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First Thoughts: Politics takes a back seat

Politics takes a back seat to the tragic shooting in Colorado… With so much at stake in this election, the presidential contest has been so small as of late… Latest Romney TV ad hits Obama for “you didn’t build that” remark (and it selectively edits his remarks)… And while campaigning in Florida, Obama is expected to hit back at this charge (though that was the plan before the Colorado shootings)… Looking at Battleground Florida… It appears Romney’s VP pick will come out next month… June FEC reports are due today… And breaking down John Thune’s strengths and weakness as a potential VP pick.

President Barack Obama and GOP nominee Mitt Romney both release statements expressing shock and grief over the mass shootings at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado.

*** Politics takes a back seat: The tragic shooting in Colorado means that politics and the Obama-vs.-Romney presidential race will take a back seat today -- and probably throughout the weekend. President Obama, who was notified of the shooting at 5:26 am, has released this statement: “Michelle and I are shocked and saddened by the horrific and tragic shooting in Colorado. Federal and local law enforcement are still responding, and my administration will do everything that we can to support the people of Aurora in this extraordinarily difficult time…  As we do when confronted by moments of darkness and challenge, we must now come together as one American family.” Mitt Romney also released a statement: “We are praying for the families and loved ones of the victims during this time of deep shock and immense grief. We expect that the person responsible for this terrible crime will be quickly brought to justice." For now, the Romney campaign says the candidate’s schedule will go on. As for the president, his first public event is scheduled for later this morning where he’s likely to speak about the tragedy for the first time on camera.

*** Small ball: Given today’s tragic news and given that one of us just returned from a weeklong vacation, you realize just how small the presidential campaign has been of late. With so much at stake in this election -- the direction of the country’s foreign policy, the future of the social safety net, the fate of the Bush tax cuts, the direction of the U.S. Supreme Court -- we’ve seen the campaigns and political coverage focus on when, exactly, did Romney leave Bain Capital. On whether Romney will release his tax returns. Or on the charge whether the nation’s first African-American president really believes in the American Dream. That’s not to say that some of these stories aren’t important to examine (and we look at some of them today). But right now, the daily campaign back-and-forth is missing the BIGNESS of this presidential contest. And we pose this question: Will voters punish the candidates who are unable to embrace this bigness?  By the way, it isn’t just this week that the presidential race has looked small. You could pick just about any given week of this campaign THIS YEAR and say the same thing. The disconnect becomes more striking when you take a break from it, even for a few days.

*** Latest Romney ad hits Obama for “you didn’t build that” (and selectively edits his remarks): Speaking of this small ball, the Romney campaign is up with a new 30-second TV ad trying to capitalize on Obama’s “you didn’t build that remark” from last week. The ad begins with the president saying: “If you’ve been successful, you didn’t get there on your own. If you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.” But as has been pointed out by others, that quote is selectively edited. Here’s what Obama actually said, in the context of higher tax rates for the wealthy: “If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business -- you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.” Indeed, when you read those words, the “you didn’t build that” referred to roads and bridges, not someone building their own business.  

*** And Obama will push back on this charge: That said, the Obama campaign seems to realize this line of attack -- no matter how out of context -- could be a problem, and they’re going to walk back the comment (they are calling it) “fight back” during his campaign appearances in Florida today (Ft. Myers at 11:20 am ET and Winter Park at 4:10 pm ). NBC’s Kristen Welker reports that, according to a campaign official, Obama is expected to “counterpunch” this Romney charge. “As he has many times before, the president will talk about his longtime belief in the drive and ingenuity of the American worker and his ongoing commitment to ensuring entrepreneurs and small businesses have the tools they need to succeed,” the campaign official says. “He will also highlight how Mitt Romney's economic agenda would be devastating for small businesses.” Of course, all this was planned PRE-Aurora. Don’t be surprised if the attack or counterpunch gets pulled today.

*** Battleground Florida: Given Obama’s campaign events in the Sunshine State, it’s worth noting how Florida is the battleground no one can get their heads around the state. And the campaigns are clearly struggling to get their arms around it, too. With the state’s economy and its housing market, the state shouldn’t even be on the table for the president. But its demographics – as well as some parts of the state that have recovered well – show why the polls have it as a toss-up. One more thing to consider about Florida: Its voters traditionally don’t get engaged in a campaign until VERY LATE in the process so this will be a state that is likely to get a LOT more attention in September and October.

*** It looks like Romney’s VP pick will come next month: If Mitt Romney doesn’t announce his vice-presidential pick today, it’s highly unlikely that he’ll do it before he departs on his overseas trip in the middle of next week. Why? Because there wouldn’t be enough time to do a multi-day, multi-battleground state rollout with the new ticket. What’s more, the VP selection would overshadow -- at least domestically -- the upcoming foreign trip. And so far, the signs aren’t pointing to Romney making his VP pick today. He’s holding a campaign event in New Hampshire at 12:10 pm ET (with Sen. Kelly Ayotte). But wife Ann is campaigning around that very same time in Michigan. You would think that if Romney were unveiling his vice-presidential selection, his wife would be there for that announcement. And even if the campaign wanted to do it today, the tragic news out of Colorado probably ends those plans. Bottom line: Romney most likely isn’t making his pick today, and therefore he most likely won’t announce it until returning from his overseas trip.

*** FEC reports are due today: Today is July 20, which means that the June fundraising reports by the candidates, national parties, and Super PACs are due to the Federal Election Commission by midnight. And once those reports are in, we’ll get to see the cash-on-hand numbers, the burn rates, and the actual apples-to-apples fundraising comparisons between the Obama and Romney camps. In fact, as we’ve pointed out before, don’t be surprised if the Obama campaign actually outraised the Romney campaign in June. Where Team Romney probably made up the difference -- and more -- is with the RNC vs. DNC and victory fund vs. victory fund fundraising. Even though the presidential campaigns control the party/victory fund money, the distinctions matters because party/victory fund money come with strings attached.

*** More on Romney and Bain: The Boston Globe today takes a deep look at Romney’s departure (sort of) from Bain Capital. “Shortly after Mitt Romney took a leave of absence from Bain Capital to run the Olympics in February 1999, he made a trip to Palm Beach, Fla… Romney and his partners had decided that, in his absence, five managing directors would oversee the company. And in Palm Beach it became clearer that Romney was unlikely to return — but would retain his title as chief executive officer and sole shareholder… Interviews with a half-dozen of Romney’s former partners and associates, as well as public records, show that he was not merely an absentee owner during this period. He signed dozens of company documents, including filings with regulators on a vast array of Bain’s investment entities. And he drove the complex negotiations over his own large severance package, a deal that was critical to the firm’s future without him, according to his former associates. Indeed, by remaining CEO and sole shareholder, Romney held on to his leverage in the talks that resulted in his generous 10-year retirement package, according to former associates.”

*** John Thune’s strengths… : Just like Romney, Sen. John Thune (R-SD) looks the part -- he’s handsome and telegenic… He also could help with evangelicals, and he’s revered in conservative circles for defeating then-Democratic Senate leader Tom Daschle… He was an early Romney endorser, giving his support in Iowa, which borders South Dakota, in hopes of helping Romney in the caucuses.

*** … and his weaknesses: Thune wouldn’t give Romney a geographical advantage; South Dakota is solid Republican (although, as mentioned above, it borders Iowa)…  He’s a former lobbyist, and that past work could play directly into Obama attacks…. He also voted for TARP in 2008, which wouldn’t please the conservative/Tea Party base… And this might contradict GOP fiscal debt/deficit message: Thune was named "Porker of the Month" by a watchdog group in Nov. 2006. 

Countdown to GOP convention: 38 days
Countdown to Dem convention: 45 days

Countdown to Election Day: 109 days

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