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First Thoughts: Back to work

Back to work… Questions for the Obama White House and congressional Republicans in the upcoming “fiscal cliff” negotiations… Soul-searching time for the GOP… Lessons learned from the ’12 election: Florida’s I-4 Corridor isn’t really a swing area anymore… Can’t buy me love: GOP Super PACs didn’t deliver… And a final note: First Thoughts will return on Monday.

A slew of deadlines are coming up at the end of the year, the biggest is the unfinished business on taxes and it means president and Congress must compromise. The Daily Rundown's Chuck Todd reports.

*** Back to work: Today is President Obama’s first full day back at the White House since his re-election. And with the so-called “fiscal cliff” approaching -- the expiration of the Bush tax cuts, as well as the looming defense and other spending cuts -- the Obama White House faces this question: Do they go for a big deal now? Some are skeptical, even inside the White House; after all, they’ve been burned before (see: debt-ceiling fight). On the other hand, this might be their best (and perhaps only) opportunity to go big on tax reform and deficit reduction -- and get it done on their terms. And congressional Republicans face their own question: How much fight do they have in them? Yesterday, House Speaker John Boehner gave this statement: “In order to garner Republican support for new revenues, the president must be willing to reduce spending and shore up entitlement programs that are the primary drivers of our debt.” For what it’s worth, many Democratic officials were impressed with how serious Boehner sounded about striking a different tone. It’s why there wasn’t much of an immediate response negative or positive. Wait ‘til next week for a more official posture. 

NBC's Chuck Todd weighs in on the slew of year-end deadlines facing President Obama and Congress, including the fiscal cliff.

*** Soul-searching time for the GOP: So what went wrong for the GOP in the presidential contest? Was it the candidate? (Was Romney simply ill-suited to win Midwest states like Iowa, Ohio? Remember, his primary/caucus performance in those states wasn’t all that stellar, especially give the competition.) Was it his campaign? (You could argue that the Ford Field and Clint Eastwood missteps weren’t things a winning campaign would do.) Or was it simply the party? (Akin/Mourdock certainly didn’t help with women; the GOP has had a problem with Latinos since Bush’s immigration reform went down to defeat; and the party’s fav/unfav score in our NBC/WSJ poll reflects a major brand problem.) The simplest answer is that it’s probably all three -- the candidate, the campaign, and the party and we’d argue party image/brand probably had the most to do with it. Sure, a better candidate and campaign might have been able to overcome some of the structural issues. But the fact is, the party’s brand/image is a structural problem. Also, one more point about Tuesday: The defeat had NOTHING to do with Hurricane Sandy. On “TODAY,” former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour said, “Hurricane Sandy saved Barack Obama’s presidency.” But if that’s so, how do you explain all the early-voting numbers before Sandy hit? And more importantly, Sandy doesn’t explain the GOP’s decisive demographic defeat. Folks that point the finger at Sandy are simply rationalizing and avoiding the real problem.

Brendan Hoffman / Getty Images

President Barack Obama makes a statement in the White House briefing room.

*** Lessons learned from the election: Florida’s I-4 Corridor isn’t as swing an area as it used to be: Between now and the end of the year, we’ll be digging deep into the returns, exit polls and other aspects of the campaign to provide you with a full autopsy of what happened here in First Thoughts and on lessons we learned from the election. Today’s entry: The much-talked-about I-4 Corridor area in Florida isn’t a swing area anymore. We took a look six key I-4 counties around Tampa and Orlando (Hillsborough, Polk, Osceola, Orange, Seminole, and Volusia), and found that top Republican candidates – from 1992 to 2006 – netted more votes out of those counties. But that trend is going away. In 2008, Obama netted 109,000 votes from those counties. Even in 2010, failed gubernatorial candidate Alex Sink netted 15,000 (a losing candidate, still winning I-4). And in this year’s election, Obama netted 110,000 votes. One of the big reasons for this change: The huge growth in Latino (non-Cuban) voters in this area.

*** Can’t buy me love: Remember all that GOP-leaning Super PAC money? According to the Sunlight Foundation, the Karl Rove-backed American Crossroads and the affiliated Crossroads GPS spent nearly $200 million, and lost in most races where they spent money. (Sunlight calculates that just 1.29% of what American Crossroads spent and 14.4% of what Crossroads GPS spent resulted in the desired outcome.) In addition, the New York Times reports that all eight of the candidates that mega-donor Sheldon Adelson supported ended up losing. Before the election, we posed this question: Would all the GOP Super PAC money move the needle or would it just make local TV stations richer? It looks like it was the latter. As we discovered in 2010, Super PAC ads that weren’t responded to can play a BIG role. But when there’s a response -- whether it was the Obama campaign or the Democratic-leaning Super PACs -- you end up with something that looks like a World War I battle over the airwaves.

*** A final note: And with the election now over, we won’t be publishing First Thoughts tomorrow. See you Monday.

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