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First Thoughts: Obama, Romney spar on bin Laden

The bin Laden political football … Romney says even Jimmy Carter would have made the call. Reminder: Carter did, and it doomed his presidency. … Romney disagreed with Obama in 2007 … Dems drive a message for another week … ‘Swiss Bank Accounts’ … Mitt Romney, a “wild and crazy man” … The war over women continues on Capitol Hill…. Rubio admits mistake with using party charge card … Another Veep tryout – Bob McDonnell Thursday…. Is it over in Indiana and Richard Lugar? … And what is happening in Massachusetts?


U.S. President Barack Obama, Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.

*** Obama, Romney spar on bin Laden: It started with surrogates on the Sunday shows, but yesterday the political debate over the killing of bin Laden -- one year ago today – bubbled up to the candidates. Mitt Romney said at a rope line yesterday, "Of course, of course,” he would have ordered the strike. “Even Jimmy Carter would have given that order." Remember, Carter DID give an order to make a risky rescue effort of the Iranian hostages that failed. So an odd shot from Romney. President Obama was asked to defend his campaign alleging that Romney wouldn’t have made the call. “I'd just recommend people take a look at previous statements as to whether they thought it was appropriate to go into Pakistan and take out bin Laden,” he said with a smirk, adding, “I said we'd go after bin Laden if we had a clear shot at him, and I did.” The minute Romney said “Jimmy Carter,” the Obama campaign may have gotten what they wanted: an opening to bring up what Romney said four years ago (more on that below). And it’s why the president was so specific in his response to the Romney charge (though he never mentioned Romney by name).  By the way, this is the first time since the Reagan-Carter election in 1980 that both nominees were candidates four years earlier. It means an even bigger archive of material for the political debate include many times when the two of them did respond to each other even during the primaries.

On the anniversary of the successful capture and killing of Osama bin Laden, Mitt Romney tried to minimize President Barack Obama's role in the mission. The Daily Rundown's Chuck Todd reports.

*** Romney disagreed with Obama in 2007: There are, by the way, plenty of examples from the 2007-2008 campaign of Mitt Romney criticizing President Obama for his debate answer when he said if he had actionable intelligence he would strike bin Laden even if it meant crossing into Pakistan. The Obama campaign has pointed out that Romney said, “It’s not worth moving heaven and earth spending billions of dollars just trying to catch one person.” In explaining those remarks, Romney said, “We'll move everything to get him. But I don't want to buy into the Democratic pitch that this is all about one person -- Osama bin Laden -- because after we get him, there's going to be another and another.” He added, “It's more than Osama bin Laden.” He also said: Romney 2007: "I do not concur in the words of Barack Obama in a plan to enter an ally of ours... I don't think those kinds of comments help in this effort to draw more friends to our effort.” And: "I think his comments were ill-timed and ill-considered.” Later at a debate, Romney seemed to soften his criticism of what then candidate Obama said after Rudy Giuliani seemed to challenge Romney’s criticism at a primary debate. "It's wrong for a person running for the president of the United States to get on TV and say, ‘We're going to go into your country unilaterally.’ Of course, America always maintains our option to do whatever we think is in the best interests of America. But we don't go out and say, ‘Ladies and gentlemen of Germany, if ever there was a problem in your country, we didn't think you were doing the right thing, we reserve the right to come in and get them out.’”

*** ‘Any American’ would have ordered the bin Laden killing: Romney changed his wording this morning. "Of course I would have," he said on CBS, per NBC’s Garrett Haake. "Any AMERICAN, any thinking American, would have ordered the same thing. Clearly if you've identified where Osama Bin Laden is, the US military is going to take action to capture or kill him.” Romney said that President Obama has "every right for him to take credit" for ordering the raid, but attacking Romney for a hypothetical is not. There are "plenty" of differences between himself and President Obama, so "let’s not make up ones,” Romney said. John McCain lashed out again saying, President Obama was trying to take “credit for something that any president would do…,” including Carter. And McCain, who was a tortured war hero in Vietnam, added, “[T]he thing about heroes, they don't brag.” (By the way, don’t miss the cable talker today from this interview – Ann Romney claiming her husband is really a “wild and crazy man.” She said, "I still look at him as the boy I met in high school. There's a wild and crazy man inside there.”)

*** Dems drive message (so far) for another week: Obama might have been smirking because he knows this is a political fight he’ll win and he’s more than happy to have it front and center. One thing is certain, the bin Laden back and forth pretty much ensures this will be the BIG story of the week (until the jobs report). Last week was student loans; the week before about Latinos -- all things on Democratic turf. And three weeks ago, would have been about the GOP’s problem with women, but then came Hilary Rosen… And the power of the incumbency is notable. One big advantage is holding meetings and press conferences with foreign leaders and another is having the bully pulpit to drive the message of the week in a larger way than the challenger can do (at least in the Spring and Summer). Yesterday Japan’s prime minister praised President Obama for his efforts on terrorism. It’s one thing Romney doesn’t have and why it’s so hard for a challenger to upend a sitting president. Rudy Giuliani, who Romney appears with today, just isn’t the same.

*** Politicization toothpaste out of the tube: With all the back and forth, don’t miss retired Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the time of the raid, telling NBC’s Brian Williams (featured on Nightly News last night) that he fears the politicization of bin Laden given that it’s election season. "Well, I worry about it, just because it's the political season,” Mullen said. “And from my perspective, the president's support-- the decision that he made, and obviously, the result stand alone in terms of the kind of call presidents have to make and he made it. I do worry a great deal that this time of year that somehow this gets spun into election politics. I can assure you that those individuals who risk their lives--the last thing in the world that they want is to be spun into that. So I'm hoping that that doesn't happen." Too late for that.

*** ‘Swiss Bank Account’: In the battle to define Romney, the Obama campaign is up with an ad called, “Swiss Bank Account,” though it has little to do with “Swiss Bank Accounts” – just that they want to remind you Mitt Romney has one. According to NBC/Smart Media Delta, the campaign has booked so far $505,000 in Ohio and Iowa on broadcast, and they also bought time in Richmond and Roanoke, though we don’t have specific numbers just yet. The campaign says it’s a “significant” broadcast buy. Obama holds his first two official campaign events in Ohio and Virginia Saturday. The ad is the third response ad from the campaign so far to an outside group, this one specifically to the Koch Brothers-backed Americans for Prosperity ad, which hit Obama on energy and “outsourcing.” The campaign again tries to tie Romney to the outside group by pivoting to hit him on outsourcing when he was in the private sector. But with a big heaping of snark, the ad ends with, “It’s just what you’d expect from a guy who had a Swiss Bank Account.” Two things: (1) Once again, every time the Obama campaign feels the need to respond to an attack ad to an outside group, it ties it to Romney, and (2) It wants to define him as “not one of you.” The “Swiss Bank Account” line does seem to come out of nowhere -- does it give the average viewer a bit of political whiplash. But one thing we know about this campaign, nothing gets thrown at the wall, they focus and test everything. By the way, one more aside thought: imagine if the Obama campaign or the Democratic party put as much “energy” in defending the health care law as they do energy and green jobs policies.

*** Romney camp responds: This morning the Romney camp fired back on the ad with this response: “With the worst job creation record in modern history and the slowest economic recovery since the Great Depression, President Obama is trying to distract Americans from the real issues with a series of sideshows,” Romney spokeswoman Amanda Henneberg said in a statement. “Unable to defend his failed record of 23 million Americans struggling for work, wasteful boondoggles like Solyndra, skyrocketing national debt, and unacceptably high energy prices, President Obama has once again resorted to attacking Mitt Romney. The American people have suffered enough over the last three years and deserve better.” (Did the Romney camp just embrace the ad? And they haven’t responded to any of the Obama ads on the air. Will they this time?)

*** The war over women: Democrats on the Hill are pushing the Paycheck Fairness Act to pigeonhole Romney. And meanwhile, The Hill reports: “More than 60 House Republicans offered legislation late last week that would prevent health insurance policies offered by health insurance exchanges from covering abortion procedures.” The bill is called, “The Stop Abortion Funding in Multi-state Exchange Plans Act.” (By the way, that’s a mouthful of an acronym to get to SAFE.) Democrats want to continue the women narrative and bills like this one from the House GOP will only add fuel.

*** Rubio admits mistake in using party credit card: Don’t miss that Marco Rubio yesterday said, NBC’s Mike O’Brien reports, “Sometimes, it was just a mistake. I just reached for the wrong card. The point is that, if I had to do it again, I'd be a lot more careful.” This story about Rubio and the Florida party credit card is probably the biggest reason he likely won’t be Romney’s VP pick. After Palin, they just don’t want to take the risk. In other veep news, Kelly Ayotte got a tryout yesterday. NBC’s Garrett Haake reports on the optics. And the latest veep tryout will be Thursday, when Romney appears with Virginia’s Bob McDonnell. By the way, don’t expect any hints from Romney on when he’ll make the pick or who it’ll be, he said on CBS this morning.

*** Indiana – Is it already over? The PAC that was supporting Richard Lugar, the American Action Network, has pulled its ads. They officially come down today. “We’ve decied to let this race play out,” Dan Conston, spokesman for the group, confirms. The group spent about two-thirds of the $600,000 it booked. Republican thinking is that they are coming to grips with the idea that state Treasurer Richard Mourdock is the very likely nominee, and the party now doesn't want to damage him. Strategists say Lugar didn't started campaigning in earnest until too late and waited too long to define Mourdock. They didn't know what to do with him.

*** What is happening in Massachusetts? Elizabeth Warren is on the defensive over whether she cited that she is part Native American on initial law professor applications. It was a small attack that came seemingly out of nowhere and is meaningless to the nut of the debate between the two candidates, but it’s these kinds of “small things” that can make or break candidacies sometimes. So far, Warren hasn’t handled it very well. And it’s the second week in a row in which Warren’s been on the defensive – first for releasing four instead of six years of tax returns, giving the Brown campaign the opening to ask what she’s hiding. It helped create a story when there didn’t need to be one. Massachusetts politics has always been more about gut than the head. You’ve got to somehow get past this gut test with white working class Massachusetts Democrats. And on both issues, Brown has had the advantage. (By the way, the only reason Scott Brown’s been on TV in the past week was for hitting a half-court shot and having a former Celtic praise him for it.) 

Countdown to Indiana Senate/Wisconsin recall primaries: 7
Countdown to Wisconsin recall election: 35
Countdown to Election Day: 189 days

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