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First Thoughts: Setting the bar for a disastrous rollout

Gingrich sets the bar for a disastrous presidential rollout… Dead man walking? (Though remember that Biden recovered after a rough start, but Wes Clark and Fred Thompson never did)… A reminder to Mitch Daniels: Rollouts do matter… Santorum says that McCain doesn’t understand how enhanced interrogation works… Coburn walks away from the Gang of Six… Obama to deliver commencement address at U.S. Coast Guard Academy before hitting two DNC events in Boston… Williams to face Beshear for KY GOV… And will it be Hahn vs. Huey in CA-36?

*** Setting the bar for a disastrous rollout: And we thought that Joe Biden had a rough campaign rollout in early 2007, after he referred to Barack Obama as “articulate” and “clean.” Simply put, Newt Gingrich appears to have set the modern-day bar for a disastrous presidential rollout. In the last 48 hours, Gingrich walked back his past support for a health-insurance mandate; faced the revelation that he and his wife racked up as much as $500,000 in debt at Tiffany’s a few years back; encountered a Dubuque, IA man who came up to him and said, "Get out now before you make a bigger fool of yourself”; got showered in glitter by a gay-rights protestor; and, under pressure, finally decided to apologize to House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan after saying that Ryan’s Medicare overhaul amounted to “right-wing social engineering.” Gingrich said this on FOX last night: "I made a mistake and I called Paul Ryan today who is a close personal friend and I said that." Ryan’s office confirmed to NBC’s Shawna Thomas that the congressman accepted the apology.

*** Dead man walking? Biden’s later success in 2007-2008 -- eventually becoming his party’s vice-presidential nominee -- is a reminder that a candidate can overcome a rough start. But Gingrich right now looks a lot like the Bruce Willis character in the “Sixth Sense”: Everyone but him thinks he’s dead. What might be the most surprising revelation of the past 48 hours is the lack of goodwill Newt enjoys. Conservatives (whether it’s Rush Limbaugh, Charles Krauthammer, the Wall Street Journal editorial page, even the man in Dubuque) seem to be relishing in beating Newt up. What he’s discovered in the last couple of days: He has very few real friends in the conservative movement, and gets no benefit of the doubt. You get the sense that some conservatives were simply waiting for him to make a mistake to pounce in order to drive him out of this race.

*** A reminder to Daniels: Rollouts matter: Newt’s last 48 hours are also a reminder how important rollouts are, and that Mitch Daniels -- as he’s mulling a presidential bid -- should pay attention. The final candidates to enter the 2004 and 2008 races (Wes Clark and Fred Thompson, respectively) also faced very rough starts, from which they really never recovered. If and when Daniels gets in, the entire political world will be watching, and he has demonstrated he can be off-message. Recent examples: admitting that he’s probably not ready to debate President Obama on foreign policy and saying, hypothetically, that he’s like to pick Condi Rice as his vice-presidential running mate. Daniels will NOT have the luxury of, in the words of Walter Shapiro, of rolling out his campaign with simply a "one car caravan" following him around. Like Obama in 2007, Bush in 1999 and Clark in 2003, there likely will be a plane full of press following him the day he announces. Mistakes will get amplified. Of course, UNLIKE Gingrich, it appears Daniels has a reservoir of goodwill with some conservatives who seem to be more forgiving of his early off-the-conservative-reservation comments.

*** Santorum: McCain “doesn’t understand how enhanced interrogation works”: Had it not been for Gingrich, Schwarzenegger, or Dominique Strauss-Kahn news, this comment by Rick Santorum might have received a bit more attention yesterday. “Former Sen. Rick Santorum said Tuesday that Sen. John McCain, who spent 5 1/2 years enduring brutal treatment at the hands of his North Vietnamese captors, doesn't know how effective waterboarding and other harsh interrogation techniques can be,” the AP writes. In a radio interview with host Hugh Hewitt, Santorum said that the U.S. would not have acquired key information from Khalid Sheikh Mohammed without waterboarding. “This idea that we didn't ask that question while Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was being waterboarded, he (McCain) doesn't understand how enhanced interrogation works.”

*** I’m going to Disney World! First Read has confirmed that the likely headquarters for Jon Huntsman’s presidential campaign, if he runs, will be based in Orlando, FL. As one Huntsman aide says, “[Wife] Mary Kaye is from Orlando, has family still there....strong, robust presence in key primary and general election state.”

*** Coburn walks away from the Gang of Six: On Capitol Hill, the biggest news appears to be Sen. Tom Coburn (R) walking away from the so-called “Gang of Six” group working on finding a bipartisan deficit-reduction solution. Gang of Six Republican Saxby Chambliss yesterday ruled out any chance of an agreement by the group, at least in the short term, NBC’s Libby Leist reports. "Obviously, I'm disappointed that we haven’t been able to conclude this at this point -- the debt is still $14 trillion. It’s got to be solved in a bipartisan way, and we're going to continue the effort," he said. No one should underestimate the amount of pressure that Grover Norquist and other anti-tax conservatives were putting on Coburn to abandon the talks. They all realized that Coburn provided a lot of conservative group to others eventually supporting final Gang of Six recommendations. Coburn has privately been complaining about the pressure for months; at times, some close to him believed it was stiffening his spine. But the local political pressure was tough for him to overcome.

*** Obama’s day: At 11:30 am ET, Obama delivers the commencement address at the United States Coast Guard Academy in New London, CT. He later heads to Boston to attend two DNC events. By the way, Celtics legends Bill Russell and Ray Allen will speak at one of the fundraisers.

*** Williams holds on to face Beshear in November: As expected, state Senate President David Williams won yesterday’s Kentucky GOP gubernatorial primary, and he will face incumbent Gov. Steve Beshear (D) in November’s general election. But it wasn’t a strong primary victory for Williams. The Lexington Herald-Leader: “Williams … turned back a tougher-than-predicted challenge from Louisville businessman Phil Moffett and Jefferson County Clerk Bobbie Holsclaw. Holsclaw narrowly won Jefferson County, the state's most populous, while Moffett easily carried Fayette County, the second-most populous, and much of Central and Northern Kentucky.”

*** Hahn vs. Huey in CA-36? In what could end up being a bit of an upset, Republican Craig Huey finds himself in second place in the jungle-primary contest to fill Jane Harman’s (D) vacated House seat, which would allow him to advance to the July 12 run-off. The results so far from yesterday’s special congressional election in California: Democrat Janice Hahn received 13,137 votes (25%), Republican Huey got 11,648 (22%), and Democrat Debra Bowen got 11,442 (22%). Yet a Democratic operative cautions that the progressive Bowen -- who was expected to finish in the top two -- could still make the run-off given that nearly 10,000 provisional and late absentee ballots remain to be counted. Hahn will be the overwhelming favorite in the July 12 run-off, but now Democrats might have to pay a little more attention to keep the seat in their hands in a Hahn-Huey match-up. If Bowen doesn't make it, it would be a blow to some of the louder progressive voices who tried to use this primary to make a point. Meanwhile, the "Rudy" candidate didn't even crack 300 votes apparently. So much for Hollywood love.

Countdown to NY-26 special election: 6 days
Countdown to Iowa GOP straw poll: 87 days
Countdown to NV-2 special election: 118 days
Countdown to Election Day 2011: 174 days
Countdown to the Iowa caucuses: 264 days
* Note: When the IA caucuses take place depends on whether other states move up

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