By MICHAEL FALCONE and AMY WALTER
MANCHESTER, N.H. — Facing a feisty crowd of constituents who shouted, interrupted and shook their heads, freshman Congressman Frank Guinta spent two hours last night calmly defending his vote for a GOP-backed plan to overhaul the country’s Medicare system.
“Why Congressman Guinta, why in the world, did you ever vote for the Paul Ryan Medicare plan,” asked, Hampton, NH retiree Gary Patton, who posed the first question at an often raucous town hall meeting the congressman hosted at a local high school in Exeter last night. http://abcn.ws/lNWUQn
Patton, 73, told Guinta he was concerned that the plan introduced by Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., the chairman of the House Budget Committee, would “end Medicare as we know it.”
“The proposal that was in the House last week, again, does not affect anyone who is 55 or older,” Guinta assured. “I want to try to allay some fears about the proposal, I want to make sure that people have the proper information. If you don’t like the plan, let me know that.”
Someone shouted back: “We don’t like it!”
Guinta, who rode the Tea Party wave to Washington last year, is one of many Republicans lawmakers, including Congressman Ryan, himself, who have been facing difficult questions from voters back at home during the Congressional recess. They are wrestling with how to deal with the country’s ballooning debt and whether to make sweeping changes to entitlement programs like Medicare.
The contentious gathering of more than 100 Seacoast residents did not appear to catch Guinta by surprise. He handled the combative crowd gingerly, emphasizing his desire to “find common ground” even with those who disagree with him.
And while Guinta and many of his GOP colleagues are having a rough time in their districts, Democrats and the White House don’t have much to gloat about either.
First, there was the report yesterday that the economy grew at a snail’s pace in the first quarter of the year. Economists see this as a temporary hiccup and expect a better second quarter, but that's cold comfort to Americans who are feeling the pinch of high gas prices and stagnant wages.
And, lost in this bizarro week of birth certificate battles and the royal wedding (congrats, William and Kate!) are some pretty ugly polling numbers for the president.
The latest Gallup tracking poll shows President Obama’s disapproval rating hovering around 50 percent — 42 percent approve while 49 disapprove. And Obama’s struggling in states he carried in 2008. The latest WMUR-University of New Hampshire poll gives Obama a dismal 44 percent approval rating with 52 percent disapproving of the job he's doing.
More daunting is the fact that Mitt Romney is trouncing him in the Granite State — 50 percent to 43 percent. Similarly, a Quinnipiac University poll this week found Obama’s job approval rating in another critical state — Pennsylvania — at "an all-time low.”
BOTTOM LINE: Much of this is driven by high gas prices. But even if prices go down, there's no guarantee that the president’s numbers will go up if voters continue to feel pessimistic about the economy.
And, while Democrats are going to try to make this election a referendum on the Republicans’ budget vote, the reality is that a presidential election is really a referendum on the president and his handling of the economy.
NOTABLE: GUINTA RESPONDS TO DEM COMPLAINTS ON TRUMP VISIT. In an interview after his town hall meeting last night Congressman Guinta responded to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which criticized him for showing up at a New Hampshire Republican Party fundraiser featuring Donald Trump earlier this week. “I have supported the Republican Party of New Hampshire because it’s the right thing to do,” Guinta told ABC News. “I happened to be on the Seacoast, went to an event, where a potential presidential candidate was speaking, and I do that to support the party when a potential presidential candidate is coming. I have not made any endorsements in this campaign. The campaign hasn’t really even started yet. We don’t have any formally announced candidates. I — like every Granite Stater — want to see what every candidate has to offer.” Guinta aides emphasized that the congressman was an invited guest at the Portsmouth fundraiser and did not pay $1,000-a-plate to attend. (h/t ABC’s Exeter, NH bureau chief Gregory Simmons)
ALL EYES ON THE GRANITE STATE. Though it was Donald Trump who was getting all the attention in New Hampshire earlier this week, the spotlight shifts tonight to a handful of potential presidential candidates who will gather for a forum in Manchester sponsored by the Americans for Prosperity Foundation.
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum and businessman Herman Cain will all be on hand for a “Presidential Summit on Spending and Job Creation.” Notably, it will be Romney’s first multi-candidate event since speaking at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, DC earlier this year. The event is also a chance for New Hampshire Republicans to pay tribute to former U.S. Senate candidate, Ovide Lamontagne, who is getting the group’s “Conservative of the Year” award. South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint will be introducing Lamontagne, who ran unsuccessfully against Kelly Ayotte last year, but holds an important place in New Hampshire politics.
NEW HAMPSHIRE DEMOCRATS GREET ROMNEY WITH FEC COMPLAINT. The New Hampshire Democratic Party is filing a complaint with the Federal Elections Commission questioning whether Mitt Romney “may be funneling ‘soft money’ (unlimited and corporate contributions) through his state political action committees … to his federal presidential campaign, circumventing federal campaign contribution limits,” according to a statement released by the party this morning. In the complaint, the party outlines three ways they say Romney may have broken the law. Holly Shulman, communications director for the New Hampshire Democrats, said that Romney’s use of the state-based committees “reeks of an Enron-style accounting scheme.” Shulman added, “Mitt Romney just wants to be President — plain and simple — and he’ll take any position, say anything or do anything to get there." In a statement, Andrea Saul, a spokeswoman for Romney’s presidential exploratory committee dismissed the allegations. “This is totally political,” Saul told The Note. “For those wondering what the Obama jobs plan entails, it apparently involves hiring more lawyers at the FEC to handle frivolous complaints filed by his minions." Read the complaint: http://scr.bi/mM044w
THE RETURN OF HUNTSMAN. “U.S. Ambassador Jon Huntsman officially leaves his post Saturday as the country's top diplomat in China — a move that clears the way for a likely bid to unseat his former boss, President Obama, during the presidential election in 2012,” ABC’s Devin Dwyer reports. “Huntsman, a Republican, has been coy about his presidential ambitions, saying publicly that he is "loyal to our country and our president." But friends and colleagues say the former two-term governor of Utah seriously is considering making a run, and already has the fundamentals of a campaign operation in place to prove it. Huntsman, 51, will make a splash back into national politics Saturday night with his expected attendance at the annual White House Correspondents Association dinner in Washington, D.C. He also has planned visits next month to early the campaign states of South Carolina and New Hampshire, where supporters have created the nuclei of campaign teams to begin raising funds and lining up supporters and endorsements for Huntsman's political action committee, Horizon PAC.” http://abcn.ws/lofWIM
OBAMA OFFERS SUPPORT TO TORNADO VICTIMS. ABC’s Jake Tapper and Sunlen Miller report that President Obama said yesterday the federal government will do everything it can to help those affected by devastating tornadoes that ravaged parts of the South Wednesday, killing nearly 300 and leading to a state of emergency in Alabama. Speaking at the White House, the president noted the loss of life and expressed condolences. "The loss of life has been heartbreaking, especially in Alabama. In a matter of hours these deadly tornadoes, some of the worst that we've seen in decades, took mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, friends and neighbors, even entire communities. Others are injured and some are still missing," he said, describing the damage as "nothing short of catastrophic." The president said he will travel to Alabama to view storm damage on Friday and offer condolences to some of the victims. Later in the day, he is scheduled to travel to Florida to see the launch of NASA's space shuttle Endeavour on its final mission. http://abcn.ws/jxzTHJ
ON TODAY’S “TOP LINE.” ABC’s Rick Klein and Amy Walter interview Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., the ranking member of the House Budget Committee. Then, an exclusive “Top Line” rundown of all the action at this weekend’s White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner. Watch “Top Line” LIVE at 12:00 p.m. Eastern. http://bit.ly/ABCTopLine
TOP LINE REPLAY: JAMES LANKFORD. The freshman Republican from Oklahoma, who serves on the House Budget Committee, chalked up the anger surrounding the GOP support for the Ryan budget proposal to “organized efforts” by liberal groups to try to embarrass Republicans, and said “the majority of people that I’ve talked to” support Ryan’s plan. “I haven't had any second thoughts on passing the Ryan budget at all,” Lankford said on “Top Line” yesterday. “What's funny is people are throwing out statements, questions like, ‘It's radical,’ ‘It's extreme. It's all this crazy stuff. You're throwing the elderly out on the street.’ If they actually stopped and read it rather than listening to all the hype, they would look at it and go, ‘Well, that's not all that radical.’ ” http://abcn.ws/lyXOtM
NOTABLE: WASHINGTON’S ‘NERD PROM’ WEEKEND BEGINS. White House Correspondents’ Weekend got off to an early start this morning when Marc Adelman, of SELF Magazine, a nutrition, health and beauty publication in the Conde Nast empire (Twitter: @SELFMagazine), hosted a Royal Wedding Watch Party. Bleary-eyed guests starting showing up at 4 a.m. at his home in Washington. They enjoyed champagne, cappuccino, orange juice — and a muffin or two — as they watched William and Kate exchange their vows. (Noted: Top honors for the earliest kick off goes to Quinn Gillespie and Associates and FD, which hosted their second annual “shotgun” party on Tuesday night.) http://abcn.ws/lofWIM
ANNUAL GARDEN BRUNCH HONORS EPILEPSY WORK. A Correspondents’ Weekend tradition continues tomorrow when Tammy Haddad and Ted Greenberg, Kevin Sheekey, Hilary Rosen, Mark Ein, Alex Castellanos, Anita Dunn, Bill Knapp, Jim Courtovich, David Adler, Steve McMahon and Franco Nuschese host the 18th annual White House Correspondents' Garden Brunch at a private home in Georgetown. This year, the brunch will honor the work of CURE Epilepsy and the White Ribbon Alliance for Safe Motherhood, an international coalition working to make pregnancy and childbirth safe around the world.
Follow all of this weekend’s developments on ABC News.com, which will feature a live-stream of the red carpet arrivals at tomorrow night’s dinner hosted by ABC’s Amy Walter and Rick Klein starting at 6:30 p.m. ET and on the White House Correspondents Insider blog: http://bit.ly/5Oreg
DEMOCRATS LAUNCH BIG MONEY GROUP. “Democrats with ties to the Obama White House on Friday are launching a two-pronged fundraising effort aimed at countering deep-pocketed GOP groups in 2012 — and adopting some of the same policies on unlimited, secret donations that President Barack Obama himself has long opposed,” Politico’s Jeanne Cummings reports. “The two groups, Priorities USA and Priorities USA Action, aim to raise $100 million to defend Obama’s re-election from an expected onslaught of attack ads from similar Republican outside money organizations activated in the 2010 midterms, organizers say. The Priorities companion committees will have one that discloses donors — and one that doesn’t, a practice Obama hammered during last year’s election cycle as undermining the democratic process. The Priorities group also is jettisoning an Obama rule aimed at limiting the influence of special interests by welcoming unlimited contributions from lobbyists, labor unions, corporations, and political action committees — sources that are still banned from giving to the president’s re-election campaign, organizers said.” http://politi.co/kgepbK
DECISION TIME FOR DANIELS: WILL MITCH RUN? “After Indiana's legislature gavels to a close today, Mitch Daniels will enter the final phase of his decision-making process about whether to run for the presidency in 2012,” Real Clear Politics’ Erin McPike notes. “But unlike some of the contenders who decided against a run in part because it takes a lot to build one from scratch, Daniels could stroll several blocks out of his Statehouse office, flip on the light switch and the campaign would be right there waiting for him (much like Jon Huntsman will have in Washington when he gets home this weekend). With more than three decades in politics behind him, the governor has done more than develop a Rolodex he could deploy for fundraising, as most point out. The campaign operative in him also has built an organization ready to go whenever he tells them to. And the media doesn't seem to know it yet, but for the past year, he's been playing its members like piano keys as he orchestrates his national rollout. Anthony Dolan, the chief speechwriter for the entire Reagan presidency, knows Daniels well from the time they worked together and explained, ‘Mitch has always been a marvel with the news dynamic.’ He added, ‘A year ago people were saying ‘Mitch who’ and then comes a rollout with more elaborate choreography than a Busby Berkley musical — we haven't seen the synchronized swimming yet, but I'm sure it's coming.’” http://bit.ly/jrzmfj
THE 2012 ‘X’ FACTOR: MIKE HUCKABEE. “The shape of the Republican presidential race depends on Mike Huckabee,” writes the Washington Examiner’s Byron York in a column today. “The primary season will be one kind of contest with the former Arkansas governor in the race, and another without him. With Huckabee, the race would feature a favorite of social conservatives in a leading role in a campaign likely to focus on economic issues. Without him, a more economic-minded candidate might lead, with several other candidates vying for what would have been Huckabee's social-conservative spot. Which will it be? These days, among the people who have known and worked with Huckabee, there is a growing sense that he's leaning toward another run for the White House. What follows is based on conversations with a number of people close to Huckabee, but not with Huckabee himself. … The prospect of a Huckabee candidacy, much less a Huckabee victory, makes a lot of Washington Republicans deeply uncomfortable. Economic conservatives dislike Huckabee for what they feel is his squishy record on taxes. Foreign policy conservatives don't like him, either, mostly for his lack of experience with their issues. If he does mount a campaign, Huckabee would likely argue that the groups have much in common — most social conservatives are also fiscal conservatives — and he can win wide support. Whether that is true can only be tested by a campaign. If there is one.” http://bit.ly/lLPdJL
SANTORUM: OBAMA DOESN’T BELIEVE IN FREEDOM. “Potential 2012 presidential candidate Rick Santorum used a multi-faceted foreign policy address Thursday to cast himself as the national security candidate,” ABC’s Katie Bosland reports. Santorum criticized Obama's foreign policy around the world, calling Libya a ‘morass’ and attacking the President's handling of the recent uprisings in Egypt and Syria. He said America's outlook on international intervention should rely more on national security than President Obama's. ‘Freedom has been our watchword, our anchor and our moral guide for nearly every cause both here and abroad. But today, we have lost this mission because our president doesn't believe in it,’ Santorum said. As a prime example of this failure, Santorum cited America's involvement in Libya. … Unlike other potential 2012 contenders like Sarah Palin and Mitt Romney who have both termed American's involvement in Libya a ‘mission creep,’ Santorum said he believes that America has done too little, too late. … In his speech at the National Press Club, titled ‘Americans and the World,’ Santorum criticized U.S. policy from Syria, to Venezuela, to Egypt and Iran. His overarching message was that America is ‘truly a moral enterprise’ but that Obama has forgotten this imperative.” http://abcn.ws/jLX1xS
TRUMP TALKS TRASH IN VEGAS. “Donald Trump brought his presidential flirtation to Las Vegas Thursday night, portraying President Obama as a weak leader and pushing an aggressive foreign policy agenda that involves, among other things, extracting oil from war-torn countries as the price for American protection,” the Los Angeles Times’ Michael J. Mishak reports. “‘In the old days, when you won the war, it was yours,’ Trump said to applause. ‘When we win a war … we leave with nothing.’ He added: ‘I'm interested in protecting none of them unless they pay.’ Speaking in a casino ballroom, the combative developer and reality television host seemed to embrace this town's let-loose ethos, delivering a wide-ranging and expletive-laced speech that touched on topics including Obama's citizenship and drilling off the Gulf Coast. He was in Las Vegas to attend the wedding of Las Vegas casino mogul Steve Wynn, his friend and business competitor. … The event, hosted by several Republican women's groups, attracted hundreds of activists and had all the trappings of a Las Vegas revue: an open bar, an ice sculpture emblazoned with Trump's name, even a Trump impersonator. It took place at Treasure Island, a resort in the shadow of Trump International Hotel, a 64-story building wrapped in 24-karat-gold glass and his sole Las Vegas venture.” http://lat.ms/iFmLPn
Must Watch Video: Trump drops the F-Bomb in Sin City: http://abcn.ws/lW7LoN
* Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain and Tim Pawlenty will participate in "Summit on Spending and Job Creation," sponsored by Americans for Prosperity, in Manchester, New Hampshire
* President Obama, the First Family and Rep. Gabrielle Giffords will attend the launch of the Space Shuttle Endeavour in Cape Canaveral, Florida. Gifford's husband Mark Kelly will command the shuttle in its last mission
The Note Futures Calendar: http://abcn.ws/ZI9gV
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