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First Thoughts: Biden enters the fray

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden speaks during a joint news conference with Honduras' President Porfirio Lobo in Tegucigalpa March 6, 2012. REUTERS/Jorge Cabrera (HONDURAS - Tags: POLITICS)
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden speaks during a joint news conference with Honduras' President Porfirio Lobo in Tegucigalpa March 6, 2012. REUTERS/Jorge Cabrera (HONDURAS - Tags: POLITICS)STRINGER / Reuters

Biden enters the fray, giving speech in Toledo at 11:00 am ET… A thank-you gift to bundlers: at least 47 guests at last night’s WH state dinner were Obama bundlers… The president delivers remarks on energy at 11:00 am ET from Maryland… Romney plays defense on health care in FOX interview… Santorum to Puerto Rico: If you want to become a state, speak English… Political vultures continue to circle over Gingrich’s head… And breaking down the ad spending for the upcoming contests.

*** Biden enters the fray: In a speech that the Obama campaign says will be the first of a series of addresses by the vice president framing the general election, Joe Biden today delivers remarks at a United Auto Workers town hall in Toledo, OH at 11:00 am ET. This is the first major campaign speech by either member of the ticket that didn't have a fundraising invite connected to it. According to excerpts released by the campaign, Biden will focus on -- you guessed it -- the auto bailout that Obama supported (and Romney didn’t). “The president didn't flinch. This man has a spine of steel,” he’s expected to say. “He knew rescuing the industry wasn't popular. He knew he was taking a chance. But he believed. He said, we are not going to give up on a million jobs, and the iconic industry America invented. Not without a fight. We all want a president with the courage of his convictions. Well, folks, we have one. He made the tough call. And the verdict is in: President Obama was right and his critics were dead wrong.” Do take note of the somewhat low-key rollout of this speech; it appears this may be more about message testing (and practicing) for the vice president, whose role on this campaign is likely to be similar to the role of previous veeps: serve as both a validator and the chief "contraster,"

*** A thank-you gift to bundlers: Per NBC’s Shawna Thomas, at least 47 of the guests at last night’s state dinner honoring British Prime Minister David Cameron were bundlers for the Obama re-election campaign. That’s quite a perk for those helping to rake in cash for the campaign. To be fair to Team Obama, inviting top donors and bundlers to these kinds of events is common practice -- in any administration. What’s more, we actually know the names of these bundlers because the Obama campaign has released them (unlike any of the GOP presidential candidates, including Romney). Still, it was quite striking to see so many campaign types invited; nearly 13% of the entire invite list consisted of bundlers. For the first two and half years, many regular donors to the Obama cause grumbled about the LACK of perks they got, including state dinners. Judging by how this guest list was put together, apparently the Obama White House heard those grumbles.

*** Another Obama energy speech: At 10:55 am ET today, Obama delivers another speech on energy – this time at Prince George’s Community College in Maryland. We’ll say this again: With all the polling out there, it’s inconclusive that rising gas prices are hurting the president -- for now at least -- but the White House is trying everything it can to get out in front of the issue. By the way, does anyone else think it’s curious that Obama and Biden are speaking at roughly the same time today? It only reinforces the idea that Team Obama wanted the Biden rollout to be low key.

*** Romney plays defense on health care: As the New Republic’s Noam Scheiber notes, Romney has been pretty lucky on the issue of health care, as his opponents have been unable to land a solid punch on perhaps Romney’s biggest vulnerability in a GOP primary. (But is it luck, or his rivals’ ineptitude?) Yet in an interview on FOX yesterday, Romney continued to struggle to explain his past support from an individual mandate -- and this time it was a 2008 debate and a 2009 op-ed in which he seemed to suggest he supported a mandate on a national basis. And under questioning from FOX’s Megyn Kelly, Romney simply sidestepped what he said in ’08 and ’09. "I believe we should get rid of Obamacare," Romney responded, per NBC’s Matt Loffman. "It's a disaster." More Romney: "I have allowed and agree that a state should have the capacity -- if it wants -- to have a health-care mandate.  We had that in my state," Romney said. "Time and again, I've pointed out I'm not in favor of a health-care plan that includes a national mandate."

*** Getting under Romney’s skin: In fact, Romney looked uncomfortable during the entire interview. And we’ve learned a couple of new things about Romney that we might not have known four years ago: 1) it’s pretty easy to get under his skin; and 2) he’s not very nimble when it comes to turning lemons into lemonade. (Saying you want to repeal Obamacare doesn’t erase all the questions about your past support for an individual mandate.) After losing Alabama and Mississippi on Tuesday, Romney is now getting TONS of advice from news outlets -- the latest being from Politico. This is what happens when you don’t put a Rick Santorum away.

*** Santorum to Puerto Rico: If you want to become a state, speak English: Santorum spends another day in Puerto Rico, where he held two town halls and attended a church service yesterday, per NBC’s Andrew Rafferty. But it’s this interview with a Puerto Rico newspaper that’s raising eyebrows: "As in any other state, you have to comply with this and any federal law - and that is that English has to be the main language,” Santorum told San Juan newspaper El Vocero, per AP. “There are other states with more than one language as is the case in Hawaii, but to be a state in the United States, English has to be the main language." But as Reuters points out, the U.S. Constitution “does not designate an official language, nor is there a requirement that a territory adopt English as its primary language in order to become a state.”

*** Political vultures circling over Gingrich’s head: Politico writes, “Should Newt Gingrich get out of the race? Depends on whom you ask. If it’s a Rick Santorum supporter, the answer is pretty clear: a resounding yes. But if it’s a Mitt Romney fan, the answer is the opposite: no, at least not for now.

And if you ask the former House speaker himself, he insists he’s not going anywhere after humbling losses in both Alabama and Mississippi on Tuesday night. ‘I’m staying in the race,’ Gingrich told a small crowd here the day after the results came in.”

*** The ad-spending race: Here’s a look at the ad spending in the upcoming contests:

Illinois (3/20): Restore Our Future $2.3 million, Romney $923,000, Gingrich $16,000

Louisiana (3/24): Restore Our Future $465,000, Red White and Blue Fund $244,000, Santorum $32,000 Winning Our Future $3,000

Wisconsin (4/3): Restore Our Future $508,000

A few points here: 1) Romney and his allies continue to enjoy a HUGE advertising advantage, especially in upcoming Illinois; 2) all the campaigns and Super PACs are engaged in Louisiana; 3) the advertising has now moved to Wisconsin; and 4) the Sheldon Adelson-backed Winning Our Future has been reduced to spending a mere $3,000. Has that spigot been turned off?

*** On the trail, per NBC’s Adam Perez: Rick Santorum remains in Puerto Rico… Gingrich stumps in Illinois, hitting Barrington, Elgin, and Lake in the Hills… And Romney and Paul are off the campaign trail. 

Countdown to Illinois primary: 5 days
Countdown to Louisiana primary: 9 days
Countdown to Election Day: 236 days

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