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Blog Home Page --> June 2010

Dems Alter Wall Street Reform Bill In Dash For Votes

By Kyle Trygstad

The death of Sen. Robert Byrd means Democrats have one extra vote to pick up to give final approval to Wall Street reform, which was first reported out of conference committee late last week. But the shuffle for votes was on well before the nine-term West Virginia Democrat passed away Monday morning, and that fact was reemphasized over the last two days.

The conference committee reconvened late Tuesday afternoon and agreed on new ways of funding the bill's increased regulation, removing a $19 billion bank tax that threatened the votes of a handful of Republicans. The committee agreed last night to Sen. Chris Dodd's (D-Conn.) proposal to effectively end TARP now, three months before its scheduled sunset, and increase the percentage banks with more than $10 billion in assets pay into the FDIC's Deposit Insurance Fund.

Democrats hope the move will bring enough senators on board to pass the conference report this week, before a replacement for Byrd is appointed.

At least six senators' votes have been in flux since May 20, when the Senate approved the plan with no margin for error. Four Republicans joined Democrats on final passage of the Senate bill -- Iowa's Chuck Grassley, Massachusetts' Scott Brown and Maine's Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins -- and two Democrats opposed it, Wisconsin's Russ Feingold and Washington's Maria Cantwell.

However, on Tuesday, Feingold and Brown had already announced they would not support the bill as written. In a letter to the lead proponents of the bill, Sen. Chris Dodd and Rep. Barney Frank, Brown wrote that he could not support it after the conference committee inserted the bank tax.

"This tax was not in the Senate version of the bill, which I supported," Brown wrote. "If the final version of this bill contains these higher taxes, I will not support it."

Brown's reluctance to support a bank tax pushed negotiators back to the table Tuesday afternoon in search of alternate ways to pay for the new regulation. Meanwhile, Feingold wants the bill to go further, explaining that his opposition is due to the bill's failure to stop a future financial crisis, including leaving out his push to break up "too big to fail" banks.

Feingold and Cantwell also co-sponsored an amendment that would have restored the Glass-Steagall firewall separating Wall Street and Main Street banks.

"Unfortunately, these crucial reforms were rejected," Feingold said in a statement Monday. "While there are some positive provisions in the final measure, the lack of strong reforms is clear confirmation that Wall Street lobbyists and their allies in Washington continue to wield significant influence on the process."

To overcome an expected GOP filibuster, Democrats need 60 votes to approve the reform package. Without Byrd, Feingold and Cantwell, who has not yet announced how she'll vote, Democrats would need to pick up four Republican votes. While four supported the original bill, getting all four to support the conference report is not a given.

And so begins the full-court press for votes, with the possibility remaining of a postponed Senate vote until after the Fourth of July recess, when a replacement for Byrd may be appointed by West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin, a Democrat.

Even before the conference committee reconvened, Democrats were unsure they could hold a vote this week. House Democrats were planning to take the conference report to the floor Tuesday, but held off filing the bill because the Senate did not yet have 60 confirmed votes -- allowing for a reconvening of the conference committee.

Republicans who vote against Wall Street reform should expect some heat from Democrats. House Minority Leader John Boehner's analogy of the reform bill as "killing an ant with a nuclear weapon" in an interview with the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review led to an outcry from Democrats from both ends of the Capitol.

"Republican Leader John Boehner just sent a wake-up call to the American people about the dangers of turning back the clock to a Republican Congress," said Rep. Chris Van Hollen, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's office jumped in as well. "Senate Republicans should say whether they agree with Boehner's assessment," said spokesman Jim Manley. "If they do, it would explain why nearly all of them voted against holding Wall Street accountable."

The majority of Republicans will oppose the bill and link it to what they call the Democrats' job-killing agenda. A Boehner aide defended the statement to Politico's Mike Allen: "He was simply pointing out that Democrats have produced a bill that will actually kill more jobs and make the situation worse."

Clinton Endorses Romanoff Over Incumbent Bennet

By Kyle Trygstad

Throwing a wrench in the gears of Democrats pushing the candidacy of Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet, Bill Clinton today endorsed Bennet's primary challenger, former state House Speaker Andrew Romanoff.

The move solidifies the fact that Clinton and Democratic leadership in Washington are not always on the same page. The White House is so firmly in support of Bennet that it discussed other potential jobs in Washington with Romanoff that he could explore instead of running for Senate.

"Colorado is far better off today because of Andrew Romanoff's leadership. America will be too," Clinton writes in an email to supporters titled, "I support Andrew Romanoff." "Andrew brings to this race both an extraordinary record of public service and an extraordinary capacity to lead. I believe that those assets, as well as his deep commitment to Colorado, give him the best chance to hold this seat in November."

Clinton cites their long relationship -- the two met during his first run for president in 1992, when Romanoff was a student at Harvard -- and Romanoff's accomplishments as the first Democratic Colorado speaker since 1976.

The Aug. 10 primary is expected to be competitive, though Bennet led by 17 points in a Denver Post poll released earlier this month. Clinton's endorsement will surely boost the profile of Romanoff, however.

Bennet, who endorsed Obama in 2008, was appointed to the seat following Ken Salazar's appointment as U.S. Interior Secretary. Romanoff endorsed Hillary Clinton in the contentious presidential primary battle.

Scott Brown Will Oppose Wall Street Reform

By Kyle Trygstad

Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown announced today he will not support the Wall Street reform conference report in its current form because of its inclusion of a bank tax. Brown announced his opposition in a letter to Sen. Chris Dodd and Rep. Barney Frank, the lead Democratic negotiators on the bill.

"I am writing you to express my strong opposition to the $19 billion bank tax that was included in the financial reform bill during the conference committee," wrote Brown. "This tax was not in the Senate version of the bill, which I supported. If the final version of this bill contains these higher taxes, I will not support it."

Brown was one of four Republicans to support the original Senate version of the bill, which passed May 20. The House-Senate conference committee concluded negotiations Friday and both chambers were expected to vote on the conference report this week, enabling President Obama to sign by July 4.

With the death of West Virginia Sen. Robert Byrd and Wisconsin Democrat Russ Feingold's announcement yesterday that he will not support the bill, Democrats are struggling to come up with the 60 votes necessary to overcome a likely GOP filibuster.

Three other Republicans -- Iowa's Chuck Grassley and Maine's Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins -- have yet to announce whether they will support the bill. And Washington Democrat Maria Cantwell remains undecided as well. For Democrats to pass the bill this week, they will need all four of their votes.

Democrats could re-open the conference committee to continue negotiations. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid could also choose to hold off the vote until after next week's Fourth of July recess, when a replacement for Byrd can be appointed. But Democrats will still need GOP votes to pass it.

UPDATE: Dodd and Frank announced the conference committee will in fact reconvene at 5 p.m.

Excerpts of Elena Kagan's Opening Statement

The White House just released excerpts of Elena Kagan's opening statement to the Judiciary Committee, which she'll deliver this afternoon:

"Mr. Chairman, the law school I had the good fortune to lead has a kind of motto, spoken each year at graduation. We tell the new graduates that they are ready to enter a profession devoted to "those wise restraints that make us free." That phrase has always captured for me the way law, and the rule of law, matters. What the rule of law does is nothing less than to secure for each of us what our Constitution calls "the blessings of liberty" - those rights and freedoms, that promise of equality, that have defined this nation since its founding. And what the Supreme Court does is to safeguard the rule of law, through a commitment to even-handedness, principle, and restraint. ...

"The idea is engraved on the very face of the Supreme Court building: Equal Justice Under Law. It means that everyone who comes before the Court - regardless of wealth or power or station - receives the same process and the same protections. What this commands of judges is even-handedness and impartiality. What it promises is nothing less than a fair shake for every American.
...

"[T]he Supreme Court is a wondrous institution. But the time I spent in the other branches of government remind me that it must also be a modest one - properly deferential to the decisions of the American people and their elected representatives. What I most took away from those experiences was simple admiration for the democratic process. That process is often messy and frustrating, but the people of this country have great wisdom, and their representatives work hard to protect their interests. The Supreme Court, of course, has the responsibility of ensuring that our government never oversteps its proper bounds or violates the rights of individuals. But the Court must also recognize the limits on itself and respect the choices made by the American people."

...

"I've led a school whose faculty and students examine and discuss and debate every aspect of our law and legal system. And what I've learned most is that no one has a monopoly on truth or wisdom. I've learned that we make progress by listening to each other, across every apparent political or ideological divide. I've learned that we come closest to getting things right when we approach every person and every issue with an open mind. And I've learned the value of a habit that Justice Stevens wrote about more than fifty years ago - of 'understanding before disagreeing.'

I will make no pledges this week other than this one - that if confirmed, I will remember and abide by all these lessons. I will listen hard, to every party before the Court and to each of my colleagues. I will work hard. And I will do my best to consider every case impartially, modestly, with commitment to principle, and in accordance with law."

The Week Ahead: Hectic Week On The Hill

The Senate begins the week mourning the death of West Virginia Democrat Robert Byrd, the longest-serving senator in history who died early this morning at the age of 92. The AP describes Byrd as "a fiery orator versed in the classics and a hard-charging power broker who steered billions of federal dollars to the state of his Depression-era upbringing."

Byrd's death opens what was already expected to be a busy week on Capitol Hill. For the second time in a year, the Senate will begin the confirmation process of a Supreme Court nominee of President Obama. Elena Kagan, the current solicitor general, testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee today after being introduced by her home-state senators, Democrat John Kerry and Republican Scott Brown.

Kagan is a former Harvard Law School dean and veteran of the Clinton White House. With no bench experience or decisions to dissect, it's Kagan's experience in both capacities that Republicans will focus on as the hearings unfold this week.

White House: President Obama returned to Washington Sunday night from a weekend at the G-20 summit in Toronto. To begin the week, the president will attend meetings at the White House, then on Tuesday welcomes a bipartisan group of senators to discuss comprehensive energy and climate change legislation. Obama heads to Racine, Wisconsin on Wednesday to hold a town hall meeting on the economy. The rest of the week, so far, looks to be quiet.

Vice President Biden hits the road again this week. Biden heads to the GE Appliance and Lighting headquarters in Louisville on Monday to highlight the impact the stimulus bill is having on creating jobs. Later in the day Biden attends a campaign event in Jeffersonville for Indiana Rep. Baron Hill, then begins the evening in his hometown of Wilmington, Delaware with an event for Senate nominee Chris Coons. On Tuesday he travels to the Gulf Coast, including a visit to the National Incident Command Center in New Orleans and to the Florida panhandle.

Capitol Hill: You know it's a busy week for Congress when Supreme Court nomination hearings share the spotlight with anything. Kagan's hearings begin today at 12:30 p.m. and are expected to run throughout the week. However, her's won't even be the only high-profile nomination hearings.

The Senate Armed Services Committee will hear Tuesday the nomination of Gen. David Petraeus to take over as commander in Afghanistan. Petraeus is expected to cruise to confirmation, as senators from both sides of the aisle praised Obama's choice following the resignation of Gen. Stanley McChrystal.

Meanwhile, the House and Senate will vote on a compromise Wall Street reform bill that increases the government's regulatory abilities and creates a consumer-protection agency. It's expected to have a more difficult road in the Senate, where 60 votes are required. Meanwhile, House Democrats are also expected to bring a "budget enforcement resolution" to the floor to set discretionary spending levels, in lieu of a traditional budget. And a supplemental appropriations bill still awaits a vote as well.

And it's unclear what effect Byrd's death will have on some of these votes in the Senate. Now with 58 votes, the road to passing legislation will be even more trying.

*In Case You Missed It: South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, on "Fox News Sunday": "Given everything I know today, she's well-qualified but she has a lot to answer for. The president won the election -- to my conservative friends, you should expect liberals to be picked by Obama. But you should expect us to do our job, and that's not replace our judgement for his but to make sure she's qualified and not an activist. And that's what we aim to do."

NC: Dems Target Most Vulnerable Republican

By Kyle Trygstad

In June 2008, North Carolina Sen. Elizabeth Dole was polling near 50 percent and leading Democratic nominee Kay Hagan by double-digits. Democrats had hoped Gov. Mike Easley or another high-profile Democrat would challenge Dole, but none had stepped forward.

Fast forward two years, and the state's 2010 Senate race looks much the same.

Secretary of State Elaine Marshall was not the national Democratic Party's favored candidate, but she won Tuesday's runoff convincingly and now is perhaps the party's best chance at defeating a Republican incumbent. Sen. Richard Burr is finishing up his first term in office but continues to hover below 50 percent in general election polling.

Hagan went on to defeat Dole by a significant margin, and Democrats think this year's nominee can be just as successful. Marshall defeated Cal Cunningham by 20 points in the runoff and now has the national party firmly behind her bid against Burr.

Unlike in 2008, however, the national political climate does not favor Democrats, and Marshall will not have a popular presidential candidate above her on the ballot. In fact, after two successful elections for Democrats, Burr is one of just two Republicans -- along with Louisiana's David Vitter -- that Democrats appear to have a reasonable chance of defeating.

Enthusiasm is one reason for the GOP's resurgence in the polls this year. Gallup reported Monday that the nationwide enthusiasm gap is the highest it's ever been for the GOP. Republicans think this could erase the party's voter registration deficit -- in North Carolina, the breakdown is 46 percent Democrat, 32 percent Republican.

Marshall also has a financial disadvantage. Through mid-April, when the last fundraising reports were due, Marshall had less than $200,000 to Burr's nearly $5 million.

Still, independent observers believe Burr could be vulnerable.

"The bottom line is that Burr is far from entrenched in his seat, due in part to a relatively low profile for someone who is already five years into office," said Wake Forest political scientist John Dinan. "At the same time, he is advantaged by what is currently a favorable electoral environment for Republicans."

Dinan notes that Burr's numbers continue to suffer because of the same issues he had a year ago, when polling began to indicate his vulnerability.

"It's not clear that Burr has elevated his profile significantly in the last year," said Dinan. "He has gained more attention as a result of his work and positions on health care legislation. But it remains the case that a sizable percentage of recent poll respondents do not have a firm opinion regarding his re-election, and so that opens the opportunity for Democrats to define him in the course of the 2010 campaign."

The latest survey was released two weeks ago by Public Policy Polling, a Democratic firm based in North Carolina, and found Burr leading Marshall 46 percent to 39 percent. Marshall performed 4 points better than Cunningham, an Iraq war veteran and former state senator whom the DSCC believed could defeat Burr. But PPP's Tom Jensen believes Democrats ended up with the more electable nominee.

"Marshall is looking considerably more competitive against Richard Burr at this point in the election cycle than Kay Hagan did against Elizabeth Dole two years ago," Jensen wrote Tuesday night following Marshall's victory.

Another difference from 2008, however, is Marshall begins the general election with far less money than Hagan. By the end of June, Hagan had more than $1.2 million in the bank. While Marshall's fundraising report isn't due for another three weeks, matching that total is unlikely after a drawn-out primary process.

Hunter Bacot, polling director at Elon University, says money is going to be a "primary factor."

"Hagan had money and was able to establish the narrative and dictate it," said Bacot. "That's one of the things missing here. She's going to need money to get on the airwaves and try to move the narrative to her favor."

That's where the national party could come into play. The DSCC won't say how much it's planning to spend on the general election race, but it invested heavily in Cunningham during the primary for a reason -- Democrats think they can win.

"Given Richard Burr's anemic poll numbers, his blank slate of accomplishments in North Carolina, and his staunch support for devastating economic policies, there is no doubt he is in trouble," said Deirdre Murphy, spokeswoman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Cornyn indicated Tuesday night that Republicans will tie Marshall to unpopular Washington. While Burr is the one who is actually in Washington, the Democrats control it.

"Marshall has demonstrated that she will simply serve as another rubberstamp for President Obama and Harry Reid's deeply unpopular out-of-control spending agenda in Washington, which North Carolinians have soundly rejected," said Cornyn.

Still, Burr is running for a seat that no senator has won re-election to since 1968; he's running in a year when incumbents from both parties are on notice after five were defeated during the primary process; his polling numbers haven't improved in the last year; and he's running in a state that's trended Democratic the last two election cycles, when the percentage of Republican registered voters has decreased.

"Along with the historically narrow margins in North Carolina Senate contests and Kay Hagan's victory over Elizabeth Dole in 2008," said Dinan, "this gives Democrats reason to view this race as potentially competitive."

NC: Marshall Wins Runoff

By Kyle Trygstad

Elaine Marshall handily defeated Cal Cunningham to win the Democratic nomination in the North Carolina Senate race. The Associated Press called the race with a third of precincts reporting and Marshall leading with 62 percent of the vote.

In the May 4 primary, Marshall finished 4 points shy of the 40 percent needed to win the nomination outright. But it was a strong showing, taking 74 of the state's 100 counties.

Marshall is serving her fourth term as secretary of state, but the national party continued to recruit candidates it viewed as better competition for Republican Sen. Richard Burr. After Attorney General Roy Cooper and others turned down running, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee successfully recruited Cunningham into the race.

Cunningham is a young Iraq war veteran and former one-term state senator. In the anti-establishment year of 2010, he was viewed by some in Washington as a stronger opponent than someone who had been in the same office since the 1990s. Marshall's poor performance in the 2002 Democratic Senate primary also may have hampered the opinion of her.

But Marshall successfully overcame all of that and proved to voters that she would be the most electable against Burr, whom polls show to be the most vulnerable Republican senator in the country.

"Democrats got their more electable candidate for the fall by nominating Elaine Marshall to run against Richard Burr tonight," Public Policy Polling's Tom Jensen wrote Tuesday night. "Qualitative arguments were made over the last six months that Cal Cunningham would be the stronger nominee but polling data has repeatedly shown that Marshall is the stronger candidate."

Despite its efforts to help Cunningham, the DSCC immediately released a statement congratulating Marshall.

"Congratulations to Elaine Marshall on her primary victory," said DSCC Chairman Robert Menendez. "She is a proven reformer who has taken on the special interests in her state, and has cracked down on lobbyist activity, insurance company abuses, and excess on Wall Street. Both Elaine and Cal Cunningham deserve credit for running spirited, aggressive campaigns."

With just two public polls released during the six week-long runoff campaign, it was difficult to tell if either candidate had separated themselves. Marshall did, however, win the endorsement of Ken Lewis, an African American attorney who finished third in the May 4 primary with 17 percent.

Marshall worked hard to win the black vote, which her campaign spokesman insisted weeks ago would be the difference in the race.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee, in defending its biggest target, issued a statement on the race.

"Marshall has demonstrated that she will simply serve as another rubberstamp for President Obama and Harry Reid's deeply unpopular out-of-control spending agenda in Washington, which North Carolinians have soundly rejected," said NRSC Chairman John Cornyn. "In contrast, Richard Burr has a proven record of accomplishment, and he continues to work tirelessly to restore critical checks-and-balances that the families, seniors, and job creators in the Tar Heel State deserve."

RCP currently rates this race Leans Republican.

SC: Haley Wins Runoff

By Kyle Trygstad

Nikki Haley easily won the Republican gubernatorial nomination tonight. She led with 63 percent of the vote when the Associated Press called the race, with less than four-in-10 precincts reporting. The state representative bested U.S. Rep. Gresham Barrett, who had 37 percent when the race was called.

Two weeks ago Haley nearly won the nomination outright, but finished a half-percentage point shy of the 50 percent needed. Barrett finished second in the June 8 primary with 22 percent, followed by Attorney General Henry McMaster with 17 percent and Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer with 12 percent.

To win the nomination, Haley had to overcome smear campaigns, a resume with less experience and, as an Indian-American woman, the state's history. The endorsement by Sarah Palin in the primary escalated Haley's profile an instantly gave her a boost in the polls.

Given the state's Republican leanings, Haley steps into the general election as the favorite against Democrat Vincent Sheheen. Should she win, Haley will become the state's first female governor.

RCP currently rates this race Likely Republican.

In the 1st District, state Rep. Tim Scott won the Republican runoff and appears set to become the first African American Republican in the House since Oklahoma's J.C. Watts left Congress in 2002. Scott defeated Paul Thurmond, son of the late Sen. Strom Thurmond, by an overwhelming 73 percent to 27 percent margin with 80 percent of the counties reporting.

Meanwhile, 4th District Rep. Bob Inglis became the fifth incumbent member of Congress to be defeated in 2010. Inglis trailed Spartanburg County prosecutor Trey Gowdy by a 76 percent to 24 percent margin with half of the counties reporting. Inglis follows Utah Sen. Bob Bennett, Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter, West Virginia Rep. Alan Mollohan and Alabama Rep. Parker Griffith.

Three Races To Watch Today

By Kyle Trygstad

There are three major statewide races on the docket today, one governor's race and two to decide nominations for the Senate. With the upcoming Fourth of July holiday and Congress pushing to finish up business for the August recess, this is the last big day of elections for the next six weeks. Here's a look at the three biggest races of the day:

Utah - Republican Senate Primary

Businessman Tim Bridgewater nearly came out of the early May state party convention with the GOP nomination but fell 3 points shy of the 60 percent needed to avoid a primary. Since then, he's tried to prove his resume as a true conservative, while also collecting some establishment-type endorsements -- with none bigger than Sen. Bob Bennett, whom he defeated at the convention.

Meanwhile, attorney Mike Lee built up some momentum of his own and has collected endorsements from such conservatives as South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, as well as the Tea Party Express.

The two have furiously fought for the last six weeks to distinguish themselves, as they take similar stances on the top issues and entered the race from outside of elected office. One hot topic the Deseret News calls a "sleeper issue" is that of the importation of nuclear waste for disposal, something Lee supports and Bridgewater wants to ban.

A poll released over the weekend found Bridgewater ahead by 9 points with 43 percent of the vote. However, a quarter of voters remain undecided and the nomination is up for grabs.

North Carolina - Democratic Senate Primary Runoff

In a year when electability hasn't always been the deciding factor in primaries, it's the top argument of the two Democrats vying for the chance to take on first-term Republican Sen. Richard Burr. No one has been re-elected to this seat since 1968, and both Cal Cunningham and Elaine Marshall say they are the only one who can keep that streak alive.

Marshall, a four-term secretary of state, and Cal Cunningham, a former one-term state senator and veteran recruited by the national party, sought the outsider mantle to go along with being most electable. They also jockeyed for the endorsement of primary opponent Ken Lewis. The African-American Chapel Hill attorney, who took 17 percent of the primary vote, ultimately endorsed Marshall, whose campaign has focused on getting out the black vote and believes that voting bloc is the game-changer.

Cunningham has pushed the argument that Marshall is a career politician -- an unattractive resume in this political climate. Extending the electability argument, the campaign released a late endorsement Sunday from former presidential candidate Wesley Clark, who was quoted saying Cunningham "is without a doubt the best Democrat to beat Richard Burr this November."

Polling has been sparse, as it can be difficult to estimate turnout in a runoff. The last public poll was released more than a month ago and found the race tied at 36 percent apiece. Like Utah, that leaves a quarter of voters undecided.

South Carolina - Republican Gubernatorial Primary Runoff

South Carolina, a southern state that's never had a woman governor, is witnessing the dramatic political rise of a female, Indian American state representative. Nikki Haley's surge onto the statewide political scene came against three white men with far more political experience. But before taking Columbia, or even the Republican nomination, Haley must first defeat Rep. Gresham Barrett in today's runoff.

Haley nearly won the nomination in the June 8 primary, finishing just a half-point shy of 50 percent. Barrett finished second, far behind with less than 22 percent. Also running was two-term Attorney General Henry McMaster (17 percent) and Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer (12 percent). Haley has the support of Mitt Romney and Sarah Palin, whose endorsement and inclusion of Haley among her "Mama Grizzlies" instantly increased Haley's profile in the primary -- but she still had to get through the infamous nature of South Carolina politics.

Haley's waded through a handful of adultery accusations and questions about her Christian faith, but the smears are not expected to affect today's result. Bauer quickly endorsed Barrett, but not McMaster, who recently told the Washington Post: "The [primary] results were remarkable. There's a new day dawning for South Carolina. We have an opportunity to be an example for the rest of the country."

NRCC Has Outraised DCCC By $1M In 2010

By Kyle Trygstad

The National Republican Congressional Committee raised nearly $5.4 million last month, outdoing its Democratic counterpart for the second straight month. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee brought in $5.1 million.

The NRCC has now outraised the DCCC in three of the first five months of the year and has cumulatively topped it by $1 million in 2010, raising $30.2 million from January through May to the DCCC's $29.1 million.

However, with more than $28 million, the DCCC still has more than twice as much cash-on-hand. The NRCC has $12 million in the bank.

The two party committees will likely be spending their money differently over the next four-and-a-half months, as Democrats look to hold their large majority and Republicans aim to win back the House after four years in the minority.

The Week Ahead: Super Runoff Tuesday In Carolinas

By Kyle Trygstad

There are elections in four states Tuesday, including three high-profile statewide races in Utah, North Carolina and South Carolina and a congressional runoff in Mississippi. President Obama continues to push the Senate on clean energy legislation, and Vice President Biden hits the road in his role as campaign surrogate-in-chief. Here are the details on the week ahead in politics:

The White House: The president begins the week with an annual speech on the importance of responsible fatherhood, followed by a barbeque at the White House. Things pick up steam on Wednesday when a bipartisan group of senators meet at the White House to discuss the process for passing comprehensive energy and climate legislation this year -- something the House did a year ago, and something Obama called for last week in his first nationally televised address from the Oval Office. On Thursday Obama meets with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, a day before both travel to Muskoka, Ontario to attend the G-8 summit.

Something Republicans don't think he should do is enjoy any sporting or arts activities in Washington until oil stops leaking into the Gulf. "Until this problem is fixed, no more golf outings, no more baseball games, no more Beatle concerts, Mr. President," Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele said in a statement Sunday, a day after Obama played golf with Biden and two days after he watched pitching phenom Stephen Strasburg and the Nationals against Obama's hometown White Sox.

Capitol Hill: On Tuesday, the House and Senate conference committee continues negotiations on the Wall Street reform legislation, a process that began last week and is expected to conclude this week. In the House, a vote is expected on the Disclose Act, which Democrats are hoping to rally support around after pulling it Friday because of a lack of votes. The bill comes in response to the controversial Supreme Court decision in the Citizens United case, which allows corporations, unions and other groups to directly engage in political activity, like air TV ads against a candidate. The Senate begins the week with Monday evening votes on a handful of judicial nominations, and in one week Senate Judiciary Committee hearings will commence on the nomination of Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court.

Politics: Biden begins the week in Midland, Mich., located nearly dead-center in the state -- about where one would expect given its name -- where he will again highlight the success last year's stimulus bill is having on businesses and job creation around the country. From Midland, Biden heads to Chicago for fundraising events with 10th District nominee Dan Seals, who was twice unsuccessful against Republican Mark Kirk, and Senate nominee Alexi Giannoulias, who's facing Kirk this year in a statewide race -- one of utmost importance to the White House.

In Utah, Mike Lee and Tim Bridgewater battle it out for the Republican Senate nomination after knocking incumbent Republican Bob Bennett out of the primary process last month. The primary is a de facto general election, as the winner is expected to cruise to victory in November. North Carolina Sen. Richard Burr will finally learn who his Democratic opponent is on Tuesday, when Elaine Marshall and Cal Cunningham conclude their feisty runoff campaign. South Carolina has a runoff as well, as state Rep. Nikki Haley (better known as one of Sarah Palin's "Mama Grizzlies") fights to hold off Rep. Gresham Barrett after nearly taking the nomination outright in the June 8 primary. And in Mississippi, two Republicans are vying to take on eight-term Democrat Bennie Thompson in the 2nd District -- including one candidate whom Thompson beat with 69 percent in 2008.

**Poll Watch:
Obama Job Performance: Approve 48.4 / Disapprove 47.7 (+0.7)
Congress Job Performance: Approve 21.8 / Disapprove 72.5 (-50.7)
Generic Ballot Test: Republicans +0.4

**In Case You Missed It: RCP's own Sean Trende appeared on FOX News Sunday to discuss the role of Obama and Palin on the midterms so far.

Gallup: Voters Split On Obama Re-election

By Kyle Trygstad

A new Gallup survey finds voters mostly split over whether President Obama deserves re-election in 2012, just as they have been for the last several months.

The poll, conducted of registered voters from June 11-13, found that 46 percent think he deserves re-election. That includes 79 percent of Democrats, 43 percent of independents and 9 percent of Republicans. Of the 51 percent who do not think he deserves to be re-elected, 18 percent were Democrats, 53 percent independents and 91 percent Republicans.

The results were nearly identical in March, when 46 percent said he deserves re-election and 50 percent said he does not.

"Currently, Americans' views on whether Obama deserves re-election show it would be a close race if the election were held today," wrote Gallup's Frank Newport. "Still, a great deal can change in what is a political lifetime between now and November 2012, meaning that while of current interest, estimates of Obama's re-election chances at this point have little predictive validity."

Proof of that -- in an extreme form -- is in May 2002, when George W. Bush's approval rating was at 77 percent thanks to what Gallup calls the "rallying effect" after 9/11. At that time, 69 percent said George W. Bush deserved re-election. By October 2004, that number was down to 50 percent. He went on to win with 51 percent of the popular vote.

S.C. Dems Uphold Greene's Primary Win

By Kyle Trygstad

South Carolina Democrats last night upheld Alvin Greene's surprising Senate primary victory after hearing a protest from the candidate expected to win the race, Vic Rawl. Greene won the June 8 contest with 59 percent without running a viable campaign operation.

The AP reports that "experts and voters testified for Rawl that questionable balloting statistics and problems with touch-screen voting machines indicated a corrupted final tally... But committee members said they hadn't been presented with enough concrete evidence and could not overturn an election, no matter how much they wanted Rawl, a former lawmaker and judge, to win."

In a statement following the state party executive committee vote, Chairwoman Carol Fowler said: "South Carolina Democrats are ready to move past the primary and focus on taking our state back with our Democratic slate. These men and women we have nominated truly represent our core values and will change the direction of our state."

Democrats had been hoping for a different outcome. Greene never filed an FEC report and does not have a campaign web site, while Rawl has a noteworthy resume and was able to loan his campaign $125,000 in the primary. The national party is not expected to step in to support Greene, with its valuable resources better spent defending or fighting to pick up seats elsewhere.

"Right now the DSCC is not engaged there," committee Chairman Robert Menendez said last week.

Some of the question marks surrounding Greene include how the unemployed man who lives with his father was able to pay the $10,440 candidate filing fee and the earlier AP report that Greene is facing a felony charge of obscenity.

Greene will now face first-term Sen. Jim DeMint, who's become a hero to conservatives around the country. He would be heavily favored to retain the seat no matter who the Democratic nominee is.

RCP rates this race Safe Republican.

Rep. Barton Retracts Apology To BP

By Kyle Trygstad

Facing mounting pressure from his own party, Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) retracted his apology to BP CEO Tony Hayward, which he offered to the oil executive this morning in his opening statement as ranking member of the Energy and Commerce Committee.

"I am ashamed of what happened at the White House yesterday," Barton said this morning. "It is a tragedy in the first proportion that a private corporation can be subjected to what I would characterize as a shakedown - in this case a $20 billion shakedown."

Hayward testified today and answered the panel's questions late into the afternoon. As he testified, the White House and Democrats from both chambers of Congress blasted the congressman for apologizing to the oil company.

Republicans joined as well, with Florida Rep. Jeff Miller the first to call on Barton to step down as ranking member of the committee. Miller represents the western-most district in Florida's panhandle. House GOP leaders John Boehner, Eric Cantor and Mike Pence issued a joint statement calling Barton's initial comments about a White House shakedown "wrong," adding that BP acknowledged repsonsibility and "offered an initial pledge of $20 billion."

Here is Barton's full statement of regret, apologizing for his earlier statement:

"I apologize for using the term 'shakedown' with regard to yesterday's actions at the White House in my opening statement this morning, and I retract my apology to BP. As I told my colleagues yesterday and said again this morning, BP should bear the full financial responsibility for the accident on their lease in the Gulf of Mexico. BP should fully compensate those families and businesses that have been hurt by this accident. BP and the federal government need to stop the leak, clean up the damage, and take whatever steps necessary to prevent a similar accident in the future.

"I regret the impact that my statement this morning implied that BP should not pay for the consequences of their decisions and actions in this incident."

Biden Visit Shines Welcome Spotlight On Giannoulias

By Kyle Trygstad

Vice President Biden is heading to Chicago Monday amidst an uncomfortable time in Illinois politics. Former Democratic Governor Rod Blagojevich is on trial on corruption charges, and new polling shows voters in the Democratic leaning state unexcited about both parties' ticket-topping candidates.

Still, the White House clearly sees an opportunity to hold on to President Obama's former Senate seat. As the Chicago Sun-Times' Lynn Sweet noted, Biden's far from the only White House attaché trekking to Illinois this month to assist Democratic Senate nominee Alexi Giannoulias with fundraising -- Education Secretary Arne Duncan visits today, Deputy Chief of Staff Jim Messina on Saturday and 2008 campaign manager David Plouffe on June 30.

Republican Mark Kirk continues to struggle with ongoing revelations of embellishing his military resume and politicking while on active duty that have hurt him in the polls. Until this week, Kirk had led Giannoulias in the last five public polls. But a recent survey from the Democratic polling firm Public Policy Polling finds the two in a statistical tie, with Giannoulias up 1 point.

Since April, Kirk's unfavorable rating has risen 8 points, while the North Shore congressman's favorable rating stayed stagnant. But Giannoulias, who's facing his own trouble with the failing of his family-owned bank, has yet to capitalize. According to the poll, he leads with 31 percent to Kirk's 30 percent, with Green Party candidate LeAlan Jones taking 14 percent and a quarter of voters undecided.

"Voters in Illinois are tuning into a soap opera not an election," said PPP president Dean Debnam "The Senate election is about scandals not issues. The candidate who can turn the focus of the race from their personal issues to the real issues will have the best chance of winning over undecideds."

Meanwhile, Gov. Pat Quinn, who stepped in following Blagojevich's impeachment and won a close and competitive primary against Dan Hynes, has yet to excite the base. In fact, PPP found that 37 percent of Democrats disapprove of the job he's doing as governor and a quarter have no opinion.

"Illinois Democrats seem to be disenchanted by both of the party's leading candidates this year, which could end up aiding Republicans across the ticket," said Debnam. "For Quinn to win this race he needs to reinstate voters' confidence in his ability to be a state administrator but ultimately, and more importantly, reunite Illinois Democrats."

Luckily for Quinn, Republican Bill Brady is coming off a tight primary as well and isn't polling much better. Brady leads 34 percent to 30 percent for Quinn, with Green Party candidate Rich Whitney taking 9 percent and 27 percent undecided.

As for the Senate race, Biden, who's been the leading campaign surrogate for the White House so far, should be a shot in the arm for Giannoulias next week. Not only is it a clear sign that the White House is firmly behind his candidacy, but his visit could also help open the gates to future fundraising as well.

"We are excited to have the Vice President and other top surrogates come out to Illinois and campaign with Alexi, and we welcome their support," Giannoulias spokesman Matt McGrath told RCP. "Their presence signifies the importance of this race, and will further serve to remind Illinois voters that as President Obama is working to clean up the mess he inherited -- an economy on the brink of ruin, and record unemployment -- Congressman Kirk has stood in the way every time."

No Favorite Yet In Race To Replace Bennett

By Kyle Trygstad

The next senator from Utah will likely be decided in next week's Republican primary between attorney Mike Lee and businessman Tim Bridgewater. The two finished on top at last month's state party convention -- ending the Senate career of incumbent Bob Bennett -- and the primary winner will have the general election advantage in the heavily-Republican state.

But with less than a week to go, there is no clear favorite in the race. At least one survey from a well-known local pollster is expected to be released over the weekend, which may provide the clearest sense of a frontrunner -- if there is one -- since the convention.

"A lot of people believe had more of the Bennett supporters stuck around to vote in that last round at the convention, Bridgewater would have won the 60 percent needed to take the nomination," said LaVarr Webb, a political consultant and former journalist in Salt Lake City. "But since the convention, Lee has picked up a little more of the momentum. And it's hard to know what's going to happen."

With the election less than a week away, two important endorsements were rolled out in the last few days. Bennett endorsed Bridgewater on Friday, and a national tea party organization, Tea Party Express, endorsed Lee Tuesday morning.

With little daylight between the candidates on the issues, the Bridgewater campaign has sought to create distance with their resumes. In a Bridgewater TV ad released Monday, the announcer states that the race is "between a businessman and a D.C.-based lawyer." Bennett's endorsement of Bridgewater highlighted that distinction as well.

"I've known Tim Bridgewater for more than a decade, and I am impressed by the fact that he, like me, brings a businessman approach to political issues," said Bennett. "Most of my colleagues in the Senate are lawyers, and that's not necessarily a bad thing, but when a legal approach dominates, practical solutions often get pushed aside."

Although Bennett was ousted at the conservative-filled convention, experts in the state say he still appeals to the broad primary voting base. Bridgewater also received the backing last week of the convention's fourth-place finisher, conservative activist Cherilyn Eagar.

Along with Tea Party Express, Lee has gathered several other national conservative endorsements including Sen. Jim DeMint, former Sen. Rick Santorum, RedState.com's Erick Erickson and FreedomWorks, a conservative activist recruiting and training organization chaired by former House Republican Leader Dick Armey.

But while Lee has racked up several key tea party and conservative endorsements, Bridgewater finished first at the convention in early May with 57 percent of the final vote. And that was among some of the most conservative and activist members of the GOP.

"Both candidates come across as very conservative, and their rhetoric is fairly similar," said Webb. "Bridgewater does seem to be picking up more support from more establishment Republicans, and the business community seems to be leaning toward him a little bit more."

Lee went on the air with a TV ad a week earlier than Bridgewater, and that edge may help him in the poll expected out this weekend. While Bridgewater focused on his business experience, Lee, a former law clerk to Supreme Court Justice Sam Alito and general counsel to former Gov. Jon Huntsman, featured his mantra of being "a true conservative and constitutional expert."

The messaging may be the deciding factor in what's expected to be a low turnout primary. As of now, Webb says, "It's probably pretty close."

NPR Poll Spells Trouble For Dems In November

By Kyle Trygstad

A new poll of the battleground congressional districts finds reason for deep concern among Democrats. The poll, conducted for NPR by Democratic polling firm GQR and Republican polling firm Public Opinion Strategies, tested the 60 most competitive Democratic districts and shows an increasingly difficult environment for candidates of the majority party.

"The results are a wake-up call for Democrats whose losses in the House could well exceed 30 seats," GQR notes in its findings.

In the Democratic districts, several findings were most disconcerting for the party: just 34% said they would vote to re-elect their representative, whom the questioner named; in a separate question, 56% said they will not vote to re-elect their representative because new people are needed to fix Washington; and when both the Democratic and Republican candidates were named, 47% said they'd vote for the Republican and 42% chose the Democrat.

Also tested were the 10 most competitive Republican districts, where 53% say they'll vote for the GOP candidate and 37% for the Democrat.

Messaging will also be a problem for Democrats. As GQR notes, "We tested Democratic and Republican arguments on the economy, health care, financial reform and the big picture for the 2010 election. The results consistently favored the Republicans and closely resembled the vote breakdown. Democrats are hurt by a combined lack of enthusiasm and an anti-incumbent tone."

Graphs and a full list of the districts included in the survey can be found here. Full results are here. NPR's write-up of the poll is here and quick break-down is here.

Retirements Force Dems To Shift Program To Defense

By Kyle Trygstad

With the swearing-in yesterday of Republican Rep. Tom Graves of Georgia, Democrats now hold a 255-178 majority in the House. And with a large majority comes the necessity in future elections to play more defense than offense, and that's exactly what Democrats are doing this year.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee's Red-to-Blue program, inherently centered on playing offense, proved successful four years ago under the leadership of then-Chairman Rahm Emanuel as an effort to highlight the top Democratic candidates in the country and help them raise money. In the minority, it mostly assisted Democratic challengers running in Republican-held congressional districts.

This year, thanks to a large number of retirements in moderate districts, nearly 40 percent of the candidates in the program are running in districts left vacant by a Democratic incumbent. That includes seven of the 11 candidates whom the DCCC enrolled in the program on Monday.

Overall, 10 of the 26 candidates in the program are from Democrat-held districts. Five of the 26 are running in open Republican seats, and 11 are challenging a Republican incumbent. Included among the 10 is West Virginia's Mike Oliverio, who defeated longtime Rep. Alan Mollohan in a primary last month.

Polling shows a distinct anti-Washington mood among voters across the country, and handicappers have warned of the possibility of Republicans retaking the House. However, while an increasing number of retirements usually signal a bad climate for the majority party -- and that's certainly what 2010 is for Democrats -- in this volatile midterm election cycle some Democrats like Oliverio may have an advantage over the retiring Democratic incumbent: They can run against Washington just as much as their Republican opponent.

The 10 candidates in the Red-to-Blue program running in Democratic districts are: Oliverio; Chad Causey (AR-1); Joyce Elliott (AR-2); Denny Heck (WA-3); Roy Herron (TN-8); Julie Lassa (WI-7); Bryan Lentz (PA-7); Gary McDowell (MI-1); Stephene Moore (KS-3); and Trent Van Haaften (IN-8).

Still, the retirements and vulnerable first- and second-term members force Democrats to take much of their focus off of playing offense in the narrow set of GOP districts the party could challenge. Among the seats Democrats hope to pick up is that of Pennsylvania Republican Jim Gerlach, whose 6th district President Obama won with 58 percent in 2008. The party also has high hopes for Tarryl Clark, a state senator challenging Republican Michele Bachmann in Minnesota's 6th district and added to the program yesterday.

Another is state Sen. Colleen Hanabusa, running in a district held by Democrat Neil Abercrombie for the last 24 years. However, due mostly to a split vote with two Democrats running in a three-person special election for Hawaii's 1st district, Republican Charles Djou defeated Hanabusa and former Rep. Ed Case last month. Hanabusa is expected to take the heavily Democratic seat back in November.

"These candidates have stormed out of the gate, and the Red to Blue program will give them the extra edge to win in November," DCCC press secretary Ryan Rudominer said in a statement to RealClearPolitics. "They have already proven their commitment to being independent leaders who puts jobs and economic recovery first. We look forward to helping them keep making that case to voters in the months ahead."

The last two election cycles were about winning as many Republican seats as possible. This year, with the wind no longer at the party's back, the focus is on keeping the seats they've won -- and including the 10 Democrats from open Democratic districts in the Red-to-Blue program is part of that process.

"The Democrats are prepared for this...They've seen this wave coming. They've constructed a high seawall," former Republican Rep. Tom Davis said Sunday on ABC's "This Week." "The Republicans have got to take this anger and translate it in districts across the country if they're going to win."

"They have a possibility of taking the House back," Davis said, noting that the GOP has had the best recruiting year of either party in a generation. But, he added, "This is not an automatic."

SD-AL: Primary Win Bounces Noem Into Lead

By Kyle Trygstad

South Dakota Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin has a race on her hands. A new poll shows the Blue Dog leader down 12 points to state Rep. Kristi Noem, who defeated two legitimate opponents to win the Republican nomination Tuesday.

Noem leads 53 percent to 41 percent in today's Rasmussen poll. Previous polls by Rasmussen showed Noem down 15 points in April and 3 points in May.

The result may reflect a bounce in the polls that many primary winners receive shortly after their victories. But Herseth Sandlin, running for a fourth full term, clearly could be in trouble polling in the low 40s at this point in the election year.

Herseth Sandlin has won re-election with nearly 70 percent in her last two elections. She was first elected to Congress in a 2004 special with 51 percent, then elected to a full term later that year with 53 percent.

This year, a quarter of the state's voters consider themselves part of the Tea Party movement, according to this latest poll, and Noem has the support of more than 80 percent of them. And President Obama, who took 45 percent of the vote in the state, now has an approval rating there of 40 percent.

Gallup: Dems Increasingly Seen As Too Liberal

By Kyle Trygstad

Nearly half of Americans now believe the Democratic Party is too liberal, while some see the Republican Party as slightly more moderate than it was just two years ago. Gallup's new survey shows that perceptions of Democrats are now approaching what they looked like just after the 1994 midterm cycle.

"Currently, by 49% to 40%, more Americans perceive the Democratic Party as too liberal than say the Republican Party is too conservative, giving the Republicans an advantage in an important election year," Gallup's Jeffrey M. Jones writes.

Two years ago, during an election year that Democrats increased their congressional majorities and won the White House, 50% said the views of the Democratic Party were "about right," and 39% said they were too liberal. Now, just 38% say they're about right and 49% say they're too liberal.

That's just 1 point below the party's all-time high of 50% in a survey conducted after the Republicans had retaken control of Congress in 1994. The increase in liberal views of the Democrats has largely come from independents and Republicans, with 12% more independents and 8% more Republicans viewing the party as more liberal.

As for Republicans, just about the same number of people say the party's views are too conservative or about right. In 2008, 43% said GOP views were too conservative and 38% said they were about right. Now, 40% say they're too conservative and 41% say they're about right. Still, the number of people who see the GOP as too conservative remains near its highest point since the early 1990s.

"In their efforts to attract widespread voter support in general elections, parties and their candidates generally want to avoid being perceived as too ideologically extreme," Jones writes. "With Election Day more than four months away, however, the Democratic Party has an opportunity in the 2010 campaign to try to alter voters' perceptions of the party's ideology."

Democrats Want An Election Of Contrast

By Kyle Trygstad

With 59 seats in the Senate, an overwhelming majority in the House and a solid victory in the last presidential race, it's practically impossible for any party to test midterm cycle history and not lose a significant number of seats. But in 2010, Democrats are facing the kind of poll numbers and anti-establishment mood that has handicappers predicting the possibility of losing the House entirely, and cutting it close in the Senate.

Still, Democrats believe they're finishing up one of their best weeks in recent memory, and Sen. Robert Menendez, chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, sat down with reporters Thursday to explain why.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada learned his general election foe will be Sharron Angle, a tea-party backed former state assemblywoman with views the DSCC believes are too toxic for the general election. And Arkansas Sen. Blanche Lincoln beat the odds and $10 million in spending by labor groups to take a 4-point victory in a runoff against a more liberal Democratic challenger in Lt. Gov. Bill Halter. The Agriculture Committee chairwoman can now run in a race that fits her independent style far better.

"This is a fluid environment, a lot of volatility in the electorate, and I don't' think we've seen the last of the surprises," Menendez said.

A year ago, he noted, most expected Charlie Crist to be the next senator from Florida, Connecticut Sen. Chris Dodd appeared set for a showdown with former Rep. Rob Simmons, and Trey Grayson looked like a shoo-in for the nomination in Kentucky. None of those came to fruition, and come November, Menendez said, "I think that gives us a very good sense, in a nutshell, about how the map will be fluid and volatile."

Democrats aim to localize each race and frame them solely as a choice between the merits of two candidates. If they're successful in doing so, Menendez says he likes the party's chances after seeing some of the GOP's nominees.

"Republicans have, in essence, so far elected in their primary process individuals who simply are not good fits for the general election and not good fits for this environment as well," he said. "Their crop of candidates are either the extreme replacing the mainstream or the Republican establishment candidates that don't work as well in this environment."

But the numbers remain on the GOP's side. A recent Gallup poll found that 60 percent of voters would rather support a candidate who has never served in Congress, compared with 32 percent who'd prefer someone with congressional experience. President Obama's approval rating is sub-50 percent, Congress has a historically low approval rating, and Gallup's generic ballot testing currently shows the two parties tied, which is a negative for Democrats who generally run a few points ahead in a normal year.

"A stronger-than-usual anti-incumbent bias is another challenge for a majority Democratic Party that is trying to minimize the losses usually dealt to the president's party in a midterm election year," Gallup's Jeffrey M. Jones wrote Tuesday. Election Day is "still nearly five months away, but typically, voters' attitudes toward incumbents do not change dramatically over the course of an election year."

The news gets worse for incumbents like Reid and Lincoln, who haven't seen much positive movement in the polls in the last year. Jones writes: "To the extent change has occurred in a given election year, it has usually been toward a more negative rather than a more positive view of incumbents."

While Democrats see Angle as too extreme for the general election, the first poll released since Tuesday's primaries found her leading Reid by 11 points. Lincoln has trailed Republican John Boozman by more than 20 points in the last two polls in Arkansas.

Menendez, though, sees room for positive movement. He believes that an improving economy, the reining in of Wall Street and the kicking of benefits of health care reform will improve the mood of voters this fall.

"If on Nov. 1, the day before Election Day," Menendez said, "the environment is that people believe, although they're not fully satisfied, that we are headed in a better direction -- that's the best environment I can hope for on Nov. 2."

Republicans are happy with where they stand today and the National Republican Senatorial Committee believes voters will ultimately hold Democrats responsible in November for high unemployment and increased spending, with the national debt now more than $13 trillion.

"It's no wonder the Democrats are trying to gloss over their own party's contentious divisions and failed policies, but the facts speak for themselves," said NRSC press secretary Amber Marchand. "Republicans are united behind our Senate nominees while the Democrats are still reeling from costly and divisive primaries in Arkansas, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Ohio, Colorado, and Kentucky."

Iowa Was Establishment's Field Of Dreams

By Kyle Trygstad

While antiestablishmentarianism may be running rampant in elections across the country, it skipped one state entirely on Tuesday night. Iowa Republicans flocked to the kind of "insiders" that voters elsewhere were bent on rejecting.

For governor, a GOP majority opted for former four-term Gov. Terry Branstad over Tea Party-backed businessman Bob Vander Plaats. It's hard to get more establishment than someone whose previous tenure in the same office spanned the Reagan-to-Clinton administrations. Likewise, in Iowa's 1st Congressional district, a former congressional aide (read: ties to Washington) easily defeated a Ron Paul activist. In the 2nd district, Mariannette Miller-Meeks was given her second try at unseating Democratic Rep. Dave Loebsack, who beat her last time by 57% to 38%.

In Iowa's 3rd Congressional district, state Sen. Brad Zaun -- the only candidate with any political experience at all -- easily met the 35% threshold to claim the GOP nomination outright. Few handicappers had expected any of the seven candidates to emerge as a clear winner. Mr. Zaun, a former town mayor and hardware store owner, will now take on eight-term Democrat Leonard Boswell in what should be a closely-watched race in the fall.

As the results poured in Tuesday night, the Des Moines Register's Kathie Obradovich video-blogged in evident surprise: "Political experience is trumping the sort of outside vibe or insurgency campaigns that we've seen a lot of here in Iowa."

To be sure, plenty of anti-establishment, anti-incumbent sentiment was evident around the country. But don't let anyone tell you Sen. Blanche Lincoln in Arkansas was the only veteran to defy the mood. Iowa loves a familiar political face too.

Reid, Angle Fight Just Beginning

By Kyle Trygstad

The Nevada players are set, and for the next five months Harry Reid and Sharron Angle will be aiming directly for each other, with both looking to make the race a referendum on the other one -- Reid as the leader of the out-of-touch Democrats in Washington, and Angle as the right-wing extremist.

Thanks to dismal polling for Reid against Angle, the Senate majority leader remains one of the most vulnerable incumbent Democrats. However, the four-term senator got the opponent he wanted in the tea party-backed Angle, who's driven a wedge into the state party establishment and perhaps caused national party leaders to hold their collective breath in hopes she doesn't open her general election campaign as Rand Paul did in Kentucky.

National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Cornyn told ABC News on Wednesday that he immediately reached out to Angle following her win. In a year when ties to Washington can be a detriment to a campaign, Cornyn said, candidates like Angle and Paul "may or may not want our help. But we're here if they want it. ... Winning an election is not rocket science, but it does take some discipline, it does take some organization. That's what we hope to add."

Meanwhile, the Reid campaign is wasting no time, reportedly releasing two new positive TV ads today and welcoming Bill Clinton to Las Vegas tonight for a rally. This will be Reid's third round of ads, after going on the air in October and April.

In a fundraising solicitation yesterday, campaign manager Brandon Hall wrote that Angle "makes Rand Paul look like a reasoned moderate," and that she opposes health care and Wall Street reform and "supports shipping nuclear waste to Nevada's Yucca Mountain."

Whether Angle was the preferred candidate or not, the NRSC says it fully supports her and that Reid is no less vulnerable.

"I don't think this is any day for Harry to be giddy or popping champagne corks," Cornyn told ABC. "I think he's in very deep trouble."

RCP currently rates this race a Toss Up.

CA Sen: Fiorina Wins, Boxer Ready

By Kyle Trygstad

Republican voters in California left no doubt who they prefer to take on three-term Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer in the general election -- Carly Fiorina. The former Hewlett Packard chief executive won a crowded primary with 56 percent of the vote, with her next closest challenger, former congressman Tom Campbell, taking just 22 percent.

"For 28 long years in Washington, Barbara Boxer has led our state and our nation down a path toward higher taxes, greater regulation and less economic growth," Fiorina said last night. "But this year, we have a unique opportunity to defeat her so that we can take our government in a different direction."

Without major primary opposition, Boxer was able to stuff her coffers with cash, including two visits from President Obama. Her campaign was simply waiting for the long, testy GOP primary to conclude so it could set its sights on one person. Now it's "game on," as Boxer campaign manager Rose Kapolczynski said last night.

"Starting tonight, the Boxer campaign will begin a new effort to reach out to voters about what is at stake in this election and the record, positions and priorities of Carly Fiorina and Barbara Boxer," Kapolczynski said in a memo to reporters. "Tonight we also have invited Fiorina to join us in publicly debating the many important issues facing California and our nation. We are ready to start meeting immediately to discuss mutually acceptable arrangements."

The Boxer campaign is also ready to get out in front of any negative attacks thrown their way by Fiorina, and surely to send some back her way. The Boxer campaign has installed a fact-checking section on its web site and a place where voters can learn all about Fiorina's positions.

"Our supporters are energized and organized, and we are all looking forward to a vigorous campaign on the road to victory in November," said Kapolczynski.

The national parties also immediately weighed in on the race. Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman Robert Menendez noted that Fiorina "nearly drove Hewlett-Packard into the ground, laying-off 32,000 workers and outsourcing many jobs, but still collected a $42 million golden parachute." His Republican counterpart, John Cornyn, said in her nearly three decades in Washington, Boxer "has championed reckless spending in Washington."

The latest poll, conducted two weeks ago by the L.A. Times and U.S.C., found Boxer leading 44-38 percent. RCP currently rates this race Lean Democrat.

June 8 Primary Liveblog

McCain Goes Negative, Again

John McCain saw the writing on the wall months ago, taking former Rep. J.D. Hayworth's primary challenge seriously from the get-go. Today, McCain's Senate campaign released a second TV ad going after Hayworth's record.

The first ad, released two weeks ago, labeled Hayworth an "avid earmarker" during his six terms in Congress. The new ad targets his post-congressional career and challenges Hayworth's depiction of himself as a Washington outsider.

"J.D. Hayworth says he's an outsider," the ad's announcer states. "But after he was voted out of Congress he became a registered lobbyist. Hayworth was paid thousands by a Florida corporation to lobby the very committee he used to serve on. Outsider? A lobbyist is as inside Washington as it gets."

The campaign also released a new radio ad that focuses on the same theme.

"J.D. Hayworth says he's an outsider. Hmmm," says the announcer. "Well, he was an insider as a member of Congress. Then, his big spending ways and taint of a lobbying scandal became too much for Arizonans. We voted Hayworth out of office. So what does Hayworth do? Remarkably, he decides to become a lobbyist himself."

The Hayworth campaign responded by bringing up the lobbying work of some of McCain's closest advisers on the campaign, as well as McCain's previous job as Senate liaison for the Navy.

"For 28 years, McCain has been the consummate Washington insider and this is just another effort on his part to remake himself during this campaign by spinning half-truths and flip-flopping on important issues," said Hayworth spokesman Mark Sanders.

Here is McCain's new TV ad, titled "Washington Lobbyist":

Super Tuesday's Under-the-Radar Races

Today's elections feature top-tier Senate and gubernatorial races in California and Nevada, as well as a Senate runoff in Arkansas and competitive GOP primary in the South Carolina governor's race. Those are just the highlights of a full slate of primaries, but there are a handful of intriguing races that will likely fly under the radar as the results pour in tonight.

Here are five races that may not make major newspaper headlines but are certainly ones to keep an eye on:

Iowa's 3rd District GOP Primary

The Iowa Republican Party is preparing to hold a July 10 convention to decide the nominee in the 3rd district, where no one in Tuesday's crowded primary is expected to meet the 35 percent threshold to win the nomination. The GOP sees the district has a potential pick-up opportunity, as Democrat Leonard Boswell runs for an eighth term in office.

One could also be necessary in the 2nd district, where four Republicans are vying to take on second-term Democrat Dave Loebsack.

Conventions are in many ways much different animals than primaries. As state GOP Chairman Matt Strawn said last week on local TV, "It's not the kind of campaign that's waged on the airwaves, but literally hand to hand and house to house." The winner will be decided by 422 previously elected district delegates.

By most accounts, the three leading candidates in the 3rd district are aviation security consultant Dave Funk, financial adviser and former Iowa State wrestling coach Jim Gibbons and state Sen. Brad Zaun.

South Carolina's 4th District GOP Primary

A poll conducted over the weekend found Republican Bob Inglis, running for a seventh term in office, polling 4 points behind primary opponent, Trey Gowdy, a Spartanburg County Solicitor, and receiving just 33 percent support. Inglis is currently in his second stint as congressman of the district; he was first elected in 1992, left to run for Senate in 1998, and returned in 2004. With three others vying for the nomination -- who took a collective 23 percent in the Public Policy Polling survey -- Inglis and Gowdy will likely be forced into a June 22 runoff.

Republicans, no matter who is the nominee, are expected to easily keep the seat red in November. Several third-party and independent candidates are running, as is 2008 Democratic nominee Paul Corden, whom Inglis defeated 60-37 percent.

If he loses to Gowdy today or in two weeks, Inglis will join a growing number of incumbents who were defeated during the primary process. Arkansas Sen. Blanche Lincoln faces a similar fate in today's Democratic primary runoff against Lt. Gov. Bill Halter.

Virginia's 11th District Republican Primary

Democrats picked up three House seats in Virginia in 2008. Two -- the 2nd and 5th districts -- have already garnered attention because of their Republican leanings and vulnerable incumbents. But the third district to flip, Northern Virginia's 11th, is far more moderate. Before Democrat Gerry Connolly won it and Barack Obama carried it by 15 points in 2008, moderate Republican Tom Davis represented the district for 14 years.

Both Connolly and Davis are former chairmen of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, and Republican Pat Herrity, who now sits on the board, is aiming for the congressional seat this year. He's up against 2008 GOP nominee Keith Fimian, and the race between them has turned nasty. No matter who wins, the Republican nominee likely won't be able to use the same anti-government theme woven through campaigns across the country -- the district has one of the highest percentages of federal government employees in the country.

North and South Dakota's At-Large District GOP Primaries

With North Dakota Gov. John Hoeven the walk-away favorite to win Democrat Byron Dorgan's open Senate seat in November, the hottest statewide race today is the Republican primary for the state's lone House seat. Democrat Earl Pomeroy turned down a Senate bid in favor of running for a 10th term in the House.

State Rep. Rick Berg -- endorsed by the state party, named a Young Gun by the national party, and stocked with more than $400,000 in cash-on-hand -- is the heavy favorite in the GOP primary and has led Pomeroy in polling each of the last four months. But he'll first need to get past J.D. Donaghe, an oilfield consultant who reported having no money at all as of May 19.

In South Dakota, Democrat Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, a leader of the fiscally conservative Blue Dog Democrats, is running for a fourth full term as the state's representative in the House. She's considered a rising star with potential for higher office, but Herseth Sandlin is polling below 50 percent against three potential Republican opponents: Secretary of State Chris Nelson and state Reps. Kristi Noem and Blake Curd.

Curd has already given his campaign nearly $90,000 and had more than $120,000 in the bank as of mid-May -- about three times as much as Nelson or Noem, who both polled a couple points better than Curd against Sandlin. The national party has its eyes on this race as well, and Curd is in the first tier of the Young Guns campaign organization program.

The Week Ahead: Super Tuesday Is Here

The first full week of June brings loads of intrigue and will kick off quickly as 11 states hold primaries on Tuesday. The results will define some of the biggest races in the country, as Republicans decide who will take on Senators Harry Reid in Nevada and Barbara Boxer in California. They're far from the only races of consequence, but they'll be two of the most closely watched.

Some of the questions going into Tuesday include: In Nevada, will Sharron Angle become the latest example of a tea party-backed candidate defeating an establishment candidate in a Republican primary? In California, can Tom Campbell overcome a severe monetary disadvantage and questions over some of his moderate policy stances to topple Carly Fiorina? And will Arkansas Sen. Blanche Lincoln become the fifth incumbent to be defeated during primary season?

We delved into these and seven other highlights from this week's contests in a piece called "10 Things To Watch On Super Tuesday."

Now for the rest of this week's happenings:

WHITE HOUSE: The Gulf oil spill will again take much of the attention at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. Adm. Thad Allen did a tour of the Sunday morning talkshows and will meet the press at the White House today at 10 a.m., alongside Press Secretary Robert Gibbs. Allen said yesterday that BP had successfully capped the leak, saving 10,000 gallons of oil per day. Later today the president will speak at a high school graduation in Kalamazoo, Michigan; Tuesday morninig he'll hold a national tele-town hall meeting from a senior center in Wheaton, Md., to talk about the health care reform bill (the event will be broadcast live on C-SPAN); on Thursday, a bipartisan, bicameral group of leaders from the Hill will reportedly attend a meeting at the White House to discuss the legislative agenda for the rest of the year.

Vice President Biden and his wife, Jill Biden, left Saturday for Africa, where they'll visit Egypt and Kenya before arriving in South Africa to attend the opening of the World Cup.

CAPITOL HILL: A fight in the Senate will continue this week over the EPA's authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski's resolution of disapproval will be debated and voted on Thursday. The Senate will also vote on several judicial nominations and a tax-extenders bill that has already passed the House. Unlike the Senate, the House doesn't return from Memorial Day break until Tuesday afternoon. Possible bills up for consideration include the FHA Reform Act and the Small Business Lending Fund Act.

**Poll Watch:
Obama Job Performance: Approve 47.3 / Disapprove 46.4 (+0.9)
Congress Job Performance: Approve 21.4 / Disapprove 72.0 (-50.6)
Generic Ballot Test: Republicans +1.2

**In Case You Missed It: In an interview with the Las Vegas Review-Journal, published yesterday, Nevada Sen. John Ensign compared his personal problems to that of a professional athlete, who must put them at the back of their mind on game day: "Put it this way. Let's say you are a professional athlete and you had some personal problems, whatever those were. Well that night, the game's there. You have to go do your best for your team. They are paying you; you are a professional."

**Sporting News: The sports gods were surely not thinking of us politics hacks when they scheduled both Game 3 of the NBA Finals and Stephen Strasburg's major league debut for Tuesday -- the biggest primary night of 2010. The Celtics came roaring back to victory last night, defeating the Lakers 103-94 in L.A. and tying the series at one game apiece. The series heads to Boston tomorrow for the first of three games, followed by two more in L.A. if necessary. Also, tonight the Nationals will make their second consecutive first overall pick in the MLB draft; they're expected to take catcher/outfielder Bryce Harper, whom -- along with Stephen Strasburg -- agent Scott Boras calls a one-in-50-year player.

Republicans Want Their Jobs Back

Steve Pearce wants his job back. After leaving behind the House two years ago for greener pastures on the north end of the Capitol, Pearce got shellacked in the general election by Tom Udall, then a fellow representative and now the junior senator from New Mexico. Republicans, who in the previous session of Congress had two of the state's three House seats and one of its Senate seats, are now unrepresented in the 111th Congress -- and Pearce aims to change that.

His journey back got a little closer Tuesday night when he handily defeated Cliff Pirtle, a Roswell-area farmer, in the GOP primary. The win sets up what's expected to be a competitive general election fight against freshman Democrat Harry Teague for the 2nd district seat. All three of the state's congressmen are freshman Dems, but Teague looks to have the most difficult race ahead of him in the Republican-leaning district on the Mexican border.

Pearce is not the only former member looking to get back to Capitol Hill. Ousted in 2008, Steve Chabot of Ohio and Tim Walberg of Michigan are hoping a stronger year for Republicans nationwide assists their comeback campaigns; as are a couple of 2006 casualties like Mike Fitzpatrick, knocked out of his Philly-area seat, and Richard Pombo, who's actually running in a neighboring Northern California district.

Also hoping for a second shot at Congress are unsuccessful GOP challengers who lost vacant Republican districts in 2008, like Maryland's Andy Harris, Ohio's Steve Stivers and Virginia's Keith Fimian. Same with Doug Hoffman, who, under odd circumstances, lost New York's 23rd district in a November 2009 special election.

Apparently it's the year of do-overs for Republicans across the country -- only time will tell if voters think so too.

10 Things To Watch On Super Tuesday

By Kyle Trygstad and Mike Memoli

While the May 18 primaries in Arkansas, Kentucky and Pennsylvania had their fair share of intrigue, the real Super Tuesday of the 2010 midterm cycle's primary season is June 8. Pitching phenom Stephen Strasburg will be making his major league debut for the Nationals just a few blocks down South Capitol Street, but it's a safe bet that many on Capitol Hill will have their eyes glued to the election results in 11 states.

With so many contests to take in, here are 10 highlights and things to watch for as Super Tuesday unfolds:

Harry and the Republicans

While establishment Republicans in Nevada don't agree on Sharron Angle's ability to defeat Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, there's little disagreement she's the nominee Reid would prefer to run against. Angle's non-mainstream views on several issues (like shifting Social Security to a free market alternative and calling for the United States to withdraw from the United Nations) worry many of the standard bearers who prefer Sue Lowden, a former state senator and chairwoman of the Nevada GOP.

Angle's endorsement by the Tea Party Express and the Club for Growth gave her a boost in the polls, and she took the lead in two separate polls released Thursday. But no matter who wins Tuesday -- Angle, Lowden or Danny Tarkanian, who are the most likely -- that person will enter the general election race with a significant fundraising disadvantage. As of May 19, Reid had more than $9 million, and none of the three Republicans had as much as $300,000.

But the GOP sees a sitting duck in Reid, who continues to straddle 40 percent support in the polls. Anything under 50 percent should be worrisome to an incumbent, but a party leader near 40 percent is far worse.

Is Lincoln Incumbent No. 5?

Arkansas Sen. Blanche Lincoln needed a majority of the votes in the May 18 Democratic primary to avoid becoming another incumbent casualty. While she technically survived by being forced into a runoff after winning 44 percent, the well-known, two-term senator could have trouble picking up more support in Tuesday's contest. In fact, often just the opposite happens.

Lt. Gov. Bill Halter is running a campaign against Lincoln that, besides the labor unions that have his back, sounds an awful lot like any number of Republican challengers across the country -- arguing that Lincoln is no longer of Arkansas but rather a creature of Washington. Meanwhile, Lincoln is running on the clout she's earned after 12 years in the Senate, stepping up last year as chairman of the Agriculture Committee.

If Lincoln is defeated, she'll join a growing number of incumbents who can already start packing their bags: Sens. Bob Bennett (R-Utah) and Arlen Specter (D-Penn.), and Reps. Alan Mollohan (D-W.Va.) and Parker Griffith (R-Ala.).

Carlyfornia Steamin'

While her campaign got off to a rocky start, beginning with the strange Web site and tagline Carlyfornia Dreamin', Carly Fiorina has the money and momentum heading into the three-way California GOP Senate primary against former Rep. Tom Campbell and Assemblyman Chuck DeVore. The latest polls have Fiorina up by at least 15 points.

Thanks in part to the $5.5 million she's contributed to her campaign, Fiorina slammed TV stations statewide with ads while Campbell was forced to pull his own off the air because of a lack of funds. DeVore, backed by Sen. Jim DeMint and other conservatives, never gained traction. In her latest ad, Fiorina bypasses her primary opponents and goes straight for Sen. Barbara Boxer, who's running for a fourth term in office.

If she wins, in the general election Fiorina will no longer have a monetary advantage. Boxer's already received two fundraising visits from President Obama, and through May 19 she was approaching $10 million in the bank.

Meg's Millions

The race for California governor is always one of the marquee contests in a midterm year. And even with Arnold Schwarzenegger out of the equation, this year's contest should be no exception.

Former Gov. Jerry Brown ended up with a clear path to the Democratic nomination when San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom decided to run for lieutenant governor. So the action this Tuesday is on the Republican side, with former eBay CEO Meg Whitman poised to earn the nomination over state Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner.

Whitman has maintained a fairly substantial lead for much of the contests, and paid handsomely to do so. The most recent filing showed she has spent over $80 million already, $68 million of it from her own pocket. It's an unprecedented sum even in a state where millionaires have spent lavishly before in political races - often unsuccessfully. Jerry Brown hasn't even spent 1 percent of that total.

Poizner, a millionaire himself, has closed the gap some in recent months, running an aggressive and strongly negative media campaign accusing Whitman of lacking conservative credentials. Whitman in return has run a bit more to the right, and the emergence of illegal immigration as an issue in neighboring Arizona of course became more prominent here.

Whitman has said she is prepared to spend as much as $150 million to win this race, her first ever for elected office. It may be necessary against an opponent first elected to statewide office 40 years ago.

An Iowa Comeback

Two states that play major roles in presidential nominations hold key Republican primaries for governor Tuesday, perhaps offering a sneak peak at the mood of that constituency with just a year and a half until that 2012 race becomes real. In Iowa, the frontrunner is a familiar face: Terry Branstad, a former four-term governor joining Brown and three others looking to reclaim their old posts this year.

Democrat Chet Culver appears to be among the most vulnerable incumbents in the country, regardless of who emerges from Tuesday's contest. But a Branstad win in particular would threaten to seal Culver's fate five months before the general election, analysts believe.

And yet, Branstad is not the runaway favorite, if recent polls are to be believed. Bob Vander Plaats, the party's nominee for lieutenant governor in 2006, was running before Branstad entered and unlike others in the party, chose not to defer to the familiar name when he did join the field. He's had the loyal support of Mike Huckabee, winner of the state's 2008 caucuses, and run as the true conservative outsider in an anti-establishment year. Focus on the Family's James Dobson joined Huckabee in endorsing him just this week.

But Branstad landed his own high-level endorsement Thursday as well: former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. She joined Mitt Romney in doing so in a rare nod to a familiar name; she's backed underdogs in many other contested primaries this year. The only setback to Branstad so far may have come in a brief hospitalization for a heart procedure, one the campaign says was routine.

2010's First Gubernatorial Casualty

Culver is one of many incumbent governors who are fighting for their political lives this year. But Nevada's Jim Gibbons is poised to be the first who won't even survive his primary.

The former Congressman barely survived a series of late stumbles in his 2006 campaign to win the office in the first place. But his tenure has been marked by even more controversy, including a sensational divorce. Former state Attorney General Brian Sandoval emerged early ready to challenge Gibbons, and polling has shown him a strong favorite ahead of Tuesday's vote.

Should Gibbons lose, he'd be the first elected incumbent governor to lose his renomination fight since Frank Murkowski lost to Sarah Palin in 2006. In the Democratic primary, Rory Reid, son of the embattled Senate majority leader, is unopposed. But his father's struggles appear to be effecting his general election prospects as well, which is one reason why he and other Democrats will be hoping for an upset win by Gibbons.

Can Haley Hold On?

No campaign has gotten as ugly this late as the Republican race for governor in South Carolina. State Rep. Nikki Haley had emerged in recent weeks as something of a surprise leader in the polls, a surge capped with the recent endorsements of Palin and Romney. But now she's facing what even in South Carolina is considered a brutal late onslaught as not one but two men - both with some standing in party politics - alleged that they had sexual relationships with Haley.

Having run hard on fiscal conservative issues and with some quiet support from outgoing Gov. Mark Sanford's political machine, Haley has now been forced to rebut these charges, including a TV ad launched just this week where she introduces her husband and talks of the state's ugly politics.

Three other Republicans have been fighting it out with Haley. Rep. Gresham Barrett has faced his own struggles of late as his Washington record - particularly a vote for TARP - made him a target. Attorney General Henry McMaster joined Republican colleagues across the country in filing suit against the Obama health care law. Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer, who once offered not to run if Sanford resigned after his personal controversy, has not gained much traction.

Democrats have their own primary, but it's drawn far less interest and the winner will be considered a heavy underdog.

The Return of Pombo

Richard Pombo, the former chairman of the House Resources Committee (renamed the Natural Resources committee when the Dems regained power in 2007) was driven out of California's 11th district in 2006, thanks in large part to environmental groups who labeled him "Wildlife Enemy No. 1." Now the Republican is aiming for the neighboring 19th district, far safer than his old district and left vacant with the retirement of Republican George Radanovich.

Well, environmental groups are up in arms once again, as Yosemite National Park is located within the district's borders. The San Jose Mercury News quoted the CEO of the League of Conservation Voters comparing Pombo representing Yosemite to Godzilla as mayor of Tokyo. The Republican primary winner is expected to also take the general election, but it's unclear who exactly that will be. Pombo faces the Radanovich-endorsed state Sen. Jeff Denham, former Fresno Mayor Jim Patterson and Fresno City Councilman Larry Westerlund.

Taking Back Virginia

Bob McDonnell's gubernatorial victory in November began what Republicans hope will be the party's resurgence in the state. Before he took over as governor, Democrats held the governorship, both Senate seats and six of the 11 House seats. Democrats picked up three House seats in 2008, and Republicans see red in at least two of them -- Glenn Nye's 2nd district and Tom Perriello's 5th district. Their opponents will be decided Tuesday.

Both primaries are packed and will likely be close, but the party favorites are state Sen. Robert Hurt in Charlottesville's 5th and Scott Rigell, a friend of McDonnell's, in Virginia Beach's 2nd.

A Football Jersey

The Garden State is still riding high after winning the right to host the Super Bowl in a few years. And Republicans are even more bullish after the strong win last November of Chris Christie over incumbent Gov. Jon Corzine. With that backdrop, we note the campaign in New Jersey's 3rd Congressional District by Jon Runyan (R), an NFL veteran who spent much of his career with the Philadelphia Eagles. That team boasts many fans in the southern New Jersey seat, giving him a boost in the race to challenge first-term Democrat John Adler.

The 12th District seat held by Rush Holt (D) could also be competitive this fall, and there are potential upsets in GOP primaries across the state as conservative former mayor of Bogota and two-time gubernatorial candidate Steve Lonegan is backing a host of tea-party candidates.

White House Political Operation In The Crosshairs

With a record that includes losses in gubernatorial contests in Virginia and New Jersey and the Massachusetts Senate seat, the White House already faced doubts about whether the Obama political machine could still deliver. But the controversy over political horsetrading with primary challengers in Pennsylvania and Colorado have created new headaches for an administration that promised to change the way Washington does business.

Early this morning, press secretary Robert Gibbs responded to Colorado Senate hopeful Andrew Romanoff's disclosure that he was presented with three potential administration posts should he decide to abandon his challenge to appointed Sen. Michael Bennet. Gibbs said White House deputy chief of staff Jim Messina simply was contacting Romanoff because he had applied for a job during the transition, and that he "wanted to determine if it was possible to avoid a costly battle between two supporters."

Last week White House counsel Bob Bauer released a memo after an internal investigation of offers made to another candidate, Pennsylvania Rep. Joe Sestak, in return for dropping out of the race against Sen. Arlen Specter. Bauer ultimately found that "allegations of improper conduct rest on factual errors and lack a basis in the law," adding that there "have been numerous, reported instances in the past when prior Administrations" acted in a similar manner.

At today's briefing, Gibbs said President Obama himself was never personally involved in any discussions involving primary politics dealmaking. But, he added: "The president as the leader of the party has an interest in supporters not running against each other in contested primaries."

"We went through a contested primary. They're not altogether fun things," Gibbs said. "Does the leader in the party have an interest in ensuring that primaries that tend to be costly aren't had so you're ready for the general election? Of course."

Sara Taylor, a former director of political affairs under President George W. Bush, told RCP that this administration appears to "take a very heavy hand" in primaries, something that was not the case in her time. In 2004, Bush similarly backed Specter when he faced a strong challenge in the Republican primary. But there was very strict criteria that they followed before making an endorsement in contested primaries. Taylor attributed the change to the man at the top of the flow chart -- chief of staff Rahm Emanuel.

"You have a former political director as the chief of staff. So that to me is a big difference in terms of the management of the political operation," she said. "He for much of his career has run a political operation."

Emanuel ran the DCCC in 2006, helping the party retake control of the House. He also was heavily involved in the political operation of Bill Clinton. Indeed, the Bauer memo showed it was Emanuel, and not officials in the Office of Political Affairs, who called Clinton and asked him to reach out to Sestak.

The White House also has a mixed record on other fronts, with some spectacular failures. In New York, officials as high as Vice President Biden were recruited to help clear the field for Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand. But efforts to push Gov. David Paterson out of the race, though ultimately successful, were a public embarrassment the left many with bruised egos. The White House's recruiting efforts in states like North Carolina, Illinois and Delaware failed to produce top challengers in key Senate contests.

Taylor said it is hard for any winning presidential candidate to transfer its successes into the White House, and that the Office of Political Affairs is often overburdened and understaffed. But Paul Begala, a former Clinton adviser, said the successes of this administration should not be overlooked, particularly on the legislative front. As for the current controversy over the Romanoff and Sestak offers, Begala said it is partially a product of Obama's own promise to avoid such horsetrading.

"I'm glad they set the bar high. They should set the bar high," he said. "They do deserve some criticism for [playing] politics as usual. But that's all that this is."

But it also could have been avoided, he said, if the White House had responded sooner when questions about Sestak in particular were first raised.

"Very often, when these things happen, they take a long time responding because people want to be careful. They want to make sure they're recollection is right," he said.

As for whether anything improper occurred, Begala quoted Ron Kaufman, a former adviser to President George H.W. Bush. "If this is a crime, then every president going back to George Washington was a criminal."

Gulf Disaster Response Competed For President's Attention

Six weeks after the Deepwater Horizon oil rig sunk in the Gulf of Mexico, the White House still finds itself on the defensive amid questions about the president's level of attention and focus on the unfolding crisis. In a press conference last week, President Obama emphatically stated that he took "full responsibility" for the government's response, while challenging that those who say "we were either slow on our response or lacked urgency don't know the facts."

A review of the president's schedule since the rig sank finds that while the oil spill has been a regular part of the agenda, other priorities -- and some extended periods of R&R -- competed for time. April 22, the day the rig sank and two days after the first explosion, is indicative of this pattern. That morning, Obama traveled to New York City to deliver remarks on Wall Street reform. En route, press secretary Robert Gibbs was asked whether Obama had spoken with officials in the region about the rig explosion, responding, "I don't believe so." After returning to the White House, Obama held a reception to honor Earth Day and met with the crew of the Space Shuttle Endeavour.

But he also held his first meeting on the rig explosion with a dozen officials in the Oval Office. The White House released this photo, along with a statement that, "the President and First Lady's thoughts and prayers are with the family members and loved ones facing the tragic situation in the Gulf of Mexico."

The very next day, Obama and the first lady departed for a weekend getaway in Asheville, North Carolina. The trip would include visits to local eateries, a tour of the Vanderbilt's estate, and two golf outings. That Sunday, Obama also met with the Rev. Billy Graham and later spoke at a memorial service honoring coal miners who died in a West Virginia mine explosion.

Only late in the following week -- and after a two-day Midwest trip focused on the economy -- did the oil spill return to Obama's agenda. On April 29, a full week after the rig sank, did Obama discuss the situation publicly, before an event honoring the national Teacher of the Year. Obama's daily intelligence briefing that morning included an update on the efforts to contain the spill, and Gibbs' daily press briefing included officials from the EPA, Homeland Security and the Coast Guard. That night, Obama spoke at a fundraiser for the DNC.

On April 30, Obama again discussed the spill before previously scheduled comments on the latest GDP numbers. A moratorium on new offshore drilling was announced; Obama later traveled to the Secret Service's training center. The following day, he spoke at the University of Michigan's commencement ceremony, before returning to Washington for the annual White House Correspondents Association dinner. He included comments on the oil spill, and mentioned his first trip to the Gulf Coast region the following day. Also that Saturday, Thad Allen was designated national incident commander, and participated in a conference call with reporters along with John Brennan, Obama's deputy national security adviser.

After that trip, briefings on the disaster response became a more regular part of the president's private and public schedule. But other agenda items competed for attention as well. On May 3, for example, Obama participated on a conference call with local officials in the Gulf region, while Secretaries Janet Napolitano and Ken Salazar met with BP leadership. But Obama also honored the U.S. Naval Academy for winning the Commander-in-Chief trophy, and later hosted a dinner for members of the Business Council. Later that week, he held and event honoring Cinco de Mayo and met in the Situation Room on the ongoing military action in Afghanistan. That Saturday, another golf outing, his third since the crisis began.

The week of May 10 was similarly busy. Monday, he announced Elena Kagan as his nominee for the Supreme Court, met with his Intelligence Advisory Board, and met in the Situation Room with officials to discuss the Gulf disaster. On Tuesday, the FEMA administrator joined Gibbs at his daily briefing as the president met with Ambassador Eikenberry and General McChrystal ahead of Wednesday's visit by Afgan President Hamid Karzai. Thursday, Obama traveled to Buffalo to discuss the economy, stopping at a local eater to sample famous wings. He then attended a fundraiser for the DCCC in New York City, also stopping by the NYPD command post. Friday, he held another meeting with Cabinet officials on the spill, which he discussed at a later event honoring the TOP COPS. The weekend included yet another trip to Fort Belvoir for a round of golf.

The following week included a trip to Youngstown, Ohio, a state visit by Mexican President Calderon, and a commencement address at West Point. That weekend also included a fifth round of golf -- this time at Andrews -- and a morning shooting hoops at Fort McNair. His weekly radio and YouTube address was focused on the steps being taken to respond to the worsening crisis.

It was last week, however, when the administration felt the most heat on the crisis, particularly after a trip to California for fundraisers benefiting Sen. Barbara Boxer. Just before a planned long-weekend getaway with the First Family to Chicago, Obama held a rare news conference in which he said he took full responsibility for the response, denied that his administration was too deferential to BP, and rebutted the criticisms that he had not acted swiftly enough. But before that news conference, Obama had photo ops with the U.S. World Cup team, and a ceremony honoring the Duke Blue Devils men's basketball team. Those kind of "ceremonial" duties of the president - while certainly part of the job - provide problematic imagery for a president who is in full blown crisis management mode.

On Wednesday, Vice President Joe Biden echoed the president's sentiment on optics, telling Charlie Rose that comments from columnists like Maureen Dowd and comparisons to the Iranian hostage crisis are not "legitimate criticisms." "From my perspective," he said, "I think if there's any mistake made that we haven't communicated clearly enough."

Palin Endorses Murkowski's GOP Challenger

Sarah Palin has endorsed in several contested GOP primaries this year, but never one so close to home.

In a posting on Facebook this afternoon, the former Alaska governor announces her support for Joe Miller, a Republican who is challenging incumbent Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R).

Contested primaries are so good for America's political process! Competition makes everyone work harder, be more efficient, debate clearer, and produce more. So, Alaskans should be thrilled that Joe Miller jumped in the GOP race and is ready, willing, and able to serve us as our next United States Senator.

I'm proud to join so many other long-time Alaskans in supporting Joe Miller in the upcoming Alaska Republican Primary. Joe is a true Commonsense Constitutional Conservative, and we're thankful he and his family are willing to offer us a choice in Alaskan leadership.

Almost a year ago to the date, Palin's SarahPAC contributed $5,000 to Murkowski's campaign, amid speculation that she might enter the race herself (Palin was still serving as governor at the time). Palin now acknowledges that contribution, but says times have changed.

As she and I discussed, this was an attempt to reassure the Senator that I, as Alaska's governor, had no intention of jumping into the race. Though the media has tried to portray some sort of feud or bad blood between Lisa and myself, such is not the case. I've always wished her well, but it is my firm belief that we need a bold reformer who is not afraid to stand up to special interests and take on the tough challenges of our time. Joe Miller has stepped forward. I am thankful for his willingness to serve.

The "bad blood" refers perhaps to the fact that Palin in 2006 challenged Murkowski's father, then-Gov. Frank Murkowski (R), in the GOP primary for governor. She won that race and ultimately the seat, while Murkowski finished third. Murkowski had appointed his daughter to the Senate seat he vacated to become governor; Palin was believed to have been under consideration for that appointment as well.

Since that donation in June and in the wake of Palin's shocking resignation a month later, Murkowski was critical of the former VP nominee. In a statement, Murkowski said she was "deeply disappointed that the governor has decided to abandon the state and her constituents before her term has concluded."

Palin's endorsement comes weeks after her husband, Todd, appeared at a fundraiser for Miller in their hometown of Wasilla. It's also a bold move that will test her political might in her home state. Should Murkowski prevail in the August 10 primary, it would be seen as a sign that her standing has diminished at home as she has become a national brand.

This week, the Democratic mayor of Sitka, Scott McAdams, announced his entry to the race. RCP has classified the race as Safe Republican.

UPDATE: Murkowski's campaign has responded with this statement:

"Alaskans deserve a discourse on the basic issues that impact our everyday lives - good jobs, freedom, and opportunities. Lisa fights every day for Alaska and has a proven track record and commitment to serving our State, and she fully plans to campaign for the privilege to continue to serve the best interests of Alaska. Her efforts and tenacity have delivered better services for our military veterans, stopped overreaching bureaucratic regulations by federal agencies, created better economic and educational opportunities, and defended our 2nd Amendment rights. She is the best candidate to stay on the job and get things done."

NY GOP Chooses Berntsen Against Schumer

As New York Sen. Charles Schumer sets his sights on the title of Senate majority leader (if Harry Reid loses re-election), the state Republican Party yesterday made former CIA officer Gary Berntsen its designee to challenge Schumer in November.

With fellow Democrat Kirsten Gillibrand also up for election this year -- a special election to fill the remaining two years of Hillary Clinton's Senate term -- the Schumer race is the less attractive one for Republicans, as he has entrenched himself in his two terms in office.

Berntsen could find it difficult gaining traction in the race, as Schumer has worked hard to make himself New York's leading advocate in Washington. Even Berntsen's own name could give him trouble -- the state party misspelled it five times (the same number it was spelled correctly) in its press release announcing the decision, and his name was reportedly mispronounced several times during the state party convention voting on Tuesday.

"Gary Bernsten [sic] is certainly a game changer," said New York GOP Chairman Ed Cox. "Given his incredible professional experience on the world stage and his foreign policy acumen, Bernsten [sic] is sure to become a leader in that arena in the Senate."

Berntsen was quoted in the same press release as saying: "I will pursue Sen. Schumer in every town, on every street and every village. I will not allow him to sit in Washington, D.C. and send out campaign notices."

He'll first need to get past Conservative Party nominee Jay Townsend in the Sept. 14 Republican primary.

Primary Unkind To Two Alabama Congressmen

Two members of Congress in Alabama saw their 2010 campaigns cut short Tuesday: Parker Griffith, after switching parties in December, lost the 5th district Republican primary; and Artur Davis's gubernatorial bid ended in the Democratic primary, well before many expected.

The two members headlined a primary election day in three states -- Alabama, Mississippi and New Mexico -- and continued this year's run of intriguing political storylines.

HOUSE PRIMARIES: Griffith's shocking move to the GOP made his seat even more vulnerable than it was running as a Democrat in the South in a year Republicans feel the wind at their backs. On top of facing a competitive general election -- something he'd have no matter which party he was in -- Griffith's late entry to the Republican primary gave him yet another hurdle to overcome. Madison County Commissioner Mo Brooks won 51 percent to Griffith's 33 percent.

The freshman also was running against history, as the 5th district has never elected a Republican to the House, despite voting solidly Republican at the presidential level. Former Senate aide Steve Raby will attempt to keep that streak alive when he faces Brooks in the general election.

Elsewhere, the National Republican Congressional Committee got its guy in Mississippi's 1st district, as state Sen. Alan Nunnelee squeaked out a primary victory with 52 percent of the vote, avoiding a runoff against second-place finisher Henry Ross. Former FOX commentator, Angela McGlowan, who received an endorsement from Sarah Palin, finished third with 16 percent.

Republicans like their chances in this GOP-leaning district, which voted Democrat Travis Childers into office in a May 2008 special election to fill the remainder of Republican Roger Wicker's term. Six months later, Childers was elected to a full term with 54 percent.

The NRCC wasn't so lucky in Alabama's 2nd district, where the highly touted Martha Roby failed to avoid a runoff against tea party-backed Rick Barber, taking 49 percent to Barber's 29 percent. They'll face off again July 13 for the right to take on freshman Democrat Bobby Bright, who won in 2008 by less than 2,000 votes.

Also in play was Alabama's 7th district, which Davis gave up to run for governor. The solidly Democratic district won't know its Democratic nominee for another several weeks, as attorney Terri Sewell and Jefferson County Commissioner Shelia Smoot head for a runoff.

GUBERNATORIAL PRIMARIES: It might be a stretch to say that Artur Davis' loss in the Alabama gubernatorial primary was an upset; what little public polling there was did show him out front. But the blowout win by Agriculture Commissioner Ron Sparks was about as shocking a result as there was Tuesday night.

There will be several explanations after the fact -- among them the fact that Davis was a member of Congress in an anti-Washington year, or his vote against health care reform. Many will point to race as well, with something of a reverse Bradley effect taking place in a state where the battle for civil rights was at times bloody. But Sparks also ran an aggressive campaign and outraised Davis four-to-one in the final filing period.

Despite the easy post-mortems, though, the result was seemingly unexpected even in the Davis camp. They issued a confident expectations-setting memo earlier Tuesday, saying that undecided voters were "moving decidedly toward Artur Davis in the closing days," and that the Congressman was "poised for victory this evening as our organization executes an exhaustive statewide effort to drive our supporters to the polls."

The winner of the Republican race won't be known for some time. Three candidates were separated by just 3 points, ensuring that a July runoff will be necessary. Former state Sen. Bradley Byrne had a slight lead, while state Rep. Robert Bentley and Tim James, son of former Gov. Fob James, were neck-and-neck for the next runoff spot. Former state Supreme Court chief justice Roy Moore was a more distant fourth, meaning his second attempt at the governorship will likely come up short again.

The result was far clearer in New Mexico. While Davis' attempt at history in Alabama came up short, Susana Martinez became the first Latina woman ever nominated by a major party for governor. She won New Mexico's Republican primary rather easily, besting former state GOP chair Allen Weh. Martinez was endorsed in the closing weeks by Sarah Palin.

Lt. Gov. Diane Denish was uncontested in the Democratic primary. Whoever wins will become the state's first woman governor, replacing term-limited Bill Richardson.

--Mike Memoli and Kyle Trygstad

The Week Ahead: Countdown To Super Tuesday

Today, voters are voting in Alabama, New Mexico and Mississippi. We previewed the major storylines heading into the Alabama vote last week, including the interesting primaries in the race for governor and some Congressional races to watch.

In New Mexico, the key race is the Republican primary for governor. Lt. Gov. Diane Denish (D) is well positioned thus far in the race to succeed Bill Richardson (D), but the GOP field is wide open. It includes former state GOP chair Allen Weh, Susana Martinez -- endorsed by Sarah Palin -- and Pete Domenici Jr., son of the former senator. In Mississippi, the key race is the GOP primary in the 1st Congressional District, with the winner facing vulnerable Democrat Travis Childers.

But the week promises to be eventful as we candidates eight states campaign in the final week before the primary and runoff elections on June 8. That and more as we look at the holiday-shortened week ahead.

The White House: President Obama returned late Monday from a long holiday weekend in Chicago with the First Family. Much of the time was spent in private with friends and family near his Windy City home. A planned Memorial Day speech at the Abraham Lincoln Cemetery had to be canceled because of weather. Instead, he spoke to a small group near Andrews Air Force Base upon his return to Washington.

Today Obama was to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a visit that was canceled after Israeli forces opened fire on a flotilla attempting to reach Gaza. The president spoke to Netanyahu Monday and the White House has said little except to that it was awaiting more information. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was to visit Washington next week.

President Obama travels to Pittsburgh tomorrow for an event at Carnegie Mellon University, expected to focus on the economy. Also Wednesday, Obama meets with General Ray Odierno, and after his trip to Pennsylvania he'll host a concert at the White House honoring Paul McCartney.

On Thursday, Obama speaks on U.S.-India relations; Friday he hosts the Major League Soccer champion Real Salt Lake. Speaking of soccer, Obama will not attend the World Cup that begins a week from this Friday. Vice President Biden will do so instead, as part of a trip to Africa that begins this weekend. Today the veep is again busy with campaign duties, holding an event for New York Rep. John Hall.

Capitol Hill: The Hill is quiet for the week of Memorial Day, with members back in their districts getting face time with constituents. Both the House and Senate will return next week and work until the week of the Fourth of July.

Politics: We noted some time ago that the real Super Tuesday is June 8, which means it'll be a busy time for candidates look for their parties' nominations for some of the potentially marquee races in November. In particular, we'll be watching Republican Senate primaries in California and Nevada that may determine whether the party has a legitimate shot at retaking the Senate.

**Poll Watch:
Obama Job Performance: Approve 47.3 / Disapprove 46.1 (+1.2)
Congress Job Performance: Approve 21.4 / Disapprove 72.0 (-50.6)
Generic Ballot Test: Democrats +0.4

** In Case You Missed It: The week began with some major news on the House front, as Democrat Ed Case announced he would abandon his campaign for the Hawaii Congressional seat won in a special election just the week before by Republican Charles Djou. A divisive late September primary is likely now avoided, with State Senate President Colleen Hanabusa now essentially unopposed for the Democratic nomination. So the party's chances of winning the seat back are markedly stronger.