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First thoughts: Obama's very tough week

From NBC's Chuck Todd, Domenico Montanaro, and Ali Weinberg
*** Obama's Very Tough Week: For those in the White House, last week might be known as the toughest week yet on the job. Oil spill dominated the media's attention, but there were a slew of other mini-wildfire-like crises on his plate, including Iran, North Korea, European debt causing havoc, and this doesn't count the Sestak silliness. And this week, on the international front, things haven't gotten any easier (see: Israel and flotilla). And to add insult to injury, the president’s Memorial Day speech was interrupted by a major downpour, and a car in his motorcade blew a tire. As The Washington Post’s Ann Kornblut wrote in her pool report yesterday, “Yes, it's that kind of day.” Yes, it’s been that kind of week… Today, Attorney General Eric Holder heads to the Gulf region, which could be a sign of things to come as the government tries to show its keeping the pressure on BP. The president will meet with his “BP Oil Spill Commission Co-Chairs” and make a statement at 12:15 pm ET. He also meets with Peruvian President Alan García at 6:00 pm ET.

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*** Mo-Dowd’s advice: For now, the president is being re-defined before our eyes via this oil spill. Like every story that seems so big it will linger for years and then doesn't, there is probably a fair amount of over-analysis going on and lots of hyperbole. But one column from the weekend seemed to find a balance and capture what some longtime Obama supporters as well as the detractors and that's this Sunday piece from Maureen Dowd. She writes, in part, "For five weeks, it looked as though Obama considered the gushing that became the worst oil spill in U.S. history a distraction, like a fire alarm going off in the middle of a law seminar he was teaching. He'll deal with it, but he's annoyed because it's not on his syllabus." She also points out, smartly: “Presidencies are always about crisis management. … F.D.R. achieved greatness not by means of imposing his temperament and intellect on the world but by reacting to what the world threw at him.” And: “Too often it feels as though Barry is watching from a balcony, reluctant to enter the fray until the clamor of the crowd forces him to come down. The pattern is perverse. The man whose presidency is rooted in his ability to inspire withholds that inspiration when it is most needed.” Obama’s leadership style can be distant and dispassionate. That can be the perfect persona on the international scene and is something George W. Bush lacked and something George H.W. Bush, though, found out can be a problem at home. Domestically, that style isn’t what people respond to. Lots of times, the job is consoler-in-chief; and for some, that's all they want to hear, oh, and yeah, plug the dang hole.

*** Enough oil to fill a football stadium: It became clear over the weekend that the gushing oil will likely be a political problem for the White House into August. BP admitted the "top kill" failed. White House environmental adviser Carol Browner on Meet the Press called this the "biggest environmental disaster" in the country's history. Now, BP moves to Option C, a containment dome that would just siphon off the oil but not shut down the flow from that pipe. The company says we'll know by the end of the week if it worked. By the way, it's been 43 days since the oilrig explosion. If oil continues to pour out of that pipe until Aug. 20th, that will make it 123 days. If it continues to flow at the same rate, three times as much oil will spill out in the next three months than already has. At the government-estimated minimum of 12,000 barrels, or 660,000 gallons, a day will be almost 1.5 million barrels of oil (more than 81 million gallons) that have flooded the gulf. That would be just about enough to fill a football stadium.

*** If it's Tuesday...: Voters go to the polls in Mississippi, New Mexico and Alabama. The races to watch are all GOP primaries -- in in MS-1, AL-5, AL GOV, NM GOV. Polls close in Alabama and Mississippi at 8:00 pm ET and in New Mexico at 9:00 pm ET. MS-1 is held by Democrat Travis Childers, but it's a seat Republicans are targeting -- and should have a good chance at flipping -- this fall. But there's a tough three-way primary between national Republicans' preferred pick state Sen. Alan Nunnelee, small-town Mayor Henry Ross, and Angela McGlowan, a former Fox News contributor, who has faded. This race is likely headed to a runoff, and Democrats think they have a good shot of holding the seat in the fall if Ross wins. If that happens, it's another penny in the change jar of races Republicans should win and would put them in the strongest possible position to take back the House.

*** Will Griffith go the way of Specter? When Parker Griffith switched parties from Democrat to Republicans last year, he stepped into an already-tough primary between county commissioner Mo Brooks and Les Phillip, a former Navy pilot. (One Week Ahead watcher quipped that before Griffith entered, this would have been a choice between "Mo" or "Les.") Griffith's party switch has been the main issue in the race. And Phillip, who is black, gave us an incendiary ad featuring Jeremiah Wright and Bill Ayers and painting the election as a choice between himself and Barack Obama. "And they're not going to call me a racist," Phillip says in the ad. This district has voted for a Republican for president in every election since 1980, but it has never sent a Republican to Congress. This race is also likely headed to a runoff.

*** Most provocative ads of 2010: The state of Alabama, particularly the Republican primary in the governor's race has provided some of the most provocative ads this cycle. They have featured the mocking of front-runner Bradley Byrne for supposedly having been in favor of teaching evolution and not taking the Bible literally enough, as well as businessman Tim James' English-only ad. "This is Alabama," he says. "We speak English. If you want to live here, learn it." (By the way, James has seen an up tick in his poll numbers since the airing of those ads. He's likely headed for a second-place finish and a runoff with Byrne.) And don't forget, the third candidate is Roy Moore, the former chief state Supreme Court justice, who was ousted from the bench for refusing to remove a 5,300-pound display of the Ten Commandments from the state courthouse.

*** Can GOP flip NM Gov? Republicans are hoping Susana Martinez, a county prosecutor, survives this bitter primary with former state party chairman Allen Weh. The two have fought over Weh's ads that allege Martinez didn't pay taxes on employees. The state party asked Weh to pull the ads it called untruthful. The RGA thinks Martinez, who has Sarah Palin's backing, has the best shot at flipping this seat, currently held by Bill Richardson. Lt. Gov. Diane Denish (D) is favored in the fall.

*** Remember, elections are choices: Democrat Alexi Giannoulias has his own highly publicized family bank problems in the race for Barack Obama's former Senate seat. But, as the Chicago Tribune writes, "Character issues came to the fore Memorial Day in the U.S. Senate race as Democrat Alexi Giannoulias accused Republican Mark Kirk of embellishing his military record and being a typical Washington insider." The Washington Post broke the story: "The Republican candidate for President Obama's old Senate seat has admitted to inaccurately claiming he received the U.S. Navy's Intelligence Officer of the Year award for his service during NATO's conflict with Serbia in the late 1990s." There are lots of flawed candidates running against each other. Think McMahon-Blumenthal, Sestak-Toomey, Reid-whoever. It’s a reminder that elections are choices.

*** Friday dump alert: What better time for the White House to come clean about the cable crack story of the Sestak "job" offer than on the Friday of Memorial Day weekend. The White House lawyer put out a memo saying Sestak was offered an unpaid advisory job while staying in Congress, that the offer was initiated by Rahm Emanuel and carried out by former President Bill Clinton in hopes of clearing the field for Arlen Specter. So how much blood can the Republicans squeeze out of this turnip now? Just asking, but is Darrell Issa going to call for an investigation into the president's illegal gambling activities after his admission last week that he rooted for North Carolina in 2009 so he could win a few dollars? The Sestak story is another example of how Republicans can drive a story just by paper statements. But the White House again showed its inability to anticipate and head off the potential firestorm that things it views as small and insignificant turn into. At the very least, it furthers the notion that the White House isn't "changing the ways of Washington" and as David Brooks said is operating with"politics as usual."

*** Michelle Obama's clout: Michelle Obama will be in Reno, NV, today for a "Let's Move" event at 2:45 pm ET. And who will be there with her for the cameras to see? Harry Reid, the Democratic majority leader who's in a tough reelection fight. Reid will also join Obama at an event in Las Vegas at 6:00 pm ET. By the way, the first lady isn't a bad person to appear with if you're Reid. While her husband remains perhaps the most popular politician in Washington, she gets even better marks. The last time the NBC/WSJ poll looked at her favorability, back in January, she had a 55%/14% fav/unfav; President Obama was 52%/35%. There was a time she wasn't so popular, of course. Back in July 2008, she was 34%/31%. Since the campaign, she has largely steered away from politics, focusing instead on non-controversial items like supporting military families and wives and eliminating childhood obesity. During the entire health-care debate, she gave just one speech on the importance of health care. It’s somewhat surprising, especially since she is a former hospital administrator. She's one of the most accomplished first ladies to come into the White House in her own right, and she has largely focused instead on very traditional topics.

*** Also this week…: President Obama heads to Pittsburgh tomorrow ahead of Friday's jobs report on his latest White House to Main St. tour stop focusing on the economy. … The Obamas will also host a concert in honor of singer Paul McCartney tomorrow. … On Thursday, the trial begins for former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich. He is charged with conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud and solicitation of bribery in the alleged attempted selling of Barack Obama's former Senate seat.

*** More midterms: Former Rep. Ed Case, who was national Democrats’ preferred candidate, says he won't run for Hawaii’s first congressional seat in the fall, leaving it open for Colleen Hanabusa. … In Florida, Rick Scott’s spending a lot of money. … In Nevada, Sue Lowden defends her chicken comments.

Countdown to CA, IA, ME, NJ, ND, SC, SD, and VA primaries, and AR run-off: 7 days:
Countdown to Election Day 2010: 154 days

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