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First Thoughts: Surviving the Tea Party's takeover of the GOP

Three different ways GOP moderates have tried to survive the Tea Party’s takeover of the GOP… Miller leads Murkowski by 1,688 votes in Alaska… And Murkowski can’t really pull a full Lieberman and run as an independent… The latest maneuvers in Florida’s fascinating three-way Senate race… Rick Scott appears on "Daily Rundown"... Profiling NV-3… And Scott Brown raises money for Mark Kirk.

*** Surviving the Tea Party’s takeover of the GOP: One of the more profound changes in American politics is how much more conservative the nominees inside the Republican Party have become. The Tea Party and Jim DeMint are now closer to the representing the center of the GOP, not George W. Bush and his “compassionate conservatism.” This has presented longtime Republican moderates/centrists with a dilemma of what to do, and we’ve seen three different responses so far, which were on display in some form this past Tuesday. One path was demonstrated by John McCain, who decided to shift his positions (on immigration, Supreme Court judges) just enough to the right. He easily won his primary on Tuesday. A second response was exemplified by Lisa Murkowski, who essentially stayed as she was. She appears headed for a defeat in the too-close-to-call GOP Senate primary in Alaska. And a third trail was blazed by Charlie Crist, who decided to leave his party. He’s currently engaged in Florida’s three-way Senate contest. Who charted the right course?

*** Stuck in the middle with you? This rightward movement inside the GOP appears likely to pay big dividends this fall. Republicans are energized, Democrats are not (right now), and the economy is hardly humming -- all of which are a recipe for significant Republican gains in November. But when we head into the 2012 presidential election, when the electorate expands, you got to wonder if a Republican Party that doesn’t have room for a John McCain of 2001-2007, a Charlie Crist of 2007-2008, or a Lisa Murkowski of 2010 can reclaim the center of American politics and the presidency, even if they gain control of Congress in the fall. Then again, the center will judge the GOP on not just how it conducts itself if they get the majority, but on the results.

*** Miller leads Murkowski by 1,688 votes: Joe Miller’s lead over Murkowski has narrowed to 1,688 votes (47,027 to 45,359) with all Alaska precincts now reporting, the Anchorage Daily News reports. “More than 16,000 absentees were requested from the Division of Elections and about 7,600 of them have come back so far… None of the absentees has been counted. Absentee ballots had to be postmarked by Tuesday but could arrive up to 10 days after the election if mailed in the United States and 15 days if overseas. The Division of Elections will do its first count Aug. 31, with additional counts scheduled for Sept. 3 and Sept. 8.” Using the 16,000 number, it means Murkowski would need to win 56% of the absentee vote to make up the difference.

*** Murkowski can’t pull a full Lieberman: If Murkowski ends up falling short, there’s speculation that she might want to pull a Lieberman or a Crist and run as an independent. But Murkowski really can’t pull a Lieberman if she ends up falling short after the absentee ballots are counted. Gail Fenumiai, director of Alaska's Division of Elections, told First Read that the deadline for independents/no party affiliation candidates to file was June 1. But Murkowski still has a couple of potential options: 1) file as a write-in candidate or 2) get the Libertarian candidate Fredrick "David" Haase to step down and have the party name her as replacement.

*** The latest movement in Florida: We’re convinced that Florida’s three-way Senate contest will be the most fascinating -- and unpredictable -- Senate race this fall. Here are some of the developments after Tuesday’s primaries: The Meek campaign issued press releases that highlighted Crist previously calling himself a conservative, trying to blunt Crist’s appeal among Democrats… After Meek’s primary victory, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee released a statement praising Meek’s win, but didn’t name his opponents as it had done after past primaries… And Marco Rubio released his first general-election TV ad, which appeared to be an obvious attempt to gain support beyond his GOP base. Lots of maneuvering by all three sides… By the way, meet Rick Scott, the GOP nominee for governor in Florida, on today's “Daily Rundown.” http://bit.ly/bHO54M

*** 75 House races to watch: NV-3: The Democratic nominee is freshman Rep. Dina Titus, while the GOP nominee is former state Sen. Joe Heck. Obama won 55% in this district in ’08, and Bush won 50% in ’04. As of June 30, Titus had $1.2 million in the bank, compared with Heck’s $360,000. Titus voted yes on the stimulus, cap-and-trade, and health care. Cook rates the contest a Toss Up, and Rothenberg has it Toss Up/Tilt Republican.

*** More midterms: In Illinois, Scott Brown is holding a fundraiser for GOP Senate nominee Mark Kirk… In Kentucky’s Senate race, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour will stump for Rand Paul on Sept. 19… And in Nevada, Harry Reid “personally called out Sharron Angle after an audio clip came to light this week in which his Republican challenger agreed with a conservative radio host that there are ‘domestic enemies’ in the Senate and Congress,” the Las Vegas Review-Journal writes.

Countdown to LA primaries: 2 days
Countdown to DC, MD. MA, NH, NY, RI, and WI primaries: 19 days
Countdown to HI primaries: 23 days
Countdown to Election Day 2010: 68 days

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