Discuss as:

First Thoughts: 50 days out

We’re 50 days out, and both campaigns start off the week in a not-so-comfortable place… For the Obama camp, it’s the unrest in the Middle East; for the Romney camp, it’s the circular firing squad… Team Romney goes up with new TV ads as conservatives begin to grow restless… Obama, in Ohio, to announce WTO demand to crack down on China… Romney, in Los Angeles, to make his pitch to Latino voters… And new Obama TV ad -- on fourth anniversary of Lehman collapse -- argues that the country IS better off than it was four years ago.

NBC's Chuck Todd reports on how the Mideast violence is impacting the 2012 presidential race, and what it means for both sides.

*** 50 days out: With 50 days to go until Election Day, neither campaign is starting off this week in a comfortable place. The Obama camp is dealing with the start of a second week of protests in the Arab world over that anti-Muslim movie. If this story doesn’t die down in the next few days -- and NBC’s Richard Engel reported on “TODAY” that the protests don’t appear to be as vigorous as they were last week -- then this could be a major problem for the Obama White House and the re-election campaign. Meanwhile, Team Romney, after being criticized last week for its response to the embassy attacks, is contending with a different kind of unrest: a blame game for all of its current problems and strategy. We also are just a little more than two weeks out before the first debate, and both principals are studying hard. NBC’s Garrett Haake reported that Romney spent hours yesterday morning at a hotel in Burlington, MA, doing debate prep with Rob Portman serving as the Obama stand-in. And we can report that when President Obama visited the DNC on Friday, it was for a debate practice session with Sen. John Kerry, who is playing Romney in the mock debates.

As the White House gets defensive over the Middle East turmoil, the Daily Rundown's Chuck Todd discusses whether the protests will increase or end this week.

*** The finger-pointing begins: Last night’s Politico story -- describing disorganization inside the Romney campaign, with most of the attention focused on campaign strategist Stuart Stevens -- isn’t surprising in a presidential campaign. After all, when the going gets tough, campaign advisers and consultants start pointing fingers. But what IS surprising is that such an article is coming so soon, before the debates and before this race is truly decided. But the Politico piece is more than a story about Stevens and other Romney officials; it’s a story about Mitt Romney. How could someone who has campaigned on his managerial experience, including running a billion-dollar enterprise -- in Politico’s telling -- make something as basic as writing a convention acceptance speech seem so chaotic? As the article even quips, the campaign structure has become so unwieldy that it badly needs a consultant from Bain & Co. to fix things. Bottom line: This kind of article doesn’t get written about winning campaigns. Then again, this race isn’t over. But oh, what a bad narrative it feeds at the start of this week.

Barack Obama and Mitt Romney

*** Romney’s response and conservatives growing increasingly restless: Given that the race isn’t over, how does the Romney campaign -- down in the polls after the conventions -- respond? Well, this morning it’s out with two new TV ads, one of which argues that Obama has failed middle-class families with household income declining and the nation’s debt increasing. The other TV ad lays out what Romney would do for the middle class: crack down on China, balance the budget, and champion small businesses. They are more sharply focused spots than we’ve seen previously; they even have the feel of a “re-launch” if you will. But will these ads be enough to placate restless conservatives? Erick Erickson at Red State today has a piece entitled: “If the Election Were Held Today Barack Obama Would Win.” The Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin, who has been a staunch defender of the Romney campaign, argues that it has five problems: 1) poor surrogates, 2) too slow to respond to events, 3) too little explanation, 4) not enough leadership talk, 5) and not enough context. And Bill Kristol, writing in the Weekly Standard, contends that Romney needs to distance himself from George W. Bush and talk more about national security.

*** Going big (at least this week): The Romney campaign, at least this week, appears to be back believing they need to win a NATIONAL argument, not get caught up in state-by-state spats (like sequester in Virginia, or Medicare in Florida). But how big will they go? To beat an incumbent, you don’t do it state by state. Rather, you win the LARGE argument. That’s the unifying critique of the Romney campaign in all these conservative criticisms above. Win the larger message and the state polls will follow.

*** The politics of China: Dealing with China is one issue where the Obama camp has been VERY sensitive and where the Romney camp has been VERY aggressive (just see that new Romney TV ad mentioned above). As Obama stumps in Ohio today, the Cleveland Plain Dealer first reported that the White House will ask the World Trade Organization to demand that China “stop subsidizing auto parts made for export, arguing the practice undercuts manufacturers in Ohio and elsewhere by reducing the cost of Chinese auto parts.” This is the second China announcement we can remember Obama making while campaigning in the battleground of Ohio. We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: Bashing China is always good populist politics. The question is if it’s good policy, especially when you’re sitting in the White House. Every president has had to change his tune once in office.

*** The politics of the Latino electorate: While Obama talks about cracking down on China, Romney today will speak to the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce in Los Angeles. According to excerpts of his speech, Romney will mention that Latinos have been disproportionately hurt by the economy. “While national unemployment is 8.1 percent, Hispanic unemployment is over 10 percent. Over two million more Hispanics are living in poverty today than the day President Obama took office.” And he will pledge to work with Democrats and Republicans to fix the immigration system. “I believe we can all agree that what we need are fair and enforceable immigration laws that will stem the flow of illegal immigration, while strengthening legal immigration.” Yet the Obama campaign responds with a web video arguing that Romney has undergone an “extreme makeover” when it comes to immigration reform, citing his call for “self-deportation” at that NBC debate back in Jan. 2012.

*** Obama ad answers the “are you better off” question: Remember right before the Democratic convention when Obama campaign officials and surrogates had a difficult time answering the question if Americans were better off than they were four years ago? Well over the weekend -- on the fourth anniversary of the Lehman Brothers’ collapse -- the campaign went up with a new 60-second TV ad answering that question in the affirmative. “Here’s where we were in 2008:  ‘The worst financial collapse since the Great Depression…  American workers were laid off in numbers not seen in over three decades.’ And here’s where we are today: 30 months of private sector job growth, creating 4.6 million new jobs. We’re not there yet. But the real question is: Whose plan is better for you?” If this ad was in the works for weeks, then how did the two chief strategists for the president (Plouffe and Axelrod) fumble this? We’re guessing this ad was NOT in the works for weeks and only came to fruition post-Clinton speech.

*** On the trail: Obama, in Ohio, holds a rally in Cincinnati at 12:25 pm ET and then in Columbus at 4:20 pm… Marco Rubio has a competing rally in Columbus at 3:00 pm ET… Romney, in Los Angeles, addresses the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce at 3:15 pm ET… Vice President Biden stumps in Iowa, in Burlington… Paul Ryan also is in the Hawkeye State, in Des Moines… The first lady campaigns in Tallahassee, FL… And John McCain holds events for Romney in New Hampshire.

Countdown to 1st presidential debate: 16 days
Countdown to VP debate: 24 days
Countdown to 2nd presidential debate: 29 days
Countdown to 3rd presidential debate: 35 days
Countdown to Election Day: 50 days

Click here to sign up for First Read emails.
Text FIRST to 622639, to sign up for First Read alerts to your mobile phone.
Check us out on Facebook and also on Twitter. Follow us @chucktodd, @mmurraypolitics, @DomenicoNBC, @brookebrower