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First Thoughts: Here comes Medicare

Obama to make Medicare attack against Romney when he campaigns in Florida today… Romney camp and RNC counter with their own one-two punch hitting Obama… The conclusion from three new national polls: The Obama-Romney race is still deadlocked… How Team Romney has responded to the adversity it’s faced on Bain Capital and those tax returns: 1) by fighting back, 2) by changing the subject, and 3) by still not answering the questions… Remember when gas prices were a political issue?... And profiling Paul Ryan’s strengths and weaknesses as a potential VP pick.

Saul Loeb / AFP - Getty Images

President Barack Obama arrives to speak during a campaign event at Austin Music Hall in Austin, Texas, July 17, 2012.

*** Here comes Medicare: The past few weeks on the presidential campaign trail have featured aggressive attacks and counterattacks. On outsourcing by Bain Capital. On Mitt Romney’s post-1999 association with that firm, as well has his tax returns. On charges of “crony capitalism” in the Obama administration. And on President Obama’s views about business. And today when Obama begins a two-day swing through the crucial state of Florida -- with all of its seniors -- he’ll introduce another attack: hitting Romney on Medicare and the Ryan budget. Per the campaign, the president “will discuss his commitment to strengthening Medicare, and a new report tomorrow that highlights the devastating impact Mitt Romney's Medicare plan could have on the 3.4 million Floridians that rely on Medicare.” Bottom line, per the campaign’s guidance: Obama will argue that Romney -- through his support for the Ryan budget plan -- advocates ending Medicare “as we know it.” Obama starts his Florida swing with a 1:25 pm ET event in Jacksonville, and then he heads to West Palm Beach at 6:20 pm. Tomorrow in the Sunshine State, he hits Ft. Myers and Winter Park.

During his campaign stop, the Obama campaign plans to take Mitt Romney to task over taxes and make Medicare part of the president's pitch to the senior citizens in the state.

*** And here’s the Romney/RNC one-two punch: For its part, the Romney campaign is continuing to highlight Obama’s “you did not build that” remark last week by producing a web video featuring a New Hampshire businessman, Jack Gilchrist, criticizing the president. (But Gilchrist isn't some undecided, non-political NH business owner: Romney held an event at his metal fabrication business earlier this year and while there, Gilchrist spoke to the crowd and declared he was suffering from "Obama Trauma.”) Meanwhile, RNC Chairman Reince Priebus is holding a press conference in Philadelphia at 10:30 am hitting Obama on the stimulus and for sending money that benefited overseas firms. “President Obama took half a billion dollars of your taxpayer money and gave it to Fisker Automotive because they promised to create jobs at their Wilmington plant and to hire workers here in the Delaware Valley,” Priebus is expected to say. “Fisker took that money—your money—but they didn’t create jobs for you… And Fisker is still building their cars in Finland.” (But the same fact-checker that Team Romney cites to defend itself on the Bain outsourcing charges, the Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler, has written that the stimulus money for Fisker was earmarked for jobs and work in the U.S.)

*** Still deadlocked: Despite all the back-and-forths and despite Romney’s tough July, three new national polls show the presidential contest to be where the other surveys have had it -- essentially deadlocked. The latest New York Times/CBS poll has it Romney 47% Obama 46%; a FOX poll has it Obama 45% Romney 41%; and an NPR poll has it Obama 47% Romney 46% (with both men tied in the battleground states). So after Romney’s not-so-good month, the race remains where it’s been. And the same was true after Obama’s rough June. This all means that we’re unlikely to see real movement in this race -- at least nationally -- until after the conventions and the fall debates.

*** How Team Romney responded to its adversity: by fighting back: But as the saying goes, you can learn a lot about someone in how he deals with adversity. The same is true in presidential politics. So what have we learned about Mitt Romney after what's been his roughest patch of the general election. First, he's fought back. After some began dropping words like “wimp factor” and “Dukakis-ized” to describe Romney, the candidate came out swinging in back-to-back campaign appearances on Tuesday in Pennsylvania and Wednesday in Ohio. In fact, he was as aggressive -- if not more so -- than we’ve seen him on the stump. "In the last six months, [Obama] has held 100 fundraisers and guess how many meetings he has had with his jobs council. None. Zero," Romney said yesterday in Bowling Green, OH, per NBC’s Garrett Haake.

*** By changing the subject: Second, we learned that Romney and his campaign clearly thought the intense focus on his taxes and his tenure at Bain was a problem. That has to explain why the campaign did everything it could to change the subject -- from hitting Obama on the stimulus, on the out-of-context “you did not build that” and on the jobs council, to having surrogates dredge up Tony Rezko, socialism, youthful drug use and doubts if the president is really an American. “I wish this president would learn how to be an American,” former New Hampshire Gov. John Sununu said on a Tuesday campaign conference call. Sununu later walked back that comment.

*** And by still not answering the questions: Third, we learned that these negative stories about Romney -- on his taxes and on Bain Capital -- aren't necessarily going away. Why? Because Romney and his campaign still haven’t answered the questions in front of them. Indeed, despite Romney’s insistence that he played no active role at Bain Capital after leaving to run the Olympics in early 1999, Buzzfeed reports that the website of the Salt Lake 2002 Winter Olympics listed Romney as “the founder and CEO of Bain Capital Inc.” And Buzzfeed also has video of Romney being introduced at a post-1999 National Press Club appearance as -- again -- “the founder and CEO of Bain Capital.” So while Romney may have given up control of day-to-day operations, he still had clear and obvious ties to the firm. And as for the candidate’s tax returns prior to 2010, more Republicans (including Sens. Olympia Snowe, Dick Lugar, and Chuck Grassley) have called for Romney to release them. All it takes for this story to return to the headlines is for any other Republican to join this call.

*** Gas prices, remember those? A headline overlooked yesterday from Politico: “The gas price disaster that didn’t materialize.” Remember way back (in March) the issue of rising gas prices became a GOP political weapon. There was a threat of $6 a gallon gas; Romney calling for the firing of what he dubbed the “gas hike trio” – EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, Energy Secretary Steven Chu, and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar; the Keystone Pipeline; how President Obama’s energy policies were actually the cause for the spike; talk of tapping the Strategic Petroleum Reserve; and cracking down on speculators. “We'll see how short-lived people's memories are,” Oklahoma Rep. James Lankford told NBCNews.com’s Michael O’Brien back then when asked what if gas prices decline. It just shows how quickly the rhetoric and the subject can change in politics.

*** Paul Ryan’s strengths…: As chairman of the House Budget Committee, the 42-year-old Ryan is a young rising star in the GOP, and has become their chief spokesman when it comes to reducing the deficit and debt… Romney picking Ryan as his running mate would signal that he’s doubling down on an austerity/deficit-reduction message…  Ryan hails from a battleground state -- Wisconsin -- where polls show Romney currently trailing Obama; Obama actually won Ryan’s district in 2008, 51%-47%... Comfort level: When Romney campaigned with Ryan in the lead-up to the April 3 Wisconsin primary, the two men demonstrated a rapport that we haven’t seen with other Romney surrogates… He would be a person who could please both the conservative intelligentsia and the Tea Party base.

*** … and his weaknesses: Ryan’s budget plan has become a lightning rod, and it will be a focus of Democratic attacks in the fall. The most controversial component of the plan is that it significantly transforms Medicare, which is regarded as the government’s most popular program… There are also holes in Ryan’s budget-hawk armor: He voted for some of the biggest drivers of the deficit/debt -- the Bush tax cuts, the Iraq war, and the Medicare prescription-drug benefit, all of which weren’t paid for. Moreover, Ryan voted against the bipartisan Simpson-Bowles recommendations… A member of Congress, Ryan has never held statewide office. He also has no foreign-policy experience. Both could be liabilities.

Countdown to GOP convention: 39 days
Countdown to Dem convention: 46 days
Countdown to Election Day: 110 days

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