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Tim Pawlenty collects cash in advance of 2012 race

1. Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R) raised almost $800,000 into his federal political action committee and two state-based organizations over the past three months, the latest in a series of increasingly obvious signs of his presidential ambitions.

The vast majority of Pawlenty's fundraising between July 1 and September 30 -- $565,000 -- came via his Freedom First federal PAC. The governor also brought in $135,000 for his Iowa-based state PAC and another $86,000 for a similar state PAC in New Hampshire.

For the year, Pawlenty has raked in better than $1.8 million through Freedom First, a solid total although he does trail the cash collection operation of former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin ($2.5 million raised through Sept. 30) and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney ($3.6 million raised through the end of August) -- both of whom are considering presidential bids of their own.

(Pawlenty allies argue that his third quarter fundraising totals are even stronger than they might appear at first glance because he spent a week in Iraq and Afghanistan and also led a week-long trade mission to China during the period.)

Pawlenty doled out more than $113,000 in contributions from his PACs to candidate and state parties -- donations that have his 2012 ambitions written all over them -- during the third quarter. He contributed to the Republican House candidates in Iowa's 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th districts, made a $3,500 donation to the South Carolina Republican Party and gave $5,000 each to Kelly Ayotte, Frank Guinta and Charlie Bass as well as the New Hampshire Republican Party. Ayotte is the Republican Senate nominee in New Hampshire while Guinta and Bass are seeking the Granite State's 1st and 2nd districts, respectively. (Pawlenty will be in New Hampshire on Saturday to raise money for Bass and Executive Councilor Ray Burton.)

Today Pawlenty will announce a slew of Michigan endorsements -- backing candidates in the state's 1st, 2nd, 4th, 7th, 9th, 11th and 15th districts. Each candidate will receive a $1,000 donation from Pawlenty's PAC.

All of the action by Pawlenty makes clear -- yet again -- that he is an all-but-announced candidate for president in 2012. While the race has been somewhat slow to develop as compared to past primary fights, expect the pace to pick up significantly after Nov. 2 with Tpaw playing a leading role.

2. Louisiana Rep. Charlie Melancon (D) has climbed to within seven points of Sen. David Vitter (R) in the state's Senate race, according to a new poll for the Democrat's campaign.

The Anzalone Liszt survey, which surveyed 600 likely voters between Oct. 9 and 12, shows Vitter at 49 percent and Melancon at 42 percent. That's slightly closer than another Democratic poll -- this one paid for by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee -- had Melancon last month.

The campaign says the poll shows Melancon closing strongly since a previous internal poll in September, when Vitter was exploiting his financial advantage to drastically outspend Melancon on the airwaves. Melancon has been on television heavily in recent weeks.

Melancon has faced a significant cash deficit throughout the race, and the contest hasn't reached the point where the DSCC has been willing to commit funds to it -- particularly in a conservative-minded state like Louisiana in a year like this one. Instead the party has focused its finances mostly on defense and on pickup opportunities in Missouri and Kentucky.

Still, Melancon's campaign sees plenty of promise among the undecideds, which, they argue, include large numbers of black voters, who tend to vote Democratic. His supporters also think Melancon can do well among whites who are undecided, making the case that those voters are withholding support from Vitter in protest over his prostitution scandal.

The latest Melancon poll paints a far rosier picture for their candidate than other public data, however. In the Real Clear Politics polling average, Vitter holds a 15-point average edge.

3. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is launching its first TV ads in the Nevada Senate race, according to ad buyers and GOP sources, a
development that signals the committee's concern about and commitment to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

The new ad buy comes just days after former Nevada Assemblywoman Sharron Angle (R) announced that she had raised an astounding $14 million over the last three months, bringing her into financial parity (at worst) with Reid.

Reid and Angle have been running close for month. The latest poll in the race, released Wednesday and conducted by Suffolk University, showed Reid taking 46 percent to Angle's 43 percent among likely voters.

Reid has yet to release his third-quarter fundraising numbers, but the Democrat will almost certainly fall far short of Angle's stellar haul. That fact -- combined with the onslaught of ads run by conservative outside groups including American Crossroads, the Club for Growth and the Tea Party Express targeting Reid -- likely forced the DSCC's hand.

4. A quartet of new CNN/Time/Opinion Research polls brings mixed news for Democrats in key Senate races.

In the closely contested Washington Senate race, Sen. Patty Murray (D) leads former state Sen. Dino Rossi (R) 51 percent to 43 percent among likely voters.

In the Wisconsin Senate race, Sen. Russ Feingold (D) is in decidedly worse shape as businessman Ron Johnson (R) holds a 52 percent to 44 percent edge among likely voters.

The CNN survey in West Virginia shows Gov. Joe Manchin (D) tied with
businessman John Raese (R) in the race for the seat of the late Sen. Robert Byrd (D); the two Senate hopefuls take 44 percent each.

In the Delaware Senate race, New Castle County Executive Chris Coons (D) continues to hold a comfortable lead over marketing consultant Christine O'Donnell (R), taking 57 percent to O'Donnell's 38 percent among likely voters.

The polls also showed that President Barack Obama continues to struggle, even in heavily Democratic states. He received a job approval rating of just 32 percent in West Virginia, 44 percent in Wisconsin, 47 percent in Delaware and 48 percent in Washington State.

5. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is canceling all of its remaining ad reservations in Rep. Steve Kagen's (D-Wis.) district, according to sources.

The committee argued that it pulled its buys because of existing ad reservations from the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) and the America's Families First Action Fund, two Democratic-leaning organizations that should supplement what Kagen will have on the air.

Republicans suggested the move was a sign Kagen is in serious electoral trouble. They pointed out there are other competitive districts where third-party groups are spending money and the DCCC has not pulled its ads.

"We are fully invested in Steve Kagen's voter contact efforts and remain confident he will win on election night," DCCC Chairman Chris Van Hollen told The Fix.

Kagen's is the at least the ninth district where the DCCC has canceled its remaining ad buys this week. The committee canceled buys in six districts that appear to be lost: Reps. Kathy Dahlkemper (D-Pa.), Suzanne Kosmas (D-Fla.) and Steve Driehaus (D-Ohio), as well as Tennessee's open 8th district, Indiana's open 8th district and Kansas' open 3rd district. It has also pulled out of two other districts where the party is now confident of victory: Rep. Joseph Cao's (R-La.) district and Rep. Betty Sutton's (D-Ohio).

The DCCC this week has spent $6.3 million in 38 districts, according to reports filed late Tuesday with the Federal Election Commission.

By Chris Cillizza  | October 14, 2010; 6:00 AM ET
Categories:  Morning Fix  
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Next: Missouri Senate race moves to "Lean Republican"

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