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First Thoughts: Jay-walking

By Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, Brooke Brower, Jessica Taylor and Natalie Cucchiara

Obama heads to Arizona to talk housing – and Jay Leno’s couch to talk terrorism?.....Tom Cotton kicks off his campaign, and has managed to unite feuding GOP factions behind his candidacy…Democrats get another ‘No’ in Montana….a history of SC primaries has warning signs for Graham….Hillary’s on the GOP’s mind….And Motor City picks its new mayor today. 

Paul Drinkwater / © NBC Universal, Inc.

THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO -- Episode 3459 -- Pictured: President Barack Obama, Jay Leno

***Jay-walking. The President heads both to Arizona and Burbank today, and while the White House wants the message of the day to be the President’s new push for affordable middle class housing, it may be his sit down with Jay Leno on “The Tonight Show” that ends up making the most news. After all, it’s going to be with Leno where he’ll likely address the terror plot that his national security team has been responding to over the last week. The optics of today alone tell you the level of concern the administration wants to portray on the terror plot. While they are taking it seriously and have indicated behind the scenes that this is as serious of a plot as this president has had to deal with, it’s not such a dominant issue in the West Wing that they thought he should upend his trip to Phoenix or not do his interview with Leno. And the fact that the president has YET to speak publicly about this threat is another indication that they’ve decided not to ramp things up to another level which a presidential statement from the White House, solely on this plot, would do. The Tonight Show forum would also be a friendly and comfortable one in which to do so. The President is no stranger to these talk show appearances – tonight marks his sixth visit to Leno’s show but he’s logged time with David Letterman, John Stewart, Jimmy Fallon, the women of “The View” and other similar shows as well.

President Barack Obama heads to Phoenix, Arizona, to talk about his plan to help the U.S. housing market recover. NBC's Tracie Potts reports.

*** Housing Crisis, Obama’s White Whale? Still, the president’s visit to Arizona is the practical focal point of the day, as he heads back to the site of his first presidential address on the faltering housing market, just weeks after he took the oath the first time. The president plans to point to Arizona as evidence of a recovery -- two years ago home prices were down 60 percent and banks were foreclosing on 70,000 homes a year. Now, home prices are up 20 percent from a year ago, but they’re still down 40 percent from their peak in 2006.  And therein lies the White House conundrum on the economy in general and housing specifically. Things are better but there not nearly as good as they were. Today’s event is part of this summer push by the White House to do two things: 1) show the country he’s focused on the number one issue in their minds: the economy; and 2) he’s trying to get some credit for the recovery from the Great Recession.  But of all aspects of the economy, getting credit on housing is not going to be easy.  Republicans contend the housing recovery is simply happening because home prices finally bottomed out, arguing the market had nowhere to go but up. During his first term, close aides admitted that tackling the housing crisis was very difficult and they couldn’t find a silver bullet. Government couldn’t order banks to refinance. They tried some incentive programs but many of the programs didn’t help the folks who were most at risk. Sure, they helped on the margins but didn’t have the impact the White House had hoped at the time. All this said, what the president is rolling out today, calling for reform of the government mortgage agencies, known as Freddie and Fannie, to include more private capital so that taxpayers are more shielded from bailouts, on paper, should have a chance at getting some bipartisan support in Congress.  

***Terror politics, continued. Of course, the unfolding terror plot and the administration’s response to it will be a second focus of the day, since we will get the president’s first comments on it. Yesterday, it was fascinating to watch the White House’s verbal gymnastics on the emerging threats, continuing to dance between a line of wanting to underscore how serious the threats are but also not to sound too much of an alarm for the public. Press Secretary Jay Carney wouldn’t give much specifics at yesterday’s briefing beyond the threat “emanating from and may be directed towards the Arabian Peninsula,” but noting that it  “could potentially be beyond that or elsewhere.”  With state department essential personnel being transported out of Yemen early this morning, it’s becoming increasingly clear this is where the biggest threat probably is, and may have originated from, with intelligence intercepting communications between Al Quaeda chief Ayman Al-Zawahiri and Nasser Al-Wahishi, the leader of Al Quaeda in Yemen. Al-Zawahiri gave the green light for a major attack to the Yemen leader as early as this past Sunday, and it’s just the latest in a string of attacks that have originated from the country, including the underwear bombing plot in 2009 and a planned cargo plane bombing in 2010. And that brings us to part two of the White House verbal gymnastics showcase from Monday. Yesterday, Carney tried to make a distinction between the different al Qaedas as he was questioned about the president’s campaign trail contention that al Qaeda was on the run and close to being dismantled. Carney argued that the president was referring to central al Qaeda based on the AfPak region. He also noted, correctly, that the administration has regularly argued that al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula is the most dangerous and operational arm of the terrorist network. That said, let’s be realistic. The public is simply hearing “al Qaeda” – whether it’s from Yemen or Afghanistan is not the point and so it seems silly right now for the administration to try and make a distinction between the public isn’t going to see the difference.

***Senate comes into focus. Election Day 2014 isn’t for another 15 months, but with Congress heading home, the pressure for both parties in contested Senate races, not just to get candidates, but to begin shaping the race and the message for next year intensifies. Here’s what’s on our radar today:

  • ARKANSAS. Freshman GOP Rep. Tom Cotton is set to make his bid official against Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor, possibly the most endangered sitting incumbent next cycle. Pryor, son of a former governor and senator, is no lightweight though -- and in 2008 he didn’t even have a GOP challenger --  and as Cotton kicks off his campaign, Politico reports the incumbent is launching a new ad campaign. Republicans have primary worries in other states this cycle (Alaska, Georgia, Kentucky, North Carolina), but Cotton is one of the few candidates we’ve seen competing factions of the GOP get behind, which National Journal also notes today. National Republicans see the Harvard graduate and Iraq veteran as their strongest get, and he’s also a favorite of the Club for Growth and had their endorsement when he ran for the House last year. Still, first term House members trying to make the jump to the Senate have had a mixed track record at best.
  • MONTANA. We’ve heard this refrain before -- Democrats are still searching for a candidate in Big Sky Country. On Monday, it was state schools superintendent Denise Juneau who passed, writing on her Facebook page. Republicans may still technically not have a candidate, but it’s looking more and more like Rep. Steve Daines will get in. Republicans had a thin bench, but Democrats’ keep getting even thinner, with former Gov. Brian Schweitzer, state Insurance Commissioner Monica Lindeen and EMILY’s List President Stephanie Schriock all passing. Lt. Gov. John Walsh is the newest buzz for Democrats, but the state’s an increasing worry for them.  
  • SOUTH CAROLINA. We looked in yesterday’s First Read at the new dance Lindsey Graham finds himself in with now three likely GOP primary challengers. Many veteran statewide GOP observers are nonplussed by Nancy Mace, the first female graduate of the Citadel, and his challenger that’d getting the most buzz. They note that now likely four-way field could be the best gift for Graham. He only has to avoid a runoff, and until one strong challenger emerges, many believe that’s not that hard right now. But if he does get forced into a two week sprint with one anti-Graham candidate, that’s where it could become dicey for the state’s senior senator. Don’t forget: when he ran to succeed Strom Thurmond in 2002, he managed to clear the primary field and win the nomination unopposed -- an amazing feat given this was the state’s first open Senate seat since 1966.

*** A History Of GOP Runoffs In South Carolina: But the state’s primaries have changed since then, and the 2010 contests may be the most instructive. Nikki Haley beat establishment candidates by seizing the tea party mantle. The more moderate, yet still conservative, Bob Inglis lost his primary to Trey Gowdy in the Upstate. And while Graham’s unimpressive 2008 primary challenger got just one-third of the vote five years ago (about what non-incumbent candidates could start out with), he did win Greenville County, which gives you an idea of where Graham’s going to be most vulnerable when the statewide primary campaign comes into focus.   Here’s a rundown on how some of the primaries and runoffs in the Palmetto State have played out in recent years: You’ll notice one unmistakable trend, the GOP primaries with 3 or more candidates all had the top vote getter receive less than 50%, meaning in the state elections, a runoff was forced. (We included the presidential to make the under 50% point even more clear).

2008 primary

Graham 67%

Witherspoon 33%

***Witherspoon actually won Greenville County.

2010 Gubernatorial primary

Haley 49%

Barrett 22%

McMaster 17%

Bauer 12%

2010 Gubernatorial runoff

Haley  65%

Barrett 35%

2012 Presidential Primary

Gingrich 40%

Romney 28%

Santorum 17%

Paul 13%

2006 GOP gubernatorial primary

Mark Sanford  65%

Oscar Lovelace 35%

2004 GOP Senate Primary

Beasley 37%

DeMint 26%

Ravenel 25%

Condon 9%

2004 GOP Senate runoff

DeMint 59%

Beasley 41%

2010 SC-4 primary

Gowdy 39%

Inglis 27%

Jim Lee 14%

David Thomas 13%

Jeffrey 7%

***Gowdy over Inglis in runoff 71-29%

2010 SC-3 primary

Cash 25% (running this time)

Duncan 23%

Rex Rice 19%

Joe Grimaud 19%

Collins 9%

***Duncan over Cash 51%-49% in runoff

***All about Hillary. On Monday, the Republican National Committee called on NBC entertainment and CNN -- both airing films on Hillary Clinton -- to abandon their plans, saying it was a “thinly veiled attempt at putting a thumb on the scales of the 2016 presidential election.” Their threat: nix the projects, or 2016 debates with the networks could be in doubt. NBC News’ official statement: "NBC News is completely independent of NBC Entertainment and has no involvement in this project." NBC’s entertainment division told The Hollywood Reporter that the miniseries is in such early development that the script hasn’t been written nor has production been ordered. So what’s the RNC up to here? Our translation: Take a deep breath and remember -- it’s only 2013, and 2016 is a long way away. But this is part of a larger strategy by the GOP -- not just to continue one of their favorite past-times of hitting the media (which the base loves), but the challenge they have at chipping away at what seems like the inevitability of the former first lady while there’s no clear frontrunner on their side.

*** Motor City mayor’s race: Who wants to be mayor of a city that just filed for bankruptcy and is in financial turmoil? A lot of people apparently – 16 candidates are on the ballot for today’s open primary to become mayor of Detroit. There's no clear front runner, but two names have emerged: Benny Napoleon, the Sheriff of Wayne County, and Mike Duggan, the former Detroit Medical Center chief. The Detroit Free Press endorsed Duggan, but here's the catch: Duggan's running as a write-in candidate. His name was removed from the ballot by a judge who said he didn't live in the city long enough to meet residency requirements. But he leads in the polls -- up to 40 percent of Detroit voters said in one poll that they are going to cast a write-in vote for Duggan. Napolean, who is on the ballot, was at 29 percent in that poll. Duggan’s write-in candidacy could delay vote counting for days. If no one gets 50 percent, the top two vote-getters move on to a November runoff. NBC’s Jessica Taylor had a wrap of the contest on The Daily Rundown last week.

*** Previewing the next two months: Cory Booker the disruptor: If you believe the polls, Newark Mayor Cory Booker is expected to cruise to victory in the Aug. 13 Democratic primary for the late Sen. Frank Lautenberg’s (D-NJ) Senate seat, as well as the Oct. 16 general election. And nothing in last night’s Democratic primary debate seemed to change that trajectory. So let’s raise the larger question about this campaign: What kind of senator would the 44-year-old Booker be? Our educated guess – he would be a disruptor, in ways that could be interpreted as both good and bad, depending on your view of the U.S. Senate. You would see him partner with someone like Rand Paul on legislation; you would see him alienate some of the old bulls, both Democrats and Republicans (just like he alienated Lautenberg when he started to eye the seat before the incumbent said he wouldn’t run for re-election); and you would see him become the first true social-media senator (with his 1.4 million Twitter followers). So you could have a disruptive force in one of the government’s most orderly and decorous bodies. That could produce some interesting results and stories and surprising rivalries and surprising bedfellows. The way Ted Cruz has lit up the right in his first 9 months, don’t be surprised if Booker becomes a liberal counterweight to Cruz. He’s unlikely to pursue the strategy that Hillary, Franken and Elizabeth Warren have all pursued or are pursuing and that is to keep a low profile in his first term. That’s not how Booker ticks.

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PROGRAMMING NOTES.

*** Thursday’s “Daily Rundown” line-up: NBC News’ Richard Engel, Bob Windrem and TIME’s Bobby Ghosh join Chuck to discuss the latest on the terror threats and embassy closures…Former Senator Jim DeMint will take a Deep Dive into his on-going war with the Republican status-quo …Chuck talks baseball and the MLB suspensions announced yesterday with MLB Network Insider Peter Gammons plus Chuck’s interviews with former Negro baseball league players…USA Today’s Susan Page, Republican strategist Phil Musser and former spokesman for the DCCC, Doug Thornell join the Gaggle 

*** Thursday’s “Jansing & Co.” line-up: MSNBC’s Chris Jansing discusses the global Al Qaeda Terror Threat with NBC News Terrorism Analyst Evan Kohlmann, MSNBC Military Analyst ret. Gen. Barry McCaffrey and Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY).  Sports Illustrated writer Ben Reiter will talk about A-Rod’s plans to appeal his 211-game suspension by the MLB.  Fmr. RNC Chairman Michael Steele and Fmr. Governor Ed Rendell (D-PA) will talk about the RNC threat to block NBC and CNN from hosting GOP primary debates over those network’s planned Hillary Clinton Specials.  And Anu Bhagwati of the Service Women’s Action Network will discuss an anti-sexual assault advisory poster that appears to put the onus for preventing military sex assaults on the victims.

*** Thursday’s “MSNBC Live with Thomas Roberts” line-up: Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), Col. Jack Jacobs, NBC’s Richard Engel, NBC Sports’ Dave Briggs, msnbc.com’s Irin Carmon, msnbc political contributor Steve Benen, Wise Latina Club Founder Viviana Hurtado, St. Louis Police Chief Mike Force and Reality Check program founder Larry Lawton.

*** Thursday’s “NOW with Alex Wagner” line-up: Alex Wagner’s guests include MSNBC analyst Howard Fineman, The Root correspondent Janell Ross, Talking Points Memo’s Sahil Kapur and The Washington Post’s Jonathan Capehart and NBC News’ Ayman Mohyeldin.

*** Thursday’s “Andrea Mitchell Reports” line-up: NBC’s Andrea Mitchell interviews Former Ambassador Thomas Pickering, former assistant to Secretary of Defense and CIA Director Jeremy Bash, Washington Post's Chris Cillizza and Ruth Marcus, and NBC's Chuck Todd on his interviews with former Negro baseball league players following their meeting with President Obama.

*** Thursday’s “News Nation with Tamron Hall” line-up: MSNBC’s Tamron Hall interviews : Former Florida state attorney Kendall Coffey, Col. Jack Jacobs, and KXAS investigative reporter Scott Friedman on the Fort Hood shooting trial,  “Foreclosure Nation” author Shari Olefson, the Boston Globe’s Mike Bello on the Whitey Bulger trial and the Chicago Sun Time’s Lynn Sweet.

OBAMA AGENDA: The road to recovery?

“More than four years after Obama outlined his plan to halt the housing market free fall in February 2009, he returns to Phoenix, where he will again talk about housing. The speech is another stop in a summer tour in which he is highlighting aspects of the economy that have improved under his watch while chiding political foes for obstructing faster progress,” Reuters writes.

“But the speeches also reflect a political predicament for the president. Although Obama won re-election only nine months ago on a pro-middle-class platform, Capitol Hill this year has not been responsive to his priorities, and time is running out before 2014 midterm-election politics take hold,” The Arizona Republic notes. “And despite his reputation for soaring oratory, Obama may struggle connecting with everyday Americans who, at this time of year, are preoccupied with summer vacations and the start of the new school year. But political experts say he has little choice but to try to change the subject to his economic prescriptions and hope the public pressures lawmakers, even though it is a long-shot strategy.”

The Associated Press: “Senior administration officials said Obama would focus in Phoenix on shifting more of the burden for supporting the nation's massive mortgage market to the private sector. A centerpiece of that effort is winding down Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the mortgage finance operations that received a $187 billion taxpayer-funded bailout in 2008. The White House has previously lauded efforts to achieve that goal spearheaded by Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., and Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va. While Obama will outline his own proposals Tuesday, his plans are largely in line with the bipartisan Senate overhaul.”

CONGRESS: Wooing women…

“When the House Judiciary Committee passed a late-term abortion ban in June, Republican leaders scrambled to find a female, media-savvy legislator to bring the legislation to the floor. Their biggest problem: Not a single Republican woman was represented among the committee's 23 Republican members. They eventually settled on Tennessee Rep. Marsha Blackburn, who isn't on the Judiciary Committee,” National Journal writes. “The episode underscored a growing problem that is worrying Republicans: Women are badly underrepresented within their party in the Congress. Only eight percent of House Republicans are women, and there are only four female Republican senators. Of the long list of potential 2016 GOP presidential contenders, there's not a single woman. Party leaders want to close the gender gap, but worry that it will be difficult with very few female leaders in Congress to handle outreach.”

“The 112th Congress was one of the least productive Congresses ever. The current, 113th Congress is now off for a five-week summer break, and it's not doing much better. Twenty-two bills have been passed and sent to the White House since this Congress convened in January—less than the 28 bills the 112th Congress passed by this time last session. Since January, the Senate has passed about 63 bills, and the House has passed about 210. The bills that have made it into law have largely been small: There's been no big new jobs program, no actual repeal of Obamacare, no immigration reform through both chambers. 

But there's at least one thing that Congress has been able to come together and take action on: the regulation of commemorative coins. On April 24, the House took up H.R. 1071, with the remarkably unwieldy title of "To specify the size of the precious-metal blanks that will be used in the production of the National Baseball Hall of Fame commemorative coins,"” according to National Journal.

OFF TO THE RACES: Hit the road Jack.

“The retail politicking for 2016 is off to a vigorous start. Leading contenders for the presidency in 2016 have already made or scheduled 30 trips to the early nominating states, according to an analysis by The Hill. The majority of the traveling is happening on the Republican side, where contenders have scheduled at least 25 trips to early voting states since the 2012 election, according to news reports. Democrats have scheduled only five.”

The Hill writes: “EMILY's List, a group focused on electing pro-abortion rights Democratic women, is making its first endorsements of the 2014 cycle, backing six candidates running against GOP incumbents in swing House districts. The deep-pocketed group's first endorsement list includes five top Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) recruits. Former Iowa state Sen. Staci Appel (D) is taking on Rep. Tom Latham (R-Iowa); businesswoman Erin Bilbray (D) is challenging Rep. Joe Heck (R-Nev.) and attorney Gwen Graham (D) is challenging Rep. Steve Southerland (R-Fla.). Former judge Ann Callis (D) is running against Rep. Rodney Davis (R) in Illinois, while Tompkins County Chairwoman Martha Robertson (D) is running against Rep. Tom Reed (R-N.Y.).” 

Stu Rothenberg looks at which primary challengers could be for real, and which are a bust.

CALIFORNIA: Another woman has come forward saying San Diego Mayor Bob Filner made unwanted advances against her, describing the incident as ‘creepy’, KGTV San Diego reports.

KENTUCKY: McConnell launched his second ad against Matt Bevin, just days after his GOP challenger drew good reviews at Saturday’s Fancy Farm. Like the first ad, it again hits the businessman as “Bailout Bevin,” questioning whether he and his business paid taxes on time.

MASSACHUSETTS: The Boston Globe reports the Republican caucus in the Massachusetts Senate is shrinking, with just three Republicans left in the 40-member upper chamber on Beacon Hill.

NEW HAMPSHIRE: Former Presidential candidate Mitt Romney headlines GOP fundraiser in Wolfeboro at 7pm tonight.

NEW JERSEY: Newark Star-Ledger: “The three underdog candidates for the Democratic U.S. Senate nomination finally got their wish last night: They shared a stage with Newark Mayor Cory Booker after a month of accusing him of ducking debates. And while state Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver and U.S. Reps. Frank Pallone and Rush Holt kept it mostly cordial, they took some shots at Booker, mostly for his support of a school voucher proposal offered by Gov. Chris Christie.” 

Politico: “Rep. Rush Holt (D-N.J.) is launching an ad blasting Newark Mayor Cory Booker as “no progressive” in the final week of the special election primary to replace the late Democratic Sen. Frank Lautenberg. POLITICO reported over the weekend that Holt had purchased about $350,000 worth of TV air time in the Philadelphia and New York media markets.”

The Philadelphia Inquirer: “The biggest contrast in the first debate among the four Democrats running for the Senate came down not to policy, but approach. Newark Mayor Cory Booker, the front-runner, said he has proven that he can cross the aisle to create progress in Newark and would bring a cooperative spirit lacking on Capitol Hill. But U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone said voters should place a premium on Washington experience. U.S. Rep. Rush Holt touted his biography as a scientist, and Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver called for adding a woman to New Jersey's all-male congressional delegation.”

TEXAS: The New York Times: Wendy Davis, the Texas state senator who captured the national spotlight with an 11-hour filibuster against restricting abortion rights, turned up in Washington on Monday with the news that she was considering a run for governor. “I can say with absolute certainty that I will run for one of two offices: either my State Senate seat or the governor,” Ms. Davis said after a luncheon and speech at the National Press Club. It was Ms. Davis’s second trip to Washington in as many weeks — a period when she has met with staff members at the Democratic Governors Association, raised money at sold-out fund-raisers, turned up at parties around town and huddled with Emily’s List. The woman who turned pink sneakers into a symbol of resilience is under growing pressure from fellow Democrats to run.”

VIRGINIA: Washington Post: “Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II urged Gov. Robert F. McDonnell on Monday to call a special General Assembly session to repair “severe holes” in the state’s ethics laws. With McDonnell (R) embroiled in a gifts scandal, the Republican candidate to succeed him said Virginia cannot wait until the legislature reconvenes in January to tighten the state’s lax disclosure requirements.”

Republican gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli continues his attack on Democratic candidate Terry McAuliffe releasing statements from members of the Virginia Congressional Delegation, including Rep. Eric Cantor, regarding the SEC investigation into an automotive company once led by McAuliffe.

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