By MICHAEL FALCONE and AMY WALTER
Forget all the talk of a “sleepy” 2012. The race for the Republican presidential nomination is wide awake and kicking.
Mike Huckabee is out, Newt Gingrich is in (and continuing to diss Paul Ryan's budget plan), Donald Trump has to decide soon if he’s going for another season of “The Celebrity Apprentice” or for the White House, Mitt Romney's dialing for dollars in Las Vegas and political activists in Iowa and New Hampshire are at odds over the importance of their respective nominating contests.
No sooner did Huckabee announce this weekend that he would be staying out of the fight for the Republican presidential nomination than the jockeying for his supporters began. His no-go decision takes out the frontrunner in Iowa and South Carolina making those already wide-open contests even more unpredictable. http://abcn.ws/kpfCat
Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty made the first overtures to voters who might have backed Huckabee in a statement released just minutes after the former Arkansas governor’s dramatic Fox News announcement ("All the factors say go, but my heart says no”) Saturday night. http://abcn.ws/kDqg4B
“Mike and I agree our nation is facing big challenges and desperately needs new leadership,” Pawlenty said. “And I plan to work hard to earn the support of the millions of Americans who have supported him.”
Pawlenty could, indeed, pick up some Huckmentum especially among Evangelicals and especially in a crucial state like Iowa where the sling-shot effect can propel a lesser-known candidate into the winner’s circle in subsequent primaries (as it did for Huckabee in 2008).
“Michele Bachmann also has an opportunity here,” Christian Broadcasting Network chief political correspondent David Brody wrote. “If she decides to get in, she becomes even more potent in Iowa if she can pull some of those Huckabee votes into her column.” http://bit.ly/kXiH2L
That said, it was never really clear that Huckabee was going to be able to dominate in Iowa or South Carolina in the first place. Yes, he had name I.D. and good standing among social conservatives. But in this new Tea Party era, his record in Arkansas, especially on taxes, would have been a huge liability, contrasting sharply with the new breed of tough talkin', government slashing governors and former governors.
The real question now is Huckabee use his perch on Fox as an outlet to influence the 2012 primary. (Should Romney be worried?)
As for Gingrich, he's taking Iowa by storm this week, kicking off a 17-city tour of the state with an appearance in Dubuque. But can he get any traction?
His personal life is a problem for Evangelical and other social conservatives. But, his bigger problem is that his identity as the "big ideas" guy for the party has been eclipsed by a young House member named Paul Ryan. Ryan, Republican of Wisconsin, set the policy table for the GOP this year — not Newt.
And, yesterday in an appearance on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Newt batted down Ryan’s plan, calling it “right wing social engineering.”
“I don't think right-wing social engineering is any more desirable than left-wing social engineering,” Gingrich said when asked about the proposal, adding that it represented “radical change.”
Meanwhile, Romney is in Nevada today, “kicking off a frenzied day of campaigning with a phone bank fundraiser in Las Vegas,” the AP reports. He’ll also be hosting a conference call with supporters and a Facebook town hall meeting.
ABC's "SUBWAY SERIES": Chinese Official Lectures Senators — Get Your Fiscal House in Order. “Not only is the mounting U.S. debt causing anxiety at home, one Democratic senator tells ABC News that a group of senators faced an embarrassing reprimand by a Chinese official on a recent Congressional delegation to Asia,” ABC’s Jonathan Karl and Gregory C. Simmons report. “‘The most embarrassing moment to me on that trip was when a government official said to me, or said the to the delegation, you guys need to get your fiscal house in order,’ Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., said of an April trip to China with nine other senators. ‘I felt like being at a shareholder meeting for a corporation and the shareholder is saying you're being irresponsible.’ Bennet made the comments in an interview on the latest installment of the ABC News' "Subway Series". China now owns $1.2 trillion of the $14.3 trillion U.S. debt, according to the Treasury Department. ‘Not only do they own a bunch of our debt, but they have a cash surplus which they're using to invest in infrastructure and in natural resources all over the globe,’ Bennet said. ‘That's what we are increasingly incapable of doing unless we get this resolved.’” http://abcn.ws/j0aBxf
ON TODAY’S “TOP LINE.” ABC’s Amy Walter and Rick Klein feature a “Subway Series” interview with Sen. Michael Bennet, D- Colo. (preview above). Also on the program, The Washington Post's Karen Tumulty. Watch “Top Line” LIVE at 12:00 p.m. Eastern. http://bit.ly/ABCTopLine
DEMOCRATS STEP UP ATTACK ON HOUSE REPUBLICANS. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is expanding its “Drive to 25” campaign, which holds key House Republicans accountable for, as they put it, “choosing to end Medicare rather than end taxpayer giveaways for Big Oil making huge profits or tax breaks for the ultra rich.” The DCCC will begin running automated calls in 20 districts like this one in Rep. Lou Barletta’s Pennsylvania Congressional district. “You’ve paid into Medicare for more than 25 years and deserve the Medicare benefits you’ve earned. Under the Barletta plan, Medicare ends and you’ll have to save about $182,000 more to pay for your health care. Where will you get $182,000?” the call says. “Everyone agrees we must cut spending and tighten our belt, but Barletta has made the wrong choice.” The DCCC is also stepping up its online efforts with the site, “DontEndMedicare.com,” a virtual phone bank, and an e-mail campaign.
FLIP-FLOPPERS EMERGE ON DEBT CEILING VOTE. “Weeks before Republican Senator Olympia Snowe of Maine will face a vote on raising the U.S. debt limit, she’s ready with a pre-emptive defense of her record on the subject,” Bloomberg News’ Julie Hirschfeld Davis. “The issue has come up 47 times since she arrived in Congress in 1979, Snowe recites, without missing a beat, when asked about her checkered history of voting for and against such measures — 22 times as a stand-alone, or ‘clean’ vote, and 25 times attached to some other legislation. … Snowe isn’t alone in Washington. With a vote looming sometime in the next few months on raising the nation’s $14.3 trillion debt limit, lawmakers in both parties are poring over their voting records and parsing their arguments, puzzling over what position to take on a vote that is never pleasant. When it comes to the debt limit, virtually every member of the U.S. Congress is a flip-flopper. That includes President Barack Obama, who as a senator from Illinois in 2006 voted against raising the limit, a move he now calls ‘a mistake.’” http://bloom.bg/ljkXWz
OBAMA: SEARCHING FOR 2012 SURROGATES. “Candidate Barack Obama had no better buddy on the 2008 primary trail than Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill, who was feared — and a little hated — by Hillary Clinton’s campaign for being Obama’s most effective female surrogate,” Politico’s Glenn Thrush reports. “McCaskill still likes Obama, but like many other former high-profile Obama surrogates from 2008, she’s not expected to reprise her starring proxy role in 2012. … Obama’s team is confident it will eventually line up plenty of support, especially when GOP front-runners emerge, creating a clearer contrast to frame his campaign. But it won’t be easy. Kick-starting a campaign after two years in the White House means old friends tend to become less friendly after compromises and disappointments — and finding validators who haven’t drawn an administration paycheck becomes more difficult. And the role of surrogates in 2012 will be fundamentally different than last time — less about introducing Obama to the public and more about explaining health care reform, the stimulus, two-and-half wars and the flagging economy to anxious voters.” http://politi.co/mPRDz6
NEW YORK CONGRESSIONAL RACE BECOMES REFERENDUM ON MEDICARE. “Special congressional elections tend to be sleepy affairs, campaigns so condensed and out of step with the normal political calendar that they’re often missed. But they can be mirrors of the national moment, too, and that’s what’s happening in the suburbs of Buffalo and Rochester, where a race to fill a vacant U.S. House seat has turned into a referendum on the Republican plan to overhaul Medicare,” The Washington Post’s Philip Rucker reports. “Sensing an unexpected opportunity for a Democratic rebound from last year’s losses, Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) flew here Sunday morning and moved from table to table at the Family Tree Restaurant, hovering over eggs, sausage links and pancakes to deliver a simple message. ‘If you care about Medicare and want to keep Medicare as it is, she’s your person,’ Schumer, the Democrats’ message man in Washington, said as he introduced diners to Democrat Kathy Hochul. … At the next table: ‘If you’re gonna have Medicare one of these days, she’s fighting to keep it.’ … This, Democrats believe, is how Hochul just might do what seemed unthinkable a few weeks ago: win in one of the nation’s more inhospitable places for Democrats. … Changing Medicare, the centerpiece of Ryan’s plan, is deeply unpopular across the country, according to public polls. The backlash to it in this economically struggling district, where registered voters are older than the national average, has turned an unusual three-way race into a dead heat. Thus, what happens here ahead of the May 24 election will set the terms for both parties’ campaign playbooks heading into the 2012 battle for control of the House and Senate.” http://wapo.st/kYqT5U
TRUMP SLUMP? THE DONALD’S SOURING POLL NUMBERS. “Is Donald Trump's White House dream over before his campaign can even begin?” ABC’s Joel Siegel asks today. “The casino mogul and reality-television star says he's nearing a decision about whether to plunge into the 2012 presidential race. But the most recent polls contain some ominous signs for ‘The Donald.’ Trump's numbers are so problematic that winning the Republican nomination, let alone the presidency, might be out of reach, several independent pollsters and analysts say. ‘The numbers are very daunting,’ David Birdsell, dean of the School of Public Affairs at Baruch College in New York City, said. Marist College Poll director Lee Miringoff said, ‘The incline is very steep. He has all kinds of problems that would take a lot of undoing if he is really serious about it.’ … The most recent numbers by Gallup, a sampling of Republican voters from April 25 through May 8, found Trump supported by 16 percent of Republicans; tied for first place with former Arkansas Mike Huckabee, who has since announced he will not enter the race. The poll also found that Trump is the most well-known of the potential GOP candidates, recognized by 98 percent of Republicans. But the same survey found that the number of Republicans who dislike Trump has grown to 44 percent, higher than Sarah Palin's unfavorable rating (25 percent) or Newt Gingrich's (also 25 percent).” http://abcn.ws/kTEa7b
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