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First Thoughts: Ground Zero vs. Greenville

Ground Zero vs. Greenville… The power of the presidency vs. the Gang of Five debating in South Carolina… After the story changes again, White House says it will not provide new details on the raid in Pakistan… Blair House Project to reduce the deficit begins today at 10:00 am ET… Comparing Orangeburg in ’07 vs. Greenville in ’11… TPaw’s in the spotlight in tonight’s debate… Another absence from the debate: the Associated Press… Report: Huckabee gets deadline from FOX… And Newt will be a candidate by next week.

*** Ground Zero vs. Greenville: There’s a reason why incumbent presidents -- who aren’t facing a primary challenge -- typically win re-election: The power of the presidency is incredibly strong. That power enabled President Obama to recently fly on Air Force One to attend a town hall at Facebook headquarters. It allowed him to break into network coverage to announce Osama bin Laden’s death. And just days after the news of bin Laden’s death, it invites coverage of his visit today to Ground Zero, where he participates in a wreath-laying ceremony at 1:25 pm ET to pay tribute to those who died in the 9/11 attacks, and where he later meets with 9/11 family members. On Friday, Obama heads to Ft. Campbell, KY, where he will meet with service members returning from Afghanistan. It’s probably why, aside from Jimmy Carter, a sitting president hasn’t lost re-election since 1896 after taking the reins from the opposite party four years earlier.

*** Who’s coming to the debate and who isn’t: Meanwhile, more than 700 miles away from New York City, five Republicans will share a debate stage tonight in Greenville, SC at 9:00 pm ET. Those five include just one top-tier candidate (Tim Pawlenty), two second-tier ones (Rick Santorum and Ron Paul), and two others (Herman Cain and Gary Johnson), who all registered a combined 11% in the Quinnipiac GOP trial heat. Those who aren’t attending: Mitt Romney, Michele Bachmann, and Newt Gingrich, as well as those mulling a bid (Daniels, Huntsman, Huckabee, and Trump). On split-screen days, it will always be difficult for the GOP field to compete with the president, especially before there’s an official Republican nominee.

*** No more (information) soup for you: Turning back to the bin Laden story, NBC’s Jim Miklaszewski reported last night that the narrative of the raid in Pakistan has once again changed. U.S. officials now say that three of the four men shot and killed in the operation were unarmed, including bin Laden. (One senior administration official tells NBC’s Savannah Guthrie: "They weren't raiding the Girl Scout Troop looking for overdue library books. They were on a kill mission for Osama Bin Laden. They are heroes.") And now the White House says it will not provide new details on the raid. On the one hand, the administration has provided unprecedented information about a special-ops raid. On the other -- because it’s about bin Laden and an operative straight out of “24” -- it isn’t enough to satisfy our appetite. The biggest PR mistake the White House made: not stressing that the narrative it unveiled on Monday was preliminary and subject to change after further debriefing. As NBC’s Mike Viqueira points out, would anyone have batted an eyelash had bin Laden been killed by a missile instead -- whether he was armed or not?

*** The Blair House Project: For the first time since the news of bin Laden’s death, we begin to shift to real policy. At 10:00 am ET, Vice President Biden hosts a bipartisan meeting at the Blair House to work on a deal to reduce the nation’s deficit/debt. The participants include: Sens. Daniel Inouye (D), Jon Kyl (R), and Max Baucus (D); Reps. Eric Cantor (R), James Clyburn (D), and Chris Van Hollen (D); and administration officials Tim Geithner, Jacob Lew, and Gene Sperling. The Washington Post notes that Cantor “conceded Wednesday that a deal is unlikely on a contentious plan to overhaul Medicare and offered to open budget talks with the White House by focusing on areas where both parties can agree, such as cutting farm subsidies.” More: “That search could start, Cantor said, with a list of GOP proposals that would save $715 billion over the next decade by ending payments to wealthy farmers, limiting lawsuits against doctors, and expanding government auctions of broadcast spectrum to telecommunications companies, among other items.” Roll Call reports that Democrats are divided on how to approach the meetings and a debt solution (where and how to cut.

*** Greenville in 2011 vs. Orangeburg in 2007: To explain the poor attendance at tonight’s debate in Greenville, it’s instructive to think back to four years ago. Back then, the first Democratic presidential debate took place on April 26, 2007. That was three months after Hillary Clinton declared she was “in it to win it”; more than two months after Barack Obama officially launched his presidential bid in Springfield, IL; and plenty of time for the field to issue policy white papers, embark on statewide tours of Iowa and New Hampshire, throw jabs at each other. By comparison, as of this first debate, none of the top-tier candidates -- including Pawlenty -- has officially announced his or her candidacy, and there’s been almost no intra-party jousting. As Romney’s camp stated earlier this week, "Gov. Romney will not be participating in this week's South Carolina debate because it's still early, the field is too unsettled, and he's not yet an announced candidate.” Pawlenty responds in a Daily Caller op-ed that while some candidates believe it’s too soon, “I only hope that it’s not too late.”

*** Pawlenty in the spotlight: With Romney’s absence, the spotlight shines on Pawlenty. The problem for the former Minnesota governor -- so far -- is that in past GOP cattle calls, the Cains and Santorums have overshadowed him. This was especially true at the Faith & Freedom forum in Iowa back in March (which featured Pawlenty, Santorum, Gingrich, Cain, and Buddy Roemer) and the Americans for Prosperity Tax Day rally in New Hampshire (featuring TPaw, Santorum, Cain, and Roemer). One reason why these other folks have overshadowed Pawlenty: They are all showmen, in some form or fashion. By the way, Pawlenty in New Hampshire is STILL polling in low single digits, even behind people like Bachmann.

*** If a tree falls in a forest… : As it turns out, Romney, Bachmann, and Gingrich aren’t the only ones who will be absent from tonight’s GOP debate. So, too, will the AP and Reuters. Politico: "The Associated Press announced Wednesday night that it’s not going to cover tomorrow night’s Republican presidential debate, citing 'restrictions placed on media access.' 'The debate sponsors, Fox News Channel and the South Carolina Republican Party, will only allow photos to be taken in the moments ahead of the debate and not during the event itself,' the AP said in an advisory to editors." More: "Reuters confirmed that it would not be covering the event photographically, because it shared concerns about access. However, Reuters did not confirm whether it would be going as far as AP and not filing text either."

*** Huckabee has a deadline: Speaking of FOX and the GOP field, RealClearPolitics reports that network executives there have “told Huckabee he has until the end of the month to make up his mind about the race or he'll be cut off, just as Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum were when the then-contributors were still in the consideration phase.”

*** Newt’s in next week: While Newt isn’t attending tonight’s debate -- because he’s yet to at least form an exploratory committee -- First Read confirms that he’ll be getting into the race next week. As spokesman Rick Tyler told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, “By the time Newt speaks to the Georgia convention [on Friday, May 13], he’ll be a candidate,” Tyler said.” So, Friday the 13th?

Countdown to NY-26 special election: 19 days
Countdown to Iowa GOP straw poll: 99 day
Countdown to NV-2 special election: 131 days
Countdown to Election Day 2011: 187 days
Countdown to the Iowa caucuses: 277 days
* Note: When the IA caucuses take place depends on whether other states move up

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