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First thoughts: Who shouldn't be blamed

From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, and Carrie Dann
*** Who shouldn't be blamed: Just when you thought there couldn't be any more twists and turns in this election year, the House yesterday rejected the Bush Administration's $700 billion bailout package and the Dow plummeted. It's hard to find any blameless characters in this congressional bailout mess. But is it possible what Congress did yesterday was exactly what the voters wanted? The voters don't trust this current team in Washington -- or on Wall Street -- to do, well, anything.

Video: NBC's political director, Chuck Todd, offers his first read on the fallout for the presidential candidates following the failed financial bailout effort.

Here are some startling numbers from our last NBC/WSJ poll: 73% said we're on the wrong track; 65% disapprove of Bush's job; 73% disapprove of the job Congress is doing; and only 19% have "a lot" of confidence in the federal government, and that's higher than the confidence level the public has in corporate America (11%) or the financial industry (10%). So given all these polling figures, is it any wonder the public logged so many calls into Congress demanding their members vote against this bill? By the way, while many (including us) are talking about a crisis in leadership in Washington, it is worth noting that a powerful bipartisan coalition against the bailout has come from both the left and the right.
 
*** "Lord of the Flies" inside the GOP: So who runs the Republican Party? Apparently nobody. Perhaps the most startling political development was the amazing lack of leadership on the GOP side of the aisle. Let's run down the list of Republican leaders who attempted to persuade skeptical House Republicans: President Bush, John McCain, Dick Cheney, and John Boehner. (We'd add Newt Gingrich to this list, but no one is quite sure if his last-minute support was actually cover for his behind the scenes whipping against the bill.) Bush's leadership and trust issues within his party has been evidenced for quite some time, and the icing on the Bush legacy cake is that fact that he could only convince FOUR Texas House Republicans to support his bill. And then there's John McCain, who last week decided to insert himself into the process and then (before the bailout failed) took credit for getting wavering House Republicans on board. Perhaps he did get a few wayward House GOPers on board -- but it wasn't enough. Now McCain gets a double stomach punch: He's stuck being seen as supportive of this bailout (which isn't exactly popular with the conservative grassroots) and he gets to share in the blame for the defeat since he didn't have enough political capital to get this done (By the way, not a single member of the Arizona GOP delegation voted for this bill). Watching the McCain campaign deal with this yesterday, one could sense that they were fearful that they were going to look inept and take an even deeper political wound than they sustained last week.

*** Democrats can't escape blame: Pelosi missed a huge opportunity to become an historic speaker and instead invited comparisons to Tom DeLay by deciding to deliver a more partisan speech than necessary at the time. There would have been time for partisan politics AFTER the vote, but to do it before seemed like a strategic blunder.

Video: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi takes to the floor to announce "this legislation is not the end of the line," in the cleanup of the financial situation in the U.S. markets.

Pelosi played into the stereotype she had been very adept at avoiding most of these last two years. That said, did it really cost any GOP votes? Unlikely. But it did give the House GOP leadership a talking point to deflect from its own failure. Obama, who as McCain pointed out (probably jealously) kept a healthy distance from this process, didn't seem to try and exert any influence on some of the "no" votes from the progressive/liberal side of the Democratic caucus. A large chunk of those "no" voters were very early supporters of Obama during the primary. Would a true campaign by Obama to vote for this bill have persuaded another handful of Dems? Possibly. Then again, Democrats were never going to jump off this cliff by themselves. Still, what's another 12 votes at this point if this legislation is so necessary?
 
*** Profiles in political posturing: So while the "no" voters have tried to portray themselves as the courageous ones (and maybe they'll ultimately be proven right), it's interesting that some 90% of the members of Congress who are worried about the election hides -- either this November or in a GOP primary next cycle -- voted no. By our count, there appear to be, maybe, five potential profiles in courage (casting an unpopular vote with their constituents) with two members worth pointing out by name: Republican Jon Porter of Nevada, who is locked in an intense battle in Nevada's 3rd CD, and Democrat Jim Marshall, who never has an easy time at re-election in Georgia's 8th District.

Video: Top congressional and White House officials scramble to structure a new bailout proposal. NBC political director Chuck Todd reports.

Here are some other ways to slice and dice the "no" votes. Every Arizona House Republican voted against McCain's wishes; seven of the 11 Illinois House Democrats voted the way Obama wanted. Of the 24 retiring House Republicans who are not on the ballot for anything in November, 19 voted for the bailout, four voted against, and one didn't vote. Of the five statewide candidates still in the House, all but one voted AGAINST the bailout, including both Democratic Udalls and Republicans Pearce of New Mexico and Hulshof of Missouri. Only Maine's Tom Allen, who is a massive underdog to Susan Collins in Maine, voted "yes" of the state-widers.

*** A different kind of bailout: The press isn't getting any better for Palin… McCain tried to rescue her a bit yesterday by joining her for the final day of the Couric interview. The McCain campaign knows the pressure is on Palin to rescue the campaign again. Given the last 96 hours for Team McCain, Thursday can't come soon enough.

*** Hey, big spender: Late last week, we reported that the RNC's independent expenditure unit was going to launch a nearly $5 million advertising blitz in Wisconsin, Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and even Indiana (a move that played a big role in us moving the Hoosier State from Lean McCain to Toss-up). Well, here's the ad, and it goes after Obama's proposed spending increases in the context of the $700 billion bailout. "Under Barack Obama's plan, the Government would spend a trillion dollars more, even after the bailout. A trillion dollars. Who pays? You do. New taxes. New spending. New debt. Barack Obama's plan? It will make the problem worse." (Of course, McCain's support for extending the Bush tax cuts has a steep price tag, too…) Between this ad and the new one by MoveOn, it's striking how both sides are trying to tie the bailout to the candidates. 
 
*** A Buckeye bonanza for Dems? Early voting begins today in the battleground of Ohio, as well as in Nebraska. Lost in the news of yesterday's bailout failure and the plummeting Dow was a court decision in Ohio that could have big implications in the presidential race. In a 4-3 decision, the Ohio Supreme Court upheld same-day voter registration and absentee ballot casting -- a ruling that could help Obama in the state. "The outcome of the court battles is likely to benefit Democrats in a state that narrowly awarded President Bush re-election in 2004," the AP writes. "Obama's campaign has organized car pools beginning Tuesday from college campuses to early voting sites. The Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless is ferrying voters from homeless shelters to polling sites in the Cleveland area. Other organizations that seek to increase poor and minority participation in elections are transporting voters from low-income neighborhoods. The targeted voters have all traditionally had a harder time getting registered, and then getting to polling places on Election Day. Thanks to Monday's court decisions, these Democratic-leaning voters can do it all at once."

*** Still eyeing the Hawkeye State: While some polls show Obama will a double-digit lead in Iowa -- which makes it the likeliest red state to turn blue in November -- McCain today will make his second visit to the Hawkeye State in the past two weeks. He and Palin held a rally in the state on September 18. 

*** End of another era? Down the ballot in North Carolina, the Democratic hit that Elizabeth Dole spent just 20 days in the Tar Heel State in 2005 and 13 days there in 2006 might very well have been the final nail in her coffin in her race against Dem challenger Kay Hagan. Could the end of the Bush era also bring us the end of the Dole era? There has been a Dole in the Senate for nearly 50 straight years -- and either a Bush or a Dole on the national ticket going back to '72. Will Liddy Dole's potential defeat signal the true end of the two most powerful Republican families of the last 50 years?
 
*** On the trail: McCain holds a roundtable in Des Moines, IA. Obama attends a rally in Reno, NV.
 
Countdown to the vice presidential debate: 2 days
Countdown to the second presidential debate 7 days
Countdown to the third presidential debate: 15 days
Countdown to Election Day 2008: 35 days
Countdown to Inauguration Day 2009: 112 days
 
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