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First thoughts: Cruel summer

It’s been another cruel summer for Team Obama… Still, there has been some good news and one important silver lining for the White House… Mission accomplished in Iraq?… You can only shake your head: 1 in 5 Americans think Obama is a Muslim… New Dem poll shows Sestak trailing Toomey by two points… Profiling MS-1… And McCollum and Meek head into next week’s FL primary as the front-runners, per a Q-poll.

*** Cruel summer: As we’ve observed before, the summer has become Barack Obama’s season of discontent. In the summer of ’07, he was badly trailing Hillary Clinton and on the defensive in the debates. In ’08, even after his highly publicized European trip, he allowed McCain to define him as an inexperienced celebrity, helping McCain get to even in the polls. And in ’09, the August town halls jeopardized his plans for health care. Well, the pattern remains the same. Indeed, 2010 has been an especially cruel summer for the president and the White House -- whether it was the BP spill, more bad news out of Afghanistan, the Shirley Sherrod story, Robert Gibbs’ “professional left”/House-is-in-play distractions, and the mosque controversy (which has been in the news for an entire week now). Today, Obama puts his summer work behind him, as he and his family begin their 10-day vacation in Martha’s Vineyard. (By the way, some Democrats are wondering why he's leaving town with the Acela Corridor still chewing over the mosque shiny-metal-object story.)

*** But some important wins and one big silver lining: Fortunately for Obama, summers aren’t typically decisive months in American politics. In the late fall of ’07, he was able to gain the momentum he needed to win the Iowa caucuses; in the fall of ’08, he decisively won the presidential contest; and in the fall and winter of ’09 -- as well as the winter and early spring of ’10 -- he got health care passed through Congress. (The fall/winter upswings for Obama, however, have gotten smaller for him each year.) It’s also worth pointing out that this summer hasn’t been a complete disaster for the White House. In fact, it has racked up some important wins that have been overshadowed by the other news. Financial reform. Elena Kagan’s confirmation. The apparent stoppage of the Gulf oil spill. The accidental series of events that got David Petraeus to Afghanistan. And the departure of U.S. combat troops from Iraq. Another potential silver lining to this summer for Democrats? Expectations are now sky-high for Republicans in November.

*** Mission accomplished? Speaking of U.S. combat troops exiting Iraq… We’ll never have a V-I Day, but this month -- and yesterday’s news of the final combat brigade leaving Iraq last night -- is about as close as we’re going to get. The coverage of the last combat brigade crossing the border into Kuwait was significant but also symbolic, because there will still be 50,000 remaining soldiers serving in an “advisory” role. That’s largely why you aren’t hearing the words “victory” or “mission accomplished,” or even "success" from the White House, which is fearful of repeating the mistake the Bush administration made in ’03. But the administration is hoping that Obama keeping his word this month on withdrawal buys them more time and credibility with Afghanistan.

*** Losing my religion: The results from a new Pew make you want to shake your head about, well, the entire media landscape of the 21st century. Per the survey, only 34% believe -- correctly -- that President Obama is a Christian (down 17 points since 2008); 18% think he’s a Muslim (up six points since ’08); and 43% say they don’t know his religion (up 11 points). Inside the numbers: “The belief that Obama is a Muslim has increased most sharply among Republicans (up 14 points since 2009), especially conservative Republicans (up 16 points),” the poll’s press release says. “But the number of independents who say Obama is a Muslim has also increased significantly (up eight points).” These results don’t many anyone look good -- Obama’s political opponents (who have helped spread false information about the president’s religion and birthplace), the press (which obviously hasn’t done its job here, thanks to some outlets even serving as a megaphone by running false equivalency debates), and the American populace (which should be embarrassed).

*** The irony here: The big irony of this story: President Obama is more religious than Reagan or H.W. Bush ever was; in fact, he gets Bible verses sent to his blackberry EVERY DAY. FYI, the Pew poll was conducted before the president weighed in on the mosque controversy. One does wonder if it would have helped push back against this nutty narrative had the president picked a church, as he said he would during the campaign, or if he regularly attended church.

*** Toomey vs. Sestak: Countering other polls out there showing Pat Toomey (R) with a larger lead over Joe Sestak (D) in the Pennsylvania Senate contest, Democrats have handed First Read an internal poll (conducted by Dem pollster Fred Yang of 800 likely voters from Aug. 12-15), which shows Toomey with a more narrow two-point lead over Sestak in the head-to-head match up, 46%-44%, and a one-point lead when other third-party candidates are included, 43%-42%. Now, it’s never a good thing when a party’s own poll has its candidate trailing -- even within the margin of error -- as this poll finds. But Democrats want to show the race is in play for them. Still, the party has to be a little nervous about the prospect of losing both the Senate and gubernatorial races in this state two years before the 2012 presidential election. Also keep this in mind about Pennsylvania: It will always be one of the Democrats more winnable Senate races. Translation: The party won't be writing off Joe Sestak but propping him up, which is likely going to be a necessity is going to hurt another Democrat in another state. (See Carnahan, Robin? Or Ellsworth, Brad)?

*** 75 House races to watch: MS-1: The Democratic nominee is freshman incumbent Travis Childers, and his GOP opponent is state Rep. Alan Nunnelee. In 2008, McCain got 62% in this district, and Bush got an identical percentage in ’04. As of June 30, Childers had more than $900,000 in the bank, compared with Nunnelee’s $233,000. Childers voted no on the stimulus, cap-and-trade, and health care. Cook and Rothenberg rate the race Toss Up.

*** More midterm news: In Colorado, the AP says, "Republican gubernatorial candidate Dan Maes rejected an offer on Wednesday from former congressman Tom Tancredo for both men to get out of the Colorado governor’s race and let the Republican Party pick a new candidate”… In Florida, with the state’s primary next week, a Quinnipiac poll shows Bill McCollum leading Rick Scott among likely GOP primary voters, 44%-35%, and it has Kendrick Meek leading Jeff Greene among likely Dem primary voters, 35%-28%.

Countdown to AK, AZ, FL, and VT primaries: 5 days
Countdown to Election Day 2010: 75 days

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