetheless. That's a far cry from her fellow Arkansas senator, Mark Pryor, who faced no GOP opposition last year. Other approval ratings for Democrats in the state: Pryor 50 percent, Gov. Mike Beebe 66 percent, and President Obama 41 percent.

Lincoln wins as little as 44% support against State Sen. Gilbert Baker, who is an unknown to 73 percent of voters. State Sen. Kim Hendren and businessmen Curtis Coleman and Tom Cox have even less name ID, yet enough undecided voters keep Lincoln sub-50%.

Lincoln 44 - Baker 37 - Und 19
Lincoln 45 - Coleman 37 - Und 18
Lincoln 46 - Cox 29 - Und 25
Lincoln 47 - Hendren 28 - Und 25

Obama's 'Full Ginbsurg' An Effort To Control Debate

The White House has confirmed that President Obama will appear on the Sunday shows for five networks -- ABC, CBS, CNN, NBC and Univision. It's a variation, sans Fox, of the fete referred to as the "Full Ginsburg," a reference to Monica Lewinsky attorney William Ginsburg, who was the first to do so.

It comes as Obama's effort to sell health care becomes hindered by other items on his schedule -- the upcoming G-20 Summit and UN General Assembly foremost among them. The full-court press, though rare for a president to do, gives him a direct line to those Americans who are most tuned-in to the health care debate, says Martha Joynt Kumar, an expert in presidential communications.

"The audience for these shows tilts towards news junkies who are not worried about seeing too much of the president," she said. "Appearing on all of these shows assures that the administration has the best voice and image presenting their ideas."

Also to the White House's benefit, Kumar adds, is that the president's interviews will dominate the shows, leaving less time for the opposition to present their views. The inclusion of Univision, rather than Fox, is the latest sign of this White House's outreach to Hispanics.

"For the Obama White House, Univision is becoming the fifth television-radio network, not Fox," Kumar said.

It's rare for presidents to appear on one Sunday show, let alone five. More common is a president granting interviews for each of the nightly network newscasts; Obama has done that twice this year already, on February 3 and July 7.

Strategy Memo: Election in NYC

Today, President Obama's itinerary has him playing to core Democratic interests. He leaves Washington this morning and makes his first stop in Warren, Ohio, where he'll hold a roundtable with auto workers focused on the economy. Then he travels to Pittsburgh, where he'll address the AFL-CIO Convention. He just gave a feisty speech to an AFL-CIO crowd on Labor Day. He ends his day by following through on a promise to support newly Democratic Sen. Arlen Specter, at a fundraiser in Philadelphia. The president returns to Washington tonight.

On health care, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) is expected to introduce his bill into committee today, with mark up scheduled to begin next week. On the other side of the Capitol, House Democratic leaders are holding a health care forum to "highlight the urgent need for comprehensive health insurance reform." House GOP Conference vice chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) is holding a press conference "to highlight how current health care reform will harm children with disabilities."

Also today, voters are voting! In New York, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, now an independent, is on the Republican ballot as he seeks a third term; city Comptroller Bill Thompson will likely emerge as the Democratic nominee. Bloomberg has consistently lead in the polls; today, more focus is on downballot primary races in the city.

And, because an election in New Hampshire is always more important, we note a primary for mayor in Manchester. The top two vote-getters will face off in November, looking to succeed Frank Guinta, who is leaving the mayor's office to challenge Rep. Carol Shea-Porter (D-N.H.) in the first Congressional District race.

**President Obama
*In an interview with Bloomberg, Obama said job losses are "bottoming out" and the U.S. economy looks to be growing again even as he warned against cutting off government aid "so soon that the recovery doesn't take flight." The Bloomberg story also notes that, "Obama told CNBC television in a separate interview that he had a 'strong inclination' against a second stimulus package on top of the $787 billion program passed by Congress in February."

*Meanwhile, an ABC/Washington Post poll shows that "nearly six in 10 Americans are now concerned about job or pay losses in the coming months, little changed since February, and there has been no increase in the percentage who see the federal government's stimulus efforts as having an impact, even as the pace of layoffs has eased in recent months. And there is lukewarm public confidence that the government is enacting measures to stave off another financial crisis."

*"In particularly blunt language," Obama told CEOs yesterday at his Federal Hall speech "that change could and should begin with their own paychecks - regardless of any new regulations," the Daily News reports.

Washington Times: "Despite continued populist fury directed at Wall Street a year after the market meltdown, President Obama is fighting a strong headwind as he pushes for tougher regulation of the financial services industry."

*Breaking just now, we learn that Vice President Biden has arrived in Iraq, his third trip this year.

*Obama will do the "Full Ginsburg," appearing on Sunday shows on ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN and Univision this weekend.

*Awesome: Obama apparently called Kanye West a "jackass" in what was supposed to be an off-the-record moment during an interview yesterday.

*The AFL-CIO will approve a resolution to endorse a public option today before Obama's speech, the Times reports.

*Check out the reaction of a local GOP official in Wilson's district. "The longer this story stays alive, the better it is for the conservative point of view. It means the Democrats aren't talking about health care and moving the ball forward. They're giving Wilson a ton of traction."

**Health Care
*Democrats will indeed bring forth a bill to reprimand Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) for his "You lie!" outburst last week, which "helped escalate an issue that has been on a slow burn for weeks, especially among African Americans. ... Led by their most senior black lawmakers, House Democrats decided Monday evening to hold the vote. The decision risks escalating the partisan warfare that has erupted since Wilson's outburst," Washington Post reports.

*"Six key senators -- three Republicans and three Democrats -- continued to work behind closed doors Monday to fashion a compromise on health care reform that could get the 60 votes necessary to pass out of the chamber." One of the hot topics of discussion, according to Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) was how to deal with illegal immigrants, Politics Daily reports.

*Washington Post reports that after Baucus "spoke optimistically of gaining bipartisan backing, lawmakers continued to haggle over a question at the heart of the debate: How can the government force people to buy insurance without imposing a huge new financial burden on millions of middle-class Americans? Even within his own party, Baucus confronted a fresh wave of concern about affordability. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) declared himself dissatisfied with the chairman's plan, which, like other congressional reform proposals, would require every American to buy health insurance by 2013."

WSJ reports that Baucus "has worked for months to craft a bill capable of attracting bipartisan support. His legislation would expand coverage to tens of millions of Americans but leave out a public health-insurance option supported by liberals. Sen. Baucus has argued that steering the legislation toward the political center is the best strategy for ensuring passage on the Senate floor. But several Senate Democrats left a briefing with the chairman Monday night saying they would seek changes."

**Campaign Stuff
*Rep. Joe Sestak (D-Pa.) is criticizing Specter for cutting his workday short to raise money, PA2010.com notes.

*The New York Post reported Monday that 2000 Senate candidate Rick Lazio will formally launch his gubernatorial bid next week, with part of the news being that he apparently won't wait for Rudy Giuliani to make up his mind. Some have been thinking Giuliani should challenge Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D), but the mayor has no interest in the Senate, Cillizza reports.

*The Union Leader reports that we may soon have a third Republican candidate for Senate in New Hampshire: RNC committee member Sean Mahoney.

*Boston Herald reports that Celtics part-owner Stephen Pagliuca is "seriously considering" a run for Senate, and could make an announcement today. He's also managing director at Bain Capital, and could self-finance.

*A body slam for Dodd? The Hill: "World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) CEO Linda McMahon appears primed to run for Senate in Connecticut and should make an announcement very soon, according to sources with knowledge of her deliberations."

Also, a new Daily Kos/Research 2000 poll finds Dodd trailing ex-Rep. Simmons by 4 points.

*AP: "With the clock running on a shortened election calendar, the campaign to succeed Sen. Edward Kennedy has become notable for who's not running, instead of who is." Those who've said no: Vicki Kennedy (wife), Joseph Kennedy (nephew), ex-Rep. Martin Meehan, ex-WH chief of staff Andrew Card, and Reps. John Tierney and Ed Markey. "So far, the field includes an attorney general not three years into her first statewide term, a state senator and a town selectman. Former Boston Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling has talked about running, and Stephen Pagliuca, co-owner of the Boston Celtics, is said to be weighing a campaign."

And this, from The Dartmouth: "Rep. Michael Capuano '73, D-Mass., will formally announce whether he will enter the race for the U.S. Senate seat vacated by the late Edward Kennedy this week, according to Alison Mills, Capuano's press secretary."

*MD Gov: "Add Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. to the list of those who feel they can't wait for Bob Ehrlich to decide if he's running for governor again," The Sun reports.

*PA Gov: Attorney General Tom Corbett (R) announced his candidacy, the Post-Gazette reports.

*The RNC has invited Tampa to bid to host the 2012 GOP convention, the St. Pete Times reports.

--Kyle Trygstad and Mike Memoli

Ohio Gov Poll: Strickland Numbers Stabilize

Gov. Ted Strickland (D-Ohio), whose numbers took a steep drop earlier this summer, now appears to be treading water amid challenging economic times in the Buckeye State. Fourteen months before he stands for re-election his lead has grown to 10 points in a Quinnipiac Poll, but that may be more a result of Republican John Kasich's numbers settling after an announcement boost.

General Election Matchup
Strickland 46 (+3 from last poll, 7/3)
Kasich 36 (-6)
Don't Know 15 (-1)

Strickland Job Approval: 48 / 42

Though his approval number is two points higher, it's still far lower than his all time high from this February, 63 percent. And he's below the 50 percent threshold for any incumbent to feel comfortable at this point. On the economy, only 33 percent approve of his performance, while 54 percent disapprove.

Forty-three percent of voters have a favorable opinion of Strickland, compared to 34 percent who view him unfavorably. Kasich, a former Congressman and Fox News Channel host, is viewed favorably by 22 percent and unfavorably by 10 percent, with 68 percent saying they haven't heard enough.

Asked if they were satisfied with how things were going in Ohio, only 39 percent were very or somewhat satisfied, compared to 60 percent who were somewhat or very unsatisfied. On the question of whether Strickland has kept his campaign promises, 37 percent said yes, 40 percent said no.

The survey of 1,074 Ohio voters was conducted Sept. 10-13, and had a margin of error of +/- 3 percent.

Countdown '09: 50 Days

With 50 days left until gubernatorial races in New Jersey and Virginia, today we start a daily wrap up of news from both contests.

**NEW JERSEY
RCP Average, Christie + 6.8
* The Christie camp launched a new interactive Web site to collect voter feedback.
* While the Corzine camp picked up the backing of Latinos.
* The governor also targeted Christie's driving infractions during a speech in Atlantic City.
* Cillizza looks at a possible Corzine comeback.
* The Corzine camp thinks it has a September surge.
* But Monmouth showed Christie still ahead with likely voters.
* And Public Policy Polling finds an enthusiasm gap among Democrats for Corzine.
* Sen. Bob Menendez (D) jumped on a comment from Christie's running mate about the safety of Newark.

** VIRGINIA
RCP Average: McDonnell +10.2
* Bob McDonnell (R) was endorsed by the NRA today. The NRA backed Creigh Deeds (D) in the '05 AG race.
* Meanwhile, Creigh Deeds (D) won the backing of the Virginia Professional Fire Fighters, which represents some 6,500 firefighters and paramedics in the state.
* McDonnell was in Lynchburg today, and Deeds was in Norfolk. Both candidates will be in Norfolk tomorrow for an 11:30 a.m. debate hosted by the Norfolk and Portsmouth Bar Association.
* Deeds will get some fundraising help from one of the nation's least popular governors.
*McDonnell's F-bomb is still getting attention.

Obama, Clinton Have "Strong Relationship," Gibbs Says

Former President Bill Clinton often found himself in the headlines during the 2008 campaign for his comments about the candidacy of Barack Obama. Eight months into the Obama presidency, the two have huddled a handful of times now, most notably to discuss the situation in North Korea.

Today, the two presidents had lunch in New York City after Obama's speech on the state of the financial industry. The two split the check, press secretary Robert Gibbs said. But what was on their minds?

"He said most of the conversation was about the economy, particularly the global economy, and ways to transition where we are into something that works better for the American people in the 21st century," Gibbs told reporters on board Air Force One as they returned to Washington today. Health care did come up, but Obama didn't share the specifics with Gibbs, the spokesman said.

So how is their relationship? "I think President Obama values the type of advice that President Clinton has," Gibbs said. "I think you saw the economy in a lot of ways transform during his administration, not unlike what the economy has to do to meet the demands of the 21st century, to create good paying jobs. So I think they have a very strong relationship and I know the President is -- President Obama is always happy to talk with President Clinton and hear his thoughts."

Today's lunch came about after the two met at the White House last month on North Korea. Obama mentioned then that they should sit down together as soon as their schedules allowed to discuss a range of issues. Originally they planned to meet last week after both attended Walter Cronkite's funeral, but it was postponed once the president decided to speak to Congress that night.

The White House announced that Obama will speak at the Clinton Global Initiative conference taking place around the UN General Assembly next week.

Boehner to Vote 'No' On Wilson Resolution

If it was ever in question, it isn't anymore. House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) announced today that he will vote 'No' on a potential resolution that condemns Rep. Joe Wilson's (R-S.C.) actions last week during President Obama's address to a joint session of Congress.

Greg Sargent reported today that Democrats are planning a "resolution of disapproval," the lowest of four levels of condemnation in the House (below reprimand, censure and expulsion).

"Rep. Wilson has apologized to the President, and the President accepted his apology," Boehner said in a released statement. "Last Thursday, Speaker Pelosi said that she believed it was time to move on and discuss health care. I couldn't agree more, and that's why I plan to vote 'no' on this resolution. Instead of pursuing this type of petty partisanship, we should be working together to lower costs and expand access to affordable, high-quality health coverage on behalf of the American people."

Since Wilson's "You lie!" outburst last Wednesday, both he and his Democratic challenger in the 2010 election, Rob Miller, have reportedly raised more than $1 million. The action has clearly energized both conservatives and liberals.

Health Care Negotiations Continue in Senate

Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, said today he plans to introduce his health care reform proposal tomorrow and begin mark up on the plan next week.

"I believe that by the end we'll have some significant bipartisan support," said Baucus.

Baucus was speaking with reporters after emerging from a morning meeting with a bipartisan group of six senators on the Senate Finance Committee who have been meeting regularly to negotiate a reform bill. Baucus said they discussed Medicaid, medical malpractice and immigration. Baucus said they were working to ensure no immigrants that are in the country illegally would receive benefits.

The issue of illigal immigrants hit the fan last week after Rep. Joe Wilson's (R-S.C.) now-infamous interruption of President Obama's address to a joint session of Congress.

"We continue to work together toward a mutual goal of reforming our health care system to reduce costs -- and I want to underline that," Baucus said. "I don't think that's been emphasized enough in all the discussions on health care reform. It is to reduce the rate of growth in health care spending in America."

On Medicaid expansion, Baucus said states will be "pleasantly surprised" with the committee's proposal, which he says would not cost states "as much as originally feared." Governors had expressed to the president and Congress their concern with states bearing the brunt of increased Medicaid costs.

Deeds Getting Fundraising Boost From Unpopular Neighbor

Perhaps the least popular governor in the country will headline a fundraiser next month for Creigh Deeds, a Democrat running for governor of Virginia. The Raleigh News & Observer reports that North Carolina Gov. Bev Perdue (D) is scheduled to appear with Deeds Oct. 1 at the Capital City Club in downtown Raleigh, with suggested campaign contributions of $500 a head.

Perdue, elected governor last year after winning two terms as lieutenant governor, came to office facing a down economy and a dismal state fiscal situation. As a result, the governor has faced three months of job approval ratings in the 20s, according to surveys by Public Policy Polling, a Democratic polling firm. Her 26 percent approval rating in September includes just 40 percent of Democrats and 22 percent of independents.

Still, the cash will come in handy for Deeds as he heads into the final month of a competitive campaign against Bob McDonnell, who defeated Deeds by fewer than 400 votes in the 2005 race for attorney general. Deeds currently trails McDonnell by double digits in the polls and trailed by $4 million in cash raised heading into the general election.

The latest campaign finance reports will be released tomorrow. Both have clearly raised tons of money -- as this is one of only two major races this year and both national political parties are heavily invested -- and both are running TV ads in the expensive Washington, D.C., media market, which covers voter-heavy Northern Virginia.

(Last night during "Mad Men" on AMC, commercials from the two candidates ran successively -- one positive spot from McDonnell that featured his family; one negative spot from Deeds that featured McDonnell's 1989 grad school thesis.)

According to the Virgina Public Access Project, McDonnell has received nearly $2 million from the Republican Governors Association and $1.5 million from the Republican National Committee. Deeds has pulled in $500,000 from both the Democratic Governors Association and the Democratic National Committee, as well as $500,000 from the AFSCME and $100,000 from the SEIU.

Obama: Wall Street Owes A Debt To American People

President Obama's "major speech" in New York this afternoon was less about unveiling new policies as is was about urging the financial sector to, one year after the collapse of Lehman Brothers, act responsibly to avoid future crises.

"The reforms I've laid out will pass and these changes will become law. But one of the most important ways to rebuild the system stronger than before is to rebuild trust stronger than before -- and you do not have to wait for a new law to do that," Obama said, speaking at Federal Hall in the heart of New York's financial district.

He said the economic crisis came about because of "a collective failure of responsibility in Washington, on Wall Street, and across America." But Wall Street owes a particular "debt" to the American people, the president argued, as some firms begin to show profits again.

"Though they were not the cause of the crisis, American taxpayers through their government took extraordinary action to stabilize the financial industry," he said. "They shouldered the burden of the bailout and they are still bearing the burden of the fallout -- in lost jobs, lost homes and lost opportunities. It is neither right nor responsible after you've recovered with the help of your government to shirk your obligation to the goal of wider recovery, a more stable system, and a more broadly shared prosperity."

Speaking about the state of the economy, Obama said that there is a "return to normalcy" occurring as a result of the government's intervention. "I will never be satisfied while people are out of work and our financial system is weakened, we can be confident that the storms of the past two years are beginning to break," he said.

But "normalcy cannot lead to complacency," he added, and he criticized those who he said are "misreading this moment" and have returned to the "reckless behavior and unchecked excess" that spurred the crisis. "I am convinced they do so not just at their own peril, but at our nation's," he said.

Obama urged Wall Street to work with Washington as they work on financial reforms, to "join us in a constructive effort to update the rules and regulatory structure to meet the challenges of this new century."

On hand for the speech were Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, White House Council of Economic Advisers chair Christina Romer, members of the president's Economic Recovery Advisory Board, and some of those members of Congress who will handle the reform effort.

More intriguing is a meeting likely occurring as we write: lunch, between Obama and former President Clinton. The two appear to be developing a relationship (we hazard to say "close relationship" yet) after what was a tense campaign.

One Year Ago, A 'Fundamental' Turning Point

President Obama will be speaking in the next hour about the road forward in restoring confidence in the nation's financial markets. He makes this speech as president in large part, one can argue, because of a single comment that his campaign rival, John McCain, made last year in the wake of the Lehman Brothers collapse.

"The fundamentals of our economy are strong, but these are very, very difficult times," McCain said at a town hall meeting in Orlando on Sept. 15, 2008.

McCain's remark, abridged simply to, "The fundamentals of our economy are strong," instantly became to the Obama campaign a symbol of his being "out of touch" with the realities of the crisis.

"It's not that I think John McCain doesn't care what's going on in the lives of most Americans. I just think doesn't know," then-Sen. Obama said in Colorado that day. "He doesn't get what's happening between the mountain in Sedona where he lives and the corridors of Washington where he works."

His running mate, Joe Biden, echoed that, saying in Michigan: "Ladies and gentlemen, I could walk from here to Lansing, and I wouldn't run into a single person who thought our economy was doing well, unless I ran into John McCain."

RCP's polling average of the presidential race showed McCain at the downslope of a brief lead at this point in the 2008 campaign. It was at 1.6 points on Sept. 15, but in just a week, it was Obama who led, by 2.7 points. It was a lead that continued to grow right through Election Day.

Within months of taking office, the Obama administration itself found itself tripped up by economic language. Council of Economic Advisers chair Christina Romer attracted attention in March for saying the fundamentals of the economy were "sound." "The fundamentals are sound in the sense that the American workers are sound, we have a good capital stock, we have good technology," she said on "Meet The Press," echoing the sentiment of the statement that the Obama campaign had bludgeoned McCain for.

Here's how Robert Gibbs handled the comment the next day:

Q Robert, Christina Romer yesterday on the Sunday shows said that the fundamentals of the U.S. economy are sound. Last Friday, the President himself spoke about sound fundamentals in the economy. Yet when John McCain said that on the campaign trail last fall, he was "out of touch" and was portrayed that way by then-Senator Obama.

MR. GIBBS: Well, I think that --

Q What's the difference? Are the fundamentals so much sounder now?

MR. GIBBS: Well, if I remember -- if I remember correctly what then-candidate McCain said, he said that the fundamentals of our economy were strong. I would tell you that I think that the United States -- nobody exceeds the United States in our production capacity, in our entrepreneurial capacity, in our capacity to innovate, in our research universities, in the depth and the breadth of our capital markets.

But as the President addressed in the debates later that fall, he said that the strength of our fundamentals should be measured as to whether the middle class is getting a fair shake -- are we taking steps to create jobs; are we taking steps to prevent home foreclosures; are we taking steps to put money back in people's pockets who most deserve it, rather than to continue tax cuts that reward those that have done just fine over eight years.

Remember the backdrop of this entire debate was: action versus inaction. There was a great debate about the exact financial regulatory structure that we have discussed throughout today's briefing. The question was, were we going to move forward in a plan that would create jobs, a plan that would stem home foreclosures, a plan that would reward the middle class with tax cuts, and a plan that would re-regulate our financial industry -- or were we not?

I think that debate is largely over. I think that campaign was won by a particular side. And the President, as he said, has taken steps to ensure that each of the pillars of our economy that need to be in place in order to strengthen and turn it around, he's working on putting those in place just this year.

Q You're saying the difference is between the use of the word "sound" versus the use of the word "strong" -- is that what you're saying?

MR. GIBBS: I'd certainly think that's one of them, yes. Do I think there's a definitional difference between "sound" and "strong"? Absolutely.

Q Okay. And the fundamentals are now not strong, still, -- they're sound?

MR. GIBBS: I think the fundamentals, as Ms. Romer said, are sound; that the President is taking steps each and every day to strengthen those fundamentals, to ensure that the pillars that we need to turn our economy around to create the jobs the President talked about, to give the middle class finally a fair shake, and to put ourselves on a path towards sustained economic growth, is exactly what the President is focused on each and every day.

Q Using that phrase does not make the people now sound as out of touch as John McCain may have sounded, with a slightly different -- with a different word.

MR. GIBBS: I don't think so.

McCain has not made any statement on the anniversary of the Lehman collapse yet. As fate would have it, he, like Obama, is in New York today -- he's appearing on "Late Night with Jimmy Fallon" tonight.

With Just 50 Days Left, Christie Maintains Lead In N.J.

The gap has narrowed somewhat, but the latest Monmouth University/Gannett poll of the New Jersey gubernatorial race shows Chris Christie (R) still well ahead of Gov. Jon Corzine (D).

General Election Matchup -- Likely Voters
Christie 47 (-3 from last poll, 8/4)
Corzine 39 (+3)
Daggett 5 (+1)
Don't Know 7 (-1)

There were no major shifts in the candidates' favorability ratings. That's bad news for Corzine, who still has a high net-negative rating. Independent candidate Daggett is still an unknown.

Favorable Rating
Corzine 37 / 53
Christie 48 / 30
Daggett 11 / 6

Corzine's approval rating among likely voters is 34 percent, with 58 percent disapproving. Voters say that on the key issues -- economy and taxes -- Christie would do a better job than Corzine.

But New Jersey Democrats point to the fact that Christie hasn't cleared the 50 percent hurdle. And Monmouth's pollster finds that the electorate is still unsettled. "A Republican holding a steady poll lead is unprecedented in recent New Jersey elections and this shouldn't be discounted. But the results also indicate there is a lot of churning in this electorate. Despite the incumbent's continued unpopularity, there is still a sense that anything can happen," Patrick Murray said in a release.

The survey of 531 likely voters was conducted September 8-10, and had a margin of error of +/- 4.3 percent.

With 50 days left until Election Day, the RCP Average has Christie with a lead of 6.8 percent.

Strategy Memo: Another Major Speech

Good Monday morning, Washington. Today, on the anniversary of the collapse of Lehman Brothers, President Obama travels to New York City for what is being called a "major speech" on the financial crisis. "He will discuss the aggressive steps the Administration has taken to bring the economy back from the brink, the commitment to winding down the government's role in the financial sector and the actions the United States and the global community must take to prevent a crisis like this from ever happening again," the White House says. He'll return to Washington this afternoon.

Both chambers of Congress return this afternoon, with the Senate set to resume consideration of the HUD and Transportation Appropriations bill and the House taking up suspension bills. The health care debate resumes as well after a busy day for many members of Congress and the president on the Sunday talk shows.

Also today, the AFL-CIO conference continues in Pittsburgh. Obama will address the conference Tuesday. The president will also talk to autoworkers in Ohio and raise money for Arlen Specter in Philadelphia on Tuesday.

**Health Care
*"President Obama continues to face significant public resistance" to his health care reform proposal. But "after a summer of angry debate and protests, opposition to the effort has eased somewhat, and there appears to be potential for further softening among critics if Congress abandons the idea of a government-sponsored health insurance option," according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

*In an interview on "60 Minutes," Obama said he's confident not only that a health care bill will pass, but a good bill. Asked why, given the array of challenges on his plate, he didn't scale back his health care goals, Obama said: "The problem I've got is that the only way I can get medium- and long-term federal spending under control is if we do something about health care. Ironically, health care reform is critical to deficit reduction. I know it seems counterintuitive."

*At his annual steak fry, Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin predicted that a health care reform bill would pass Congress "before Christmas, with Republican votes." He also declared that the legislation would "have a strong public option," the Des Moines Register reports.

*But, per The Hill: "Key senators said Sunday the 'public option' favored by House Democrats for healthcare is all but dead, but a pivotal Republican said it's not dead enough. President Barack Obama 'should take it off the table,' said Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) on CBS's 'Face the Nation.' 'It would give real momentum to building consensus.' "

*"The vitriolic debate in Congress is likely to intensify this week, when Democrats seek to reprimand" Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) for shouting during Obama's joint session speech, the Wall Street Journal reports. On Fox New Sunday, Wilson said: "I've apologized one time. The apology was accepted by the president, by the vice president, who I know. I am not apologizing again."

Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.) told CNN it's time to move on. "Let's go about the business that we are trying to get done which is to affect real health care reform," he said.

**Economy
AP: "Obama's speech in New York on Monday will push Congress to take action on regulatory reform to prevent the kind of tailspin that the economy went through last year. Obama also plans to repeat his call for global partners to coordinate to prevent future crises."

*NY Times: "One year after the collapse of Lehman Brothers set off a series of federal interventions, the government is the nation's biggest lender, insurer, automaker and guarantor against risk for investors large and small. ... Government spending accounts for a bigger share of the nation's economy -- 26 percent -- than at any time since World War II." Obama plans to argue "that these government intrusions will be temporary. At the same time, however, he will push hard for an increased government role in overseeing the financial system to prevent a repeat of the excesses that caused the crisis."

*One year ago, the trajectory of the race for president changed with the collapse of Lehman Brothers, illustrated by the polls. Today, the DNC releases a web video called, "Lest We Forget."

*"Legislation to crack down on the financial industry faces long odds on Capitol Hill, with lawmakers buried by the health care debate and an avalanche of opposition from business groups," Politico reports.

**Campaign Stuff
*GOP Too Extreme? "Amid a rebirth of conservative activism that could help Republicans win elections next year, some party insiders now fear that extreme rhetoric and conspiracy theories coming from the angry reaches of the conservative base are undermining the GOP's broader credibility and casting it as the party of the paranoid," L.A. Times reports.

*David Axelrod said this weekend's protests in Washington "don't represent a mainstream view."

*Bob McDonnell dropped an F-bomb during a live radio interview, CNN reports. Answering a question about transportation, the Republican gubernatorial hopeful said: "I'm going to find other ways to be able to fund transportation. I've outlined twelve f--ing funding mechanisms that are creative, that are entrepreneurial." His camp later said it was simply a stumble. "Anyone who spends any time around Bob knows he does not use such language. It was an accident. It is that simple."

*We'll have more shortly on a New Jersey governor poll from Monmouth University that shows Chris Christie maintaining his lead.

*After flirting with it, former White House chief of staff Andy Card announced he won't run for Senate from Massachusetts. "Now is not the right time for me to enter a political race," Card said in a statement. "In these critical times, I know that Massachusetts would be well served to have Senator Scott Brown as the Commonwealth's next United States Senator. He has my full support."

*The Register also rounds up some of the laugh lines from the steak fry, many aimed at Govs. Sanford and Palin.

*GOP12 flags Rick Santorum's comments about a potential presidential run. "Six months ago I would not have spent ten seconds on your question, but it's not six months ago. ... I see that 2012 is not just throwing somebody out to be eaten, but it's a real opportunity for success."

*Two items that may dampen Republican hopes in Florida. First, it looks like Bill McCollum will have to endure a primary in the gubernatorial race. But the must read from the St. Pete Times' Adam Smith: "Something ominous and unpredictable is brewing in Florida, and a growing number of Republicans are starting to consider the unthinkable: The people's governor could lose his campaign for U.S. Senate."

*A race to watch: the New York Times on the primary challenge to Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) from the eccentric mayor of Memphis, Willie Herenton. "To know Steve Cohen is to know that he really does not think very much of African-Americans," Herenton said in a recent radio interview on KWAM. "He's played the black community well."

**Pop Culture Beat: Kanye West has now officially lost his mind.

--Mike Memoli and Kyle Trygstad

Rep. Wilson Challenger Raises $1M in 48 Hrs.

Rob Miller, the Democrat challenging Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) next year, has raised more than $1 million since Wednesday night, when the GOP congressman interrupted President Obama's address to a joint session of Congress with a shout of, "You lie!" The campaign announced that the total came from 25,000 individual donors.

"We will put this generous support to work to restore common-sense leadership to Washington, create jobs, and stand up for men and women in uniform," said Rob Miller in a released statement. "If there was ever a time to put bickering and name calling aside and be part of the solution, it's now."

Miller is a retired Marine and Iraq war veteran. This is the second straight election he has challenged Wilson. In 2008, Wilson won by just 8 points -- his smallest margin of victory since coming to Congress in a December 2001 special election. Miller, who was outspent two-to-one by Wilson, can likely thank much of his 46% take to Obama's get-out-the-vote efforts. The 2nd District is more than a quarter African American.

PPP (D) Poll Shows Wilson Trailing

A snap poll conducted by the Democratic firm of Public Policy Polling shows that Rep. Joe Wilson (R) is trailing in his re-election bid.

General Election Matchup
Miller 44
Wilson 43
Undecided 13

Asked about Wilson's outburst at President Obama's joint session speech, 29 percent approve of it, while 62 percent disapproved. Thirty-five percent say it made them more likely to vote for Wilson in 2010, while 49 percent said they were less likely to vote for him now.

It's hard to read too much into this poll, however, given how far we are from the vote and the nature of the fallout. The district his heavily Republican, with a Cook Partisan rating of R+9. In the survey, President Obama has a 50 percent approval rating, with 46 percent disapproving.

Asked if they think Obama lied about illegal immigrants not being covered by his plan, 42 percent said yes and 46 percent said no. Overall, 45 percent say they support Obama's health care plan, while 48 percent oppose. But 44 percent say they support the idea of a public option, while 39 percent oppose it.

Wilson's job approval rating is net negative, 41 percent approving, 47 percent disapproving. The survey was conducted September 10-11 among 747 voters, with a margin of error of +/- 3.6 percent.

Levin: Equip Afghan Army Before Sending More Troops

Senate Armed Forces Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) said today, on the eighth anniversary of 9/11, that further steps to equip the Afghanistan army should be taken before sending additional U.S. troops into the country.

"We've been pressing this issue: more trainers, a larger Afghan army, more equipment to Afghanistan for about six months at least," Levin said at a press conference today. "These are the steps that we need to take before we consider additional combat forces in Afghanistan."

"I think there is a major consensus in strengthening the Afghan army," Levin continued. "I think the American people support and I support, I think most of my colleagues would support, getting essential equipment...to the Afghan army so that they can take major responsibility for their own security."

In May, President Obama committed 21,000 additional troops to the country with the same goals Levin outlined today. After August became the deadliest month yet, Gen. Stanley McChrystal called for a "revised implementation strategy" and was expected to call for more troops.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi said yesterday that she sees little support within Congress for sending additional troops to the country.

Asked about her comment at the White House daily briefing yesterday, Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said "the assessment that has been delivered to Central Command, to the Pentagon, and to the White House from General McChrystal is part of a rigorous assessment process that the President wanted instituted upon coming into office, and to reassess our strategy in this very important region of the world. That continues to be discussed here and at the Pentagon."

Levin, asked today if he agrees with Pelosi, said, "I think there is a significant number of people in the country that have...questions about deepening our military involvement in Afghanistan."

Levin discussed the issue on the Senate floor this morning as well.

"I believe that taking those steps on an urgent basis, while completing the previously planned and announced increase in U.S. combat forces, provides the best chance of success for our mission: preventing Afghanistan from again being run by a Taliban government which harbors and supports Al-Qaeda," he said.

Coast Guard: Potomac Incident Was "Misconstrued"

The U.S. Coast Guard released a statement on its training exercise on the Potomac River this morning, which caused a brief scare after media reports of shots being fired near the location of this morning's Pentagon memorial service. The statement says today's exercise was planned "in advance and was being conducted on a marine radio frequency reserved for Coast Guard training and operations." They are now "gathering information of how this training event might have been misconstrued as an actual incident," and promise a "thorough review."

In addition, the statement seems to defend the timing of today's exercise, saying that "the best way that we in the Coast Guard can remember Sept. 11 and our security obligations to the nation is to be always ready and this requires constant training and exercise." But it also says that the decision to hold an exercise this morning "will be reviewed."

Meanwhile, press secretary Robert Gibbs blamed some of the confusion on "erroneous reporting" by the media. Asked about the decision to hold a training exercise today, he told reporters that he would not question law enforcement decisions.

You can read the full Coast Guard statement after the jump.

The U.S. Coast Guard reported on Friday that reports in the media were based on overheard radio calls made over a training frequency and that no shots were fired during the exercise.

The exercise was planned in advance and was being conducted on a marine radio frequency reserved for Coast Guard training and operations. No recreational boaters were involved in this training exercise.

We are still gathering information of how this training event might have been misconstrued as an actual incident. We will conduct a thorough review of this incident.

Coast Guard boats were operating in the vicinity of 14th Street and Memorial Bridges this morning. Whether or not these were the same boats using the marine radio frequency used for training purposes has not yet been confirmed.

The best way that we in the Coast Guard can remember Sept. 11 and our security obligations to the nation is to be always ready and this requires constant training and exercise. To ensure the appropriate readiness posture we conduct training scenarios across the nation on a daily basis.

How and when this exercised was conducted will be reviewed.

Burr Leads Despite Low Approval

Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) continues to lead potential Democratic challengers despite his perpetual sub-40% approval rating, a new PPP survey finds (Sept. 2-8, 600 RV, MoE +/- 4%).

Democrats the survey matched up against Burr in hypothetical general election races include: former state senator Cal Cunningham, U.S. Rep. Bob Etheridge, Chapel Hill Mayor Kevin Foy, attorney Kenneth Lewis, Secretary of State Elaine Marshall (who filed her candidacy paperwork Wednesday) and former Lt. Gov. Dennis Wicker.

Burr 42 - Cunningham 30 - Und 29
Burr 41 - Etheridge 34 - Und 25
Burr 43 - Foy 29 - Und 29
Burr 43 - Lewis 27 - Und 29
Burr 42 - Marshall 31 - Und 27
Burr 42 - Wicker 31 - Und 27

Obama's Speech Provided Bump In Support

Two new surveys released this morning find an increase in support for President Obama and comprehensive health care reform.

A CBS News poll reports a 12-point leap in approval of Obama's handling of health care since last week. Forty percent of adults interviewed last week (Aug. 27-31) said they approved, while 47 percent disapproved. When the same sample was surveyed the day after Obama's speech (Sept. 10, 648 A, MoE +/- 4%), 52% now approve of the president's handling of health care while 38% disapprove, which CBS reports is "the best marks of his presidency."

Also, more people now say that Obama has explained his health care reform than did last week. Just 33% felt the president had explained his proposals last week; 42% now say he has, though 43% still say he has not.

A Rasmussen survey (Sept. 9-10, 1000 LV, MoE +/- 3%) finds support for the Democrats' health care reform proposal at 46% -- up 2 points since the two days prior to Obama's speech. The speech appears to have had more of an impact on Democrats, though, as Rasmussen reports that the boost comes "entirely from those in the president's own party."

Obama: "Let Us Renew"

President Obama, in a pouring rain in Northern Virginia, made the following remarks at the Pentagon today:

Secretary Gates, Admiral Mullen and members of the Armed Forces, fellow Americans, family and friends of those that we lost this day -- Michelle and I are deeply humbled to be with you.

Eight Septembers have come and gone. Nearly 3,000 days have passed -- almost one for each of those taken from us. But no turning of the seasons can diminish the pain and the loss of that day. No passage of time and no dark skies can ever dull the meaning of this moment.

So on this solemn day, at this sacred hour, once more we pause. Once more we pray -- as a nation and as a people; in city streets where our two towers were turned to ashes and dust; in a quiet field where a plane fell from the sky; and here, where a single stone of this building is still blackened by the fires.

We remember with reverence the lives we lost. We read their names. We press their photos to our hearts. And on this day that marks their death, we recall the beauty and meaning of their lives; men and women and children of every color and every creed, from across our nation and from more than 100 others. They were innocent. Harming no one, they went about their daily lives. Gone in a horrible instant, they now "dwell in the House of the Lord forever."

We honor all those who gave their lives so that others might live, and all the survivors who battled burns and wounds and helped each other rebuild their lives; men and women who gave life to that most simple of rules: I am my brother's keeper; I am my sister's keeper.

We pay tribute to the service of a new generation -- young Americans raised in a time of peace and plenty who saw their nation in its hour of need and said, "I choose to serve"; "I will do my part." And once more we grieve. For you and your families, no words can ease the ache of your heart. No deeds can fill the empty places in your homes. But on this day and all that follow, you may find solace in the memory of those you loved, and know that you have the unending support of the American people.

Scripture teaches us a hard truth. The mountains may fall and the earth may give way; the flesh and the heart may fail. But after all our suffering, God and grace will "restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast." So it is -- so it has been for these families. So it must be for our nation.

Let us renew our resolve against those who perpetrated this barbaric act and who plot against us still. In defense of our nation we will never waver; in pursuit of al Qaeda and its extremist allies, we will never falter.

Let us renew our commitment to all those who serve in our defense -- our courageous men and women in uniform and their families and all those who protect us here at home. Mindful that the work of protecting America is never finished, we will do everything in our power to keep America safe.

Let us renew the true spirit of that day. Not the human capacity for evil, but the human capacity for good. Not the desire to destroy, but the impulse to save, and to serve, and to build. On this first National Day of Service and Remembrance, we can summon once more that ordinary goodness of America -- to serve our communities, to strengthen our country, and to better our world.

Most of all, on a day when others sought to sap our confidence, let us renew our common purpose. Let us remember how we came together as one nation, as one people, as Americans, united not only in our grief, but in our resolve to stand with one another, to stand up for the country we all love.

This may be the greatest lesson of this day, the strongest rebuke to those who attacked us, the highest tribute to those taken from us -- that such sense of purpose need not be a fleeting moment. It can be a lasting virtue.

For through their own lives -- and through you, the loved ones that they left behind -- the men and women who lost their lives eight years ago today leave a legacy that still shines brightly in the darkness, and that calls on all of us to be strong and firm and united. That is our calling today and in all the Septembers still to come.

May God bless you and comfort you. And may God bless the United States of America.

Strategy Memo: Eight Years

Today marks eight years since September 11, 2001, when nearly 3,000 died. More than 5,000 have died in battle since.

At the White House, President Obama will pause at 8:46 for a moment of silence at the time the first plane hit the Twin Towers. Later, he heads to the Pentagon, where he'll speak at the memorial to the attacks there. He and the first lady also will mark a day of service with an event in the city. Vice President Biden will be in New York for memorial events there.

Looking ahead to the weekend, Obama will hold a rally for health care reform in Minnesota on Saturday. He also is set to appear once again on "60 Minutes."

The Senate will hold a moment of silence at 9:30 a.m. to commemorate the anniversary of 9/11. After morning business it will continue consideration of the Transportation and HUD Appropriations bill, though no votes are expected today. The House is not in session.

**9/11
*"On Sept. 11, 2001, Barack Obama was driving to a state legislative hearing in Chicago when he heard the first sketchy reports of a plane hitting the World Trade Center on his car radio," AP reports in a piece noting the first post-Bush 9/11. "The 40-year-old state senator spent the afternoon in his law office watching 'nightmare images' of destruction and grief unfold on TV."

*President Obama's op-ed in the New York Daily News: "Eight years ago, on an ordinary Tuesday morning, nearly 3,000 lives were lost in the deadliest attack on American soil in our history. It was an event that forever changed the life of this city. And it was a tragedy that will be forever seared in the consciousness of our nation. Every year on this day, we are all New Yorkers."

*"After eight years -- more than the time between Pearl Harbor and the Berlin Blockade at the height of the Cold War -- you would think that we as a nation would have gained perspective. Instead, all we have achieved is chronological distance," writes Politics Daily's Walter Shapiro. "In many ways, the most lasting piece of literature to emerge from the horrors of that day is the final report of the 9/11 Commission. While it tells in often novelistic detail the how of the attacks, the why understandably remains elusive."

*Entertainment Industry Foundation announced this morning a new series of PSAs featuring First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden, who call on Americans to assist returning veterans and military families that need help. The PSAs will begin running in Major League Baseball stadiums across the country and will be aired on national broadcast stations this fall.

*9/11 is now a lesson plan rather than a memory for American youth, Washington Post reports.

*A CNN poll finds that concerns about a terrorist attack are half what they were right after 9/11/01. "The poll also indicates that only one in 10 say that a terrorist attack is likely in the community where they live. More than six in 10 say they have confidence in the Obama administration's ability to protect the country from terrorism, although only one in four say they have a great deal of confidence."

*Gallup: "Americans continue to give the Republican Party a slight edge over the Democratic Party -- 49% vs. 42% -- in their perceptions of the party that will better protect the United States from international terrorism and military threats. The Republicans' edge on this issue is unchanged from last year but has diminished from earlier in the decade."

**Health Care
*AP: "The possibility that malpractice changes could be part of health care legislation that suddenly seems to have better chances of passing has sent doctors and trial lawyers scrambling. ... Obama's overture in his Wednesday night speech could give him a way to peel off some Republican votes, as well as shore up support from moderates in his own party."

*In his meeting with Senate moderates yesterday, Obama "surprised some" by having OMB Director Peter Orszag "make a presentation making the case that the health care reform plan the president will ultimately sign will be fiscally balanced and won't increase the deficit," Jake Tapper reports. "One senator said that the president made his case on Wednesday night and is now moving to place where he's more engaged in trying to achieve the goal."

*Wall Street Journal reports on continuing questions about whether illegal immigrants would receive government-funded insurance. "In an exchange Thursday night clarifying the president's position in the aftermath of Mr. Wilson's outburst, White House aides said Mr. Obama's health plan would restrict illegal immigrants' access beyond what congressional Democrats have proposed."

*"Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) endorsed the concept of health insurance cooperatives Thursday, siding with centrists in the House and Senate who want healthcare reform but oppose a public option. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) also hinted she could accept that approach a day after President Barack Obama delivered an address to a joint session of Congress that offered encouraging words for both centrists and liberal Democrats who have demanded a public insurance option," The Hill reports.

--Kyle Trygstad and Mike Memoli

Scenes From The White House: Lord Stanley

For the second time this year, President Obama found himself honoring a championship team from the Steel City at the White House. Today, it was the Stanley Cup Champion Penguins, who defeated the defending champion Detroit Red Wings this June.

obamacup.jpg

"I guess it's a good time to be a sports fan in Pittsburgh," he said, drawing applause from the East Room audience full of team employees, family, as well as local youth groups. "I was complaining about this -- it's been a while since Chicago won anything," he added.

Obama has shown plenty of love to pro football, basketball, and Major League Baseball this season -- but not so much to hockey. Still, he made an effort to show some knowledge of the sport. He said having team owner and hockey great Mario Lemieux at the White House was "a pretty big deal." He even gave a shout out to the hometown Washington Capitals, who lost a hard-fought playoff series to the Penguins in this year's playoffs.

But it was the famous Stanley Cup that Obama seemed most excited about. "I've seen a lot of trophies -- there is something special about the Stanley Cup," he said. At the end of his remarks, he marched over and grabbed the big silver trophy himself, seeming to surprise many in the audience and the Cup's white-gloved handlers.

America has a famous "hockey mom." Does the team think the first fan could show some more respect to their sport?

"We know how busy the man is," head coach Dan Bylsma said after the event. "We'd love to have him at center ice dropping a puck, but at the same time he's dealing with a lot of issues that are extremely important right now for our country, so we'll give him a break."

Obama was so busy that he actually kept the audience waiting for nearly an hour. He had been meeting with centrist Democratic senators in the afternoon.

"I'm sorry to keep you guys waiting -- I have all these things I've got to do," he said.

Poll: Mixed Reviews for Ritter

A new Rasmussen survey finds Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter (D) in dangerous territory against two potential GOP challengers. Ritter trails former Rep. Scott McInnis (R) by 5 points and leads state Sen. Minority Leader Josh Penry (R) by just 1 point -- a statistical tie.

McInnis 44
Ritter 39
Und 10

Ritter 41
Penry 40
Und 12

McInnis served six terms in the House from 1992 to 2004 (in the district now represented by Democrat John Salazar). Penry is 33 years old and a former congressional aide to McInnis. A PPP survey released last month found Penry tied with Ritter and McInnis leading by 8 points.

Ritter's approval rating is up some in the Rasmussen survey to 49%, though his disapproval ratings is up as well (49%). Ritter won in 2006 by 17 points, and Pres. Obama won the state by 9 points in 2008.

After Apology, Questions Over Coverage For Illegal Immigrants

With Rep. Joe Wilson's (R-S.C.) apology accepted at the White House, questions at today's briefing turned to the basis of his quarrel with the president: whether illegal immigrants would benefit from health care through reforms, if passed.

Press secretary Robert Gibbs was asked about a figure President Obama used: that 30 million American citizens are uninsured. The U.S. Census says that 46 million are currently uninsured.

"The proposal that the president outlined covers American citizens," Gibbs said. "His plan would not cover illegal immigrants. If you subtract a rough estimate from that 46.3 million, you get a number that's somewhat unknown, but in the 30s that represents American citizens, as the president pointed out."

That would still leave tens of millions of Americans uninsured, presumably driving up medical costs if they still sought care from hospitals. Gibbs was also asked about the possibility an illegal immigrant would seek to purchase insurance through the proposed exchange.

"I can't speak for somebody that's here illegally, but I would think it would be somewhat of a bad course of events if you're here illegally to alert people that you are here illegally and sign up for a government program," Gibbs said.

As for Wilson's outburst, Gibbs said the president took him at his word that he was sorry. For his part, President Obama seemed ready to move on.

"I'm a big believer that we all make mistakes. He apologized quickly and without equivocation, and I'm appreciative of that," he said after a meeting of his Cabinet. "I do think that, as I said last night, we have to get to the point where we can have a conversation about big, important issues that matter to the American people without vitriol, without name-calling, without the assumption of the worst in other people's motives."

The president also said that the media "always be helpful by not giving all the attention to the loudest or shrillest voices." Though some corners of the White House are probably enjoying the coverage Wison's remark is still getting.

Cook Report Moves Reid Re-Election to Toss-Up

The Cook Political Report moved Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's (D-Nev.) re-election race into the toss-up category today, a not-so-stunning yet seismic shift for the top Democrat in the Senate. Here is the Cook Report reasoning:

Senior Editor Jennifer Duffy analyzes Majority Leader Harry Reid's bid for a fifth term and finds that anemic poll numbers for the incumbent and a deteriorating political environment for Democrats nationally combine to make Reid one of the most vulnerable Democratic incumbents seeking re-election in 2010. And, that's without knowing who Republicans will nominate to challenge him.

Two August polls found Reid trailing two potential GOP challengers, neither with a resume that would appear to make them competitive.

Obama Campaign Committee Urging Senate Appointment

From the Boston Globe:

In an email to supporters titled "Full representation for Massachusetts," John Spears, Massachusetts director for Organizing for America, urged them to call their Beacon Hill representatives in support of a bill that would allow Governor Deval Patrick to appoint a placeholder until a special election in January.

Spears cites Obama mentioning during his health care speech to Congress Wednesday night a letter he received from Kennedy -- and argues that a replacement is needed to further Kennedy's goal of universal health care.

New Polls Find Christie's Lead Stable

Despite a tough few weeks for the New Jersey GOP gubernatorial candidate, Chris Christie's lead over incumbent Gov. Jon Corzine (D) has not changed in two new surveys from Rasmussen (Sept. 9, 500 LV, MoE +/- 4.5 %) and Democratic pollster GQR/Democracy Corps (Sept. 8-9, 615 LV, MoE +/- 4%). Both candidates did lose support in both polls since last month, though it's likely due to the independent candidate, Chris Daggett.

Rasmussen
Christie 46 (-4 vs. last poll, Aug. 27)
Corzine 38 (-4)
Daggett 6
Und 10

GQR/Democracy Corps
Christie 41 (-5 vs. last poll,
Corzine 38 (-5)
Daggett (I) 10

Christie leads by 6.5 points in the RCP Average for New Jersey Governor

DCCC Raising Money Off GOP Outburst

House Democrats' campaign arm is raising money with the help of a GOP congressman's outburst during President Obama's address to a joint session of Congress last night.

Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) has since apologized for interrupting the president with a shout of "You lie!" and Republican groups have noted instances when Democrats called George W. Bush a liar, but the Dems aren't taking this opportunity for granted.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has set a fundraising goal of $100,000 over the next two days. Here is an excerpt of the e-mail sent today to the DCCC's contact list:

Last night as President Obama addressed a joint session of Congress on the need for health insurance reform, Republican Congressman Joe Wilson of South Carolina actually screamed out "you lie" on the House floor in front of the full Congress and the entire nation.

Calling the President of the United States a liar in front of the nation is a new low even for House Republicans and it deserves the strongest response we can give. That's why we're issuing a special Rapid Response Alert.

Help us raise $100,000 in the next 48 Hours to send a message to Republicans like Congressman Joe Wilson that we will not stand for our President to be called a liar in front of the nation.


OFA Directs Supporters To Call Congressmen

This summer, Organizing for America urged its mailing list to head to the office of their local representatives to talk health care. Even a Democrat wasn't thrilled with the deluge of constituents to offices. But now, President Obama's former campaign network is again directing supporters to target their representatives.

From an e-mail:

Last night, President Obama called on our representatives to pass health reform that brings stability and security to Americans who have insurance, affordable coverage to those who don't, and reins in the cost of care.

Now, it's our turn. After last night's speech, members of Congress have no doubt about where the President stands. But to win this fight, we must show that Americans from every state and every background support his plan -- and we need Congress to do the same.

The e-mail then lists the recipient's member of Congress and U.S. Senators, depending on the ZIP Code a user signed up with, and gives the phone number of their local offices.

Call your representatives, and tell whoever answers where you are from and that you watched the President's address.

Then tell them that you want your representatives to support the President's plan, ask them where they stand -- and thank them if they already clearly support it.

Don't forget to click here to let us know what they said.

Hundreds of thousands of folks will be calling, so please try again if you get a busy signal.


RGA Launches New VA, NJ Spots

The Republican Governors Association is again ramping up its commitment on the airwaves in this fall's gubernatorial elections, targeting the Democratic candidates' records in Virginia and New Jersey.

The 30-second spot in Virginia claims that Creigh Deeds (D) would be "pumping up" taxes and spending in Richmond, citing his support for gas tax increases.

The 15-second spot in more expensive New Jersey bluntly lays out what the RGA sees as Gov. Jon Corzine's (D) record: "Tax. Waste. Debt. Failure."

Strategy Memo: Shout Heard Round The Nation

As the White House studies reaction to last night's speech, President Obama will be right back at it, delivering remarks on insurance reform this morning at the EEOB. He'll then convene a meeting of his Cabinet, followed by lunch with Vice President Biden. This afternoon he'll meet separately with the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, Secretary of State Clinton and Treasury Secretary Geithner. Tonight, another sports celebration: this time honoring the Stanley Cup Champion Penguins.

Biden's schedule also includes a trip to the Capitol today for a meeting with the Congressional Black Caucus. There, he'll also swear in Florida's newest senator, George LeMieux.

Today on the Hill, reaction to the speech will continue with the weekly press conferences of Speaker Nancy Pelosi, House Minority Leader John Boehner and a Senate Democratic leadership press conference. The Senate will dedicate the morning to for tributes to the late Senator Edward Kennedy, followed by debate on the nomination of Cass Sunstein to be Administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs within the Office of Management and Budget. The House will take up the Chesapeake Bay Gateways and Watertrails Network Continuing Authorization Act, with a vote expected by 3 p.m.

And Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) will probably be the focus of his own media circus on the Hill today, after his already-infamous shout during the president's speech.

**The Speech
*Biden appeared on all of the morning shows to follow up on the president's speech. AP has a roundup, noting he claimed that a health care bill will be done by Thanksgiving "because President Barack Obama has 're-centered debate' and there's bipartisan consensus for change despite the fight over a government-run option." Biden: "I think the most important thing he did, he also debunked a lot of the myths out there, the idea of death panels, that we were going to insure undocumented aliens."

*"The speech was about more than health care," Adam Nagourney writes. "It was an attempt by this still new president to display his authority to a Congress that had begun to question his fortitude, to show that he was as strong a political leader as he was a political candidate and to show that he was not -- to use the shorthand of the day -- another Jimmy Carter."

*Dan Balz notes a "sense of urgency" in Obama's voice. "It is rare for a presidency so young to have so much on the line. No single speech can create consensus on health-care legislation, and in that sense this was not the make-or-break moment described by some commentators. But Obama has staked his presidency on this issue, and his advisers knew it was long past time for him to assert himself in a more demonstrable way or risk seeing the entire enterprise slip away.

*AP's analysis of the speech calls the public option discussion "vintage Obama, the political realist who knows it's not worth going to the mat for something when the votes aren't going to be there. It was Obama the conciliator, using soaring rhetoric to try to get warring sides to come together around common sense. And it was Obama the ever-willing negotiator, unfazed by abandoning many specifics on the road to a larger goal."

*A fact check questions Obama's assertion that his plan is deficit neutral.

*"Two out of three Americans who watched President Obama's health care reform speech Wednesday night favor his health care plans, a 14-point gain among speech-watchers, according to a CNN/Opinion Research Corp. national poll."

*The Globe has more details on the Kennedy letter. Obama senior adviser David Axelrod said that Victoria Reggie Kennedy called to say the senator had written the letter in May and wanted it delivered to Obama after his death. "The president read it, and it became the basis of the closing" section of the speech that Obama wrote himself in longhand, Axelrod said in a brief interview. "It was something that moved him a lot."

**How Will Congress React
*Politics Daily: "There was a sense that many moderate Democrats are keeping the door open a little wider than they did in the past. Obama's speech seemed to at least buy more time and earn a little more attention for the president's proposal before people decide. Politics Daily has learned that moderate Democrats, including Ben Nelson of Nebraska and Mary Landrieu of Lousianna, are meeting Thursday with Obama at the White House. About 15 of them met Wednesday with Rahm Emanuel, the president's chief of staff."

*"Pelosi and Hoyer, longtime rivals and often effective allies, have chafed against each other during the tense, tiring negotiations over health care reform, with Pelosi voicing the concerns of progressives and Hoyer publicly adopting a more conciliatory tone in his role as ambassador to the fiscally conservative Blue Dogs," Politico reports. "So far, the tension between the two has actually worked to the leaders' advantage ... But the relationship is coming under strain as the brutal realities of legislative deal cutting emerge."

*Even before the speech Blue Dogs were seeking a truce with liberal Democrats, some of whom had openly criticized the fiscally conservative Dems as questioned their motives, The Hill reports. "In a closed-door caucus meeting Wednesday morning, Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (D-S.D.) called for unity and asked for the public criticism to stop."

The Hill also got Rep. Raul Grijalva's (D-Ariz.) reaction to the public option language: "President Obama was elected to bring change and progress," Grijalva said. "I fear that if my party and the president do not appreciate the mandate the American people have given us, the people will lose confidence in the idea that they can vote for change and get what they voted for."

**Wilson's Shout
*The State: "Rep. Joe Wilson, a little-known Republican from South Carolina, stole the spotlight Wednesday evening by yelling out "You lie!" during President Barack Obama's address to Congress."

*Biden said Wilson's outburst "demeaned the institution," and made him "embarrassed for the chamber and Congress I love."

*"Wilson's boorishness -- for which he quickly apologized -- enraged audience members on both sides of the aisle. It also overshadowed a speech that included some of Obama's harshest attacks on his GOP critics to date, including a denunciation of 'death panel' alarmists as liars -- a veiled swipe at Sarah Palin -- and a warning to Republicans who want to 'kill' reform," Politico reports.

*"It was a rare breach of the protocol that governs ritualistic events in the Capitol," reports the NY Times. "Democrats said it showed lack of respect for the office of the presidency and was reminiscent of Republican disruptions at recent public forums on health care."

*WaPo's Dana Milbank writes that "the nation's rapidly deteriorating discourse hit yet another low" with Rep. Joe Wilson's (R-S.C.) "You lie!" outburst.

*Time's Scherer: "At the moment Wilson exploded, the outburst seemed like an assault on the President. Soon afterwards, it was clear that it had been a gift. Wilson had, in an emotional expression, proven Obama's point: the summer of town halls had been less a discussion than a circus, a forum where misinformation was vindicated by passion, where disrespect was elevated as a virtue. Now the circus had come inside Congress."

*An interesting contrast to Wilson: The Hill spotted GOP Sens. Olympia Snowe (Maine), Susan Collins (Maine), Robert Bennett (Utah) and Judd Gregg (N.H.) standing and clapping when Obama dismissed the suggestion that Democratic healthcare reform would lead to "panels of bureaucrats with the power to kill off senior citizens."

**Stressing Service: The president and first lady sat down with Time magazine to talk about service.

**Campaign Stuff
*South Carolina Republican Party Chairwoman Karen Floyd is expected to seek a party resolution calling for Mark Sanford's resignation, a source familiar with plans for the call told CNN.

*John Kerry testified in favor of an interim Senate appointment, joining "dozens of residents, public officials, and labor representatives" who did so at a hearing. "This is no time for the people of Massachusetts to not be represented fully in Washington," Kerry said.

*We noted last night that Andy Card expressed a real interest in the race, but said family considerations are keeping him from an announcement right now. Meanwhile, Christy Mihos is now saying he'll stick with the gubernatorial race.

*NJ Gov: "Seeking to return the focus of the gubernatorial race to incumbent Gov. Jon S. Corzine in general and the economy in particular, Republican Chris Christie laid out the broad-strokes rationale Wednesday for why he should be elected," the Asbury Park Press reports. "Christie made no new proposals in the speech but reiterated the philosophy he's touted on the campaign trail since January -- support for cutting spending and taxes, restoring funding for property tax rebates, more charter schools and an increased focus on reviving the state's cities. And he repeatedly called Corzine out of touch."

*DE Sen: "A return to civilian life is three weeks away for some soldiers in the Delaware Army National Guard after almost a year in Iraq. In the case of JAG Capt. Beau Biden, the homecoming also will catapult him back into an intensifying political life," WBOC-TV reports.

*NV Sen: State Sen. Mark Amodei (R) "joined the growing field of Republicans hoping for a chance to unseat" Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, the Reno Gazette Journal reports. Amodei said he has the right "toolbox" to win.

--Mike Memoli and Kyle Trygstad

Card Says He Wants To Run For Senate, Decision Soon

Former White House Chief of Staff Andy Card told Massachusetts Republicans tonight that he'd "like very much" to run for the Senate, but needs some more time before making a final decision.

Card, who ran unsuccessfully for governor in 1982, said he understood the challenges that come with running for statewide office, and would love to say now he'd seek Ted Kennedy's old seat.

"I truly have not made up my mind that it's the right thing to do," he said. "I promise you that I will give all of the due diligence that is necessary for me to make up my mind in the near future."

A major factor is the fact that his wife, an ordained Methodist minister, was just assigned to a new church in Virginia. "I'm committed to helping her answer her call," he said. "Because of her work and my love for her, I know that this decision would impact her as much as it would impact me. So I'm asking for your understanding."

He talked of the Senate opening as an "invitation" from the Constitution, one that doesn't come often. "It's not one person's seat. It doesn't belong to a family. It doesn't belong to a party," he said.

But Card also spoke warmly of Kennedy's legacy, noting that he both fought against and worked with him. "Senator Kennedy certainly did serve this Commonwealth for a long time, and he served with unbelievable distinction. He really does deserve the highest recognition, and to be in that Senate hall of fame," he said.

"That was yesterday," he continued. "Tomorrow is important." Massachusetts can't meet its challenges with a "one party mindset."

An obvious challenge for Card would be running for federal office not only as a Republican, but with the resume as former chief of staff to a president who was very unpopular in the deep blue state. He addressed that as well.

"I'm not George W. Bush," Card said. "I respect him. I respect how he made his tough decisions. I was greatly honored to serve at the White House. But if I run, I would be running as Andy Card."

Wilson Apologizes For Outburst During President's Speech

Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) has swiftly apologized for shouting out during President Obama's speech to Congress tonight (RCP Video has the clip).

"This evening I let my emotions get the best of me when listening to the President's remarks regarding the coverage of illegal immigrants in the health care bill. While I disagree with the President's statement, my comments were inappropriate and regrettable. I extend sincere apologies to the President for this lack of civility."

Reaction to the moment came quickly -- John McCain called on him to immediately apologize during an interview on CNN. South Carolina Democrats issued the following statement:

"Once again a South Carolina Republican has embarrassed our state. Never has any member of Congress shown such disrespect for the president during a speech.  One would think that as a member of the military, Joe Wilson would have more respect and patriotism than he displayed tonight. When Congressman Wilson insulted President Obama, he also insulted the American public. Joe Wilson is a poor example of a statesman and an American. He owes an apology to the president and the American people."

Wilson's so-called heckle was noted on many of the network telecasts, and is dominating conversation online. It's interesting to note that the last comment on Wilson's Twitter page reads: "Happy Labor Day! Wonderful parade at Chapin, many people called out to oppose Obamacare which I assured them would be relayed tomorrow to DC."

The question going forward is how much the moment will be seized on by Democrats in branding Republicans as obstructionist. Obama himself had criticized the "partisan spectacle that only hardens the disdain many Americans have towards their own government."

Kennedy's Letter To Obama

It was the moving flourish that started President Obama's somber finish. Now, the White House has released the full text of the letter Sen. Ted Kennedy wrote to Obama, that was delivered after his passing. You can read it in full after the jump.

May 12, 2009

Dear Mr. President,

I wanted to write a few final words to you to express my gratitude for your repeated personal kindnesses to me - and one last time, to salute your leadership in giving our country back its future and its truth.

On a personal level, you and Michelle reached out to Vicki, to our family and me in so many different ways. You helped to make these difficult months a happy time in my life.

You also made it a time of hope for me and for our country.

When I thought of all the years, all the battles, and all the memories of my long public life, I felt confident in these closing days that while I will not be there when it happens, you will be the President who at long last signs into law the health care reform that is the great unfinished business of our society. For me, this cause stretched across decades; it has been disappointed, but never finally defeated. It was the cause of my life. And in the past year, the prospect of victory sustained me-and the work of achieving it summoned my energy and determination.

There will be struggles - there always have been - and they are already underway again. But as we moved forward in these months, I learned that you will not yield to calls to retreat - that you will stay with the cause until it is won. I saw your conviction that the time is now and witnessed your unwavering commitment and understanding that health care is a decisive issue for our future prosperity. But you have also reminded all of us that it concerns more than material things; that what we face is above all a moral issue; that at stake are not just the details of policy, but fundamental principles of social justice and the character of our country.

And so because of your vision and resolve, I came to believe that soon, very soon, affordable health coverage will be available to all, in an America where the state of a family's health will never again depend on the amount of a family's wealth. And while I will not see the victory, I was able to look forward and know that we will - yes, we will - fulfill the promise of health care in America as a right and not a privilege.

In closing, let me say again how proud I was to be part of your campaign- and proud as well to play a part in the early months of a new era of high purpose and achievement. I entered public life with a young President who inspired a generation and the world. It gives me great hope that as I leave, another young President inspires another generation and once more on America's behalf inspires the entire world.

So, I wrote this to thank you one last time as a friend- and to stand with you one last time for change and the America we can become.

At the Denver Convention where you were nominated, I said the dream lives on.

And I finished this letter with unshakable faith that the dream will be fulfilled for this generation, and preserved and enlarged for generations to come.
With deep respect and abiding affection, [Ted]

The President's Speech

Remarks as prepared for delivery are after the jump. Read along.

Madame Speaker, Vice President Biden, Members of Congress, and the American people:

When I spoke here last winter, this nation was facing the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. We were losing an average of 700,000 jobs per month. Credit was frozen. And our financial system was on the verge of collapse.

As any American who is still looking for work or a way to pay their bills will tell you, we are by no means out of the woods. A full and vibrant recovery is many months away. And I will not let up until those Americans who seek jobs can find them; until those businesses that seek capital and credit can thrive; until all responsible homeowners can stay in their homes. That is our ultimate goal. But thanks to the bold and decisive action we have taken since January, I can stand here with confidence and say that we have pulled this economy back from the brink.

I want to thank the members of this body for your efforts and your support in these last several months, and especially those who have taken the difficult votes that have put us on a path to recovery. I also want to thank the American people for their patience and resolve during this trying time for our nation.

But we did not come here just to clean up crises. We came to build a future. So tonight, I return to speak to all of you about an issue that is central to that future - and that is the issue of health care.

I am not the first President to take up this cause, but I am determined to be the last. It has now been nearly a century since Theodore Roosevelt first called for health care reform. And ever since, nearly every President and Congress, whether Democrat or Republican, has attempted to meet this challenge in some way. A bill for comprehensive health reform was first introduced by John Dingell Sr. in 1943. Sixty-five years later, his son continues to introduce that same bill at the beginning of each session.

Our collective failure to meet this challenge - year after year, decade after decade - has led us to a breaking point. Everyone understands the extraordinary hardships that are placed on the uninsured, who live every day just one accident or illness away from bankruptcy. These are not primarily people on welfare. These are middle-class Americans. Some can't get insurance on the job. Others are self-employed, and can't afford it, since buying insurance on your own costs you three times as much as the coverage you get from your employer. Many other Americans who are willing and able to pay are still denied insurance due to previous illnesses or conditions that insurance companies decide are too risky or expensive to cover.

We are the only advanced democracy on Earth - the only wealthy nation - that allows such hardships for millions of its people. There are now more than thirty million American citizens who cannot get coverage. In just a two year period, one in every three Americans goes without health care coverage at some point. And every day, 14,000 Americans lose their coverage. In other words, it can happen to anyone.

But the problem that plagues the health care system is not just a problem of the uninsured. Those who do have insurance have never had less security and stability than they do today. More and more Americans worry that if you move, lose your job, or change your job, you'll lose your health insurance too. More and more Americans pay their premiums, only to discover that their insurance company has dropped their coverage when they get sick, or won't pay the full cost of care. It happens every day.

One man from Illinois lost his coverage in the middle of chemotherapy because his insurer found that he hadn't reported gallstones that he didn't even know about. They delayed his treatment, and he died because of it. Another woman from Texas was about to get a double mastectomy when her insurance company canceled her policy because she forgot to declare a case of acne. By the time she had her insurance reinstated, her breast cancer more than doubled in size. That is heart-breaking, it is wrong, and no one should be treated that way in the United States of America.

Then there's the problem of rising costs. We spend one-and-a-half times more per person on health care than any other country, but we aren't any healthier for it. This is one of the reasons that insurance premiums have gone up three times faster than wages. It's why so many employers - especially small businesses - are forcing their employees to pay more for insurance, or are dropping their coverage entirely. It's why so many aspiring entrepreneurs cannot afford to open a business in the first place, and why American businesses that compete internationally - like our automakers - are at a huge disadvantage. And it's why those of us with health insurance are also paying a hidden and growing tax for those without it - about $1000 per year that pays for somebody else's emergency room and charitable care.

Finally, our health care system is placing an unsustainable burden on taxpayers. When health care costs grow at the rate they have, it puts greater pressure on programs like Medicare and Medicaid. If we do nothing to slow these skyrocketing costs, we will eventually be spending more on Medicare and Medicaid than every other government program combined. Put simply, our health care problem is our deficit problem. Nothing else even comes close.

These are the facts. Nobody disputes them. We know we must reform this system. The question is how.

There are those on the left who believe that the only way to fix the system is through a single-payer system like Canada's, where we would severely restrict the private insurance market and have the government provide coverage for everyone. On the right, there are those who argue that we should end the employer-based system and leave individuals to buy health insurance on their own.

I have to say that there are arguments to be made for both approaches. But either one would represent a radical shift that would disrupt the health care most people currently have. Since health care represents one-sixth of our economy, I believe it makes more sense to build on what works and fix what doesn't, rather than try to build an entirely new system from scratch. And that is precisely what those of you in Congress have tried to do over the past several months.

During that time, we have seen Washington at its best and its worst.

We have seen many in this chamber work tirelessly for the better part of this year to offer thoughtful ideas about how to achieve reform. Of the five committees asked to develop bills, four have completed their work, and the Senate Finance Committee announced today that it will move forward next week. That has never happened before. Our overall efforts have been supported by an unprecedented coalition of doctors and nurses; hospitals, seniors' groups and even drug companies - many of whom opposed reform in the past. And there is agreement in this chamber on about eighty percent of what needs to be done, putting us closer to the goal of reform than we have ever been.

But what we have also seen in these last months is the same partisan spectacle that only hardens the disdain many Americans have toward their own government. Instead of honest debate, we have seen scare tactics. Some have dug into unyielding ideological camps that offer no hope of compromise. Too many have used this as an opportunity to score short-term political points, even if it robs the country of our opportunity to solve a long-term challenge. And out of this blizzard of charges and counter-charges, confusion has reigned.

Well the time for bickering is over. The time for games has passed. Now is the season for action. Now is when we must bring the best ideas of both parties together, and show the American people that we can still do what we were sent here to do. Now is the time to deliver on health care.

The plan I'm announcing tonight would meet three basic goals:

It will provide more security and stability to those who have health insurance. It will provide insurance to those who don't. And it will slow the growth of health care costs for our families, our businesses, and our government. It's a plan that asks everyone to take responsibility for meeting this challenge - not just government and insurance companies, but employers and individuals. And it's a plan that incorporates ideas from Senators and Congressmen; from Democrats and Republicans - and yes, from some of my opponents in both the primary and general election.

Here are the details that every American needs to know about this plan:

First, if you are among the hundreds of millions of Americans who already have health insurance through your job, Medicare, Medicaid, or the VA, nothing in this plan will require you or your employer to change the coverage or the doctor you have. Let me repeat this: nothing in our plan requires you to change what you have.

What this plan will do is to make the insurance you have work better for you. Under this plan, it will be against the law for insurance companies to deny you coverage because of a pre-existing condition. As soon as I sign this bill, it will be against the law for insurance companies to drop your coverage when you get sick or water it down when you need it most. They will no longer be able to place some arbitrary cap on the amount of coverage you can receive in a given year or a lifetime. We will place a limit on how much you can be charged for out-of-pocket expenses, because in the United States of America, no one should go broke because they get sick. And insurance companies will be required to cover, with no extra charge, routine checkups and preventive care, like mammograms and colonoscopies - because there's no reason we shouldn't be catching diseases like breast cancer and colon cancer before they get worse. That makes sense, it saves money, and it saves lives.

That's what Americans who have health insurance can expect from this plan - more security and stability.

Now, if you're one of the tens of millions of Americans who don't currently have health insurance, the second part of this plan will finally offer you quality, affordable choices. If you lose your job or change your job, you will be able to get coverage. If you strike out on your own and start a small business, you will be able to get coverage. We will do this by creating a new insurance exchange - a marketplace where individuals and small businesses will be able to shop for health insurance at competitive prices. Insurance companies will have an incentive to participate in this exchange because it lets them compete for millions of new customers. As one big group, these customers will have greater leverage to bargain with the insurance companies for better prices and quality coverage. This is how large companies and government employees get affordable insurance. It's how everyone in this Congress gets affordable insurance. And it's time to give every American the same opportunity that we've given ourselves.

For those individuals and small businesses who still cannot afford the lower-priced insurance available in the exchange, we will provide tax credits, the size of which will be based on your need. And all insurance companies that want access to this new marketplace will have to abide by the consumer protections I already mentioned. This exchange will take effect in four years, which will give us time to do it right. In the meantime, for those Americans who can't get insurance today because they have pre-existing medical conditions, we will immediately offer low-cost coverage that will protect you against financial ruin if you become seriously ill. This was a good idea when Senator John McCain proposed it in the campaign, it's a good idea now, and we should embrace it.

Now, even if we provide these affordable options, there may be those - particularly the young and healthy - who still want to take the risk and go without coverage. There may still be companies that refuse to do right by their workers. The problem is, such irresponsible behavior costs all the rest of us money. If there are affordable options and people still don't sign up for health insurance, it means we pay for those people's expensive emergency room visits. If some businesses don't provide workers health care, it forces the rest of us to pick up the tab when their workers get sick, and gives those businesses an unfair advantage over their competitors. And unless everybody does their part, many of the insurance reforms we seek - especially requiring insurance companies to cover pre-existing conditions - just can't be achieved.

That's why under my plan, individuals will be required to carry basic health insurance - just as most states require you to carry auto insurance. Likewise, businesses will be required to either offer their workers health care, or chip in to help cover the cost of their workers. There will be a hardship waiver for those individuals who still cannot afford coverage, and 95% of all small businesses, because of their size and narrow profit margin, would be exempt from these requirements. But we cannot have large businesses and individuals who can afford coverage game the system by avoiding responsibility to themselves or their employees. Improving our health care system only works if everybody does their part.

While there remain some significant details to be ironed out, I believe a broad consensus exists for the aspects of the plan I just outlined: consumer protections for those with insurance, an exchange that allows individuals and small businesses to purchase affordable coverage, and a requirement that people who can afford insurance get insurance.

And I have no doubt that these reforms would greatly benefit Americans from all walks of life, as well as the economy as a whole. Still, given all the misinformation that's been spread over the past few months, I realize that many Americans have grown nervous about reform. So tonight I'd like to address some of the key controversies that are still out there.

Some of people's concerns have grown out of bogus claims spread by those whose only agenda is to kill reform at any cost. The best example is the claim, made not just by radio and cable talk show hosts, but prominent politicians, that we plan to set up panels of bureaucrats with the power to kill off senior citizens. Such a charge would be laughable if it weren't so cynical and irresponsible. It is a lie, plain and simple.

There are also those who claim that our reform effort will insure illegal immigrants. This, too, is false - the reforms I'm proposing would not apply to those who are here illegally. And one more misunderstanding I want to clear up - under our plan, no federal dollars will be used to fund abortions, and federal conscience laws will remain in place.

My health care proposal has also been attacked by some who oppose reform as a "government takeover" of the entire health care system. As proof, critics point to a provision in our plan that allows the uninsured and small businesses to choose a publicly-sponsored insurance option, administered by the government just like Medicaid or Medicare.

So let me set the record straight. My guiding principle is, and always has been, that consumers do better when there is choice and competition. Unfortunately, in 34 states, 75% of the insurance market is controlled by five or fewer companies. In Alabama, almost 90% is controlled by just one company. Without competition, the price of insurance goes up and the quality goes down. And it makes it easier for insurance companies to treat their customers badly - by cherry-picking the healthiest individuals and trying to drop the sickest; by overcharging small businesses who have no leverage; and by jacking up rates.

Insurance executives don't do this because they are bad people. They do it because it's profitable. As one former insurance executive testified before Congress, insurance companies are not only encouraged to find reasons to drop the seriously ill; they are rewarded for it. All of this is in service of meeting what this former executive called "Wall Street's relentless profit expectations."

Now, I have no interest in putting insurance companies out of business. They provide a legitimate service, and employ a lot of our friends and neighbors. I just want to hold them accountable. The insurance reforms that I've already mentioned would do just that. But an additional step we can take to keep insurance companies honest is by making a not-for-profit public option available in the insurance exchange. Let me be clear - it would only be an option for those who don't have insurance. No one would be forced to choose it, and it would not impact those of you who already have insurance. In fact, based on Congressional Budget Office estimates, we believe that less than 5% of Americans would sign up.

Despite all this, the insurance companies and their allies don't like this idea. They argue that these private companies can't fairly compete with the government. And they'd be right if taxpayers were subsidizing this public insurance option. But they won't be. I have insisted that like any private insurance company, the public insurance option would have to be self-sufficient and rely on the premiums it collects. But by avoiding some of the overhead that gets eaten up at private companies by profits, excessive administrative costs and executive salaries, it could provide a good deal for consumers. It would also keep pressure on private insurers to keep their policies affordable and treat their customers better, the same way public colleges and universities provide additional choice and competition to students without in any way inhibiting a vibrant system of private colleges and universities.

It's worth noting that a strong majority of Americans still favor a public insurance option of the sort I've proposed tonight. But its impact shouldn't be exaggerated - by the left, the right, or the media. It is only one part of my plan, and should not be used as a handy excuse for the usual Washington ideological battles. To my progressive friends, I would remind you that for decades, the driving idea behind reform has been to end insurance company abuses and make coverage affordable for those without it. The public option is only a means to that end - and we should remain open to other ideas that accomplish our ultimate goal. And to my Republican friends, I say that rather than making wild claims about a government takeover of health care, we should work together to address any legitimate concerns you may have.

For example, some have suggested that that the public option go into effect only in those markets where insurance companies are not providing affordable policies. Others propose a co-op or another non-profit entity to administer the plan. These are all constructive ideas worth exploring. But I will not back down on the basic principle that if Americans can't find affordable coverage, we will provide you with a choice. And I will make sure that no government bureaucrat or insurance company bureaucrat gets between you and the care that you need.

Finally, let me discuss an issue that is a great concern to me, to members of this chamber, and to the public - and that is how we pay for this plan.

Here's what you need to know. First, I will not sign a plan that adds one dime to our deficits - either now or in the future. Period. And to prove that I'm serious, there will be a provision in this plan that requires us to come forward with more spending cuts if the savings we promised don't materialize. Part of the reason I faced a trillion dollar deficit when I walked in the door of the White House is because too many initiatives over the last decade were not paid for - from the Iraq War to tax breaks for the wealthy. I will not make that same mistake with health care.

Second, we've estimated that most of this plan can be paid for by finding savings within the existing health care system - a system that is currently full of waste and abuse. Right now, too much of the hard-earned savings and tax dollars we spend on health care doesn't make us healthier. That's not my judgment - it's the judgment of medical professionals across this country. And this is also true when it comes to Medicare and Medicaid.

In fact, I want to speak directly to America's seniors for a moment, because Medicare is another issue that's been subjected to demagoguery and distortion during the course of this debate.

More than four decades ago, this nation stood up for the principle that after a lifetime of hard work, our seniors should not be left to struggle with a pile of medical bills in their later years. That is how Medicare was born. And it remains a sacred trust that must be passed down from one generation to the next. That is why not a dollar of the Medicare trust fund will be used to pay for this plan.

The only thing this plan would eliminate is the hundreds of billions of dollars in waste and fraud, as well as unwarranted subsidies in Medicare that go to insurance companies - subsidies that do everything to pad their profits and nothing to improve your care. And we will also create an independent commission of doctors and medical experts charged with identifying more waste in the years ahead.

These steps will ensure that you - America's seniors - get the benefits you've been promised. They will ensure that Medicare is there for future generations. And we can use some of the savings to fill the gap in coverage that forces too many seniors to pay thousands of dollars a year out of their own pocket for prescription drugs. That's what this plan will do for you. So don't pay attention to those scary stories about how your benefits will be cut - especially since some of the same folks who are spreading these tall tales have fought against Medicare in the past, and just this year supported a budget that would have essentially turned Medicare into a privatized voucher program. That will never happen on my watch. I will protect Medicare.

Now, because Medicare is such a big part of the health care system, making the program more efficient can help usher in changes in the way we deliver health care that can reduce costs for everybody. We have long known that some places, like the Intermountain Healthcare in Utah or the Geisinger Health System in rural Pennsylvania, offer high-quality care at costs below average. The commission can help encourage the adoption of these common-sense best practices by doctors and medical professionals throughout the system - everything from reducing hospital infection rates to encouraging better coordination between teams of doctors.

Reducing the waste and inefficiency in Medicare and Medicaid will pay for most of this plan. Much of the rest would be paid for with revenues from the very same drug and insurance companies that stand to benefit from tens of millions of new customers. This reform will charge insurance companies a fee for their most expensive policies, which will encourage them to provide greater value for the money - an idea which has the support of Democratic and Republican experts. And according to these same experts, this modest change could help hold down the cost of health care for all of us in the long-run.

Finally, many in this chamber - particularly on the Republican side of the aisle - have long insisted that reforming our medical malpractice laws can help bring down the cost of health care. I don't believe malpractice reform is a silver bullet, but I have talked to enough doctors to know that defensive medicine may be contributing to unnecessary costs. So I am proposing that we move forward on a range of ideas about how to put patient safety first and let doctors focus on practicing medicine. I know that the Bush Administration considered authorizing demonstration projects in individual states to test these issues. It's a good idea, and I am directing my Secretary of Health and Human Services to move forward on this initiative today.

Add it all up, and the plan I'm proposing will cost around $900 billion over ten years - less than we have spent on the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, and less than the tax cuts for the wealthiest few Americans that Congress passed at the beginning of the previous administration. Most of these costs will be paid for with money already being spent - but spent badly - in the existing health care system. The plan will not add to our deficit. The middle-class will realize greater security, not higher taxes. And if we are able to slow the growth of health care costs by just one-tenth of one percent each year, it will actually reduce the deficit by $4 trillion over the long term.

This is the plan I'm proposing. It's a plan that incorporates ideas from many of the people in this room tonight - Democrats and Republicans. And I will continue to seek common ground in the weeks ahead. If you come to me with a serious set of proposals, I will be there to listen. My door is always open.

But know this: I will not waste time with those who have made the calculation that it's better politics to kill this plan than improve it. I will not stand by while the special interests use the same old tactics to keep things exactly the way they are. If you misrepresent what's in the plan, we will call you out. And I will not accept the status quo as a solution. Not this time. Not now.

Everyone in this room knows what will happen if we do nothing. Our deficit will grow. More families will go bankrupt. More businesses will close. More Americans will lose their coverage when they are sick and need it most. And more will die as a result. We know these things to be true.

That is why we cannot fail. Because there are too many Americans counting on us to succeed - the ones who suffer silently, and the ones who shared their stories with us at town hall meetings, in emails, and in letters.

I received one of those letters a few days ago. It was from our beloved friend and colleague, Ted Kennedy. He had written it back in May, shortly after he was told that his illness was terminal. He asked that it be delivered upon his death.

In it, he spoke about what a happy time his last months were, thanks to the love and support of family and friends, his wife, Vicki, and his children, who are here tonight . And he expressed confidence that this would be the year that health care reform - "that great unfinished business of our society," he called it - would finally pass. He repeated the truth that health care is decisive for our future prosperity, but he also reminded me that "it concerns more than material things." "What we face," he wrote, "is above all a moral issue; at stake are not just the details of policy, but fundamental principles of social justice and the character of our country."

I've thought about that phrase quite a bit in recent days - the character of our country. One of the unique and wonderful things about America has always been our self-reliance, our rugged individualism, our fierce defense of freedom and our healthy skepticism of government. And figuring out the appropriate size and role of government has always been a source of rigorous and sometimes angry debate.

For some of Ted Kennedy's critics, his brand of liberalism represented an affront to American liberty. In their mind, his passion for universal health care was nothing more than a passion for big government.

But those of us who knew Teddy and worked with him here - people of both parties - know that what drove him was something more. His friend, Orrin Hatch, knows that. They worked together to provide children with health insurance. His friend John McCain knows that. They worked together on a Patient's Bill of Rights. His friend Chuck Grassley knows that. They worked together to provide health care to children with disabilities.

On issues like these, Ted Kennedy's passion was born not of some rigid ideology, but of his own experience. It was the experience of having two children stricken with cancer. He never forgot the sheer terror and helplessness that any parent feels when a child is badly sick; and he was able to imagine what it must be like for those without insurance; what it would be like to have to say to a wife or a child or an aging parent - there is something that could make you better, but I just can't afford it.

That large-heartedness - that concern and regard for the plight of others - is not a partisan feeling. It is not a Republican or a Democratic feeling. It, too, is part of the American character. Our ability to stand in other people's shoes. A recognition that we are all in this together; that when fortune turns against one of us, others are there to lend a helping hand. A belief that in this country, hard work and responsibility should be rewarded by some measure of security and fair play; and an acknowledgement that sometimes government has to step in to help deliver on that promise.

This has always been the history of our progress. In 1933, when over half of our seniors could not support themselves and millions had seen their savings wiped away, there were those who argued that Social Security would lead to socialism. But the men and women of Congress stood fast, and we are all the better for it. In 1965, when some argued that Medicare represented a government takeover of health care, members of Congress, Democrats and Republicans, did not back down. They joined together so that all of us could enter our golden years with some basic peace of mind.

You see, our predecessors understood that government could not, and should not, solve every problem. They understood that there are instances when the gains in security from government action are not worth the added constraints on our freedom. But they also understood that the danger of too much government is matched by the perils of too little; that without the leavening hand of wise policy, markets can crash, monopolies can stifle competition, and the vulnerable can be exploited. And they knew that when any government measure, no matter how carefully crafted or beneficial, is subject to scorn; when any efforts to help people in need are attacked as un-American; when facts and reason are thrown overboard and only timidity passes for wisdom, and we can no longer even engage in a civil conversation with each other over the things that truly matter - that at that point we don't merely lose our capacity to solve big challenges. We lose something essential about ourselves.

What was true then remains true today. I understand how difficult this health care debate has been. I know that many in this country are deeply skeptical that government is looking out for them. I understand that the politically safe move would be to kick the can further down the road - to defer reform one more year, or one more election, or one more term.

But that's not what the moment calls for. That's not what we came here to do. We did not come to fear the future. We came here to shape it. I still believe we can act even when it's hard. I still believe we can replace acrimony with civility, and gridlock with progress. I still believe we can do great things, and that here and now we will meet history's test.

Because that is who we are. That is our calling. That is our character. Thank you, God Bless You, and may God Bless the United States of America.

Speech Excerpts: "The Time For Bickering Is Over"

The White House has released some excerpts of tonight's speech, which include some tough punches at his foes.

He'll note the progress that has been made at the committee levels in passing reform bills, "putting us closer to the goal of reform than we have ever been. But, he'll add:

"We have also seen in these last months is the same partisan spectacle that only hardens the disdain many Americans have toward their own government. Instead of honest debate, we have seen scare tactics. Some have dug into unyielding ideological camps that offer no hope of compromise. Too many have used this as an opportunity to score short-term political points, even if it robs the country of our opportunity to solve a long-term challenge. And out of this blizzard of charges and counter-charges, confusion has reigned.

The excerpts don't include too many specific new details on his plan. But it closes with Obama pledging to work with any and all who still bring ideas to the table. He won't, however, "waste time with those who have made the calculation that it's better politics to kill this plan than improve it."

Read more excerpts after the jump.

I am not the first President to take up this cause, but I am determined to be the last. It has now been nearly a century since Theodore Roosevelt first called for health care reform. And ever since, nearly every President and Congress, whether Democrat or Republican, has attempted to meet this challenge in some way. A bill for comprehensive health reform was first introduced by John Dingell Sr. in 1943. Sixty-five years later, his son continues to introduce that same bill at the beginning of each session.

Our collective failure to meet this challenge - year after year, decade after decade - has led us to a breaking point. Everyone understands the extraordinary hardships that are placed on the uninsured, who live every day just one accident or illness away from bankruptcy. These are not primarily people on welfare. These are middle-class Americans. Some can't get insurance on the job. Others are self-employed, and can't afford it, since buying insurance on your own costs you three times as much as the coverage you get from your employer. Many other Americans who are willing and able to pay are still denied insurance due to previous illnesses or conditions that insurance companies decide are too risky or expensive to cover.

***

During that time, we have seen Washington at its best and its worst.

We have seen many in this chamber work tirelessly for the better part of this year to offer thoughtful ideas about how to achieve reform. Of the five committees asked to develop bills, four have completed their work, and the Senate Finance Committee announced today that it will move forward next week. That has never happened before. Our overall efforts have been supported by an unprecedented coalition of doctors and nurses; hospitals, seniors' groups and even drug companies - many of whom opposed reform in the past. And there is agreement in this chamber on about eighty percent of what needs to be done, putting us closer to the goal of reform than we have ever been.

But what we have also seen in these last months is the same partisan spectacle that only hardens the disdain many Americans have toward their own government. Instead of honest debate, we have seen scare tactics. Some have dug into unyielding ideological camps that offer no hope of compromise. Too many have used this as an opportunity to score short-term political points, even if it robs the country of our opportunity to solve a long-term challenge. And out of this blizzard of charges and counter-charges, confusion has reigned.

Well the time for bickering is over. The time for games has passed. Now is the season for action. Now is when we must bring the best ideas of both parties together, and show the American people that we can still do what we were sent here to do. Now is the time to deliver on health care.

The plan I'm announcing tonight would meet three basic goals:

It will provide more security and stability to those who have health insurance. It will provide insurance to those who don't. And it will slow the growth of health care costs for our families, our businesses, and our government. It's a plan that asks everyone to take responsibility for meeting this challenge - not just government and insurance companies, but employers and individuals. And it's a plan that incorporates ideas from Senators and Congressmen; from Democrats and Republicans - and yes, from some of my opponents in both the primary and general election.

***

Here are the details that every American needs to know about this plan:

First, if you are among the hundreds of millions of Americans who already have health insurance through your job, Medicare, Medicaid, or the VA, nothing in this plan will require you or your employer to change the coverage or the doctor you have. Let me repeat this: nothing in our plan requires you to change what you have.

What this plan will do is to make the insurance you have work better for you. Under this plan, it will be against the law for insurance companies to deny you coverage because of a pre-existing condition. As soon as I sign this bill, it will be against the law for insurance companies to drop your coverage when you get sick or water it down when you need it most. They will no longer be able to place some arbitrary cap on the amount of coverage you can receive in a given year or a lifetime. We will place a limit on how much you can be charged for out-of-pocket expenses, because in the United States of America, no one should go broke because they get sick. And insurance companies will be required to cover, with no extra charge, routine checkups and preventive care, like mammograms and colonoscopies - because there's no reason we shouldn't be catching diseases like breast cancer and colon cancer before they get worse. That makes sense, it saves money, and it saves lives.

That's what Americans who have health insurance can expect from this plan - more security and stability.

Now, if you're one of the tens of millions of Americans who don't currently have health insurance, the second part of this plan will finally offer you quality, affordable choices. If you lose your job or change your job, you will be able to get coverage. If you strike out on your own and start a small business, you will be able to get coverage. We will do this by creating a new insurance exchange - a marketplace where individuals and small businesses will be able to shop for health insurance at competitive prices. Insurance companies will have an incentive to participate in this exchange because it lets them compete for millions of new customers. As one big group, these customers will have greater leverage to bargain with the insurance companies for better prices and quality coverage. This is how large companies and government employees get affordable insurance. It's how everyone in this Congress gets affordable insurance. And it's time to give every American the same opportunity that we've given ourselves.

***

This is the plan I'm proposing. It's a plan that incorporates ideas from many of the people in this room tonight - Democrats and Republicans. And I will continue to seek common ground in the weeks ahead. If you come to me with a serious set of proposals, I will be there to listen. My door is always open.

But know this: I will not waste time with those who have made the calculation that it's better politics to kill this plan than improve it. I will not stand by while the special interests use the same old tactics to keep things exactly the way they are. If you misrepresent what's in the plan, we will call you out. And I will not accept the status quo as a solution. Not this time. Not now.

Everyone in this room knows what will happen if we do nothing. Our deficit will grow. More families will go bankrupt. More businesses will close. More Americans will lose their coverage when they are sick and need it most. And more will die as a result. We know these things to be true.

That is why we cannot fail. Because there are too many Americans counting on us to succeed - the ones who suffer silently, and the ones who shared their stories with us at town hall meetings, in emails, and in letters.

WH: Obama Hopes To Shift Focus From Public Option

Previewing tonight's joint session address, a senior White House official said this afternoon that while President Obama will reiterate his support for the public option, he'll urge Congress to take a broader view of health care reform.

The official said the "fascination" with the public option is understandable, but Obama "wants to make clear what the place of the public option in this debate is."

"This is not a national debate about whether we have a public option for the tens of millions who are uninsured. It's about how we bring security and stability to hundreds of millions of Americans, most of whom won't ... be participating in this marketplace," the official said. "The public choice is a means to an end. It's not an end in and of itself. So he will make that clear."

In discussing the president's address tonight, the official also took issue with the notion that the administration lost ground in the health care debate in the month of August. "Any downward movement frankly occurred in June and July," the official said, at the height of legislative activity prior to Congress' recess. "I think that was a consequence of the focus being very much on this legislative process, lots of committees doing work, a lot of focus on the trees and not the forest," the official said. "Tonight's the night when he can describe the forest in terms that people can understand, and bring some clarity to this process."

The official further argued that progress was made as the summer ended in driving home the point with Americans that the health care system is in crisis, and will worsen without intervention.

"The Republican Party, grudgingly though it may be, has been forced to subsume into their rhetoric that we have a health care crisis," the official said. "Even Governor Palin, in the essay that she I know wrote herself as she considered all the complexities of this issue, acknowledged at the front end that there is a significant health care crisis. That alone is important."

The result is that as Congress takes up this issue again, it does so knowing "that something has to get done, and it would be a political failure not just for the president but for the Congress not to respond to what is a widely-perceived problem in people's lives."

Musical Committee Chairs; Baucus Health Care Bill Coming Next Week

At a press conference announcing the latest changes in Senate chairmanships, Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), chairman of the Finance Committee, announced he will introduce a health care bill in the committee next week, with markup planned for the following Monday (Sept. 21).

Baucus said he will introduce the bill "whether there is bipartisan support or not," though he insisted a bipartisan plan is still his goal. He also said it will not include a public option. He plans to meet with the bipartisan Group of Six this afternoon as negotiations continue.

Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), as has been previously reported, will not leave his current post as chairman of the Banking Committee to take over the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee chairmanship left vacant by Kennedy's death. Taking over the HELP Committee will be Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), current chairman of the Agricultre Committee. Replacing Harkin on Agriculture will be Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.).

In July, Dodd helped shepherd a health care bill through Kennedy's committee.

"The HELP Committee couldn't be in better hands," Dodd said at a group press conference with Majority Leader Harry Reid, Baucus, Harkin and Lincoln.

Harkin has been in the Senate for 25 years and previously served five terms in the House. He's chaired Agriculture since 2007, but now hands the reins over to Lincoln, who's facing a difficult political atmosphere back home as she runs for re-election next year.

"It is a daunting prospect" taking over Kennedy's committee, Harkin said at the press conference, "one that I appreciate."

While not the next most senior member on the committee, Lincoln takes the helm of Agriculture because Sens. Patrick Leahy (Judiciary), Kent Conrad (Budget) and Baucus (Finance) already chair other, more prestigious, committees. Lincoln becomes the first woman and first Arkansan to hold the Ag chairmanship.

What the GOP Wants to Hear From Obama

It's hard to figure how many Republicans in the House and Senate the president will be able to reach tonight as he delivers the second address to Congress of his still young presidential term. Many, including the minority leaders of the House and Senate, are simply against a comprehensive health care reform bill -- with or without a public option.

"What I hope I won't hear tonight is that we have to do a massive, comprehensive bill or nothing," said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, speaking at a joint press conference this afternoon with House Minority Leader John Boehner. "That strikes us as not the way to move forward."

Boehner is hoping the president says he wants to start over on a reform bill, something few expect the president to say. The American people, Boehner said, simply "want the current system to work better; they don't want to replace it with a big, government-run plan."

Neither side of the aisle feels there's been much bipartisan cooperation on the issue of health care reform, though McConnell outlined certain fundamentals of reform Republicans would be open to working with Democrats on: strengthen the care and insurance people have, making insurance more accessible to the uninsured and lower costs for all. "Those are the kinds of principles around which we could rally, I think, a broad bipartisan agreement," McConnell said.

McConnell wants Congress to "skinny" the bill down and target issues such as "junk lawsuits" and insurance reform -- passing smaller, more focused bills.

"We're all interested in what he has to say," said Boehner. "But I hope he's been listening to the American people, because I think over the course of August they've made their voices loud and clear that they don't want this massive government takeover of our health care system. But it appears the president is going to double down tonight, and try to put lipstick on this pig and call it something else."

Coakley Starts Strong In Senate Poll

Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley, the first Democrat to announce her candidacy for the U.S. Senate, now can lay claim to the title of early frontrunner in the state's special election.

Special Primary Election Matchup
Coakley 38
Lynch 11
Markey 10
Capuano 7
Tierney 3
Other 5
Not Sure 25

The field is still developing. But this Rasmussen poll would seem to show the advantage in name recognition that Coakley has as the only statewide elected official tested. She was unknown to just 17 percent of respondents; the rest scored at least double that score.

Favorable Ratings
Coakley 67 / 17
Capuano 27 / 25
Lynch 38 / 26
Meehan 36 / 30
Markey 42 / 29
Tierney 27 / 29

The automated survey of likely primary voters was conducted September 8, and had a margin of error of +/- 4 percent.

What To Watch For Tonight

On the main site I write about some things to look for tonight.

For the sixth time since taking office, President Obama tonight appears in prime time to address the nation. This time, however, he'll be speaking directly to Congress in what is a rare, non-State of the Union speech by a commander-in-chief on Capitol Hill. It's only the 18th time in the last half century that a president has addressed a joint session of Congress for something other than a State of the Union address, according to the House historian. Coverage leading up to the address has included terms like "make-or-break," and some are even calling this Obama's most important speech as president.

White House aides have declined to say too much about what the president will say, other than to promise that he will finally "answer many off the big questions" that have lingered months into this debate. Whether Obama lives up to that billing will be the headline. But there are a number of subplots we'll be monitoring as well.

You can read the rest here.

Obama Still "Tinkering" With Speech

President Obama is still working on tonight's speech, and will continue "tinkering" through the day press secretary Robert Gibbs said this morning.

Work began in earnest when the president came back from Camp David Monday "with many handwritten pages of notes that he gave to the speechwriters," Gibbs said. He reviewed a draft last night, and met with speechwriters at the White House before he left for New York today. "My sense is this thing will be locked sometime this afternoon," Gibbs said.

The spokesman would say little about new about the content of the speech, reiterating the broad overview he gave yesterday.

"He President will talk tonight about the public option and about the necessity for choice and competition, but I don't want to make all his news now. Then what will we do later tonight?" Gibbs joked.

He did say that Obama spoke with Senate Finance Committee chair Max Baucus yesterday, and hopes his committee "can get something done in a bipartisan way."

Strategy Memo: A Night On the Hill

Today's main event: a presidential address to a joint session of Congress. President Obama makes his second trip to Capitol Hill for such a speech, in what will be the sixth major prime time address of his presidency. But he starts his day with a trip to New York, where he'll speak at a memorial service for legendary CBS newsman Walter Cronkite.

Vice President Biden, who we'll see next to Speaker Pelosi behind the president tonight, has a busy day leading up to the speech. He heads to Syracuse, New York, for a middle class task force event, and also some political fundraising for a potentially vulnerable Democratic House incumbent, Rep. Dan Maffei, as well as for Bill Owens, the Democrat running in a special election to replace Rep. John McHugh (R). Biden returns to Washington for a Rosh Hashanah observance at the Naval Observatory before he heads to Capitol Hill.

It's Day 2 of the return of Congress, and the Capitol is a bustling place as the fight over health care reform looms large in both chambers. While backroom negotiations continue before the president's speech tonight, members of Congress will gather on the East Capitol Steps for a Congressional Remembrance Ceremony of the anniversary of September 11, 2001.

**Health Care
*The Wall Street Journal reports that Obama will, indeed, press for a public option. He'll say that it won't provide a level of subsidies that give it an unfair advantage over private insurers.

*David Axelrod tells AP of the speech: "Everyone who listens will understand that his plan has at its core two overriding goals -- to bring stability and security to Americans who have insurance today, and affordable coverage to those who don't."

*But, The Hill reports, "Political momentum appeared to swing sharply against the public health insurance option prized by liberals Tuesday."

*During their closed-door White House meeting yesterday, Obama urged Pelosi and Reid "to move rapidly on health care legislation as means to regain political momentum and demonstrate the party's ability to govern," Congressional sources tell Fox. "Democratic leaders are working on a rough calendar that envisions House floor action by the end of September or the first week of October."

*Washington Post reports that in a meeting Tuesday, Sen. Max Baucus "was unable to persuade" the Gang of Six to endorse his proposal, "which does not include many provisions that liberal lawmakers are clamoring to see in a final measure." Baucus gave the panel until 10 am Wednesday to make suggestions.

WSJ: "Leaders of the Senate Finance Committee are racing to reach an agreement on a health plan before President Barack Obama's Wednesday night speech, but it isn't clear if they'll make it. ... Whether they succeed could determine whether Mr. Obama's speech or the bipartisan plan drives the debate in the weeks to come."

*ABC's Jonathan Karl reports that "malpractice reform may be back in play. The reason: Olympia Snowe, the sole Republican Senator who seems inclined to support Democrats on health care reform, wants it."

**Health Care, Part II
*Sarah Palin is back again. She chooses this day of Obama's speech to write on health care in the Wall Street Journal: "The answers offered by Democrats in Washington all rest on one principle: that increased government involvement can solve the problem. I fundamentally disagree," she says. "Common sense tells us that the government's attempts to solve large problems more often create new ones. Common sense also tells us that a top-down, one-size-fits-all plan will not improve the workings of a nationwide health-care system that accounts for one-sixth of our economy. And common sense tells us to be skeptical when President Obama promises that the Democrats' proposals 'will provide more stability and security to every American.'"

*There was a big push yesterday, it seems, to argue that August was not the lost month for the White House the CW had originally determined. The New York Times: "While the month of August clearly knocked the White House back on its heels, as Congressional town hall-style meetings exposed Americans' unease with an overhaul, the uproar does not seem to have greatly altered public opinion or substantially weakened Democrats' resolve. Critical players in the health-care industry remain at the negotiating table, meaning they are not out whipping up public or legislative opposition."

*The Washington Post looks back at a health care fight state Senator Barack Obama led in Illinois. "Then, as now, the fate of Obama's health-care-for-all vision rested largely on whether he could deflect the attacks and hold together a fragile, unlikely coalition in support of change. The 2004 fight for the Health Care Justice Act in Illinois tested not only his skills as a legislator and community organizer, but his powers of persuasion as well."

**Health Care Part III
*"Nancy Pelosi finally has a trump card. Tired of watching helplessly as House bills are carved up to win support from conservative Democrats and moderate Republicans in the Senate, the speaker has a message for President Barack Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid: Take the public option out of health care reform, and you may not have a bill at all," Politico reports.

*"Political momentum appeared to swing sharply against the public health insurance option prized by liberals Tuesday, on the eve of President Barack Obama's address to a joint session of Congress. Democratic leaders in the House and Senate on Tuesday signaled they are increasingly willing to pass healthcare reform without a public insurance option, even while Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) again insisted it must be included in a House healthcare bill," The Hill reports.

*Sen. Chris Dodd "has decided against succeeding his friend Edward Kennedy" as chair of the HELP Committee, AP reports. Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) is next in line. "Whether Dodd would succeed Kennedy ... was the subject of much speculation on Capitol Hill in part because the move would have left the financial reform effort in the hands of Sen. Tim Johnson."

**Campaign Stuff
*"Republicans returned from the August recess with a new sense of optimism thanks to an outraged base, positive poll numbers and a sense that for the first time in half a decade, the party stands to pick up seats in next year's elections. In memos to their colleagues this week, both National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) Chairman John Cornyn (R-Texas) and National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) Chairman Pete Sessions (R-Texas) will crow about positive news in August," The Hill reports.

*MA Sen: GOP candidate for governor Christy Mihos said yesterday he's considering switching races to the open Senate seat, which will be decided by special election in January, Boston Globe reports. "Amid the jockeying, a new name emerged from outside the sphere of politics: Alan Khazei, the 48-year-old cofounder of City Year, the nationwide community service program for young adults, said he was seriously considering jumping into the Democratic primary."

*VA Gov: Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, a presumed 2012 presidential candidate, is swooping through Virginia today to campaign for GOP nominee Bob McDonnell. The two will speak with reporters in Richmond before going separate ways. Pawlenty will head up I-95 to the University of Mary Washington, then to a McDonnell campaign office in suburban D.C.

And Washington Post continues to hammer Bob McDonnell, recalling a 2003 comment during a judicial hearing he presided over in which he argued that gays may not be able to serve. He told one newspaper that "certain homosexual conduct" could disqualify a person from being a judge because it violates the state's crimes against nature law.

*The latest on Chris Christie's driving infractions. He says "he did not know about a lawsuit following his 2002 accident with a motorcyclist because he was never served notice," AP reports.

*RNC Chairman Michael Steele pre-empts the president's speech tonight with an op-ed in Politico, in which he pounds home that health care reform is "Speaker Pelosi's bill."

**Birther Alert: Another House Republican lightning rod, Jean Schmidt, apparently is among them.

--Kyle Trygstad and Mike Memoli

Sanford Calls Latest Call For Resignation "Premature"

Gov. Mark Sanford (R-S.C.), appearing now on WVOC-AM radio, said moments ago that the latest call for his resignation is "unfortunate" and "a bit premature."

This morning, South Carolina House Speaker Bobby Harrell, a Republican, said Sanford should step down because it "has become clear is that Governor Sanford's issues will continue to dominate our state as long as he remains in office." The State newspaper has his full statement:

"Whether he should be re-moved from office is a question that will need to be answered from the State Ethics Commission investigation, but our state's future is too important to have the Governor's issues overshadow everything we do for the next fifteen months. For the good of our state, Governor Sanford should step aside."

Sanford told the radio station that he won't read anything into Harrell's motives, but did agree with him to an extent -- that the state ethics process should "work its way through."

"I had a real moral failure. We've talked about. South Carolina has talked on and on about it, and then some more," he said. The question going forward is, he said, what is the best solution for making government work again. "I can't apologize more than I have" for his admitted affair, he said, but in office he has a "compellingly strong record in watching out for the taxpayer."

Asked if he would not step down because of differences with Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer (R), Sanford said he wouldn't discuss his "merits or demerits." He said he hoped South Carolinians, rather than continuing to focus on his personal problems, should find a way to "take that political energy" and direct it toward making fundamental reforms in what he said was a flawed government system.

Sanford said that in the days after his public admission of an affair, part of him did think of stepping aside, because he didn't want to see another television camera again. But friends told him that if he was sincere about seeking redemption, he had "to stay around for the second part of the show."

New Corzine Spot Targets Christie On Stimulus

Gov. Jon Corzine's (D) campaign has launched a new TV ad that credits him with helping lead New Jersey through "tough times," while slamming Chris Christie (R) as a "partisan" who would have rejected federal support.

Bringing national politics into the Blue State race, a narrator says: "Chris Christie's so partisan he'd reject President Obama's stimulus funds -- driving up property taxes $2 billion. Chris Christie -- the same Bush policies that got us into this mess."

It's a pure contrast ad -- not necessarily the kind of negative spot Corzine's camp had been running on things like Christie's driving record or no-bid contracts. Citing a recent unemployment report that showed a slight increase in employment in the state, the ad claims that Corzine's economic plans are "beginning to work," and that the state is "bucking the national trend."

The Consensus Is There Is No Consensus

Appearing with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid at the White House after a meeting with President Obama, Speaker Nancy Pelosi had this to say regarding the inclusion of a public health insurance option in a reform bill, per our White House reporter Mike Memoli: "I believe that the public option will be essential to our passing a bill in the House of Representatives."

The message was certainly different, if not opposite, of the one given this morning by House Democrats' No. 2, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer. He said a reform bill that did not include the public option could still be "very good" and that he would support it, though his preference would be to include the option -- which he called "an alternative that people ought to have."

"If the public option weren't in there, I still could support a bill because I think there is a lot in there that is good," he said.

Hoyer discussed the August break, saying that during his nearly three decades in Congress he hasn't seen a time when "more people have gotten more engaged in an issue than this one."

"Some 82 percent of the American public believes that changes are required," said Hoyer. "There is not a consensus, as you've seen, on exactly what those changes should be. But there is no doubt that there is consensus among the American people that change is needed."

At an off-camera briefing with reporters this afternoon, Republican Conference Chairman Mike Pence (R-Ind.) and Ways and Means ranking member Dave Camp (R-Mich.) said employers in this economic climate would dump their employees from their health insurance rolls if a public option were available. "The government competes with the private sector the way an alligator competes with a duck," Pence said.

They said Obama and congressional Democrats should listen to the American people, who "don't want a government-run health care plan."

Obama will speak to a joint session of Congress tomorrow night, and both Republicans said they were open to hearing what the president has to say. But, Pence said, Americans "don't want another health care speech, they want another health care plan."

Pelosi: Public Option "Essential" To Passing Reform In House

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said that a public option is "essential" to the passage of health care reform, while seeming to reject the idea of delaying implementation of such a program later through a "trigger," as some even in her own party now advocate.

Speaking with reporters after a meeting with President Obama and Vice President Biden in the Oval Office, Pelosi was asked about comments from Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.), a member of the Democratic leadership, saying a triggered public option would be acceptable.

"Out of context I really can't speak to Mr. Clyburn's remarks," she said, though she said he is a "strong supporter" of the public option. But she seemed to offer a vague threat at the insurance industry, which she says is "fighting the public option tooth and nail." "They'd be better getting a public option now than one that is triggered. Because if you have a triggered public option, it's because the insurance industry has demonstrated that they're not cooperating, they're not doing the right thing. And I think they'll have a tougher road."

Pelosi also said that, "for the moment," the "overwhelming majority" of her caucus supports a public option. But just hours earlier, not only Clyburn but House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said the option "might need to be dropped" to get it passed.

For his part, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid told reporters that it is still Democrats' intention to work with Republicans.

"We still, after all these months, have a place at the table for the Republicans. We're doing everything we can to work with them," he said. "We want a bipartisan bill. We do not want to do reconciliation, unless we have no alternative."

Reid said the president did not offer a "dress rehearsal" of his speech tomorrow night, but said he seemed very "positive" about the prospects for reform.

"I have every belief that when he finishes the speech tomorrow, the American people will be able to put aside some of the ridiculous falsehoods that have been perpetrated these past few weeks," he said.

Reid also said that Democrats are now "90 percent" in agreement with what needs to be done to get a bill ready for vote.

"We're re-energized, we're ready to do health care reform," he said.

Gibbs: No August Setbacks Here

To those who say that August was a lost month for President Obama, the White House, surprisingly, does not agree.

"Not at all," press secretary Robert Gibbs said today. In fact, he continued to argue, the administration is closer to getting health care reform passed than any other in history. "That was true the end of July. It was true throughout the month of August. It may be more true now in September," he said.

Despite the public reaction seen in town halls last month -- sometimes strongly and passionately against government action -- Gibbs said he has taken special notice of Republican members of Congress who "talked to their constituents and they understand we have to do something."

"I think that's a great recognition that this is a problem that has been on the radar screens of the American people for a long, long time, and that they demand something be done about it. And I can assure you the president aims to be the person that does something about it," he said.

Gibbs also gave a broad outline of what Obama hopes to accomplish in his speech to a joint session of Congress tomorrow, echoing a new refrain about "achieving stability and security through health care reform." He'll also speak "lay out clearly" what reform means, both for those who have coverage now and those without.

"I think he'll obviously clear up any confusion about what's not in health care reform," he also said, alluding to the misconceptions that were also a hallmark of the August recess. "And lastly I think he will answer many of the big questions about how we move forward on health care reform. What he considers reform to truly be."

That remains the million dollar question, especially whether he'll make a strong push for the public option. Gibbs was vague today, as ever.

"The president continues to believe that increasing choice and competition through additional options for people to get health insurance is tremendously important," he said. "What the public option will do is provide that additional choice and competition for people, primarily those in the private, individual insurance market or in the small group or small-business insurance market."

He also said that such a public plan "is not going to be some grandiosely subsidized, unlevel playing field" that would hurt private insurers.

The speech will run about 30-35 minutes, depending on applause. Gibbs also declined to call this a make-or-break moment.

"We're always late in the fourth quarter with very few seconds left on the clock and a long way away from scoring a touchdown, but that simply sets everything up for one of those glorious hail-Mary passes that -- and a touchdown."

Deeds Up With Positive Ad in NoVa

The Creigh Deeds campaign launched a new TV ad in expensive Northern Virginia today that focuses on education. The positive ad offers a reprieve from a recent onslaught of ads tying Bob McDonnell to George W. Bush and discussing the GOP candidate's conservative record.

"My mom sent me off to college with just four 20-dollar bills," Deeds says in the ad. "So I know that education is the best investment Virginia can make for our children and in our future."

The ad comes on the same day President Obama gave a televised speech to students across the country. Obama delivered his remarks from Wakefield High School, located in Northern Virginia.

Here is "September":

Toomey Praises Obama's School Speech

One of the most conservative candidates for Senate this year released a statement of praise regarding the speech President Obama delivered to school children across the nation today. The White House felt a ton of heat last week from conservatives due to both the speech and follow-up materials distributed to school systems by the Department of Education.

Pat Toomey, a former Republican congressman and former head of Club for Growth, is challenging Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Pa.) for the second election in a row. He said today that Obama's message is "exactly" what kids in this country should be hearing.

"Education is the cornerstone of our country's future and it is important that we relay that message to our young students. The President's emphasis on responsibility and the personal stories about his own education are exactly the kind of inspiring messages our children need to hear from our country's leaders. "I know that I would not have had the opportunities I have today if not for the education I received as a young student. My parents and my teachers instilled in me the importance of hard work and education, and it is a message I try to instill in my own children. It is important that we make sure all students are similarly inspired."

Boustany Will Deliver GOP Response To Obama Speech

Republicans are choosing a rather low-profile member of Congress to deliver the party's response to President Obama's high-profile speech to lawmakers Wednesday night. Rep. Charles Boustany (R), a doctor who is serving his third term in the House, will be the second straight Louisianan to deliver a presidential response speech, following Gov. Bobby Jindal (R-La.).

"Dr. Boustany has been a tireless advocate for reform that lowers health care costs and expands access for the American people at a price our nation can afford," House Minority Leader John Boehner said in a statement announcing the choice.  "He understands why a Washington bureaucrat - as Democrats have proposed - should never get between a doctor and his patient."

"As a doctor, I know we must lower costs and improve care, which we can accomplish by focusing on strengthening the doctor-patient relationship and working in a bipartisan way," Boustany says in the same statement.

Indie Candidate Daggett Lampoons Rivals In TV Ad

Independent candidate Chris Daggett, looking to boost his visibility in the New Jersey gubernatorial race, has launched a new must-watch TV ad using look-alikes to mock the two major party candidates.

The scene: an escalator breaks down, probably at one of the Garden State's wonderful shopping malls. One passenger, Gov. Jon Corzine (D), is portrayed as an aloof, Wall Street Journal reading figure hoping someone will bail him out. Another, former U.S. Attorney Chris Christie (R), is shown as a rotund angry man shouting for help. "If someone doesn't fix this right now, people going to jail. Jail I said, jail!" he bellows.

"When Democrats and Republican fail New Jersey, it's up to us to take New Jersey back," a narrator says. "Follow me," Daggett himself says, leading people past the fake candidates, and directing fire men to help the other guys who "still need rescuing."

The ad launched Sunday in the New York market, and will air on broadcast and cable during news programming and Yankees games, spokesperson Tom Johnson told RCP this morning. The ad is the brainchild of Bill Hillsman, who has a reputation for doing these type of "quirky" ads, for candidates like Jesse Ventura.

"We're trying to raise our name recognition here, and we'll be saying a lot more as the campaign goes on," Johnson said.

Daggett is polling in the mid-single digits at this point, with many believing his role in the race will ultimately be that of spoiler. Unclear, though, is whether he draws more votes from Christie or Corzine.

"We don't care who we hurt," Johnson said. "People in New Jersey are understandably very upset with the state of affairs. ... And neither party is willing or able to fix the fiscal situation." Daggett is "in it to win it," he adds.

The body doubles were cast by Hillsman through an open casting call. And they might appear again before the campaign ends.

Strategy Memo: The Fall Campaign

Good morning, Washington. With Labor Day now in the rear view mirror, it's good bye to the summer and back to work in the nation's capital. President Obama has a busy day, starting with what became a controversial speech to students at Wakefield High School in Arlington, Va. The White House posted his planned remarks in response to complaints that he was bringing politics into the classroom. After the event, Obama will head to the Supreme Court to attend an investiture ceremony in honor of Sonia Sotomayor.

Then, it's back to the White House, where he'll meet with House Speaker Pelosi and Majority Leader Harry Reid. The meeting will of course focus on health care, with the president heading to Capitol Hill Wednesday in a speech that aides promise will give greater detail to his vision of health care. The official schedule ends with a meeting with PGA champions.

The House and Senate will gavel back into session today after a long August recess filled with temperamental town halls and dipping presidential approval ratings. A new Gallup survey finds that Americans "are no less divided on health care reform today than they were a month ago" -- not exactly the welcome home sign Democrats had hoped for when they left Capitol Hill five weeks ago.

Labor Day also marks the traditional kickoff of the fall campaign. Yesterday, the candidates for governor in both New Jersey and Virginia spent their day darting from street fairs to parades to house parties. Though Democrats in each race are increasingly optimistic about their chances because of August controversies involving the Republicans, it's still an uphill fight. The RCP Average has Bob McDonnell leading by 10.2 in Virginia, and Chris Christie ahead by 6.5 in New Jersey.

**Health Care Speeches
*Over the weekend, two interesting headlines in the two major papers. Washington Post: "The Change Agenda At a Crossroads:
From Health Care to Wars to Public Anxiety, Obama's Strength as a Leader Is Tested." From the New York Times: "Obama Faces a Critical Moment for His Presidency."

*Top White House aides say Obama's "fiery Labor Day speech to an organized-labor crowd in Ohio was a preview of a more passionate case for reform that's coming later this week," CNN says. "After advisers last week submitted various thoughts on what the speech should say, Obama spent much of the weekend at Camp David crafting the actual address, which currently is running about 37 minutes in draft form."

*Time reports, "Upon returning from a late August vacation on Martha's Vineyard, several of Obama's senior aides advised that he delay a new push for health care reform until the third week in September, after the anniversaries of Sept. 11 and the 2008 collapse of Lehman Brothers. But according to a senior aide, Obama overruled them."

*The Wall Street Journal has more of a preview: "Obama is expected to reiterate his support for creating the public-health-insurance plan despite pressure from Republicans and some moderate Democrats to back away from the idea. Yet he is likely to leave the door open for a compromise on the issue." He'll also "emphasize what he says the health-care system would look like without change, depicting a scenario of rising costs, more uninsured Americans and more efforts by insurance companies to block those with pre-existing medical conditions from buying insurance."

**Health Care
*AP: "Time is running out for a two-party compromise on health care as a bipartisan group of six Finance Committee senators considers a new proposal that might be the last, best hope for an overhaul agreement."

*Bloomberg has details on the draft legislation Max Baucus released this weekend.

*Politico explains the roadmap for the White House: "Convince skeptical Americans that a new system would actually help them, not limit their choices and care. Strike a compromise between liberals who demand a public option and cost-conscious centrists who call it a deal-breaker. Win over Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), an inscrutable moderate. And avoid Death Panels II, a rerun of the potent Republican attacks." But the problem is, "That's the same basic roadmap they started out with in February, and it failed to get Obama where he had hoped to be by Labor Day."

**President Obama
*Today, "President Obama will address students nationwide Tuesday about the importance of taking personal responsibility for one's education - an address made controversial by a since-abandoned follow-up assignment decried as political propaganda," the Washington Times notes.

*"In a 2,389-word speech to students to mark the opening of the new schoolyear, released Monday to quell a controversy, President Obama does not say one controversial thing," writes Politics Daily's Lynn Sweet. "Obama also goes on to urge students -- hold on to your seats here -- to do their homework, set goals, work hard, persevere and stand up for kids who are bullied. ... The critics are going to have to scrub this speech pretty hard to come up with some foam. It's just not there."

*Jim Greer, the Florida GOP chairman who became a leading voice opposing Obama's education speech, now says he'll send his kids to hear it. He told CNN yesterday: "After reading the text, seeing the Department of Education has told teachers they are not to lead students in the direction that they would have a week ago, my kids will be watching the president's speech as I hope all kids will. I don't advocate children not watching this president's speech with this text."

*A report from OpenTheGovernment.org, a group of 75 public interest group, is giving the White House generally good marks on transparency. AP: "The coalition says the new administration has made major strides toward more disclosure, including the recent release of Justice Department memos on Bush administration interrogation policies and Obama's embrace of greater openness under the Freedom of Information Act. The report noted, however, that the government has resisted release of photos from Army interrogation investigations; has not backed away from occasional use of the state secrets privilege; and has argued in court for secrecy regarding the role of former Vice President Dick Cheney in the Valerie Plame affair."

**Congress
*"The American people are no less divided on healthcare reform today than they were a month ago. A new Gallup Poll finds 39% of Americans saying they would direct their member of Congress to vote against a healthcare reform bill this fall while 37% want their member to vote in favor."

*Washington Post reporters give straightforward answers to eight questions on health care reform, including some ideas being considered in Congress.

*In his office's online briefing on the day's floor schedule, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer features this quote from White House adviser David Axelrod (from Sunday's "Meet the Press"): "The idea here is to keep the American people from going broke as a result of soaring healthcare costs that have doubled in the last 10 years, risen three times the rate of wages. We want to bring security to the people who have insurance so that they're not thrown off their insurance if they get sick, so that if they lose their job or change their job, they'll still have coverage, so that people with pre-existing conditions can get insurance. That's what the American people need to know."

*"Amid fresh signs that the White House is preparing to back a scaled-down health care overhaul that would only include a public insurance option as a fallback plan, several House liberals told Roll Call that they could support such a bill depending on how it was structured."

*Why reading a bill is unproductive: "Across the country, "Read the bill!" has become a rallying cry of the health care debate," Politico reports. "

*"President Barack Obama's relationship with Speaker Nancy Pelosi, strained by differences over healthcare, will be tested by their talks on Tuesday in advance of his Wednesday night speech to a joint session of Congress," The Hill reports.

*McClatchy: "With his first full fiscal year about to begin on October 1, the Democratic-controlled Congress has not passed a single major fiscal 2010 spending bill, and is virtually certain to begin funding the government next month with the same kind of stopgap steady-spending measure used during all eight years of the Bush administration."

**Campaign Stuff
*Banner headline in the Boston Globe: "Kennedy says no, and the race is on." Former Rep. Joe Kennedy II, son of RFK, announced yesterday he won't run for the U.S. Senate. According to those close to Kennedy, "the lure of a Senate seat and the prospect of extending his family's political legacy were not enough to draw Kennedy, who runs an energy firm, back into the spotlight and grueling pace of national politics."

*Former Lt. Gov. Kerry Healy (R) turned down the race. The GOP did get its first candidate yesterday, though -- Canton Selectman Bob Burr.

*Curt Schilling blogged what could be the makings of a campaign platform. But our take continues to be that he sounds like someone who should be running for state and not federal office. "Were I to even consider this it would be for 1 term and 1 term only, and then only to do everything in my power to rid this state of the tired an unethical people that have run it into the ground and help it begin the healing process, and once again become a thriving state to live and work in."

*Trouble in the desert? Las Vegas Sun reports, "According to sources close to Sen. Harry Reid's campaign, the gubernatorial ambitions of son Rory Reid, the Clark County Commission chairman, have emerged as a point of considerable hand wringing among advisers who view it as an obstacle to the U.S. Senate majority leader's reelection. ... The reasoning behind the concern: Voters don't like dynasties. Besides, advisers say, recent polling has Rory Reid trailing possible Democratic opponents in the race for governor by double digits."

*Washington Post looks at the Labor Day kickoff of the final stretch in Virginia. "Throughout the day, Republicans tied Deeds to a national Democratic Party that they are convinced is losing ground in Virginia, where last year voters backed a Democrat for president for the first time in more than four decades. They said Deeds would support soaring government spending, Democratic efforts to reform health care and federal cap-and-trade energy legislation."

Reacting, check out this quote from Creigh Deeds, on Pelosi and Reid: "I'm not sure I'd know either one of them if I saw them, except I've seen them on television. I'm sure they wouldn't know me."

*The Newark Star-Ledger profiles Chris Daggett, the independent candidate for New Jersey's governorship. "In the past, a vote for an independent was seen as a wasted vote. This year, some say it will send a message," the paper notes.

--Mike Memoli and Kyle Trygstad

Support For Obama's School Speech?

After the White House released President Obama's planned remarks to students tomorrow, some conservatives are signaling support for his message.

"Just read President Obamas speech to students. ... It is a good speech and will be good for students to hear," former House Speaker Newt Gingrich wrote on Twitter. "Remember that Presidents Reagan and Bush also talked to students nationwide. As long as it is non political and pro education it is good."

The National Review's Jim Geraghty called the speech, as prepared for delivery, "not only uncontroversial," but "the finest of his presidency so far. Kids need to hear there's no easy route to success."

During his AFL-CIO speech, the president himself drew some knowing laughter as he alluded to the speech he'd be giving tomorrow. Speaking on Air Force One, press secretary Robert Gibbs gave an unprompted assessment of some of the controversy leading up to the remarks, saying: "I think it's a sad, sad day that the political back and forth has intruded on anyone speaking to schoolchildren."

"If one kid in one school hears one message and goes from being a D student to a C student, then the speech is worth it," he said. "If one kid decides not to drop out of school, then the speech is worth it. ...
It's a sad state of affairs that many in this country politically would rather start an 'Animal House' food fight rather than inspire kids to stay in school, to work hard, to engage parents to stay involved, and to ensure that the millions of teachers that are making great sacrifices continue to be the best in the world."

Obama Gets "Fired Up" On Health Care

President Obama, sounding more like he did in 2008 than he has for much of 2009, used a speech at a labor gathering in Ohio to kick off his latest health care offensive, saying that after months of debate, "it's time to decide."

Though he signaled the reform effort was reaching a critical stage, there was not much in the way of new details from the president on what he wants. He, of course, teased his speech to Congress Wednesday night and said he will have more to say then. But he did reframe the discussion somewhat, using new language to describe his goal:

"[Here is] what we're talking about: security and stability for folks who have health insurance. Help for those who don't -- the coverage they need at a price they can afford. Finally bringing costs under control."

Speaking at the largest union gathering on this Labor Day, an AFL-CIO picnic in Cincinnati, Obama did include the words "public option" in his remarks. But it was no clearer today what the final outcome will be for what is considered by many on the left to be a critical, potentially deal-breaking component of reform.

"I see reform where Americans and small businesses that are shut out of health insurance today will be able to purchase coverage at a price they can afford; where they'll be able to shop and compare in a new health insurance exchange," he said. "And I continue to believe that a public option within the basket of insurance choices would help improve quality and bring down costs."

After two weeks vacation, Obama showed a greater passion in his speech today, even breaking from prepared remarks to recall the origin of his "Fired up, ready to go!" slogan. Before discussing health care, he also defended his record seven months into his term, saying in the battleground state: "Some people have already forgotten how bad it was just seven months ago. ... They've sort of got selective amnesia."

He said, as he did in the stimulus fight, that the "culture" allowed to prosper in the previous administration "undermined the middle class and helped create the greatest economic crisis of our time." Jobs are still being lost, but the rate of losses is slowing. "So make no mistake. We're moving in the right direction. We're on the road to recovery, Ohio - don't let anybody tell you otherwise," he said.

To critics of health care reform, he challenged, "What's your answer?" He also criticized those who have been telling "lies" about his plan. "It's time to do what's right for America's working families, and put aside the partisanship. Stop saying things that aren't true. Come together as a nation to pass health insurance reform now-this year," he said.

President Obama's Address To Students

The White House has released prepared remarks for President Obama's televised address to America's students tomorrow. It appears to be focused mainly on encouraging students to work hard in order to reach their full potential.

"I'm calling on each of you to set your own goals for your education - and to do everything you can to meet them," he'll say. "Your goal can be something as simple as doing all your homework, paying attention in class, or spending time each day reading a book. Maybe you'll decide to get involved in an extracurricular activity, or volunteer in your community. ... Whatever you resolve to do, I want you to commit to it. I want you to really work at it."

You can the full remarks after the jump.

The President: Hello everyone - how's everybody doing today? I'm here with students at Wakefield High School in Arlington, Virginia. And we've got students tuning in from all across America, kindergarten through twelfth grade. I'm glad you all could join us today.

I know that for many of you, today is the first day of school. And for those of you in kindergarten, or starting middle or high school, it's your first day in a new school, so it's understandable if you're a little nervous. I imagine there are some seniors out there who are feeling pretty good right now, with just one more year to go. And no matter what grade you're in, some of you are probably wishing it were still summer, and you could've stayed in bed just a little longer this morning.

I know that feeling. When I was young, my family lived in Indonesia for a few years, and my mother didn't have the money to send me where all the American kids went to school. So she decided to teach me extra lessons herself, Monday through Friday - at 4:30 in the morning.

Now I wasn't too happy about getting up that early. A lot of times, I'd fall asleep right there at the kitchen table. But whenever I'd complain, my mother would just give me one of those looks and say, "This is no picnic for me either, buster."

So I know some of you are still adjusting to being back at school. But I'm here today because I have something important to discuss with you. I'm here because I want to talk with you about your education and what's expected of all of you in this new school year.

Now I've given a lot of speeches about education. And I've talked a lot about responsibility.

I've talked about your teachers' responsibility for inspiring you, and pushing you to learn.

I've talked about your parents' responsibility for making sure you stay on track, and get your homework done, and don't spend every waking hour in front of the TV or with that Xbox.

I've talked a lot about your government's responsibility for setting high standards, supporting teachers and principals, and turning around schools that aren't working where students aren't getting the opportunities they deserve.

But at the end of the day, we can have the most dedicated teachers, the most supportive parents, and the best schools in the world - and none of it will matter unless all of you fulfill your responsibilities. Unless you show up to those schools; pay attention to those teachers; listen to your parents, grandparents and other adults; and put in the hard work it takes to succeed.

And that's what I want to focus on today: the responsibility each of you has for your education. I want to start with the responsibility you have to yourself.

Every single one of you has something you're good at. Every single one of you has something to offer. And you have a responsibility to yourself to discover what that is. That's the opportunity an education can provide.

Maybe you could be a good writer - maybe even good enough to write a book or articles in a newspaper - but you might not know it until you write a paper for your English class. Maybe you could be an innovator or an inventor - maybe even good enough to come up with the next iPhone or a new medicine or vaccine - but you might not know it until you do a project for your science class. Maybe you could be a mayor or a Senator or a Supreme Court Justice, but you might not know that until you join student government or the debate team.

And no matter what you want to do with your life - I guarantee that you'll need an education to do it. You want to be a doctor, or a teacher, or a police officer? You want to be a nurse or an architect, a lawyer or a member of our military? You're going to need a good education for every single one of those careers. You can't drop out of school and just drop into a good job. You've got to work for it and train for it and learn for it.

And this isn't just important for your own life and your own future. What you make of your education will decide nothing less than the future of this country. What you're learning in school today will determine whether we as a nation can meet our greatest challenges in the future.

You'll need the knowledge and problem-solving skills you learn in science and math to cure diseases like cancer and AIDS, and to develop new energy technologies and protect our environment. You'll need the insights and critical thinking skills you gain in history and social studies to fight poverty and homelessness, crime and discrimination, and make our nation more fair and more free. You'll need the creativity and ingenuity you develop in all your classes to build new companies that will create new jobs and boost our economy.

We need every single one of you to develop your talents, skills and intellect so you can help solve our most difficult problems. If you don't do that - if you quit on school - you're not just quitting on yourself, you're quitting on your country.

Now I know it's not always easy to do well in school. I know a lot of you have challenges in your lives right now that can make it hard to focus on your schoolwork.

I get it. I know what that's like. My father left my family when I was two years old, and I was raised by a single mother who struggled at times to pay the bills and wasn't always able to give us things the other kids had. There were times when I missed having a father in my life. There were times when I was lonely and felt like I didn't fit in.

So I wasn't always as focused as I should have been. I did some things I'm not proud of, and got in more trouble than I should have. And my life could have easily taken a turn for the worse.

But I was fortunate. I got a lot of second chances and had the opportunity to go to college, and law school, and follow my dreams. My wife, our First Lady Michelle Obama, has a similar story. Neither of her parents had gone to college, and they didn't have much. But they worked hard, and she worked hard, so that she could go to the best schools in this country.

Some of you might not have those advantages. Maybe you don't have adults in your life who give you the support that you need. Maybe someone in your family has lost their job, and there's not enough money to go around. Maybe you live in a neighborhood where you don't feel safe, or have friends who are pressuring you to do things you know aren't right.

But at the end of the day, the circumstances of your life - what you look like, where you come from, how much money you have, what you've got going on at home - that's no excuse for neglecting your homework or having a bad attitude. That's no excuse for talking back to your teacher, or cutting class, or dropping out of school. That's no excuse for not trying.

Where you are right now doesn't have to determine where you'll end up. No one's written your destiny for you. Here in America, you write your own destiny. You make your own future.
That's what young people like you are doing every day, all across America.

Young people like Jazmin Perez, from Roma, Texas. Jazmin didn't speak English when she first started school. Hardly anyone in her hometown went to college, and neither of her parents had gone either. But she worked hard, earned good grades, got a scholarship to Brown University, and is now in graduate school, studying public health, on her way to being Dr. Jazmin Perez.

I'm thinking about Andoni Schultz, from Los Altos, California, who's fought brain cancer since he was three. He's endured all sorts of treatments and surgeries, one of which affected his memory, so it took him much longer - hundreds of extra hours - to do his schoolwork. But he never fell behind, and he's headed to college this fall.

And then there's Shantell Steve, from my hometown of Chicago, Illinois. Even when bouncing from foster home to foster home in the toughest neighborhoods, she managed to get a job at a local health center; start a program to keep young people out of gangs; and she's on track to graduate high school with honors and go on to college.

Jazmin, Andoni and Shantell aren't any different from any of you. They faced challenges in their lives just like you do. But they refused to give up. They chose to take responsibility for their education and set goals for themselves. And I expect all of you to do the same.

That's why today, I'm calling on each of you to set your own goals for your education - and to do everything you can to meet them. Your goal can be something as simple as doing all your homework, paying attention in class, or spending time each day reading a book. Maybe you'll decide to get involved in an extracurricular activity, or volunteer in your community. Maybe you'll decide to stand up for kids who are being teased or bullied because of who they are or how they look, because you believe, like I do, that all kids deserve a safe environment to study and learn. Maybe you'll decide to take better care of yourself so you can be more ready to learn. And along those lines, I hope you'll all wash your hands a lot, and stay home from school when you don't feel well, so we can keep people from getting the flu this fall and winter.

Whatever you resolve to do, I want you to commit to it. I want you to really work at it.

I know that sometimes, you get the sense from TV that you can be rich and successful without any hard work -- that your ticket to success is through rapping or basketball or being a reality TV star, when chances are, you're not going to be any of those things.

But the truth is, being successful is hard. You won't love every subject you study. You won't click with every teacher. Not every homework assignment will seem completely relevant to your life right this minute. And you won't necessarily succeed at everything the first time you try.

That's OK. Some of the most successful people in the world are the ones who've had the most failures. JK Rowling's first Harry Potter book was rejected twelve times before it was finally published. Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team, and he lost hundreds of games and missed thousands of shots during his career. But he once said, "I have failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed."

These people succeeded because they understand that you can't let your failures define you - you have to let them teach you. You have to let them show you what to do differently next time. If you get in trouble, that doesn't mean you're a troublemaker, it means you need to try harder to behave. If you get a bad grade, that doesn't mean you're stupid, it just means you need to spend more time studying.

No one's born being good at things, you become good at things through hard work. You're not a varsity athlete the first time you play a new sport. You don't hit every note the first time you sing a song. You've got to practice. It's the same with your schoolwork. You might have to do a math problem a few times before you get it right, or read something a few times before you understand it, or do a few drafts of a paper before it's good enough to hand in.

Don't be afraid to ask questions. Don't be afraid to ask for help when you need it. I do that every day. Asking for help isn't a sign of weakness, it's a sign of strength. It shows you have the courage to admit when you don't know something, and to learn something new. So find an adult you trust - a parent, grandparent or teacher; a coach or counselor - and ask them to help you stay on track to meet your goals.

And even when you're struggling, even when you're discouraged, and you feel like other people have given up on you - don't ever give up on yourself. Because when you give up on yourself, you give up on your country.

The story of America isn't about people who quit when things got tough. It's about people who kept going, who tried harder, who loved their country too much to do anything less than their best.
It's the story of students who sat where you sit 250 years ago, and went on to wage a revolution and found this nation. Students who sat where you sit 75 years ago who overcame a Depression and won a world war; who fought for civil rights and put a man on the moon. Students who sat where you sit 20 years ago who founded Google, Twitter and Facebook and changed the way we communicate with each other.

So today, I want to ask you, what's your contribution going to be? What problems are you going to solve? What discoveries will you make? What will a president who comes here in twenty or fifty or one hundred years say about what all of you did for this country?

Your families, your teachers, and I are doing everything we can to make sure you have the education you need to answer these questions. I'm working hard to fix up your classrooms and get you the books, equipment and computers you need to learn. But you've got to do your part too. So I expect you to get serious this year. I expect you to put your best effort into everything you do. I expect great things from each of you. So don't let us down - don't let your family or your country or yourself down. Make us all proud. I know you can do it.

Thank you, God bless you, and God bless America.

Gibbs Chalks Up Education Protests To "Silly Season"

President Obama's speech to school children next week is an opportunity to encourage them at the start of the new year, the White House says, calling objections "silly."

"I think we've reached a little bit of the silly season when the president of the United States can't tell kids in school to study hard and stay in school," Robert Gibbs told a group of reporters this morning. "I think both political parties agree that the dropout rate is something that threatens our long-term economic success."

Obama's speech is being released a day early, and some of the content of suggested lesson plans has been changed in response to complaints. As for school districts boycotting the materials, Gibbs noted that "there are some school districts that won't let you read Huckleberry Finn."

Republicans Jump On Latest Job Numbers

You knew this was coming. Republican leaders are piling on the increased unemployment numbers released today by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which announced the rate jumped three-tenths of a point to 9.7 percent.

Yesterday the vice president touted the success of the stimulus, which provided fodder for Republicans today. The White House just announced that Biden will address the latest job numbers at a previously scheduled event on the Recovery Act at noon.

Here is a sampling of the press releases in our inbox:

RNC Chairman Michael Steele: "Yesterday Vice President Biden gave yet another speech to try to convince the American people that President Obama's stimulus bill is creating the jobs he promised ... Today's unemployment report proves that this Administration is ignoring reality ... The president's economic experiment simply isn't working, and Americans shouldn't expect his government-run health care experiment to work, either."

House Minority Whip Eric Cantor: "Since President Obama signed his stimulus bill into law, nearly 2.5 million people have lost their jobs. In the eyes of the American people, that is not success. Families across the country are struggling to cut costs and cope with a tough job market, and they see a massive disconnect between that reality and the President's agenda."

House GOP Study Committee Chairman Tom Price: "Despite all the evidence to the contrary, the White House continues to tout the alleged success of their so-called stimulus bill. The Democrats' unprecedented level of government borrowing and spending will not stimulate job creation, nor has it stopped the job losses being experienced by so many Americans."

House Minority Leader John Boehner ties the jobs report to health care: "Where are the jobs? Approximately 2.4 million private-sector jobs have been destroyed since February 2009. In light of these numbers, it is more clear than ever that the President and the leaders of his party in Congress need to abandon their plans for a job-killing government takeover of health care and work with Republicans for a more responsible approach to health care reform."

NRCC communications director Ken Spain: "While Obama administration officials and Democrats in Congress have been touting their so-called 'stimulus' plan and taking victory laps all week, Americans are asking one simple question: Where are the jobs? Whether it's their massive government takeover of healthcare, their national energy tax, or their failed economic policies, one thing is clear: President Obama and the Democrats have quickly grown out of touch with the needs of middle class Americans."

Grayson Leads Pack in New Poll

In the race to replace retiring Kentucky Sen. Jim Bunning (R), Secretary of State Trey Grayson (R) leads his two Democratic challengers in general election matchups, as well as Rand Paul, his Republican primary opponent, according to a new survey from DailyKos/Research 2000 (Aug 31-Sep 2, 600 LV, MoE +/- 4%). Running on the Dem side are Lt. Gov. Daniel Mongiardo and Attorney General Jack Conway.

Dem Primary
Mongiardo 37 - Conway 30 - Und 18

GOP Primary
Grayson 40 - Paul 25 - Und 17

General Election
Grayson 45 - Mongiardo 41 - Und 14
Grayson 46 - Conway 40 - Und 14

Paul 37 - Mongiardo 42 - Und 21
Paul 37 - Conway 41 - Und 22

President Obama isn't thought highly of in Kentucky, which he lost to John McCain by 17 points in 2008. Just 34% hold a favorable view of the president, with 63% unfavorable. Also, only 51% believe Obama was born in the United States, while 20% don't believe he was and 29% aren't sure.

All is not lost for Democrats, though, as Gov. Steve Beshear (D) has a 49%/42% favorable rating, higher than that of GOP Sen. Mitch McConnell (44%/51%), the Senate minority leader.

Voters were split on whether a public health care option should be included in Congress's reform efforts -- 46% support an option, 45% oppose.

Unemployment Rate Climbs To 9.7

Yesterday, Vice President Biden gave an upbeat assessment of the economy, saying the Recovery Act had exceeded expectations and created or saved between 500,000 and 750,000 jobs.

This morning, the Bureau of Labor Statistics announced that the national unemployment rate, after a slight decline last month, had increased again, from 9.4 to 9.7. "Although job losses continued in many of the major industry sectors in August, the declines have moderated in recent months," a BLS release states.

Total nonfarm payroll employment declined by 216,000 in August; since December 2007, employment has fallen by nearly 7 million. The overall number of "unemployed persons" increased by 466,000, to 14.9 million nationwide.

UPDATE: With President Obama still vacationing at Camp David, Biden will make a statement on the unemployment numbers at the start of a scheduled event on energy grants.

Obama Approval Dips Below 60 In Home State

Illinoisans still generally support their senator-turned president, but are skeptical his policies, a new Tribune/WGN poll shows.

The statewide poll puts Obama's approval rating at 59 percent, with 33 percent of voters disapproving. Obama carried his home state with 62 percent of the vote in November. But on the economy, just under half of voters think his economic policies have had little or no impact on employment, while 45 percent say they have helped some or a lot.

Turning to health care, voters are even more divided: 42 percent approve of how he's handled the reform effort, 43 percent do not. A whopping 75 percent of those surveyed said that under Obama's proposed reform, their own health care would likely stay the same or get worse; only 16 percent say it would change for the better.

Still, when asked which party voters sided with on health care, 48 percent said Obama and the Democrats, while 28 percent said Republicans in Congress. Sixteen percent said neither.

The telephone survey of 700 voters was conducted by Market Shares Corp from August 27-31, and has a margin of error of +/- 4 percent.

McDonnell Fires Back At The Post

Some conservatives are complaining about the Washington Post's effort to "macaca" Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob McDonnell, a reference to the infamous video clip that was heavily covered and contributed to George Allen's defeat in the 2006 Senate race.

Today, speaking with the rival Washington Examiner, McDonnell himself took a shot at the newspaper for what he says is excessive coverage of his infamous thesis.

"What the Washington Post does -- today I think we had three articles and yesterday it was two. I'm thinking maybe we're going to get one more every day until people stop buying the paper. They were at least nice enough to run one story today that actually had someone that was supporting me, instead of the usual five against me and then me with my own quotes."

McDonnell also hits his Democratic rival, saying Creigh Deeds' "whole campaign over the last month has been based on former presidents, former governors, and a 20-year-old thesis." The Examiner has posted audio here.

Meanwhile, after the jump check out a new ad out from McDonnell's campaign that prominently features his daughters; he also notes he was brought up by a "working mom."

A Quick Turnaround For Senate Replacements

Because their terms last only two years, House Members in competitive districts must run permanent campaigns while carefully weighing every House vote for potential political pitfalls. Life in the Senate is usually more relaxed. However, as a consequence of recent turnover, some senators now face the prospect of having to defend their seats in 2010 and then gear up to defend them again two years later.

Gov. Deval Patrick announced this week a January 19 special election to finish the term of the late Sen. Ted Kennedy. It's a race that will likely be hotly contested, particularly on the Democratic side. And whoever wins the snap vote will not be able to rest for long since Mr. Kennedy's term expires in 2012. The turnaround will be even quicker for New York's Kirsten Gillibrand, appointed to replace Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in the U.S. Senate. Like most states where a governor appoints a replacement, she doesn't face a special election but must run in the next regularly scheduled federal election, i.e. November 2010. But since Clinton's term expires in 2012, Gillibrand must raise money and prepare for tough fights each of the next two cycles.

Given the strong Democratic profile of both states, Gillibrand and whoever wins the Massachusetts special election may have a harder time fighting off primary challengers than a general election opponent. That's why Democrats from President Obama on down have worked to discourage intra-party challengers to Gillibrand and perhaps will do the same for the Massachusetts winner. In one respect, Mike Bennett, the newly appointed senator from Colorado, has an easier road. He may be neither a primary nor general election shoo-in, but he only has to run once. Ken Salazar, whom he replaced when Mr. Salazar joined the Obama administration as interior secretary, was due to face voters next year anyway.

More Bad News for Reid

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has been unable to dig himself out of a pit of poor poll numbers, and the latest survey from Daily Kos/Research 2000 is no different. The four-term Nevada senator trails two potential GOP challengers, Danny Tarkanian, son of former UNLV coach Jerry, and Sue Lowden, who is resigning from her post as chair of the Nevada Republican Party to focus on a bid for Senate.

Just 36% hold a favorable opinion of Reid, while 52% view him unfavorably. Pres. Obama's viewed favorably by 48%, with 41% holding an unfavorable opinion of him. Also, less than three-fourths believe Obama was born in the U.S., and 52% favor a public option being included in federal health care reform.

Lowden 44
Reid 41
Und 15

Tarkanian 45
Reid 40
Und 15

Deeds Airs Radio Ad in NoVa

The Creigh Deeds campaign continues its assault on Bob McDonnell for a graduate school thesis the Republican wrote shortly before entering elective politics. Today the Democrat's campaign announced it will begin airing a radio ad in Northern Virginia, which is in the priciest media market in the state.

Here is a portion of the script from the ad, which you can listen to here.

Female: You startin' to follow this Governor's race in Virginia ?

Male: You mean Bob McDonnell and his plans to take us back to the dark ages ?

F: That's McDonnell - he opposes a woman's right to choose even in cases of rape and incest.

M: And that Washington Post story about the thesis he wrote at CBN University...

F: ...Pat Robertson's Law School ?

M: Yep, it's Bob McDonnell's "blueprint" to implement HIS OWN social agenda...

The Deeds campaign has also launched a new website that further publicizes McDonnell's thesis, as well as a "significant internet banner and Google search ad campaign."

Schilling's Platform: 'The Status Quo Sucks'

Curt Schilling said again today that he's strongly considering a Senate run in Massachusetts, and has even talked to some consultants about what such a candidacy would take. Still, he cautioned that it is "not an absolute certainty one way or another."

"Ultimately it comes down to the conversation between Shonda and I," he told WEEI radio this morning, conceding that a political run is "not something that she's remotely interested in." There are many cons, but also some pros to each scenario, he added.

Schilling, a former Major League pitcher with the Boston Red Sox, said he "would not even remotely consider" running if he "wasn't planning on winning." And he sounded pretty confident that he would be a strong candidate as he railed against the establishment and argued that what politics needs is more fresh blood.

"The status quo sucks," he said. "I don't really enjoy talking in broad generalities, but there's so much wrong, so much going on that we are in desperate need of new blood and people that can walk in and make change and not have connections and ties to the old guard and old school and be beholden to them."

Without naming names or even singling out a particular party, he said that special interests in the Bay State are "doing anything and everything they can that have absolutely no interest in the common man." He also sounded more like a candidate for governor than for federal office as he said Massachusetts is "becoming a state that's next to impossible to live and prosper in."

"This state, next to Illinois, is probably looked at as one of the most corrupt, laughable, political scenes in the nation. It should be just the opposite," he said.

With other potential candidates, especially on the Democratic side, coming out of Congress or state government, he wondered what they could offer voters.

"The fight would be a lot of fun because pretty much anybody that you're fighting against that's in office right now doesn't really have much of a leg to stand on," he said. "There's nobody that can stand up and say, 'Look what I've done over the last two, four, six, eight, 12, 20 years. Because those are the people that the pitchforks and the torches are out for right now."

His credentials?

"My credentials are that I have no baggage. I have no special interest. I have no ties," he said. "I would be coming in to help this state get back to what it was, what it should be and what it can be."

He said he still needs time to make a decision, but conceded that he will obviously need to make it "in relatively short order," considering upcoming deadlines. Multiple reports today indicate that because he's a registered independent, Schilling would not be eligible to run as a Republican. The deadline for submitting nomination papers to local registrars as an independent candidate would be November 24.

Schilling and the supportive radio show hosts noted the precedence of sports stars in the Senate, including fellow pitcher Jim Bunning and NBA star Bill Bradley. Schilling also mocked a recent entry to the U.S. Senate, Al Franken. The fact that he won "should give hope to anybody."

You can listen to the full interview here and here.