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Democrats lead in generic ballot

By Mark Preston
CNN Political Editor

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A majority of Americans say they will vote for Democratic candidates in the midterm elections, but the same number say things are going "well" in the country today, according to a new CNN poll conducted by Opinion Research Corporation.

The poll is the latest sign that Democrats are within striking distance of taking back control of the House and perhaps the Senate in November. Such a scenario would all but neutralize President Bush in his final two years in office.

Fifty-three percent of Americans said they favored Democrats in November compared to 40 percent for Republicans. And only 40 percent of Americans believe that the Republican led Congress has been a success since taking control in 1995. In 1998, when asked this same question, 58 percent of Americans said they believed the GOP was successful in leading the House and Senate.

Still, 55 percent of Americans believe that things are going "well" compared to 44 percent who said things are going "poorly." And Democrats need to do a better job convincing voters they are better equipped than Republicans to lead the Congress. Only 41 percent of Americans believe that Democratic leaders in Congress "would move the country in the right direction." As for the GOP, 43 percent of Americans believe that Republican leaders in Congress "would move the country in the right direction."

As for the top four issues on voters minds: terrorism, gas prices, Iraq and the economy.

Democrats need to gain 15 seats in the House and six seats in the Senate to take back the respective majorities. The poll was conducted August 2 and 3 and surveyed 1,047 adult Americans.

The last 48 hours

To say the political world has been shaken up in the last 48 hours would be an understatement. Three incumbents go down in defeat to members of their own party. The biggest story, of course, is Sen. Joe Lieberman's (D-Connecticut) loss and his decision to seek an independent bid for re-election, much to his party leadership's chagrin. The most overlooked race was Rep. Joe Schwarz's (R-Michigan) loss to a challenger from his right. Should centrist Republicans be concerned? Rep. Cynthia McKinney (D-Georgia) loses for the second time in six years, but her defeat was the result of her own doing.

In Connecticut, the national reporters have decamped, but Nutmeg State voters should expect them back. On Tuesday night, no fewer than 19 satellite and microwave television trucks were parked outside of Lieberman's campaign event beaming his declaration to continue on with his re-election campaign to viewers across the country and around the world, CNN's Mike Roselli reports. "That's big time," the veteran of three presidential campaigns, said of the coverage.

Ned Lamont now has the backing of the Democratic establishment and we expect to hear more public endorsements of him today. Still, not everyone is abandoning Lieberman. It only took 11 words for Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Nebraska), who is one of, if not the most conservative Democrat in the Senate, to make his intentions known. "Joe Lieberman is my friend and I will support his decision," Nelson said in a statement released yesterday. Nelson joins a small list of colleagues including Sens. Tom Carper (D-Delaware), Mark Pryor (D-Arkansas) and Ken Salazar (D-Colorado) who are standing with Lieberman.

But Lieberman is not standing by his campaign team. It didn't take long for him to clean house. Less than 24 hours after he announced plans to launch an independent bid for re-election, the three term senator brought on a new campaign manager and communications director. Sherry Brown, the senator's state director, will now head the campaign. Dan Gerstein, who worked a decade for Lieberman, will be the new chief spokesman. Lieberman is also looking for a new media consultant and pollster.

"I don't blame my staff for my loss on Tuesday," Lieberman said. "I bear that responsibility. But now that we are entering a new and very different phase of the campaign, I wanted to bring in a new team."

Despite calls from the 'netroots' community for the Democratic leadership to strip Lieberman of his committee assignments, a Democratic leadership aide tells the Grind there is no plan to do that now. As for what happens next year if Lieberman wins, the aide said, "We are taking one step at a time."

Despite getting the cold shoulder from party leaders, Lieberman has vowed to remain a Democrat and said he will continue to caucus with Democratic senators. And the Grind believes that if Lieberman does win in November he will retain those seats, specifically his senior post on the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. After all, it was Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada), who stepped aside to give Independent Sen. Jim Jeffords (Vermont) the helm of the Environment and Public Works committee when he abandoned the Republican Party in 2001. As you might remember, the Jeffords switch handed Democrats control of the Senate and made Reid the minority whip.

Bayh's political troops

Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Indiana) is flooding Iowa with 25 campaign staffers to help Hawkeye State Democrats in the midterms, a move designed to help build good will with influential caucus-goers should he run for president in 2008. The Indiana Democrat is also sending 15 staffers to New Hampshire as well as three to Nevada and two to South Carolina. The Democratic National Committee is expected to ratify a proposal next week to have Nevada and South Carolina join Iowa and New Hampshire on the early part of the party's presidential nominating calendar. Five staffers will remain in Indiana, where the Democratic senator trained these new campaign operatives at his campaign school "Camp Bayh."

Bayh is not the only potential presidential candidate placing people in important early states this fall. Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wisconsin) has established a similar campaign training program, while Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tennessee) has a paid staffer on the ground in Iowa.

Grind Trivia: Thinking Feller?

By Robert Yoon

CNN Political Research Director

Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Connecticut), now serving his third term in the U.S. Senate, made news this week by losing his party's primary to political newcomer Ned Lamont. Three terms is nothing to sneeze at, but former Tennessee Sen. Kenneth McKellar (D) had served a whopping 35 years before being unceremoniously booted in his party's Senate primary in 1952. McKellar's campaign slogan that year was, "Thinking Feller? Vote McKellar." What was the campaign slogan of the candidate who defeated McKellar in the primary?

Submit your answer to the morning.grind@cnn.com. The lucky Grind reader who answers this question correctly will win a mildly coveted, special edition "CNN Mardis Gras 2006" bead necklace and pendant. Sure to impress all of your raucous friends during your next visit to the Big Easy. If there are multiple correct answers, a winner will be selected at random by our departing political intern Josh Lipsky, whose last day is Friday. In your response, please include your first name, last name, and your home town and state. The answer and winner will be announced on Monday. Good luck!

Dayahead/Events making news today

  • President Bush takes a break from clearing brush on his Crawford, Texas ranch to head to Wisconsin to talk about the economy and attend a fundraiser. Bush is expected to tour Fox Valley Metal Tech in Green Bay at 12 p.m. ET and then makes a statement on the economy at 12:35 p.m. ET. Afterwards, Bush heads over to Oneida, Wisconsin to attend a 1:50 p.m. ET fundraiser for Assembly Speaker John Gard, who is running for Congress. Bush returns to Crawford tonight.
  • The Senate is in recess until September 5, 2006. The Senate Radio-Television Correspondents' Gallery Daybook: http://www.senate.gov/galleries/radiotv/list.htm
  • The House is in recess until September 6. The House Radio-Television Correspondents' Gallery Daybook: http://radiotv.house.gov/news-events.aspx
  • The Iowa State Fair opens in Des Moines: http://www.iowastatefair.com/
  • Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Indiana) meets with graduates of his campaign school "Camp Bayh" today in Indianapolis. He addresses the group at 11:30 a.m. ET.
  • Former Sen. John Edwards (D-North Carolina), a potential presidential candidate joins Minnesota Senate candidate Amy Klobuchar at 1 p.m. for a Rally for Change in Minnesota. He then heads to Iowa to attend the third annual Democratic "Wing-Ding" sponsored by Cerro Gordo, Hancock and Winnebago County Democrats at 8 p.m. ET in Clear Lake.
  • Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R), a potential presidential candidate, attends the Republican Party of Wisconsin's "Countdown to Victory Reception" in Milwaukee at 8:30 p.m. ET.
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