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First thoughts: House play

When Robert Gibbs suggested the House is in play in November, he was only stating the obvious… Our four reasons why the GOP could win back the House… And four other reasons why it might not… The Obama White House’s communications problem… Obama meets with the Dominican Republic’s Fernandez at 2:10 pm ET… Is Sarah Palin the 2012 version of Rudy Giuliani?... Previewing tomorrow’s run-offs in Alabama… Vitter gets a primary challenger… And our first glimpse at the 2012 presidential calendar.

From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, and Ali Weinberg
*** House play: White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs apparently made the biggest political news over the weekend, when he suggested on “Meet the Press” that Republicans could win back the House in the fall. “I think there's no doubt there are enough seats in play that could cause Republicans to gain control… This will depend on strong campaigns by Democrats. And again, I think we've got to take the issues to them.” Gibbs, though, was just stating the obvious. (Imagine if Gibbs had said the GOP did NOT have a chance; the chattering class would have criticized him for being in a bubble or being delusional.) The facts are the facts: The Cook Political Report identifies 64 Democratic-held seats as either “Lean” or “Toss-up” races, and Republicans would need to win a majority of them (39) to win control of the House. Indeed, there are four reasons why the House is up for grabs: 1) according to history, the GOP stands to pick up seats; 2) Republicans enjoy a significant enthusiasm advantage; 3) Democrats are losing the independent vote; and 4) much of the House battleground will play in white/rural districts, where Obama isn’t performing well.

*** The GOP’s advantages and disadvantages: But we also can list another four reasons why the GOP won’t win back the House: 1) Unlike in ’94, the Republican Party has a fav/unfav score that's no better (and sometimes event worse) than the Dem Party’s; 2) Unlike in ’94, the GOP isn’t necessarily running on new ideas or even with many new faces; 3) the National Republican Congressional Committee has a HUGE financial disadvantage compared with the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, and the RNC’s political/fundraising troubles won’t be able to make up the difference; and 4) winning 39 seats is a tall order. After all, when Democrats won back the House in 2006 -- during the height of violence in Iraq and after Hurricane Katrina -- they picked up 30 House seats. The GOP will need almost 10 more than that. One thing that's truly amazing about this cycle, historically: The fact we're headed for a third-straight cycle where more than 20 seats change hands.

*** When Washington runs the White House: Turning our attention away from the midterms and to the Obama White House, we’ve come to this conclusion: This White House is simply not good at handling communication and politics. The legislative achievements are there. So is the individual outreach. But what's missing is a coherent message. Whether dealing with the media, the business community, Republicans, or Congress, this White House hasn’t gotten its message across. (Just check out what Dem Gov. Chris Gregoire said of the White House’s communication on immigration: “They described for me a list of things that they are doing to try and help on that border,” Ms. Gregoire said... “And I said, ‘The public doesn’t know that.’”) Why is this surprising? The last thing so many of us thought during the presidential campaign was that these guys would have difficulties controlling the message and managing their constituents. Simply put, Washington runs this White House right now; the White House doesn't run Washington.

*** Obama’s day and week: President Obama has a pretty light week, schedule-wise. Today, at 2:10 pm ET, he meets with President Leonel Fernandez of the Dominican Republic. He attends White House meetings on Tuesday and Wednesday. On Thursday, he heads to Michigan to once again talk about the economy. And on Friday, the First Family travels to Maine for a weekend vacation. However, First Lady Michelle Obama has a pretty busy day today, addressing the NAACP’s convention to talk about combating childhood obesity, and then heading to the Gulf to inspect the oil spill.

*** Sarah Palin = Rudy Giuliani? A Politico story noting SarahPAC’s second-quarter fundraising and expenditures is getting a lot of play this morning. But here are a couple of caveats to keep in mind: 1) given her increased campaigning for political candidates this spring and summer, it shouldn’t be surprising that her PAC is spending more money, and 2) we’ve seen House campaigns with more sophisticated political teams than hers currently has. We still have big doubts that she eventually runs for president in 2012. But if she does, she might pull a Rudy Giuliani: If you dip your toes into the presidential waters, sometimes you get pushed in. And as Rudy’s campaign (and also Fred Thompson’s) taught us, a candidate who gets pushed into the presidential waters is often unprepared for the big race ahead. And like Giuliani, Palin has all the potential to become a media darling without having the organization in the key states to back it up.

*** Sweet home, Alabama: Tomorrow brings us another round of races -- GOP run-offs for governor and Congress in Alabama. In the Republican gubernatorial run-off, former state college chancellor Bradley Byrne, who received the most votes in the primary, faces off against state Rep. Robert Bentley; a poll last week showed Bentley with a sizable lead over Byrne. And in the Republican congressional run-off to take on incumbent Dem Rep. Bobby Bright in the fall, establishment favorite Martha Roby -- who got the most votes in the primary -- competes against Tea Party favorite Rick Barber, whose campaign produced that provocative “Gather your armies” ad.

*** Vitter gets a primary challenger: GOP Sen. David Vitter hasn’t had a good last couple weeks -- with all the scrutiny over a former aide who was accused of assaulting his girlfriend in ’08 (and this aide handled women’s issues). And Vitter got worse news right before the filing deadline on Friday, when a credible Republican decided to challenge him in the GOP primary and when a Republican decided to run in the general as an independent. From the AP: “Chet Traylor, from Monroe, was the last candidate to register for a congressional election before the qualifying period ended Friday. He'll face off with Vitter in the Republican primary Aug. 28… Also entering the Senate race was a state lawmaker from Plaquemines Parish [Ernest Wooton] who left the GOP and registered Friday as an independent… As an independent, Wooton will bypass the party primaries and directly enter the Nov. 2 general election.”

*** The 2012 calendar: On Friday, the DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee set the dates for the “pre-window” primaries and caucuses in 2012. Iowa will go Feb. 6; New Hampshire will go Feb. 14; Nevada will go Feb. 18; and South Carolina will go Feb. 28. Other states would get to hold their primaries and caucuses no earlier than March 6. It’s expected that the RNC -- and the real primary action will likely be on the GOP side, of course -- will follow those dates. Also at the DNC meeting, the Rules and Bylaws Committee ruled to penalize states that hold their contests earlier than they’re supposed to, and to reduce the influence of superdelegates in selecting the party’s presidential nominee.

Countdown to AL run-off: 1 day
Countdown to GA primary: 8 days
Countdown to OK primary: 15 days
Countdown to KS and MO primaries: 22 days
Countdown to CO and CT primaries: 29 days
Countdown to Election Day 2010: 113 days

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