By MICHAEL FALCONE and AMY WALTER
GREAT EXPECTATIONS. Perhaps no one was more pleased to see this Sunday's New York Times headline — “House Majority Remains Uncertain, Republicans Say” — than House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio. The man who told NPR in April that there were “at least 100 seats” in play. has, in recent weeks, been trying to downplay talk that Republicans will win enough seats to take control of Congress in November. Over the weekend, The Times’ Jeff Zeleny and Carl Hulse reported that “the resilience of vulnerable Democrats is complicating Republican efforts” to seize control of the House: “By now, Republicans had hoped to put away a first layer of Democrats and set their sights on a second tier of incumbents. But the fight for control of Congress is more fluid than it seemed at Labor Day, with Democrats mounting strong resistance in some parts of the country as they try to hold off a potential Republican wave in November. … Yet even as spending from outside groups is threatening to swamp many Democratic candidates, Republican strategists estimated that only half of the 39 seats they need to win control of the House were definitively in hand.” Keeping expectations in check allows Boehner to declare victory on Election Night regardless of the final outcome. But the expectations train has already left the station. Will anyone — the political press, K Street or his own party — allow Boehner to declare victory unless Republicans take control of the House?
SPEAKING OF EXPECTATIONS. The Democratic National Committee announced today that September was their most successful fundraising month of the year. They raked in more than $16 million last month, nearly $3 million more than their previous high in March. "Demonstrating the increased energy we've seen in the polls and among our grassroots activists, more than 80 percent of the more than $16 million we raised in September came from low dollar donors online and in the mail," DNC spokesman Brad Woodhouse said in a statement. "We've found that our supporters are now focused on the election, are responding to the president's message laying out the choice and understand the stakes."
The DNC’s fundraising haul is music to the ears of the White House, which has been emphasizing how Democrats are “beginning to make up the enthusiasm gap,” as White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer put it over the weekend. To keep up what the Democrats see as growing momentum heading into the final weeks before Election Day, President Obama will head back out on the campaign trail later in the week, making stops in New Jersey for a DNC dinner, followed by visits to Prince George’s County, Maryland to attend an event for Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley as well as Chicago to campaign for Senate candidate Alexi Giannoulias.
THE MAP TO NOVEMBER. With four weeks to go, two Democratic-held Senate seats, in West Virginia and Connecticut, are looking more vulnerable. Privately, political operatives on both sides agree West Virginia is more likely to flip. Polling in Alaska shows Lisa Murkowski in the hunt in a three-way race against Republican Joe Miller and Democrat Scott McAdams, but it’s not easy to accurately poll a write-in contender. And as Murkowski acknowledged in an interview in the New York Times Sunday magazine over the weekend, her campaign is still waiting on more information from Alaska elections officials about how they plan to “divine” voter intent on the ballot. Either way, McAdams, the Democrat who is running some pretty amusing ads, is still a long shot. Most of Murkowski’s vote is likely to come at his expense.
At this point we see five Democratic-held Senate seats leaning Republican: Arkansas, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, Indiana, and Wisconsin. There are no Republican held-seats leaning toward Democrats. In order for Republicans to win control of the Senate they’ll need to win five of these seven seats: Colorado, Illinois, Nevada, West Virginia, Connecticut, Washington and California. It’s still a stretch, but by no means impossible. There’s been no change to our House forecast. There are 199 seats leaning Democratic and 191 leaning to Republicans, with 45 toss ups. But, here’s when you know Democrats are in trouble: they send out polling memos that show their candidate ahead, but under 50 percent. At this point in the cycle, that’s a very dangerous place for an incumbent to be since undecided voters tend to break overwhelmingly toward the challenger. Check out ABC News’ 2010 Election Maps.
MILLER ON MINIMUM WAGE. Get rid of it, Alaska Senate candidate Joe Miller, said of the minimum wage in an interview with ABC’s Jonathan Karl and Politico’s Mike Allen. The pair of reporters asked Miller what it really means to reduce the size and scope of the federal government and ABC’s Karl reports on the Republican Senate contender’s response: “We asked him, for example, if there should be a federally mandated minimum wage, something that has existed since Congress passed the Fair Labor Standards Act in 1938. ‘That is clearly up to the states,’ Miller said. ‘The state of Alaska has a minimum wage which is higher than the federal level because our state leaders have made that determination. The minimum level again should be the state's decision.’ So there should not be a federal minimum wage? ‘There should not be,’ Miller answered. ‘That is not within the scope of the powers that are given to the federal government.’” WATCH more of Miller on today’s edition of “Top Line” at 12:00 p.m. Eastern along with a conversation with The Hill’s campaign reporter, Shane D'Aprile.
PRESIDENTIAL PLANNER. The main event on today's White House agenda is a meeting President Obama will hold with his Economic Recovery Advisory Board. ABC’s Sunlen Miller notes that a White House official says the president will announce Skills for America’s Future, "a new, industry-led initiative to dramatically improve industry partnerships with community colleges and build a nation-wide network of partnerships to maximize workforce development strategies, job training programs, and ultimately job placement." The president will also announce an accompanying task force to coordinate federal efforts and ensure the private sector is best positioned to leverage federal training and education efforts.
RIGHT PUNCH. The group RightChange, Inc., a conservative outfit that uses humorous animated videos to reach independent and right-leaning voters has expanded its midterm election push to include 68 House and 11 Senate candidates across the country. The group may be best known for its “Attack of the 50ft Pelosi” ad from the Pennsylvania 12th district special election earlier this year, but there’s more where that came from. RightChange has launched microsites for dozens of races this fall and plans to push out the ads through its growing Facebook community of 400,000-plus members, with Internet buys and with a planned 3 million targeted e-mails. Two of the top candidates in the group’s cross-hairs: Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid in Nevada and Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, the independent Senate candidate in Florida. An initial batch of microsites unveiled earlier in the campaign season has already received traction: a video reach of 5 million views, more than 38,000 links to RightChange.com from outside sites and 500 million impressions from Facebook, Google and YouTube ads. And RightChange says their work won’t be done after Election Day — they plan to be a player in the 2012 election cycle too.
ANGLE ON TAPE. Nevada Senate candidate Sharron Angle, whose outspoken views have landed her in hot water throughout her campaign to defeat Sen. Harry Reid, is in trouble again. Nevada political reporter Jon Ralston got his hands on an audio tape of Angle meeting with a third-party candidate and as ABC’s Jonathan Karl reports “Angle can be heard, both boasting about her clout in Washington and blasting Republican leaders for their lack of principles”: “‘The Republicans have lost their standards, they’ve lost their principles,’ Angle says. ‘Really that’s why the machine in the Republican Party is fighting against me. …They have never really gone along with lower taxes and less government.’ … Angle spokesman Jarred Agen offered this reaction to ABC News: ‘Sharron expressed what many working families in Nevada and across the country are feeling. They are angry with Harry Reid, they are angry with Washington DC, and they want blunt plain-spoken leaders who are willing to shake things up. Sharron represents the interests of Nevada, not the interests of Washington DC like Harry Reid does, and that's why she is going to win.’”
OBAMA ON THE AIR. President Obama taped his first political ad of the general election for Louisiana state legislator Cedric Richmond, who is running against incumbent Rep. Joseph Cao, R-La., in the state’s 2nd Congressional district. “The city of New Orleans has had its trials, but you’ve also had great champions, fighting to see you through the tough times — Cedric Richmond is one of those champions,” Mr. Obama says in the 30-second spot. “New Orleans needs Cedric Richmond in Congress, and so do I.” NOTED: Cao was the only House Republican to vote in favor of the Obama administration-led health care reform bill in November 2009.
THE NUMBER: $80 million
The amount that special interest groups have spent so far on the midterm elections, according to the Washington Post’s T.W. Farnam and Dan Eggen. That’s five times as much as interest groups spent during the last midterm cycle. More from the Post’s report: “In that election, the vast majority of money — more than 90 percent – was disclosed along with donors' identities. This year, that figure has fallen to less than half of the total, according to data analyzed by The Washington Post. …The bulk of the money is being spent by conservatives, who have swamped their Democratic-aligned competition by 7 to 1 in recent weeks. The wave of spending is made possible in part by a series of Supreme Court rulings unleashing the ability of corporations and interest groups to spend money on politics. Conservative operatives also say they are riding the support of donors upset with Democratic policies they perceive as anti-business.”
@SusanPage: After three decades of gains, the number of women in Congress is likely to fall this year: http://usat.ly/bGF7VK
@thegarance: Missed this one over the weekend — Linda McMahon's WWE once teamed with 'Girls Gone Wild' for porn-wrestling event http://politi.co/aK9lLH
@TerryMoran: Five Supreme Court justices went to mass together yesterday, a Catholic tradition in DC. Here's the homily they heard: http://bit.ly/clLd0i
@WestWingReport: Talk that WH press sec. Gibbs may wind up running the #DNC says something about Gibbs – but perhaps more about current chmn. Tim Kaine.
@markknoller: Finally, Fall arrives in DC. A chilly rain is falling this morning. No bright sunshine blinding you on the commute to work. Welcome Autumn.
DAY OF DEBATES. The two candidates vying for U.S. Senate in Connecticut, Democrat Richard Blumenthal and Republican Linda McMahon will debate at 7 p.m. tonight in a Hartford Courant/Fox61 televised debate. Ohio Senate candidates Republican Rob Portman and Democrat Lee Fisher will also square off at 7 p.m. Later this week, Ohio gubernatorial candidates Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland and Republican John Kasich will meet for a debate at Driscoll Alumni Center at the University of Toledo. Keep your eye on The Note Futures Calendar for all the political action between now and Election Day.
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