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First Thoughts: The final three

<p>Romney’s three VP finalists: Pawlenty (the loyal outsider), Portman (the insider), and Ryan (the crusader)… GOPers are currently split over whether
From left, Sen. Rob Portman, Rep. Paul Ryan & Former Minn. Gov. Tim Pawlenty
From left, Sen. Rob Portman, Rep. Paul Ryan & Former Minn. Gov. Tim Pawlenty

Romney’s three VP finalists: Pawlenty (the loyal outsider), Portman (the insider), and Ryan (the crusader)… GOPers are currently split over whether Romney should pick Ryan… New Q-polls: Romney leads in CO -- where Obama stumps today -- but trails in VA and WI… The Romney camp’s danger in elevating Bill Clinton: You turn him into a fair observer just before his primetime convention speech… New Romney and Priorities USA TV ads play loose with the facts… Romney Hood vs. Obamaloney… McCaskill gets her man… And conservatives in MO and KS wage (and win) the “Border War.”

Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney speaks to workers during a campaign event at Acme Industries on August 7, 2012 in Elk Grove Village, Illinois.

*** The final three: We can say with a high degree of confidence that Mitt Romney’s vice-presidential pick has largely come down to three men: former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, and House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan. And it’s more than possible that Romney has already made up his mind. All three VP finalists bring something different to the table. Pawlenty is the loyal outsider, who would enable a Romney-Pawlenty ticket to run as former governors vowing to take on Washington; Pawlenty also potentially would add some blue-collar appeal to the ticket. Portman would be the insider, someone who knows the ways of Washington and who could help govern starting on Day 1. And Ryan would be the crusader, who wants to substantially transform America’s entitlement programs and who would excite a good portion of the GOP’s conservative base. Indeed, Ryan has emerged a VERY REAL possibility, but he also brings the most risk. If Romney selects him, it’s more than conceivable that the dominant campaign discussion in the fall won’t be the economy -- but rather the deficit and Medicare. Of course, there was already a good chance the Ryan plan will get plenty attention regardless of Romney’s VP pick.

*** Bold vs. cautious GOPers divided on Ryan: Politico writes that Republican observers are split on Ryan. “Ryan advocates, including some of his colleagues and high-profile conservative elites, believe Romney will lose if he doesn’t make a more assertive case for his candidacy and that selecting the 42-year-old wonky golden boy would sound a clarion call to the electorate about the sort of reforms the presumptive GOP nominee wants to bring to Washington. Call them the ‘go bold’ crowd.” On the other hand: “Their opposites, pragmatic-minded Republican strategists and elected officials, believe that to select Ryan is to hand President Barack Obama’s campaign a twin-edged blade, letting the incumbent slash Romney on the Wisconsin congressman’s Medicare proposal and carve in the challenger a scarlet ‘C’ for the unpopular Congress. This is the cautious corner.”

*** Polling the over-50 crowd: Just how important could the debate over the Ryan budget, especially if he’s Romney’s VP pick? Just consider this AARP poll of voters over 50, in which Obama and Romney are tied 45-45% with the group (and with Obama’s approval at just 42%). Per this poll, 91% believe “Social Security is critical to the economic security of seniors” and “the next president and Congress need to strengthen Social Security so that it is able to provide retirement security for future generations.” (That includes about three-quarters of Romney voters.) And on Medicare: 95% say “Medicare is critical to maintaining the health of seniors” and 88% say the next president and Congress “need to strengthen Medicare so that it is able to provide health coverage in retirement for future generations.” The poll was conducted by Hart Research and GS Strategy Group. (Disclosure: Hart Research is the Democratic half of the NBC-WSJ poll.)

*** Romney leads in CO, but Obama’s ahead in VA and WI: Last week, President Obama campaigned in Florida and Ohio -- just as new Quinnipiac/New York Times/CBS polls showed him leading (and above 50%) in those two states. But today, as he begins a two-day swing through Colorado, the same polling outfit shows him trailing Romney among likely by five points in the state, 50%-45%. That said, new Quinnipiac/New York Times/CBS surveys also show Obama leading in Virginia (49%-45%) and Wisconsin (51%-45%). So out of the six battleground states that Quinnipiac has polled in the past two weeks -- Colorado, Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Wisconsin -- Obama leads in five of them. And speaking of polls, a new national Washington Post/ABC survey finds that Romney’s fav/unfav is still underwater at 40%-49% versus Obama’s 53%-43%. In fact, ABC adds that Romney “is laboring under the lowest personal popularity ratings for a presumptive presidential nominee in midsummer election-year polls back to 1984.”

*** The GOP’s danger in elevating Bill Clinton: Over the past few months, the Romney campaign has elevated Bill Clinton (and even Hillary) in an attempt to divide Democrats and to appeal to downscale white voters. And now comes the Romney camp’s latest TV ad. “In 1996, President Clinton and a bipartisan Congress helped end welfare as we know it by requiring work for welfare,” the narrator says in it. “But on July 12th, President Obama quietly announced a plan to gut welfare reform by dropping work requirements.” As Greg Sargent writes, this effort is to portray Clinton as the “good” kind of Democrat and Obama as the “bad” kind. But there is a real danger here for the Romney campaign and Republicans: Clinton is supporting Obama, and he can swing back like he did last night when he released a statement calling the ad “not true.” More Clinton: The recently announced waiver policy was originally requested by the Republican governors of Utah and Nevada to achieve more flexibility in designing programs more likely to work in this challenging environment. The administration has taken important steps to ensure that the work requirement is retained and that waivers will be granted only if a state can demonstrate that more people will be moved into work under its new approach.”

*** You turn him into a fair observer, just when he has a primetime speaking slot: What’s more, Clinton will be delivering a big primetime speech at the Democratic convention. So when the Romney campaign airs this kind of TV ad -- elevating Clinton as a fair observer in this presidential contest -- persuadable voters might be paying attention to what Clinton has to say at the Dem convention. And what happens if Bubba unloads on Romney? Just something to consider…

*** Playing loose with the facts: Speaking of that new Romney TV ad on welfare, First Read has already pointed out that it’s a dubious assertion to claim that Obama is trying to “gut welfare reform.” Why? Because the HHS memo in question clearly states that it “will only consider approving waivers relating to the work participation requirements that make changes intended to lead to more effective means of meeting the work goals of TANF." In other words, the work requirement is still there. So when Romney told FOX last night that Obama believes that “they shouldn’t have to have the work requirement” isn’t a correct statement. But there is a clear reason why the Romney camp wants to continue airing this TV ad: Obama continues to overperform with downscale whites, especially in places like Ohio. But this Romney advertisement isn’t the only new TV ad out there that’s playing loose with the facts. The pro-Obama Super PAC Priorities USA Action has a spot with a man claiming that he lost his family’s health insurance after Bain Capital helped close a Kansas City steel plant in 2001 -- and that his wife died shortly after. But as Politico notes, the man’s wife died in 2006, years after the steel plant closed down.

*** “Romney Hood” vs. “Obamaloney”: But not only are the TV ads playing loose with the facts, the rhetoric on the campaign trail also has devolved to name calling. So on Monday night, there was Obama talking about “Romney Hood,” seizing on that recent non-partisan Tax Policy Center report. "[Romney would] ask the middle class to pay more taxes so that he could give another $250,000 tax cut to people making more than $3 million a year. It's like Robin Hood in Reverse. It's Romney Hood!" And here’s how Romney countered to FOX: “We’ve been watching the president say a lot of things about me and about my policies. And they’re just not right. And if I were to coin a term, it would be ‘Obamaloney.’” Have we really gotten to the name calling stage of the campaign in August?  Ugly. Are the candidates proud of the tone of the campaign?  

*** On the trail: Obama stumps in Colorado, hitting Denver at 3:20 pm ET and Grand Junction at 7:25 pm ET… Romney campaigns in Des Moines, IA at 9:25 am ET… Meanwhile, Romney’s surrogates and VP possibilities are out in full force -- Portman attends campaign office openings in Colorado; Pawlenty visits Michigan; and Chris Christie raises money for Romney in California.

*** McCaskill gets her man: Endangered Sen. Claire McCaskill (D) caught a real break last night when the one challenger she was HOPING to run against -- Rep. Todd Akin (R) -- surprisingly won his competitive three-way GOP Senate primary in Missouri last night. As National Journal writes, “Polls have showed McCaskill trailing Akin though she polls closer to him than she did against businessman John Brunner and former Treasurer Sarah Steelman, who Akin edged Tuesday.” This Missouri Senate contest is a real race now. McCaskill still may lose, but it’s going to be close. Meanwhile, while Democrats were bracing that Jay Inslee (D) would come in second to Rob McKenna (R) in Washington state’s blanket gubernatorial primary, it turns out that Inslee got 47% to McKenna’s 43%, per the Seattle Times. Now, as Democrats had been telling First Read, the blanket primary isn’t the best way to judge what will happen in November, because the electorates are different. But still, Democrats have to feel good about last night’s result in Washington.

*** Conservatives wage and win ‘Border War’: The Kansas-Missouri rivalry -- in sports as well as what happened in the 1800s -- is known as the “Border War” and last night conservatives won their own version in both states with Akin’s win in Missouri and the conservative state Senate takeover in Kansas. In Missouri, after his victory last night, Akin declared: “This campaign is about reclaiming our Godly values, rebuilding the American Dream, restoring the America that we love.” Across the border, in Kansas, nine incumbent, moderate-leaning GOP state senators, including the Senate president, were ousted -- and it was fueled by outside money, including from the Koch Brothers. Their sin: Working with Democrats “to block some of the most aggressive parts of [Gov. Sam] Brownback’s agenda.” NPR: “The Kansas GOP’s not getting over this any time soon. Normally, after a primary, the party throws a unity breakfast. Not this morning.”

Countdown to GOP convention: 19 daysCountdown to Dem convention: 26 daysCountdown to 1st presidential debate: 56 daysCountdown to VP debate: 64 daysCountdown to 2nd presidential debate: 69 daysCountdown to 3rd presidential debate: 75 daysCountdown to Election Day: 90 days

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