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First thoughts: Mayday, mayday

What explains the Democrats’ summer slide and where did it begin? Here’s one theory: go back to May… The two big external forces that month: the BP spill and the Greek/European economic instability… Wrapping up the Boxer-Fiorina debate… Bud Chiles (I) drops out of Florida gubernatorial contest, possibly benefiting Alex Sink (D)… National Taxpayers Union starts $4 million ad buy… Previewing FL-2… And following the Brewer-Goddard debate from last night.

From Mark Murray and Ali Weinberg
*** Mayday, Mayday: There’s no question that this summer has been brutal for Democrats and the Obama White House. Just look at the national and race-by-race polls, and listen to the pundits who are predicting significant midterm losses for the party in power. But how do we explain -- both politically and economically -- this summer slide for Democrats? Where did it begin? Here's one theory: go back to May. At the beginning of that month, the NBC/WSJ poll showed President Obama's approval rating back at 50%, after the conclusion of the health-care debate; the same poll found that Obama’s economic handling number had inched up; and the jobs report for April revealed the economy added some 300,000 jobs, including sizable gains in the private sector. Happy days, it seemed, were here again.

*** Two disasters in May: But in May, there also were a series of disasters -- both figuratively and literally. The BP spill, which began in late April, became an ongoing news story that month, with Americans able to see on their TV sets all the oil gushing from the well. Yet the more significant event might have been what took place on May 6, when the economic instability in Greece and Europe took center stage and when the Dow tumbled nearly 1,000 points before partially recovering. And look at the numbers afterward: In our June NBC/WSJ poll, the president’s approval rating dropped to 45%; his economic handling went down; and the jobs report for May showed that while the economy added more than 400,000 jobs, almost all of them were Census jobs. Since then, the monthly jobs numbers have been on the minus side, and forecasters are predicting another net-negative report when the August numbers come out tomorrow.

*** External forces matter: Of course, the BP spill, the instability in Europe, and the Dow’s plunge don’t explain the entire political and economic situation. The winds were already at the GOP’s back well before May (see Scott Brown’s victory in Massachusetts in January). The U.S. economy was severely weakened after the financial crash in 2008. The divisive debate over health care took a toll on Obama and the Democrats. And a series of distractions knocked the White House off message. But what May did was wipe out any Democratic hope for economic or political recovery in enough time for the midterms. That month also shows us that external forces do matter in politics; Team Obama should know after it benefited from Lehman Brothers’ collapse in Sept. 2008. And an external force or two might be the only thing standing in the way of big GOP gains come November.

*** Boxer vs. Fiorina: Outside of the Reid-Angle race in Nevada, there might not be a more contentious Senate contest than the one between Sen. Barbara Boxer (D) and ex-Hewlett Packard chief Carly Fiorina. Check out the San Francisco Chronicle’s write-up of last night’s Boxer-Fiorina debate: The two women “agreed on one thing Wednesday during their hourlong televised debate at St. Mary's College in Moraga: California voters have a clear choice between the two very different candidates from opposite ends of the political spectrum. They sparred over how best to produce jobs and protect the environment, and about their records in business and government. Their first face-to-face debate was pointed, its tone mirroring the bare-knuckled exchanges the candidates have been trading from afar since winning their primaries in June.” http://bit.ly/c227Nm

*** Sweet Chiles O’ Mine: Independent Bud Chiles, the son of ex-Gov. Lawton Chiles (D), will drop out of Florida’s gubernatorial contest today and endorse Alex Sink (D), Politico writes. This has the potential of helping Sink, given that there was concern that Chiles -- with his familiar last name to Florida Democrats -- could take votes away from her in her race against Rick Scott.

*** Other odds and ends: The National Taxpayers Union is beginning a $4 million ad campaign tomorrow. It’s a combined national/state-based buy, with some radio. Here’s the national TV ad. Also today, Organizing for America is releasing a new canvassing tool for the OFA iPhone application. “The tool,” a spokeswoman emails, “allows volunteers to access information on voters in their area on their iPhone so they can engage their neighbors door-to-door.”

*** 75 House races to watch: FL-2: The Democratic nominee is seven-term incumbent Rep. Allen Boyd, who was first elected in 1996; Boyd won just 51% in his Dem primary. The GOP nominee is funeral home owner Steve Southerland. McCain won 54% in this district in ’08, and Bush won an equal percentage in ’04. As of Aug. 24, Boyd had nearly $1.8 million in the bank, while Southerland had $400,000. Boyd voted against the stimulus, but for cap-and-trade and health care. Both Cook and Rothenberg rate the contest as a Toss Up.

*** More midterm news: In Arizona, Gov. Jan Brewer (R) and challenger Terry Goddard participated in a debate that was mostly about immigration… In Arkansas, Bill Clinton will appear at a Sept. 8 event in Little Rock for Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D)… And in Illinois, Rudy Giuliani will stump for Mark Kirk (R) on Sept. 13.

Countdown to DC, MD. MA, NH, NY, RI, and WI primaries: 12 days
Countdown to HI primaries: 16 days
Countdown to Election Day 2010: 61 days

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