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First thoughts: Rahm's contrast

Rahm uses BP and Barton to paint midterm contrast with GOP… The choice vs. the referendum… Dem candidate airs TV ad against Bachmann over BP comment… When leisure becomes a political issue… Previewing Run-off Tuesday… Mark Kirk’s latest exaggeration/misstatement… And another poll has Charlie Crist in the lead.

*** Rahm’s contrast: Over the weekend, White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel made it clear that Democrats would use GOP Rep. Joe Barton’s apology to BP, as well as his criticism of the oil company’s $20 billion escrow account, against the Republicans in the fall. “There is a choice that Joe Barton has offered the American people, a philosophy for the Republican Party, which is that BP is the aggrieved party,” Emanuel said on ABC. “That's a governing philosophy. In the coming weeks you'll see the president speak to the country about these competing different philosophies. That is, do you have only the energy executives in the room, or do you have energy executives, environmentalists, and other people from the venture capital community to come to a consensus on energy policy? Do you think that BP is the aggrieved party here? Do you think that Wall Street should be left alone and not have any reforms? Elections are about choices.”

*** A choice vs. a referendum: Then again, the incumbent party -- especially facing tough political headwinds -- usually tries to cast elections as a choice. And the opposition typically casts them as a referendum, because referendums are usually losers for the party in power. In fact, Emanuel, when he was head of the DCCC during the ’06 cycle said this: "At the end of the day, this is a referendum on whether you think the next two years should be like the last six years.” In ’06 and ’08, the referendum argument won the day. In ’02 and ’04, the Bush White House was able to win on the “choice” argument.

*** The Dem ad against Bachmann: Some Democrats aren’t waiting until the fall to hit Republicans on BP. Politico reports that Tarryl Clark (D), who’s running a somewhat uphill campaign against GOP Rep. Michele Bachmann, has a new TV ad highlighting the congresswoman’s Barton-esque defense of BP. “It’s BP’s fault and they should pay,” the ad says of the Gulf spill. “But Michele Bachmann calls making BP pay for the cleanup ‘extortion.’” The ad concludes, “Michele Bachmann -- standing up for BP, not us.” Keep in mind: Challengers like Clark need to find a way to stand out, and this is clearly one of those attempts. The question is whether it catches on; we just don’t know yet if attacks on Joe Barton and the GOP re: BP are working.

*** When leisure becomes a political issue: All the criticism that BP CEO Tony Hayward has received for his Yacht outing in the U.K. has given Republicans an opening to whack President Obama for his various leisure activities, including playing golf during the spill -- as he did on Saturday. Indeed, RNC Chairman Michael Steele issued this release yesterday: “While it is fitting and appropriate to look at the yachting activities of the BP CEO, with incredulity, it is equally incredible that President Obama finds himself on yet another golf course as oil continues to spew into the Gulf.” And Democrats made similar attacks from 2001-2008 against George W. Bush (for playing golf, for going on extended trips to Crawford and Kennebunkport). But let’s also get real here: Obama has gone on fewer getaways than Bush ever did , and we assume that critics who are playing the golf/getaway card aren’t going to take any vacations or hit the links and ballparks, right? Still, it's a different media climate now, and it is amazing to see conservatives essentially cut-and-paste some Bush attacks (that they use to pooh-pooh) and re-apply to Obama. While optics matter, does anyone really think either the previous president or this one isn't constantly aware of the problems they are facing?

*** Run-off Tuesday: Tomorrow brings us another round of primary contests, and they have this in common: They’re run-offs in some form or fashion. In North Carolina, Elaine Marshall (D) and Cal Cunningham (D) compete for the right to challenge Sen. Richard Burr (R) in the fall (in the May primary, Marshall got 36%, and Cunningham got 27%). In South Carolina, Nikki Haley takes on Gresham Barrett in the run-off for the GOP gubernatorial nomination (Haley got 49% in the June 8 primary, and Barrett got 22%). And in Utah, Republican Senate candidates Mike Lee and Tim Bridgewater face off in what’s technically a primary, but it’s essentially a run-off between the top-two finishers from the May GOP convention, in which incumbent Sen. Bob Bennett finished third. A new Deseret News/KSL-TV poll shows Bridgewater with a nine-point lead over Lee, 42%-33%, with 25% undecided.

*** The latest hit on Kirk: The exaggeration/misstatement hits keep coming for Illinois GOP Senate nominee Mark Kirk. On Saturday, the New York Times reported that the leader of an upstate New York church where Kirk claimed he worked as a nursery school teacher said he didn’t serve as a teacher there. “He was never, ever considered a teacher,” the leader told the Times. “He was just an additional pair of hands to help a primary teaching person.” The paper added, “Mr. Kirk’s background has come under fresh examination after his apology this month for errors and discrepancies about his military record. A review of public comments by Mr. Kirk over the last decade shows that he has often referred to himself in speeches, campaign commercials and interviews as a former nursery, middle and high school teacher. He taught for a year in London at a private school, after getting his master’s degree at the London School of Economics." When is this going to end for Kirk? Giannoulias may be a flawed candidate, but his campaign's ability to cut Kirk as many times as it has shows the Democrat has a first-rate campaign. By the way, Vice President Biden stumps for Giannoulias at 3:00 pm ET in Chicago.

*** More midterm news: In Florida, yet another poll shows Charlie Crist leading the three-way Senate contest: The Florida Chamber of Commerce survey has Crist at 42%, Marco Rubio at 31%, and Kendrick Meek at 14%... In Nevada, Sharron Angle has a new Web ad that punches back at Harry Reid (although the fact that she’s hitting back via the Web and not paid advertising highlights her financial disadvantage against Reid).

Countdown to UT primary and NC and SC run-offs: 1 day
Countdown to AL run-off: 22 days
Countdown to GA primary: 29 days
Countdown to OK primary: 36 days
Countdown to KS and MO primaries: 43 days
Countdown to CO and CT primaries: 50 days
Countdown to Election Day 2010: 134 days

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