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Should the United States fund the service program AmeriCorps? President Obama would increase its budget. Rep. Paul Ryan would eliminate federal funding for the program.

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Posted at 08:32 AM ET, 04/06/2012

The Morning Plum: Will Campaign 2012 be about inequality, or jobs?

Paul Ryan's budget. The Buffett Rule. Mitt Romney’s wealth, millionaire tax rates, and refusal to release his tax returns.

That trifecta, which is dominating this morning’s news, adds up to a presidential campaign that, if Dems have their way, will be more focused on issues of inequality and tax fairness — and the ideological differences between the two parties over them — than any campaign in recent memory.

I noted here yesterday that Senate Democrats plan to keep bringing up the Buffett Rule again and again for the rest of the year. The idea is to force Senate Republicans to vote to protect the tax rates of millionaires who pay lower rates than many middle class taxpayers do.

Now the Wall Street Journal reports that Dems are going to press the case even further by targeting 13 specific GOP Senators with a blitz of Op eds and possibly public pressure from Obama himself.

The key to this whole issue is that the GOP is set to nominate a man who is worth $250 million and himself benefits to an untold degree from the tax code the Buffett Rule would undo — so Dems are, in effect, boxing in Republicans on whether they will continue to protect their own presidential nominee’s lower-than-middle-class rates. This will be central to the Dem strategy of painting Mitt Romney as the walking embodiment of all the ways the economy and tax code are stacked in favor of the wealthy and against the middle class.

But will these issues matter nearly as much as the state of the economy on Election Day 2012?

* Bad jobs numbers: They’re in, and they’re a disappointment: 120,000 jobs created in March; unemployment down to 8.2 percent.

Though we’ve had two dozen straight months of private sector job creation, this will help Romney make his latest case — that Obama has failed to lead the recovery.

* Shorter David Brooks: Yes, the Ryan budget would cut government far too deeply, would cut taxes regressively, and is sorely lacking in specifics, but it’s demagoguery for Obama to point all that out.

Okay, I’m exaggerating, but not by much. The meat of Brooks’ column is that he faults Obama for painting a vivid, numbers-based picture of the specific impact the Ryan budget would have, which Brooks terms “imagined” and “exaggerated.” Brooks complains: “He imposed some assumptions that are nowhere to be found in the Ryan budget.”

But White House officials have been quite open about the fact that they are making their own assumptions; they are assuming that Ryan’s cuts would be applied evenly across the board — because the Ryan budget itself doesn’t give you the specifics you need to calculate its real world impact. Worse, Brooks himself actually acknowledges this elsewhere in the column — but blames Obama for the Ryan budget’s lack of specificity, anyway. Remarkable sleight of hand.

* Romney’s women problem, ctd.: Karen Tumulty and David Nakamura ferret out an important finding from Gallup’s poll of a dozen swing states:

Among independent women — a key group of swing voters — Obama had been trailing Romney by five points in a series of surveys late last year. But that number shifted dramatically in polling conducted in February and March, and the president took a 14-point lead over the former Massachusetts governor, marking a net gain of 19 points.

As I’ve been saying, independent and suburban women could be key to Obama’s reelection.

* Romney’s pollster responds: Also in the above link, Romney campaign pollster Neil Newhouse says he’s merely suffering collateral damage from the debate over contraception and other social issues: “There’s nothing I’ve seen that suggests this is Mitt Romney-specific.”

This highlights one of the central questions of Campaign 2012: Whether Dems can make the positions that Romney did, in fact, embrace to get through the primary stick to him in the general election.

* Paul Ryan for Veep! Although Democrats are salivating at the idea, more and more Republicans seem to be relishing that prospect and treating it as a real possibility. It’s another sign of the degree to which both sides remain utterly convinced that Ryan, and his larger vision, are winners for them — and a reminder that Campaign 2012 is shaping up as the starkest clash of ideological visions of any presidential election in recent memory.

* Obama campaign presses Romney on tax returns: The Obama campaign is seizing on yesterday’s Post report about Romney concealing Bain holdings to redouble pressure on Romney (with three Tweets from the Preident alone) to release his tax returns.

It’s a reminder that Romney’s tax returns (along with the Buffett Rule) will be central in an election that will center on tax fairness.

* A trifecta on inequality: Joan McCarter sums it all up: “Democrats could have a trifecta on income inequality this election: 1) Mitt Romney as the nominee; 2) repeated Republican filibusters of the Buffett Rule; and 3) the Republican budget, which gives the wealthy the most lenient tax rate since the Hoover administration.”

* Conservatives think Romney is fatally flawed: Rick Santorum met yesterday with a group of high level conservatives to see if his candidacy can be rescued. It almost certainly can’t, and the real takeaway from the meeting is this, from Brent Bozell: The luminaries who gathered there “absolutely believe the Romney campaign is potentially fatally flawed.”

* And it’s time to start thinking about the path to 270: With Romney now the all but certain nominee, Erin McPike has a nice overview of the electoral map and the multiple combinations that would get Obama to the magic number of 270 — and the various ways he could fall short.

Key takeway: In coming months, you’ll read thousands of stories about how the Obama campaign is writing off this or that state or constituency. Ignore them all. Camp Obama is playing hard everywhere, to maximize the options to reach 270 — that’s the constant to their strategy.

What else?

By  |  08:32 AM ET, 04/06/2012

 
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