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First Thoughts: The campaign resumes - sort of

The campaign resumes, though not to the level we saw before Friday’s tragic shooting… Obama addresses the VFW in Reno, NV at 3:30 pm ET, while Romney stumps in Costa Mesa, CA… Romney’s upcoming overseas trip offers risks and rewards… Approaching halftime in this presidential contest… Breaking down June’s fundraising numbers… Barofsky’s complaint… Introducing Patchwork Nation… And profiling Kelly Ayotte’s strengths and weaknesses as Romney’s potential VP.

*** The campaign resumes -- sort of: After the tragic shooting in Colorado and after President Obama yesterday visited with the survivors and families that lost loved ones there, the presidential campaign resumes today. Obama addresses the Veterans of Foreign Wars conference in Reno, NV at 3:30 pm ET (and his campaign releases a web video in advance of it), while Mitt Romney holds a small-business roundtable in Costa Mesa, CA at 1:30 pm ET and then tapes an interview with CNBC’s Larry Kudlow. Yet both campaigns still seem sensitive to tone; the Obama camp says it won’t be airing any TV ads in Colorado through Friday, and it has canceled this week’s rally in Portland. Meanwhile, at a fundraiser in San Francisco last night, Romney avoided any harsh political shots and said that Obama’s visit to Colorado yesterday was “the right thing for the president to be doing on this day. I appreciate that.” And Romney prepares for his upcoming overseas trip (more on that below). Bottom line: The campaign has resumed, but not to the level we saw until Friday’s tragic shooting.

*** Last week’s negative back-and-forth: When we left you before the shooting, of course, the campaign may have hit its most negative point of the race. The Obama camp was hammering Romney in advertising -- including the one where Romney sings “American the Beautiful” while the ad charges that Romney and Bain Capital outsourced jobs overseas and that Romney has a Swiss bank account. For his part, Romney was accusing Obama of being anti-business and essentially against the American Dream in seizing on Obama’s “you didn’t build that” line (which was taken out of context). While supporters have enthusiastically embraced their side’s attacks, there are dangers here for both candidates. For Obama, do these negative TV ads his campaign is airing take a toll on his own poll numbers? In the New York Times, Tom Edsall observes that this negative campaign contradicts his famous 2004 convention speech, where he called for an end to the politics of division. And for Romney, does he risk backlash for portraying the country’s first African-American president -- who was raised at one time by a single mother on food stamps -- for being against the American Dream?

*** Bon voyage: Over the weekend, NBC’s Garrett Haake previewed Romney’s upcoming overseas trip to Great Britain, Israel, and Poland, which Haake said offers risks and rewards for the presumptive GOP presidential nominee. Here’s the official schedule: On Thursday, he participates in meetings in England with Prime Minister David Cameron and others; on Friday, he attends the Olympics opening ceremonies; on Sunday, he meets in Israel with officials like Prime Minister Netanyahu and delivers a speech there; on Monday, he heads to Poland; and on Tuesday, he delivers a speech in that country. Yet when you think about it, Romney has minimized his risk as much as possible, especially when you compare it to Obama’s higher-risk travel to Afghanistan/Iraq/Jordan/Israel/Germany/France/England four years ago. Arguably, Romney is hitting two countries -- Israel and Poland -- that still pine for the days of George W. Bush. That said, what will he say that’s going to be different than Bush-Cheney? The Bush foreign policy is not something the country viewed very favorably, thanks mostly to Iraq. Carving out a different vision from not just Obama, but Bush, might be Romney’s biggest challenge on this overseas trip. 

*** Approaching halftime: With Romney embarking on his overseas trip and with the Olympics beginning on Friday, we’re essentially approaching halftime in the general election of this presidential race. (Staying with our football analogy, the conventions kickoff the 3rd quarter). And where do we stand going into halftime? Well, we’re releasing a brand-new NBC/WSJ poll this week that might answer that question.

*** On the trail: In addition to his VFW speech today, Obama raises money in Oakland, CA… Romney also hits a fundraiser in Irvine, CA… And Vice President Biden, in Florida, addresses the National Association of Police Organizations convention.

*** Breaking down the June fundraising numbers: As we predicted, the Obama campaign actually outraised the Romney campaign in the apples-to-apples comparison for the month of June, $45.9 million to $33 million. And it has more campaign money in the bank as of June 30, $97 million to $22.5 million, as well as a higher burn rate, 126% to 83%. But where Team Romney outpaced Team Obama was with the RNC vs. DNC fundraising ($39.8 million to $20.5 million) and the victory fund money. Why these distinctions matter, as we’ve said before: While the campaigns control the party/victory fund money, there are limitations in how they’re able to use it. For example, coordinated party expenditures are limited to $21.7 million in this presidential contest. Overall in June, GOP presidential campaign entities (Romney camp, RNC, American Crossroads, Restore Our Future) outraised the Dem groups (Obama camp, DNC, Priorities USA Action), $99 million to $72.6 million. So again: The Obama campaign has more money directly in its control, and Romney will be the beneficiary of a lot of help from outside groups.

*** Barofsky’s complaint: Neil Barofsky, who served as the special inspector general of TARP, is out with a Bloomberg op-ed previewing his new book, and this op-ed is highly critical of the U.S. Treasury Department on a number of levels. It’s critical of Dodd-Frank but it’s also critical of the big banks. It provides fodder to both the Tea Party right and the Elizabeth Warren left. Bottom line: It’s a harsh assessment of Washington and Wall Street -- and one that is under the radar right now but gives fuel to the criticism that nothing has really changed. Barofsky, in his op-ed, seems to both be disappointed in Dodd-Frank and simultaneously worried that some of the potential teeth in Dodd-Frank won’t ever come to fruition.

*** Patchwork Nation: Between now and Election Day, we'll be taking a deeper look at our NBC/WSJ poll, as well as other data, through a prism created by journalist Dante Chinni called "Patchwork Nation." Chinni's work divides every U.S. county into 12 categories: Industrial Metropolis (think Philadelphia), College and Careers (Johnson County, IA) and Monied Burbs (Fairfax County, VA), which make up the core Democratic coalition counties; Minority Central (Wilson, NC), Immigration Nation (Maricopa, AZ), Military Bastions (Norfolk, VA) and Service Worker Stations (Richland, OH), which make up the competitive counties; and Empty Nests (Lake, FL), Boom Towns (Clark, NV), Evangelical Epicenters (Christian, MO), Tractor Country (Sioux, IA) and Mormon Outposts (Cassia, ID), which make up the core Republican coalition counties.

*** Kelly Ayotte’s VP strengths… : Ayotte is the sole female out of all of Romney’s top-tier VP possibilities (if you don’t include Condi Rice) -- and thus could potentially help him erase the gender gap he faces against Barack Obama. The latest NBC/WSJ poll found Obama leading Romney among women by 13 percentage points, 52%-39%... She’s young (44 years old), telegenic, and conservative… An early backer of Romney (she endorsed him in Nov. 2011), Ayotte has regularly campaigned for and with the former Massachusetts governor; her most recent campaign appearance with Romney took place in New Hampshire on July 20… And she hails from a key battleground state that Obama won by nearly 10 percentage points four years ago. That said, a recent NBC-Marist poll showed that adding Ayotte to the GOP ticket doesn’t really increase Romney’s poll standing in the Granite State.

*** … and weaknesses: Ayotte has been a U.S. senator for less than two years, which – fair or not – would draw comparisons to Sarah Palin, another conservative (and attractive) politician who served in major statewide office for less than two years before becoming John McCain’s VP pick… Romney (from Massachusetts) selecting Ayotte (from neighboring New Hampshire) wouldn’t give him much geographical diversity. Then again, a ticket consisting of southerners Bill Clinton (from Arkansas) and Al Gore (from Tennessee) twice won the presidency.

Countdown to GOP convention: 35 days
Countdown to Dem convention: 42 days
Countdown to Election Day: 106 days

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