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First Thoughts: Obama tries to re-frame the election

Two lessons learned from Obama’s official campaign kickoff … “Go” hard or go home … Romney pushes middle-class message … It’s still the economy, stupide and blakas – what Europe’s election taught us: danger for Obama and Republicans … Biden’s loose lips on gay marriage, but why doesn’t White House embrace it? … Two polls show close race … A busy 48 hours … and the first rule of Veep Fight Club is don’t talk about your credentials.

Kevin Lamarque / Reuters

President Barack Obama speaks at a campaign rally at The Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio May 5, 2012. Obama officially kicked off his re-election campaign today with visits to Ohio and Virginia.

REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS ELECTIONS)

*** Obama tries to re-frame the election: There were two things that stood out to us that the president tried to do in his stump speech during his official campaign kickoff events in Ohio and Virginia: (1) His attempt to answer – or re-frame -- the question, “Are you better off than four years ago?” The Obama campaign knows that is a powerful question and a powerful argument against their campaign with a sluggish economy and they tried to pre-but it by asking, instead, “Will we BE better off” years down the road? It was the most important thing he tried to do -- and the first POSITIVE campaign ad from the campaign doubles down on this; and (2) He tried to paint Romney as an empty vessel, an unknown, just an investor, who will acquiesce and go along with whatever congressional Republicans will want to do. Some of the rest of the speech we’ve heard already. We knew the Obama campaign would run on economic fairness; it’s a message that hasn’t changed in six months. By the way, there was one new talking point that shouldn’t be missed. Both Obama and the vice president on Meet the Press made sure to preface their attacks on Romney by saying he’s a patriotic American. When you hear that, you know an attack’s coming. It’s the new “with all due respect.” Here’s our analysis from this weekend’s events, including the biggest missing piece of the president’s pitch: a second-term agenda that’s more than just protecting his first-term achievements.

The Daily Rundown's Chuck Todd previews the upcoming political events this week including the official start of President Barack Obama's re-election campaign and the primary being held in Wisconsin to pick Gov. Scott Walker's challenger in the upcoming recall election.

*** When you’ve gone too far… Go: Trying to further re-frame the election -- and pre-but arguments on the economy -- the Obama campaign is up with a new ad, called, “Go,” that is launching in nine states -- Ohio, Florida, North Carolina, Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, Colorado, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. (No Wisconsin and Michigan; No Arizona, Indiana or Missouri). We think we can confirm what the Obama campaign believes are the “swing” states. Back to the ad, what’s fascinating about it is how half of it is about trying to “re-educate” or remind voters of where things were before the president took office and just how deep the financial collapse was. It’s not quite morning in America, but more -- still the middle of the night, but sunrise is on the way. It highlights the auto industry’s rebound, killing Osama bin Laden, the end of the Iraq war, and creating 4.2 million jobs. “We’re not there yet. It’s still too hard for too many, but we are coming back, because America’s greatness comes from a strong middle class because you don’t quit and neither does he.” By the way, the ad is the campaign’s first positive ad, and it might be gone in 60 seconds. Will we see another positive ad (at least in English?). It’s very possible he doesn’t run another positive ad the rest of this election. (Also, a reminder that on Thursday, Obama will raise money with George Clooney, in a fundraiser expected to haul in $12 million, which would be a record for a single event.)

*** Romney’s middle-class message week: The Romney camp will try this week to exploit the president’s vulnerability on the economy -- that Obama tried to reframe this weekend -- with messaging focused on the middle class this week with Romney in Cleveland today and Lansing, MI, tomorrow. (Yes Michigan; this is a state that the campaign is going to spend the next 60 days trying to put in play; it’s a family thing). “President Obama has been a disaster for the middle class,” a Romney aide said. On cue, the campaign is out with this statement this morning: “Americans will hear a lot from President Obama in the coming months, but what they won’t hear from him is the fact that his policies have wreaked havoc on the middle class. After a doubling of gas prices, declining incomes, millions of foreclosures, and record levels of unemployment, Americans know they’re not better off than they were four years ago. Mitt Romney’s pro-growth agenda will get America back on track and stop the middle-class squeeze of the Obama economy.” And it’s out with a video hitting Obama on the economy called, “Silence.” Of course, it’s not clear what Romney will pitch to the middle class other than his bad economy message. As we've reported previously, Romney's tax plan cuts taxes for the middle class by an average of just $249, raises taxes on the poor, and cuts taxes for those making more than $1 million a year by a whopping $146,000. And that’s the challenge for Romney.

*** It’s the economy – in whatever language – stupide or blakas: Socialist Francois Hollande’s defeat of Nicolas Sarkozy represents, as NBC’s Jim Maceda reported on Nightly News this weekend, the 11th ouster of a European leader since the financial crisis. And in Greece, voters went against austerity (and anti-immigrant). We can draw two lessons from the different results: (1) It’s still -- and always will be -- the economy, stupid, in whatever language. You can talk all you want about likability, but it should be another warning sign for the Obama campaign and the White House that the economy and how people feel about it is what’s going to determine this election; and (2) Both were backlashes against austerity, and that could be bad news for the Paul Ryan advocates of the world. Austerity’s unpopular, even if there are strong, vocal strains arguing for it in this country.

*** Portending a close race: Two CW-setting polls for the week are out this morning show the race between Obama and Romney a dead heat. A Politico/GWU poll shows Romney up 48%-47%. And a USA/Today Gallup swing-state poll shows Obama up 47%-45%. Both are within the margin of error. A reminder that this is a close race, and is likely going to BE a close race. By the way, speaking of what happens in “close” races; one other thing that jumped out at us at the weekend rallies was just how far ahead the Obama campaign is of the Romney campaign when it comes to organizing on the ground. It’s not even close on this front; It’s amazing how in just eight short years, the Republicans have allowed one of their great strengths from 2004 (field organizing) to simply disappear. If a close election is decided on mechanics: advantage Obama. By the way, with all this back-n-forth on crowd sizes -- it’s fair to say Obama ’08 would have out-drawn Obama ’12 in both cities. But the problem for the GOP is that Obama ’12 still outdraws Romney ’12… and by a LOT. Will Romney address a crowd as large as Obama did on Saturday before Tampa?

*** The danger of Biden being Biden: Vice President Joe Biden made news – and stirred up a sensitive issue – on Meet the Press on gay marriage. The vice president said he is "absolutely comfortable" with gay marriage, going slightly further than the president has gone on the subject. Obama has said his views are “evolving.” Biden’s office reacted quickly, putting out a statement after the show, saying Biden was speaking for himself and not setting new administration policy, but that his views are evolving as well. This is going to be an elite kerfuffle, among Democratic elites, the gay community and the Washington-New York-Hollywood nexus. Are swing voters really going to base their vote on this? Not likely, especially considering there’s been movement in FAVOR of gay marriage. The White House may have erred in reacting at all. They’ve created a BIGGER story. They would likely have been better off just letting it hang out there, because what Biden said isn’t all THAT different from the president hinting that he’s evolving. By reacting publicly, they may have given oxygen to brush fire and created more of a problem than they would have had. Now, the gay community is going to be upset that the White House and campaign is saying they’re not there yet on gay marriage. This was something already bubbling beneath the surface, but bringing it back into focus runs the risk of alienating what’s been an important group financially. By the way, does President Obama have to address this now at the Clooney funder? Bet he gets asked.

*** 48 Hours: The last 48 hours and the next 48 are among the busiest in politics so far – from Obama’s campaign kickoff to the European elections… and don’t miss what Ron Paul did in NV (winning a majority of the delegates at convention). It’s similar to what he’s done in a handful of smaller states across the country like Maine, Massachusetts, Iowa, and Louisiana. … Richard Lugar will likely see the end of his career – a poll out show him down 10 points. Does he even come within single digits? ... There’s the Wisconsin Democratic primary to face off with Gov. Scott Walker in the recall election … The North Carolina Democratic primary for governor with the issues that state party has had … plus, the North Carolina gay marriage ballot initiative.

*** Like Fight Club, the first rule of being on the Veep list is -- don’t talk about being on the veep list: New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte violated that rule this Sunday on Meet the Press by touting her resume. Let others say that for you. Ironically, she showed some political inexperience by doing what she did in talking about her EXPERIENCE… “"I have, some would say, better experience than Barack Obama had when he was a senator and ran,” she said, as reported by NBC’s Alex Moe.

*** On the trail: Vice President Biden raises money in Nashville and Atlanta … Romney holds a town hall in Cleveland at 1:50 pm ET and the raises money in Indianapolis with Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels at 5:00 pm ET.

Countdown to Indiana Senate/Wisconsin recall primaries: 1
Countdown to Wisconsin recall election: 29
Countdown to Arizona 8 (Giffords seat) special election: 36
Countdown to Utah Senate primary: 50 days
Countdown to Election Day: 183 days

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