By MICHAEL FALCONE and AMY WALTER
PORTSMOUTH, N.H. — Donald Trump is making his first visit as a potential presidential candidate to this first-in-the-nation primary state today as he tests the waters for what is shaping up to be an unpredictable — but increasingly likely — bid for the Republican nomination.
Trump is parachuting into New Hampshire for a matter of hours to headline a party fundraiser, meet with operatives, activists and voters as well as a throng of local and national reporters who will be following his every move in the Granite State.
His schedule has been a tightly guarded secret for security reasons, according to his staff. They left the planning for what is likely to be a seven or eight-hour stay in New Hampshire largely up to the state's Republican Party.
"I love the people of New Hampshire," Trump said in an interview with ABC News before his trip. "They're workers — no nonsense.” http://abcn.ws/eaGGxZ
The billionaire real estate mogul and reality television star is slated to arrive by private helicopter at 9 a.m. Wednesday morning at the Portsmouth International Airport where he will hold a news conference upon landing. Trump, who is set to visit New Hampshire again in May and June, will then embark on a day-long series of events beginning with stops at local businesses around town.
Sources familiar with his schedule say he is unlikely to venture beyond the Seacoast area on this trip, skipping the state capitol, Concord, and the state's largest city, Manchester. The marquee event of Trump's day will be a high-dollar fundraising luncheon for the New Hampshire GOP at the swanky One Hundred Club in Portsmouth.
Trump has said he will make an announcement about his presidential intentions before June, and he said in an interview with ABC News that he is "having a good time" contemplating a White House bid. Trump said he would "prefer" not to run, but "the country comes before what I would prefer."
"The country is in such bad trouble," he said, adding that running for president, is "not that tough a decision for me."
For New Hampshire voters, however, choosing to support Trump may be a far more difficult choice. Granite Staters traditionally take their presidential primary vetting responsibilities seriously and some activists are already grumbling that fly-by visits like Trump’s today will not sit well with residents who expect to have a chance to sit down and have a cup of coffee with perspective candidates.
Even more broadly, there’s also growing concern among the GOP establishment, not only in states like New Hampshire and Iowa but also around the country that the Republican presidential field is fast becoming defined not by the mainstream but by the fringes. http://abcn.ws/h5i9HP
With Trump raising questions about President Obama’s birth certificate and whether or not he was qualified to attend Columbia University and Harvard Law School and Rep. Ron Paul, R-Tex., a favorite of the libertarian-leaning grassroots during the 2008 election cycle, announcing a presidential exploratory committee yesterday, party leaders are wondering what has become of those who they see as the more serious establishment contenders.
BOTTOM LINE: Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, a favorite of conservative columnists like George Will and David Brooks, remains tightlipped and some insiders think he won't make a decision until later this month. Former Utah Gov. and Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman doesn't return stateside until the end of April. There’s still plenty of time for the more establishment-oriented candidates like ex-Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and ex-Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty to recapture the spotlight. But, the fact that the GOP field seems stuck in neutral and that Donald Trump and his "birtherism" is currently taking up a lot of oxygen, isn't helpful to the GOP brand.
WHITE HOUSE: BIRTH CERTIFICATE ISSUE IS ‘SETTLED.’ “We have a lot of problems confronting us,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said when asked about the “birther” claims at yesterday’s briefing, “it’s an unfortunate distraction from the issues that I think most Americans care about. ABC’s Sunlen Miller notes that the White House is dubbing this a “settled issue.” More from Carney: “The birth certificate that the campaign put up online has been available for everyone to see around the globe,” he said White House podium on Tuesday, “ It's the same birth certificate you get to get a driver's license and so on. Anybody who was born in Hawaii who asks for their birth certificate gets the same thing that we — this — the campaign and the White House has provided to the press.” http://abcn.ws/frl8x2
ON TODAY’S “TOP LINE.” ABC’s Rick Klein and Amy Walter interview representatives from two groups on both sides of the Medicare reform debate. First up, Caren Benjamin, Deputy Director of Americans United for Change, a liberal advocacy group that has been running ads against House Republicans over their support for Rep. Paul Ryan’s plan to transform the Medicare system. And later, James Martin, chairman of the 60 Plus Association, an advocacy group for seniors that ran ads attacking Democrats over Medicare cuts last year. Watch “Top Line” LIVE at 12:00 p.m. Eastern. http://bit.ly/ABCTopLine
FED HOLDS FIRST-EVER PRESS CONFERENCE. “At 2:15 p.m. ET, Ben Bernanke, chairman of the Federal Reserve, will make waves in the world of economists and Wall Streeters,” ABC News’ Dan Arnall reports. “For the first time in the 98-year history of the nation's central bank, the chairman will talk to the press after an interest rate decision, fulfilling a promise he made at his first confirmation hearing back in 2005. At the time he said, ‘Under Chairman Greenspan, monetary policy has become increasingly transparent to the public and the financial markets, a trend that I strongly support.’ Most Fed watchers don't expect Bernanke to make any surprising observations about the economy. The Fed almost certainly won't ratchet up interest rates or change the course of the widely-known QE2 program to boost economic recovery. Instead, Bernanke will likely take the podium to reinforce the post-meeting statement issued earlier in the afternoon and underline the observations the Federal Reserve's staff economists make in their updated forecast issued as a part of the release.” http://abcn.ws/g6N5OB
BREAKING — WHITE HOUSE SHAKES UP NATIONAL SECURITY TEAM. From ABC’s Jake Tapper: “Sources tell ABC News that President Obama will nominate CIA director Leon Panetta to replace Defense Secretary Robert Gates. The president will nominate Gen. David Petraeus to serve as director of the CIA. The president will also nominate Marine General John Allen to replace Petraeus as ISAF commander in Afghanistan, and Ryan Crocker as US Ambassador to Afghanistan, replacing Karl Eikenberry. The announcements are formally expected tomorrow. An announcement for the new Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman will likely not be part of this announcement.” http://abcn.ws/hRNNFX
EMILY’S LIST ANNOUNCES FIRST ROUND OF SUPPORT FOR HOUSE CANDIDATES. Emily’s List, which is devoted to electing women to public office, is announcing its opening round of support in key Congressional races today. They’ve created a new program called “On the List,” a way to promote candidates early on without issuing an outright endorsement. The “inaugural” group of women who are “On the List” are Lois Frankel (FL-22); Ann Kirkpatrick (AZ-01) ; Ann McLane Kuster (NH-02) ; and Christie Vilsack (IA-04). Sources at Emily’s List told The Note that the group “has grown exponentially — and instead of 100,000 donors who respond to email solicitations on behalf of candidates, now we have over 900,000 members of our online community who interact with us (and campaigns).” And those members will be hearing about this first crop of candidates. “2012 is shaping up to be a huge year for women candidates,” Emily’s List President Stephanie Schriock said in a statement. “Women across the country are fired up over the extreme anti-woman agenda moving forward in the House and we are seeing women jump into races earlier than ever this year. EMILY’s List wants to help them now. ‘On the List’ provides us with a way to get in faster and introduce our members to these great candidates right away.
VOTER ANGER GROWS OVER BUDGET PROPOSALS. “In central Florida, a Congressional town meeting erupted into near chaos on Tuesday as attendees accused a Republican lawmaker of trying to dismantle Medicare while providing tax cuts to corporations and affluent Americans,” The New York Times’ Jennifer Steinhauer and Carl Hulse note. “At roughly the same time in Wisconsin, Representative Paul D. Ryan, the architect of the Republican budget proposal, faced a packed town meeting, occasional boos and a skeptical audience as he tried to lay out his party’s rationale for overhauling the health insurance program for retirees. In a church theater here on Tuesday evening, a meeting between Representative Allen B. West and some of his constituents began on a chaotic note, with audience members quickly on their feet, some heckling him and others loudly defending him. “You’re not going to intimidate me,” Mr. West said. After 10 days of trying to sell constituents on their plan to overhaul Medicare, House Republicans in multiple districts appear to be increasingly on the defensive, facing worried and angry questions from voters and a barrage of new attacks from Democrats and their allies.” http://nyti.ms/f9Qh4Z
DEBATE OVER RYAN PLAN PUTS ELDERLY VOTE UP FOR GRABS. “Democrats still smarting from their 2010 mid-term defeat see Republican Rep. Paul Ryan’s controversial plan to overhaul Medicare as political aspirin, a cure for just about everything that ails them. But for Barack Obama it’s more like Geritol — a targeted treatment for his chronic aches and pains with older voters,” Politico’s Glenn Thrush and Marin Cogan report. “Over-65 voters have given Obama the lowest marks of any age cohort in every weekly Gallup presidential approval survey taken since Obama took office. Last week, only 36 percent of seniors approved of his performance, seven points less than Obama’s overall approval rating and 12 points lower than his positive rating among 18-to-24 year-olds. But Ryan’s plan, embraced by most Republicans, gives Obama a big opportunity in 2012 to regain lost ground in key battleground states and narrow the generation gap. “It finally gives us an argument to make with seniors… It’s a godsend,” said a Democratic operative allied with Obama who sees the issue as a way to make up lost ground with seniors in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Iowa and Florida.” http://politi.co/hZ0ex2
OBAMA REACHES OUT TO THE ‘OPRAH VOTER.’ “Sorry, America, but Chicago is not atwitter over President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama returning to tape "Oprah" on Wednesday — even if its significance shouldn't be discounted. Other stuff is going on,” The Atlantic’s James Warren notes. “[Ratings] for Oprah Winfrey, the most potent force in daytime television, have been tracking downward in recent years. … There is too, the unavoidable political calculus, which goes beyond merely being embraced by a beloved icon who played no small role in the 2008 campaign. Oprah's endorsement and appearances on behalf of Obama may have been especially potent in the key initial Obama victory, at the Iowa caucuses, especially among female voters initially wary of supporting an African American. The Oprah audience thus represents a demographic of women that Obama attracted in great numbers back then and probably needs to hold in large chunks if he's to be re-elected. Like other Democrats and independents, their loyalty is wavering somewhat now, and they certainly didn't provide much ballot box help to Democrats during the Republicans' mid-term election tsunami last November.” http://bit.ly/fNLo8m
SUPREME COURT WATCH. ABC’s Ariane De Vogue notes that today marks the last day of oral arguments at the Supreme Court and the first day of the Justices’ annual behind- closed- door -scramble to finish drafting all outstanding opinions by the final week of June. As things stand now the last day of the term will be sometime during the week of June 27th. The Justices will release anywhere between 1-4 decisions. Interesting cases include those dealing with violent video games, the controversial Arizona immigration law, prison overcrowding and other issues. http://abcn.ws/i7jnVN
- Donald Trump will be in New Hampshire for "a series of meetings with key Granite Staters," including New Hampshire GOP chair Jack Kimball
-Rick Santorum will meet with conservative activists at a breakfast in Marshalltown, Iowa.
- Herman Cain will be featured as the keynote speaker for the monthly Americans for Tax Reform and American Spectator Newsmaker Luncheon in Washington, D.C.
- Newt Gingrich will be the guest speaker at the 7th Annual National Catholic Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C.
The Note Futures Calendar: http://abcn.ws/ZI9gV
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