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First Thoughts: Assessing Rahm

Assessing Rahm's tenure as chief of staff... His successes, his detractors... The bottom line: He helped run Washington, but didn't help change it... Meet Pete Rouse, Rahm's successor at least for the short term... Obama to announce the personnel move at 11:05 am ET... Assessing the electoral map as we begin October... Is Meg Whitman in BIG trouble?... Profiling SC-5.

From NBC's Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, and Ali Weinberg
*** Assessing Rahm: As Rahm Emanuel today departs the White House to run for Chicago mayor, it's time to assess his nearly two years as chief of staff. On the one hand, he played a key role in the Democrats racking up more legislative achievements than Washington has seen since the Great Society or the New Deal. His half-a-loaf-is-better-than-no-loaf approach produced big results, even if those results weren't widely embraced by a public during a time of 10% unemployment. Rahm -- perhaps more than many pundits or chatterers in the blogosphere -- knows that politics is the art of the possible, that you take what you can get, and that enacting change is hard. Really hard. This, in fact, has been a hallmark of Rahm's career. As head of the DCCC, he pursued the "art of the possible" when finding candidates to win in tough districts. (Ironically, many of those candidates who won in '06 are the first ones who are going to lose in 2010 after having helped Rahm and Rahm's boss enact their long list of legislative achievements.)

*** His detractors: On the other hand, the larger-than-life Emanuel didn't always rub folks the right way. His style as chief of staff was not just an organizational dynamo, but also a micro-manager in every good and bad way that label is applied. He often wore too many hats (chatting with reporters, poring over polling data, dabbling in political races). He alienated liberals (like when he called them "f-ing retarded" for planning to air attack ads against conservative Dems who weren't backing the health reform). And he -- deliberatively or not -- let it be known that he disagreed with the president on major issues, like Obama going big on health care.

*** The bottom line on Rahm: History will likely judge Rahm's tenure as a successful one when it comes to helping "run" Washington. And if the president is re-elected in 2012, his two-year run will look even better. Perhaps someone with as hot of a personality as Rahm has only has a two-year political life expectancy as a staffer; you don't aspire to be mayor of Chicago one day if you enjoy simply being a No. 2 The president brought Rahm in because he needed someone who was familiar with Washington -- he didn't want to make the mistake Jimmy Carter, George H.W. Bush, or Bill Clinton made when they came in determined to do things their way to the point of naive stubbornness. Like Reagan and Bush 43, Team Obama was determined to figure out a balance of working IN Washington and trying to change. Thanks to Rahm, they got the working "in" Washington right. But the president's political problems stem from the other half of the challenge: failing to change it.

*** Meet Pete Rouse: Let's make one thing clear, though: What's taking place at the White House isn't a shakeup; it's just turnover. It's Plouffe replacing Axelrod. It's Goolsbee replacing Romer. It's likely Donilon replacing Jones at NSA (by the end of the year). And the man who will replace Rahm -- at least temporarily -- is senior White House adviser Pete Rouse, who served as Obama's chief of staff when he was in the Senate and who was Tom Daschle's chief of staff before that. Here's the New York Times: "The decision to tap Mr. Rouse reflects a desire by the president to maintain his small circle of close advisers for now rather than bringing in an outsider or elder statesman to present a new face." And the AP says he "shuns the spotlight but has quietly built up an enormous wealth of trust and relationships in Washington. Those close to him say that he provides what Obama needs -- a sharp and strategic mind, a sense of continuity, a knack for troubleshooting and an ability to keep people focused on their tasks." In essence, he's the anti-Rahm. President Obama will announce the personnel change at 11:05 am ET.

*** October surprise? We're now a month away from Election Day. And here's what we know as we begin the month of October: Republicans are still poised for substantial House and Senate pick-ups; Democrats, though, look to be in a better position in the California and Washington state Senate contests; but they're weaker in Wisconsin, where Russ Feingold is having trouble against Ron Johnson; Richard Blumenthal in Connecticut has about the same lead as Boxer does in California (but he's on the decline, while she has been on the rise).

*** Is Whitman in big trouble? A month out before an election, it is never a good thing for a candidate to declare he/she would be willing to take a lie detector test. It also isn't a good thing when it's revealed that the candidate's husband knew about a letter of possible problems with a housekeeper's Social Security number. Here's the L.A. Times: "Meg Whitman launched a forceful effort Thursday to regain control of her campaign for governor, pledging to take a lie detector test if necessary to prove that she and her husband were unaware they had employed an illegal immigrant housekeeper for nine years until the woman confessed her status in 2009... But Whitman's lengthy defense was undercut ... as the housekeeper's attorney, Gloria Allred, produced a copy of a government letter sent six years before Nicandra Diaz Santillan was fired alerting the couple to potential problems. On the bottom of the letter was a note in what Allred said was Whitman's husband's handwriting: 'Nicky, please check this. Thanks.'"

*** Couldn't be worse timing: This is all coming at a horrible time for Whitman. In fact, tomorrow is the Brown-Whitman Univision debate, where this entire story will play a BIG role and where plenty of California Latinos will be watching. This is already a three-day story. Will we still be talking about this on Monday? If so, that's a problem for the Whitman campaign. One other thing worth noting: This story has been driven by TV more than print.

*** 75 House races to watch: SC-5: The Democratic nominee is 14-term incumbent Rep. John Spratt, who was first elected in 1982. His GOP opponent is state Sen. Mick Mulvaney. McCain won 53% of the vote in this district in '08, while Bush got 57% in '04. As of June 30, Spratt had $1.2 million in the bank, versus Mulvaney's nearly $475,000. Spratt voted for the stimulus, health care, and cap-and-trade. Both Cook and Rothenberg rate the race as Toss Up.

Countdown to Election Day 2010: 32 days

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