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White House attempting to elevate American Crossroads

1. The White House and its allies are focusing on the campaign spending of outside quasi-political organizations -- most notably American Crossroads -- in the final weeks of the 2010 midterms, trying to turn these groups into bogeymen for voters.

"These groups deserve a lot more scrutiny because they're not bit players," said David Plouffe, who managed Obama's 2008 campaign, at a round table for reporters Thursday. "I think our candidates have been spending a lot of time on this, the President's talked about this, we're going to continue to raise this."

And, at a campaign stop in Maryland on Thursday, the President himself devoted a considerable amount of time to groups like American Crossroads, the idea for which came from former Bush White House senior adviser Karl Rove and former Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie, and the Chamber of Commerce, both of which he argued are unduly influencing the election.

"This is a threat to our democracy," said Obama at a rally for Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley (D). "The American people deserve to know who's trying to sway their elections."

Obama also cited statistics -- first reported by NBC's "First Read" -- that Republican-aligned outside groups are outspending Democratic-aligned ones at a clip of roughly eight-to-one so far in this election.

Those close to the White House insist that the economy remains the major messaging focus coming from the President and his party, arguing that the rhetorical time spent on the spending by outside groups is designed to force the issue in front of the press and public.

"We want the public and the media to pay attention to the fact that powerful interests are literally buying elections behind the veil of innocuously-named groups like American Crossroads," explained White House communications director Dan Pfeiffer.

The strategy has drawn skepticism in some Democratic circles, however. "We should be focusing on who's for the middle class, not who's funding campaigns," said one senior Democratic consultant. "Voters never care about that."

Traditionally, voters have shown little interest in the sources of cash in the context of campaigns. What the White House is likely doing with its increased focus on these outside groups is seeking to amp up their base in advance of the fall election amid polling that suggests there is still a significant enthusiasm gap between the two sides.

(It's the same sort of tactic that has led to the attempted elevation of House Minority Leader John Boehner, by the White House.)

Democratic leaders are trying anything and everything to ensure that the party's most reliable voters turn out this fall. Raising the image of Rove -- a hated figure in the Democratic party -- in the context of outside money being spent to influence elections could well help set the stakes for the party base.

But, it's a message almost certainly lost on -- and ignored by -- independents looking for answers on the economy.

2. Less than a week after Massachusetts Treasurer Tim Cahill's (I) former running mate dramatically dropped off the ticket, Cahill dropped a bombshell of his own , alleging that several of his former aides, Republican Governors Association staffers and the campaign of Republican Charlie Baker conspired to sink his candidacy.

In the lawsuit filed Thursday, Cahill charged that his top advisers had been working to get his former running mate, Paul Loscocco (I), to back Baker even while they were still on the Cahill payroll.

Cahill's attorneys also asked for a restraining order to prevent the advisers - most of whom departed Cahill's campaign last month - from distributing potentially damaging internal information about Cahill's bid to Baker's team and the RGA.

Those implicated in the lawsuit include GOP strategists John Weaver and John Yob, former Cahill campaign manager Adam Meldrum, former Cahill political director Jordan Gehrke and Boston lawyer and lobbyist Jason Zanetti.

The lawsuit comes as polls show Cahill with little left to lose in the race -- he has been trailing far behind Baker and Gov. Deval Patrick (D) for months; the most recent Boston Globe poll showing him taking only 11 percent.

But the allegations could mean bad news for Baker, who has come within striking distance of Patrick in recent weeks. The Cahill suit will almost serve as a distraction to voters and complicate Baker's efforts to turn the race into a referendum on the incumbent.

In response to Cahill's allegations, Baker's camp charged that Cahill is "trying to cover up" his "improper activities" through the lawsuit. "So far as we can tell from media reports, Tim Cahill has filed a lawsuit to prevent public disclosure of e-mails that indicate his campaign may have been illegally coordinating with state employees at the Treasury," Baker spokesperson Amy Goodrich said, adding that Baker's camp "did not receive any written internal information regarding the Cahill campaign, period."

RGA spokesperson Chris Schrimpf said that Cahill "will do anything to get his name in the papers, even sue his former staff."

3. Delaware Republican Senate candidate Christine O'Donnell is up with a new television ad, striking a populist tone and repeating the slogan that debuted in her first ad: "I'm you."

The ad shows O'Donnell standing in front of the camera, with the same background and music used in the first ad. Unlike the first commercial in which she declared "I'm not a witch". O'Donnell talks about how she "didn't go to Yale" and "didn't inherit millions like my opponent" in this ad.

O'Donnell casts her self as someone who shouldn't be underestimated, alluding to the nasty campaign run against her in the primary. As in the first ad, O'Donnell then closes again with a disclaimer followed by, "I'm you."

It's the second ad run this week by O'Donnell -- evidence of the massive fundraising infusion she received following her primary upset of Rep. Mike Castle (R) last month. Both ad were produced by Fred Davis.

New Castle County Executive Chris Coons (D) remains a strong favorite in the race; President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden will travel to Delaware to campaign with Coons on Oct. 15.

4. Businessman Carl Paladino (R) aired a much-hyped three-minute message on New York state TV stations Thursday evening, an extended ad that likely will be remembered for one word: "prowess."

That's the term Paladino used when asking why the media has not grilled his gubernatorial rival, state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo (D), about his personal life in the same way that Paladino says reporters have questioned his own.

(Paladino - whose extramarital affair and out-of-wedlock child have been scrutinized by the New York press -- got into a confrontation with veteran New York Post reporter Fred Dicker last month in which Paladino alleged that Cuomo has been having an affair of his own.)

"For weeks, the media has badgered me about affairs because unlike a career politician, I was honest enough to acknowledge she was my daughter when I announced my candidacy," Paladino said

In an apparent reference to his tangle with Dicker, Paladino continued: "What I meant to express in my anger was simply this: Does the media ask Andrew such questions? Andrew's prowess is legendary."

Paladino's suggestions about Cuomo's personal life have been undercut by the fact that he has yet to provide any evidence to back up his claims. And after making the "prowess" remark, Paladino quickly added that the campaign "must be about bigger issues, not about affairs or divorces, because our state is in a death spiral" - an odd way to follow up an accusation about one's rival.

Cuomo's spokesperson, Josh Vlasto, said in a response to the ad that Paladino "has a casual relationship with the truth."

While Paladino has upped the drama factor in the race, unless he backs up his allegations, the race remains Cuomo's to lose. A Quinnipiac University poll released Thursday showed Cuomo besting Paladino 55 percent to 37 percent among likely voters.

5. With the election only 25 days away, every hour is important.

That's why you need to join us from 11 a.m. to noon today for the "Live Fix" chat. We'll fill you in on all the latest and greatest politics news you need to know heading into the weekend.

You can submit your questions in advance or just follow along in real time. See you there!

With Felicia Sonmez and Aaron Blake

By Chris Cillizza  | October 8, 2010; 7:48 AM ET
Categories:  Morning Fix  
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Next: The Fix 50: Democrats make marginal gains, majority still in jeopardy

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