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First Read: The Romney-fication of Bill and Hillary Clinton

First Read is a morning briefing from Meet the Press and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter

How the Clintons are getting turned into Mitt Romney

By itself, making money shouldn’t be an issue for Bill and Hillary Clinton; after all, so many of our past presidents have been wealthy. By itself, Bill Clinton having a shell LLC wouldn’t be an issue either. But when you add the two together, you see that the Clintons have a Mitt Romney problem on their hands -- wealth and “otherness” that voters might not be able to relate to, especially when the likes of Bernie Sanders are campaigning against wealth. Of course, there’s one BIG difference between Hillary Clinton and Mitt Romney: Romney wanted to cut taxes for the wealthy, while Hillary likely wants to raise them and eliminate tax loopholes benefitting the well-off. As the Clintons have said before, people like them should be paying more in taxes. And you probably won’t hear that rhetoric from the eventual GOP nominee. Still, Hillary Clinton could arguably be the wealthiest (or close to it) candidate in the 2016 field. And this shell LLC story is going to sound the drumbeats for her to release her taxes.

A busy day in South Carolina

Speaking of Hillary, she campaigns in South Carolina -- where she lost big to Barack Obama in 2008. “The last time Hillary Rodman Clinton was in South Carolina, it was 2008 and she was on her way to losing the state's presidential primary to then-Sen. Barack Obama by close to 30 points,” the AP writes. She'll be back on Wednesday, again to campaign for president. This time around, several of the state's African-American leaders predict, she'll find a far different reception.” GOP presidential candidate Carly Fiorina also is in the Palmetto State, where her campaign is -- again -- trolling Hillary. “Our events tomorrow are all open to the press. And by open press, we mean we'll actually take questions,” the Fiorina campaign emailed reporters yesterday. (And this is probably a good short-term formula for Fiorina to get into that first debate.) And joining Hillary and Fiorina in South Carolina is possible soon-to-be candidate, Ohio Gov. John Kasich.

Santorum gives it another shot -- but this time with more competition on his right flank

Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, who won the 2012 Iowa caucuses and was essentially the last man standing against Mitt Romney, announces his presidential bid at 5:00 pm ET outside of Pittsburgh. But this time, he’s running in a field that’s more crowded with social-conservative types. There’s Mike Huckabee, winner of the 2008 caucuses. There’s Ted Cruz. There’s Scott Walker, whose father was a minister. There’s Marco Rubio, who recently argued that same-sex marriage presents a “real and present danger” to Christianity and Catholicism. And there’s even Jeb Bush (see Terri Schiavo).

Santorum: Your pro-minimum-wage-hike social conservative

You could argue that no one better represents the fastest-growing part of the Republican Party -- working-class white males -- than Santorum does. He’s a “raise the minimum wage” social conservative. But here’s the problem Santorum is facing, per the Washington Post: “If the last several presidential cycles were an accurate predictor of the future, Rick Santorum would be the 2016 Republican nominee. Yet when the 2012 GOP runner-up announces Wednesday that he’s officially running again, it will be met with the same collective shrug it got four years ago. As he stands now -- polling around 2 percent, when included at all -- there’s a chance the former Pennsylvania senator won’t even make the cut to be on the first primary debate stage in August.” That said, any debate criteria keeping someone like Santorum out of the first debate is bad criteria.

Sure, it’s probably smart for Walker to downplay Florida. But he probably shouldn’t SAY it

As our sister publication The Lid wrote yesterday, almost every presidential candidate not named Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio is probably thinking about not participating heavily in Florida’s March 15 primary. But you don’t say it out loud, which is precisely what Scott Walker did yesterday. "If we chose to get in, I don't think there's a state out there we wouldn't play in -- other than maybe Florida, where Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio [are tied]," he said Tuesday during an interview with conservative radio host Laura Ingraham. While other contests could also take place on March 15 (in Walker’s backyard of Illinois, Missouri, Ohio, and Wisconsin), some conservatives pounced on the news, arguing that no top-tier candidate should cede a presidential battleground state. AshLee Strong, a spokesman at Walker's Our American Revival, pushed back against the speculation that Walker might skip Florida's primary. "Gov. Walker is not a candidate. Should he decide to move forward, that decision will be made at the appropriate time," Strong emailed NBC News. We said this about Iowa, and we’ll say it about Florida: If you think you’re going to be the nominee, you can’t skip states that are general-election battlegrounds -- or at least say it.

What was missing from Bernie Sanders’ speech

In his presidential kickoff speech yesterday, Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders called for “a political revolution to transform our country economically, politically, socially and environmentally,” per NBC’s Emily Gold. He talked about income inequality. “The issue of wealth and income inequality is the great moral issue of our time.” He said that climate change is a real threat. “It is caused by human activity and it is already causing devastating problems in our country and around the world.” And he advocated for a $15-per-hour minimum wage. But as MSNBC’s Chris Hayes suggested, there were a few things missing in speech -- references to immigration, civil rights, Ferguson, and Baltimore. And those omissions (maybe not surprising for a politician from Vermont) point to Sanders’ weakness if he somehow catches fire: His appeal is with upscale, affluent Democratic whites, but not the Latinos and African Americans who also make up the Democratic coalition. Sanders is filling your classic Gary Hart/Bill Bradley/Howard Dean position. But as we’ve learned, a Democratic presidential candidate can’t beat the establishment if you don’t have minorities on your side. Is this a potential opening for Martin O’Malley, when he announces on Saturday?

Can Senate Democrats put Iowa on the map? Can Republicans do the same in Colorado, Nevada?

Democrats lured about the best recruit they could hope for in Arizona’s Senate contest, when Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick (D-AZ) announced she would run for the seat. Democrats here are hoping for incumbent Sen. John McCain getting a tough primary challenge (and maybe losing), and for lots of turnout linked to the presidential election. So Democrats found their woman/man in Arizona. But can they do the same in battleground Iowa, with Sen. Chuck Grassley running for re-election? Can Republicans similarly put Colorado (against Sen. Michael Bennet) and Nevada (Harry Reid’s open seat) on the map? The answers to those questions could tell us which party wins the 2016 Senate recruitment war.

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