The Note: 2012 Focus Remains On ‘Nation Building’ At Home

Jun 23, 2011 8:59am

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

After President Obama’s speech last night, Afghanistan may be driving the week in Washington, but for most Americans the economy remains the primary driver for their vote in 2012.

The President alluded to that reality in his speech last night with this line: “America, it is time to focus on nation-building here at home.”

And given the report yesterday from Federal Reserve chief Ben Bernanke, things at home are looking pretty grim. The Fed downgraded its forecast for economic growth. The only bit of silver lining for the President:

“The Fed projections have unemployment falling to somewhere between 7.8 and 8.2 percent, from the current 9.1 percent, by the fourth quarter of 2012, when the presidential election will be held,” according to the Washington Post.

The economic focus is good news for presidential candidate Mitt Romney. A new Bloomberg poll out today found that “an overwhelming 85 percent want candidates seeking their support to focus almost entirely on economic issues, not social ones.”

Even better for the former Massachusetts governor, 59 percent of Republican voters view Romney favorably compared to 16 percent who view him unfavorably. He is also popular with independent voters.

But the Bloomberg numbers also showed that an embrace of the Rep. Paul Ryan budget plan is a huge turn off for independent voters. Americans by a 57 percent to 34 percent margin believe they would be worse off with the Ryan Medicare plan, including 58 percent of independents

“Romney is threading the needle the way a seasoned candidate knows he must,” pollster J. Ann Selzer told Bloomberg.  “He’s saying enough of the things Republicans want to hear while holding the interest of independents.”

WHAT OBAMA SAID. “President Obama has ordered the U.S. military to withdraw 10,000 troops from Afghanistan by the end of the year and pull out another 23,000 by the summer of 2012, part of what he called ‘the beginning, but not the end, of our effort to wind down this war,’” ABC’s Jim Sciutto, Devin Dwyer and Mary Bruce write in a re-cap of the president’s primetime address to the nation last night. “‘After this initial reduction, our troops will continue coming home at a steady pace as Afghan security forces move into the lead,’ Obama said. ‘By 2014, this process of transition will be complete, and the Afghan people will be responsible for their own security.’ The president said his announcement was a fulfillment of a commitment he made in December 2009 when he authorized a surge of 30,000 U.S. forces into Afghanistan. At the time, he also promised to begin a drawdown in July 2011. The withdrawal of 33,000 troops by next summer effectively brings home all the ‘surge’ troops he deployed leaving roughly 70,000 behind.”


Mitt Romney: “We all want our troops to come home as soon as possible, but we shouldn’t adhere to an arbitrary timetable on the withdrawal of our troops from Afghanistan. This decision should not be based on politics or economics. America’s brave men and women in uniform have fought to achieve significant progress in Afghanistan, some having paid the ultimate price.”

Tim Pawlenty: "I thought his speech tonight was deeply concerning," Pawlenty said in an interview with Bill O'Reilly on Fox News last night. "Look how he phrased the outcome of this war: He said we need to end the war 'responsibly.' When America goes to war, America needs to win. We need to close out the war successfully, and what that means now is not nation-building. What it means is to follow Gen. Petraeus' advice and to get those security forces built up to the point where they can pick up the slack as we draw down."

Rick Santorum: “Every American wants our brave men and women home safely, but we cannot let those who've given the last full measure die in vain by abandoning the gains we've made thus far.  We must be squarely focused on succeeding in Afghanistan rather than on politically motivated troop withdrawals.”

Newt Gingrich: “There is a radical Islamist war against America and our allies. It would be helpful if President Obama had found time in his speech tonight to explain to the American people how we are going to win this war. Giving a speech in isolation about our military operations in Afghanistan without explaining how it connects with a larger strategy for winning the war against radical Islamists does not help Americans understand what it will take to provide for the security of the American people.”

Herman Cain: “Instead of providing the American people with clarity, President Obama proposes an abrupt withdrawal of our troops that could potentially compromise the legitimate gains we have made in Afghanistan. Sadly, I fear President Obama's decision could embolden our enemy and endanger our troops.” 

ON TODAY’S “TOP LINE”: ABC’s Rick Klein and Amy Walter sit down with Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, and Colin Hanna, President of Let Freedom Ring, an organization whose members are devoted to promoting “constitutional government, economic freedom and traditional values.” Also on the program:  an interview with House Natural Resources Committee chairman Doc Hastings, R-Wash. Watch “Top Line” LIVE at 12:00 p.m. Eastern.


RICK PERRY WATCH: FALL FOLIAGE. In the latest rumblings of a potential presidential bid, an aide to Gov. Rick Perry confirmed he will address a conservative group in New Hampshire on Oct. 28, ABC’s Arlette Saenz reports. The Texas Governor will headline the annual dinner for Cornerstone Action, a advocacy group pushing for the repeal of New Hampshire’s same-sex marriage law.  Kevin Smith, the executive director of Cornerstone Action, said the group is “thrilled” Perry accepted the invitation to speak to the group.

“Governor Perry has been a model example of both fiscal and social conservative leadership for the rest of the nation,” Smith told WMUR-TV in Manchester.  “Not to mention, he has also overseen the most robust economy of any state over the last decade.  We are honored to welcome this proud Texan to the Live Free of Die state for what will no doubt be a great evening.”

This is Perry’s first announced visit to New Hampshire since he said he is considering a run for the White House. Today, Perry is headlining the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials annual conference in San Antonio, Texas.



PROGRESSIVE GROUP UNVEILS FIRST 2012 ENDORSEMENT. The Progressive Change Campaign Committee is throwing its support behind its first House candidate of the 2012 election cycle. It’s New Mexico state senator Eric Griego, who is running for Congress in the state’s 1st Congressional district. “Eric is one of the most progressive members of the New Mexico Senate. He won his seat after running a grassroots primary against an incumbent conservative Democrat,” PCCC leaders wrote in an e-mail message to supporters this morning. “He passed green jobs legislation and campaign finance reform into law. In Congress, Eric wants to create jobs through massive investment in our nation's infrastructure. He'll also vote to bring our troops home, tax big corporations and the rich, and protect Social Security and Medicare from benefit cuts proposed by either party. Eric is running in a district President Obama won by 20 points – for the seat that Democratic Rep. Martin Heinrich is vacating.” Today’s note from the PCCC also includes a fundraising pitch to benefit Griego’s campaign. The PCCC raised $3 million in the 2010 election cycle and they intend to collect between $3 and $5 million in 2012 to help elect progressive candidates around the country.

PAWLENTY: CAMPAIGNING ON THE CHEAP. “At least five top advisers to former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty have been working for little or no pay for several months, a campaign source said Wednesday,” the Washington Post’s Amy Gardner reports. “The news establishes with more certainty the emerging portrait of Pawlenty as struggling to keep up with the larger and better-funded operation of his main rival for the Republican presidential nomination, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney. … While some staffers are temporarily forgoing a larger paycheck, others signed up with the understanding that they would volunteer their time for the long term, said the Pawlenty aide, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal personnel matters. The disclosure, which will appear in financial reports that will be made public next month, does not suggest any sudden problems with the campaign, he said. ‘This isn’t ‘We’re broke and we can’t afford to pay you,’’ the aide said. ‘We’re raising exactly what we said we were going to raise. We’re paying our consultants exactly what they expected to be paid right now.’ Pawlenty spokesman Alex Conant declined to comment on staff pay. But he said the campaign is well-positioned to compete. ‘We are confident that we will raise the resources necessary to execute our strategy and win the nomination,’ he said. The source said those on Pawlenty’s team working for little or no pay include the top two strategists, Phil Musser and Jon Lerner, as well as advisers Sara Taylor Fagen, Terry Nelson and Brian Hook. The advisers are earning in the range of zero to $1,000 a month, plus reimbursements for expenses, he said. The source said next month’s reports will show that the campaign has experienced some ups and downs in its fundraising efforts — including a dip after Pawlenty’s widely panned performance in last week’s debate.”

HUNTSMAN AIMS FOR INDEPENDENTS. “Jon Huntsman sketched out a path to the Republican nomination Wednesday that transcends the conservative base in key early states, an exercise in needle-threading that hinges on his ability to capture a large swath of independent voters,” Politico’s Kasie Hunt writes. “Huntsman made clear that he plans to capitalize on election rules in New Hampshire and South Carolina that allow independent voters to cast ballots in the GOP presidential primary. ‘These are wide open primaries, we forget that,’ Huntsman said, predicting an independent turnout in New Hampshire as high as 40 percent. … The former Utah governor’s strategy is an attempt to make a virtue out of necessity. His moderate positions on the environment, immigration and civil unions – and his time as Barack Obama’s ambassador to China — are formidable obstacles to victory in a party where the energy is concentrated in the conservative core. According to Huntsman’s blueprint, his early state performances could provide a springboard into Florida, where his campaign is headquartered and where he expects his wife Mary Kaye, an Orlando native, to be an asset. Huntsman described his nomination scenario: ‘An aggressive approach to New Hampshire and South Carolina, cutting his wife loose in Florida, and crossing the finish line — I mean, I said that last part a little tongue-in-cheek,’ Huntsman explained. ‘But when you look at open primaries in both New Hampshire and South Carolina, I think it’s a wide open affair, I really do.’”

THE NOTE'S BOTTOM LINE: It's true that the electorate may be less dogmatic in places like New Hampshire and South Carolina, but you can't win either state without being able to attract traditional Repunlican conservatives. Plus, Huntsman can't assume that he'll get all of the independent vote. Tim Pawlenty and Mitt Romney can and will make a good play for those voters too. And finally, remember that the kind of "independents" who vote in primaries tend to share the core values of that party. These aren't true "swing voters" they are voters that "lean" toward that party already.

EXTREME MAKEOVER: SEN. ORRIN HATCH EDITION. “The Utah Republican — fearful that 3,500 locally elected grass-roots, state GOP delegates could boot him from office 10 months from now ­– has spent the past several months recasting his image in a bid for a seventh term. He’s shining a spotlight on his 34-year Senate voting record as a conservative stalwart while minimizing his penchant for bipartisan deal-making,” Roll Call’s  Kyle Trygstad and David Drucker notes “‘I’m making an effort to emphasize [my conservative record] because for some reason, some of these outside groups don’t recognize all of the 35 years of conservatism I’ve done,’ Hatch, 77, told Roll Call on Wednesday in a brief interview. ‘I voted over 12,000 times, and they pick an issue here, an issue there. Well, it would be surprising if you couldn’t find something you disagreed with, with that kind of voting record.’ … Hatch holds a near 90 percent lifetime rating from the ACU. But past votes on the debt limit and the Troubled Asset Relief Program have motivated groups like those to search for candidates to oppose him at the April 21 convention next year. The Club for Growth even publicly called for Chaffetz to challenge Hatch. Hatch has gone multimedia in his efforts to elevate his image with conservatives. He took to Twitter on Saturday, during the Utah GOP’s organizing convention, to align himself with anti-tax advocate Grover Norquist, whose pledge to not raise taxes is a staple in the party’s politics. Hatch wrote an opinion piece in the Chicago Tribune on Tuesday to push for a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution. He co-wrote the article with Tim Phillips, president of conservative Americans for Prosperity. Hatch last week earned backing from C. Boyden Gray, who served as White House counsel under President George. H.W. Bush and now sits on the board at FreedomWorks — which is actively working to upend Hatch’s re-election.”

RUBIO AND LIEBERMAN PEN JOINT OP-ED: ‘VICTORY IS THE ANSWER IN LIBYA.’  “Whatever one thinks about the constitutional questions surrounding the War Powers Resolution, or the wisdom of the original decision to intervene in Libya three months ago, the strategic reality is that our nation is now engaged in a fight,” Senators Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., and Marco Rubio, R-Fl., wrote in an Op-Ed published today in the Wall Street Journal. “It will either end in the demise of a brutal anti-American dictator, or in his victory over us and our allies.” The senators wrote that to achieve success in Libya, “it is vital that the U.S. officially recognize the Transitional National Council, provide additional resources to support the council, and intensify strike operations to target the Gadhafi regime.” They warned that a U.S. withdrawal would bring down the entire coalition. “Gadhafi would emerge triumphant, even more dangerous, and determined to seek his revenge through terrorism against the countries in NATO and the Arab League that tried and failed to overthrow him.” The senators faulted the Obama administration for not clearly outlining U.S. objectives in Libya, but added, “Here, too, however, our job in Congress is to push the administration to do a better job explaining our war effort in Libya — not to undermine or weaken it.”

THERE’S A NEW PLEDGE IN TOWN. “Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) said it would be a ‘dealbreaker’ for Jon Huntsman or any other Republican presidential candidate to not sign a new balanced budget pledge behind which DeMint has thrown his political weight,” The Hill’s Michael O’Brien writes. “DeMint is demanding that Republican presidential candidates sign a ‘Cut, Cap and Balance’ pledge drafted by a coalition of conservative groups in order to win his endorsement in 2012, a coveted prize for candidates looking to appeal to conservative primary voters.” (At least three candidates have agreed to the pledge — Tim Pawlenty, Rick Santorum and Ron Paul.) “But other Republican candidates have been more cautious about signing on to this pledge or any other of the litany of vows conservative groups have demanded of the 2012 field.”

NOTABLE: GAME DAY FOR A GOOD CAUSE. Tonight a bipartisan team of female lawmakers face off against a rather ragtag group of female members of the media at The Congressional Women's Softball Game. The game benefits the Young Survivors Coalition, an organization dedicated to helping young women with breast cancer. Congressional team co-captain Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., herself a breast cancer survivor, founded the game with fellow captains Rep. Jo Ann Emerson, R-Mo., and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-NY,  to “raise awareness that young women can and do get breast cancer.” Members of the media team include several ABC all stars — Amy Walter, Gregory Simmons, Christina Capatides — will be swinging for the fences tonight. “The competition in this game is fierce — and legendary. Three years ago, Wasserman Schultz actually broke her leg. Since then, a no-sliding rule has been implemented,” Walter said in a pre-game interview. “Gillibrand is a serious trash talker and a good pitcher. Third baseman Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., has a wicked bat and a good arm.” The game takes place at Watkins Recreation Center, 420 12th Street SE and starts at 7:00 p.m. It’s free for all to attend.



@bethreinhard: Jon Huntsman's path to the White House goes through Disney World

@jeffzeleny: Obama will test whether post-9/11 politics allow a Democrat to wind down war with little or no political peril.

@HotlineReid: First Des Moines Register Iowa poll, conducted by Selzer and Co., out at 9pm (CT) Saturday #HotlineSort

@rickklein: favorite story I ever wrote for the Globe – on Mitt Romney forcing out William Bulger (#whiteybulger's brother)

@CourtneyCohen: OMG. It's @chamberflack's birthday! Stadium food for everyone!! cc @kellydinardo



* The Obama campaign will host a fundraiser in New York City with a performance of Sister Act, the Musical. President Obama and Whoopi Goldberg will speak after the performance.

* Jon Huntsman will hold a fundraising breakfast in Miami, Fl. a luncheon in Naples, Fl. and a reception in Orlando, Fl.

* Herman Cain will attend a meet-and-greet at Pazzo! In Naples, Fl. at 11 a.m.

* Newt Gingrich is the special guest at the Maryland Republican Party's 21st Annual Red White and Blue Dinner in Baltimore, MD.

* Rick Perry delivers the keynote remarks at the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials annual conference in San Antonio.

* The National Right to Life Convention beings in Jacksonville, Fl. Several 2012 candidates are expected to attend.

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