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First Thoughts: Catching up

Romney catches up to Obama -- in more ways than one… Obama to hold press conference at 10:15 am ET… Breaking down Romney’s VP possibilities if they were stocks… Romney’s new response TV ad… New poll measuring the Latino vote shows Obama with a big lead… Romney campaigns in Iowa… And if you missed seeing Bachmann, Cain, and Santorum, you’re in luck today at CPAC… And good news for Dems in North Dakota.

*** Catching up: If we learned two things this week, it’s 1) that Team Obama was put on the defensive, and 2) that Team Romney has caught up in more ways than one. Indeed, this is the week Romney caught up in fundraising (his campaign and the RNC outraised Obama and the DNC, $76.8 million to $60 million), in some national and battleground state polls (the national FOX, EPIC-MRA in Michigan, and Purple Strategies’ swing states), and even on the airwaves (the Romney camp is up in seven states versus the Obama camp’s nine). As the GOP presumptive nominee, there was always a time when Romney was going to catch up; just see where John Kerry was at around this point in 2004. But that time is now.

The Daily Rundown's Chuck Todd talks about the latest fundraising numbers as wells as advertising in key battleground states.

*** Obama to hold press conference: Against this backdrop -- his worst week of the campaign year coupled with Romney’s best – President Obama today holds a mini-press conference in the White House briefing room at 10:15 am ET. The issues that are likely to come up: the economy, Europe, Syria. But it’s also an attempt to wrest back control of the narrative a bit as the questions are likely to be a mix of both international and campaign. What’s more, it’s the first opportunity for the press corps to ask him about Wisconsin.

*** If the VP picks were stocks: With some possible Romney VP picks speaking at the CPAC gathering in Chicago (more on that below), we’re introducing a way to look at Romney’s running mate candidates. There are plenty of Top 10 lists out there, but what we’re introducing is a way to look at their value -- much like a stock. Who is overvalued right now (in terms of risk vs. reward)? Who is underpriced? Who is priced correctly? Here are our thoughts:

The most expensive: Rob Portman, Marco Rubio. These guys -- right now -- would be your most expensive stocks to buy because they are being viewed both internally and externally as the clear-cut frontrunners. But you can argue the potential risk each brings has NOT been priced into their stock (Bush years for Portman, unvetted record for Rubio).
Other Overvalued Picks
: Chris Christie, Bob McDonnell. These two governors get lots of attention, but maybe more attention than Team Romney is giving them as both present some downsides that too many in the media overlook.
: Tim Pawlenty, Bobby Jindal, John Thune: If you were looking for a good deal, you would consider this category, especially Pawlenty, who was McCain’s runner-up in 2008. All of these folks are probably under more serious consideration than the C.W. crowd believes.
Valued just about right
: Kelly Ayotte, Paul Ryan, Susana Martinez. Their risks and rewards have all been priced about right by the C.W. crowd.

*** Romney’s new response ad: In a response to this week’s hard-hitting Obama TV ad that criticizes Romney’s job-creation record in Massachusetts -- that it ranked 47th in the nation -- the Romney camp is up with its own ad. “As governor of Massachusetts, Mitt Romney had the best jobs record in a decade,” the ad goes. “Romney reduced unemployment to just 4.7%. “He balanced every budget without raising taxes. He did it by bringing parties together to cut through gridlock.” Some quick facts: The unemployment rate in Massachusetts was 4.7% in Dec. 2006, which was Romney’s last full month as governor, but that was higher than the nation’s overall 4.4% rate. While the ad states that Romney balanced the budget without raising taxes, he raised revenues and fees as governor.

*** Measuring the Latino vote: Obama continues to lead Mitt Romney by a wide margin, 66-23%, according to a new Latino Decisions poll. And the poll looked at feelings among Latinos toward the Democratic DREAM Act shepherded by Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL) vs. Sen. Marco Rubio’s (R-FL) proposed bill, aka “DREAM Act Light.” Latinos strongly preferred Durbin’s. By an 87%-10% margin, Latinos had a favorable view of the Democratic version, as opposed to being split, 49%/46% for Rubio’s. Then, they were asked which version they preferred. They said Democrats’ by an 82%-13% margin.

*** On the trail: Romney holds an event in Council Bluffs, IA at 11:30 am ET, and then he heads to Utah, where he’ll appear with Sen. Orrin Hatch at 4:25 pm ET and then hit a fundraiser.

*** If you missed seeing Bachmann, Cain, and Santorum, you’re in luck: Conservatives are gathering in the Chicago area for another CPAC confab. (Is it just us, or does there seem to be a CPAC almost every few months? The national one, in DC, took place four months ago in February.) Here are some of the notable speakers: Rick Santorum (who has announced a new group, at 10:45 am ET, John Kasich at 11:15 am ET, Rand Paul (who just endorsed Romney) at 11:30 am ET, Chris Christie at noon ET, Herman Cain at 1:30 pm ET, Bobby Jindal at 2:45 pm ET, Bob McDonnell at 6:40 pm ET and Michele Bachmann at 6:40 pm ET.

*** Just askin’: Why is it that Bill Clinton or Cory Booker going off-script becomes national news, but not when Sen. Lisa Murkowski disagrees with the GOP and Romney attacks on Solyndra, or when Jeb Bush praises Obama on education -- a subject on which Romney recently criticized the president? Are those things also going off-script?

*** Good news for Dems in North Dakota: This has been a tough week for Democrats, but they got some good news with a new Mason-Dixon poll out of North Dakota, which shows Heidi Heitkamp (D) running even with Rick Berg (R). In the poll, it’s Heitkamp at 47% and Berg at 46%. Meanwhile, for the Indiana Senate race, the Dem groups American Bridge and Majority PAC are up with a new website, WhoIsRichardMourdock.com.

*** Rick Scott = George Wallace? As the drama in Florida continues to unfold over voter registration and voter roll purges, the influential Tampa Bay Times editorial page scolds Gov. Rick Scott (R), comparing him to Gov. George Wallace: “This June, the governor of another Southern state is challenging the federal government's authority. Nearly 50 years after Wallace's showdown, you are standing between Floridians and their right to vote as U.S. citizens. We agree that only citizens should vote, but your approach to cleaning up the voter rolls is fatally flawed. The U.S. Justice Department and county supervisors of election have reached the same conclusion and told you to stop, yet you persist.”

Countdown to GOP convention: 80 days
Countdown to Dem convention: 87 days
Countdown to Election Day: 151 days

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