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First Thoughts: Obama maintains map edge

Obama maintains map edge in latest NBC News battleground map… Breaking down our seven toss-up states: CO, FL, NV, NC, OH, PA, and VA… Given those toss-ups, it’s not surprising that Obama is kicking off his re-election bid with rallies in OH and VA on May 5… Biden to draw contrasts with Romney in foreign-policy speech at 10:30 am ET… Romney camp to respond in 9:30 am ET conference call… Could SCOTUS upholding Arizona’s immigration law fire up Latinos?... And Scott Walker has a significant ad-spending advantage in Wisconsin.

*** Obama maintains map edge: In our latest look at the 2012 presidential battleground map and the first since Mitt Romney became the presumptive GOP nominee, President Obama continues -- and has slightly added to -- his electoral-vote lead. There are 231 electoral votes in the Democratic column (either in the solid, likely, or lean categories), and there are 197 on the Republican side; 110 electoral votes are toss-up. In our previous NBC News map, which we released in late February, the Democratic advantage was 227-197. The only changes from February until now were that we moved New Hampshire from toss-up to Lean Dem; we moved Indiana from Likely GOP to Lean GOP; and we moved Georgia from Lean GOP to Likely GOP. Here’s our map:

Solid Dem (no chance at flip): DC, DE, HI, ME (3 EVs) MD, MA, NY, RI, VT (70 electoral votes)
Likely Dem (takes a landslide to flip): CA, CT, IL, WA (94)
Lean Dem: ME (1 EV) MN, NH, NJ, NM, OR, MI, WI (67)
Toss-up: CO, FL, NV, NC, OH, PA, VA (110)
Lean GOP: AZ, IN, IA, MO, (38)
Likely GOP (takes a landslide to flip): AL, AR, GA, LA, MS, MT, NE (1 EV), ND, SC, SD, TX (102)
Solid GOP (no chance at flip): AK, ID, KS, KY, NE (4 EVs) OK, TN, UT, WV, WY (57)

*** Breaking down the seven toss-up states: As you see above, we have seven states in the toss-up category: Colorado, Florida, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. And if we were to push some of these states -- based on polling, past performance, and what we’ve heard from the campaigns/parties -- we’d give a slight edge to Obama in Colorado and Pennsylvania, and we’d give a slight edge to Romney in North Carolina. And that leaves us with four pure toss-ups: Florida, Nevada, Ohio, and Virginia. One other point here: There aren’t enough toss-ups in the Midwest for Romney. He HAS to put Michigan and Wisconsin into play to put map pressure on Obama, especially if the GOP’s Hispanic problem continues to make the Western swing states uphill climbs.  

*** Obama to hold upcoming rallies in OH, VA: Given our pure toss-ups, it’s probably no surprise that Obama is kicking off his re-election campaign with rallies in two of our four pure toss-up states: Ohio and Virginia. Last night, the Obama camp announced that -- on Saturday, May 5 -- the president and first lady will attend campaign rallies in Columbus, OH and Richmond, VA, which happen to be swing areas in those two battleground states. “For the better part of the last year, Romney’s tried to tear down President Obama with a dishonest, negative campaign that even his Republicans have criticized,” Obama Campaign Manager Jim Messina said on a conference call announcing these two rallies. “Well, the monologue is over. Now Romney has to put his record and his agenda up against the president’s and we look forward to that debate.”

*** Biden to draw contrasts with Romney on foreign policy: In the latest of his campaign speeches drawing distinctions with Romney and the GOP, Vice President Joe Biden will deliver an address on foreign policy at New York University at 10:30 am ET. “President Obama ended the war in Iraq responsibly.  He set a clear strategy and end date for the war in Afghanistan. He cut in half the number of Americans serving in harm’s way. He decimated Al Qaeda’s senior leadership. He repaired our alliances and restored America’s standing in the world. And he saved our economy from collapse with bold decisions,” Biden is expected to say, per released excerpts. But he'll add, "Gov. Romney’s national security policy would return us to the past we have worked so hard to move beyond... But Americans know that we cannot afford to go back to the future.  Back to a foreign policy that would have America go it alone… shout to the world you’re either with us or against us… lash out first and ask the hard questions later, if at all… isolate America instead of our enemies." The Romney camp is holding a conference at 9:30 am ET to pre-but Biden’s speech.

*** Could SCOTUS upholding the Arizona law fire up Latinos? As NBC's Pete Williams reported yesterday, a majority of U.S. Supreme Court justices appear to be prepared to uphold part of Arizona's controversial immigration law -- based on their comments during Wednesday morning's oral arguments. Here’s a question we have: If you’re Mitt Romney, aren’t you secretly rooting for the court to overturn the law? Just like with the health-care law, it’s hard to predict how the ultimate Supreme Court decision will play out in November. But you COULD make the case that the court upholding the Arizona law would fire up Latinos in a big way. Just something to keep an eye on... It’s the same theory many strategists believe will drive the political reaction to the Supreme Court’s health-care ruling: that if the law is upheld, it fires up conservatives in a bigger way and forces health care back into the debate.

*** Team Walker’s big ad-spending advantage: Less than two weeks from now, Wisconsin voters will head to the polls to participate in the first round of Wisconsin’s gubernatorial recall – the May 8 primary. The marquee contest here is on the Democratic side between Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett (whom Gov. Scott Walker defeated in 2010) and Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk; Walker also has a minor primary opponent. Then, just four weeks later on June 5, Walker and the Barrett-Falk winner will face off for the big prize. A late March NBC/Marist poll showed 46% supporting Walker in the recall, while 48% supporting the eventual Democratic nominee. Walker’s approval rating in the poll was 48%-48%. Yet Walker and his allies (like the Republican Governors Association) have a HUGE ad-spending edge over Dem candidates and affiliated groups, $10.6 million to $4.5 million. And this advantage raises this question: Is that going to help push Walker over the top in this recall? Or does it mean that Walker can’t go any higher and that Dems could impact the race if they get close to parity? “There has been no parity on television, and we're going to be up on television,” one Dem strategist tells NBC. But here’s the GOP counter to that: Everyone has already made up their minds about Walker, and the ads that can make a difference are the others hitting Barrett or Falk.

*** The ad-spending numbers in Wisconsin: Here’s the total ad spending from November (when Walker began his ads) through April 25, according to Smart Media: 

Walker: $7.2 million
Right Direction for WI (RGA): $3.4 million
WI for Falk (union-affiliated effort): $2.4 million
Greater WI Committee (anti-Walker, DGA has contributed): $1.1 million
Barrett: $634,000
Falk: $342,000

*** Gregory interviews Sudeikis and Armisen: In his weekly “Press Pass” video, NBC’s David Gregory sits down with the two comedians who play, respectively, Mitt Romney and Barack Obama on “Saturday Night Live”: Jason Sudeikis and Fred Armisen.

Countdown to Election Day: 195 days

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