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First Thoughts: Romney 3.0

In New Hampshire on Saturday, Romney unveiled Romney 3.0 (a presidential candidate who focuses more on the economy than on social issues)… How that compares with Romney 1.0 (the socially moderate Massachusetts governor) and Romney 2.0 (the 2008 presidential candidate who ran to McCain’s and Rudy’s right on abortion and illegal immigration)… Mitt’s biggest challenge: authenticity… Mike Huckabee -- an unserious man for president?... Iowa Faith & Freedom Coalition cattle call tonight… The expected speaking order: Cain (8:05 pm ET), Pawlenty (8:17 pm), Roemer (8:29 pm), Santorum (8:41 pm), and Gingrich (TBD)… Bloomberg News fact-checks Boehner… Kaine’s decision could come this week… And Heather Wilson makes her SEN bid official. 

From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, and Ali Weinberg
*** Romney 3.0 …: Mitt Romney’s speech in New Hampshire Saturday night was a preview of the primary -- and possibly general election -- campaign he wants to run in 2011 and 2012. Romney avoided talk of social issues and focused on economic ones (“I know how jobs are created and how jobs are lost”); he made New Hampshire a priority, mentioning the state by name 14 times (“We liked New Hampshire so much, we may just decide to play a double header”); he emphasized American exceptionalism (“I don’t apologize for America because I believe in America!”); and he differentiated RomneyCare from ObamaCare by using the federalism argument (“One thing I would never do is to usurp the constitutional power of states with a one-size-fits-all federal takeover”).

*** … vs. Romney 1.0 and 2.0: This, in short, is Romney 3.0. Romney 1.0 was the socially moderate businessman who won election as Massachusetts governor in 2002. Romney 2.0 was the socially conservative presidential candidate who ran to John McCain’s and Rudy Giuliani’s right on abortion, stem cells, and illegal immigration in 2007-2008. And Romney 3.0 appears to be the repeat presidential candidate who will focus more on the economy and his business record than on social issues. Yet as the New York Times’ Zeleny writes, Romney’s transformation also applies to his appearance. “Mr. Romney is trying to present a more relaxed image to combat impressions that he is unapproachable and stiff. He has not been seen in a necktie for months... He turned up in the pit area of the Daytona 500 last month, mingling with race car drivers while wearing a Bass Pro Shops shirt. And last week, Mr. Romney, who put his wealth four years ago around $200 million, walked into Tommy’s Barber Shop in an Atlanta strip mall for a haircut.”

*** Mitt’s challenge: authenticity: Of course, Romney 3.0 is how we all thought he was going to run at the beginning of the 2008 cycle. And it’s closer to his true political identity (though we still don't know about some of his social policy stances which have, um, evolved over the last two decades). But this could be a constant theme of the 2012 campaign: Where was this Romney in 2008? Could this Romney have won in ’08? Etc. As we -- and others -- have pointed out, the challenge for Romney will be if he can sell yet another political re-invention. “During a weekend speech to New Hampshire Republicans, Mitt Romney delivered what will likely be his most durable rejoinder to critics of the universal health care program he signed into law while governor of Massachusetts,” the Boston Globe’s Glen Johnson reported. “Still remaining, though, is a lingering, fundamental question about his authenticity that has only been perpetuated by recent appearances.”

*** An Unserious Man: As NBC’s Lauren Selsky observed on Friday, Mike Huckabee last week had, shall we say, an interesting week. First, he stated -- incorrectly -- that Obama lived in Kenya. Then, after he said he misspoke and meant Indonesia, Huckabee stated that the president had a different worldview than most Americans. “Most of us grew up going to Boy Scout meetings and, you know, our communities were filled with Rotary Clubs, not madrassas." Lastly, he appeared to take on actress Natalie Portman for having a child out of wedlock. Politics Daily’s Jill Lawrence: “The further Huckabee goes down the road he's on, the less seriously he's taken as a presidential aspirant.” But this all could be good for ratings. Bottom line: Huckabee had a bad week, and one of his challenges for 2012 (should he run) is to go from the intriguing homespun conservative candidate who wasn't taken seriously in 2008 (until late) to a potential commander in chief in 2012. On THAT front, he's made little to no progress.

*** Tonight’s cattle call in Iowa: In Iowa tonight, five Republicans who either have formed presidential exploratory committees or will probably do so soon -- Herman Cain, Buddy Roemer, Rick Santorum, Tim Pawlenty, and Newt Gingrich -- will speak at a forum organized by the Iowa Faith & Freedom Coalition. Per NBC’s Rob Rivas, Cain is expected to speak at 8:05 pm ET, Pawlenty goes at 8:17 pm, Roemer’s speech is at 8:29 pm, Santorum’s is 8:41 pm, and Gingrich’s is TBD.

*** Success in failure? This week, the Senate plans to vote on both the budget-cutting plans by House Republicans and Senate Democrats. The reason: To show that both plans don’t have enough support in the Senate, and to convince Republicans and Democrats to go back to the drawing board. Bloomberg News: “Both measures are likely to fail, signaling to lawmakers -- including House Republican freshmen who are demanding big cuts - - that neither plan can get through the Senate.” There is some eye-brow raising at Senate Dem Whip Dick Durbin's "line in the sand" style talking points on Sunday and whether it's simply part of the theatrics of negotiating or if there is a growing number of Senate Democrats feeling emboldened by polling show these cuts aren't very popular.

*** Bloomberg fact-checks Boehner: Don’t miss this Bloomberg News fact-check of Boehner (and other Republicans) saying that the federal government is broke. “‘The U.S. government is not broke,’ said Marc Chandler, global head of currency strategy for Brown Brothers Harriman & Co. in New York. ‘There’s no evidence that the market is treating the U.S. government like it’s broke.’” More: “The U.S. today is able to borrow at historically low interest rates, paying 0.68 percent on a two-year note that it had to offer at 5.1 percent before the financial crisis began in 2007. Financial products that pay off if Uncle Sam defaults aren’t attracting unusual investor demand. And tax revenue as a percentage of the economy is at a 60-year low, meaning if the government needs to raise cash and can summon the political will, it could do so.”

*** Heads up: Kaine’s decision could come this week: According to a plugged-in Democratic source, current DNC Chairman (and former Virginia Gov.) Tim Kaine will likely announce his decision this week (or next) whether he’ll run for Jim Webb’s Senate seat. Will he get in? The source puts the odds at 50%-50%. Remember this: Kaine has missed a few self-imposed deadlines to announce he would NOT run, which is why there is heavy speculation and assumption that party stalwarts of stalked him into running. If he were NOT running, he'd already have said so.

*** Heather Wilson’s War: And speaking of getting in a Senate race, former U.S. Rep. Heather Wilson (R) will announce at 4:30 pm ET in Albuquerque, NM that she’s running for the open Senate seat being vacated by Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D). The moderate Wilson has always been a strong general-election statewide GOP candidate, but the question has always been: Can she get through a primary? (See: 2008). Indeed, conservative Erick Erickson tweeted this on Friday, "Keeping Heather Wilson out of the Senate will be the next great noble cause for conservatives." Meanwhile, the DSCC has a Web ad hitting Wilson, which plays up her ties to D.C. and prominent Republicans.

Countdown to continuing resolution’s expiration: 11 days
Countdown to Iowa GOP straw poll: 158 days
Countdown to Election Day 2011: 246 days
Countdown to the Iowa caucuses: 336 days
* Note: When the IA caucuses take place depends on whether other states move up

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