Discuss as:

First Thoughts: Deja vu

Tannen Maury / EPA

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney speaks to customers while campaigning at Charley Parker's Diner in Springfield, Ill.

It’s shaping up to be another déjà vu week in the GOP race… With Romney’s Puerto Rico win, here’s NBC’s new delegate count: Romney 443, Santorum 184, Gingrich 137, Paul 34… Romney’s gas attack on Obama… McCain calls GOP race “the nastiest I have ever seen” (and that’s saying something)… Haley Barbour says he voted for Newt… Team Obama rakes in $45 million in February for campaign/DNC… Obama’s energy swing this week… Dem memo/poll: Lugar “fighting for his political life” in Indiana… And DCCC tries to make more hay out of Ryan, Medicare.

*** Deja vu: This is shaping up to be another déjà vu week in the GOP presidential race: Mitt Romney widens his delegate lead by winning all of Puerto Rico’s 20 delegates yesterday; Romney is poised to win Tuesday’s primary in Illinois, but it once again could be closer than all of Romney’s advantages (money, organization, front-runner status) suggest; and Rick Santorum continues to have a problem qualifying for a full slate of delegates (raising the question of whether Romney would still have a commanding lead if he didn’t face such a disorganized challenger). Campaigning in Illinois yesterday, Romney responded to his Puerto Rico win: "Those people who don't think Latinos will vote for a Republican need to take a look in Puerto Rico and see there that conservative principles and Latino voters go together -- and that Hispanic voters are going to vote for Republicans if we stand for something.” But a little caveat: Those Puerto Ricans who voted in yesterday’s GOP primary CAN’T participate in November’s general election.

Caption: NBC's Mark Murray and Domenico Montanaro discuss Mitt Romney's widening delegate lead over his GOP rivals and team Obama's raking in $45 million-plus in donations for the campaign and DNC .

*** NBC’s delegate count: After Romney’s victory in Puerto Rico yesterday, here’s NBC’s official delegate count: Romney 443, Santorum 184, Gingrich 137, Paul 34. (Note: This delegate count doesn’t reflect some caucus results, since those delegates haven’t been officially allocated yet and since the allocation will NOT be based on the straw votes that have taken place.) And get this fun fact: Romney has won 52 out of 54 possible delegates in all of the U.S. territories (Guam/Northern Mariana/U.S. Virgin Islands/America Samoa/Puerto Rico) that have participated in the GOP race -- and that represents 20 percent of his delegate lead over Santorum. Wow … just another reminder why organization matters.

*** Romney gas attack: Also yesterday, Romney leveled a new charge at President Obama. "There's one promise he's kept, one promise he's kept. When he campaigned he said he wanted to raise the price of gasoline.” But NBC’s Garrett Haake reported that independent fact-checkers have found that charge to be false. In a Jan. 2008 interview with the San Francisco Chronicle editorial board, then-candidate Obama said his cap-and-trade plan would cause electricity costs to rise, but he did not reference gas prices. At a second event, Romney corrected himself. "[Obama’s] one promise that comes to mind that he kept was the one related to energy. His energy policies he said would cause energy prices to skyrocket. And when asked one time about gas prices going up so quickly he said he would prefer they just went up gradually. Well we’ve seen the results of his policies." But Romney is wrong here again too, Haake says. The "policies" he is technically referring to, which Obama said would cause electricity prices to skyrocket, was cap-and-trade, which was never implemented.

*** McCain calls GOP race “the nastiest I have ever seen”: On “Meet the Press,” John McCain -- who has endorsed Romney -- summed up the conventional wisdom about the Republican primary race so far: It has hurt the GOP and Romney. “Mitt Romney will tell you, first of all, he's got to do a better job. He's working on doing a better job. He's got to focus more on the economy. He's been giving major speeches on the economy and jobs. And I think he is improving dramatically as a candidate,” McCain said. “But also, the proportional distribution of the delegates, any campaign before, we had winner take all. If it was winner take all, you would have seen those numbers significantly different. Also, the Super PACs have played a key role, unfortunately in my view, because most of them are negative ads. They've driven up the unfavorable of all of the candidates and made it much more difficult, frankly, to win the election in November.” He later added, “This is the nastiest [campaign] I have ever seen.” The fact that McCain -– who was the subject of a nasty attack in 2000 and who launched some tough attack ads of his own in ’08 -- is saying this means something

*** Barbour says he voted for Newt: Here’s another gut punch for Romney: Former Mississippi Gov. -- and onetime potential presidential candidate -- Haley Barbour said he voted for Gingrich in last week’s primary, citing his friendship with Gingrich. We’ve noticed so many big-name conservatives continue to stay on the sidelines (Barbour/Daniels/Jeb/Ryan, etc.). And it makes us wonder: What are they waiting for? They are not still debating between Romney and Santorum are they? Or Gingrich? Are they so afraid that coming out for Romney now COULD look bad for them with conservatives four years from now? Could some of these folks really be so calculating about how “supporting Romney” could look in a primary TV ad four years from now that they are afraid of going out on this limb in 2012? Or are they actually holding back because they think it’s only 50-50 that Romney gets to 1144 by June 5?

*** On the trail: All the activity is in Illinois and with just two candidates: Romney starts off his day in Springfield, gives an economic speech in Chicago and holds a town hall in Peoria … Santorum has rallies in Rockford, Moline and East Peoria.

*** Team Obama rakes in $45 million-plus in February, up from last month: On President Obama's official Twitter account this morning, the campaign announced that it raised more than $45 million -- for the campaign and DNC -- in the month of February. It added that amount came from more than 348,000 donors (105,000 giving for the first time), and the average donation was $59. To put that $45 million February haul into perspective, Team Obama raised $29 million in January, including $11.9 million for the campaign (with the rest going to the DNC and the Obama Victory Fund). And in comparison, Romney has already released his February fundraising total -- $11.5 million (that's strictly campaign money). Note: We won't know until the campaign officially files with the Federal Election Commission (the deadline is tomorrow) what the actual campaign vs. DNC split is. In 2008, however, Obama raised a whopping $57 million for his campaign in February, although that haul came during his historic primary battle against Hillary Clinton. Bottom line: Obama’s money situation continues to be GOOD, but not GREAT (at least by the 2008 standard; just see this Washington Post piece).

*** Obama’s energy swing: Given the heat on gas prices he’s taking from Romney (see above) and the Republican Party, Obama is making an energy-related swing this week “to promote and defend his energy policies -- including his approach to the Keystone XL pipeline,” USA Today writes. “Obama travels Wednesday and Thursday for energy events in Nevada, New Mexico, and Ohio, as well as Cushing, Oklahoma; Cushing is the starting point for the southern half of the Keystone pipeline. That segment ‘will transport oil from Cushing to the Gulf of Mexico, which will help address the bottleneck of oil that has resulted in large part from increased domestic oil production in the Midwest,’ said a White House statement.” Per NBC’s Shawna Thomas, this continues a pattern of Obama’s official outside-D.C. events focusing mostly on energy since late February. Actions speak louder than words, and it’s clear the Obama White House is worried, BIG TIME, about the politics of the energy and gas price issue.

*** Lugar “fighting for his political life” in Indiana: The pollster for Joe Donnelly (D), who is running for the U.S. Senate in Indiana, has released a survey showing that incumbent Sen. Dick Lugar leads his GOP primary opponent Richard Mourdock by just six points, 45 percent to 39 percent. From the pollster’s memo: “After more than 30 years as Indiana’s senator, Richard Lugar is fighting for his political life. Despite spending millions, Lugar continues to lose ground in the Republican primary and faces the very real possibility that on May 8, he will be out of a job.” But it’s also striking that the memo doesn’t reveal any of Donnelly’s poll numbers against either Lugar or Donnelly.

*** DCCC tries to make hay out of Ryan, Medicare: With House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan releasing his new budget this week, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee says it’s launching “a new paid and grass-roots campaign called “Medicare March” in 41 Republican districts to hold them accountable for the new GOP budget that chooses “Millionaires over Medicare.” More from the DCCC: “The first phase of the DCCC’s campaign will hold these targeted Republicans accountable with automated phone calls that will patch voters through to their Member of Congress' office so they can urge them to vote against the new Republican budget that ends the Medicare guarantee for seniors, while protecting tax breaks for the ultra-wealthy.” 

Countdown to Illinois primary: 1 day
Countdown to Louisiana primary: 5 days
Countdown to Election Day: 232 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