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First thoughts: Mind the (money) gap

GOP-leaning outside groups are blowing away their Democratic counterparts… Why did Dem groups disarm?... A potential downside to GOP outside groups essentially replacing the RNC… Wrapping up last night’s Blumenthal vs. McMahon debate… O’Donnell and Paladino air new spots in search of a makeover… Murkowski vs. the Tea Party Express… Obama delivers remarks at White House Community College Summit at 12:15 pm ET… And previewing VA-5.

From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, and Ali Weinberg
*** Mind the (money) gap: As we mentioned a couple of weeks ago, Democratic federal campaign committees (DNC/DSCC/DCCC) have a combined $20 million cash-on-hand advantage over their GOP counterparts (RNC/NRSC/NRCC). And the DNC's impressive $16 million haul for September will only add to that edge. But in what could very well be the cycle’s biggest story, GOP-leaning outside groups -- like the Rove-backed American Crossroads and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce -- are more than making up the gap. According to Democratic ad-tracking numbers, outside GOP groups spent a whopping $34 million in August and September, compared with just $4 million by Dem groups. And that’s just in Senate races. In House races, GOP groups have spent or plan to spend some $30 million in more than 70 districts, versus $7.5 million by Dem groups. Now comes this Politico report: American Crossroads is announcing today a mammoth $4 million advertising blitz in eight key Senate contests. Indeed, the disparity is only going to grow in October, thanks to the fact that in politics, like, well anything in life: money follows winners.

*** Why did Dem groups disarm? This is turning into a financial blowout. Amazingly, Democratic outside groups are acting as if they’ve disarmed. Why? Some reasons we’ve heard from Democrats who are trying to compete on this front: 1) the economy is bad; 2) the Dem donor base is demoralized and tired; 3) some of the bigger donors are liberals, and they’ve been disappointed with the administration’s policies; 4) the president isn’t really courting the big donors; 5) Obama’s attacks on the Citizens United decision have deterred them from getting involved; 6) Obama doesn't have a long-time donor network, a la the Clintons (think Terry McAuliffe); and 7) many of the Democrats' best fundraisers are ambassadors right now. And here’s another reason: Dems got a tad complacent after Obama’s enormous money haul in 2008. The assumption was that money wouldn’t be an object, so Dem-leaning outside groups never really tried, and they believed -- deep down -- that the GOP outside groups couldn’t raise the big bucks. Well guess what…

*** The one potential downside for Republicans here: However, there is one potential downside to these GOP groups essentially supplanting the Republican National Committee as the GOP’s cash cow: These groups are dropping big bucks on TV ads, but are they doing the things needed for long-term success -- like building voter rolls or an effective GOTV operation? That's not something you can do quickly; it takes time. That said, this GOP outside spending should serve as a big wakeup call for Team Obama in 2012, because while he had an ENORMOUS financial advantage over John McCain (who didn't want to look like a flip-flopper on campaign finance issues), that probably won't be the case for the next GOP nominee.

*** Blumenthal vs. McMahon: Want to know why Linda McMahon’s campaign finally dropped its TV ad hitting Richard Blumenthal over his misstatements about his military service? Because her campaign wanted to make sure it was a key part of last night’s debate, and it was. Here was Blumenthal’s response, per the Hartford Courant: "I'm proud of my military services. On a few occasions out of hundreds, I've described it inaccurately and I regret it, I take full responsibility for it. It was not intentional but that is no excuse, and I want to say that I am sorry.'' Meanwhile, McMahon had to respond to the Blumenthal charge that she was open to a reduction in the minimum wage. “That’s a lie,” she said. “You know that that’s a lie.” The New York Times: “The disagreement stemmed from a recent appearance at which Ms. McMahon was asked by reporters if she believed the minimum wage should be lowered. She did not explicitly say it should not, and Democrats have pounced on that ambiguity to suggest she favors reducing it.”

*** Bewitched: In what has to be the first-ever political TV ad in which a candidate declares that he/she is NOT a witch, Delaware GOP Senate nominee Christine O’Donnell is up with her first general-election ad. “I’m not a witch. I’m nothing you’ve heard. I’m you.” she says to the camera. “No one of us are perfect, but none of us can be happy with what we see all around us… I’ll go to Washington and do what you would do.” This TV ad raises the same question that Sarah Palin’s vice-presidential candidacy two years ago: Whom do Americans want representing them in Congress and the White House -- folks exactly like them, or the best and the brightest?

*** Paladino’s makeover: Christine O’Donnell isn’t the only Tea Party candidate who has cut a spot in search of a makeover. “This campaign is not about my family,” a subdued Paladino says to the camera in a new Web video. “It is not about divorces or affairs. It’s about who has a plan to restore prosperity and economic growth to New York state.”

*** Murkowski vs. Tea Party Express: Per NBC’s Kelly O’Donnell, Sen. Lisa Murkowski -- who’s running a write-in campaign after her primary defeat -- is asking Alaska TV stations NOT to run new ads paid for by the Tea Party Express, a group that backs GOP nominee Joe Miller. Murkowski's legal team sent a letter "to all Alaska broadcasters reminding them that they will be held liable for knowingly running false advertising or for knowingly broadcasting false information." Murkowski aides claim the Tea Party Express accuses Murkowski and her campaign of trying "to influence the absentee vote count." They point to Alaska elections officials who say the Aug. 24 primary was conducted fairly. Murkowski said, "This ad is vile. Accusing me of influencing the absentee voter count is dirty politics at it worst." Of course, Murkowski has her own TV ad that takes a shot at the Tea Party Express, and has called the group “extremist.”

*** Obama’s day: At 12:15 pm ET, President Obama delivers remarks at the White House’s Community College Summit. And at 7:50 pm, he speaks to the 2010 Fortune Most Powerful Women summit.

*** 75 House races to watch: VA-5: The Democratic nominee is first-term incumbent Tom Perriello, who won by just 727 votes. His GOP opponent is state Sen. Robert Hurt. In 2008, McCain won 51% in this district – which includes Charlottesville but also the southern part of the state – and Bush won 56% in ’04. As of June 30, Perriello had $1.7 million in the bank, while Hurt had nearly $216,000. Perriello voted for the stimulus, cap-and-trade, and health care. Cook rates the race as a Toss Up, and Rothenberg has it Toss Up/Tilt Republican.

*** More midterm news: In Ohio’s gubernatorial contest, a new Quinnipiac poll shows that John Kasich (R) is leading Gov. Ted Strickland (D) by nine points (50%-41%), down from his 17-point lead last month (54%-37%).

Countdown to Election Day 2010: 28 days

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