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First Thoughts: Obama's last seven days

Obama’s last seven days represent his best week since his inauguration… But two important reality checks: 1) the national average for gasoline has reached $4 a gallon, and 2) the 2012 election is nearly 550 days away… Obama’s “60 Minutes” appearance… Boehner’s economic speech in NYC… Watching Newt and Daniels this week… On Huntsman’s weekend speech in South Carolina… Can Romney downplay IA and SC?... Dems get their Chris Coons in IN.

*** Obama’s last seven days: President Obama’s last seven days represent his best week -- politically -- since his inauguration. It started with the news last Sunday of Osama bin Laden’s death, and it ended with last night’s “60 Minutes” interview. In between, there was the best monthly private-sector jobs gain in years, as well as Thursday’s GOP presidential debate that was dominated by candidates who are unlikely to win the Republican nomination, a contrast that Plouffe and Axelrod couldn't have planned better. So it was a great week for Team Obama, but there are two reality checks: 1) the national average for gasoline has now reached $4 a gallon, and 2) the 2012 presidential election is nearly 550 days away.  

*** Poll day! How have the past seven days impacted Obama’s political standing? Be sure to watch “Nightly News” beginning at 6:30 pm ET, or click on to MSNBC.com, for the results from NBC’s brand-new poll in the aftermath of bin Laden’s death. Here are two sets of numbers we’re releasing before tonight. One, a whopping 72% said Pakistani leaders knew that Osama bin Laden was hiding in their country and deliberatively withheld that information from the U.S; just 13% said these leaders didn’t know where bin Laden was. And two, nearly two-thirds of Americans back Obama's decision not to release the photos taken after bin Laden's death -- 52% said they strongly believe the Obama administration should not release the photos, and an additional 12% agreed, although not as strongly. But what about the president's political standing now vs. last week, and what role are gas prices and the economy playing? Tune in.

*** Obama on “60 Minutes”: On “60 Minutes” last night, Obama discussed the past seven days for him. (“Well, it was certainly one of the most satisfying weeks not only for my presidency but I think for the United States since I've been president.”) He talked about his most difficult decision. (“The most difficult part is always the fact that you're sending guys into harm's way. And there are a lot of things that could go wrong.”) He noted how few knew about the operation. (“The vast majority of my most senior aides did not know that we were doing this.”) He observed what the mood was like in the Situation Room. (“It was the longest 40 minutes of my life with the possible exception of when Sasha got meningitis when she was three months old.”) And the interview concluded with this quote: “The one thing I didn't lose sleep over was the possibility of taking bin Laden out. Justice was done. And I think that anyone who would question that the perpetrator of mass murder on American soil didn't deserve what he got needs to have their head examined.”

*** Boehner’s economic speech:  In New York at 7:00 pm ET, House Speaker John Boehner delivers a speech to the New York City Economic Club. Expect him to outline what the GOP is hoping for in the legislative battle over raising the debt ceiling, NBC’s Luke Russert notes. What will or won't he say about Paul Ryan's Medicare plan?

*** Watching Newt and Daniels: Turning to the still-developing GOP presidential race, we could get news from two Republicans this week. First, Newt Gingrich is expected to get into the race before Friday. And second, we could learn if Mitch Daniels is getting in; Daniels and his wife speak at the Indiana GOP spring dinner on Thursday. It's the experience Mrs. Daniels has on the campaign trail that might be the single most important political development in the Republican Party this year.

*** Huntsman’s speech in South Carolina: Meanwhile, another Republican who increasingly looks like he’ll be running for president -- former Utah Gov. and Ambassador Jon Huntsman -- delivered the commencement address at the University of South Carolina. Per his remarks, he struck an optimistic tone, which is different from what other Republicans are saying. The question is whether this is the kind of message GOP primary voters want to hear. “I know there are many in China who think their time has come, that America's best days are over,” he said. “But these people aren't seeing things from my earlier vantage point of 10,000 miles away. The way I saw it from overseas, America's passion remains as strong today as ever. Hold on to that sense of optimism.” Huntsman also said this about his service in the Obama administration: “Give back. As much as you’re able. Work to keep America great. Serve her, if asked. I was, by a president of a different political party.” Quick question: After bin Laden’s death, does Huntsman -- with his foreign policy experience -- get a stronger look from Republicans if he gets in?

*** Can Romney downplay both IA and SC? Speaking of South Carolina, Politico’s Ben Smith wrote over the weekend that Team Romney might keep the Palmetto State at arm’s length in 2012, due to concerns about Romney’s Mormon faith. “‘People will have to reluctantly admit that the Mormon issue was a bigger problem last time around than people would want to acknowledge,’ said Warren Tompkins, Romney’s key consultant here in 2008 who is not working for him this cycle. ‘A large part of [Gov. Mike] Huckabee’s success came at the expense of Gov. Romney being Mormon.’” Can the front-runner Romney effectively downplay both Iowa and South Carolina? The consequence of Romney not winning both contests – and eyeing New Hampshire and Florida instead – probably guarantees that if he wins the GOP nomination, it will be after a LONG and potentially BLOODY primary season. And that's if Romney does well in New Hampshire. This strategy puts a premium on New Hampshire for Romney, a state that LOVES to reject front-runners and the Conventional Wisdom. Is Romney really going to end up skipping or, better, SKIMPING, on Iowa and South Carolina? Or is this all just a mini-2011 ploy? Who bets Romney plays in both states rather competitively once all is said and done?

*** Ain’t too proud to beg (to get Christie into the field): Don't miss this AP story: "Some of Iowa's top Republican campaign contributors, unhappy with their choices in the developing presidential field, are venturing to New Jersey in hopes they can persuade first-term Gov. Chris Christie to run. The entreaty is the latest sign of dissatisfaction within the GOP over the crop of candidates competing for the chance to run against President Barack Obama in 2012. Bruce Rastetter, an Iowa energy company executive, and a half-dozen other prominent Iowa GOP donors sought the meeting with Christie, the governor's chief political adviser, Mike DuHaime, told The Associated Press. The get-together is set for the governor's mansion in Princeton, N.J., on May 31."

*** Dems get their Chris Coons in Indiana: For the last few months, Democrats have told us that, for the Senate contests in Indiana and Maine, they’re looking for the next Chris Coons -- a Democratic candidate who could win if the Tea Party ends up taking down the establishment Republican. Well, in Indiana, Democrats seem to have their man: Indiana Congressman Joe Donnelly, who is expected to announce his candidacy today. Though Democrats will be the underdog in this race, they’re hoping a tough GOP primary between incumbent Sen. Dick Lugar and state Treasurer Richard Mourdock gives Donnelly a shot in 2012. A big reason why Donnelly is running: “Republican state lawmakers approved new congressional district maps that make his South Bend-based 2nd District much tougher territory for Democrats,” the Evansville Courier & Press says.  

Countdown to NY-26 special election: 15 days
Countdown to Iowa GOP straw poll: 95 days
Countdown to NV-2 special election: 127 days
Countdown to Election Day 2011: 183 days
Countdown to the Iowa caucuses: 273 days
* Note: When the IA caucuses take place depends on whether other states move up

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