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First Thoughts: A perception-changer

Pablo Martinez Monsivais / AP

President Barack Obama pauses in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on the White House Campus in Washington. Wednesday, May 30,2012, before signing the reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank Act of 2012.

Friday’s jobs report was a perception-changer… This is going to be a very close race… But here’s something about perception: It can always change again … The White House’s current dilemma after Friday’s jobs numbers: What does it do now? ... Here’s one answer: hit Romney with a new TV ad … One day out until tomorrow’s Wisconsin recall …  Breaking down Tuesday’s other races … And Elizabeth Warren gets back on track a bit.

*** A perception-changer: As we and our NBC/WSJ pollsters have been saying for the past few months, this presidential contest is a 50-50 race. But many, including plenty of Democrats, haven’t believed it. Yet Friday’s disappointing jobs report -- just 69,000 jobs created in May and the unemployment ticked up to 8.2 percent -- changed that perception in the blink of an eye, driving home for some holdouts the very real chance that President Obama could lose. It wouldn’t be correct to say he’s the underdog; he still has plenty of advantages as the incumbent, and the electoral map is probably his biggest. But what Friday did was erase the perception that Obama is the clear favorite heading into November. It also kick-started a new round of the Acela Corridor’s “What’s wrong with Obama?” handwringing (see: Dowd, Maureen.)

*** If things change, though, they can change again: But don’t forget: Things, including perception, can always change again. Last October -- when Obama called himself the “underdog” -- his job-approval rating in the NBC/WSJ poll was at 44 percent; the country and the economy were just emerging from the debt-ceiling drama; and, perhaps most important, the U.S. economy had created fewer than 100,000 jobs for four consecutive months during the summer. But the situation then changed for Obama: The economy began to add jobs at a stronger pace (more than 200,000 over a six-month stretch from September through February); memories of the debt-ceiling debate had faded; and the divisive GOP presidential primary took center stage. So it’s very possible, beginning with next month’s jobs report, that things could change again. But here’s a rule of thumb: Brace yourself for a VERY close election in November. Indeed, a new CNN poll released Friday had it Obama 49 percent, Romney 46 percent among registered voters.

*** Another tough summer for Team Obama? That said, all the current signs out there -- Friday’s jobs data, the economic worries in Europe, and the slowing Chinese economy -- are pointing to the start of yet another tough summer for Obama. In 2010, it was the BP spill and the initial Greek debt crisis; in 2011, it was the debt-ceiling debacle. But after that debt-ceiling debate, Team Obama channeled its inner Harry Truman and campaigned against a do-nothing Congress. And, to a large degree, politically, that worked. But here is the White House’s current dilemma: What do they do now? For one thing, they hope the May report was just a blip and that things can change, as we said above. The president on Friday used a phrase we hadn’t heard from him before about waiting for the fever to break, regarding the economy. Again, that falls under the category of simply “hope.” But they also will try to disqualify Romney, which brings us to…

*** New Obama ad hits Romney: Today, the Obama campaign has released a brand-new TV ad hitting Romney and his economic stewardship in Massachusetts. It will air in CO, FL, IA, NC, NH, NH, NV, OH, PA, and VA. “When Mitt Romney was governor, Massachusetts lost 40,000 manufacturing jobs -- a rate twice the national average,” the ad goes. “And fell to 47th in job creation, fourth from the bottom. Instead of hiring workers from his own state, Romney outsourced call center jobs to India. He cut taxes for millionaires like himself while raising them on the middle class.” The ad concludes, “So now, when Mitt Romney talks about what he’d do as president -- 'I know what it takes to create jobs' -- remember, we’ve heard it all before.” The Romney camp responds with this statement: "Having abandoned ‘Hope and Change,' the Obama campaign only ‘Hopes To Change The Subject' from an abysmal jobs report. We're happy to compare the 4.7 percent unemployment rate Mitt Romney achieved in Massachusetts to President Obama’s weak record any day.” By the way, it was interesting to see Team Romney unveil a new way to slice up the jobs data for Romney’s tenure in Massachusetts. Our question: Why did you wait until now? The 47th in job creation was a staple for the entire primary campaign and yet, no pushback like we saw this weekend. As the Boston Globe writes, the Romney camp has never disputed the accuracy of the 47th charge.

*** Wisconsin recall: One day away: Today is the final full day of campaigning before tomorrow’s Wisconsin recall. And here’s what we’ve gathered: Scott Walker’s (R) numbers seem to have stalled, but he’s at or near 50 percent. But Democrats think Tom Barrett (D) is gaining ground. If Barrett and Democrats narrowly lose tomorrow, expect there to be plenty of second-guessing why President Obama and the national Democratic Party didn’t play a bigger role in this recall. In fairness to the White House, though, things like recalls run counter to its philosophy -– which would rather work with the Olympia Snowes of the world (even if unsuccessful) than politically charge up the hill. In fact, what’s going on in Wisconsin is this referendum: Is political change better achieved through compromise and reconciliation (what the Obama White House has always preferred)? Or through a take-no-prisoners approach (Walker’s and, well, to a lesser degree, many elements of the progressive movement)?  

The stakes remains high in Wisconsin as voters head to the polls Tuesday to vote in the recall election for Gov. Scott Walker.

*** Tomorrow’s other races: In fact, tomorrow is shaping up to be a big political day. In addition to the Wisconsin recall, five states hold primaries, including California (where Berman-Sherman will head to overtime, we promise you that), New Mexico (where Martin Heinrich and Hector Balderas are competing in a Dem SEN primary) and New Jersey (where the Bill Clinton-backed Bill Pascrell faces off against the Obama-backed Steve Rothman in that member-vs.-member race).

*** Warren gets back on track a bit: After a rough month, Massachusetts Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren (D) got some good news over the weekend. The Boston Globe: “Elizabeth Warren steamrolled little-known Marisa DeFranco in winning the endorsement of the Democratic State Convention Saturday. She then proceeded to give the highly partisan crowd what they had traveled to Springfield for: an eloquent argument against Scott Brown’s U.S. Senate candidacy. After a month of struggling to answer questions about her alleged Native American roots, Saturday marked a return — at least for one day — to the kind of adoration that marked her entry into the Senate race.”

Countdown to WI recall: 1 day
Countdown to GOP convention: 84 days
Countdown to Dem convention: 91 days
Countdown to Election Day: 155 days

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