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First Thoughts: An October to remember?

Surprise! It's October. … Whitman blames Brown for housekeeper issue. … Rand Paul-Jack Conway debate health care, stimulus, Social Security and who's in touch with Kentucky. … An election season when debates could matter. … Critics hit Raese residency again … Rahm's 'Telling it like it is'… Profiling TN-8.

*** An October to remember? One month out before Election Day, it’s worth reminding everyone that Octobers matter in American politics. It’s the time in the cycle when campaigns start feeling the heat; front-runners see their leads shrink; debates take place; gaffes get magnified; and voters really begin to tune in. Indeed, something unexpected is bound to happen -- it almost always does. Remember: Although it first broke in late September, Mark Foley’s Page-gate was an October story that certainly had an impact on the ’06 midterms. And already in the last few days, we’ve seen a housekeeper come out of nowhere (CA GOV) and a father who was once Bozo the Clown (DE SEN). What’s next? It’s October, folks…

*** Whitman’s blame game: Speaking of that housekeeper who came out of nowhere… Anyone who follows politics or works in the business knows that a large part is dealing with the unexpected -- a crisis, scandal, controversy, etc. And in many cases, how a candidate deals with the unexpected tells a lot about their ability to handle the job itself. But in her first foray into politics, and dealing with her first real crisis (over her ex-housekeeper’s immigration status), Meg Whitman has decided to blame her opponent for her current woes. During Saturday’s Univision debate, Whitman “turned to [Democratic opponent Jerry] Brown and said he ‘should be ashamed’ of ‘sacrificing Nicky Díaz on the altar of your political ambitions,’” the New York Times recounted. Brown responded, “Don’t run for governor if you can’t stand up on your own two feet and say, ‘Hey, I made a mistake.’”

*** Sunday’s Paul-Conway debate: Here’s the how the Lexington Herald-Leader covered yesterday’s Rand Paul-vs.-Jack Conway debate: “Paul accused Conway of being a surrogate for President Barack Obama's agenda, citing Conway's support for a federal health care overhaul law and the federal stimulus bill. 'I think this election really is about the president's agenda,' Paul said... Meanwhile, Conway continued to highlight past statements by Paul that show 'he's out of touch with the mainstream values of Kentucky.' 'There's a real clear choice between someone who has taken on the drug issue and someone who says drugs aren't a pressing issue, someone who stands up to criminals and someone who says non-violent behavior shouldn't be a crime, someone who supports the rights of the disabled and someone who has said that he is against the American Disabilities Act, between someone who is going to stand up and protect Medicare and someone who says Medicare needs a $2,000 deductible.'" If Democrats were looking for a game-changer of a moment, this debate didn’t provide it.

*** When debates matter: Speaking of debates, wrestling mogul Linda McMahon and state Attorney General Richard Blumenthal square off tonight in their first Senate debate. Debates in races like this Connecticut Senate race, the California governor's race, and Nevada Senate could be determining factors for voters who are unconvinced by either candidate. For this debate tonight, it's the rare instance where the underdog, McMahon, is more camera comfortable, than the frontrunner, Blumenthal. And yet McMahon’s been the more gaffe-prone one of late, in particular her comments about the minimum wage gave Blumenthal the “out of touch” opening. One other thing to watch for tonight: how much does Blumenthal hit her on the culture of wrestling vs. simply hitting her for being too much part of a “corporate culture.” There are also debates today in the Senate races in Ohio and North Dakota and the at-large House race in North Dakota, where incumbent Earl Pomeroy is vulnerable. (Vice President Biden is in Ohio today to campaign for Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland.)

*** ‘Take me home… West Virginia’: Wealthy Republican John Raese’s residency is becoming an issue again in his bid for the Senate. Raese, who “owns a steel fabricating business and a limestone company and is part owner of a statewide radio network and Morgantown newspaper,” also “owns homes in Florida, West Virginia and Colorado.” The Times West Virginian writes, “There is nothing wrong with that. However, as a Senate candidate, the question of where Raese lives means more. Whoever wins the Senate seat in November will have to be a resident of West Virginia the day that person is elected, according to Article I, Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution.” This also became an issue for Raese in 2006 when he ran for the Senate and in his primary bid this year. During the primary, he said, “I've never been a resident of Florida. I pay taxes and I live here in West Virginia. … My wife isn't running for U.S. Senate. I am.” (Sound a little like Maine's Paul LePage?) Residency issues are never huge deals in Senate races (see Clinton, Hillary), but with Raese now being treated as an equal to Manchin in his chances to win this seat, how he handles this new scrutiny will tell us whether he’s ready for the big leagues. His answer that the Florida Homestead exemption was for his wife could strike some as hair-splitting. When a couple has residency in separate states, it makes it easier for an opponent to paint them as out of touch because it’s usually very wealthy folks who can do that.

*** Telling it like it is: As expected, Rahm Emanuel launched his Web site for Chicago mayor over the weekend, and it contains this video of Emanuel: “We need leadership that's tough enough to say no when it needs to be said, and smart enough to know what government should do -- and also what it can't do,” he says in it. “There's another thing we've learned over the years: To keep Chicago moving forward, every community must participate. This city belongs to all of us, and every person has a role to play in building its future. So as I prepare to run for mayor, I'm going to spend the next few weeks visiting our neighborhoods - at grocery stores, L stops, bowling alleys, and hot dog stands. I'm calling this the ‘Tell It Like It Is’ tour, because I want to hear from you -- in blunt, Chicago terms -- what you think about our city, and how the next mayor and you, can make it better.” It was a very straight forward video, Rahm with no-tie on what appeared to be a semi-barren room. He’s walking a fine line between starting his campaign and not sucking up oxygen from the two Democrats who need the most help THIS November: Alexi and Quinn.

*** Speaking of White House turnover: The news over the weekend that Democratic activists are being sounded out about the idea of Robert Gibbs taking over the chairmanship of the DNC is about a couple of things: (1) With the GOP presidential campaign heating up, having a strong spokesperson, who is comfortable on camera, may be the No. 1 prerequisite in 2011. It’s one way to both connect the White House to the politics of the coming cycle and separate it at the same time. (2) Gibbs is probably the president’s best advocate on TV and moving to the DNC would give him more latitude to do just that. Also, if Gibbs does leave the West Wing, it would mean the lone member of the Big Four (Rahm, Valerie Jarrett, David Axelrod, and Gibbs) that would remain in the West Wing: Jarrett, the person who has the longest personal friendship with the president. By the way, Gibbs could also end up taking a bigger portfolio INSIDE the West Wing, which includes messaging and the speech-writing team.

*** Obama’s day: At 2:00 pm ET, President Obama meets with his Economic Recovery Advisory Board. Among the attendees: Recovery Board Chairman Paul Volcker, Harvard economist Martin Feldstein, GE CEO Jeff Immelt, Caterpillar Chairman Jim Owens, and AFL-CIO head Richard Trumka.

*** 75 House races to watch: TN-8: The Democratic nominee in the race to replace retiring Rep. John Tanner (D) is state Sen. Roy Herron. His Republican opponent is Gospel singer and farmer Stephen Fincher. In 2008, McCain won 56% in this district, while Bush won 53% in ’04. As of July 16, Herron had nearly $1.2 million in bank, versus Fincher’s $420,000. Both Cook and Rothenberg rate the contest as a Toss Up.

*** More midterm news: In Connecticut, Richard Blumenthal and Linda McMahon debate… In Delaware, Bill Maher released video of Christine O’Donnell saying, “I would have become a Hare Krishna, but I didn't want to become a vegetarian.”… Rand Paul says the retirement age likely needs to be boosted … The LA Times endorsed Jerry Brown. … In Georgia, Roy Barnes isn’t sure if he’d support Obama in 2012. … Obama appears in first campaign ad of 2010 … Welcome, Congressman Landry.

Countdown to Election Day 2010: 29 days

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