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First thoughts: High stakes

High stakes for Obama today at his BP-dominated news conference today… Presser takes place at 12:45 pm ET… Although new USA Today/Gallup poll shows the public is angrier with BP and the federal government than with Obama, this could very well be a tipping point for the president… Blumenthal up 25 points (!!!) over McMahon in new Quinnipiac poll… While Senate Republicans are working with a very favorable environment, they have some very flawed candidates in CT, KY, NY, IN, and CO…. Congress works on "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" repeal… And Gresham Barrett justifies his TARP vote.

From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, and Ali Weinberg
*** High stakes: After going big on health-care reform, escalating the war in Afghanistan, and spending his early capital on his economic stimulus, President Obama faces yet another high-stakes moment in his young presidency: demonstrating leadership with the BP spill. At 12:45 pm ET, Obama holds a news conference to discuss the spill and other matters (who else bets we'll see some questions on Joe Sestak and the White House's job offer?). Previewing the president's opening remarks, a White House aide tells First Read that Obama will discuss the conclusions of the 30-day safety review on offshore drilling he asked Interior Secretary Salazar to conduct; he will announce new standards to strengthen oversight of the oil industry; he will declare a delay in the planned oil exploration off the coast of Alaska; and he will announce an extension of the deep oil drilling moratorium for another six months.

*** A tipping point? Today's news conference comes a day after BP began its "Top Kill" procedure to stop the oil leak (the early signs look hopeful, but a BP executive said on "TODAY" that it's just "too early" to tell if the procedure will work). It also comes as a new USA Today/Gallup poll shows dissatisfaction with the handling of the spill. According to the poll, 43% give Obama good marks on responding to the spill, versus 53% who give him poor marks. By comparison, 60% give the federal government poor marks, and 73% give BP poor marks. But today's press conference could very well be a tipping point for Obama when it comes to whether he can change the negative political narrative that's developing for his administration. USA Today on its front page and Karl Rove are feeding the narrative that this spill is the president's Hurricane Katrina, and while some think the comparison is unfair, there is no doubt that Americans are frustrated. And when they're frustrated, they take it out on the team that's in charge. 

*** Blumenthal up 25 points in Q-poll: Yesterday gave us real doubts whether Richard Blumenthal would survive the week-plus frenzy surrounding the news that he exaggerated his military service. First, Vice President Biden was reported making this joke at an event for wounded troops on Tuesday night: "I didn't serve in Vietnam. I don't want to make a Blumenthal mistake here." Second, Sen. Jim Webb (D), a Marine vet, gave Blumenthal very little cover in an interview on MSNBC's "Hardball." But how quickly a new poll can change your perceptions: This morning, a new Quinnipiac survey (conducted May 24-25) shows Blumenthal leading Linda McMahon (R) by 25 points (56%-31%) among registered voters. It also has 60% saying that Blumenthal is trustworthy, and 53% saying they're satisfied with his explanations about the exaggerations of his military service.

*** Flawed candidates vs. a good political environment: Although this is just one poll, and we eagerly wait to see what future surveys might show, this has to be a punch in the gut to Senate Republicans. And it comes a day after Rob Simmons (R), who suspended his primary campaign earlier this week, told National Review Online that he didn't think McMahon, with her WWE past, could beat Blumenthal. Simmons later apologized for that comment, telling Politico: "That was a little harsh; I probably shouldn't have said what I said." But all of this only feeds the perception that, despite having the political winds at their back, Senate Republicans have some flawed candidates -- in Kentucky (Rand Paul), in Nevada (either Sue Lowden, Danny Tarkanian, or Sharron Angle), in Indiana (former Sen. and lobbyist Dan Coats), and in Colorado (either Jane Norton or Ken Buck). 

*** Repealing DADT: On Capitol Hill today, the big story is the legislative repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." Per the AP, "The House was expected to vote as early as Thursday on a proposal by Rep. Patrick Murphy, a Pennsylvania Democrat who served in the Iraq war, that would repeal the 1993 law known as 'don't ask, don't tell.' The legislation — a compromise struck with the White House and agreed to by the Defense Department — would give the military as much time as it wants before lifting the ban… Also as early as Thursday, the Senate Armed Services Committee was expected to take up an identical measure, proposed by Sens. Carl Levin, D-Mich., and Joe Lieberman, I-Conn." However, the New York Times is reporting that in letters solicited by Sen. John McCain, the chiefs of the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines have objected to the compromise, saying that Congress shouldn't vote until after the Pentagon's review of DADT. "Mr. McCain's solicitation of the letters appeared to be an attempt to give Republicans some cover to vote against repeal, since Republicans could say that they were supporting the view of the top officers of the services who preferred to delay any vote until after Dec. 1."

*** Barrett justifies his TARP vote: Earlier this month, we saw Utah Republicans oust Sen. Bob Bennett in part because of his 2008 TARP vote. And in South Carolina's volatile GOP gubernatorial primary, which takes place on June 8, Rep. Gresham Barrett is airing a minute-long TV ad justifying his TARP vote. Note the how the ad refers to TARP as "Bush Bailout." By the way, Dick Cheney yesterday endorsed Barrett. But as the case with President Obama, Cheney's endorsement record has been pretty poor this cycle. He backed Kay Bailey Hutchison (who lost the primary for Texas governor), Trey Grayson (who lost to Rand Paul), and Bob Bennett (who lost the GOP nomination).

Countdown to CA, IA, ME, NJ, ND, SC, SD, and VA primaries, and AR run-off: 12 days:
Countdown to Election Day 2010: 159 days

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