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First thoughts: The optics problem

From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, and Ali Weinberg
*** The optics problem: The Obama White House is in one of the periods many presidencies go through, when no matter what you do, it doesn't seem to play well. Fundraising is one of those issues right now. As we noted yesterday, the president is spending an inordinate amount of time this week campaigning and raising money. It's just two weeks before some crucial elections, so it's only natural he'd be spending time on the money/campaign circuit. But with so many policy balls in the air (health care, jobs and Afghanistan), none of it looks good. And last week, he went from touring New Orleans' Katrina areas to a glitzy San Francisco fundraiser. What's more, the president today is raising money in the media's backyard -- New York City -- and he's drawing even more attention to the issue, especially since some Wall Street types are attending today's dual fundraisers for Bill Owens (the Democrat running in NY-23) and for the DNC. 

*** When the C.W. is wrong: Of course, there's another practical political problem that has gone under the radar: The Democratic Party is NOT raising money like it did two and four years ago, and the president -- because of the lobbyist restrictions he's put on fundraising for his appearances -- is not the big draw presidents usually are. Here's the unintended consequence: The president has had to do MORE fundraisers than his predecessors and is still seeing his party get outraised in a number of places. This is a classic case of the C.W. having this one wrong: Barack Obama isn't the fundraising juggernaut as president he was as a candidate. Remember, he's not raising money for himself, and he's putting a lot of restrictions in place whenever his image is used as a draw. By the way, not only are Democrats struggling on the fundraising front, but one of their best sources of fundraising support is Wall Street. And as the New York Times points out today, Wall Street is no longer giving the party the cash it used to 1) because of the government's bailout and 2) because it hasn't been too happy about the reform measures moving through Congress.

*** Karzai; Gates vs. Rahm? Turning to Afghanistan, today's news is that Karzai has conceded "that he fell short of a first-round victory in the nation's disputed presidential election, and agreed to hold a run-off election with his top challenger on Nov. 7." Meanwhile, Defense Secretary Gates seemed to offer a subtle contradiction to White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel on the issue of whether a decision on troops and a new strategy could be made while the country was still in election turmoil. "We're not just going to sit on our hands, waiting for the outcome of this election and for the emergence of a government in Kabul," he said, per the AP. More: "The outcome of the elections and the problems with the elections have complicated the situation for us. But the reality is, it's not going to be complicated one day and simple the next," he said. "We're going to have to work with this going forward, and I believe the president will have to make his decisions in the context of that evolutionary process."

*** A game-changer? Wow, did the Washington Post pump up a very minor uptick when it comes to the public option. Last month in the Post/ABC poll, 55% supported the idea (in the way they worded it); this month, that number is 57%. But today's headline ("Public option gains support") is all public option advocates will need. Will the poll be a turning point in the Senate/White House merger negotiations as they wrestle with whether to include some form of a public option in the bill that's offered on the floor? To be fair, this is the fourth time when majorities in the Post/ABC poll have favored the public option. Perhaps that is what the paper was trying to point out...

*** Obama vs. the Chamber: A day after environmental activists staged a hoax -- pretending that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce was reversing course to support the climate-change legislation moving through Congress -- the Washington Post takes a look at the rift between the Chamber and the Obama White House, especially after the Chamber's opposition to the health-care legislation and climate bills. "Instead of working through the Chamber, President Obama has reached out to business executives, meeting repeatedly with small groups of CEOs in his private White House dining room. He also has dispatched top aides Valerie Jarrett and Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel to corporate boardrooms… Meanwhile, the Chamber is fighting back with its own public relations agenda, launching multimillion-dollar ad campaigns to resist several of Obama's top priorities."

*** The GOP's gender gap: As part of the NBC/MSNBC focus this week on women in the workplace and society, First Read takes a look today at the Republican Party's struggles with female voters and whether the upcoming gubernatorial election in Virginia will be an improvement for the GOP. In last year's presidential election, Obama won female voters by 13 percentage points (56%-43%), while he won the male vote by just one point (49%-48%). This year's Virginia race, which the Republican Bob McDonnell is leading, has emphasized women's issues. Democrat Creigh Deeds seized on a graduate thesis McDonnell wrote when he was 34 years old, in which the Republican, among other things, said that feminism and working women were "detrimental" to the American family. McDonnell has responded by pointing to his working daughters, including one who had served in Iraq. The Deeds campaign has hoped that the thesis story would hurt McDonnell among Virginia females, who make up about 54% of the state's electorate. So far, though, the gambit hasn't worked…

*** 2009 watch: Speaking of that Virginia race, it's now exactly two weeks until Election Day 2009… Bill Clinton stumps for both Creigh Deeds (at 12:30 pm ET in Northern Virginia) and Jon Corzine (at 8:00 pm ET at Rutgers University)… Deeds and McDonnell square off tonight in Salem, VA for their final debate… The New York Times drops a potential bombshell on Chris Christie, alleging that the U.S. attorney colleague whom Christie had loaned $46,000 helped the Republican candidate in his bid for governor. For instance: "In March, when Gov. Jon S. Corzine's campaign requested public records about Mr. Christie's tenure as prosecutor, Ms. Brown interceded to oversee the responses to the inquiries, taking over for the staff member who normally oversaw Freedom of Information Act requests." … This story comes as a new Monmouth University/Gannett New Jersey poll finds Corzine and Christie tied among likely voters at 39% each; independent Chris Daggett is at 14%.

Countdown to Election Day 2009: 14 days
Countdown to MA Special Primary: 49 days
Countdown to MA Special Election: 91 days
Countdown to Election Day 2010: 378 days

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