Is Tax Fairness A Winning Issue for Democrats in 2012? (The Note)

Chris Kleponis/AFP/Getty Images; Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty Images

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

The Obama campaign wants you to believe that Mitt Romney is not your typical American - that he's an ultra-wealthy businessman who owns homes on both coasts and can afford a lifestyle most folks only dream of.

All of that may be true, but whether it is a winning issue for Democrats in the 2012 election cycle is an open question. This week, as taxpayers rush to file their annual returns, the team at Obama re-election headquarters in Chicago is busy pushing a message against Romney that dovetails with President Obama's speech about tax fairness and the Buffett Rule in Florida today.

"Mitt Romney opposes the Buffett Rule - he thinks millionaires and billionaires should keep paying lower tax rates than middle-class families," Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt wrote in a memo out this morning. "In fact, Romney himself isn't paying his fair share - in 2010, Romney paid a tax rate of only 13.9 percent, well below the rate paid by many middle-class Americans. And with each week, new questions are raised about whether Romney took unusual steps to avoid paying his fair share in taxes."

The Obama campaign clearly sees the fairness argument as a winning contrast for this fall. And, our latest ABC News-Washington Post poll suggests that they may be right.

When asked "which do you think is the bigger problem in this country - unfairness in the economic system that favors the wealthy or over-regulation of the free market that interferes with growth and prosperity" a slim majority (52 percent) picked unfairness as the bigger problem while just 37 percent picked over-regulation.

Yet the centrist Democratic group Third Way released their own poll yesterday that suggests this fairness message doesn't move independent swing voters who live in battleground states (a.k.a voters who decide elections.)

According to the group's research, 57 percent of these voters say that "America's economic system is basically fair and the deck is not stacked against them."

Instead, writes Jim Kessler, senior vice president for policy at the group, "opportunity trumps fairness as a message and underlying value with Swing Indies." The poll also points out that members of this crucial group view themselves as "haves rather than have-nots."

This is unlikely to stop the Democrats from keeping the fairness issue at the forefront of their messaging in the early stages of the general election. Romney's got other problems to contend with too - like the fact that President Obama leads the former Massachusetts governor by 12 points when voters are asked who better understands the economic problems of average Americans. And there's more where that came from.

ROMNEY FACES STEEP CHALLENGE WITH WOMEN VOTERS… "A widening gender gap, modest economic gains, an edge on key issues and broad advantages in personal popularity are boosting Barack Obama's re-election prospects. Yet Mitt Romney, moving to close the deal in his own party, holds opportunities of his own for the road ahead," ABC News pollster Gary Langer notes. "Obama has returned to a single-digit lead vs. Romney in the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll, 51-44 percent among registered voters, after a virtual dead heat last month. That includes Obama's largest margin to date among women, 57-38 percent. He trails by 8 points among men. Underscoring that gender gap, Obama leads Romney by 19 points among all adults in trust to handle "women's issues," his single largest advantage among a dozen issues tested in this poll, which was produced for ABC by Langer Research Associates. That includes a 10-point lead for Obama on women's issues among men, growing to 27 points among women. After an extended period of debate and political positioning on a range of issues of concern to women, there's also a sharp gender gap in the president's overall job approval rating - 13 points higher among women than men, another record in ABC/Post polls. Obama's 50 percent approval rating overall rests on positive views among 56 percent of women vs. 43 percent of men."

…BUT OPPORTUNITIES ABOUND. More from Langer's analysis: "In perhaps Romney's strongest line of attack, 54 percent still disapprove of Obama's performance on the economy - 5 points lower than last month but a continuous majority since July 2010. Head-to-head, Romney has 47 percent support, Obama 43 percent, in trust to handle the economy - not a statistically significant difference but an indication of Obama's vulnerability on this central concern. And they're essentially even (Obama +3) on trust to handle creating jobs. Romney has made inroads against Obama on some issues compared with BC/Post results in February. Obama then led by 20 points in trust to handle terrorism, 18 points on better protecting the middle class and 10 points on handling taxes. Those have eased to 7, 10 and 3 points now. Romney  may also find political fuel if gasoline prices continue to rise; while Obama escapes most direct blame, 62 percent disapprove of how he's handling the price of gas, no worse than last month's 65 percent, but not substantively better, and broadly negative."

YOUR VOICE, YOUR VOTE: On "Good Morning America" today ABC's George Stephanopoulos and John Berman dug into both the gender gap and the "likability" gap between Obama and Romney. Berman noted that we should expect to see a "friendly, softer, smiley-er Mitt Romney" as the general election commences. WATCH:


ANALYSIS: HOW DOES MITT SOLVE A PROBLEM LIKE SANTORUM? From ABC News Political Director Amy Walter: We know that the Santorum campaign is in a slow downward spiral. He's out of money. He's out of momentum. And he's almost out of time. But the Romney camp has seen this movie before. And it knows that letting the Santorum campaign unravel at its own rate is a huge risk. Team Romney ignored Newt Gingrich, only to watch him win South Carolina. Millions of dollars later, the Romney camp - and his friends at Restore Our Future - effectively took out Gingrich, but they forgot all about Santorum who went on to win Colorado and Minnesota. As we've noted many times before, Romney wins when he disqualifies his opposition in a barrage of negative attack ads. Asked what he'd do if he were running the Romney campaign, one GOP strategist we spoke with told us, "I would crush him." Santorum has made Pennsylvania a must-win state, said this strategist, "so don't let Rick win there." Another unaffiliated strategist we spoke with argued that Romney should "run a gazillion dollars in positive Romney ads." This strategy, argues this source, "is probably enough to win or at least get close, and it helps him in an important battleground." How voters in the Philadelphia media market go in November, so goes Pennsylvania. Turning off those voters now may make it tough to get them back this fall. Even so, if Romney can finally push Santorum out of this race post Pennsylvania, it means he'll have a lot more time to rehab his image this spring and summer.

VIDEO OF THE DAY: SPINNERS AND WINNERS with Jonathan Karl.  Taxpayers Paying Millions to Mow Lawns: Americans will spend hundreds of millions for the upkeep of vacant homes.  WATCH:


STUDY SHOWS HEALTH CARE LAW RAISING DEFICIT. "Reigniting a debate about the bottom line for President Barack Obama's health care law, a leading conservative economist estimates in a study to be released Tuesday that the overhaul will add at least $340 billion to the deficit, not reduce it," according to the Associated Press. "Charles Blahous, who serves as public trustee overseeing Medicare and Social Security finances, also suggested that federal accounting practices have obscured the true fiscal impact of the legislation, the fate of which is now in the hands of the Supreme Court. Officially, the health care law is still projected to help reduce government red ink. The Congressional Budget Office, the government's nonpartisan fiscal umpire, said in an estimate last year that repealing the law actually would increase deficits by $210 billion from 2012 to 2021. The CBO, however, has not updated that projection. If $210 billion sounds like a big cushion, it's not. The government has recently been running annual deficits in the $1 trillion range. The White house dismissed the study in a statement late Monday. Presidential assistant Jeanne Lambrew called the study 'new math (that) fits the old pattern of mischaracterizations' about the health care law."

RICK SANTORUM RETURNS TO THE TRAIL. Rick Santorum's three-year-old daughter, Bella, who suffers from Trisomy 18 was discharged from the hospital Monday night, and his campaign has canceled his two morning events in Pennsylvania to allow the family to help Bella settle in at home, ABC's Arlette Saenz reports. "Rick and Karen are happy to announce that their daughter Bella has been discharged from the hospital and returned home earlier Monday evening.  The Santorum's are truly overwhelmed by the prayers and support they've received and wanted to attach a picture of their daughter Bella so everyone could see their precious gift from God," Hogan Gidley, national communications director for Santorum, said in a statement. The campaign canceled two stops in Bedford and Carlisle Tuesday morning but added an event in Gettysburg to make up for the cancellations.  He will speak at the "American Heartland Conversation on Faith, Family and American Values" in Lancaster Tuesday evening as planned. Bella was admitted to the hospital on Friday, and Santorum cancelled all campaign related events on Monday to spend more time with her.

OBAMA RAISES CASH AS HE TOUTS FAIRNESS MESSAGE. President Obama's penchant for piggybacking campaign fundraisers on outside-the-beltway official business (or vice versa, depending on your perspective) will today be on full display in Florida during his third trip to the Sunshine State this year, ABC's Devin Dwyer reports from Boca Raton. Obama will attend three money events that will add at least $1.9 million combined to his coffers for the 2012 presidential election, according to figures provided by the campaign. The president will waste no time cultivating cash once he's on the ground, stopping first at a $10,000-per-head luncheon with 60 supporters at the Palm Beach Gardens home of Hansel Tookes, a former Navy and United Airlines pilot turned aerospace executive who is now president of Raytheon International.  After a mid-afternoon public address in which he will call for higher taxes on the wealthy as a matter of fairness, Obama headlines a large-scale, lower-dollar campaign event at the Westin Diplomat Hotel in Hollywood, Fla., where singer/songwriter John Legend is the opening act.   Eight hundred fifty supporters are expected to crowd the Westin ballroom to hear the President's stump, officials said. General admission tickets started at $500 with a limited number of $250 seats available to the youngest donors, dubbed "Gen44? by the campaign. Before heading back to Washington, Obama will hobnob at with affluent supporters at his most lucrative stop of he day, a reception in Golden Beach hosted by lawyer Jeremy Alters.

GINGRICH ACKNOWLEDGES AN 'UPHILL' BATTLE. Speaking to high school students in N.C., Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich put on a new face Monday when talking about his bid for the nomination, proving he knows a little bit about putting on makeup while trying to explain personalized healthcare to the group of 16 to 18 year-olds, ABC's Elicia Dover reports. When asked by a student reporter what he thought about his chances at the nomination, Gingrich said, "I think it's uphill. It's a challenge. I think I have a shot at it, but it's uphill." Gingrich recently changed his language when talking about winning the Republican nomination, no longer saying he was going all the way to convention. On Sunday, Gingrich said that Romney was the likely nominee. "Well, I think you have to be realistic, given the size of his organization, given the number of primaries he's won. He is far and away, the most likely Republican nominee," Gingrich said on Fox News Sunday. But Gingrich attempted to walk back his comments from Sunday and earlier Monday, in an appearance on Hannity, reiterating "most likely, not certain, if he gets there…That got somehow translated almost instantly into something I didn't say," Gingrich said on Fox News Monday night. Gingrich even suggested he write that he intends to stay in the race across his face. "I'm thinking about getting it tattooed up here," Gingrich said as he pointed to his forehead, "All the way to Tampa, ok?"

MARCO RUBIO'S FRIEND OR FOE? "Sen. Marco Rubio has every excuse to stay away from his old South Florida friend Rep. David Rivera," writes Politico's Manu Raju. "Rivera is facing state and federal inquiries stemming from his conduct in the Florida Legislature, while Rubio is seeking to project a squeaky-clean image as he faces national scrutiny and tops the prospective GOP vice presidential list. But Rubio is giving a full-throated endorsement to Rivera, raising money for him and defending a man who served with him in the trenches of Florida politics dating back to when they were young volunteers on Lincoln Diaz-Balart's first House campaign in 1992. 'One of things that's startled me is that only in Washington are people expected to turn their backs on friends when things may not be going well for them,' Rubio told POLITICO. 'That's certainly not the way I want to operate.' Despite Rivera's insistence that the allegations against him are "false" and that he has heard nothing from investigators, Rubio's decision to embrace Rivera is a risk. If the inquiries pick up steam, Rubio's name could be dragged into the headlines just as Mitt Romney is considering whether to put the freshman senator on the ticket. But if Rubio distances himself from Rivera, it could amount to an act of disloyalty to one of his closest confidants and fellow Cuban-American whom he rose with through the ranks of the Florida political establishment."

ELIZABETH WARREN WINNING MASSACHUSETTS MONEY RACE. Massachusetts Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren raised $6.9 million in the first quarter of 2012. This figure represents slightly more than twice the amount raised by incumbent Sen. Scott Brown, whose campaign announced last week that it had raised $3.4 million, ABC's Elizabeth Hartfield notes. Warren has out-raised Brown for the past three quarters. She raised $3.15 million to Brown's $1.55 million in the third quarter of last year, and $5.7 million to Brown's $3.2 million in the fourth quarter. Despite the strength of her fundraising, however, Brown has more money in the bank. The Brown campaign has around $15 million cash on hand, which includes money left over from his 2010 campaign. Warren, the Harvard Law professor and presumptive Democratic nominee, has about $4 million less, according to an email sent to supporters from her campaign manager. A Boston Globe poll out last week showed Warren and Brown in a virtual dead heat.

IN THE NOTE'S INBOX: RON PAUL RELEASES NEW TV AD. From the Paul campaign: "The Ron Paul 2012 Presidential campaign announced today the release of a new ad that positions the 12-term Texas Congressman as the only authentic conservative seeking the Republican nomination, and the presidential aspirant most appealing to Republican voters in the Lone Star State. To help kick off Ron Paul's three-day campaign swing in Texas, the 30-second ad 'Vote Texas' will begin airing today on cable television.  In addition, the campaign is promoting the ad on websites where conservative activists, opinion leaders, and voters congregate." WATCH:


@BuzzFeedBen : If you read one article on Romney, Mormonism, and race before the sun rises, make it this excellent  @mckaycoppins piece

@HotlineReid : John Kerry is a grandfather for the first time after his daughter gave birth on Easter Sunday  #HotlineSort

@jwpetersNYT : Bogus story of Nikki Haley indictment rockets from obscurity to mainstream via Twitter with an assist from major media

@TomBevanRCP : Ruh-roh: CA bullet train facing federal probe.

@PounderFile : From  @RNCresearch … NEW INFOGRAPHIC: The Buffett Tax - Politics, Not Math

@nytjim :  " @defcon_5: RT  @karaswisher: Oh, and Another Thing About FaceTagram: Your Location"



by ABC's Chris Good

-Pittsburgh Tribune-Review Blasts Santorum's Economic Record. Citing criticism from the Club for Growth, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review scoffs at Santorum's record on "economic freedom" in an editorial today. The paper lists the former senator's backing of the Bush-era Medicare expansion and his cosponsoring of spending bills in Congress, calling Santorum's a "record of promotion of the dependent state."

-Romney, Toomey to Speak at Same Event. Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Toomey, formerly the president of the Club for Growth, has all but endorsed Mitt Romney, approving of his tax plan and avowing that voters can trust him to "govern as a conservative." Tonight the two will both speak at the Chester County Republican Committee Spring Reception; Toomey had been scheduled as keynote speaker, and Romney's campaign confirmed the former governor's attendance to the Daily Local News on Monday. They're scheduled to being speaking 30 minutes apart.

-Flashback: Santorum's 2008 Columns. The Philadelphia Inquirer digs through its own archives and wonders, if Romney surpasses him in the GOP race, will Santorum still have harsh words for the GOP's eventual nominee? With the 2008 race winding down toward a McCain win, the paper notes, Santorum penned a series of columns trashing the senator's conservative credentials and ability to reignite the GOP base. "The twice-a-month columns, began after Santorum lost his reelection bid as a Pennsylvania senator in 2006, reveal a man who does not change his positions, priorities, or politics," the paper writes.



- Mitt Romney will hold events in Wilmington, Delaware and Mendenhall, Pennsylvania.

- Rick Santorum will resume his campaign schedule in Pennsylvania, with stops in Bedford and Lancaster.

- Newt Gingrich will continue to stump in North Carolina. His wife Callista will attend events throughout New York City,

- Ron Paul will hold a town hall meeting in College Station, Texas

-ABC's Joanna Suarez

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