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Van Hollen to hit Republicans for 'destructive' agenda

1. In a speech this morning in Washington, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Chris Van Hollen (Md.) will offer a rebuttal to House Minority Leader John Boehner's remarks earlier this week in Ohio -- making the case that it is Republicans, not Democrats, who would move the country backwards economically (and otherwise) if put back into power.

The speech will hit Republican for pursuing a "destructive agenda" and call out the tea party for moving the GOP to the "extreme right", according to a committee official briefed on the remarks.

Van Hollen's speech, which is set for 10 a.m. at the National Press Club, is part of a broader push by national Democrats to suggest the tea party has taken over the GOP -- and set the stakes for midterm voters.

The Democratic National Committee is launching a web video this morning highlighting the victories earlier this week of Florida gubernatorial nominee Rick Scott and Alaska attorney Joe Miller as examples of a tea party takeover of the GOP.

Viewed more broadly, Van Hollen's speech and the DNC web video are seen as the leading edge of a stepped-up effort on the part of Democrats to turn the 2010 midterms into a choice between what their party has done and what the Republican party would do if put into power.

The heavy focus on the tea party seems aimed at energizing a somewhat apathetic Democratic base heading into the midterms. Remind Democratic base voters nationally of the prospects of Sharron Angle and Rand Paul in the Senate and they will be more likely to turn out on in their individual states on election day, the thinking goes.

Given the political landscape's decided tilt against Democrats, these measures seem likely to -- at best -- lessen the blow this fall. Democratic strategists acknowledge privately that they are headed for major losses in the House and the Senate but believe that by emphasizing the stakes -- and some of Republicans more conservative candidates -- they can hold just enough seats to remain in power in both chambers.

Expect lots more rhetoric like Van Hollen's speech and the DNC video to come after Labor Day. Whether it has the desired effect remains to be seen.

2. Former Sen. Dan Coats (R) leads Rep. Brad Ellsworth (D) 49 percent to 38 percent in a new poll conducted for Democrat's campaign.

The poll, which was in the field from Aug. 16-18, generally confirms other recent data on the race that has shown Coats with a wide lead. But, Ellsworth pollster Fred Yang, a partner in the Garin-Hart-Yang Research Group, makes the case that Coats's support is soft and he can be beaten.

It shows a generic Republican with a 50 percent to 39 percent edge when matched up against a generic Democrat. But when the word "conservative" is used to describe that Democrat - as it often is with Ellsworth - the GOP lead is just 47 percent to 44 percent.

Coats maintains a sizeable edge over Ellsworth, who has held the southern Indiana 8th district since 2006, in name recognition at 81 percent to 56 percent. Among voters who have seen Ellsworth's ads, the two are statistically tied, with Ellsworth at 45 percent and Coats at 44.

Ellsworth has been up with a light ad buy for six weeks in three media markets in the state, but many voters still don't know who he is and he is going dark -- airing no ads -- starting today.

Coats, who spent nearly a decade in the Senate before retiring in 1998, is set to begin his general election campaign advertising today although few details about the size of the buy or the ad's content was available.

At the end of June, Ellsworth had slightly more cash on hand than Coats -- $1.2 million to $1.1 million. "We've got the resources," Ellsworth spokeswoman Liz Farrar said when asked about the campaign's decision to stop running ads for the moment. "We will be back on the air as the campaign progresses."

3. Illinois state Sen. Bill Brady (R) and Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn (D) are each up with new TV ads in the gubernatorial race.

Brady's ad is a positive spot; "These are difficult times, but we can have a brighter tomorrow," Brady says in the ad. He vows to "stop the insane borrowing" and balance the state budget without raising taxes and adds - in a subtle swipe at Quinn and disgraced former Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D) -- that he'll "make a clean break and create a better Illinois."
(says in the ad: )

Quinn's ad, meanwhile, foregoes a positive message -- focusing instead on Brady's position on gun control.

"Gun violence is on the rise. Street gangs in open warfare," the ad's narrator of the ad says. "Yet Senator Bill Brady opposes a ban on deadly assault weapons. Bill Brady even opposes restricting guns in or near schools."

Quinn's strategy since the general election began way back in February is to paint Brady, a little known state senator as too conservative for the state.

But, it's been Quinn -- not Brady -- who has been playing defense lately thanks to a series of recent internal setbacks.

Quinn's ad is his first TV spot since he fired his longtime media firm, AKPD Message & Media, which was founded by Obama senior adviser David Axelrod. (Quinn's new media consultant is Joe Slade White, who previous clients have included Vice President Joe Biden, Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm (D) and Texas Rep. Chet Edwards.)

Days after the news of AKPD's departure, Quinn was rocked by more bad news: his chief of staff, Jerry Stermer, resigned amid a probe into whether he violated state ethics law by sending political correspondence from his government email account.

And Quinn has also had to deal with criticism for firing his inspector general, James Wright, on the same day Wright's office filed its report about Stermer's political emails.

Quinn's struggles have occasioned considerable pessimism from Democratic strategists who believe the race -- in President Obama's home state -- is slipping away from them.

4. Republican John Koster has pulled ahead of Rep. Rick Larsen (D-Wash.) in vote totals from last week's "top-two" primary in Washington State's 2nd district - a fact Republicans will point to as evidence of Larsen's vulnerability and the increasingly bad environment for Congressional Democrats across the country.

Up-to-date totals from the slow-counting Washington Secretary of State's office show Koster, a Snohomish County Commissioner, at 73,469 votes, which is 160 more than the incumbent. Koster is at 42.16 percent of the vote and Larsen is at 42.06 percent, while one Republican and two Democrats split up the remainder of the votes.

Larsen is considered something short of a top GOP target this year, and if Republicans can make it a real race -- or even win -- in his Democratic-leaning district, they could make huge gains nationwide. (The open 3rd district, which is being vacated by Democratic Rep. Brian Baird, is regarded as the best chance for a GOP pickup in the state.)

Republicans have been pointing to turnout numbers in primaries as proof of their advantage in voter enthusiasm this year.

Democrats retort that there were no major Democratic alternatives on the ballot in either the House race or the race against Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), which might have led their voters not to cast ballots.

In the Senate race, Murray is in first with 46.2 percent of the vote, while two-time gubernatorial candidate Dino Rossi (R) has 33.4 percent. However, Rossi and the other Republicans on the ballot combine for almost exactly half the vote, which suggests the head-to-head race between Murray and Rossi should be close.

5. Double your pleasure with two "Live Fix" chats today!

At 10:30 a.m., we unveil the winner of this week's "Worst Week in Washington" award in a live video chat.

Then at 11 a.m. we'll spend an hour fielding questions about the Aug. 24 primaries, the coming midterms and, of course, prospects for the Catholic University Field hockey season.

So, come at 10:30, grab a caramel macchiato and stay awhile!

With Aaron Blake and Felicia Sonmez

By Chris Cillizza  | August 27, 2010; 7:40 AM ET
Categories:  Morning Fix  
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Next: Senate Democrats go negative early (and often)

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