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First Thoughts: Stuck in the middle

From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, and Ali Weinberg
*** Stuck in the middle with you: As President Obama prepares to deliver his primetime health-care speech on Wednesday, he's finding himself boxed in from the left and right -- of his own party. On the one hand, there are those conservative-leaning House Blue Dogs as well as moderate senators (Ben Nelson, Kent Conrad, Blanche Lincoln) who all have reservations about a public option. And on the other hand, the left is demanding it. Yesterday, the House Progressive Caucus, the Congressional Black Caucus, MoveOn, and Speaker Nancy Pelosi all released letters and statements calling for its inclusion in any health-care bill. "A bill without a strong public option will not pass the House. Eliminating the public option would be a major victory for the insurance companies who have rationed care, increased premiums and denied coverage," Pelosi said. No one ever said governing was easy, even when your own party controls both chambers of Congress…

*** Obama's message to the left: So how is Obama going to try to fix this conundrum? NBC's David Gregory reports that the president is preparing to tell liberals in Congress that it's time to be good soldiers. "While he is expected to stand behind the idea of a public option, he is also expected to stress that it can't be MORE important than some of the other reforms that are possible this year, including insurance reform that would guarantee coverage for individuals with pre-existing conditions," Gregory says. "He'll argue that as with Social Security, Democrats should start with an achievable foundation and build on it from there." We'll see how liberals react to that. Meanwhile, on Sunday, "Meet the Press" has an exclusive interview with White House senior adviser David Axelrod.

*** Trigger happy? The middle ground that Obama might try to find on the public option versus no public option is with a trigger, something that Maine Sen. Olympia Snowe (R) backs. Pelosi has hinted she's against the trigger, but will she be against the trigger after Wednesday's speech? And won't the argument to her and other house Dems be, "Well, if you are right about the private insurance industry's ability to create competition and lower costs, then you'll get your public option. So why not give me this leeway to get something passed?" But for now, it appears there is greater pressure coming from the president's left on this issue, than the right.

*** The divide over Afghanistan: Speaking of being pushed from the right and left, The New York Times has a fascinating breakdown of those who are pushing for more troops in Afghanistan versus those who are wary about that. Among those supporting more troops: Hillary Clinton and Richard Holbrooke. Among those expressing concerns: Vice President Biden and Robert Gates (although the Defense secretary expressed more support for the prospect of more troops yesterday). 

*** Today's job report: Today's monthly jobs report is good news, bad news for the Obama administration. The bad news: The unemployment rate for August has increased from 9.4% last month to 9.7%, the highest level in 26 years. The good news: Employers cut 216,000 jobs in August, which is the lowest number since Aug. 2008, providing further proof that the economy bottomed out last winter. So cue all of today's press releases -- from Republicans and Democrats! In fact, the RNC and Eric Cantor have already released theirs. On her 1:00 pm ET show on MSNBC, NBC's Andrea Mitchell will interview Labor Secretary Hilda Solis on the job numbers. Mitchell today also will interview former Homeland Security head Tom Ridge. 

*** Harry Reid's in trouble: Republicans have yet to find a top-tier challenger to take on Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in 2010, but that doesn't mean he's safe from trouble. A new DailyKos/Research 2000 poll shows Reid trailing relatively no-name GOP candidates Danny Tarkanian and Sue Lowden (who announced she's exploring a bid). Could Democrats really see a second-straight Senate majority leader lose re-election? Right now, Reid's best assets are the fact the GOP brand in Nevada is just atrocious (see Gibbons/Ensign). Still, it won't be easy for him to make a campaign about his opponent. Considering his leadership post, he runs a big risk of being the referendum for voters. Reid's folks point to his enormous warchest and are taking the long view. Still, if he loses, don't expect to see a swing state senator to lead the caucus anytime soon... 

*** 2010 -- the year of the angry white senior? Some House Democrats are in trouble, too. The Cook Political Report's David Wasserman publishes a comprehensive overview of the 2010 congressional battlefield, and writes that Democrats could find a backlash from angry white seniors. For starters, older voters make up a disproportionate share of the midterm electorate, he writes. "According to exit poll data, voters over 45 comprised 54 percent of the total electorate in 2004 and just 53 percent of the electorate in 2008, but they were 63 percent of all voters in 2006." And he adds that a recent Pew poll showing seniors, "who gave Democrats a 50 percent to 39 percent edge on the generic ballot in November 2006, giving Republicans a 51 percent to 43 percent edge now. If that reversal holds, Democrats could be ruing the 'year of the angry white senior' at the polling place, not just the town hall." 

*** Remind us again how the media is biased…: Finally, here's one more thought about the entire controversy over Obama's education speech on Tuesday: Since the White House has said the text of the speech will be available for 24 hours before he delivers it and since they altered the lesson plan language, why is this still a controversy? The ability of the conservative media machine to generate a controversy for this White House is amazing. In fact, this is an example of a story that percolates where it becomes harder and harder for some to claim there's some knee-jerk liberal media bias. (Does anyone remember these kinds of controversies in the summer of 2001?) The ability of some conservatives to create media firestorms is still much greater than liberals these days. How effective is the conservative media machine? Just ask Van Jones… 

Countdown to Election Day 2009: 60 days
Countdown to Election Day 2010: 424 days

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