By DAVID S. BERNSTEIN  |  October 20, 2010

Still, he's not popular enough to help his party much in these elections. He is being trotted out to boost the Democratic base in carefully selected places, but elsewhere he has been kept far away.

Instead, he has been signaling changes — most notably, the high-profile wholesale departure of his economic team, whose exodus is analogous to Bush firing Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld after the 2006 midterms.

That may help some in persuading voters to keep congressional Democrats in power. But regardless, it helps Obama pivot toward the election cycle that starts immediately after November — the one that puts him up for re-election.

Reid: Struggling for survival
At the start of the year, most national analysts were chalking Reid up as a lost cause, the victim of brutal conditions in his home state of Nevada, where the housing bubble and decline in tourism spending has rocked the economy.

Thanks to the nomination of controversial Tea Party darling Sharron Angle, Reid has climbed back to make it a neck-and-neck race. But that, in turn, has focused national attention and resources on it, turning it into a national bellwether of sorts.

Reid, who as Majority Leader stitched together 60-vote, filibuster-busting coalitions on the Democrats' legislation, is now being pressed to defend those actions, as he was in a recent debate with Angle broadcast nationally on cable stations.

He, in turn, has made Angle a national symbol of Tea Party extremism, pillorying her for wanting to privatize Social Security, eliminate the Department of Education, and, in that recent debate, arguing that health insurers should not have any mandates at all for their coverage.

It is, as the New Yorker just chimed in, a "great clash of social visions." And, for their part, national conservatives are eager to make this a referendum on the Tea Party movement versus the Democratic establishment. The "Tea Party Express," which came to Boston earlier this year with Sarah Palin herself, kicked off its tour in Reid's hometown. And Angle raised a jaw-dropping $14 million in the last three months.

This clash is also taking place in crucial territory; the Democrats have worked hard to add the Southwest to their side of the ledger in recent years, and the long-term balance of national power likely depends on how Nevada, Colorado, Arizona, and New Mexico vote.

But the region is also among the hardest hit by the economy, and home to a libertarian strain that makes it ripe for the Tea Party movement. After that debate highlighted the clear, extreme differences between the two, Angle took a slight lead in the polls, which suggests that Nevadans may be ready to make a national statement by ousting Reid.

Pelosi: Under fire
A National Public Radio study finds that, other than Obama, Pelosi is by far the most commonly cited person in congressional candidates' Web sites, Facebook pages, and Twitter feeds. The chairman of the Republican National Committee, Michael Steele, is traveling the country in a "Fire Pelosi" bus. Even here in blue Massachusetts, GOP nominees are explicitly linking incumbents like Richard Neal and Barney Frank to Pelosi.

Pelosi has been vilified by the right for years, particularly since she became Speaker after the 2006 elections — bringing her "San Francisco liberalism" to the House.

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