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First Thoughts: The Main Event

The Main Event: Today’s oral arguments at the Supreme Court, beginning at 10:00 am ET, tackle the constitutionality of the individual mandate… And there’s plenty of irony (and even hypocrisy) on this issue… Obama’s Flex A Sketch comment and the truth it reveals in politics: It’s easier to get things done in a non-election year… Lesson to Romney: If you’re going to seize on a gaffe, don’t commit one yourself… And don’t go too far… If a now-irrelevant candidate falls in the forest and no one hears it… And Team Romney holds a nearly 10-to-1 advertising advantage over Santorum in Wisconsin.

*** The Main Event: Yesterday’s oral arguments were simply the opening act in the Supreme Court’s consideration of President Obama’s signature health-care law. But today’s discussion -- over whether or not the individual mandate to purchase health insurance is constitutional -- is the main event. And there’s plenty of irony (and even hypocrisy) on this issue. After all, it was then-candidate Barack Obama who railed against the individual mandate, which was supported by Hillary Clinton. What’s more, the individual mandate was once a conservative-leaning idea (championed by the Heritage Foundation, Newt Gingrich and, yes, Mitt Romney). The final bit of irony: Only a small percentage of the public would even be subject to the individual mandate, if it’s found to be constitutional. A new Urban Institute study finds, per Huffington Post, that 98% of Americans “would either be exempt from the mandate -- because of employer coverage, public health insurance or low income -- or given subsidies to comply.” So there you have it, folks: The central issue before the Supreme Court was once opposed by Obama, supported by conservatives and Republicans, and won’t even affect most Americans.

Poll: How do you interpret the Consitution?

*** Flex A Sketch: The White House was nervous enough about the (over?) reaction to the hot-mic conversation to take a question from the press to try and correct the record a tad. “I don’t think it’s any surprise that you can’t start [missile-defense negotiations] a few months before a presidential and congressional election,” he said. Indeed, just like the Etch A Sketch comment revealed a fairly non-controversial truth about politics (presidential candidates always try to move back to the center in a general election), President Obama’s hot-mic moment yesterday contained an iron-clad fact (a non-election year and a second term give you more flexibility to get things done). Now while every president believes a second term gives them more flexibility, recent history -- whether it was Nixon, Reagan, Clinton, or Bush -- teaches us that second terms aren’t all that easy. One other thing about Obama’s hot-mic comment to Russian President Dmitri Medvedev (“On all these issues, but particularly missile defense, this can be solved, but it’s important for him to give me space… This is my last election. After my election I have more flexibility”): Wasn’t it simply a delay tactic with the Russians? Translation: “Hey guys, I hear you on this issue, but just give me some time and I’ll get back with you.” How many of you readers out there have used some near-term event as a delay tactic to put off a deadline or a conversation?

*** If you’re going to seize on a gaffe, don’t commit one yourself… : President Obama’s “hot mic” remark yesterday received plenty of attention, but it was Mitt Romney’s response to it that might have been just as problematic -- if not more so. First, he accidentally said that Iran “must have a nuclear weapon.” Romney said in California, per NBC’s Garrett Haake: "There's no time for our president to be pulling his punches with the American people and not telling us what he's intending to do with regards to our missile defense system -- with regards to our military might and with regards to our commitment to Israel; and with regards to our absolute conviction that Iran must have a nuclear weapon." OK, he obviously meant that Iran must NOT have a nuclear weapon. But then, later on CNN, Romney called Russia “our No. 1 geopolitical foe.” And that time-warp statement, which was true 25 to 30 years ago but is no longer the case, allowed Democrats to punch back. The DNC released this statement from former Ambassador and Congressman Tim Roemer (D): “Today, Gov. Romney said that Russia is without question our nation’s number one geopolitical foe.  Does Mitt Romney really believe that Russia … is a bigger threat to the U.S. today than a nuclear-armed Iran or al-Qaeda?”

*** … and don’t go too far:  Also, just like during Etch A Sketch (where we saw both Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich going over the top and acting desperate in the process), Romney appeared to take Obama’s hot-mic remark a bit too far. Instead of having fun with it, he made the hot-mic comment seem like a nefarious and sinister plot. It’s yet another reminder that Romney isn’t the world’s most nimble political candidate. The hot-mic remark was a fastball down the middle -- to demonstrate some pop in his bat -- and Romney hit a grounder to third. For what it's worth, the Romney press shop seems to be seizing the opportunity better than the candidate himself. By the way, Medvedev took this shot at Romney: "I would recommend all U.S. presidential candidates ... to do two things. First, when phrasing their position, one needs to use one's head, one's good reason, which would not do harm to a presidential candidate. Also, (one needs to) look at his watch: we are in 2012 and not the mid-1970s."

*** If a now-irrelevant candidate falls in the forest and no one hears it… : In today’s New York Times, columnist Frank Bruni mentions that it’s time for a particular presidential candidate to get out of the race. This candidate, Bruni writes, failed to pick up a single delegate in Illinois and Louisiana. And this candidate, Bruni adds, is fueled only by over-the-top rhetoric and a “ludicrous guarantee of $2.50-a-gallon gasoline.” Who is this candidate? Well, the answer is pretty obvious. And it raises an interesting question: If this candidate falls in the forest and no one is bothering to listen, did it really happen?

*** Team Romney’s 10-to-1 advertising edge in Wisconsin: Wisconsin’s primary is exactly a week from today, and Team Romney (campaign and Super PAC) have nearly a 10-to-1 advertising advantage over Santorum in the state, $3.1 million to $340,000, according to data from Smart Media Group. In Michigan, the ratio was about 2-to-1; in Illinois, it was nearly 7-to-1; and now it’s almost 10-to-1 in Wisconsin.

*** On the trail, per NBC’s Adam Perez: Romney remains in California, appearing  on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno and fundraising in Stockton, Irvine, and Los Angeles… Gingrich attends an event in Annapolis, MD… And Santorum campaigns in Wisconsin, making stops in Beaver Dam, Racine, and Janesville.

Countdown to DC, Maryland, Wisconsin primaries: 7 days
Countdown to Election Day: 224 days

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