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First Thoughts: Category 4 (at least)

New NBC/WSJ poll forecasts a Category 4 hurricane (at least) for Dems on Nov. 2… But it also shows some improvement for Dems… Obama stumps in Oregon tonight for gubernatorial nominee John Kitzhaber… VCI update: -38… Our three Senate bellwethers for Election Night… The closing arguments on TV… Did you know the Bush/GOP Medicare prescription-drug law will cost more over the next 10 years than the stimulus, health-care law, and TARP combined?... And did you know taxpayers received a $25 billion return on TARP?... Let’s do the time warp, again (Clarence Thomas vs. Anita Hill)… Previewing the GOP leaders and committee chairs if Republicans win the House… And spotlighting NH-2.

*** Category 4 (at least): The biggest news in our new NBC/WSJ poll is that there’s no news -- after a furious six weeks of attacks and counterattacks. Republicans continue to maintain their generic-ballot lead among likely voters (50%-43%); most registered voters (59%) think the country is headed in the wrong direction; and most (61%) believe the economy will get worse or stay the same in the next 12 months. This forecasts significant gains for the GOP two weeks from now. “Election Day is coming, the hurricane force has not diminished, and it is going to hit the Democrats head on,” NBC/WSJ co-pollster Peter Hart (D) said. “It’s hard to say that the Democrats are facing anything less that a Category 4 hurricane.” Adds co-pollster Bill McInturff: “The Democrats … are facing very, very difficult arithmetic.”

*** Dem improvement: But there’s improvement for Democrats in the poll. President Obama’s job-approval rating among registered voters stands at 47%, up one point from last month and three from August. (That rating, in fact, is higher than George W. Bush’s 38% in Oct. 2006 and Bill Clinton’s 46% in Oct. 1994. But Obama’s rating among white voters is equal or worse than Bush’s and Clinton’s, and whites will be the ones turning out in key districts.) What’s more, 37% say the economy will improve in the next 12 months, which is up five points from last month and 11 points from August. And then there’s this: Democrats now have a two-point lead (46%-44%) in the generic ballot among registered voters, which is up from the 44%-44% tie in September. But Hart calls that registered-voter lead “hollow,” because not all registered voters will participate, especially in a midterm election. Indeed, among those expressing a high interest in voting this midterm season, the GOP holds a 13-point edge on the generic ballot (53%-40%). And that’s why we’re seeing Obama embark on yet another campaign swing taking him to Oregon (today), Washington (Thursday), California and Nevada (Friday), and Minnesota (Saturday).

*** VCI Update: -38: With our new NBC/WSJ poll, the president and Democrats get a slight uptick in our October monthly Voter Confidence Index, from -41 to -38 now. As we've written before, the VCI for President Reagan and the GOP in 1982 when unemployment was similar to today, was -35. Republicans lost 26 seats that year. In 1994, the VCI was -30, when Democrats lost 54 seats. More at VCI.msnbc.com.

*** Our “desert island” test: If you dropped us on a desert island and asked us to determine how Election Night would go if we could rely on the returns from three Senate contests, we’d pick: CO SEN, PA SEN, and WA SEN. Colorado and Pennsylvania -- races where Republicans might have a very small edge (though a new PA poll shows Sestak with a lead -- will gauge if there is a GOP wave. And Washington will tell us just how big the wave might be (if Republicans win it, they’ll probably win the Senate; if not, they’ll fall short).

*** The closing arguments: This is the week we’re seeing the TV traffic become dominated by the big “all telling” negative that candidates hope cements a narrative. In California, Jerry Brown (D) hit Meg Whitman (R) with an ad comparing her to Arnold Schwarzenegger (narrative: Meg’s not change). In Florida, Rick Scott is getting hit with the Medicare fraud charge (translation: he can’t be trusted). In Kentucky, Jack Conway (D) is seizing on Rand Paul’s (R) Aqua Buddha incident (Paul is kooky). And in Nevada, Republicans have seized on Harry Reid (D) residence at the Ritz-Carlton (Reid is out of touch).

*** Things that make you go, hmmmmm: The New York Times has this nugget: “Calculations by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office and other independent fiscal experts show that the $1.1 trillion cost over the next 10 years of the Medicare prescription drug program, which the Republican-controlled Congress adopted in 2003, by itself would add more to the deficit than the combined costs of the bailout, the stimulus and the health care law.” And here’s Bloomberg: The TARP bailout “provided taxpayers with higher returns than they could have made buying 30-year Treasury bonds -- enough money to fund the Securities and Exchange Commission for the next two decades. The government has earned $25.2 billion on its investment of $309 billion in banks and insurance companies, an 8.2 percent return over two years.”

*** Let’s do the time warp -- again: As NBC’s Andrea Mitchell reported on “TODAY,” Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’ wife, Ginni, left a message on Anita Hill’s voicemail earlier this month, asking for an apology. The New York Times: “In a voice mail message left at 7:31 a.m. on Oct. 9, a Saturday, Virginia Thomas asked her husband’s former aide-turned-adversary to make amends. Ms. Hill played the recording, from her voice mail at Brandeis University.” Hill says she has nothing to apologize for. The bigger story involving Ginni Thomas, though, is her active engagement with the Tea Party when her husband sits on the U.S. Supreme Court.

*** The men and women who would be House GOP leaders: In the next installment of our Election Book, we look at the Republican men and women who would likely assume the leadership positions and committee gavels if Republicans take back the House. The leadership, per NBC’s Luke Russert:

Speaker: John Boehner (R-OH)
Majority leader: Eric Cantor (R-VA)
Majority whip: Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) or Pete Sessions (R-TX)
GOP conference chair: Mike Pence (R-IN)
GOP conference vice-chair: Cathy McMorris-Rodgers (R-WA)
NRCC chair: Sessions or McCarthy

*** The men and women who would be House GOP chairs: And, per NBC’s Russert, here are the people who are likely to become the committee chairs:

Appropriations: Harold Rogers (R-KY) or Jerry Lewis (R-CA)
Armed Services: Buck McKeon (R-CA)
Budget: Paul Ryan (R-WI)
Education and Labor: John Kline (R-MN)
Energy and Commerce: Fred Upton (R-MI) or John Shimkus (R-IL)
Financial Services: Spencer Bachus (R-AL), Jeb Hensarling (R-TX), or Ed Royce (R-CA)
Foreign Affairs: Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL)
Homeland Security: Peter King (R-NY)
Judiciary: Lamar Smith (R-TX)
Oversight and Government Reform: Darrell Issa (R-CA)
Rules: David Dreier (R-CA)
Standards of Official Conduct/Ethics: Jo Bonner (R-AL)
Transportation and Infrastructure: John Mica (R-FL)
Ways and Means: Dave Camp (R-MI)

*** Tomorrow’s midterm topic: The women and women who would assume the leadership and committee gavels if Republicans take back the Senate.

*** 75 House races to watch: NH-2: The Democratic nominee to fill the congressional seat being vacated by Rep. Paul Hodes (D), who’s running for the Senate, is attorney/community activist Ann McLane Kuster. The GOP nominee is former Congressman Charlie Bass, whom Hodes ousted in ’06. In 2008, Obama won 56% in this district, while Kerry won 52% in ’04. As of Sept. 30, Bass had nearly $375,000 in the bank, versus Kuster’s more than $350,000. Book Cook and Rothenberg rate the contest as Toss Up.

Countdown to Election Day 2010: 13 days

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