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First Thoughts: 227,000 jobs created last month

227,000 jobs created in February, unemployment rate remains unchanged at 8.3%... Santorum’s goal next week: to knock out Gingrich… Breaking down Romney’s cash-flow situation (and the problems he could have later this spring/summer)… But Romney will have cavalry that could ride to his help… Keep an eye on the Republicans standing on the sidelines in the GOP race… Rock chalk, Jayhawk: Kansas caucuses take place on Saturday… And Santorum to appear on “Meet.”

*** 227,000 jobs created last month: Another month, another positive jobs report. The breaking news from the AP: “U.S. employers added 227,000 jobs in January to complete three of the best months of hiring since the recession began. The unemployment rate was unchanged, largely because more people streamed into the work force… And hiring in January and December was better than first thought. The government revised those figures to show 61,000 an additional jobs. The economy has now generated an average of 245,000 jobs in the past three months. The only stretch better was since the recession began was in early 2010, when temporary Census jobs lifted payrolls.” The current trajectory for the economy and the labor market is pretty unmistakable. Then again, we still have eight more jobs reports until the November presidential election. President Obama speaks on the economy in Prince George, VA at 12:30 pm ET, while the RNC holds a conference call to pre-but it.

Eric Gay / AP

Republican presidential candidate Sen. Rick Santorum speaks during the Alabama Policy Institute 2012 Presidential Candidate Forum, Thursday, March 8, 2012, in Mobile, Alabama.

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*** Santorum’s goal: to knock out Gingrich: As the GOP primary campaign has moved to the South -- to Alabama and Mississippi -- Rick Santorum has excellent chance to win both contests this Tuesday, as well as Saturday’s caucuses in Kansas (more on that Kansas race below). But as msnbc.com’s Mike O’Brien pointed out yesterday, Santorum has a more immediate goal with these contests: push Newt Gingrich out of the race. So campaigning in Alabama yesterday, per NBC’s Jay Rankin, Santorum made a pitch for a two-man race: “If you go out and deliver a conservative victory for us on Tuesday, this race will become a two-person race. And when it becomes a two-person race for the Republican nomination, the conservative will win that nomination.” And the pro-Santorum Super PAC, Red White and Blue Fund, released a new TV ad (in Alabama and Mississippi) that hits BOTH Mitt Romney and Gingrich.

*** Romney’s cash-flow situation: Yesterday, the Romney campaign revealed it raised $11.5 million in February and had $7.3 million in the bank as of Feb. 29. But when you consider that the campaign spent nearly $1.3 million on TV ads from March 1-6, per the ad-tracking firm Smart Media, it really has $6 million in the bank -- or even less when you consider payroll and travel expenses. Of course, that doesn’t count whatever the campaign has raised in March, but it does raise a cash-flow question for Team Romney: It has money (and more than its GOP rivals), yet is it enough to withstand another two more months of this primary race? And more importantly, will it be enough to withstand a potential offensive from the Obama camp and Democrats whenever Romney wraps up the primary? Remember, a presidential candidate CAN’T use general-election funds until after his party’s convention. So for the folks who have already maxed out to Romney with primary funds -- representing about two-thirds of his money to date -- the $2,500 they might be able to donate for the general couldn’t be spent until late August.

Terry McAuliffe of Greentech Automotive and The Last Word's Lawrence share their thoughts on the latest jobs report. O'Donnell predicts that President Barack Obama will get re-elected if they unemployment rate drops to 8 percent.

*** Send the cavalry! Buy if Romney essentially wraps up the nomination later this spring, there would be plenty of cavalry that could ride to his help -- the Republican National Committee (which last night reported having $26.5 million in the bank), the Karl Rove-backed American Crossroads groups, the Koch Brothers-backed Americans for Prosperity, and the pro-Romney Super PAC (which has spent a whopping $28 million on ads so far). And, of course, you’d imagine that Romney would be able to raise A LOT more money from Republican donors once he becomes the presumptive nominee. But at the moment he does, Team Obama would start with a clear money advantage. The question is: How quickly would Team Romney (and its allies) be able to reach parity?  

*** Republicans standing on the sidelines: Here’s another question we have: When will we see more prominent figures of the GOP establishment -- like Jeb Bush, Lindsey Graham, Paul Ryan, Haley Barbour, and Mitch Daniels -- step up and endorse the former Massachusetts governor? In the past few days, we’ve seen more and more members of the establishment (Eric Cantor over the weekend, and Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant last night) back Romney. But the others have stayed on the sidelines for now. It will be interesting to see if/when they get on the field. 

*** Rock chalk, Jayhawk: By the way, we have another contest this weekend: Saturday’s Kansas caucuses. According to NBC’s John Bailey, caucusing begins in the Sunflower State at 11:00 am ET (10:00 am local) and wraps up at 2:00 pm ET (1:00 pm local). Ballots will be counted at each caucus sit, and then results will be called in to party headquarters. The Kansas GOP expects the first results to come in around 2:30 pm ET and hopes to have all results in between 5:00 pm ET and 6:00 pm ET. Bailey adds that 40 delegates are at stake: 12 are congressional-district delegates awarded on a winner-take-all basis within each district; 25 are at-large delegates awarded proportionally based on the statewide vote (but a candidate must get at least 20% support to qualify); and all three national committee delegates go to the statewide winner. In 2008, Mike Huckabee won the caucuses with 60% of the vote, besting runner-up John McCain by 36 points. Mitt Romney had already left the race at that point and got negligible support. Also on Saturday, we'll find out the preference of seven more Wyoming delegates.

*** On the trail: Romney campaigns in Jackson, MS then heads to Birmingham, AL…Gingrich makes three stops in Mississippi (Meridian, Ellisville, and Gulfport) then hosts a rally in Mobile, AL… Santorum campaigns in Alabama and then heads to Kansas, where he holds two events… And Paul -- back on the trail -- also campaigns in Kansas. 

*** On “Meet the Press” this Sunday: NBC’s David Gregory interviews Santorum, as well as Govs. Martin O’Malley (D) and Bob McDonnell (R). 

Countdown to Alabama, Hawaii, and Mississippi: 4 days
Countdown to Election Day: 242 days

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