Discuss as:

First thoughts: Slugfest in Simi

Breaking down last night’s slugfest in Simi Valley… Perry steals the show early and then fades… “Steady Eddie” Romney… Bachmann fails to break through… What will be Obama’s tone tonight?… His speech to a joint session of Congress begins at 7:00 pm ET… Perry campaigns in CA, while Gingrich is in NH… And David Gregory chats with Joe Lieberman.  

SIMI VALLEY, CA -- In the most combative and entertaining debate of the Republican primary season so far, GOP front-runners Rick Perry and Mitt Romney engaged early and often last night at the Reagan Presidential Library. They clashed over their economic records, Romney’s health-care law in Massachusetts, and Social Security. (In fact, six months ago, who would have thought that the battle between the likely final two GOP candidates would be fought over Social Security?) The debate provided further evidence that the GOP race is shaping up to be a two-man contest between the current governor of Texas and the former governor of Massachusetts -- a contrast that will be about both style and substance as the debate showed last night.

AP

Republican presidential candidate Gov. Rick Perry (TX).

*** Perry steals the show then fades: As for Perry’s performance in his first debate, he stole the show in the first 45 minutes, assailing -- with a smile -- not only Romney, but also even Ron Paul and Karl Rove. But he wasn’t as sharp near the end, especially in a discussion about science and climate change where he seemed to side with the 17th-Century Catholic Church in not believing that the Earth rotated around the sun. (“Just because you have a group of scientists that have stood up and said, here is the fact -- Galileo got outvoted for a spell,” he said.) Overall, Perry showed that he was a fighter, and the result was both good and bad for him. In particular, the fight over Social Security -- where he doubled down in calling it a “Ponzi Scheme” and came in with a plan to own that -- revealed his strength (he’s unafraid and won’t flip flop), but also his weakness (can the eventual GOP nominee say that about the most popular government program?). As Romney’s camp made clear in the spin room after the debate, they see this as their clearest contrast. If you didn’t think that the Florida primary (with all the seniors who live there) was going to be HUGE, you now know… By the way, the minute Perry uttered the word "Galileo," he guaranteed a big presence on tonight's “Daily Show,” but we digress.

AP

Republican presidential candidate former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.

*** Steady Eddie: Romney was steady Eddie. Unlike his past two debates, he wasn’t able to always stick to his talking points on the economy and Obama, but he remained poised and confident. He also knew when he shouldn’t pick certain fights (like ducking the health-care discussion). So three debates and three pretty good performances for Romney. You couldn’t say that about him in 2007-2008. A final point: Romney making the electability argument on Social Security -- “Our nominee has to be someone who isn't committed to abolishing Social Security but who is committed to saving Social Security” -- might ring true for the political journalists, analysts, and strategists watching the debate, but is it something that will motivate the GOP electorate? Democrats have shown that electability arguments do matter to them and can sway voters (see Kerry '04 or even Jim Webb in ‘06). But the current Republican Party? The evidence in 2010 was that electability arguments didn't gain traction, see Nevada and Delaware but also, for instance, Florida governor.

AP

Republican presidential candidate Rep. Michele Bachmann (MN-6).

*** Bachmann fails to break through: If there was a loser at last night’s debate, it was Michele Bachmann, who needed to prove that the GOP contest is a three-person race. But she wasn’t able to achieve that. Indeed, that she has gone from star (at the Ames Straw Poll) to afterthought (last night) in less than a month is an incredible development. It seemed that all the non-frontrunners last night -- Jon Huntsman, Ron Paul, Rick Santorum, even Newt Gingrich -- had a strategy to insert themselves in the debate, even as they knew the focus would be on the newcomer. But Bachmann didn’t. Regarding Huntsman, his performance last night was substantially better than at his first debate in Iowa. The question is whether anyone in the GOP is listening to his message. Here’s an example: When he delivered this line last night -- “We can't run from science. We can't run from mainstream conservative philosophy. We've got to win voters.” -- it didn’t receive any applause.

Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

*** What will be Obama’s tone tonight? Of course, the big event today will be President Obama’s 7:00 pm ET speech on the economy and jobs to a joint session of Congress. We have a good idea what the president will say. Per NBC’s Kristen Welker, Democratic officials familiar with Obama’s plan have said the speech will be a call to action; his plan will be comprehensive; it includes bipartisan ideas; and it will make the case for what can be done now on the economy. On the “TODAY” show, Chief of Staff Bill Daley revealed the plan would be officially dubbed, "The American Jobs Act." And he seemed to make it clear that the president would not be offering up any ideas that were complete non-starters with the GOP. Every major idea they are putting forward are ones that normally get some GOP support. So the drama for tonight: what we don’t know -- what will be his tone tonight? Will we see Frustrated Obama? Conciliatory Obama? Feisty Obama? Or Inspirational Obama?

AP

Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH).

*** Boehner’s message: As for congressional Republicans, a GOP aide tells NBC’s Luke Russert that Speaker Boehner plans to deliver the following message to his conference this morning: “Majority Leader Cantor and I sent a letter to the president on Tuesday. The purpose was to give the president a roadmap of where we could find common ground on the American peoples’ top priority: jobs.  We hope he might include things we agree on in the speech tonight.” More Boehner: “We've also invited more than a dozen private-sector job creators to be guests in the Speaker's box tonight. Each of these job creators has a story to tell about Washington interfering with their efforts to create more American jobs.”

*** On the 2012 trail: The day after last night’s GOP debate, Perry remains in California, attending a meet and greet… And Gingrich holds a town hall in New Hampshire. 

*** Thursday's "Daily Rundown" line-up (live from Burbank!): RNC Chairman Reince Priebus reacts to the GOP debate and gives his prebuttal to tonight’s jobs speech by President Obama… NBC’s Mike Viqueira with more on the speech, and Politico’s Jonathan Martin with debate analysis… Former Obama White House Communications Director Anita Dunn and Democratic strategist Bob Shrum on what kind of message the president will deliver tonight… And more 2012 with USA Today’s Susan Page, Democratic strategist/MSNBC political analyst Karen Finney and Republican strategist Kevin Madden.

*** Thursday’s “Andrea Mitchell Reports” line-up: NBC’s Andrea Mitchell today interviews Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, the White House’s Melody Barnes on the president’s speech, Tea Party leader Mark Meckler, and Dem Rep. Elijah Cummings.

*** David Gregory chats with Lieberman: As part of his weekly “Press Pass,” NBC’s David Gregory chatted with Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-D) on 2012 and the economy. 

Countdown to NV-2 and NY-9 special elections: 5 days
Countdown to Election Day 2011: 61 days
Countdown to the Iowa caucuses: 151 days
* Note: When the IA caucuses take place depends on whether other states move up

Click here to sign up for First Read emails.
Text FIRST to 622639, to sign up for First Read alerts to your mobile phone.
Check us out on Facebook and also on Twitter. Follow us @chucktodd, @mmurraypolitics, @DomenicoNBC, @brookebrower