Monday, August 14, 2006 | 2:30 p.m. ET
From Huma Zaidi and Kelly O'Donnell

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GOP backing Lieberman?
Joe Lieberman's decision to stay in the Connecticut Senate race as an independent candidate guarantees that he won't receive much help from Democrats in Washington. But he isn't the only one in the contest who's failing to rally the Establishment behind him. Republicans at the highest levels -- the latest one being President Bush -- are refusing to endorse GOP nominee Alan Schlesinger.

At today's White House press briefing, spokesman Tony Snow was unwilling to state that Bush backed Schlesinger. All Snow would say is that the president "supports the democratic process in the state of Connecticut and wishes them a successful election in November." Further pressed by reporters for an answer, Snow said, "I think you know the situation in Connecticut." As we've mentioned before, Schlesinger has little chance of winning in November -- even in a three-way race -- and some Republicans are giddy that a Lieberman vs. Lamont rematch in November would split up the Democratic vote and could help the state's three endangered GOP congressmen.

Snow's refusal to say that Bush backs Schlesinger is the latest diss the GOP nominee has received. On Meet the Press yesterday, RNC chairman Ken Mehlman told David Gregory that he's been told to stay clear of this race. "The way I do it is to work with our leadership in the states, and what my leadership in the state has said to me is, 'You ought to stay out of this one. You ought to focus on the House races and focus on the governors’ races.'" And on election day, Lieberman reportedly received a phone call from Karl Rove.

Monday, August 14, 2006 | 9:20 a.m. ET
From Mark Murray and Huma Zaidi

In Today's Issue:
Security issues continue to dominate politics
The First Lady: a bigger campaign draw than her husband?
More fallout from Connecticut

First glance
After a week when national security dominated the political landscape -- with the Lieberman-Lamont primary, the news of the thwarted terrorist plot in London, and the skirmishes over security between Democrats and Republicans -- the topic remains on the front burner today and tomorrow. At 9:20 am, President Bush meets with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and other officials at the Pentagon, and then has lunch there with experts on Iraq. After that, he heads to Foggy Bottom to meet with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and his foreign policy team, and he makes a statement afterwards at 3:30 pm. On Tuesday, Bush travels to McLean, VA to have similar meetings with his homeland security and counter-terrorism teams.

With the midterms now less than three months away, national security is certainly the terrain on which Republicans want to fight. But it's worth noting that after other full-court presses on this subject -- in the aftermath of al-Zarqawi's death or the congressional debate over withdrawal from Iraq -- the political environment didn't change much. According to the latest Newsweek poll, taken after the terrorist plot was uncovered, Bush's job approval is at 38% (up three points since its poll in May); 67% are dissatisfied with how things are going in the US; and 53% say they'd like to see Democrats take control of Congress, compared with 34% who want Republicans to stay in charge. That said, 55% approve of Bush's handling of homeland security, an 11-point increase since May.

On homeland security, however, NBC's Kelly O'Donnell reminds us that five weeks have passed without Bush naming a new transportation secretary, a cabinet position that seems even more important after the events last week. O'Donnell reports that Transportation Secretary Norm Mineta, who played a key role in beefing up aviation security after 9/11 and who oversaw the creation of the Transportation Security Administration, announced his resignation on June 23 and left the job on July 7. Since then, Acting Secretary Maria Cino has been heading the department, and she's rumored to be on the short list for a permanent replacement. But O'Donnell notes that as of Friday, per senior Administration officials, there has been no word on a choice to succeed Mineta.

Turning to the midterms, Bush makes one campaign stop this week -- a fundraiser on Wednesday for Pennsylvania gubernatorial candidate (and NFL Hall of Famer) Lynn Swann (R). But in a sign of who might be the bigger campaign draw in the family, First Lady Laura Bush makes a whopping five campaign visits this week. Today, she's in Chicago to raise money for House candidate Peter Roskam (who takes on Democratic Iraq war vet Tammy Duckworth), and then hits St. Louis for an RNC reception (which is expected to rake in $500,000). On Wednesday, she travels to Kentucky (to raise money for vulnerable Rep. Geoff Davis), to Ohio (for Sen. Mike DeWine), and then to West Virginia (for House candidate Chris Wakim).

And in Connecticut, Joe Lieberman is up with a new 60-second TV ad, which touts his experience in bringing people together. "So much needs to be done, but so little is actually getting done in Washington because our politics have become so partisan and polarized." He also says this: "I'm staying [in the race] because I want to help end the war in Iraq in a way that brings stability to the Mid-East and doesn't leave us even more vulnerable."

Have you checked out MSNBC.com's political calendar lately?

Security politics
Previewing Bush's meetings today at the Pentagon and the State Department, the AP notes the various world challenges he and his foreign-policy team currently face. The AP adds that Bush usually holds these meetings "each August at his ranch near Crawford, Texas. But with the pressing issues abroad and his party at risk of losing control of Congress in the November elections, Bush limited his time away from the White House this summer."

Republicans and the Bush Administration are expected to use last week's foiled terrorist attack "to regain the upper hand in congressional debates and push for government action before the November elections," writes the Wall Street Journal. They will work towards a "a new strategy to advocate stronger counterterrorism laws and expand domestic surveillance, while pushing back against civil libertarians."

Democrats, however, are countering with the message that the US isn't safer since 9/11. For instance, the Democratic Senate campaign committee is running a new Web ad, entitled "Feel Safer?" that points out that terrorist attacks increased in 2005, illegal immigration is on the rise, and Iran and North Korea are furthering their nuclear aims.

The New York Times writes that Homeland Security chief Michael Chertoff largely flunked his first major test -- Hurricane Katrina -- but is now being praised for his handling so far of the thwarted terrorist plot.  "Questions remain about the agency's bureaucracy and its ability to anticipate threats rather than just react to them. But it is notable that Mr. Chertoff is being praised by some people who once bitterly chastised him or even called for his resignation."

On the Sunday shows yesterday, the Boston Globe says, "Chertoff called yesterday for a review of domestic antiterrorism laws, saying the United States might benefit from the more aggressive surveillance and arrest powers used by British authorities last week to thwart an alleged plot to bomb airliners."

In addition to Chertoff's appearance on NBC's Meet the Press , 9/11 Commission co-chairs Tom Kean and Lee Hamilton also discussed the thwarted terrorist plot on the show, while Howard Dean of the DNC and Ken Mehlman of the RNC debated the politics of national security, as well as last week's Lieberman-Lamont race.

The Washington Post reports that the nation's governors have sent a letter to Republican and Democratic leaders on Capitol Hill, objecting to legislation "that would allow the president to take control of National Guard forces in the event of a natural disaster or a threat to homeland security... 'This provision was drafted without consultation or input from governors and represents an unprecedented shift in authority from governors as commanders and chief of the Guard to the federal government,' the governors state in the letter."

Lieberman vs. Lamont
The AP has Lamont criticizing Lieberman and Vice President Cheney for remarking last week that his primary victory would embolden the terrorists. "'My God, here we have a terrorist threat against hearth and home and the very first thing that comes out of their mind is how can we turn this to partisan advantage. I find that offensive,' Lamont said in an interview Sunday with The Associated Press." The AP also notes that Sen. Russ Feingold yesterday called on Lieberman to exit from the race.

Another AP article says that Lieberman is not only taking his message of unity and independence to Connecticut voters; he's also trying to make that pitch to people outside of the state.

The New York Times profiles Lieberman's wife, Hadassah, who it says is Lieberman's closest adviser. "Some of the senator's former advisers have said that his political problems have stemmed from an overreliance on loyalists who have the same world view as he. And perhaps nobody is a more loyal or more trusted adviser than Mrs. Lieberman. But she is a force of her own."

On Sunday, the Washington Post noted that American politics this year seems to be running "on two divergent tracks. The first is intensified partisan combat in advance of a critical midterm election. The second is growing disaffection among many voters with a national capital seen as stalemated by polarization and distrust between the two political parties. That makes the coming campaign between ... Lamont and ... Lieberman ... an intriguing laboratory for what might emerge in the 2008 presidential campaign."

Bob Novak says that the "outpouring of GOP grief over Lieberman's primary defeat" -- by Mary Matalin, Dick Cheney, and others -- was mostly crocodile tears. That grief "was a remarkable reaction to a liberal senator who has given President Bush scant help on any issue other than Iraq, from which he now also has retreated."

That said, the Washington Times observers that Lieberman is receiving a considerable amount of support from Republicans and embattled GOP candidates. "Republican candidates have praised Mr. Lieberman's willingness to reach out across the aisle and his steadfast support for the Iraq war in the face of fierce opposition from liberal anti-war activists and left-wing bloggers, who fueled and helped finance Mr. Lamont's primary campaign."

It's the economy...
The Chicago Tribune says that for Democratic candidates across the country, "the high price of gasoline has become a rallying cry ... to prove Republican indifference to voters' economic concerns, as well as incompetence in addressing complicated, long-term challenges facing the nation." On the other hand, Republicans argue that Democrats have voted against legislation intended to boost the supply of energy.

The Los Angeles Times reports that manufacturers are having a difficult time finding workers to fill high-paying, high-skilled jobs. "Some manufacturers are so desperate for workers who can program, run or repair the computers and robots that now dominate the factory floor that they are offering recruitment bonuses, relocation packages and other incentives more common to white-collar jobs."

More on the Bush/GOP agenda
The Bush Administration and Florida Republicans are concerned that Cuban leader Fidel Castro's current health crisis could hurt them in November, the Wall Street Journal says. "With immigration already a flashpoint in the U.S., many Republicans 'are terrified' at the prospect of an influx of Cuban immigrants, says David E. Johnson, a Republican pollster and consultant who works with candidates in Florida... Some Republican analysts in the U.S. worry that chaos in Cuba could upset the balance that President Bush has tried to strike between a more welcoming immigration policy and more orderly borders."

More on the midterms
As we mentioned last week, part of the GOP playbook for the elections this fall is to link Democratic candidates to Nancy Pelosi, Howard Dean, and Harry Reid. And over the weekend, USA Today wrote how GOP candidates -- like North Carolina Rep. Charles Taylor (R) in his race against Heath Shuler (D) -- are already using Pelosi in their ads. "'Rookie Heath Shuler is following the playbook of San Francisco liberal Nancy Pelosi,' an announcer intones as the noise of a stadium crowd and marching band plays in the background of a 60-second Taylor radio spot. 'The Pelosi game plan: Elect Heath Shuler and others like him, and take over Congress with the votes of illegal immigrants.'"

The Washington Post looks at the endangered Republican House candidates from the Northeast. "The Iraq war and Bush's low approval ratings have created trouble for Republicans in all regions. But nowhere is the GOP brand more scuffed than in the Northeast, where this year's circumstances are combining with long-term trends to endanger numerous incumbents... A Washington-Post ABC News poll this month found Bush's approval rating at 28 percent in the Northeast -- 12 points below his national average. The Republican Congress fared no better."

The New York Times profiles Democrats Chet Culver (who's running for governor of Iowa), Jack Carter (who's running for the Senate in Nevada), and Evan Bayh (who might made a bid for president in 2008), noting that all three of their fathers lost bids for re-election in 1980, and how those defeats shaped their own politics.

In California, the Los Angeles Times examines the charisma question surrounding gubernatorial candidate Phil Angelides (D). "It is no small task for Angelides to compete in a personality contest with Schwarzenegger... For Angelides ... a lack of pizzazz would, in theory, have little bearing on his ability to run the state. But candidate personalities always matter in a race for governor, and the difficulty of vying one-on-one against Schwarzenegger's is one of the most serious challenges that Angelides faces."

Per the Boston Globe yesterday, Massachusetts gubernatorial candidate Kerry Healey (R) is trying to distance herself from the White House on the issue of -- as strange as this may sound -- fish. Healey is accusing the "Bush administration of favoring corporate fishermen over local crews. New regulations limit the catch and the days crews can be out, and Healey says only big-dollar industry can afford it."

The Globe also profiled Democratic gubernatorial candidate Deval Patrick.

In his Sunday column, Bob Novak noted that the White House wasn't happy that moderate incumbent Rep. Joe Schwarz (R) of Michigan lost his primary on Tuesday.  "Bush not only backed freshman lawmaker Schwarz, as he automatically does all incumbent Republicans in Congress, but the president and the first lady went beyond that with automated telephone campaign pleas during the campaign's last weekend."

The Washington Times says Schwarz's loss "is being read in Washington as a message to other Republicans about the need to control spending and listen to the conservative base on issues such as immigration and abortion."

In Texas, the Houston Chronicle writes, Nick Lampson (D) has gone from making a difficult bid for Congress to now being the frontrunner -- after the courts ruled that state Republicans couldn't replace Tom DeLay with another Republican on the ballot. "Republicans are putting up a write-in candidate to challenge him. But no write-in has ever won a House race in Texas."

Oh-eight
Possible 2008 candidate Evan Bayh (D) today attends the state fair in Iowa, where he has a 10:30 am ET press conference with gubernatorial candidate Chet Culver (D) to discuss renewable energy.

Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack (D) spoke at the fair yesterday, the Des Moines Register says, and his speech "was part finale, part opening aria Saturday as he walked the line between outgoing state leader and prospective presidential candidate. "'I feel like we got a sneak preview of what we're going to be hearing next year,' said Allison Brekke of Altoona."

“First Read” is an analysis of the day’s political news, from the NBC News political unit. Please let us know what you think.  Drop us a note at FirstRead@MSNBC.com.  To bookmark First Read, click here.

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