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First Thoughts: Here's your economic anxiety

Here’s your economic anxiety… Jeb Bush and talk about going off message… Romney’s transparency (or lack thereof)… This week’s 10 hottest TV markets in the presidential contest… Both Obama and Romney go rural… Obama’s new TV ad hits Romney -- again -- on his record as Massachusetts governor… Obama leads Romney by six in Pennsylvania… And today’s the AZ-8 special to fill Gabby Giffords’ congressional seat; polls close at 10:00 pm ET.

This photo combo shows President Barack Obama in Chapel Hill, N.C. on April 24, 2012, and Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney on April 18, 2012 in Charlotte, N.C.

*** Here’s your economic anxiety: The U.S. economy actually is growing (compared with some European countries); it’s adding jobs (though at a much slower pace than earlier this year); and the Dow Jones is up considerably from three years ago (but it’s recently gone down). Given this, why do so many feel like the country is on the wrong track and why are so many pessimistic about the state of the economy? Look no further than this report on American wealth: “Median net worth declined from $126,400 in 2007 to $77,300 in 2010, a Fed survey of family finances found. The median marks the point where half had more and half had less. The recession officially began in December 2007 and ended in June 2009,” the AP reports. (Caveat: This study only goes through 2010.) This could very well be the central challenge for both President Obama and Mitt Romney in this election: Who best understands -- and connects with -- voters who still might have jobs and who still own a house, but who have less money to spend and save and no idea when it will get better?

*** Talk about going off message: We said this yesterday, but we’ll say it again: For all the grief Team Obama got when Bill Clinton and Cory Booker went off message, isn’t what Jeb Bush said yesterday about immigration, taxes, and the state of the Republican Party as -- or even more -- significant? And even more off message? At a pen-and-pad event yesterday sponsored by Bloomberg View, “Mr. Bush questioned the party’s approach to immigration, deficit reduction and partisanship, saying that his father, former President George Bush, and Reagan would struggle with ‘an orthodoxy that doesn’t allow for disagreement,’” the New York Times says. More: “Going one better, he praised his father’s 1990 deficit-reduction deal, which drew the lasting ire of his party’s fiscal hawks for its tax increases.” It is one thing for Bush to say what he did about immigration, but it’s another for him to praise his father’s tax increase. Paging Grover Norquist…

*** Romney’s transparency (or lack thereof): Yesterday, the AP’s Kasie Hunt wrote, “Keeping his secrets, Mitt Romney tends to lift the veil on his finances and campaign only if the law says he must. The Republican presidential candidate refuses to identify his biggest donors who ‘bundle’ money for his campaign. He often declines to say who's meeting with him or what he's doing for hours at a time. He puts limits on media access to his fundraisers. And he resists releasing all of his tax returns, making just a single year public after facing pressure to do so.” A GOP operative close to the Romney campaign told reporters yesterday that enough transparency already exists -- via FEC reports, dismissing a follow-up that bundlers have more influence than a person who donates $250. Inevitably, all recent presidents and presidential nominees get criticized for not being transparent enough. But if he wins the White House in November, Romney could very well be the LEAST transparent president in a generation; after all, the two previous Republican presidential nominees -- George W. Bush and John McCain -- released their bundlers. What is Romney hiding? Is this how a Romney White House would operate? These are all legitimate questions, but questions with which Romney campaign believes in this media age are easy to avoid.

*** This week’s 10 hottest TV markets: Below are this week’s 10 hottest TV markets in the presidential contest (in terms of advertising points from June 11-17). The hottest market is Columbus, OH, which was No. 2 last week; No. 1 last week was Norfolk, VA. Seven of the top 10 most saturated markets are in Virginia and North Carolina -- four in North Carolina, and three are in Virginia.

1. Columbus, OH: Obama 1,420, Crossroads GPS 501, Romney 428, Priorities USA 335
2. Richmond-Petersburg, VA: Romney 1,105, Obama 750, Priorities USA 341, Crossroads GPS 326
3. Des Moines, IA: Romney 982, Obama 772, Planned Parenthood 481, Crossroads 272
4. Roanoke-Lynchburg, VA: Romney 1,106, Obama 842, Crossroads 507
5. Reno, NV: Obama 1,224, Romney 870, Crossroads 341
6. Raleigh-Durham, NC: Romney 1,055, Obama 870, Crossroads 487
7. Greensboro, NC: Romney 1,252, Obama 770, Crossroads 387
8. Norfolk-Portsmouth, VA: Romney 1,004, Obama 700, Crossroads 367, Priorities 283
9. Charlotte, NC: Romney 1,199, Obama 799, Crossroads 333
10. Greenville-Spartanburg-Asheville, NC: Obama 1,175, Crossroads 1040

*** Going rural: Strikingly, both Obama and Romney are focusing on Rural America. Yesterday, the president conducted interviews with several affiliate TV stations on rural issues. And later this week, Romney will embark on his “Every Town Counts” bus tour through battleground states, which will take him through small towns and localities. Of course, this is the time in the campaign season when the candidates can focus on rural areas. By the way, Romney’s bus tour could test his campaign’s discipline. Over the past six weeks, Romney has kept a VERY low profile, giving a speech here and there while hitting the fundraising circuit -- without much interaction with the reporters following him. But that is going to change on Friday with this tour.

The Daily Rundown's Chuck Todd explains how Mitt Romney plans to target small towns in battleground states.

*** Obama’s latest TV ad: In the latest effort hitting Romney’s record as Massachusetts governor -- and trying to undermine his chief strengths -- the Obama campaign is up with a brand-new TV ad that will air in Colorado, Florida, Iowa, North Carolina, New Hampshire, Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. “When Mitt Romney was governor, Massachusetts was No. 1 -- No. 1 in state debt,” the ad goes. “At the same time, Massachusetts fell to 47th in job creation.” It concludes, “First in debt; 47th in job creation. That’s Romney economics.” The Romney camp issued this response to the ad: “President Obama has overseen trillion-dollar deficits, soaring national debt and the first credit downgrade in history. Mitt Romney, on the other hand, closed a $3 billion budget shortfall, balanced four budgets, left a $2 billion rainy day fund and received a credit rating upgrade.”

*** Keystone Light: A new Quinnipiac poll shows Obama ahead of Romney in Pennsylvania by six points among registered voters, 46%-40%. Last month, Obama’s lead was eight points, 47%-39%. Not surprisingly, the president holds the edge with women (51%-36%) and independents (43%-35%) in the state; Romney’s up with men (44%-40%); Obama is seen as more likeable; and Romney is seen as doing a better job on the economy (49%-41%). Also in the poll, Obama’s approval rating is upside down (at 46%-49%), and Gov. Tom Corbett’s (R) approval rating is at an all-time low in the survey (just 36%).

*** On the trail: It’s yet another day of fundraising. Obama holds finance events in Baltimore and Philadelphia… Romney raises in money in Florida, and he also has a public event in Orlando at 9:50 am ET… And Ann Romney fundraises in Linthicum, MD.

*** AZ-8 special: Today, Arizona voters head to the polls in the special congressional election to fill the seat vacated by former Rep. Gabby Giffords (D). In this contest, former Giffords aide Ron Barber (D) -- who was injured in that Jan. 2011 shooting -- faces off against Jesse Kelly (R), who narrowly lost to Giffords in ’10. After Dems lost in last week’s Wisconsin recall, a win for them here would stop some of the party’s bleeding over the past couple of weeks. But a loss would be yet another blow for Democrats. That is what’s on the line tonight. Polls open at 9:00 am ET and close at 10:00 pm ET, and the Arizona’s secretary of state won’t start reporting results until 11:00 pm ET. NBC’s John Boxley reports that Giffords -- accompanied by Barber -- will vote at her polling location at 1:00 pm ET.

Countdown to GOP convention: 76 days
Countdown to Dem convention: 83 days
Countdown to Election Day: 147 days

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