By MICHAEL FALCONE and AMY WALTER
Trailblazing. President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden are going back to school this week. Obama travels to Madison, Wisconsin on Tuesday to headline a rally at the University of Wisconsin while Biden heads to Penn State to fire up voters — particularly the younger crowd — in the two key battleground states. Why the emphasis on this segment of the electorate? Just take a look at a recent ABC News/Washington Post poll, which found that only 55 percent of 18 to 28-year-old voters said they were “absolutely certain” to go to the polls this fall, compared to 78 percent of the 50 to 64-year-old crowd and 77 percent of those over 65. As former Obama campaign manager and midterm election strategist, David Plouffe, told the Post’s Philip Rucker and Anne E. Kornblut: "A lot of these voters feel very strongly about the president, but still a lot of them aren't showing enough predilection to vote.” Plouffe also previewed the president’s speech on Tuesday: “When Obama steps onto a grass quad at the University of Wisconsin on Tuesday, he will deliver a newly tailored, more personalized campaign appeal aimed at ginning up enthusiasm, according to White House and senior Democratic officials. Plouffe said Obama will remind students of the work they put into his 2008 campaign and warn them that if they don't reengage now, ‘all that could be jeopardized.’”
On Monday the president will even host an on-the-record telephone briefing with college student journalists. The Wisconsin visit is just the beginning of a busy week of travel for President Obama. He will also make stops in Albuquerque, New Mexico on Tuesday for a “conversation with middle class Americans” as well as similar events on Wednesday in Iowa and Virginia. Recent polls show Democratic candidates for governor in Iowa and New Mexico running behind, and Democrats in Virginia are defending several vulnerable House seats.
NOTED: One embattled Democratic incumbent who won’t be with the president on Tuesday: Wisconsin Sen. Russ Feingold. He’ll remain in DC for votes. But Feingold, who is trailing his opponent, GOP businessman Ron Johnson, in most recent polls, will be getting a visit from First Lady Michelle Obama when she comes to Wisconsin for a fundraiser in mid-October.
The Daily Runaway. There he goes again. Another vulnerable Democrat is distancing himself from President Obama, but this one is taking it a step further. North Dakota Rep. Earl Pomeroy is actually embracing George W. Bush. Pomeroy, who is competing in a tough race with GOP challenger Rick Berg, a state legislator, first released an ad touting his vote against cap-and-trade legislation: “I told the president and Congressional leaders no, on cap-and-trade legislation which would raise our electric rates and cost us energy jobs. There's a better way.” And now he’s highlighting his support for the George W. Bush prescription drug plan: "When George Bush proposed a Medicare prescription drug plan, Earl Pomeroy voted yes, putting seniors before party. Rick Berg would roll back prescription drug coverage.”
And in West Virginia, Gov. Joe Manchin, who is running in what looks like an increasingly tight Senate race with GOP contender John Raese, is putting some distance between himself and the president on health care. Manchin told RealClearPolitics' Erin McPike that some aspects of the new health care law needed to be repealed: "I believe in health care reform. I don't believe in the way this bill was passed," Manchin said. "Why they overreached, I don't know."
NOTED: As we’ve already pointed out, the runaway syndrome is affecting House Speaker Nancy Pelosi too. Conservative Democrat Gene Taylor of Mississippi told The Hill’s Russell Berman that he does not want to see Pelosi stay in the speaker’s chair if Democrats hold onto the House in November, and he’s even suggested an alternative: “My ideal candidate for Speaker would be Ike Skelton,” Taylor said, referring to the Missouri Democrat. As The Hill notes: “Taylor’s suggestion reflects a broader sentiment among conservative Democrats that Pelosi is too liberal and indicates she may not win unanimous support from the caucus in 2011, as she did in 2007 and 2009. A number of House Democrats in tight re-election battles, including Reps. Bobby Bright (Ala.), Walt Minnick (Idaho), and Chet Edwards (Texas), have not committed to voting for Pelosi as Speaker.”
The New Playing Field. With roughly five weeks before Election Day, ABC News has updated its race ratings in several states. As ABC Political Director Amy Walter notes, while Republican candidates have gained ground in Pennsylvania, Florida and Wisconsin, Democrats’ chances have improved in California, Delaware and Washington. Pennsylvania, Indiana, Arkansas, North Dakota, and Wisconsin are now leaning toward the GOP, but there are no Republican-held seats that lean toward the Democrats. So, in order for Republicans to take control of the Senate, they need to hold their two most vulnerable seats — Missouri and Kentucky — and also pick up at least five of these eight vulnerable Democratic-held seats: Colorado, Illinois, Nevada, Washington, California, West Virginia, Connecticut and Delaware. At this point, recent polling suggests that Republicans’ strongest opportunities are in Colorado, Illinois, West Virginia, and Nevada. In the House, we see 199 seats where Democrats are favored compared to 191 seats where Republicans are favored. That leaves 45 seats, 42 of which are held by Democrats, as the battleground for House control. In order for Democrats to retain control, they’d need to win 19 (or 42 percent) of those 45 toss up seats. Republicans would need to win slightly more – 27 (or 60 percent) to take control. WATCH ABC's Jonathan Karl and George Stephanopoulos discuss the new state of play on "Good Morning America."
NOTED: All the movement in the last couple of weeks has been toward Republicans. Seven Democratic-held seats we listed as Toss-Ups last week we’ve since moved to “Lean Republican.” As ABC’s Rick Klein reports, for the Dems, it’s all about playing defense: “A touchstone of 2010 is how small the Democrats' map has become. One reason the president is campaigning this week only in places he carried two years ago is that Democrats in many other parts of the country simply don't think he can help them out. The defensive stance aligns with Democrats' emerging efforts to construct a ‘firewall’ around their majority. If they can save Senate seats in places like Connecticut and Wisconsin, along with Democratic-held House seats in areas of the country such as New England and the Midwest, they stand a chance of holding on to their congressional majorities.” Check out ABC’s 2010 election maps.
ON TODAY’S “TOP LINE”: ABC’s Jonathan Karl and Rick Klein sit down with Maryland congressman and chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chris Van Hollen to talk about the party’s strategy between now and November. Karl and Klein also interview Chad Troutwine, producer and filmmaker of “Freakonomics,” which will be coming to a theater near you on October 1. Watch LIVE at 12:00 p.m. Eastern.
Woodward Roll Out. ABC’s Diane Sawyer sat down with Bob Woodward to talk about his new book, “Obama’s Wars,” in an exclusive interview that will air tonight on “World News” and “Nightline.” In their conversation, Woodward recalls a scene from the book in which Obama, frustrated by his aides’ deliberations on the road ahead in Afghanistan, dictates his own strategy six-page war strategy. "He said, 'I want everyone to look me in the eye and tell me they'll go along with this.' And he pushes them," Woodward said in the interview. "So he gets everyone to go along. But going along is not conviction. And that is part of the dilemma here for Barack Obama. He designed this." More from the exclusive sit-down: "If it turns out [that in] July of next year, nine months away, things are much better in Afghanistan, it seems to be working — he's going to be a geo-strategic genius. If it doesn't work, you've got all kinds of people — generals, Republicans, Democrats — who are going to say, 'Wait a minute.’ … This is Obama's war. He really became the strategist-in-chief."
The Fox Factor. What’s Fox News got to do with the coming 2012 Republican presidential primary? Actually quite a bit, as Politico’s Jonathan Martin and Keach Hagey point out: “With the exception of Mitt Romney, Fox now has deals with every major potential Republican presidential candidate not currently in elected office. “ The issue, which is already beginning to “frustrate” other networks, according to the report, comes down to “basic matters of political and journalistic fairness and propriety. With Fox effectively becoming the flagship network of the right and, more specifically, the tea party movement, the four Republicans it employs enjoy an unparalleled platform from which to speak directly to primary voters who will determine the party’s next nominee.”
Dems Go Negative. With scores of Democrats in extremely tight races across the country, ABC's Jake Tapper reports that more and more of them are "playing the only card they feel they have left" and going negative on the stump and in campaign ads. Just one example from Florida: "Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Fla. … did not serve in the military but that isn't stopping him from using an anonymous narrator in a TV ad to assail his Republican opponent for not having served either. 'It breaks an old soldier's heart to think that Daniel Webster could ever be elected to Congress,' says the narrator, whom the Grayson campaign had declined to identify. 'He doesn't love this country the way I do.'" WATCH Jake's take on the Democrats' strategy from "Good Morning America."
California Ouch. The San Francisco Chronicle over the weekend declined to endorse either candidate in the state’s hotly-contested Senate race between incumbent Democrat Barabara Boxer and former Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina. In its non-endorsement, the Chronicle lamented that Golden State voters face a “deeply unsatisfying choice for the U.S. Senate this year. The incumbent, Democrat Barbara Boxer, has failed to distinguish herself during her 18 years in office. … The challenger, Republican Carly Fiorina, has campaigned with a vigor and directness that suggests she could be effective in Washington — but for an agenda that would undermine this nation's need to move forward on addressing serious issues such as climate change, health care and immigration.”
THE NUMBER: 42%
President Obama’s approval rating, according to a new CNN/Opinion Research poll. That’s a new low for the president, according to the poll. Fifty-four percent of those surveyed said they disapprove of the job he is doing. The poll also found that “only 37 percent of likely voters say they are more likely to vote for a congressional candidate backed by Obama. In contrast, half of all likely voters now say they are likely to choose a candidate supported by the conservative Tea Party — contributing to the GOP's 53 to 44 percent lead when such voters are asked which party's candidate they will choose in November.”
Liberals On The Mall. In an effort to counter the momentum created by Glenn Beck, who successfully organized a gathering on the National Mall last month, several left-leaning groups are coming together for their own event this weekend. The New York Times’ Steven Greenhouse reports: “Predicting a crowd of more than 100,000, some 300 liberal groups — including the N.A.A.C.P., the A.F.L.-C.I.O., the National Council of La Raza and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force — are sponsoring a march on Saturday in the hope of transforming the national conversation so it focuses less on the Tea Party. The groups sponsoring the rally, which is called ‘One Nation Working Together,’ say they hope to supplant what they say is the Tea Party’s divisiveness with a message of unity to promote jobs, justice and education.”
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