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First Thoughts: All about Medicare

The conversation’s all about Medicare… Remember that “You didn’t build that” economic hit? It was more than three weeks ago… Romney camp trying to narrow the likeability gap… Obama is forced to respond to People and Entertainment Tonight about Biden’s “chains” remark… Ann Romney: “There’s going to be no more tax releases given”… Ryan to talk about China and trade in OH… And when music meets politics.

The Daily Rundown's Chuck Todd explains how the Romney campaign is trying to define Paul Ryan's economic vision.

*** All about Medicare: Five days since Mitt Romney picked Paul Ryan as his running mate, the political conversation remains mostly about … Medicare. On Tuesday, the Romney campaign unveiled a new TV ad hitting President Obama on the topic, accusing him of cutting $716 billion from Medicare. Then yesterday, per NBC’s Ali Weinberg, Obama fired back while stumping in Iowa. “Mr. Romney and his running mate … want to turn Medicare into a voucher program,” he said. “That means seniors would no longer have the guarantee of Medicare; they’d get a voucher to buy private insurance.” Then in Ohio last night, Ryan responded, “The president, I'm told, is talking about Medicare today,” he said. “We want this debate, we need this debate, and we will win this debate.” Also, in an interview with an affiliate, Romney defended his Medicare plan. “[W]hat we're talking about doing is expanding a program that works pretty well known as Medicare Advantage,” he said. And now the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is up with a TV ad hitting Rep. Dan Benishek (R-MI) for supporting the Ryan budget. “Benishek’s voted to essentially end Medicare, forcing seniors to pay over six thousand more a year.”

*** Remember the “You didn’t build that” hit? It was more than three weeks ago: If you’re the Romney campaign, you can take some comfort that Medicare is getting litigated right now -- in the summer. After all, you always knew the Medicare conversation was going to come (both in the presidential contest and the congressional races). On the other hand, the central premise of the Romney campaign, at least from what we’ve heard over the past year, has been the economy. But what are we all talking about today, tomorrow, and probably through the weekend? Medicare. In fact, consider this: The last time the Romney camp and RNC had a coordinated attack on Obama -- focused squarely on the economy -- was the “You didn’t build that” campaign, which scored them some big points. But that coordinated attack came BEFORE Romney’s overseas trip, which began three weeks ago. Ever since then, the main GOP message has been something other than the economy (the overseas trip, the VP speculation, Medicare, welfare, negativity, that Priorities USA ad).

Michelle Obama joined her husband, President Obama, on the trail for an all-out media blitz. NBC's Kristen Welker reports.

*** Trying to narrow the likeability gap… : Yesterday we wrote that Romney was ratcheting up its rhetoric about Obama -- accusing the president’s campaign of engaging in “division and anger and hate” -- to bruise his brand and narrow the likeabilty gap. Well, here are more examples of that strategy today. First, the Romney camp released this statement early this morning: “President Obama is everything he promised he wouldn’t be. Instead of hope and change, he’s running a campaign based on anger and divisiveness that won’t create jobs or fix the economy. Americans deserve better than a president who’s just another Washington politician.” And the RNC is out with an accompanying web video entitled “Anger and Division.” Again, this is all about turning off the middle from Obama. The AP picks up on this theme. “While some GOP strategists question whether Romney’s tactic will work, they agree that he is vulnerable among voters who find Obama more personally appealing. Romney and his allies appear bent on persuading voters that Obama is not what he seems.”

*** … And trying to turn the middle against Obama: The Romney campaign has not substantively made a move to the middle. If anything, the naming of Ryan grounds Romney -- when it comes to the issues -- more in the conservative camp. But if the Romney campaign can make these folks in the middle not like the president, they think they can make gains. It’s not dissimilar to the Obama focus on blue-collar white voters. It’s less about making these folks like the president; it’s more about making them distrust Romney. What does all this spell, a spiral downward…

*** Unchained Melody: How problematic was Vice President Biden’s “chains” comment for the Obama campaign? Enough that the president decided he had to respond to it in interview with People magazine and Entertainment Tonight, of all places. "You know the truth of the matter is, again, this is an example of what the American people hear and what the press corps want to focus on are two very different things, so if we're going to talk about substance, than we should focus on what Joe's comments meant and what they're intended to mean,” Obama told Entertainment Tonight. “And that is we shouldn't roll back Wall Street reforms that are making consumers and the economy a lot more secure." And here’s People: “But Obama, speaking to PEOPLE in Dubuque, Iowa, seemed unrattled by the controversy. He said Biden's words needed to be considered in context; that he was only saying ‘you, consumers, the American people, will be a lot worse off if we repeal these [Wall Street reform] laws as the other side is suggesting.’”

*** Ann Romney: “There’s going to be no more tax releases given”: Tonight, NBC’s “Rock Center” will air Natalie Morales’ interview with Ann Romney. And in that interview, Ann Romney declares -- once again -- that she and her husband won’t be releasing any tax returns prior to 2010. “We have been very transparent to what's legally required of us,” she said. “There's going to be no more tax releases given." Mrs. Romney said if they release any more information, "it will only give them more ammunition."

*** Ryan to talk about China and trade in OH: Today, Paul Ryan is the only presidential or vice-presidential candidate on the stump today. And according to guidance from the campaign, he’s going to talk China and a bit of foreign policy when speaking in Canton, OH at 9:55 am ET. “He will emphasize the need for trade that works for America and the need to make sure that our trading partners play by the rules. China steals our intellectual property, blocks our access to its market, and manipulates its currency,” the campaign says. “A Romney-Ryan administration will crack down on China’s cheating and make sure American businesses and workers can compete and win.”

Marc Piscotty / Getty Images

Republican vice presidential candidate Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., speaks during a rally at Lakewood High School August 14, 2012 in Lakewood, Colorado.

*** When music meets politics: A couple of stories here. First, the band Devo -- “crack that whip!” -- is out with a song satirizing the story of the Romney dog, Seamus, who rode on the roof of the Romneys’ car during an old family vacation. The song is entitled “Don’t Roof Rack Me, Bro!” Second, the alt group Silversun Pickups wants the Romney camp “to immediately stop the use of the rock group's song Panic Switch. And the Romney campaign has no problem with that,” the AP says.

Countdown to GOP convention: 11 days
Countdown to Dem convention: 18 days
Countdown to 1st presidential debate: 48 days
Countdown to VP debate: 56 days
Countdown to 2nd presidential debate: 61 days
Countdown to 3rd presidential debate: 67 days
Countdown to Election Day: 82 days

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