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First Thoughts: Obama unloads on Romney

Obama unloads on Romney, delivering his harshest and most personal indictment against the GOPer to date… Romney fires back… How do we know this race is close? When both men are going to extremes to disqualify each other… It’s NBC/WSJ poll day!... WaPo/ABC poll shows Obama at 49%, Romney 46%... Powell praises Obama, but doesn’t endorse (yet)… Booker: “I am very upset that I am being used by the GOP this way”… The myth of the “Catholic vote”… And Biden stumps in New Hampshire, while Romney raises money in NYC.

Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images

President Barack Obama speaks at a press conference during the NATO Summit at McCormick Place on May 21, 2012 in Chicago, Illinois.

*** Obama unloads on Romney: Over the course of the past year, Mitt Romney has fiercely criticized President Obama and his presidency at every opportunity -- which isn’t surprising given the nearly yearlong GOP primary campaign; being a candidate is his full-time job. But yesterday, President Obama became Candidate Obama and delivered his harshest and most personal indictment against Romney to date. (Remember, Obama criticisms have usually been directed more at the Republican Party than Romney.) The thrust of Obama’s argument: Romney isn’t qualified to be president. When asked at the NATO summit in Chicago about Newark Mayor Cory Booker’s (D) criticism of the Obama campaign’s attacks on Romney’s tenure at Bain Capital, the president responded this way: “If your main argument for how to grow the economy is I knew how to make a lot of money for investors, then you’re missing what this job is about. It doesn’t mean you weren’t good at private equity, but that’s not what my job is as president. My job is to take into account everybody, not just some. My job is to make sure that the country is growing not just now, but 10 years from now and 20 years from now.”

The Daily Rundown's Chuck Todd talks about the argument over whether Mitt Romney's career at Bain Capital is fair game for the 2012 general election.

*** Romney fires back: Interestingly, Obama better articulated this argument against Romney and Bain -- private equity is a healthy part of capitalism, but leveraged buyouts don’t qualify you to be president -- than from any other Democrat we’ve heard in the past couple of weeks. And while the entire Booker episode wasn’t helpful to the campaign, it elevated the discussion about Bain (in fact, we’ve been talking about it for the past two weeks now) and it gave Obama a high-profile opportunity to make his side’s attack. Romney responded to Obama with this statement yesterday: “President Obama confirmed today that he will continue his attacks on the free enterprise system, which Mayor Booker and other leading Democrats have spoken out against. What this election is about is the 23 million Americans who are still struggling to find work and the millions who have lost their homes and have fallen into poverty. President Obama refuses to accept moral responsibility for his failed policies.” The best thing Romney has going for him on Bain are the lack of Democratic surrogates who seem to back the president’s criticisms. In fact, the Romney campaign video using Booker, Harold Ford Jr. and Steve Rattner is a pretty effective pushback. What’s also pretty effective counter-pushback: A Priorities USA video showing Gingrich, Perry, Huntsman, and Palin hitting Romney on Bain. (Remember that?)

*** Going to extremes: Yesterday’s back-and-forth made us wonder if this is May or October. How do we know the Obama-Romney race is close? Because both men are going to the extremes to disqualify each other. Obama’s argument is that Romney doesn’t have the values to be president (he’ll look out only for the 1%, not the 99%); Romney’s is that Obama doesn’t have the skills (he’s never run a business and his policies have failed). In addition, we’ve now seen Republicans -- Marco Rubio was the latest -- to describe Obama as the most divisive president in modern times. (Yet channeling National Journal’s Jill Lawrence, Obama is only the most polarizing president since Bush, who was the most polarizing president since Clinton, who was the most polarizing since Reagan, etc…. And, boy, that Lincoln was so polarizing that his election triggered the Civil War.)

*** NBC/WSJ poll day! It’s worth noting that Obama has been unable to drive a message on the economy in May. For instance, there was the recent NATO summit on Afghanistan. There also was Obama’s own announcement on Afghanistan, as well as the Osama bin Laden anniversary and the gay-marriage announcement. So how do Americans currently view the economy? Where does the Obama-Romney contest currently stand? Tune in to “Nightly News” or click on to msnbc.com for the answers to those questions from our brand-new NBC/WSJ poll beginning at 6:30 pm ET. Meanwhile, a new Washington Post/ABC poll shows President Obama leading Mitt Romney by three points among registered voters, 49%-46%, though it’s within that survey’s margin of error. The poll shows the two men deadlocked on handling the economy, 47%-47%.

*** Powell praises Obama but doesn’t endorse: On “TODAY” this morning, Colin Powell largely praised Obama’s presidency thus far, though he said he was still waiting to make an endorsement. Powell told NBC’s Matt Lauer that Obama had stabilized the financial industry, rescued the auto industry, and taken the country out of the most severe economic downturn since the Great Depression. His biggest criticism of the Obama administration, he said, was its failure to close the Guantanamo Bay prison, but he acknowledged that was due to congressional opposition. But Powell didn’t endorse Obama, saying that he wanted to listen to what Romney is saying.  “I owe that to the Republicans,” he said. 

Related: Colin Powell declines to endorse President Obama

*** Booker: “I am very upset that I am being used by the GOP this way”: While Republicans have made Cory Booker their new hero in the battle over Bain, it’s worth remembering that will only go so far. Booker, clearly nervous about how this episode is playing with base Democrats, went on “Rachel Maddow” last night, and said this: “I am very upset that I am being used by the GOP this way and it's, uh, while I thought today I was going to be quiet, I've been pushed so far that you are going to hear a lot from me to the extent possible and to the extent that President Obama and his campaign want to hear from me.”

Watch the video

*** The myth of the “Catholic vote”: Be sure not to miss msnbc.com’s Mike O’Brien piece on the myth of the Catholic vote. He writes, “The most misunderstood voting bloc in the 2012 election is the Catholic vote. Why? Because there isn’t one. The religious assemblage, which has evolved over the past century from a strong Democratic constituency into a national election bellwether, is no longer discernible from most other voter groups. As the community has become less homogenous and more assimilated into mainstream culture, so has its voting habits – sending many politicians on a fool’s errand in pursuit of the ‘Catholic vote.’ ‘I think the Catholic vote is very fractured right now,’ said Rev. Drew Christiansen, S.J., the editor in chief of ‘America,’ a Catholic newsweekly published by the Jesuits.”

*** On the trail: Vice President Biden gives a speech in Keene, NH at 1:45 pm ET (the Romney camp holds a conference call at 10:30 am pre-butting his speech)… Romney continues to raise money in New York… And the RNC is holding a conference call at 9:00 am charging that Obama has rolled out “the red carpet for the Castro family.”

*** Primaries in Arkansas and Kentucky: While the GOP presidential contest is essentially over, Arkansas and Kentucky hold their presidential primaries today. Here’s where the delegate race stands: Romney 992, Santorum 253, Gingrich 131, Paul 119. That means that Romney is 152 delegates away from mathematically clinching the GOP nomination, which he’ll probably do on May 29 when Texas holds its primary.

*** Veepstakes watch: Paul Ryan speech at the Reagan Library at 9:00 pm ET…And per NBC’s Alex Moe, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels said he would disconnect the phone if the VP call was coming, he said on FOX yesterday.

Countdown to WI recall: 14 days
Countdown to GOP convention: 97 days
Countdown to Dem convention: 104 days
Countdown to Election Day: 168 days

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