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First thoughts: It's the economy...

In an interview with NBC, President Obama says it all comes down to the economy… He also says that voters should hold him accountable for HIS policies, but not the previous administration’s… He stresses that “no one is happy where things are” with the economy… And he tries to explain why corporate America is doing well, but that hasn’t translated into higher job growth… At 9:30 am ET, Obama makes a statement to the press before the First Family departs for a weekend getaway… At 2:00 pm, Gov. Manchin announces his temporary replacement to fill Robert Byrd’s Senate seat… Harry Reid's up seven points in new poll… First Read’s Top 10 states to watch… And McCain and Hayworth debate tonight in Arizona.

From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, and Ali Weinberg
*** It’s the economy… : Yesterday afternoon, the oil spill in the Gulf temporarily stopped -- as did the story over Robert Gibbs' Kinsleyian gaffe. Indeed, the White House received two pieces of good news on Thursday. The first was the stoppage of the oil leak. The second was the Senate passage of the financial reform legislation, which President Obama will sign into law next week. Asked yesterday in an interview with NBC News why his considerable legislative achievements -- financial reform, health care reform -- haven’t translated into more political capital for him and his administration, President Obama essentially had this answer: It’s the economy, stupid. “If unemployment is at 9.5%, the party in power is going to have some problems regardless of how much progress we’ve made and how much worse it would be if the other side had been in charge.”

*** Hold me accountable for my policies -- but not Bush’s: Also in the interview, Obama said that voters should hold him accountable for his policies, but he also said that the midterms should be a choice -- yet he wasn't ready for them to become a referendum. “This is going to be a choice between the policies that got us into this mess and my policies that are getting us out of this mess. And I think if you look at the vast majority of Americans, even those who are dissatisfied with the pace of progress, they'll say that the policies that got us into this mess we can't go back to… What I'm prepared is to be held accountable for the policies that I've put in place. But they Americans don't have selective memory. They're gonna remember the policies that got us into this mess as well. And they sure as heck don't wanna go back to those.”

*** I can’t get no satisfaction: That said, he acknowledged that no one is happy where things are right now. “Look, nobody in the White House is satisfied with where we are right now. What we absolutely are convinced of, though, is that we're on the right track. And I think that the statistics bear that out.”

*** “It takes some time to come back”: And Obama tried to answer why corporate America is doing so well right now, but that isn’t translating into robust job growth. “I'll tell you exactly what Warren Buffet said. He said, ‘We went through a wrenching recession. And so we have not fully recovered. We're about 40, 50 percent back. But we've still got a long way to go.’ And the reason people haven't fully invested yet and started creating as many jobs as we would like is because it takes some time to come back. He used a good example in the housing market, where about 1.2 million households are formed that buy a house each year… But we went through a span of time four or five years, because of the bubble and subprime lending and all the shenanigans that were going on with the mortgage market, where we were building two million homes a year. Now we're building 500,000. And what Warren pointed out was, look, we're gonna get back to 1.2. But right now we're soaking up a whole bunch of inventory.”

*** Wanna get away? At 9:45 am ET, Obama and the First Family will depart the White House for a weekend getaway in Maine. And the president will make a statement to the press 15 minutes before he leaves.

*** The Replacements: At 2:00 pm today from the state Capitol, West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin (D) is expected to announce his temporary replacement to fill Robert Byrd’s Senate seat until November’s special election. “Manchin's potential choices,” the AP says, “are believed to include ex-Democratic Party chief Nick Casey, former Gov. Gaston Caperton and former general counsel Carte Goodwin.” Another name that has been floated is longtime Byrd staffer Anne Barth. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said yesterday that the Senate will swear-in the still unnamed replacement for Byrd at 2:15 pm ET on Tuesday, July 20, NBC’s Ken Strickland reported. And Roll Call says that immediately afterward, the Senate will hold a procedural vote to block the GOP filibuster on the legislation extending unemployment insurance.

*** Harry Reid up seven points in NV: How bad have the last few weeks been for Sharron Angle (R) in Nevada’s Senate race? Bad enough that she’s now trailing Harry Reid (D) by seven points in a new Las Vegas Review-Journal/Mason-Dixon poll, 44%-37%. “That is the best Reid has done against Angle this year in a series of Mason-Dixon polls. Previously, the two had been locked in a statistical dead heat with Angle finishing just ahead of Reid in February, 44 percent to 42 percent, and in June, 44 percent to 41 percent, and Reid finishing just ahead of Angle in May, 42 percent to 39 percent.” The danger for Reid is that it’s never good for an incumbent to below 50%. Then again, because “None of these candidates” is on the ballot in Nevada, Reid doesn’t need 50% to win here.

*** More midterms: In Arizona tonight, John McCain and J.D. Hayworth face off in their first debate… In Connecticut, a new Quinnipiac poll shows Richard Blumenthal leading Linda McMahon by 17 points, 54%-37%, which is down three points from last month… And in South Carolina, in reaction to Alvin Greene’s plan for economic growth (make action figures of himself), the Charleston minor league team will be giving away figurines, the Charleston Post and Courier writes.