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Should Democrats run to or from President Obama?

1. In recent days national Democratic officials have continued to insist that candidates should run on the record compiled by the party over the past 20 months even as there is growing evidence that the most vulnerable Members of Congress are doing just the opposite.

"I don't tell people how to run their races, but I've been on a ballot seven times and won seven races, and in my experience, you ought to be proud of what you're doing and promote the accomplishments," Democratic National Committee Chairman Tim Kaine told CNN's Candy Crowley on Sunday.

Kaine has previously said it is "foolish" for Democrats to try and run from the record of the 111th Congress and called Members unwilling to stand up for their party "crazy".

One senior Administration official offered a slightly more measured read during an interview Friday. "People ought to run on what they believe," said the source who insisted that reforming the health care industry and financial sector can be winning issues this fall.

And yet, there is evidence everywhere on the campaign trail that candidates are doing just the opposite of that. The latest -- and perhaps most striking example -- came late last week in a new ad for Texas Rep. Chet Edwards' (D) campaign.

"When President Obama and Nancy Pelosi pressured Chet Edwards, Chet stood up to them and voted against their trillion dollar health care bill and no to cap and trade," says the ad's narrator.

For Edwards, running from national Democrats may be his only course of action in a district central Texas district where Obama won just 32 percent of the vote.

But, for many other targeted incumbent who have more Democratic base voters in their district -- Virginia Rep. Glenn Nye being a prime example -- how to handle the national party is a tricky game.

Run from the party and worry that your base stays home, which could doom you. Run with the party and worry that independents abandon you in droves, which could doom you.

With 43 days left before the November election, there's no clear consensus on what the right approach will be. And that means it's likely to be every man (and woman) for themselves over the final six weeks of the 2010 campaign.

2. Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) took to CNN on Sunday morning to defend her decision, announced Friday night, to run as a write-in candidate this fall after she was defeated in her primary by attorney Joe Miller (R).

Murkowski told CNN's Candy Crowley that a write-in bid is "absolutely a part" of the electoral process. "I am listening to my constituents," Murkowski said. "That's what it's all about. It's not trying to make the Republican Party happy."

She took aim at "tea party" kingmaker Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C) and the Sacramento-based Tea Party Express, casting them as outside influences who tried to sway the results of the election.

"Let me tell you, Jim DeMint or the Tea Party Express coming out of California, far be it for them to determine whether or not the senator representing the people of Alaska is conservative enough for them," Murkowski said.

(Worth noting: DeMint has been instrumental in the victories of many tea party-backed candidates this cycle, but he endorsed Miller after his primary victory in Alaska. Rather, it was former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (R) and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R) -- Murkowski's long-standing political rival -- who gave Miller a national boost.)

Murkowski acknowledged that running as a write-in poses a significant hurdle. No candidate has waged a successful write-in campaign for Senate since South Carolina Sen. Strom Thurmond (R) in 1954; several of Murkowski's fellow Alaskans, including former Sen. Ernest Gruening (D) in 1968, have attempted write-in candidacies and come up short.

But Murkowski has advantages that some of those candidates did not have, including high name identification and about $1 million remaining in her campaign war chest, according to aides.

Murkowski will face Miller and Sitka Mayor Scott McAdams (D) in November. Miller told Fox News Sunday's Chris Wallace that his 2,000-vote primary win was "resounding."

3. Pennsylvania Democratic Rep. Joe Sestak is up with a new ad in the state's open Senate race that goes after former Rep. Pat Toomey (R) for his Wall Street ties.

The ad notes that Toomey's work in the financial sector and says that he "got rich as Wall Street's top lobbyist".

The ad then transitions into a biography spot -- detailing Sestak's career of service in the Navy, including how he "led a carrier battle group with 15,000 soldiers into combat." The ad also notes Sestak became a three-star admiral.

"A lifetime of serving our country versus a lifetime of serving Wall Street," the ad concludes.

Toomey's work on Wall Street has been the Democrats' main line of attack in the race with the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee also airing ads that make the case.

Recent polling shows Toomey with a lead of between six and 10 points, however, and the race is ranked as the fourth most likely to switch party control in our latest Friday Senate Line.

4. A new poll shows Washington Democratic Sen. Patty Murray besting former state Sen. Dino Rossi (R) in the Washington Senate race, the second such poll in the past week.

The Ellway Research poll showed that 50 percent of registered voters back Murray and 41 percent support Rossi.

The survey comes on the heels of a poll last week that showed Murray leading Ross by the exact same margin. Washington Republicans took issue with that poll, however, claiming it was an outlier and noting that most other reliable polling that's been done on the race shows Murray and Rossi in a dead heat.

Rossi went up with his latest TV ad of the race last week, a 30-second spot charging that "after 18 years in Washington, D.C., Patty Murray really has nothing more to offer than to attack me."

Murray's latest commercial slams Rossi for stating that he would support repealing the financial regulatory reform bill.

Both national parties are gearing up to spend heavily on the race, one that along with California and Wisconsin is considered part of Democrats' trio of firewall states. The National Republican Senatorial Committee has reserved $2.5 million in TV time, while the National Democratic Senatorial Committee has reserved $2 million.

5. Pennsylvania Republican Rep. Charlie Dent holds a double-digit lead over Bethlehem Mayor John Callahan, according to a new poll conducted for the Allentown Morning Call.

The Muhlenberg College poll on Sunday showed Dent leading Callahan 49 percent to 38 percent. (That's down one point since another survey done in April). Independent candidate Jake Towne, who Democrats hope will steal votes from Dent, is at just 3 percent, and the poll shows Dent actually expands his lead slightly in a straight head-to-head matchup with Callahan.

Towne's showing in the poll provides Dent another break, because he needed to crack 5 percent in order to earn a spot in a debate between the candidates next month at Muhlenberg. Now, he will not be able to take part.

Dent's campaign also appears to have driven up Callahan's negatives substantially in recent months. While 13 percent disapproved of Callahan in April, that number is now 29 percent.

Democrats consider Dent one of their top five targets in the House as they attempt to remain on offense in at least a few districts around the country.

By Chris Cillizza  | September 20, 2010; 8:00 AM ET
Categories:  Morning Fix  
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