Discuss as:

First Thoughts: The importance of Colorado and Iowa

Why Iowa and Colorado are so important to Obama and Romney… The reason: They make life easier getting to 270… Can Democrats stay unified on the Bush tax cuts?... Romney’s fundraising asterisk… The battle for Senate control… And why it probably hinges on whether or not Obama wins re-election.

Files / AFP - Getty Images

*** The importance of Colorado and Iowa: Today, President Obama and Mitt Romney will campaign in two battleground states that are important to their paths to 270 electoral votes. Obama stumps in Cedar Rapids, IA at 1:50 pm ET, and the Hawkeye State -- which launched his presidential bid in 2008 -- has been frustrating this time around for him. Polls show the president deadlocked with Romney, and reporting like this recent Des Moines Register dispatch suggests that many of the folks who were fired up and ready to go in ’08 aren’t as much in ’12. (Some Obama folks think the president’s problems in Iowa stem from disappointment due to the higher expectations folks in the state had for him.) Here’s why Iowa, despite its six electoral votes, is important to Obama’s path to 270: Winning the state gives him more flexibility. For instance, he could lose FL, OH, and VA and still surpass that magic number if he wins CO, IA, NV, NH, and NM. But if you take Iowa away, then he has to win one of FL, OH, and VA.

The Daily Rundown's Chuck Todd previews the latest campaign stops and why the topic of the day may be taxes.

*** They make life easier getting to 270: Meanwhile, Romney today is in Colorado, where he holds a town hall in Grand Junction at 12:35 pm ET. And just like Obama’s situation with Iowa, Romney winning Colorado gives him MUCH more flexibility getting to 270 electoral votes. For instance, if the former Massachusetts governor wins that state, he can still lose Virginia but win the presidency by capturing FL, IA, NH, and OH. But if he loses Colorado to Obama, then he has to win in Virginia (or another state that John Kerry won in ’04). Bottom line: Obama winning Iowa and Romney winning Colorado makes life a lot easier for them.

*** Can Democrats stay unified on the Bush tax cuts? As for the fight over the Bush tax cuts -- which will be Obama’s message in Iowa today -- the question is whether Democrats remain united with Obama. We know the issue polls well, but the reason why Democrats lost this battle in 2010 is because of squeamish red- or purple-state Democrats. Here are the three Senate Dems (running in races this year) we’re watching: Jon Tester in Montana, Bill Nelson in Florida, and Claire McCaskill in Missouri. Nelson already said yesterday he wants the limit to be $1 million, not Obama’s $250,000. Ditto McCaskill, per Politico.  One other observation here: It’s no coincidence that Obama is making the Bush tax cuts an issue at the very same time his campaign and surrogates are highlighting Romney’s offshore accounts. This is about trying to send the message that the “rich guy” who plays by his own set of rules on paying his own taxes is now fighting for more tax benefits for himself. 

*** Romney’s fundraising asterisk: Although we won’t learn all the details and apples-to-apples comparisons until the FEC reports are due on July 20, here’s what we do know about the presidential money race: For the second-straight month, Team Romney (campaign/RNC/victory fund) outraised Team Obama (campaign/DNC/victory fund), $106 million to $71 million. But there’s an important asterisk to some of this money that folks are forgetting. Romney can’t spend any campaign contributions earmarked for the general election until after his party’s convention in late August. So if one donor gives Romney the maximum contribution to the campaign ($2,500 for the primaries, $2,500 for the general), Romney can spend the first $2,500 now -- but can’t spend the second until September. The Romney camp even admitted this in a memo it released yesterday morning. “[W]e are only allowed to spend primary dollars from now through the convention,” the memo stated. So if you want to know how Romney could be raising more overall money but still be outspent in advertising, here’s your answer.

*** The danger of jumping to conclusions: We want to make an additional point about the money race: Way too many people are jumping to conclusions right now. What appears to be going on is that Romney -- since becoming his party’s presumptive presidential nominee -- is grabbing the big checks from his party (up to $75,000 per donor that goes to the campaign, RNC, and victory fund). If he can keep up this pace in July and August, then we know he has a financial juggernaut on his hands. But if the pace slows down, then you know that his campaign has picked all the low-hanging fundraising fruit. Another thing to keep in mind: While the Romney camp controls the RNC and victory-fund money, there are strings attached to those dollars. (For example: In this presidential contest, coordinated party expenditures are limited to $21.7 million.) And here’s one other point to make: It’s likely that Obama’s June campaign-only haul isn’t far off from the $54 million it raised in June ’08. Those comparisons for the remaining months will be important. Both campaigns are pursuing DIFFERENT financial strategies. Team Obama is going for maximum spending FLEXIBILITY and because they didn’t have to spend primary money on a primary, they have that luxury. Team Romney is looking for maximum fundraising capacity, but it comes with more strings on how much of the money they are raising can be spent on TV advertising.

*** The battle for Senate control: Yesterday’s news that Rep. Shelley Berkley, the Democratic nominee in Nevada’s Senate contest, is under investigation by the House Ethics Committee is a blow to the Dems’ chances of picking up that seat in November. More importantly, it gives them even less margin for error in their effort to hold on to the Senate. This ranking of the GOP’s best pick-up opportunities is an easy way to look at this battle for Senate control:

1 Nebraska
2 North Dakota
3 Montana
4 Missouri
5 Florida
6 Virginia
7 Wisconsin
8 New Mexico
9 Ohio
10 Hawaii

*** And why it could hinge on whether Obama wins: If Obama loses re-election, Republicans need to pick up just three Senate seats to gain control. And if Angus King (I) wins in Maine and if he decides to caucus with the Dems, that moves the number to four. Under this scenario, Republicans winning NE, ND, MT, and MO would do the trick. But if Obama wins re-election, Republicans need to net four Senate seats -- and thus win five if King caucuses with the Dems. So under that scenario, Republicans winning NE, ND, MT, MO, and FL would accomplish that feat. And if Elizabeth Warren (D) beats Scott Brown (R) in Massachusetts, that would push the GOP’s number up to six seats. Bottom line: If Obama wins re-election and if King caucuses with the Dems, they have a much better chance of holding on to the Senate. But if Obama loses, Mitch McConnell is sitting pretty in becoming majority leader.

*** The remaining unknowns: And there are still some unknowns to contend with. Who becomes Claire McCaskill’s challenger in Missouri? (It’s fair to say that one opponent gives her a better chance than the others.) And who will Tammy Baldwin face off against in Wisconsin? (Will it be Tommy Thompson?) And while Nevada looks tougher for Dems after the Berkley news, don’t forget this: Somehow Harry Reid won it in 2010…

Countdown to GOP convention: 48 days
Countdown to Dem convention: 55 days
Countdown to Election Day: 119 days

Click here to sign up for First Read emails.
Text FIRST to 622639, to sign up for First Read alerts to your mobile phone.
Check us out on Facebook and also on Twitter. Follow us @chucktodd, @mmurraypolitics, @DomenicoNBC, @brookebrower