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First Thoughts: Pivoting back to jobs

Pivoting back to jobs and the good news for Team Obama -- 244,000 jobs created in April, though unemployment rate ticked up to 9.0%… But last night’s GOP presidential debate pivoted away from jobs… Pawlenty on offense and defense… Our take on the other participants -- Santorum, Paul, Cain, and Johnson… The big winner? Any Republican who was thinking about getting into the race… Al Qaeda confirms bin Laden’s death (so much for those photos, eh?)… The line-up for this Sunday’s “Meet the Press”: Tom Donilon, Michael Chertoff, and Michael Hayden… Obama heads to Indiana (to talk about the economy) and then to Kentucky (to address returning U.S. service members)… And TPaw’s in PA, while Santorum remains in SC.

*** Pivoting back to jobs… : Five days after Osama bin Laden’s death, we pivot back to the issue that will likely remain the most important one to voters come Nov. 2012: the economy. And here are the latest jobs figures for the month of April: 244,000 jobs were created (well above expectations), while the unemployment rate ticked up from 8.8% to 9.0% (which shouldn’t be surprising now that it appears more are looking for work). This is VERY good news for the Obama administration, on top of Sunday’s bin Laden news. The AP's dispatch: “Employers added more than 200,000 jobs in April for the third straight month, the biggest hiring spree in five years. But the unemployment rate rose to 9 percent in part because some people resumed looking for work… Private employers shrugged off high gas prices and created 268,000 jobs -- the most since February 2006.”

*** … but debate pivots away from them: Given today’s economic focus, what was perhaps most striking about last night’s GOP presidential debate in Greenville, SC was the lack of attention on the economy. According to our rough count, just 5 ½ minutes of the 90-minute debate were devoted to jobs and the economy. Much of it can be attributed to the bin Laden news, because the debate was heavy with foreign-policy and national-security questions. Every candidate last night -- Tim Pawlenty, Rick Santorum, Ron Paul, Herman Cain, and Gary Johnson -- talked about keeping taxes low, but taxes are already at their lowest level since 1950. They also talked about the need to cut spending, but as Britain is proving right now, fiscal austerity isn’t necessarily a way to further grow the economy. And they talked about the National Labor Relations Board case against Boeing, but that’s a South Carolina-specific issue. They weren’t speaking to the nation as a whole.  

*** Pawlenty on offense and defense: As for the individual performances last night, Pawlenty was focused, direct, and strong when it came to Obama’s policies and record. But when it came to his own record (his state’s budget deficit, his previous support for cap-and-trade), he found himself on the defensive. Out of everyone on the stage, Pawlenty has the best chance of being the GOP’s 2012 nominee. But it’s saying something that he yet doesn’t have the magnetism or raw political talents of, say, a John Edwards -- let alone a Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama. And it had to hurt that Herman Cain was the winner of the FOX-Luntz focus group of the debate.

*** On Santorum, Paul, Cain, and Johnson: Rick Santorum also was strong, and he displays charisma that Pawlenty doesn’t. His closing remarks about being a true conservative leader who didn't have to apologize for his record were probably the strongest of the bunch (and were a contrast with Pawlenty’s apology for his past support of cap-and-trade). Meanwhile, Ron Paul was, well, Ron Paul. He has his loyal following and is the godfather of the Tea Party movement, but his positions on foreign policy, gay marriage, and drug legalization put him at odds with most conservative Republicans, especially those in South Carolina. Cain is a talented speaker and was the winner of the FOX focus group, yet his answer that he would rely on experts and advisers on foreign policy was a weak response. (What if those experts and advisers disagree? And what if Obama gave that answer in ’07?) And as for Johnson, it was a rough performance -- whether it was complaining about the lack of questions he received, his swaying at the podium, or his hand gestures. (Jazz hands, anyone?)    

*** Winner, winner, chicken dinner: The biggest winner of the night? Well, that probably would have been any Republican who was thinking about getting into the race. The GOP nomination is for the taking, and last night’s debate only confirms that. (Example: TPaw saying, “I love the Huck.”) As for Mitt Romney -- who didn’t show up -- he had to spend the evening being cast in a negative light (even though Pawlenty went easy on him) by some of the questions. Then again, Romney probably had nothing to gain from last night’s debate. And Palin? She was an afterthought, except when Johnson was talking about a hypothetical reality show.

*** The political unimportance of the bin Laden photos: A final observation: What does it say about where even conservatives stand on the bin Laden photos when Cain was the only one on the stage to say that the photos should not be released, and the FOX-Luntz focus group still overwhelmingly -- without hesitation -- chose him?

*** Al Qaeda confirms OBL’s death: Speaking of those bin Laden photos, it appears that the White House didn’t need to release them after all -- at least to confirm his death. Per the AP, “Al-Qaida has issued its first confirmation of Osama bin Laden's death in an Internet statement posted on militant websites. Friday's statement by the terror network says bin Laden's blood "will not be wasted" and it will continue attacking Americans and their allies.”

*** Pakistan’s leverage: On Meet the Press’ weekly “Press Pass,” NBC’s David Gregory spoke with Pulitzer Prize-winning author Steve Coll about Pakistan. Said Coll, “Right now [Pakistan's government and military have] leverage over the United States because of the Afghan war. They control supply lines to American soldiers in the war and they also could help the Taliban become even more of a cross-border force than they already are.” Meet the Press’ line-up for Sunday: Tom Donilon, Michael Chertoff, Michael Hayden, Bob Woodward, Doris Kearns Goodwin, Katty Kay, and Mike Murphy.

*** Retreating on Medicare: Today’s New York Times -- following yesterday’s Washington Post -- reports that House Republicans are backing away, legislatively, from their proposal to overhaul Medicare shouldn’t be surprising. With Democrats in control of the Senate and the White House, it has no chance of advancing past the House during this Congress. Yet if that’s the case, why did House Republicans so quickly vote on that proposal as part of Paul Ryan’s 2012 budget? They gave Democrats a vote to highlight over something that won’t become law, at least in 2011 and 2012. 

*** Obama’s day: President Obama, in Indianapolis, delivers remarks on the economy at 12:15 pm ET from Allison Transmission, which benefited from the 2009 Recovery Act. After that, the president -- along with Vice President Biden -- heads to Ft. Campbell, KY, where he will address returning U.S. service members who have returned from Afghanistan. His remarks will take place at 3:55 pm ET. Also at Ft. Campbell, Obama will privately thank some of the Navy SEALs who participated in the operation on bin Laden, NBC’s Savannah Guthrie reported yesterday.

*** On the 2012 campaign trail: Pawlenty is in Pennsylvania, speaking to the Allegheny County Republican Party… And Santorum makes four stops in South Carolina.

Countdown to NY-26 special election: 18 days
Countdown to Iowa GOP straw poll: 98 days
Countdown to NV-2 special election: 130 days
Countdown to Election Day 2011: 186 days
Countdown to the Iowa caucuses: 276 days
* Note: When the IA caucuses take place depends on whether other states move up

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