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First Thoughts: Obama's rebuttal to Ryan (and Romney)

At 12:30 pm ET, Obama to give rebuttal to Ryan (and Romney by extension)… In yet another reminder the general election is now underway, Obama camp launches its second ad, and it takes a swing at Romney by name… Primary day: Polls close in DC and Maryland at 8:00 pm ET, and they close in Wisconsin at 9:00 pm ET… Obama comments on the SCOTUS oral arguments… And that GSA story: What happened in Vegas didn’t stay in Vegas.

Carolyn Kaster / AP

President Barack Obama gestures during a joint news conference on Monday, April 2, 2012, in the Rose Garden of the White House.

*** Obama’s rebuttal to Ryan (and Romney): When we said yesterday that the general-election train had left the station, we weren’t exaggerating… In remarks he’ll deliver to an Associated Press luncheon at 12:30 pm ET, President Obama will blast the Paul Ryan budget plan that House Republicans passed last week -- and that GOP presidential front-runner Mitt Romney has embraced. In fact, Romney has appeared on the campaign trail with Ryan in recent days. “This congressional Republican budget … is something different altogether. It’s a Trojan Horse,” Obama is expected to say, per excerpts. “Disguised as deficit-reduction plan, it’s really an attempt to impose a radical vision on our country. It’s nothing but thinly-veiled Social Darwinism. It’s antithetical to our entire history as a land of opportunity and upward mobility for everyone who’s willing to work for it - a place where prosperity doesn’t trickle down from the top, but grows outward from the heart of the middle class. And by gutting the very things we need to grow an economy that’s built to last - education and training; research and development - it’s a prescription for decline.”

*** We’re not in Kansas anymore: Senior administration officials are billing Obama’s address -- coming on the same day as another round of GOP primaries -- as an important speech, and they say it builds off his remarks in Kansas last December (when he invoked Teddy Roosevelt’s “square deal”) and his State of the Union in January (when he talked about an economy “built to last”). But it also reminds us of the speech he delivered at this same time last year hitting the Ryan plan (as Ryan sat in the audience at George Washington University). “There’s nothing serious about a plan that claims to reduce the deficit by spending a trillion dollars on tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires,” Obama said in that April 13, 2011 speech. “There’s nothing courageous about asking for sacrifice from those who can least afford it and don’t have any clout on Capitol Hill. And this is not a vision of the America I know.”

The Washington Post's Nia-Malika Henderson, Politico's Lois Romano, and USA Today's Jackie Kucinich join The Daily Rundown to discuss why Mitt Romney will answer questions about the practice of his religion, but not the doctrine.

*** Team Obama launches their second ad… : More evidence that the general campaign is well underway, the Obama camp released its second major TV ad -- and it hits Romney … by name. “Under President Obama, domestic oil production's at an eight-year high,” the ad goes. “So why is Big Oil attacking him? Because he's fighting to end their tax breaks. He's raising mileage standards, and doubling renewable energy. In all these fights, Mitt Romney's stood with Big Oil- for their tax breaks, attacking higher mileage standards and renewables.” While everyone is focused on the fact the ad refers to Romney, the bigger story here -- at least to us -- is that it’s yet another response to a TV ad campaign by a conservative group with ties to the Koch Brothers. In January, the Obama campaign responded to a $6 million Americans for Prosperity buy. And now, it’s responding to $3 million-plus American Energy Alliance launch. By the way, this Obama ad is airing in six states (CO, FL, IA, NV, OH, and VA), while the American Energy Alliance hit is in eight states. Will we see the pro-Obama Super PAC focus on the other two states (MI, NM)?

*** … and takes a swing at Romney: While this Obama ad is a response to the American Energy Alliance, the message the Obama campaign seems to be sending to GOP outside groups is: If you come after us, we’re going to take a swing at Romney and make him own everything (similar to how Bush ’04 handled the Dem outside groups for Kerry). Indeed, what Team Obama is doing here -- in today’s speech and with this ad -- is attempting to portray Romney as simply a cog of the conservative machine. The implication: If he’s elected, he’ll implement the Ryan budget plan. If he’s elected, the Koch Brothers will help shape his energy policy. They believe this builds on the narrative Romney’s GOP rivals have tried to establish about the former Massachusetts governor: that he’s an empty vessel.  Romney has to fight this image at some point. He needs a BIG idea that he comes up and that the entire party embraces. Right now, Romney is embracing everyone else’s ideas; he can’t afford to simply be “generic Republican nominee” that owns the Republican brand -- which is what Team Obama is trying to do. The Republican brand is not a good one right now.

*** Today’s primaries in DC, Maryland, and Wisconsin: As wrote late last week, today’s GOP primaries -- especially the one in Wisconsin -- represent a last chance for Rick Santorum to change the math and perception in the Republican presidential contest. But they also offer this challenge to Romney: With the political winds (and GOP establishment) at his back, can he score a touchdown? Or does he have to settle for a field goal (as he did in Michigan and Ohio)? By the way, the Wisconsin primary is a test of our demographics-as-destiny theory. In fact, according to the exit polls, Wisconsin seems to fit exactly between Michigan (which Romney narrowly won) and Illinois (which he won by double digits. In Wisconsin in the 2008 GOP primary, 38% were evangelicals (compared with the 43% we saw in Illinois and 42% we saw in Michigan this year); 21% made more than $100,000 (versus 37% in Illinois and 33% in Michigan); and 39% were college grads (versus 51% in Michigan and 49% in Illinois). So if demographics are destiny, Romney should win Wisconsin between five and 10 points.

Although Rick Santorum has claimed the Wisconsin primary isn't "do or die," pretty much everyone else seems to disagree. The Daily Rundown's Chuck Todd reports.

*** The delegate skinny on today’s primaries: Per NBC’s John Bailey, Wisconsin has 42 total delegates, 39 of which are at stake tonight -- 24 Congressional District delegates (three for each of the state’s eight districts) and 15 At-Large delegates. The 24 CD delegates are winner-take-all per CD vote, so three delegates to the winner of each district. The 15 AL delegates are winner-take-all per statewide vote. The three RNC delegates are technically unbound by the primary results but they traditionally vote for the statewide winner. Maryland, meanwhile, has 37 total delegates -- 24 Congressional District delegates, 10 At-Large delegates, and three RNC delegates. All 37 are bound by the primary results. The 24 Congressional District delegates are winner-take-all within each district, so the highest vote-getter within each district gets that district’s three delegates. The 10 At-Large delegates and three RNC delegates all go to the statewide winner. And Bailey adds that DC has 19 delegates --16 At-Large delegates and three RNC delegates. DC allocates its delegates in a winner-take-all format. The winner of the district-wide vote gets the 16 At-Large delegates, while the three RNC delegates remain unbound. Rick Santorum is not on the ballot in DC, so all 16 are likely to go to Mitt Romney.

*** Poll closings, ad spending, and the current delegate count: Polls close in DC and Maryland at 8:00 pm ET, and they close in Wisconsin at 9:00 pm ET. When it comes to the ad spending in today’s contests, Team Romney outspent Team Santorum nearly 4-to-1 in Wisconsin, $3.1 million to $866,000. And Team Romney has no competition in Maryland or DC, outspending the GOP rivals, $1.4 million to zero. And here’s NBC’s official delegate count: Mitt Romney 490, Rick Santorum 203, Newt Gingrich 137, and Ron Paul 34.

*** On the trail: Gingrich visits DC and later makes a stop in North Carolina…Santorum hosts an election night event in Mars, PA... Paul attends a town hall in Chico, CA…And Romney has lunch in Waukesha and holds his election-night event in Milwaukee. 

*** Obama comments on the SCOTUS oral arguments: Yesterday, President Obama gavae his first response to the Supreme Court oral arguments over the health-care law. "I’m confident that this will be upheld, because it should be upheld," he said, adding: “I’d just remind conservative commentators that for years, what we’ve heard is the biggest problem on the bench was judicial activism or a lack of judicial restraint that an unelected group of people would somehow overturn a duly constituted and passed law.” While Obama’s comments were a bit surprising – he could have simply brushed aside questions about the case until after the Supreme Court issues its opinion in June – does anyone think it was newsworthy that he believes his law is constitutional and that it should be upheld? The only surprise about the president’s remarks is that he went public with the strategy we reported on last week: that the White House was going to fall back on IF Court ruled against them.

*** What happened in Vegas didn’t stay in Vegas: The head of the General Services Agency resigned her post on Tuesday after reports surfaced that members of the GSA had spent excessive amounts of money on a training conference in Las Vegas, NBC’s Ali Weinberg reported yesterday. The good news for the White House with this GSA news: It managed to make it a one-day story. The bad news: It only reinforces the stereotype that government and its civil-service employees are out of control. And this is why this story is so damaging LONG term for those on the side of “smart” government.

Countdown to Election Day: 217 days

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