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The new Rasmussen poll of the Illinois Senate race shows Democratic state Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias taking a narrow lead over Republican Rep. Mark Kirk -- or rather, it shows Kirk falling behind Giannoulias, in a race where both candidates are unpopular.

The numbers: Giannoulias 40%, Kirk 39%. The survey of likely voters has a ±4.5% margin of error. In the previous poll from a month ago, Kirk led by 42%-39%. The TPM Poll Average gives Kirk a narrow edges of 41.3%-38.9% in a two-way race, not including third-party candidates that could potentially pick up significant protest votes.

Both candidates have suffered from stories that have seriously hurt them with the public. In Giannoulias's case, it's the failure of his family's bank, and for Kirk it's his long history of making false statements about his military service. In this new poll Giannoulias's favorable rating is at only 43%, with 46% unfavorable -- and Kirk is at an even worse 39%-48%.

We told you yesterday about a 2007 document that shows that the National Marine Fisheries Service drastically underestimated the size of a potential oil spill and its effect on endangered species like sea turtles when they signed off on lease sales for drilling sites in the Gulf. A Fisheries official now tells TPMmuckraker that, once the leak is resolved the agency will revisit the opinion.

The agency is charged with enforcing the Endangered Species Act, and part of its mandate is to consult with other federal agencies on whether a proposal -- in this case, opening more of the Gulf to oil and gas drilling -- will jeopardize the existence of protected species.

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It was only a year ago that Sarah Palin invented out of whole cloth the concept of "death panels" and accused Congress of inserting them into the health care bill. Though they have been at this point thoroughly debunked as a way for Medicare to pay for doctors to talk patients through their options on end-of-life care before they are at the end of their lives, the concept that the government will decide which seniors should live and which should die apparently continues to hold resonance for easily-frightened elderly people, Fox News viewers and Fox News legal contributor and former Pataki appointee Peter Johnson, Jr.. That's the only explanation for Johnson's resurrection of death panels today in order to attack the new Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Donald Berwick.

Berwick, the new Republican whipping boy for health care reform, once expressed admiration for the British system because of its ability to provide universal coverage and improve care. Obviously, that means he plans to use his new position to kill off American's senior citizens.

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Sharron Angle, the Republican nominee for Senate in Nevada against Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, explained her opposition to abortion even in cases of rape and incest: "Two wrongs don't make a right," and young girls who sought alternatives to abortion "made what was really a lemon situation into lemonade."

As Sam Stein reports, in a radio interview in late June, with conservative talker Alan Stock, Angle explained:

Stock: What do you say then to a young girl, I am going to place it as he said it, when a young girl is raped by her father, let's say, and she is pregnant. How do you explain this to her in terms of wanting her to go through the process of having the baby?

Angle: I think that two wrongs don't make a right. And I have been in the situation of counseling young girls, not 13 but 15, who have had very at risk, difficult pregnancies. And my counsel was to look for some alternatives, which they did. And they found that they had made what was really a lemon situation into lemonade. Well one girl in particular moved in with the adoptive parents of her child, and they both were adopted. Both of them grew up, one graduated from high school, the other had parents that loved her and she also graduated from high school. And I'll tell you the little girl who was born from that very poor situation came to me when she was 13 and said 'I know what you did thank you for saving my life.' So it is meaningful to me to err on the side of life.

The TPM Poll Average currently gives Angle a lead of 46.0%-40.8%.

Pennsylvania Senate hopeful Pat Toomey (R) is on the air with his first television ads introducing himself to voters and - surprise! - framing his rival as "really liberal." In the ads Toomey criticizes Rep. Joe Sestak (D) for voting for the $787 billion stimulus, a cap-and-trade system and health care reform.

"Joe Sestak voted for government-run health care," one ad blares. "But he went much further. Sestak voted to permit banning all private health insurance That's really liberal."

The TPM Poll Average of this race has the candidates nearly tied, with Toomey holding a slight 41.9 lead over Sestak's 41.2. Sestak effectively unseated Sen. Arlen Specter by clobbering the Republican-turned-Democrat in the May Democratic primary.

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Sharron Angle, the Republican nominee in Nevada against Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, has now taken a very politically curious step -- opposing the $20 billion escrow fund that BP negotiated with the Obama administration, calling it a "slush fund."

Greg Sargent reports that Angle appeared on a local radio show, where a caller bashed the escrow fund as "extortion" and a "slush fund." Angle then agreed: "Government shouldn't be doing that to a private company. And I think you named it clearly: It's a slush fund." She further added: "They're actually using this crisis if you will, because they never waste one -- Saul Alinsky's rules for radicals -- they are using this crisis now to get in cap and trade, and every crime and penalty, and slush fund." Click here to listen to the audio.

This puts Angle in the company of Republicans like Rep. Joe Barton of Texas, who apologized to BP for the creation of the fund -- and in his case, Barton was forced by the GOP leadership to retract his statements.

The TPM Poll Average gives Angle a lead of 46.0%-40.8%.

Republican Rob Portman is sitting pretty at the end of second quarter fundraising in the Ohio Senate race. The former Congressman and Bush Administration official hauled in $2.65 million between April and June, bringing his total cash on hand to an impressive $8.8 million in the race against Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher, the Democratic nominee.

Fisher has not released his fundraising numbers yet, but Portman's figures show that the Republicans are more than ready to play for the open Ohio seat.

The race is sure to be one of the most competitive of the cycle, and it's still either party's to win. The TPM Poll Average shows the race to be a dead heat, with Fisher drawing 42.5% of the vote to Portman's 41.4%

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Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) has been hammering his primary challenger, former Rep. J.D. Hayworth, over Hayworth's involvement in a 2007 informercial promoting highly questionable seminars for "free money" in government grants. Now McCain's own ethics are being questioned -- by "free money" pitchman Matthew Lesko, who says McCain violated copyright laws by using Lesko's image in an attack on Hayworth.

The Mccain campaign posted a Web video likening Hayworth to various late-night infomercial pitchmen, including clips of Lesko in his signature Riddler suit-jacket among others. (Note: The company Hayworth worked for was not associated with Lesko.) Lesko then told the Associated Press that he was not ruling out suing McCain for copyright infringement. "I'm amazed that these people just do things without requesting. I would've said yes," Lesko said. "I'm just shocked at the impoliteness that people do this stuff. There's no remorse."

Lesko also posted on Twitter: "John McCain's team didn't ask permission to use my commercial footage in their ad.. I'm flabbergasted." He followed that up with another post: "All might be fair in love and war, even AZ politics, but not with violated copyright laws."

We asked McCain spokesman Brian Rogers for comment on Lesko's statement about "violated copyright laws." "Our web ad is obviously political speech, and our lawyers advise us that its fleeting image of Mr. Lesko to make a political point is 'fair use' under the intellectual property laws," said Rogers.

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