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First Thoughts: Is D.C. underestimating Obama?

Is Washington underestimating Obama?... But here’s a real test for the president: Can he get his voters out in states like Wisconsin, Illinois, and Pennsylvania?... Final jobs report before the midterms shows the economy lost 95,000 jobs and the unemployment steady at 9.6% (but private employers added 64,000 jobs)… Obama rails against outside group spending in twin events yesterday… The “W” word becomes an issue in the Brown-Whitman race… First Read’s Top 10 TV ads… No.1 on our list? Christine O’Donnell’s “I’m you” ad, and she’s now running a second ad on this theme… And another poll shows Rubio leading in Florida.


*** A little counter C.W. with your Friday coffee: As President Obama draws 26,000 in Wisconsin, thousands yesterday in Maryland, and likely thousands in Philadelphia this weekend, it’s worth asking whether there’s a disconnect between how the president is perceived in Washington and how he’s perceived in other parts of the country. Beltway reporters and columnists often use these adjectives in describing the president: beleaguered, struggling, disappointing. And the Washington chatter of the week was whether he needs Hillary’s help for 2012. But here’s a reality check: Obama’s approval rating in the latest NBC/WSJ poll (46%) is just three points lower than George W. Bush’s in the survey right before he won a second term (49%). And despite all the problems (a sluggish economy, a sour public, and a brutal midterm landscape for Democrats), Obama still has a strong base propping him up (Democrats, liberals, blacks, Hispanics, and young voters).

*** The president’s real midterm test: Then again, the president has certainly served as a lightning rod in races across the country, especially former battleground states like Missouri (where Roy Blunt has tried to tie Obama to Robin Carnahan) and in places like West Virginia (where the NRSC had to take down that “hicky” ad tying the president to Joe Manchin). But the question -- with 25 days until Election Day -- is whether Obama has enough juice with his base in Wisconsin (where he was last week), Illinois (where he was last night), and Pennsylvania (where he’ll be on Sunday) to help Democratic candidates in those states. He can get these folks to come to his rallies, but can he get them to the polls? These three states may be the best test of whether the president has midterm juice -- all three contain important (and apathetic?) parts of the Democratic Party's base, and all are being fought over national issues.

*** The last jobs report: Of course, Obama doesn't want to see more of these kinds of job numbers. In the final jobs report before the midterms, the Labor Department reported that a total of 95,000 were lost in September due to widespread government layoffs, the AP notes. The unemployment rate remains at 9.6%, but the private sector added 64,000 jobs. Six months ago, the White House and many Democrats believed the employment situation was going to be on an up-arrow trajectory by this last jobs report. Of course, it's anything but. This flat-lining of the U.S. economy began right around the oil spill, as the double hit of the spill and the Greek debt crisis in Europe took away any hope economists had that the corporate world would begin to spend money again. Obama will discuss the economy at 11:40 am ET.

*** Mo money, mo problems: In twin appearances yesterday, Obama stressed all the outside money -- some of it from abroad, he argued -- impacting this year’s midterm races. Here was Obama at the rally in Maryland: “This is a threat to our democracy. The American people deserve to know who’s trying to sway their elections. And if we just stand by and allow the special interests to silence anybody who’s got the guts to stand up to them, our country is going to be a very different place.” And here he was in Illinois at a fundraiser for Alexi Giannoulias: “In this Senate race, two groups funded and advised by Karl Rove have outspent the Democratic Party two to one in an attempt to beat Alexi -- two to one… Just this week, we learned that one of the largest groups paying for these ads regularly takes in money from foreign sources.” While it's clear the White House wants to attention paid to how these groups are funded (and they are having a HUGE impact), it's not an issue many voters believe is of a high priority. Many Democrats struggling in their re-election bids aren't exactly jumping at the chance to talk about Citizens United. Instead, they'd prefer a cohesive economic message. Then again, the economy isn't exactly a plus for the Democrats so many the White House is right about this.

*** The “W” word: Another day, another controversy in California’s gubernatorial contest. Here’s the L.A. Times: “In a private conversation that was inadvertently taped by a voicemail machine, an associate of Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jerry Brown can be heard referring to his Republican opponent Meg Whitman as a ‘whore’ for cutting a deal protecting law enforcement pensions as the two candidates competed for police endorsements.” Not surprisingly, the Whitman campaign jumped all over the remark in an effort to change the dynamics of a race that Brown is leading; Brown’s camp apologized for the remark. This story cuts several ways. First, it could help Whitman with a key demographic she’s trying to win over: educated women. Then again, it could undermine one of Whitman’s chief attacks on Brown -- that he’s in the pocket of unions -- because it suggests that Brown isn’t willing to cut a deal with a police union to protect their pensions. Short term: It's a lifeline to Whitman as it changes the storyline, even for a day.

*** More O’Donnell ads (pro and con): Lo and behold, O’Donnell has a new TV ad that doubles down on the “I’m you” message. "I didn't go to Yale,” she says to the camera. “I didn't inherit millions like my opponent. I'm you." Meanwhile, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has a new TV ad hitting O’Donnell. It goes, “Christine O’Donnell claims she’ll control Washington spending. But look at her record. She was sued for not paying her bills. Didn’t pay her taxes. Has a federal complaint filed against her for spending campaign funds on herself. If Christine O’Donnell wants to be irresponsible with her money- that’s her business. But she’s running for Senate- and being irresponsible with our money is our business.”

*** More midterm news: In Alabama, “Rep. Bobby Bright on Thursday became the first Democratic incumbent to say publicly that he would not support Nancy Pelosi for Speaker in the next Congress,” CQ reports… In Florida, a new Mason-Dixon poll shows Marco Rubio (R) with a comfortable lead in the state’s three-way Senate contest.

Countdown to Election Day 2010: 25 days

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