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First thoughts: Team Obama and D.C. drama

Obama weighing in on mosque controversy -- and then walking it back -- shows the White House cares more about the cable/DC chatter than it lets on… GOP tries to politicize Obama’s mosque remarks, but is that risky?... Obama begins a three-day, five-state campaign tour… Today’s agenda: raising money for WI GOV hopeful Tom Barrett (in Milwaukee) and the DCCC (in Los Angeles)… Obama also talks about the economy from Wisconsin at 12:10 pm ET… Profiling CO-3… And Bill Clinton stumps for Meek in Florida.

*** Team Obama and DC drama: In the 2008 presidential campaign, Team Obama -- headquartered in the friendly confines of Chicago -- famously paid little attention to the cable chatter or the chattering class in DC. As they liked to say back then, if the pundits in DC are saying one thing, then do the exact opposite. But a funny thing has happened during Team Obama’s first two years in the White House. They now care about the Beltway chatter. A lot. That was evident when White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs complained about the “professional left,” i.e., the left-of-center pundits you can find on cable, on Huffington Post, or various other blogs. It was evident when the White House sent emails to political reporters to take credit for Michael Bennet’s primary win in Colorado. And it was evident on Friday night, when President Obama and the White House got roped into a story that was being driven primarily by cable and the conservative political elite (like Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin): the building of a mosque near Ground Zero.

*** Weighing in and then walking it back: Previously, the White House had declared the issue a local matter (and the mosque was approved locally in New York). But then President Obama weighed in personally, saying: “As a citizen, and as president, I believe that Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as everyone else in this country.” For those of us who have followed Obama since 2004, it was an unsurprising stance, and we guess that George W. Bush would have said something similar if he were still president. But what was surprising to many -- including Democrats -- was: 1) that Obama decided to get involved in a matter that was already resolved; 2) that he did so without the White House having any surrogates and validators ready to back him up as he departed for a weekend getaway; and 3) that he appeared to walk back his comments on the mosque just a day later. “I was not commenting and I will not comment on the wisdom of making the decision to put a mosque there,” he said. “I was commenting very specifically on the right people have that dates back to our founding.”

*** A risk for the GOP? The apparent walk-back turned the mosque story into a second-day story; it made president look indecisive; and it ended up putting him in the position where he pleases no one. But above all, it made the White House seem reactive to the Drudge/FOX/Politico chatter and criticism -- the same kind of chatter and criticism the White House says it loathes. As for Republicans, they reportedly want to make political hay out of President Obama’s mosque comments. But such a move for the GOP -- especially after its embrace of Arizona’s controversial immigration law -- carries some real risks. Our observation: There is now more anti-Muslim rhetoric in legitimate political circles than there was immediately after 9/11. As Ben Smith and Maggie Haberman write, “Republican leaders have largely abandoned former President George W. Bush's post-Sept. 11 rhetorical embrace of American Muslims and his insistence — always controversial inside the party — that Islam is a religion of peace.”

*** Travelin’ Man: Obama hopefully tries to change the subject -- the mosque story has now turned into a four-day story -- as he departs on a three-day, five-state campaign trip. Today, the president speaks at an event in Milwaukee at 2:25 pm ET for Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett (D), who’s running for governor. Then he heads to Los Angeles, where he’ll hit a fundraiser for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee at 10:05 pm ET. On Tuesday, Obama goes to Washington state to raise money for Sen. Patty Murray (D), who’s facing a tough challenge for re-election. And on Wednesday, the president travels to Columbus, OH (to raise money for Gov. Ted Strickland) and then to Miami, FL (to raise money for Florida Democrats). On Thursday, the Obama family goes to Martha’s Vineyard for a 10-day vacation.

*** Where Obama is an asset and where he’s not: In the last couple of weeks, the chattering class chattered quite a bit about Bill White (in Texas) or Roy Barnes (in Georgia) avoiding the president when he traveled to fundraisers in those two states -- which, it must be pointed out, Obama didn’t win in his decisive presidential victory in 2008. However, the president is most definitely an asset in three of the states he’s visiting this week: Wisconsin, California, and Washington state. And even in Ohio and Florida, two battleground states he won in ’08, the candidates want to be with Obama, not away from him.

*** Talking ‘bout the economy: Before Obama raises money for Barrett today, he will hold a couple of economic-themed events in Milwaukee. In the morning, the president "will tour ZBB Energy Corp., which makes batteries and fuel cells that get used in renewable-energy products,” the AP writes. And then, at 12:10 pm ET, he delivers remarks on the economy.

*** 75 House races to watch: CO-3: The Democratic nominee is three-term incumbent John Salazar (brother to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar), and the GOP nominee is state Rep. Scott Tipton. McCain won 50% in this district in ’08, and Bush got 55% in ’04. Salazar, as of July 21, had nearly $1.3 million cash on hand, versus $167,000 for Tipton. Salazar voted for the stimulus and health care, but against cap-and-trade. Cook rates the race as Lean Democrat, while Rothenberg has it as Democrat Favored.

*** More midterm news: In California, Meg Whitman has now spent $104 million of her own money… In Colorado, Tom Tancredo is getting pressure from some conservatives to drop his third-party gubernatorial bid… And in Florida, Bill Clinton hits three different rallies for Kendrick Meek today.

Countdown to WA and WY primaries: 1 day
Countdown to AK, AZ, FL, and VT primaries: 8 days
Countdown to Election Day 2010: 78 days

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