1. Senate Outlook. Last week I wrote that the Senate outlook was still cloudy. This week it has cleared up a bit, as expected. Mixed results for the Grand Old Party. The good news is that the Republican position in Illinois, Pennsylvania, and Nevada has firmed up a bit.

Here's Illinois.

Here's Pennsylvania.

Here's Nevada.

Also, despite Ken Buck’s best efforts to sabotage his own campaign, he still appears to have a modest lead over incumbent Democrat Michael Bennet in Colorado.

The bad news is from West Virginia. Two interesting, colorful campaigns there. John Raese has been doing his hardest to tag Democrat Joe Manchin as a rubber stamp for Obama. Meanwhile, Manchin has hit Raese for his opposition to the minimum wage as well as his ties to Florida. Looks like Manchin has the edge as of today. The Democrat is still under 50 percent, but frankly I’m not sure where Raese goes from here. Manchin’s approval ratings are sky high – in the 60-70 percent range – and the “rubber stamp” argument is probably done most of what it can. What's the closing argument?

Both California and Washington have had two kinds of polling – those that see an electorate similar to 2008 and those that see something closer to 2006 or even 2004. The pollsters who see something like 2008 (or even better for Democrats) have Boxer up by eight and above 50 percent. Those that see something like 2006 or 2004 have her up by four and around 48 percent.

Average those polls together, and you get this:

It’s basically SurveyUSA and Rasmussen (small Democratic lead) versus Suffolk and PPP (larger Democratic lead). Interestingly, the previous CNN/Time poll was on the high end (Boxer +8), but their latest puts them on the low end (Boxer +5). Personally, I am partial to SurveyUSA and Rasmussen, as I think the percentage of Democrats in the Suffolk and PPP polls is too high. But even so, this is going to be a tough one.

And for some inexplicable reason, Washington State has gone dark. Not a single poll there in over a week.

All told, I’m sticking with my prior estimate of GOP +8, but the chances of getting to 10 have decreased in the last few days.

2. The Philosopher King. Well, this is a rarity. Check out this article from the New York Times previewing a new book by Harvard historian James Kloppenberg. The title? Reading Obama: Dreams, Hopes, and the American Political Tradition. It’s the kind of hagiographical treatment that President Obama just doesn’t receive very much these days. Fortunately, Kloppenberg lays it on real heavy:

Mr. Kloppenberg explained that he sees Mr. Obama as a kind of philosopher president, a rare breed that can be found only a handful of times in American history. “There’s John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and John Quincy Adams, then Abraham Lincoln and in the 20th century just Woodrow Wilson,” he said.

To Mr. Kloppenberg the philosophy that has guided President Obama most consistently is pragmatism, a uniquely American system of thought developed at the end of the 19th century by William James, John Dewey and Charles Sanders Peirce…

Pragmatism maintains that people are constantly devising and updating ideas to navigate the world in which they live; it embraces open-minded experimentation and continuing debate. “It is a philosophy for skeptics, not true believers,” Mr. Kloppenberg said.

Obama's pragmatism is now a philosophical virtue? What it seems to me that Obama is being praised for is his willingness to cut deals and get half a loaf.

Isn’t every president like this to some extent? Did liberal academics praise George H.W. Bush in the early 1990s when he cut his budget deal with the Democrats, even though he violated his "no new taxes" pledge? Did they see that as a sign that he was "updating ideas to navigate the world in which (he) live(s)?" Heck no! They just laughed along with Ann Richards as she pitied, “Poor George. He can't help it. He was born with a silver foot in his mouth!”

I think there is a real tendency in some quarters to elevate the "profane" qualities about Obama into sacred traits. His deal-cutting and flip-floppery are not signs of a politician looking to maximize his chances of election. They are instead reminiscient of “William James, John Dewey and Charles Sanders Peirce!”

One of the first proponents of this view of looking at Obama was…Obama himself! Check out this passage from the Audacity of Hope:

Two days after I won the Democratic nomination in my U.S. senate race, I received an email from a doctor at the University of Chicago Medical School.

"Congratulations on your overwhelming and inspiring primary win," the doctor wrote. "I was happy to vote for you, and I will tell you that I am seriously considering voting for you in the general election. I write to express my concerns that may, in the end, prevent me from supporting you." (…)

The reason the doctor was considering voting for my opponent was not my position on abortion as such. Rather, he had read an entry that my campaign had posted on my website, suggesting that I would fight "right-wing ideologues who want to take away a woman's right to choose." He went on to write: "Whatever your convictions, if you truly believe that those who oppose abortion are all ideologues driven by perverse desires to inflict suffering on women, then you, in my judgment, are not fair-minded. ... I do not ask at this point that you oppose abortion, only that you speak about this issue in fair-minded words."

Long (and turgid) story short, Obama takes the offending passage down from his site. We are to believe that the reason why is because he has learned some important lesson about respecting the opinions of others and the presumption of good faith.

But isn’t this just the normal tacking to the center that all politicians do? And isn’t the ultimate motivation here just to get votes? Of course it is! He had some hardcore pro-choice language on his website (although he blamed a staffer!) to appeal to the Democrats in the primary. Then after the primary he took it down. Every politician does that, and when 99.9 percent of them do, we roll our eyes and call it pandering. But when Obama did it? Well, it was “extend(ing) the presumption of good faith to others!”

3. Michael Steele Watch. Most of you probably noted that the Democrats all told have outspent the Republicans this cycle. That’s why I was puzzled by this story:

The Republican National Committee wrote a $15,000 check to Guam in September, spending money in a U.S. territory in advance of an election in which the party is already hunting for new sources of cash.

The RNC made the transfer on September 24, according to reports filed late Wednesday with the FEC. That money will go to help elect Sen. Eddie Calvo (R), who is running to replace term-limited Gov. Felix Camacho(R) in the island territory's governor election.

...Island territories may in fact be more influential, given that their delegates have tended to vote as a bloc in RNC elections.

That helped Steele, who won the island voting bloc during his initial run in 2009.

Then sure enough, yesterday I saw this item:

Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele is taking steps to run for another two-year term and outlined his plan in a conference call last week to a handful of state GOP officials, three Republicans familiar with call tell CNN.

Steele… has picked two current RNC staffers to help run his re-election campaign and the chairman told people on the call that the reception he has received during the bus tour is tremendous, according to one of the Republicans.

It seems to me that Steele was barely tolerable when the Republicans were in the minority and no hope was in sight. But the GOP is about to take the House and has a decent chance of defeating President Obama in 2012. Is this the guy to lead the RNC?

4. Quote of the Day. In chart form!

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