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First Thoughts: Obama vs. the economy

Obama vs. the economy… New WaPo/ABC poll finds Obama trailing Romney among registered voters, 49%-46%... But is Romney’s boomlet temporary?... Warning: Beware of national polls this far out; Dole was beating Clinton at this point in the ’96 cycle… Obama on Afghanistan: “It’s time for the Afghans to take more responsibility”… Pelosi calls for investigation into Weiner, but not his immediate resignation… Pawlenty unveils his “Google Test” at 11:00 am ET speech at the University of Chicago, calling for elimination of governmental entities like the U.S. Postal Service and Amtrak… Newt Gingrich: Wanna get away?... And Romney’s in Detroit, while Santorum is in Iowa.

*** Obama vs. the economy: If you needed any more proof that President Obama is running more against the economy than the Republican field, just look at the latest Washington Post/ABC poll. Conducted during the worst economic news the White House has encountered since last summer, the poll shows Obama trailing Mitt Romney by three points among registered voters, 49%-46%, and tied among all respondents. The reason: Romney outperforms Obama with independents. More from the poll: “Overall, about six in 10 of those surveyed give Obama negative marks on the economy and the deficit. Significantly, nearly half strongly disapprove of his performance in these two crucial areas. Nearly two-thirds of political independents disapprove of the president’s handling of the economy, including — for the first time — a slim majority who do so strongly.”

*** Romney's short-term boomlet? That said, Obama leads all other potential GOP candidates in the poll (Palin, Gingrich, Huntsman, Pawlenty, and Bachmann). But is this as good as it gets for Romney, at least during this phase of the Republican race? Consider that he has carefully limited his exposure over the past few months, even admitting to CNN’s Piers Morgan that overexposure is his “greatest enemy.” (But being president or even the front-runner for the GOP nomination is the definition of being overexposed.) And outside of the jabs he received last week from Palin and Giuliani -- who might not even run in 2012 -- Romney hasn’t been attacked by top Republican rivals, like Pawlenty or Huntsman. Yet. Per the Washington Post/ABC poll, “The Massachusetts health-care plan enacted under Romney remains a potentially serious problem in the former governor’s bid. By nearly 2 to 1, Republicans oppose the plan, with strong detractors far outnumbering solid supporters.”

*** The White House can take comfort in this: In case you were wondering, back in March of 1995, Bob Dole was leading Bill Clinton, per a Los Angeles Times poll. And in June of 1995, a Newsweek survey found Dole leading Clinton, 49%-40%.

*** “It’s time for the Afghans to take more responsibility”: The Post/ABC poll also finds a majority (54%) believing that the war in Afghanistan isn’t worth fighting, although that percentage is down 10 points from March. And in his interview with Hearst yesterday, President Obama appeared to be leaning toward a steeper drawdown from Afghanistan, as yesterday’s New York Times foreshadowed. Said Obama, “By us killing Osama bin Laden, getting Al Qaeda back on its heels, stabilizing much of the country in Afghanistan so the Taliban can't take it over, it's now time for us to recognize that we've accomplished a big chunk of our mission and that it's time for the Afghans to take more responsibility." Read that again: The president said "we've accomplished a BIG CHUNK of our mission" (emphasis ours).

*** Sex(ting), Lies, and Videotape: From our vantage point, the biggest political result from Weiner-gate is that it distracted Democrats' message for an entire week. Instead of the GOP's Medicare plans, the Hill story of the week focused on Rep. Anthony Weiner's lies, followed by his never-ending, choked-up admission of sending lewd online photos and messages. Agree with his politics or not, John Boehner did his party -- and its overall message -- a favor by immediately pressuring the Chris Lees and Mark Souders to resign. Pelosi and team, by contrast? They allowed the Weiner story to linger, just like they did for Eric Massa (remember the Glenn Beck ordeal?) and Charlie Rangel (who twisted in the wind for months). Pelosi did call for an Ethics Committee investigation, but such an investigation has the potential only to pro-long the story. What happens if an investigation of Weiner, six months or a year from now, uncovers anything else? “We do not need an investigation to know he lied and acted inappropriately,” RNC Chairman Reince Priebus said in a statement. “We need a resignation.”

*** Rogue’s gallery: All that said, consider this: In the past year or two, five rogues in Congress have been exposed -- John Ensign, Eric Massa, Chris Lee, Mark Souder, and Anthony Weiner. That’s less than one percent of all members of the House and Senate, and that's not a bad ratio.  Then again, three of these are from New York state. What’s up, Empire State?

*** Pawlenty’s “Google Test”: At 11:00 am ET from the University of Chicago, Pawlenty delivers a speech on the economy and government. Per excerpts, he will propose cutting corporate taxes (“We should cut the business tax rate by more than half. I propose reducing the current rate from 35% to 15%”); creating just two individual tax rates (10% and 25%); and eliminating the U.S. Postal Service, Amtrak, and the government printing office (“We can start by applying what I call ‘The Google Test.’ If you can find a good or service on the Internet, then the federal government probably doesn’t need to be doing it”). Our question: Does Pawlenty realize that UPS and Fed Ex don’t deliver to some rural parts of the country? How do you ensure mail for those folks? The real issue with the Postal Service is Congress' inability to allow it to make smart business decisions (like raising postage to a realistic level of say one whole dollar?!?!? Or shutting down some post offices). Similarly, private companies -- unless they’re given a generous subsidy -- are unlikely to provide passenger-train service outside big cities on the East and West coasts.

*** Does the math add up? A Pawlenty spokesman emails First Read, “The Google Test highlights government programs and parts of government programs that are clearly duplicative of services now also provided by private sector.” And here’s another question: Does Pawlenty’s math add up when you cut individual tax rates, and still leave the popular home-mortgage and child-credit tax deductions? Budget experts, take out your calculators….

*** Wanna get away? Yesterday, we discovered that Newt Gingrich had taken Southwest Airlines' ad campaign ("Wanna get away?") to heart and has been on a Greek cruise over the past several days. All candidates go on vacations, but how many of them have gone on a cruise just weeks after announcing their presidential bid? Fair or not, Newt’s vacation only feeds the perception that he’s not all-in to win the GOP nomination, but instead simply wants ALL-IN on the debates and conversation to so he can stay relevant as an author and commentator.

*** On the 2012 trail: Elsewhere today, Romney is in Detroit, where Democrats will gleefully use the headline from his Nov. 18, 2008 New York Times op-ed (“Let Detroit Go Bankrupt) against him… Santorum, the day after announcing his presidential bid, is in Iowa… And Buddy Roemer is in Louisiana. 

Countdown to Iowa GOP straw poll: 67 days
Countdown to NV-2 special election: 98 days
Countdown to Election Day 2011: 154 days
Countdown to the Iowa caucuses: 244 days
* Note: When the IA caucuses take place depends on whether other states move up

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