If you want to gauge the impact the economy is having on Obama’s reelection chances, keep an eye on the behavior of endangered Democratic incumbents and Dem Congressional candidates in difficult districts. There seem to be early signs that more Dems are willing to entertain the possibility that Obama and his record could be an asset, rather than a liability.

Steny Hoyer is telling reporters that if the recovery continues to accelerate, Obama’s coattails could help Dems win back the House (a long shot, but it’s notable that Hoyer is going further than other Dem leaders in predicting it). Other Democrats believe that the GOP’s shift into social-issues mode, combined with Obama’s efforts to draw a sharper contrast with Republicans on jobs, the economy and fiscal priorities and values will make it easier for Dem candidates to associate themselves more closely with the president and his agenda. While it remains to be seen whether candidates in the most difficult states and districts agree, there’s been a clear shift in the chatter.

One last data point: The full fledged embrace of the birth control fight by Democrats in states that Republicans believe are populated by swing voters who are more receptive to the GOP framing of the battle as one over religious liberty and governmental overreach.

* More good news on jobs: The monthly numbers are in:

Nonfarm payroll employment rose by 227,000 in February, and the unemployment rate was unchanged at 8.3 percent, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. Employment rose in professional and businesses services, health care and social assistance, leisure and hospitality, manufacturing, and mining.

This could encourage the above dynamic. And as always, what matters is perceptions of the direction the economy is moving in, so this could lend more support to the White House’s recovery storyline.

* Another government shutdown fight coming before election? Lori Montgomery reports on a development with potentially far reaching political implications: Tea Party conservatives are pushing the House GOP leadership for ever deeper budget cuts, and are not taking No for an answer.

A shutdown fight in advance of the election could facilitate the Dem strategy of hanging the unpopular House GOP around the neck of the eventual GOP presidential nominee, and make it tougher for him to achieve separation from Congressional Republicans, as he will inevitably try to do.

* Debunking Mitt Romney’s claims of delegate inevitability: Sean Trende, who’s been doing great work on this topic, offers a must-read state-by-state guide to the obstacles Romney still faces, ones that could leave him still short of the nomination — even in June.

* No, the GOP primary is not like Hillary versus Obama: Charlie Cook gets at the key difference: The 2008 Dem primary was about demographics and generational conflict; this year’s GOP primary is all about which candidate can more nakedly pander to the conservative base. Which is why the drawn-out nomination process is more likely to damage Romney heading into the general election than to strengthen him

* Will Newt drop out of presidential race? With primaries in the Deep South looming as a major test for Gingrich’s viability as a candidate, if you can call it that, his spokesman R.C. Hammond sets the bar awfully high: “Everything between Spartanburg all the way to Texas, those all need to go for Gingrich.”

This could add fuel to the speculation that Newt could drop out if he doesn’t win Alabama and Mississippi, which his spokesman has said are must-wins, setting the stage for a head to head Santorum-Romney clash.

* Romney, higher education, and equality of opportunity: Rick Santorum’s remarks about college got all the attention. But as Paul Krugman notes, Romney’s suggestion that students shouldn’t expect government help with their education debt is arguably more significant, since it breaks with America’s tradition of providing student aid and could exacerbate inequality.

Friendly reminder: Romney frequently claims that the best way to combat inequality is to bring about equality of opportunity, something that is generally thought to be facilitated by government help with higher education.

* Romney can’t shake that silver-foot-in-mouth problem: Related to the above, Michael Gerson acknowledges that Romney has a serious class problem, and notes that he can’t begin to address it while stuck in a GOP primary, where discussion of any meaningful government role at all in combatting inequality (Gerson seems to admit) is a non-starter.

Key takeaway: Once in general election mode, you can expect Romney to try to paper over his silver-foot image with endless platitudes about “opportunity” and “mobility.”

* They just don’t really like the GOP candidates that much: Chris Cillizza and Aaron Blake dig into the exit polls and find that support for Romney and Santorum in Ohio (a must-win for the GOP in the general election) is far more tepid than you might expect.

Broader conclusion: “winning without a swell of enthusiasm behind you could ultimately prove hollow in the general election fight against President Obama.”

* White House to mount aggressive defense of health care: With Supreme Court arguments coming up, the White House is laying the groundwork for a far more aggressive campaign reselling the law to the American people than it has previously attempted.

The move reflects worry that a bad court decision in June could revive health reform as a major issue in the campaign. Administration allies hope a redoubled focus on the tangible benefits of the law will limit any damage and could even turn the debate in their favor, though this has been the hope for nearly two years now..

* And another right-wing health care talking point goes “poof”: Jonathan Cohn skewers the latest: That the administration’s own numbers supposedly prove that the cost of health reform is substantially higher than advertised.

Kevin Drum has the larger context: Major legislative initiatives aren’t perfect; stuff goes wrong and it gets fixed.

What else?