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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.
Scott Walker bets big on Iowa and a prolonged GOP fight
The next significant development in the Republican presidential race comes on Monday, when Scott Walker officially announces his White House bid in Wisconsin. And there are two big takeaways from Dan Balz’s piece in the Washington Post previewing Walker’s upcoming strategy: One, he’s betting big on Iowa. And two, his campaign is bracing for a long primary fight. “His advisers expect him to win the Iowa caucuses early next year, and they say he can follow that with top-three finishes in New Hampshire and South Carolina. They also think he can score an early victory in Nevada’s caucuses.” More from Balz: “Walker’s advisers doubt that anyone who doesn’t win one of the four early states will move to the heavy schedule of contests in March. They also doubt that anyone will have enough delegates to clinch the nomination by the end of March, and they anticipate that the race will drag on into May before there is a winner.” So Jeb Bush isn’t the only one preparing for a long primary slog.
Iowa will either make or break Walker
When you think about it, Scott Walker’s poll position has held up pretty well over the last few months, especially in Iowa. Despite headaches here and there (on immigration, on foreign-affairs questions), he’s displayed staying power. And that’s BEFORE his presidential announcement. Yet where it could come crashing down for him is in Iowa. If he doesn’t win Iowa -- particularly with those admitted expectations above -- it’s hard to see a scenario where he captures the GOP nomination. But he certainly starts out as your Iowa frontrunner, and being the Iowa front runner means he is also the frontrunner for the role of chief alternative to Bush.
The potential power of being the Midwestern candidate
The Walker campaign also confirms to First Read that in addition to visiting the early states of Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina after his presidential announcement, he’s also going to hit the March 1 and March 15 states of Georgia, Tennessee, Illinois, Missouri, and North Carolina. Illinois, in particular, is an important state for Walker. Don’t forget the power of being the Midwestern candidate -- in 2008, Barack Obama overperformed in all of the states that bordered Illinois. Could the same thing happen to Walker and the states that border Wisconsin (Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota)?
Hillary separates herself from Jeb on immigration
Maybe the most fascinating part of Hillary Clinton’s CNN interview yesterday was how she went out of her way to differentiate her views on immigration with Jeb Bush. Her argument: She’s for a pathway to citizenship; he is not. Clearly an early general-election shot.
CLINTON: [The GOP presidential candidates] don't want to provide a path to citizenship. They range across a spectrum of being either grudgingly welcome or hostile toward immigrants. And I'm going to talk about comprehensive immigration reform.
CNN: But what about Jeb Bush's approach to that? It's different, certainly, than Donald Trump's and --
CLINTON: Well, he doesn't believe in a path to citizenship. If he did at one time, he no longer does.
You can see how Clinton is trying to position herself if Jeb becomes the GOP nominee in a general election where the Latino vote is crucial. One, she’s going to tie Trump to all of the GOP candidates. And two, she’s going to contend that Jeb doesn’t believe in a path to citizenship -- something that he once supported and something that Marco Rubio’s “Gang of Eight” immigration bill even called for. However, it’s worth noting that both Bush and Clinton have flip-flopped on immigration, as the Washington Post writes.
Hillary also defends her email practices…
The other part of Clinton’s CNN interview that struck us was the subject of her State Department emails. Bottom line: She was defensive and evasive, which is only going to invite more questions on this topic. “Everything I did was permitted by law and regulation. I had one device. When I mailed anybody in the government, it would go into the government system,” she said. “Now I didn't have to turn over anything. I chose to turn over 55,000 pages because I wanted to go above and beyond what was expected of me because I knew the vast majority of everything that was official already was in the State Department system.” And on deleting the emails that she didn't turn over, Hillary added, “[P]rior secretaries of state -- I mean, Secretary Powell has admitted he did exactly the same thing. So I think both Secretary Powell and I are viewed as public servants. We do our very best to serve our country and he's -- he has such a distinguished record.”
… But here’s a reality check on her answers
Yet as our colleague Andrea Mitchell reminds us, the Colin Powell comparison isn’t a fair one -- the email system was much more primitive when he was secretary of state. Powell also didn’t have a private server at his home. And while Clinton says that there was no law against having a private server, Mitchell explains that the advisory for all State Department (and administration officials) was to use official email; that later became a requirement during her tenure. And as for her claim that every time she emailed anybody in the government “it would go into the government system,” an inspector general’s report found that the department’s automatic retrieval system was so flawed it only archived a fraction of emails during that period. Our take here: Hillary was more defiant here than in her original UN press conference on the emails. Back then, she gave an inch (saying she should have used two devices, not one). This time, she didn’t give an inch.
The coming fiscal fight
Make no mistake: The last few months arguably have been the most bipartisan of times during the Obama Era. There’s the fast-track vote. The Medicare doc-fix. But as the New York Times points out, there’s a looming fiscal fight for this fall -- just when the Pope is set to address Congress -- that could erase these bipartisan memories. “From environmental and work force regulations to health care and contraception, congressional Republicans are using spending bills to try to dismantle President Obama’s policies, setting up a fiscal feud this fall that could lead to a government shutdown.” More: “The House and Senate appropriations committees are churning out annual spending bills, dropping the bipartisanship that has long characterized the committees. The bills adhere to strict overall spending limits imposed in 2011 that Mr. Obama has already said he will not accept.” Budget expert Stan Collender also wrote about this. “A shutdown this fall isn’t likely, but it absolutely can’t be dismissed.” Ah, just what DC needs -- another fiscal showdown. The big unknown here is the Ted Cruz factor. Do the GOP 2016ers play a role here? How do they not?
On the trail
Jeb Bush is in New Hampshire… So is Carly Fiorina… Lindsey Graham gives a speech to the Atlantic Council in DC… Martin O’Malley has a full day of activities in the Granite State… Marco Rubio remains in Iowa…. And John Kasich is in South Carolina.