Discuss as:

First Thoughts: It's good to be the incumbent president

It’s good to be the king, and it’s good to be the incumbent president… Obama previews his message to AIPAC: Israel, don’t worry… Ohio primary race is close, per new poll… GOP state party snafus have all seemed to benefit Romney… Romney leaves no caucus contest to chance… Oppo drop: Romney, back in ’02, touted Washington connections and a desire for federal funds… NBC’s Top 10 Senate takeovers… And “Meet” has Gingrich, Cantor, and Wasserman Schultz.

Kevin Lamarque / Reuters

President Barack Obama waves to supporters after speaking at a campaign fund raiser in New York City March 1, 2012.

REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS ELECTIONS)

*** It’s good to be the incumbent president: As Mel Brooks said in “History of the World: Part I,” it’s good to be the king. And it’s also good to be an incumbent president running for re-election (and not facing a primary challenge). As the Republican presidential candidates were battling over contraception, each other’s records, and single delegate in Michigan, note the visual contrast that President Obama was able to present this week. He hosted a White House dinner honoring the troops returning from the Iraq war. He gave a free-wheeling interview to ESPN’s Bill Simmons, showing off his “I’m just like an average sports fan” knowledge. He talked energy in the battleground state of New Hampshire, even inspecting engines. And he attended more fundraisers, raking in more cash to use in the general election. In fact, at one of them, Obama bluntly stated that he was going to use the GOP primary debates against his eventual opponent. “I recommend you watch the recent debates. I'm thinking about just running those as advertisements. Without commentary; here you go. This is what they said awhile back.” It’s contrasts like these that have so many Republicans wringing their hands over Romney’s inability to close the deal. They believe this primary fight is only strengthening the president and allowing him too many unchallenged weeks. It’s a long way to go for the president, but March is beginning the way February ended for him.


 

*** Obama: Israel, don’t worry: Still, there are plenty of issues that could pop up and hurt the president or change the narrative in a flash. And a big one that could be coming up is Iran. And in an interview with the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg, Obama seemed to preview what he’ll say about Iran at AIPAC’s conference on Sunday. The message: Israel, don’t worry. “What I've emphasized is that preventing Iran from getting a nuclear weapon isn't just in the interest of Israel, it is profoundly in the security interests of the United States, and that when I say we're not taking any option off the table, we mean it. We are going to continue to apply pressure until Iran takes a different course.” More Obama: “I think that the Israeli government recognizes that, as president of the United States, I don't bluff.” But challenge for Obama and Netanyahu, as the New York Times notes, is that neither leader really trusts one another. Still, it seems pretty clear that Pres. Obama plans to do a little bit of sabre-rattling at AIPAC, if that’s what it takes to get Netanyahu to back down from his threats.

*** It’s close in Ohio: Turning to the GOP primary race, a Quinnipiac poll taken after Tuesday’s contests in Arizona and Michigan, shows Santorum getting support from 35% of likely Republican voters in Ohio, while Romney gets 31%. They’re followed by Gingrich at 17% and Paul at 12%. In an Ohio Quinnipiac taken before Tuesday’s races, it was Santorum 36%, Romney 29%. The new poll was conducted Feb. 29-March 1, and it has a margin of error of plus-minus 4.3 percentage points. By the way, there will be an NBC/Marist poll of Ohio (as well as Virginia) coming out on Sunday morning on “Meet the Press.” And the next NBC/WSJ national poll debuts Monday morning on the “TODAY Show.”

*** GOP state party snafus all have benefited Romney: As we wrote yesterday, the Michigan Republican Party voted Wednesday night to award its two at-large delegates to the statewide winner instead of dividing up proportionally, as we (and even the Michigan GOP chairman at one time) had assumed. That move gave Romney a 16-14 delegate edge in the state instead of a 15-15 tie, and it has produced a firestorm of controversy. What’s more, it’s the latest GOP state party snafu this primary season that’s benefited Romney. Consider: The Iowa Republican Party originally declared Romney the winner there (and even once the vote count had changed, it was hesitant to declare Santorum the new winner). In addition, the Maine GOP badly mishandled its caucuses (one county wasn’t counted due to snow, other results got lost in a spam folder), and Romney narrowly won that contest. And now you have the delegate drama in Michigan, which now allows Romney to claim a win there in both the popular vote and delegate count.

*** Leaving no caucus contest behind: It’s worth noting that Romney is now leaving no caucus contest to chance. He’s spending today in Washington state, whose contest on Saturday awards no delegates (at least not yet). And yesterday, he was in the Super Tuesday states of Idaho and North Dakota, which also are holding caucuses. Pre-Colorado, we’re betting Romney’s schedule today would have been Ohio and Tennessee, leaving the caucus states to surrogates.

*** Oppo drop: Romney once touted Washington connections, desire to get federal funds: After Romney has blasted his GOP rivals -- notably Santorum -- for their ties to Washington and their hunt for federal earmarks, don’t be surprised if they try to turn the tables with this news from ABC: “In a long-forgotten tape from the 2002 Massachusetts governor’s race obtained by ABC News, Mitt Romney is seen touting his Washington connections and his ability to get millions of taxpayer dollars from the federal government. ‘I am big believer in getting money where the money is,’ Romney says on the video, ‘The money is in Washington.’ The video, which was surreptitiously shot by Democratic opponents of Romney on Oct. 16, 2002, shows him addressing a group called the New Bedford Industrial Foundation. The Power Point presentation he uses lists ways to improve economic development in Massachusetts, including ‘boost federal involvement.’ ‘I want to go after every grant, every project, every department in Washington to assure that we are taking advantage of economic development opportunities,’ Romney tells the group.”

*** On the trail, per NBC’s Adam Perez: Gingrich remains in Georgia, making stops in Savannah, Brunswick, Valdosta and Columbus…Romney holds a meet-and-greet in Bellevue, WA then hosts a rally (with his wife, Ann) in Cleveland, OH… Santorum visits the Buckeye State, hosting events in Chillicothe and Willoughby… And Paul continues to campaign in Washington, attending town hall meetings in Spokane, Ridgefield and Seattle.

*** Top 10 Senate takeovers: Earlier this week, we wrote that Olympia Snowe’s (R-ME) announcement she won’t be seeking re-election this year gives Democrats better than a 50%-50% chance of retaining control of the Senate. And with Bob Kerrey’s (D) decision to run for the Senate seat being vacated by Ben Nelson (D-NE), we’ve updated our Top 10 Senate takeover list.

1. ME (R-Open): Lean D
2. ND (D-Open): Lean R
3. NE (D-Open): Lean R
4. MO (D-McCaskill): Toss-up
5. MT (D-Tester): Toss-up
6. VA (D-Open): Toss-up
7. MA (R-Brown): Toss-up
8. WI (D-Open): Toss-up
9. NM (D-Open): Toss-up
10. NV (R-Heller): Toss-up

It’s also remarkable all the potentially good races that aren’t in our Top 10: OH, MI, FL, AZ, HI. Nearly half of all the senate seats up in 2012 are likely to be competitive.

*** On “Meet the Press” this Sunday: NBC’s David Gregory interviews Newt Gingrich, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, and DNC Chair Wasserman Schultz.

Countdown to Super Tuesday: 4 days
Countdown to Election Day: 249 days

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