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First thoughts: Throw 'em out

Bob Bennett's defeat might be just the beginning… Does Alan Mollohan in West Virginia become the next incumbent to lose?... What happened to Specter?... The Pennsylvania Democrat airs a new TV ad featuring Obama…. McCain's "complete the danged fence" ad contradicts much of what he said on illegal immigration from 2005-2007… Kagan's good, but not great, roll out (and what's with David Brooks criticizing someone for being an ambitious, yet cautious, overachiever from the Acela Corridor?)… Why WV-1 matters… Polls close in West Virginia at 7:30 pm ET, and they close in Nebraska at 9:00 pm ET.

From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, and Ali Weinberg
*** Throw'em out: Republican Bob Bennett's defeat on Saturday might have been only the start of what's to come. Today and next Tuesday, there will be primaries where we could see additional incumbents lose -- this time on the Democratic side. Voters today head to the polls in West Virginia, where longtime Rep. Alan Mollohan (D) could be in jeopardy of losing his seat; he's trying to fend off a primary challenge from state Sen. Mike Oliverio. Then next week, we'll have primaries in Arkansas (where Democratic Sen. Blanche Lincoln is facing a primary challenge from Bill Halter) and in Pennsylvania (where one tracking poll has Joe Sestak now leading incumbent Sen. Arlen Specter). What happens in these three contests could very well establish a clear theme for this midterm cycle: anti-incumbency (er, anti-WASHINGTON) -- on both sides. Because in West Virginia, this isn't a clear left-right primary challenge; Mollohan's been trying to run to his primary challengers left at times.

*** What's the matter with Specter? How did Specter go from leading by double digits to now trailing in one tracking poll? We have one theory: Voters in Pennsylvania have longer memories than Washington does. While the famously unpredictable Specter has been a reliably Democratic vote since switching parties, many Democratic voters have spent decades voting against him. And so it took just one Sestak TV ad -- linking Specter to Bush and Palin, and also highlighting that Specter switched parties to save his job -- to drive home the message that Specter isn't a Democrat. Terry Madonna, who directs Franklin and Marshall College's Keystone Poll, tells First Read that Specter is being "triple whammied" by his GOP past, by Sestak's message, and by a potentially anti-incumbent wave. 

*** And what does Specter do now? In response, Specter is going up with a TV ad that features Obama praising the Pennsylvania senator. (Interestingly, the ad is VERY similar to the one Specter ran in 2004 featuring Bush praising him.) Another question: Does Obama go campaign for Specter? On "TODAY," Vice President Biden told NBC's Matt Lauer that he will campaign for Specter on Friday and possibly Monday, but he didn't say if Obama would do the same (though the implication seemed to be that Biden was going to do whatever asked, in lieu of Specter asking for another Obama appearance). The one thing that could very well benefit Specter is organization -- labor, Rendell, and the DSCC are all backing him. And don't forget that, in 2004, many of us thought that Specter wasn't going to beat Toomey in his GOP primary. But he did…

*** McCain's "Danged" ad: Could this same theory we mentioned above -- that voters have a longer memory than Washington does -- and also the wave of anti-incumbency/Washington apply to John McCain, too? The Arizona senator has a tough new anti-illegal immigration TV ad ("Complete the Danged Fence") that contradicts much of what he said on the issue from 2005-2007, like this comment from the GOP presidential primary debates ("We're not going to erect barriers and fences"). Politicians reverse course all the time --remember when Obama opposed health-care mandates? -- but McCain's new TV ad can strike some as so antithetical to his political identity, nearly the equivalent of Ronald Reagan airing an ad praising the air-traffic controllers. On the other hand, it appears McCain is trying to sell skeptical Arizona GOP voters that he's gotten the message on immigration. In this ad, he almost seems to be telling them, "You convinced me." The question is whether they will buy it. Should McCain have gone one more step in the ad and acknowledged his previous opposition to the fence? 

*** A good, but not great, roll out: Yesterday's Kagan roll out by the White House was good -- but not great. What she seems to be lacking is a compelling narrative like we saw with Sotomayor's nomination. In his New York Times column, David Brooks hits on this, criticizing her for being an overachieving, yet cautious, striver from the Acela Corridor (which is a bit ironic because that description could apply to Brooks, too). "She also is apparently prudential, deliberate and cautious," he writes. "She does not seem to be one who leaps into a fray when the consequences might be unpredictable." Still, all signs are pointing to Kagan's eventual confirmation mainly because there's not the energy -- on either side -- for a long protracted battle. But given some of the tougher-than-expected hits we saw from Republicans yesterday (no judicial experience, on living nowhere outside DC/NYC/Chicago), we're pretty convinced that anyone more liberal than Kagan (like Diane Wood) would have started with a much lower vote ceiling than Kagan has right now. 

*** California, here we come: In California, Steve Poizner is suddenly catching up to Meg Whitman in the state's GOP gubernatorial primary. What's going on there? It appears that voters are starting to get engaged (though a tad late) – like they did in Pennsylvania and Arkansas.

*** If It's Tuesday...: As mentioned above, voters today head to the polls in West Virginia and also in Nebraska. The race to watch is the Democratic congressional primary in WV-1, which one of us previewed on Friday. Democrats think Alan Mollohan, the longtime incumbent, could be in jeopardy of losing his seat. Mollohan, who faced ethical questions in 2006 but survived because of the national climate, is trying to fend off a challenge from state Sen. Mike Oliverio. Regardless of who wins the primary, Republicans are targeting this seat. And this is not 2006, either. Polls open at 6:30 am ET and close at 7:30 pm ET. In Nebraska, Gov. Dave Heineman (R) faces primary challengers, but is favored to win. Polls there are open from 9:00 am ET to 9:00 pm ET. 

*** Why WV-1 matters: The big question on Election Night will likely be whether Republicans will take back control of the House. And WV-1, which we listed as one of our Majority Makers, is one of those places where the GOP probably HAS to win if they are going to take over the House. Remember, they need 40 seats. That's a lot -- and it also means they have to win in some places where Democrats are currently favored. If Oliverio somehow pulls off the upset, that likely moves the seat toward the Republicans. And even if Mollohan survives, he could be in for a tough fight this fall.

Countdown to AR, KY, OR and PA primaries, and PA-12 special: 7 days
Countdown to HI special election: 11 days
Countdown to Election Day 2010: 175 days

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