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First Thoughts: Jobs recovery gaining steam?

Unemployment rate falls to 8.8% and economy adds 216,000 jobs in March… Obama speaks on the economy at 12:15 pm ET… How the jobs numbers could impact the spending fight… Don’t believe the hype -- yet -- that we’re closer to a government shutdown… What we learned this week from the 2012 race: that Trump will be an amazing distraction… Demography is destiny, and the minority vote will be key in 2012… T-Paw’s in Iowa and Santorum’s in South Carolina… It appears Heinrich and LeMieux will soon announce their Senate bids… And “Meet” has Dick Durbin and Mike Rogers.

From NBC's Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, and Ali Weinberg
*** Jobs recovery gaining steam? As the political world jumps from one big story to the next -- the Tucson shootings, Egypt, the battle over collective-bargaining rights, the spending fight, and now Libya -- it’s easy to lose sight of the issue that remains tops with the American public: the U.S. economy. And today, that story returns to the political spotlight (at least for the next few hours). Here’s the AP on the March job numbers: The unemployment rate fell to 8.8%, and the economy added 216,000 jobs in March. President Obama speaks on the economy at 12:15 pm ET from a UPS facility in Hyattsville, MD. (By the way, we've lost count of the number of Maryland industrial towns where the president has delivered jobs speeches.)

*** How the jobs numbers could impact the spending fight: Just as a disappointing November jobs report last year strengthened Republican hands in the fight over extending the Bush tax cuts (“We need to keep the tax cuts to grow the economy!”), today’s job numbers could give Boehner and Cantor pause. With the economy adding nearly 500,000 jobs for the first three months of the year, does anyone want to risk a government shutdown that could jeopardize the economic recovery? The same could be said for the upcoming battle over raising the debt ceiling. And for similar reasons, the White House realizes the economic stakes from a government shutdown and -- more importantly -- the debt-ceiling vote. The recovery is happening, but it's clearly fragile.

*** Don’t believe the hype: By the way, reading today’s news seems to suggest we’re closer to a government shutdown. Here’s this headline on the front page of the Washington Post: “For federal workers, anxiety over a possible shutdown.” But don’t believe the hype -- at least yet. Behind the scenes, Democrats and Republicans are closer to a deal than they appear. When Boehner said yesterday that “there’s no agreement on numbers,” he had to say that with the few hundred Tea Party Patriots rallying outside the Capitol. Strikingly, yesterday was the first time in a while when Democrats won the message fight, because they got Boehner to say no (when they are actually very close).

*** What we learned this week from the 2012 race: Donald Trump is going to be an amazing distraction. (And full disclosure: One of us, on “Daily Rundown” yesterday, fully participated in that distraction with Trump.) On the one hand, if you’re Mitt Romney, you probably like this. Trump -- at least from now until June -- takes oxygen away from Tim Pawlenty and Haley Barbour. On the other hand, Trump and his “birtherism” obsession diminish the field and the party. We’ve said this before, and we’ll say it again: No other Democratic presidential candidate (or NON-candidate) ever overshadowed Obama or Clinton in 2008. But the theme so far to the 2012 race has been that a lot of Republicans -- whether it’s Trump, Michele Bachmann, or even Buddy Roemer (at one forum) -- have already overshadowed the top-tier candidates.

*** Demography is destiny: In the latest issue of National Journal, Ron Brownstein conducts an interesting exercise with the new Census numbers showing a greater minority population in the states. If Obama wins the same share of minority voters in 2012 that he did in 2008, he has larger margin for error among white voters. “Obama, for instance, won Florida last time with 42% of the white vote; under this scenario, if he maintains his minority support he could win the Sunshine State with just under 40% of the white vote. With equal minority support in Nevada, the president could win with only 35% of the white vote, down from the 45% he garnered in 2008.”

*** And the minority vote will be key in ’12: Brownstein then runs a second model -- this one assuming that Obama’s performance among minorities in 2012 is 10% off his performance in 2008. Under that scenario, he’d need to win 38% of the white vote in North Carolina (when he got 35% in that state in ’08); he’d need to win 43% of the white vote in Florida (when he got 42% in ’08); he’d need to win 38% of the white vote in Virginia (when he got 39% in ’08); and he’d need 47% of the white vote in Colorado (when he won 50% there in ’08). In other words, Obama/GOP performance among minorities in 2012 could be the decisive factor in whether or not Obama gets to 270 electoral votes next year. By the way, this doesn't even take into account the fact that the increased minority populations in places like Arizona, Georgia, and Texas shift them from Republican locks to states the party has to at least keep a watchful eye on.

*** On the trail: In Iowa tonight, Pawlenty speaks at the Iowa Federation of College GOP Annual Convention, and Rick Santorum is in South Carolina.

*** Senate race news: The Albuquerque Journal is reporting that Rep. Martin Heinrich (D) could make an announcement as soon as this weekend about whether he’ll run for the open New Mexico Senate seat being vacated by Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D). And the St. Pete Times says that former replacement Sen. George LeMieux “is set to enter the Republican primary for U.S. Senate, a possibly contentious contest in which the winner will face incumbent Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson.” Republican operatives in Florida who are close to LeMieux tell First Read he’s toured the state and has received encouragement to run -- and is expected to make it official next week.

*** Meet’s Sunday lineup: “Meet the Press” will feature Assistant Senate Majority Leader Dick Durbin, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers, and a roundtable of Marc Morial, Mike Murphy, E.J. Dionne, Doris Kearns Goodwin, and Daniel Yergin.

Countdown to continuing resolution’s expiration: 7 days

Countdown to NY-26 special election: 53 days
Countdown to Iowa GOP straw poll: 133 days
Countdown to Election Day 2011: 221 days
Countdown to the Iowa caucuses: 311 days
* Note: When the IA caucuses take place depends on whether other states move up

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