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First thoughts: Forward vs. backward

Obama refines his midterm message: forward vs. backward… He also singles out the Bartons, the Boehners, the Blunts, and the Angles while in MO and NV… But the GOP midterm message might be more powerful: just look at the unemployment rate… Obama remains in Las Vegas, where he gives a speech on the economy at 12:05 pm ET… Biden tapes Leno appearance… Dems sound the alarm about the Chamber of Commerce’s $75 million and GOP interest groups possibly spending a combined $300 million on the midterms… Perception vs. reality on whether the administration’s policies have been good for business… The governors gather in Boston, while the DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee meets in DC… Manchin on “Daily Rundown” said he is "highly likely" … And First Read’s Top 10 Senate takeovers.

*** Forward vs. backward: It was lost in all the attention on LeBron James’ decision (it’s the Miami Heat), the spy swap, and the appeals court decision rejecting the administration’s offshore-drilling moratorium. But President Obama -- in campaign stops yesterday in Missouri and Nevada -- made what appeared to be the Democrats’ clearest midterm argument: moving forward vs. moving backward. “You're going to face a choice in November,” Obama said in Missouri. “This is a choice between the policies that got us into this mess in the first place, and the policies that are getting us out of this mess. And what the other side is counting on is people not having a very good memory.” Republicans, he added, are not “coming back and saying, ‘You know what, we really screwed up, but we've learned our lesson and now we've got this new approach and this is how things are going to turn out really well.’ That's not their argument.”

*** Singling out the Bartons, the Boehners, the Blunts, and the Angles: Also in Missouri, Obama used his now-familiar “car keys” line. “These folks drove the economy into a ditch, and they want the keys back. And you got to say the same thing to them that you say to your teenager: You can't have the keys back because you don't know how to drive yet.” He took a shot at the “Bartons and the Boehners and the Blunts,” saying: “They've got that ‘no’ philosophy, that ‘you're on your own’ philosophy, the status quo philosophy.” And in Nevada last night, Obama singled out Sharron Angle. “She wants to phase out and privatize Social Security and Medicare… Said the answer to the BP oil spill is to deregulate the oil industry… She called the compensation we're providing a slush fund… Now, a few hours later, her campaign puts out a memo saying, well, she didn’t mean that. They said there was some ‘confusion.’ And I'm sure she meant ‘slush fund’ in the nicest possible way.”

*** The GOP’s argument -- just look at the unemployment rate: But the Republican midterm argument is equally simple and perhaps more powerful: The nation’s unemployment rate -- under Democratic control -- is near 10%. In fact, a new 60-second statewide TV ad by Angle makes this very point. “When Harry Reid became Majority Leader Nevada's unemployment was only 4.4%,” the ad displays to somber music. “Now Nevada unemployment hits 14%, leads nation.” More: “Since Harry Reid has become Majority Leader, 135,000 Nevadans have become unemployed.”

*** Obama and Biden today: President Obama is still in Las Vegas today, where he makes remarks on the economy at 12:05 pm ET. And Vice President remains on the West Coast, attending another event for California Sen. Barbara Boxer and also taping an appearance on Leno.

*** The Chamber’s $75 million: One of the few apparent disadvantages Republicans have this midterm season is party money. When you add up all the federal party organizations (DNC/RNC, DCCC/NRCC, DSCC/NRSC), Democrats have a $17 million cash-on-hand advantage over Republicans, $60 million to $43 million. (When you add the DGA and RGA figures, however, the parties are on equal footing due to the RGA’s huge fundraising numbers.) But one GOP-leaning interest group is planning to step up -- the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which has been one of the Obama administration’s chief critics on health care and energy/climate change. Earlier this month, lobbying reporter Peter H. Stone revealed that the group planned to raise $75 million to spend on the midterms. A Chamber spokesman wouldn’t confirm or deny that figure. “We will raise and spend a significant amount of money,” the spokesman told First Read. But if the $75 million figure is correct, that would dwarf the amount any interest group spent on state or federal activities in 2008.

*** Dems signal the alarm: And it’s just not the U.S. Chamber. Democrats are passing around a memo showing that other GOP interest groups -- like Karl Rove’s/Ed Gillespie’s American Crossroads, the Club for Growth, and the NRA -- are planning to spend a combined $300 million this election cycle. "There's a real danger that we'll see an avalanche of special-interest money flowing into these campaigns," DCCC Chairman Chris Van Hollen told the Washington Post. "This kind of money can clearly affect the outcome of elections. That's why they're doing it. And that's why it's important [for Democrats] to try and confront the challenge." Of course, the memo and Van Hollen’s comments are intended to send a message to Democratic-leaning groups -- like organized labor, MoveOn, and others -- to also step it up and start raising and spending their OWN special interest money.

*** Perception vs. reality: Speaking of the U.S. Chamber (and its criticisms of Obama), Democrats and liberals are pushing back against the perception that the administration’s policies have been bad for business. In an interview with Politico, White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel said that the White House’s actions -- the stimulus, the stabilization of the financial industry, the decision NOT to nationalize the banks, the rescue of the auto industry -- have all benefited American corporations and businesses. And in his New York Times column today, Paul Krugman makes this point: "Job creation has been disappointing, but first-quarter corporate profits were up 44 percent from a year earlier. Consumers are nervous, but the Dow, which was below 8,000 on the day President Obama was inaugurated, is now over 10,000. In a rational universe, American business would be very happy with Mr. Obama."

*** Business’s argument: The private sector’s argument about the Obama White House is that it needs more certainty about what's coming, and that's why businesses and corporations are on the sidelines with some of their cash reserves that the White House would argue should be used for job creation. The Chamber's chief, Tom Donahue, will be on the “Daily Rundown” this morning to talk about this and their political goals for the fall.

*** The governors are coming! The governors are coming! The National Governors Association annual meeting kicks off in earnest in Boston. On the agenda of the three-day conference: an opening press conference (at 10:00 am ET today); a plenary session on health care (at 11:30 am); panels on energy, homeland security, and the economy (Saturday); and a closing plenary on the federal budget deficit (Sunday). Msnbc.com’s Carrie Dann previews the meeting. “Amid fierce angst about government spending, stubbornly high unemployment rates, and raging policy arguments over immigration and health care -- being a member of Congress running for re-election can seem like one of the roughest jobs out there. But try serving as governor. Being one of the 50 chief executives right now is ‘the worst job in American politics,’ says Jennifer Duffy, who tracks governors’ and senators’ races for the Cook Political Report.”

*** Setting the 2012 calendar: There’s another meeting to watch today -- this one in D.C. At 1:00 pm ET, DNC’s Rules and Bylaws Committee meets, and it’s expected that they’ll vote on dates for the pre-window states (IA, NH, SC, NV) and reducing the influence of superdelegates.

*** Time for another special election: And speaking of the calendar, it looks like we’ll have a special election in November for Robert Byrd’s Senate seat. “West Virginia’s attorney general has determined that Gov. Joe Manchin III can call a special election this year to fill the vacancy created by the death of Senator Robert C. Byrd, clearing the way for a contest in November to fill the remaining two years of Mr. Byrd’s term,” the New York Times writes. Manchin on MSNBC's “Daily Rundown” this morning said it is "highly likely I will" be on the ballot to replace Byrd this fall. He also, however, said he won't set a date until the legislature can "clarify." He said Byrd was a stickler for the rules and the Constitution and, "He'd want us to do it and do it right," Manchin said. "I don't want to put anyone in under a cloud of legal dispute."

Countdown to AL run-off: 4 days
Countdown to GA primary: 11 days
Countdown to OK primary: 18 days
Countdown to KS and MO primaries: 25 days
Countdown to CO and CT primaries: 32 days
Countdown to Election Day 2010: 116 days

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