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Alexi Giannoulias goes up with Obama ad in Illinois

1. Illinois state Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias (D) is launching a new ad tomorrow that features an extended endorsement from President Barack Obama.

The ad features footage shot during Obama's early August visit to Illinois to benefit Giannoulias' Senate campaign against Rep. Mark Kirk (R).

"Alexi's my friend...I know his character," says Obama at the start of the ad. "You can trust him. You can count on him."

Obama goes on to tout Giannoulias' work on ethics reform and his refusal to take campaign donations from lobbyists. "That's the kind of person you want in the United States Senate," says Obama at the commercial's conclusion.

The ad, which was produced by Adelstein|Liston, will begin running statewide on Thursday.

The front-and-center role that Giannoulias is seeking for Obama in the race to replace retiring Sen. Roland Burris (D) stands in stark contrast to how the president is being treated by other high-profile Senate candidates -- many of whom develop "scheduling conflicts" every time the president appears in their states.

(Obama is scheduled to make stops in Pennsylvania and Connecticut later this month on behalf of Democrats pursuing open Senate seats in each of those states.)

Obama is still quite popular in Illinois, however, and Giannoulias hopes that such a ringing endorsement from the former Illinois Senator will motivate the Democratic base behind him.

While Obama and Giannoulias have known each other for a long time -- Obama cut an endorsement ad during Giannoulias' 2006 run for state Treasurer -- the relationship between the White House and the party's Senate nominee has not always been so friendly.

White House senior strategists tried to recruit state Attorney General Lisa Madigan into the Senate race despite the fact that Giannoulias was already running and for months the White House was mum on how aggressive the President would be in trying to keep his old Senate seat in Democratic hands.

Of late, however, the White House has stepped up its efforts for Giannoulias with a number of Cabinet officials making visits in the state to raise money for his candidacy.

Polling suggests the race between Giannoulias and Kirk is the purest of toss ups.

2. Ophthalmologist Rand Paul (R) and state Attorney General Jack Conway (D) are in a statistical tie in the Kentucky Senate race, according to a new survey conducted by a Democratic pollster.

Paul takes 48 percent to 45 percent for Conway in the poll, which was conducted for the Kentucky Leadership Council by John Anzalone.

The poll shows voters are concerned about Paul's public statements, including one in which he appeared to dismiss the state's problems with drugs. Neaely six in ten voters (59 percent) agreed that Paul "says things that bother and concern me."

The Anzalone poll contrasts sharply with a SurveyUSA poll released over the weekend, which had Paul leading 55 percent to 40 percent.

Conway's campaign also fought back on the SurveyUSA poll Tuesday, releasing a memo from its pollster, Pete Brodnitz, that suggests the voter model used by SurveyUSA was flawed.

The Benenson memo noted that Democrats have historically turned out 20 percent more voters than Republicans in the state, while SurveyUSA's model had them at just 5 percent more.

Kentucky, where Sen. Jim Bunning (R) is retiring, is regarded by Democrats as one of their top pickup opportunities on the ballot this fall.

3. Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski said Tuesday that she is exploring her options and may seek a comeback after her primary loss to attorney Joe Miller two weeks ago.

Murkowski told the Associated Press that she is "still in this game" and isn't a "quitter."

She added that she had met briefly Tuesday with state Libertarian Party candidate David Haase. The party had previously said that it would not swap out its candidate in favor of Murkowski, but appears to be softening - just slightly - on that stance. Alternatively, Murkowski could mount a write-in campaign. She has already missed the deadline to run as an independent.

Murkowski said she wouldn't compromise to please the Libertarians. "I will not change who I am for any party," she told AP. "You take me or leave me, because I am who I am."

The deadline for changing a candidate on the ballot is next week -- Sept. 15.

After conceding her primary loss, Murkowski indicated she would return home to Alaska and move on with her life. She said her decision to explore other options came from an outpouring of support.

Utah Republican Sen. Robert Bennett also explored a write-in bid after his loss at his state party's convention in May but ultimately opted against it.

4. A new bipartisan poll in Colorado shows Sen. Michael Bennet (D) locked in a tight race against Weld County District Attorney Ken Buck (R) while Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper (D) holds a wide lead in the state's gubernatorial contest.

The poll, conducted jointly by Republican pollster Public Opinion Strategies and Democratic pollster Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates, shows Bennet at 43 percent to Buck's 40 percent, among likely voters.

In the gubernatorial race, Hickenlooper leads his beleaguered Republican rival, businessman Dan Maes, 48 percent to 25 percent, with American Constitution Party candidate Tom Tancredo taking 15 percent.

With polling showing the race tight, both Bennet and Buck are exchanging body blows.

Bennet's latest TV ad uses Buck's own words to paint the candidate as an extremist, while the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is launching a new TV ad in the race charging that Buck supports "ending our right to vote" and is "threatening Social Security."

"Ken Buck. The more you hear, the more you wonder," the narrator of the DSCC's 30-second spot says.

Buck's camp responded by calling the spot "another example of the Bennet-Washington tactics that Coloradans are sick of."

5. Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick (D) is leading his two rivals in his bid for a second term, according to a new State House News poll.

Patrick leads former Harvard Pilgrim Health Care CEO Charlie Baker (R) 34 percent to 28 percent among registered voters, with state Treasurer Tim Cahill (I) taking 18 percent and Green Party candidate Jill Stein taking 4 percent.

Cahill's presence in the race appears to be helping Patrick by drawing voters away from Baker. Cahill's relatively strong showing is also a shift from previous polls indicating he had dropped to the single digits following a damaging barrage of attacks by the Republican Governors Association.

While the survey shows Patrick leading his opponents, it also reveals his vulnerability: Fifty-six percent of those polled said the incumbent governor is doing a "poor" or "below average" job.

Those numbers indicate that Baker has an opening although he remains little known to the voters of the state. The poll showed that 62 percent of voters either hadn't heard of Baker or didn't know enough to have an opinion of him.

Last night, the four candidates held their first televised face-off of the race.

At one point in the debate, Patrick and Baker took shots at each other over who was more responsible for the state's dire economic straits.

Patrick criticized Baker, a former state secretary of administration and finance, for his role in Boston's "Big Dig" project. Baker shot back that "you can't blame things on the past."

"I'm not blaming anything on the past," Patrick retorted. "I'm talking about dealing today, as I have, with what you left when you were on Beacon Hill."

The quartet of candidates is slated to meet again for at least four more debates before Nov. 2.

With Aaron Blake and Felicia Sonmez

By Chris Cillizza  | September 8, 2010; 6:00 AM ET
Categories:  Morning Fix  
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