So how big a fight are Republicans prepared to put up against Obama’s new accommodation on birth control? Over the weekend, Mitch McConnell vowed to turn the battle over it into a major crusade that won’t end until the White House backs down:
“We’ll be voting on that in the Senate, and you can anticipate that would happen as soon as possible.…This issue will not go away until the administration simply backs down,” he said. “This is what happens when the government tries to take over healthcare and tries to interfere with your religious beliefs.”
That last line suggests Republicans see the subtext of this fight as a winner for them — the subtext being that Obama, who is forever expanding government, now wants it to reach into matters of faith. But my bet is that this story-line won’t square in any way with voter perceptions of Obama’s decision.
Case in point: Fox New’s poll released Friday showed widespread majority support for requiring employers to cover contraception. The question is whether voters will accept the GOP framing of this issue as one about religious beliefs — or whether they see it as a fight over women’s access to contraception, and more broadly, about women’s health. If the Fox poll is to be believed, there are no signs that key constituencies — such as independents and women — are inclined to accept the former framing.
Whatever the risk for Obama among Catholic voters — more on that later — the GOP also is arguably taking a big risk here, adopting a position that could exacerbate the gender gap for the eventual GOP presidential nominee and damage the GOP’s brand overall.
* The first big progressive-versus-Blue Dog contest of 2012: This is a race to watch: Ilya Sheyman, who is backed by labor and liberal groups like the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, is running in a primary against Blue Dog Dem Brad Schneider for the right to take on GOP Rep. Robert Dold in Illinois’ 10th district.
Sheyman’s first ad is right here, and this race will be closely watched by national liberals who are hoping to show that unabashed progressives can win in suburban districts.
* Obama budget will restart fight over taxes on rich: The budget Obama will unveil today will revive a political fight that centers on two topics: Deficit reduction, and higher taxes for the rich. Republicans are attacking the budget because it keeps deficits high, and the challenge for the White House is to make the case that deficit reduction should be long term, because short term austerity could choke off the recovery.
Also: Republicans will decry the new budget’s insistence on $1.5 trillion in revenues from higher taxes on corporations and the wealthy; the White House’s second challenge is to effectively highlight this to undercut Republican efforts to make this about the deficit.
* Budget sets template for 2012 campaign: As Ezra Klein notes, this budget has no chance of passing as is, but the battle lines it draws on the wisdom of deficit reduction amid a fragile recovery are important:
The Obama administration is officially breaking its spromise to halve the deficit by the end of their first term. The 2013 budget envisions a deficit of more than $1 trillion — not halved by any stretch of the imagination. Republicans are right about that. But fulfilling that promise — which would have meant moving to massively contractionary fiscal policy over the last year — would have been a dumb thing to do. The Obama administration is right about that.
As always, the challenge here for the White House — as it will be during the reelection campaign — will be to remind voters of the scale of the disaster Obama inherited and the need for continued government intervention to shore up the fragile recovery. It’s not an easy story to tell, but the argument sets the framework for the coming campaign.
* GOP still in box on payroll tax cut? The Obama budget presumes an extension of the payroll tax cut, and as Steve Benen notes, Democrats continue to operate from the assumtion that they hold the political upper hand in the battle, and are refusing to bow to GOP demands to pay for the extension in ways that would further damage the recovery.
The question is whether the politics of the payroll tax fight complicate the GOP’s messaging around the larger budget battle and help Dems make their broader case against GOP fiscal priorities.
* Romney under pressure to tout his social conservatism: His latest:
“I want people to remember that I was on the front lines on conservative social issues, on conservative fiscal issues, and standing up for conservative foreign-policy values. I wanted to reacquaint people with what they remember from four years ago.”
Christian Heinze debunks. This quote, combined with his claim Friday that he was a “severely conservative” governor of Massachusetts, remind us yet again how much pressure Rick Santorum’s presence is placing on Romney to do a better job connecting with social and religious conservatives.
* Romney lured on to social conservative turf: Relatedly, Glen Johnson notes that the “severely conserative” quote only reveals the ways that the looming battle over social conservative credentials is terrible terrain for Romney.
My question: At what point does this backfire? At what point do conservative rank and file voters hearing this stuff realize that Romney is treating them like idiots?
* Is Romney really the most electable GOPer? Also: Michael Barone’s piece is worth a read because it provides a glimpse into the deliberations of conservatives as they try to determine whether Romney is really the most electable against Obama.
As Barone points out, Santorum’s case for electability is equally plausible, thanks to SantorRomney’s “unforced errors and political tin ear,” which ensure (as I’ve argued) that he’ll struggle among blue collar whites.
* Santorum surging in ... Michigan? If there’s anything to this, it will be a big deal: The robo-polling firm Public Policy Polling is set to release a new poll showing Santorum up by as much as 15 points in Michigan, where Romney has deep roots.
Key footnote: Romney recently tried to lower expectations for his performance in Michigan by fibbing about his 2008 margin of victory in the state.
* And the Obama campaign crowd-sources fact checking: The Obama campaign just unveiled its new “Truth Team” Web site, which is designed to allow ordinary voters to participate truth-squadding GOP attacks on Obama’s record. A newer version of a similar effort in 2008, the site represents another facet of the campaign’s ongoing effort to use social media to keep the grassroots enaged.
David Nakamura details the larger context and meaning of the Obama team’s new effort, and the ways in which it’s also an effort to compete with the right’s ad spending.