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Jim DeMint wades in N.H., Delaware primaries

1. South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint continues to thumb his nose at his party's establishment, offering endorsements of outsider candidates in tomorrow's New Hampshire and Delaware Senate primaries.

On Friday night, DeMint tweeted his endorsement of Ovide Lamontagne in New Hampshire and Christine O'Donnell in Delaware; the party apparatus prefers former state Attorney General Kelly Ayotte in the Granite State and Rep. Mike Castle in Delaware.

"He knows they're underdogs but they've surged in the past week and are now within striking distance," said Matt Hoskins, a spokesman for DeMint's Senate Conservatives Fund. "He wants to make sure voters know they have a conservative choice if they're unhappy with the establishment candidate."

DeMint met both O'Donnell and Lamontagne roughly a year ago, said Hoskins. The South Carolina Senator told both candidates that they needed to show more viability before he endorsed.

DeMint's endorsement of O'Donnell comes soon after former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin waded into the race on her behalf last week. Interestingly, DeMint and Palin -- two of the unofficial leaders of the tea party movement -- are on opposite sides in New Hampshire; Palin has not only endorsed but also recorded a robo-call in support of Ayotte.

DeMint has repeatedly differed with his party leadership when it comes to picking Senate candidates this cycle. DeMint has backed the winning candidates in Florida, Colorado and Kentucky.

Given the lateness of his endorsement, DeMint's ability to sway votes in either Delaware or New Hampshire is likely to be limited. He will send each candidate money from his Senate Conservative Fund leadership PAC and is scheduled to do a series of interviews today in support of the candidates.

While he and his political aides demur, it's clear that DeMint -- through his endorsement strategy -- is trying to build his own power center of conservatives in the Senate. Or lay the groundwork for a future national bid in 2012 or beyond.

2. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D) remains locked in a dead heat with former state Assemblywoman Sharron Angle (R), according to a Mason-Dixon survey released on Sunday.

Reid takes 46 percent to Angle's 44 percent in the new poll. The results indicate that there has been little movement in the race over the past two weeks, despite a barrage of attacks on each side; the previous Mason-Dixon poll, released in late August, showed Reid winning 45 percent and Angle taking 44 percent.

Both Reid and Angle are viewed more unfavorably than favorably by voters: 52 percent view Reid unfavorably, the same as in the August poll, while 46 percent view Angle unfavorably, up slightly from August.

Meanwhile, in the gubernatorial race, former U.S. District Judge Brian Sandoval (R) continues to lead Reid's son, Clark County Commission Chairman Rory Reid (D), by double digits -- 52 percent to 36 percent.

3. A new poll indicates that former New York Rep. Rick Lazio, long considered the frontrunner for the Republican gubernatorial nod, is in danger of losing tomorrow's primary.

According to the Siena University poll, Lazio takes 43 percent to developer Carl Paladino's 42 percent among likely Republican primary voters, with 15 percent undecided.

A win by Paladino would mark a major upset although polls indicate that it would likely have little impact on the results in the general. State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo (D) would best Paladino 60 percent to 23 percent according to a Quinnipiac poll released earlier this month; in a match-up against Lazio, Cuomo would win 57 percent to 25 percent. (Cuomo faces no primary opposition on Tuesday.)

Paladino's camp sent out an email to supporters late last week predicting that polls over the campaign's final weekend would show him pulling even with Lazio, who has been losing ground due to his drained campaign coffers and a media blitz launched by Paladino in the final weeks of the campaign. Lazio had just $502,000 left in the bank as of early September, while Paladino, a multimillionaire, has said he is willing to spend as much as $10 million from his own fortune on the race.

Paladino, who petitioned his way onto the ballot after Lazio won the endorsement of the state Republican Party, has been popular among members of the tea party but is regarded by many as a controversial figure. (Among Paladino's controversial actions: He has acknowledged forwarding emails containing racist jokes, pornography and bestiality and has drawn criticism for his defense of a friend who called the state Assembly speaker, who is an Orthodox Jew, an "Antichrist" and "a Hitler.")

The New York Times, in its endorsement of Lazio in the GOP primary, deemed that those incidents would be "enough to disqualify [Paladino] from office" and called a potential Paladino candidacy a "national embarrassment."

The results on Tuesday will largely hinge on turnout among Upstate versus downstate Republicans; Paladino leads Upstate with 53 percent, while Lazio is strongest in the downstate suburbs, where he takes 55 percent.

4. Another poll shows the Kentucky Senate race between ophthalmologist Rand Paul (R) and state Attorney General Jack Conway (D) is a statistical dead heat, according to a new poll from the Democrat's campaign.

The Benenson Strategy Group poll, conducted last week, shows Paul at 47 percent and Conway at 45 percent.

It is the third poll in one week to show the race virtually tied. One was another Democratic survey, from pollster John Anzalone, while the third was a CNN/Time poll. Anzalone had Paul at 48 and Conway at 45, while the CNN/Time poll, by Opinion Research, showed both at 46.

In a polling memo, Conway pollster Pete Brodnitz makes that case that other surveys that have shown Paul with a wider lead were flawed because they used an automated process that doesn't necessarily weed out respondents who aren't registered to vote.

The poll was conducted Tuesday through Thursday among 800 likely voters. It shows Paul with a 46 percent favorable rating and 38 percent unfavorable, while Conway is at 44 percent favorable and 27 percent unfavorable.

Paul, who ousted the establishment pick in a May primary, is bringing former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin in to the Bluegrass State on Thursday. The lunch fundraiser in Louisville will benefit both Paul and Kentucky Republican Party.

5. Tonight's the night! "Politics and Pints", the Fix's night of political trivia, goes down at 7 p.m. at the Capitol Lounge in Washington.

Make sure to RSVP via our Facebook event page so we know who is coming. Don't RSVP? Don't worry. Come anyway!

Prizes will be given for the first and second place finishers and the team with the best name, which has been won six months straight by the same group, wins official Fix t-shirts.

With Felicia Sonmez and Aaron Blake

By Chris Cillizza  | September 13, 2010; 6:00 AM ET
Categories:  Morning Fix  
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