* All eyes on Mitt Romney in New Hampshire: Michael Leahy has a good curtain raiser on tonight’s GOP 2012 debate, at which we’ll see the central question of the primary vividly on display.
Has Mitt Romney’s relentless focus on the economy and his new turnaround whiz-kid act really cemented true front-runner status? Or is it only a matter of time until T-Paw and other opponents succeed in awakening GOP primary voters to the transparent phoniness of Romney’s conservative rhetoric and his previous embrace of sensible positions on climate change and the individual mandate, dooming him in a state he must win?
This will be the first time that Romney will be called upon to defend his previous heresies against direct attacks from rivals, and as such his handling of them bears watching.
* Bright spot for Romney in the polling: A key number in the new USA Today/Gallup poll of Republicans and GOP-leaning independents, which finds Romney leading the pack with 24 percent:
Those surveyed were inclined to prefer the candidate who has the best chance of defeating President Obama rather than one who agrees with them on every issue.
* Left to press case on Medicare during 2012 GOP debate: Lefty groups are going to try to capitalize on attention to tonight’s debate in New Hampshire with TV ads hammering the GOP plan to end Medicare as we know it — the latest effort to make Medicare central to the 2012 campaign.
ProtectYourCare.org will air a spot in the state featuring a senior asking why the elderly are bearing the brunt of deficit reduction; while the Progressive Change Campaign Committee and Democracy for America will be airing their ad claiming the GOP wants to “end Medicare” — which the NRCC tried and failed to get yanked.
* Democrats winning the argument over Medicare, part 973: New CBS polling confirms that the public overwhelmingly rejects transforming Medicare’s basic mission: Fifty-eight percent say it should ”continue the way it is set up now,” versus only 31 percent who say it should become “a program that gives senior citizens payments towards the purchase of private insurance.”
Only 43 percent of Republicans support the proposed changes to the program.
Note that this question wording is very neutral. Also: The public strongly opposes the plan even though a majority also thinks fundamental changes are needed to the program to enable its survival.
* Weinergate has taken focus off Medicare: This sort of polling — which mirrors last week’s Post survey finding strong opposition to the GOP Medicare plan — underscores why Dem leaders want Anthony Weiner to go: Weinergate has completely taken the focus off the Dems’ preferred storyline about Republicans being on defense big time over Medicare.
* Dem leaders increase heat on Weiner to resign: And so, as a new round of photos (Weiner in a towel clutching weiner) surfaces, Steny Hoyer spells it out: “It seems to me extraordinarily difficult that he can proceed to represent his constituents in an effective way given the circumstances this bizarre behavior has led to.”
* RNC chair tries to explain away Weiner-Vitter double standard: Reince Priebus’s struggle yesterday to explain why Republicans haven’t demanded David Vitter’s resignation was not terribly convincing.
Question: Why have so few media figures noted this glaring disparity?
* Obama needs to shift the conversation from deficit to jobs, or else: E.J. Dionne sounds the alarm, calling on Obama to “engineer a turn in the national conversation” away from the deficit and towards unemployment in order to avert defeat in 2012:
Yes, we need a budget deal, and my hunch is we’ll get one. But all the spending cuts in the world will do Obama no good if unemployment next year is anywhere close to where it is now. Changing the message and the policies coming out of Washington is urgent.
Did anyone mention that we’re caught in a Beltway Deficit Feedback Loop?
* Obama re-elect reality check of the day: Courtesy of the Wall Street Journal:
“In four states that may prove key to the Obama re-election strategy — Florida, Nevada, North Carolina and Michigan — the jobless picture is bleak. In three of the four, the rate tops 10%.”
* Wisconsin Dems hit back against GOP shenanigans: The Wisconsin Democratic Party has hit upon a novel approach to counter the GOP plan to meddle in Dem primaries in order to delay the recall elections. As Eric Kleefeld explains, instead of running fake Republicans, they will run Democratic candidates in all the primaries to ensure that all the elections get pushed back to the same date.
It’s complicated, but the gist is this will deprive the GOP of its control of the election calendar — which would have been a major advantage — without indulging in the dirty-trick tactic being employed by Republicans.
* What to watch this week: With the Biden-led debt reduction talks set to convene three times this week, officials will no longer be able to put off the hot-button question of whether significant Medicare cuts will be part of the eventual deal.
Key question: Will Dems give any ground on Medicare benefits cuts?
* The big argument against privatizing Medicare? Socialized medicine works: Paul Krugman notes that even if Medicare has failed to adequately control costs, the bottom line is that the private sector has done a worse job in controlling them. Cliff notes version: Medicare saves money.
* And the Newt Gingrich death watch: Poor Newt tried to persuade reporters last night to focus on his “major speech” attacking Obama’s Mideast polices, but all they wanted to ask him about was his rapidly-expiring campaign.
What else is happening?