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The Boehner-Gibbs Sideshow

Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio

On Sunday, Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, said he would support renewing tax cuts for the middle class. File photo By Bill Clark/Roll Call via Getty Images.

The Morning Lne

As is often the case in politics, there’s the storyline being pushed by one side or the other and then there’s the more important story lurking in the background.

The White House was eager to take a victory lap Monday on the network morning shows after House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, opened the door to the possibility of voting to extend middle class tax cuts irrespective of what happens with the debate surrounding the tax breaks for high wage earners.

“If the only option I have is to vote for some of those tax reductions, I’ll vote for it. But I’ve been making the point now for months that we need to extend all the current rates for all Americans if we want to get our economy going again, and we want to get jobs in America,” Boehner told CBS’ Bob Schieffer on “Face the Nation” Sunday.

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs immediately sought to paint Boehner’s comments as caving to the political pressure applied by President Obama last week when he repeatedly blamed Republicans for holding middle class tax cuts hostage in exchange for extending the Bush-era tax cuts for all income brackets.

“We welcome John Boehner’s change in position and support for the middle class tax cuts, but time will tell if his actions will be anything but continued support for the failed policies that got us into this mess,” Gibbs said in a statement Sunday evening.

Boehner immediately shot back, reasserting his commitment to seeking extension of all the tax cuts at every income level.

“If the president is serious about job creation, there’s a clear way forward, and that’s for us to come together and pass legislation immediately that cuts spending to 2008 levels for the next year and stops all of the coming tax hikes by freezing all current tax rates for the next two years. Anything short of that may selfishly check a political box for the president, but it fails the American people,” Boehner said in response to Gibbs’ statement.

But as we said, the Gibbs-Boehner to and fro is a distraction from where the central debate over the Bush-era tax cuts is likely to take place.

Some Senate Democrats, including Evan Bayh, Kent Conrad and Ben Nelson, and independent Joe Lieberman are in favor of extending the tax cuts for all Americans, including high-income Americans.

And since the debate surrounding the tax cuts is expected to play out in the Senate more acutely than in the House, it’s within President Obama’s own party where much of this argument will transpire.

With many Democrats fearful of being labeled as a classic liberal tax hiker on the campaign trail this fall, allowing the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy to expire in the midst of a recession appears somewhat unattractive.

However, it’s clear that charging up the Democratic base is a critical component to staving off disaster this November for the majority party. And extending tax cuts for the wealthiest two percent of Americans — which nearly every Democratic presidential candidate since 2004 has promised not to do — would likely further depress a thus far less than enthused base.

Therein lies the political tension the White House and Democratic leaders in Congress need to solve, which is likely to prove far trickier than going on morning television and scoring some points against Boehner.

PRIMARY MADNESS

Tuesday’s primaries in Delaware and New Hampshire could highlight once again the strength of the anti-establishment wave sweeping the country, as two insurgent Senate candidates with strong Tea Party support seek to knock off opponents favored by the national Republican Party.

In Delaware, a survey released Sunday by Public Policy Polling, a firm affiliated with the Democratic Party, shows Tea Party favored Christine O’Donnell leading moderate nine-term Congressman Mike Castle by three points, within the margin of error.

The poll indicates Castle has overwhelming support among moderate Republicans, 69-21, but they’re expected to make up only a third of the primary vote. O’Donnell, meanwhile, holds a 62-31 advantage with conservatives, enough to give her an overall lead of 47-44.

The survey brings O’Donnell another jolt to her surging campaign. Late Friday she received the endorsement of conservative Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C. It was DeMint who last year said, “I would rather have 30 Republicans in the Senate who really believe in principles of limited government, free markets, free people, than to have 60 that don’t have a set of beliefs.”

DeMint’s support of O’Donnell is just the latest example of the South Carolinian siding with a candidate who was not favored by the National Republican Senatorial Committee. The list of insurgents-turned-nominees backed by DeMint includes Marco Rubio in Florida, Rand Paul in Kentucky, Ken Buck in Colorado and Mike Lee in Utah. In the case of Lee, DeMint sided with a challenger against one of his Senate Republican colleagues, Robert Bennett.

DeMint’s decision comes on the heels of former vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin’s endorsement of O’Donnell last Thursday. The support of the two high-profile Republicans could boost O’Donnell’s stature among Delaware conservatives even further, a potentially significant advantage in the state’s closed primary.

At the same time, DeMint also waded into New Hampshire’s GOP Senate primary on Friday, endorsing attorney Ovide Lamontagne, putting him at odds with not just the national party but Palin as well.

The party’s choice in New Hampshire is former state attorney general Kelly Ayotte, named a “Mama Grizzly” by Palin, a distinction the former Alaska governor gives to conservative women she has endorsed.

Lamontagne, the former head of the state board of education, has surged recently to become Ayotte’s top competitor, presenting himself as the true conservative candidate in the race.

In his only television ad of the campaign, which also touts his endorsement by the New Hampshire Union Leader, Lamontagne says, “I am not the establishment candidate nor a new conservative trying to buy your vote.”

Another Public Policy Polling survey released Sunday gives Ayotte a seven-point lead over Lamontagne, 37-30, down from what had been a 39-point advantage in late July. The two other candidates in the race, Bill Binnie and Jim Bender, poll at 13 and 12 percent respectively.

Unlike Castle, Ayotte splits the conservative tea party vote with Lamontagne, 38-37, while also maintaining a 39-17 lead among moderates.

AD-VANTAGE

The National Republican Campaign Committee released a series of ads Sunday aimed at vulnerable House Democrats who have supported “key aspects of the Obama-Pelosi agenda.”

Those targeted in the ads include Tennessee Rep. Roy Herron, Florida Rep. Allen Boyd, Texas Rep. Chet Edwards, Alabama Rep. Bobby Bright, Mississippi Rep. Travis Childers, Virginia Rep. Tom Perriello, Arizona Rep. Anne Kirkpatrick and Julie Lassa, who is running for retiring Rep. David Obey’s seat in Wisconsin.

“Our economy is hurting, but Allen Boyd sides with Nancy Pelosi and he’s killing our jobs,” goes one ad. Another says, “Kirkpatrick voted to spend billions of tax dollars on the failed stimulus that gave Wall Street bonuses and created more debt.”

NRCC Communications Director Ken Spain said in a statement: “The Democrat-led Congress has forced through a number of job-killing, budget-busting policies and these Democrats have played pivotal roles in making this failed, out of touch agenda a reality.”

Right on cue, Jeff Zeleny of the New York Times reports Monday that in television ads of their own Democrats are “not extolling their party’s accomplishments, but rather distancing themselves from their party’s agenda.”

The article also details the money advantage the GOP has in ad spending of late:

“In the last six weeks, Republicans have outspent Democrats $20 million to $13 million in television advertising, according to an analysis by The New York Times of 56 of the nation’s most competitive House and Senate races. The Republican advantage includes $9 million in spending from outside groups, compared with $3 million from left-leaning interests.”

Even with Democrats shying away from the national party and many polls showing Republicans with a significant generic ballot lead among likely voters, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., predicted Sunday on CNN that his party would “probably” lose seats in November but still retain its majority.

— An earlier version of this post contained incorrect figures for Delaware Congressman Mike Castle’s support among moderate Republicans.

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