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First Thoughts: Ad war heats up

Perry and pro-Perry Super PAC way outspending the field in ads… Don’t overlook how much -- and how -- Paul is spending… Signs of trouble: Bachmann’s spent nothing since August … Do we see a pro-Romney Super PAC going on air soon? … Obama launches his reelect message, but what was missing? … Gingrich scrambles to get on Ohio ballot … Republicans ready to go after Obama at Republican Jewish Coalition event today … Romney will accuse Obama of “appeasement.” … Kaine and Allen debate!

*** Ad war heats up: With less than four weeks until the Iowa caucuses, the TV ad war in the Republican race is underway. Ron Paul went up with the first negative ad; Gingrich is now hitting the airwaves; and so is Romney. But guess who is leading the ad race so far: Rick Perry. In fact, according to a Republican ad-tracking source, Perry appears to be making a last stand of sorts. His campaign has placed a $1 million buy over the next three weeks in Iowa, and the pro-Perry Super PAC Make Us Great Again has booked $1.2 million on broadcast TV in Iowa and South Carolina over that same period of time (but they don’t coordinate, right?). And don’t lose sight of the candidate in second place in ad spending: Ron Paul. Below are the updated ad-spending numbers (and they include money for both TV and radio ads):

-- Overall: Perry: $5.1 million; Paul: $2.6 million; Make Us Great Again (pro-Perry): $2.5 million; Our Destiny PAC (pro-Huntsman): $1.4 million; Romney: $674,000; Gingrich: $233,000; Bachmann $166,000 (but hasn’t been on air since August); Santorum: $23,000.
-- Iowa: Perry $3.9 million; Paul $1.2 million; Make Us Great Again $1.1 million; Romney $322,000; Gingrich $233,000; Bachmann $166,000 (zero since August); Santorum $17,000.
-- New Hampshire: Our Destiny PAC $1.4 million; Paul $430,000; Romney $352,000; Perry $234,000
-- South Carolina: Make Us Great Again $1.4 million; Paul $57,000

*** Ad-scendency: A few other points: Paul might end up spending more on his Gingrich attack ad in Iowa than the Gingrich campaign spends on its first bio spot. … Despite Bachmann’s campaign having denied they had major financial problems at the end of the last quarter, it seems pretty clear they have serious problems. She may have outspent the field at the Iowa straw poll, but now her spending is an asterisk*. … The most surprising absence from this ad spending chart: the Romney SuperPac (Restore Our Future). We’re betting the first place we see “Restore Our Future” ads: Iowa mailboxes.

*** Obama’s opening salvo in Kansas: Perhaps the best way to view President Obama’s speech in Kansas yesterday: It was the opening salvo in his re-election campaign, at least when it comes to economic messaging. He said the phrase “middle class” 20 times; He even adopted the language of the ‘Occupy Wall Street’ movement (99% and 1%), though tried to rise above their rhetoric while embracing their beefs. And he lamented the inequality gap, which has grown over the last decade. The speech wasn’t always lofty, at times, it had the feel of one of his standard American Jobs Act pitches, but it’s clear we now have a better idea of where the re-election campaign is headed message wise. “We simply cannot return to this brand of ‘you're on your own’ economics if we're serious about rebuilding the middle class in this country,” he said. That’s likely a line we’ll hear again.

*** What was missing: A couple things missing from the speech: Taking credit for accomplishments and a “Kansas” backdrop. In traditional reelect messages laid out fully in convention speeches, president’s usually have a healthy dose of taking credit for accomplishments. Obama’s speech yesterday had just some allusions to those, but there’s still time. And just askin’… For a speech the White House and campaign team is so proud of, can someone explain why they allowed the backdrop to look like it was set up in some school’s basement? Other than him SAYING Kansas, he could have been anywhere. This White House hadn’t really made stagecraft a priority (despite what they did during the FIRST campaign), but had improved with striking backdrops in recent months during the president’s jobs act events.

*** Gingrich scrambling to the get on the ballot in Ohio: Does Gingrich’s campaign have the ability to go toe-to-toe with Mitt Romney’s operation in a long, protracted nomination fight? NBC News has learned that the Gingrich camp is scrambling to meet today’s deadline to submit the proper petitions to the get on the ballot in Ohio (which doesn’t hold its primary until June). In fact, folks from the Gingrich campaign in Ohio have sent out multiple emails with the subject “emergency” looking for help to get on the ballot or simply supporters who are willing to be delegates. NBC’s John Bailey reports that, according to a GOP source in the Buckeye State, Gingrich has not finished filing in Ohio, but is expected to file today. They have until 4 pm ET to do so. Today’s also the deadline to get on the ballot in Oklahoma, which holds its primary on March 6 (Super Tuesday), and the Oklahoma GOP says Gingrich has already filed. The next big test for all the campaigns, organizationally, will be the Virginia ballot. The deadline is in two weeks -- Dec. 22. It’s a complicated petition process. First Read friend Frank Lavin remembers vividly the Reagan ’76 campaign’s inability to get on the Ohio ballot with a full slate of delegates. Lavin reminds us Reagan received some 40%-plus of the primary vote, but only about 20% of the delegates. 

*** All GOP candidates -- except Paul -- speak at Republican Jewish forum: Today, six of the seven GOP presidential candidates will address the Republican Jewish Coalition forum in DC. Rick Santorum speaks at 9:15 am ET, Jon Huntsman goes at 9:45 am, Romney at 10:25 am, Gingrich at 2:05 pm, Perry at 2:45 pm, and Bachmann at 3:25 pm. The one candidate who was NOT invited is the man who is either tied for second or in third place in most of the polls: Ron Paul. “His views [on Israel] are what we feel are way outside the mainstream of the Republican Party,” Republican Jewish Coalition Executive Director Matt Brooks said of Paul, per the Boston Globe. “He has consistently articulated positions that are antithetical to those in the organization.”

*** Romney to accuse Obama of ‘appeasement’: Romney’s campaign has already released excerpts of his remarks to the Republican Jewish Coalition, and they appear to be a response to President Obama’s economic speech in Kansas. “President Obama is replacing our merit-based, opportunity-based society with an entitlement society,” Romney is expected to say. “In an entitlement society, everyone is handed the same rewards, regardless of education, effort and willingness to take risk. That which is earned by some is redistributed to others. And the only people to enjoy truly disproportionate rewards are the people who do the redistributing -- the government.” Romney will add, “President Obama has adopted an appeasement strategy. He has embraced an Entitlement Society. He has put America on a path toward decline.” And Romney will also say, as he has done before, that President Obama has “chastised” Israel. Expect all of the Republicans at today’s event to hit President Obama hard.

*** Kaine vs. Allen debate: One of the most watched Senate races in the country has its first debate today – the Virginia Senate race at 1:30 pm ET. The Richmond Times-Dispatch says it’s “shaping up to be the battle over which set of ‘failed policies’ failed harder. Allen will take aim at Kaine's former role as Democratic National Committee chairman in which he touted President Barack Obama's stimulus plan, health-care overhaul legislation and other legislation considered disastrous by Republicans. Kaine, on the other hand, will go after Allen's record as a U.S. senator, contrasting it with his own record as governor, top advisers said Tuesday in a conference call.” NPR notes: “It's a race likely to revolve around two key issues: President Obama and the economy.” Virginia and Massachusetts could be lynchpins to whether the Senate changes control.

*** On the 2012 trail: Outside of the today’s Republican Jewish Coalition forum, the only activity on the campaign trail is New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) stumping for Romney in Iowa at 6:50 pm ET.

*** Wednesday’s “Daily Rundown” line-up: A debate between former Gov. Buddy Roemer (R-LA) and former Gov. Gary Johnson (R-NM)… CNBC’s Larry Kudlow on the economy, 2012 and his chat last night with Gingrich… more 2012 headlines with USA Today’s Jackie Kucinich, the Chicago Tribune’s Clarence Page and msnbc.com’s Vaughn Ververs.

*** Wednesday’s “Jansing & Co. line-up: Jansing & Company -- Chris Jansing welcome’s DNC Chair Rep Debbie Wasserman Schultz to discuss Obama’s fight for the middle class, Also, the New York Times’ Charles Blow and author Richard Wolffe weigh in on Rove vs. Trump. National Journal’s Major Garrett, and C. Nicole Mason, executive director of the Women of Color Policy Network at NYU on a new poll.

*** Wednesday’s “MSNBC Live with Thomas Roberts” Line-Up:  Thomas Roberts talks with Karen Finney and J.P. Freire about Newt’s Surge and Romney bucking Trump. Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich will discuss President Obama’s populist message. Maria Teresa Kumar and Earl Ofari Hutchinson react to a new poll on black and Latino voters.

*** Wednesday’s “NOW with Alex Wagner” line-up: Alex Wagner’s guests include New York Magazine’s John Heilemann, former GOP Rep. Susan Molinari, Roll Call’s Christina Bellantoni, and the Washington Post’s Melinda Henneberger.

*** Wednesday’s “Andrea Mitchell Reports” line-up: Andrea Mitchell will speak with Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Mark Kirk (R-IL) who will be discussing the payroll tax, as well as Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD, ranking member of the Budget Committee). Also: Former Pennsylvania Gov. and NBC News political analyst Ed Rendell on Battleground Pennsylvania, Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) on the pending Consumer Financial Protection Board director vote, NBC’s George Lewis from Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on the 70th anniversary of the attack, as well as Craig Shirley, author of “December 1941.”

*** Wednesday’s “News Nation with Tamron Hall”: Tamron Hall anchors from DC today with guests A.B. Stoddard from The Hill, Republican strategist Alberto Martinez and radio host Michael Smerconish, as well as Amanda Terkel from the Huffington Post on the effort to recall Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker.

Countdown to Iowa caucuses: 27 days
Countdown to New Hampshire primary: 34 days
Countdown to South Carolina primary: 45 days
Countdown to Florida primary: 55 days
Countdown to Nevada caucuses: 59 days
Countdown to Super Tuesday: 90 days
Countdown to Election Day: 337 days

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