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First Thoughts: Obama on the defensive

Team Obama on the defensive… Romney, by comparison, largely escapes the scrutiny for now… Public workers and the blame game… Team Obama raises $60 million in May, its best monthly haul of the campaign… Obama to talk student loans, economy in Vegas… House Dems take one step forward in CA, but one step back.

Jewel Samad / AFP - Getty Images

President Barack Obama speaks during a campaign event at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Beverly Hills, California, on June 6, 2012.

*** Obama on the defensive: At the very time that the Obama campaign has tried to go on the offensive -- hitting Mitt Romney’s record at Bain Capital and in Massachusetts -- they’ve found themselves mostly playing defense the past couple of weeks. On the May jobs report. On Wisconsin. On Bill Clinton going off script on Romney’s business record and the Bush tax cuts. And it’s possible that the month of June gets even tougher if the U.S. Supreme Court rules against all or some of the federal health-care law. What has to be doubly frustrating for Team Obama is that these stories are largely out of their control; after all, they weren’t the ones who decided to launch the recall against Gov. Scott Walker (R). This might explain why the Obama campaign has an expensive TV ad buy hitting Romney and his record as Massachusetts governor. It’s a way to blunt the impact of what has been a tough couple of weeks, and what could be another tough few weeks.

President Barack Obama has been stuck playing defense – struggling to stay on the message the campaign out like to push in the all-important three months before the DNC. The Daily Rundown's Chuck Todd reports.

*** By comparison, Romney largely escapes the scrutiny -- for now: Interestingly, with all this tough attention on Obama and Democrats, the story that we might have expected in the late spring and early summer -- defining the challenger Romney after he wrapped up the GOP nomination -- hasn’t really taken off. Yes, the New York Times today takes a look at Romney’s San Diego home, and it also noted the double standard of the campaign jobs argument against the president. And the Boston Globe recently examined Bain. But compared with Obama over the past couple of weeks, the former Massachusetts governor has been able to largely escape the scrutiny. Part of that is by design with the Romney campaign; they keep the candidate in a bubble, and that’s helped prevent Day 2 stories on anything since he’s unavailable for comment, etc. That was the tough lesson the campaign learned during the primaries when they had to expose him. The more they exposed him, the more he stumbled into his own problems causing him to go on the defensive.

*** Public workers and the blame game: There’s an additional point we want to make about Tuesday’s outcome in Wisconsin: Republicans have been VERY effective in selling the public that blame for the problems in government lies at the feet of public workers and their public pensions for the budget deficits out there -- federal, state, and local. When there’s an economic downturn, Democrats and liberals often point their fingers at Wall Street and big business. Republicans, in previous economic downturns, haven’t been as effective at giving an anxious public someone to blame until now. But ever since the financial industry and economy collapsed in ’08 -- exploding the size of deficits because tax revenues went down -- Republicans and conservatives have handed the public public-sector workers and their pensions as the focus of their ire. Their argument: “Look at those folks with their protected jobs and protected pensions; you don’t have that; you could get laid off tomorrow, your 401K is in the toilet.” That very well might explain why two California cities (San Jose and San Diego) voted to cut its retirement benefits for their workers. Here’s a question to chew on: Who is taking more political heat right now -- Wall Street (even after that JP Morgan news) or public workers?  

*** Team Obama raises $60 million in May: Early this morning, per NBC’s Carrie Dann, the Obama campaign announced that it, the DNC, and related committees raked in more than $60 million in May -- its best fundraising month of the campaign. (May, you'll recall, was when the campaign had that contest to attend a fundraiser with George Clooney.) In April, the Obama campaign, DNC, and related committees raised $43.6 million. In March, they raised $53 million, which was the previous monthly high. In April -- his first month as the presumptive GOP nominee -- Romney, the RNC, and related committees raised some $40 million.

*** Vegas, baby: Out in Las Vegas at 3:50 pm ET, President Obama “will urge Congress to act now to stop interest rates on student loans from doubling in 25 days,” a White House aide tells First Read, adding: “The president will also call on Congress to pass elements of his American Jobs Act, which independent economists say will put thousands of cops, teachers and firefighters back to work now.” 

*** On the trail: In addition to Obama’s event in Las Vegas, Mitt Romney stumps in St. Louis, MO at 1:40 pm ET… First Lady Michelle Obama holds a campaign event in Dale City, VA at 2:30 pm ET… And Ann Romney visits Woodlands Center for Specialized Medicine in Pensacola, FL.

*** House Dems take one step forward/one step back in CA: Yesterday, we noted some Tuesday’s primary results around the country. What we didn’t mention were the results out of California, which was using a new primary system in which the two biggest vote-getters -- regardless of party -- advance to the general election. As msnbc.com’s Tom Curry notes, Democrats out there took one step forward and one step back in their bid to pick up the 25 seats necessary to win back the House in November. In one district that voted for Obama in ‘08, Curry writes, Democrats spent lots of money to ensure Democrat Julia Brownley finished in second place to advance to the general against GOP state Sen. Tony Strickland. But: “Democrats suffered a surprising and costly defeat in [another district] identified by House race expert David Wasserman of the non-partisan Cook Political Report as ‘a must-win for Democrats.’ Their candidate Pete Aguilar won only 23 percent of the vote – leaving two Republicans, deep-pocketed seven-term incumbent Gary Miller and state Sen. Bob Dutton, to square off against each other in November.” 

Countdown to GOP convention: 81 days
Countdown to Dem convention: 88 days
Countdown to Election Day: 152 days

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