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First Thoughts: The margins told the story

Craig Cunningham / AP

Voters arrive at Overbrook Elementary School in Charleston to cast their votes in the primary election, Tuesday, May 8, 2012.

No surprises in results last night, but the margins told the story … Lugar’s Jerry Maguire manifesto … A nasty month coming in Wisconsin – the toxicity will hit new heights if that’s possible … Romney tries to use Clinton to pivot, but will it work? … Obama’s North Carolina mess – how’s scheduling the convention there look now? … It’s been a bad start to the week for the president.

From NBC’s Chuck Todd, Domenico Montanaro, Natalie Cucchiara, Carrie Dann, and Brooke Brower

*** The margins told the story: The overall results went largely as expected last night in Indiana, North Carolina, West Virginia, and Wisconsin, the surprises were in the margins. State Treasurer Richard Mourdock was expected to beat incumbent Sen. Richard Lugar, but not by 20 points; Amendment One – banning gay marriage and civil unions in North Carolina -- was expected to pass, but not by 20 points; Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett was expected to beat Kathleen Falk, but not by almost 20 points; President Obama was expected to win the West Virginia primary, but not to be WITHIN 20 points TO A CONVICTED FELON SITTING IN FEDERAL PRISON IN ANOTHER STATE. By the way, wonder why Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin says he’s not sure who he’ll vote for this fall in the presidential election? This is why -- and why West Virginia will continue to be the butt of jokes by coastal elites.

The Daily Rundown's Chuck Todd shares the results of key voters in Indiana, Wisconsin and North Carolina.

*** Lugar’s Jerry Maguire manifesto: All it was missing was the Catcher in the Rye cover. In what had to be a cathartic 1,426-word good-bye letter, Lugar lambasted the partisan, ideologically driven, no-compromise culture that now dominates in Washington, even the Senate.  “Unfortunately, we have an increasing number of legislators in both parties who have adopted an unrelenting partisan viewpoint.  … Partisans at both ends of the political spectrum are dominating the political debate in our country. And partisan groups, including outside groups that spent millions against me in this race, are determined to see that this continues.”

*** Regrets, Too Few To Mention: Lugar said he wouldn’t run as an independent, would support Mourdock, but said his “embrace of an unrelenting partisan mindset is irreconcilable with my philosophy of governance and my experience of what brings results for Hoosiers in the Senate” and of “reflexive votes for a rejectionist orthodoxy and rigid opposition to the actions and proposals of the other party.” It’s a fascinating read, one maybe he should have put out over the weekend – not that it would have made much difference. But it was also an acknowledgment that Lugar, who kept a smile on his face and dismissed the freight train that was coming, knew what was happening all along. Mourdock will be on “Daily Rundown” later this morning. What’s fascinating about him: he makes no apologies for being an ideologue and sees his job in the Senate, not as legislator, but as proselytizer. If elected, he’ll be firmly in the DeMint caucus.

*** A new level of toxicity: Start tuning into Wisconsin if you haven’t been already. We’re about to have a month of a knock-down, drag-out fight in like we’ve never seen. Tens of millions of dollars have already been spent on the June 5th recall election, and millions more will be poured in before it’s all said and done. What’s happening in Wisconsin will highlight the toxicity and levels of anger in the country on both sides. There’s a difference between being evenly divided and polarized. In the modern era (the 1960s and 1860s were pretty bad, too), this started with the Bill Clinton impeachment, then Bush v. Gore, increased use of filibusters on both sides, the Tea Party, ideological purges, compromise being a dirty word. It feels like we’re getting to another level of absurdity on polarization. Is there a breaking point? Majorities claim they don’t like it but they keep supporting it, either via their primary votes or, by NOT voting.

*** Romney uses Clinton to try a real pivot…: Yesterday was the first time in a speech that was supposed to be a pivot speech when it actually felt like Romney was pivoting to the general election. Every other time he was supposedly pivoting, it felt more like he was still trying to appease conservative voters – not independents. Well, yesterday he was in the accepted birth state of the famous Reagan Democrats – Michigan, where he was born and raised, and he invoked Bill Clinton, trying to put paint Pres. Obama as someone who has turned his back on Clintonism. “President Clinton said the era of big government was over,” Romney said. “President Obama brought it back with a vengeance.” Obama likes to do this with Republican presidents past, too. See Reagan and Eisenhower. The difference – those guys are dead and can’t respond. Clinton can defend himself and Obama; we have no doubt Clinton can’t wait to respond. Clinton already has responded to these charges before; he says he was able to do what he in the 1990s because he had a GOP that wanted to work with him, Obama doesn’t, Clinton has said. Romney’s essentially picking a debate with Bill Clinton. This feels like an attempt to rebut what the Democratic talking point has been (and will be in the wake of the Lugar defeat) that this is not your father’s Republican Party. All this praise for Clinton from Republicans (and Democrats for Reagan) reminded us of how Jon Stewart mocked both parties for forgetting all the nasty things they said about both presidents. “Every four years, apparently history has a piano dropped on its head,” Stewart joked.

*** But would Romney fight for Clinton’s priorities? Of course, Clinton’s already been in a campaign video for Obama, is hosting fundraisers for him, and even came to President Obama’s side in the briefing room during the debt-ceiling debate. By the way, at that press conference, Clinton laid out the things he thinks are worth fighting for: (1) “fighting against the repeal of the health care law,” (2) “a ferocious fight to avoid repeal of the student loan reform…,” and (3) “it’s worth fighting against repeal of the financial reform and the assurance it gives us that we won’t have another meltdown….” We don’t think we’ll hear Romney advocating for “ObamaCare,” subsidized student loans, or Dodd-Frank any time soon.

*** Obama’s North Carolina mess: It seemed like a good idea at the time -- two years ago when the Obama campaign team decided to pick North Carolina as its convention state. It would give them a chance to organize and maybe put in play an “expand-the-map” state. With a sitting Democratic governor not running for reelection because she’d probably lose, a sexual harassment scandal within the state party, AND Amendment One passing OVERWHELMINGLY, Obama and Democrats have a real mess on their hands – and maybe that strategy was too cute by half. National Journal: “The overwhelming North Carolina vote to define marriage as legal only between a man and woman is an unequivocal reminder that gay marriage remains unappealing in many parts of the country, even as its support grows overall nationally.” The Democratic convention is almost assured to see a platform fight over gay marriage, and it’ll be taking place in a state that resoundingly rejected it. By the way, keep this in mind, the president will be accepting his party’s nomination in a state that has both “Right to Work” laws and constitutionally bans gay marriage – in a stadium named for “Bank of America” mind you. About that Minneapolis convention bid…

*** Obama’s terrible campaign week: The campaign roll out over the weekend went well. Despite Republicans talking about the empty seats at Ohio State, he still draw four times the crowds (if not more) than Romney. But then Biden’s gay-marriage comments stepped on that roll out. Yesterday, when Obama traveled to Albany, he looked energy-less, almost like he realized what he was proposing was going nowhere or what he was proposing would get no attention thanks to Biden and gay marriage. And to top it off, some felon gets 40% in West Virginia. This is not how they envisioned the campaign roll out week going. It’s reminiscent of all the bad day AFTER primary days Romney accumulated this year. The good news for the Obama White House: a pretty good national security feat in Yemen; of course, now they have to clean up the mess that’s been created by the public leaking of the fact the CIA and its allies had a double-agent working for them.

*** On the trail – does Romney get asked about civil unions in Colorado? Mitt Romney will campaign in Fort Upton in Colorado. (By the way, watch to see if Romney’s asked about civil unions and same-sex marriage while there. Colorado just had a heated fight LAST NIGHT over a civil union measure that was blocked from going to the floor by the Republican House leader. Romney will also be in Oklahoma with Gov. Mary Fallin for an event at the Oklahoma Republican Party Headquarters. … President Obama will meet with NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen in the Oval Office to discuss final preparations for the upcoming NATO summit in Chicago. Later, the President and First Lady Michelle Obama will host a concert in the East Room honoring songwriters Burt Bacharach and Hal David, who will be awarded the 2012 Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song.

Countdown to Wisconsin recall election: 27
Countdown to Arizona 8 (Giffords seat) special election: 34
Countdown to Utah Senate primary: 48 days
Countdown to Election Day: 181 days

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