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First thoughts: Command and control

The White House trying to display command and control with Obama’s two-day visit to the Gulf (which begins today), his Oval Office address (tomorrow), and the meeting with BP officials (Wednesday)… If Team Obama can’t convince the public that it has command and control after these next three days, then it probably never will… Obama to press for and energy bill and make four other points in his speech Tuesday… Harwood writes that the president’s poll numbers remain steady despite all the criticism he is receiving… Reid hits Angle in new TV ad, while American Crossroads punches back at Reid… Ayotte testimony in the spotlight today… And Brownback’s “Office of Repealer.”

*** Command and control: As oil continues to gush from the leak in the Gulf, the Obama White House experienced another rough weekend of media coverage. And nothing was rougher than this piece from the usually friendly confines of the New York Times editorial page. “The president cannot plug the leak or magically clean up the fouled Gulf of Mexico. But he and his administration need to do a lot more to show they are on top of this mess, and not perpetually behind the curve.” The Times’ editorial concluded, “These are matters of competence and leadership. This is a time for Mr. Obama to decisively show both.” As if on cue, President Obama plans to spend today, tomorrow, and Wednesday to demonstrate command and control of the spill. http://nyti.ms/d2fL6M

*** Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, and the Oval Office: Today, Obama makes his fourth trip to the Gulf Coast region since the spill -- but his first visit outside of Louisiana. He arrives in Mississippi (a spot being hit more economically than by the oil itself) later this morning, and then receives a briefing by Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen at noon ET. Then at 2:50 pm ET, he arrives in Theodore, AL, and will make a statement to reporters at 4:40 pm ET. Tomorrow, Obama hits Florida (home of a one-ton tar ball) and returns to the White House to give his first-ever primetime address from the Oval Office. And then on Wednesday, he and his administration will meet at the White House with BP officials. If Team Obama can’t convince the public that it has command and control of the situation after these three days, then it probably never will.

*** Previewing Tuesday’s speech: On “Meet the Press” yesterday, White House adviser David Axelrod previewed tomorrow's Oval Office address. “We have some clarity now about the oil that's escaping, and about how we're going to approach it, and about what this means for those communities. And we want to talk about that, and talk about the steps that we're going to take to deal with it.” In addition, the White House tells First Read that Obama will discuss five points: 1) the reorganization at the Interior Department to ensure a regulatory structure for safe offshore oil drilling; 2) the containment strategy for capturing as much of the leaking oil as possible; 3) the BP claims process and how to make it fast, efficient, and transparent (is it time to bring in Ken Feinberg as the doler of funds?); 4) the beginning of a process to restore the Gulf to a better place than it was before the Deepwater Horizon exploded; and 5) the need to reduce the country’s dependence on oil and fossil fuels -- i.e., push for passage of an energy bill. That push for an energy bill will come with a deadline: this year. Of course, the details of this energy bill (carbon tax, climate aspects, etc.) will not be discussed.

*** Where’s the optimism? On Tuesday, be sure to listen to the president’s tone and see if it’s more optimistic than it was last week. In an interview with Politico’s Roger Simon on Friday, the normally upbeat Obama sounded pessimistic -- and even somewhat cynical -- when talking about the criticism he has received from congressional Republicans and the media. On congressional GOPers “[I]f six months ago, before this spill had happened, I had gone up to Congress and I had said we need to crack down a lot harder on oil companies and we need to spend more money on technology to respond in case of a catastrophic spill, there are folks up there, who will not be named, who would have said this is classic, big-government overregulation and wasteful spending.” And on the media: “I think I get frustrated with sometimes, as do, I suspect, other members of my team, is that the media specifically is demanding things that the public aren’t demanding. What the public wants to see is us solving this problem. And that may not make for good TV.” It’s one thing to be pessimistic, frustrated, and cynical. But it’s another to display those things in an interview.

*** And where’s the hope? Perhaps the president is right in his assessment about how Congress would have responded, but let's not forget that the president’s party is in charge of the legislative branch. In the last few weeks, more so than at any point to date in his term, the president has let his frustration with the process and theatrics show in public. Americans don't respond well to "woe is us.” Nobody wants unrealistic optimism, but they also want that guy who inspired a lot of "Hope" posters.

*** Obama’s poll numbers remain steady: Obama might have a point about the media’s criticism, specifically the political comparisons of the spill to Hurricane Katrina and the Iran hostage crisis. As John Harwood writes in the New York Times, the spill hasn’t really changed Obama’s standing in the polls -- at least so far. NBC/WSJ co-pollster Bill McInturff (R) tells Harwood: “It’s hard to make the case that the BP oil spill has a substantial impact on Obama’s job approval.” Adds polling expert Charles Franklin: “I see current approval about in line with the fluctuations we’ve seen all year for each pollster.” It will be interesting to see what the polls show after Obama’s offensive this week (the Gulf visit, the Oval Office address, the sit-down with BP officials).

*** Reid hits Angle in new TV ad: Turning to the midterm contests, the next couple of weeks will be crucial in determining whether Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D) can put himself in a position to win re-election -- given his huge financial advantage over opponent Sharron Angle (R). First, he began airing a positive TV ad late last week. And now he’s going up with a negative one against Angle that hits her for wanting to phase out Social Security and Medicare, and for the Scientology/massage legislation she sponsored. However, the GOP-leaning group American Crossroads -- which is aided by Karl Rove and Ed Gillespie -- is jumping into the fray to attack Reid over his support for the stimulus. (This is the first real test of this Rove/Gillespie group, and it will be interesting to see if they can use this gambit to bring more attention to their group and raise more money.) Meanwhile, Politico reports that Angle today will meet with prominent Wall Street conservatives in New York, and the Las Vegas Review-Journal says she’ll meet with NRSC Chairman John Cornyn on Tuesday and with Grover Norquist’s morning gathering on Wednesday.

*** Ayotte in the spotlight: In New Hampshire, GOP Senate front-runner Kelly Ayotte today testifies before state legislators why she -- when state attorney general -- didn’t file fraud charges against a New Hampshire mortgage firm like federal authorities did. Says the AP: “New Hampshire's highest profile political race is merging with its biggest business story. Campaign friends and foes of Republican U.S. Senate candidate Kelly Ayotte await her testimony Monday before legislators reviewing state oversight of the firm. Among them are investors who lost millions of dollars in a failed mortgage firm in Meredith.” The DSCC is releasing a memo today that says: “In what could be her moment of truth, Kelly Ayotte will testify today on her failure to identify and stop the largest Ponzi scheme in New Hampshire history. As a Senate candidate, Ayotte is campaigning on her record as New Hampshire’s Attorney General, saying ‘I’m a prosecutor, not a politician’ in her latest television advertisement. Today, the voters of New Hampshire have the opportunity to scrutinize that record.”

*** The Repealer: This Sunday New York Times story caught our eye: Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback, who is running for governor, “has proposed a new Kansas entity, the State Office of the Repealer, whose job it would be to start disposing of all the silly, needless, over-the-top regulations that state officials have dreamed up. ‘People just love this idea,’ Mr. Brownback said here the other day, smiling broadly. ‘They feel like they’re getting their brains regulated out of them.’” (Well, at least not when it comes to offshore oil drilling regulations…)

*** More midterm news: In Arkansas, Blanche Lincoln is moving to the center and away from Obama, the Arkansas News reports… In California, Carly Fiorina called her critical comments about Barbara Boxer’s hair “petty and superficial,” CQ says… In Florida, Mitt Romney has endorsed Bill McCollum… And in South Carolina’s GOP gubernatorial run-off, Andre Bauer has endorsed Gresham Barrett.

Countdown to UT primary and NC and SC run-offs: 8 days
Countdown to AL run-off: 29 days
Countdown to GA primary: 36 days
Countdown to OK primary: 43 days
Countdown to KS and MO primaries: 50 days
Countdown to CO and CT primaries: 57 days
Countdown to Election Day 2010: 141 days

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