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First thoughts: Obama's next two weeks

Obama’s next two weeks probably won’t have a heavy focus on the economy… The president spoke yesterday with NBC’s Brian Williams about New Orleans after Katrina, the BP spill, the economy, and Glenn Beck… New York Times on the “reluctant warrior” in the White House… Time to follow the Tea Party money… It’s Manchin vs. Raese in West Virginia’s Senate race… It’s Vitter vs. Melancon in Louisiana… Roger Clemens to be arraigned in DC at 2:00 pm ET… Profiling AZ-1… And Adrian Fenty trails in DC mayoral race, per Washington Post poll.

From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, and Ali Weinberg
*** Obama’s next two weeks: Those hoping that President Obama would make a hard pivot to the economy after his 10-day vacation might not get their wish -- at least over the next two weeks. Yesterday, he was in New Orleans, where he marked Hurricane Katrina’s fifth anniversary. Tomorrow, he’ll deliver his second formal Oval Office address, this time to discuss the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. On Wednesday, the AP notes, he’ll dive into Middle East peace talks, hosting Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and Palestinian President Abbas. And then next week comes the 9/11 anniversary, which will only rekindle the controversy over the mosque near Ground Zero. The one exception, at least this week, will probably occur on Friday, when the new job numbers are released. Still, despite the calls from Democrats for Obama to focus more on the economy, the economic cake seems mostly baked for the upcoming midterms.

*** Brian Williams’ interview with Obama: NBC’s Brian Williams spoke with the president while he was in New Orleans yesterday. Obama on the city’s recovery after Katrina: “What you've seen … in New Orleans is steady progress. But, you know, we've still got a long way to go.” On the BP spill: “We've got a lot more work to do. But the fact is because of the sturdiness and swiftness of the response, there's a lot less oil hitting these shores and these beaches than anybody would have anticipated.” On short-term ways to help the economy: “We should be passing legislation that helps small businesses get credit. That eliminates capital gains taxes so that they have more incentive to invest right now.” On those who incorrectly believe he’s a Muslim: “I don't think the American people want me to spend all my time worrying about it.” And on Glenn Beck’s rally last Saturday: “Given all [the country’s] anxieties … it’s not surprising that somebody like a Mr. Beck is able to stir up a certain portion of the country. That's been true throughout our history.”

*** The reluctant warrior: In advance of Tuesday night’s Oval Office address on Iraq and Afghanistan, the New York Times’ Peter Baker yesterday wrote a lengthy piece about Obama’s first two years as commander-in-chief. “A year and a half into his presidency, Mr. Obama appears to be a reluctant warrior. Even as he draws down troops in Iraq, he has been abundantly willing to use force to advance national interests… But advisers said he did not see himself as a war president in the way his predecessor did.” The article is a sort of Rorschach test. If you don’t like Obama, you’ll fixate on the story’s focus that the president views the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as a distraction and that he doesn’t necessarily understand the military’s culture. On the other hand, if you do like him, or are rooting for him, you’ll fixate on the article’s emphasis of how deliberative and careful he’s tried to be in managing both wars.

*** Follow the money: With the huge crowd that gathered at Saturday’s Glenn Beck event, many are now seeing the Tea Party as a political force to be reckoned with come November -- and possibly beyond. Here’s one headline: “Beck rally signals election trouble for Dems.” But if the Tea Party is now a huge force, impacting both GOP primaries and the general election, it’s important for news organizations to begin explaining the groups financing this Tea Party movement. The New Yorker’s Jane Mayer started things off in her recent piece on the billionaire Koch brothers, who have financed one of the big Tea Party movers, Americans for Prosperity. “The anti-government fervor infusing the 2010 elections represents a political triumph for the Kochs. By giving money to ‘educate,’ fund, and organize Tea Party protesters, they have helped turn their private agenda into a mass movement.”

*** Why Manchin might not be a sure bet in November: The general election is now set in the race to fill the remainder of Robert Byrd’s (D) Senate seat in West Virginia, after Gov. Joe Manchin (D) and businessman John Raese (R) won their respective primaries on Saturday. Although Manchin is undoubtedly the front-runner in this contest -- due in large part to his high approval ratings -- here’s a word of caution for Democrats: Popular governors running for the Senate haven’t always enjoyed success. In 1994, Wyoming Gov. Mike Sullivan (D) lost to Craig Thomas (R); in 1996, Nebraska Gov. Ben Nelson (D), whose poll numbers were in the 60s, lost to Chuck Hagel (R); and also in ‘96, popular Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld (R) lost to Sen. John Kerry (D). What makes someone a well-liked and successful governor isn’t always what voters seem to want from their U.S. senator.

*** And why David Vitter could be a sure thing in the fall: Also on Saturday, as expected, Sen. David Vitter (R) cruised to victory in GOP Senate primary in Louisiana, while Rep. Charlie Melancon (D) won the Dem primary. The Vitter-Melancon contest has the potential to be competitive, or it could be a Republican blowout. If it’s the latter, there’s a good story to tell about how Vitter -- despite all of his baggage -- could end up winning a second term. Part of this could be explained by the state’s increasingly GOP tilt. But it also could be explained by the overall political environment. If this were 2006 or 2008, Vitter might be holding on for dear life. But as Rod Blagojevich and Jim Doyle discovered in ’06, flawed candidates can sometimes easily win when the political winds are at their party’s back.

*** Clemens to be arraigned: At 2:00 pm ET, former baseball star Roger Clemens is set to be arraigned before a U.S. district court in DC.

*** 75 House races to watch: AZ-1: The Democratic nominee is first-term incumbent Ann Kirkpatrick, while the GOP nominee is dentist Paul Gosar. In 2008, McCain received 54% of the vote in the district, and Bush got an identical percentage in ’04. As of Aug. 24, Kirkpatrick had $1.4 million in the bank, compared with Gosar’s $410,000. Kirkpatrick voted no on the stimulus and cap-and-trade, but voted yes on health care. Both Cook and Rothenberg rate the contest as Lean Democratic.

*** More midterms: In California, the Los Angeles Times covers the “tight race” between Meg Whitman (R) and Jerry Brown (D)… In DC’s mayoral contest, incumbent Adrian Fenty is trailing primary challenger Vincent Gray by 17 points (53%-36%) per a Washington Post poll… In Illinois, Gen. Wesley Clark stumps for Alex Giannoulias (D)… In New Hampshire, the Union Leader endorsed Ovide Lamontagne in the upcoming GOP Senate primary…. And in New Mexico’s gubernatorial race, an Albuquerque Journal poll shows Susana Martinez (R) leading Diane Denish (D) by six points, 45%-39%.

Countdown to DC, MD. MA, NH, NY, RI, and WI primaries: 15 days
Countdown to HI primaries: 19 days
Countdown to Election Day 2010: 64 days

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