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First Thoughts: The Equalizers

GOP-leaning groups are equalizing the Democrats’ money advantage… The scoop on Woodward’s new book… Larry Summers becomes the third key member of Obama’s economic team to leave… Who replaces him?... Murkowski speaks to the national press, while Christine O’Donnell says she won’t anymore… Cuomo up by only six?... First lady to hit the campaign trail… Upset in the making in New Hampshire?... And previewing PA-3.

*** The Equalizers: Think Democrats have the money advantage heading into November? Well, think again. Adding up what the federal party committees (DNC/RNC, DSCC/NRSC, DCCC/NRCC) have in bank as of last month, Democrats hold a 3-2 edge, $75.4 million to $54.3 million. Also, by and large, Democratic candidates have outraised their GOP counterparts. But here's where Republicans are making up the difference: outside groups. For example, Dem ad trackers note that conservative outside groups (like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Karl Rove-backed American Crossroads) have outspent liberal outside groups in key Senate contests by a whopping amount in the past two months, $22 million to $3.5 million. “We're just getting shellacked on TV by the groups,” said DSCC spokesman Eric Schultz. “It's a big deal." The one thing that Republicans are concerned about regarding the outside groups: They’re TOO focused on Senate races. As Charlie Cook noted last week, a dollar invested in a House race could go a lot farther than a dollar in a Senate race.

*** Woodward’s 'Obama’s Wars': It’s a time-honored Washington tradition: Every couple of years or so, the Washington Post’s Bob Woodward publishes a book about the current president and his team, and the political world scrambles to get the juicy details. Well, the New York Times was the first to get its hands on Woodward’s new book, “Obama’s Wars.” The Times says it “depicts an administration deeply torn over the war in Afghanistan even as the president agreed to triple troop levels there amid suspicion that he was being boxed in by the military. Mr. Obama’s top White House adviser on Afghanistan and his special envoy for the region are described as believing the strategy will not work.” More: “The president concluded from the start that ‘I have two years with the public on this’ and pressed advisers for ways to avoid a big escalation.” The White House is spinning the conflict depicted in the book as classic Obama -- he wants differing opinion and robust debate. Here’s one thing the book does: It adds another layer of intrigue to the upcoming policy review on the war. Perhaps the most fascinating part of the New York Times reporting on the book is what's NOT in there -- like few palace-intrigue-type anecdotes about Secretary of State Clinton.

*** On the last day of summer, Summers announces he’s leaving: Speaking of intrigue, we learned yesterday that chief White House economic adviser Larry Summers is leaving at the end of the year, and he will return to Harvard University. That makes him the third key member of Obama’s economic team to depart the White House in the last 60 days, joining Peter Orszag and Christina Romer. The White House might not want to call this a shakeup, but the fact is that a majority of his economic team will be new by next year. So who will replace Summers? We can report that the White House is looking for diversity, but that diversity doesn’t necessarily mean gender or race; it can also mean background. In fact, Team Obama might want someone from the business community (GM’s Ed Whitacre or ex-Xerox chief Ann Mulcahy) to knock down the complaint that the White House is anti-business. It's a tricky position to fill… The person has to have some Washington skill, and in a Democratic administration also has to have a decent relationship with labor. That's why finding a CEO is so hard for Democrats on this front, as there aren't many execs on good terms with key labor leaders.

*** Murkowski speaks to the press… : Not satisfied with Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s resignation as vice-chairwoman of the Senate Republican Conference, the New York Times says that “Republicans intend to meet” today “and vote to strip her of her position as the senior Republican on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee.” Murkowski appeared on “TODAY” this morning, saying that she is putting Alaska before her party. Murkowski also pre-taped an interview for MSNBC’s “Daily Rundown,” saying that she will remain a Republican if she wins her write-in campaign; that GOP nominee Joe Miller is an “extremist” because of his views on Social Security and his opposition to federal infrastructure dollars for the state; and that Dem nominee Scott McAdams is a nice man who is unelectable.

*** … but Christine O’Donnell won’t anymore: After backing out of Sunday-morning interviews on CBS and FOX News Sunday, GOP Senate nominee Christine O’Donnell conducted a friendly interview with FOX News prime-time host Sean Hannity, declaring that -- upon Sarah Palin’s advice -- she would no longer speak to the national media. “I’m not going to do any more national media because this is my focus. Delaware is my focus, and the local media is my focus.” But here’s some advice to O’Donnell from us: If she doesn’t like talking to the national media, then she isn’t going to enjoy working in the U.S. Senate because the place is teeming with national reporters and TV cameras.

*** Cuomo up by only six? A new Quinnpiac poll shows that Andrew Cuomo (D) is leading Carl Paladino (R) in New York’s gubernatorial contest by just six points (49%-43%) among likely voters. After previous Q-polls showing Dick Blumenthal (D) ahead by just six points and Rob Portman up 20 points (!!!), either this is a REALLY BAD political environment for Democrats, or Quinnipiac’s likely-voter model is VERY tight right now, leaving out too many actual voters.

*** The first lady and the Senate firewall: Want to know what Democrats consider their Senate firewall? Look no further than the schedule the White House released for First Lady Michelle Obama’s campaign activity. On Oct. 13, she hits fundraising events for Russ Feingold in Wisconsin and Alexi Giannoulias in Illinois. On Oct. 14, she heads to Colorado to raise funds for Michael Bennet. On Oct. 25, she travels to Seattle to help Patty Murray in Washington state. And on Oct. 27, she heads to Los Angeles to raise money for Barbara Boxer. By the way, Illinois, Colorado, Wisconsin California, and Washington state just happen to rank, respectively, Nos. 5, 6, 8, 9, and 10 on our First Read Top 10 Senate takeover list.

*** Upset in the making in New Hampshire? The New Hampshire Republican Party is bullish about gubernatorial nominee John Stephen's chances against popular Gov. John Lynch (D), who is gunning for an unprecedented fourth term (New Hampshire governors serve only two-year terms.) And Stephen is getting rock-star treatment from national Republicans with Mitt Romney, Haley Barbour, and Tim Pawlenty all set to appear in the Granite State in the next 10 days. There hasn't been any reliable polling in the state thus far (there was a robo-poll showing the race tight), but even Lynch's campaign is acting like they're in a fight. Yesterday, the campaign went up with an attack ad, criticizing Stephen's record as state Health and Human Services commissioner, which he held under Lynch and former Gov. Craig Benson. Stephen responded with an ad hitting Lynch for tax increases, a budget deficit, and vowed to veto tax increases.

*** 75 House races to watch: PA-3: The Democratic nominee is first-term incumbent Kathy Dahlkemper, and the GOP nominee is auto dealer (and former Notre Dame football player) Mike Kelly. In 2008, McCain won the district by 17 votes, and Bush won it with 53% in ’04. As of June 30, Dahlkemper had slightly more than $1 million in the bank, while Kelly had just more than $100,000. Dahlkemper voted yes for the stimulus and health care, and no for cap-and-trade. Both Cook and Rothenberg rate the race as Toss Up.

Countdown to Election Day 2010: 41 days

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