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First Thoughts: What we learned this week

What we learned this week in the 2012 race: Obama continues to draw distinctions with congressional GOPers, and GOP presidentials turn on each other… Senate blocks jobs legislation, again… Romney: “I’d love to win in Iowa”… Cain, further under the microscope… Vetting Rubio and his defense… Another Solyndra?... Could Nevada move back to February?... And Jindal is expected to win another term in Louisiana tomorrow.

*** What we learned this week: So besides the week’s two big stories -- Khaddafy’s death and those escaped wild animals in Ohio -- what did we learn this week about the 2012 campaign? Two things come to mind. One, Obama continues to draw distinctions with Republicans and Congress. After the Senate blocked the teacher/first responder component of his jobs plan (more on that below), Obama fired off this statement: “[E]very American deserves an explanation as to why Republicans refuse to step up to the plate and do what’s necessary to create jobs and grow the economy right now.” (Then again, two Dems and a Dem-leaning indie joined the GOP filibuster.). It’s becoming clear nothing is getting done this year legislatively; the campaign is afoot. Two, we learned that the main Republican presidential candidates have turned their focus away from Obama and toward each other. So that means that for at least the next three months -- and probably longer -- the president is going to take a back seat, especially if he and congressional Republicans are in this stalemate.

*** Jobs legislation blocked again: As mentioned above, the Senate last night -- by a 50-50 vote -- rejected moving ahead on the $35 billion bill that would provide funding to states and cities to help retain and rehire teachers, firefighters, police, and other first responders, NBC’s Libby Leist reports. It was a procedural vote to open debate on the bill and needed 60 votes to move forward. All Republicans voted to filibuster the legislation, and they were joined by two Democrats (Nebraska’s Ben Nelson and Arkansas’ Mark Pryor) and one Dem-leaning independent (Connecticut’s Joe Lieberman). Per NBC’s Kelly O’Donnell, the Senate – led this time by Democrats, filibustered a GOP plan to repeal a 3% withholding tax for government contractors.

AP

Republican presidential candidate former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney in Iowa, Thursday, October 20, 2011.

*** Romney: “I’d love to win in Iowa”: Yesterday, we got an answer about whether Romney will compete in Iowa -- well, sort of. “I will be here again and again campaigning here,” he said, per NBC’s Alex Moe and Garrett Haake. “I want to get the support of the good people in Iowa. I’d love to win in Iowa. Any of us would.” The big question: Just how heavily will he compete? This is something that we’ll probably know a month from now if it’s real. It certainly sounds like Romney is simply keeping the door open to competing in Iowa, but he also DID NOT sound like he was all in…yet. (We know some of his advisers believe Iowa’s a trap for him; they may be right.) By the way, the DNC is up with two new web videos (here and here) hitting Romney for flip-flopping on health care and immigration.

*** Cain, further under the microscope: Just as Cain might appear serious about getting into Iowa – he hired his first serious hire in the state – the scrutiny is intensifying. He was taking flak from the right (including the Bachmann campaign) yesterday for comments he made on abortion. He’s qualifying his 9-9-9 plan a bit -- after it was criticized for taxing the poor and middle class the most -- to include “zones” intended to benefit the poor. And yesterday, we reported on Cain’s past writings about Social Security. He called it “immoral,” “oppressive,” and discriminatory, and supported former President Bush’s plan for personal retirement accounts. He invoked race heavily, charging that “congressional Democrats do not want all Americans to drink from the same retirement fountains. They insinuate that we are not smart enough to ride in the front of the retirement bus with them.”

*** Vetting Rubio: The Washington Post report that Marco Rubio may have embellished the story of his parents’ flight from Cuba -- they came to the United States and gained permanent residency here 2 ½ years before Castro took power in Cuba (so during Batista’s reign) -- is yet another reminder that Rubio has yet to be vetted on a national stage. And that could explain, in part, why he continues to knock down the VP talk and why everyone should take him seriously. Remember, Democrats barely laid a glove on him in 2010, with Dem nominee Kendrick Meek taking on Charlie Crist (I) instead. Is it a career-damaging piece? No, though it certainly complicates his narrative (that Obama’s America somehow resembles the Castro-led Cuba from which his parents fled). More than anything else, however, the story is an example of the type of vetting he’s going to face as a national figure.

AP

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla.

*** Rubio’s defense: Yesterday, Rubio issued this statement: "To suggest my family's story is embellished for political gain is outrageous. The dates I have given regarding my family's history have always been based on my parents' recollections of events that occurred over 55 years ago and which were relayed to me by them more than two decades after they happened. I was not made aware of the exact dates until very recently… What's important is that the essential facts of my family's story are completely accurate. My parents are from Cuba. After arriving in the United States, they had always hoped to one day return to Cuba if things improved and traveled there several times.” And: "They were exiled from the home country they tried to return to because they did not want to live under communism.”

*** Another Solyndra? Meanwhile, ABC reports on what it suggests could be another Solyndra-like story. "With the approval of the Obama administration, an electric car company that received a $529 million federal government loan guarantee is assembling its first line of cars in Finland, saying it could not find a facility in the United States capable of doing the work. Vice President Joseph Biden heralded the Energy Department’s $529 million loan to the start-up electric car company called Fisker as a bright new path to thousands of American manufacturing jobs. But two years after the loan was announced, the job of assembling the flashy electric Fisker Karma sports car has been outsourced to Finland."

*** On the 2012 trail: Romney speaks at a GOP function in Oklahoma… Paul stumps in Iowa… And Cain makes stops in Detroit and Indianapolis.

*** Could Nevada move back to February? The Las Vegas Sun: “National Republicans … have been trying to strike a deal with Nevada. In exchange for moving its caucuses back to early February, it would be assured to be third in the nation in 2016 — even though that’s what Nevada was supposed to be guaranteed in the 2012 cycle. At first, state officials and top GOP brass bristled at the idea that Nevada accommodate the vagaries of New Hampshire state law. But now the tone is decidedly different. ‘I hope we reach a resolution that’s mutually beneficial to the candidates, the state of Nevada and the Republican Party,’ [Gov. Brian] Sandoval said, intimating that he trusted the RNC to do right by Nevada in the future.’” The Nevada GOP is set to meet to discuss this issue, per the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

*** LA GOV: By the way, tomorrow is the free-for-all primary in Louisiana, and Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) is expected to easily win re-election. If no one gets 50% in the multiple-candidate field, a run-off will take place on Nov. 19. But Jindal is expected to surpass that.

*** Friday’s “Daily Rundown” line-up: Latest from Libya… Perry Communications Director Ray Sullivan… Politico’s Jonathan Martin and the Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza on the 2012 week that was and what’s next… NBC News Campaign Embed Jo Kent on how the prospect of a very early primary is raising concerns in New Hampshire… Former U.S. Ambassador to Singapore and Reagan White House Political Director Frank Lavin… And more 2012 news with the New York Times’ David Leonhardt, former DNC spokeswoman Karen Finney, and former Rep. Susan Molinari, R-NY.

*** Friday’s “Andrea Mitchell Reports” line-up: NBC’s Andrea Mitchell interviews GOP strategist Kevin Madden and Dem strategist Dee Dee Myers, Vali Nasr (on Libya and Hillary Clinton in Pakistan), and Holly Petreaus (head of federal consumer protection agency for veterans and wife of David Petraeus).

Countdown to LA GOV election: 1 day
Countdown to Election Day 2011: 18 days
Countdown to Iowa caucuses: 74 days
Countdown to Nevada caucuses: 85 days
Countdown to South Carolina primary: 92 days
Countdown to Super Tuesday: 137 days

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