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First Thoughts: The importance of quitting while you're ahead

If Wisconsin taught us anything, it was this: quit while you’re ahead… And the lesson applies to congressional Republicans: They have already won the congressional spending fight… Schumer said on “TODAY” there’s a “glimmer of hope” that a government shutdown gets avoided… NBC/WSJ poll day… In the Walker referendums in Wisconsin, Dems won the Milwaukee County executive race (Walker’s old job), while the state Supreme Court race is too close to call… High turnout in Wisconsin… Rick Scott’s approval rating nosedives in FL… Tim Kaine meets the press… And David Gregory’s chat with Rick Santorum.

From NBC's Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, and Ali Weinberg
*** The importance of quitting while you’re ahead… : If congressional Republicans should have learned any lesson from the budget showdown in Wisconsin, it was this: quit while you’re ahead. Despite being offered concession after concession on the budget -- as long as he didn’t touch collective-bargaining rights for public employees -- Gov. Scott Walker (R) went big for everything, including the collective bargaining rights. And he’s since paid a steep political price, even though the legislation ultimately passed. Walker’s poll numbers have plummeted. The legislation is now locked up in the courts. The Democratic opposition remains fired up (see last night’s elections in the state; more on them below). And the state appears headed for a slew of recall elections this spring and summer. The political lesson from Wisconsin: If you’re offered 70%-80% of what you want and will look like a hero in accepting the deal, take it. But if you go for everything, be prepared for the backlash.  

*** … because Republicans have already won: So if you’re the congressional Tea Party caucus, quitting when you’re winning isn’t such a bad outcome. And no matter is the eventual spending cut is $33 billion, $35 billion, or higher, congressional Republicans have already won. It was a point that Senate Republicans quietly are making to us. And it’s a point that President Obama made yesterday. “We are now closer than we have ever been to getting an agreement. There’s no reason why we should not get an agreement,” Obama stated. “As I said before, we have now matched the number that the speaker originally sought.” Folks, they are divided over .83% of the budget. Yes, that decimal point BEFORE the 83 is correct.

*** A “glimmer of hope”: On “TODAY” this morning, Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer said that tonight is really the deadline to avoid a government shutdown. And he said there’s a “glimmer of hope” that an agreement gets reached. When pressed where that hope is coming from, Schumer replied it’s potential progress not over the dollar amount, but rather where the cuts would come from. Overnight, we've been hearing similar chatter. There was doom and gloom about a shutdown at 4:00 pm ET yesterday; by 7:00 pm, one could sense a desire to have cooler heads prevail. But that doesn't mean it's happened just yet!

*** NBC/WSJ poll day! Whom would the American public blame if there’s a government shutdown? How do Americans view Obama and the GOP? What are their thoughts on the early 2012 presidential race? Beginning at 6:30 pm ET, tune into NBC “Nightly News” or click on to MSNBC.com for the answers from our latest NBC/WSJ poll.

*** The Walker referendums: In the two Wisconsin races that were viewed by some as referendums on Gov. Walker, Democrats won one of them, and the other is too close to call (which actually is already a "victory" for Dems). In the contest to replace Walker as Milwaukee County executive, nonpartisan (but Dem-leaning) Chris Abele trounced Republican Jeff Stone. Abele aired a TV ad comparing Stone to Walker (Stone was quoted as saying that he and Walker share “similar aspirations,” while Walker had praised Stone). And in the higher-profile race for state Supreme Court, conservative incumbent David Prosser and liberal challenger JoAnne Kloppenburg remained essentially deadlocked. With 99% of the state's precincts reporting, per NBC’s John Yang, Prosser had a 585-vote lead out of more than 1.4 million ballots cast. A recount is likely.

*** Wisconsin’s high turnout: Yet no matter the eventual outcome of the Prosser-Kloppenburg race, Democrats appear to have overperformed in these two contests. Indeed, Yang notes that Kloppenburg seems to have benefited from a very high turnout. In the liberal bastion of Madison, officials said turnout was about 70%, with Kloppenburg winning 73% of the vote there. In Eau Claire County -- where turnout was so heavy that polling places ran out of machine-readable ballots and had to use hand-counted ballots -- she won 58%. And in left-leaning Milwaukee County, where turnout was also driven by the county executive's race, Kloppenburg won 57% of the vote. Bottom line: Walker has polarized the state and could be a potential problem with swing voters.

*** Rick Scott’s approval rating nosedives: Speaking of polarizing, a new Quinnipiac poll shows that Gov. Rick Scott’s (R) approval rating has nosedived, from 35%-22% in February to 35%-48% now. We’ve said this before and we’ll say it again: The reason why what’s happening with the new hard-charging GOP governors in Florida, Ohio, and Wisconsin is important is that these three states will be important presidential battlegrounds in 2012. 

*** Kaine meets the press; Wasserman Schultz the new DNC chair: One day after officially announcing his entry into Virginia’s Senate race, Tim Kaine will speak to the press today in Richmond, VA. After delivering a previously scheduled speech on the economy at the University of Richmond Law School at 9:00 am ET, Kaine meets with reporters at the foot of the Capitol Square at 11:00 am. And in replacing Kaine, President Obama last night tapped Debbie Wasserman Schultz as DNC chair, choosing her over ex-Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland and Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin. When word spread Strickland was being considered, an intense lobbying campaign by many women inside and out of the DNC began on behalf of DWS. But she had a few other attributes going for her: 1) her comfort raising money; 2) reliable messenger; and 3) she’s considered a team player (see her transition from Clinton surrogate to Obama surrogate after the '08 primary). The one real negative and concern some had with the idea of DWS is the fact she's in the House Democratic caucus, and those folks, a few people argued to us, are not always as in tune with the swing voter as the White House would like them to be.

*** 2012 watch: Michele Bachmann will be on "Daily Rundown" at 9:00 am on MSNBC and then speaks at an Americans for Prosperity rally on Capitol Hill at noon ET; Mike Huckabee appears on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart; and Rick Santorum yesterday sat down with NBC’s David Gregory for Meet the Press’ “Press Pass.”

Countdown to continuing resolution’s expiration: 2 days
Countdown to NY-26 special election: 48 days
Countdown to Iowa GOP straw poll: 128 days
Countdown to Election Day 2011: 216 days
Countdown to the Iowa caucuses: 306 days
* Note: When the IA caucuses take place depends on whether other states move up

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