8 a.m. ET: Since the day President Obama was sworn into office riding a wave of political momentum and goodwill, the press has kept an eye out for evidence that -- pick your metaphor -- the honeymoon is over, the smooth sailing has ended and the bloom is off the rose.
Today's fuel for the "fading Obama" fire -- candidate recruitment, or lack thereof. The Fix writes, "The White House's vaunted political operation has struggled in the early months of the 2010 cycle," pointing out Team Obama's failure to get Lisa Madigan in the Illinois Senate contest and its inability to keep primary challengers out of the Senate races in New York and Pennsylvania. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin also disappointed some Democrats by deciding to stay in South Dakota's lone House seat.
On the flip side, Republicans are having at least some success persuading their top recruits to jump in the fray, headlined by Mark Kirk's indications yesterday that he would make the Illinois Senate race. The GOP is also cheered by Kelly Ayotte's burgeoning bid for Senate in New Hampshire. According to The Hill, "Public anxiety over the economy, stocks in decline, rising unemployment and a string of expensive Democratic initiatives are all encouraging high-caliber Republicans to compete in 2010." And Politico writes, "independent voters are deserting [Obama] nationally and especially in key swing states, recent polls suggest." (Not really, The Fix says.)
What's going on here? Are top Democrats really snubbing Obama personally by refusing to run (or not run) for higher office? Probably not. For all the talk of the vaunted, Karl Rove-led political operation of the Bush White House, that regime had its share of recruiting failures as well. The bottom line is that it's not personal. Candidates will run if they think it makes sense for them to do so, and if they think they can win, not just because they're doing a favor for the president. So if top Democrats really don't want to aim for higher office and Republicans really do -- and it's way too early to identify a definitive trend -- then that may be a commentary on Obama's weakened political state. Or it could just reflect the fact that the economy is still shaky, the president's party typically loses seats in the mid-term elections and Democrats may be near the natural ceiling of how many House and Senate seats they can hold.
Obama is preoccupied with other issues today, continuing his series of meetings at the G-8 summit in Italy. This morning, the G-8 leaders met with the Group of Five (keeping all these numbers straight?), which includes the fastest-developing market economies. Those developing countries made it difficult for the larger group to agree on a sweeping plan to cut greenhouse gases yesterday, resulting instead in a much less ambitious deal struck by a smaller group of industrialized countries. At one point yesterday, the washingtonpost.com headline was "G-8 Reaches Climate Deal," and the nytimes.com headline was, "G-8 Fails to Reach Climate Deal," and both stories were right. Sort of.
The picture is also mixed on health care, as the administration is "confronting deep dissension on several fronts within Democratic ranks and possible defections among key constituencies," the Washington Post writes. The White House has struck much-ballyhooed agreements with the pharmaceutical and hospital industries, but the details remain elusive, and it's not clear that all the interested parties -- particularly House Democrats -- are on board. In the Senate, Harry Reid met with a quartet of Republicans yesterday to reassure them that he is still courting their votes for a reform bill. Reid also remains opposed to taxing employer-provided health benefits, blowing a huge hole in Democrats' efforts to pay for the package's expected massive price tag.
In scandal news, remember John Ensign? It seems like so long ago, in those innocent days before Mark Sanford went to Argentina and Sarah Palin quit, that the political world was briefly obsessed with Ensign's Vegas Love Triangle. Well, the story is back with a vengeance, now that Doug Hampton has spoken publicly for the first time about the affair Ensign had with his wife. Hampton alleged that Tom Coburn encouraged Ensign to pay the Hamptons off, which Coburn denies. The wronged husband also claimed that Ensign paid his wife a $25,000 severance when she left her job on the Nevadan's campaign, which could be a violation of campaign finance laws. Ensign's spokesman said Hampton was "consistently false" during the interview but didn't specifically address the severance allegation. And since we've already seen Sanford's love notes, now we also can read Ensign's letter to his former paramour confessing his sins. Which politician said it better? Sound off in the comments section below.
July 9, 2009; 8:00 AM ET
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