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What We Learned: Narrowing Path What We Learned: Narrowing Path

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What We Learned: Narrowing Path

-- If there is anything Tim Kaine loves doing on the campaign trial in the Virginia Senate race, it's touting his centrist credentials and ability to work well with others. An overindulgence in that message cost him on Thursday afternoon during his third debate with George Allen. Media outlets and Republicans alike focused on Kaine's potential support for a minimum federal income tax for all Americans, drawing comparisons to him supporting a position championed by the likes of Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry. Kaine exited the debate on defense while speaking to reporters afterward as Allen went on offense, a clear sign after Kaine's previously two debate wins that this one went for Allen. There's an axiom in politics that states, "If you're explaining, you're losing." Expect the experienced litigator in Kaine to find a comeback message by the time the two former governors grapple again on October 8 in Kaine's home town of Richmond while Allen's camp and his allies prepare to make the Democrat's words part of television ads to come down the final stretch. -- A heavy slam with a subtle concession? The Arizona GOP blasted Democratic Senate candidate Richard Carmona this week for holding a fundraiser in Washington, D.C., claiming he would be "a rubberstamp for President Obama's failed agenda." Standard boilerplate to be sure... but is it also a borderline admission that the president might well win re-election in November? The "blank check" TV ad run by the National Republican Congressional Committee in 1996 was seen by many as an attempt to retain their House majority with a tacit admission that Bob Dole was probably going to lose, and this coming October may see similar arguments from GOP congressional candidates trying to bolster their own campaigns. Be on the lookout for subtle hints by Republican groups and candidates over the next few weeks that voters need to elect them to prevent unchecked power by Democrats in Washington... a scenario only possible if Obama is assumed to win re-election. -- When Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., and Rep. Todd Akin, R-Mo., engaged in their first debate Friday, McCaskill stuck to her campaign's main strategy of painting Akin as too extreme for Missouri voters. The debate came four days before Akin's final deadline to drop out of the race. Aside from the opening question, the candidates stayed away from Akin's "legitimate rape" remarks from last month. McCaskill has taken a sit-and-wait approach, highlighting her differences with Akin without going strongly negative. But expect that to change after Tuesday. Unless Akin's fundraising picks up -- or some Republican outside groups jump back in, which seems possible -- her ads would go largely unanswered. -- Overlooked this week amid the arguing over Romney's remarks was a blow to one of his top surrogates. Standard & Poor's downgraded New Jersey's financial outlook rating from stable to negative, and Gov. Chris Christie's budget got the blame. S&P said they didn't have confidence the budget -- famous for its cuts to both taxes and spending -- would deliver enough revenue to sustain the state's finances. This weekend, Christie will be back on the campaign trail, raising money, no doubt touting his fiscal discipline. -- In Washington's gubernatorial race, Democratic Rep. Jay Inslee's campaign went after Attorney General Rob McKenna this week for devoting only an hour or two per day to his job while pulling down a six-figure, tax-payer-funded salary. The rest of his time, of course, is used campaigning against Inslee. The tactic isn't unusual, but leaves out the fact that the special election to replace Inslee in Congress is costing Washingtonians $1 million. As the campaign, rightly, points out, $770,000 of that money would have been spent on this cycle's elections anyway and has merely been reallocated to the first district. However, that leaves another $225,000 that is being used to mail out postcards explaining the complicated simultaneous elections to voters. That's substantially more than McKenna's $151,718 salary.

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