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First thoughts: A busy midsummer day

On this busy midsummer day, the Senate Judiciary Committee meets to vote on the Kagan nomination at 10:00 am ET… Also at 10:00 am, Joe Manchin is expected to announce his Senate bid… British PM David Cameron meets with Obama and holds joint presser at 2:00 pm… Dems appear to have their 60 votes to clear GOP filibuster on extending the unemployment benefits without deficit reduction… Primary Day in Georgia; polls close at 7:00 pm… Blunt targets Carnahan -- and Obama -- in new TV ad… Why open seats matter… And profiling the first of our 75 House races to watch: AL-2.

*** A busy midsummer day: Where to begin on this busy midsummer day -- the Senate vote extending unemployment benefits, the Judiciary Committee vote on Elena Kagan’s SCOTUS nomination, Joe Manchin’s likely announcement that he’ll run for the Senate, David Cameron’s visit to D.C., or tonight’s primaries in Georgia? We’ll start chronologically. At 10:00 am ET, per NBC’s Ken Strickland, the Senate Judiciary Committee will meet to vote on Kagan’s Supreme Court nomination. (Note: The vote won’t happen right at 10:00 am; it’s just when the session starts). Democrats have a 12-7 edge on the committee, so Kagan’s passage is a sure thing. The only drama will be to see if Sen. Lindsey Graham will be the sole GOP vote for Kagan -- as was the case for Sonia Sotomayor.

*** Manchin is running. What about Shelley Moore Capito? Also at 10:00 am, West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin is set to announce his intention for a possible bid for Robert Byrd’s Senate seat. This announcement comes after the state legislature passed legislation yesterday clearing the way for a special election for the seat for Nov. 2 (and primaries for Aug. 28). And get this: “The law makes way for [Republican] Rep. Shelley Moore Capito to run for the Senate seat and for reelection to her House seat if she wants,” Politico writes. “Moore Capito is expected to announce whether she will run later this week… The filing deadline for the special election is this Friday at 5 PM.” Moore's calculation is more than just dealing with the possibility of losing to Manchin; she may have to worry about a contested primary. It's not as easy of a decision as it may look to some non-West Virginian political junkies.

*** David Cameron comes to town: At 11:00 am, President Obama holds a bilateral discussion at the White House with new British Prime Minister David Cameron. At 12:20 pm, the two men -- along with Vice President Biden -- have a working lunch. And then, at 2:00 pm, Obama and Cameron hold a joint press conference. Expect the BP/Lockerbie news to dominate Cameron’s visit. Cameron will also meet with Senate leaders, specifically dealing with the concerns of the New York/New Jersey senators regarding the early release of the Lockerbie bomber.

*** Breaking the filibuster: At the same time that Obama and Cameron will be talking to reporters, the Senate will be working to clear a GOP filibuster on extending the unemployment benefits. At 2:15 pm, Strickland says new (and temporary) West Virginia Sen. Carte Goodwin will be sworn in, giving Democrats their 60 votes to break the filibuster. (All 59 Dem senators, minus Ben Nelson, are expected to vote for cloture, in addition to the two Maine Republicans.) At 2:30 pm, the Senate will vote to break the filibuster. Strick then says that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Minority Leader McConnell have to negotiate when to schedule the vote for final passage of the UI bill. If the leaders play nice, the vote on passage will more then likely happen later in the afternoon or in the evening. Then, per NBC’s Luke Russert, House will take up the legislation on Wednesday. Once it’s passed, it will go to Obama’s desk for his signature. This unemployment benefits extension lasts through November; White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs hinted the president might ask for another extension if the unemployment rate in November is still above 9%.

*** The night the lights went out in Georgia: All it seemingly took was an endorsement by Sarah Palin -- via Facebook no less -- that vaulted former Secretary of State Karen Handel into the lead in today’s Georgia’s GOP gubernatorial primary. Before the endorsement, Handel was in second place in the Mason-Dixon poll, trailing front-runner Ken Oxendine by eight points (31%-28%); now, she’s leading him by seven (29%-22%). Assuming that no one reaches 50%, the top-two finishers in this seven-candidate field -- which also includes former Rep. Nathan Deal -- will compete in an Aug. 10 run-off. On the Democratic side, former Gov. Roy Barnes is the favorite in an equally crowded primary that also includes state Attorney General Thurbert Baker. Privately, Republicans outside of Georgia are hopeful Oxendine has a weak showing in the primary; his nomination is the one many GOPers fear the most. As for Barnes, to avoid a runoff while running against the state's highest-ranking African-American elected official (Baker) would be astounding. Polls close at 7:00 pm ET.

*** Caveat on the 'Palin Effect': If Handel ends up winning the GOP nomination, she’d be the second female that a Palin endorsement would have catapulted into the gubernatorial spotlight, joining South Carolina’s Nikki Haley. As the New York Times’ Zeleny wrote of Palin: “That she is leaving a major footprint on the 2010 midterm elections is not disputed, but less clear is whether the endorsements are rooted in an effort to amplify her image or to create a political strategy for the future.” Also less clear is her impact on races beyond GOP primaries. Indeed, our June NBC/WSJ poll found that her endorsement could be toxic in a general election: Just 25% said they were enthusiastic or comfortable with a candidate endorsed by Palin, while 52% said they had reservations or were very uncomfortable with that attribute. Refudiate that…

*** Down the ballot in Georgia: One congressional primary to watch is the Dem race in the 12th district. Rep. John Barrow faces Regina Thomas, a former state senator. Barrow has the money advantage, but Georgia political watchers are not writing off Thomas, who is black and well known in this district. Also, the attorney general's race is drawing attention because of what may be the most emotional and controversial TV ad this cycle. In it, a mother whose son was shot by police accuses candidate and prosecutor Ken Hodges (D) of not getting an indictment on the officer, because he "forgot to swear him in, tried to hide the video and then refused to reopen the case. I could never get an answer why." The teary-eyed mom concludes, "Mr. Hodges should not be our next attorney general." The ad, run by Democratic state Rep. Rob Teilhet, has caused a shake-up in the race. The Hodges campaign has called it unfair and untrue, and an independent fact-checker rated Teilhet's claim that Hodges botched the case as "false."

*** Blunt vs. Carnahan and Obama: Meanwhile, in Missouri, likely GOP Senate nominee Roy Blunt is going up with a TV ad aimed at both Robin Carnahan -- and President Obama, Politico reports. The ad features Obama’s comment at a fundraiser for Carnahan earlier this month that Carnahan winning would give him another vote in the Senate. It concludes, “Roy Blunt -- he’ll work for Missouri, not Barack Obama.” This is a significant development in the national electoral landscape for this reason: It's the most direct anti-Obama message we've seen made by a Republican running in a general election in a swing state. Now, that said, Blunt is trying to appeal to primary voters a tad right now. But if this ad against Carnahan, using Obama, does raise the Democrat's negatives, don't be surprised if it gets copied by GOP candidates across the country. This is an interesting test to keep an eye on.

*** Why open seats matter: Bloomberg News has a great take on the second-quarter fundraising, noting that House GOP candidates running in competitive OPEN seats have a clear advantage over their Democratic counterparts. But the vast majority of House Democratic incumbents have a financial advantage over their GOP challengers. This is why open seats matter, and why the relatively few number of Dem open seats is yet another difference why this might not be 1994. By the way, the Rothenberg Political Report now projects Republicans picking up 28-33 seats. They need 39 to take back control of the House.

*** A friendly warning: A warning about all the focus on a new tracking poll showing Democrats now leading on the congressional ballot. Live by the daily tracking polls, die by the daily tracking polls. There's a reason we are careful when we discuss even the reputable daily tracking polls because the fluctuations on an even week-to-week basis can make even the smartest political analyst look silly.

*** 75 House races to watch: Previewing AL-2: With the exception of Labor Day, there are now officially 75 BUSINESS days until Election Day. And beginning today, we will begin profiling (briefly) our 75 House races to watch (approximately 65 Democratic held seats and approximately 10 GOP seats). In alphabetical order, we’re starting with AL-2. The Democratic candidate is Bobby Bright (the one-term incumbent), and his GOP challenger is Martha Roby. McCain got 63% of the vote in this district in ’08, and Bush got 67% in ’04. Bright voted against the stimulus, cap-and-trade, and health care. Bright won by less than 2,000 votes in his 2008 race. This is a Democratic-held seat that many folks believe gets washed away in a wave; it’s all about whether national narrative takes hold in the district.

Countdown to OK primary: 7 days
Countdown to KS and MO primaries: 14 days
Countdown to CO and CT primaries: 21 days
Countdown to Election Day 2010: 105 days

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