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First Thoughts: Mayor Rahm?

Will Rahm Emanuel run for Chicago mayor?... The timing for a key staff departure -- right now -- isn’t ideal for the White House… Naming possible replacements… The progressive campaign against Rahm… Obama to oppose extending Bush tax cuts for the wealthy in Cleveland at 2:10 pm ET… Perception vs. reality on the stimulus… As we told you, live by the Gallup tracking, die by the Gallup tracking… Castle learns the Murkowski lesson… And previewing FL-22.

*** Mayor Rahm? With Chicago Mayor Richard Daley’s announcement that he won’t be seeking re-election next year, White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel has made no secret about his desire to be Chicago mayor, telling Charlie Rose in April that it’s “always been an aspiration of mine.” And he did nothing to tamp down the speculation when he released this statement yesterday: "While Mayor Daley surprised me today with his decision to not run for reelection, I have never been surprised by his leadership, dedication and tireless work on behalf of the city and the people of Chicago." If Rahm wanted to tamp down the speculation because he was leaning against running, he would have done so. What’s more, he can leave on his own terms and do so without embarrassing himself or the president. Rarely do chiefs of staff get to do that. Jim Baker may have been the last one to pull that off.

*** Awful timing for the White House: That said, the timing is awful. The last thing this White House needs right now is internal uncertainty. Was a staff change inevitable next year? Of course. Ideally, however, the orderly President Obama would have wanted it done smoothly and seamlessly; that would have made sense for the start of his re-election campaign. Chicago political veterans tell First Read that Rahm knows he has to make a decision sooner rather than later. While the filing deadline is after the midterms (Nov. 22, 2010), he can't afford to wait to get in or other candidates will fill the vacuum. The key constituency groups in Chicago will give Rahm some time, but not more than a few weeks.

*** Palace intrigue time: So who replaces Rahm if he decides to run? It is a total Washington outsider (Mike Bloomberg, GM’s Ed Whitacre)? A former insider (Tom Daschle, John Podesta, Leon Panetta)? A politician with a business background (Mark Warner)? Someone who won’t rock the boat, gets along with everyone, and is already on the senior staff (Ron Klain, Phil Schiliro, Tom Donilon)? Or what about a Republican (Ken Duberstein, Ray LaHood)? Remember, despite his Chicago ties, Rahm was an outsider to Team Obama, and he certainly had his share of disagreements with staff and the president. We'll learn a lot more about Obama if this job becomes vacant as the early betting suggests. On TODAY, White House adviser David Axelrod said there are plenty of folks in the White House ready to fill “the breech.” Is that a hint the replacement could come from the current team? Sure sounds like it, and keep this in mind: The four people in the West Wing who will have the most influence on the president about the next chief of staff are: Rahm, Axelrod, Gibbs, and VP Biden.

*** Progressives vs. Rahm: A final point to make here: This liberal/progressive campaign against Rahm has been one of the more bizarre developments we've seen. How they separate him from the president is laughable. Don't they realize that by claiming Rahm is so bad but Obama is so good, they are insinuating that the president is someone run by his staff and that it's demeaning their own president? It's ludicrous. Obama brought in Rahm because he didn't want to make the mistake Carter, Bush 41, and Clinton all made, by bringing in inexperienced non-Washington hands and then seeing them get rolled by Congress. For better or worse, Rahm did his job -- which was manage legislation and get it passed. In that respect, he’s been as effective as any White House chief of staff since Baker. Of course, don't forget: Progressives have been upset with Rahm since his days of running the DCCC in 2006.

*** Obama to oppose extending the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy: At 2:10 pm ET today, Obama delivers a speech in Cleveland, OH, where he will propose some business tax cuts to help spur the economy. Per the New York Times, the president also is expected to announce his opposition to extending the Bush tax cuts for families making more than $250,000. “Mr. Obama’s opposition to allowing the high-end tax cuts to remain in place for even another year or two would be the signal many Congressional Democrats have been awaiting as they prepare for a showdown with Republicans on the issue and ends speculation that the White House might be open to an extension. Democrats say only the president can rally wavering lawmakers who, amid the party’s weakened poll numbers, feel increasingly vulnerable to Republican attacks if they let the top rates lapse at the end of this year as scheduled.” Is this a line in the sand, or the start of the negotiations that end up leading to a, say, one-year extension of the top tax rates, while making the middle class tax rates permanent? That would force this debate into next year, which would end up being ONLY about tax cuts for the wealthy.

*** Perception vs. reality: That the White House doesn’t want to even suggest that the business tax cuts President Obama is proposing today are part of a second stimulus is yet another sign how the original $787 billion stimulus was a failure -- of perception. In our new NBC/WSJ poll, 30% said the stimulus made things better, 30% said it made things worse, and another 30% said it’s too soon to tell. But the reality is different: The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office recently estimated that the stimulus raised GDP between 1.7% and 4.5% in the second quarter of 2010; it lowered the unemployment rate between 0.7 and 1.8 percentage points; and it increased employment between 1.4 million and 3.3 million. In addition, two prominent economists have argued that the stimulus and other actions “probably averted what could have been called Great Depression 2.0.”

*** Caveat emptor, Part 2: Last week, when Gallup showed Republicans with a whopping 10-point lead in the generic ballot among registered voters (51%-41%), we cautioned: Live by the Gallup tracking poll, die by the Gallup tracking poll. Lo and behold, this week’s tracking now has Democrats tied with Republicans (46%-46%). Amazing how wild the swings continue to be with Gallup. Once again, we urge extreme caution.

*** Learning the Murkowski lesson: This new TV ad by Delaware Senate front-runner Mike Castle is yet more evidence that Castle, as well as national Republicans, learned from last month’s surprise in Alaska, where virtually-unknown Joe Miller beat incumbent Sen. Lisa Murkowski. The lesson: If you’re an incumbent or the established-backed candidate in this political environment, you have to disqualify your outsider primary opponent -- or else. This Castle TV ad hits primary opponent Christine O’Donnell for not paying back taxes, for defaulting on her mortgage, and for running up a big campaign debt and not paying vendors and staff. “Say hello to Christine O’Donnell,” the ad concludes.

*** 75 House races to watch: FL-22: The Democratic nominee is two-term incumbent Ron Klein, while the GOP nominee is Lt. Col. (retired) Allen West, who challenged Klein in ’08 but lost. In 2008, Obama won 52% in this district, and Kerry won 53% in ’04. As of Aug. 24, Klein had $2.5 million in the bank, versus $4 million for West. Klein voted for the stimulus, cap-and-trade, and health care. Cook rates the district as Lean Democrat, and Rothenberg has it Democrat Favored.

*** More midterm news: In Florida, Dem gubernatorial nominee Alex Sink has a new TV ad that, while not running away from Obama, doesn’t exactly embrace him… In Ohio’s Senate contest, Lee Fisher (D) has a new TV ad whacking Rob Portman (R)… And in Wisconsin’s Senate race, Ron Johnson (R) is airing a TV ad that grinds away at incumbent Sen. Russ Feingold’s maverick reputation, calling him a “career politician” and a party-line Democrat,” Politico writes.

Countdown to DC, MD. MA, NH, NY, RI, and WI primaries: 6 days
Countdown to HI primaries: 10 days
Countdown to Election Day 2010: 55 days

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