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First Thoughts: The tax debate cometh

The tax debate cometh: Obama and Democrats to focus on tax fairness… GOP to focus on tax hikes… American Crossroads to begin its advertising blitz soon… Crossroads also admits that Obama -- so far -- is winning the tax debate… Gingrich calls Romney “far and away the most likely” GOP nominee… Santorum remains off the campaign trail… Conservative groups begin their fire on Lugar… And over the holiday weekend, Grassley called Obama “stupid” in Twitter message.

Jason Reed / Reuters

President Barack Obama delivers remarks before signing the Jumpstart Our Business Startups (JOBS) Act in the Rose Garden of the White House, April 5, 2012.

*** The tax debate cometh: Given that Americans across the country will be filing their tax returns this week, don’t be surprised if the issue of taxes takes center stage in the political debate. Indeed, Democrats are emphasizing tax fairness and the so-called “Buffett Rule.” So the Obama campaign today is holding a conference call (with Sen. Dick Durbin, and Wisconsin Senate candidate Tammy Baldwin) demanding that Mitt Romney explain why he opposes wealthy Americans paying a lower effective tax rate (due to their investment income) than folks in the middle class. On Tuesday, President Obama (as opposed to candidate Obama) will deliver a speech in Florida on the Buffett Rule. (We’ve now reached the point in the election cycle where the White House and the campaign are holding back-to-back events on the same issue). While Democrats will be emphasizing tax FAIRNESS, Republicans will be stressing that such talk amounts to tax HIKES. The top communications aide to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell fired off this email this morning: “How many jobs would the Buffett Tax create? How will the Buffett Tax ease the pain at the pump?”

With tax day just nine days away, what can the country expect from the government? The Daily Rundown's Chuck Todd reports.

*** Here comes the Crossroads ad blitz: The New York Times reports that premiere GOP Super PAC, the Karl Rove-backed American Crossroads, is planning to begin its advertising blitz against President Obama -- probably this month. But Crossroads officials “said they would focus the bulk of the first phase from May through July, which they believe is a critical period for making an impression on voters, before summer vacations and the party conventions take place.” More: “Steven J. Law, the group’s leader, said the ads would address the challenge of unseating a president who polls show is viewed favorably even though many people disapprove of his handling of the economy. Basically, Mr. Law said, ‘how to dislodge voters from him.’” A Democratic polling firm found that, among independents it surveyed, Obama has a higher FAV rating than Romney even as these voters ideologically appear to be more Republican leaning. Democrats were on the wrong end of this problem both in 1984 and 2004 when the incumbent Republican president had a higher FAV rating with swing voters who seemed to be more sympathetic to the Democratic agenda.

*** Crossroads admits that Obama so far is winning the tax debate? Returning to our discussion above about the coming tax debate, the New York Times piece on American Crossroads’ ad blitz had the group implying that the White House is winning the tax argument -- at least for now. “Crossroads research suggests that Mr. Obama’s campaign has started to gain traction among critical swing voters by arguing that Republicans, including Mr. Romney, favor an ‘economic plutocracy’ in which middle-class voters can no longer count on financial security, even though they work hard and play by the rules. ‘His argument is: “The reason you feel bad is not because I’ve been an inadequate president but because the rules of the game are stacked against you,”’ Mr. Law said. Calling it a ‘dystopian vision,’ he added, ‘that narrative has some gravitational pull.’”

*** Gingrich calls Romney “far and away the most likely” GOP nominee: On Friday, NBC’s Alex Moe wrote that Newt Gingrich and his campaign march on -- but with fewer paying attention. And on Sunday, he admitted on FOX that Romney is “far and away the most likely” GOP nominee. He also said, per the AP, that running for president “turned out to be much harder than I thought it would be." And: "I do think there's a desire for a more idea-oriented Republican Party, but that doesn't translate necessarily to being able to take on the Romney machine.”

*** Santorum remains off the campaign trail: As NBC’s Andrew Rafferty noted over the weekend, Rick Santorum will not campaign today so he can continue to stay at the side of his 3-year-old daughter Bella in the hospital. "Rick Santorum will not hold any campaign related events on Monday so that he and Karen can remain in the hospital with their daughter Bella. The entire Santorum family is incredibly grateful for the outpouring of prayers and support," Santorum spokesman Hogan Gidley said. Bella suffers from Trisomy 18, a chromosomal defect that claims the lives of most children born with it in their first year. The reason for her hospitalization this week hasn't been released. This, Rafferty adds, is the second time during the campaign that Bella has needed to be taken to a hospital. Santorum canceled events in late January after Bella was rushed to a Virginia hospital when she developed pneumonia in both lungs.

*** On the trail: In addition to Santorum, all the GOP candidates are off the campaign trail today.

*** Conservative groups begin their fire on Lugar: In advance of Indiana’s May 8 primary, the conservative group Club for Growth is going up with a new TV ad hitting Dick Lugar (for voting for the bailouts, tax hikes, and Obama’s Supreme Court justices) and supporting GOP primary foe Richard Mourdock, according to Politico. And the National Rifle Association is going after him with this TV spot, which states that Lugar “has become the only Republican candidate in Indiana with an ‘F’ rating from the NRA.” The ad then shows a photo of Lugar standing next to Obama. 

*** “Stupid is as stupid does”: The day before Easter and the day after Passover began, longtime GOP Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) fired off a tweet calling President Obama “stupid.” The tweet: “Constituents askd why i am not outraged at PresO attack on supreme court independence. Bcause Am ppl r not stupid as this x prof of con law.” (Grassley doesn’t hold a law degree, by the way.) He then added, “Possibility of peace and freedom for Syria gets more remote as PresO plays along w the farce of Kofi Annans negotiatios there Barack wakeup.” First Read has reached out to Grassley’s office for comment, but has yet to hear back. Grassley’s tweets came a couple days after Nebraska Senate candidate Jon Bruning attacked GOP primary rival Don Stenberg during a debate for following his daughter on Twitter. “‘I'd like to know why does a 62-year-old man want to follow a 14-year-old girl on Twitter,’ Bruning said. ‘She said, “Dad, that's kind of creepy.”’” 

Countdown to the CT, DE, NY, PA, and RI primaries: 15 days
Countdown to Election Day: 211 days

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