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First Thoughts: Three reasons the House GOP won't win this fight

Three reasons why the House GOP isn’t going to win the payroll tax-cut fight… Here’s another reason: WSJ editorial page tells House GOP to raise the white flag… What does the White House do next?… New Iowa poll shows Paul in the lead… Gingrich rails against the pro-Romney Super PAC… Team Romney, in NH, trying not to repeat what happened four years ago… Why Gingrich is in Virginia… And Paul responds to those newsletters.

*** Three reasons why the House GOP won’t win this fight: Ten days before the payroll tax-cut is set to expire, Washington is now locked in a political stalemate. House Republicans are demanding that the Senate come back from its holiday break to participate in a conference committee, while Democrats are arguing that the House GOP simply pass the already-approved Senate legislation to extend the tax cut for another two months before hammering out a longer-term agreement. But there are three reasons why the House GOP probably won’t win this fight, PR-wise, especially if the tax cut expires. Reason #1: House Republicans allowed the Senate to break for the Christmas holiday without explicit orders it would need to come back. In fact, Politico notes that the silence from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is deafening. Reason #2: The Senate passed its legislation by a bipartisan 89-10 vote, raising the question whether a conference committee could produce a deal that could get 60-plus Senate votes. Reason #3: The House GOP didn’t allow an up-or-down vote on the Senate bill, suggesting that it could have passed if they did. Those three reasons will be hard for the House GOP to explain away if the tax cut expires after Dec. 31.

*** WSJ editorial page: Time to raise the white flag: And here’s a fourth reason: The conservative Wall Street Journal editorial page is already asking the House GOP to raise the white flag. “The GOP leaders have somehow managed the remarkable feat of being blamed for opposing a one-year extension of a tax holiday that they are surely going to pass. This is no easy double play. Republicans have also achieved the small miracle of letting Mr. Obama position himself as an election-year tax cutter.” The editorial page goes on to say, “At this stage, Republicans would do best to cut their losses and find a way to extend the payroll holiday quickly. Then go home and return in January with a united House-Senate strategy that forces Democrats to make specific policy choices that highlight the differences between the parties on spending, taxes and regulation.”

*** What does the White House do next? Despite the PR advantages the White House has -- including the Wall Street Journal’s editorial above -- there’s a legitimate question it faces: What does it do next? While it might gain politically if the tax cut expires, the White House DOES WANT it to pass. So does President Obama call for Congress to return after Christmas, say on Dec. 27? And does he continue to postpone his own Christmas vacation? Meanwhile, a White House official tells NBC’s Kristen Welker that the White House yesterday called on Americans to add their voice to the payroll tax-cut debate. The message: “If Congress fails to extend the payroll tax cut, the typical family making $50,000 a year will have about $40 less to spend or save with each paycheck. Over the year, that adds up to about $1,000.”

Gov. Mitt Romney, R-Mass., explains his stance on killing Osama bin Laden, the Iraq War, and health care.

*** Paul leads per new Iowa poll: Turning to the GOP presidential race, we have the first non-robo poll out of Iowa we’ve seen in a couple weeks. The Iowa State?Gazette/KCRG poll (conducted over telephone from Dec. 8-18) shows Ron Paul in the lead at 28% (up from 20% a month ago, when Herman Cain led in that poll), Newt Gingrich at 25% (up from 5%), Mitt Romney at 18% (up from 16%), Rick Perry at 11% (up from 8%), Michele Bachmann at 7% (down from 8%), and Rick Santorum at 5% (unchanged). But a warning about this poll: Given that it was conducted over 10 days (from Dec. 8-18) that’s a LONG time period that might not reflect the ups and downs that may have occurred in the race over the past week or so, especially with the negative TV ads raining down on Gingrich.

*** Gingrich rails against pro-Romney Super PAC: Speaking of those negative TV ads -- particularly from the pro-Romney Super PAXC -- directed at Gingrich, the former House speaker yesterday railed against the Super PAC ads and against Romney. “I have a simple challenge for Gov. Romney,” Gingrich said. “This PAC was created by his former staff and funded by his personal friends. If he wants to stop it, he can say [so] publicly. I am told they are going to spend $1.4 dollars next week. He can demand that every ad be positive. I don't object to being out spent, I object to lies. I object to negative smear campaigns and I object to things the candidate himself refuses to support.” It was almost as if Gingrich -- while in Iowa -- saw all the TV ads that are blasting him.

*** Ad spending to date: By the way, here’s the latest tally of all the ad spending in Iowa and New Hampshire to date: For Iowa: Perry $4.4 million, Restore Our Future (pro-Romney Super PAC) $2.8 million, Paul $1.75 million, Make Us Great Again (pro-Perry Super PAC) $1.5 million, Romney $1.1 million, Gingrich $475,000, Red White and Blue Fund (pro-Santorum Super PAC) $200,000. For New Hampshire: Our Destiny PAC (pro-Huntsman Super PAC) $1.6 million, Paul $700,000, Romney $650,000, and Perry $234,000.

*** Trying not to repeat what happened four years ago: Romney today kicks off a three-day bus tour through New Hampshire. And yesterday, he delivered a speech that amounted to his closing argument before the Iowa and New Hampshire contests. You get the impression that Team Romney doesn’t want to get caught in New Hampshire the same it did four years ago. The New York Times: “Four years ago, during his first presidential run, Mr. Romney’s lead in New Hampshire fizzled as he seemed to take his eye off the Republican primary here, pouring significant time, money and manpower into the Iowa caucuses. After a second-place finish in both states, his campaign for the White House was all but over. Determined to avoid that outcome in the final phase of a volatile primary campaign -- and uncertain of how he will perform in Iowa -- Mr. Romney is putting an unmistakable emphasis on New Hampshire.”

*** Why Gingrich is in Virginia: The fact that Gingrich, at 7:00 pm ET, is holding a rally in Arlington, VA tells you all you need to know about the state of his organization right now: They’re scrambling to compete for the long haul against Romney. Why is he in Virginia? As NBC’s John Bailey reported yesterday, tomorrow is the deadline for Gingrich to qualify for the March 6 Virginia primary. “Candidates must get 10,000 signatures from qualified voters, including 400 signatures from each of Virginia’s 11 congressional districts. If candidates submit the required signatures to the State Board of Election by 5:00pm on Thursday, those petitions go to the state party for verification.”

*** Paul responds to those newsletters: Yesterday, Ron Paul responded to the incendiary and racially tinged newsletters that were issued decades ago. Paul has since disavowed them and said he didn’t write the un-bylined newsletters. “It's politics,” he said. “Nobody talked about it for 20 years until they found out that the message of liberty was making progress. Everybody knows I didn't write them, and it's not my sentiment, so it's sort of politics as usual.”

*** Huntsman tweaks Romney: NBC’s Jo Ling Kent reports that Jon Huntsman yesterday gave well-received remarks in front of 120-plus voters in New Hampshire, as he slammed Romney from across the state. "Romney is across town giving a speech on a teleprompter," he said to a room of laughter, referring to a speech the front-runner gave in Bedford, NH.

*** On the 2012 trail: Get on the bus: Mitt Romney embarks on his three-day bus tour through New Hampshire… Meanwhile, Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry (along with endorser Bobby Jindal) remain on their bus tours through Iowa… Gingrich, in Des Moines, IA, unveils his endorsements of the state House speakers of Iowa and New Hampshire, and Gingrich later attends a rally in Arlington, VA (in his effort to get on the ballot there)… Paul and Santorum campaign in Iowa… And Jon Huntsman tapes an appearance on David Letterman.

Countdown to Iowa caucuses: 13 days
Countdown to New Hampshire primary: 20 days
Countdown to South Carolina primary: 31 days
Countdown to Florida primary: 41 days
Countdown to Nevada caucuses: 45 days
Countdown to Super Tuesday: 76 days
Countdown to Election Day: 323 days

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