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First Thoughts: Bain returns

Bain returns as a campaign issue with new Obama TV ad… A tale of two commencement speeches: Obama gives address at Barnard College at 1:10 pm ET, while Romney spoke on Saturday at Liberty University… Team Romney targets deficit and spending… The boo birds: Paul supporters boo Romney surrogates Josh Romney and Tim Pawlenty… McConnell under pressure from Tea Party candidates?... And NC Dem chairman won’t resign.

From NBC’s Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, and Brooke Brower

*** Bain returns:It was just four months ago when the pro-Gingrich Super PAC began airing its TV ads hitting Mitt Romney’s record at Bain Capital. And here’s something that you might have forgotten: The ads worked -- Romney found himself on the defensive and ended up losing in South Carolina. In fact, the ads worked so well that the GOP backlash was: “Don’t run them, they’re hurting Romney.” Today, Bain makes its first appearance in the early general election, with a two-minute Obama campaign TV ad to air in Iowa, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Colorado, and Virginia. The advertisement profiles Bain’s purchase of a Kansas City steel plant that it later shut down after making a large profit. And it features testimonials from folks much like the Gingrich Super PAC ads did, with graphic imagery. "It was like a vampire. They came in and sucked the life out of us," said one who used to work at that steel plant. "Bain Capital walked away with a lot of money that they made of this plant. We view Mitt Romney as a job destroyer," said another. An additional quote about Romney: "If he's going to run the country the way he ran his business, I wouldn't want him there.” The Obama camp holds a 10:45 am ET conference call on this new ad campaign.

***Defining Romney and returning to the economy: We have three additional thoughts on the anti-Bain ad. One, it’s another reminder -- coming after last week’s bullying story -- that the Romney campaign isn’t defining its candidate first; others are doing that. Is a private-equity firm like Bain Capital a job creator, as Romney has portrayed it? Or is its chief mission to make money and maximize a return on investment, as others argue? The most prominent Bain ad that’s aired for the last few months is the one about Romney helping rescue a kidnapped daughter of a colleague. It’s a good story about Romney’s character, but there hasn’t been a new positive profile of Bain painted in some time. Two, the Obama ad does bring the discussion back to the economy, after weeks of conversation about anything but. Gay marriage. Bullying. Osama bin Laden. Afghanistan. And three, this VERY NEGATIVE Obama ad comes after last week’s positive ones. There’s a belief by some strategists that once Memorial Day hits, it’ll be harder and harder to secure the attention of voters as they focus on their summer plans. Here’s the Romney camp’s response to the ad, per NBC’s Peter Alexander: “The Obama campaign is going to do everything they can to distract voters from the fact that their policies are not working. President Obama can't come close to matching the many years of experience that Mitt Romney has as a private businessman so he has chosen to attack it.”

***A tale of two commencement speeches: November’s presidential election will be a clear contrast between Obama and Romney (on the economy, deficit reduction, social issues, and foreign policy). And another clear contrast: their dueling commencement speeches. At 1:10 pm ET, the president delivers the commencement address at Barnard College, the all-female college in New York City. Afterward, he tapes an appearance on “The View,” which will air tomorrow. These back-to-back events all scream, “GENDER GAP.” On the other hand, Romney on Saturday gave the commencement address at Liberty University, the religious school in Virginia that Jerry Falwell founded. And that speech boiled down to: “I’M PLANTING MY EVANGELICAL FLAG AND I’M ONE OF YOU.” It’s hard not to these two commencement addresses as evidence that the campaigns are viewing November’s contest as a turnout election, not a battle for undecided.

***More on Romney’s Liberty address: In his Liberty University speech, as NBC’s Andrew Rafferty reported, Romney defended traditional marriage -- a clear rebuttal to Obama’s support for gay marriage earlier in the week. "Marriage is a relationship between one man and one woman," he said. He talked about religious freedom and made numerous references to faith and religion. “From the beginning, this nation trusted in God, not man.  Religious liberty is the first freedom in our Constitution.” And he briefly mentioned his own Mormon faith, although never said the word “Mormon” in his speech. “People of different faiths, like yours and mine, sometimes wonder where we can meet in common purpose, when there are so many differences in creed and theology,” he said. “Surely the answer is that we can meet in service, in shared moral convictions about our nation stemming from a common worldview.” It’s very possible this will be as close as he gets to giving a Mormon speech this cycle (even though Liberty University offers a graduate theology course describing Mormonism as a cult).  

***Team Romney targets the deficit and spending: While Team Obama begins this week hitting Romney on Bain, the Romney camp is punching back by targeting deficits and debt. “For the last three-and-a-half years, President Obama’s liberal policies of wasteful spending and skyrocketing debt haven’t lived up to his own promises to control our nation’s mounting deficits,” Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul says in a statement. “As president, Mitt Romney will finally change Washington and stop passing our financial burdens on to the next generation.” The RNC is doubling down on this line of attack with a web video, too.

***The boo birds: Here’s something to keep an eye on: As Politico notes this morning, Paul supporters booed Josh Romney in Arizona during the state’s convention and Tim Pawlenty in Oklahoma at that state’s GOP convention. And remember, the folks doing the booing are the ones who may be casting the votes for Romney in Tampa -- even if their heart is with another candidate. It appears that Paul forces once again have been able to get their folks elected as Romney delegates, at least in Arizona.

***On the trail: As mentioned above, Obama today delivers the commencement address at Barnard College in New York… Romney is off the trail… For the remainder of the week: The president on Wednesday delivers a speech in DC calling on Congress to act on the economy, and on Friday he travels to Camp David to attend the G-8 summit… Romney stumps in Des Moines, IA on Tuesday and in Tampa, FL on Wednesday… And Vice President Biden campaigns in Ohio on Wednesday and Thursday.

***Veepstakes watch: Tim Pawlenty, in Minneapolis, today delivers a speech on Restoring America’s Future at 1:00 pm ET… On FOX yesterday, South Dakota Sen. John Thune didn’t rule out being Romney’s VP, NBC’s Alex Moe notes. "You never rule out opportunities or options when you're involved in public life, and you say you want to make a difference." But he added, "I have a job to do in the United States Senate."

***Under pressure: Over the weekend, the New York Times reminded us that Mitch McConnell – come next year – could have the same problem that John Boehner has now: taming his Tea Party members. “In Arizona, Missouri, Nebraska and Texas, Republican Senate candidates are vying for the mantle of Tea Party outsider. A number of them say that they would seek to press an agenda that is generally to the right of the minority leader, Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, and that they would demand a deeper policy role for the Senate’s growing circle of staunch conservatives. Some say they have not decided whether they would support Mr. McConnell, who could find himself contending with the type of fractious rank and file that has vexed the House speaker, John A. Boehner of Ohio.” Here’s a question to ponder: If Senate Republicans don’t win a majority in November, will McConnell hold on to his job? Speaking of Boehner, Politico says that he’s under pressure from GOP conservatives to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress.

***NC Dem chairman says he won’t resign: The Democrats’ problems in North Carolina aren’t getting any better. The AP: “The embattled chairman of the North Carolina Democratic Party says he's staying on the job after party activists meeting in Greensboro rejected his resignation. Chairman David Parker returned late Saturday to the state Executive Committee meeting, where he said he won't leave. Earlier, he had submitted his resignation, but committee members voted 269-203 to reject it. Gov. Beverly Perdue, Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton and others had wanted Parker to step down because they said he was a distraction in the wake of sexual harassment allegations at party headquarters. Parker's allies didn't want him to leave.”

Countdown to WI recall: 22 days

Countdown to GOP convention: 105 days

Countdown to Dem convention: 112 days

Countdown to Election Day: 176 days

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