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First Thoughts: Throwing the kitchen sink

Brian Snyder / Reuters

Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney speaks at a campaign rally in Mansfield, Ohio September 10, 2012.

Romney camp tries throwing kitchen sink at Obama, which seems to come from a position of weakness rather than strength… But Team Romney insists the race remains focused on the economy… New WaPo/ABC poll, which shows the contest essentially tied among likely voters, couldn’t have come at a better time for Romney… But is it enough to stop the conservative handwringing?... Remembering 9/11 today… And remembering 9/15 later this week… Bill Clinton stumps for Obama in Florida… And comparing the ’12 Nielsen ratings with ’08 and ’04.

*** Throwing the kitchen sink: In boxing, you know one fighter is trailing in points when, in the final rounds, he throws everything he can to land a knockout blow against his opponent. The same is largely true in presidential politics. And so yesterday while campaigning in Ohio, we saw Mitt Romney and his team try to throw the kitchen sink at President Obama. Yes, he did touch on the economy. ("I was surprised in the president’s speech at the Democrat convention he didn’t mention unemployment. He didn’t mention 47 million people on food stamps.”) But what was striking was his focus on issues other than the economy -- such as trying to make hay out of last week’s Democratic platform snafu, although he dropped his coins/currency line. (“If I become president of the United States, I will not take God out of my heart, I will not take God out of the public square, and I will not take it out of the platform of my party.") What’s more, his campaign seized on the teacher strike in Chicago. (“President Obama has chosen his side in this fight, sending his vice president last year to assure the nation’s largest teachers union that ‘you should have no doubt about my affection for you and the president’s commitment to you,’” he said in a statement.) And the campaign used the Woodward book to argue that Obama can’t lead.

*** Romney camp: “Every day and everywhere we go, we talk the economy”: The Romney campaign contends that its main argument is still the economy, pointing to its new round of economic-focused TV ads. “Every day and everywhere we go, we talk the economy,” a Romney official tells First Read. In addition, the campaign explains that Team Obama talks a lot about other issues, too (like abortion, Planned Parenthood, national security). But when you’re behind after the conventions -- as both Gallup and CNN polls find -- the emphasis on other issues (God, the Chicago strike, Woodward) seems to come from a position of weakness rather than strength.

*** New WaPo/ABC poll shows the race essentially tied: That’s why the new Washington Post/ABC poll couldn’t have come at a better time for the Romney campaign, because it counters the emerging C.W. that Obama is beginning to pull away after the conventions. “The survey shows that the race remains close among likely voters, with Obama at 49 percent and Romney at 48 percent, virtually unchanged from a poll taken just before the conventions,” the Washington Post writes. “But among a wider sample of all registered voters, Obama holds an apparent edge, topping Romney at 50 percent to 44 percent, and has clear advantages on important issues in the campaign when compared with his rival.”

*** Is it enough to stop the conservative handwringing? The Washington Post/ABC poll also couldn’t have come soon enough because it might help stop -- for now -- some of the handwringing we’re seeing from prominent conservatives. John Podhoretz writes that the Romney camp is “too intent on winning over the small batch of uncommitted and independent voters by saying absolutely nothing that might possibly offend them. The problem with that strategy is a) it means he doesn’t say much, and b) it does nothing to stimulate the enthusiasm of those already in his corner.” Byron York adds, “Republican nervousness is spreading and threatens to turn into a stampede. For months, GOP strategists have told themselves that no president since World War II has been re-elected with an unemployment rate above 7.2 percent. But some are beginning to wonder: What if Obama can do it?” And here was Laura Ingraham yesterday: "If you can't beat Barack Obama with this record, then shut down the party. Shut it down. Start new, with new people."

*** Cook piles on: But it’s not just conservatives. Check out today’s column from political analyst Charlie Cook. “It is becoming clear that if President Obama is reelected, it will be despite the economy and because of his campaign; if Mitt Romney wins, it will be because of the economy and despite his campaign.” More Cook: “The Romney campaign made the extraordinary decision to not try seriously to connect their candidate with voters on a personal level until their convention. As dubious as that decision was, they were rewarded by having a convention shortened by a day due to a hurricane, then compounded the error of waiting until the convention by putting much of what was most needed to be seen in the 8 and 9 p.m. hours, when the only viewers would be C-SPAN fans. Wow! The biographical film and the testimonials of people whose lives had been touched by Romney were powerful, necessary, and largely unseen.”

*** Remembering 9/11: President Obama (with the first lady) holds a moment of silence at the White House at 8:46 am ET, and then (with Defense Secretary Panetta) delivers remarks at the Pentagon at 9:30 am ET. Later in the day, the president heads to Walter Reed Hospital to visit with wounded soldiers… Vice President Biden is in Shanksville, PA… And Mitt Romney, in Reno, NV, addresses the National Guard Association at 2:15 pm ET. Romney already released this statement: “Today we again extend our most profound gratitude to our brave troops who have gone into battle, some never to return, so that we may live in peace. On this most somber day, those who would attack us should know that we are united, one nation under God, in our determination to stop them and to stand tall for peace and freedom at home and across the world.”

*** And remembering 9/15, too: While we’re focused on today’s remembrance, don’t lose sight of another anniversary this week -- the Sept. 15, 2008 collapse of Lehman Brothers. It’s worth noting that the retrospectives we might see of that anniversary could further the narrative that the Obama campaign and Democrats want to tell: that the country is better off from four years ago beginning on Sept. 15, 2008. It’s also an opportunity for third-party validators to talk about the deep hole the country was in from 2008 to early 2009. Now conservatives and critics might use the anniversary to examine TARP’s effectiveness and to make the case that Wall Street is better off than Main Street. But overall, 9/15 advances the narrative of the U.S. economy’s dire shape four years ago.

*** Clinton stumps in Florida: While the presidential candidates are taking a day off from the actual campaign trail, Bill Clinton is hitting the stump for President Obama. Fresh off his well-received convention speech -- a Pew poll finds that a plurality thought it was the highlight of entire Dem convention -- Clinton visits Miami at 4:30 pm ET. And tomorrow, he campaigns in Orlando. Given these appearances in the Sunshine State, don’t be surprised if the former president reprises his Medicare arguments from last week. And take it from a pretty source that Clinton’s campaign activity will occur in these four states (all with older whites or working-class whites): Florida, Nevada, New Hampshire, and Ohio.

*** Comparing the ’12 convention ratings with ’08 and ’04: And speaking of the conventions, here’s a look at the Nielsen ratings. The 36 million and 30 million who tuned in, respectively, for Obama’s and Romney’s acceptance speeches is down from four years ago (Obama got 38 million in 2008 and McCain got 39 million). But they are both up from 2004, which might be the more comparable election (Bush got 28 million and Kerry 24 million).

Kerry in ’04: 24 million
Obama in ’08: 38 million
Obama in ’12: 36 million

Bush in ’04: 28 million
McCain in ’08: 39 million
Romney in ’12: 30 million

Countdown to 1st presidential debate: 22 days
Countdown to VP debate: 30 days
Countdown to 2nd presidential debate: 35 days
Countdown to 3rd presidential debate: 41 days
Countdown to Election Day: 56 days

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