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First Thoughts: Outside game

NBC/WSJ poll: Outsiders have the advantage over insiders… Good news and bad news for both parties on health care… Poll also shows public concerns over outside-group advertising… Breaking the GOP down into three parts… The men who would be the GOP Senate leaders if Republicans take back the Senate… The men and women who would be the Senate chairs if they win control… Profiling NY-24… And MoveOn goes on the offensive.

*** Outside game: Here's a scenario that's not outside the realm of possibility: Sharron Angle (in Nevada), Carly Fiorina (in California), and Rand Paul (in Kentucky) all win, but Mark Kirk (in Illinois) and Pat Toomey (in Pennsylvania) lose. What would explain this? Well, just look at our new NBC/WSJ poll, which finds that only 23% of registered voters would back a generic congressional candidate who has served in Congress for more than 10 years, but 48% would support someone running for the first time. Being perceived as part of Washington is a bigger problem this midterm cycle than being perceived as too inexperienced to serve in Congress. We're even seeing this dynamic play out in New Hampshire, where former GOP Rep. Charlie Bass is struggling. In fact, of all the ex-congressmen running for their old seat, Bass may be the one struggling the most simply because he is NOT running against another incumbent. Bottom line: The public is looking for fresh faces to send to Washington, not the same-old, same-old.

*** Good news and bad news on health care and the stimulus: Our poll also finds that there's good news and bad news for both parties when it comes to health care. The good news for Republicans (and bad news for Democrats): 46% believe the health-care law is a bad idea, and 36% think it’s a good idea -- which is essentially unchanged from the last time we asked this question in June. But here’s the bad news for Republicans (and good news for Democrats): 52% back a candidate who believes the law should be given a chance to work, while 45% support a candidate who wants to repeal the law and start over. So the public is against health care before it is for it? Exactly. Yet here’s more good news for Republicans (and bad news for Dems): 45% in the poll believe the stimulus is a bad idea, versus 35% who see it as a good idea. Overall, 50% say the government is doing too much, while 45% think it should be doing more to meet people’s needs. Those two numbers might tell us all we need to know as we head into Election Day.

*** Concerns about outside groups: So how has the White House/Democratic campaign against the GOP-leaning outside groups that have been spending so much on TV ads this midterm cycle fared? Per our poll, 74% say it’s a concern that outside groups have their own agenda and care only about electing or defeating candidates based on their own issues; 72% say it’s a concern that these groups don’t have to disclose who’s contributing to them; 71% say it’s a concern that the candidates who are helped by these groups could be beholden to their interests; and 68% say they’re concerned these groups are funded by unions or large corporations. Despite these concerns, our pollsters say that the White House/Dem campaign against these outside groups hasn’t changed the overall dynamics of this election.

*** Average Americans vs. large corporations: That said, there has been this shift in our poll: 45% of registered voters say Democrats in Congress are more concerned about the interests of average Americans, versus 41% who think they’re more concerned about large corporations. That’s a change from May when 52% thought congressional Dems were more concerned about large corporations and 35% said they were more concerned about average Americans. By comparison, 68% in our current poll say Republicans in Congress are more concerned about large corporations, which is essentially unchanged from May. And 53% say President Obama is more concerned about the interests of average Americans, versus 31% who think he’s more concerned about large corporations. Don’t be surprised if this becomes a major Dem message come 2012…

*** The GOP’s three parts: Finally, our poll made this discovery: You can divide the Republican Party into three parts: About a third of all Republicans say they don’t support the Tea Party, and these folks say the leading GOP spokespeople are Mitt Romney (19%), Sarah Palin (17%), and Mike Huckabee (16%). Another third of Republicans support the Tea Party but identify more with the Republican Party, and their preferred GOP spokespeople are Huckabee (23%), Palin (23%), and Newt Gingrich (16%). And the final third are Republicans who say they identify more with the Tea Party, and their favored GOP spokespeople are Gingrich (22%), Palin (17%), Huckabee (14%), and Glenn Beck (10%).

*** The men who would be Senate GOP leaders: If Republicans win back the Senate in November, NBC’s Ken Strickland has put together this list of the likely GOP Senate leadership:

Majority leader: Mitch McConnell (R-KY)
Assistant majority leader (whip): Jon Kyl (R-AZ)
Conference chair: Lamar Alexander (R-TN)
Conference vice-chair: John Barrasso (R-WY)
Policy committee chair: John Thune (R-SD)
NRSC chair: John Cornyn (R-TX)
President pro tempore: Dick Lugar (R-IN)

*** The men and women who would be Senate GOP chairs: And, per NBC’s Ken Strickland, here are the likely GOP Senate chairs:

Appropriations: Thad Cochran (R-MS)
Armed Services: John McCain (R-AZ)
Banking: Richard Shelby (R-AL)
Budget: Mike Crapo (R-ID)
Commerce: Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX)
Energy and Natural Resources: Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) or Richard Burr (R-NC)
Environment and Public Works: Jim Inhofe (R-OK)
Finance: Chuck Grassley (R-IA)
Foreign Relations: Dick Lugar (R-IN)
Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions: Mike Enzi (R-WY)
Judiciary: Jeff Sessions (R-AL)
Homeland Security and Government Affairs: Susan Collins (R-ME)

*** Tomorrow’s midterm topic: The key ballot measures across the country.

*** 75 House races to watch: NY-24: The Democratic nominee is two-term incumbent Rep. Michael Arcuri, who was first elected in 2006. His Republican opponent is ’08 nominee Richard Hanna. In 2008, Obama won 63% in this Upstate New York district – which represents Utica – and Kerry won 58% in 2004. Arcuri voted yes for the stimulus, but against cap-and-trade and health care. As of Sept. 30, Arcuri had more than $475,000 in the bank, versus Hanna’s nearly $420,000. Both Cook and Rothenberg rate the contest as Toss Up.

*** More midterm news: MoveOn is going up with 28 TV ads in Senate and House contests… In California, a new Public Policy Institute of California poll shows Jerry Brown leading Meg Whitman in the governor’s race, 44%-36%, and Barbara Boxer leading Carly Fiorina, 43%-38%... In Pennsylvania, a new Quinnipiac poll has Pat Toomey at 48% and Joe Sestak at 46%.

Countdown to Election Day 2010: 12 days

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