THE MORNING LINE -- December 7, 2011 at 8:06 AM EDT
President Obama's 2012 Pitch: 'Everyone Gets a Fair Shot'
President Obama speaks about economic struggles of the middle class Tuesday in Osawatomie, Kan. Photo by Julie Denesha/Getty Images.
On Tuesday, President Obama called the debate about restoring fairness the "defining issue of our time."
And, if the president has his way, that debate will also be the defining issue of the 2012 campaign.
With Election Day 11 months away, President Obama outlined his populist argument for a second four-year term in Osawatomie, Kan., the same small town where in 1910, Theodore Roosevelt delivered his "New Nationalism" speech calling for a strong central government that "must be freed from the sinister influence or control of special interests."
While Roosevelt proposed a "square deal" for the American people, President Obama argued that everyone in the country deserves a "fair shot."
"This is a make-or-break moment for the middle class, and for all those who are fighting to get into the middle class," the president said. "What's at stake is whether this will be a country where working people can earn enough to raise a family, build a modest savings, own a home, secure their retirement."
The president also noted that the matter had been the subject of "heated and sometimes colorful discussion" among the Republicans seeking to challenge him in next year's election.
"There are some who seem to be suffering from a kind of collective amnesia," Mr. Obama said, previewing a likely line of attack in next year's campaign. "In fact, they want to go back to the same policies that stacked the deck against middle-class Americans for way too many years. And their philosophy is simple: We are better off when everybody is left to fend for themselves and play by their own rules."
"I am here to say they are wrong," the president declared.
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney charged that the president's decision to invoke Roosevelt felt a little off.
"Teddy Roosevelt of course founded the Bull Moose Party. One of those words applies," the former Massachusetts governor said Tuesday during a campaign stop in Arizona. "When this president is talking about how he's helped the economy, one of those words applies."
And therein lies the critical question that will shape the dynamic of the political fight for most of the next year: When voters go to the polls on Nov. 6, 2012, will they view their decision as a choice between two starkly different approaches to the role of government, or will it be a referendum on the president's handling of affairs over the preceding four years?
Romney may not agree with Texas Rep. Ron Paul or Jon Huntsman on which of them would make the best Republican presidential nominee, but he's on the same page with his two rivals when it comes to passing on an Iowa debate later this month moderated by real estate tycoon and reality TV personality Donald Trump.
Romney told Neil Cavuto of Fox News in an interview Tuesday that he had declined an invitation to participate in the Dec. 27 forum. Romney said he would be too busy preparing for the pair of Iowa debates already on his schedule this month and that "the rest of the month is going to be spent campaigning, doing the political work you've got to do to get the support of the people in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Florida."
Paul and Huntsman announced earlier this week they did not plan to attend. A spokesman for Paul said the debate would resemble a circus, while Huntsman called it "a joke." In fact, there are only two confirmed takers for the debate, which is being sponsored by the conservative media outlet Newsmax and broadcast on the ION Television network.
Former House speaker Newt Gingrich accepted his invitation Monday via Twitter and called Trump "a great showman and businessman" after meeting with him in his New York office the same day. Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum said Tuesday he planned on taking part, too. The campaigns of Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann and Texas Gov. Rick Perry have yet to reveal their plans.
Since announcing their candidacies, Romney, Gingrich, Bachmann and Perry have all made the trip to New York to meet with Trump, and it's safe to assume any one of them would welcome his endorsement.
On Wednesday, Trump told MSNBC's "Morning Joe" that he was surprised by Romney's decision because "he really wants my endorsement."
Trump has indicated he plans to endorse a candidate, but not until after the debate.
Trump announced earlier this year he would not compete for the Republican presidential ticket, after toying with the idea publicly. He indicated Monday on NBC's "Today Show" that he would entertain the idea of running as a third-party candidate, but reversed himself in a statement issued the next day, saying, "Let me be clear: I do not want to run as a third-party candidate."
Opinions are split outside the presidential field as well. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., on Tuesday joined the chorus of prominent Republicans urging candidates to skip the event.
Grover Norquist, who heads the influential conservative organization Americans for Tax Reform, voiced his support for the debate, saying in a statement, "I am assured that Donald Trump will be a fair-minded moderator and joined by serious journalists."
Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., who is charged with maintaining her party's majority control of the Senate in the 2012 elections, has a tough job ahead of her. Of the 33 seats up for re-election, Democrats are defending 23 and only need to lose four of those in order to make Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., the new majority leader.
But at a briefing Tuesday, Murray put the best positive spin she could, saying she felt "increasingly good" about the election cycle and that her party was well positioned to maintain control of the upper chamber.
Murray explained part of her strategy to retain control:
"When I took this job on one of the things I said is I am not just gonna play defense even though we have 23 seats up in a tough year, I am gonna play offense. I knew that one of the things our country really needed was really good people, people who came with passion, who understood the country, who saw what was happening and felt compassionately about making a difference."
Murray highlighted her recruitment of five female candidates for competitive races: Rep. Tammy Baldwin in Wisconsin, Rep. Shelley Berkley in Nevada, Rep. Mazie Hirono in Hawaii, Heidi Heitkamp in North Dakota and Elizabeth Warren in Massachusetts.
The math remains difficult for Murray. Larry Sabato of the University of Virginia wrote in his latest Crystal Ball update that he expects Republicans to pick up the four seats needed to switch control,, but he writes with Kyle Kondik and Geoffrey Skelley that Democrat's recruitment efforts are in fact widening the field:
For months, Republicans have been the ones to expand the playing field of competitive Senate seats this year, most notably thanks to the retirements of Democratic Sens. Jeff Bingaman (NM) and Herb Kohl (WI), which turned safe Democratic seats into toss ups.
But, thanks to smart candidate recruitment, Democrats might have a few chances of their own to take Republican-held seats. First, consumer advocate Elizabeth Warren entered the Massachusetts Senate race against Republican Sen. Scott Brown a few months ago. Her strong performance as a candidate so far combined with Massachusetts' heavy Democratic leanings has prompted us to change our rating of this seat from "leans Republican" to "toss up."
Another potential boon to Republicans is the possible retirement of Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb. Murray said she wants Nelson to run again -- and she should; his retirement would create an open seat in a part of the country typically hostile to Democrats, making her job that much harder.
PBS NewsHour reporter-producer Elizabeth Summers contributed to this report.
ON THE TRAIL
All events listed in Eastern Time.
President Obama holds a bilateral meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper at the White House at 2:15 p.m. The two leaders will deliver statements at 3 p.m. At 4:35 p.m., the president will attend a campaign fundraiser at the Jefferson Hotel.
Six of the seven GOP presidential candidates address the Republican Jewish Coalition forum in Washington. The order of speakers: Rick Santorum at 9:15 a.m., Jon Huntsman at 9:45 a.m., Mitt Romney at 10:25 a.m., Newt Gingrich at 2:05 p.m., Rick Perry at 2:45 p.m. and Michele Bachmann at 3:25 p.m.
All future events can be found on our Political Calendar:
For more political coverage, visit our politics page.
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