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First Thoughts: Pay more attention to Christie

Forget about Palin’s “dinner” last night and pay more attention to Chris Christie’s… The reason: He actually has the ability to put together an “A” campaign… After dinner with Iowa donors last night, Christie said he’s focused on remaining New Jersey governor… But guess what: He’s heading to Iowa later this summer… At 10:00 am ET, Obama meets with House GOP conference to discuss raising the debt ceiling… Weiner’s actions (and non-answers) raise additional questions… Huntsman pivots to the right in WSJ op-ed… It’s T-shirt time before Romney’s announcement tomorrow… Pawlenty remains in Iowa… Rudy Giuliani keynotes “Voices of Sept. 11” gala… And do Dems have the redistricting edge?

*** Pay more attention to Christie: Forget about Sarah Palin’s "dinner" last night with Donald Trump, one of whom isn’t running for president and the other of whom probably won’t run, either. The more important dinner -- at least as far as the “summer of speculation” goes -- took place across the river in New Jersey, where Gov. Chris Christie (R) met with Iowa Republican donors. In attendance: Christie Deputy Chief of Staff Bill Stepien, Communications Director Maria Comella, NJ RNC Committeeman Bill Palatucci, and NY-NJ Port Authority Chairman David Samson. And get this: Christie’s wife was present, too. She was a question mark, and it's a signal we're told that shouldn't be overlooked.

*** The reason: He has the ability to put together an “A” campaign: Christie told the donors he was focused on remaining New Jersey’s governor, the AP writes. “What we heard from him very clearly was the same response he has given publicly: that he made a commitment to New Jersey and continuing to work to solve their problems,” one of the Iowa donors said. And it’s still unlikely he ever gets in. But consider these things: 1) he took the meeting, 2) he has agreed to go to Iowa later this summer to keynote an education summit there, and 3) if he were getting in late, he wouldn’t say he was getting in right now. Of all the folks sitting on the 2012 sidelines -- including Palin -- Christie is the one who could put together an “A” campaign. Fundraising? Check (with Wall Street’s help). Elite enthusiasm? Check. Tea Party enthusiasm? Check. And then there’s this for Christie: the realization that 2012 could be easier than 2016, with a potential tough run for re-election in 2013.

*** Listening time: At 10:00 am ET, President Obama meets at the White House with the entire House GOP conference to discuss raising the debt ceiling. The meeting comes after yesterday’s symbolic (and staged) vote rejecting debt-ceiling increase without attached spending cuts. Expect the meeting to be more of a listening/venting session than actual negotiations. As the AP puts it, “Wednesday's meeting seems more of a listening session than earnest negotiations between Obama and the staunch conservatives who have taken back the House.” Still, the White House will make its case that it’s: 1) necessary to raise the debt ceiling, and 2) it’s willing to do something to cut spending. By the way, the unexpected COULD happen at this meeting during the Q&A portion. Still, the White House is very aware that anything said during this off-the-record meeting likely won't remain off the record.

*** Weiner’s actions raise questions: At first glance, it was easy to dismiss the story that a lewd photo to a young woman had come from Rep. Anthony Weiner’s (D-NY) Twitter account. The explanation: Weiner’s account was hacked, and that seems like a common thing these days. But the congressman’s actions over the past 24 hours have raised more questions than answered them. For one thing, he hired an attorney. Second, and more importantly, he refused to answer reporters’ simple question on whether or not he sent the photo. Question: Was it from you or not? Weiner’s non-answer: “If I were giving a speech to 45,000 people and someone in the back threw a pie or yelled out an insult, I would not spend the next two hours of my speech responding to that pie or insult.” Third, he refused to answer why he was following the young woman on Twitter. Here’s this truism about Washington scandals: If someone is guilty, it’s never an isolated incident. Weiner has now put himself in a position of having to prove innocence -- which is never a good place to be for a politician, especially one who resides in the media capital of the world.

*** Huntsman’s pivot to the economic right: Turning back to the 2012 race, Jon Huntsman writes an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, in which he fully embraces Paul Ryan’s overhaul of Medicare. “I admire Congressman Paul Ryan's honest attempt to save Medicare. Those who disagree with his approach incur a moral responsibility to propose reforms that would ensure Medicare's ability to meet its responsibilities to retirees without imposing an unaffordable tax burden on future generations of Americans.” The piece also mentions Ronald Reagan, Barry Goldwater, and tax cuts. This is Huntsman’s pivot to the economic right.

*** It’s T-Shirt Time! The day before Mitt Romney’s presidential announcement in New Hampshire, the state Democratic Party has printed T-shirts that read on one side: “Mitt Romney. Pro-Health Care Reform. Pro-Individual Mandate. Pro-Recovery Act. Pro-Immigration Reform. Pro-Cap and Trade. Pro-Gay Rights.” The other side reads: “Mitt Romney. Anti-Health Care Reform. Anti-Individual Mandate. Anti-Recovery Act. Anti-Immigration Reform. Anti-Cap and Trade. Anti-Gay Rights.”

*** On the 2012 trail: Pawlenty remains in Iowa for another day, hitting Council Bluffs.

*** “Summer of Speculation” watch: Rudy Giuliani keynotes tonight’s “Voices of Sept. 11” gala, which is emceed by NBC’s Brian Williams. By the way, Giuliani heads to New Hampshire on Thursday -- the same day Romney announces. But keep in mind: Some of the key Giuliani 2008 people are with Christie.

*** The Dems’ redistricting advantage: After the Democrats’ aggressive redistricting map in Illinois, as well as after the U.S. Justice Department gave initial clearance to Florida’s passed ballot amendments that stop congressional gerrymandering, you can see how Democrats could pick up 10 of the 24 seats they need to take back control of the House. On the other hand, it’s possible that states under GOP control can pass redistricting maps that benefit the Republican Party. Bottom line: The House has the POTENTIAL to be more in play for 2012 than we all thought a few months ago. Charlie Cook adds today, “If Democrats can continue to make his Medicare proposal an effective issue, it will represent an important test for the GOP. If the advantage stays with Democrats, it is a sure sign the Ryan proposal was a huge mistake. And if that happens, then you can say Democrats have a realistic chance of taking a majority in the House.” 

*** Dem group trying to make more political hay out of the Ryan budget: Speaking of Medicare, the Democratic group Protect Your Care is hosting a 10:00 am ET conference call with reporters to unveil new polling data on the GOP efforts to overhaul Medicare.

Countdown to Iowa GOP straw poll: 73 days
Countdown to NV-2 special election: 104 days
Countdown to Election Day 2011: 160 days
Countdown to the Iowa caucuses: 250 days
* Note: When the IA caucuses take place depends on whether other states move up

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