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First Thoughts: In and out

Barbour’s no-go again highlights who’s in and who’s out… A pragmatic move for a pragmatic pol?... Mitch Daniels is now on the clock… Why it’s important not to overstate how Barbour’s decision could impact the GOP field: Winthrop poll had him at just 2% in South Carolina… Romney’s “peacetime” blunder… Ron Paul to announce exploratory committee in Des Moines, IA at 4:45 pm ET… Watching the congressional town halls… Obama conducts another round of TV affiliate interviews... And Santorum makes three stops in Iowa.

From Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, and Ali Weinberg
*** In and out: When we wrote yesterday that the 2012 presidential field would come into sharper focus this week, we didn’t know it would mean that yet another potential GOP candidate would decline to get into the race. Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour (R) said in a statement yesterday: "A candidate for president today is embracing a 10-year commitment to an all-consuming effort, to the virtual exclusion of all else. His (or her) supporters expect and deserve no less than absolute fire in the belly from their candidate. I cannot offer that with certainty, and total certainty is required.” So far, the prominent Republicans who have said no -- Pence, Thune, Christie, Jeb Bush, and now Barbour -- outnumber the top-tier Republicans who have said yes (and have been running for a while) -- Romney and Pawlenty. Of course, Gingrich and Santorum are testing the waters, and appear likely to get in…

*** A pragmatic move for a pragmatic pol? You don’t become a successful RNC and RGA chairman without being a pragmatic politician, and Barbour’s decision was certainly pragmatic. Our April NBC/WSJ poll telegraphed his ultimate decision not to run for president: Only 1% of national GOP primary voters (2 out of 238) said Barbour was their top choice for president in a potential field of nine Republican candidates. In a smaller five-candidate field, Barbour's support ticked up to just 3% (7 out of 238). In that same poll, being a former lobbyist -- as Barbour was before becoming governor -- was viewed as the worst candidate attribute, worse than having multiple marriages, being a FOX News commentator, or being a leader of the Tea Party movement. In other words, he would have been the most “Washington” of the GOP presidential candidates. Any presidential run presents a difficult path. But Barbour’s path was going to be VERY difficult.

*** Mitch Daniels is now on the clock: With Barbour’s decision not to run, the Beltway speculation now turns to Indiana Gov. -- and Barbour friend -- Mitch Daniels. This actually gives Daniels more time to wait past Memorial Day. On “Meet the Press” back in March, he didn’t flinch when asked if he could wait until the summer to make up his mind. Why Daniels might run: He believes that no other candidate is addressing the deficit/debt, and he now has an opening (in fundraising and establishment support) with Barbour’s no-go. Why he might not run: His national name ID/support isn’t any higher than Barbour’s, and his family is rumored to be against a White House bid. As the Washington Post's Balz wrote yesterday, "Asked about family considerations — friends say his wife has been opposed — Daniels goes quiet. 'I don’t have much more to say about that,’ he said. ‘It’s just a very important factor.'” We might get clues from Daniels when he addresses the American Enterprise Institute on May 4.

*** Is it really a shakeup? Yet it’s probably important not to overstate how Barbour’s decision could end up impacting the eventual GOP field -- beyond fundraising and Beltway buzz. In addition to our national NBC/WSJ survey, a new Winthrop Poll shows Barbour getting the support of just 2% of likely South Carolina GOP voters. The poll finds Mike Huckabee in the lead getting 19% among likely GOP primary voters, followed by Mitt Romney at 17%, Donald Trump at 11%, Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin at 8%, and Christie at 6%. (Of course, there’s the real possibility that Huck, Trump, Palin, and Christie don’t even get in the race.)

*** Give peace(time) a chance: Meanwhile, Romney should be glad that Barbour made news yesterday, because his blunder -- mistakenly saying that Obama has been engaged in “one of the biggest PEACETIME spending binges in American history” -- was an unforced error for the one-term former governor. A Romney spokeswoman later told First Read, “He meant to say since World War II.” (Yet how does one misspeak in an unfiltered op-ed?) The good news here for Romney is that the slow start to the GOP race minimized any damage (what if this had occurred at a debate or when all the camps' war rooms are fully operational?). The potential bad news: The slow start only will magnify future gaffes and blunders when the GOP campaign is fully underway.

*** Paul makes his move: Although Barbour is out of the GOP presidential race, another Republican -- Ron Paul -- appears to be in. In Des Moines, IA at 4:45 pm ET, the Texas congressman will announce he’ll be forming a presidential exploratory committee. "We're gonna announce that I'm going to start an exploratory committee,” Paul said on FOX yesterday, per NBC’s Lauren Selsky. “And I'll stop by in Iowa on my way home, and that might lead to the next decision.” Despite his enthusiastic supporters and the millions he raised during his '08 presidential bid, Paul finished fifth in both the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary. And if he officially gets in, this would be Paul’s third presidential bid; he ran in 1988 as a Libertarian candidate.

*** Town Hall turnaround? We noted yesterday that -- in a reversal from ’09 and ‘10 when it was Democrats facing voters upset over health care -- the heat is now on some Republicans at town halls because of Paul Ryan’s budget proposal to phase out Medicare. There are at least two dozen town halls through the end of this week that liberal groups are tracking, including separate ones today with Ryan and Florida Congressman Allen West. In particular, West -- a freshman who came into office full of controversy -- represents a swing district with lots of seniors in it; 20% of the population in FL-22 is older than 65.

*** Another round of affiliate interviews: President Obama today holds another round of interviews with TV affiliates from states that the Obama re-election campaign is eyeing -- WSB Atlanta (GA), WKYC Cleveland (OH), WTKR Hampton Roads (VA), and WXYZ Detroit (MI).

*** On the 2012 trail: Ron Paul isn’t the only GOPer in Iowa today. Rick Santorum hits Dubuque, Dyersville, and Cedar Rapids.

Countdown to NY-26 special election: 28 days
Countdown to Iowa GOP straw poll: 108 days
Countdown to Election Day 2011: 196 days
Countdown to the Iowa caucuses: 286 days
* Note: When the IA caucuses take place depends on whether other states move up

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