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First Thoughts: Unemployment rate dips below 8 percent

Unemployment rate dips below 8%... Will it have an impact?... Is Romney’s plan really a $5 trillion tax cut?... Yesterday was a tale of two different campaigns  --  one with momentum, the other with something to prove… Romney cleans up his “47%” comment, calling it “completely wrong”… Two points on the return of “Moderate Mitt”… Democrats’public angst (comparing Obama’s debate performance to Donald Verrilli’s SCOTUS oral arguments)…  Obama stumps in Virginia and Ohio, while Romney hits Virginia and Florida.  

The Daily Rundown's Chuck Todd reports on the latest buzz from the campaign trail.

*** Unemployment rate dips below 8% : A month ago, after what was considered a strong Democratic convention and a subpar one for Republicans, the Romney campaign eagerly looked to the monthly jobs report to change the subject. Now the dynamic is reversed: After what was considered Romney's strong debate performance and Obama's subpar one, Democrats were looking to today's job numbers for some good news. Did they get it? The results are pretty good for them: The unemployment rate fell to 7.8% -- the first time it’s been below 8% since Jan. 2009. More from the AP: “The Labor Department says employers added 114,000 jobs in September. The economy also created 86,000 more jobs in July and August than first estimated.”

*** Does it have an impact? We continue to see these monthly jobs numbers have  very  little impact on the public. Yet they have had a bigger impact on the tone of the political coverage in a 24- to 48-hour period, and that helps the Obama campaign change the subject from Wednesday night’s debate. In addition, do not underestimate the psychological impact of the unemployment rate falling BELOW 8%. It’s been an anchor around the president’s leg politically for years, not months. How many times have Republicans said, “He promised unemployment below 8%!” Well, voila... And one thing we learned a few months ago was just how underreported job gains were in 2011. And this report, of course, featured upward revisions.

Michael Reynolds / AFP - Getty Images

President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney participate in their first debate at the University of Denver in Denver, Colorado, October 3, 2012.


***  Is Romney’s plan a $5 trillion cut?  Speaking of numbers, there has been a lot of attention over whether Mitt Romney’s tax plan is a $5 trillion  tax CUT plan. “I'm not in favor of a $5 trillion tax cut. That's not my plan,” Romney said at Wednesday’s debate. “My plan is not to put in place any tax cut that will add to the deficit.” If you take Romney at his word, he’s right -- he’s saying that he will pay for those tax cuts by closing loopholes and other deductions. But here’s the problem for the Romney campaign: We know the math how you get to just about $5 trillion in tax cuts over 10 years. It starts with reducing tax rates across the board by 20%, eliminating the Alternative Minimum Tax and erasing the federal estate tax. Together, that comes to $450-$480 billion by 2015. You do that over 10 years (standard budget estimations), and you get about $5 trillion. But what we don’t know is the math of how you offset the nearly $500 billion per year as Romney has pledged, because the Romney campaign has yet to provide any specifics about what he would cut. But we do know that he has ruled out:

- touching preferential rates on capital gains and dividends (Simpson-Bowles does RAISE these rates for their offsets),
- exemptions for Roth IRAs and 401(k)s, and
- the exclusion of capital gains on home sales


 Now the Romney campaign has taken issue with the Tax Policy Center’s analysis because the conclusion it drew is that the only way you offset the $4.5 to $5 trillion over 10 years -- after handcuffing yourself on the pledges above -- is to eliminate deductions that will inevitably touch the middle class. The Romney folks say the Obama campaign and Tax Policy Center have created a straw man. But the problem is that Romney has not responded at all with ANY detail on how they do it. The math isn’t just hard; it becomes nearly impossible (at least politically) once you account for the pledge handcuffs. The Romney campaign is hoping to make it until November without having to provide its own straw man beyond, “That’s not true.” The downside of getting the real second look the campaign wants is that they will need to provide some answers to this $5 trillion question.


***  A tale of two different campaigns : Yesterday, we wrote that the Obama campaign had the opportunity to change the story coming out of the debate -- from the president’s performance to some of the potentially problematic things Romney said -- but it was clear who had the better Thursday. Here’s yesterday’s dispatch from NBC’s Garrett Haake and Alex Moe: “Capitalizing on momentum from Wednesday night's debate, Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan whipped up their base here in rural Virginia with a raucous rally complete with fireworks, live music and pointed new attack lines aimed at their Democratic opponents. ‘I got the chance to ask the president questions that people across the country have wanted to ask him, such as why is it that he pushed Obamacare at a time when we had 23 million people out of work?’’ Romney said in Fishersville, VA. As mentioned above, the campaign even featured fireworks at the end (perhaps a tad gloat-ish). But given how long it’s been since the Romney campaign felt this confident, perhaps you can’t blame them.

*** One with momentum, the other with something to prove: Meanwhile, Obama was campaigning like he had something to prove. As NBC’s Kristen Welker reported, “A fired-up President Barack Obama spoke to a crowd of more than 12,000 at a Denver campaign event Thursday and seemed to exude the energy and aggressiveness that many of his supporters felt was missing at last night's presidential debate… Obama argued … that the Mitt Romney who appeared at the debate was not the ‘real Mitt Romney.’ ‘When I got on stage, I met this very spirited fellow who claimed to be Mitt Romney,’ he said. ‘But it couldn’t have been Mitt Romney, because the real Mitt Romney has been running around the country for the year, promising $5 trillion dollars in tax cuts that favor the wealthy. The fellow on stage last night didn’t seem to know anything about that.” Yet Obama’s events yesterday (in both Denver and Madison, WI) only raised this question: Where was THAT guy on Wednesday night? And yesterday’s more forceful Obama -- coupled with his campaign’s conference call and new TV ad -- only seemed to amplify what happened at the debate. By the way, it was hard to find an Obama SUPPORTER at the Denver rally who thought the president did a good job at the debate. Even his die-hards weren’t sugar-coating it.

*** Romney cleans up his “47%” comment: Not only did Romney yesterday try to build momentum after his debate; he also did some major clean-up work. He went on FOX’s Hannity program and said his “47%” comment was “completely wrong.” As the Washington Post reports, “Hannity asked Romney how he would have responded had President Obama brought up the comment the GOP candidate made at a fundraiser lastspring saying that he was unconcerned about the 47 percent of people who see themselves as victims entitled to government support. ‘Well, clearly in a campaign, with hundreds if not thousands of speeches and question-and-answer sessions, now and then you’re going to say something that doesn’t come out right,’ Romney said. ‘In this case, I said something that’s just completely wrong.’” It was a smart time to do it -- better to do this clean-up work with the wind at your back than in damage-control mode. But it does raise the question: How many re-sets can a presidential nominee have? Three weeks ago, you’re standing by what you said, even if it was inartful; now you’re saying it was completely wrong.

*** Two points on “Moderate Mitt”: In fact, there’s plenty of coverage today of how Romney ideologically re-set his campaign at Wednesday night’s debate. National Journal writes that Romney “made his long-anticipated leap to the center.” And David Brooks’ New York Times column is even entitled, “Moderate Mitt Returns!” We had been previewing this move over the past couple of weeks -- with Romney acknowledging he’s the “grandfather of Obamacare” and using his Massachusetts health-care law as an example of his empathy. But here are two points: one, as that National Journal piece notes, Obama let Romney get away with this move to the center at the debate. And two, there has been NO conservative blowback so far to Romney’s move. Many influential conservatives, for now at least, are back to simply wanting to win.

*** Democrats’ public angst: And here’s one final point we want to make about the aftermath from the debate: Democrats reacted to Obama’s performance exactly like they reacted to Solicitor General Verrilli’s oral arguments in the health-care case -- with pronouncements of angst. And there’s a lesson here for Democrats and liberals: While Wednesday’s debate certainly didn’t help, it’s also very possible that it didn’t prove to be fatal, either. But we’ll see what the polls show next week. And trust us: They will be PLENTY of polls for everyone to see. But realistically, the first polls you should trust that will absorb the ENTIRE impact of the debate and post-debate are the runs released no sooner than Tuesday… You want surveys that were actually in the field Sunday and Monday.

*** New Romney ads: The Romney camp is up with three new TV ads – one for Ohio talking about standing up to China and creating 12 million new jobs; one in Nevada featuring ex-UNLV basketball Greg Anthony (who says he voted for Obama in 2008); and one hitting Obama on the deficits and debt.

*** On the trail: Obama campaigns in Fairfax, VA (at George Mason University) at 10:45 am ET and then in Cleveland, OH (at Cleveland State University) at 2:35 pm ET… Romney holds a “coal country” event in Abington, VA at 11:35 am ET and then he heads to a rally in St. Petersburg at 6:15 pm ET.

Countdown to VP debate: 6 days
Countdown to 2
nd presidential debate: 11 days
Countdown to 3
rd presidential debate: 17 days
Countdown to Election Day: 32 days

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