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First Thoughts: What Libya means for Obama

The Libya news is good for Obama, but remember that bin Laden bounce didn’t last long. Why? It’s still the economy … Obama acknowledges vulnerability. … His compromise argument vs. Boehner -- all about independents. … More clues on his post-Labor Day economic plan … When a house just isn’t big enough – John McCain’s houses foreshadows risk for Romney … Perry takes flak from all sides for Bernanke comment that won’t go away, and he’s unapologetic … Bachmann’s slip ups pale in comparison to her statements on the economy … Huntsman goes on the attack.

*** What Libya means for Obama: The fall of Tripoli, and likely eventual ouster of Moammar Khaddafy -- a thorn in American presidents’ sides for more than a generation -- is welcome news to a White House in need of good news. “[T]he momentum against the Qadhafi regime has reached a tipping point,” President Obama said in a statement last night, adding, “Qadhafi and his regime need to recognize that their rule has come to an end.” The news should also serve to blunt criticism of the president for being on vacation and will make it even harder for Republican opponents to criticize him on foreign policy. The muted response from the GOP presidential field is evidence of that. But let’s not forget that it was just over three months ago when Osama bin Laden was killed, and his supporters were calling President Obama a shoo-in for reelection in 2012. But he remains very vulnerable next year because of the fragile domestic economy. And Democrats acknowledge that. One supporter said, “I think it helps with the vacation attacks. Presidents are never really on vacation. It's another notch on the belt of accomplishments. I don't think it's more than that right now.”


President Obama on vacation in Martha's Vineyard.

*** It’s still the economy, stupid: And President Obama acknowledged in an interview on CBS Sunday Morning that voters are frustrated with the economy and that if it doesn’t turn around he’s at great risk of being a one-term president. “[F]or me to argue, 'Look, we've actually made the right decisions, things would have been much worse had we not made those decisions,' that's not that satisfying if you don't have a job right now,” Obama said. “And I understand that and I expect to be judged a year from now on whether or not things have continued to get better.” And when asked if he were a middle-class voter would he vote for him right now, he hesitated slightly. “Well, I actually would,” he said, “because I believe that we've made good decisions.”

*** It’s all about independents, stupid: Don’t miss these lines from Obama’s interview. He was looking right at independents when he said, “[T]he issue's not gonna be whether I can do business with John Boehner. The issue is if John Boehner … can he sell it among his fellow Republicans inside the House of Representatives.” And: “I know that I'm willing at least to go to my party, to go to my fellow Democrats and say to them, 'You know what, even if there's some things that you think aren't good short-term politics, this is good for the country and we should be willing to go ahead and find the kinds of common ground and compromise that allows us to move the country forward.' And if that's happening on both sides, there no reason why we can't solve problems.” For all the flapping about Obama’s base’s anxieties and frustrations, and sure that’s out there, the bigger story is independents, who went for Obama 52%-44% in 2008. They’re Obama’s biggest problem and focus. Why do you think the president went on a Midwest bus tour? 

*** Some clues on that plan: By the way, we’ve heard that a lot of what Obama will call for in his economic plan after Labor Day will be many things he’s already touted. And we got some clues on more details of the plan this weekend during his interview and during his weekly video address: cutting the payroll tax again, a road construction bill, linking up veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan with work and touting trade bills that have passed. Like a candidate rolling out white papers, the president needs something to campaign on – and against (see: Congress).

*** Sometimes it’s not the number of houses but the size: John McCain had to deal in 2008 with his multiple houses because of his wife’s wealth. Well, Mitt Romney, the wealthiest person in this race, is dealing with the news that he is quadrupling the size of his $12 million oceanfront home in La Jolla, CA. First, Romney criticized President Obama for vacationing in Martha’s Vineyard, but is going to be there on the same day raising money for his campaign, then this. He was in San Diego this weekend raising money, per the San Diego Union-Tribune. These stories make it difficult for Romney to make the case that he’s better than Obama on being in touch with regular people.


Rick Perry speaking at a rally in Texas.

*** Perry takes it from all sides: It’s been hard to find a Republican willing to stick up for Rick Perry’s language on Bernanke. On Meet the Press, Mitch Daniels called his language “unfortunate;” Peggy Noonan said this is symptomatic of a “problem” the GOP field has in not exuding “moderation;” Ben Stein also used that word “moderation” and said Perry needs a “lesson in economics,” that what Bernanke’s trying is far from “radical.” Former White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs jumped on board the hit parade, defending the president’s “love” of America, which Perry questioned, and swatted back at Perry with this zinger: “I think for Rick Perry to, at one point, talk about secession from the union as early as--or as far back as only 2009, I think it's good that he's professed his love for this country.” Perry, for his part, initially didn’t double down on the Bernanke comments, but he was unapologetic this weekend after being asked about his comments reportedly making members of Congress nervous. "I'm sorry if I offended a congressman,” Perry said, “but the fact of the matter is I'm about representing the American people out here. And the American people are really concerned and scared, small businessmen and women are frightened about the monetary policy or the lack thereof with this administration." (Ross Douthat has Perry’s back, well, at least Texas’.)

*** Romney’s ‘Prevent defense’ or ‘Four Corners’: National Journal notes that despite Perry’s vulnerability, Romney “has kept silent,” something that “underscores Romney’s limited options for diminishing Perry’s appeal with a deeply conservative Republican primary electorate. Romney has been playing the political equivalent of prevent defense….” And catch this quote: “In boxing, you don’t fight beneath your weight class,’’ said Florida lobbyist Brian Ballard, a member of Romney’s national leadership team. “Until Perry has been out there a couple of months and shown that he is a legitimate rival … I don’t think we’ll engage him much.” Wow, so the Romney campaign doesn’t see Perry as “a legitimate rival”? We have likened what Romney is doing to Dean Smith’s “Four Corners.” And that didn’t work out so well for the last presumptive front-runner we wrote that about.


Michele Bachmann greets supporters in South Carolina.

*** No, I won’t Bach down: It wasn’t just Perry taking hits for his rhetoric, it was also Michele Bachmann. She backed away from her recent gaffes, including saying: “There’s a fear that the United States is in an unstoppable decline. They see the rise of China, the rise of India, the rise of the Soviet Union and our loss militarily going forward.” On calling it the Soviet Union instead of Russia and citing Elvis’ birthday (when it was the anniversary of his death), she chalked them up to a busy speaking schedule. (And those are in addition to her earlier John Wayne (Gacy) and John (Quincy) Adams gaffes.) “When you speak six times a day, slip-ups can occur,” Bachmann said, adding, "The main thing people focus on in every single venue that I've been to is the economy and job creation," she said. Perhaps. But on those issues, she said the economy can turn around in one quarter (by not increasing the debt ceiling and cutting spending) and that she could reduce gas prices to $2 a gallon -- with no real plan to do so.

*** Hunt-sman-ing for attention: It all started with a Tweet. On Thursday, Jon Huntsman, struggling to get attention and move in the polls, wrote:  "To be clear. I believe in evolution and trust scientists on global warming. Call me crazy." That was in response to Perry’s touting creationism and disavowing global warming. The campaign says, as a result, it had its biggest fundraising day since he got in. And he followed up on ABC’s This Week, saying the field has “zero substance” and that “I wouldn't necessarily trust any of my opponents right now … when every single one of them would have allowed this country to default.” He also said, "The minute that the Republican Party becomes the party -- the anti-science party, we have a huge problem.  We lose a whole lot of people who would otherwise allow us to win the election in 2012." He said of Perry’s views on global warming and evolution: "I think when you find yourself at an extreme end of the Republican Party, you make yourself unelectable.” He called Bachmann’s claim that she could get gas under $2 a gallon “completely unrealistic” and “not founded in reality." Huntsman sees an opening with establishment Republicans still not yet coming around on Romney and Perry. But until polls show any movement for him in New Hampshire, South Carolina, Florida, or anywhere else, frankly, it’s going to be hard to see how he makes a dent.

*** Decision 2012 Trail Mix: It’s a slow day on the trail for the first time in a while. Mitt Romney raises money out West (but there are no public events). … Huntsman does POTUS Radio and then CNN’s Piers Morgan tonight … And Newt Gingrich is in Hawaii.

***Monday’s “The Daily Rundown” line-up (with guest host Chris Cillizza): Libya latest with NBC’s Richard Engel, NBC’s Kristen Welker, USIP’s Robin Wright, and msnbc’s Col. Jack Jacobs (Ret.)… NBC’s Mara Schiavocampo and TheGrio.com/msnbc’s Jeff Johnson on the opening of the Washington D.C. Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial… 2012 news with Politico’s Jonathan Martin, Roll Call’s Christina Bellantoni and National Review/Bloomberg View’s Ramesh Ponnuru.

*** Monday’s “Andrea Mitchell Reports”: Andrea Mitchell will have the latest on all the developments out of Libya with Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Jeffrey Feltman, plus Chair of the House Intelligence Committee Rep. Mike Rogers, Steve Clemons of the New America Foundation, as well as Bloombeg’s Jeanne Cummings and the New York Times’ Charles Blow.

Countdown to NBC-Politico debate at Reagan Library: 16 days
Countdown to NV-2 and NY-9 special elections: 22 days
Countdown to Election Day 2011: 78 days
Countdown to the Iowa caucuses: 168 days
* Note: When the IA caucuses take place depends on whether other states move up

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