By MICHAEL FALCONE and AMY WALTER
Consider it the opening act of the 2012 presidential campaign: President Obama told Democrats at a Miami fundraiser on Friday that they’ve “got to be fired up … got to be ready to go” and if they’re “willing to stand with Barack Obama one more time, I’ve got no doubt that we will win the future.”
One day later, in snowy Bartlett, N.H., the Republican positioning himself to be Obama’s critic-in-chief (or, at least, one of them) called for a “new president,” delivering what is likely to be an early version of his 2012 stump speech.
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney declared he would “repeal Obamacare,” and argued that the president made the economic crisis he inherited “worse” not better.
“Instead of lowering taxes, he raised them. He wrapped businesses in red tape, he grew government, he borrowed trillions of dollars, and he made it clear that he doesn’t like business people very much,” Romney said at the Carroll County Lincoln Day dinner on Saturday night.
But it’s clear President Obama isn’t running away from his record on fiscal issues and, as far as health care is concerned, Romney has his own liabilities, having led the passage of a health care reform measure in Massachusetts similar to the one President Obama signed into law nationally. (At his speech Romney acknowledged, “Our experiment wasn’t perfect — some things worked, some didn’t, and some things I’d change.”)
“We have good reason to be hopeful because we’ve done extraordinary things over these last two years because of your help,” Obama said. “Because of your help, we yanked this economy out of what could have been a Great Depression, because of your help, we passed the historic health care bill.”
And even as they are revving up the big donor network like we saw in Florida on Friday, privately, Obama strategists are downplaying the much-touted expectation that they will wage a $1 billion campaign — one of the reasons most potential big-name Republican candidates are biding their time before switching on their own campaign operations.
Team Obama is using the delay to their advantage. As the Washington Post’s Dan Balz reported over the weekend, “by sometime next month, the president's team is likely to be a functioning, legal entity with a plan”: “At this point, it has studied the reelection campaigns of previous presidents. The campaign advisers understand their challenges and have ideas about how to deal with them. Obama's team, anticipating a closely fought general election, is focused on the key components of campaign machinery: money, organization and strategy.” http://wapo.st/hLGFsJ
And last week, Politico’s Glenn Thrush noted that former deputy White House chief of staff Jim Messina, Obama’s 2012 campaign manager, has been hop scotching the country “aggressively recruiting big-money contributors who maxed out to the 2008 campaigns of Obama and Hillary Clinton.” http://politi.co/hOHxOf
BOTTOM LINE: We wouldn't be surprised that after lowering expectations, the Obama campaign ends up posting a huge fundraising number this summer that will get the chattering class, well, chattering. And as for Romney, listen as he hones his message in preparation for the formal launch of his campaign sometime in the next few months.
On the health care issue, the once and likely future presidential candidate told his audience in New Hampshire, “One thing I would never do is to usurp the constitutional power of states with a one-size-fits-all federal takeover.” As the Boston Globe’s Glen Johnson points out in a sharp analysis of his speech, “The argument allows Romney not to run from the Massachusetts plan even as he distances himself from the federal one modeled after it. … Of course, that argument does not address conservative concerns about the government mandate to obtain health insurance — and accompanying penalties for failing to do so — that drive the Massachusetts plan (and were replicated in the federal law).” http://bo.st/hJ5hQZ
EYES ON IOWA. Hawkeye State political watchers are billing it as the first “cattle call” of the 2012 campaign season. Tonight, just outside Des Moines, five potential GOP candidates will gather for a presidential forum organized by the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition. They include former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who last week announced he was entering the exploratory phase of his campaign, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum and two other candidates who have launched exploratory committees — former Louisiana Gov. Buddy Roemer and Georgia businessman Herman Cain. Faith and Freedom Coalition President Steve Scheffler describes the event as “the largest gathering of pro-family, values minded voters in the spring of 2011.” In a letter to the candidates, Scheffler said the gathering "is not a debate and there will be no Question and Answer time, but it will give presidential candidates ten minutes to make a pitch and present their vision as the voters of Iowa begin the process of making their decisions for the first in the nation caucuses.” C-SPAN will be carrying the event live on CSPAN.org and C-SPAN Radio at 8 p.m. ET. What’s on John Berman’s political radar screen? Watch his “Good Morning America” report:
And don’t miss Rick Klein’s review of several of the most striking “unforced errors” committed by potential candidates in the early stages of the race (think Mike Huckabee and Natalie Portman): http://abcn.ws/ghp3TD
TEAM TRUMP GOES TO IOWA. Though Donald Trump won’t be in the Waukee, Iowa for tonight’s candidate forum, his closest political hand, Michael Cohen, will be scouting out the crucial early caucus state for a one-day visit meant as both a listening tour of major GOP strategists, operatives, donors, grassroots organizers and activists as well as a chance to pitch the Trump for President brand. The trip, Cohen told the Note, is a chance “to learn the lay of the land in Iowa so that if and when in June, Mr. Trump announces his decision — and hopefully it will be in the affirmative — we will already know the individuals, we will have already made contact with them so I can turn over all that information to him.” Cohen, an executive vice president at the Trump Organization and Trump’s special counsel, created the Web site — http://shouldtrumprun.com/ — which he says has received close to half-a-million page views over the last couple of months. “Tens of thousands of Iowans have been writing in, expressing their hope that Mr. Trump elects to throw his hat into the race,” Cohen said in an interview. “I’ve seen him negotiate very significant deals and know in my heart that what America needs right now is a leader with real, tested experience with business and negotiations to take our struggling an ailing economy out of the disaster that the so-called professional politicians have gotten us into.”
NOTED: In case Iowa wasn’t crowded enough today, potential presidential candidate Ron Paul will be a guest speaker in three Iowa cities as part of a barn-storming tour of the state sponsored by The Family Leader organization. The Texas congressman, with a powerful online and grassroots following, has been hinting he may run for president again in 2012.
ON TODAY’S “TOP LINE.” ABC’s Rick Klein and Karen Travers sit down with former RNC Chairman Michael Steele to talk about the current state of the Republican Party and what the future has in store for the former chairman. Also on the program, Yochi Dreazen, a senior correspondent for National Journal. Watch “Top Line” LIVE at 12:00 p.m. Eastern. http://bit.ly/ABCTopLine
WHITE HOUSE WATCH. President Obama meets today with Prime Minister Julia Gillard of Australia. “The President and Prime Minister Gillard will discuss the strong ties between the United States and Australia, our shared political and economic interests in the Asia-Pacific region, and our work together around the world, including in Afghanistan and as members of APEC and the G20,” the White House said in a statement announcing the visit. (h/t ABC’s Sunlen Miller).
A WAR ON VOTING? “New Hampshire's new Republican state House speaker is pretty clear about what he thinks of college kids and how they vote. They're "foolish," Speaker William O'Brien said in a recent speech to a tea party group,” the Washington Post’s Peter Wallsten reports. “New Hampshire's new Republican state House speaker is pretty clear about what he thinks of college kids and how they vote. They're "foolish," Speaker William O'Brien said in a recent speech to a tea party group. … The measures in New Hampshire are among dozens of voting-related bills being pushed by newly empowered Republican state lawmakers across the country – prompting partisan clashes akin to those already roiling in some states over GOP moves to curb union power. Backers of the voting measures say they would bring fairness and restore confidence in a voting system vulnerable to fraud. Many states, for instance, do not require identification to vote. Measures being proposed in 32 states would add an ID requirement or proof of citizenship, according to an analysis by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University.” http://wapo.st/edchbo
DEMS ROLL OUT THE UN-WELCOME MAT FOR HEATHER WILSON. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee released a new Web video this morning that amounts to a pre-emptive strike against former GOP New Mexico Congresswoman Heather Wilson, who plans to announce a bid for Senate today. The video hits Wilson for, among other things, losing the Republican nomination for Senate in 2008: “When she asked New Mexico voters for a promotion to the Senate, so she could stay in Washington even longer, we told her it was time to come home.” DSCC spokesman Eric Schultz tells the Note: “For years, Heather Wilson was part of the problem in Washington and now she wants to be sent back. Last time around, New Mexico primary voters rejected her and turns out they had good reason to.” Wilson is seeking to replace retiring Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M. Watch the video: http://bit.ly/fQHiz0
UTAH MOVES TOWARD GUEST WORKER PROGRAM. “Utah could become the first state in the nation with its own guest worker program that would grant permits to undocumented immigrants and allow them to continue living and working in the state legally,” ABC’s Devin Dwyer writes. “The measure passed the Republican-controlled state legislature late Friday as part of a bipartisan deal that also includes an enforcement law, requiring police to check the immigration status of suspects in felony or serious misdemeanor cases. Republican Gov. Gary Herbert praised lawmakers for crafting a so-called ‘Utah solution’ to the state's illegal immigration problem but has not said whether he will sign the bills. The federal government would need to grant a waiver to allow Utah to permit immigrant workers who would otherwise not be legally present in the United States. Such a waiver would be unprecedented, and it's unclear whether a mechanism exists for the state to request one.” http://abcn.ws/fwshm8
HUNTSMAN CONFAB IN NOLA. “Members of the presidential campaign-in-waiting for U.S. Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman are set to meet on March 18th in New Orleans for a strategy session,” Real Clear Politics’ Erin McPike reports. “Huntsman plans to leave his Beijing posting on April 30th to prepare for a likely White House bid in the 2012 election, but he will not be part of the New Orleans gathering and is not privy to it. Some who will attend include veteran Republican strategist John Weaver, GOP ad maker Fred Davis and New Hampshire Republican activist Peter Spaulding. Three staffers for Horizon PAC, the organization for Huntsman's campaign-in-waiting, will also attend, including executive director Susie Wiles, spokesman Tim Miller and Jake Suski. The former Utah governor will not be able to begin campaigning for his likely bid until May, but he has already begun to receive invitations to appear in New Hampshire.” http://bit.ly/dHeQ6G
THE KING’S SPEECH. “The Republican chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee said budget cuts to port and transit security that the GOP majority approved last month are ‘wrong’ and ‘dangerous,’” The Hill’s Russell Berman notes. “‘I think that a number of the cuts Republicans have made in the continuing resolution are wrong,’ Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) said Sunday on CNN’s ‘State of the Union.’ … ‘We cannot afford those cuts, they are too dangerous,’ King said. ‘And one attack on subway train or one attack in one port will cost us more money going into the future years than any amount, any small amount they're saving.’ King voted in favor of the seven-month spending bill that included those cuts, and he did not explain his decision to do so on Sunday.” http://bit.ly/hUn3on
WHITE HOUSE PUSHES FOR PATENT REFORM. Austan Goolsbee, the chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, is out with a new “White Board” video today pressing the Obama administration’s case for a patent reform bill now making its way through Congress. “We’ve had the number of patent applications grow enormously. They’ve almost tripled in the last 20 years and now we’ve got a massive backlog of more than 700,000 patents. The average patent in 2011 takes almost 3 years to get and thousands of them take many years more than that,” Goolsbee says in the clip. “So if we’re just waiting for people to have their application opened and then reviewed, they aren’t going to be able to be out there creating the kinds of jobs that we’re going to need to out-innovate the rest of the world.” Among the changes proposed in the bill is switch from a “first-to-invent” to a “first-to-file” system — a move that is opposed by some members of Congress as well as individual inventors who say that it would favor big businesses at the expense of small entrepreneurs. The U.S. Senate voted last week to table an amendment introduced by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., that would have preserved the current “first-to-invent” system. Watch Goolsbee’s video: http://bit.ly/hwj9K2 (h/t Amy Bingham)
@jaketapper: Secy of Defense Gates is in Afghanistan for his 13th visit to that country as SecDef
@markknoller: Admission: When its my turn in the presidential motorcade, the inconvenience inflicted on commuters doesn't bother me that much.
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