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Tim Pawlenty collects cash for candidates in Oregon, Nevada

1. Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty will raise money for two aspiring gubernatorial candidates on the West Coast on Friday as he continues to use his role as vice chairman of the Republican Governors Association to boost candidates this fall and help position himself for a near-certain run for president in 2012.

Pawlenty will be in Oregon Friday morning to collect cash for former NBA player Chris Dudley's race against former Gov. John Kitzhaber (D) and then will travel to Las Vegas for a dinner fundraiser to benefit former federal judge Brian Sandoval, a strong favorite this fall against Clark County Commission Chairman Rory Reid (D).

In addition to raising money for Dudley and Sandoval, Pawlenty will donate $5,000 from his Freedom First PAC to each man's campaign.

Pawlenty's aggressiveness in regards the 2012 race is no secret -- he has been a regular visitor to Iowa and New Hampshire over the past six months or so and has doled out thousands of dollars to candidates via his PAC -- but one aspect of the growing of his national profile that is often overlooked is his work at the RGA.

Pawlenty, who has used that perch to travel the country in support of aspiring governors, is often in the considerable shadow of RGA Chairman Haley Barbour who is also, not coincidentally, taking a hard look at a 2012 bid.

While Barbour receives the vast majority of the attention for the successes of the RGA this cycle -- and rightly so -- Pawlenty has also benefited from this elevated post, not only meeting and helping candidates from around the country but also getting critical face time with the GOP donors who make up the backbone of any serious presidential bid.

Both Dudley and Sandoval are regarded as potential stars if they can win their respective races this fall. Sandoval seems the likelier bet given Nevada's political environment and the difficulty Reid is having distancing himself from his father -- Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid -- who is also on the ballot this fall. Dudley, who played for the Portland Trail Blazers for six seasons, is an unorthodox candidate in a Democratic state but nonetheless draws rave reviews from Republican strategists.

2. Florida Gov. Charlie Crist (I) leads the state's open Senate race regardless of who wins the Democratic nomination, according to a new independent poll.

The latest Quinnipiac University poll shows Crist leading former state House Speaker Marco Rubio (R) 39 percent to 32 percent with Rep. Kendrick Meek (D) in the race, or 40 percent to 32 percent with businessman Jeff Greene as the Democratic nominee -- a statistically insignificant difference.

Meek is the favorite in the primary on Tuesday but Democrats in the state believe it may be easier for the party to line up behind Crist if Greene is the party's nominee.

The poll also shows Crist's favorability numbers rebounding a bit; he now stands at 53 percent favorable and 33 percent unfavorable. That's better than Rubio (35 percent favorable, 28 percent unfavorable) and far better than both Democrats.

In the state's governor's race, state CFO Alex Sink (D) has strengthened her hand in the Q poll thanks to a nasty GOP battle between state Attorney General Bill McCollum and former health care executive Rick Scott.

Sink takes 31 percent to 29 percent for McCollum and stands at 33 percent to 29 percent for Scott in hypothetical general election matchups. In both races, independent candidate Bud Chiles, the son of former Democratic Gov. Lawton Chiles, is at 12 percent.

The most disconcerting thing for Republicans in the governor's race is that McCollum's and Scott's favorability numbers have taken a big hit. Scott's favorable rating is 28 percent, compared to 40 percent viewing him in an unfavorable light while McCollum is at 33 percent favorable, 43 percent unfavorable.

3. A new poll shows the Kentucky Senate race between state Attorney General Jack Conway (D) and ophthalmologist Rand Paul (R) in a dead heat.

The Braun Research survey shows Conway taking 42 percent to Paul's 41 percent among likely voters. Sixteen percent of likely voters are undecided. The survey follows one released earlier this week by Reuters/Ipsos showing Paul leading Conway 45 percent to 40 percent among likely voters.

The Braun survey showed that 55 percent of likely voters view Conway favorably, while 23 percent view him unfavorably. Paul, meanwhile, is viewed favorably by 47 percent of likely voters and unfavorably by 36 percent of likely voters.

The poll also shows that President Obama's approval rating in the state is dismal: 40 percent of likely voters approved of the job he's doing, while 58 percent disapproved.

Democrats view Kentucky as one of their better pickup chances this fall because the at-times controversial Paul. Sen. Jim Bunning (R) is not seeking re-election.

4. West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin (D) raised more than $400,000 in his first month as a Senate candidate while Sen. David Vitter's (R-La.) primary opponent continues to struggle for funds.

West Virginia and Louisiana both hold their primaries next Saturday, and pre-primary FEC reports were due in both Senate races this week.

Manchin has raised $420,000 and spent little of it, leaving him with $380,000 in the bank, as of Aug. 8. His likely GOP opponent, businessman John Raese, raised $30,000, donated $120,000 of his own money and had just $9,000 cash on hand.

Raese, who is expected to self-fund extensively, has contributed $200,000 more to his campaign since the end of the filing period.

In Louisiana, Vitter's primary opponent, former state Supreme Court Justice Chet Traylor, raised just $40,000 for the period between July 1 and Aug. 8 -- less than one-10th what the incumbent collected during that time. Traylor had said he hoped to raise $1 million for the primary, but this report shows he will come nowhere near that sort of sum.

Vitter raised $500,000 in the five-week period while Democratic Rep. Charlie Melancon raised $233,000. Vitter has a $5.4 million-to-$2.2 million edge over Melancon in cash on hand.

5. Got plans today from 10:30 a.m. and noon? Cancel them!

At 10:30 we unveil the winner of our "Worst Week in Washington" competition in a live video chat. (Technology!)

Then from 11 to noon we round up an amazing -- and amazingly busy week -- in political Washington with our "Live Fix" chat.

Can't get enough of Fix chats? We can help you. We now field questions live online for 30 minutes on Mondays and Wednesdays not to mention the full 60 minutes on Fridays.

You can check them all out here.

With Aaron Blake and Felicia Sonmez

By Chris Cillizza  | August 20, 2010; 6:15 AM ET
Categories:  Morning Fix  
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Next: The expanding Senate playing field

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