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First Thoughts: Bachmann's surprise

Bachmann’s surprising announcement: She’s not running for re-election… And her surprising explanation: that her decision isn’t impacted by doubts about being re-election (when she won in 2012 by just 4,000 votes) or an ethics investigation (when she already began airing TV ads earlier this month)… The political consequences of an improving economy… Fundraising day for the Obamas -- the president heads to Chicago, while the first lady travels to New York and Boston… Ted Cruz also visits New York, where he speaks at a GOP dinner (and his presence there has sparked some controversy)… And Joe Miller is in, while Cory Gardner is out.

Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., announced Wednesday morning that she will not seek a fifth term in office. NBC's Domenico Montanaro reports.

*** Bachmann’s surprise: A word of warning to anyone thinking about 2016: Running for president doesn’t always help your political career. After unsuccessful presidential bids in ’04 and ’08, Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) later found himself without a congressional seat. After he finished sixth in the ‘08 Iowa caucuses -- after moving his family to the state -- Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT) saw his popularity in his state plummet and decided not to run for re-election. And after briefly running for president in 2008, former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson (R) lost a Senate race four years later. And now you can add Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN), who like Dodd finished sixth in Iowa in 2012, to this list. “After a great deal of thought and deliberation, I have decided next year I will not seek a fifth congressional term," she said in a video message on her website. She added, "Be assured, my decision was not in any way influenced by any concerns about my being re-elected to Congress... And rest assured, this decision was not impacted in any way by the recent inquiries into the activities of my former presidential campaign or my former presidential staff."

*** And her surprising explanation: But it’s hard to buy that explanation. For one thing, she BARELY won re-election last year. Per MSNBC.com's Jessica Taylor, she beat her Democratic opponent by just 4,296 votes -- even as Mitt Romney won this suburban Twin Cities seat by 15 percentage points. And that opponent, Jim Graves, had already announced he was going to challenge her again in 2014. What’s more, Bachmann already began airing a TV ad THIS MONTH for her re-election -- some 17 months before Election Day 2014. Politically, Bachmann’s decision not to run for re-election is bad news for Democrats. Why? She’s probably the only Republican who’s at risk of losing that congressional seat. MSNBC’s Taylor adds that Bachmann’s district was drawn to be the most Republican district in the state; in 2008, McCain got 55% percent, while Bush took 58% in 2004. Yet Bachmann consistently underperformed the top of the ticket, though Democrats were never able to topple the congresswoman.

*** The political consequences of an improving economy: When discussing the economy over the past couple of years, we’ve always kept this in mind: The U.S. economy is never as bad you might think it is, but it’s also not as good, either. That said, the recent economic news has been surprisingly good, despite the sequester cuts. Yesterday, as NBC’s John Yang reported on “Nightly News,” we found out that house prices jumped to their highest level in seven years, and consumer confidence (according to the Conference Board) increased to a five-year high. The improving economy -- and improving economic confidence -- has a couple of potential political consequences. First, it changes the opposition’s issue matrix. After all, the GOP’s “Where are the jobs?” question has been replaced by “What did the president know about the IRS or Benghazi?” Second, it could impact the 2014 midterm environment. Remember, in the summer of 2010, the unemployment rate was at 9.5%, and that was as big of a factor in the GOP midterm gains that year as the health-care law or the cap-and-trade legislation. Of course, we have a LONG way to go until 2014, but the state of the economy is definitely something to watch.

*** Fundraising day for the Obamas: Today, both President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama hit the road to raise money for Democrats. The president travels to his hometown of Chicago for a pair of fundraisers benefitting the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Meanwhile, the first lady heads to New York City (where she raises money with NBA player Jason Collins, who recently announced he’s gay, at the Democratic National Committee’s LGBT gala) and Boston (where she attends a fundraiser for Massachusetts Senate candidate Ed Markey). Speaking of Markey, the Republican Senate campaign committee is out with a web video this morning hitting the Democrat for 271 votes for higher taxes in Congress, picking up the message GOP opponent Gabriel Gomez has been talking about on the trail this week.

Jim Young / Reuters

Republican presidential candidate Congresswoman Michele Bachmann announces she is ending her presidential campaign at a news conference in West Des Moines, Iowa, in this file photo.

*** Cruz cruises to New York: In another fundraiser tonight, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) is the star attraction at the New York Republican Party’s annual dinner, which begins at 6:50 pm ET. But Cruz – who voted against Hurricane Sandy relief – has already sparked some controversy inside the New York GOP. “I don’t think we should be acknowledging people who are voting against us in our hour of need,” Rep. Peter Steve King (R-NY) told Buzzfeed yesterday. “Once I found it was him, I decided not to go. I don’t know if I would have gone or not because of scheduling things, but that made it easy once I found out it was Ted Cruz.” Rep. Michael Grimm (R-NY) also won’t be attending the dinner. But the NY GOP Chair Ed Cox defended Cruz’s participation tonight, per Buzzfeed. “Ted Cruz made it absolutely clear he was all for Sandy aid but he was against the pork which was stuffed in there by the Democrats, and that’s what he was voting against,” Cox said. “This is very much going to be about growth and opportunity, showing the diversity that is the Republican Party here in New York State.”

*** Joe Miller is in, Cory Gardner is out: Lastly a couple of other 2014 developments. First, conservative Joe Miller – who unsuccessfully ran for Alaska’s Senate seat in 2010 – filed paperwork indicating that he’s planning to run for the Senate again in 2014, Politico writes. And Rep. Cory Gardner (R-CO) announced that he won’t challenge Sen. Mark Udall (D-CO) next year.

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