Discuss as:

First Thoughts: Ouch for Team Obama

Obama maintains his battleground-map lead in latest NBC News map… But today’s job report is an “ouch” for Team Obama: Just 69,000 jobs created in May, while the unemployment rate ticked up to 8.2%... Summing up yesterday’s political activity: a day of stunts… Team Romney and riding the Tea Party/Breitbart tiger… Bill Clinton’s praise of Bain not helpful to the Obama camp… Edwards’ acquittal and what’s stopping the future Bunny Mellons?... And are Walker and Obama following the same campaign playbook?

Kevin Lamarque / Reuters

President Barack Obama speaks before signing the reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank at the White House in Washington May 30, 2012.

*** Ouch for Team Obama: Why is this presidential race close? And why might it get closer? Look no further than today’s jobs report for May, which is a gut-punch for Team Obama. According to the report, employers added just 69,000 in May -- the fewest in a year -- and the unemployment rate increased to 8.2%. The AP: “U.S. employers created 69,000 jobs in May, the fewest in a year, and the unemployment rate ticked up. The dismal jobs figures could fan fears that the economy is sputtering. The Labor Department also says the economy created far fewer jobs in the previous two months than first thought. It revised those figures down to show 49,000 fewer jobs created.”

** Obama maintains his battleground-map lead: After our new rounds of NBC-Marist polls, as well as our conversations with the presidential campaigns, we’ve unveiled our latest NBC News Battleground map. And it shows -- surprise, surprise -- a very competitive contest. We have 237 electoral votes in the Democratic column and 191 in the GOP one. That’s a slight change from our last map in April, when it was 231 to 197. The big changes in our map: We moved New Hampshire and Wisconsin from Lean Dem to Toss-up; Iowa from Lean GOP to Toss-up; and Pennsylvania from Toss-up to Lean Dem. Why the Pennsylvania move when the current polling suggests that Obama has just a modest lead over Romney? The Romney camp simply isn’t spending the money or building the organization; the state appears to be lower on their target list than others, at least for now. The way Republicans are treating Pennsylvania is akin to how Democrats appear to be treating Missouri. One way to judge how a move in the perception of the economy can shift landscape? Focus on the “leans” in on our map; a tick upward in Obama’s direction buts more of these lean GOPers in play… a move, like we may be seeing today with the May jobs report would shift those Lean Dem states to the right. Here’s our map as of today: 

Solid Dem (no chance at flip): DC, DE, HI, ME (3 EVs) MD, MA, NY, RI, VT (70 electoral votes)
Likely Dem (takes a landslide to flip): CA, CT, IL, WA (94)
Lean Dem: ME (1 EV) MI, MN, NJ, NM, OR, PA (73)
Toss-up: CO, FL, IA, NV, NH, NC, OH, VA, WI (110)
Lean GOP: AZ, GA, IN, MO, NE (I EV) (49)
Likely GOP (takes a landslide to flip): AL, LA, MS, MT, ND, SC, SD, TX (79)
Solid GOP (no chance at flip): AK, AR, ID, KS, KY, NE (4 EVs) OK, TN, UT, WV, WY (63)

*** Stunt men: How do we sum up yesterday’s dueling campaign events? It was a day of stunts. There was the Obama camp holding a press conference in Boston; Team Romney trying to crash that presser; and Romney making a secret stop to Solyndra. What struck us was how both campaigns seemed to be more worried about winning the news cycle than making their point. Did Team Obama really not think that holding an event in the city where the Romney campaign headquarters is located could be interrupted? Likewise, does anyone think Romney would have received more attention with his Solyndra trip if they had actually publicized it instead of keeping it a secret? (Also, they might have tried picking a time other than the very moment all the cameras and attention were focused on George W. Bush at the White House.) When you chase the news cycle like McCain and Clinton did a lot in 2008 -- something Team Obama rarely did in ’07-’08 -- you forget about other things. Both campaigns chased the news cycle yesterday, and neither got what it wanted.

*** Riding the Tea Party/Breitbart tiger: Buzzfeed has this additional observation about yesterday’s stunts by the Romney campaign: They are winning over the Limbaughs and other parts of the GOP base. “[Romney’s] aggressive tactics stand in for the sort of policy compromises that could damage him in November; better, his advisers argue, to court conservatives with a press conference shouting match than with a high-profile fight over abortion or gay marriage. What’s more, they say, the media obsession with Romney ‘pandering’ to the right represents a misunderstanding of conservatives, who can live with Romney’s moderate record – as long as he’s a fighting moderate.” As one conservative remarked to Buzzfeed about yesterday’s Solyndra stunt: "My God, this is right out of Breitbart's playbook. I love it!" The question is whether riding the Tea Party/Breitbart tiger is good long-term politics. After all, you ride that tiger -- and everything that comes with it -- at your own peril, especially if you’re looking to be able to govern after winning, never mind trying to win swing voters in the fall. We get that the campaign believes swing voters are NOT paying attention now, but there’s a line.

*** Bill Clinton’s praise of Bain: The folks in Chicago are probably “shocked, shocked” that Bill Clinton wasn’t on message when he praised Romney’s business background and work at Bain Capital on CNN yesterday. "I don't think that we ought to get into the position where we say 'This is bad work. This is good work.” And: "I think the real issue ought to be, what has Gov. Romney advocated in the campaign that he will do as president? What has President Obama done and what does he propose to do? How do these things stack up against each other?" A few points here: One, like Cory Booker, Clinton didn’t do Team Obama any favors here. Two, remember that Clinton wasn’t always on message even when campaigning for Hillary (remember South Carolina in ’08?). And three, notice that all of the Dem praise of Bain has come from folks who live and work in the Acela Corridor (Booker, Rendell, Ford, Clinton). We’ve yet to hear from a single Democrat from Toledo or Green Bay about private equity’s virtues. So be careful assuming Bain attacks don’t work.  

*** What’s stopping the future Bunny Mellons? As you may have noticed, we haven’t had much to say about John Edwards and his trial in North Carolina. But after a jury acquitted him on one charge -- and was unable to reach a verdict on the others -- we have this political observation: Campaign-finance loopholes remain a mile wide. If wealthy donors/patrons can cut large checks to hide an affair and love child, there’s nothing to stop future ones from being able to find new ways to curry influence with the politicians they sponsor. What about a $1 million check to help a politician’s friend start up a new business? Or a $1 million check to help pay off someone’s debt? (Then again that donor or patron could always start up -- legally -- a Super PAC.) As the New Yorker writes, “The Edwards trial put the question in crude terms—What do you owe the rich donor who helped hide your mistress?—but a lot of politicians have a lot of debts as well as secrets that are increasingly inaccessible to the public.” Ultimately, what we learned from the whole ordeal: Campaign-finance cases are VERY hard to criminalize. One other thing we’ve heard from folks close to the Edwards family: They want him to stay out of the public spotlight. So far, John Edwards is showing he’s learned nothing from how he got into trouble. He still has no self-awareness.

*** Are Obama and Walker following the same campaign playbook? We’re just four days away until the Wisconsin recall, and one of us wrote yesterday that despite their ideological and stylistic differences, Scott Walker and Barack Obama are trying to run the same kind of campaign. Turn the race into a choice, not a referendum; argue that progress has been made, no matter how slowly or controversially; and link your opponent to your even more unpopular predecessor. Of course, there are some differences here, including the difference between a gubernatorial recall and a presidential contest. But just take a look at some of the pro-Walker ads that are airing in Wisconsin. Their messages -- disqualifying the challenger, touting any good economic news, and reminding you of the even more unpopular predecessor -- aren’t going to be much different from the pro-Obama ads you’ll see in September and October.  By the way, Walker and Tom Barrett squared off in their final debate last night, and it was pretty contentious. 

Countdown to WI recall: 4 days
Countdown to GOP convention: 88 days
Countdown to Dem convention: 95 days
Countdown to Election Day: 159 days

Click here to sign up for First Read emails.
Text FIRST to 622639, to sign up for First Read alerts to your mobile phone.
Check us out on Facebook and also on Twitter. Follow us @chucktodd, @mmurraypolitics, @DomenicoNBC, @brookebrower