Today's Power Play: Chasing the Left Scares the Center

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The Democratic effort to build a firewall around the core of the Obama majority begins in earnest today as the president starts a week of campaigning aimed at reenergizing young voters.

Democrats and Republicans fought each other to a draw on economic legislation last week. The president will sign today a small business bill with targeted tax incentives and subsidized loans. But Democrats were not able to muster a majority for increasing taxes for high earners, including many small businesses.

As a result, Democrats are poised to leave town with the possibility of an enormous, across-the-board tax hike looming. That casts a pall on the limited small business bill and mitigates it as a Democratic success.

But the administration is done with its two-weeks of economic messaging, and none too soon. The president never found a real alternative to saying that "things were moving in the right direction" and expressing shared frustration at the saggy state of the economy.

Education reform is a happier subject for Obama. He gets good marks from liberals and conservatives for his efforts there. So the president got his friends at NBC to give him 30 minutes on every network in their organization - Oxygen, Bravo Telemundo, etc. - starting at 8 a.m.

The interviewer is Matt Lauer, whose hospitable questioning in his last interview with Obama in June actually got the president to talk about having advisors to tell him "whose ass [he] needs to kick."

Obama will then have a conference call with college journalists selected by the White House before heading to Albuquerque, N.M. for a backyard event. (Vice President Biden is doing a backyard campaign event in New Hampshire today).

Consider this the warm-up before Obama launches his 2008 reunion tour Tuesday.

The opening gig will be at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, perhaps the most favorable territory for the president - a very liberal college campus. The message will be that if students aren't "fired up and ready to go" that everything he has achieved with their help "will be jeopardized."

Campaign aides can only hope that the answer isn't a collective shrug. With wars still raging and a national health care program drafted in part by the pharmaceutical industry, there's lots to disillusion young liberals.

Wisconsin is part of a clutch of states - also including Illinois, Washington, California - the White House has targeted for 2010 in an effort to protect a Democratic majority in the Senate. They're also states in which the president can leverage his personal popularity to recreate the magic of 2008.

Wisconsin comes in for special attention because it is also key to Obama's 2012 reelection plans. He must hold on to voters in Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and Ohio is he hopes to win a second term. Ohio, Indiana and Michigan look like tough territory, so Obama must lock up the rest.

Meanwhile, Obama's campaign organization is urging members to come to D.C. Saturday for a huge liberal rally hosted by the AFL-CIO, the NAACP, the Service Employees International Union, La Raza, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the American Federation of Teachers, the Rainbow Push Coalition, the Campaign for America's Future, and others.

The assumption of Obama campaign manager David Plouffe is that by getting immigrant activists, minority pressure groups, unions and young people mobilized, Democrats can mitigate some of the enthusiasm gap with Republicans and at least limber up the machinery for 2012.

This is an acknowledgement that the president's approval and support for his policies is in dire condition.

A new Politico poll out this morning shows that President Obama scores worse on handling the economy than House Republicans and even House Democrats. Only 38 percent thought he deserved reelection. But perhaps worst for Obama, 42 percent of respondents thought of him as "very liberal" while only 19 percent thought of him as moderate.

The problem for Obama is that he rode to the presidency by running a vague but optimistic campaign. Now, liberals are crabby because Obama has not made "the oceans stop their rise" or delivered on other bits of campaign trail excess from his 2008 run.

But as the administration chases after them on college campuses and at protest marches, Obama risks for Democrats the most important part of their governing coalition - the moderate and independent voters who turned their way during George W. Bush's second term as president.

The time and effort team Obama is investing in trying to recreate the tingles of 2008 will yield low returns on Election Day. The newness and possibility of Obama has been replaced by a ordinariness and a call to learn to accept less. Hardly hope and change. And all agree that youth and minority turnout will be a sliver of what it was in 2008.

Meanwhile, an army of angry independents is heading to the polls with a desire to punish the party in power first in their minds.

Thanks to today's Power Play Crew: Kimberly Schwandt, April Girouard, Heidi Noonan, L.A. Holmes, Molly Mathews and Jason Donner

The Day in Quotes

"We have an electorate that doesn't always pay that much attention to what's going on so people are influenced by a simple slogan rather than the facts or the truth or what's happening."

--Sen. John Kerry (D-MA), quoted by the Boston Herald, explaining the root cause of Democrats' electoral woes.

"I put my foot knee-deep in his ass and he has been having a very difficult time sleeping peacefully since then."

-- Sandi Jackson, wife of Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. quoted by the Chicago Sun Times on her public disclosure that her husband had an affair and would not be running for mayor of Chicago.

"It's hard for me to recall when we had sanity, in order to restore it."

--Dick Cavett to Howard Kurtz on comedian Jon Stewart's Rally to Restore Sanity.

"I come from a family of 12. My dad owned a tavern. I've got two brothers that have been laid off in this recession and two brother-in-laws. I get it."

-- House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) on "FOX News Sunday."

"The American public heard from those Young Guns. It turned out to be a pop gun."

-- House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD).

"It's a lot better than starting drinking at 9 a.m. In 2006 and 2008, that's what a lot of Republicans did - happy talk. It is healthier for you [but it] doesn't make it true."

-- Republican pollster Glen Bolger quoted by Politico on Democratic promises of a Midwestern revival.

"I don't think the people of Nevada should be attacked for the choice they made in the primary. And the candidate is running dead even with the majority leader of the United States Senate."

-- Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) on "This Week" when pressed to comment on Sharron Angle's past statements labeled "extreme" by host Christiana Amanpour.

"We could have done some things better."

-- Senate Majority Leader Dick Durbin (D-IL) on "State of the Union."

"Republicans didn't lose our majority in 2006; we lost our way. We walked away from the principles of fiscal discipline and reform that minted our governing majority back in 1980 and again in 1994. And the American people walked away from us."

-- Rep. Mike Pence (D-IN) on "Meet the Press."

"Taliban Dan Webster: Hands off our body - and our laws."

-- Tag line on a new ad by Rep. Alan Grayson (D-FL) that accused his Republican challenger of "radical fundamentalism."

"I hope our viewers won't judge me by the comments that have just been made. They're a little biased."

-- Sen. John McCain in Sunday night's Arizona Senate Debate after his Democratic, Green and Libertarian opponents all used their closing statements to attack him.

"I think she's afraid."

- Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) on "FOX News Sunday" offering his view on why Speaker Nancy Pelosi will not bring a tax cut bill to the House floor this week."[W]hat it gets down to is we can count and we know we don't have 60 votes for our tax position."

-- Dick Durbin on CNN explaining why Senate Democratic leaders will not allow a vote on tax rates before the election.

"It is a possibility, and to me, it's the surest way to send America back into a second dip of a recession."

-- Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) on "State of the Union" about the chances that Congress could end the year without passing any tax extensions.

"I'm having a bad hair day."

-- Illinois U.S. Senate candidate Alex Giannoulias (D) on why he was having a conference call with reporters instead of a news conference. "We've blooded them up and sent them back to him in a package."

-- New York Republican gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino on CNN explaining that his critics are "surrogates" doing Democratic opponent Cuomo's "dirty work."

"I think his testimony was not appropriate. I think it was an embarrassment for Mr. Colbert more than the House."

- House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer on "Fox News Sunday" talking about Friday's appearance by comedian Stephen Colbert testifying about immigration in front of a House Judiciary subcommittee.

"Never say never."

-- Soon-to-be-former South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford to the Wall Street Journal, leaving the door open for a future return to politics.

Poll Check - Senate Survey Roundup; Republican Surge for Mass. Governor

Horse Race in Kentucky; Blowout in Ohio; Boxer Shows Strength; Reid and Angle tied; GOP Blowout in Fla.

SurveyUSA: Republican Rand Paul and Democrat Jack Conway neck-and-neck in Kentucky - Paul 49, Conway 47

University of Cincinnati: Republican Rob Portman thrashing Dem Lee Fisher by 15 points.

Los Angeles Times/University of Southern California: Sen. Barbara Boxer at 51 percent, an 8-point lead over Republican Carly Fiorina.

Mason-Dixon: Sen. Harry Reid and Republican Sharron Angle tied at 43 percent.

Mason-Dixon: Florida Republican Marco Rubio 40 percent; independent Charlie Crist 28 percent; Democrat Kendrick Meek 23 percent.

Perry: Under 50 but Sitting Pretty?

In Texas, Gov. Rick Perry leads Democratic challenger Bill White 46 percent to 39 percent in a new Dallas Morning News poll.

No incumbent likes to be below 50 percent so close to an election, and with 15 percent of voters still up for grabs, Perry can't take anything for granted.

Perry, though, was even in the poll with White in the Democrat's hometown of Houston, which he ran as a popular three-term mayor. If White can't run up the score there, he's probably not going to close the gap.

Indy Bid May Not Save Patrick in Mass.

A new Boston Globe poll put Republican Charlie Baker in a dead heat with Democrat Gov. Deval Patrick in Massachusetts - down from a 7-point lead for Patrick in June.

Patrick is unpopular but not any more so -- his approval rating has remained at 40 percent. The real reason for Baker's success is the collapse in support for independent candidate Tim Cahill.

Cahill, elected state treasurer as a Democrat, once polled in the mid 20s in the governor's race but now clocks in with 11 percent.

Independent candidates must reach a point of critical mass with voters before the home stretch of an election or their would-be supporters tend to fall away, fearing a wasted vote. That moment may have arrived for Cahill.2012 Watch

Haley Barbour to New Hampshire

Republican John Stephen is bringing in the chairman of the Republican Governors Association to support his bid for governor in New Hampshire.

Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, a potential presidential candidate, is attending a fundraising breakfast for Stephen today in Manchester. He'll also hold a news conference with Stephen to discuss New Hampshire's race for governor and the national political environment.

Electoral Votes Shift Away from Northeast

Election Data Services, which forecasts how census results will play out in the next apportionment of House seats and presidential electoral votes, has a new study that shows New York will lose two votes and that Florida will gain two - leaving the states even with 27 electoral votes each,

It reflects an over trend of a shift in power to the South. States likely to lose electors include Massachusetts and New Jersey while gains are expected for Texas and Utah.

For Republicans, having Florida equal to New York is good news for their 2012 aspirations.

Where's Campaign Carl?

Dem On Defense In Washington Senate Race

In a year when having a "D" next to your name could stand for "doom," three term Senator and Democrat, Patty Murray is in a tight race to defend her seat against former state senator and two-time candidate for governor, Republican Dino Rossi. The "mom in tennis shoes" is running scared and going negative. Dino Rossi is well known and well funded. He's run for state office before, including a historic loss in the state's closest gubernatorial race. If Republicans hope to win the ten pickup seats for the Senate majority, this is a must-win state.

Carl Cameron will be live from Seattle throughout the day.

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