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First thoughts: The week's inflection point

Did the Obama White House get its inflection point on the Gulf spill?... Joe Barton and the GOP’s worst day since health care passed in March… Obama -- once again -- tries to sell the stimulus, this time at a 12:15 pm ET speech from Columbus, OH… Meg Whitman’s pivot on immigration… First Read’s Top 10 candidate gaffes of 2010… Sharron Angle meets the press (and it’s not pretty)… And Mitt Romney and Jenny Sanford stump for Nikki Haley.

From Mark Murray and Domenico Montanaro
*** The week’s inflection point: Looking back at the past week, the White House might have been right: The week did serve as an inflection point in its handling of the BP spill. A two-day visit to the Gulf, a primetime Oval Office speech (though panned by pundits), the $20 billion BP escrow account, and GOP Rep. Joe Barton’s gift yesterday to Democrats all served to change the direction of the story about the spill -- at least temporarily. In Washington, the questions “Why isn’t the administration doing more?” or “Is Obama on top of this situation?” or “Will BP pay for the damages?” have died down.

*** “Plug the damn hole”: What remains, however, is this central question: “When will the leak finally be stopped?” Only until that is answered will the spill no longer be a political problem for the White House. As one Democratic strategist emails First Read: "Obama could go on WWE and pin Tony Hayward to the mat and it wouldn't matter. We stop the leak and I think the improving political environment for us starts to get more notice" -- referring to better economic news and the GOP’s slate of very conservative candidates this fall.

*** Barton’s three different apologies: For Republicans, yesterday might have been their worst day since health care passed in March. Barton’s statement that BP's $20 billion fund was a White House “shakedown,” and then his apology to BP, made it seem that he was more concerned about the oil company than about relief for Gulf residents. Barton’s “shakedown”/"slush fund" remark wasn't isolated. Republicans Tom Price and Michele Bachmann said similar things about the $20 billion account, and a writer from the Heritage Foundation also justified Barton’s comments. But realizing that political damage had been done, GOP House leaders -- who rarely back down from a political fight with the administration -- said that Barton was wrong and threatened to strip his plum position on the House Energy Committee if he didn’t retreat. The Texas congressman eventually apologized twice (once for being misconstrued, the other time retracting his apology to BP).

*** Hello, Columbus: Moving from the Gulf spill to the U.S. economy, President Obama heads to Columbus, OH, where he will deliver a speech at 12:15 pm ET marking the economic stimulus’ 10,000th road project. Yet despite evidence that the stimulus has helped stabilized the economy and create jobs, the public isn't buying the law. In last month’s NBC/WSJ poll, just 38% said the stimulus was helping to improve the economy or helping to improve the economy in the future. A plurality, 42%, said it would not help the economy. Those numbers are the reason why the president is still trying to sell the stimulus.

*** Meg Whitman’s pivot on immigration: In California, Meg Whitman is up with a new Spanish-language TV ad that strikes a very different tone than her TV ads from the GOP gubernatorial primary. The new ad, per NBC’s Sarah Blackwill, says (when translated in English): "Meg Whitman is a different kind of candidate. She is a business leader ready to fix Sacramento, ready to create more jobs and better schools in California. She respects our community. She is the Republican who opposes the Arizona law and opposed Prop. 187. She means real change..." But during the primary, Whitman ran a radio ad featuring former California Gov. Pete Wilson (R), the man behind Prop. 187, who said in it: “Meg Whitman will be as tough as nails on illegal immigration.” And in a TV ad during the primary, Whitman looked directly at the camera and said she opposes amnesty and will send National Guard troops to the border, if necessary. http://bit.ly/dboJ2H, http://bit.ly/brAQjX, and http://bit.ly/dq8RoD

*** More midterm news: In Colorado, GOP Senate candidate Jane Norton has a tough Web video hitting Obama on national security… In Nevada, don’t miss a local CBS affiliate reporter trying to ask Sharron Angle about her positions on the issues… In South Carolina, Mitt Romney and Jenny Sanford stump for Nikki Haley… Also in the state, "S.C. Democrats rejected a protest of last week’s U.S. Senate primary vote tonight, meaning unknown Alvin Greene, who is facing a felony obscenity charge, is set to represent the party against Republican U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint," The State newspaper writes.

Countdown to UT primary and NC and SC run-offs: 4 days
Countdown to AL run-off: 25 days
Countdown to GA primary: 32 days
Countdown to OK primary: 39 days
Countdown to KS and MO primaries: 46 days
Countdown to CO and CT primaries: 53 days
Countdown to Election Day 2010: 137 days

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