From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, and Ali Weinberg
*** Back to Indiana: On Feb. 9, about a week before he signed the economic stimulus into law, Obama made his first trip outside of DC since becoming president, to Elkhart, IN, which bills itself as the "RV capital of the world." Today, he's headed back to Elkhart County (visiting Wakarusa), where he will deliver remarks on the economy and announce grants for the manufacture of electric vehicles and advanced batteries at 11:55 am ET. When he first traveled to Elkhart, the unemployment rate there was 15.3%; it's now 16.8% (although that has dropped from 18.9% in March). Previewing today's visit, the New York Times quotes an Elkhart resident, who says that Obama has "given to the car makers, the banks -- but what about the regular people? All I see around here is empty houses -- a ghost town."
*** Obama's perception problem: That particular quote is similar to what we've seen in some polling: that the public has conflated the stimulus, bank bailout, and car bailout all into one deal, when they're actually very separate things. So the complaint is that the stimulus -- which gave most Americans tax relief, which gave money to states to keep workers employed, and which is financing transportation construction projects -- appears to be going to the HAVES (i.e., corporate America) and not to the HAVE NOTS. A Northern Virginia woman mentioned in a front-page Washington Post story expresses the same opinion: "Nothing's changed for the common guy. I feel like I've been punked."
*** Elkhart's the new Peoria: So let's see today if Obama tries to explain to Elkhart residents -- and the nation -- how the common guy is going to benefit under the administration's policies. You've heard the line, "How is it playing in Peoria?" Well, Elkhart is this president's Peoria. How Elkhart goes, so goes the Obama presidency? By the way, one of us is interviewing Obama in Elkhart, asking him questions submitted by residents as part of MSNBC.com's Elkhart Project.
*** Good news, bad news: Obama isn't the only administration official hitting the road today to talk about the economy. Vice President Biden
will be in Detroit; Commerce Secretary Gary Locke heads to Kansas City; and Energy Secretary Steven Chu hits Charlotte, NC. All of them have some real green shoots to talk about -- the economy no longer is in a free fall, last week's GDP numbers suggested that we're poised for a rebound, and "cash for clunkers" has given the car industry a shot in the arm. But as the New York Times notes, there's likely to be some bad news around the corner. "Data to be released on Friday are expected to show that unemployment, 9.5 percent in June, rose again in July, perhaps to more than 10 percent for the first time since 1983. For Americans, double-digit unemployment could be a psychological threshold with political ramifications for Mr. Obama."
*** Reunited and it feels so good: The plane carrying Bill Clinton and the two American journalists who had been detained in North Korea has landed in California. Also attending the welcome event: Al Gore. So not only are the journalists reunited with their families, but Clinton and Gore are now reunited as well. Also, will all of this lead to something bigger with North Korea? Will this bring them to the multilateral talks?
*** 2005 vs. 2009: If you're a reporter who covered politics back in 2005, you know this pretty well: Brad Woodhouse and Americans United (funded by organized labor) helped defeat Bush's Social Security reform. They organized protests, ran TV ads, and held town halls to get members of Congress on the record on Social Security. All of which seems ironic now that Woodhouse -- the current communications director at Obama's DNC -- issued a statement yesterday denouncing the conservative "mobs" at Dem town halls. "Republicans and their allied groups … are inciting angry mobs of a small number of rabid right wing extremists funded by K Street lobbyists to disrupt thoughtful discussions about the future of health care in America taking place in congressional districts across the country," he said. And now the DNC has upped the ante, producing a Web video, entitled "Enough of the Mob," that conflates these protests with the so-called "birthers."
Video: WashingtonPost.com's Chris Cillizza and Politico's Jeanne Cummings discuss whether the recent town hall protests are the product of real, grassroots rage or are merely a political stunt orchestrated by the right.
*** Fired up, ready to go: A person who was involved in those anti-Social Security reform protests back in '05 tells First Read that they discouraged civil disobedience, frowned on arrests, and coached their people to stay on message. Indeed, these anti-Obama, anti-Dem protests do pose a potential risk for the GOP, especially as we see images of devil horns on a relatively popular congressman from liberal Austin, TX, Nazi "SS" references, and even protestors now joking about Chris Dodd's cancer. At the same time, however, these conservative protests at Dem town halls are suggesting an enthusiasm from Republicans that we haven't seen in years. To borrow a phrase from Obama, they're fired up and ready to go. By comparison, we're no longer seeing that from Democrats and liberals. Will that begin to change?
*** The Latino vote: With the Senate debating Sonia Sotomayor's Supreme Court nomination, it's worth pointing out how stable Obama's support among Latinos has been since becoming president -- even as his poll numbers are falling back to earth. In our Feb/March poll, Obama's approval among Latinos was at 67%; in April it was 76%; in June it was 71%, and July it was 66%. These percentages are consistent with the exit polls, which showed Obama getting 67% of the Latino vote. On the other hand, Republicans haven't made much progress with Latinos. In Feb./March, the GOP's fav/unfav among Hispanics was 25%-41%; in April it was 26%-50%; in June it was 29%-48%; and in July it was 20%-41%.
*** GOP watch: Texas Sen. John Cornyn, chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, holds a pen-and-pad briefing with reporters at 10:30 am ET to discuss the 2010 Senate races. And RNC Chairman Michael Steele holds a conference call at 2:40 pm to discuss Obama's first 200 days in office (the 200th day actually falls on Friday).
Countdown to Election Day 2009: 90 days
Countdown to Election Day 2010: 454 days