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First Thoughts: Obama 'creates the contrast' in Cleveland

Obama’s speech yesterday: creating the contrast… A speech he probably didn’t want to give, but which probably silenced antsy Democrats and donors… Romney’s rebuttal… Transitioning away from the Silly Season?... Obama’s and Romney’s selective amnesia… It’s all Greek to me: The importance of Sunday’s Greek elections… Romney begins his bus tour in New Hampshire… Today’s Faith & Freedom Conference line-up... And “Meet” has Plouffe and McCain.

From NBC’s Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Brooke Brower, and Natalie Cucchiara:

*** Obama’s “State of the Campaign” speech: Call it a “State of the Campaign” speech. You could tell that his economic address in Cleveland yesterday was a speech that Team Obama didn’t want to have to give. It was a defensive speech -- when your back is against the wall. There was a time in February and March that the president’s campaign team thought they’d be able to give a more optimistic, things-are-turning-around speech. But that’s not the reality. For that very reason, it’s hard to see how this speech could ever go down as one of his best. On the other hand, the speech should be enough to silence antsy supporters and donors, as well as the Chattering Class. Its effectiveness should be measured on whether it brings an end to what’s been a rough couple of weeks.

Jewel Samad / AFP - Getty Images

President Barack Obama speaks on the economy during a campaign event at the Cuyahoga Community College in Cleveland, on June 14, 2012.

*** Creating the contrast: So, yes, it wasn’t President Obama’s best speech. It was long, and it didn’t contain anything new in it. But his speech also will have been a political success if it forces Mitt Romney to answer how his policies are any different than George W. Bush’s. “If you want to give the policies of the last decade another try, then you should vote for Mr. Romney,” Obama said. The White House now hopes Romney will be asked this very question when he hits CBS in his first non-FOX Sunday Show interview of the presidential cycle. As we’ve said before, Obama has to make this election a choice -- not a referendum. Just like Scott Walker was able to do in Wisconsin…

*** Romney’s rebuttal: As for his own speech in Ohio yesterday, Romney continued to fire away at the president, trying to ensure the race is a referendum -- not a choice. “He’s been president for three and a half years, and talk is cheap,” Romney said in Cincinnati. “Actions speak very loud. And if you want to see the results of his economic policies, look around Ohio, look around the country.” The discipline that the Romney campaign has displayed so far is quite impressive. And it’s something that is just frustrating the daylights out of the White House. Romney’s rope-a-dope, at times, seems to almost tire out the punches coming from Chicago. Bottom line: The White House sure misses the GOP primary.

*** Transitioning away from the Silly Season? Yesterday’s dueling speeches by Obama and Romney may very well have marked a new phase to this still-early general election campaign -- a move away from the Silly Season. Don’t get us wrong, there still will be plenty of “silly” moments ahead. But after the past couple of months of Etch A Sketch, Hilary Rosen, Romney’s dancing horse Rafalca, and “the private sector is doing fine,” it’s possible we have entered a new -- and more serious -- phase of this race. What are their plans to improve the economy? Reduce the deficit and reform entitlements? As Obama said yesterday, “More than anything else, this election presents a choice between two fundamentally different visions of how to create strong, sustained growth; how to pay down our long-term debt; and most of all, how to generate good, middle-class jobs so people can have confidence that if they work hard, they can get ahead.”

*** Selective amnesia: Another thing that struck us about yesterday’s dueling speeches by Obama and Romney: their selective amnesia. Romney’s remarks never acknowledged the Bush years -- either their economic record or the financial meltdown that took place before Obama took office. For his part, Obama pretty much skipped over the relatively slow growth and the political stalemate that occurred over the past three years. The election could very well come down to which side does a better job of reminding voters of those things.

*** It’s all Greek to me: Out of all this weekend’s political activity -- Romney’s bus tour and the Faith & Freedom confab (and more on those things below) -- the most important DOMESTIC political event will take place overseas on Sunday in Greece, especially as it relates to November and the world economy. The New York Times: “Greek elections on Sunday could bring urgency to a debate that has been largely academic: whether the euro zone can withstand the departure of one of its members. With a good chance that the elections will produce either a political stalemate or a populist left-wing government in Athens, even people who say they do not believe Greece will drop out of the common currency are preparing for that possibility. “

*** Hop on the bus, Gus: Romney today begins his five-day “Every Town Counts” bus tour in Scamman Farm in Stratham, NH, where he kicked off his presidential campaign in June 2011. He’ll be joined there by New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte. The bus tour rolls through Pennsylvania on Saturday; Ohio (with Sen. Rob Portman) on Sunday; Wisconsin (with Rep. Paul Ryan) and Iowa on Monday; and Michigan on Tuesday. Two points on this bus tour: 1) This will be the most exposure Romney has had seen becoming the GOP’s presumptive nominee. What unexpected pops? 2) By visiting small towns in these battleground states, Romney is going precisely to the places where he hasn’t connected yet with voters. So Team Romney is trying to solve Romney’s own “small town” problem. By the way, the DNC will be launching its own bus tour following Romney around the country…

The Daily Rundown's Chuck Todd previews Mitt Romney's first campaign swing since becoming the nominee.

*** Gotta have faith: Today is the second day of the Faith & Freedom Coalition conference in DC. The line-up: Sen. Rand Paul (9:35 am ET), Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (10:15 am), RNC Chair Reince Preibus 11:25 am), Virginia Senate candidate George Allen (12:15 pm), Newt Gingrich (12:35 pm), Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell (8:15 pm), and Utah Sen. Mike Lee (9:27 pm). On Saturday, Romney (via satellite), Rick Santorum, and Scott Walker are the speakers. And yesterday, Sens. Rob Portman and Marco Rubio -- two top VP possibilities for Romney -- addressed the Faith & Forum confab. NBC’s Andrew Rafferty writes that both men had tough words for Obama and his economic record. 

*** McConnell’s other speech today: In addition to his Faith & Freedom speech today, Mitch McConnell will deliver at the American Enterprise Institute on free speech and the 1st Amendment, and he previews that speech in a Politico op-ed. His beef: Democratic efforts to pass legislation disclosing the names of individuals who write checks to 501(c)4 groups engaging in political activity. He also argues that Democrats are using the IRS to check on these very groups. “No individual or group in this country should have to face harassment or intimidation, or incur crippling expenses, defending themselves against their own government, simply because that government doesn’t like the message they’re advocating,” McConnell writes. “If you can’t convince people of the wisdom of your policies, then you should come up with better arguments. But, sadly, a growing number of people on the left, and now in the government itself, appear to have concluded that they can’t win on the merits. So they’ve resorted to bullying and intimidation. The potential consequences are grave.”

*** On “Meet the Press”: This Sunday, NBC’s David Gregory interviews Obama White House senior adviser David Plouffe and Arizona Sen. John McCain.

Countdown to GOP convention: 73 days

Countdown to Dem convention: 80 days

Countdown to Election Day: 144 days

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