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First Thoughts: Romney takes center stage

Romney TRIES to take center stage with presidential announcement from Stratham, NH at noon ET, but the small state is a bit crowded today… Per excerpts, Romney will focus on jobs and the economy and declare that “Barack Obama has failed America”… Contrasting Romney’s 2007 announcement from Michigan with today’s announcement from New Hampshire… The biggest question he faces (bigger than the one over health care): Who, exactly, is Mitt Romney?... He did pick a good week to talk about jobs and the economy… Is Palin stepping on Romney’s big day in New Hampshire?... Rudy Giuliani’s also in the Granite State… And the latest in the budget battle: Obama  meets with House Democrats at 2:30 pm ET.

AP

Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts Republican governor, is set to officially announce his run for president today from New Hampshire, a state he likely must win to get the nomination.

*** Romney takes center stage: For someone who's essentially been running for president for nearly six years, it isn't easy to escape the political limelight. But that is what Mitt Romney has largely done in the past few months, part by design and part by Sarah Palin and Donald Trump. But today, Romney attempts to take center stage in New Hampshire -- well, at least until Palin also shows up in the state (more on that below). At noon ET, the apparent front-runner for the Republican nomination formally announces his presidential bid at a farm in Stratham, NH. His message will be the same one he’s discussed over the past year: jobs and the economy. Per a Romney aide, he’ll also talk about the importance of limited government, cutting the debt, and leadership in the world. Team Romney promises it will be a serious speech and will have an optimistic vision and tone.

*** “Obama has failed America”: But the thrust of Romney’s announcement today, at least according to advanced excerpts of his speech, will be a full-throated denunciation of Barack Obama’s presidency. “A few years ago, Americans did something that was, actually, very much the sort of thing Americans like to do: We gave someone new a chance to lead; someone we hadn't known for very long, who didn't have much of a record but promised to lead us to a better place,” Romney is expected to say. “Now, in the third year of his four-year term, we have more than promises and slogans to go by. Barack Obama has failed America.” More Romney: “Government under President Obama has grown to consume almost 40% of our economy. We are only inches away from ceasing to be a free market economy. I will cap federal spending at 20% or less of the GDP and finally, finally balance the budget. My generation will pass the torch to the next generation, not a bill.”

*** Dearborn 2007 vs. Stratham 2011: Of course, this isn't the first time Romney has formally announced a presidential bid. Four years ago, it was in Michigan (his original home state), where the backdrop consisted of automotive innovations (and where he walked out to Billy Ocean's "Get Outta My Dreams, Get Into My Car"). This time, it's at a picnic/barbeque in New Hampshire (what's become an adopted home state). Four years ago, Romney was wearing a suit and a tie. This time, he'll likely keep his more casual look. And four years ago, the message was heavy on social conservatism (stressing the importance of family, the sanctity of human life, and securing the borders). This time, it will be about his background and Barack Obama. Here's Romney's biggest question, and it's bigger than the individual mandate: Who, exactly, is Romney? Is he the liberal Republican who supported abortion rights in 1994? Is he the pragmatist who got elected governor of Massachusetts and signed one of the most famous health-care laws in the land? Is he the social conservative who went all-in in Iowa but failed to win? Or is he business executive with unrelenting criticism at the Obama administration?

*** Who is Mitt Romney? The Democratic National Committee seizes on this question in a Web video, which concludes: “Same candidate. Different positions -- again.” (An irony to consider: If Obama were to give a speech announcing his re-election campaign, he’d probably do it from an automotive museum in Michigan…about the only thing right now the administration feels comfortable touting in this fragile economic environment.)

*** Romney picked a good week to talk about the economy: What if Romney had delivered today’s speech -- focused on the economy and his business background -- four years ago? We don’t know the answer to that question. But we do know that of any week to base a presidential candidacy on the economy, this is a good one. Just take a look at some of today’s headlines. The Washington Post: “Manufacturing slowdown the latest sign the recovery is faltering.” The New York Times: “Employment Data May Be the Key to the President’s Job.” The Chicago Tribune: For many families across Chicago, recession’s grip hasn’t eased.” The recent spate of economic numbers (tepid 1st quarter growth, falling home prices, lower manufacturing) is either a macroeconomic bump in the road -- due to the high gas prices and the troubles in Japan. Or it’s the first sign of serious economic worries. Remember, it was just a year ago when the BP spill and the Greek debt crisis sent the U.S. economy back into a tailspin for much of the rest of 2010.

AP

Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R) tours the Statue of Liberty in New York yesterday on another leg of her bus tour.

*** Is Palin stepping on Romney’s big day? Intentionally or not, the fact that Palin also is expected to make her way to New Hampshire today is a slap at the apparent GOP front-runner. Of all days to come to the Granite State, why did she pick today’s Romney announcement, the news of which was released a week ago? That she’s not even giving him a 24-hour news cycle to make his case is a subtle sign that Romney has yet to unite the party, as well as a reminder that she could be a thorn in the GOP establishment’s side. That said, Team Romney is welcoming Palin’s New Hampshire stop with open arms. “Anything that gets folks pumped up and reminds them of what the country is all about is great by us,” a Romney aide tells First Read. “Gov. Romney is running as an alternative to President Obama and the way he's poorly handled the economy and unemployment, and Palin brings energy and passion and reminds folks it doesn't have to be this way.”

*** The fragile front-runner: Still, Palin is the actual physical evidence that Romney, while the front-runner, is fragile. But history suggests Romney will be the nominee -- not since Goldwater in '64 has the party nominated someone who had never RUN for president before or wasn't the incumbent (Ford) or wasn't the son of a former president (Dubya). And that's why what Palin is doing to Romney today is potentially so damaging. It doesn't give him even a day to have a clean shot on the most important day of any presidential campaign: announcement day.

*** Rudy, Rudy, Rudy: Palin isn’t the only other Republican who will be in New Hampshire today. At 6:00 pm ET, Rudy Giuliani headlines a state GOP dinner in Dover.

*** The budget battle: The day after meeting with House Republicans, President Obama today sits down with the House Democratic caucus at 2:30 pm ET to discuss the debt ceiling and other issues. Per the New York Times, House Speaker John Boehner said he’d like to reach a deal on raising the debt ceiling in the next month, and wants the president to play a bigger role in the negotiations. One possible compromise we’ve heard: The White House and Republicans would agree to a one-year deal raising the ceiling and cutting spending, and let the 2012 election decide the larger debate about long-term spending cuts and long-term tax increases as a result of some sort of "trigger." This could be an attempt to de-link the Biden talks from the debt ceiling.  

Countdown to Iowa GOP straw poll: 72 days
Countdown to NV-2 special election: 103 days
Countdown to Election Day 2011: 159 days
Countdown to the Iowa caucuses: 249 days
* Note: When the IA caucuses take place depends on whether other states move up

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