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The Morning Line: Republican Presidential Campaign Goes Primetime

BY David Chalian and Terence Burlij  June 13, 2011 at 8:37 AM EST

MANCHESTER, N.H. |  When seven GOP presidential hopefuls take the stage at St. Anselm College here tonight it is likely to be a pretty tame affair. At this stage, most Republican primary voters are looking for which one of these men and woman can make the toughest and most compelling case against President Barack Obama rather than tearing each other down. (Actually, most primary voters in New Hampshire will be watching the Boston Bruins try to push the Stanley Cup Finals to a Game 7.)

“We want to continue to introduce my vision for America and my record to American voters,” former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty said when asked about his goals for tonight’s debate. “We want to make sure we raise awareness amongst the voters about my record, my conservative record,” he added.

Pawlenty got a jump start on his debate one-liners when he appeared on “Fox News Sunday” and combined President Obama’s health care plan with Romney’s health care plan and coined the term “Obamneycare.”

After a meet and greet with local Republicans at Halligan Tavern in Derry, N.H., Pawlenty was asked about his new barb and said he was simply pointing out that President Obama often describes Romney’s Massachusetts plan as the model for what he did on the national level.

That doesn’t quite count as a “the gloves are off” moment, but it certainly shows Pawlenty is eager to post up against the frontrunner, rather than be skirmishing with Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum.

There is little doubt that the Romney campaign expects to hear that line again at the debate. But the frontrunner’s goal is not to get distracted by the slings and arrows that may come from his opponents. It is to keep a singular focus on his message that President Obama has failed on the economy and the Romney approach would be better.

To that end, the Romney campaign released a new web video this morning continuing to needle the president for referring to the terrible May jobs numbers as a “bump in the road.”  The video features Americans with various economic concerns and anxieties who say, “I’m an American, not a bump in the road.” The video closes with Romney’s campaign theme “Believe in America” emblazoned across the screen followed by the date of the general election: November 6, 2012.

Romney clearly has an arduous road ahead of him should he become the nominee, but the video makes clear he intends to keep his focus above the intra-party fray and squarely aimed at the current Oval Office occupant.

Although Monday night will mark the second debate of the nomination contest, it is the first including Romney, Bachmann, and Newt Gingrich.

Former Utah Governor and U.S. Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman is not participating in the debate, but indicated Sunday that he is likely to make his candidacy official next week.

In addition to all eyes being on Romney to see how he handles any heat coming his way, the debate will provide a national platform for the relaunch of Gingrich’s campaign after his campaign staff resigned en masse last week. Whether or not he can use the debate to demonstrate an ability to have some impact on this battle for the nomination will be of keen interest to his opponents and supporters alike.

CNN, WMUR-TV, and the New Hampshire Union Leader are hosts for the two-hour debate tonight from 8:00 pm – 10:00 p.m. ET.

CAMPAIGNER IN CHIEF

With the focus of the GOP contenders squarely on the first primary state of New Hampshire, President Obama will be making stops in two key battleground states Monday.

The president will travel to North Carolina in the morning where he will visit Cree, Inc., a manufacturer of energy efficient LED lighting based in Durham. Mr. Obama will tour the company’s facilities at 11:25 a.m. ET.

At 11:40 a.m., the president will meet for the second time with his Jobs and Competitiveness Council. (The first gathering took place in late February.) According to the White House guidance, the session will involve discussions about “initiatives and policies to spur economic growth, promote job creation and accelerate hiring across our nation.”

The North Carolina stop performs two functions for the president. It gives him a chance to spend some time on the ground in a state he narrowly won in 2008 and that he is likely to invest heavily in trying to win again in 2012. And, it affords the president the opportunity to talk about the issues foremost in the minds of voters in North Carolina and elsewhere: job creation and economic growth.

The News & Observer, the paper for the state’s Triangle region, tees up the president’s stop Monday.

While in North Carolina, the president will also deliver remarks to Cree employees at 1:45 p.m. ET and tape an interview with NBC News’ Ann Curry to air on Tuesday’s “Today Show.”

After departing the Tar Heel State, the president will continue to head south to Florida, where he is scheduled to deliver remarks at three fund-raisers Monday evening in Miami.

With first lady Michelle Obama in California for Democratic fund-raising events of her own Monday, the Wall Street Journal’s Carol Lee and Jonathan Weisman examine the discontent among some of the president’s 2008 contributors who feel that their policy interests have been neglected since the election.

“The donors, particularly those who originally were Hillary Clinton supporters, say they haven’t felt valued by the Obama White House. Some appear less inclined to “bundle” contributions from friends and colleagues on behalf of the re-election campaign,” Lee and Weisman write.

The Obama re-election operation has reportedly set its sights on a fund-raising target of $60 million before the second quarter reporting deadline of June 30.

GOVERNOR CRIST?

In some respects it was Charlie Crist’s embrace of President Obama and the $787-billion stimulus package that doomed his chances at the Republican nomination for one of Florida’s U.S. Senate seats last year.

But, if Crist were willing to open his arms to Mr. Obama again and endorse him for president in 2012, it could help the Republican-turned-Independent in a possible run for governor as a Democrat.

The St. Petersburg Times’ Adam Smith reports that Crist’s name came up as a “wild card” during the Florida Democratic Party’s annual fund-raising gala over the weekend:

“Consider one scenario a number of Democratic strategists see as more than plausible: Crist, still popular outside of conservative Republican circles, endorses Obama and helps his campaign in Florida in 2012. He parlays that goodwill into another gubernatorial campaign and Democrats desperate to rid Florida of Rick Scott welcome a moderate statewide figure who looks like a winner.”

Read more here.

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