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First thoughts: Picture perfect?

Obama's picture-perfect day in Iowa… Today, will we see one Senate candidate (Alexi) hug the president as tightly as possibly, with the other one (Carnahan) giving him the buddy pat?... Is Charlie Crist (potentially) leaving the GOP? Or is the GOP leaving Charlie Crist?... Left and right blast Obama's deficit-reduction commission… Obama, Jeb Bush, and Rubio all speak out against AZ's immigration law… First Read profiles SCOTUS possibility Sidney Thomas… Today's the one-year anniversary of Arlen Specter switching parties… And in a new Q-poll, Fisher leads Brunner in OH by 17 points.

From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, and Ali Weinberg
*** Picture perfect? The Obama White House probably couldn't have asked for a better picture yesterday. On a day in DC when members of Congress were raising a sh&%-storm on Goldman Sachs and when senators were unable -- once again -- to bring the financial reform legislation to the floor, there was President Obama in the swing state of Iowa meeting with factory workers, eating rhubarb pie, posing with a 107-year-old woman, and even kissing a few babies. There also was Obama railing against how Washington works. ("It's one thing to oppose [financial] reform, but to oppose even talking about reform in front of the American people? That's not right.") Despite the Democrats' political troubles this midterm season, as well as the president's pedestrian poll numbers, it's often easy to forget that Obama is still the most popular Washington politician in the country. And he's also the one who has the ability to portray himself as being above the fray, especially when he leaves DC.

*** Obama today: But he isn't going to escape politics today… On the second day of his two-day swing through the Midwest, Obama gives a speech on the economy at 2:00 pm ET in Macon, MO (where Robin Carnahan will appear), and then he will urge passage of Wall Street reform at a 5:00 pm speech in Quincy, IL (where Alexi Giannoulias will appear). Think one Senate candidate (Giannoulias) will want to hug Obama as tightly as possible, while the other one (Carnahan) might want to give him just the buddy pat?

*** Crist is leaning to shoot over the trees: Several days ago, we reported that Charlie Crist was getting advice from GOP operative Mitch Bainwol. In an interview with First Read, Bainwol gives a golfing metaphor to describe the advice he's currently giving Crist: Instead of trying the risky play to shoot over the trees to get to the hole (i.e., make an indie bid), the smarter play is to go around the tree, even if that means an extra stroke or two (i.e., drop out of the race). But right now, per Bainwol, Crist appears to be leaning to shoot over the trees.

*** Who abandoned whom? As Crist mulls an independent bid -- and on the one-year anniversary of Arlen Specter switching parties -- this question seems appropriate to ask: Is Crist (potentially) leaving the Republican Party? Or is the Republican Party leaving him? How he answers that question will probably determine what he decides to do on Thursday, when he's supposed to make up his mind. On the one hand, Crist's the one who's thinking of running as an indie, creating a path for a Dem victory in Florida; he backed Obama's economic stimulus when almost no other Republican did; and he recently vetoed that education bill that was very popular among Florida Republicans. On the other hand, this is the same Charlie Crist who just two years ago was seen as the GOP's rising star (potential McCain VP, 2012 presidential possibility; the guy who essentially delivered the GOP nomination to McCain); the GOP once had a history of leaders (Eisenhower, Bush 41, McCain of '01-'06) who didn't always put party first; and there's a legitimate argument to make whether Reagan (who raised taxes and signed amnesty for illegal immigrants into law) would be considered a RINO today.

*** Crist's problems go beyond ideology: That said, Crist's problems have gone well beyond ideology. One complaint we've heard from Republicans is that -- outside of fundraising -- he did little in 2009 to prepare himself against a potentially tough race against Marco Rubio. "He took this race for granted for way too long," one GOP strategist tells First Read. (What if he had hit Rubio on the credit card charges, say, last fall?) Crist also didn't size up the changing political environment inside the GOP the way that McCain, for example, has done in Arizona. And as the St. Pete Times noted in a piece over the weekend, critics have viewed Crist as someone who's always looking at the next job. "He got elected education commissioner and spent the entire time running for attorney general," a former state GOP chairman told the paper. "He got to be attorney general and spent the entire time running for governor. When he got to be governor, he spent the first two years running for vice president and the last two running for the United States Senate."

*** No Country for Immature Men: But in American politics today, ideology and party loyalty appear to trump everything else. For example, just look at the partisan attacks aimed at Obama's deficit-reduction commission. As we noted yesterday, Grover Norquist's anti-tax group Americans for Tax Reform questioned commission co-chair Alan Simpson's (R) GOP and tax-cutting credentials. And also yesterday, liberals criticized both Simpson and the other co-chair, Erskine Bowles (D), for participating today in budget hawk Pete Peterson's summit in DC. Yet here's the truth that most people, even some of the partisans, know about reducing the deficit: It will probably take a combination of BOTH budget cuts and tax hikes or new taxes. But the way the system works in Washington tries to dissuade the adults from even being able to have a rational conversation. 

*** Kaine's contrast: At his remarks this afternoon at the Christian Science Monitor's lunch, DNC Chairman Tim Kaine is expected to draw clear lines between the Democratic and Republican parties. Per an excerpt of his remarks: "At a time when many Americans doubted the capacity of government to tackle and solve big problems, we have shown that we are the Results Party. We act decisively to solve problems that confront Americans in their homes, businesses, schools and communities. And, most of what we have done has been in the face of Republican obstruction trying to protect a special interest status quo that has not worked for the American people. So, voters will have a clear choice." More Kaine: "We've seen just how extreme and divisive the Republican Party has become. The level of extreme rhetoric emanating from Party leaders … is creating internal civil war within the GOP and increasingly striking a negative chord with American voters who are fundamentally optimistic about the nation and our need to work together in a tough time."

*** Obama, Rubio, and Jeb on Arizona's law: Turning to the thorny issue of immigration, President Obama used his sharpest language yesterday to denounce Arizona's new anti-immigration law. "You can imagine if you are an Hispanic American in Arizona -- you're great grandparents may have been there before Arizona was a state -- but now suddenly if you don't have your papers and if you took your kid for ice cream, you're going to be harassed. That's not right way to go." Yesterday, we also saw conservative heroes Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush criticize the Arizona law. But wake us when a major Republican not from a state with a large Latino population comes out against the law. Then again, both Bush and Rubio might give them cover to do so. And the line of "the frustration is understandable, but this law goes too far" might become a comfortable place for some GOPers with true national ambitions to stay.

*** Just askin': With Obama overnighting in Des Moines last night, you think any prospective SCOTUS possibilities -- say a federal judge or two from nearby Chicago or Montana -- might have had an interview with the president?

*** Meet Sidney Thomas: Speaking of Montana… In the latest of our profiles of potential SCOTUS picks, we take a look today at 9th Circuit Judge Sidney Thomas. Before being appointed by Bill Clinton to that court in 1995, Thomas served as a private-practice attorney in Billings, MT. According to reports, Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT.) has been championing Thomas' candidacy to the Supreme Court. Among his pros (from the White House's perspective): Would bring educational diversity to the court, becoming the only current justice who doesn't have a degree from an Ivy League school (his degrees: B.A., Montana State Univ., J.D., University of Montana)… Would also bring geographical diversity as its only current member who has western roots (Kennedy and Breyer hail from California, while all other justices hail east of the Mississippi River)… Has won praise for his easygoing manner…. Among his cons: If he's selected, most of the political world who hasn't read this write-up will ask: Who is Sidney Thomas?

*** Super Senate Tuesday: In Pennsylvania's Democratic Senate primary, Joe Sestak is delivering a speech at 6:30 pm ET in DC to mark Arlen Specter's one-year anniversary of switching parties… And Michael J. Fox has cut a TV ad in support of Specter. *** NOTE *** We mistakenly included a news clip that was a year old, and have since taken it out.  

*** More midterm news: In Illinois, the Cook Political Report has moved the Senate contest from "Toss-up" to "Lean Republican."… In North Carolina, Dem Senate candidate Elaine Marshall has released her first TV ad… In Ohio's Democratic Senate primary, Lee Fisher has opened up a 17-point lead (41%-24%) over Jennifer Brunner, according to a Quinnipiac poll of likely primary voters. 

Countdown to IN, NC, and OH primaries: 6 days
Countdown to NE and WV primaries: 13 days
Countdown to AR, KY, OR and PA primaries, and PA-12 special: 20 days
Countdown to HI special election: 24 days
Countdown to Election Day 2010: 188 days

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