Mitt Romney, Barack Obama Emerge As 2012′s Fragile Front-Runners (The Note)

Jun 16, 2011 8:49am

By MICHAEL FALCONE (@michaelpfalcone) and AMY WALTER (@amyewalter)

It’s good to be from Boston today.

The Bruins won the Stanley Cup for the first time in nearly 40 years, the Red Sox are in first place and Mitt Romney has cemented himself as the clear frontrunner in the race for the Republican presidential nomination.

In the wake of a successful debate performance in New Hampshire on Monday, the ex-governor of Massachusetts and repeat presidential candidate has expanded his lead in the GOP primary according to the latest NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll.

Romney is on top with 30 percent support among registered Republican voters — a nine point increase since April of this year.

Only former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and former Godfather’s Pizza CEO Herman Cain hit double digits. Palin came in second in the poll, getting 14 percent, Cain received 12 percent, Texas Gov. Rick Perry who has not yet declared his candidacy ended up in fourth place with 8 percent and Rep. Ron Paul, R-Tex., rounded out the top five with 7 percent.

The rest of the contenders wound up in the low single digits, including Newt Gingrich (6 percent), Tim Pawlenty (4 percent), Rick Santorum (4 percent), Michele Bachmann (3 percent) and Jon Huntsman (1 percent). Huntsman, the former U.S. ambassador to China, plans to make his presidential bid official next Tuesday.

Given the weakness of the rest of the field, Romney's showing isn't all that impressive. Only 45 percent of Republican primary voters say they are satisfied with their current choices in the 2012 race.

Moreover, asked how confident they were that Romney had the “skills and ability necessary to be president” just 23 percent of all respondents said “extremely” or “quite confident.” In September of 2007, 46 percent felt extremely or quite confident that then Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton had those skills.

But Romney can take heart that in this: in that same September 2007 poll, just 32 percent said they were confident in then Sen. Barack Obama's ability to be president.

BOTTOM LINE: Both Romney and Obama are "fragile frontrunners." While Obama's overall job approval rating is decent, just 41 percent approve of his handling of the economy and 62 percent see the country on the wrong track — a 12 point jump since May.

At this point in their first term, Reagan, Clinton and George W. Bush had economic approval ratings between 47 and 49 percent. And, according to an NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll, around this point in September of 2003, just 50 percent of Americans thought things were on the wrong track.


ON TODAY’S “TOP LINE”: CONGRESSMAN WALTER JONES. ABC’s Rick Klein and Jonathan Karl interview Rep. Walter Jones, R-N.C. Also on the program, Alexandra Pelosi, film maker of HBO’s “Citizen USA.” Watch “Top Line” LIVE at 12:00 p.m. Eastern.



OBAMA ADMINISTRATION DEFENDS LIBYA INVOLVMENT. “In a report revealing that the total cost of US intervention in Libya as of June 3 has been $716 million and will reach $1.1 billion by the end of September, the Obama administration yesterday told congressional leaders in a report that the role of the US military is so limited, congressional authorization is not needed,” ABC’s Jake Tapper reports. “‘The President is of the view that the current U.S. military operations in Libya are consistent with the War Powers Resolution and do not under that law require further congressional authorization, because U.S. military operations are distinct from the kind of ‘hostilities’ contemplated by the Resolution’s 60 day termination provision,’ wrote two officials with the Pentagon’s legislative affairs office. ‘U.S. forces are playing a constrained and supporting role in a multinational coalition, whose operations are both legitimated by and limited to the terms of a United Nations Security Council Resolution that authorizes the use of force solely to protect civilians and civilian populated areas under attack or threat of attack and to enforce a no-fly zone and an arms embargo.’ The argument is similar to one the President made in a letter to congressional leaders last month. Brendan Buck, a spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said that ‘the creative arguments made by the White House raise a number of questions that must be further explored. Regardless, the Commander-in-Chief has a responsibility to articulate how U.S. military action is vital to our national security and consistent with American policy goals.’”

LAWMAKERS SUE: “Reps. Dennis Kucinich and Walter Jones continued their bipartisan quest to end the U.S. military’s participation in the conflict in Libya, filing a lawsuit Tuesday in federal court against President Obama to ‘challenge the commitment of the United States to war in Libya absent the required constitutional legal authority,’” notes ABC’s John R. Parkinson. “The lawsuit challenges what the lawmakers see as ‘the executive branch’s circumvention of Congress and its use of international organizations such as the United Nations and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to authorize the use of military force abroad, in violation of the Constitution. … With regard to the war in Libya, we believe that the law was violated. We have asked the courts to move to protect the American people from the results of these illegal policies,’ Kucinich said in a statement announcing the suit.”

ABORTION ISSUE FINDS ITS WAY INTO DEFENSE BUDGET DEBATE. “Jessica Kenyon was applying to become an officer in the Army and had just earned her spurs when she found out she was pregnant. Little did the now 30-year-old realize that her military career would be short-lived. Kenyon, who was sexually assaulted by another servicemember, was denied an abortion at the military hospital in North Korea where she was stationed. Instead, she was told her only option would be to find a facility in Seoul or leave the country,” writes ABC’s Huma Khan. “Under current law, only those women whose lives are endangered can get an abortion at military hospitals. Victims of rape and incest aren't entitled to federal funds for abortion services, even though other beneficiaries of government health care, like prisoners and Medicaid recipients, are. Abortion rights supporters are hoping to capitalize on the ongoing defense budget debate to build momentum for a provision that would allow servicemembers who are victims of rape and incest to get an abortion at military hospitals. A number of Senate Democrats, led by New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, will officially introduce the MARCH — Military Access to Reproductive Care and Health — Act today, following on the heels of a similar House bill that was announced last week. The bills are likely to trigger another political fight on an issue that has become the battleground for conservatives in the current Congress. Last month, an effort by Rep. Susan Davis, D-Calif., to interject a similar amendment into the 2012 Defense Authorization Act did not even make it past the Republican-controlled House Rules Committee.”

SOME GOP FRESHMEN SEEING RED. “Members of the firebrand class of Republican freshmen on Capitol Hill — elected on a pledge to attack the U.S. debt problem — have, in some cases, accumulated tens of thousands of dollars in personal debt, according to financial documents released Wednesday,” according to the Washington Post’s David A. Fahrenthold and Karen Yourish. “Among the 87 new GOP members of Congress, the documents show, at least 30 had liabilities totaling $50,000 or more in 2010. Those debts included large mortgages on investment properties, as well as student loans and credit card balances. At least seven freshmen had credit card debt exceeding $15,000. The newcomers have helped press a simple GOP message about the public debt: The country has too much and must reduce its burden immediately. These documents seem to show that, in their private lives, some freshmen took a more nuanced view: Debt could be useful, when put toward furthering ventures in real estate, farming or other businesses. The documents present the most complete financial picture to date of a group that promised to remake Washington with the values of the American heartland. Judging from members’ bank accounts, the freshman class has elements of both places. It has brought at least 24 new millionaires to a Congress that already had plenty. But many freshmen, like thousands of other Americans, entered 2011 with significant debt.”

RICK PERRY’S MOMENT? “The Republican primary field is mostly complete, but it leaves many on the right wanting. They believe it does not contain the next Ronald Reagan, the kind of candidate who can directly attack the policies of President Obama while uniting the conservative movement,” Washington and Austin-based GOP strategist Matt Mackowiak writes in the National Review. “Texas governor Rick Perry has a golden opportunity to fill the vacuum. He did not envision being in the position that he finds himself in now — no one could have. The dominoes had to fall in a certain way, in a certain order. Many candidates who could have filled the hole in the current field passed, for their own reasons. Governor Barbour would have been the southern candidate with significant financial backing. Rep. Mike Pence (Ind.) would have been the social conservative with Reagan-like communication abilities. Sen. John Thune (S.D.) would have been a next-generation candidate in the vein of Obama. Gov. Mitch Daniels (Ind.) would have been the serious candidate laser-focused on the debt. … Governor Perry is uniquely positioned to win two of the first three Republican nominating contests (Iowa and South Carolina), unite the Tea Party and the Republican establishment, raise enough money to compete with Mitt Romney, and establish a narrative that contrasts well with President Obama’s. With Perry as governor, Texas has created more private-sector jobs than all other 49 states combined. This election will hinge on the economy, so there may be no better messenger.”

TEA PARTY TARGETS ORRIN HATCH. “It’s official: Utah Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch is the first Republican incumbent who will be targeted by one of the nation’s most influential Tea Party-aligned organizations. FreedomWorks PAC plans to launch a “Retire Orrin Hatch” campaign at the Utah Republican Convention this Saturday, the group’s first major move of the 2012 congressional cycle,” The Daily Caller’s Alex Pappas reports. “The group says targeting Hatch is symbolic. It signals the beginning of the next wave of Tea Party activists working to replace Republican incumbents they see as too moderate and out of sync with a movement stressing fiscal conservatism. ‘The bottom line is Hatch doesn’t represent the state of Utah,’ said Russ Walker, the vice president of political and grassroots campaigns for FreedomWorks PAC. ‘The state of Utah is far more fiscally conservative than Orrin Hatch is. It’s an opportunity to pick up a seat, it’s an opportunity to find somebody who is better.’ Among grievances FreedomWorks has with Hatch is they say is a legislative history of voting to increase the debt ceiling 16 times, voting in support of Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) legislation and voting against a ban on earmarks. By returning to Utah, the group, chaired by former House leader Dick Armey, is hoping to repeat success they had in the state in 2010.”

WHITE HOUSE WATCH: This afternoon President Obama will meet with his Mongolian counterpart, President Tsakhia Elbegdorj, who is visiting the U.S. with the hopes of boosting the bilateral relationship between the two countries, ABC’s Mary Bruce reports. The United States “has a responsibility to help those who are trying to follow in its steps,” Elbegdorj told the Washington Post in an interview ahead of his visit. Mongolia, which holds regular free elections and allows power to transfer peacefully, receives financial assistance from the U.S. but is seeking more of a sustained commercial relationship.



@USSenScottBrown: Congratulations to the 2011 Bruins for bringing the Stanley Cup back to Boston for the first time in 39 years!

@HotlineReid: On The Trail: Why Republican governor gains in 2010 matter for 2012 –

@Jordanfabian: Ron Paul locks horns with Rick Perry …

@pwire: Pawlenty may run TV ads ahead of Iowa straw poll…

@JillDLawrence: Word of the day: "empretzel," compliments of



*Mitt Romney will attend a private fundraiser in Sarasota, Fl. at 8:45 a.m. Romney is also scheduled to attend a fundraiser in Atlanta, Ga. and tour a small business, Kenny’s Great Pies, in Smyrna, GA.

* Rick Santorum will attend a meet-and-greet at Ollie's Restaurant in Manchester, N.H. at 1 p.m. At 5:30 p.m., he will appear as a guest at a fundraiser for Manchester Mayor Ted Gatsas at St. George's Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Manchester. Santorum will attend the Bedford Republican Summer Social Barbecue at the home of Shannon McGinley in Bedford at 6:30 p.m.

*  Tim Pawlenty will speak in San Francisco at Institute 2011, a conference put on by America's Health Insurance Plans.

* The 2011 Republican Leadership Conference & Reagan Centennial Celebration begins in New Orleans. Speakers today include Newt Gingrich and Mike Huckabee.

* The Netroots Nation convention begins place in Minneapolis, Minn.

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