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First thoughts: Good Friday (for Dems)

A pretty positive jobs report for the White House, with employers adding 162,000 in March… Unemployment rate remains unchanged at 9.7%... Obama heads to North Carolina -- again -- to talk jobs… President admits the midterms will be tough for Democrats, but there are a couple reasons why 2010 might not be 1994… Obama as media critic… First Read's Top 10 issues… And fundraising news becomes a story in the Lincoln-Halter primary in Arkansas.

From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, and Ali Weinberg
*** Good Friday (for Dems): Last Friday, we said that today's job report would likely determine whether the Obama White House and Democrats would enjoy another good week. The news from the report? It's pretty good -- but with some caveats. In March, the AP writes, employers added 162,000 jobs and the unemployment rate remained unchanged, at 9.7%. But while that 162,000 figure represents the largest monthly jobs gain in three years, it is below the nearly 200,000 that some economists were predicting. What's more, some of that growth comes from temporary Census jobs. That said, the AP reports that private employers added 123,000 jobs, so it would be incorrect to attribute most of the gains to the Census jobs.

*** Carolina on my mind: As has been the pattern when the monthly jobs numbers are released, Obama hits the road -- this time to Charlotte, NC, where he delivers remarks on the economy at 11:55 am ET. This is his third visit to the normally red state since he became president, NBC's Athena Jones points out. And both the vice president and the first lady also have traveled to North Carolina. Keeping North Carolina blue is a mini-obsession of the Obama White House, and while they will claim this has nothing to do with politics, it's apparent that politics is playing a role here. House Minority Leader John Boehner pre-buts Obama's visit with an op-ed in the Charlotte Observer.

*** A difficult midterm season for Dems: At one of his fundraisers last night in Boston, Obama admitted that the midterm elections will be difficult for Democrats. "These November elections … will be hard, partly because this country is still divided. And after 2006 and 2008 we hit a very high watermark in terms of Democratic representation in Congress and governorships and we're in the midst of what is still a very difficult time," Obama said. And the comparisons to 1994, when Democrats lost the House and Senate, are growing. Yesterday's USA Today said that the attitudes from its recent poll were reminiscent to those from '94. And Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg has said that if the midterms were held today, we'd see another 1994.

*** 2010 vs. 1994: But there are now a couple of big differences between now and 1994. First, Democrats are more united now than they were back then (see: health care). As Ron Brownstein writes in his National Journal column, "Democrats remain divided on immigration, climate change, and some other issues, but they have united enough to make this arguably the most productive legislative session for any Democratic president since Lyndon Johnson." Second, retirements have been the dog that hasn't barked, especially this week. Remember that congressional recess periods are times when you normally hear about retirements. Yet we haven't heard about a single one so far during this break. Of course, we still have a week to go. But even now, there are more GOP retirements for House and Senate seats than Dem ones. That said, more of those Democratic retirements are in swing states and districts. But so far, it's not anything like 1994. 

*** Media Critic-In-Chief: We're the first to admit that the media's intense 24-7 coverage of the Obama White House -- Who's up, who's down? Is the president FDR or Jimmy Carter? What is Sarah Palin saying about Obama via Facebook? Is this make-or-break for the history books? -- hasn't produced some of the greatest moments in political journalism. And we admit that as cautious as we try to be, we're guilty of some of this, too. But what's equally interesting here is how much Obama clearly HATES the political chatter to the point that he, himself, can't stop talking about it. "You have to love some of the pundits in Washington," Obama said yesterday in Maine. "Every day since I signed reform into law, there's another poll or headline that says 'Nation still divided on health care reform.' 'Polls haven't changed yet.' Well, yeah -- it just happened last week!" He then added, "Can you imagine if some of these reporters were working on a farm? You planted some seeds and they came out the next day and they looked and they said, 'Nothing's happened! There's no crop! We're gonna starve! Oh no!"

*** Crippled or The Comeback Kid? Of course, this isn't the first time Obama has criticized how the media covers him and Washington politics. Last month while campaigning for health care in Virginia, he said: "What [cable stations] like to talk about is the politics of the vote. What does this mean in November?  What does it mean to the poll numbers? Is this more of an advantage for Democrats or Republicans? What's it going to mean for Obama? Will his presidency be crippled, or will he be the comeback kid?" And the president repeated his "farm" jokes at both fundraisers in Boston last night. The president's shots at the media really irk conservatives, who believe (without as much evidence as they think they have) that somehow the White House gets a free pass constantly from the media. The fact is this: Everyone hates to have their every move covered, whether they are liberal or conservative, Republican or Democrat, a 0 handicap or an 18 handicap, a .255 hitter or a .330 hitter; a two-time Super Bowl winning QB or a career backup.

*** First Read's Top 10 Issues: If it's Friday's, it's time for another First Read Top 10 list -- this time a look at what we consider to be the Top 10 issues/themes playing out so far in the midterm races we're following.
1. Washington: With less than 20% of the country approving of Congress' job, it's not surprising that everyone from Rick Perry and Robin Carnahan to Blanche Lincoln and Michael Bennet are running against -- or away from -- Washington.
2. Economy/Jobs: While this is undoubtedly the most important issue affecting the country and Obama's political health, as well as the one that is most impacting Democrats' midterm prospects, we've noticed more candidates running against Washington than on the economy so far. Will this change by August?
3. TARP/Bailouts: If their opponent voted for the TARP back in the fall of 2008, you're seeing candidates -- left and right, from Bill Halter to those competing against Utah Sen. Bob Bennett -- reminding folks about that vote.
4. Health Care: Whether it's Democrats justifying their votes for the legislation, Democrats arguing over the law (Conway vs. Mongiardo), Republicans trying to repeal it, or those backing away from repeal (Mark Kirk), health care is a potent issue. But does it recede a month or two from now? Right now, it's MOST pronounced in any race featuring a sitting attorney general.
5. Wall Street: While Republicans and conservatives are railing against TARP, Democrats and progressives are going after Wall Street. Martha Coakley tried to seize on this issue earlier this year, but it didn't save her. Still, anti-Wall Street sentiment could really resonate as financial reform heats up.
6. Barack Obama: In Republican primaries, we've seen Marco Rubio criticize Charlie Crist for embracing the president last year; in Dem primaries, we've seen candidates like Arlen Specter and Joe Sestak compete to see who is the more loyal to the president; and in Arizona, we've seen J.D. Hayworth and John McCain battle over Obama's citizenship. The open question is how much Obama becomes an issue once GENERAL elections get started. Do Republicans run against Congress and Pelosi or Obama or try to fuse them all together?
7. Establishment vs. Anti-Establishment: We're seeing this story play out in Kentucky (Grayson vs. Paul) as well as in New Hampshire (Ayotte vs. Lamontagne and Binnie).
8. 9/11/National Security: We're a long way removed from 2001 or even 2004. But 9/11 and security politics remain an issue, particularly in the Grayson vs. Paul primary in Kentucky.
9. Competence: At a time when states are facing budget deficits, gubernatorial candidates across the country -- Rick Snyder in Michigan ("one tough nerd"), Jerry Brown and Meg Whitman in California, and Terry Branstad in Iowa -- are playing up their experience or smarts. This is a theme we expect to see move up our list as November draws closer.
10. Immigration: We're also a long way removed from the immigration battles of 2006 and 2007, but the issue could easily reappear if the Obama White House and congressional Democrats try to push it through Congress this summer. This is the dog that hasn't bit yet beyond some isolated incidents in races out West.

*** Super Senate Tuesday: In Arkansas, Blanche Lincoln's campaign announced that it had raised more than $1 million in the 1st quarter, which was news Bill Halter's campaign (which raised $2 million in one month) pounced on. Still, Lincoln has $4 million in the bank. One thing is for sure: Money isn't going to be a reason Halter comes up short.… In Kentucky, Democrats Jack Conway and Dan Mongiardo participated in a candidate forum, where the two clashed over health care (Conway is for the health law, while Mongiardo is against it).

*** Other midterm news: In Illinois, there's breaking news that Alexi Giannoulias' family bank "loaned a pair of Chicago crime figures about $20 million during a 14-month period when Giannoulias was a senior loan officer." (And the bank hasn't officially shut down yet, that happens later this month)… And in New York, Rick Lazio says he isn't dropping his gubernatorial bid to run for the Senate.

Countdown to IN, NC, and OH primaries: 32 days
Countdown to NE and WV primaries: 39 days
Countdown to AR, KY, OR and PA primaries: 46 days
Countdown to Election Day 2010: 214 days

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