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First Thoughts: 2012's high stakes

The high stakes in the 2012 election… One word that summarizes the House GOP’s first 100 days: bold… House Republicans head home to sell their votes for the Ryan budget plan… Obama hits the road this week to sell his own plan… It was a busy weekend on the early 2012 campaign trail… Bachmann and Haley attend Tea Party rally in South Carolina… And Dems have their candidate in TX SEN.

From NBC's Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, and Ali Weinberg
*** 2012’s high stakes: So much for the idea that the 2012 presidential election wouldn't live up to its predecessors. While 2012 won't feature the historic candidacies that 2008 did, and while we don't know yet know whether it will be as close as the ones in '00 and '04 were, there will be so much riding on it. For starters, it could decide the future of the U.S. safety net and the basic role of government (a GOP win would make passage of Paul Ryan’s budget plan much more realistic). It will determine what happens to the Bush tax cuts (an Obama win would probably end the tax cuts for the wealthy, while a Republican win would probably extend them). It could decide the fate of the health-care law (though the Supreme Court could do that next year). And it could very well determine the direction of the U.S. Supreme Court (the winner could potentially fill two or three SCOTUS vacancies). All presidential elections have plenty at stake, but this one could have more than many realize right now.

*** The battle over the size and role of government: One of us wrote that Friday’s nearly unanimous House GOP vote in favor of Ryan’s budget was a big gamble on Medicare for the Republican Party: Either the politics of Medicare have changed, or the GOP is about to walk into an electoral buzz saw. But in Sunday’s New York Times, Richard W. Stevenson framed it in an even bigger way, especially when you add the response to the GOP that President Obama gave on Wednesday. “What is under way now is the most fundamental reassessment of the size and role of government – of the balance between personal responsibility and private markets on the one hand and public responsibility and social welfare on the other -- at least since Ronald Reagan and perhaps since F.D.R.”

*** The House GOP’s first 100 days: Indeed, perhaps the best word to summarize the House’s first 100 days under GOP control is this: bold. They just didn’t take up what they campaigned in their “Pledge to America” -- vote to repeal the health-care law, cut spending for the rest of the fiscal year -- they went beyond that. They took on Medicaid, Medicare, abortion, and Planned Parenthood (all of which the “Pledge” ignored or barely mentioned). You can’t say House Republicans were timid, and they certainly were more aggressive than Democrats were during their first 100 days in congressional power in 2007. But Dems in ’07 didn’t do anything to change their glide path toward the White House in ’08. It’s an open question, however, if the House GOP’s first 100 days made the job of their party’s eventual presidential nominee more difficult. In fact, this group does not seem to care about whether they make Mitt Romney's (or Tim Pawlenty’s or Haley Barbour’s) job harder. This type of bold action in 1995 didn't help Bob Dole in 1996.

*** Selling the Ryan plan: While it probably won’t match those health-care town halls from the summer of 2009, House Republicans are going home during this two-week congressional recess to sell the budget plan they voted for on Friday. As Bloomberg News writes, "The budget fight spotlights the political risk confronting Republicans as Washington intensifies its focus on the long-term government deficits that will shape the country’s economic future and frame next year’s elections. How Republican leaders balance the expectations of Tea Party activists, who’ve pushed for cuts in popular programs including entitlements, with the need to protect vulnerable members in swing districts will define the party in the 2012 elections."

*** Selling the Obama plan: But this time, the White House isn't letting the House GOPers own the town hall stage. President Obama also hits the road this week to sell his own budget plan. He heads to Northern Virginia (on Tuesday), Facebook headquarters in Silicon Valley (on Wednesday), and Reno, NV (on Thursday). And by the way, today Obama is sitting down -- once again -- with local TV stations. Today's line-up: Denver, Raleigh, Dallas, and Indianapolis. The one of these that doesn't seem to belong on Obama's usual list of battleground affiliate interviews is Dallas. Then again, we know the demographic numbers in Texas have the Obama folks like David Plouffe and Jim Messina at least intrigued by the idea of at least trying to beef up the voter rolls in Texas and see if they can turn Texas '12 into, say, Virginia and Colorado ’04 -- two states that Kerry ended up NOT contesting but laid enough groundwork to make them competitive a cycle later.

*** Everybody’s working on the weekend… : Last week, we noted that the 2012 president campaign -- unless you’ve missed it -- is off and running. And that was certainly the case over the weekend. Among the activity: Pawlenty addressed a Tea Party rally in Iowa; Barbour was in South Carolina, where he won the Charleston County GOP straw poll and said he'd make up his mind about a presidential bid later this month; Gingrich made a stop in Georgia, where he "called for restrictions on abortion funding and requiring that students study religious references in the Declaration of Independence; Santorum played mini-golf in New Hampshire; and Trump was in Florida, where he "bragged about his intelligence and his business acumen, criticized areas of U.S. domestic and foreign policy, and again raised questions about whether the president is a U.S. citizen," the South Florida Sun-Sentinel noted. And Sarah Palin, in Wisconsin, hit a rally in support of Gov. Scott Walker.

*** Bachmann in South Carolina: And today, Michele Bachmann is in the 2012 spotlight, as she attends a Tea Party rally in Columbia, SC with Gov. Nikki Haley (R). The AP: “Monday's [tax] protest promises to give Bachmann the largest audience she has seen in South Carolina on two swings through the state. She is courting South Carolina support ahead of a decision whether to run for the GOP presidential nomination.”

*** Dems have their candidate in TX: McClatchy reports that Democrats "appear to have recruited retired Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez to run for the U.S. Senate in Texas." Sanchez is the former military commander in Iraq who "was forced out by the Abu Ghraib prison scandal" (and how the left reacts to this will be interesting). Make no mistake: Democrats are the big underdog in the race to fill the Senate seat being vacated by Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R). But Sanchez’s candidacy, as well as Obama’s re-election, gives them a chance of picking up some of the Latino-heavy congressional seats they lost in 2010. Of course, we first need to see what happens in redistricting…

Countdown to NY-26 special election: 36 days
Countdown to Iowa GOP straw poll: 116 days
Countdown to Election Day 2011: 204 days
Countdown to the Iowa caucuses: 294 days
* Note: When the IA caucuses take place depends on whether other states move up

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