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First Thoughts: Big 10 focus

Obama today visits Penn State, bringing into focus the electoral importance of the Big 10 states… The president’s speech there is at noon ET… Our question regarding Egypt: What happens there tomorrow?... Romney says his campaign would “take me to Iowa” if he runs, but does that mean a full-fledged Iowa effort?... Thune tells Politico he loves his job in the Senate, which suggests he very well might not run… When Joe Manchin and Olympia Snowe can’t agree on health care, then you know it has become a partisan issue… And Rummy returns.

From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, and Ali Weinberg
*** Big 10 focus: In 2008, Barack Obama pulled off this feat: He won EVERY state associated with the Big 10 -- Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. (And he even picked up one electoral vote in the state of the conference's newest member, Nebraska.) But last year, Democrats lost EVERY statewide contest in those same states except two, the gubernatorial races in Illinois and Minnesota (and both were thisclose). Talk about swing states and a swing region. That's why, to no one's surprise, President Obama visited Wisconsin the day after his State of the Union. And it's why he heads today to State College, PA -- the home of Big 10 power Penn State. Also note that like last week’s trip to Wisconsin, Obama’s stop in Pennsylvania is in a swing part of the state. In fact, Pat Toomey won this country (Centre) with 51% of the vote last year. In ’08, Obama got 55%. Last year, the president would visit safe Democratic areas inside swing states. This year, so far, he’s visiting actual swing parts of swing states.

*** Still trying to win the future: In Pennsylvania, Obama will repeat his innovation and win-the-future message -- which certainly will be overshadowed by the continued violence and unrest in Egypt. At the Penn State campus, the White House says, the president will tour labs focused on energy-efficient building solutions. Then, at noon ET, Obama will deliver remarks on innovation and clean energy. At publication time, Obama was about to speak at the National Prayer Breakfast. Also at publication time, the RNC was holding a conference call pre-butting Obama’s visit to the Keystone State.

*** What happens tomorrow in Egypt? As for the situation in Egypt, today isn’t as bad as yesterday but that doesn't mean it's good. Per NBC’s Charlene Gubash in Cairo, Egypt’s prime minister -- though not Mubarak himself -- apologized for yesterday’s attacks on protestors and said the government will investigate who is behind it. The big question, though, is how bad is tomorrow? As for the White House, they continue to publicly emphasize the need for the Egyptian government to start the transition now, and they are putting MORE definition about what that means and what they say it means -- meeting PUBLICLY with opposition leaders. The only way the democracy demonstrators will start to believe is if they actually see some progress on that front. The focus of the U.S. diplomacy continues to be the relationship with the Egyptian army. And that's been the most successful aspect of their interventions to date. Obama also is ratcheting up diplomatic outreach to other Middle Eastern leaders, including to the head of Yemen, who announced this week he would NOT seek re-election and that he'd begin SOME reforms.

*** Hawkeye State of Mind? Speaking of Big 10 country, Mitt Romney told conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt that his campaign would “take me to Iowa,” if he decides to run for president in 2012. “If I decide to run, I’ll be planning on running nationwide, and certainly the early states will be places where we concentrate most of our attention,” Romney said, per the Des Moines Register. “If I get in this, I’m not going to be doing so much of a political calculus as I am a calculus of what message needs to be heard by the American people and how I can deliver it best,” he added. “And that surely will take me to Iowa as well as the other early states.” One of the big questions about Romney’s candidacy revolves around whether he’ll truly compete in Iowa, as he did in ’08, or if he’ll focus instead on New Hampshire and Nevada. Of course, saying his campaign would “take me to Iowa” isn’t the same thing as vowing to truly compete there. Still, it's an acknowledgement that you CANNOT be a national front-runner and skip states. Iowa is a swing state, period.


Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., speaks after leaving a meeting of Senate Republicans in Washington in this September 2008 photo.

*** No fire in the belly? Is Sen. John Thune leaning against a 2012 run? That is what he seemed to suggest in an interview with Politico. “It’s a different scenario maybe than some of the other candidates who don’t have a job,” he said. “This is a great place. This is a great job. We all complain about it. It’s frustrating at times ... but it is a place where ultimately you can be engaged in the big debates about the issues.” More from Thune: “I like where I am. I like what I do. These committee assignments [on Finance and Budget] are obviously going to give me a full portfolio for the foreseeable future… I’m in a place where I think I can make a difference. Those are all issues you weigh.” Politico adds that Thune said he’d make a final decision by the end of the month and after speaking at next week’s CPAC. Folks, if Thune is debating between staying in the Senate and running for president, that probably means the fire in the belly isn’t there for a White House bid.

*** Into the great wide open… : If Thune decides not to run, it means the eventual GOP field could be WIDE OPEN. This could benefit someone like Tim Pawlenty -- or Haley Barbour or Rick Santorum -- because there will be plenty of room for someone to be the anti-Romney. And it also explains why Jon Huntsman is eyeing a bid. The field is shrinking? Certainly looks that way right now. If Mitch Daniels does NOT run, does that leave Pawlenty as the lone midwesterner?

*** No common ground: Perhaps what was most surprising about yesterday’s health-repeal vote in the Senate wasn’t that all Democrats opposed the move (even West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin voted against it, saying that it didn’t make sense to throw out the good parts of the bill). Rather, the surprising part was that all GOP senators -- even Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins -- voted for repeal. You’d normally expect that if Ben Nelson, Kent Conrad, and Manchin vote for something, then Snowe, Collins, and Scott Brown probably would support it as well. This all shows that there is no common ground on this law, which is ironic given that much of it is based on past GOP ideas and measures.


Former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld thumbs through a book at his office in Washington during an interview in January.

*** Rummy returns: Here’s the New York Times on Donald Rumsfeld’s new book. “Just 15 days after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, President George W. Bush invited his defense secretary, Donald H. Rumsfeld, to meet with him alone in the Oval Office. According to Mr. Rumsfeld’s new memoir, the president leaned back in his leather chair and ordered a review and revision of war plans — but not for Afghanistan, where the Qaeda attacks on New York and Washington had been planned and where American retaliation was imminent.” But NBC’s Jim Miklaszewski says that according to notes taken in the "tank" at the Pentagon only FOUR HOURS after American Flight 77 slammed into the building, it was Rumsfeld himself who raised the possibility of attacking Iraq. At 1:50pm, in discussing a "whole range of military operations" and the "annihilation of terrorism" Rumsfeld says: “My interest is to hit Saddam Hussein at the same time, not to look only at UBL (Osama bin Laden).” It's either a lapse of memory, Mik says, or a bit of revisionist history.

Countdown Chicago’s mayoral election: 19 days
Countdown to Election Day 2011: 278 days
Countdown to the Iowa caucuses: 368 days
* Note: When the IA caucuses take place depends on whether other states move up

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