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First thoughts: More controversy, challenges, and distractions

More controversy, challenges, and distractions for the White House… The judicial ruling on Arizona's immigration law was a legal -- but not political -- victory for Team Obama… The ethics hearing on Charlie Rangel convenes at 1:00 pm ET… Newt to blast Obama in speech on national security… And progressives will warn the White House and Democrats over any benefit cuts to Social Security… Obama talks education and defends "Race to the Top" in speech at 10:05 am… What happens when tax cuts become politically toxic? Government turns to taxes on legalized gambling… Rick Scott and Jeff Greene lead in Florida… Profiling Mike Pence's inner circle… And previewing IL-10.


*** More controversy, challenges, and distractions: Oil is no longer leaking into the Gulf, the Shirley Sherrod story is over, and Robert Gibbs' statement about the House playing field now seems like old news. But news events, challenges, and distractions continue to confront the White House in what has been the spring/summer of its discontent. Let's start with the news yesterday that a judge blocked the most controversial portions of Arizona's immigration law. While it was a legal victory for the Obama administration, it wasn't necessarily a political one (that's probably why we didn't see President Obama talk about it yesterday). Our NBC/MSNBC/Telemundo poll back in May showed that 61% of Americans supported Arizona's immigration law, while 36% opposed it. That said, because there's no longer a sense of urgency, the legal process will likely take its time, and that could mean that immigration could go away as a political issue this November.

*** The Rangel ethics hearing: Another unwanted news event for the White House and Democrats is today's 1:00 pm ET hearing into the ethics allegations involved Rep. Charlie Rangel (D). "Barring a last-minute settlement agreement over allegations that … Rangel violated House rules, a special ethics panel will meet Thursday to set the stage for a rare ethics trial," Roll Call writes. "According to sources knowledgeable of the ethics process, the public meeting will serve as an organizational session, including statements from the adjudicatory panel's leadership, chairwoman Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), who is also ethics chairwoman, ranking member Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), ethics ranking member Jo Bonner (R-Ala.) and Rep. Gene Green (D-Texas)… The panel will also read a 'statement of alleged violations' detailing the accusations against Rangel." If a settlement isn't reached with Rangel, a trial would take place in September.

*** Newt pinch-hitting for Cheney; progressives threaten Dems over Social Security: Here's maybe another distraction for the White House today -- Newt Gingrich's 2:00 pm speech blasting the Obama. As CNN recently reported, Newt's speech "will reprimand the Obama administration's 'willful blindness' to the threat of extremist Islam." And yet another distraction: At 10:00 am ET at the National Press Club in DC, progressive leaders -- like AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka, AFSCME chief Gerald McEntee, and MoveOn's Justin Ruben -- hold a press conference to send a warning to Democrats. Their message: They'll hold Democrats accountable for voting for any proposed benefit cuts to Social Security (including raising the retirement age) coming out of Obama's deficit/debt reduction commission.

*** Obama defends 'Race to the Top': At 10:05 am ET, President Obama is delivering what the White House is billing as a major speech on education at the National Urban League's convention. According to excerpts, he will defend his administration's "Race to the Top" initiative. "I want teachers to have higher salaries. I want them to have more support. I want them to be trained like the professionals they are," Obama is expected to say. "All I'm asking in return -- as a president, and as a parent -- is a measure of accountability. Surely we can agree that even as we applaud teachers for their hard work, we need to make sure they're delivering results in the classroom. If they're not, let's work with them to help them be more effective. And if that fails, let's find the right teacher for that classroom." Obama's appearance on "The View" also airs today.

*** What happens when tax increases become politically toxic: This New York Times story grabbed our attention: "With pressure mounting on the federal government to find new revenues, Congress is considering legalizing, and taxing, an activity it banned just four years ago: Internet gambling." We've already mentioned that some states are looking at legalizing sports gambling as a way to collect more revenues. And what's probably next? Legalized marijuana. This is all the unintended consequence of making all tax increases politically toxic.

*** Meg Whitman and immigration: If the immigration issue goes away in November, as we speculated above, that could also end up helping Meg Whitman out in California. Just think if the most controversial aspects of the law had gone into effect today, that might have created a political headache for the California Republican. While she opposes the Arizona law, she spoke out against "amnesty" during his primary against Steve Poizner, and Pete Wilson -- champion of Prop. 187 -- serves as her campaign chairman. And those issues probably would have been resurrected if the law had gone into effect in neighboring Arizona. Due to California's geographic closeness, the media in California would be all over this story, covering how the law is implemented.

*** Scott, Greene lead in Florida: The latest Quinnipiac poll finds that the two wealthy outsiders running for governor and the Senate in Florida -- Rick Scott (R) and Jeff Greene (D), respectively -- have double-digit leads with less than a month before the state's Aug. 24 primary. In Florida's GOP gubernatorial primary, Scott has an 11-point lead over onetime front-runner Bill McCollum, 43-32%. And in the Democratic Senate primary, Greene has jumped out to a 10-point advantage in the poll, 33%-23%. According to the conventional wisdom, these results are very good news for Democrats. Why? Because, despite their wealth, both Scott and Greene are flawed candidates, which ostensibly would help Alex Sink (D) in the governors race and Charlie Crist (I) in the Senate contest.

*** 2012 Thursday: In our weekly series looking at the inner circles of the possible 2012 candidates, we turn our attention today to Indiana Rep. Mike Pence, the third-ranking House GOP leader. The list includes: senior adviser Bill Smith, his longtime chief of staff to his personal office who ran his first campaign; Marc Short, chief of staff to the House GOP conference; GOP pollster Kellyanne Conway; Bill Neale, an Indianapolis lawyer who serves as Pence's campaign treasurer; and Kyle Robertson, who's in charge of national fundraising. Also advising: former Sen. Phil Gramm, GOP lawyer Cleta Mitchell, strategist Rex Elsass of the Strategy Group for Media, former Rep. David McIntosh, former Attorney General Ed Meese, Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council; and spokesman Matt Lloyd.

*** Testing the waters and history: Though no congressman has been elected president since James Garfield in 1880 -- 130 years ago -- Pence shows signs testing the waters and trying his luck. He has already made multiple trips to Iowa, raised/transferred $1 million to the NRCC (his Win Back America PAC has donated more than $110,000 to candidates/committees), has more than $700,000 cash on hand for his 2010 reelection bid (with no serious challenger), and is working with conservative groups in building a direct mail file. Pence will spend most of August in Indiana, but then will travel the country in September and October. Pence is someone very comfortable in front of a camera; in fact, he could be a Huckabee-like figure -- someone who will not say no to a TV interview and use it as a shot to catapult in a place like Iowa. But is there room for two folks from Indiana, if Mitch Daniels decides to run?

*** 75 House races to watch: IL-10: This is the seat being vacated by GOP Rep. Mark Kirk, who is running for Senate. The Democratic nominee is business consultant Dan Seals (who was the party's unsuccessful nominee in '06 and '08). The Republican nominee is pest-control businessman Robert Dold. Obama won 61% of this district in '08, and Kerry won 53% in '04. Both Cook and Rothenberg rate the contest as a toss-up.

*** More midterm news: In California, a new PPIC poll has Jerry Brown at 37% and Meg Whitman at 34% in the governors race, and Barbara Boxer at 39% and Carly Fiorina at 34%... In Kentucky, the Louisville Courier-Journal writes that coal company executives "are considering whether to launch an industry-funded campaign organization aimed at defeating Kentucky Democrats Jack Conway and Ben Chandler and others deemed to be 'anti-coal'"… And in New Hampshire, a new WMUR/Granite State Poll finds that Kelly Ayotte holds an 8-point lead over Paul Hodes, "but that's a slide from the 15-point edge she held in April," WMUR writes.

Countdown to KS and MO primaries: 5 days
Countdown to CO, CT, and MN primaries: 12 days
Countdown to Election Day 2010: 96 days

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