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First Thoughts: Turning the page

At Chicago fundraiser last night, Obama tried to turn the page from the debt debate, and tried to turn towards jobs… At a second fundraiser last night, he said: "I give the other side credit. They are single-minded in their focus in wanting to cut programs and shrink government."… USA Today/Gallup polls the debt deal… More evidence of the toll it’s taken on Obama… Turning to Ames and the expectation game there… Trouble in Huntsman Land… Perry meets with former Bush ambassador to Iraq and Afghanistan… And the Wu special election dates are set.

*** Turning the page: There’s no place like home. And for President Obama, there’s no place like being outside of Washington. At last night’s fundraisers in Chicago -- tied to his birthday today -- Obama tried to turn the page on the debt deal he signed into law earlier this week. “When the American people join together, we cannot be stopped,” he said at his bigger, celebrity-studded fundraiser. “We say to ourselves, ‘Yes we can.’ It doesn't matter how tough a week I have in Washington, because I know you've got my back. When I come to Chicago, when I travel across the country I know we can't be stopped.” He also turned to the economy. “We know we’ve still got a lot of work to do on the economy. Now, I hope we can avoid another self-inflicted wound like we just saw over the last couple of weeks, because we don’t have time to play these partisan games. We’ve got too much work to do.”

*** “We still got some more work to do”: At a second fundraiser, a private dinner, Obama also talked about the debt deal. "Obviously we've just gone through an extraordinary week in Washington, an extraordinary two weeks in Washington. It's not the kind of extraordinary the American people are looking for," he said, per the pool report. "I think this episode was just a severe example of what's been going on for quite some time. And it's part of what led me to run for president; it's part of what led Rahm to get into public service; and it's part of the reason why, hopefully, all of you are here tonight, because you recognize we still got some more work to do.” He also uttered this striking line: "I give the other side credit. They are single-minded in their focus in wanting to cut programs and shrink government." (It's also a reminder that he’s not been as single-minded as his opponents.)

*** Polling the debt deal…: The first poll to be released after the debt deal is USA Today/Gallup, which finds 39% approving of the agreement that Obama signed into law, and 46% opposing it. And get this: Just 33% of independents backed the deal, while 50% disapproved. But if you want evidence that conservative opinion leaders (Limbaugh, Red State, DeMint) might have more sway over Republicans and conservatives than liberal opinion leaders (Krugman, Daily Kos, Bernie Sanders) have over Democrats and liberals, check out these numbers. According to the poll, 64% of Republicans and 64% of conservatives opposed the deal. By comparison, 58% of Democrats and 51% of liberals supported it. Bottom line, at least per this poll: More Democrats and liberals sided with Obama. than with the liberal opinion elite.

*** … And the toll it’s taken on Obama: Want more proof of the toll that the debt debate has taken on Obama? Just days after a Quinnipiac poll showed Obama’s numbers dropping in Pennsylvania, another Q-poll shows some bad news for the president in Florida. Before the debt deal (the part of the poll conducted from July 27-31), Obama was leading Romney in the Sunshine State, 46%-41%, but afterward (Aug. 1-2), Romney was tied with the president, 44%-44%. In both the “before” and “after” segments, Obama’s approval rating was just 44% in the state. Politico tries to cement the narrative: Obama’s re-election prospects are in serious trouble; there are a lot of fundamentals that don’t support him getting re-elected. Then again, it’s just three months after Osama bin Laden’s death, when all the punditry signaled that he’d be formidable in 2012. And we don’t know who his opponent will be. Folks, we have a LONG WAY to go…

NBC's Chuck Todd reports on the president's birthday fundraiser.

*** Turning to Ames: Exactly one week until the GOP presidential debate taking place there, and nine days before the straw poll, all eyes are turning to Ames. The best way to judge next Saturday's Ames Straw Poll is: 1) as a way to measure organizational strength, and 2) a way to winnow the field. Call it the Glengarry Glen Ross rule: First place gets you a Cadillac El Dorado; second place gets you a set of steak knives; and third place -- you're fired. In fact, per NBC's John Bailey, the last two third-place finishers (Sam Brownback in '07 and Liddy Dole in '99) dropped out two months after Ames. Given this winnowing process, the stakes are higher than with your usual straw poll. And no one has more riding on Ames than Tim Pawlenty.

*** Pawlenty needs a strong showing: Although his campaign has downplayed expectations (suggesting that he just needs to improve on his sixth-place showing in the June Des Moines Register poll), it's hard to envision Pawlenty winning the GOP nomination without an impressive showing in Ames. Yes, performance in this straw poll doesn't determine who will win the Iowa caucuses or the GOP nomination (Romney won the straw poll four years ago), but Pawlenty needs a good story to tell, especially after his June debate showing and his 2nd quarter fundraising haul. In that respect, his situation isn’t all that dissimilar from Obama’s right before his November ‘07 J-J Dinner. The good news for Pawlenty: It appears he has a good organization going into Ames -- and more (see the outside groups in Iowa that have ties to his campaign).

*** Bachmann does, too… And don’t sleep on Romney: If Pawlenty has a lot riding on Ames, so does Bachmann, who’s looking to keep her front-runner status in the Hawkeye State, particularly with the strong likelihood that Rick Perry gets into the race. Both Bachmann and Pawlenty have been airing TV ads in Iowa in advance of the straw poll, and have been mixing it up verbally. Next come the candidates who have the potential to fare well: Ron Paul (who expects no less than third), Herman Cain (who has a strong following, though there are doubts about his organization), and Rick Santorum (who’s made more stops in Iowa than any other candidate, including 22 this week). And then there’s Mitt Romney. While he’s not making a major play for Ames, don’t overlook him here. He’s had the ability to pull off strong straw poll showings in past, even when it appears his organization isn’t making a strong play -- but really is (see the Southern Republican Leadership Conference results in ’06 and ’10).

*** Trouble in Huntsman Land: If you’ve been following American politics over the past several years, you could see this story about Huntsman strategist John Weaver coming a mile away. “A blistering internal feud in the Jon Huntsman presidential campaign is erupting into public view, with dueling camps trading charges and an exodus of campaign officials,” Politico’s Martin writes. “And now, a longtime family friend tells POLITICO that Huntsman’s wife and father fret that his presidential prospects have been threatened by the turmoil — and he places the blame on John Weaver, Huntsman’s controversial chief strategist.” More from the piece: “The problem for Huntsman, of course, is that all this high-decibel public squabbling undercuts his main rationale for winning the GOP nomination — that the former Utah governor offers the level-headed competence and executive experience needed to unseat President Barack Obama.” Who had Aug. 4 in the pool that we’d see the “There’s trouble in Huntsman Land” story?

*** Funny money? NBC’s Michael Isikoff reports: “A mystery company that pumped $1 million into a political committee backing Mitt Romney [the Restore Our Future Super PAC] has been dissolved just months after it was formed, leaving few clues as to who was behind one of the biggest contributions yet of the 2012 presidential campaign. The existence of the million-dollar donation — as gleaned from campaign and corporate records obtained by NBC News — provides a vivid example of how secret campaign cash is being funneled in ever more circuitous ways into the political system.” The former Federal Election Commission’s general counsel is quoted in the piece as saying this could create a "serious" legal issue as well as being a new post-Citizens United "roadmap" for funneling huge gobs of secret money into Super PACs.

*** Perry meets with former Bush ambassador to Iraq and Afghanistan: Another sign that Rick Perry is about to enter the GOP race: “Mr. Perry just posted a picture of himself at a meeting with Zalmay Khalilzad, who had served as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Afghanistan and Iraq,” the Wall Street Journal writes.

*** On the 2012 trail: Cain, Gingrich, and Santorum all campaign in Iowa… And Huntsman continues his swing through New Hampshire.

*** Replacing Wu: We now have the dates for the special election to replace ex-Democratic Rep. David Wu in Oregon: primary election on Nov. 8 and the general on Jan. 31.

***Thursday’s “The Daily Rundown” line-up with guest host Andrea Mitchell: Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood on the FAA fight… TIME’s Bobby Ghosh on the latest in Syria… Former White House Deputy Press Secretary Bill Burton, the Washington Post’s Nia-Malika Henderson and the Wall Street Journal’s Carol Lee on what President Obama had to say in Chicago last night… And one of us (!!!) looks at the state-of-play one week away from the GOP straw poll in Ames.

*** Wednesday’s “Andrea Mitchell Reports” line-up: John Heilemann on his Romney profile, National Journal’s Ron Fournier, Jeremy Konyndyk from Mercy Corps to talk about the famine in Africa.

Countdown to Wisconsin recall general for GOP senators: 5 days
Countdown to Iowa GOP straw poll: 9 days
Countdown to Wisconsin recall general for Dem senators: 22 days
Countdown to NV-2 and NY-9 special elections: 40 days
Countdown to Election Day 2011: 96 days
Countdown to the Iowa caucuses: 186 days
* Note: When the IA caucuses take place depends on whether other states move up

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