IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

First Thoughts: Obama Courts Women Voters

Women are the most important swing voters this election season, which explains President Obama's speech today on improving economic opportunities for women.

If Democrats are able to hold the Senate in November, it will largely be due to one force in American politics: women voters. In our mind, women -- especially those 40 to 64 -- are the most important swing voters this election season, and it explains President Obama's speech today in Orlando, FL at 2:30 pm ET. “President Barack Obama is arguing that women need better educational opportunities as he raises political money in Florida,” the AP says. “Obama has been focusing on women's economic issues in this midterm election year and plans to focus on higher education in a visit Thursday to Orlando's Valencia College.” It also explains why Democrats, even in the red state of Texas, are trying to capitalize on GOP opposition to the Lilly Ledbetter Act. Our most recent NBC/WSJ poll showed that while Republicans have a one-point lead on the congressional generic ballot (44%-43%), they’re trailing among women by 11 points (48%-37%) -- the same margin by which they lost women in the 2012 presidential race (55%-44%). However, Republicans have a 14-point edge among men (52%-38%). But if Republicans are losing female voters by double digits in November, Democrats have a pretty good shot at minimizing big losses in the midterms. There’s not a Democratic campaign in the country that doesn’t view women as the single-most important voting bloc in their elections. This is one of the few ways the White House thinks they can be helpful to Democrats, by focusing all their non-foreign policy efforts on initiatives that are focused on these key swing voters. After his speech in Orlando, Obama heads to Miami to raise money for the DNC and DCCC.

What the coverage of Rand Paul’s Berkeley speech missed

The coverage of Sen. Rand Paul’s (R-KY) anti-NSA speech at Berkeley yesterday focused primarily on President Obama. The AP's headline: "Rand Paul criticizes Obama, others over spying." The New York Times has this: “‘I find it ironic that the first African-American president has without compunction allowed this vast exercise of raw power by the N.S.A.,’ Mr. Paul said.” But this coverage misses something very important about the eventual 2016 GOP race for president: The NSA metadata surveillance program was created under the last Republican president. And back then, the entire security apparatus (Patriot Act, NSA warrantless wiretapping) was enthusiastically supported by the Republican Party. Even now, there are prominent Republicans (John Boehner, Chris Christie, John McCain, Mike Rogers, Peter King) who support what George W. Bush started and Barack Obama (largely) has continued. So if Rand Paul, as expected, runs for the White House, he won’t just be taking on the sitting president on this topic; he’ll also be taking on much of his own party. And that will be a fascinating debate to watch.

The Iraq war -- 11 years later

By the way, yesterday was the 11th anniversary of the Iraq war. And as we’ve written before, it’s undoubtedly the most consequential political event during that time span. It explains why Barack Obama sits in the Oval Office; it helps explain why the American public has largely tuned out Syria’s civil war and why there’s so little appetite for intervention in foreign wars; and it marks the beginning of the pessimistic funk the country has been in over the past 10 years. As our NBC/WSJ poll shows, the last time a plurality of Americans said the county was headed in the right direction was in 2004 -- just before the Iraq war turned into a quagmire. And we’ve yet to recover from the downward trend. The collective belief that going into Iraq was a mistake has also handcuffed American foreign policy now as politically it seems there are options (be them on Syria or Ukraine) that really aren’t viable for the president given the public’s lack of appetite for any international interventions.

Paul Ryan confronted in Wisconsin over “inner cities” remark

House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) was confronted during a listening session in Racine, Wisconsin Wednesday by a constituent who said Ryan’s recent comments regarding inner city men and poverty appeared to him to be racial, NBC’s Frank Thorp and Luke Russert report. Alfonso Gardner, an African-American man from Mount Pleasant, Wisconsin, asked Ryan about his remarks on Bill Bennett’s radio show last week where he said there was a “tailspin of culture, in our inner cities in particular, of men not working and just generations of men not even thinking about working or learning to value the culture of work.” “The bottom line is this: Your statement wasn’t true, that’s a code word for black,” Gardner told Ryan, referring to his use of the term “inner city.” Ryan responded saying, “there was nothing whatsoever about race in my comments at all, it had nothing to do with race… Sometimes when you’re on radio you try to take a bunch of ideas and collapse it into a couple sentences and you oversimplify, and it can be misinterpreted, that’s what’s happened here,” Ryan said. But Gardner would not accept the congressman’s explanation. “If you didn’t mean this, you wouldn’t have said it, OK? People don’t say something that they don’t mean.” Ryan responded: “You don’t know me so you don’t know who I really am,” he said, “Race has nothing to do with this. This is about getting people to work, and this is about making sure that we can actually fight poverty more effectively.”

Ryan to introduce another budget this election year

Speaking of Ryan, NBC’s Luke Russert adds that the Wisconsin congressman told NBC News that he was going to release a budget soon, despite concerns from his fellow members about putting out a document of specifics in a contentious election year. “I think we ought to show how we would go further and what our plans for balancing the budget would be. I've passed three budgets in the past, which balance the budget and pay off the debt, I intend on doing the same thing. Ryan attributed some of the apprehension of his colleagues to the fact that the budget he negotiated with his Senate counterpart Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), is current law, and that the White House would have little desire to move away from that and negotiate. “So then a lot of people say, ‘There's no way they're going to move toward a budget agreement this year. We have something in place, let's just stick with that.’” While Ryan’s budgets have passed overwhelmingly in the GOP-controlled House, their cuts and fundamental change to entitlement programs like Medicare have put some more vulnerable members in his conference in some tough spots ahead of elections. But Ryan plans to move forward, “If you don't think the budget is perfect and needs to be improved, which we believe that, then we should put our ideas out and that's exactly what we're doing.”

Bernie Sanders and 2016

The Nation’s latest cover story is an updated interview the liberal magazine did with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-RI), who has said he’s “prepared to run for president” in 2016. When the magazine asks him what “prepared to run” means, he responds: “If the question is, am I actively right now organizing and raising money and so forth for a campaign for president, I am not doing that. On the other hand, am I talking to people around the country? Yes, I am. Will I be doing some traveling around the country? Yes, I will be. But I think it’s premature to be talking about (the specifics of) a campaign when we still have a 2014 congressional race in front of us.”

DSCC raises $6.8 million last month

Despite a rough last few months for Democrats, they’re still raising lots of money. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee today announced raising $6.8 million in February -- the best February in the committee’s history. And it continues to have a big fundraising lead over its counterpart, the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

Remembering Bob Strauss

Longtime Democratic operative and lawyer Bob Strauss, who once served as chairman of the Democratic National Committee and co-founded the powerhouse law firm/lobbying firm Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, passed away on Wednesday He was 95. As former Rep. Martin Frost (D-TX) tells First Read: “Other than LBJ, he was the last of the really big Texans… They broke the mold when they made him.” Here’s what you need to know about Strauss: Before there was Haley Barbour, before there was Terry McAuliffe, there was Bob Strauss -- the sort of super operative who somehow was both partisan and yet had friends on the other side. The first of the modern Washington power brokers, Strauss was, for a time, seen as the most plugged-in operative in all of Washington when that was something that was still revered and even feared in this town. Not sure, given our new politics, there will be another dominant figure like Strauss here in Washington.

Click here to sign up for First Read emails. Text FIRST to 622639, to sign up for First Read alerts to your mobile phone. Check us out on Facebook and also on Twitter. Follow us @chucktodd, @mmurraypolitics