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First thoughts: Whitman's woes

Evidence how races can quickly change: Whitman’s now behind in CA… If she loses, that could have a disastrous downballot effect for the GOP… SEIU I.E. launches another Spanish-language ad against Whitman… How Rick Scott and Nathan Deal are looking stronger than some Republicans ever would have thought (although Alex Sink has a tough new TV ad)... Applying the Coakley Lesson to CT and KY… DSCC hits Kirk on flip-flops, while the Chicago Tribune highlights Giannoulias’ inconsistent statements about the family bank… And profiling VA-9.

From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, and Ali Weinberg
*** Whitman’s woes: As pundits debate the idea whether Democrats can somehow change the trajectory of the campaign nationally, consider what's going on in California: The race for governor has basically changed in a blink of an eye (in this case a week). For most of this cycle, Republicans have been bullish on Meg Whitman's chances -- due to her personal wealth, her business success at eBay, and her sophisticated (and expensive) campaign team. And she had a slight lead at summer’s end. But in a political environment benefiting almost every Republican, Whitman now finds herself in serious trouble. A recent Reuters/Ipsos poll shows Whitman trailing Brown by seven points (50%-43%), which matches other polling we’ve seen. (The Whitman camp, though, released its own poll yesterday showing that the race is tied among likely voters, 44%-44%.) The biggest problem for Whitman -- beyond her handling of the housekeeper/nanny story -- is that she can no longer spend her way out of the hole. A new report finds that Whitman has now spent $140 million of her own money. But if she’s behind or tied, is another $100 million going to matter?

*** The downballot effect: If Whitman collapses, that could have disastrous downballot effect on Republicans. The GOP nominees for lieutenant governor and attorney general -- potential SEN and GOV candidates, if they’re successful -- probably can’t win if Whitman doesn’t. Ditto Carly Fiorina in the Senate contest, who desperately needs a strong Whitman showing to beat Barbara Boxer. Speaking of Fiorina, anyone notice she has yet to put any of her own money into the general election? One of the reasons Republicans in D.C. were bullish on Fiorina over Tom Campbell was Fiorina's ability to potentially self-fund at least part of it.

*** SEIU’s one-two punch: Back to the gubernatorial race… Following up on its earlier Spanish-language TV ad that hit Whitman on her housekeeper/nanny problem, an SEIU independent expenditure unit is up with a new Spanish language ad pointing out Whitman’s opposition to undocumented immigrants attending California colleges. The ad features Cesar Chavez’s grand niece. “When Jerry Brown was governor, he fought alongside my uncle Cesar Chavez to garner fair wages for workers and help open the doors for a generation of Latinos to gain access to education,” the ad goes (when translated into English). “Now Republican Meg Whitman wants to ban undocumented students from attending college, taking away their opportunity to succeed.” It’s a tough one-two punch for the Whitman camp, which has really worked hard to get Latino votes in this contest.

*** Great Scott? What a Deal? While one candidate Republicans were bullish on -- Whitman -- finds herself in trouble in California, two other gubernatorial candidates whom GOPers considered deeply flawed -- Rick Scott in Florida and Nathan Deal in Georgia -- now have even or better odds of winning their contests. In a normal political environment, the fact that Scott’s Columbia/HCA hospital chain was fined $1.7 billion for Medicare/Medicaid fraud committed under Scott’s watch would probably disqualify him for higher office, especially in senior-heavy Florida. But right now, Scott’s either tied or slightly leading in the general election to be Florida’s next governor. (One Democrat observing the contest, though, is confident they’ll beat Scott, saying: “At the end of the day, voters are going to reject Scott.”) Sink has her first DIRECT attack on Scott up on the Medicare fraud story, using law enforcement officials from Florida to make the charges. Then there's Georgia's Nathan Deal, who left Congress before the Office of Congressional Ethics revealed he might have broken ethics rules, and who faces personal insolvency on a $2.3 million loan. Deal’s probably the favorite to be the state’s next governor.

*** The political environment trumps all -- in friendly and competitive states: These two examples are reminders how the overall political environment -- which is benefiting Republicans right now -- can trump even the most damaging opposition research. And this was true in 2006, when Democrats Rod Blagojevich in Illinois and Jim Doyle in Wisconsin cruised to re-election despite facing ethics questions, or in 2008, when Al Franken (a controversial and outspoken candidate) narrowly beat Norm Coleman in Minnesota. Here’s a handy guide: When the political winds are at their party’s back, flawed and imperfect candidates can win in friendly or competitive states (see Deal in Georgia, Scott in Florida, or even Sharron Angle in Nevada), but have a much harder time in unfriendly territory (see O’Donnell in Delaware and even Whitman in California).

*** The Coakley lesson? Here’s something worth paying attention to: the DSCC is advertising in Connecticut (despite the fact that Dick Blumenthal is leading), and the NRSC is now upping its advertising in Kentucky (even though Rand Paul is ahead). A theory why this is occurring -- the parties are fearful of screwing up these races. Call it the Martha Coakley lesson. But also don’t forget this about Kentucky: While John Kerry won just 40% of the presidential vote in the state in 2004, Dan Mongiardo lost by just one percentage point to Jim Bunning that same year.

*** DSCC hits Kirk on flip-flops: First on First Read: In advance of the upcoming Alexi Giannoulias-vs.-Mark Kirk debate on “Meet the Press,” the DSCC has released a new Web video highlighting Kirk’s flip-flops on the issues, like on TARP, gun control, and cap-and-trade. Meanwhile, this Chicago Tribune story might be problematic for Giannoulias in the debate: “Giannoulias consistently vague about his job at the bank.” http://bit.ly/a1MHlA and http://bit.ly/aYpKfM

*** 75 House races to watch: VA-9: The Democratic nominee is 14-term incumbent Rick Boucher, who was first elected in 1982. Boucher’s GOP opponent is state delegate Morgan Griffith. In 2008, McCain won 59% in this district -- which is located in the southwestern part of the state -- while Bush won an equal amount in ’04. Boucher voted yes on the stimulus and cap-and-trade, but voted no on health care. As of June 30, Boucher had more than $2 million in the bank, versus Griffith’s nearly $300,000. Both Cook and Rothenberg rate the contest as Lean Democrat.

Countdown to Election Day 2010: 27 days

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