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Is Ohio slipping from Democrats' grasp?

1. New numbers out of Ohio from Quinnipiac University show Republicans running away with the gubernatorial and Senate races even as Democrats insist that they are still in the game in this most critical of electoral battlegrounds.

The Q poll showed former Rep. John Kasich (R) leading Gov. Ted Strickland (D) by 17 points and former Rep. Rob Portman (R) ahead of Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher (D) by 20.

Democrats are adamant that the numbers -- particularly in the governor's race -- are flat wrong, pointing out that a CNN/Time survey in the field at around the same time showed Kasich up only seven points. And, according to internal poll numbers obtained by the Fix, a Strickland survey in the field from Sept. 12-14, showed the race Kasich 48 percent, Strickland 45 percent.

Strickland allies note that the campaign made a strategic decision in August to husband their resources for the fall stretch run, essentially handing the airwaves over to the Republican Governors Association, which spent nearly $3 million on ads hitting Strickland on the job losses in the state during his first four years as governor.

Strickland has been on television for the last three weeks -- with ads pounding Kasich on his Wall Street ties -- and went up yesterday with a positive spot touting his work on job creation.

There is less disagreement regarding the Senate race where Democrats concede that Portman has opened up a consistent lead over Fisher -- thanks in no small part to a massive fundraising advantage that has allowed the Republican to flood the airwaves with ads over the past month or so. It seems likely that Portman's lead is in the high single digits rather than the 20-point margin that the Q poll suggests.

There is no debate regarding the centrality of Ohio to Democrats' chances in the fall election. In addition to the competitive Senate and governor's races, there are as many as six Democratic-held House seats in play -- districts where Democratic incumbents need the top of the ticket to perform competitively if they want to hold their seats.

As Ohio goes, may go the entire country. Democrats gained large amounts of political ground in the state in 2006 and 2008 but are struggling to hold it with the state's economy still struggling in the runup to this midterm election. Can they stop the pendulum from swinging back to Republicans?

2. Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski remains undecided about whether or not to run as a write-in candidate this fall but will make the decision on her political future public later today.

Speculation ran rampant in the hours leading up to the Murkowski announcement, which is expected at 9 p.m. tonight in Alaska. "Most folks are putting away their stamps; if she decided to go ahead with a write-in, it would be the latest whiplash moment in a campaign season chock-full of neckbraces," one source said.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee released a statement Thursday evening ahead of Murkowski's official statement. "Alaska's voters have spoken, and have chosen Joe Miller as their Republican U.S. Senate nominee," said NRSC communications director Brian Walsh. "If Senator Murkowski is truly committed to doing 'what is right' for her state, then we hope that she will step forward and fully endorse Joe Miller's candidacy."

Murkowski has been mulling a write-in bid since her stunning defeat in the Aug. 24 primary against Miller, a little-known attorney whose candidacy was buoyed by "tea party" support as well as an endorsement by former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R). Murkowski had told reporters as recently as Thursday that she had not made up her mind regarding a bid.

If Murkowski exits the race, the path ahead would be clear for Miller in his general election race against the Democratic nominee, Sitka Mayor Scott McAdams. Democrats had been hoping for a Murkowski bid since it would likely split the Republican vote in the heavily GOP state, but without Murkowski, Miller would be the heavy favorite in November.

3. The non-partisan Cook Political Report has moved the Connecticut Senate race from "Lean Democratic" to "Toss Up" in the wake of a new independent poll showing state Attorney General Richard Blumenthal's (D) lead over his Republican rival, Linda McMahon, narrowing to the single digits.

In changing the race rating, Cook Political Report Senior Editor Jennifer Duffy noted that Democrats' argument against McMahon rests solely on her tenure at the helm of World Wrestling Entertainment.

Wrote Duffy:

"Wrestling will remain a topic for the next seven weeks and eventually either Blumenthal or a Democratic independent expenditure campaign will start airing television ads devoted to wrestling. Still, given how omnipresent wrestling has been in the race for months, we are surprised that it hasn't done more damage to McMahon. While her favorable/unfavorable ratings are certainly higher than is desirable, she continues to make progress in the race."

As The Fix noted earlier this week, the wrestling issue appears to cut both ways for McMahon.

In the latest Quinnipiac University poll on the race, 20 percent of likely voters said that McMahon's work at WWE made them more likely to vote for her while 33 percent said it made the less likely to support her; 47 percent of voters said it didn't matter. That would suggest that at a time when anti-establishment sentiment is running high, McMahon's tenure in the professional wrestling world could actually be an asset among some voters.

The race rating change came on the same day that President Barack Obama made a visit to the Nutmeg State on behalf of Blumenthal.

"I can see how somebody who's been in professional wrestling would think that they're right at home in the United States Senate, if the were watching some of the behavior that's been going on," Obama told the crowd. "But the truth is -- and Dick understands this -- public service is not a game."

4. Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin heads to Iowa today to headline the state Republican Party's Ronald Reagan Day Dinner -- a trip that's certain to spark speculation that the former Alaska governor is mulling a 2012 bid.

The event marks Palin's second trip to the Hawkeye State this cycle (her previous visit was in December 2009, as part of her book tour). That's fewer trips than most other potential 2012 presidential hopefuls have made, including Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R), who has made five visits, and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who has visited the state seven times.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R) has visited Iowa only once so far this cycle and is slated to make a second visit on October 26 to stump for Republican gubernatorial nominee Terry Branstad.

Earlier this week, Palin delivered a speech at the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs' annual Liberty Gala in Tulsa (Okla.) where she a told a crowd of about 1,000 that "the time for choosing is very near and it is time to put aside the internal struggle power grabs."

What message will Palin bring to Iowa Republicans? And will she be putting in any more face time with state GOP operatives and activists -- a must for any candidate who wants to compete in the first-in-the-nation caucuses)?

(Live coverage of the event will kick off on C-SPAN at 8 p.m. Eastern).

5. California Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) is up with her second TV ad of the general election, a 30-second spot that takes aim at her Carly Fiorina's (R) tenure as CEO of Hewlett Packard.

The ad features footage of Fiorina saying, "I'm proud of what I did at HP" and concludes with a narrator intoning: "Carly Fiorina. Outsourcing jobs. Out for herself."

Fiorina's camp responded by launching a web video taking aim at Boxer's long tenure in Washington.

The ad marks a stark shift from Boxer's first ad, released days ago, in which she touted her record and work on behalf of California veterans, students and workers.

Recent polling shows Fiorina and Boxer running neck-and-neck
; the state is considered one of three firewall states (along with Wisconsin and Washington) that Democrats must hold to preserve their Senate majority in the fall.

With Felicia Sonmez

By Chris Cillizza  | September 17, 2010; 7:10 AM ET
Categories:  Morning Fix  
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