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First thoughts: The insiders strike back?

Will the insiders strike back in tomorrow’s primaries in AK, AZ and FL?... The Four M’s -- McCain, Murkowski, McCollum, and Meek -- are favored… Biden’s busy day… Is Lee Fisher in trouble in OH?... Mitch McConnell takes Obama “at his word” that he’s a Christian… McConnell also can’t answer how Republicans plan to pay for extending the Bush tax cuts… Profiling ND-AL… And Harry Reid rakes in the celebrity cash.

From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, and Ali Weinberg
*** The insiders strike back? This midterm cycle -- so far -- hasn’t been kind to some career or establishment-backed politicians. We saw this play out in Utah (with Bob Bennett’s convention defeat), in Kentucky (where Rand Paul beat Trey Grayson), in Pennsylvania (where two-term Congressman Joe Sestak bested five-term Sen. Arlen Specter), in Nevada (with Sharron Angle’s victory), and even in Michigan (where outsider Rick Snyder defeated a congressman and state attorney general for the GOP gubernatorial nomination). But according to the polls and the political momentum in tomorrow’s primaries in Alaska, Arizona, and Florida, the insiders appear be staging a comeback. “The contests offer more evidence that establishment candidates can prosper in this year of the outsider,” the Washington Post’s Dan Balz writes. “They are also a reminder that personal wealth cannot overcome personal flaws, particularly among political novices.” There certainly might be a stick-with-the-devil-we-know story tomorrow.

*** The Four M’s -- McCain, Murkowski, McCollum, and Meek -- are favored: In Arizona, for starters, Sen. John McCain would seem like a sure political casualty in this anti-Washington, anti-establishment environment; after all, few politicians have been in office longer and more are associated more with Washington than he is. But McCain is expected to cruise to victory in his GOP Senate primary against J.D. Hayworth. Ditto Sen. Lisa Murkowski in her GOP primary against Palin-backed Joe Miller. And in Florida, a new Mason-Dixon poll shows state Attorney General Bill McCollum leading wealthy outsider Rick Scott by nine points (45%-36%) in the GOP gubernatorial primary, and Congressman Kendrick Meek ahead of wealthy outsider Jeff Greene by 12 points (42%-30%). A new Quinnipiac poll also has McCollum and Meek out in front. If they win tomorrow, the happiest guy in Florida may very well be Marco Rubio, because McCollum would be the GOP’s stronger candidate at the top of the ticket (and ensure Haley Barbour's RGA would play in the state), and Meek could take Dem votes (and more importantly Dem endorsements) away from Charlie Crist.

*** Biden’s busy day: While President Obama vacations in Martha’s Vineyard, Vice President Biden has a very busy day. At 11:00 am ET, he addresses the Veterans of Foreign Wars convention in Indianapolis, where he will discuss the end of combat operations in Iraq. Then, at 3:00 pm ET, he speaks in Toledo, OH about the success of the U.S. auto industry, and he’ll be joined by Gov. Ted Strickland, Sen. Sherrod Brown, and Rep. Marcy Kaptur. And at 4:30 pm ET, he attends a campaign event for Strickland, who’s running for re-election.

*** Is Fisher in trouble? But guess who WON’T be with the VP in Ohio today, according to Biden’s schedule? Ohio Democratic Senate nominee Lee Fisher. And we can tell you that there is already a real debate in Democratic circles whether Fisher’s campaign is a lost cause, despite the fact that polls showed him actually leading Rob Portman (R) just a couple of months ago. Check out this tough piece from the Dayton Daily News: “[A]s Fisher campaigns across the state he is battling not just Portman but the perception that the campaign is getting away from him with the Sept. 28 start of early voting little more than a month away.” We recently wrote that Missouri could be slipping away from Democrats. But the DSCC tried to squash that talk with the announcement of a serious ad buy for the fall. But we haven't seen that yet for Fisher in Ohio. Our guess is that Democrats wish Carnahan's campaign were running with Ohio's electorate, but that's not the case. *** UPDATE *** Fisher's campaign tells First Read that Fisher WILL BE in attendance at the event in Toledo, OH; his name wasn't listed on Biden's schedule.

*** “As far as I know” vs. “I take him at his word”: In March of 2008, the usually precise Hillary Clinton received a considerable amount of criticism when she told Steve Kroft of “60 Minutes” that Barack Obama wasn’t a Muslim -- “as far as I know.” (As far as she knows? It was a terrible choice of words.) Well, on “Meet the Press” yesterday, GOP Senate leader Mitch McConnell gave what appeared to be a similar answer when NBC’s David Gregory asked why 34% of Republicans, according to that recent Pew poll, believe the president is a Muslim. McConnell’s response: “The president says he's a Christian; I take him at his word. I don't think that's in dispute.” (I take him at his word?) McConnell’s spokesman, Don Stewart, emailed First Read: "Some are trying to make this into something it's not… He was clear as a bell, particularly when people listened to the whole thing.”

*** It’s time for a GOP elected official to speak up and cut off the nonsense: The full context of McConnell's remarks certainly back up Stewart's spin, but it's a reminder it may take elected officials to help cut off this nonsense that, somehow, the president is not who he says he is. It's nothing new in American politics for fringe elements to start lies. But what's different these days is that the fringe can find a fairly loud megaphone to sell their snake oil.

*** “What are you talking about, ‘Paid for’”? What might have been more interesting about McConnell's appearance was that it highlighted the struggle that he and other Republicans have had on reconciling support for extending the Bush tax cuts with their push for deficit reduction. McConnell: “Well, what, what, what, what are you talking about, ‘Paid for’? This is existing tax policy. It's been in place for 10 years. What they're talking about is raising taxes, impacting 50% of small business income in the middle of what most Americans think is a recession. That is not a responsible thing to do in my judgment.” He later said, “You're talking about current tax policy. Why did all it of a sudden become something that may [be] ‘paid for.’” However, as Paul Krugman writes in today’s Times, the current/existing policy that McConnell and others voted for during the Bush years was written to expire in 2010. So isn’t that the existing policy?

*** 75 House races to watch: ND-AL: The Democratic nominee is nine-term incumbent Rep. Earl Pomeroy. The GOP nominee is former state rep and majority leader Rick Berg. McCain won 53% in this district in ’08, and Bush won 63% in ’04. As of June 30, Pomeroy had $1.7 million in the bank, versus Berg’s $750,000. Pomeroy voted for the stimulus and health care, but against cap-and-trade. Both Cook and Rothenberg rate the race as Toss Up.

*** More midterm news: In Alaska, in her debate last week, Lisa Murkowski “accused Joe Miller of lying about her position on health care. Miller, for his part, said she supports abortion rights and other things that aren’t in the Constitution,” the Anchorage Daily News notes… And in Nevada, The Hill writes, Harry Reid is raking in the celebrity cash.

Countdown to AK, AZ, FL, and VT primaries: 1 day
Countdown to Election Day 2010: 71 days

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