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First Thoughts: Only the young

AP / Carolyn Kaster

President Barack Obama heads to Chapel Hill, N.C. and Boulder, Colo. (on Tuesday) and Iowa City, Iowa (on Wednesday) to talk about student loans.

Obama focuses on the youth vote… Romney takes a VP test drive of sorts with Rubio… Breaking down the Obama-vs.-Romney money chase… Obama’s left jab at Romney… Huntsman blasts the GOP… And Hatch survives Utah GOP convention but still faces a primary (but that’s a MUCH better position than Bob Bennett was in).

*** Only the young: As we begin the third week of the young general-election campaign, there are two different tracks of stories -- Team Obama is focusing on the youth vote, while Team Romney is conducting another round of veepstakes auditions. We’ll start with the youth vote. President Obama heads to Chapel Hill, N.C. and Boulder, Colo. on Tuesday, and Iowa City, Iowa on Wednesday to talk about student loans. They’re all “official” trips of course, and a Jimmy Fallon appearance is sprinkled in as well. And today, the Obama campaign is holding a conference call on the subject at noon ET. “While the president is calling on Congress to stand up for our college students, Mitt Romney and the Romney-Ryan Budget would undercut them -- letting student interest rates double and gutting critical programs that help students go to college and graduate,” the campaign says in a press release. As our NBC/WSJ poll showed, Obama is leading Mitt Romney among 18- to 34-year-olds, 60%-34%. But the problem for Team Obama isn’t support; it’s enthusiasm. Per an analysis released by NBC/WSJ co-pollster Bill McInturff (R), 63% of this age group expressed high interest in the election in our April ’08 poll. Now just 45% of them are, according to our latest survey. That’s a challenge for the Obama campaign. It’s the biggest drop-off in “interest” of any key voting group we’re tracking.

The Washington Post's Chris Cillizza and Politico's Jonathan Martin discuss possible Mitt Romney running mate options.

*** Romney takes a test drive with Rubio: Meanwhile, Romney is holding another veepstakes audition of sorts -- campaigning with Florida Sen. Marco Rubio at a town hall in Aston, Pa. at 12:55 pm ET. This comes after Romney has already stumped with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte and South Dakota Sen. John Thune. In addition, Ohio Sen. Rob Portman has recently campaigned solo for Romney in Pennsylvania. For Romney, doing these public auditions, especially with folks who could help with a specific weak voting bloc, is probably a decent way for the GOP challenger to get attention for some of his travels. Expect more of these events with different short-listers. By the way, Jeb Bush opened the VP door slightly in a Newsmax interview. “Well I’d consider it, but I doubt I’ll get a call, and I don’t know if it’s the right thing for me to do,” he said. “I didn’t run for president for a similar kind of reason, so I’m all in to try to help him get elected.” But then we saw conservative commentator George Will try to close that door. “If Jeb Bush is to be Romney’s running mate, it would mean that in seven of nine presidential elections there would be a Bush on the Republican ticket,” he said on ABC yesterday. “And it gets hard to argue that we’re not a tribal society at that point.”

*** The money chase: On Friday, we found out that Obama had raised $35 million for his campaign in March (with another $18 million raised by the DNC and other committees) -- which was Obama's biggest fundraising month of the cycle so far. The Obama camp also reported having $104 million in the bank. By comparison, the Romney campaign last month raised $13 million and has $10 million cash on hand. So Obama, as of March 31, holds a 10-to-1 advantage in available cash. But when you factor in the major political parties (DNC, RNC) plus the top Super PACs (the pro-Romney Restore Our Future, the anti-Obama American Crossroads, and pro-Obama Priorities USA Action), Team Obama’s cash-on-hand edge drops to less than 2-to-1, $147 million to $87 million. And that doesn’t count the 501c4 groups (like Crossroads GPS, Americans for Prosperity, and American Energy Alliance).

*** Obama’s left jab at Romney: Don’t miss this New York Times piece from over the weekend, which noted that Obama and his campaign are no longer attacking Romney for being a flip-flopper; instead, they want the former Massachusetts governor to own the conservative views he expressed during the GOP primary season. “For Mr. Obama, the decision to start going after Mr. Romney from the left is as much a logical evolution as is any attempt by Mr. Romney to move to the center, in particular Mr. Romney’s effort now to try to woo Hispanic and female voters who may have been alienated by some of the talk coming out of the Republican primary.”  These next three months of the campaign are mostly about who is going to win the fight to define Romney -- Team Obama or Team Romney.

The Daily Rundown's Chuck Todd talks about the Obama campaign's struggle to clarify their message about Mitt Romney and proceed with the general election.

*** On the trail: A day before tomorrow’s primaries, Mitt Romney stumps in Pennsylvania -- first with Tom Ridge in Township, Pa. and then with Marco Rubio in Aston, Pa… Ann Romney delivers remarks at the Prescott Bush Awards Dinner in Stamford, Ct… And Newt Gingrich stumps in Delaware.

*** Other odds and ends: Vice President Joe Biden is in the all-important battleground state of Florida, visiting Everglades National Park… And the RNC has a web video hitting Obama over having lobbyists and former lobbyists work in his administration and donate money to his campaign.

*** Huntsman blasts the GOP: Is it possible that Jon Huntsman could play a bigger role in the general election than he did during the GOP primary campaign? “Former Republican candidate Jon Huntsman took a battle axe to his own party, comparing it to China's Communist Party and criticizing it's standard bearer in a wide-ranging interview at the 92nd Street Y Sunday night,” Buzzfeed reported. Recounting his first experience on the presidential debate stage in Iowa last August, Huntsman says he was struck by the question ‘Is this the best we could do?’ Huntsman, the former Utah governor and once President Barack Obama's Ambassador to China, expressed disappointment that the Republican Party disinvited him from a Florida fundraiser in March after he publicly called for a third party. ‘This is what they do in China on party matters if you talk off script,’ he said. Huntsman said he regrets his decision to oppose a 10-to-1 spending cuts to tax increase deal to cut the deficit at the Iowa debate lamenting: ‘if you can only do certain things over again in life.’”

*** Hatch survives convention vote but still faces primary: The good news for Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch: He accomplished something that Bob Bennett was UNABLE to do -- escape the Utah GOP convention. The bad news: Because Hatch didn’t get 60% of the vote (he got 59%), he’ll face a primary challenge on June 26 from state Sen. Dan Liljenquist. While Hatch would have definitely preferred to avoid the primary, do remember that polling in 2010 showed that Bennett probably would have won a statewide primary; his challenge was getting out of the convention.

Countdown to the CT, DE, NY, PA, and RI primaries: 1 day
Countdown to Election Day: 197 days

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