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First Thoughts: Here we go again

Here we go again: Boehner raises prospect of another debt-ceiling showdown… That carries potential risks and rewards for Boehner and the GOP… Romney focuses on cutting spending, but where’s the beef?... Bain Capital story chases Romney as he campaigns in Florida… Biden to blast Bain, too, in remarks in Youngstown, OH… Crossroads GPS goes up with anti-Obama ad… Obama camp raises $43.6 million in April (down from February and March)… And Fischer pulls off the upset in Nebraska.

*** Here we go again: Last summer’s debt-ceiling fight ended like a typical Tarantino flick -- with casualties and blood everywhere and no real winners. President Obama’s approval ratings sunk to the low 40s, from which he’s somewhat recovered. Congress’ number fell much more, and they remain at historic lows. Standard & Poor’s lowered its credit rating for the United States. Economic activity stalled, and economic confidence tanked. And guess what: House Speaker John Boehner is now vowing for a sequel. Call it “Kill Bill (and Everyone Else), Vol. 2.” In remarks he delivered yesterday in DC, Boehner demanded that the next debt-ceiling increase -- slated for early 2013 -- have commensurate spending cuts and no tax increases. “I will again insist on my simple principle of cuts and reforms greater than the debt limit increase," Boehner said, per NBC’s Mike O’Brien. "This is the only avenue I see right now to force the elected leadership of this country to solve our structural fiscal imbalance."

*** Risky Business: Given what took place last year, Boehner’s call for a sequel is risky. On the one hand, this could give the Republican Party some leverage in the lame-duck session, with President Obama and the Democrats holding the cards on the expiration of the Bush tax cuts and the defense-spending sequester. In addition, attention on another debt-ceiling fight could help Mitt Romney, because it would force Obama to have to engage Congress, which is never pretty for an incumbent president. And another round of self-inflicted economic uncertainty could hurt the U.S. recovery and thus Obama’s re-election chances. (We remind you that job creation pretty much stalled last summer.) But on the other hand, another debt showdown could spotlight all the negative feelings the public has toward Congress and the Republican Party. What’s more, while the debt-ceiling fight hurt Obama in the short term, it arguably made him stronger by giving him someone to run against. After all, he’s campaigning as much against House Republicans as he is Mitt Romney.

*** Romney also focuses on cutting spending, but where’s the beef? On the same day that Boehner made his remarks about the debt ceiling, Romney was also talking about deficits and debt while campaigning in Iowa. (One thing is clear this week: The GOP is coordinating as well as they have in years. The entire GOP message machine has turned toward the debt issue, from Boehner to Romney to Crossroads.) "This debt is America's nightmare mortgage… This is not just bad economics; it is morally wrong and we must stop it," Romney said, per NBC’s Garrett Haake. "The people of Iowa and America have watched President Obama nearly four years now. Much of that time, with Congress controlled by his own party. And rather than putting out that spending fire, he’s been feeding it… The time has come for a president, a leader, who will lead. I will lead us out of this debt and spending inferno.” It was a strong speech by Romney. But he still hasn’t provided details how his promises -- like reducing tax rates for the wealthy, keeping the Bush tax cuts, and increasing defense spending -- will actually reduce the deficit and debt. He’s been clear about his plans for entitlements (like Medicare and Social Security), but the details are lacking elsewhere. Romney wants to avoid filling in the blanks because to make his numbers work, it’s going to take some real massive cuts into domestic programs. By the way, as the jobs picture improves slightly, and even more so in many of the key battleground states (see OH, VA, and IA in particular), it’s not surprising that the economic pitch of the GOP has moved from “where are the jobs?” to “the debt.”

*** The Bain story continues to chase Romney: Romney today campaigns in Florida today, holding an event in St. Petersburg and two fundraisers in Tampa and Miami. And the problem for him with all the attention on Bain is that the story chases him from state to state. Here’s the Tampa Bay Times: “In advance of Mitt Romney's fundraising swing through Florida tomorrow Democrats are highlighting one of the business ventures of Bain Capital while Romney was in charge: Dade Behring, which, saddled with debt, wound up shuttering two medical technologies facilities in Miami. Some 850 jobs were lost, while Bain walked away with $242-million - an 800 percent return on its investment. The Dade Behring case has been well-documented, but here's a new wrinkle: The company under Bain's leadership sought and received millions of dollars in tax breaks for creating jobs in Puerto Rico - shortly before closing its facilities, costing nearly 300 jobs.”

*** Biden to blast Bain, too: In remarks he’ll deliver at noon ET in Youngstown, OH, Vice President Biden will also bring up Romney’s record at Bain. “He thinks that because he spent his career as a ‘businessman,’ he has the experience to run the economy. So let’s take a look at a couple of things he did,” Biden is expected to say, according to excerpts of his speech. “In the 1990s, there was a steel mill in Kansas City, Missouri.  It had been in business since 1888. Then Romney and his partners bought the company. Eight years later, it went bankrupt.” More Biden: “Romney’s management team added debt on the company. When they bought the company it had only $13 million of debt.  By the time it filed for bankruptcy, its debt had increased 40 fold to over $533 million… And when the company finally filed for bankruptcy, they reneged on their contract with the workers. No health care, lower pensions. Everyone lost their jobs. But not everyone got hurt. The top 30 executives walked away with $9 million. And Romney and his partners walked away with at least $12 million. Romney made sure the guys on top got to play by a separate set of rules, he ran massive debts, and the middle class lost.  And folks, he thinks this experience will help our economy?”

*** Crossroads goes up: After the Obama campaign unveiled its massive ad buy, the Karl Rove-backed Crossroads GPS (the 501c4 that doesn’t have to disclose its donors) is up with a very large buy hitting Obama. And here’s the ad. As we noted above, it’s on the GOP message theme of the week: the debt. Again, we ask: Is this a subtle shift from jobs, because of the facts on the ground in many of the battleground states? Note the themes in this ad: debt and housing; more powerful arguments perhaps in places like Florida and Nevada. The states where the ad is running: Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Michigan, North Carolina, New Hampshire, Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Virginia.

*** Obama camp raises $43.6 million in April: NBC’s Carrie Dann reports that the Obama campaign announced it raised $43.6 million in April -- for the campaign, DNC, and other committees. That amount, however, is down from the campaign’s $45 million combined haul in February and $53 million haul in March. In February, the Obama campaign raised $21 million, with the DNC/OFA/other committees raking in the rest. And in March, the campaign brought in $35 million, with the committees raising the rest. Also in March, Romney's campaign raised $13 million. The FEC filing deadline for last month’s numbers is May 20.

*** Romney’s 155 delegates away from 1144: As expected, Romney easily won last night’s GOP presidential primaries in Nebraska and Oregon. The latest delegate count, per NBC’s Katie Primm: Romney 989, Santorum 265, Gingrich 130, Paul 106.

*** Fischer pulls off the upset in Nebraska: As we alluded to yesterday, there was an upset in last night’s Nebraska Senate GOP primary. The Lincoln Journal Star: State Sen. Deb Fischer’s “late surge, perhaps unprecedented in modern-day Nebraska political history, upended a Senate race that appeared to be settled as recently as 10 days ago with the GOP prize within the grasp of Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning.” More: “Fischer suddenly gained momentum with late endorsements from 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin and Rep. Jeff Fortenberry of Lincoln, then rode the momentum of a weekend TV ad blitz mounted by Ameritrade founder Joe Ricketts and his political action committee. The super PAC ads purchased by Ending Spending supported Fischer and roughed up Bruning with attacks on his character and ethical behavior as attorney general. Within days, his support collapsed and the race was scrambled.”

*** Did the NRSC back into its strongest candidate? While we and others have cast Fischer’s surprise win as an outsider victory against an establishment insider (Bruning), the Cook Political Report’s Jennifer Duffy has a different take: “Bruning’s problem [wasn’t] necessarily that he is the establishment candidate; it’s that there are all these questions about his finances and ethics,” she told First Read. “It’s about the only story about the primary race the World Herald has written.” So Senate Republicans may very well have backed into their strongest candidate. We’ll know in a week or so if Fischer is for real or whether Democrats (and Bob Kerrey) will have a true shot in this red state in November. More times than not, the candidate who comes out on top in a three-way race sails to victory in the general election (see Feingold/Mosely-Braun/Palin/Gray Davis). Yet the question mark surrounding Fischer is that she isn’t well known. But barring something unknown, Democratic hopes of keeping this seat may actually be fading faster than they would have had the GOP nominated either of the two men.

*** Veepstakes watch: And here’s the Chris Christie-Cory Booker web video everyone is talking about today. 

Countdown to WI recall: 20 days
Countdown to GOP convention: 103 days
Countdown to Dem convention: 110 days
Countdown to Election Day: 174 days

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