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First Thoughts: Pessimism returns

The most important thing we learned this week: Pessimism has returned… The good news and bad news for Obama… The importance of Nevada, and Ensign’s resignation likely makes the Silver State even more important for 2011… The resignation’s effect on Heller vs. Berkley… Profiling this year’s likely ballot measure in Ohio… And “Meet the Press” this Sunday has Coburn, Conrad, Robinson, Brooks, Dunn, and Castellanos.

From Mark Murray, Ali Weinberg, and Carrie Dann
*** Pessimism returns: As President Obama returns today from his first multi-state events since filing for re-election, we learned several things this week. One, Obama will raise A LOT of money (he hit six different fundraisers in California, raking in millions for his campaign and the DNC). Two, he’s trying to wake up his Democratic base (“I don’t want you to lose sight of how much we’ve gotten done,” he said last night. “What we’ve done here has been historic, and we’re only a quarter of the way through”). Three, the power of the presidency is strong (given that Obama was able to fly to the West Coast on Air Force One and hold a town hall at Facebook). But the most important thing we learned this week was this: The country has become increasingly pessimistic.

*** Good news and bad news for Obama: Even though the stock market is up, unemployment is down, and economic growth continues, here are the results from the latest New York Times/CBS poll: “Capturing what appears to be an abrupt change in attitude, the survey shows that the number of Americans who think the economy is getting worse has jumped 13 percentage points in just one month… The dour public mood is dragging down ratings for both parties in Congress and for President Obama.” (Obama’s approval is at 46%-45%, at Congress’ disapproval is 75%.) Those pessimistic findings are similar to this week’s earlier Washington Post/ABC poll. Is all about rising gas prices? Did the news of S&P’s warning contribute? The good news if you’re Obama: Gas prices can quickly change, and he’s lucky that his re-election is still a year and a half away. The bad news: After plenty of signs of economic improvement over the past few months, the country remains in a sour mood.

*** Nevada, Nevada, Nevada: Nevada was already shaping up to be a must-watch state in 2012. After last year’s epic Reid-vs.-Angle Senate contest, Nevada remains a key presidential battleground (Obama winning NV, CO, and NM allows him to lose OH, VA, and NC and still win the presidency). It also could very well decide control of the Senate next year (if Dems win the race, it gives them a MUCH better chance of holding on to the chamber). But Sen. John Ensign’s (R) announcement that he was resigning his Senate seat, effective May 3, makes things even more interesting in the Silver State -- this year.

*** An important special election to watch: If Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval (R), as expected, appoints GOP Congressman Dean Heller (who’s already running for Ensign’s seat) to fill the vacancy, that would trigger a special congressional election this year. And the race -- in a district that McCain narrowly won in 2008 -- would become an important messaging laboratory and possible bellwether for 2012. How is the Ryan budget plan playing with seniors? Is the Latino vote still strong for Democrats? By the way, Roll Call reports that Angle, who had already announced her intention to run for Heller’s congressional seat next year, would probably not be the GOP’s candidate in this special election. The reason: There would be no primaries for the special election, and the parties would be able to pick their nominees. “If the parties are ultimately allowed to choose their nominees, a high-ranking Nevada GOP source said there is ‘no way’ Angle would be tapped to be the party’s standard-bearer.”

*** And the effect on Heller vs. Berkley: As for the important 2012 contest for Ensign’s Senate seat, Heller being appointed fill the vacancy is probably a net-plus for him in a general-election race against Shelley Berkley (D). It would remove any danger of Heller receiving a credible primary challenge, and it would keep him away from casting more problematic House votes (like last week’s vote on Ryan’s budget). But as Kirsten Gillibrand and Michael Bennet know, getting appointed to the Senate isn’t without its political problems, though both Gillibrand and Bennet won their Senate contests last year. And the history of appointees winning or losing Senate races is mixed. However, the Heller-Berkley Senate race will probably hinge more than anything else on the outcome of the presidential contest. If Obama wins Nevada -- especially if he wins it as decisively as he did in ’08 -- that benefits Berkley. And if Obama loses, it helps Heller. 

*** The races of 2011: The battle in Ohio: So the best race of 2011 would probably be the special congressional election to fill Heller’s seat. And perhaps the second-best race of ‘11 -- better than the gubernatorial contests in West Virginia, Kentucky, Mississippi, and certainly Louisiana – will be the likely ballot measure trying to overturn the anti-union legislation that Gov. John Kasich (R) signed into law last month. Today, the group trying to repeal the law, We are Ohio, begins its campaign to collect the 230,000-plus valid signatures (by June 30) needed to bring the measure to the ballot in November. Whether or not the law is overturned will be a good gauge of Ohio’s political environment and voter enthusiasm heading into next year’s presidential election.

*** Meet’s Sunday lineup: “Meet the Press” this Sunday interviews Sens. Tom Coburn (R) and Kent Conrad (D) -- both of whom are part of the so-called “Gang of Six” trying to find a bipartisan deficit solution -- as well as a roundtable consisting of Eugene Robinson, David Brooks, former Obama White House Communications Director Anita Dunn, and GOP strategist Alex Castellanos.  

Countdown to NY-26 special election: 32 days
Countdown to Iowa GOP straw poll: 112 days
Countdown to Election Day 2011: 200 days
Countdown to the Iowa caucuses: 290 days
* Note: When the IA caucuses take place depends on whether other states move up

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