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First thoughts: Obama and Netanyahu, take 5

Obama and Netanyahu meet, take five… The two men hold a press avail at noon ET… The meeting comes as the U.S. has more leverage over Israel than it might ever have, and as more Americans than ever say their sympathies lie with the Israelis over the Palestinians… New York $$$ dries up for Democrats… Is Michael Steele still the one?.... Romney hits Obama over START… Blunt and Portman up with new TV ads… And McCain -- yet again -- blasts Hayworth over that infomercial appearance.

From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, and Ali Weinberg
*** Obama and Netanyahu, take five: We’ll see if today’s Obama-Netanyahu meeting goes better than the others have; after all, there’s nowhere to go but up, right? At 11:00 am ET, President Obama meets with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu in the Oval Office (closed press) at 11:00 am ET, and the two hold a joint press avail at noon (but it's pooled press only, so questions will be VERY limited). The Washington Post tees up the meeting: “Obama was cool toward Netanyahu during their last meeting, leaving the Israeli leader and his aides in the West Wing alone for hours as a subtle rebuke over Israeli settlement policies… That encounter followed an announcement by Israel, during a visit to the country by Vice President Biden, of a plan to construct 1,600 Jewish homes in a part of East Jerusalem that Palestinians view as their future capital. This next meeting has been promised as ‘a makeup visit.’”

*** Leverage and support: It's worth noting that the Obama administration probably has more leverage over Israel than it has had and may EVER have -- since the U.S., compared with the rest of the international community (including, for instance, even Great Britain), didn’t go out of its way to condemn the Israeli attack on that Gaza-bound flotilla. It’s also worth pointing out that after the flotilla incident, more Americans than ever (61%) said their sympathies are more with the Israelis than the Palestinians, according or our June NBC/WSJ poll. What’s more, nearly two-thirds (65%), said that U.S. relations with Israel are “extremely” or “fairly” important to America’s national interest. Interestingly, support for Israel continues to grow among Republicans. For those with a political memory, that's longer than one or two elections. And it's worth reminding folks that support for Israel used to be a more Democratic position, while Republicans (both elected and self-I.D.-ing) used to express more skepticism about the relationship.

*** Gone in a New York minute: The Washington Post also front-pages that Democratic political contributions from New York are down from two years ago. Besides the economic downturn and the fact that Chuck Schumer is no longer raising money for the DSCC, the Post says the biggest reason for this decline is the congressional activity to re-regulate Wall Street. “The drop in support comes from many of the same bankers, hedge fund executives and financial services chief executives who are most upset about the financial regulatory reform bill that House Democrats passed last week with almost no Republican support. The Senate expects to take up the measure this month.” But as Republicans tout this decline, it’s a double-edged sword – is it politically wise to be on Wall Street side this midterm season? The only folks who are more unpopular than Washington politicians are Wall Street bankers.

*** Steele the one? To put RNC Chairman Michael Steele’s anti-Afghanistan-war comments into perspective -- and how they fundamentally break with GOP orthodoxy -- the equivalent of what Steele said would be if Howard Dean, circa 2005-2006, called for staying the course in Iraq. (In fact, the only Republican who praised Steele was Ron Paul.) Yet Steele’s retraction on Friday afternoon (“The stakes are too high for us to accept anything but success in Afghanistan”) might have made things even worse for him, because it begs the question why Steele ever said those anti-Afghanistan-war comments in the first place. Steele’s job appears to be safe, given that it’s just four months until the election; given the fact that most Republicans seem resigned to riding out the rest of the chairman’s term; and given that Republicans are donating money to the RGA or NRSC, or are figuring out other ways to fund state party turnout efforts.

*** A Farewell to Arms (treaties): Looking ahead to 2012... Mitt Romney pens a Washington Post op-ed blasting President Obama’s arms treaty with Russia and calls for the Senate not to ratify it. “New-START impedes missile defense, our protection from nuclear-proliferating rogue states such as Iran and North Korea,” Romney writes. “Its preamble links strategic defense with strategic arsenal. It explicitly forbids the United States from converting intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) silos into missile defense sites. And Russia has expressly reserved the right to walk away from the treaty...” In addition to whacking Obama, Romney’s op-ed also seeks to bolster his foreign-policy credentials (given that the extent of his political service is as a one-term governor of Massachusetts). By the way, there was an expectation that South Dakota GOP Sen. John Thune would use his opposition to START to begin his own flirting with a 2012 bid.

*** Coming to a TV set near you: There are a couple notable new TV ads airing in some of the higher-profile Senate contests. In Missouri, Republican Roy Blunt is up with his first TV spot (get this -- it doesn’t mention his 14 years as a member of Congress). This Blunt ad is designed to make sure he doesn't have to worry about his semi-gadfly primary challenge. And in Ohio, Republican Rob Portman is airing a statewide ad assailing cap-and-trade (even though cap-and-trade isn’t really on the Senate’s agenda). An important reminder: Republicans need to hold both Missouri and Ohio to have a chance to take back the Senate in November.

*** On the road again… : Speaking of Missouri’s Senate race, President Obama is heading to campaign for Robin Carnahan (in Missouri) and Harry Reid (in Nevada) on Thursday and Friday. And Vice President Joe Biden travels to California later in the week to raise money for Sen. Barbara Boxer.

*** Dems are nervous about the Brown campaign: Although Jerry Brown (D) is slightly leading Meg Whitman (R) in the race for California governor, according to polls, state Democrats are voicing their concerns that Brown’s campaign hasn’t been active enough in defending Whitman’s TV air assault. The Los Angeles Times: “The combination of Whitman's wealth and a distinct lack of energy by Brown is making California Democrats nervous about their candidate's prospects in the fall. ‘If you're going to run for governor, you have to do what it takes. You can't tell yourself or tell everyone else there is some special way for you to do this that is completely outside the norms that apply to everyone else,’ said Democratic strategist Garry South.” It's somewhat surprising that Brown is allowing himself to get out-maneuvered on the new media front and with this new news cycle given that Brown had been notable for being an early adapter for populist campaign tactics, like, for instance 800-numbers back during his '92 campaign when that was still "quaint" and intriguing. Brown's campaign today looks like a relic and is making it easier for Whitman to paint him as someone from the past.

*** More midterm news: In Arizona’s GOP Senate primary, John McCain has an ad hammering J.D. Hayworth over his appearance in a get-government-grants infomercial… And in Louisiana, SQ says that despite months of Democratic attacks “Sen. David Vitter continues to look strong in public polling and turn in million dollar fundraising quarters.”

Countdown to AL run-off: 7 days
Countdown to GA primary: 14 days
Countdown to OK primary: 21 days
Countdown to KS and MO primaries: 28 days
Countdown to CO and CT primaries: 35 days
Countdown to Election Day 2010: 119 days

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