* Mitt Romney‘s payroll tax cut moment: This, from last night’s debate, is just remarkable: Mitt Romney refused to give a clear and unequivocal answer to the question of whether he supports extending the payroll tax cut for workers. Romney’s first stab:

“I don’t want to raise taxes on people in the middle of a recession. Of course not. That’s one of the reasons why we fought so hard to make sure the Bush tax cuts were not taken away by President Obama...We cannot continue to pass on massive debts to the next generation.”

Putting aside the absurd comparison to the Bush tax cuts — Obama previously wanted to end the Bush tax cuts on the wealthy; now he’s pushing to extend the payroll tax cut for workers — this answer remained in the realm of generalities. So the moderator pressed him again. And Romney said:

“I want to keep our taxes down. I don’t want to raise any taxes anywhere. I’m not looking to raise taxes. What I’m looking to do is to cut spending.”

That’s a bit clearer, but at worst, it’s still a dodge, and at best, it’s a flip flop. Romney had previously seemed to oppose an extension, deriding it as a Band-Aid solution. Now he seems to be saying the payroll tax cut should be extended, but he still won’t say so directly, only keeping his answers general.

Beyond that, the real takeaway here, I think, is that Romney’s answers last night amount to a concession that failing to extend the payroll tax cut would constitue a tax hike. This isn’t something many Republicans are willing to admit. And yet it’s still not perfectly clear where he stands: When the Romney campaign subsequently emailed Sam Stein a statement on the exchange, it still didn’t take a clear position on whether he wants the tax cut extended, instead hammering Obama’s tax record.

So, to recap: First Romney derided the payroll tax cut extension as a Band-Aid solution. Then he kinda-sorta said maybe he supports it, claiming we shouldn’t raise taxes in a recession while acknowledging that not extending the payroll tax cut would constitute doing just that. And then his campaign refused to say clearly whether it should be extended. Got all that?

* Romney’s shifting answers on auto bailout and health care: Jonathan Cohn does a heroic job trying to parse all of Romney’s answers, and concludes that Romney is extremely lucky that Rick Perry’s goofs are taking the spotlight off Romney’s equivocations and prevarications.

* Yet Romney remains the clear frontrunner: Beth Reinhold marvels at how untouchable Romney seems, as evidenced by the fact that he’s getting away with portraying himself as consistent:

In response to a question from moderator John Harwood about his apparently shifting stance on the government bailouts of the auto industry in 2009, Romney declared, “I think people understand I’m a man of steadiness and constancy.’’ That statement — from a candidate who has repositioned himself on abortion, gay rights, climate change, immigration, gun control, and most recently, a referendum on labor rights in Ohio — went completely unchallenged.


* Obama in dead heat with Romney in key swing states: The first Quinnipiac swing state poll of the cycle is out this morning, and finds that he is in a statistical dead heat with Mitt Romney in Florida, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, and in all three states, he’s doing less well than he did in 2008. Also key: In all three states, Romney is tied with Obama or has a slight edge on the economy.

Bright spot for Obama: In these three states, he does better against the other GOP candidates than he did against John McCain.

* Conservatives organize against Romney: Remember Erick Erickson’s primal scream argument that nominating Romney would lead to a second Obama term and the death of conservatism: Conservatives are now oganizing around that principle in a last-ditch effort to deny Romney the nomination.

* Rick Perry tries to make lemonade out of rotten lemons: The Perry brain-freeze heard ‘round the world — in which he couldn’t name the third federal agency he wants to eliminate — is now the basis for a Perry campaign fundraising pitch.

* Democrats again make a supercommittee offer to Republicans: Dems have now offered Republicans a new deal:$1 trillion in spending cuts, in exchange for $1 trillion in new revenues, with a third of those coming from tax increases and the rest coming from an overhaul of the tax code.

Needless to say, the fact that this is an even trade of cuts for revenues will make it a nonstarter for Senate Republicans, because it’s a compromise in which both sides would make major concessions, and that appears to be an unacceptable outcome.

* Ohio victory a roadmap for Dems in 2012? The Times talks to experts about the meaning of Tuesday’s Ohio results: They sent a strong warning to other GOP governors who are tempted to overreach, but it’s still uncertain whether they will translate into gains for Obama and Dems in 2012.

Key quote, from AFL-CIO political director Michael Podhorzer: “The election last night is the road map for the Democrats if they’re willing to use it.”

* Ohio vote shows it’s not 2010 anymore: The Post also has an interesting analysis of what the results portend for next year, including this from Obama campaign manager Jim Messina: “It is very clear that the headwinds we faced in 2010 are gone.”

* And people are thinking about class issues again: Great stuff from Mike Tomasky on the larger context of Tuesday’s vote, which he describes this way:

Operation Wall Street, income inequality, Republicans in Congress killing the jobs bill piece by piece, Obama finally getting some blood flowing through those veins again instead of water. People have started to care about class issues, and it’s pretty clear what they think: The Republican Party isn’t representing them.

Tomasky’s conclusion: The Obama team should work the Rust Belt as the route back to reelection.

What else is happening?