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First Thoughts: The economy takes a back seat

With the Ryan pick, the economy -- at least for now -- has taken a back seat… That’s just one reason why GOP political consultants are wringing their hands… Romney trying to have it both ways on Ryan budget… Today’s messaging battle: Obama to hit Romney on wind while in Iowa, and Romney to blast Obama on coal in Ohio… Christie and Rubio get their official roles at the GOP convention… This week’s 10 hottest advertising markets… And it’s primary day in Connecticut, Florida, and Wisconsin.

Shannon Stapleton / Reuters

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney speaks with vice presidential running mate Congressman Paul Ryan on their campaign bus before a campaign event in Waukesha, Wisconsin August 12, 2012.

*** The economy takes a back seat: There was always a definite upside to Mitt Romney picking Paul Ryan as his running mate: You make the presidential contest about a big clash of ideas; Romney’s campaign is now about something. But there also was an obvious downside for Romney: You turn the race into a conversation about Medicare, entitlements and the role of government, relegating a discussion about the economy to the back seat -- at least for the time being. Yes, Romney talked about the economy yesterday in Florida. And yes, Ryan talked about it in Iowa, too. But what was yesterday’s dominant political story? Medicare. What’s the subject of the Romney campaign’s heavily played TV ad? Welfare (which is a role-of-government issue). What’s the subject matter of its latest TV ad? Criticizing the Obama campaign over that pro-Obama Super PAC advertisement. And what does today’s official news that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie will be delivering the keynote at the GOP convention suggest? We’re coming after government. (After all, New Jersey’s unemployment rate stands at 9.6%, well above the national average.) For now, the issue of the economy is no longer driving this presidential contest. And you have to ask yourself: Which campaign benefits the most from that?

As NBC's Chuck Todd reports, the battle is on to define Rep. Paul Ryan with Democrats trying to paint him as an ideological warrior determined to end Medicare and Republicans trying to sell him as the serious candidate with an intelligent plan to get the country out of debt.

*** As GOP consultants start wringing their hands: Speaking of, Politico is the latest to note plenty of GOP handwringing about the Ryan pick. Said Mark McKinnon in the piece: “I think it’s a very bold choice. And an exciting and interesting pick. It’s going to elevate the campaign into a debate over big ideas. It means Romney-Ryan can run on principles and provide some real direction and vision for the Republican Party. And probably lose. Maybe big.” A GOP consultant added in the article: “Whether or not they [the Romney campaign] want to say that they have their own plan on Day One, or whatever they’re doing, it doesn’t change the reality of them having to own the Ryan plan. How is that in the wheelhouse of creating jobs?” Another one said, “The most popular phrase in Washington right now is: ‘I love Paul Ryan, but...'” The same consultant went on to say, “If they win the battle to define Medicare, then I believe Romney wins the presidency. If they lose it, then they lose big in the fall.” Keep this in mind: For the past six months, Republican strategists have been devising a campaign that was focused on running against the Obama economy and inoculating themselves on the Ryan budget because of Medicare. Most of these Republican campaigns were looking for ways to distance themselves from the Ryan budget without alienating the base. They no longer have that option, which is why there’s so much GOP handwringing.

The Daily Rundown's Chuck Todd explains how the race to define Paul Ryan will move to five battleground states Tuesday.

*** Trying to have it both ways: Yesterday in Florida, as NBC’s Garrett Haake noted, Romney told reporters that he couldn’t think of how his views on Medicare differed from Paul Ryan’s. “[M]y plan for Medicare is very similar to his plan, which is ‘Do not change the program for current retirees or near-retirees but do not do what the president has done and that is to cut $700 billion out of the current program.” But there was one hitch: It turns out that Ryan’s budget assumes those same $700 billion in Medicare cuts. And that revelation forced the Romney campaign to issue this statement yesterday distancing itself a bit from Ryan’s budget: "Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan have always been fully committed to repealing Obamacare, ending President Obama’s $716 billion raid on Medicare, and tackling the serious fiscal challenges our country faces… A Romney-Ryan administration will restore the funding to Medicare.” So let’s get this straight: Romney couldn’t name a difference with Ryan on Medicare -- until his campaign found out that Ryan’s budget contradicted his top defense against the Democrats’ Medicare attacks (“Obama cut Medicare, too!”).

Newt Gingrich, the former Speaker and presidential contender, tells TODAY's Matt Lauer that Mitt Romney's running mate Paul Ryan is accustomed to reaching across the aisle to find solution by working with Democrats.

*** Wind vs. coal: Today’s messaging battle on the campaign trail will be over energy -- wind vs. coal. In remarks he’ll deliver in Iowa today, President Obama will discuss his support (and Mitt Romney’s opposition) to tax credits for wind-energy companies. “Thirty-seven-thousand jobs across this country … depend on wind energy, including 7,000 jobs in Iowa, more than in any other state,” the Obama campaign says in an email. Already, Iowa Republicans like Gov. Terry Branstad have criticized Romney’s campaign for opposing these tax credits, calling his staffers a “bunch of East Coast people that need to get out here in the real world to find out what's really going on.” Ouch. Meanwhile, as Romney stumps in eastern Ohio today, he’ll hit Obama on coal. The presumptive GOP presumptive nominee “plans to discuss a long-simmering coal country gripe about congressional Democrats and the White House,” the Cleveland Plain Dealer report. “President Barack Obama, says Romney as well as other Republicans, is using a misguided regulatory and environmental crusade to take the jobs of coal miners in the hills and valleys near the Ohio River.”

*** Christie, Rubio officially get their roles at the GOP convention: As mentioned above, Gov. Chris Christie told USA Today that he’ll deliver the keynote address at the GOP convention; NBC’s Jamie Gangel was the first to report about Christie’s keynote role at the convention. The New Jersey governor told USA Today that “he plans to make an ‘emphatic’ argument on behalf of GOP approaches and shared sacrifice to face the nation's biggest challenges.” And we’ve also learned that Sen. Marco Rubio will introduce Romney on the final night of the GOP convention. The

Mitt Romney's running mate, VP contender Paul Ryan, has a voting record that – at times – conflicts with his political identity as a fiscal conservative. NBC's Kelly O'Donnell reports.

*** This week’s 10 hottest markets: Here’s First Read’s weekly look at this week’s 10 hottest advertising markets in the presidential contest (in terms of advertising points from 8/13 to 8/19). Our big takeaway: Iowa, Iowa, Iowa. Four of the top 10 markets are in Hawkeye State -- Des Moines (#3), Cedar Rapids (#7), Quad Cities (#8), and Sioux City (#9). Also, Team Romney (the campaign, RNC, outside groups) is outspending Team Obama by more than 2-to-1, $25 million to $11 million.

1. Roanoke-Lynchburg (Romney 1000, Obama 790, ROF 675, AFP 630, RNC 215)
2. Colorado Springs (Romney 990, Obama 715, ROF 615, AFP 575, RNC 245, Priorities 120)
3. Des Moines (Obama 1100, Romney 840, AFP 550, ROF 475, RNC 200)
4. Denver (Obama 1000, Romney 950, AFP 430, ROF 415, RNC 250, Priorities 200)
5. Charlotte (Romney 950, Obama 815, ROF 580, AFP 500, RNC 240, MoveOn.org 20)
6. Richmond-Petersburg (Romney 965, Obama 775, Priorities 415, AFP 360, ROF 350, RNC 185)
7. Cedar Rapids (Obama 960, Romney 830, AFP 550, ROF 490, RNC 200)
8. Quad Cities (Obama 1000, Romney 970, AFP 400, ROF 350, RNC 130)
9. Sioux City (Obama 775, Romney 745, AFP 600, ROF 550, RNC 200)
10. Tampa (Obama 850, Romney 775, ROF 500, AFP 500)

*** On the trail: Obama remains in Iowa, stumping in Oskaloosa at 12:25 pm ET and Marshalltown at 4:45 pm ET… Romney campaigns in Ohio, making stops in Beallsville at 12:30 pm, Zanesville at 3:40 pm, and Chillicothe at 7:25 pm… Ryan visits Colorado, while Biden is in Virginia.

*** If it’s Tuesday… : It’s primary day in Connecticut, Florida, and Wisconsin. And perhaps the most interesting race will be the Senate GOP primary in Wisconsin, where former Gov. Tommy Thompson, former Rep. Mark Neumann, businessman Eric Hovde, and others are fighting for the opportunity to take on Democrat Tammy Baldwin in the fall. The question here is whether Paul Ryan being in the news has an impact on this race and who it might benefit. In Connecticut’s Senate contest, Republicans Linda McMahon and Chris Shays are duking it out, while Democrats Chris Murphy and Susan Bysiewicz are competing for their party’s nod. And in Florida, Connie Mack is expected to easily win Florida’s GOP Senate primary for the right to take on Sen. Bill Nelson (D) in the fall.

Countdown to GOP convention: 13 days
Countdown to Dem convention: 20 days
Countdown to 1st presidential debate: 50 days
Countdown to VP debate: 58 days
Countdown to 2nd presidential debate: 63 days
Countdown to 3rd presidential debate: 69 days
Countdown to Election Day: 84 days

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