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First thoughts: Senate state of play

Rossi's expected announcement expands the Senate GOP playing field to 11 seats… Tonight, Obama heads to one of them -- California -- to raise money for Barbara Boxer… Rob Simmons is expected to end his Senate candidacy, setting up a Blumenthal-McMahon general election… Simmons would become the third NRSC recruit not win the GOP nomination (so beware, Dino Rossi)… House GOP leaders hold their Great American Speak-out… It's Primary Day in Idaho, and all eyes on the GOP primary in ID-1… Polls there close at 10:00 pm ET… And a DGA-led group goes on the attack against Kasich in Ohio.

From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, and Ali Weinberg
*** Senate state of play: First Read has confirmed that, in Washington state, twice-failed gubernatorial candidate Dino Rossi (R) is expected to announce his bid on Wednesday to challenge Sen. Patty Murray (D). Rossi's entry now gives the GOP 11 pick-up opportunities this cycle (in AR, CA, CO, CT, DE, IL, IN, NV, ND, PA and WA), which is enough to win back control of the Senate. But in order to do that, Republicans essentially need to run the table and also win the GOP-held seats that Democrats have put in play (FL, KY, MO, NH, and OH). So Republicans need everything to break their way to regain the Senate. And while that may seem like a tall order, remember that as we've seen in past cycles ('02, '04, '06, '08), competitive races tend to break in one direction. One thing is for sure: These 16 potentially competitive races make up one heck of a Senate battleground map. It's easily one of the largest Senate maps we've seen in more than a decade. John Cornyn has done his job -- which is to expand the playing field.

*** Barack-O-Bama, the San Francisco treat: This expanded state of play is the reason why President Obama heads to San Francisco later today for multiple fundraisers for Sen. Barbara Boxer and the DSCC. In fact, this is Obama's second trip in the last two months to help Boxer, and you can bet that Obama now will have to fly out to the West Coast again to raise money for Patty Murray. By the way, Obama has a pretty busy day. He delivers remarks on proposals for small business jobs at 11:15 am ET. He then addresses the Senate GOP caucus on Capitol Hill at 12:05 pm (which is closed to press). And then he meets with President Napolitano of Italy at 2:00 pm.

*** Simmons expected to end campaign: While Senate Republicans are gaining one candidate, it appears that they're losing another. At 9:00 am ET, Connecticut Senate candidate Rob Simmons (R), a former member of Congress, is making an announcement on the future of his campaign. And all signs seem to be suggesting that he'll end his candidacy. Simmons' statement today comes after losing at the Connecticut GOP convention to Linda McMahon on Friday, although Simmons vowed to stay in the race after that defeat. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee reminds us that if Simmons drops out, he'll become the third NRSC recruit to not win the GOP nomination, joining Charlie Crist (who's now running as an indie) and Trey Grayson (who lost to Rand Paul). So beware, Dino Rossi -- indeed, Sarah Palin already has backed another Washington state candidate, Clint Didier. Still, when looking at the Cornyn/GOP recruits, they probably picked the right folks for general elections. So it's more a sign of just how hard both the Democratic White House and the Republican congressional leadership are having this year convincing its grassroots of who they want.

*** The great American Speak-Out: At 10:30 am ET, House Republican leaders are holding an event to unveil "America Speaking Out," an effort to engage Americans across the country and give them a voice in creating the GOP's campaign platform for the fall elections. As the Washington Post writes, "Republicans, aware that some of the anti-Washington fervor among the public is aimed at both parties, don't want to simply put out a formal agenda without buy-in from voters, particularly conservatives. So, along with the [Web] site, House Republicans will hold town hall meetings around the country starting next week. They want to use this process to get ideas for the 'Contract With America'-style policy document they are set to release closer to the election." Democrats are calling the effort "yet another Republican taxpayer funded rebranding effort designed to return to the failed Bush agenda." 

*** Sunlight on my shoulders, makes me happy: By the way, a Washington Post editorial perhaps makes the best point we've seen regarding the allegations that the White House offered Joe Sestak a job to keep him from challenging Arlen Specter. The editorial argues that the "White House position that everyone should just trust it and go away is unacceptable from any administration; it is especially hypocritical coming from this one… This response would hardly have satisfied those who were upset during the previous administration about the firing of U.S. attorneys. If there was nothing improper, why not all that sunlight Mr. Obama promised?" And here's one more point: If nothing improper happened, wouldn't sunlight stop a lot of the conspiracy theories about this that are now surfacing? 

*** My Private Idaho: Idaho holds its primaries today, and the sole race to watch -- the GOP primary for ID-1 -- could shed some additional light on the battle for House control. The primary pits Marine reservist Vaughn Ward, the establishment pick, against Tea Party-endorsed state Assemblyman Raul Labrador, who is gaining fast in the polls. (Labrador also has the backing of former GOP Rep. Bill Sali, the daughter of former GOP Rep. Helen Chenoweth, Idaho Right to Life, and much of the state legislature.) After a series of missteps, Ward has seen what was almost a 20-point lead all but evaporate in the past month as a Mason-Dixon poll shows Ward at 31% and Labrador at 28% (with 37% undecided). The winner will take on Dem incumbent Walt Minnick, who defeated Sali in 2008. Given Minnick's freshman status and the national environment, Republicans are targeting this seat, which McCain won with more than 60% of the vote. But Minnick is running a strong race. "He's had the best month of any D freshman by far," said David Wasserman, the Cook Political Report's House editor. Polls are open from 10:00 am ET to 10:00 pm ET.

*** Palin's influence on the line: As was the case in PA-12 last week, if Republicans are unable to win this kind of seat in November, it might be difficult to see how they gain the 39-40 seats necessary to take back the House. Sarah Palin -- who was born in Idaho and eventually graduated from the University of Idaho -- campaigned last week for Ward, despite the Boise Tea Party's support for Labrador. Ward is now at least the third candidate Palin has backed who isn't exactly a Tea Party favorite. The others: Carly Fiorina (California Senate) and John McCain (in Arizona).

*** More midterm news: In California, Meg Whitman has a new TV ad touting endorsements from Condi Rice and Mitt Romney, Ben Smith reports… And in Ohio, Politico writes that "Building a Stronger Ohio, an outside Democratic group led by the Democratic Governors Association, is set to air a television ad this week attacking former Cong. John Kasich, the Republican challenging incumbent Gov. Ted Strickland (D)."

Countdown to CA, IA, ME, NJ, ND, SC, SD, and VA primaries, and AR run-off: 14 days:
Countdown to Election Day 2010: 161 days

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