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Meet’ the President: What to Watch for in Obama’s Interview

Image: Barack Obama

U.S. President Barack Obama speaks at Nordea Concert Hall in Tallinn, Estonia, Wednesday, Sept. 3, 2014. Obama is in Estonia for a one day visit where he will meet with Baltic State leaders before heading to the NATO Summit in Wales. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak) Charles Dharapak / AP

It’s been a rough year and a half for President Barack Obama -- and maybe that’s putting it too kindly. Since his second inauguration back in Jan. 2013, he’s faced damage control on domestic issues (IRS, HealthCare.Gov, Snowden, the VA); he’s had to deal with crisis after crisis in foreign affairs (Syria’s chemical weapons, Russia’s aggression in Ukraine, ISIS taking over parts of Iraq, even the Ebola outbreak); and he’s seen his legislative agenda wither and die on Capitol Hill (immigration, gun control). As a result, his job-approval rating has declined from 52% in Jan. 2013 to 40% as of last month -- which doesn’t help his party one bit in the upcoming midterms. (And if his approval rating in CALIFORNIA is really 45%, then it’s likely his national rating now could be below 40%.) This is the backdrop for the president’s upcoming appearance on “Meet the Press” this Sunday. Of course, the Second-Term Blues are hardly uncommon in modern American politics -- see Bill Clinton (who was impeached) and George W. Bush (whose second term crashed and burned due to Iraq and Hurricane Katrina). Even Ronald Reagan had a rough second term (see Iran-Contra). But unlike his predecessors, what has hurt Obama isn’t one or two issues. Instead, it’s been an injury by a thousand different cuts. As we’ve said before, Obama’s biggest second-term problem is that he’s been a victim of events, rather than in control of them.

Mostly bad news, but some good news, too

To be sure, the second term also has contained good news that doesn’t necessarily get the attention that bad news does. Take the economy, for instance, which if you remember was the No. 1 subject in the 2012 presidential election. Today’s jobs report was disappointing (142,000 jobs in August, unemployment rate falling to 6.1%), but the economy has improved to the point where 142,000 becomes a disappointing number. We wouldn’t be saying that in Obama’s first term.Also consider health care, which was a huge problem for the White House earlier this year. But now? Good news (enrollment, Medicare’s solvency, some lower-than-expected premiums for next year) now largely outweighs the bad news (like the fact that HealthCare.Gov was recently hacked). Yet the reason why the bad news has overshadowed the good news is because the bad news is serious stuff. ISIS. Ukraine. Ebola.

If it’s Sunday, it’s three new 2014 polls

Also on “Meet the Press” this Sunday, NBC News will unveil new polls on three of the most important 2014 Senate battlegrounds -- Arkansas (representing the best red-state contest), Colorado (the best blue/purple state), and Kentucky (Mitch McConnell vs. Alison Grimes). The polls will be published at 9:00 am ET.

Bob McDonnell’s fall from grace

Former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and his wife Maureen were convicted on a combined 20 counts in a courthouse in Virginia Thursday. As our colleague Perry Bacon writes of McDonnell: “It's a stunning fall for a politician who cultivated a squeaky clean appearance, crafting his political identity as a Christian conservative family man. And only two years ago, McDonnell was near the top of the political world, being strongly considered as Mitt Romney’s vice-presidential candidate ahead of an election the GOP thought it could win.” Not only that, but McDonnell was the one who introduced the new Romney-Ryan ticket almost exactly two years ago, when Romney officially announced Paul Ryan as his vice-presidential running mate.

The latest twist out of Kansas

That political story out of Kansas now has another twist. Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, a Republican, ruled on Thursday that Democrat Chad Taylor -- who had withdrawn his candidacy the day before -- must remain on the ballot. The Topeka Capital-Journal: “Candidates wanting to be removed from the ballot must declare themselves ‘incapable of fulfilling the duties of office if elected,’ and Taylor didn’t meet that test, Kobach said.” Taylor has said he will challenge the ruling. “Taylor’s statement said he contacted Brad Bryant, of Kobach’s elections staff, and was provided “explicit instructions” regarding what was required in his letter to remove his name. He said Bryant confirmed the letter contained all the information necessary to withdraw his name.” And for what it’s worth, when NBC News contacted the secretary of state’s office on Wednesday to confirm the news that Taylor had withdrawn from the race, the office made it clear that Taylor’s name wouldn’t appear on the ballot. So what now? If Taylor’s name remains on the ballot -- though he no longer actively campaigns -- that take votes away from independent Greg Orman against incumbent Sen. Pat Roberts. That said, the race is MUCH MORE COMPETITIVE than it was two days ago.

NRSC to the rescue

How competitive has the race gotten? Well, the news is that the NRSC has taken over Pat Roberts’ campaign. But the NRSC tells First Read that it’s a bit hyperbolic to say that. “We’re working to build it up,” the NRSC’s Brad Dayspring emails. As we’ve said before, if Brownback and Roberts end up losing in November, that should send HUGE shockwaves to Washington. Why? It’s a sign that populists (on the left and right) could unite against the establishment.

Bill Clinton stumps for Charlie Crist in Miami

Meanwhile, Bill Clinton today campaigns in Florida for Charlie Crist, the former Republican-turned-independent-turned Democrat who’s running for governor against incumbent Rick Scott (R). NBC’s Perry Bacon, who’s covering the event, sets the stage. “Back in 1998, in an unsuccessful run for the U.S. Senate, Crist, then a Republican, said Clinton had ‘shattered the confidence and trust’ of Americans and should resign from office. Sixteen years later, the two will stand together at Miami's Marriott Marquis. Crist left office in 2011 after a single term and an unsuccessful U.S. Senate run, in which he left the GOP and became an independent. Democrats recruited Crist to run for governor under their banner last year, and he officially won the party's nomination a few weeks ago.” In a brief interview, Crist explained his changed views on Clinton. “I think he’s great. President Clinton, particularly during his time in office, really led America incredibly well, particularly on the economy. It’s an example that presidents look at today and just marvel at, candidly. And he’s one of the leaders, since leaving the job, who has only enhanced his ability to communicate and make a difference around the globe with the global initiative that he has.”

First Read’s Race of the Day

Hickenlooper vs. Beauprez: Like Colorado’s Senate contest, the state’s gubernatorial matchup is one of the top races this cycle. Incumbent Gov. John Hickenlooper faces off against challenger Bob Beauprez, who was the GOP’s defeated gubernatorial nominee in 2006. Hickenlooper was running strong early in his term, but suffered backlash from gun-control measures he signed into law after the Newtown, CT tragedy. Beauprez, who narrowly defeated former Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-CO) and two others in the primary, was the GOP’s best possible nominee. And like with the Senate race, this contest will tell us a lot about 2016: A win by Beauprez would mean that Republicans have finally cracked the code in the Colorado; a loss would -- especially in this environment -- would mean that the GOP continues to struggle in this important battleground state.

New poll out today

A CNN poll of Arkansas’ competitive Senate race has challenger Tom Cotton at 49% among likely voters, and incumbent Sen. Mark Pryor at 47%

Countdown to Election Day: 60 days

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