Priorities USA, a Democratic-aligned super PAC run by two former senior aides in the Obama Administration, is launching television ads in five swing states attacking Republicans for their vote to overhaul Medicare.

The ads, which will run in Iowa, North Carolina, Virginia, Florida and Colorado for the next two weeks, are designed as a response to commercials put on the air in 10 states late last week by Crossroads GPS, a conservative-minded organization, that attacked President Obama’s handling of the economy.

They also mark the first significant spending by Priorities USA, a group formed in the aftermath of the 2010 election with the specific purpose of rebutting Republican outside expenditure efforts. The ad buy is $750,000.

“We know the ads blaming President Obama for the economy are politics at its worst,” says the narrator of the Priorities USA ad, as the words “Karl Rove-founded group launches anti-Obama ads” appear on screen.

The ad, created by ad-maker Saul Shorr, goes on to argue that Republicans support a plan that would “essentially end Medicare for future retirees.” It ends with the narrator intoning: “We can’t rebuild America if we tear down the middle class.”

The dueling ads of Crossroads GPS and Priorities USA make clear the ground on which the two parties will seek to fight the 2012 election.

Republicans will do everything they can to turn the race into a referendum on Obama’s handling of the economy, citing the rise in the unemployment rate, as well as high gas prices as indicators that the president’s policies haven’t worked.

Democrats acknowledge that the economy will be a major issue for voters but believe the decision by the Republican-controlled House to pass a budget — authored by Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan — that would turn Medicare into a voucher program was a colossal strategic mistake that will not sit well with voters.

The spending by Priorities USA and Crossroads is also an early indication of the major role independent groups will play in shaping the 2012 landscape.

Unlike federal candidates and political parties, these sort of groups can accept donations of unlimited size from wealthy contributors, making it easier for a small cadre of affluent individuals to exercise considerable influence on a race or races.

Crossroads GPS is a 501(c)(4) organization, meaning that it does not have to disclose its donors. Its sister group — American Crossroads — and Priorities USA are super PACs and, as such, are required to report their contributions and expenditures to the Federal Election Commission.

The two-headed Crossroads organization spent tens of millions on ads in House and Senate race during the 2010 midterms, often filling in financial gaps for the party’s official campaign committees.

Senior Democrats, fearing a repeat of that scenario in 2012, have put together a shadow party of their own this year — an operation led by Priorities USA but that also includes super PACs aimed at Senate (Majority PAC) and House (House Majority PAC) contests.

The formation of Priorities USA by former White House spokesman Bill Burton and Sean Sweeney, a top aide to former White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, drew considerable criticism from Republicans who pointed out that the Obama Administration vehemently opposed groups like it in the past.

Democrats argued that they effectively fought with one hand tied behind their back in 2010 and can’t afford to go down that strategic road again, especially with the presidency at stake.

What remains to be seen is whether Priorities USA can match the proven fundraising ability of the two Crossroads groups, which have pledged to spend upwards of $120 million on the 2012 election.

Crossroads GPS is spending $20 million on ads over the next two months alone, including $5 million on commercials in 10 states and on national cable stations that began running last Friday.

That’s a far bigger sum than the $750,000 Priorities USA is spending on its initial buy, but it’s still early.

Bachmann climbs in N.H.: Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) is gaining in New Hampshire too.

Just days after the Des Moines Register poll showed her tied for the lead in Iowa, a new Suffolk University poll shows her catching on in the Granite State. While Mitt Romney maintains a huge lead, Bachmann has grown her support from 3 percent to 11 percent and is now in second place.

Romney, at 36 percent, is still in command. Apart from Bachmann, the top four includes Rep. Ron Paul, a longshot for the nomination, and Rudy Giuliani, who is not yet running.

Nobody else garners more than 4 percent, including former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty and former Utah governor Jon Huntsman. Pawlenty, who took just 6 percent in the Des Moines Register poll, is at 2 percent in the Suffolk poll.

Obama answers questions: Obama is set to take questions from the media at an 11:30 a.m. news conference.

Expected to be on the list of subjects are: gay marriage, the Afghanistan drawdown, the debt ceiling talks, Medicare and the emerging 2012 campaign.

Keep an eye on Obama’s answer to questions on gay marriage. He’s previously resisted supporting it, but said that his position is “evolving.” Will it evolve even more after New York passed gay marriage into law last week?

Plus, there just happens to be a gay pride reception at the White House today.

Benenson expanding to L.A.: Democratic consulting firm Benenson Strategy Group is expanding to Los Angeles.

The new California office will be led by Vice President Amy Levin, who does polling for Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), and the AARP. Levin also worked for former White House senior adviser David Axelrod at AKPD, a media consulting firm in Chicago.

Benenson did polling for Obama’s 2008 campaign and the Democratic National Committee, among many other politicians and groups. The firm currently has offices in New York, Washington and Denver.


Only 36 percent of voters say they will definitely vote for Obama next year, according to a new McClatchy-Marist poll; he still leads all comers.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) is only getting more popular, though most of the new Quinnipiac poll was conducted before the state’s gay marriage bill passed.

13 Democratic senators join the “It Gets Better” campaign for young gays and lesbians.

Former Alaska governor Sarah Palin doesn’t deny that she has made a final decision on running for president, as her daughter Bristol said previously.

Former Texas Secretary of State Roger Williams joins former state Railroad Commissioner Michael Williams in the race for the newly created 33rd congressional district. Both men had been running for Senate.

Must Reads:

Huntsman’s Big Daddy” — McKay Coppins and David A. Graham, The Daily Beast

Sarah Palin in Iowa: Will she or won’t she?” — Nia-Malika Henderson, Washington Post

Bachmann’s husband got $137,000 in Medicaid funds” — Michael Isikoff, NBC News