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First Thoughts: Strengths on display

Romney’s and Obama’s strengths were both on display last night… But so were their weaknesses… Romney, as expected, sweeps the GOP primary contests of CT, DE, NY, PA, and RI… Gingrich: “We are going to look realistically where we are at”… Santorum still not 100% embracing Romney… Have both of these men ensured they’ll be speaking in the afternoon in Tampa?... Veepstakes watch: Rubio delivers foreign-policy speech… Ad watch: Priorities USA and Crossroads GPS up with new TV ads… And two incumbent Dems (Altmire and Holden) go down to defeat.



This photo combo shows President Barack Obama in Chapel Hill, N.C. on April 24, 2012, and Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney on April 18, 2012 in Charlotte, N.C.
This photo combo shows President Barack Obama in Chapel Hill, N.C. on April 24, 2012, and Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney on April 18, 2012 in Charlotte, N.C.Carolyn Kaster/Chuck Burton / AP


*** Strengths on display: For the two men who will square off for the presidency in November, Tuesday night displayed the strengths of each. As he swept last night’s five primary contests, Mitt Romney delivered one of his best speeches of the cycle, focusing on the economy and emphasizing his business background. “As I look around at the millions of Americans without work, the graduates who can't get a job, the soldiers who return home to an unemployment line, it breaks my heart,” he said. “This does not have to be. It is the result of failed leadership and of a faulty vision.” Romney also stated, “After 25 years, I know how to lead us out of this stagnant Obama economy and into a job-creating recovery.” Indeed, our recent NBC/WSJ poll found Romney leading Obama (40%-34%) on who would be better for having good ideas how to improve the economy.

*** Romney on the economy, Obama on likeability: Meanwhile, we saw President Obama address two audiences of enthusiastic college students -- and he’ll speak to a third today at the University of Iowa at 2:20 pm ET -- pushing for Congress to keep student loans low and reminding these students that his own situation was similar to theirs. “This shouldn’t be a partisan issue.  And yet, the Republicans who run Congress right now have not yet said whether or not they’ll stop your rates from doubling,” Obama said at the University of North Carolina. He added at the University of Colorado, “We only finished paying off our student loans about eight years ago. Think about that: I'm the president of the United States, and so here I am and we were writing those checks every month.” Then he slow-jammed the news with Jimmy Fallon, demonstrating personal skills that his GOP opponent doesn’t have.  And in our NBC/WSJ poll, Obama crushed Romney on being easygoing and likeable (54%-18%) and being compassionate enough to understand average people (52%-23%).

*** But weaknesses were also on display, too: But we also caught glimpses of weaknesses of both men, which will certainly come up again in the next six months. Romney last night laid out the “why not Obama” case very well, and that could be a powerful argument with nearly six in 10 thinking the country is headed in the wrong direction. Yet what was missing was the “why him?” In fact, he talked about his wife Ann and his father who grew up poor. But outside of his business background, he didn’t talk about himself. In addition, we were reminded that Romney will have a difficult time relating to others. “I’d say that you might have heard that I was successful in business. And that rumor is true,” he said. (Romney didn’t seem to realize that the line about “it’s still the economy, and we’re not stupid” needed a punchier/smirkier delivery.) For Obama, we were reminded that despite his enthusiastic audiences, this isn’t 2008. As the New York Times’ Peter Baker writes, “Mr. Obama is no longer the avatar of promise and possibility; he is the incumbent presiding over an anemic job market awaiting future graduates. He is a figure of compromised ideals asking for forbearance as he seeks to live up to the sky-high expectations he inspired the first time around.”

*** Romney’s sweep: As mentioned above, Romney -- as expected -- swept last night’s five GOP primary contests. With the Republican race effectively over since Rick Santorum’s exit earlier this month, Romney won either 60% of the vote, or close to it, in every state. In Connecticut (with 91% reporting), it was Romney 67%, Paul 13%, Gingrich 10%, and Santorum 7%; in Delaware (99% reporting), Romney 56%, Gingrich 27%, Paul 11%, and Santorum 6%; in New York (77% reporting), Romney 62%, Paul 16%, Gingrich 13%, Santorum 9%; in Pennsylvania (99% reporting), Romney 58%, Santorum 18%, Paul 13%, and Gingrich 10%; and in Rhode Island (99% reporting), Romney 63%, Paul 24%, Gingrich 6%, and Santorum 6%. And here’s NBC’s delegate breakdown after last night: Romney 844, Santorum 260, Gingrich 137, and Paul 79. 

*** Gingrich: “We are going to look realistically at where we are at”: As for Gingrich, he made Delaware a do-or-die contest, and he didn’t win. And after his disappointing finish, he suggested that he may exit the presidential race in the coming days, NBC’s Alex Moe reports. “I want you to know over the next few days, we’re going to look realistically at where we are at” in the campaign, Gingrich told a crowd of just one hundred people at his election night rally, calling himself a “citizen” rather than a candidate. And this just happened this morning while Gingrich was campaigning in North Carolina today, Moe adds: Gingrich called Romney the nominee. “I do think it's pretty clear that Gov. Romney is ultimately going to be the nominee, and we'll do everything we can to make sure that he is, in fact, effective, and that we as a team are effective both in winning this fall and then, frankly, in governing."

*** Santorum still not 100% giddy about Romney: Santorum, meanwhile, announced on CNN last night that he will be meeting with some of Romney’s advisers today, and NBC’s Andrew Rafferty has confirmed that Santorum and Romney will meet together on May 4. But on CNN last night, Santorum didn’t enthusiastically embrace Romney. Here was the transcript, per NBC’s Morgan Parmet:

PIERS MORGAN: But you believe that Mitt Romney is the right guy?
SANTORUM: I believe he's the better--obviously, I believed I was the better choice, but then I'm not in this race anymore.
MORGAN: So he's won the race?
SANTORUM: He's won the race.
MORGAN: Is he therefore the right guy?
SANTORUM: Yeah, absolutely. He's the person that is going to go up against Barack Obama. It's pretty clear and we need to win this race. We need to beat Barack Obama.
MORGAN: You've just endorsed Mitt Romney
SANTORUM: Well, if that's what you want to call it. You can call it whatever you want.

*** Did Santorum and Newt hold out too long? After reading that exchange and also seeing Gingrich stay in the race probably a month too long (after not winning Alabama and Mississippi), we have this question: Did both Santorum and Gingrich hold out too long? What does Romney owe them now? Hope they enjoy speaking in the afternoon in Tampa.

*** Veepstakes watch: Marco Rubio will deliver a foreign-policy speech at the Brookings Institution at noon ET.

*** Ad watch: As we first reported on Monday, the pro-Obama Super PAC Priorities USA Action and the League of Conservation Voters have teamed up for a new TV ad to air in Colorado and Nevada. And we now have the ad -- it hits Romney for being “in the tank for Big Oil.” And Crossroad GPS has announced it’s going up with a $1.2 million ad buy in the Senate contests of Missouri, Montana, Nevada, North Dakota, and Virginia.

*** Two Dem incumbents go down to defeat: Also in Pennsylvania last night, two Democratic congressional incumbents – Jason Altmire and Tim Holden – were defeated. Altmire lost to fellow Dem Rep. Mark Critz in a match-up of two incumbents due to redistricting. And Critz ended up winning due to old-fashioned labor’s boots on the ground; it was the old Murtha machine in action (and Critz used to work for Murtha). Bottom line: Altmire got out-organized. Meanwhile, Holden lost to a political neophyte. But with Congress’ low approval ratings, it is surprising when these longtime members lose?

Countdown to Election Day: 196 days

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